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Category Archives: Sports – Hockey
Just to carry forward the “who got cut” thread into the second round, here are the refs and linesmen who were in the first round and are now watching from home. You are welcome to speculate why in the comments if you wish…
- Paul Devorski
- Tom Kowal
- Mike Leggo
- Brad Meier
- Tim Peel
- Brian Pochmara
- Francois St. Laurent
- Ian Walsh
- Stand-byâ€™s â€” Greg Kimmerly and Frederick Eâ€™Cuyer
- David Brisebois
- Lonnie Cameron
- Scott Cherrey
- Brad Lazarowich
- Derek Nansen
- Tim Nowak
- Anthony Sericolo
- Mark Wheler
- Stand-bys â€” Darren Gibbs, Mark Shewchyk
Time to put the roster under a microscope. Before I do, however, a quick summary of major roster changes leading to and during the season, plus some of the post-season paperwork realities:
- Brent Burns for Devin Setoguchi
- Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley
Free Agent additions:
- Michal Handzus
- Brad Winchester
- Colin White
- Jim Vandermeer
Free Agent Losses
- Scott Nichol
- Kent Huskins
- Jamal Mayers
- Ben Eager
- Kyle Wellwood
- Niclas Wallin
- Ian White
Key trades during the season:
- Jamie McGinn for Daniel winnik and TJ Galiardi
Injuries disclosed at the end of the season:Â
- Couture (shoulder, surgery)
- Pavelski (foot, injected, thumb and knee ligaments)
- Burns (ab straing)
- Ryane Clowe (groin strain)
- TJ Galliardi (lower back)
- Michal Handzus (groin strain)
- Doug Murray (groin strain)
- Colin White (Shoulder)
- Tom Wingels (Shoulder)
Looking into the offseason
Restricted Free Agents:
- Tom Wingels
- TJ Galliardi
- Benn Ferriero
- Andrew DesJardins
- Justin Braun
Unrestricted Free Agents:
- Dan Winnik
- Torrey Mitchell
- Dominick Moore
- Brad Winchester
- Jim Vandermeer
- Colin White
Key no trade clauses:
- Patrick Marleau
- Dan Boyle (with a window where it goes on vacation)
So, now what?
In recent seasons, it seemed that the Sharks top six forwards played well — and the playoff series was lost by substandard play in the third and fourth lines. Fixing the third and fourth lines was a big focus of Doug Wilson and Coach McClellan — just look at the lists above and you can see the tinkering going on. And this playoff, to me, our third and fourth lines consistently outplayed the Blues, and this year, it was our first and second lines that got outplayed.Â
It’s always something.
Lets start with goaltending. The Sharks brought Greiss back into the organization; to the surprise of almost everyone, he took Nitimaki’s job away, sending him away to purgatory, or Limbo, or wherever he ended up. When Greiss played, he played pretty well; his numbers in the regular season were comparable with Niemi’s. I liked what I saw, and I wish the Sharks had played him more when Niemi was struggling in the regular season. They didn’t, and Niemi played every minute of the playoffs, as expected.Â
Niemi’s save percentage in the playoff matched his regular season. He was solid. His GAA was 2.45 — and he lost the series. On a “by the numbers” basis, there’s no complaint here. I felt there were a couple of key situations where Niemi could have made a difference and perhaps turned a game around — and didn’t. But goaltending wasn’t why the Sharks lost the series, and it’s a stretch to say it’s Niemi’s fault for not stealing a series the Sharks didn’t deserve to win.Â
I suppose we could get involved in the Luongo sweepstakes; we could potentially upgrade our goaltending. Goaltenders don’t score and a different goalie wouldn’t fix the penalty kill. I would want to see the Sharks focus resources and energy elsewhere in the offseason, but I want Niemi both better and more reliable next season. He had some rough spots, and he has to be more consistently good.Â
Defense. I like our defense. I think Brent Burns struggled early and looked good when it really mattered; criticism of him by some is overblown. And bluntly, getting him for Setoguchi (who I’d trade for a back of pucks and consider it addition by subtraction — look at his season in Minnesota) even a weak Brent Burns improved our team.Â
Boyle, Murray, Vlasic are untouchables. Burns is almost untouchable. That foursome is a group of D most teams would kill for, with Vlasic hitting his prime and Murray hitting anything stupid enough to be caught. I like Justin Braun and Jason Demers as young and up and coming; Braun matured wonderfully this year and still has more improvement coming; Demers as less reliable but shows a lot.Â
this is a damn good D corps. I’d leave it alone.Â
Colin White was brought in, more or less replacing Ian white, who went to Detroit. All in all, that wasn’t an improvement. Colin White never really impressed me. he’s unrestricted, he won’t be back. I wouldn’t bring him back. The Sharks do need 2 Dmen to fill out this group and give us some depth. Jim Vandermeer (also unrestricted) isn’t the right solution for that, so the Sharks need to address this elsewhere.Â
Third and Fourth lines. Okay, let me get this out of the way first. I miss Jamie McGinn. I understand why the Sharks traded him. He auditioned for a 2nd line role, and honestly, he wasn’t up to it. When Â the Sharks needed to add depth to the roster, he was a player Colorado wanted, and he was expendable in San Jose. Anyone who puts him on a fantasy team based on his post trade “hey! I’m a scoring god now” time will live to regret it. What McGinn is is a pretty good third or fourth line banger who’s found a way to get a few goals in the net. He reminds me a lot of Jeff Odgers but with better hands, and that’s a real compliment coming from me, but he’s not a game breaker, and Im’ not convinced he’s going to have a long and fruitful career — but he will have a good and solid one.Â
