If there was any doubt that the Buffalo Sabres were not locked in the throes of a full-scale rebuild, then this past weekend should have squashed any remaining uncertainty on the subject. The Sabres shipped Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis for an impressive haul that included Jarolsav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first round draft choice in 2015, and a conditional third round pick in 2016. Less than 24 hours later, the Sabres said goodbye to President of Hockey Operations Pat Lafontaine, who resigned and returned to his previous post with the NHL.
The rebuild is on. It will get uglier before it gets better, but the Sabres are on the right path.
Although Sabres general manager Tim Murray netted a decent prospect, a first round draft choice, and ‘right now’ players in Halak and Stewart, the weekend was not without controversy. Lafontaine’s resignation came amidst rumors of organizational dysfunction, which purportedly may have been over a disagreement over whether to extend Miller (Lafontaine) or trade him (Murray). Lafontaine held final say in the team’s transactions prior to the appointment of Murray as GM, thus it was Murray’s way on Friday evening. If it truly was Lafontaine’s desire to lock up a 33-year old goaltender, the team’s most attractive trade chip, to a new deal then it’s probably best that the former NHL great is out of the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
Chemistry is one thing, “handedness” is another
There were two moments in last night’s NHL Revealed that reminded me of one “chemistry” difficulty – knowing what hand your linemates are. I know that sounds like a super easy thing, but it’s funny how you fall into a mental groove when you know, say, both your linemates are left shots. You’re occasionally passing it to a jersey without knowing which linemate it is, and it’s nice to have that default so you know which side of their body you should pass to.
At one point there’s just a terribly botched pass and Getzlaf says to Crosby (jokingly), “Wait, you’re not right-handed? You’re not Perry?” He really did pass it to the wrong side of Sid’s body.
It’s not just knowing which hand guys are either – some guys like passes on their forehand even when it’s on their backhand side (meaning you pass it behind their back foot), some guys, as we saw Dustin Brown in the show, make it clear they want it “Backhand, backhand” whenever possible.
So that’s the one little glitch that comes with line shuffling – it gives the players one extra, annoying thing to think about.
Willingness to be corny for the cameras = great guy, gets you killed in the room
There was a scene where a player was on the ice but talking to a camera, and he was talking about “what a special event this is” and “he hopes the kids watching were having fun” and so on, and his teammate in front of him is a step away from eye-rolling. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
If Team Canada were to play Team USA in 100 contests, I’m guessing the final total from those games would end up being something like Canada 53, USA 47. They’re as tight as two great teams can be. And at this point, they both respect the heck out of each other, so they’ll be bringing their best on Friday, so I think it’ll be a battle.
Here’s what I think happens:
The Canadians will focus on Kessel/Pavelski/JVR
Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk have been the best line in the Olympics outside Bob Costas’ self-deprecating “Eye’m back” comment. They’ve combined for 18 points to date, and they’re the main American threat.
The rest of the team is very good, but they’re “very good” in a North American sense. They work hard, they bang in rebounds….they’re not necessarily open-ice creators.
Canada’s depth should create lopsided possession. Read the rest of this entry »
Varlamov should stop that, but Aaltonen shouldn’t be there in the first place.
The Russians, they are Finn-i (ha). Kaput. No more. And that might be literal after Vladimir Putin gets through with ‘em.
Everyone has their own theories about why, and there’s no small amount of varied opinions (more on this from Scott Lewis).
Mine, is simply that their defense wasn’t good enough. And while that’s a commonly accepted fact, I think it has less to do with what most people associate that with – they get burned and give up scoring chances – and more to do with their lack of talent around the puck. Let me explain.
In hockey, true talent comes with cleanliness. Not so much in hygienic sense, as in the ability to manipulate the puck. If I were tossed into that Finland/Russia Olympic hockey game during the peak of my hockey career, you’d notice that I would occasionally bobble a less-than-perfect pass, it would cost me a second, and that lost moment would eliminate the time I would need to find the proper play with the puck. Also, I would get murdered by bigger, faster men, but you’d notice that bad-pass-taking too. Receiving a pass cleanly allows you to get your head up and make a quick pass, instead of having to force it to a guy a second later as the play develops. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Until today’s quarterfinal play-in games that saw Slovenia surprise Austria, Latvia surprise Switzerland and Slovakia damn near pull out a miracle versus the Czechs, the hockey hadn’t really been all that thrilling. The lack of parity has positioned underdogs to play a slightly more aesthetically pleasing version of trap-era New Jersey Devils’ hockey, the top teams have rarely had to shift out of third gear, and unfamiliar powerplay units had been fumbling with pucks that handled like footballs during the round robin tournament.
While everyone expects the hockey to get better (as it started to yesterday), I thought I’d take a look at the hockey that’s been played to date and highlight a few NHL/Olympics differences that have stood out to me during this year’s tournament so far. Hopefully some of the trends can clue us into things we can expect to see in the quarters and beyond.
There’s a ton of d-zone sagging
While teams in the NHL don’t exactly play man-on-man coverage in their own end, most do use some version of layering, which involves being a bit more aggressive. The general rule there is that defenders play soft until they see a bobbled puck – at the first hint of that, they’re pedal-to-the-floor, hoping to create a 50/50 battle for a loose puck instead of letting their opponent regain control and continue their possession.
In Sochi, particularly with the lesser teams, we’re seeing them basically pull together into a tight square in front of their net with the extra defender fronting the guy with the puck and inviting him to either take a low percentage shot or to try to beat him one-on-one (which isn’t a high percentage option). The other four defenders are often so tight (sagging) that there’s no middle soft spot, making it seem pointless to head there for opposing forwards (it’s not, in my opinion, but there’s certainly no immediate reward – a shot – as there may be in the NHL). Read the rest of this entry »