Talking points: Wildcard weekend sees NHL return
Posted January 7, 2013
1. After 113 days and 625 canceled regular-season games, including the much beloved Winter Classic, the NHL lockout is over and the game will return. What we don't know is whether or not the fans will come back as well.
While I'm inclined to believe fans will allow their love of hockey to trump their anger over another labor stoppage courtesy of commissioner Gary Bettman, each NHL market will seeing varying degrees of return attendance. Smaller markets will likely struggle to fill their buildings in the early going thanks to what has been described as a "back to business" approach to the start of the season, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Carolina Hurricanes buck conventional wisdom and have a decent gate in a condensed season.
Canes fans are a loyal bunch with a college-like attachment to the team. They like the ritual of going to games so much that they were even willing to tailgate outside PNC Arena for an AHL contest on Sunday. Despite plenty of hardcore fans claiming they gave up their season tickets out of protest, they'll still find themselves in the building at some point and get hooked again. And the casual fans will be back provided the Hurricanes start winning, but that's no different than any other year in the Triangle.
2. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will be back for another season. The sound you hear coming out of Charlotte isn't rejoicing or frustration. It's actually the sound of inevitability. Rivera is simply on borrowed time with a new general manager waiting to be hired and not much faith in his ability to guide the Panthers through critical games.
Much has been made about the back-to-back strong finishes and how trending upward is a positive sign going forward. Expect there is no momentum that carries over from season to season. Behind those impressive, yet meaningless, Decembers are consecutive 2-8 starts. Worse, the Panthers are 2-12 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
3. Not a good look for Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan on Sunday. It started with accusations from Dr. James Andrews that doctors never looked at Robert Griffin III's knee before going back in the game against the Baltimore Ravens on December 9th and ended with the franchise quarterback writhing on the ground in pain after the same knee buckled in the 4th quarter against Seattle.
A week ago folks were ready to crown Shanahan coach of the year for the way he handled RGIII and Kirk Cousins during a crucial stretch of the season, now he's surrounded by an angry mob demanding his job.
It's easy to work backwards from the end result of Griffin III's buckled knee and point out the exact moment Shanahan should have replaced him with Cousins. Unfortunately coaches don't get that luxury, but even then we have to account for the stubborn nature of everybody involved with football. We want it both ways, pounding our fists about player safety while waxing poetic about the "heroic" instances of players leaving it all out on the field despite obvious injury.
Although I am rather curious as to what Shanahan saw compared to everyone else. The Redskins continued to roll Griffin III out as though he was 100% and it was obvious his accuracy was shot because ligament injuries prevent a quarterback from planting the leg properly. And what's the point of having Cousins, who Shanahan drafted for moments like this? Apparently there was enough confidence in Cousins to finish the Baltimore game and start against Cleveland, both hugely important games for the Redskins to even make the playoffs, but not enough to actually get him on the field when it was time to win or go home.
4. Russell Wilson helped the Seahawks move on to the next round by completing 15-of-26 passes for 187 yards, throwing a touchdown and rushing for 87 yards. Not the most impressive stat line of the weekend, but Wilson will take it considering he's the last rookie quarterback standing in the NFL playoffs. Exactly how we all predicted it when Wilson ditched baseball and transferred to Wisconsin for his final year of eligibility.
Right? Is this thing on? Hello?