“Thoughts on 30 Thoughts” is a Tuesday feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

Last week: Phoenix Coyotes saga

Friedman, April 2nd: Penguins, Flyers on a Collision Course, + 30 Thoughts


In the intro to this week’s post, Friedman touched on something I’ve discussed on our podcast before – the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are inevitably going to be first round playoff opponents.

I’ve been dreading this possibility, for the simple reason that I believe the job of playoffs is to determine who the best team in the 2011-2012 season is, and these two stacking up as opponents doesn’t allow us to do that.

They have the 2nd and 3rd most points in the Eastern Conference, yet instead of facing the Devils and Senators, divisional seeding (die die die) forces them to play each other. And boy-oh-boy, do these two teams play each other.

So we’re going to lose one of the NHL’s best teams right off the bat, and send the other one staggering into the second round, bent like a pipe cleaner, but not yet broken.

“War of attrition” may be an overused way to describe the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but only because it’s accurate. If you start out by going six or seven games against one of the toughest teams in the NHL, then good luck in June.

The Bruins and Rangers should be licking their lips – things are setting up awfully nice for them.


1. Conventional wisdom is that the Western Conference matchup to avoid is the No. 4 / No. 5 fight between two of Detroit, Nashville and Chicago. After all, the thinking is, you’d rather finish sixth and face the Pacific Division winner. Here’s the flaw: travel. Since 2000, nine Central Division teams have won a first-round series against a team at least two time zones away. How many went on to reach the Cup Final? One. (That’s Detroit, which captured the crown in 2002.) Be careful what you wish for, especially if it’s the Kings. Get a look at that Staples Center schedule.

I’ve written about NHL travel before. My take: in the ECHL or AHL, travel has a huge on-ice effect. An eight-hour ride in a sleeper bus will leave your limbs a touch stiff, and it’s tough to bounce back from that when you do it on repeat.

But if you’re flying from Detroit or Chicago to Nashville (or whatever combination of those cities you choose), you’re still taking a plane, and I find it hard to believe that being on a plane for two hours versus three or four matters all that much. Especially when you consider NHL travel – “Would you like the fillet, chicken or fish?”

 Those guys have every conceivable luxury to work through the extra on-board minutes, and to top it off, they face no security or airport hassles. On, off, game. I’ll take the “easier” team versus the closer one every time.

5. Asked Molson the number one reason he made the change (Bourne – re: Firing Gauthier). He thought for a few seconds before replying. “When I really looked back, it had been a long time since we’d had a really great season.” What did he learn most this year: “Our fans expect excellence.”

I can just see Elliotte asking those two (great) questions, hearing Molson’s answers, and reacting like Cousin Eddie at the 14 second mark:

“You serious, Geoff?”

When I really thought about it…” I mean, for someone covering hockey like Elliotte, he must’ve thought “You seriously just noticed that? And you learned this year that Habs fans expect excellence?” Slow learning curve there, apparently.

11. One tweeter asked why some NCAA players (Jaden Schwartz) play a game or two at the end of the season while others (Spencer Abbott) don’t. Wade Arnott, who represents both, say there are several factors. “At the top of the list is what’s best for your development. There’s also the immediate fit with your NHL team.” Schwartz has already played for St. Louis, while there was no guarantee Abbott would dress in Toronto. Plus, if you’re not going to play and your degree is important to you, leaving now can ruin your semester.

While my situation doesn’t compare to that of NHLers, I still had opportunities after college hockey ended. My roommate worked ahead so he only had one class the final semester, which allowed him to go play in the AHL after our college season ended. I still had a full course load, so I wasn’t going to be able to up and leave (since I wasn’t NHL-bound, it made no sense).

Still, the Alaska Aces (ECHL) were in town, and hounded me pretty aggressively to join them. They said I could stay behind when I had classes to take, and could join them whenever it worked. I didn’t want to for one reason: I didn’ t want to label myself an ECHL player when I believed there were AHL opportunities out there.

Still, the offer was too good, and I got the great experience of getting to play a few games of pro (I think I played nine regular season, eight playoff games that year) before heading into that style of play totally blind the next season – they’re night and day. I think it was a major plus for me. It’s a tough time of year for college kids moving on to pro. So many factors to consider.

14. PJ Stock and Mike Milbury grumbled about Karlsson’s flaws, but with this kind of player, you have to focus on what he can do, not what he can’t. If this season is proof of anything — it’s not to underestimate Karlsson’s learning curve. Look how far he’s come in five months. Plus, being on the other side of PJ is always a winning argument and Milbury hates Christmas. (I’m very brave when Mike isn’t in the same room.)

It’s the lazy argument at this point - if a defenseman has good offensive numbers, he must be bad defensively. “A” doesn’t always have to go with “B.”

While he may not be a defensive stalwart, he’s also far, far from a liability (as advanced stats show). As I’ve argued before, how much better does he have to be offensively than another guy is defensively for us to put him ahead of the d-first guy in Norris voting? Would nearly 30 points cut it?

I’d say he’s closer in defensive talent to anyone than anyone is close to him offensively. “He can’t play D” simply isn’t true.

