Ain't nothing but a love tap: Deconstructing Dave Bolland

They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.
-- "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," Robert Browning

(Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure I ingested some spiked cannoli tonight, so that's probably where this post came from. Remind me next time not to eat random catered food that's left out in public -- you just don't know what's in that ish. In other news, I'm really looking forward to trying the unidentifiable mushroomy thing that I also grabbed from the same table.)

People blame rats for all sorts of things: spoiled food supplies, insomnia, slow descents into insanity and cannibalism (as in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls"), elephantine fear, structural damage, still no cure for cancer, weakened unions, and the Plague (okay, so that one has some merit). And after Game 2 in San Jose, you can probably add Joe Thornton's slashing penalty to that list.

The rat in question, of course, being Dave Bolland, third line center and freshly anointed playoff vermin.


What would you do, if confronted face-to-face with Dave Bolland at his most teeth-baring, ornery, unscrupulous? He ate all your leftovers while insulting your taste in music, choice of home decor, and family lineage, and punctuating his tirade by simultaneously farting and urinating on your cat. That's what I'd imagine playing against Bolland is like. You could describe him in other pesty ways -- a flea, a gnat, a worm, a fungus, a nasty infection in the privates -- but rat seems to fit him best. He has the beady eyes shrewdly seeking out not only the best way to lift his opponent's stick, but also the tender, unprotected spots that will sting like a catheter if he just gives them a quick whack. Like Reepicheep from Chronicles of Narnia, Bolland emerges long enough to stab someone in the foot, then disappears from sight as his weakened enemy is finished off by human soldiers. Every inch of ice contains the crisp possibility of a pass taken away; every cubic foot of arena air between him and his opponent can be negated with his next act of aggression. We can see the coarse black hair, hiding skin that must be as thick as the walls he chews through at night.


Rats bring bad portents, everyone knows that. They carry in their grim little snouts famine, pestilence, and death. On the Isle of Man, you're not even allowed to say the word, because of an ancient maritime superstition. And yet, Bolland's teammates have no problem acknowledging the rat amongst them -- in fact, they seem damn proud of the fact. He exudes the same interruptive consistency as Sammy Pahlsson, circa 2007 (the year of Pahlsson's Selke nomination), while also exhibiting the edge-of-unwise physical ferocity of former junior coach Dale "La Petite Peste" Hunter, circa 1986 (the year the Nordiques first won the Adams Division title, and coincidentally the year Bolland was born).

He plays like the crisis point between a postmodern wind-blown NHL pivot and his burly snarl-faced counterpart from 20 years prior, and some of it is the result of conscious adjustments. The juxtaposition of styles makes him seem compactly mobile while skittering across all three zones, and yet somehow inefficient, as one observing his slow-motion windup might puzzle over.


Like Pahlsson and other checking line centers, Bolland cannot be explained by numbers alone. Eventually, his position breaks down into a ritual weighing of happiness at perceived results and intellectual skinning of What He Actually Does. His goal production thus far belies his body of work in juniors, he is routinely battered in terms of Corsi and Fenwick, and his faceoff percentage lately has been impressively dismal (in Game 2, he won a ludicrous 9% of draws). Yet, his Corsi relative to Quality of Competition rating is perennially one of the highest in the league, and when healthy, he can provide a generous amount of offense. Perhaps the best holistic measure of Bolland's value, then, lies in the fascinating estimation of his coach.

Last season, Quenneville put together that lightning-in-a-bottle line of Bolland, Ladd and our dearly departed Havlat. Rather than playing like Three Blind Mice, they knotted together their various talents to become the ultimate rat king: a zoologically unique congealment of separate minds into one grimy entity, an omen to all who stumbled across them.

This season, because Bolland missed so much time, and took so long getting back to his full toxic health, we might as well have been watching Algernon trapped in his lab maze, eyes trained fearfully on the descent into erratic behavior and loss of cognition. Instead, Quenneville has recreated the rat army from Willard (the original, please), with Bolland acting as Ben, swearing vengeance upon human injustices.


It goes quite a ways past method acting, however. This rat doesn't do it for the accolades, just like he didn't go around spreading the plague in the Middle Ages because of some rumor that hemorrhaging lymph nodes and tissue necrosis brings all the girls to the yard. This rat is able to laugh about his craft: "When I know I'm in someone's head, that's good. I don't know what I do to get in his head, but it's fun. There's a bit of an energy that comes to me when it does happen because it's a privilege..." A third of the European continent dead, as the Sedins will tell you, and for every Corsi point Bolland doesn't have, he's got at least two barbaric taunts that show up on his opponents' faces as vividly as rodent bites might.


Which brings us back to Jumbo Joe, who reacted as men do when confronting vermin -- strike out at them, set simple traps around the house, and then, when that inevitably doesn't work because rodents don't actually like cheese, curse steadily into the air. To the rat, though, it's all part of its umwelt. Welcome to the self-centered world of Dave Bolland.


In the comments, please share your favorite episodes of Itchy and Scratchy, as an offering to the anthropomorphic quality of Bolland in these playoffs, destroying everything within the walls. Here's an early classic.