Predicting Which NHL Teams Will Have the Most Chemistry Problems in 2013-14
Hockey teams need to have good chemistry in the locker room. Perhaps more than in any other sport.
Baseball history is littered with teams that did not like each other but managed to win championships. The 1972-74 Oakland A's won three straight World Series titles, but Reggie Jackson and Bill North exchanged punches on the locker-room floor.
The 1977-78 Bronx Zoo Yankees, featuring manager Billy Martin, Thurman Munson and Jackson (sense a pattern here?), won back-to-back titles.
The NFL has featured many teams with cliques and factions that did not speak but won titles. NBA teams feature smaller rosters and are less likely to have problems, but they are not often as close as hockey teams.
A successful season is often associated with a tight locker room. Recent champions like the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins all feature teams whose players had close, personal relationships.
But sometimes it goes the other way. As the 2013-14 begins to get some traction, here's a look at six teams that could develop chemistry issues as the season moves forward.
Why chemistry issues loom: The Oilers have featured a roster that has included some of the brightest and most hyped young talent in the league. After years of finishing at or near the bottom and accumulating high first-round draft picks, the Oilers roster features stellar young players like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
When the Oilers couldn't make a playoff run last year, it put the microscope firmly on the Edmonton locker room. That's because the Oilers have a new general manager in Craig MacTavish and a new head coach in Dallas Eakins.
The new bosses aren't going to get a lot of time to turn things around, so they are making demands of the players to turn their team around and become far more disciplined and responsible.
If the Oilers can't make changes and play a more mature game, MacTavish and Eakins will teach hard lessons to their players. Some highly rated young players could get benched, embarrassed in the media or sent down to the minor leagues.
This will add to the tension in the locker room, because players who are doing the job could point fingers at those who are falling down.
How to avoid chemistry issues: In some cases, it may not be simple. But with the Oilers, they must win consistently and play to their talent level. If that happens, the chemistry in the Edmonton locker room will be an advantage and not a problem.
Why chemistry issues loom: The Sabres appear to be facing a long season under Ron Rolston, who is in his first full season as head coach.
Rolston already knows that his lineup doesn't have the same kind of talent as Atlantic Division rivals like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins or even the Tampa Bay Lightning, and that's going to make wins hard to come by.
There are no excuses in the NHL. If Rolston doesn't win, he's going to hear about it from general manager Darcy Regier, who is really the one responsible for not giving the head coach enough talent to compete. When the coach feels pressure, it's likely his players will as well.
The leadership on the team is not strong. Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott have been named as the team's captains. Vanek is quiet and a talented goal scorer, but he does not have the kind of personality that speaks of strength. Ott has more of a captain's personality, but this is just his second year with the team.
This teams is going to struggle to pick up the W's, and the locker room may not be a very happy place.
How to avoid chemistry issues: The players should be able to see the spot that Regier has put Rolston in. Rolston is a solid coach who paid his minor league dues to get to the NHL. His players may want to rally around him and support him in an effort to help him gather strength in the organization.
Why chemistry issues loom: John Tortorella is a tough man to play for. Nothing is going to change that.
His personality had as much to do with why he got fired by the New York Rangers last spring as his team's inability to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
Tortorella is a smart man who knows hockey well, and he wants it played his way. He will impose his will on his team and his players will play the game his way. That's all that Tortorella knows, and it's not going to change any time soon.
The Canucks are off to a good start and may play well under Tortorella, but that's not enough. He does not like mistakes and will let his players hear about them.
The Vancouver locker room is not likely to be a happy place because their coach is not easily satisfied.
If the Canucks play badly, the Vancouver locker room will seem more like a morgue.
How to avoid chemistry issues: This one will be difficult to avoid, because it's not about winning or losing. If the team does everything Tortorella's way, then the players will have capitulated to the coach. The only thing the Canucks can do is have one or two strong players stand up to Tortorella and let him know they will not be bullied.
Tortorella may respect players who have the strength to stand up to him.
Why chemistry issues loom: Chemistry issues don't loom over the Flyers; they have already enveloped the franchise.
General manager Paul Holmgren fired head coach Peter Laviolette after three games. That's called a panic move.
In essence, Laviolette was fired because the team failed to make the playoffs last year and Holmgren just got around to taking care of business a little bit late.
The Flyers added Mark Streit, Ray Emery and Vincent Lecavalier in the offseason, and those players have to wonder what kind of situation they have gotten themselves into. What kind of team fires its coach after just three games?
New coach Craig Berube was an assistant on Laviolette's staff. He has the job of turning the team around. Berube was a hard-nosed player who will push his team hard in practice. It will be a no-nonsense atmosphere in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
How to avoid chemistry issues: The Flyers have a number of high-energy and fun-loving players. It may not feel comfortable in Philadelphia right now, but a winning streak could turn the situation around rather quickly.
Why chemistry issues loom: The Calgary Flames are clearly in a rebuilding year.
That does not have to lend itself to chemistry problems. The Flames are trying to work young players into the lineup and develop an identity. They know that the chances of having a winning season and making the playoffs are remote.
But here's the problem. Jay Feaster is the general manager, and he is largely the one responsible for the Flames' difficulties in recent years. He is still on the job.
However, the Flames hired Brian Burke to be their president before the start of the season. Burke does not need Feaster around to do his job. The two are likely to have a tug of war until the inevitable happens and Feaster leaves the Flames.
This will be felt in the locker room.
Burke made a point of criticizing young forward Sven Baertschi shortly before the start of the season, saying he did not play consistently enough in all three zones. While the Flames management kept a united front after the criticism, it's not likely the way Feaster or head coach Bob Hartley would have handled it.
It makes for uncomfortable chemistry in the locker room.
How to avoid chemistry issues: Burke is a high-pressure guy who is going to speak his mind. However, if and when his power play with Feaster comes to an end, the burden will be lessened somewhat.
Why chemistry issues loom: The Montreal Canadiens had a superb regular season in 2013, winning the old Northeast Division and finishing second overall in the Eastern Conference.
As well as the Canadiens played, they slumped badly at the end of the regular season. Smaller than most of their opponents, they seemed to get pushed around. That continued into the playoffs, where they lost to the Ottawa Senators in five games.
In addition to their physical issues, goalie Carey Price went into a slump at the wrong time of the year. He gave up a ton of bad goals, and it seemed like he couldn't make the big stops at key moments. Price gave up three or more goals in seven of his last 10 regular-season games.
There seemed to be an air of inevitability that the Canadiens would fall short at the end of the year, and head coach Michel Therien seemed to know it as well.
The demanding and all-business coach wore an expression on his face that married misery and disgust. It's tough for players to feel good about themselves and the job they are doing when playing for a man like that.
How to avoid chemistry issues: Therien is not going to be pleasant since that's not his nature. However, he can become a lot easier to live with if Price can pick up his game and perform like an All-Star in net. No coach is going to be happy if he sees that his goaltender is shaky. That's not good for the players, either. However, if Price plays superbly in the net, that will make the atmosphere in Montreal a lot better.