Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers

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 editionHockey socks and safety (Full Friedman edition here)

Friedman’s column, February 25th: NHL realignment still needs work

Opening:

This week Friedman’s opening was about proposed realignment of the NHL, which seems like it’s almost inevitably going to happen, and soon. Like, next season soon. The league would change to four conferences (am I crazy, or should those be called divisions?), with two conferences of eight teams (all in Eastern Standard Time), and two conferences of seven teams (none of which are in EST).

The issue, then, is that the teams in the eight-team conferences have a slightly smaller chance of making the playoffs, which, ya know, is not cool, dawg. The snafu at this point is figuring out how to make that work. Whether it means 4 vs. 5-seed play-in games, crossover games or whatever…the NHL has to iron out this issue.

Of course, this leads to talk of expansion – why, 32 teams would be perfect! – but for next year, at least, we’re gonna be dealing with 30. I like that Columbus and Detroit will get more 7 o’clock starts (which should appeal to their fans), and that the Islanders get out of the Atlantic, which currently leaves their odds of making playoffs at zero-point-not-much percent.

(Update: Pierre LeBrun revealed new plans for realignment and playoffs on Twitter today)

2. Something for fans to ponder: if you go back to last year and see where every team stood after 48 games, the playoff cutoff in each conference was 55 points (East) and 53 points (West).

I know you know the Blackhawks have um, started well, but this is pretty crazy: if they go .500 the rest of the season – and remember, this is in a league that doles out loser points – they’ll finish with 64 points. Like, they’ve essentially clinched a playoff spot and are threatening to lock up home ice. They could go 9-20-0 on the way in and still get to last year’s playoff cut-off. To hell with anyone who isn’t floored by their 16-0-3 record.

10. Back to Buffalo: Tough start for Ron Rolston. Two losses, outscored 7-1. If ever a team needed to go on the road to build confidence, this is the one. Six of the next seven away from Buffalo, where fans are out of patience. According to opponents, the Sabres need to up their commitment to defensive-zone coverage. And, if they don’t score off the rush, they really have trouble creating scoring chances.

One thing I always found annoying was that I generated more offense when I paid more attention to defense. I mean, that’s stupid, right? I should score more when I float and fly the zone early. But nope. So much offense, particularly rush offense, can be generated when you play better in-zone coverage because you’re naturally in a position to provide better support for breakout passes. Coaches have trouble convincing their forwards just how low they should be – often below the d-man on a breakout – to give them the best chance going the other way. It makes you come up as a unit, and provides passing options.

16. There are several issues, however: while the business people love these games (discussing a potential increase in outdoor games next year), the hockey people don’t like any more than we’ve already got. They are great events, but they are not on-ice artistic success. After Sidney Crosby was injured in a rainstorm, they don’t want to take any extra chances. Next year being an Olympic year also complicates things. Plus, are the players on board with the idea?

More outdoor games makes them less special, and those games are really special because they’re…special. I’m not cancelling plans because “today’s the day of the third outdoor game of the year,” but I certainly make time when there’s one.

That said, as a player, I would be all-in on this. Not every team gets the chance to participate in one of these games – most don’t, in fact – and as a player all I would want is to get in at least one (the more the better). These games are neat, and you’d have to be one hell of a cynical dude to be like “I really don’t enjoy them because the style of the game is slightly worse.” I mean, there are plenty of flat-terrible games throughout the course of an NHL season. One more’s not gonna kill us, and frankly, I haven’t found them as poor as others have.

As a little aside, are there many people that genuinely believe that Sidney Crosby’s injury was somehow related to the outdoor game, and not that it just happened to occur on that game of the regular season schedule? Wasn’t that just a throwing-shit-at-the-wall theory from a couple people? All due respect to whoever bandied the theory about, but has anyone heard Crosby blame the outdoor game? He got his head hit. In a game. On a rink. We’ve had a handful of these outdoor games before and after without similar instances.

19. Here’s another one (regarding the potential for NHL coaches to adopt a “challenge” ala NFL coaches): Let’s say you can challenge an offside. If the other team goes right in and scores, no problem. But, let’s say after the missed offside, the offensive team cycles the puck for 25 seconds and then puts it in. Should that still be reviewable? Some guys say no. It’s hard to get all the GMs to agree.

This is a major issue of mine too. What’s reviewable? Pretty much everything about goals can be reviewed, so what are we challenging? Subjective penalties? You’re not going to have the option to throw the flag and say “go back and check out the slash you missed earlier in that shift,” which would thereby negate everything that happened after it. Offsides are pretty much impossible to allow challenges on, for the reason Elliotte notes. I mean…goalie interference I’m in on, but what after that?

An earlier point Friedman had made was asking how you punish wrong challenges. In the NFL, they take away a timeout if you’re wrong. But you get six a game. That’s something else that would need refining.