Having said all of that, the Sharks could have used him in these playoffs. But I don’t think trading him was a mistake. We’ll see. I’d like to see the Sharks bring back both Winnik and Galiardi, because I like what they bring to the team, too.Â
For the 3-4 lines, I like Andrew Desjardins. he’s going to improve, but I don’t think he’s more than a 3-4 liner. I like Tommy Wingels. I’d like to see Galiardi and Winnik back. Michal Handzus should be in the mix, also.Â
Martin Havlat. If he can stay healthy, that will really help this team. Will he? That’s the risk. You solve that risk by having depth to cover the times when he’s out. Â One thing the Sharks struggled with was that the depth wasn’t there when they needed it.Â
Torrey Mitchell? Disappointing year. I think his star had faded. He’s unrestricted. Bring him back? no.Â
Brad Winchester? also unrestricted. Good soldier, aging vet. I think he’s near, or at, the end of the line. Sharks need to look elsewhere.Â
Dominic Moore? Thanks, but no.Â
Benn Ferriero? Good, not good enough to consistently crack the roster. I think he’ll play in the NHL, just not a top tier team like the Sharks.Â
So the Sharks have three bodies under contract and two more i want to see come back in the bottom six. That leaves a couple of roster spots to fill, plus depth. Some work to do here, but I like the core.Â
And that leaves — our top six forwards.Â
The first two lines.
Joe Thornton. Logan Couture. Joe Pavelski. Ryane Clowe. These four are untouchable.Â
And then there’s Patrick Marleau. He has a no-trade clause, but the war drums are out in the local media and among the fans and pundits around the league that it’s time to move him elsewhere.Â
For the first time, I’m not saying “no, don’t do it”. but I’m not calling for it, either. I’m conflicted.Â
Marleau has, since his first year as a Shark, had periods of the season where his play was — enigmatic. And every time that happened, someone grabbed the war drums and started beating them to do something about him. And every season, Marleau ended up with really good numbers and was a playoff performer, at which point the war drums got pointed at Joe Thornton instead.Â
This year, Â Joe Thornton carried this team through the playoffs, and even his detractors admit that — and Marleau had an enigmatic playoff. 64 points, 30 goals and +10 in the regular season, he was a non factor against the Blues. Is he the problem? Or the scapegoat?Â
I’m conflicted. I think reality is “some of both”. What I’m unsure of is whether what we saw was the “new, real Marleau”, or whether it was an aberration. Is this the start of Marleau’s decline? Or will “mr enigmatic” be there for the playoffs next year?Â
The biggest challenge Marleau has with the fans is he seems too — mellow. Fans would like him to be Owen Nolan. That’s not going to happen. I honestly don’t see his level-headedness as a weakness. It’s what he is, but the segment of fans who aren’t happy unless players are putting opponents through the glass at every opportunity take any weakness in play as a chance to Â beat the war drum of “everyone must be maniacs”.Â
That said, I’m just unsure what Patrick Marleau we’ll see next season, and whether we’ll be happy with the results. He has a lot to prove, and I don’t know if, at this point in his career, whether he can.Â
Those doubts are going to affect his trade value. That, and the fact that he has a no trade clause, makes me think the Sharks will decide to ride it with him. I don’t think the Sharks want the same kind of criticism aimed at them that Tampa got when they forced Boyle out (for which we Sharks fans still thank the Lightning). If the no-trade didn’t exist, I bet the Sharks would at least explore options. With the no-trade in place, I think the Sharks will stand pat unless Marleau privately asks them to look at options and volunteers to waive the no-trade. I don’t expect the Sharks to force the issue, which will upset some fans and annoy some media pundits. But treating their players well is part of the Sharks management philosophy, and that’s one reason why free agents want to come play here. Screwing around with Marleau’s no-trade clause can hurt that reputation — and leaving it alone might upset some in the short term, but in the long run will be seen as a positive by players considering coming to the Sharks.Â
So I think Marleau will be in teal come opening night. Is that the right call? I think so.
I also believe the Sharks need to commit to putting Marleau in as the 2nd line center, and leave him there. I don’t think he’s’ as comfortable or as effective at wing, and that’s part of the problem with Marleau. His speed and his vision make him a really good center, and his speed is somewhat negated playing at wing, so going into next season, put thornton at center on the first line, Marleau at forward on the 2nd, and don’t mess around with it very much.Â
The top six forwards were the big weakness in the playoffs, our scoring simple disappeared. three goals in five games from our top six? Not acceptable. But five of the spots are defined out, and the players we can can be, and need to be, better.Â
So, my priorities going into next season?
- Priority one, as I mentioned yesterday, replace Trent Yawney’s experience behind the bench.
- We have to figure out who is the sixth (and seventh) players covering the top six forward spots.
- We have to make sure we have more defensive depth, but we don’t need impact-type (top 2, top 4) defensemen. A couple of good, solid veterans, stay at home times, would be nice.
