Mike Babcock

It was probably the most-quoted line out of Mike Babcock’s mouth after Tuesday’s practice, and it came after he was asked about his oft-changing forward lines:

We’ve changed our lines, in my opinion, same at the last Olympics– too much. We’re trying to find the right way. It’s time to just let ’em go.

With full respect to the man in charge, I’m not sure I agree. Well, I agree with the last part, but definitely not the “too much” part. Hell, I barely think he agrees, given that he’s been the dude making the decisions, and he did the same thing during the 2010 Olympics. (…Which went fairly well, as I’m sure he recalls.)

There’s a certain number of Canadians who’d like to see their team’s coaching staff let well enough alone and “let the guys find some chemistry.” But Canada has done the right thing with all their line rejiggering. It’s time to find some consistency, but up until this point it’s made perfect sense.

Babcock could use a backhoe, scoop up five players and dump them on the ice every minute and the team could finish in the top five (y’know, assuming the other guys were changing for them. 10 players is too many). But at the same time, you want to maximize what all that talent can bring.

Canada was given a couple of tune-up games, and had they not changed their lines from game one to game two they would’ve been fools. Assuming there’s a ceiling on the maximum efficiency that you can draw from a group of any 25 players, which there logically is, what are the odds that the first time you got out a pen and paper you nailed it? Every shift is information, and while one bad go-round for a particular player with a line doesn’t mean they couldn’t end up as the best guy for that particular spot, a few more disappointing spins might indicate the start of a bad trend. You don’t have time to conduct a longitudinal study.

And so you have to use the small window you have, all your years of experience and that of the other coaches to come up with what you believe gives this group of 25 the best chance to win.

Going bold now: you aren’t finding Sedin-like chemistry during 12 days of practices and games. The chemistry you find is going to come in the form of puzzle pieces who fit together well based on playing styles.

Here’s what Sidney Crosby said about line shuffling:

No, I think it doesn’t really change how you play or what you do out there. I think you’re always aware of who you’re playing with, and what their strengths are, but I don’t think it changes what you do out there. I don’t think you really have a chance to over think too much. As far as what you’re doing individually, it’s more your game plan as a team is what’s going through your mind, rather than who you’re necessarily playing with. All the guys here are so good, I think you can just read off each other, no matter who you’re playing with.

Rick Nash added this:

It’s the same thing in the last Olympics, keep shuffling around until you found something that fits. The great thing about being a player is you don’t have to worry about that stuff. We have Mike to make those decisions.

Real chemistry between linemates can form (maybe you learn your linemate prefers to drive the net than lay high on a 3-on-2, and you’ve spoken about it, so he’ll do it even if you’re mid-lane), but in a tournament of this length, I don’t think it’s going to exist much in a way beyond how your playing styles fit.

Yes, having Perry with Getzlaf is good. They may have some real long-term chemistry. No, having Kunitz for Crosby isn’t, because his talent-level isn’t high enough that it would outweigh having a flat-out better player – John Tavares, maybe? – in his spot.

Because you aren’t going to establish some mental magic in two days is a perfect excuse to test some pieces in different spots. Playing three underdogs in your first four games isn’t ideal, so you should make sure to cash in on the few perks it provides you.

At some point – say, now-ish, maybe? – it’s time to stop tinkering because you’d like guys to have some measure of consistency, whether their situation is good or less so. Okay, I’m playing right wing and right wing only, I’m only playing with Toews and Marleau, I’m gonna see 15 minutes a night, let’s go get it. I’d like to see the Canadian coaches use the game against Latvia to get in a rhythm in that way. Black, white, get it, got it, good.

But in the lead up to the quarterfinal Babcock’s done nothing wrong by shuffling his lines about and seeing who looks best where. You can build a lot of things with the raw materials that coaching staff’s been given, so don’t fault them for trying to put together the best structure they can.

