Author: randalsmathers

Assistant director of Rutland Free Library Father of two; we live in beautiful Rutland VT Originally from western Canada Graduate (BA/MA) of University of Alberta Graduate Master of Library and Information Science, Clarion University of Pennsylvania Retired amateur hockey goalie Fan of kd lang, Lyle Lovett, Annie Proulx, Umberto Eco, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Bill James, Stephan Pyles and livin' la vida local.

Rutland’s first family of recreation

cindiCindi Wight is a great ambassador for Rutland Recreation and Parks Department as well as active living in general.
But Wight, the superintendent of the department, has been bringing a lot more to the job than even that for years. She’s been bringing her family. The Wights — husband Keith and children Josh, Molly and Emily — have been fixtures at Rec-sponsored events since they first moved to Rutland.

The kids would be at the start line of races, marking the courses, handing out prizes and snacks. Cindi recalls Emily as a three-year-old handing out doughnut holes — she’s quick to note with just a little wince they hand out healthy snacks at events these days. And I first met Keith when we were both volunteer shovel operators at Pine Hill Park on a work day.

Keith in fact was a part-time employee when Cindi took over as superintendent but with an obvious conflict of interest he had to resign. But he enjoyed it so much that he kept on working as a volunteer.

Cindi says it made hdunkin-donuts-9er work “a family job … special events weren’t time away from the family.”

“The kids always found roles they could help with,” she said, and when trail building got too much they would “spend the day up there … working, building fairy houses, reading.”

On the other hand, Cindi owns up that there were times the kids were “voluntold” helpers. And the sheer length of work days at Pine Hill quickly wore thin for the kids (and others). Keith Wight, Shelley Lutz and Michael Smith, who led many of the work crews, were seemingly happy to spend a full day on the hill but we mere mortals were not necessarily so eager, and Cindi Wight notes that work days at Pine Hill are now over at noon.

“Do a morning, end at noon, everybody’s happy,” she says. And while the park is run by the all-volunteer Pine Hill Partnership, Cindi has a seat at their table and they work closely together.

And the family tradition continues — Keith was helping with a new shipment of balance bikes for an upcoming learn-to-ride program at the North Street building when I stopped by for an interview and Emily had been by the day before with some power tools to dismantle giant comic book covers for storage until the Halloween parade. But with Josh, 22, and Molly, 20, off to college, and with school visits happening for Emily, 17, it’s almost the end of an era for Rutland’s first family of recreation.

Still, with Wight hands on pretty much every aspect of the city’s Recreation and Parks for the past decade and a half, they are leaving a real legacy. And with the tens of thousands of hours of volunteer time that go into every aspect of recreation in a small city like Rutland, from building trails at Pine Hill to coaching, fund-raising and driving kids to events, having the superintendent’s family set the volunteer bar so high seems pretty cool.

This article was originally published in Sam’s Good News; the latest edition is here.

Resolving to run … or plod to fitness

This new year, like most years and like many people, I decided I needed to get into better shape. Which is, let’s face it, how gyms make money.

I saw an article online recently that said as many as 90 percent of people who sign up for health clubs as a result of a New Year’s resolution never use their membership. I can relate as I’m not exactly a gym rat.

Several years ago, when I was working in New Hampshire, the paper I worked for provided a group price at a local gym franchise. It was $10 per month, so I figured even I would get good value at that price. I gave it up after three years and four workouts … which comes out to $90 per workout. Oh, and I got a T-shirt. As long as the shirt turns out to be worth at least $325 on eBay, I made out like a bandit.

But I like the idea of being in shape and I feel better when I am. And we’re an active family. The kids are in the Bill Koch ski league at Mountaintop, at least one child and one parent has run the Crowley mile run annually since 2008 and we were regulars at the Mothers Day 5K when we had babies (and a baby jogger). So I feel like I should do something to not be the family couch Pa-tato.

My wife is a serious runner, with eight marathons to her name. I ran one in the blush of newlywed foolishness and ran sprints in high school, but I’m not a serious runner.

