Monday, February 24, 2014

In defense of the shootout

First off, I don't like the shootout anymore than anyone else.

I do, however, believe its a necessary evil.

I watched 11 years of hockey which included ties.  Ties are terrible, and I don't think that people remember how empty it feels investing 3 hours of your life in a game only to walk away with as if it never happened - there is no winner.  You wanna go back to ties?  No thank you.  The "kissing your sister" quote always stuck with me.

One of the main criticisms of the shootout is that it is a one on one format in the context of a team game, and that's a valid point.  Breakaways are part of the game, but they don't occur in alternating instances of 6+ in the course of a night.

I don't like how we drop down to 4 on 4 for overtime - we just spent 60 minutes of 5 on 5.  If we are so exited about goals, and the 5th player is a detriment to scoring, why do we have him out there for regulation?  Some say the shootout is a gimmick, but what about changing the number of players who are eligible to take the ice, just 'cause its sudden death?  Seems gimmicky to me.

Sure, you see 4 on 4 most nights, but its usually brief and in the context of overlapping penalties, or is the result of coincidental minors.  What percentage of the season is played 4 on 4?  If you play 3 minutes of 4 on 4 per night, that's 5% of the game.  Seems about as far from regular gameplay as a series of penalty shots, if you ask me.

In life, as in outside hockey, I'm big into the concept that if you are critical of X, and argue that it needs to go away, then you have to present an alternative in order to do so.  I don't like paying taxes:  no one does.  The alternative to all of us paying no taxes means no roads to drive on, firemen to do their thing, or law enforcement to prevent us from being robbed.  That's not a realistic alternative.

So we've established that ties aren't acceptable, but we don't like the shootout.  Lets look at the alternatives.  You see 3 on 3 thrown out there - often in an unlimited format.  Again, I don't like ditching one player for minutes 60 through 65 - then you really wanna blow the horn and leave another guy on the bench for an additional 5 minutes?  The 3 on 3 advocates among us don't feel that its gimmicky, yet in the 20 years I've been watching the game I've never seen 3 on 3 play, yet I've seen quite a few penalty shots.

What would football look like if you took 40% of the players off the field in an effort to induce a score?  In the 10th inning of a ball game you take the shortstop, 3rd baseman, and left fielder off - in an effort to keep it a team game: would we accept that?  We're already benching the shortstop, which I think is bad enough.

What are you gonna do if no one scores when its 3 on 3?  Aren't you getting dangerously close to 1 on 1 there?  I've heard one staunch shootout critic throw out an idea of a series of alternating 2-on-1's, which satisfies my criteria of having an alternative to suggest.  I'm not sure if I like that idea, but its at least something to think about.

As an American voter, I've learned to live with a lesser of two evils approach, which is why I back virtually anything that gets us away from ties.  Now, if you want to be critical of the "loser point" - you'll get more traction with that argument, in my opinion.  Gregg Drinnan will point out that 17 out of the 22 WHL teams have a .500 or better record right now, which seems statistically impossible.

We just witnessed an Olympic tournament where a regulation win was worth 3 points, an OT win 2, and an extra time loss earned a single point.  Personally, I could get behind a points system like this, as it incentivizes winning in regulation, yet doesn't strip you of a potential tie point.  This system seems to work well in MLS, which is prone to ties.

Like I said, I don't like the current system any more than you do - but I'll take it over one with ties.  I'd take a coin flip VS a tie.  I would prefer that both captains engage in a duel at center ice before I see another tie.

If you have any better ideas, I'd love to hear 'em.  In the meantime, I'm fine with a series of penalty shots and someone walking out of the rink with a "W".

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mike Johnston: good coach?

This is a developmental league.  That goes for players as well as coaches, officials, equipment managers, etc.  I believe this is Mike Johnston's first head coaching gig - at least at a significant level of hockey.  From time to time you hear some criticisms of his work:

On a related note, here's an exchange between myself and Guy Flaming (regarding the 2014 WJC):

Here's an article by Daniel Nugent-Bowman about Pouliot playing on the top paring for Team Canada at the World Juniors:
Ekblad quietly watches how Pouliot approaches drills in practices or how he refocuses between shifts.
“You have to remember, there’s mentorship going on, but it’s going on in subtle ways,” said McGill, who works with Canada’s defencemen. “It’s not always verbal communication.” 
The guidance is paying off.
Hockeys future has a video interview with  Pouliot during the WJC tournament, which partially consists of asking him about some of the other talented kids we've been fortunate enough to see play here over the last several years.

