Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Cup Has Been Won, But the Kowalski Rages On: Post-Cup Analysis, Tireless Diatribes Continue

Hey, jags and jagettes. We at Sports Unfiltered hope your revelry was memorable -- or is, for those of you testing the limitations of the human body -- and may your hangover or stint in the tank have been as short-lived as the Sharks’ time with the lead during the Finals.

It’s a forgivable error to think that I, too, would be yet incapacitated, perhaps as far as contented, by the fruits of several months of incomprehensible shouting and rabblerousing, but even the last victory that clinched the cup can’t cool the scorching jets of your favorite yinzer orator.

Indeed, while the city of Pittsburgh soaks in the economic boom of binge drinkers, party animals, and Phil Kessel’s insatiable appetite, I continue to seethe at the injustices of the sports world, a few of which I will manhandle in this post more than Joe Thornton does the unfortunate bastard who has to wear the outline of his fist as a tattoo in the misconception that they were playing hockey and not starting a fight on the Southside. I know your attention is at a premium, as you skim this post in between gulps of pain medicine or your own homemade remedies, so let’s jump right in.

Not That You Need It: A Friendly Reminder, Barry Melrose Is a No-Talent Hack

Let’s start with the (off and on) mulleted gargoyle that roosts over the custodian’s closet and discount office chair called the ‘hockey department’ at ESPN -- a gargoyle so endeared there for his pathetic attempts at insight that they call him by his pet name, Barry. 

Melrose, whether by vendetta or cognitive dysfunction, chose the Penguins to lose every single round of the playoffs, and for the sake of humanity it seems appropriate to explore how the hell he has reached this threshold of madness and wonder how he is still employed, if it hadn’t made itself evident that the entertainment derived from the ironic spectacle of his ‘informing’ viewers was his own saving grace.  
Really, Barry -- in 6 to the fucking Rangers?!

Melrose must have already been ejecting nonsense via his devil tongue, head spinning wildly by virtue of whatever demonic presence possessed him, 'predicting' -- as much as weather reporters choose to 'forecast' the conditions over the coming days as a euphemism for 'guess' -- that the Penguins would lose as quickly as the first round to a Rangers team that they had shown dominance over since Sullivan took over his dictatorial reign as badass coach of the universe.

I will give him the slightest regard in that he at least had the second and third series go to seven games, before, I would imagine, hoping to be put out of his misery swiftly by picking the Sharks in six.

The more important question that arises from his hockey-soothsaying debacle is, how does this Neanderthal jobber continue to hold clout in the hockey community? There must be some source of genuine hockey success in his past that has anchored his position as a source for hockey 'insight' -- yet another term dripping in irony. Today, we explore that in the latest edition of Numbers Crunch Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending).


 Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

On today's Number Crunch, we investigate the staggering amount of faith put into the opinions of a man who looks like he spends more time getting his hair done and washing his Camaro IROC than observing the sport that he is, presumably, being paid to report. We will do so by breaking down three stages of his career -- as a player, coach, and broadcaster -- in an attempt to identify where, if at all, he rightfully earned the trust of anyone.

Playing Career

Melrose's playing days started rather auspiciously, and upon realizing that he made it to the pros, quite a feat in and of itself, it may seem warranted to tolerate the drivel spewed forth on the air. He was, in fact, drafted by both the Montreal Canadiens (round 2, #36 overall) and the Cincinnati Stingers (round 4, #37 overall) of the WHA, i.e., the World Hockey Association, the league that attempted to rival the NHL during the 70s, for yinz jags who haven't been brushing up on their hockey history. His draft position alone may even lure you into saying, "Ok, I guess I have to listen to what this guy has to say."

This logic would be shortsighted, though, for a number of reasons. First, before even exploring how well he fared in the pros, it is important to remember that scouting and drafting remain highly inaccurate, speculative, and in some ways arbitrary processes, in spite of the money and labor spent on them in modern professional hockey. The 70s, then, were even more archaic in these areas, and players have conceded that the procedures and expectations of today's hockey -- structured practices, using video, systematic styles of play -- didn't get the slightest consideration until the 1972 Summit Series, where the contributions of the Soviets to the philosophy of hockey and their merits were evident.

Now, with doubt brewing, why don't we push aside the historical framework and turn our attention to the freaking stats? Let's check out good ol' Canadian boy Barry's season and career totals.

