The Lokomotiv plane crash was the most devastating tragedy to hit the sporting world in some time. An entire KHL hockey team perished. It was simply the worst nightmare you could imagine in a sporting community. It’s the type of incident that often requires therapy for those who were even just fans of the team, much less family and friends of those who lost their lives.
Now as many already know, one of the deceased from the crash is none other than NHL great and Slovakian native Pavol Demitra.
Most of you are also probably know that shortly before the crash, Demitra served as the best man for Sharks center Michal Handzus.
Let that sink in for a moment….
Handzus lost the best man from his wedding, not just his fellow countrymen, not just his former NHL and Olympic teammate, but his best friend.
Now who of us in our right minds think we could perform well at our new job in a new city just months after losing our closest friend?
And when that new job role entails helping fix a major problem and you struggle at making progress in that area (penalty kill in Handzus’ case) that can’t make you feel good. Already dealing with personal issues and now work related issues?
And to make matters even worse, your company effectively fires (Sharks traded away Jamie McGinn) your extremely competent right-hand man, a co-worker of whom you had been working with since you arrived.
Furthermore, as the year starts to wind down, the company starts losing money and you find yourself limited in your ability to work because of a an injury. Meanwhile the company brings in a consultant to help take over the duties that you were supposed to be taking care of and how does that make you feel?
Nobody can truly understand just how tough a year 2011-12 was for Handzus and quite honestly the talk of fans wanting to buyout the last year of his contract is a quite unsettling.
This is not a Bobby Holik, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury type situation, there is much more to it than that.
Handzus is a veteran who is certainly on his last legs but to think that buying out his last year of his deal (that is if they could even do that with the NMC) makes the Sharks better is a major stretch and an insult to the type of character player he has been over his career.
His contract isn’t expensive at $2.5 million and to insinuate that he is completely incapable of adequately filling a bottom six role for one last time in his career is flat wrong.
We are talking about a player who has played over 900 games, a four time 20 goal scorer (as recently as 2009-10 with Los Angeles) and is an extremely reliable defensive center with a high hockey IQ.
Last season he struggled down the stretch but he wasn’t healthy in more ways than one. Again, extremely tough to do your job with mental and physical stresses weighing you down.
Through it all though Handzus still managed 24 points in 67 games which is a pace for 29 over 82, one point fewer than his 30 in 82 with LA in 2010-11.
It is understandable for fans not to be overly excited about what Handzus can bring this next season as he didn’t perform last year the way he needed to but neither did the team as a whole. Given his reputation as work-out freak and a true professional, doesn’t he deserve the benefit of the doubt?
This past year Handzus’ .086 shooting percentage was far lower than his .135 career average, which compared to his consistent standards of the previous four seasons with the Kings, conventional wisdom suggests the down year to be an anomaly.
Is there a reason he can’t bounce back nicely with a healthy, 30-35 point season as a critical cog on a strong penalty kill unit led by Larry Robinson?
One might say advanced age, but given everything that happened last season how can anyone be so certain that he doesn’t have one more year of strong hockey left in him?
Handzus is in the last year of his two year deal with the Sharks and without a strong performance this season he will likely have to call it quits and you know he doesn’t want to leave the NHL with back-to-back disappointing campaigns.
As Comcast Sports Net California’s Kevin Kurz recently pointed out, Handzus performed strongly for Slovakia at the World Championships scoring seven points in eight games.
It wouldn’t shock yours truly if he had a strong, bounce-back season in year two with the Sharks.