- And we need to fill out the rest of the roster, 2-3 bottom-six forwards and black ace depth guys.Â
What we don’t need to do is panic, over-react, and start tearing up this roster and rebuilding it.Â
I think this roster can pull it together and be better next year. If that doesn’t happen for some reason? Then we’ll have a different discussionâ€¦.Â
The Sharks? It’s a little more complicated than Detroit. For starters, they don’t have anything coming off their cap that’s really that noteworthy. The likes of Torrey Mitchell, Dominic Moore and Daniel Winnik are UFAs July 1, but all of the high-paid, core players remain signed.
Longtime Shark Patrick Marleau was a huge disappointment in the five-game loss to St. Louis, going pointless. He’s got two more years at $6.9 million a year and a no-trade clause to boot. Martin Havlat had a disappointing, injury-filled year. After scoring twice in Game 1, he was barely noticeable in the rest of the series. He’s got three more years at $5 million per season. Defenseman Brent Burns didn’t have the impact this season the Sharks had hoped they were getting after dealing for him last summer. He’s got five more years at $5.76 million per season.
The decisions won’t be easy for GM Doug Wilson. But this team needs a core shakeup. Aside from Joe Thornton (who was easily San Jose’s best player against the Blues), Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle, I’d be ready to trade almost anyone else on this roster.
Easier said than done, of course. But Wilson has a track record of making bold moves. He’s not scared of change. He spoke with Columbus about Rick Nash before the trade deadline. Maybe he revisits that.
Either way, Wilson is on the clock this summer. His Sharks need retooling if they want to hang with the new class in the West.
Pierre LeBrun gets to the core. Standing pat’s not an option. Getting better isn’t easy. How do we deconstruct these Sharks and make changes to move them forward? Or is it time to tear it apart and move on?
One quick dose of reality: the better a team is, the harder it is to keep getting better. It’s relatively easy for a team struggling to make the playoffs to improve enough to challenge for a division. It’s very difficult for a team that’s a President’s Cup contender to find a next step to take in improvement. The closer you are to that point in the curve where it flattens out, the more expensive it gets to keep pushing the performance curve upward — or the more risky the move you have to make to do so. And risky moves are, well, risky, which means sometimes they don’t work, or backfire.Â
That’s part of the Sharks problem this year; Doug Wilson made a couple of moves of the “if this works, it’ll help us — but it’s risky”, and I think in this case, the Sharks didn’t roll craps but the moves didn’t work as hoped. that’s especially true with Marty Havlat and his weird hamstring injury that had him out of the lineup for an extended time. And his injury meant key players were out of position much of the season, and the “hoped for’ lineups and lines never really happened.Â
Id on’t think, however, that this means the trades were failures or that the Sharks would have been better off without the moves. The reality is the Sharks last year needed to be pushed further up the performance curve, but doing so isn’t easy. And in this case, the things they tried were risky, and the risks came back to hamper the Sharks. Sometimes, that happens. But safe moves, lower-risk moves, weren’t going to move the needle.
So now what?
Let’s start from the top and work down, see which parts of the organization need work. The fact is, standing pat is not an option (it never is), because there set of the conference has worked hard to get better, and this year’s performance, I think, is tied as much to who the teams around the sharks got better as much, or more, than the Sharks under-performing.Â
First, the ownership group. Greg Jamison is gone (and still seems to be sniffing around the Coyotes, although that continues to be a heap of complicated and taking forever to resolve). He’s been replaced by people who really want to stay out of view and run the business, but not make headlines. They’ve left hockey to the hockey people (i.e. Doug Wilson), which I like, and I don’t see much change in philosophy between what the Jamison group did and what they’re doing: there’s been some significant focus on the business side of the organization, but that seems to be a good thing overall.Â
Overall, the Sharks ownership group has been supportive of the team, willing to try to bring in good hockey people and let them run things without interference, and willing to invest money to create a winning team. They have a good building and they’ve invested in keeping the building working well and looking good. They’ve been cautious about pricing and haven’t over-inflated ticket prices, and they’ve been involved in the community and invested in charitable endeavors. In other words, the Sharks ownership group has always been a pretty good one, and I think that continues.Â
What they haven’t been, and this of course upsets some fans, is a “win at any price” group, ala the Yankees. That’s because the Sharks ownership group isn’t so rich that they can afford to subsidize that kind of spending and not care. The Sharks are not a rich man’s hobby, but a business that has to at least be close to supporting itself, and the pocket books have never been (and likely never will be) infinite. I don’t have a problem with this. To the fans that expect it, sorry. the days of a Steinbrenner spending huge amounts of money are waning — fewer owners exist that are willing to treat teams as an expensive hobby, and the Sharks have never been that kind of team.
The one criticism I’ve had of Sharks ownership and business team is that they are followers, not innovators. This has been true pretty much since day one. I’ve always wanted this team to drive innovation in the league; it is silicon valley’s team, after all, where a lot of this innovation happens in the world. But the Â organization has never taken a league leadership role and always seems to wait for other teams to drive innovations — not surprisingly, given its owner, one of the more innovative teams is the Capitals. Maybe someday this will change, but I’m not holding my breath, and I don’t see the new ownership making this change.
