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The Chosen Ones

Al Daniel can't figure out why Bruins prospect Jordan Caron has struggled so badly in the AHL this season:

Everybody knows he has it in him based on his better moments in Boston, such as his four-game production streak that saw him tally three goals and four assists between March 4 and March 10, 2012.

Simply put, though, the confidence Caron’s skill set can give the Bruins is not valid as long as he is failing to make an impact in the AHL. It is not enough to merely be on the ice for two goals, as No. 38 was against Worcester on Friday, when he had only one shot to his credit and Providence collapsed after blowing a pair of leads.

A first-round draft pick in 2009, Caron was expected to put up some big numbers in Providence this season.  It hasn't happened.  In 27 AHL games, Caron has tallied a mere five goals and two assists (three of those goals came in one game), to go along with an ugly minus-seven rating.  It's a stat line that's very typical for a young rookie trying to adjust to the pro game.  However, Caron is a highly-touted third-year player with 71 games of NHL experience under his belt. 

In all fairness, statistics don't always tell the whole story.  Even the best goal scorers go cold for lengthy stretches.  But even when a player isn't producing on the scoresheet, he can certainly contribute in other ways.  He can skate with a purpose, get in on the forecheck, be hard on the puck, kill penalties, and be a positive influence in the dressing room, among other things. 

With that said, there comes a point when a top player has to produce, and Caron is doing nothing of the sort.  Most concerning is the fact that he's played lackadasical, uninspired hockey.  He's looked completely lost on the ice at times.  Caron's penchant for being out of position was highlighted last Sunday when he took three consecutive minor penalties early on in a P-Bruins loss to St. John's

During that game, Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy had a choice.  He could've ignored Caron's multiple transgressions (one of those penalties led to a goal) by continuing to give him second-line playing time in hopes that he'd snap out of his funk.  On the other side of the coin, Cassidy could've benched Caron for a period, if not the rest of the game, to let him know that the quality of his play was unacceptable. 

Many coaches would've chosen the latter approach.  Count Syracuse Crunch headmaster Jon Cooper among them.  In a game earlier this month, Cooper benched All-Star center Cory Conacher after the second-year pro gave the puck away during a Crunch power play, leading to a short-handed goal by the opposition.  Conacher wasn't surprised to be riding the pine for awhile:

"He was just trying to change stuff up,'' Conacher said of Cooper. "It made myself (play) harder too. He does certain things that mostly work out. He's won a lot of championships. You have to have trust in him.''

Obviously, Conacher wasn't happy sitting on the bench, and there's no doubt that his absence was detrimental to Syracuse's offensive attack.  At the same time, Conacher understood why Cooper sat him out for a period.  When it comes down to it, a coach has to put his foot down when a player isn't putting forth the effort necessary to win a hockey game.  Many times, words just aren't enough to get the job done.  Very often, definitive action is required.

Jordan Caron didn't miss a shift last Sunday.  Whether that's because Bruce Cassidy didn't have the gumption to bench a lethargic player or because he's under strict orders to play Caron regardless of his performance is up for debate.  Regardless, Cassidy's decision to not bench Caron for his penalty parade sends the wrong message to the rest of the team. 

Many hockey players at the minor-league level are resentful when a prized-prospect gets preferential treatment.  Over time, it's something that can have a negative impact on and off the ice.  Giving a young player a free pass when his poor play is hurting the team is not only insulting to the players who are busting their tails on every shift, but it lets the golden boy know that it's perfectly okay to play half-assed hockey. 

All professional athletes, no matter how talented, heavily-hyped, or highly-paid, should have to earn their playing time.  Hockey, in particular, is a game requiring hard work and personal sacrifice for the betterment of the team.  Players that don't exemplify those qualities on a given night (or at all) should take a back seat to those who are willing to pay the price for victory.  Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way in the real world.  At times, a different set of rules apply for the chosen ones.

Mediocrity is acceptable if you're good enough. 
 

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.