Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

matt cooke

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Two minutes into the second period of a scoreless game between Minnesota and Colorado, Jan Hejda ran the puck back to Tyson Barrie just inside the Avalanche blueline. Matt Cooke was playing the left side in the Wild’s neutral zone forecheck, and seeing the pass, he rightfully jumped the play.

The pass was long enough that it might have given him time to put some body on Barrie, so he set out to fulfill his job and do just that.

His timing off, and with Barrie reading the forecheck, it happened: the Avs’ best offensive defenseman jumped right, and feeling he might miss Barrie and come up empty, Cooke extended his knee left.

The result: Four to six weeks from now Barrie should be able to skate again after his MCL heals, and long before that, Matt Cooke will meet with the Department of Player Safety.

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Names like Matt Cooke are not popular around the league. Their reputation precedes them, as will happen when you leave a trail of bodies in your wake over the length of your career. He’s been suspended, vilified, and has deserved just about all of it.

But there’s a reason players like Cooke have had such long, prosperous careers: they’re really good at what they do, and what they do (outside of injuring people) has value, particularly in a salary cap league.

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I never liked playing against this particular genre of player for all the obvious reasons. They’re physical, in your face, usually dirty, and they make scoring harder. They made me fear for my well-being, and they were usually not that interested in reasoning. They exist more to antagonize than fight, so they were actually a much bigger burden on players of my ilk than pure tough guys. I always knew I’d never have to fight the thugs, but there was no avoiding the whacks from these guys.

On-ice contribution Read the rest of this entry »

david_backes_injury

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If you’ve played hockey at any level, you’ve had a hate-on for someone. That stretches from organized hockey to rec hockey to ball hockey and beyond. You may have been in a verbal fight over knee hockey at one point. Hell, I don’t know how crazy you are, maybe it was a physical one.

It’s no secret that being competitive is advantageous in sports, meaning that the guys at the top levels are usually uber-competitive, meaning there’s going to be some eff yous out there on the ice. There just is, and that’s fine.

The problems for those who follow the game comes when someone goes beyond that, as they often do, and a mic picks it up. It’s tough for fans to know what’s normal out there.

The latest outrage comes courtesy a microphone that picked up (what appears to be) Duncan Keith chirping “Wakey wakey, Backes” at the St. Louis Blues’ captain as he was propped up by his trainer after taking one of the most devastating (illegal) hits I’ve seen in years from Brent Seabrook.

Alex Steen was there to rebuke the comments with “Show some f***ing class” (again, appeared to be to Keith) and a “That’s bull***t Johnny,” presumably at Toews who sort of hovered around Backes ala Lebron James over Jason Terry a little over a year ago.

Here it is at the :45 second mark if you haven’t heard it yet:

My experience with on-ice chirps are that they change a great deal as you move up the ranks because you become a lot more accountable for them. The higher up, the less personal with random players, and the more personal with those that are targets. More on the latter part of that farther down. Read the rest of this entry »

Scotty Bowman

My junior hockey career started out a little rough. I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers, and I immediately struggled to adapt. Our coach Mike Vandekamp, to me anyway, seemed like a crazy person. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful for the player he made out of me, but at the time, I thought there was a pretty real chance he might tomahawk me in practice.

I’ve still never asked him about the night he called me into his office to send me down to junior B, listened to my counterarguments, let me call my parents to make plans (quit and college? More Jungle B hockey?), then grabbed me before I walked out the door to say the staff had changed their mind. I’m pretty sure I was being emotionally manipulated.

This sort of thing went on over the course of two years, albeit at less preposterous levels, until Vandekamp, the Vipers and I had been to two BCHL finals (winning one), I had a college scholarship, and we were more or less buddies.

Some people need a pat on the back, others a kick in the ass. If you don’t think coaches intentionally keep players on “Holy hell I need to be at my best tonight” eggshells with their words and actions daily, you’re naivé. It’s why I’ve mentioned comments in the past from Mike Babcock to the media about certain Red Wings players – these are usually calculated comments, as he’s speaking to his players indirectly. 95% of players who say they don’t read what the media is writing about them are full of it. They watch SportsCentre every night, just like everyone else.