What I am is slow. Not sort-of slow, or not-fast, but S-L-O-W, glacially slow. I’ve never actually finished last in a race, but now that I’m up into the “masters” age group, it gives me something to look forward to.

planet-fitness-free-tshirtStill, every year around this time I toy with joining a gym again … until I see the Planet Fitness T-shirt. So how to get into shape?

I played hockey — goalie — until my mid-forties, when somebody stuck an elbow behind my ear at high speed when I wasn’t looking. When it takes fingers from both hands to count all your concussions it is probably time to take up a slower sport.

I considered curling (Canada’s second winter sport, its national championship was hosted by the Macdonald tobacco company until that was frowned upon, at which point Labatt’s brewery took it over … any sport sponsored by beer and cigarettes can’t be all that aerobic). There is a club — Rutland Rocks — at Giorgetti Arena but I haven’t been able to make the schedule work.

And several people told me I should do yoga to keep me flexible enough to play goal in my golden years. I tried –and enjoyed — it a few times, and we have a couple of friends who teach so I’ll probably give it a more extended go at one yoga-ouchof the city’s many, many studios one of these years.

But for 2017, I took up running with our dog, Maisie. It’s perfect: I already have a pair of sneakers, it gets me out of the house without a schedule, and the dog wants to stop and pee about every 100 feet, which gives me an excuse to catch my breath. And if somebody notices that I’m doing 17-minute miles, I can blame it on the hound. Good dog, Maisie.

If you live in the Northwest neighborhood, you’ll eventually see Maisie and I trundle past. Don’t be alarmed, that’s my regular skin tone during exercise and the pained look goes away once I get into shape … around May.

This article was originally published in Sam’s Good News; the latest edition is here.

Food, from farmers

By Randal Smathers

Can eating your veggies make you healthier? There’s an innovative program in Rutland that aims to show it’s a fact.

Each Wednesday, 100 bags of locally grown vegetables are handed out by the Health Care Share program to families and residents of senior and assisted living homes whose doctors have prescribed them.

Heidi Lynch, who runs the program for the Vermont Farmers Food Center on West Street, said the Health Cares, in its second year, is unusual in that most similar plans offer coupons instead of hard, cold cash crops. They get the produce in turn from small and / or beginning farms from around the region: Alchemy Gardens in Shrewsbury, Breezy Meadows Orchard and Nursery in Tinmouth, Caravan Gardens in Cuttingsville and Yoder Farm in Danby, as well as the Smokey House Center in Danby.

Education is a major part of the program. Every week, recipients get a printed sheet with a list of veggies, recipes and health tips, and there’s a demonstration of recipes or samples during distribution at the Food Center where roughly two-thirds of the bags are picked up. The other third are handed out at the Community Health Centers of Rutland County on Stratton Road.

The produce naturally varies by season. The last week of August the bags included tomatoes, melons, squash, zucchini, carrots, onions and kale – almost seven and a half pounds of fresh food. It’s designed to serve a family of four for a full week. If there is any extra, families are welcome to take more. Due to health concerns not everybody can used everything in the bag, so there is some swapping. Corn in particular can be too high in sugar for Type II diabetics, said Lynch, but those conversations are also an important part of the educational process.

From 10 to noon is farm dropoff time. Then there’s two hours of sorting and bagging and a pause before the distribution starts at 3 PM. After an initial rush, things typically slow down, said Lynch, then pick up again around 5:30 as people get off work. By 6 it’s all over. There’s a secondary distribution on Thursday and if any is still unclaimed it is donated to the Turning Point and / or Dream Center. There’s surprisingly little turnover: Some 85 percent of users pick up their shares week in and week out.

The program is 9 weeks into a 12-week run, with monthly “harvest shares” planned for the fall / early winter. Folks wishing to participate should ask their doctor. The year started with five medical offices prescribing. Two more recently signed on. Lynch is signing up doctors and farmers in February and March; April through June is open enrollment.

