Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Avalanche Blackhawks

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The Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks are going to play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – that’s more or less unavoidable at this point. The two and three seeds in every division play in the first round, and the Avalanche are a full seven points behind St. Louis for first in the Central, while Chicago is a full 12 up on Minnesota in the three spot. So yeah, happening.

Avs fans have been pleasantly surprised by their team during Patrick Roy’s first year at the helm, storming out of the gates and taking a major step as a group that wasn’t expected to win this often. That combined with their success against the Blackhawks this season – they’re 4-1 in five games – and you have a recipe for some people to be hopeful about their odds in a seven game series.

But they’re going to get smoked. I’m sorry, Avs fans. No prejudice here – I just can’t see it ending any other way.

When I learned today that Matt Duchene is out with a knee injury that will keep him off the ice for a month, a timeline that takes him past the first round of the playoffs, I tweeted something semi-trolly (but also something I legitimately meant):

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Jon Cooper

We are getting down to awards-picking time when everyone picks who they think will and should win awards. Among the awards people will talk about at this time is the Jack Adams, which is given annually to the best coach in the National Hockey League.

Now, it should be noted that it stands to reason that the coach whose team is the best in the NHL might be the best coach, or at least be in the running. Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien have both, for example, done pretty well this season by any measure. However, this is not the way in which the award is traditionally given out; instead, it’s usually granted to the coach that made the biggest surprise surge in the standings, and less often to the one whose team was hit with the most significant injuries.

Given the latter consideration, it is not at all surprising to see Mike Babcock’s name bandied about — mainly by people in the greater Detroit metropolitan area, but also Steve Simmons — as being a Jack Adams candidate. Perfectly legitimate to think so. Given how hard injuries have hit everyone of basically any importance on the team (they’re second in the league in man-games lost to injury, in fact), that the ship has remained anything resembling steady is kind of incredible. Among the Red Wings who have missed at least semi-significant time due to injury include: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Danny DeKeyser, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, and the list goes on like that. Basically, only Drew Miller, Kyle Quincey, and Niklas Kronwall have been consistently healthy from front to back.

But the problem with this is that through it all, the Red Wings have remained right where everyone basically thought they’d be at the beginning of the season: Firmly in the middle one-third of the league. That is to say, prior to last night’s games they were 14th in the NHL, having finished 13th in the lockout-shortened season, and that’s probably about what everyone foresaw. This doesn’t take into account, obviously, that by all rights based on injuries they should be lower, or that even with a team that was half-comprised of AHLers, they haven’t really slipped underwater in terms of possession for more than a dozen or so games here and there this season. It’s pretty remarkable and certainly praiseworthy. Read the rest of this entry »

James Reimer3

I’ve often written that the goal in the offensive zone is to create chaos for the opposing defense so they have to make decisions. Once you’re asking people to make tough decisions, they occasionally make the wrong one, and suddenly they find themselves in a lot of trouble.

Well, on a much bigger scale the Toronto Maple Leafs have caused chaos for themselves with their poor play over their five game losing streak, and they find themselves having to make the “tough” decision: do they go with James Reimer, who hasn’t been very good since Jonathan Bernier went down, or do they go with their AHL starter Drew MacIntyre against the St. Louis Blues at home tomorrow?

No seriously, that’s a real question people are asking.

Of course you start Reimer. This is madness.

Just so we’re not beating up a straw man, here’s two tweets from this morning that had me a little baffled from Toronto radio host Greg Brady: 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.

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There seems to be one area where I disagree with a lot of the player analysis I read this days: I don’t believe that when a player is used in a way that best fits his skill set that the perception of him as a player should suffer. What I mean is, if a player is started in the offensive zone more than the next guy, that doesn’t mean he’s worse defensively, it usually means his coach wants to put him in the position to do the hardest thing in hockey: create goals. He wants that, because he believes he’s good at it. Plenty of mid-level guys can prevent goals just fine.

But, it’s more than just the word “sheltered” for a guy getting a ton of o-zone starts that tweaks me a bit. This morning I was having a Twitter chat about the 2013-14 Calder Trophy front-runners (Olli Maata, not mentioned again in this piece, is among names worth mentioning). Ondrej Palat has been on a tear, but he still finds himself six points behind Nate MacKinnon, who at 18 also has the name caché of, oh I dunno, Nate MacKinnon. One argument I heard this morning, which was a totally fine point, is that MacKinnon’s higher totals have come in part due to being used on the powerplay over a minute more per game on average than Palat.

But it seems this is held against him, because who knows what Palat would do if afforded the same opportunity? Palat might have more points with more PP time, sure.

But being on a hockey team means that while you’re competing against your opponents, you’re also competing against your teammates for ice time, powerplay shifts and all those other snausages coaches use to reward their players like dogs for doing the right things.

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The shootout was introduced in the wake of the 2004-05 lockout mainly because the NHL was incredibly — and deservedly — unpopular at that point. The thinking was ostensibly this: Ties are boring (for some reason), and penalty shots are exciting, so if we put a whole bunch of the latter at the end of the former and act as like the team with the most goals on penalty shots is the winner of the game itself.

This has, of course, led to considerable debate about the merits of the shootout at large, with supporters saying, “It’s fun,” and detractors saying, “It’s stupid.” The problem is that there can be no middle ground when it comes to whether you think it’s a good idea, or at least very little. Either you like it because it’s fun and might have gotten your team into the playoffs when they otherwise might not have deserved it (the Toronto Maple Leafs of this year and last, the Southeast-winning Florida Panthers, etc.), or you hate it because it’s a gimmick skills competition that, again, significantly effects the outcome of the season standings in a way that is not necessarily fair overall. Read the rest of this entry »

Shea Weber bomb

We’ve seen a lot of changes to the game of hockey over the years – players stopped “training” in “training camp,” and devoted the bulk of their off-season to getting bigger, stronger, and faster, to the point where they’re basically machines. The skates are lighter and more supportive, as is the rest of the gear. But the biggest change in the last decade or so is how much different the shots are.

Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that without a little more respect among players that could lead to a seriously tragic event. Screening the goalie is catching up to fighting on the dangerous meter, as we saw once again last night. We’ll get to that incident in a sec, but first let’s kick around why this has become so dangerous. Read the rest of this entry »