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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some play outside the rules, and some Playfair

 Things have been interesting for Jackson Playfair recently.  First, he gets traded from the Spokane Chiefs to their mortal enemies the Tri-City Americans.  Somewhere in the midst of this he found himself with some Washington companionship, drawing the ire of his Girlfriend of 6 months:  Tieja MacLaughlin.  The story is that she got pissed off and traveled 500 miles to confront him about things, and apparently death threats were involved.

This is a heavy incident.  As we've discussed, its only a game - Ilya Bryzgalov agrees.  Off the ice there is life, and these players deal with things that we all have to go through, and incidents like this happen sometimes.  While I was digesting this story today, I listened to this piece about domestic violence, and it seems to be a related issue in my book.

I'm with Playfair on this one.  Every relationship is complicated, and no one is 100% right/wrong, but whatever his shortcomings are don't warrant threats of any kind - particularly death threats.  There's a place for violence, and then there is real life.

Another related issue is the form of domestic violence where the man is the victim.  We have nothing to lead us to believe this was a part of this story, but it is part of many men's lives - which is an issue.  A online resource for these men had this to say:

While the majority of domestic violence victims are women, abuse of men happens far more often than you'd probably expect. Typically, men are physically stronger than women but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to escape the violence or the relationship. An abused man faces a shortage of resources, skepticism from police, and major legal obstacles, especially when it comes to gaining custody of his children from an abusive mother. No matter your age, occupation, or sexual orientation, though, you can overcome these challenges and escape the abuse.

Again, the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, which generally forms our views of how to approach this societal cancer.  However many men are subject to similar violence.  More often than not females can carry out abuse without repercussions: they can hit the man all they want, as any physical retaliation generally lands the man in jail.  He-say-she-say in a fistfight leaves the man the guilty party.

During my early 20's I lived in Kansas City, MO: which is where I discovered hockey outside of the NHL.  The KC Blades  taught me the joy of attending games.  There weren't a whole hell of a lot of highlights from those seasons of the Blades, but I was fortunate enough to be in the barn for this:

I was accompanied to many games during that period of my life by a pretty blonde from Raytown, MO (the setting of Mama's Family).  This woman had a drinking problem.  Addictions of any type are difficult to live with, and this one tended to morph into violence on occasion.  In cases like this, the offender is also a victim, but they hold the keys to both of the issues at hand.  The 4 years I spent with this woman were the best of times & the worst of times - you could say it was "day to day".

Many domestic abuse victims have dealt with much more than I have, but I lived that way for too damn long.  Hopefully I learned from those experiences, and have been fortunate enough to not have those issues pop back up in my life.  I do have those memories still, and I have a soft spot for men with similar stories.  

My advice to Playfair would be to do just what he did, and get the law involved.  I assume he went to his team as well, and I hope they did what they could to support him.  We ask so much out of these teenagers:  we hold them up on a pedestal, ask them to entertain us, to bleed for us. They have a lot on their plate as is - guys like this don't need distractions like this to deal with, but sometimes they do.

My advice to you is to take these things seriously.  Stalking, violence, victims male & female - they all need our support.  If you find yourself in one of these situations, get some help.  Life is too short to live in those conditions.  There are resources out there for you, and those of us who are fortunate to avoid those situations should be a resource for the less fortunate among us.  Together we can fight back - in the right way.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Matt Dumba, Anton Cederholm, and fighting


That sequence is why there is fighting in hockey.  This is a contact sport, played at 35 MPH, with a weapon.  There has to be a release valve, or else things will completely boil over.  I think we all understand that you cannot always count on the officials to administer justice properly - often times the game has to self police.

This was Mathew Dumba's debut in a Portland sweater.   As the video clearly shows, Eberle comes in high on Dumba, as is demonstrated by the assessment of a 2 minute minor.  Cederholm stands in for his newest teamate - he holds Eberle accountable for his actions.

Some would argue that simply taking the powerplay is the right move, but do you really want to leave these things in the hands of the referees?   There are players better suited for fisticuffs than Cederholm, but when you're on the ice & the first man there sometimes you've gotta get in there.

In this instance, Eberle got 2 for the initial hit, and Cederholm picked up an extra 2 + 10 for instating, negating the powerplay & leaving the 'Hawks short a defenseman for a 17 minute stretch of the game.  There were real consequences for Cederholm's actions there, and I'm just fine with that.  There are plenty of times that you will "invest" a 2 minute minor (or worse) to send a message - in this case the message is not to take cheap shots at our new star defenseman.

Even in instances where you give up a powerplay goal - that's still a better price to pay than allowing some goons to take runs at your guys.  

Another piece of this puzzle is these two defencemen probably don't even know each others names yet - and in Dumba's 1st game in Portland he sees his new family going to bat for him.  These occurrences often times go a long way in team building - helping to jell as a group.  That's pretty important this time of year.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcome Blake Heinrich!