Lynch is an enthusiastic proponent. A Rutland native, she attended St. Mike’s in Burlington where she was introduced to organic gardening. She was introduced to a program similar to the Health Shares in Richmond, Vt., then talked to Greg Cox, the president of the Farmers Food Center, about it and it took off. Now she discusses “the food system,” and how the program works as a wholesale opportunity for small farms that don’t grow enough to attract a regular bulk purchaser. A vegetarian, she can still discuss the relative merits of local, organic meat versus corporation-farmed soybeans shipped thousands of miles.

And it’s a combined effort. Besides the farmers and Farm Center, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps volunteers and the youth team at Vocational Rehab have been regulars at helping sort and bag the produce, along with help from Grace Congregational and Good Shepherd Lutheran churches, College of St. Joseph and Green Mountain College. The major funder (Lynch calls it “seed money” with a straight face) is the Bowse Health Trust of Rutland Region Medical Center. Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, Vermont Fresh Network, Hunger Free Vermont, UVM’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and SAGE (Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education) provide the training, nutritional expertise and recipes.

For more information, see http://www.vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org/health_care_share.

This article was originally published in Sam’s Good News; the latest edition is here.

Summer @ the Farmacy

By Randal Smathers

Madison and Griffin Kingsbauer have a different story to tell when it comes time to write their “what I did this summer” essays. The sister and brother – she’s 15 and he’s 13 – ran a farm stand at their father’s medical practice.

Every Monday from April 9 to August 22, the two set up their “Farmacy” vegetable stand outside Rutland Community Health Center (12 Stratton Road, across from the hospital), where Dr. Matthew Kingsbauer practices. Their mom, Trish Kingsbauer, said the idea came from a farmers market in New York City; the family then contacted Greg Cox of the Farmers Food Center and he put them in touch with Carol Tashie, who along with partner Dennis Duhaime runs Radical Roots Farm, which provided the produce.

Tashie would tell the Kingsbauers what was available and what was unusual about it. Then the kids would pass that along to their customers. Griffin listed beet greens, heirloom tomatoes and heirloom broccoli as some of the more unusual offerings they taught their customers about. For the record, unlike more common varieties which have an edible crown and woody stem, the stem of heirloom broccoli stays tender and delicious all the way down.

The most common purchase was the humble cucumber, helped by the $1 “prescription for vegetables” discount – $1 just happening to be the price of a cuke.

Trish said learning about the various foods and passing that on to the customers was the biggest thing the kids learned – along with the social skills needed to interact with the public, and making correct change. Griffin joked that they probably lost money on the first day by giving out too much change. They also homeschool, so they will get full credit for the work they put in.

Both Trish and Griffin think the Farmacy might work better a second time around – although he’s not interested in doing it again, in part because it took a while for the idea to gain popularity, which made for some slow days before they built up a steady clientele. Any leftovers were donated to the homeless shelter, so nothing went to waste.

It wasn’t all work for the kids this year – there was climbing camp, 4H, and the family took a vacation to Washington, D.C. Among the sights they took in was a farmers market — where they duly took note of various ways of setting out produce and signage.

A love of veggies comes naturally to the Kingsbauer family, who have enjoyed a vegan diet for the past eight years. But Griffin did notice that a lot of kids would come up to the Farmacy with their minds made up – “they would say, ewww, broccoli!” And he at least came away with a new appreciation: He says that while he wouldn’t want to run a store, he might just like to be a farmer when he grows up.

Although the Farmacy is closed for the season, Radical Roots is at the Vermont Farmers Market every Saturday, 9 AM to 2 PM and Wednesdays, 3 to 6 PM; in Depot Park in Downtown Rutland.

This article was originally published in Sam’s Good News; the latest edition is here.

Speed thrills

Three of the four remaining teams in the NHL playoffs value skill over aggression, which is a hopeful trend in the NHL. NHL teams tend to copy success — so the team that wins the Cup sets a template for other teams. And this year, three of the four divisional playoffs were won by the best-skating team in the pool. Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Jose are all built around using team speed to wear down the other team. Only St. Louis beat a team that outskated them — knocking off Chicago — but that took a full seven games. The Blues have players who can skate, but with players like Backes and Brouwer, they are more inclined to wear you down with muscle than foot speed.

