Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators

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

Last editionP.K. Subban eyes bigger payday (from a few weeks ago, apologies on the gap)

Friedman’s column, February 19th: Hockey socks and safety

Opening:

In this week’s opening, Elliotte Friedman makes the completely rational argument that team owners should be allowed to dictate some mandatory measures in terms of the safety of their equipment. It wouldn’t be that hard to require players to wear cut-proof socks or safer goalie masks (there is no world where a guy would claim “I’d have been an NHLer had it not been for those darn cut-preventing socks“). If the arguments for safety don’t appeal to the players, he makes another awfully good point: more injuries means more players getting NHL paychecks which means higher escrow which means guys make less money. Players shouldn’t just want to keep themselves safe, they should want their brethren to be doing the same, as it has financial benefits.

The PA has fought the NHL to keep their freedom of choice when it comes to gear. But as @67sound said on Twitter….

Well, I think @67sound is missing the point that… the um, point that… hmm. Good point, actually.

On to the thoughts.

2. There is a lot of debate as to why Vancouver forced veteran forward Manny Malhotra to sit. But a couple of sources, including one player (not Bieksa) who told me to look through Malhotra’s second-last game, a 4-1 victory over Minnesota. It’s been reported that there was one play where Dany Heatley, a former teammate, could have clobbered him but let up. I couldn’t find that one, although I did find two other situations where Malhotra carried into dangerous spots: one comes about 30 seconds in (Clayton Stoner could have gone for the hit); the other is at approximately 13:10 of the third period (Matt Cullen). Players said Malhotra seemed unsure of himself with the puck, so he looked down at it a lot more than normal.

When I first heard about Malhotra getting the “that’s enough thanks” tap, I was curious if it really was for his safety, or if he wasn’t living up to the Canucks expectations and they took an opportunity to fill a hole while giving him a more noble exit then “he’s just not that good anymore.” It’s probably a little from Column A, a little from Column B. Either way, this is going to be an interesting story to follow. Malhotra is only 32, and has always been the type of guy who stays in great physical shape. Who knows when (or if) he’ll see improvement with his vision, but I could see him being out of the league for awhile, then trying to get back to the NHL. It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, but Canucks fans will tell you he simply isn’t the player he was before the injury. Here’s to hoping he gets it back.

One other quick note: I wonder if Heatley really did let up on a buddy. There aren’t many I would’ve done it for when I played, but hockey is a small world and you get to know a lot of guys (future opponents) really well. There’s been times when I’ve pulled back the reins after recognizing a namebar or number.

9. The other developing storyline is how Matt Duchene feels about this (Note: “this” being Ryan O’Reilly’s contract situation/hold out from Colorado). The Avalanche were disappointed in him at the end of last season, so he rededicated himself. Duchene changed his diet, worked out harder than ever (partially with Sidney Crosby) and arrived with a new attitude. There is no possible way he could look at this without saying, “O’Reilly believes he’s a much better player than I am.”  Powerful motivator.

And also, f*** him.

F*** him because our team is struggling and needs every bit of help it can get, and he’s watching us fail and seeing more dollar signs instead of more desperation to come help. F*** him because I rededicated myself and worked my balls off to make this a successful season, and his personal situation is killing our year.

There has to be moment when Duchene is not just annoyed by this, but legitimately pissed he put so much into a year that’s not going to bear fruit for the Avs. THAT SAID: I’m sure he understands. He’s human too, and knows O’Reilly has to do what he has to do to get what he’s worth, I’m just saying: people’s emotions fluctuate, and there’s no way there aren’t moments on the plane when Duchene (and other Avs players) enter “f*** him” mode. And I assume if he suddenly shows up in the Avalanche room with a new deal (far more likely he gets dealt before that happens, in my opinion), there will be some resentment.

I think the “I should have been captain” thing from O’Reilly would irk me most if I were his teammate.