Barry Melrose: a player who must believe in the 'intangibles'
So how does Barry stack up? Well, apparently the Canadiens were being bullied so they drafted Melrose with hopes of unleashing him and his irate mullet upon their worst foes. As the NHL totals indicate, he averaged a point roughly every ten games, would be approximately a minus-32 in a modern NHL season, and ended up going to box about once a game -- and jail, presumably, based on his caveman tactics stats, though the NHL looks at its checkered era of open violence with a fairy tale hue and favor. The stats are clear enough as is, but perhaps this tidy screenshot, originally omitted for its lack of information, furnishes us the most efficient explanation of Barry Melrose as a hockey player.

I actually laughed out loud at this one.
Unfortunately, an award for playing god awful defensive hockey and spending your time attempting to behead your opponents was not, and has yet to be, created, and so Barry's playing can be summed up in a photograph of a Canadian bar fight in the 70s, though I have my reservations whether Canadians actually fight outside of the chaos generated during a hockey game. His trophies at home are doubtless the various dismembered extremities and bits that he hacked off the person of his enemies because he couldn't skate, pass, shoot, or do any of the fundamental functions of a hockey player.

So, the mulleted taskmaster doesn't exactly impress with his playing ability, though points will be given for, if nothing else, somehow convincing professional hockey teams that his brand of barbarism was appropriate for the game of hockey and that they should provide him a salary to carry it out. Kudos in that regard. Let's move on, then, to where Melrose saw more limelight, his coaching career.

Coaching Career

As much as it pains me to do it, I have to start here by recognizing some of Barry's inexplicable achievements. Namely, as coach of the Adirondack Red Wings, Detroit's AHL affiliate at the time, he did win the Calder Cup by some miracle, as the team finished 40-36-4 during the regular season -- not exactly a record indicative of dominance and a stellar coaching job.

Since I am much more eager to share and focus on the failures of this living hairpiece, let's skip ahead, just a bit, to Melrose's days in front of the hottest team in hockey, an inferno of disappointment, the 90s Los Angeles Kings.

For context, it's 1988. In a blockbuster deal that shocked the entire hockey fandom, Peter Pocklington, then-owner of the Edmonton Oilers, sent Canada's golden boy, the face of the league, Wayne Gretzky to the Kings for, more or less, a substantial amount of money ($15 million) and several first-round draft picks. This move stirred even the most grounded follower of hockey, but was much less surprising to Pocklington's creditors, who were likely to give him the ol' Melrose skull-buster if he didn't come up with the money he started to take out to afford his perennial all-star team, though he will claim it had more to do with Gretzky's love life. In 2010, Pocklington was found guilty of felony perjury in the state of California. But don't worry: he claims the Gretzky deal was the "right move" for everybody involved and I wouldn't dare question a man of such resolute morality and financial management.

The Kings, their lord and savior now on-hand to provoke Americans everywhere into liking hockey, had a few test trials before landing on Barry Melrose. They started with Robbie Ftorek, who had a much more successful professional career to his credit in both the WHA and NHL, and the team did fairly well, going 42-31-7 and losing in the second round of the playoffs. Not too bad, but Ftorek was fired after this solitary season.

The Kings, as it were, had become a blossoming team of hotshots, not unlike the Oilers of a few years prior and, frankly, the Penguins every since a young French-Canadian man refused to go practice if a particular man was in the building. As the L.A. Times reported, Ftorek's contract wasn't renewed in light of failure, but because the players didn't like him, including one name whose opinion was held in the highest regard.

Source: http://articles.latimes.com/1989-05-03/sports/sp-2544_1_coach-robbie-ftorek-kings-record-kings-american-hockey-league
So it was Tom Webster who replaced Ftorek, leading the Kings to two average regular seasons, one stellar one, but nothing better than second-round burnouts in the playoffs. Left again without a coach, who could handle this team of talented underachievers?

Evidently persuaded by that stint as an AHL pit boss, the Kings decided the best man to coach their team of douchers, including arguably the best doucher to have ever played the game, was a man better known for his haircut than any contribution he had ever made to the sport. A man who also had no NHL coaching experience and, as we have reviewed, wasn't much of player himself -- Barry Melrose.