And speed has been a real weapon. Almost all of the top 20 scorers are among the best skaters on their teams. And in the East in particular, the Penguins line of Kessel, Bonino and Hagelin made the Rangers and Caps’ lives miserable and Tampa is deep into its second consecutive postseason largely on the strength of its Triplets line (particularly with the injury to caption Steve Stamkos).

Among recent winners, Chicago has been the model for skating teams, with LA and the Bruins preferring a grind-it-out, face-to-the-boards approach to creating offense. But its hard to imagine the Blues getting past the Sharks, let alone whoever comes out of the East (I had Pittsburgh before the playoffs started and haven’t seen anything to change my mind).

With a little luck, we’ll see more teams choosing to try to outskate instead of outmuscling their opponents over the next few years.

A wing and a prayer

Here’s the thing the Washington Capitals are failing coming to grips with: The team is built around a winger. So what?

Teams that win championships are built down the middle. If anything, the Caps are regular-season overachievers, not playoff busts. They are OK down the middle — Evgeny Kuznetsov might, possibly, be in the discussion of elite centers at some point down the road but neither he nor Nicklas Backstrom are at the Toews / Crosby level and while Braden Holtby is in the discussion for best goalie in the league I would still take Ben Bishop in a heartbeat. OK isn’t good enough.

A few observations:

In the 50 years of Conn Smythe winners, the trophy has gone to wingers eight times. Defensemen 10 times. Goalies and centers 16 times each.

The wingers in reverse chronological order are Justin Williams, Patrick Kane, Claude Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Reggie Leach and Yvan Cournoyer. None of these guys were obviously the best players on their teams: Williams had Quick / Doughty / Kopitar; Kane had Toews / Keith; Bossy had Trottier / Potvin / Smith; Leach had Clarke / Parent; etc., etc.

The last Stanley Cup winning team where you could convincingly argue the team (not just playoff) MVP was a winger AND that player won the Smythe was the 1977 Montreal Canadiens (Guy Lafleur). But his “supporting cast” included Lemaire, Robinson, Cournoyer, Gainey & Dryden, so it was hardly Guy or Bust.

You win down the middle, you win with depth. The Devils won without an elite center … but Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Marty Brodeur and trap, trap, trap. All the Caps are missing are all of those things.

I would argue that, rather than being playoff “failures” with Ovie, the Caps have reached their predictable level. Zero teams built around a winger — any winger — have won a Cup in the last 50 years. (I don’t remember the Gordie Howe Red Wings well enough to discuss them in detail, so if you want to argue that Delvecchio, Red Kelly and Terry Sawchuk were window dressing, have at it … but it’s telling that the best pure shooter of that generation was Bobby Hull, and even with fellow Hall of Famers Stan Mikita on the other wing, Pierre Pilote on defense and Glenn Hall in goal, they won one Cup, in 1961.)

All of which brings me to Exhibit A, at the top. The 2006-07 Mighty Eggplants of Anaheim. Teemu Selanne was their leading point scorer, a winger and a sniper with attitude and a mostly one-way game (sound familiar)? But what looked at the time like the “supporting cast” turned out to be Ryan Getzlaf & Corey Perry, they had Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger on defense and great goaltending. Kuznetsov is already older (23) than Getzlaf was (21) and there’s nobody on the Caps D who will ever be mistaken for Neidermayer / Pronger.

  • (Paul Kariya, also in the picture, was already gone by then, another example of not winning with a team built around a winger).

So enjoy watching Ovechkin, Caps fans. He’s an exciting player and might well win a Cup by being traded to a championship team or, like Selanne, he might hang around long enough for the next generation to help push him along. But he’s not the right cornerstone for a winner.

Capt. Fantastic … or craptastic?

Zdeno-Chara-770x470So apologies to Boston Bruins fans. I’m not a Bruins hater (I started watching hockey about the time Robert Gordon Orr started getting paid to play it so I’ve always had a soft spot for them), but living in New England means getting doses of NESN coverage and there’s nothing that makes a thinking person critical as fast as listening to a homer.