The Winterhawks have signed Blake Heinrich. This is good news.

He was a 12th round bantam pick for Portland, and has blossomed into a 5th round NHL draft pick for the Washington Capitals.  He's an 18 this year, wearing the "C" for the Sioux City Musketeers, who play in the USHL. I grew up in USHL country, and have a team in my hometown.  This is a "junior A" league: these are mostly American kids, who are intent on NCAA scholarships. 

Its a complicated dance between these junior clubs and the college teams, trying to fill open NCAA spots with players ready to move up.  Sometimes the timing gets jumbled, and guys go the major junior route - that's what happened to Mac Carruth, for example.

The 'Hawks are loosing their top 3 defenseman after this year (much like last year) - Derrick Pouliot, Mathew Dumba, and Garrett Haar will all be playing pro next season.  Heinrich will fill in one of these spots, and by all accounts he will be a valuable addition.

Mike Johnston has had success finding players from non-traditional sources, and this qualifies as such.  If one looks at this like an offseason trade for a 19 D man, who's been drafted by an NHL team - those players usually command a high price. 

The only comparable I was able to find from this year (I don't have all damn day to look) is a player we just saw: Travis Brown, who the Victoria Royals just brought in from Moose Jaw.  He's a 19, and a 5th round Blackhawks pick.  The Royals gave up two 3rd round picks, and a 15 year old prospect who was also a 3rd round pick.  Basically three 3rds, with one of them being retroactive.

If that's the going rate for that kind of player, having one fall in your lap is pretty nice.  I believe the Caps don't have to sign him for 2 years, meaning that it is likely he's back as an overage - which sweetens the pot for Portland.  If you consider the difference from a 5th round NHL pick and the 7th overall pick of the 1st round - three 2nd's for Dumba looks pretty good in comparison, doesn't it?
19-year-old Travis Brown
19-year-old Travis Brown

Caps blog Russian Machine Never Breaks:

With the 144th pick in the draft the Capitals selected defenseman Blake Heinrich from Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.

He’s small — 5-foot-10, 194 pounds — but Heinrich brings an imposing physical presence to the game. He doesn’t shy away from anything: he hits hard, trash talks, participates in the scrums, and cleans the crease when he needs to. He’s a guy who is a pain to play against. That resulted in 110 PIM last year in the USHL, third among the players under 18. It also earned him a spot as the 81st best North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting.

He’s not a liability in other areas of the game either. According to Future Considerations, who ranked him 76th, his footwork could use some work, but it’s far from horrible. A smart defender, he takes few chances breaking out of the zone. Heinrich does a good job making simple, effective defensive plays. He was also seventh in points among U18 defenseman in USHL, which shows he can play some offense as well.

Minnesota Hockey Prospects:

Blake Heinrich plays each and every shift with a physical nastiness. The University of Minnesota Duluth commit is a strong and durable defenseman that bull rushes opponents, forcing turnovers in the process. Heinrich made a seamless transition to the USHL, having a successful rookie season with Sioux City. Heinrich supplied a gritty defensive game while chipping in 3 goals, 17 assists, and 110 penalty minutes in 42 games played.

Heinrich is not big for a defenseman, (5’11-190) but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in strength. The former Hill-Murray star has good mobility and does an exceptional job at reading the play in front of him. Heinrich never gives the impression that he is guessing on a play as he has a natural instinct to be in the right place at the right time. An area of Heinrich’s game that needs improvement is his puck control skills. Advancement in this capacity would round out Heinrich’s offensive game and make him a complete player.

Overall Heinrich is a blue-collar worker on the ice that is a joy to watch thanks to his ability to play the body. Heinrich could be more offensive, but he’s a good coverage defender that gives very little space to opposing forwards. His playing style is similar to Dennis Seidenberg of the Boston Bruins.

Chris Dilks pre-draft report:

 As far as NHL Draft narratives go, Blake Heinrich's is pretty boring. There were no big swings in his ranking by NHL Central Scouting. He started the year as a 'B' ranked player, was ranked 72nd at the mid-term, and ended the year at 81st in the final ranking. He plays a quiet, steady, defensive style that doesn't draw a lot of attention. He isn't unnaturally big. But don't confuse a lack of pre-draft hype for a lack of talent.
 His coming out party, so to speak, was the 2012 Minnesota State High School Tournament, where Heinrich, who came into the season as the only defenseman on his Hill-Murray team with any varsity hockey experience, helped carry his team to the state championship final with a masterful defensive performance. Over the summer, he made a commitment to play his college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and decided to forgo his senior year at Hill-Murray to play his draft year with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.

