The switch was thrown long before the Portland Pirates’ locker room had emptied Friday night, starting the process of ice-out at the Cumberland County Civic Center. By midnight there was enough water to splash when you stepped into the crease where Jhonas Enroth had crouched three hours earlier.
There’s no better sign the hockey season is done. That, and the questions over Kevin Dineen’s future.
Through six seasons, there’s not much more he can prove in his transition from NHL player to AHL coach, although some will point out his Pirates haven’t reached the Calder Cup finals, let alone win the title.
In fact, in the aftermath of losing Game 6 to Binghamton to end the playoff series, I overheard two longtime fans suggest the team needs a new coach. That had to be black humor talking. Or venting of frustration. Tongues in cheeks, as the saying goes. An overreaction.
The team that fought to claim the Atlantic Division title and the home-ice advantage couldn’t score one goal in Friday’s 3-0 defeat. The letdown was hard to take.
Remember the disappointments of Pirates teams coached by his predecessors, excluding Barry Trotz, of course, and show Dineen a little love. Please. Two of his teams came within one more win of reaching the Calder Cup championship series.
We live in an impatient fast-track world where the best are expected to climb career ladders two or three rungs at a time. That Dineen has remained in Portland is not evidence he is somehow flawed. He will wait to jump at the opportunity with the organization and the city that fits him and his family best. That shouldn’t be hard to understand.
Dineen may be driven but he’s not blindly ambitious, if that makes sense. He and Trotz seem to be alike in that way. Trotz didn’t have Dineen’s pedigree as a player. Both believed in earning their next step. Both have made their wives and children part of their decisions.
After Trotz coached the Pirates to their last Calder Cup title in 1994 and their last trip to the championship series two years later, some wondered why he was still in Portland. Then Dave Poile called. His boss with the Washington Capitals was part of the NHL’s expansion into Nashville.
Poile wanted Trotz to coach what he was building. It’s been 12 years and counting. That’s an eternity in the NHL.
Now the Predators are in the second round of the NHL playoffs for the first time, facing the touted Vancouver Canucks. Trotz’s blue-collar, lunch-pail team taking on a lineup of stars and holding its own. A recent Sports Illustrated story described how Trotz walks through his locker room, stopping at each stall.
How’s the knee, how’s the family? I want you to work on this in practice. I liked the way you got back quickly on defense. Trotz invests in his players. Pirates players say much the same about Dineen.
Yes, there was bitterness inside the Cumberland County Civic Center on Friday night. Fans didn’t like what they watched and that’s their right. They didn’t like looking around at all the empty seats. That’s an issue out of their control. They listen to management’s explanation that the onset of the playoffs and their unpredictability give the sales staff too little time to market the games.
Well, when do playoff games market themselves? Friday night was the time to buy a ticket, when so much was at stake. Not a game in November or February.
Yes, there are too many teams in the playoffs and too many playoff series. The fatigue factor affects those on the ice and in the grandstands. More is not better, but that’s an old song sung too many times.
The ice is melting away and so will the disappointment. When it returns next fall, a new Atlantic Division championship banner will hang with the others. You’ll return to see it.
Will Kevin Dineen?
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: