Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Bergeron Oduya

“Toughness” in hockey is valued to a borderline comical degree, but amongst the majority of hockey people the concept is often misunderstood. It’s not just fans who associate the trait with knuckle-hucking face-punchers, meaning somehow guys like Brian McGrattan have NHL jobs. True hockey toughness, the kind that really matters, is found in the players who are willing to win races to pucks.

Everyone even loosely affiliated with hockey is aware of the expression “take the hit to make the play.” It’s particularly relevant to wingers: you get the puck on the wall, and either the opposing d-man is pinching or F3 is bearing down on you, and you have roughly a second to do the right thing with the puck, with the “right thing” being “try to find a tape-to-tape play, and if there isn’t one, find a way to get the puck out of the zone.” It takes some mental steel to know you’re about to get hit hard and still hang in there to make the right play instead of the easy one. (Interestingly, this is where I find “tough guys” to be the least tough. They don’t want to get embarrassed, so they bang the puck off the boards into the neutral zone without looking for a better option, then try to hit whoever’s coming to hit them while knowing they made their coach happy by getting it out. Then they regroup and wait for their pseudo-turnover to come right back at them.)

But “take the hit to make the play” doesn’t just apply to the times you have the puck – more than anything it applies to the times you’re racing for it, and somebody’s gotta get there first and get hit. Which do you think Colton Orr wants to do more – throw the hit or make a play on the puck? How about Patrice Bergeron? Jonathan Toews? Read the rest of this entry »

leafs:coyotes

From what I can tell, most hockey fans fall in two camps when it comes to the concept of effort from professional athletes: those who believe that motivation (and the coach’s role in it) makes a huge difference, and those who believe that all players are trying hard, and the differences from one guy to the next are pretty much negligible. The first crowd believe that a guy like John Tortorella can impact a team by making them “want to play for him,” while the latter thinks you don’t make it to The Show without being a guy who gives his all.

As it goes with most things, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle, and I think both sides make good points that are at least worth considering.

The argument plays out near daily on my Twitter feed thanks to Randy Carlyle’s obsession with work ethic and “compete level.” After the Leafs beat the Coyotes yesterday, the Leafs’ head coach had this to say.

“Well we’re playing better. But we’re making individual mistakes like turnovers with the puck and that’s showing a little bit of [struggling with the] pressure and a little bit of [being] lackadaisical between the ears. We’re not bearing down hard enough.

Lackadaisical between the ears, not bearing down hard enough. These things are secondary to the personnel and the system, but if those are both in place and not changing, it’s real easy to highlight effort as the problems. In fact, as a coach, it’s just about your only option. Carlyle is basically saying he’s not changing his system, and until the roster changes, that’s all he can attempt to change. Read the rest of this entry »

ballard deke

I wrote on Blake Comeau and being a healthy scratch over over two years ago, and thought of that post when I heard about Keith Ballard’s woes. If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a healthy scratch consists of, come along for a tour.

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Keith Ballard is about to be healthy-scratched for the fourth straight game in Minnesota, so as he did in Vancouver, he’s churnin’ out them healthy-scratch quotes:

“I’ve been through this before. It’s up to me to be a good teammate, to be positive, to work and to make sure that I’ve done everything I can on the ice and in the gym — I’ve watched a ton of video — and to make sure that when I do play, I’m ready to go.”

So what’s Keith Ballard doing with his days, you ask? (I don’t care if you didn’t, I’m telling you.) The answer is “nothing all that fun, with a dash of chest-tightening anxiety over your place on the team. Let’s dive in! Read the rest of this entry »

Jake Gardiner 2

As much as we like to pretend that hockey success is predicated entirely on merit, a huge portion of it is based on luck. And when I say luck, I’m not referring the type that gave Boyd Gordon a goal versus the Blackhawks yesterday, I’m talking about being in an organization where you happen to get along well with the coach. That’s true luck. Sometimes your personality meshes well with a coach, sometimes he just happens to be watching you when you make a nice play in practice, and other times…other times you’re not so lucky.

Jake Gardiner is a solid example of a player who may have thrived under a guy like Patrick Roy or Jack Capuano or any of the other half-dozen NHL coaches who like to unchain their dogs and let them run free. Randy Carlyle, on the other hand, has had the guy in the minors, in the press box, and stapled to the bench. That was unlucky. Steve Downie was just healthy scratched in Philly, Nail Yakupov finds himself locked up in Edmonton, and we’re seeing articles about guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane who apparently didn’t “buy in” in Winnipeg, which is apparently part of the reason Claude Noel lost his job this weekend.

Sometimes you’re not trying to be a jerk, but the guy just doesn’t like you. I’ve been there, and I’ve also been “coach’s pet” so to speak on a couple other teams. So, what happens in these situations? How do guys end up in the doghouse, and more importantly, how do they get out?

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How to end up in the doghouse

This one’s easy (“Sleep with the coach’s wife! Punch his baby!”), but it’s important to note that nobody intentionally ends up in the doghouse. Every player-coach relationship with few exceptions starts out with good intentions, because both parties need each other.

So, the most common reasons are: Read the rest of this entry »

(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

Almost four years ago I was explaining skate sharpening, hollows and rockers to a few people, and felt the need to write a blog explaining it all so I didn’t have to keep rehashing the info – it comes up on Twitter every couple months. When @NHLhistorygirl tweeted this today…

…I responded (implying he must use a shallow cut), and thought it might be good to take another look at skate sharpening and how it’s changing. So, start with my explanation of standard sharpening options, and I’ll meet you at the bottom to explain the rest.

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My summer job for three years during my college career was at a hockey shop sharpening skates.  We were one of those destination skate sharpening places – the best equipment, pride in the job we did, the whole package.  So I know this stuff pretty thoroughly.

Here’s what you need to know:

Standard sharpening wheels

Standard sharpening wheels

Basically, your skate “hollow” is how deep the groove is between the edges of your blade.

If you hand your skates to someone for sharpening, and they don’t ask what hollow you get them done to, they’re probably doing them at “a half inch” (which refers to the wheel they use to sharpen your blades).  And hey, don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you get yours sharpened to - Jarome Iginla came in one summer and said “I dunno, my trainer just does ‘em”.

The sharper your edges are (which comes from the deeper grooves), the deeper you sink into the ice.  So you can get more push and accelerate faster, but also, during coasting, you slow down quicker because of the increased friction/drag of your blades in the ice.

And of course, the heavier you are, the deeper you sink as well.  Thus, being heavy with sharp skates is a bad idea. Read the rest of this entry »