Tim Jackman

The title of this post should really be “How desperate coaches huck s*** at the wall and hope something sticks.” I’ll explain.

When it comes to managing your forwards during a game, here’s a rough look at how the ideal game goes:

* The top couple lines show they have legs early, create some chances, hopefully score.

* The third line is swarming, playing responsible, being hard to play and staying out of the d-zone.

* The fourth line is banging, forechecking hard and making life miserable for your opponents.

* The team gets a lead and is able to roll four lines so nobody gets overextended, everyone is rested when their center’s name is called (which is how a line knows they’re up).

* The game is out of hand early and the usage of skill players goes into decline, and the clock, she goes tick tick tick down to zero.

What you may know from your experience as a hockey fan is that things don’t always work out this way. Okay, they almost never do.

Instead, there were two penalties called early, your third line PK specialists are wiped off the bat, and your top lines are basically cold seven minutes into the period. Your fourth liners are disconnecting from the game. You’re behind two goals and one of your forwards is hurt, so now you’re running three centers through four wing pairs, only one of your other centers is in the box and you don’t trust your fourth line wingers to not give up another one, so…I dunno, you, you and you, you’re up.

Who’s playing left? We’re all left wingers.

You.

Alright, I guess?

You get the idea – the best laid schemes of mice and men, and all that.

As much as you’d like to believe your favourite team is crazy deep, they probably rely on goal scoring from a relatively small number of forwards night in, night out. Maybe it’s seven guys a coach is hoping for contributions from, but the group they truly lean on is smaller than that. So when a few of those guys aren’t going (I love “going” as a hockey team. “Boy howdy Gord’s sure goin’ tonight, eh?“…you’re pretty boned.

Coaches often manage the bench based on who’s got jump in the early going, and when you don’t play a lot – I’m looking at you, bottom six guys – you’ve almost always got fresh legs, or at least the desire to show you do (top liners have to lose ice-time privileges, bottom liners have to earn them, and they use the first period as a game-by-game audition).

And so, inevitably come the nights where your team just seems hopelessly defeated. Lifeless, listless, dead. The team may only be down a couple goals, but when your big guns are dragging it can seem futile to chuck them over the boards to skate aimlessly for 40 seconds before returning for more Gatorade. In fact….in fact, y’know what, I’d be better off using the guys who seem to have it today. At least they *want* it.

When low minute forwards suddenly start getting rolled over the boards with regularity, they know why–it’s time to change the momentum. That doesn’t mean fight, that means seize this chance young stallion! Hustle! Light the pilot light for the boys so it can become a FI-YAH! (My junior coach used to say in these situations “F**k, fight or hold the light. At least do something.” I liked that. …He also used to say “Talk is cheap and whiskey costs money,” but I’m still not exactly sure what that one means.)

And away they go: hit, hit, dump, hit, bang, shoot, crash, dig and on and on and on. Coaches love to see that, even if we lose, we’re not going out with a whimper.

Which brings us to John Scott, which brings us to Colton Orr, which brings us to everyone else who Scott Lewis deemed worthy of being Punch Corsi stat-worthy.

You need to understand: most, if not all of these guys want to be hockey players. They don’t want to be sideshows, they want to score goals. They’d love to see regular minutes – in reality, most of them probably fantasize about being Milan Lucic. Feared by opponents, revered by teammates, respected by all (maybe not all fans, but you get the point).

So when they start seeing more minutes, they’re going 100 miles an hour, they’re playing borderline out of control, they’re playing just how their coach was hoping they would. They’re Alaskan sled-dogs at the start of the Iditarod. You can’t rein them in.

These guys see more minutes when their teams are down two or three not necessarily because their coach has them out their to fight, but because the guys he was using in the game’s early going weren’t getting the job done, and damned if I’m paid to watch games slip away without trying something different. S***, meet wall.

When the ship is sinking coaches are willing to throw everything over(the)board(s) to try to bail the boat out.

So after that long walk, the point I’m getting at: I think John Scott’s hit on Loui Eriksson was brutal, dumb, injurious and all those other things. Inexcusable. But I don’t think his coach is at fault for using him in a game where they find themselves down two, as guys like Mike Milbury and Steve Simmons do. Suggesting Ron Rolston should be fired for using a guy his GM provided him is bonkers.

The Sabres are probably better off with a listless (insert any other Sabre here) than Scott when trailing, but desperate coaches do desperate coach things, including giving John Scott ice time in actual National Hockey League games. Tough guys get ice time when games start to slip from grasp. It happens. Ron Rolston isn’t the only coach who’d have played him in that scenario – decisions like that happen every night in the NHL.