The Sharks were one of the first league teams to have an internet presence, for instance (I know this, because Laurie and I were demoing this funky thing called a browser to them back around 1994 and telling them that this was going to be important to get in front of) — yet after being one of the early (maybe the first) teams to have a web site, they have pretty much followed what the league does rather than led the league forward. There are so many things happening here in the valley where the organization could potentially bring the partnership into the league and foster it through to the other teams, but that’s just not their mindset. They’re followers. Which is okay, but I always hoped for more.Â
So Sharks ownership passes my test pretty well. If the greatest complaint I can find is that they aren’t taking a leadership position among the league owners or driving the league forward through innovation, well, those are ancillary issues. They don’t have to do that to succeed. Their support and investment in the team and hockey is fine.Â
What about hockey management? And by that, I mean GM Doug Wilson?
I was a big fan of Dean Lombardi in San Jose. I am a big fan of Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. I also felt at the time the Sharks fired Lombardi that ti was necessary, because he’d gotten too emotionally tied into the situation and he needed a change of scenery, and the Sharks needed a difference voice leading the charge. At the time, my first choice for GM was Doug Wilson (my second choice was Dave Nonis).Â
I’ve been a strong supporter of Wilson with the Sharks — and I continue to be. As I said above, as you get better, it gets harder to keep getting better, and to keep pushing the curve you either need to throw more money at the problem (and do it wisely), or you have to take calculated risks and have those risks pan out. More money is not an easy option in San Jose, and Wilson has never been afraid to take those calculated risks.Â
this year, those risks didn’t pan out. Does that mean he’s suddenly an idiot and needs to be fired? Not to me. It means some years, you roll the dice and they don’t come up 7. I don’t think that means he or his strategy is a failure.Â
So Wilson gets a passing grade from me. One should not assume that a second year where the changes he makes don’t pan out will get the same result; one down year in his years of organizational growth and success isn’t a failure. Two years becomes a trend, and if that happens, you have to take a harder look at things. But this year? I like what Wilson tried, it just didn’t work as well as hoped. Â I expect he’ll make more changes this off-season and next year will work out better.Â
What about the coaching staff?
Todd McClellan impresses the hell out of me. End of discussion. Well, not quite. He gets a strong passing grade from me. I think he’s got the potential to be one of those coaches who can avoid the “short shelf life” problem where after 3-4 years, the team stops responding to his message. He wasn’t the problem. He’s part of the solution. So he stays, and I am looking forward to seeing how he adapts to this year’s challenges.
What about the coaching staff?
Well, here’s where it gets interesting. One of the big changes that happened before this season was that assistant coach Trent Yawney, who went off to be a head coach in the minors in his search to become an NHL head coach. To replace him, the sharks promoted Jay Woodcroft into a bench role.Â
One of the big struggles the Sharks had this year was penalty kill and special teams. One of the things Yawney worked on with the Sharks was penalty kill and special teams. So the question I keep coming back to looking at least season is this: is one of the key problems the Sharks had because Trent Yawney left the organization?
Evaluating assistant coaches from a keyboard is somewhere between “almost impossible” and “are you kidding?” — so I admit up front that not being in on meetings and not being at practices and etc on a regular basis means I’m not qualified to answer this question. I also won’t let that stop me from doing so anyway, but the reality is, I expect this is something Doug Wilson and Coach McClellan will spend some time discussing, and however they decide to address it — I expect their decision to be the right one, while what I suggest here is one blogger babblingâ€¦ Unless, of course, they end up agreeing with me. Then I’m a genius.Â
Let me phrase this this way: I keep coming back to the loss of Trent Yawney as being a key problem this season. It just looks like the Sharks special teams struggled without his advice on special teams coaching. the talent was there, the focus and details weren’t there consistently.Â
And I think it’s important to look at it as “we lost Trent Yawney” and not “Jay Woodcroft didn’t get the job done” because everything I’ve seen indicates Woodcroft is a good, young, up and coming coach and a positive to the organization. But he’s not Trent Yawney. When the Sharks lost Yawney, they felt it was time to promote Woodcroft — and I think the organization missed Yawney’s talent and experience.Â
So here’s my first recommendation for the Sharks this off-season: they need to find someone to join the coaching staff who can bring back the experience and coaching that they lost when Yawney left the organization, especially on special teams. That means they should be looking for an experienced assistant coach, preferably an ex-player, and someone who can both bring these skills to the players AND work to mentor Woodcroft. Because I don’t believe Woodcroft deserves to be let go or demoted — but I do think the Sharks coaching staff needs to find a way to better fill the void they have from losing Yawney out of the organization.Â
And if Wilson made a mistake last off-season, it wasn’t the trades he tried, it was in not bringing in a more experienced replacement for Yawney. If you look at where the Sharks faltered this season, that may have been the biggest mistake Wilson has made as a GM to date.Â
I will be watching to see how Wilson resolves this one closely, because I believe strongly this is the one key thing he needs to do to put the Sharks back on track next season.Â
Next up — the roster. And no, the players won’t be left blameless…
Â Trying to put this loss in context. It didn’t hit me as hard as some years, because I fully expected it, but still, this Sharks team shouldn’t be going out in the first round.
Dave Pollak at the Merc has an interesting perspective:
Five games. Every other first-round exit lasted six. Until Saturday nightâ€™s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, who won their first playoff series since 2002.
Think about that for a second. Since St. Louis last won a series, the Sharks â€” a franchise 25 years younger â€” have won nine.
