John Tortorella 2

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.

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Friedman’s column, September 9th: NHL clarifies illegal check to head rule

30 Thoughts is back, hurray! These are pretty easily my favorite posts in the hockey world, as evidenced by my choice to pick through them every week. I’ll be writing a new feature schedule this season (to be released soon), but I intend for Thoughts on Thoughts to stay a part of the rotation.

Opening:

Elliotte opened his first column of the new season with information about a change in wording to the new head shot rule. Here’s what Friedman had to say about the change:

Rule 48.1 (Illegal Check to the Head) used to read as follows: “A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.” Personally, I found the “targeting” issue difficult to determine at times. NHL speed didn’t always make it easy, especially if there weren’t enough camera angles with a proper view.

Those issues led to the need for clarification:

This is not considered an official rule change, which involves a lengthier process. Instead, the language was altered for greater clarity. Now Rule 48.1 declares an illegal check to the head as “a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable.”

This is glorious. Throughout last season I feel like I spent the majority of my “Court of Public Opinion” posts explaining why you can’t possibly be “targeting” something if it’s unavoidable on an attempted clean check.

Self back-pat moment of the week: I went back over every Court of Public Opinion post from the previous season. I made suspension predictions 12 times, and if you’re generous enough to allow the few times I said a two-game number range (“four or five games,” for example), I was bang on nine of 12 times. My grand total was six predicted games below actual suspension (though the NHL liked to choose the lower number when I said two-game ranges), thanks in large part to guessing three games for Raffi Torres on Jarret Stoll, when he was given “the series” which ended up being six more games, costing me three.

Needless to say I’ll be studying the new terminology closely to try to maintain that record. To the goods!

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1. Reminder: once exhibition games start, the NHL will be testing a form of hybrid icing. The defender and the chaser will race to the faceoff dot. If the defenceman is first, the play is blown dead. If the attacking player is ahead, the chase continues. At the end of the preseason, the players will vote on it. A “Yes” puts hybrid icing in place for 2013-14.

While I’m making predictions, I think there’s next-to-no chance this gets approved before the upcoming season. While a chunk of the league may be young and open-minded, hockey players as a whole are not. Hence the league having to implement mandatory visors to save a bunch of macho kids from themselves.

The more experienced, better players won’t play a ton in pre-season because the year is long enough without injury risk. Individually, they’ll likely be involved in a half-dozen or so of these plays over the course of those games. Then they’re going to be asked if they’d like to vote to approve a rule that would make your average hockey game look quite a bit different. It’s just an awfully big call to make with so little experience. I know that there are many who’ve seen it consistently in the AHL, but that doesn’t mean your average NHLer has.

I do want to add: man, how hard is explaining icing to someone going to be when this gets implemented? I mean, I get it just fine, but without markings on the ice (aside from two dots) to reference it feels like a weird game-within-a-game.

Those who’ve seen it play out in real life before: what are your thoughts?

7. Incoming Canucks head coach John Tortorella is known for his brutal skate tests at training camp. What do his new players expect? Ryan Kesler: “He’s said it won’t be as bad as some of his previous ones, but a version if it.”

You goal as a player during these “skate tests” are:

A) Survive
B) Don’t get singled out
C) Don’t puke

Your coach already has a pretty good where everyone fits, so it’s not like he’s going to look at his stopwatch and see one player did the drill in 43 seconds and the other in 44, then have them swap lines. They’re basically trying to identify outliers (those in bad shape, those in great shape) for early season decision-making purposes.

So unless you’re fast as hell and in great shape, a good goal is “don’t get noticed.” Finish in the pack, good body language between skates (as opposed to heaving yourself on the ice and wheezing), and keep it together after. You’ll be fine, and soon you’ll get to be judged on actual hockey and not this crap.

8. Martin Brodeur on New Jersey: “We’ve lost that identity of what Devils hockey is all about…(Ilya Kovalchuk) took a lot of minutes off of everybody and everything had to go through him — like the two-minute powerplay. It was hard to adjust yourself sometimes because he needed his minutes. We never had that in New Jersey. Everybody was playing on the same page, we had some great players — Zach (Parise) — they played the way we played…I think we’ll be able to get back to that.”

Man, that is not a complimentary string of quotes. He walks them back a bit below, but reading between the lines a bit:

* Kovalchuk took minutes off other guys and everything had to go through him.

As in, other guys couldn’t get into a rhythm because Kovy needed Kovy’s minutes, and players weren’t able to play their own game because things had to go through his.

* “We never had that in New Jersey”

We changed the culture here for him.