Comments (13)

  1. Hard to believe that Rolston isn’t being given another option for the forward corps with Kaleta suspended. Only having 12 forwards on the roster while sitting on 5M in capspace just makes zero sense. Are we really to believe that the Buffalo system doesn’t have one forward prospect better than John Scott?

  2. I mean, I understand the purpose of 4th line players, but can’t they find someone else who can throw some punches and actually play hockey?

  3. Just because the GM puts him on the roster doesn’t/shouldn’t mean the coach has to dress him though. That is “usually” the coaches decision, no. Unless the GM is forcing the issue in which case the coach can enjoy is time as a puppet with strings I guess.

    So in Buffalo’s case instead of a 3 minutemoron sitting on the bench and then wasting sharpened blades skating on his ankles why not at least try a role player off the farm that might actually be able to skate well enough to make a hit on a forecheck???

    Your earlier comment about if there is one game you dress your goon is against Boston, fair enough. But have they not dressed him for pretty much every game this year??

    • Problem is, how do you not dress him when you only have 12 active forwards? Last night’s scratches were Kaleta and two D. Means Buffalo either runs with 11 forwards (rarely a good idea) or dresses Scott.

      I doubt Rolston has control over the roster to be able to get a guy up from the AHL

    • John Scott has played the least number of minutes of any player in the NHL who has appeared in at least 7 games this season (Scott’s played 7). Of guys who have played at least 5 games, only 7 have played less per game than Scott, and even then he’s less than a minute per game of being in last place. Scott averages 6.6 shifts per game, tied for 3rd last among guys who have played at least 5 games. Buffalo only has 12 active forwards, and Rolston is playing Scott as little as possible, among the lowest number of minutes in the league. I guess he could try out 7 dmen with one taking a few shifts at forward, but that might not be any better than Scott considering how terrible Buffalo’s defense is.

    • The entire reason John Scott is on the Buffalo roster is because Milan Lucic thought it would be a big gas to freight train Ryan Miller, the Buffalo lineup didn’t have anyone capable of doing anything about it, and the entire hockey world (including all the same journalists who are now going knives out on John Scott) mercilessly mocked the Sabers as a bunch of sissies with no character.

      If Rolston were to play Scott 5 games per season, he would be remiss to spend even one of those games on any team other than Boston.

      So no. He can’t put someone else in the lineup in Scott’s place. Not when he was acquired specifically to counter Boston trying to push them around by attacking their best player.

      • So the player was acquired specifically for Boston and yet has played in 7 games this season. Makes perfect sense… clearly he is there solely for Lucic and the Bruins, that’s why he played those other six teams…

        And let’s be clear here… the Sabres weren’t killed because they didn’t have a goon or thug. They were crucified because they completely failed to react to the situation. Had the McQuaid not immediately challenged Scott then they too would have faced the same scrutiny.

        But enjoy the continued futility and icing the biggest waste of payroll in the league. Really helping those Sabres put points on the board!

  4. I just don’t get having a John Scott on the roster. Of all the goons I have watched he is the worst. His skating is awful and so is his shot. All Scott does is skate to a guy, after he already made a pass, and slashes/shoves him. He contributes nothing to a game.

    The only reason he is there is because of the Lucic/MIller incident. But how many times has he fought Lucic? The team is trying to rebuild and they are taking ice away from a young guy they could be trying to develop. They must be intentionally tanking for a shot at the #1 pick.

    I honestly believe I have a better shot that Jon Scott and I am an A level beer league scrub with no hands. His hockey skills are hilariously bad.

  5. Except Buffalo wasn’t this listless team you’ve presented. They’d already clawed themselves back into the game from a 2 goal deficit twice. They’d shown the ability to make things happen and make a game of it. And then Scott gets rolled out there.

    If that’s what Rolston thinks is going to help his team win he should be fired for sheer incompetence.

  6. This article is why I love Bourne, the way he explains how/why the game is what it is. Keep these coming Justin!

  7. Not to defend John Scott, but having painfully watched him try to skate here in Chicago for a couple years, I can tell you he’s not a big, dirty hitter. He’s a fighter, yes. A goon, yes. But he never struck me as someone out to just plow people whenever he was on the ice. So he’s not an Ott, a Carcillo, a Bertuzzi. Those a-holes deserve their own day of reckoning. In the meantime, can we please not have to watch John Scott skate?

  8. Milbury tried to happy gilmore a guy with his own shoe. he should just say no comment.

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