Claude Giroux 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.

***

Friedman’s column, October 21st: Playoff also-rans determined early in the NHL

Opening:

I’ll try wrap Friedman’s intro up in just a few words: “Is your team off to a terrible start this season? Well then, you’re probably boned.”

Of course, Elliotte wrote it much more eloquently than that:

Generally, working yourself into a panic about what your team does in the first 10 games is a bad idea. But what really stands out about this particular season is how many teams are in danger of falling so far behind.

For example, the highest number of teams to fall at least four points out of the playoffs by Nov. 1 in our sample size is seven. That was 2006-07, the year Calgary made it. The lowest was two. This year, there are, potentially, seven such teams in the Eastern Conference (remember the crossovers). The West has three.

Misery loves company, maybe? No? …Okay, then some teams have some work to do here.

As far as pure opinion goes, you have to believe Buffalo is already screwed. I mean, sorry to pee in the Corn Flakes of a fanbase this early in the year, but how many Sabres fans even believe that their group can turn it around? 10 games in, looking at the 2014 draft. Fun. I won’t fully write-off any other group entirely yet, but it’s seriously time to get the ship righted if you’re one of the 10 teams Elliotte’s referring to. Standings here, if you’re curious.

*****

10 Thoughts

2. Just when we thought we were finished with boardroom battles for eight years, this is going to be an interesting week between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. On Monday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Patrick Kaleta’s appeal of the 10-game suspension levied by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. This is not a popular move by the union, internally or externally. Outside of the Sabres dressing room, you won’t find many players who support this. They feel Kaleta tries to hurt people and shouldn’t be the test case for the newly created process (Personal opinion: those people are right). Basically, the NHLPA’s position is you don’t get to say he can’t use what’s available to him just because you don’t like him.

It is kinda bum luck that the first time the appeal process is set in motion, it has to be with one of hockey’s league leaders in AMPG (Attempted Murders Per Game). Now if Bettman upholds the full suspension, the players can gripe that the appeal process is ineffective and pointless, while if the suspension gets walked back a few games, a guy who deserves a severe punishment gets off the hook. Obviously he has every right to use a process available to him, it’s just kind of a tough situation. Best-case scenario: Bettman extends the suspension and laaauuughs and laaauuughs until Kaleta smashes him over the head with a folding chair.

6. I asked a few people who’ve seen New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist: “What do you see there? What’s wrong?” There are two things mentioned. First, the team defence is not good, which can make any goalie look bad. The second is that he looks smaller. In September, Lundqvist said he felt faster in the new equipment. But a couple of guys pointed out that playing as deep as he does, there are more shooting holes than ever. When you’ve got time, you can find them.

I wrote a little bit about how players try to change goaltender depth on a shootout attempt by varying their speed on Friday. With the smaller gear this season, goaltender depth becomes even more crucial. Some of the league’s best are supremely talented reactionary guys who play deeper and rely on that quickness to make saves. Well, now those guys have to come out a little bit more to cut down the angle, which really throws things out of whack for them in the early going here. I could see why some on-the-fly adjustments could be necessary.

That said, I don’t think Henrik Lundqvist is entirely on the hook for the play of Henrik Lundqvist in 2013-14, mostly because of what Elliotte mentions: his defense (his team, really) has been a trainwreck. You can put the best goalie in the league behind the worst team, and he’ll post garbage numbers. The Rangers opened the season losing games 4-1, 9-2 and 6-0. A goalie can make the difference in a few goals here and there, but he ain’t dragging teams playing that bad to wins. If he gets more comfortable with the smaller gear sooner than later, the Rags will have a chance to recover.

9. The word on Philadlephia Flyers forward Claude Giroux — three points in eight games — is he is trying to do way too much. You can see him forcing plays that aren’t there, especially as the losses and injuries mount. One thing teams look for in their best players is, do they raise their game when things are going badly? He’s trying yet not succeeding.

Awhile back I wrote about the importance of getting off to a good start, and a few years later, I still believe the bulk of what I wrote. Wins and personal success early undeniably make life easier. Success kills hesitation and breeds creativity, whereas the opposite…well, you get the whole “squeezing the stick” phenomenon that I’ve also written about before. And once that hole you dig becomes deep enough, you start to infect others around and you and the snowball becomes an avalanche.

The problem with this (and most anxiety and stress) is that you’re aware of it, and it makes the problems worse. Giroux knows he’s struggling. He knows the team is. He knows they need him to provide offense. And that burden isn’t helping anyone, nor is telling him “no pressure,” nor will anything but a couple goals. Giroux needs one to go in off his pants, neck, ankle, whatever – he just needs a goal before the team’s ship gets lost at sea.

 16. As the Avalanche prepare for what should be a great game in Pittsburgh on Monday, I asked a couple of scouts about the biggest difference between their young players and Edmonton’s. The No. 1 answer was “Colorado’s check.” The other response was, “They really come back to get the puck, so their defencemen don’t have to handle it much.”

The first one is obvious: they may not be as talented as Edmonton’s group, but it’s not tough to find more sandpaper (and maybe more responsibility?) in O’Reilly, Landeskog, Duchene and MacKinnon (the former two in particular) than from the Oilers young four. I’m not saying Edmonton’s group doesn’t work hard, or hitting is the be-all end-all, but there’s a reason NHL teams like players a little hungrier, a little meaner. Skill is always priority one, but it’s sure miserable to play guys who’ve got the whole package.

The second part is interesting. There’s no doubt in my mind that I was at my offensive best when I was playing reliably defensively. It’s hard to tell yourself to do when you’re goal hungry ala Claude Giroux – don’t leave the zone early, don’t bolt for the breakaway, support your teammates – because it seems like not trying to score. But the more I did those little things properly, the more the puck got out of the zone with solid possession, the more we entered the opposing zone with possession, the more chances – and goals – I tended to score.