* “We had some great players — Zach (Parise) — they played the way we played…I think we’ll be able to get back to that.”

With him gone, we’re finally free from the tyrannical reign of Ilya Kovalchuk. (Okay, that might be a bit much, but you get the point.)

9. Brodeur was one of Kovalchuk’s biggest defenders while they were teammates. Was he disappointed about the departure? “Oh definitely…Look what (the Devils) did to get him to New Jersey: losing some of the draft picks, some of the current players, the money that was thrown at him, for him just to walk out like that…I know him, and it’s just not like him to do that. The lockout created everything; the taste of what his life would be in Russia and he liked it…But it affects us, so that’s why I’m disappointed…As a guy he’s a great guy, still going to have a lot of fun with him, but at the end of the day, it’s a tough one for what the organization did to get him.”

Brodeur starts in after Kovalchuk a little bit again, commenting on what they had to do to acquire him, but then starts to give him an out. I do agree that the lockout will hurt the NHL in regards to player talent, because a lot of people experienced new places and liked them just fine, and hey, money is money (and the Russians understandably loved it). I’ve said before, I think guys like Datsyuk and Ovechkin will end their careers in the KHL now, and that wasn’t something I had taken seriously before.

Bringing it back to Kovalchuk and the Devils, it’ll be curious to see if what Marty is talking about comes to pass. Was Kovalchuk and his league-leading minutes-per-game more of a detriment than a help? It’s unlikely, but unless Brodeur is just spitting sour grapes, there might be something to his point. Maybe they won’t miss him as much as your average fan thinks.

12. Alex, will we see anything different from you this season? “Go to the net at a different level, I hope.”

This is a pretty uncommon refrain from someone who’s been in the league awhile. Usually guys get more perimeter and more savvy, as opposed to grittier and tougher. There’s no doubt that at 6’3″ 230 he could cause a bit of a ruckus by parking himself deeper in the zone, but if it’s at the sacrifice of a few one-timers (and more injuries), I’m not sure I’d support this plan as a coach. You put yourself out there for a lot of hacks-and-whacks when you’re chilling in the crease.

14. It is expected there will be conversations this week between the Rangers and Don Meehan, Lundqvist’s agent. Does the goalie agree with Phil Kessel about no talks during the season? Or is he like Dion Phaneuf, who doesn’t mind? “We’ll see. Hopefully, we’ll have some good talks in the next couple of weeks. If we don’t have a solution, we’ll have another discussion on how to move forward.”

Not to go all Jerry Seinfeld here, but who are these people who can’t “negotiate in season.” Why not? Your agent does the actual negotiating, meaning you get about a call a day giving you an update of where things are at. Then you can go back to your Fruit Loops.

Once you’ve agreed with your agent what you’re after, it’s his job to get it. And of course, he can come back and say “They proposed this,” which is something you can think about on non-game days when you’re done by noon and playing your own character in NHL ’14.

Obviously it would be better to have it all wrapped up with a neat bow before you walk into the dressing room on day one, but if you can’t reach an agreement, doesn’t putting it aside until you’re, I dunno, dealt at the deadline or something make very little sense?

16. Brodeur, by the way, had a great line when asked if he could see himself playing even longer as a potential backup to Cory Schneider: “I would be a bad backup … I don’t practise that hard.”

I love this line. Marty is officially in his Daniel Alfredsson years, where you just say the thing you’re actually thinking. It’s the best.

It’s a pretty well known “secret” about established goaltenders: they just aren’t gonna work that hard in practice. Take it or leave it. There’s too many games in a year and they save themselves for those. It’s actually really annoying as a player, because you want to try to get better yourself (as opposed to shooting at a human shooter tutor), but you can’t make ‘em try.

21. Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish announced Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won’t play any exhibition games to protect his injured shoulder. This could mean Taylor Hall gets some time at centre, which is interesting. Centres generally have more defensive responsibility. Both Hall and Jordan Eberle were told by the Canadian Olympic coaching staff that they had to prove they were 200-foot players to get any Sochi consideration.

I hope this kid can stay healthy throughout his NHL career. He’s already missed 30 games over two years, and shoulders don’t tend to magically become stable.

As for Hall taking over at center, I sort of think it depends what you want from the guy. If you want him to be someone who threatens for the league lead in scoring in the future, maybe it’s not the best idea – center takes a lot of mental gymnastics, particularly in the early stages, so I feel like he’d be limited offensively.

On the other hand, your goal isn’t to blow up his stats so he can be drafted by some higher league – he’s in the NHL now, and if he has the tools to play the middle and well, then you can create a pretty excellent all-around player.

