Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How NOT to Play Defense: Maple Leafs Edition

As I'm sure most hockey fans do, I tend to watch the highlights of the night's games. Whilst watching the highlights of the Leafs-Bruins game, I wasn't too surprised to see them losing, but this goal in particular boggled my mind.

Are you ready for some more MS Paint? Good.

Here, we see two Leafs forwards (Dave Steckel and Tim Connolly) covering the same guy at the point: Patrice Bergeron. Um. Why? Bergeron makes a quick pass to a wide open Zdeno Chara, and, newsflash: this guy's good at hockey. Chara then has all the time he wants to do whatever he wants with the puck. The two Leafs defensemen in front of the net (Schenn and Gardiner) seem to be doing their job for the most part. However, as Chara moves in, Schenn inches closer to him and even goes down on a knee to try and take away a cross-crease pass. I have no issue with that. Jake Gardiner then inches away from Caron (eventual goalscorer) which allows Caron to get free for Chara's pass.

Now, even though Gardiner leaves Caron wide open for one of the easiest goals he'll ever score, I'm more bothered by the forwards (Steckel and Connolly). Had they both not been at the point holding hands and enjoying a cup of tea, this could have been easily prevented. One of them covers Bergeron, the other follows Chara, and then Schenn and Gardiner don't have to react based on the play that's developed.

Who knows? Maybe I'm overlooking something or maybe I'm flat out wrong about this, but it all seems pretty logical to me. I'm sure (I'm not, I'm just hoping) Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke will somehow eventually fix this, though, so no worries, Leafs Nation.

How NOT to Play Defense: Steven Kampfer Edition

Let's overlook the fact that the Avalanche embarrassed the Wild tonight. That's a moot point by now. However, I had the game on at work tonight, and as I would glance at it every so often, I looked up at just the right time to see this goal.

First things first here: Tom Gilbert, you have to get that puck out of the zone. I realize that shit happens and you can't do much about it, so that just really sucks for him. I feel his pain, having played defense when I was (a lot) younger, but still. That can't happen.

Anyways. Let's break this down and pick on Steve Kampfer, shall we? With my amazing Microsoft Paint skills and lack of a telestrater, I've illustrated it a little:

One of the first things they teach you as a defenseman when dealing with a two-on-one, is take the pass away. As the above photo shows, Kampfer is cheating towards Stastny, when ideally, he should let the backchecking forward (assuming it's Nick Johnson here) take the puck carrier. Kampfer should then let Hackett (Mr. Goalieboy) deal with the shooter (Stastny) and hope Johnson can catch up to him in time. While all this is going on, Kampfer should move towards Mark Olver, and attempt to negate any potential pass to him, thus negating any potential goal. However, things don't always work as planned. Olver gets the puck and essentially has an easy tap-in for a goal.

Who do you think Matt Hackett is more pissed at after all this? Gilbert for not clearing the puck initially? Kampfer for failing his defensive assignment? Either way, Gilbert and Kampfer (why are they a pairing again??) should probably attempt to make amends with Hackett, especially since he got trampled by Olver after all this. The last thing the Wild need is another injured goaltender.

Jakub Voracek: The Latest Victim of Being Kronwalled

The Wings lost to Philly tonight, 3-2, blah blah blah, boring usual stuff blah.

Enter: The Kronwall:

Um. OUCH. I really would not want to be Voracek right there. Niklas Kronwall, for being 5'11" or whatever he is, sure does hit like a damn freight train.

I'm going to be honest here; I'm a Wings fan when it comes down to it, but I also have a brain and know how to not be biased. I love hockey too much to be a homer. That said, I have no idea how Kronwall hasn't been suspended at all in the last nine years or however long he's been in the league. There have been many a time where he should have been fined or suspended for either leaving his feet or just a dirty hit. Don't get me wrong, I do love most of the hits he throws, but goddamn. I think I'll be more surprised in the morning if I find out that he hasn't been Shanabanned for at least a game or two for this hit, though.

Not to play Devil's Advocate or anything, but in Kronwall's defense, Voracek did have his head down the entire time, and was even looking behind him at one point. Um, you can't do that. The first thing they teach in pee-wees is don't skate with your head down. Ever. Especially in the NHL. Especially with Kronwall on the ice. Be aware of your surroundings, man.

