Monday Morning Update: February 13, 2017

A King gets a new crown, the Islanders make a charge, and we’re all in the best shape of our lives!

1. King indeed

 We’re going to do something today that I never considered doing on this column—starting with a Rangers story, and a positive one at that. But when the NHL has a new fastest 400 game winner, it’s time to make an exception.

While I’ve never appreciated much about the Rangers, I’ve always had an awe for Lundqvist. Whatever the reason, be it his movie-star hair and eyes, his Olympic greatness or just my soft spot for hockey goalies, I’ve always kind of rooted for King Hank, even if I wasn’t quite rooting for the team in front of him.

His 400th win is a testament for just how good he’s been and for just how long he’s been good for. I haven’t been a close-watching hockey fan my whole life, but ever since I started following the sport, he’s been there. There aren’t many players, and even fewer goalies, I can say that about.

But Henrik passing 400 W’s also reminds us that his reign is starting to come to a close. It probably took longer this season than many may have thought it would for Lundqvist to reach 400 wins. He’s been less than stellar many times during the season, and has even been outperformed on ore than one occasion by backup Antti Raanta. King though he may be, he’s not immortal, and Father Time is starting to show signs of winning this particular tussle, as he does them all.

I shudder to say it, but I do hope Henrik finds a way to hoist a cup at some point. Maybe he can do it with another team, though.

2. Carry that Weight

When 2017 was first kicking off, it didn’t seem like there was too much hope for the Islanders. While the season was still young, especially with the impact of this year’s edition of the WCOH, the Islanders weren’t just losing games. They were routinely being outplayed, and some of the team’s most important pieces were not producing at anywhere near the level the Islanders had once hoped they would.

But midway through the first month of the year, the team did what many fans had been waiting for in dismissing head coach Jack Capuano and handing the reigns to his assistant, former Islander Doug Weight.

Now, as we’ll cover below, it’s not unusual for teams to get a bounce after changing the man behind the bench, especially this year. That dead cat bounce is an all-too-common false flag before a team’s final collapse.

But we’ve moved out of that “bounce” period for Doug Weight and his charges, and so far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. With Sunday’s win over the lowly Avalanche, the Islanders have gotten wins in all but three of their games under Doug Weight, and now sit just a point out of a playoff spot, with the magical “games in hand” still in their favor.

There’s still plenty of hockey left to play, and pkety of time for the Islaners to come back to earth, if they are in fact the team we saw during the first three months of the season. But maybe, just maybe, a new coach is just the change the Islanders were Weighting for.

3. More on the way? 

More good news, Islander fans? While you may be starting to get sick of hearing this, there is more help on the way, and I mean it this time. Matthew Barzal, he of the double minor penalty and comedy of errors during his first NHL stint, had a full handful of points in his latest game for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

Matthew Barzal, he of the double minor penalty and comedy of errors during his first NHL stint, had a full handful of points in his latest game for the Seattle Thunderbirds. And while it may be the most extreme example, it’s far from his only multi-point game of this season—in fact, he’s gotten multiple points in 17 of his 29 games for the WHL team so far.

And in Bridgeport, Michael Del Colle and Ryan Pulock continue to impress, most recently in their Saturday night shootout victory, won in net by big league castoff Jaroslav Halak.

It’s been a long time that Islander fans have heard that the cavalry was coming, but that may finally starting to ring true. Pulock has played NHL time and been effective already, and defenseman Adam Pelech has played a role in their recently renewed play. Add in the continued play of Anthony Beauvillier and Barzal’s eventual return to the big club, and there could be some new faces in Brooklyn soon.

 And it isn’t just the high draft picks and big names, as the Sound Tigers’ Devin Toews has generated excitement lately, even being named the fastest skater in the AHL during their All-Star festivities.

4. Bruins bounce

Bruce Cassidy

Is firing your coach going to become an in vogue move in the NHL? If the results we’ve seen from the move so far continue, it just might.

First, the Islanders turn red hot after dismissing Capuano before transitioning into more down to earth, yet still strong, play. Then, the Blues told Ken Hitchcock he could start his retirement a few weeks early before winning five of their first six under coach Mike Yeo. Now, the Boston bruins are finding success after releasing perhaps the biggest fish yet into the coaching pond, Claude Julien, winning three straight, including one against the rival Montreal Canadiens.

It’s enough success with new coaches to go from accident to trend. Are other teams paying attention? If you’re a coach with the temperature on his seat already turned up a few notches, it may be about to get even hotter.

Especially when you consider the names now available on the open market. We saw how teams postured when Mike Babcock was mad available a few offseasons ago. Certainly, there are no Babcock’s in this group, but  Hitchcock and a Julien is still a pretty impressive group. Maybe that will push a GM or owner to make a move they may not have otherwise?

Only time will tell, but don’t be surprised if you see another coach looking for a new job soon.

5. March looms

There’s going to be less guessing and a little more certainty about March Madness this year. And while I’m against it, maybe it’s for the best. After all, it’s already been quite the chaotic year, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.