But again – when you desperately want to score, you’re looking for that quick fix from a mad dash, and it can prolong droughts.

19. I’m not sure how relevant Ryan Miller’s no-trade list is anymore. Should the Sabres decide to deal him, Miller would probably be willing to go anywhere he believes is a better situation. He’s a free-agent after the season, so any risk is short term. Edmonton makes little sense for him or them. But if someone else on the list gives him a shot at the playoffs, would it surprise anyone if he changed his mind?

Alright let’s see, a better situation than the Buffalo Sabres, currently last in the league in points-per-game – (blindly throws dart at the standings) – FOUND ONE.

I’m not sure I understand why a team who would want Ryan Miller this year would wait until the trade deadline. I know he makes a lot of money, so I guess there could be a team with a salary cap crunch who’s hoping to get him and not pay him a ton, but the deal with him and Vanek seems the same to me: if you’re going to commit pieces to acquiring them, you might as well get them with enough games left that they can really help your team move in the standings. And for Buffalo, the sooner the better, right? Get as much as possible for them.

I know if I were Ryan Miller I’d want out, and I’d want out now. He’s a quality goaltender who’s 33 (not too old to be great) who’s been in playoffs four times in a decade of NHL action. There’s no way his heart’s in it in Buffalo anymore, as much love as I’m sure he has for the only team he’s ever known. It’s happening, and seems to me it should earlier than later.

20. A lot of the concern in Buffalo surrounds Tyler Myers, who has regressed since his 2010 Calder Trophy (top rookie) season. But more and more, it’s being heard about Mikhail Grigorenko, who has seen single-digit ice time in four of his last five games and has gone 14 NHL contests without a point.

I wouldn’t be surprised if either young player found their stride at some point. We tend to get blinded by the success of the hyper-elite players that come in at 18 and just straight-up figure it out, but most humans need some learning curve. And, for a 6’8″ 23-year-old trying to become more than just average on the back-end in the NHL, it may take a bit longer. Winning the Calder obviously greatly altered expectations.

To go with Myers, Grigorenko is a 6’3″ 19-year-old. Of course they’d like to see more from him, and when the team is struggling, it’s going to lead teams to want it now. But part of the reason this team will be so bad is because a guy like Grigorenko will cost them occasionally while learning on the fly. (Dude would’ve been perfect for the AHL, had that been an option.)

21. Expectations for Calgary weren’t any higher than for Buffalo. But the Flames have looked much more competitive. Down 4-1 in San Jose on Saturday night, they got to within a goal before losing. After disappointing first seasons in Alberta, the team told Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman more was expected. Both delivered early on. Wideman leads all players in average ice time and Hudler has nine points in seven games.

They do look more competitive, but I’m not ready to say they aren’t still going to be awful. They’ve lost two straight and go to LA, Phoenix and Dallas this week. If only it was easy as telling players you need more from them to get it, we’d probably see calls for that a lot more. But the Flames couple veterans have been playing well (over their heads? No, we’ll say they’re playing well), which is part of the reason the team has been in as many games as they have been so far. If the performance of guys like that starts to decline (or heaven forbid one gets injured) and more responsibility falls to the kids, and more responsibility falls on the goaltending…well, you could see how this ball of yarn could unravel.

23. Speaking of kids, Montreal’s line of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher is gaining big-time respect. Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had the last change during Saturday’s game against Nashville and Predators head coach Barry Trotz worked hard to get Seth Jones and Shea Weber against them on the fly.

Oh man do I like how dynamic this line is. Seriously, you can just feel the engine going full tilt when they’re on the ice.

Galchenyuk is a sexy player – good size and speed and hands and vision and…okay, you got me, I’m a fan. Brendan Gallagher is from the mold of Brad Marchand (possibly with more offensive upside), and Lars Eller has blossomed into a legitimate top-line forward. I just feel like the three of them push-push-push lines until they’re back on their heels, which creates opportunities and wears defenders down. It’ll be interesting to see what they develop into if the Canadiens keep them together. (Which them may not always do, if the below is any indication.)

24. So when does Galchenyuk move to centre? “Right now, it’s not really a conversation. It’s going so well, why change it?” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said, adding the team doesn’t need Galchenyuk in the middle at this point. But he admitted, “It is going to happen.”

This is always a tough call for a team – when do we heap more responsibility on our young player who’s showing he can handle the load he’s been currently given? Personally, I’d wait on this, as Bergevin has noted they will. I think you have to let young players not just equal the task given, but excel at it before giving them more. Let Galchenyuk really find his offensive game at the top level for awhile before asking him to work on low coverage in the d-zone, taking draws and going head-to-head with the league’s best every night. No real reason keep giving a kid extra homework just because he’s finishing the amount you currently assign.

26. Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy enter the week ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in scoring for the Carolina Hurricanes. Most of the points came at even strength, impressive considering they both get a lot of power-play time. Their work with the man advantage will go a long way to determining the team’s fate. Faulk is more of a shooter, meaning Murphy runs the show. Right now, Carolina is 20th. But as he gains experience, improvement will come.

Like most teams, their young players will get it figured out as the season gets on and they will be better. Obviously if you’re relying on those kids to handle bigger tasks than other teams are, your team will improve more than theirs. The only scary part about this idea is tied to what Elliotte wrote in his intro – if you believe you have a good team, how far behind can you afford to fall before it’s too late? I think the Hurricanes are a team that would like to make playoffs now, not down the road. They don’t exactly have a ton of options, especially since they’re planning on Faulk and Murphy being a part of their core down the road, so it’s more of a general concern than a concern that needs addressing: can the kids get it figured out quick enough to keep 2013-14 relevant for Carolina?