This post does not cover this play. I cannot explain the Legwand Puck Toss.

Like all pro sports, the guys at the very top possess talents most of us couldn’t conceive of having. When you watch a guy like Zdeno Chara power a 105 MPH blast through a screen and score, we feel more awe than “Aw yeah, I can relate.”

So knowing that NHLers are extremely talented and seeing them do something like pass it up the gut right to the other team can be a little confusing. I wouldn’t have done that. How can someone so good do something so stupid? But, it happens. Every week I spend some of my time breaking down stuff most of us know better than to do in “Systems Analyst.” It’s a tough game, but sometimes guys make it harder than it needs to be.

The problem for a lot of guys is just the way they came up through the ranks.

Most NHLers were the best players on their minor hockey teams. Most were the best players on their junior teams. Same goes for college and minor pro. It’s an elite crop of guys once you get to the top level, so much so that even most third line “grinders” were once prolific goal-scorers. So, most came up with a certain level of confidence and coddling.

With being an elite player comes privileges. A coach will tell his team: “We never pass the puck all the way across the ice in the defensive zone,” but your top-end guys get the wink and nod because they’re able to throw backhand sauce passes through their crease and have it pan out. On the penalty kill, most players are asked to focus on one thing and one thing only: getting the puck down the ice. Others, like Ilya Kovalchuk, have the green light to take some chances and fly the zone early. Chance-taking is a top-end privilege.

So now, when an NHLer gets the puck on the side boards (after years of having the green light) and sees someone streaking up the far side of ice, they think “Assist!” not “What would coach think?” And, they may thread it across successfully 4 times out of 5. Most just haven’t had to get used to playing chip and chase, and by the time they hit the big time, there’s going to be a number of other skilled guys able to read and intercept that pass. Few players are still that elite that it seems to work every time.  (I believe it was Ekman-Larsson who got picked off yesterday on a pass just inside the Coyotes’ blue line that made you scratch your head).

It’s a major reason why rookies are “rookies” – you just can’t do the same things you used to do at other levels, and until you find out which ones are off limits, you do some dumb-looking stuff.

There are obvious exceptions, and to blanket “mistakes” with one theory will never work (especially in the face of something inexplicable like the Legwand Puck Toss from last night) – guys are still human and make mistakes for a number of reasons. But I have to believe a good number of the plays that make us say “I wouldn’t have done that” from our couches come from a career of dangerous play green lights.

They’ve always been the best, they know they have the skill and vision to pull of just about anything (which breeds a mistake-causing cockiness too), and it’s worked in the past.

Comments (10)

  1. ” I wouldn’t have done that. How can someone so good do something so stupid? ”

    Another thing related to that thought: the speed of the game. I really truly think most fans don’t understand just how fast everything is at the NHL level. With every level of league you go up, the speed at which decisions have to be made is increased. At the NHL level, there isn’t really time for “decision making” in the standard terms. There isn’t time to view the ice, process the information, process the possible decisions and make the right choice. It’s just pure reaction. And this is where the stuff you talked about comes in. These guys who had always been the best players could do things that other couldn’t. Their reaction is to make a play or a pass that they probably shouldn’t at this level, but because its more reaction that decision, it looks terrible.

  2. I think a lot of stars make a lot of screw ups because they’re on the ice a lot, and have the puck a lot. You can scan down the list of players with the most giveaways, and for the most part, they’re all guys you’d take on your team.

    • True. I was reading something today about Chris Pronger being on the ice for a bunch of Blackhawks goals in the 2010 Finals. Yeah he was, because he played 40 minutes a game (slight exaggeration).

  3. There’s something you touch on that I’ve been curious about for a while.

    ” It’s an elite crop of guys once you get to the top level, so much so that even most third line “grinders” were once prolific goal-scorers. ”

    Relative to the guys we see at the NHL level, of course, the grinders look like… well, grinders. There are hard-minutes third liners, there are straight goons, and the like.

    At lower levels, though – or even against weaker competition – would those guys look like skill players? I mean, if I saw Jon Mirasty or Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond at my local rink, would he have the sweetest dangle and the softest hands I’ve seen? Or would they still just look like big goons?

    • They’d leave your jock in the rafters. Straight up these guys would be bigger and faster than you by soooo much you couldn’t reach the puck defending.
      Even guys who played Jr. A, CHL or College would light you up like you wouldn’t believe. The amount of size and talent and speed you need to play at those levels is incredible.

      • Dougie, I can attest to that.

        I was playing in a drop-in session in Toledo, OH and one of the guys playing was Bubba Berenzweig, formerly of Nashville and Dallas. I knew of him b/c he played defense at Michigan (I attended rival Bowling Green).

        He was a (short) career minor leaguer w/ 37 NHL games to his name, but dude was far-and-away the best guy on the ice and could do whatever he wanted when he was on the ice.

        You can ALWAYS tell when someone played at a high level somewhere. Even when they try not to dominate a game, you can just *tell* when an elite level player is on the ice.

        • Thanks, guys! Of course, I know they’d be able to deek us poor saps out of our jocks. I was just wondering if they’d look all… graceful doing it, for lack of a better term.

          So even Stonehands McGoonerson would skate, deke, and shoot like a skill guy out there, eh?

  4. OEL is a fantastic example of this. He was amazing in the swedish elite league and quite obviously got away with a lot of things based on his first in the NHL.

    If you watched him play last year he took far too many risks that put him out of position way to deep in the zone. I think this is because he hadn’t played enough against teams where he couldn’t beat anyone in a foot race. That kid can fly when he wants to and as a result had been cheating deep and correcting his mistake when got caught. When he got to the NHL he was playing against players that in most cases equaled his skill. He still had/has tons of talent but he can’t play that kind of risky game because he’s not going to out skate the top line forwards in the NHL when he gives them a head start.

    He has exploded this year I think because he started making the correct plays, and a few less risks, and as a result was not getting caught in bad situations. He didn’t leave his team weak on D and created more blue line pressure which is generating him a ton of points.

    I could be wrong on this but that’s kind of the way I see it. Last year he looked like an amazing talent that played a reckless game, this year he looks like an amazing talent that focuses on positioning. It earned him more ice time, and now his stat sheet is shows the story.

    Side note: OEL, and the Monster kind of tell me that the swedish elite league isn’t really all that elite when compared to the NHL. These were players that were viewed as some of the best players in that league, and when initially inserted into NHL rosters under-performed.

    • OEL has been amazing this year and Phoenix seemed to handle his development very well.

      Marcus Kruger had a difficult time when he joined the Blackhawks at the end of the 2010-2011 season after dominating in the SEL. He had a much better season in 2011-2012 (though he still needs to bulk up a bit) and he has a tendency to make dangerous blind passes in his own zone that, fortunately, seem to connect more often than not.

  5. Don Cherry loves all the down low play.
    We ALL find it very boring here.

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