The Other Side of the Coin
When I was mentally composing this post in reference to the Preds’ one and only meeting with the New Jersey Devils this season – and subsequently, their only meeting with former team captain, Jason Arnott – I was torn by whether I should write a game-related post or an Arnott-related post.
Well I actually did both, so if you have any interest in my observations on the Predators’ 3-1 victory over the Devils Friday night, you can check it out here. If you’d rather not re-read what you’ve likely already read from the other fine Preds bloggers, my feelings won’t be hurt if you skip it.
What I’m about to say here, as is usually the case with my blogs, is my opinion – well-informed as I believe it to be. It is based on my observations through the media and on-ice performance, witnessed in person. If anyone sees a glaring flaw in my reasoning, I encourage you to call me on it – but be nice about it, aiiight?
Back in June, when Arnott was traded to New Jersey, I didn’t say much; a few tweets, but no posts – much to the surprise of many of my readers. But there was a reason for that. While a number of Predators fans celebrated Arnie’s exodus, I wasn’t one of them. I was truly sad to see him go, although I knew he had to.
I had always assumed that he would retire a Predator, and at one time, I had even planned to purchase a #19 Arnott jersey, mostly out of respect for what he meant to the team, but also because I assumed he would be there for the long haul, and that jersey would become a monument instead of a footnote, as is the case with many of the former Preds’ players’ jerseys we see emblazoned with familiar names but numbers now worn by someone else.
Of course I was never blind to the criticisms of Arnott’s play; even more, the lack of a real example he set as the Predators captain for three seasons. Oh, he wasn’t a bad player, really; he just wasn’t captain material, and even he knew it.
He was a big body and one of the most consistent 20-plus goal scorers in the NHL. He was the Predators’ most consistent goal scorer throughout his tenure with the team, but as a captain, he was highly suspect.
He didn’t skate hard all of the time; he took plays off and coasted back to the bench on shift-changes. He didn’t leverage his 6’4″ 225 lb frame nearly often enough, causing me to frequently refer to him during his first two seasons with the Preds as, “the smallest big man in the NHL.” And playing like a small man, he was often treated that way by defenders, suffering numerous concussions from being taken into the boards, often by smaller yet tougher players.
…and guys named Radulov.
But most damning of all was his reticence to commit himself to the new reality of Head Coach Barry Trotz’s post-Great-Fire-Sale-of-2007, ‘Predators Way.’ That was what invalidated his captaincy, in my opinion.
He was a talented scorer, something the Predators desperately needed, but by the time he was installed as captain in 2007-08, the makeup of the team had changed. Gone were the glitz and cuteness of Kariya and Forsberg, and the defensive irresponsibility that often came along for the ride. Gone was the option of being anything less than a two-way player; gone was the option of avoiding the ‘hard areas’; gone was the option of avoiding ‘paying the price’; gone was the option of giving 100%, 100% of the time.
Barry Trotz used to use the term ‘passengers’ as a label for those he deemed not buying into his new world order. Arnott, even in the midst of his captaincy, was singled out on well more than one occasion.
However a big problem arose for Trotz after Alex Radulov bolted for Mother Russia, and while the cloud of uncertainty still hovered over Steve Sullivan’s return to action from back surgery. Trotzy was between a rock and a hard place when it came to finding players on whom he could depend to put the biscuit in the basket. Arnott was not only his captain, he was vital to the team’s success as a goal-producer. The Predators bench boss was limited in how much he could – or even dared – send a message in order to get Arnott to change his ways, effort-wise.
Although it was rumored throughout the past two seasons that Arnott would be asked to relinquish the ‘C’, it was only after the breakout offensive year that Patric Hornqvist enjoyed in 2009-10 that Trotz apparently realized he could risk pissing Arnott off and ask him to toe the line or else.
I believe that Arnott saw the handwriting on the wall and did the right thing, agreeing to allow the Preds to move him. I don’t believe he and Trotz and any serious fallings-out, but I do believe that Arnott was unwilling to change his stripes after 16 seasons in the NHL.
So they came to the agreement that it was time for him to go, and, thankfully, found a place that was willing to take him.
During the first period of the Fox Sports South broadcast of Friday’s Preds-Devils affair, they ran an interview in which Arnott offered some closure to Preds fans, like me, who, despite knowing what we knew, still feel saddened by his departure.
Here’s a transcript of Arnott’s comments on his captaincy with the Preds:
“It’s a learning process, the captaincy. I didn’t think it’d be such a learning curve, but you go through a lot of ups and downs; things you should do and things you shouldn’t do, and for me to be captain there was a huge honor. I loved every minute of it; I loved the guys, I loved the organization; they treated me fair; nothing but the best.
You know, it was a sad thing to leave; it was an unfortunate thing, but both parties thought it would be best, and I ended up coming here so it worked out best for both sides.”
Well, it’s worked out best for Nashville, anyway…
Only the most heartless of schadenfreude junkies could feel anything but empathy for Arnott’s circumstance with the Devils – regardless of whether you give a rats ass about his new team or not. Many say Devils General Manager, Lou Lamoriello & Co., are getting what they deserve in their deal-with-the-devil that is the free agent contract of Ilya Kovalchuk they agreed to last summer.
But regardless of cap issues, Arnie deserves a better fate than this, in my opinion. He thought he was going to a team that would be a perennial contender for the Eastern Division crown, and instead finds himself on a sinking ship being pulled under by a short-chained anchor the size of Gibraltar.
It was believed that Arnott would seek to sign one more contract beyond the current one purchased in the trade with Nashville last summer, which expires at the end of this season. However, unless New Jersey can straighten out their cap issues without having to jettison all their meaningful assets, there won’t be much of a team for Arnie to re-sign with this offseason.
Although 2010-11 appears to be a washout for New Jersey, the genius that is Lou should not be underestimated. If anyone can figure a way to make lemonade out of the lemons of this crazy circumstance, it’s him. So all is not lost…yet.
If he can manage to keep from getting his melon scrambled again, Jason Arnott obviously has yet a few years of productive play ahead of him. His nine goals this season would lead the Predators were he was still plying his trade in Nashville. So it stands to reason that if the Devils can get their cap situation resolved, he may still have time to exercise his considerable talent to a level of some consequence.
Just not this season.
And unfortunately for the Devils, no one knows exactly when that will happen, or when it does, if Arnott will still be here to take advantage.
So here’s wishing all the best for our our friend Arnie, both in his carreer and his life after hockey. He may not have been much of a captain, but he was a helluva player, and in a lot of ways, a foundational force in the development of the Nashville Predators franchise.
I believe he should be recognized for that.
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