Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Martin St. Louis

When a player gets traded, he’s immediately got a million things to think of, the least of which is actual hockey. Depending on the guy, there might be family to move, a house to sell and a new one to buy, business relationships to deal with…and they want you on the ice with your new team like 10 minutes after the deal is done.

That first time you step into the new room, head swirling, there’s another bouquet of responsibilities to take care of. You’ve got to meet the coach and the rest of the staff, be shown to your stall, shake hands and introduce yourself around the dressing room, and most importantly that first night, get your new gear. There’s gloves that’ll need breaking in, a bucket to be adjusted, and sometimes even new pants to get fitted for. It’s a lot to take in when you first make the switch.

Fortunately, you’ve always got one thing to lean on: you’re good at hockey. I mean, maybe you aren’t Martin St. Louis-good, but if you’re playing at a high enough level to warrant trades, you’re probably decent. Once you hit the ice it’ll be oh-so-natural, it’s your safe place, it’s great…until you remember you have to learn your new team’s system. In like, an hour.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan Miller

This post originally ran in March of 2012 – with the trade deadline looking to be fairly active this year, I thought today would be a good day to re-run it.

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Walking into a new dressing room after an in-season trade is never easy. It’s a little bit like switching high schools in the middle of the year – you’re kind of on your own and certain territories need to be respected…only you’re not entirely sure which ones those are yet.

I’ve joined a few teams during the middle of a season myself. After my NCAA career ended I needed to stay in Alaska to finish my degree, so I joined up with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL with a few games left in the season, a team that had their sights set on a Kelly Cup. I got called up to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL after Christmas the next season. And the one after, I got traded to the Idaho Steelheads early on in the year.

It’s not easy. If it’s not right at the start of the season, cliques have already formed (and in the NHL where some guys have been with one team for over a decade, some are set before the season starts). Hockey romantics like to refer to “The Room” like all 20+ guys are homies (yeah, I said homies), but you have to be realistic. You’d be hard-pressed to assemble 20 people in the world that you could put in one room and have them all genuinely like each other.

So, you have to find out where you fit in. (I wrote this about cliques awhile back, if you’d like to go deeper into that.) Read the rest of this entry »

Phil Kessel knee

Yesterday my Twitter feed flared up after the release of a column about Phil Kessel and how he looked “sluggish” in his return to practice for the Toronto Maple Leafs post-Olympics. I’m not a huge fan of promoting stuff I think isn’t very good (for what should be obvious reasons), but I can’t deny the concept was pretty silly. The guy was probably right, by the way, but it was oh-come-on-able for other reasons.

The NHL’s hottest player in 2014 goes to the Olympics and looks electric while leading the tournament in scoring, then flies home from Russia for his first practice back (which he wasn’t yet obligated to attend), and gets a column written about how he didn’t look up to par.

So fine, silly.

But even if Phil hadn’t just done all those things I rattled off above, he would have to practice in a beer helmet filled with umbrella drinks to get singled out for his work ethic. Not only is he the team’s best player, he’s one of the league’s best, and he works his tail off in games. There’s a reason Allen Iverson was all shocked in his infamous PRACTICE? interview. He was a rare talent who consistently brought it in games. And you wanna ask him about PRACTICE?

Unfortunately for the rest of us mere mortals, we don’t all get the No no no, you take it easy, as long as YOU’RE happy treatment. Kessel is a rare case, one of maybe 20 guys in the league who basically have immunity from their coach’s occasional lack of diplomacy. On the other side of the coin, some guys have the privilege of becoming the coach’s whipping boy, and whooo doggy is it a long season when you earn that title by (I see you, Drill Wreckers).

So without further ado, introducing EPE, or Expected Practice Effort. Let’s look at what coaches generally expect for effort in practice out of each type of generalized player, and how one becomes a coach’s target. …Generally.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lane MacDermid, shown a few different jerseys ago.

Lane MacDermid, left, shown a few different jerseys ago.

Playing hockey for money is pretty awesome. You see, what happens is, you play hockey, and then they give you money. So that’s pretty much why I think it’s cool.

But it does change things – for one, how you play starts to matter. And not “matter” in the youth hockey sense, where playing better might mean you get more ice time, and that’s good because playing hockey is great. It starts to matter matter, where not playing well costs you real dollars and the chance to earn your way up the ladder where even more money awaits.

It’s mentally draining when you find yourself in a bad situation – your coach won’t play you, or you’re organizationally buried, or you keep getting traded. The sand is running through the hourglass on every young player’s career, so you become acutely aware of every day good things don’t happen, and even more aware of the bad things.

I don’t know the man personally, but I do know that Lane MacDermid of the Calgary Flames handed in his retirement papers this week at 24-years-old after 21 NHL games and hundreds of AHL contests, which is something you almost never see at or near the top level. Read the rest of this entry »

nick backstrom

I’m still pretty floored by the idea that Nick Backstrom was told he couldn’t participate in the gold medal game of the Olympics because he apparently took Zyrtec-D.

The effect Sudafed (which contains the ingredient pseudoephedrine, hence the name) has on a hockey player’s body likely varies, but in my own experience it made me feel zero percent better, faster, or more awake. I still occasionally took them before games because when you’re competing in athletic competition breathing as clear as possible has to help, logically (particularly with recovery), so I figured why not. They weren’t illegal (or maybe they were, who knows, I was never tested in the AHL, ECHL or NCAA), and a lot of guys took them, so sure, toss me a couple of those, will ya doc? If everybody’s popping them pre-game, they must do something?

A quick web search explains how pseudoephedrine operates:

Pseudoephedrine works by acting on alpha receptors that are found in the walls of blood vessels in the linings of the nasal passages and sinuses. It causes these blood vessels to contract and narrow, thereby decreasing blood flow into the linings of the nose and sinuses. This reduces the feeling of congestion and also reduces the production of mucus.

So sure. Maybe they help performance a bit, maybe they don’t, mind as well take the at-worst-placebo and “be at your best.” Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Pic for Sports Illustrated. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images, Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

(Pic for Sports Illustrated. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images, Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

If I can be faulted for anything aside from barely hiding my Canadian bias in my Olympic hockey team previews, it was probably beating the horse that was the expression “single-elimination tournament” a few too many times after it had clearly kicked the bucket. We get it. Upsets can happen.

But, upsets do happen, so I tried to emphasize that point to get out ahead of the garbage conversations I’m going to have to have if Canada drops their quarterfinal hockey game to Trinidad & Tobago (or whoever) and everyone in Canada thinks we need to overhaul our minor hockey system and strap Steve Yzerman to a catapult aimed at Nunavut and cut the strings.

Canada probably beats a team like their group-mate Norway 19 times out of 20, but that still leaves a five percent chance that the Canadians become the recipients of a different type of metal after hockey at the Olympics. Like maybe hammers-and-shovels type metals when the angry mob catches up to them.

Sometimes things just go wrong. You hit six posts, you get jobbed on a call and your star player contracts boneitis in warmups. The momentum starts to go the other way, guys get down on the bench, and holy applesauce-on-pancakes, we just lost to Belarus.

So, how can it go wrong for your team when you’re that much better than your opponent?

Basically…sometimes hockey just happens.

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The bounces

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