But that said … I think Zdeno Chara is a big part of what’s wrong with the Bruins. I don’t mean that he’s lost a step from his already ponderous skating. Having the reach of a battleship goes a long way toward excusing having the turning radius of one and he’s still strong, mean and a good positional player. I mean his leadership.

Now maybe in the rest of the hockey world there’s been more questioning of the on-ice leadership of the Bruins than here in the Northeast, but the local coverage has pretty much focused on the usual breathless (and uninformed) debate over whether the coach is getting fired. I’m agnostic on that one, btw: Claude Julien won a Cup with a goalie playing like Mad Etta from W.P. Kinsella’s The Fencepost Chronicles. (Mad Etta was the medicine woman of the Ermineskin tribe in Kinsella’s short stories. Pressed into action as the goalie for the local hockey team in a tournament on the grounds she weighed 400 pounds and so filled the net (think Devan Dubnyk, only shorter), she quickly tired of the shots hurting her, so she weaved a few charms and the pucks stopped hitting her — or going in the net). Although that’s possibly less magical than Julien getting Boston’s jingoistic fan base to forgive him for being French. Against that success is a series of late-season & playoff failure.

But nobody seems to be calling out the on-ice leadership of a team that for years has failed to win the Big Game down the stretch. Since Chara took over as captain in 2006-07, here’s how the Bruins finished their seasons:

06-07 They were a last place team, finishing up the year on a 1-10-1 run that really only affected their draft place.

07-08 Lost to Montreal in Game 7, first round.

08-09 Won first round 4-0, lost to Carolina in Game 7, second round.

09-10 Won first round, 4-2, lost to Philadelphia in Game 7, second round.

 

11-12 Won President’s Trophy, lost to Washington in Game 7, first round.

13-14 Won first round, 4-2, lost to Montreal in Game 7, second round.

14-15 Lost their last three games to finish three points behind Ottawa, which won its last three (and six of seven) for the last playoff spot.

15-16 Lost three of last four games (including a rousing 6-1 home defeat in their final game) to miss the playoffs by a single point.

You’ll note I skipped over two seasons. in 2012-13, the Bruins famously came from behind in the third period of Game 7 to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs (ouch). Lost in the noise was the fact the Bruins had home ice, finishing just one point behind Montreal for the division title and were overwhelming favorites, especially once they went 3-1 up in the series. Were it not for that one great period, this would have gone down as one of the biggest choke jobs in the entire string. Instead, the went on a run, making the Finals where, with a chance to force Game 7 and under two minutes to play, they gave up two goals in 17 seconds. Hey, it made Dave Bolland a crapton of money as a free agent.

And of course they won it all in 2010-11, but it’s worth asking if that’s because of Chara’s leadership or Tim “Mad Etta” Thomas in goal.

But teams win games and lose games. The thing that has always bothered me about Chara was how the Bruins violate the cardinal rule of hockey teams: What happens in the room stays in the room.

Boston traded away Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel and Dougie Hamilton, and each time the team let it leak that the player had “character issues.” It’s bad enough when a front office type says something like that, but when the captain stands up publicly and disses a former teammate (teammates in this case), I think that says as much about the captain’s leadership as it does about the supposed bad apples.

Kessel, at 19, underwent surgery for cancer, played 70 games as a rookie and won the Masterton Trophy for dedication to hockey. He then increased his point totals successive seasons, and led the Bruins with 36 goals in his third and final season there before being run out of town as a 21-year-old. Yet Chara says the Bruins did everything they could for him. Bullshit. Kessel doesn’t look like a workout maniac, yet he has played every game in 7 of his 10 NHL seasons, reportedly finished at or near the top of the Leafs fitness tests every year and was easily team USA’s best skater at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Having not learned their lesson (in part because Toronto gifted them with the second overall pick in the Kessel trade), the Bruins then ran that pick, Seguin, out of town as a 21-year-old after three seasons. The knock on him was that he didn’t produce in the playoffs, which was true in 12-13. In 11-12, however, he finished with three goals in seven games, which put him ahead of David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron combined. So a 21-year-old maybe didn’t work as hard as he should have in the weight room or maybe stayed out too late and he definitely had a bad playoff. But then management — with the captain’s public support — scapegoated him. Double bullshit. Predictably, they did it again with Hamilton.

