Now that I have your attention . . .
Jgraham brought up an insightful question during last night's game thread: How much blame do we as fans put on the players, and how much do we put on Mike Babcock for their recent struggles?It can't possibly be all due to injury because some of these problems kept occurring before the Red Wings' training room got overbooked--late starts, inconsistent efforts, "special" teams. How much responsibility for these problems falls on the players, and how much falls on the coaches, specifically head coach Mike Babcock?
I'm a big believer in viewing things based on how they happen on the ice, according to what you see. Sounds like a bunch of tautology, right? But the point is that we as fans aren't lucky enough to get inside the locker rooms ourselves, nor are we in all the players' heads, so I view any and all rants against a coach with much more skepticism than I would for anything else. Just about the only coach I've ever thought "man, why isn't he fired already?" was Los Angeles' Terry Murray earlier this season.
So how much blame does Babcock actually share for the Red Wings' recent struggles? The Red Wings ailings have been injuries, slow starts, netherworldly special teams, and an unsightly road record. Injuries happen as a part of the game, and depending on who's injured and for how long, the coach's role becomes more or less prominent. Slow starts can happen; the players are human, and they won't be giving a full 60-minutes for all 82 games. The special teams is a combination of coaching and execution. The road record . . . I'm not going to even touch that right now, except to pose the question, "Does last change matter THAT much?"
Injuries have played a major role over the most recent stretch; no team can be unaffected by their top forward, defenseman, AND goalie out at the same time. Short of reverting to a 1995-style New Jersey Devils trap, I think the Red Wings have adjusted their game well enough strategy-wise to deal with the injuries; the problem is now execution. And if these players who are replacing the people in the lineup continue to execute poorly, then it's up to the coach to find a different fix, and I think we're approaching that point. (Of course, the adjustment might be moot at this point if Datsyuk comes back next game.)
Both coach and players share the full brunt of the blame for the slow starts. The coach should be able to help motivate his players to get out of the gate with fire, and the players need to actually start the game on time. Someone on the Red Wings needs to realize that while individuals can flip the switch come playoff time (looking at you, Chris Osgood), having an entire team just flip the playoff switch will be much more difficult to execute. Start on time, and you won't even need to make so many comebacks that ultimately tease the fans into thinking there's hope to salvage a game before it ultimately falls short.
Finally, special teams. The joke is already old about how "special" they are. Sure, the personnel isn't there, considering the talent out of the lineup, but this power play and penalty kill combination has sucked for a while. There are points during games where I put the onus on the players to simplify and figure out the opponent's penalty killing and adjust accordingly, especially when you get 5+ power play opportunities in a single game. Otherwise, the coaches need to get the special teams ready for when the happen in-game. Going into games with a limp-dick power play at the outset is for this long a stretch of games is just unacceptable; going into games already expecting to need two goals because your penalty kill is inevitably going to give up a power play goal against is going to make it really hard to win in the playoffs. The execution isn't there from the players either, but at this point in the season, I have to think the brunt of the blame falls on the coaches here.
I hope you understand that I DO NOT want to actually fire Babcock (yet). But this is my answer to Jgraham's question from last night's game thread. I'm totally willing to be convinced otherwise. "It's all Babcock's fault!" "It's all the players' fault!" "It's Jonathan Ericsson's fault!" Maybe not the last one, but I can be convinced otherwise. I think the blame right now should fall more toward the "player execution" side.