Saturday, January 25, 2014

When is losing your best player to suspension a good thing?

Many of us were pretty frustrated when Brendan Leipsic got suspended.  I was one of them:

Its one thing for the highest scoring team in the WHL to lose a guy off of the top line - the key to this was the timing of it, with 3 other top players overseas at the time.  The Winterhawks went 2-5 over the 7 games that Leipsic was suspended.  Of course, they were short other players simultaneously, but I would argue that only magnifies the importance of #28 in the lineup.

Its unclear if the 'Hawks could have caught Kelowna anyway, but those two head to head games really hurt - those are generally referred to as "4 point games" - so it was an 8 point weekend.  You could look at it like this suspension + WJC may have cost home ice advantage, should the 'Hawks face the Rockets.

I haven't seen this expressed elsewhere, but its my opinion that Leipsic not getting the call from Team Canada contributed directly to his suspension.  For a guy who led the WHL in scoring last year, and had a good playoff run - you had to expect his 19 year to be a big one.  The Predators were high on him in camp this year.  It seemed to me when the WJC lists came out with no #28 - that his game changed, and we saw more of the Leipsic who's more interested in putting guys through the glass than pucks in the net.

The game in Red Deer, in front of Canada coach Brent Sutter, Leipsic was particularly ornery.  Scored 2 goals, 1 assist, +1, #1st star - but the play that sticks out is he threw a serious hit right at the buzzer.  One of those unnecessary plays that reeked like frustration to me.

Dylan Bumbarger has been known to throw truth bricks:
To say something obvious: 28 has to cut that out if he wants a career beyond the Central Hockey League. That was rumored to be a reason he wasn't picked to go to camp with Team Canada, as well.

So we're watching the 'Hawks during this stretch, and they're getting shelled.  The players are frustrated, the fans are frustrated, and I've gotta think that Leipsic is frustrated.

If the purpose of punishment is to alter behavioral patterns, than lets hope this discipline was successful.  Those 24 days between games presented a lengthy opportunity for self reflection, as well as influence from the 'Hawks & Predators brass.

The results have been impressive: in 8 games post suspension he's potted 8 goals, 10 assists, and is +13.  Sure, he's picked up 14 PIM in that stretch, but nothing too serious.  He's the kind of guy who needs to play "on the edge" to be successful, and he appears to have rediscovered where that edge is.

Often times I make the point that there are penalties worth taking, regardless of the result.  If your goalie gets ran, and you take a penalty roughing the guy up, thats fine.  Even if they score on the powerplay, that's still fine.  Even if it costs you the game (once in a while), you can live with it.  You can't just let guys take liberties.

We may look at this 2-5 stretch as the best thing that could have happened to this 'Hawks team.  It sure looks like that time out of the lineup has refocused Leipsic for the stretch run.  He just may have a little extra gas in the tank for a long playoff run, too.

Time will tell.

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