And the Boston media, who with the exception of Fluto Shinzawa don’t strike me as the hardest-working crew ever, are always happy to play along. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining the old Big Bad Bruins / Don Cherry image of a lunch pail team (although Cherry, not a moron despite his persona, was happy to pick up Rick Middleton as a 22-year-old for his team and if there’s one player Kessel reminds me of, it’s Nifty Middleton: Great skater, great goal-scorer, pudgy, lackadaisical checker and positional nightmare.)

Good teams find ways to work all kinds of players in. Great captains teach 20-year-olds how to play and act like pros, on and off the ice. Crappy captains call out 20-year-olds publicly.

Look, without being a player on the team, nobody knows how a guy is as a teammate, or a captain. But from the record I have to say that from this distance, Chara looks like a crappy captain.

 

Embarrassment to democracy

There’s plenty of embarrassing to go around this election season. Some of it beyond the GOP presidential field.

Donald Trump is a historically bad candidate, yes. Barry Goldwater bad, in that he is likely to signify a sea change in how the country is run and by whom. But it was Marco Rubio who made the first dick joke, about the size of Trump’s hands, and he’s the Republican establishment’s choir boy. The less said about Ted Cruz, the better, so I’ll leave the background to others.

As a media watcher / former participant, the interesting thing to me is how completely the media have abandoned any shred of impartiality in going after The Donald. I’ll skip over the “liberal” media, because we all expect the NYT editorial page to shrink in horror from Trump:

  • There’s the whole Rubio / Trump “size of his hands” thing, where Rubio essentially got a pass from the media and then Trump was excoriated for responding. I’m not defending either, mind you, just noting the difference in the reception. One was a bad line from a debate, the other was a sign of the apocalypse.
  • Fox News moderators showing up to a debate with an attack plan, including background clips and graphics. I didn’t couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing, but I didn’t see or hear of anything like that for any of the other candidates. And the GOP went apeshit over “harsh” questioning by NBC moderators in October. Imagine the furor if they had gone after a GOP favorite son as hard as Megyn Kelly & Co. went after Trump. And they were congratulated for doing it. Shouldn’t we ask hard questions of all the candidates?
  • The combined consensus that Ted Cruz winning his home state and such bastions of moderation as Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas gave him enough momentum to knock off Trump. Now that might be true … but a neutral read would be that it might have given him the momentum he needs but we won’t have a real clue until the March 8 votes or more clearly until March 15, particularly since the states that just voted are the kind of states Cruz absolutely, positively needs. Trump is leading in every poll in Michigan and in the minimal polling done in Mississippi and Idaho and unlike the past weekend’s voting, these states are open to swing voters, where Trump’s strength is. Without waiting for some sort of confirmation before anointing Cruz the second coming, this is simply trying to swing the electorate, not reporting. It’s a collective gamble by the media, because if Trump wins on Tuesday it will reinforce his “winner” spiel and likely solidify his chances in places like Florida and Ohio … and if Trump wins Florida and Ohio, he’s going to be the GOP nominee. He’ll be at something like 700 delegates, Cruz under 450 (after the entire Deep South has voted) and Rubio and Kasich with all the potential of a used rubber on the floor of an airport john.

At that point, the weasels looking for a cabinet post wilchrischristiel start moving to the Trump camp in hordes, not one at a time, and the anti-Trump movement will fizzle as the Republican faithful start to face life with either President Trump or President Hillary & First Gentleman Bill Clinton and they will by and large choose Trump.

(Speaking of media whoredom, yes, the lead weasel is the one first endorsed, then unendorsed by the Manchester (NH) Union Leader, which ought to be solid proof that New Hampshire needs to be removed from the first primary slot and that visionary leadership like Joe McQuaid’s is why newspapers are disappearing.)

