This post has no real direction, flow, or possibly point and I can't quite figure out how to address any of those things. But I'm trying to get back in hockey mode and I did want to say a few (thousand) words about Hank so it's going up anyway. Please just remember that this is the preseason for hockey bloggers too. I just need to work out some kinks, get back in game shape, get back in the rhythm. By October, everything will be fine.
To be completely honest, I was sure that by this point in the year, I'd be putting together a new header for Top Shelf. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Henrik Tallinder had played his last game in a Sabres jersey, and I know that many of you out there are disappointed that, so far at least, that doesn't appear to be the case. Well, guess what? I'm disappointed too.
Let me be clear about this upfront. While I do sometimes try to step back and look at the Sabres from a slightly more rational point-of-view than maybe some people, this is not one of those times. This post is definitely being written as a fan (Kevin :P). These are strictly my opinions, my feelings and I don't expect very many people - if any - to agree with them.
Okay, where were we? Yes. Hank.
A couple weeks ago when I wrote about Maxim Afinogenov, I talked about how, for me, there are just certain players that, for whatever reason, I get really attached to. When their situation sours, even if they play a part in it, I feel bad for them in a way that I don't for other players. An anonymous commenter got on me for defending Max while slamming Derek Roy because Roy is a better hockey player but my feelings here don't necessarily have anything to do with the players' on-ice peformance. It makes me feel bad to see some players struggle, it gets on my nerves to see other players struggle. That's all there is to it.
Needles to say, last season was a hard year to be a Henrik Tallinder fan. Again, let me stress, that I know why people - coaches, fans, and media - were down on him. He definitely struggled. He definitely started playing much softer after his string of injuries, shying away from contact. He was scattered and sloppy and inconsistent and he deserved it the first time he was a healthy scratch.
But after that I think he ended up being a bit of a scapegoat. While he deserved the first scratching, I don't think he deserved the second one or the third one. I think Hank pulled it together a bit but he kept taking the hit for the entire defensive corp. Teppo Numminen struggled to keep up in many games and by the end of the season, I think Toni Lydman was playing much worse than Hank. While I know some people don't agree with my assertion that Lindy Ruff buries people once he's given up on them, I think that's what's happened with Hank. Jochen Hecht struggled as much as Hank - I'd say even more so - but the worst reprimand he ever got was not playing for the first 10 minutes of a game. Ruff seem frustrated and concerned about him but it was always expressed in a supportive, "Well, we're all hoping he pushes through it. He's trying to get through it" way which is a far cry from the very blunt, very public assessment that Hank was not the player he was two years ago and might never be that guy again.
While Ruff is correct that Hank was not playing the way he was two years ago and is probably correct to be concerned about whether Hank will ever play at that level again, I was pretty stunned to hear him come right out with it like that. If I were Hank, I'd be hurt and pissed at being singled out that sharply especially since the whole team was playing like garbage for most of the season. Again, I'm a fan and I'm admittedly overly sensitive but I felt like that was a different level of criticism and that that, along with Hank's admission that a change in scenery can be good for a player, was probably indicative of a serious breakdown between player and coach and possibly between player and franchise.
So part of me was hoping to see Hank get dealt because while I would prefer to see him play well in Buffalo, I really just want to see him play well somewhere. If that means he needs a new coach and new teammates in a new city, well, that's what it means. Because I really like him and it bums me out to see him in a dysfunctional situation. I hope that he's able to put the last couple of years behind him and play more like he played in 2005-2007. I hope Ruff is really willing to give Hank a chance to get out of the doghouse rather than just handing his spot over to one of the babies (especially Tyler Myers who I will continue to insist is not necessarily ready for the NHL just because he tore up juniors). I hope the power of the contract year goes into effect here because jeez, with the market probably being even worse next season when the cap goes down, another poor year could very easily mean Hank's not playing in the NHL anywhere in 2010-2011.
But regardless of the past, I will show up at HSBC in October, proudly wearing my TALLINDER 10 jersey. Because I like him. Just in case I'd never made that clear.