James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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The burden of expectations

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The history of sports is rich with boastful athletes who backed up their considerable trash talking with unforgettable results. Who could forget Mark Messier and Joe Namath backing up their guarantees, Muhammad Ali proving that he really might have been the greatest and Babe Ruth calling his shot? Watching a scenario in which being cocky turns to into exhibiting well-founded confidence ranks as one of the great lures of following sports.


Of course, the flip side to victors writing history is that the many braggarts’ failures are erased with time.


Sure, we do hold onto some special moments when high-level hubris explodes in a player or team’s face in a hilariously spectacular way. Anyone who heard Matt Hasselback shout “We’ll take the ball and we’re going to score” probably cannot forget the pick-six he threw in that same overtime contest.


Even in that example, it was a little bit tolerable since Hasselback was the Seattle Seahawks’ top quarterback and one of the best players on that team. He could either walk the walk or stumble along the way in that situation, so the fact that he fell on his face was made that much more memorable.


It’s a lot more frustrating for a team when an “outsider” of sorts throws that extra burden of pressure on their shoulders. Vince Young basically called the failing Philadelphia Eagles a “Dream team” the second he joined that squad.




Hockey has its examples, too, with New York Rangers owner James Dolan being the latest offender. Dolan spoke about the surprisingly successful Rangers team’s chances of winning the 2012 Stanley Cup, which elicited a predictably profane response from head coach John Tortorella.


Honestly, you can’t really blame Torts for being a little angry. It’s bad enough when an overwhelmingly talented team gets that extra bit of pressure, but what about a team that – by my estimation – is playing over their heads? (To be fair, I think they overachieved last season too, so it could go down to Torts being a great coach, the Rangers being more talented than they seem or a combination of the two factors.)




That added pressure could put a bulletin board bull’s eye on the Rangers and it might be a lesson for fantasy owners who display their hubris during drafts.


Don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be said for playing mind games during a draft – at least if it’s happening in person. (Draft parties are approximately 1,000,000 times better than auctions that have nothing but a Chat window, if you ask me.) A well-placed snicker can sway someone away from making a pick that you eventually tab 5-10 rounds later.*


Still, that sarcastic snicker can also label you as a villain in the eyes of many (or some might argue, it would expose that truth). As fun as it is to get fitted for devil horns in a relatively low stakes situation, people might go out of their way to try to make sure that you lose. If you’ve seen “The League,” you might have a solid primer for some of those activities: bad or non-existent trade offers, owners waking up lame duck lower-ranked guys when you’re that team’s head-to-head opponent and so on.


In the grand scheme of things, sneakiness trumps bravado in fantasy sports. So take my advice the next time someone drafts Steve Mason before the ninth round. Instead of laughing out loud, stifle a half-smirk or make the world’s smallest fist bump. If you do that, you might just be able to make a trade with Mr. or Mrs. Mason owner.


* - Yes, I’m speaking from experience. I used to be quite the scamp.




Pre-game skates are usually a time when a player goes from out of the lineup to in the lineup, not the reverse. Still, every now and then, a bad accident happens that hopefully reminds players that they can’t get away with totally sleepwalking through the routine.


Last season, Craig Anderson hurt himself during warm-ups and some might say that he was never the same in 2010-11. This year provides a more jarring example, however, as Taylor Hall narrowly avoided a serious eye injury on Tuesday night. A disturbing series of events caused Hall to tumble to the ice and Corey Potter tried his best to hurdle the first overall pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.


Unfortunately, much like Wayne Simmonds with Claude Giroux, Potter was not able to hop over Hall. Potter’s skate caught Hall in a spot not very far from his eye, forcing Hall to get 30 stitches. Hall didn’t play on Tuesday as he had to go to the hospital to get that work done, but you’ll have to follow Rotoworld for further updates.



There are rumblings that any one of Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Brad Boyes could be on the trading block for the bumbling Buffalo Sabres. Take that with a grain of salt, but at least some change could come to the sad Sabres … The Rangers might feel the heat from Dolan’s remarks, but Henrik Lundqvist will give them a great chance to fulfill those goals. He had a 27-save shutout on Tuesday … Evgeni Nabokov benefited from one of the easier goose eggs of the season as he only needed to stop 17 Washington Capitals shots to earn a 3-0 win … Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick hit the 20-win mark on Jan. 17 … Big Boston Bruins forwards Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic responded to Claude Julien’s critiques, but they lost to the lowly Lightning anyway.



Nicklas Backstrom could be back in action by the All-Star break … The Blue Jackets placed R.J. Umberger on the injured reserve, making that a crowded group in Columbus … Brandon Dubinsky did return to action for the Rangers last night … Ryan Clowe sat out Tuesday’s game with an injured face. Hmm … Ed Jovanovski hurt his hand while fighting on Monday. Remember when Jovocop’s regular injuries were the bane of many fantasy owners’ existences? (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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