torts mad

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, January 21st: Nothing wrong with starting fourth line in NHL

Opening:

Naturally, Elliotte led this week’s “30 Thoughts” post off with a bit on coaches starting fourth lines, and how it’s not really that rare or that awful an idea. I myself have played for a couple coaches who enjoyed it (including one in college, oddly), though not necessarily for the purpose of face-punching. Friedman was basically explaining that coaches do this, and it’s not a big deal.

However…

Monday was Calgary’s 26th road game of the season. Here is the number of times each Flames forward was a starter on those nights: Matt Stajan (15); Lee Stempniak (14); Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross (9); Mikael Backlund (7); David Jones (6); Jiri Hudler (5); Lance Bouma, Paul Byron and TJ Galiardi (2); Sven Baertschi, Joe Colborne, Blair Jones, McGrattan, Sean Monahan, Ben Street and Kevin Westgarth (1).

Oh. Oh yeah, this isn’t something the Flames ever do.

Like Julien and Eakins, there’s nothing wrong with trying something new or different. If the puck is dropped and we get actual play before something happens, Hartley and the Flames escape punishment.

Totally agree: if these thugs play so much as nine seconds of hockey before dancing, there’s no fine. It’s the obvious, premeditated use of low-liners as fighters that’s the issue.

10 Thoughts

3. I don’t see the Flames a ton, so their morning skate was really interesting to me. In 2003, when I covered baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays said they never saw a team work harder in batting practice than the Detroit Tigers when Alan Trammell managed them. Detroit was rebuilding and I asked Trammell about it. He said no opportunity was too small to teach a young team to play properly. That’s Calgary right now. Hartley runs the most detailed morning skates I’ve seen. Saturday, there were 3-on-3 down-low drills and pretty specific zone coverage work.

A real eye-opener for me after leaving college was the utter lack of time for professional hockey teams to practice. Even in the ECHL, where you play 10 less games than NHL teams, there’s next to no chance to actually put your team through a good day of systems and skating. It’s always the day after a game, or the day before a game, and you’re constantly trying to avoid burning out the legs of your players. But, if you want to coach them – actually teach them stuff they need drilled into their thick skulls through straight rote learning – morning skates are a good opportunity to do that. I’ve got no issue with a non-playoff coach using that time to further educate his group. (Though, trust me on this, the guys b**ch about it to each other. Morning skates on some teams are a breeze.)

4. Four defensive ejections on “Fight Night” meant some pretty hefty ice time for others, including five of the top 15 so far this season: Dennis Wideman (38:05, first); Dan Hamhuis (36:12, third); TJ Brodie (35:42, fifth); Mark Giordano (33:32, 10th); and Chris Tanev (33:02, 15th). There hasn’t been one other game this year in which three players played 30 minutes, never mind five.

Those numbers are insane. Absolutely insane. The only positive I can pull out of them: those d-men knew from the first shift of the game that they would be playing mad minutes. It’s one thing to be in a game that you’ve been giving your all and it goes to double overtime and you’re suddenly useless, and another to be in a game where you know you’re going to be getting 10 hours of ice time, and can conserve a bit. D-men do have the luxury, if they so chose, of conserving a bit. No jumping into the play, be positionally sound not agressive, and so on. Forwards don’t really have that. In sum: no feeling bad for d-men their job is super-easy. (Kidding about that last part.)

6. Giordano said Saturday morning that the Flames were guilty of “cheating” defensively because they were so pre-occupied by the lack of scoring. “Guys start to leave too soon because they want to create offence,” he said. They were better against Vancouver and San Jose, allowing a respectable 55 shots in regulation in those two games, but grabbed just one point. Frustrating.

I wrote a little bit about this last week when I highlighted how Ryan Johansen scored a goal precisely by not cheating. It’s real easy as a forward to fly the zone and hope someone hits you for a breakaway, but I honestly found that the more responsibly I played, the less I put myself into traffic by cheating, the more scoring chances I got. If I were a coach, I would be all over preaching how good defense leads to offense. Just because you’re in the pile and not ahead of it doesn’t mean you won’t find pucks and soft spots.

11. Finally on Calgary, I’m beginning to think one rule of Twitter is for every fan to hate everything the GM does. Matt Stajan takes a slight cut to his average annual value to stay in Calgary. He’s their best faceoff man. Only Mikael Backlund takes more and his future in Calgary is uncertain. You need guys like Stajan to shield the young centremen, like Sean Monahan and whoever else is coming, from being thrown entirely to the Western Conference wolves while you rebuild.

I wrote something to this effect to Flames blogger Kent Wilson last night.

From what I’ve seen on Twitter, a player has never signed a good contract. I fail to see how a 30-year-old 10-year NHL vet with decent skill at just over $3m a year is OMG CRISIS. Dude is going to get that on the open market in the summer if you don’t sign him, so if you’d like to keep him (instead of say, replacing him with whom?), that’s what it costs. Here’s his sticker price, take him or leave him.