  • But the pièce de résistance has to be the fawning coverage of Mitt Romney’s takedown of Trump, which was widely and uncritically covered by virtually every major media outlet. Among the nuggets that fell unquestioned from the mouth of the King of Bain was Romney calling Trump “greedy.” Pot, kettle, etc. It’s true that some outlets did get around to questioning Romney, but he got an entire day’s news cycle right before the most recent round of primaries with all the rigorous cross examination one would expect from the North Korean media when the Dear Leader talks. And I still haven’t seen anyone call Romney out for the “greedy” shot.

The interesting fallout will be the relationship between Fox News and its viewers. Long accusers of “mainstream media bias,” Fox has (with a couple of exceptions) thrown in with the GOP elite — where the money is — and put itself at odds with a substantial portion of its sheeple. If angry white men abandon Fox, who’s left for an audience?

It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of concerns with the arguments that pulling back on the leader is just a function the media loving a horse race.  Which might hold water if it hadn’t taken approximately forever for the same media to discover that there was a second candidate on the Democratic side. The most sympathetic defense of that coverage was that it was an honest but systemic failure, which means that the best thing you can say about the coverage of both sides of primary season has been a cluster fuck.

Whether or not Trump wins the GOP nomination — and he’s the odds on favorite — it will be another confirmation to the mass audience, the Silent Minority, if you will, who tuned out “MSM,” that the media in untrustworthy, that the fix is in. And on the evidence, it’s true.

Trump is a creation of the media chasing spectacle over substance, of “if it bleeds it leads,” of Fox Propaganda Network pulling the country to the right regardless of the cost. Now we’re reaping the whirlwind. But don’t say we weren’t warned.

 

Slagging goalies, part II

The big story down the stretch last year was whether journeyman goalie Devan Dubnyk was the second coming of Tim Thomas … a goalie overlooked at the NHL level until he was in his late 20s who suddenly blossoms into a legitimate Vezina candidate. Minnesota — with really no good options — gambled that the answer was yes and gave Dubnyk a big new contract.

Now I confess I’m a skeptic in the first place, because even during his hot streak last year, I kept waiting for Dubnyk to get lit up because I just don’t see him as an elite goalie. That sort of happened — he had a so-so playoffs (.909 save percentage, goals against over 2.50), but he wasn’t embarrassingly bad.

Embarrassing was with Nashville, where he had a .200 save percentage while shorthanded. It’s a really small sample, just 5 shots, but one save on five shots is almost impossibly bad for a guy as big as Lennie Small as Dubnyk. Fact: When you’re six foot six, pucks gotta hit you. So no, Dubnyk is not sub-.900, mediocre AHL goalie bad … in part because he’s too damn big to be awful. But I don’t see a lot besides big. He’s not overly quick, he doesn’t get side-to-side better than he needs to. For a while last year, with his confidence up, he made saves he shouldn’t have. But I don’t see him able to do that year after year (and he didn’t in the playoffs) because pucks get through him. That is to say, once in a while, he gets into position on a shot but doesn’t manage to stop it. Maybe it takes a little deflection or there’s a screen or maybe he just doesn’t track it right. It doesn’t take a lot of those to turn all-star into alright. Over 50 33-shot games, a .925 percent goalie stops 1,525 out of 1,550 shots. A .909 goalie stops 1,500. So far this year, Dubnyk is a .909 goalie.

Just before I started this, I flicked over to watch a couple of minutes of him going back to Edmonton, where his career began and there was Dubnyk letting in a 50+ foot slapshot that put his team behind, 3-2. Minnesota came back to gift Dubnyk with the win, his fifth of the year, but that was despite their goalie, not because of him. doobnyk

Over his NHL career, Dubnyk has been a .916 / 2.67 goalie and that’s what Minnesota should expect. On a defensively aware team with Ryan Suter playing 26 minutes a night in front of him, that is enough to win a lot of games, but it’s not going to win you a Cup Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick, Patrick Roy, “thou shall not pass” style.

Booooo-ka Rask?

Watched chunks of the first games for Carey Price (OK, so I was watching the Leafs) and Tuukka Rask. Here’s a prediction for those of you in hockey pools:

Buy Price, sell Rask.