Apparently the Oilers at least want to see if the potential to use him as the latter type is an option.

29. If he was anywhere near healthy, have to figure Darren Helm would have been in Calgary, too.

Wait, what am I missing here? No seriously. Darren Helm at Canadian Olympic team camp?

I mean, there’s already 47 guys at that camp trying to grab 23 spots, and you can’t tell me that if he’d been included in that group everyone and their dog wouldn’t have circled him as the obvious outlier. Not to mention guys like Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn and Evander Kane didn’t get the nod, and we’re discussing Darren Helm? Friedge, I love you, but that’s crazy talk.

30. Tim Thompson, who does many of the opening videos for Hockey Night in Canada, is working on a piece about players’ musical choices. There were some surprising responses. Crosby, a fan of Great Big Sea (which played at his Stanley Cup party), sheepishly admitted liking “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, a Swedish DJ. The biggest stunner was St. Louis Blues captain David Backes praising the motivational messages of Matisyahu, a Hebrew hip-hop artist. The NHLer who said he prefers Katy Perry? We’ll keep that one a secret for his own sake.

I…

I…

I think I need to wrap this up. That’s too much to take in.

Comments (8)

  1. Explaining hybrid icing to someone isn’t that much harder then explaining touch icing, I’ve done it whenever I bring friends to an ACHA hockey game. Instead of saying “whichever player touches the puck first” just say “whichever player is at the faceoff dots first” whenever you give your normal icing description

  2. They ditched hybrid icing in the A as soon as the lockout ended to prevent confusion I guess. I liked it, the only problem was that linesmen were not always in the best position to make the right call especially in close races.

    It’s minor, to me at least, but some people found it more frustrating than I did.

    • I agree, and it’s one of those calls that are black and white on TV. After every missed call, next replay is going to be of the icing.

  3. The existing Charging rule already captures this. Rule 42 states:

    42.1 Charging – A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner.

    The second sentence is, in my mind, the important part. If you sort of parse that language what the Rule says is that if, because of the distance traveled, a check is violent (and, by implication, didn’t really need to be so violent), it falls offside the NHL’s sense of moral decency.

    This means that the NHL can punish a check that was basically opportunistic on the part of the aggressor and causes an injury that shocks the fans and the conscience of the NHL.

    So now we turn to the head check rule: What the NHL has done in changing the language from “targeting” the head to head contact being “avoidable” is to introduce some flexibility in the rule for the NHL to punish players. Because of the updated language, the NHL doesn’t have to have video evidence (as Friedman states) that the aggressor specifically intended the head contact, but only that, in the NHL’s opinion, he should have tried harder to avoid clipping the player’s head. What is that except the NHL looking at the replays and saying that the hit was basically opportunistic on the part of the aggressor (as already captured by Rule 42) and that it need not have been so violent.

    In my mind, this is the only workable way to apply this rule consistently, and I note that Friedman, in his column, assumes as much when he immediately stops referring specifically to “head contact” and shifts his focus onto the entire hit itself:

    “Now Rule 48.1 declares an illegal check to the head as ‘a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable.’

    You’re going to ask the obvious follow-up. How do you determine if the hit is avoidable?’

    Very clearly, with the updated language the NHL is focusing on one part of a hit – namely, head contact. However, as you see, this gets immediately translated into whether the hit – not just the head contact – was avoidable. We already have a rule for that.

  4. Personally, I’d like to see Etchingham’s head-shot suggestion given a chance. In an article of hers, she said head shots should be approached akin to high-sticking – if contact is made, then there’s a penalty. Remove the intent from the referee’s decision consideration, and the rule can be more effectively enforced.

    I get that the NHL likes its convoluted language in order to preserve the speed of the game, since all head contact in hits being penalized would cause more players to reign in their speed when approaching high-traffic zones. But if that means we get to see big name players (Crosby, Savard, and Pronger to name a few) not lose so many games to head injuries, I’m all for it.

  5. Obsessed with finding out who’s the Katy Perry fan.

  6. Of course Marty is going to try to spin the Kovy deal in as good of a light as possible. He’s not going to say “Welp, Kovy’s gone, better pack in my last season, cuz we’re going to party all the way!”

    The Devils’ (read: Lou Lam’s) company line for this season is that the team is going to be deep, feature competition for spots, and have a lot of “interchangeable parts”. Only in NJ.

  7. “no talks during the season”

    Couldn’t that just be a negotiating play to get a deal done and possibly drive up the price? Meaning: “you only have until September whatever to extend me or you have to wait until next summer!”

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