Coming soon to DVD: Melrose Place, Season 1 - 'Oh Shit, We Actually Hired That Guy'

His first full season was indeed worthy of cinema, guiding the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals, with an average regular season performance, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. With such resounding success in Melrose's first year, the potential for a dynasty in Los Angeles still loomed large; the window was still open.
Then the Melrose effect kicked in.
It's impossible to tell whether Melrose decided to pursue offense at any cost, simply didn't coach the team and spent practice looking in a mirror to adjust his hair, or if the team ignored him and he was actually providing sound, or at least any, strategy and advice. What the Kings did manage, however, was a precipitous drop in attention to detail and, you know, defense, with players, including Gretzky, ending the season with a double-digit minus and Goalie Kelley Hrudey getting beaten more than the children of an inebriated Irishman. Granted, yes, in the day of advanced statistics, plus-minus is not as trusted a measurement as it used to be, but there's no violent swell of coincidence that completely derails an entire teams plus-minus rating throughout the course of a season.

The next season saw the Kings miss the playoffs with a putrid record of 24-45-12, and Melrose was fired mid-season the following years, as the team limped to a 16-23-9 record to that point.

To be fair -- something, I can assure you, I truly prefer not to be with regard to Melrose -- there have been a number of teams throughout sports history assembled purely by the dollar bill and that never achieved much of anything. That said, let's look at some of the talent Barry had at his disposal as coach of the Kings.

[1] Wayne Gretzky: all-time goals and points leader; number retired by the NHL; inducted into the hall of fame.

[2] Jarri Kurri: 600+ goals, 1300+ points; inducted into hall of fame.

[3] Luc Robitaille: highest-scoring left winger in history; 600+ goals, 1300+ points; inducted into hall of fame.

[4] Rob Blake: 1200+ games played, 700+ points (as a defenseman); Norris trophy winner; multiple-time gold medal winner; inducted into the hall of fame.

Melrose also had some of those players who aren't going to light up the scoreboard, but help to win games, including Darryl Sydor, Tomas Sandstrom, Alexei Zhitnik, and Tony Granato.

Altogether, this man had four future hall-of-famers, plus a handful of NHL household names, and still managed to do jack shit with them.

But even greater infamy awaited Barry, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, seeking a new avenue for mismanagement, disappointment, and unmitigated stupidity, hired Melrose in 2008 to ruin their team.

 The organization, presumably tripping balls in celebrating their selection of Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick of the most recent draft, decided it was go idea to carry out their hiring process high on acid. Melrose's attempt at changing the culture of the Lightning began immediately.

Melrose imparting to his squad the most fundamental rules of 'Mulletology'
Luckily for them, the high wore off shortly into the season, likely thanks the atrocious play of the team, and they canned the mullet master after just 16 games, having posted a 5-7-4 record. Of course, Melrose's famous take on who was soon to be there best player didn't help his cause:

"Steven (Stamkos) is not ready for the NHL. Steven is going to be a good player, but right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defensemen who are 6-3 or 6-4 that can skate as good as him. … He just can't check in his own end well enough. … Right now, Steven is not a great NHL player by any stretch of the imagination.''

Stamkos didn't have a great year by any means, but he did score 42 of his 46 points after Melrose had been fired; that's a .25 points per game pace compared to .63. Oh, and he also went on to score 51 goals and tally 95 points the next season.

So, yet again, Barry has proven that, despite marginal glimpses of hope, that he is a hockey-related reject, devoid of any insight that should win him attention from the public. To cover all our bases, let's take one final look at his staple position, his broadcasting career.

Broadcasting Career

At this point, I would hope that Melrose's complete and utter incompetence in every facet of hockey would be clear, and that a foray into his broadcasting career would not prove necessary. Nevertheless, I want to wade only briefly into one of my favorite broadcasting follies that demonstrates, well, that Barry just isn't too bright.
When the New Jersey Devils had just built the Prudential Center, Barry Melrose wanted to bring clairvoyance to the hockey and sports fans around the world by issuing a brief synopsis of the building on ESPN. And with His gaze cast upon the camera, He did sayeth:
"It looks great on the inside but don't go outside, especially if you got a wallet or anything else because the area around the building is awful."  
I doctor a number of images, and this is guaranteed to be one because Barry Melrose is a godforsaken Canadian space cadet.
Naturally, Barry faced a tsunami of shit, apologized, and the people at ESPN continue to employ him nonetheless, knowing that no matter the personal pits of despair they find themselves in, they can always look over at Barry to put everything into perspective.
I will back to it soon enough, jags and jagettes; anger takes time to put into words. Keep tuned.

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