That isnâ€™t a defense of the teamâ€™s management in the wake of a very disappointing 2011-12 season. Just a statement of fact to put things in context.
The reality is, every year one team wins the Stanley Cup and twenty-nine do not. the Sharks are in their twenties, but if you stop and think about it, if the Cup were rotated to each team one per year (like the All-Star game is), the Sharks wouldn’t have had their time with it. Objectively, there’s still a few years to go before they are “late” to the Cup.Â
Sports and sports fandom, however, are not objective things. That’s not how fans think. Nor should they. So when a team falls short, it hurts. When you look at a team and you wonder if it’s peaked and the window is closing, it hurts. But in sports, sometimes you do your best, and it’s not enough.Â
Was this season this team’s best? Honestly, no. It struggled to get on a roll all year. But this first round against the Blues? I don’t have many complaints. I don’t think the Sharks lost this series, they were beaten.Â
I also don’t think the Sharks “fell back” much, either. I think what we’re seeing is a league where many teams are making strong positive moves in their talent and execution. This is parity, and I like it. there are 25 teams capable of making the playoffs and not being embarrassed being there.Â
Take a step back and think about it. Which team would you rather be a fan of: the Sharks, who haven’t won a Cup yet, but have been in the playoffs consistently and played deep into the playoffs a number of times — or the Florida Panthers, who ran to the Stanley Cup in 1996, and didn’t make the playoffs again for a decade? or the Blues, another team that’s been out of the playoffs for years that’s now back in the mix?
Would you really put up with a decade of cheering on the Islanders for one Cup?Â
Of course, I want both. But honestly, if I can’t have both, the Sharks have done a good job of keeping me entertained.Â
So for me, I’m disappointed, but life moves on. I know some fans and media types like to whine about parity) and those whines get louder and more insistent the closer you get to cities like New York or Detroit where there’s this sense of entitlement that of course they should win every year) — but it’s good for hockey, good for the league, and fun to watch.Â
That doesn’t mean the Sharks can or should stand pat. I’m thinking through what changes I think are necessary, and a post mortem is coming. But I own’t be burning my jersey in protest. Instead, I think I’ll sit down and watch the Bruins gameâ€¦Â
The Sharks played the best game of the playoffs tonight in game 4 — and still lost. The Sharks broadcasters tried to put what positive spin they could on it, but this is not the time of year for moral victories, and you don’t get an extra game in the series for a well-played loss. You lose.
It was good to see Marleau back at center. My suggestion to coach McLellan: leave him there. it leverages his speed, and it gets him in the game, and I always feel he’s more effective there than at wing. I won’t complain about Niemi — he’s been doing his part. is it enough? no. Is it his fault? no.
Down 3-1, the reality is that the Blues are a better team than the Sharks, or at least as they match up, the Blues can control the game and keep the Sharks from playing Sharks hockey. And their goaltending has been lights out, even the goalie who’s lights went out for a bit.
San Jose might take this five, but the Blues are moving on, and deserve to. The Sharks are going down fighting, and i’ll give them that, but they’re still going to lose this series. At least game 4 was a lot of fun to watch.
One of the nice things about not having playoff tickets is we can sit home and watch more of the playoffs if we want (or put it in the background and pretend to watch while doing other things if it’s boring). I’ve been enjoying the Kings/Canucks series, and it looked like the Kings might sweep until Daniel Sedin came back. His addition made the Canucks a much different team. Enough to come back from a 3-1 deficit? Probably not. But where I’m sure the Sharks won’t make it, if the difference I saw in game 4 carries forward to game 5 that intensely, the Kings might have to worry a bit. Still, maybe six for LA to carry this one through.
Chicago/Phoenix? Even before Hossa went down, I thought Phoenix would carry this series. I don’t see anything in the Hawks telling me it’s going to change. Game 5 is probably it. Ditto Nashville, where Detroit looks tired, and its goaltending just isn’t good enough.
Over in the east? I tried watching ottawa and the rangers and almost fell asleep. Who’s going to win the series? who cares? not me. I’m still rooting for the Panthers, but Brodeur is doing what he can to prove he still has it. SEries too close to call. Right now, the Capitals are tied to the Bruins 2-2 for only one reason: their 13th string goalie, some kid nobody’s heard of named Holtby. Who’s good. Some goalies come up from the minors and win some games because nobody’s scouted him. Holtby is winning because he’s that good. As laurie noted tonight, it’s going to be an interesting off-season and training camp in Washington while they sort this out, because this kid seems for real. As poorly as the rest of the Caps seem to be playing through stretches, Boston should be in command of this series, and they’re not.
And finally, the Philly/Pittsburgh series, the series where goalies are optional. One win does not get the Pens back in the series, no matter how lopsided. I expect Philly will bear down and finish this one in game 5. If not, watch out.
And while I talked at some length about the suspensions and how we got into this mess yesterday, let me touch it one more time. The Sharks broadcasters talked about the Torres suspension and suggested a suspension that not only carried the rest of this playoffs, but suggested a suspension of the next ten playoff games for Torres — in other words, if he doesn’t sit out ten games THIS year, the suspension carries on to whenever Torres is next in the playoffs, wether it’s next season or in some later year. I wonder if the CBA is set up to let that happen; it’s an interesting concept. My big worry would be that Torres might never get back in the playoffs, so why bother? Also, would the upcoming end of the current CBA create problems? Logistics aside, I figured I’d mention it as an idea worth being considered.