Here’s what Ken Dryden wrote in The Game about how Scotty Bowman handled his Montreal Canadiens roster. This followed a blurb on Guy Lafleur and his unwavering ability to self-motivate… Read the rest of this entry »

Toews Versteeg

Blackhawks fans watched Brooks Orpik steamroll their captain on Sunday night, likely the hardest hit he’s taken in his NHL career save for the Willie Mitchell massacre, and come up wounded. They had to have panicked with playoffs on the horizon. I know I immediately tweeted something to the affect of “Welp, bet losing Toews throws a wrench into the Blackhawks playoff hopes” (or something with a similar message). It didn’t look promising.

Well, the good news is Orpik apparently didn’t turn Toews’ shoulder into ground chuck, and he’s going to be back for playoffs “at 100%.”

What that confident statement from coach Joel Quenneville says to me is that the Blackhawks are in a unique situation for a hockey team: they know exactly who they’re going to play in the first round despite there still being a half-dozen games and two weeks to go in their season, so there’s no need to rush anyone back. I’m willing to bet they aren’t that passionate about beating themselves up down the stretch to earn home ice. A healthy team on the road is better than a damaged one at home.

So the Hawks wisely want to maximize his rest time before heading into the same field of battle they’ve conquered twice in the last four years, and rightfully so. They know the physical sacrifice it takes. But for Toews, and quite possibly his also-wounded partner-in-crime Patrick Kane, that first game might not be easy, especially since they’ll likely be opening up in a fired-up building in Denver, Colorado. Those fans haven’t seen a playoff game since 2009-10, and that young Avs team is going to come out like gangbusters. Read the rest of this entry »

Ducks win

“Score effects” has become the blanket term for a concept we’re all familiar with in sports: when one team jumps out to a big lead, they often “sit back” while the other team takes it to them, and the momentum appears to shift.

It’s not uncommon to see teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs push back late after a rough start, get close to making a comeback, than say things after the game like “We just need to play like we did at the end of the game for 60 minutes,” because they’re somehow oblivious to the fact that they didn’t get better, the game got easier for them. (You’ll hear the same from teams that run out to a great start then falter – gotta play the full 60.)

Take last night’s Winnipeg Jets/Anaheim Ducks game last night. Here are the shots from a game in which the Jets led 4-0 and managed to lose 5-4 in overtime:

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Yikes.

What we think we see is hockey’s version of the “prevent” defense, where you let a team bite off huge chunks of yardage to avoid the one big play. But it’s different than that.
Read the rest of this entry »

Players only

There was an interesting article from Pittsburgh Penguins’ beat writer Rob Rossi yesterday, in which he alluded to the Penguins having a “players-only” meeting after the team’s most recent loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Pens can apparently feel things sliding in the wrong direction.

From TribLive:

Rob Scuderi said the Penguins lack “passion.”

Matt Niskanen said they are short on “pride.”

Brooks Orpik said some words will remain part of his private address to teammates after the Penguins lost 3-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins are troubled, and with only 10 games remaining before the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a sense that a once-inspiring season is headed for another early postseason exit.

And so, the players meeting. That’s where words like passion and pride are bandied about.

In my experience there are two types of “players only” meetings. You have them because when the head coach is talking, everybody is just listening. It’s not a two-way conversation. You’re being told things by the general, and you are the subordinate, whether you’re older than him or not.

That leads to a lot of discontent, particularly if the players don’t care for the coach, so sometimes it’s good to air out the issues. Only…there’s a right time, and a relatively pointless time. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Toews

For whatever reason, it’s basically sacrilege to imply that a professional hockey player didn’t try as hard as he possibly could’ve on a play. There’s this weird perception of nobility around players of the game, like every guy made The Show on the heels of hard work and good ‘ol fashioned “want.”

Well, no, some athletes are just more talented than others, and they make the NHL without killing themselves at every opportunity.

If you can believe that (and you should, because you’re a reasonable person), then you can believe that teams, as a whole, are not going as hard as they possibly can every single night.

It’s not that they aren’t “trying” per se, but instead it’s mentally tough to make yourself work your hardest at every moment at anything. So when there’s mental lapses – say, a Tuesday night in Florida where you can’t stop staring at shiny things in the stands – teams aren’t always pressing as hard as they possibly could.

The best part about being on a great team is that you don’t have to have your best stuff every night to win. If you heavily out-talent your opponents it’s possible to have the majority of your guys in neutral, then have Evgeni Malkin (or some other offensive star) do something otherworldly, and still leave with your two points. This is what separates the teams that contend for the President’s Trophy from the pack below – they often win when they’re comparably bad and even when they’re occasionally lazy.

Read the rest of this entry »