12. I feel the same about Matt Hendricks. I saw him a lot in Washington and he always found a way to make an impact. When free agency began, the New York Rangers were interested, but couldn’t fit him under the cap. Same with Philadelphia, which tried to get him to wait, but that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe the Nashville Predators weren’t the right fit, but that doesn’t mean Edmonton can’t be.

I’m with Elliotte again. And you guys know I’m not kissing up, I don’t mind saying when I disagree with him. A lot of low line players seem interchangeable (I would guess largely because they’re stuck playing with other plugs), but having guys you actually feel good about using in that role is worth something. Whether Hendricks grabs you an extra few points a year than some cheaper plug would, or he scores a point-earning shootout winner, or just f***’s up less, he’s made your team better. And, it costs money to do that. He’s definitely being paid on the way-high side of his value. But if I’m running a garbage team without cap issues, I’m improving everywhere I can.

14. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was critical of Alex Semin in an interview with the local ABC-TV affiliate, telling reporter Mark Armstrong: “He’s a guy who is paid to score goals and put up points and he hasn’t done that.” That reminded me of a story I heard about Harry Sinden and Cam Neely. The Hall of Fame forward was struggling and Sinden was impatient. Neely told him he was getting chances. Sinden said, “I don’t pay you to get chances. I pay you to score.”

Earlier today I wrote a little bit on effort, and it seems tough to argue that Alex Semin isn’t one of those rare few pro players who’s tough to motivate. He’s just so good he can afford to get by, and get paid well, on his talent. The good news for Semin is that the Russian Olympic team just added him to the roster. The bad news is, it’s not impossible to see why they passed him up in the first place. Make fun of the use of “enigmatic” with him (because it’s become a euphemism for “Russian”) if you like, but the struggles after signing a big contract don’t look good. It’s tough to a explain an ultra-talented player who doesn’t play well in large swaths.

15. On to Ryan O’Reilly. The sense is teams would be pretty shocked if the Colorado Avalanche traded him during the season. Colorado’s got a good thing going and O’Reilly is head coach Patrick Roy’s kind of player and personality. He’s also one of the forwards – along with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Paul Stastny – Roy’s usage indicates he trusts most in the defensive zone against the best competition.

It wasn’t impossible to see this coming. At the time of the contract battles, everyone was saying that O’Reilly would probably be shipped out of town the second the Avs were able to do it. But at the same time, the year that it would take to get there loomed large. You can jerk a guy around a little if you have enough time with him to smooth things over, and coaching changes and team success are certainly effective ways to get things smoothed. The Avs can’t afford to let this guy go. He’s a perfect core piece if your goal is “winning.”

22. Something to watch for as Alex Burrows tries to get going – zero goals in 18 games of an injury-riddled season – is that he switched helmets/visors for the shootout last Saturday. The bigger mask protecting his broken jaw obviously isn’t anything he’s comfortable with.

I also tweeted about this the other day: it is really, really hard to see through those jaw protectors. The plastic is so thick they’re damn near opaque. Bubbles and visors have chin caps which put pressure on your jaw with every hit, so you can’t wear them. It’s just bizarre that those jaw things are the best solution. I tried to get used to one after my jaw injury, but I kept losing track of the puck when it was somewhere fairly important – on the ice. You have to turn your head to all kinds of angles to see the thing. It’s awful, and tough to be effective offensively with them on.

23. NHL teams always try to take away at least one major thing from an opponent’s power play and Henrik Sedin sees what it is for the Canucks: “They are not letting me create anything from the corner … They’ll give us the shot by [Jason Garrison] at the other side, but teams don’t cover the points. They’ll give you the top of the zone.” Vancouver’s power play is 24th overall. It was top six from 2010-12.

I’d do the exact same thing if I was coaching the Sedins. It’s not that the Garrison shot is not a threat, it’s just that it’s not as big of a threat as the Sedins wheeling around the goal line. This is the same reason that if I were coaching against the Capitals, we’d be killing 4-on-3 and Ovechkin wouldn’t see a damn puck. Take away Threat One, make the rest of the team beat you.

28. Going in the other direction is Jake Gardiner. For the season, his 21:30 average is third on the Leafs behind Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Yet during this stretch, he’s played some of his fewest even-strength minutes of the season and had his first back-to-back games under 20 minutes in two months. Will be interesting to watch.

I’ve been an unabashed supporter of Jake Gardiner for the simple reason that young d-man with that much talent are tough to come by and you can always teach the other stuff. However, if that talented d-man doesn’t want to learn the other stuff, you’re in for a rough go. Gardiner, for all his unbelievable skill set, has been slow to tidy up the other parts of his game that would allow him to become one of the league’s best. It’s up to him at this point – if he’s a guy who wants to be great, he can play smarter with the puck, work harder, and all that good stuff. If he doesn’t, he’s still going to have an NHL career and make lots of money. I know the latter would’ve been good enough for me personally. We’ll see what Gardiner wants to be.