17. In Toronto, they are debating Brian Burke’s best move as Maple Leafs GM. Was it getting Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner from Anaheim? James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers? Burke’s best move might turn out to be putting Dallas Eakins behind the bench for the Toronto Marlies. Eakins was not a Burke hire, he was inherited. It would have been easy to get someone else. But Burke kept him and Eakins has rewarded the organization with well-developed players.

Between hockey players, fans and media, I’ve so far heard zero negative words about Dallas Eakins. Nick Cotsonika wrote a nice piece about Nazem Kadri and his time with Eakins and the Marlies, and how he came to better understand defending. A lot of coaching is about techniques like the one Eakins used with Kadri (understanding defense as “offense reversed” – “how would you stop you in this situation?”) these days – dealing with the egos of young talents, and trying to properly mix tough love with true teaching.

I’m concerned about the things I hear from Carlyle – stuff like responding to a reporter’s question about his “unusual” lines (Colton Orr with Kadri) with something to the effect of “they may be unusual to you, but that’s what makes you a reporter and me a coach” instead of just acknowledging it’s unusual to play a guy who hasn’t had 10 minutes of time-on-ice in a game in back-to-back games in five years with your best young player, Nazem Kadri.

What I’m saying is, I think guys like Eakins are on the rise, while coaches who think “we’re not changing our roster because we won last game” are on the way out. Superstitions be damned, I’m for smart coaching like Eakins seems to provide.

18. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow said he wants to keep netminder Evgeni Nabokov and defencemen Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky (Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported that preliminary talks are underway with Streit). That’s consistent with what the Islanders are telling other teams, at least until we see if they have staying power into April. 

That’s excellent news about the two defenseman. The Isles are in a constant state of “I think these forwards are good enough to be in the NHL, maybe?”, so the more legitimate, veteran-but-not-ancient talents they have on the roster with them the better.

But Nabokov? I’m not so sure.

I know the Isles aren’t the best team in the world, but Nabokov has looked frighteningly bad at times this year, attacking the puck and shooters like Billy Smith (who used to try to skate out at players before they picked their heads up to shoot), and finding himself so far gone that he’s physically looking at his own net when the puck goes in.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders

His save percentage is currently at .894. He had a nice run with the Isles last season, but he was only at .913 (just below league average for said run). Prior to that he posted a .888 in 22 KHL games. He’s 37. I dunno. I wouldn’t be too concerned with keeping a guy who’s basically replacement level at this point.

19. Another exec on Snow: “Some guys are masters of the salary cap. He is master of the salary floor.” Great line — and not intended as an insult.

This is tough to deny. Combine that with the excellent contracts he’s signed (Tavares, Moulson, Grabner, Okposo, Nielsen), and I suspect he’s actually a pretty damn good GM.

Could you image if he were suddenly allowed to spend money and try to win? Draft high again this year, flip a few picks for actual quality players and maybe a goalie (you have enough damn prospects with Strome, Niederreiter, Reinhardt and others on the come-up), and the Isles could be a legitimately good team in a few years. Y’know…if he were suddenly allowed to spend and try to win, I mean.

21. One of the reasons the Flyers threw the GNP of a small African nation at Shea Weber, aside from the fact he’s a great player, is that the New Jersey Devils exploited their lack of a right-handed defenceman in last year’s playoffs. According to opponents and scouts, it remains a problem. Philadelphia added Kurtis Foster, Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, but is still being attacked there.

I can’t believe how much I keep hearing about team needs when it comes to right-handed and left-handed defensemen. I understand it’s nice to have a good mix, but outside of a situation where you like two players exactly the same amount, I can’t imagine it swaying too many personnel decisions. The Nashville Predators kept Shea Weber because he’s Shea Weber, other reasons be damned, and teams will – or rather should – always keep the best defensemen they can.

Honestly though, I’m hearing so much about this I’m starting to doubt myself. I’d love for a few reporters to talk to a few GMs (I lack the access, or rather, the time to get the access) and get their thoughts on just how important right and left hand defensemen are – I’m convinced they’ll say they’ll always take the best player they can get, and trust a few guys to play their off-side.