16. Toronto finally showed some life in delivering a harsh blow to Buffalo’s playoff hopes. Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia was a Fugitive-sized train crash. Consider: Jonas Gustavsson goes down in warmup, and when Jussi Rynnas steps in, the first shooter hits him in the mask. Then, up six, Scott Hartnell asks Ray Ferraro to wish his grandfather a happy 91st birthday while the Flyers forward waves from the bench. It was pretty funny, but there is no way anyone in a Maple Leaf uniform should stand for it. On HNIC Radio, Bobby Holik said if he was playing, “Brendan Shanahan would have been called in.”

We’ve been lauding Hartnell’s “beerability” here at Backhand Shelf for awhile now, but if I were a teammate of Hartnell’s, I’d be a little concerned that he could fall in love with the whole shtick a little too much. He’s always been a guy who would clown around on the ice, but there’s the danger it could get to the point where he loses focus. High confidence is good. Thinking you’re invincible isn’t.

I’m with Holik on this one – if you’re getting beat bad enough for someone to openly not give a shit about hockey while the game is going on, that’s a real slap in the face.

17. Upon seeing what happened to Rynnas, Glenn Healy told a hilarious story about Billy Smith. Smith’s last season was David Volek’s first and Volek, during one warmup, fired a bullet past Smith’s ear into the top corner. While Volek skated away, proud of the shot, Smith charged and delivered a two-hander. Volek never shot high in warmup again.

So Gustavsson gets hurt in warmups, Rynnas goes in, and promptly gets a puck in the mask. Whoever shot the puck that hit Rynnas either must’ve not known Gustavsson was seriously hurt, or the puck got up on edge, cause that’s just brutal warm-up etiquette (I’m sure his teammates gave him an earful).

One of the best things to laugh about with guys on your team is the sound difference when the two goaltenders are in net in warmups (if you have a true starter). It’s the *thud* *thud* *thud* of pads when the starter is in. Then he skates out, the backup skates in, and all you hear is *PING* (crossbar) *SMASH* (glass) *PINGSMASH* (crossbar to glass). Guys want to get their shots warmed up too, but they know better than to do it while the starter is in there.

18. Because of efforts like last Thursday’s, Dion Phaneuf is taking a beating. No one should escape unscathed in Toronto, but the piling on Phaneuf for his leadership is a little unfair. On great teams, it never falls on one person. Teams have “leadership groups” of five or six players. While there are certainly things Phaneuf could do better, who is helping him? (Especially with Joffrey Lupul out.) It hurts that Mike Komisarek and Colby Armstrong, two players who have worn the “A”, are struggling. Couple years ago, had a conversation with one alternate captain, who said that even if you’re wearing a letter, you can’t say anything if you’re not playing well.

That’s definitely an unspoken dressing room rule. The “C” on your chest doesn’t stand for “Coach.” You’re supposed to be a leader, so if you’re dash-three tonight, playing like dogmeat and have a couple turnovers “Let’s pick it up, boys” doesn’t do a whole lot of good.

Just as coaches can lose a room, captains can too. You have to know when to pick your spots.

22. Spent some time the past few weeks asking for opinions on what’s gone wrong in San Jose. The most interesting answer came from a coach, who said that the negative of jettisoning Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi was it eliminated the Sharks’ ability to score “easy goals.” Heatley and Setoguchi can blast one-timer, quick-release shots. In today’s game, that’s valuable and it meant San Jose would have to work harder to score.

This is a super-smart observation that I definitely missed. They basically rely on Couture-style goals now (which isn’t meant to be a bad thing), as opposed to the contact-free bombs. I played with Ryan Kinasewich in Utah, who was a dominant ECHL player when I was there. The guy had a rocket, and it’s incredible how refreshing it is to slide someone the puck and get to raise your arms without taking a cross-check to the back.

When goals and cross-checks come at a 1:1 ratio, some days it’s hard to talk yourself into going to the tough parts of the ice to get it done. You never get an easy pure-skill win, and that makes for a tiring, grindy season.

24. If Phoenix stays, Ray Whitney probably does too. If not, well, how many UFAs get a raise at 39? What a season he’s having.

I had a friend in Phoenix become a Coyotes fan a couple years ago when I first moved here. It stemmed from me talking more hockey than he was used to, trying it out, and getting hooked. One day he told me he bought a jersey.

Me: “Who’d you get?”

Him: “Ray Whitney.”

Me: /silent wince “…Cool.”

I just didn’t see any way he wasn’t going to be disappointed within a year of buying that jersey. But goddamn, I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. Whitney’s been amazing.

29. Ennis confirmed a story written by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy: that he had one awkward pre-draft interview, refusing to answer a question about taking a pill that would guarantee a Stanley Cup victory but kill you in a decade. “It was with Toronto,” he said. “I like my sleep and woke up about five minutes beforehand (8 a.m)…I said, ‘That’s ridiculous. I want to win the Cup, but I don’t want to die in 10 years.’” (Don’t think Ennis is a bad guy because of these stories. Very nice guy, just blunt.)

Wait wait wait wait. That’s a real question that Toronto asked him? Was it at a slumber party after playing with the Ouija board? I’m now a Tyler Ennis fan, because, to quote a wise man “That’s ridiculous.”

“I’ll pass on the pill. Next question.”