An ode to fringe NHLers

This started as a post stating my love for Chipchura and my sadness to see him go. But then, it turned into something bigger. An ode to fringe NHLers.

I’ve already written a little bit about Chips this year (I’ll miss this name A LOT). As you know, he was dealt to Anaheim yesterday. Looking at the big picture, it’s certainly nothing more than a minor trade for the habs. The story is quite simple:

Chipchura was drafted in the first round a few years ago. For some reason, in spite of several stints in the nhl, he never managed to keep a regular spot in Montreal. His best season with the Habs was 2007-08. This year was his last chance to become a regular member of the team, and yet he failed to firmly grab a spot, even when injuries were hurting the team. Then younger guys were called up, the coach decided they were better, and Chipchura definitively lost his spot. Then it was only a matter of time before he would be waived or traded, since the Habs could not simply send him back to the AHL.

That’s a common story that happened to LOTS of players around the league. Just look at Benoit Pouliot in Minnesota.

So why am I even writing about this? Because I liked Chips a lot. Probably even enough to consider myself a fan. Then if you look at his story through the eyes of a fan, the perspective changes a little. I know his numbers this season were dreadful (19 games played, 0 point, -10, 11 shots on goal). I also know he played 68 games in Montreal, and it’s tough to argue that he didn’t get a fair chance to impress the team managment. But if you look at the way this season went, you have to feel for him.

To begin with, he was injured during the whole training camp. I don’t want to rewrite history, but you have to wonder how things would have gone if he had been healthy at a time when Jacques Martin was learning to know the habs roster and his prospects. His season only started during the infamous trip in Western Canada, when the habs were dominated by the Flames, the Canucks and the Oilers. He was bad during those games, just like the rest of the team. After a few games, though, he seemed to play better and better. (To be sure I was not making this up, I re-read some of Mike Boone’s after game comments on Habs I/O, and it confirmed my impression.) But then, as he was showing signs of improvment, White and Pyatt arrived. Chips was immediately scratched for the next 4 games. He only returned once Gionta was injured, because the Habs had holes to fill. From then on, he never played more than 7 minutes a game, mostly with inexperienced wingers, on the 4th line. Martin clearly decided others were better, and that Chips was not useful anymore.

You didn’t think I’d let a guy named Chips go without doing this, did you?

At this point, it was already almost over for him in Montreal. It was definitely over once the habs traded Lats and got Pouliot, a natural center. It was painfully obvious that he would be waived or traded as soon as regulars would return to the lineup. This is just what happened yesterday. Now honestly, there is nothing dramatic about the whole thing. He’ll hopefully have a chance to redeem himself in Anaheim, and I believe he still has the tools to become a regular NHLer. I realize the habs still have some  good prospects, and they probably won’t regret Chips much. But I’m sad anyway.

And it’s not the first time this happens to me. I tend to be emotionally attached to perpetually the same kind of players. The fringe NHLers, or the guys who have trouble keeping their spot on a team. The underdogs. I can’t help it. I know there is a great chance that I will be disappointed in the end, but I always do the same thing. They come and go, and I always fall for the next one in line.

I liked Mike Johnson. I liked Aaron Downey. I liked Garth freaking Murray (although it was mostly because of that old pic where he has an Afro haircut). I rooted for Corey Locke. I was a fan of Streit when he was playing as a forward because he had no spot on the Habs D. I liked Smolinski. I loved Tom Kostopoulos. I miss Lang. I fell in love with Gorges when he arrived from San Jose and had a hard time getting a regular spot on defense. I love Halak. I love Metropolit. I liked Chips. And I already know I’ll cheer for Pouliot, because everyone seems ready to jump on him.

My little Hall of Fame

What’s wrong with me?? Am I doomed to love average players and to have my heart crushed every time the habs get rid of them for a bag of pucks? It’s tough because not only do half of these guys go away, but the general feeling on internet forums and blogs when they do is “whatever” or “good riddance!”.

I just can’t truly fall in love with superstars (Koivu was one of the only exceptions here. And I still got screwed!). Sure, I like successful goal scorers and exciting playmakers. And I’m as excited by guys like Malkin as anyone. But most of them feel a little boring *cough cough Cammalleri* compared to guys like Kostopoulos or Gorges. Watch Gorges when he scores a goal, and compare that to Gomez.  It’s just not the same. (By the way, Gomez only scored one more goal than Josh so far this season. Just sayin’) One of my favorite situations in a game is when 4th liners and defensemen have to take part in a shootout because the talented forwards have failed to win the game. It’s glorious.

I guess that’s the way I am. I don’t think it has to do with a special love for hard work (I’m lazy) or mediocrity (or at least I hope so!). It’s just that I love seeing those guys beating the odds. And well, maybe I’m a little masochistic too… But at least, even if I’m regularly crushed, I know I’ll always have new 4th liners and less talented guys to love. There are new ones popping up year after year! :P

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Posted December 3, 2009 by Grrrreg in Uncategorized

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