Point being is that #51 looks to be erasing some of the criticisms of his play in the D zone, as well as the rap they don't coach that way in this town.  I'm writing this the day after Brendan Burke had a 174 minute shutout streak come to an end - and he's not doing that on his own, now is he?

Sometimes you hear things about star forwards, such as Nino Niederreiter & Ryan Johansen:

Then, on the same day, ran stories about Johansen rounding into form, as well as Nino scoring a nasty OT goal.  With those two high draft picks, you could argue that MJ did too good of a job.  

The Islanders & Blue Jackets thought both players were NHL ready for their 19 year old seasons, yet didn't play them in significant roles, which is about the worst thing you can do to a young hockey player.  There's reasons that both those teams have struggled for a long time, and these examples demonstrate two reasons why.

Mike Johnston has posted winning percentages of .632, .715, .708 in his first 3 full seasons.  He's followed that up with an .820 in his partial season (suspension) - the team finished with an .812 & a league championship.  So far this season they're putting up .731.  MJ can build & coach teams that win games.

In his first full season they got out of the first round - which hadn't happened much in the last few years here.  The next 2 seasons they lost in the finals before hoisting the Ed cup.  In a developmental league, he's been getting better every year to this point.  There may have been issues developing the right culture in his 2nd year of coaching teenagers at an elite level - that's entirely possible.  

Most of the players that work with him at this point he's had for their entire junior careers,  which you'd think would allow him to instill the values he wants them to live by.  He's presumably developed a better balance of letting the kids run, yet keeping them under the team's umbrella.  Being a peer, friend, and authority figure.  When to crack the whip, when to build the player back up.  Coaching these high end players at such a tricky stage of their lives has to be more complicated than you or I could ever understand.

If we judge WHL coaches by how their players fare in the NHL, that would make Jim Hiller or Don Nachbar look pretty poor , when I think most regard them as quality coaches.  

I'm buying what MJ is selling.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Kozun Thinks Seattle Can Win Memorial Cup

Hey, you gotta believe in yourself, especially if your an athlete at an elite level.  Taran Kozon does.

Kozun, though, thinks his new team is the one to beat.

“I think we have a really good contender for the Memorial Cup,” Kozun said. “I think we can go far. If a team has to play us seven games, I don’t think they can keep up with us. We have just the size and the grit and the offensive ability.

“It’s really ours to lose, I think.”

Seems reasonable - especially coming from a goalie with all the playoff experience that Kozon has, which is 0 games played, 0 minutes and a 0.00 GAA.  His backup has similar numbers.  Kozon is currently 24-25 for his carer, and you only gotta be 4 games over .500 in the playoffs to hoist the cup.

They have strong leadership behind the bench, as Steve Konowalchuk has earned a 81-99-17 record behind the Thunderbirds bench, as well as a 3-4 playoff record.  He's also known for putting up 92 points for the Winterhawks in 1991, and taking the Avalanche to the second round in 2004.

The Thunderbirds have traditionally been a successful franchise - over the last 10 seasons they've appeared in 9 playoff series - with 3 series victories.  Juggernaut.

Kono is confident as well:
A confident Thunderbirds team could be in the the right position — playing its best hockey potentially heading into the tournament just weeks away.

“I know the guys are excited, we’re putting ourselves in position. We definitely want to battle for that home ice (advantage) in the first round and Portland isn’t out of our sights,” said Konowalchuk. “We have a goal and we believe we can do it.”
 Shouldn't be a big deal.  Seattle is 3-5 against Portland this year, which is pretty good considering they have lost something like 40 of those games over the last 4 seasons. (Portland is 5-1-2 vs SEA this year).  All Seattle needs to to is sweep the last 4 games vs Portland, and they should have a shot at that division title.

All that's left is to tie up a couple loose ends, like getting through the 'Hawks (0.726 winning %), the Rockets (0.837) and then either the Oil Kings (0.735) or Hitmen (0.673).  Kind of reminds me of when Brashear would wipe his hands after taking care of business.  The bigger they come, the harder they fall, right?

Sounds like Seattle fans should be shopping for tickets to London, if you ask me.