Rinkside Update: Blake Heinrich 8/2/13

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

The USHL has a Top Prospects Game, and Heinrich played in it one year ago:

Monday, January 6, 2014

Winterhawks: veteran needed for playoff drive

Lots of talk about the trade deadline, which is this week.  Several years ago I floated a trade for Gregg Drinnan - and his response was that he'd love to work here in Portland.  The problem with that deal is we have no beat writer to send the other way, and journalistic prospects are hard to come by these days.  That, and Portland has no 1st or 2nds for the next 3 years.

I live in a town with three local papers that cover the Winterhawks, but none of them have a beat writer or cover them full time.  During those 11 win years, I used to read the 2 paragraphs that the Tribune would put out, twice every week.  Sometimes during the playoffs, Scooter will dig up an article from The Columbian.  The best coverage we get is from the Oregonian: which consists of a blogger as well as another blogger who hosts gameday discussions.  I love both these writers, but they are not unlike you & me - they have day jobs, and do it out of the goodness of their own hearts.

To be perfectly honest: that's why do this blog - there seems to be a void there.   We need a beat writer to put me out of business.

Drinnan is the first thing I read every day.   Or at least he's the first thing I read when he's writing, and for the last little while he's been busy with more important things than junior hockey - helping his wife Dorothy recover from a much needed kidney transplant.  We should always remember that there are things more important than the game, even though many of us forget that from time to time.  I know I certainly do.

This dude has been around for a long time.  He's been covering the WHL basically as long as there's been a WHL, and it shows.  He spent time co-authoring a book: Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos, which covers a tragic event that every hockey fan should know about.  Joe Sakic walked away.  Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff did not.

The future of newspapers has been turned upside down by the internet.  Many publications with runs approaching the century mark are falling on hard times, and the Kamloops Daily News is simply the latest.  Folks are having to get creative to continue with their journalism, and I'm sure that Drinnan will land on his feet.

The traffic meter on his blog shows 4.7 million page views.  Writers like this are a national treasure, and we are fortunate to have had access to his work for this long. The news about the paper closing broke today, so the future is wide open.  I'll continue to read Drinnan as long as he's available, and you can't keep a good man down.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Open letter to the Minnesota Wild

What to do with Mathew Dumba? 

You have a lot invested - the 7th overall pick is serious business.  Dumba has to pan out, or it will set the franchise back 5 years - or worse.

Many teams find themselves in this dilemma:  you have a player who's too good for junior hockey, but not ready for a regular shift in the NHL.  As a player in his 19 year old season - the only options available are the NHL and the WHL.  I'm sure that some seasoning in Iowa would be an attractive option for this player, but that's not on the table.

We all have high hopes for Dumba, furthered with him making the Wild out of training camp.  In his 3rd career game, he buried a nice powerplay goal, and went on to play over 15 minutes:

However, the jump to the highest level of hockey in the world is not an easy one, and its been hard to get Dumba in the lineup since then.  He's only seen the ice for 13 games this year.  In those games, he's averaging 12:26 of ice time.  There are 45 rookie defenseman who average  more ice time this season.

It made perfect sense to loan Dumba to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, which just concluded.  While Canada didn't get the result they were hoping for,  he played an integral part of that D corps, and was counted on in all situations.  He didn't have the tournament he wanted on a personal note either: minor injuries, illness, and overall rust were factors that he fought to overcome.  The outside observer may conclude from this tournament that he's still not ready for a regular shift for the Wild.

Sometimes its easy to get caught up in the now: day to day, game to game.  If you keep a special player like this close to the vest, in the tutelage of the Wild coaching staff, he'll be ready to contribute any day now.  The  main goal with developing players that you have so much invested in is what is he going to be at 25, 26, 27 - and beyond?

You don't have to look very far to find a similar story: Nino Niederreiter.  Ask him what it was like that first year with the Islanders: healthy scratch, 4th line, no significant role, rinse-lather-repeat.  If the 5th overall pick can only manage 1 goal, zero assists, and (-29), don't you think he was better suited playing his 19 year old year in major junior?  Its not a stretch to think the only way Nino was available to you was due to the Islanders mismanagement of the player.  Nino's center in the WHL could tell you the same story - he got jerked around during his 19 year as well, and is just now starting to turn the corner.

One of the best benefits of Dumba finishing the season in the WHL is a potentially long playoff run, with a quality franchise.  Under the current regime, we've seen 6 defencemen drafted in the last 4 drafts - 3 in the 1st round - and 20 players overall.  This is a team that played more playoff games last season than Dumba's entire WHL career, and is a contender for their 4th trip to the league finals.

You sent him down to the World Juniors to face elite competition, be counted upon in a starring role, and be immersed in a winning culture.  Those are the same reasons to send him back to the WHL to finish the season.

A 19 year old needs to be playing games, period.  Weather its in St Paul or Portland is almost beside the point.  He needs the minutes, the experience, the progression.  I trust you'll make the correct decision.