***

Lines for Canada vs. Latvia:

F

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Patrice Bergeron

Patrick Marleau - Jonathan Toews - Jeff Carter

Jamie Benn - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Patrick Sharp - John Tavares - Rick Nash/Martin St. Louis

Matt Duchene (scratch)

D

Duncan Keith - Shea Weber

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Drew Doughty

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Dan Hamhuis

P.K. Subban (scratch)

G

Price

Luongo

Smith

Comments (11)

  1. No disrepect to Pickles or Ham House… but you’re really going to bring a thoroughbred racehorse like Subban to the Olympics and then leave him locked in the barn?

    This has to be just for the Latvia game, right? They’re leaving him for the big games, right?

    • I would say that sitting Subban (who clearly is a better player than Hamhuis, Bouwmeester, possibly Vlasic though I think he’s been solid, and even Pietrangelo given his surprisingly mediocre play this tournament) is sheer bigotry, but then, the decision to play Kunitz doesn’t make much sense either, so maybe it’s less about bigotry and more about plain old silliness.

      • It’s definitely not bigotry, that accusation is baseless and just plain ridiculous, but it does seem rather silly. I don’t know that Subban is better than Bouwmeester, Vlasic or Pieterangelo in the roles those guys are being asked to play, but why not at least have Subban dressed and able to contribute should you need to push for a late goal or even just for a PP role? I understand the hesitancy to play him on a regular shift due to the potential for gaffes (although I think that’s overstated), but to not have his skill set on the bench is a bit baffling.

        • It certainly isn’t overt bigotry. It’s extremely unlikely someone is consciously biased against Subban. But I think a sort of subconscious bigotry is a factor here. The knocks against Subban are that he isn’t enough of a team player and isn’t responsible defensively. When you look at his impact on the game, these criticisms don’t really correspond with reality (and the numbers bear that out), but they do fit into well worn stereotypes of black athletes. Surely nobody with any decision making power is straight up hating on Subban for his skin colour….but it does look like people are predisposed to overstating (as mentioned above) perceived flaws in his game.

          • Well put.

            My thoughts on Subban were more akin to something that’s been covered before:

            Risk/Reward.

            Because of the style he plays, he’s considered risky because it’s not “safe”. He tries to make things happen because he has the ability to make things happen. When those things work, everyone’s happy. But when they don’t work…

            Now factor in the fact that most people (let alone coaches) are risk-averse. Now you’re telling yourself that he’s got the skill to help you, but all you think about are the negatives. So it appears to me that Canada took him because of the great skill he possess (think the exact OPPOSITE of the above post on the Russian Team’s Defense), but they’re afraid to turn him loose and let him play for fear of that one mistake.

            I think that drives me nuts more than anything. If there was no intention of playing him (for all the good/bad trade-offs), then why even take him?

          • You hit the nail on the head, but might I add Bobby Orr loves PK’s game, loves to watch him, but Therrien and Babcock don’t. The question becomes, whose opinion do you respect more based on their having played D, Orr, Therrien or Babcock? Canada will lose because Babcock is a bonehead.

  2. Can’t agree with Subban not dressing (what the hell is Hamhuis ever going to do to make a difference, unless it’s a bad one?), or Kunitz for some reason still being on the first line. If we don’t win Gold this year, I directly blame the inclusion of Kunitz on the team and wasting what would now be 4 games of opportunity for a skilled guy to get acclimated to Crosby’s wing. Kunitz is the new Zamuner, but at least we didn’t force feed him a spot on the first line in 98. I hope we learn from this mistake win or lose.

  3. He should pay more attention to defence pairings.

    Send Bouwmeester home. If Canada loses, it’s on the coaches who kept throwing him out there while only watching Pietrangelo. Use Vlasic or Hamhuis as the steadying influence, and dress Subban as the 7th ready to bring some heat

    • Of the three prior games before Latvia, JBo was bad-worse-avoided errors. The signs were there, but the coaches/media only talked about Crosby and Kunitz with a some mentions of choosing between the two best goalies in the world

  4. Design the team around the d-corps… Don’t forget they also have scored half the goals, and are the key to possession time. Imagine if you improved that important part of the team, what it could do to spark scoring on the forwards

  5. The D-Corps, led by Weber, saves the day.

    Doesn’t mean I won’t be expecting a systems analyst piece of how JBo being too slow and too clumsy almost ruined the day

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