20. Sounds like goalie equipment might also come up at the March GMs meeting. I did ask a couple of these guys if they’re getting to the point where they might want to see larger nets, but there’s some serious opposition. Some guys would only accept wider nets, not taller ones, because they don’t want guys shooting any higher. As part of all this, the union needs to add four new members to the Competition Committee. David Backes is the only active representative playing in the NHL.

My issue with changing net size is that it would mess with guys “internal scopes,” which is a term I just made up. As you well know, hockey is a fast game, and sometimes you have but a second to release a loose puck. When guys do, they don’t try to throw it at the goalie’s chest. They have some idea where low blocker is when they see the right hashmark on the ice and they’re looking down. They have some idea where high glove is when they’re at the left faceoff dot. You don’t always have time to look up. Making every player at every level the world over recalibrate seems like a bit much.

On the other hand, I guess it’s slightly unfair to ask goalies to wear smaller gear against. …But…goalies should have to wear smaller gear again. It would emphasize more athleticism and less “be big and block” goaltending, which I think fans would like to see. Also, yes, I know, goalies hate me for writing that. But I hate them back, so y’know, we are where we’re at on that.

21. Another team that had a great weekend: Calgary, which stopped Minnesota and followed up with a stunning comeback win over usually airtight Phoenix. Two wins for Joey MacDonald. MacDonald needed an opportunity to stay on a one-way contract next year and Detroit put him on waivers to see if he could get it. He’s been a pretty popular teammate wherever he’s gone.

I played with Joey in Bridgeport (stallmates!) and I can confirm that he’s an absolutely awesome teammate. I just have to say, though: it is amazing how much of making the NHL, particularly as a goaltender, comes down to opportunity and perception. I’ve played with Barry Brust (great guy), Nathan Lawson (great guy), Danny Taylor (great guy) and many other fringe-NHL tenders, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you that one is any better than the other. But, if you don’t crack the show by age whatever, you’re deemed not an NHL goalie or something. Joey Mac got a chance and has parlayed it into six straight seasons of one-way NHL money. Kudos to him, but there’s also some luck involved there.

23. It’s a weird time for Bouwmeester, who on Tuesday night will play his 735th game and still does not have a post-season appearance. He will pass Guy Charron, who played 734 without ever appearing in the playoffs.

Our own Cam Charron hit on this about a year ago, because Backhand Shelf is just so, so far ahead of the dreaded MSM, Elliotte. C’mon bud. (Kidding, kidding.)

Here’s the Tragic Tale of Jay Bouwmeester, an extremely interesting piece on both Calgary’s defenseman, and Guy Charron.

25. Back in AHL training camp, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean and Binghamton counterpart Luke Richardson discussed philosophy. Richardson wanted to play the same way as the big club for consistency. MacLean wanted Richardson to have some flexibility. They decided to co-ordinate terminology and drills. One of the reasons the Senators are holding on amid all their injuries is, when players get called up, the familiarity creates comfort.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to not play the same systems unless the two coaches totally disagree on things, in which case it seems like you probably shouldn’t have hired that particular AHL coach. I know the Islanders did this with their farm system when I was involved, and it really does make it nice for you when you get called up. Coaches have their own words that mean the same things – “We like our d-man and center to provide layers in a two-on-two corner battle” and “we like to have a guy play soft in a two-on-two corner battle” are essentially saying the same thing, but when you’re used to one, it’s not as easy to grasp the other.

26. For example, one of the ideas MacLean likes to preach is “fast defence.” Basically, he wants his forwards to create three lanes of support for defencemen trying to move or pass the puck out of their own zone. When the AHLers are called up, they understand what that means, no explanation necessary. “You can never move the puck fast enough for Paul,” Richardson said.

This makes me happy. One thing I’d definitely preach if I were a high-level coach would be short passes. Move the puck like an ultimate frisbee team. Guys are so talented these days that you can rely on them to execute 10-15 straight passes, and as they say, the puck moves quicker than you can skate. So many offensive opportunities come from generating confusion, and every time you move the puck you force your opponents to read a new situation in coverage, and you increase your chances of getting a break.

27. Other advice Richardson gives to call-ups: “Be respectful but not too respectful. If you’re battling Sidney Crosby, you must battle to win, or else you’ll be back down here… I always tell them, ‘I hope I never see you again,’” he laughed.

I struggled with this. First off, I wasn’t very tough, but mostly, I wanted to get along with everyone. To have success at the highest levels, you need the utmost confidence, and it helps if you’re a bit ruthless. I thought of this when Jonathan Toews fought Joe Thornton the other day. I would’ve had way too much respect for him – oh man, that’s Joe Thornton – to get all that upset. Toews is a Cup champ and an Olympic gold medal winner. I’m guessing he feels he’s earned the right to tell older NHL greats to f*** off when he feels they deserve it.