Being bullish on Price is easy. He’s the best in the world at his position right now; the Habs have a contending team built on defense and he won about all the trophies he could last season. Based on what he showed last night, he hasn’t lost a thing. Price was the first star in a 3-1 Montreal win and never looked like being beaten on a straight shot. As the Leafs’ color commentator noted fairly dryly, he is weak on the double deflections. Now the Leafs aren’t going to scare anybody this year — having Marc Arcobello or Peter Holland steaming down the slot on you isn’t the mindf**k that it might be with, say, Sidney Crosby or his winger, that Kessel fella — but Price wasn’t ever out of position. Most of the night the puck just hit him. That doesn’t happen if you’re not always where you oughta be.

Rask was in net for five of six against the Bruins one night later, as the Winnipeg Jets ripped the B’s a new one on opening night in da Gahden. It was more a collective collapse than crappy goaltending, but that’s why there should be a big “sell” light flashing over Rask’s head, before the Bruins roll up too many of these nights. Rask himself is only two years removed from winning the Vezina as the league’s best goalie, so a lot a people like him. I don’t, or at least not much. He’s not the wild man Tim Thomas was as far as position & fundamentals, but he’s no Carey Price, either. Rask has for years gambled: overplaying shots and angles, relying on athletic talent and good defense to cover up when he guesses wrong. It makes him a better-than-average shot stopper, but it also leaves him needing to be acrobatic to stop pucks a more orthodox goalie wouldn’t think twice about because he’s out near / past the top of his crease when a more orthodox goalie (Price, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist) has stayed at home to wait for the puck. He also gives up a crapton of big, fat rebounds, often back into the slot.

You can get away with that when your D is near-his-prime Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk and the whole team is focused on defense first. It’s a nice luxury to not have to worry about rebounds because any forward looking for one is going to have to go through a meat grinder to get to one — and then they’ll be about to be drilled for touching the puck. But when your defense is old (Chara), defensively suspect (Torrey Krug) or just useless (Adam McQuaid) rebounds are a problem. And when your team is modest at best at goal scoring, like the Bruins figure to be, you wind up playing behind which leads to turnovers, odd-man rushes & etc. and the whole team defense thing becomes more an aspiration than a habit.

fuhrA rare few goalies do well behind that kind of team — Grant Fuhr is the best I ever saw at shrugging off horrible team defense. One game I recall the Oilers had a one-goal lead and were killing the clock — and a penalty — late in the third.  Despite this, Paul Coffey saw a chance to jump into a rush up ice and took it, creating a three-on-two at the other end. When they didn’t score, however, it immediately turned into a three-on-one coming back at Fuhr, who gave up the goal without really ever having a chance at stopping it after a Luusernice passing play. A lot of goalies would have been furious at Coffey’s lack of discipline, but Fuhr just laughed and shrugged it off after the game, saying that was Paul playing Paul’s game.

I don’t see that in Rask … his game isn’t right for it; his record doesn’t show it. He’s only played No. 1 minutes twice — in 2013/14 when he won the Vezina behind that savage defense and last year, when he dropped out of the top 10 in save percentage and goals against average. With the defense shakier than it was last year, I expect Rask to be middle-of-the-pack statistically, which is about where I rate him as an NHL goalie. At some point this year, those Tuuuuuuuuu chants might well turn to boos.

UPDATE: Just saw the highlights from the Tampa Bay win and it’s worse than I thought. Rask was at least partially at fault on three of six goals against — one was a deflection that the highlight package didn’t do a slow-mo on, but goalies (even Price) need to get lucky on tips … although a goalie on his game would want that one back. Steven Stamkos’ blast and the last one Rask gets a pass on, but he got caught too deep and too tight to the near post on the first Tampa goal, leaving plenty of room for Brian Boyle to shoot at when the pass came back to the slot; then he let one under his pad short side on a shot from Jonathan Drouin when there was nothing for him to do but shoot (as in, there was no pass play) and Rask also got beat five-hole on a deke by Brian Boyle (Boyle, ffs, not the niftiest stickhandler in the league).

Rask is going to have to improve to be average this year.