As always…I could be wrong on this.

22. Credit to Claude Giroux. If you’re going to rip your teammates, you better lead by example. After saying, “We’re not competing” following Saturday’s loss in Montreal, Giroux had three points in a 7-0 win over the Islanders. Next up? Ryan Miller, who torched his fellow Buffalo Sabres on Sunday and hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

Definitely, credit to Claude for that. A really good way to work yourself out of favour with a team (or “lose the room,” as it’s more commonly known) is to bitch at them for poor play or lack of effort, then go out and play poorly, or don’t put yourself on the line.

I’m a little bit worried about Ryan Miller. He seems to be going off the rails more in interviews, he’s showing his frustration more, and he’s not playing well. I wonder if his teammates aren’t a bit annoyed with him at this point. Mostly, I wonder if he isn’t due for a fresh start somewhere. And with a season and a half left on his current contract at $6.25 mill, I bet a few teams would be willing to give him one. What say you, Buffalo? Wanna start over?

23. He may be 40, but netminder Martin Brodeur can still single-handedly destroy an opponent’s forecheck. One exec who saw the Devils’ 5-3 win over Philadelphia last Friday could not believe how good Brodeur was against it. “He could’ve had three assists … tape-to-tape passes to the other blue-line. Their defence didn’t have to do anything.”

I played with Nathan Lawson in college (he was with the Islanders a bit over the past couple seasons), and that dude can shoot the puck better than me (a tremendous, glowing compliment, of course). Every time a team would ice the puck while killing a penalty against us and try to change, I’d immediately bolt for the far blue, cause Lawson could get it up there in a heartbeat.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes – it eliminates about three potential areas for bad turnovers along the way, and gets you back in the offensive zone quickly. A goalie who can move the puck is a gift.

25. So who was Shero watching last week in Minnesota? He attended Avalanche/Wild game the night before Pittsburgh won in Winnipeg. You know who has Penguin written all over him? Matt Cullen.

Anytime I hear that Ray Shero or Ken Holland or Mike Gillis are checking out a player, I immediately head to the fancy internet machine to check out their situation. As in, age, career, contract, and current underlying numbers (like Corsi). He’s not that young (36), he’s been reliable over the course of his career, his contract is a little spendy ($3.5M), and his underlying numbers aren’t great, so…why would the Pens want him?

I think this is where team management – smart teams, anyway – are so far beyond the rest of us. The Pens are smart. As my friend Scott Lewis has pointed out, it’s very possible that they recognize a player being misused who could be rejuvenated if given the right role, or one who just fits the mold of exactly what they’re looking for. “Reliable and pretty good” might be just what they need to plug a perceived hole. If you have the top-end talent, you have to fill out the perfect supporting cast; it takes a smart GM to recognize needs and target them.

28. When San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton fights, it’s about creating momentum and it’s against an important player. He did it with Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf in 2009 and started off the 2011 Western Conference Final by asking Canucks forward Ryan Kesler if he wanted to scrap. So it wasn’t unprecedented to see him go with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews last week. You can see the Sharks’ frustration after that brilliant 7-0 start. Dan Boyle, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Thornton have 30 of the team’s 37 goals. San Jose scored 29 goals in seven games in January; just eight in seven games in February.

All I have to say here is that A) I love when Thornton gets angry, or tries to motivate via aggression, and B) this was not one of those times.

I don’t know if it stemmed from a previous game (I had heard that was the case), or if Thornton did something earlier in the game, but this is pretty clearly a case of Toews being like “this is happening” and Thornton being like “What? Wait, hold on, what’s happening? …Okay, whatever, I guess.”

But Elliotte’s point is that the Sharks are frustrated, and yes: they’re having their struggles, which is validating, because holy crap did I not see that start coming out of the gate.