Duke was back atop its throne as a perennial powerhouse, that is, until Coach K’s back and Grayson Allen’s spastic legs seemed to have the Blue Devils on the outside looking in. That is, until they rose from the ashes once again and, most recently, took down a strong University of North Carolina team this weekend. Further up north on the East Coast, Virginia hosts a strong team and Villanova looks primed to make another run.

That’s just the Eastern time zone. Oregon may have bested USC this weekend, but both teams will be dangerous come tourney time. Gonzaga rounds out the Pacific Coast’s representation, and the Bulldogs have a claim as the top team in the land.

It’s still just mid-February, meaning we have plenty of shots to take, and bubbles to burst. But maybe when it’s all said and done, whe’ll be thankful for a look inside the slection comitte’s collective mind.

6. Point guard perils

Basketball has probably been most benefitted by the general turn toward technology and analytics in American sports, and point guards probably are the happiest athletes about it.

We now understand better than ever how important, if undersized, these ball movers are. Their outside shooting and ball-moving talents are probably more valued than they’ve ever been. And it’s evidenced by just how many point guards can count themselves among the league’s stars. From Kyle Lowry in Toronto to Derrick Rose in New York to Chris Paul and Steph Curry in California, it’s a point guard driven league.

But I’m not so sure a rising tide actually does lift all boats in this case. While there are more star point men now than any time in league history, there are also just more of them, star or not.

There’s no doubting that a point guard can make or break your offense and with it, your team. But the more of the new NBA I watch, the more convinced I become that, unless you have one of the five best in the game, it’s not worth spending at the position. There is plenty of talent and plenty of depth at the one guard in the modern NBA.

It’s why I’ve been aginst any team handing Derrick Rose a long-term contract, and it’s why I wouldn’t go out of my way, or spend too much in (admittedly abundant) cap space or other assets in order to acquire one.

It may be the best time to be a top point guard there’s ever been. But I’m not sure I’d want to be part of that next rung down—their value may never be lower.

7. Unrest in the Association

No one does drama like the NBA, and with All-Star Weekend on the calendar for the end of this week, the drama all-stars were out in force last week.

First, it was the old standbys, the veteran all-stars of soap opera NBA turmoil, James Dolan and the New York Knicks. No one is quite sure what, but something happened to make him decide Charles Oakley was no longer welcome at his tam’s basketball games. We then found out that Dolan is not good at running a basketball team, which everyone thought they learned a long time ago. Dolan also, in his deep compassion and empathy for the former Knick, expressed his hope that Oak can get some hlep. So, just another day in the life of basketball’s biggest-name franchsie, who earlier this year had their point guard go AWOL.

Then, there are the young guns, the first time soap opera stars: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Golden State. And, I hate to break it to Russell Wetbrook, but it’s only a rivalry if you have any chance of beating your supposed “rivalry.”

The NBA may be a soap opera, but it’s the most compelling one around, even when it climbs to the heights of absurdity.

8. Caution, young Thor

Noah Syndergaard’s 2016 didn’t have the happiest ending, as he offered a valiant effort in the Metropolitans’ lone playoff contest last year, but was failed by his teammates, who went down quietly.

If he’s not careful, however, his 2017 could have an even more unfortunate end.

The talk of the early portion of the Mets’ visit to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training was the young ace’s proclamation: that he’s in the best shape of his life (more on that in a moment) and that he’s ready to up his already impressive velocity.

Not so fast.

I love the fighting spirit Syndergaard has on display here. The guy is no doubt a fierce competitor, and it’s obviously always good when a young pitcher is talking about getting better. No complaints there.

But with the Mets’ history of arm injuries on their young, hard-throwing pitching staff, I’m not sure this is a direction they should be encouraging their player to pursue. Syndergaard has proven to be plenty effective throwing, as he does now, in the mid-to-low 90’s, occasionally climbing even higher on the radar gun. The last thing they need is to add another arm injury to the pile, which already includes Matt Harvey’s laundry list of ailments, missed seasons for Stephen Matz and Zack Wheeler, and constant injuries to Jacob de Gromm and to Syndergaard himself.

The Mets saw how quickly a championship team can turn to an also-ran with a bad rash of arm injuries last year. They, and Syndergaard, shouldn’t play with fire here.

9. “He’s in the best shape of his life!”

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 4.11.32 PM.png

So, the Mets will be good to doubt the “best shape of his life” story when it comes to Syndergaard. Or any of their other pitchers for that matter. And, from the results of a quick Google search, the Tigers, Rays and a few other teams should be equally as wary.

There’s a proud tradition in every sport when it comes to exaggerating off-season fitness regimes and results, but it’s particularly strong when it comes to the hardball. Maybe it’s the (frankly absurd) length of spring training, maybe it’s the fact that baseball players tend to be the only athletes in such bad shape that they can get into the “best shape of their life” so easily, but we see it every year.

Sometimes, guys really can cut some lbs, put on some lean muscle, and help boost his performance in the nest year. But ore often than not, like so many other Spring Training stories, it’s nothing more than a hot air.

If you’re a baseball fan hungry for some news in the cold of Winter, you’re bound to find out that at least one or two players are in tip-top shape, but do yourselves, and us all, a favor, and wait until the games start to get excited.

That’ll do it for this edition—have a great week everyone! For more, follow @MurraySportTalk on Twitter.

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