But my view is this; I want to see him suspended the rest of this playoffs, and at least 5 games (preferably ten) of next season’s regular season. That hits him in the pocketbook, where playoff suspensions merely cost him game time (to a player, put “merely” in air quotes, but trust me, the money matters, too). I would also like the NHL to make it clear that if his team win’s the Stanley Cup, Torres would not have his name engraved in it, and announce a rule that any player suspended 3 or more games in the playoffs would similarly be banned from being played on the Cup with a winning team that year. That may sound silly, but the way players think, it’ll get their attention. Imagine being a guy who’s one shot at that immortality being lost to a stupid playâ€¦
I’d like to also make it clear that while I said yesterday that I felt the league was going to come down TOO hard on Torres as an over-reaction, don’t take that to think I don’t think he deserves one, or doesn’t deserve a lengthy one. He does. but in the context of how the league has been handling suspensions, his suspension will be out of character in comparison.
Also remember that I’ve said more than once that the first thing I’d do if I were hired into the job Shanahan has would be to announce that all suspensions moving forward would be immediately doubled in length.. so my view is that the kind of suspension I expect Torres will get will be more in line with what I’d want to see handed out routinely, not because the league is reacting to the controversy (which they are). But that won’t happen, because Shanahan’s bosses (the board of governors) don’t want to see their players taken off the roster that long, and Shanahan has to play within the bounds of the politics of his position in the league, or the league will find someone who will.
(I am also, for what it’s worth, of the belief that teams should not be allowed to replace a suspended player on the roster, or make a call up from the minors to cover a suspended player. Make them play those games a guy short, and let it hurt the team, too).
This was a sin so egregious Shanahan, the NHL senior vice president of player safety, will have no choice but to act swiftly to suspend Torres, right Commissioner Bettman?
â€œYouâ€™re asking me to prejudge something,â€™â€™ Bettman answered. â€œIâ€™m certain it was observed by hockey operations and in particular player safety and to the extent it requires review or action, they will do it. But letâ€™s not jump the gun.â€™â€˜
Bettman believes too many people have done just that during an ugly postseason when the quantity of scuffles has overshadowed the quality of play. Where I see a dangerous trend, Bettman sees tradition, citing the rough-and-tumble game he heard old-timers reminiscing about on the radio.
â€œA lot of it is perception and misperception,â€™â€™ Bettman said. â€œThe game is physical, the game is emotional. These games are hard-fought. Having said that, Iâ€™d say player safety is monitored closely and being dealt with in an appropriate way.â€™â€˜
When I mentioned that the league had been inconsistent with penalties â€” contrasting Shawâ€™s three-game suspension with Predators defenseman Shea Weberâ€™s $2,500 fine for slamming Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterbergâ€™s head into the glass â€” Bettman scoffed.
And so the winter of discontent continues.
No, it’s more the winter of “oh my god, what the hell is going on?”
I’ve been, frankly, trying to get my head around why hockey decided to turn into a gang war this playoffs.
I’m coming to believe the core of the answer is in something Brad Stuart of the Wings said:
Wings defenseman Brad Stuart not only called out Brendan Shanahan and the NHLâ€™s department of player safety for their inconsistenciesâ€¦
â€œI did read a comment right from Shanahan that mentioned discipline in the playoffs might be different than it was during the regular season because playoff games are more important to guys,â€ Stuart said. â€œThey might take a one-game suspension in the playoffs that might be worth three or four during the regular season, which kind of sends mixed signals. If you can go after a superstar and get one game for it, knock him out for three or four games, whose got the advantage there? It does send a mixed message.â€
Stuart said the only way the league is going to get a handle on this problem is by consistent enforcement.
And that ties closely into the first quote. It really does.
First, Bettman is in a no win situation here. Of Â course he’s going to evade answering any question on the Torres hit. He is the judge of any appeal that may come from Shanahan’s suspension, and is involved in the discussions leading up to that. He’s smart enough to know better than to give the NHLPA any ammunition that might undermine that authority, or give them material to change that role in the next CBA. You think the current system is inconsistent? Imagine if it was handled by a committee that included both league and Â voting on issues, or where appeals were heard by a shared board.
But the seeds of this year’s set of hits and injuries were sewn earlier this season. they were sewn by the players, coaches, GMs and especially the Board of Governors. Shanahan came into the role and early on, was issuing suspensions at a fair clip.
Pretty clearly, his bosses (eventually, the Board of Governors), decided that was too many, and so he was quietly encouraged to pull it back. The league explained it as “the players are getting it”, but I don’t see that from the games I’m watching. And then after the GM meetings, the word clearly was sent to the refs to “let the boys play” and have the reffing get out of the way of the players. So they did. And the players have been taking advantage of it.
And exactly what Shanahan was trying to prevent has been happening. Give the players an inch, and they’ll take a mile. And then some. And keep taking risks until someone pushes too hard, someone else ends up in the hospital, and everyone starts going “how did we get to this place?”
We got to this place as the result of a set of decisions that everyone agreed to, and people that should have known what the end result would be.
