Mercifully, it all comes to an end.
I don't think anyone expected that. Some of the signs were there, though:
- I remember Dan Bylsma well from when he joined the LA Kings toward the end of Gretzky's career there. Gretzky, or more accurately his arrival to LA and its facsimile of a hockey team, changed my life irrevocably. He was my Dominique Wilkins replacement (which is not said with an iota of irony or rue). My DNA was filled with more hockey-receptors than the basketball- kind, so this had retardedly significant ramifications. I lived and died with the LA Kings for a few years, until it was mostly dying, and my once mighty idol - that spring of 93 was something though, eh - was schleppnig through whatever detritus a penny-foolish, pound-foolish management team threw against the wall and hoped stuck. Long story short, it got bad towards the end, with the Kings calling up career minor leaguer Danny Bylsma, a good penalty killer and hard worker, to fill one of the many holes in their lineup (John Slaney was one of the few kids they got right... and then promptly gave up on (though to be fair, several teams did the same, including the Caps eventually - beauty player though)), and I remeber one shift in particular when Gretzky broke in 2-on-1, a rare event at this point in his career, and threaded a pass between the skates of Bylsma (can you imagine what that poor bastard who had never scored 20 goals in professional hockey was thinking being in the NHfuckingL breaking in alone with Wayne fucking Gretzy), and Bylsma wiffed ingloriously. And fell down in the process. Another chance wasted in a season of wasted chances and poor results. I remember cursing Bylsma at the time - how could he fuck up a pass from my Gretz - but shortly thereafter feeling bad for him, knowing the whole time it wasn't really his fault and that the team, and Gretz to a certain extent, sucked.
- I didn't know what to think when Bylsma got the job in Pittsburgh. I thought Therien was a great coach, for sure, but one who had probably seen his shelf-life expire at that point with that team (that happens frequently with miserable bastards, French-Canadians even sooner I think). But oh my what a job he's done. I don't think the Penguins personnel is any better - no matter how you consider it - than the Capitals (in fact, I think it's worse). But they certainly are a better team - and play better as one, if that's a distinction - than the Crapitals (no sic.) - and it's not particularly close. Don't let the 7 games and 3 OT's fool you. They basically dominated possession and position throughout. And I think alot of that comes from Bylsma. And from Therien. Ol' Michel instilled in them a strong defensive responsibility/acumen, the competing in all three zones, the X's and O's of where to be without the puck. That kind of foundation takes time, hard work, and a whole mess of unpleasantness (a bunch of things the Boudreau-led Caps never achieved/endured). Bylsma brought a voice and face of someone the team didn't view as an unbearable asshole, which is important. He opened things up a bit, let the team skate forward without the puck, made the game a little more fun again. And he's a smart fucking guy. Everything I heard him say during the Caps series made me think, "this guy 1) actually knows what he's talking about, and 2) and can say it in an interesting way." Which is unbelievably rare for a hockey coach, let alone a human.
- I've traditionally been a big Bourdreau fan, to the extent he's got that hard-to-hate-on portly shape and fun-loving, golly-gee-how'd-i-end-up-here demeanor. He isn't afraid to try to be funny or even silly, the players clearly love him, and he doesn't try to suffocate or hinder skill. Folky, gregarious, loyal; a guy that if you don't like the rigidity and absence of personality of pro sports, it's hard to root against. That said, he's probably the worst possible coach for that group of guys right now. He gives them way too much rope, allows them to play as loosey-goosey as any team the NHL has seen since NHL'ers stopped smoking Camel lights on game days. OV, Semin, Green are all given waaay too much automony: they overstay shifts, don't really have to be hyper vigilant away from the puck, and have not been sufficiently admonished into making safe plays at all times in all zones. It's a curse of having an excess of skill, but it's one Boudreau had to address if he wanted this team to be great rather than good. In the end, they weren't very good. Too loosey-goosey, assholes.
- To a certain extent, there is a personnel problem, as the Pens have a beautiful and brilliant shutdown tandem of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi that combined make less money than the last top D pair of the Hartford Whalers (Zarley Zalapski and Glen Wesley?). The Caps should, in theory, be able to at least match that, or at least frustrate the hell out of Crosby and his pathetic sidekicks, with Morrisson and Poti, but different roles, different results (having Crosby and Malkin on different lines complicates things, of course) (Jeff Schultz proves useless yet again. Boy I wish we kept Johnny Oduya instead).
- The better team won (empahsis on team, not collection of players). And honestly, I'm a lot happier with it that way. Now Detroit needs to defeat the most evil collection of hockey players of my lifetime, and I'll be able to live with the stupid Earth continuing to keep fucking spinning.