And then comes out the “R” word (Stuart again):
â€œIn the end, weâ€™re all in this thing together as players,â€ Stuart said. â€œGuys are so much faster and stronger. Those things youâ€™ve seen in the past are devastating. The game is so fast, if you donâ€™t have respect for a guy, you can really injure him.â€
Stuart added itâ€™s too easy to blame the league for this ongoing issue and players have to start really pondering what theyâ€™re doing on the ice.
â€œWe as players have to decide are we going to keep that level of respect for each other or are we going to throw it out the window and let the guys upstairs try to figure out what to do?â€ Stuart said. â€œWe, as players, have to take responsibility as well. Letâ€™s not blame the guy making the decisions because heâ€™s a little bit unsure of what to do. Letâ€™s take it upon ourselves to have
Here’s the reality:
Players aren’t paid to be respectful. Players are played to win. They are trained from well before puberty to win at whatever cost necessary, and to compete until that point where further action will hurt the team more than help it.
Even the players admit that the Lady Byng is sort of a booby prize, and nobody plays to win it, nobody remembers who won it. You’re remembered for the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe, the Jennings. Not the Lady Byng.
So every time I hear someone call for the players to respect each other, I laugh. Quietly, sadly.
Players aren’t paid to respect. They’re paid to win. And they will win, because that’s what their entire lives have been built around. And if that means pushing the rules? they will.
I admit to (somewhat grudging) respect of Raffi Torres. he’s like Matt Cooke, and before him Claude Lemieux, and Matt Barnby, and Darius Kasparitius, and going back to guys like Dale Hunter and Essa Tikkanen. Torres has driven the Sharks batty over the years, and left his share of bruises. He’s a dirty player, in a league that doesn’t just tolerate dirty players, but puts them up on a bit of a pedestal. And at the same time, feels a bit guilty about that. Except for Don Cherry.
Fact: telling players to respect each other fails from the start. they aren’t paid to respect each other. They’re paid to win. Respect ends where it gets in the way of winning. And it always will. And frankly, it SHOULD. because what ultimately matters is winning.
So if you want to make sure the players respect each other, it’s simple: the rules must penalize players when they forget and cross that line. If the rules don’t enforce that respect, then the players won’t do it. and where the rules fail to do this — that’s where the injuries happen.
Now Torres has crossed that line hard and fast — and against a key player — and the press is up in arms, and so the league is going to react (over react, probably) because Torres is a useful target, and slap Torres silly for this. He deserves to be slapped, but he’s also going to be slapped to make up for the slaps that the league withheld, now that “it’s gone too far”
I don’t envy Shanahan’s job. Or Bettman’s. Blame them all you want, but they’re treading a political minefield — if the press aren’t yelling at them the fans are, or the coaches, or the GMs, or the Board. The board of governors being their bosses, when they get on the phone, you can bet it gets answered.
Shanahan’s trying to come up with where that line needs to be drawn. and behind the scenes, he’s got meddlers telling him to move it around. And when it gets moved around, he takes the blame. I’ll bet he didn’t think it would be this complicated. But it is.
I’ve also come to think he and the league are doing themselves a big disfavor here. They try very hard to be “fair” and “objective” here. counting video frames from pass to hit to see if it’s late, looking at a hit that starts on the shoulder differently than one goes right to the chin. And they’re right — those nuances matter.
the problem is, nobody WANTS those nuances. Not the coaches. not the owners. not the players. not the press, not the fans. And so the nuances get lost, and everyone bitches about the end result, even if objectively they can show why all of these nuanced differences matter.
So here’s my suggestion: throw all that nuance crap out. That is the core problem seems to come from. Simplify the justice system. If the owners and players are more comfortable with “hit to the head, first offense, two games”, then give it to them.
Come up with some relatively simple, straight-forward metrics on hit severity. Label them “grade 1″ through “grade 5″. publish them, and enforce them. Grade 1 might be a hit to the head that glances off some other part of the body. Grade 5 is a hit directly to the head leading to a player leaving the game with an injury. Every grade is escalated for repeat violations; a repeat of a grade 1 hit is punished as a grade 2, a grade 1 and a grade two is punished as a 3. Once you get to grade 5, you simply double the penalty every time until the player gets the message or is too old to return from a suspension. Â Fine, one game, two games, three games, five games. then double each time.
Simple. and it also tends to prevent the BoG from behind the scenes “encouraging” changes in the standards, because there’s much less wiggle room. And the players know exactly what’s coming, as long as it’s enforced. (if it’s not, then we’re back to playing Rollerball, folks. I’m not sure I’m interested in watching that — and there was a shot taken in the Philly/Pittsburgh series where the last time I saw someone do that, it was IN the damn movie. I don’t see that as a good thing).
The league wants to install a culture change in the players — but is unwilling to actually put the leash on until the players learn the new limits. By taking the leash off mid-season, the players adjusted back, and then some. Taht’s the league’s fault. Now they’re trying to put this particular genie back in whatever bottle is handy — and Raffi Torres is going to pay for that, big time. He deserves it, but probably not to the degree they’ll hit him.
The ultimate problem is that Colin Campbell and now Shanahan have worked very hard at solving the wrong problem: they wanted suspensions to be based in fact and “fair”, because the situations are so situational. And the reality is, nobody else wants it that way; they want it easy and understandable, not something that requires a PhD to decipher.
So it’s time to rethink what they’re doing with suspensions, and simplify it. And IMHO, once they do, double the length of all suspensions (not that they will).
Because the reality is, until you make it painful for the player and the team to cross that line, they will. And these are guys who get root canals between periods and come back out without missing a shift. Slaps on the wrist won’t slow them down.
So what the league really needs to do is ramp up the pain. that’s what it’ll take to put respect back in the game, not lecturing. Unfortunately, it looks like the Board of Governors doesn’t really want that.
So instead, I’m guessing the league will under-react to these kind of hits until something really bad happens, and then over-react to that one situation and hope that solves the problem.
And I think we all know that it won’t.
There was an interesting set of events in the games tonight surrounding the concussion protocol in the NHL. In the Sharks/Blues game, St. Louis goaltender Halak was run over and hit in the head by one of his own guys, requiring some time to get his bearings. Even though he ultimately wanted to continue, the trainer convinced him to go off the ice, and he was replaced by Elliot. The original report on him was that Halak was going to return, but evidently something tightened up, because later, he was reported as having a lower body injury and day to day. Elliot finished the game (and won), and the Blues have said they’ll take their third goalie with them to San jose just in case.
Then later, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith got run over (and the blackhawks player got a game misconduct for it) and went to the ice clutching his face and head and stayed down an extended period. It was serious enough that the team doctor went onto the ice. Ultimately, unlike Halak, Smith was allowed to continue and finish the game.
My question is — WHY? That clearly seems to fall under the “go to the quiet room” protocol, but that wasn’t invoked on him. IMHO, the hit on Smith was a harder head hit than Halak got. The Blues trainer did the correct thing by insisting Halak go get checked out. The only possible explanation for Phoenix was the doctor on the ice checked Smith out on ice and cleared him — but even so, as I understand the protocol, he still should have been sent to the quiet room.
This seems like a mistake by the Phoenix medical staff. I understand why they’d want Smith in there, and why he’d want to continue — but I do hope the league looks into this and explains why both medical teams made the right decision, or if not, how they plan to make sure the right thing happens in the future. I think smith was allowed to put his head at risk for more serious injury by not going off for evaluation, and I don’t understand why the medical staff and referees didn’t force this issue, when it seems they should have.
(FWIW, it looks like the hit by the Chicago player was unintentional to me, not on purpose. But the major penalty was still the correct call. And it may be that Smith took the brunt of the hit to his jaw and possibly bit his tongue (which HURTS), but even so, I’d really like to hear why he wasn’t sent to the quiet room. “it’s the playoffs” is not an acceptable answer.
I have to give the Sharks full credit. they didn’t make it easy for themselves, but they found a way and won the last four games. Finished a point out of the division title and ended up 7th in the west. The last two games with the Kings were (mostly) well-played and showed what this team is capable of.
Unfortunately, this team seems like it plays best when it’s back is to the wall, and so it seems to have to put its back to the wall to play well. That doesn’t seem to me to be a great playoff strategy, but we’ll see.
So the first round of the playoffs is set. Here are my predictions.
In the West:
Los Angeles/Vancouver — Quick vs. Luongo. Upstart Kings vs. repeating Presidents Cup winners. I really like both teams. I think this is the series to watch out west. I’d love to pick the Kings, but I think the Canucks will take this one in six.
San Jose/St. Louis: I’m thrilled to see the Blues back in the playoffs, and they’re a scary team. The sharks haven’t matched well with them this season. This is, actually, the worst match up for the Sharks, so I have to pick the Blues in five. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sharks can solve this, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Chicago/Phoenix: Also great to see — the Coyotes in the playoffs. They’re a fun and scrappy team playing in “mission from God” mode. the Blackhawks just don’t seem to click reliably. Not sure Laurie will like hearing this, but I have to go with the Coyotes in six.
Detroit/Nashville: Nashville is a solid contender. Detroit is, well, Detroit, and you rarely profit betting against them. they are a team that just finds a way. There have been chinks in the Red Wings armor this year. I like the Predators; not flashy, but they get it done. And so I think they will in five.
So in summary: Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville.
And my pick for the west going into the first round? St. Louis. (then Vancouver)
In the East:
Ottawa/New York Rangers: The Rangers are a fine team (shh: don’t tell Larry Brooks, he hates it when things go well, nothing to whine about). The Senators are a good team, but not in that league. This one goes to the Rangers in five.
Washington/Boston: The Capitals are a very talented team that have never found a consistent winning rhythm. the Bruins have had a few air pockets but they’re still a team you need to be wary of. I can’t see how the Capitals will beat the Bruins the way the Caps have been playing, and Boston is really the better team. Bruins in 5.
New Jersey/Florida: like betting against the Red Wings, until the last few years, you didn’t bet against Brodeur in the playoffs. But he’s shown a strong tendency to fade late, and age is not doing him favors. The Panthers have finally built a good team, and I think they’re rewarded in this round. Panthers in six.
Philadelphia/Pittsburgh: the series to watch in the east by far. Two really good teams that have a big hate on for each other. You have to wonder if the team that survives this round will have anything left for round two. This match is almost a toss-up, but I’m going to pick the Penguins in seven. I also predict one season ending injury and at least one line brawl.
In summary: New York Rangers, Boston, Florida, Pittsburgh
And my pick for the east going into the first round Pittsburgh (then the Rangers)
My pick for the cup? Pittsburgh.
Now, a few days off to rest up, and the second season begins.