I still love you, though, Kronwall, don't worry. Jakub Voracek, get well, kid. I wish nothing but the best for this guy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Crosby Might be Back Soon, but Who Will he Play With?

For those of you that live under a rock, it was announced today that Penguins All-Star Center and captain Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact today after missing the last few months with returning concussion like symptoms.

I'll pause so all of Pittsburgh can celebrate and scream for a moment.

All right. This is fantastic news for both the Penguins and the NHL. Arguably the best player in the league, Crosby hasn't really played since January 2011 (again, for you rock living people). Before suffering his concussion, Crosby was putting up points at a ridiculous pace at roughly 1.6 points per game. Extrapolate that over an entire 82 game season, and he potentially could have scored 131 points.

If you're new to hockey, that many points is good. Really good.

Anyways, fast forward past all the drama and the "Will Crosby retire? Is he ever coming back???? Is Crosby a vampire??? (no, he's a Ferrari.)" and such, Crosby made a return earlier this season, only to be thwarted by another hit in a game against Boston. Fast forward a few months later, and here we are. Sid's been cleared for contact, and at the earliest he could play this Sunday (don't get your hopes up).

But um, the Penguins are something like 20-4-1 since that awful losing streak a few weeks ago, so where is Crosby going to fit? The Neal-Malkin-Kunitz line needs to stay in tact. They need to play together for the rest of forever. That is a fact. What about moving Jordan Staal back down to the third line? I'm sure he's getting sick of that, though.

WAIT. I have an idea. What if, (drumroll, please), what if you put Crosby and Staal on a line together? Staal has really stepped up his offense this season since he's been given the opportunity. What if there was a Staal-Crosby-Dupuis (or Sullivan) line? The Penguins have a plethora of third line centers, and Staal clearly deserves to play a more expanded role than that.

But hey, I'm just a random guy behind a computer, so I don't know much, that's just my opinion. What I do know, however, is if Crosby is back and completely healthy come playoff time, the rest of the league might end up pissing their pants.

Why the Grabovski Signing is Actually Really Good

At first glance, $5.5 million for five years for a guy that has a career high of 58 points and only 45 so far this season may seem to be a bit of an overpayment. I suppose if you look at everything in just terms of goals and assists, then sure, it could be a slight overpayment, but let's take into account more than just the standard goals and assists with Grabovski, shall we?

I noticed on Twitter today that people were comparing the James Neal and Grabovski contracts. Yes, Neal is younger, has more goals than Grabbo, and has a slightly cheaper deal, but there are some big differences between the two as players.

First of all, Neal would have been an RFA, while Mikhail would have been a UFA. You can't compare those two. Apples and oranges, folks. If Grabbo would have hit the open market, there's a good chance he would have gotten a lot more than $5.5 million.

On top of that, Grabovski is a very good 28 year old, two-way, defensively responsible centerman. This isn't taking anything away from Neal at all, because I love the kid, he's a great player, but there are some often overlooked, underlying factors with each team and player: the advanced stats. No, not many people know what they are, and if they do, they don't usually buy into them. What it comes down to, however, is that these so-called "fancy stats" are pretty accurate, and have even predicted a team's collapse after a rather great start to the season. I recommend you check out the Behind the Net articles on advanced stats and why they actually matter.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand here...the Grabovski contract is a really good deal for Toronto. Comparing his advanced stats and James Neal's shows there are some minor and major differences between the two players. Without going on and on and on about stuff no one cares about, two of the biggest differences are the offensive zone start percentage, and the quality of competition for Neal and Grabbo. Neal starts the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone, meaning he's logically going to get more chances to score, or get a scoring chance. Grabovski on the other hand, is about 50/50 with his zone starts. This is a testament to how good defensively he is and how much the coaches trust him in their own end and also ties in with the quality of competition. Again, without going on and lecturing about it, think about what that could mean. Quality of Competition. The quality of players that Grabovski or Neal tend to pair up against. Being that Grabovski is relied on defensively as well, he faces tougher competition, so on and so forth. Now, add all this to the fact that he can still put up points while playing with sub-par linemates...and I'd say you have quite a steal of a player on your team.

Again, I'm not taking anything away from Neal, he's one of the best goal scorers in the league (albeit he plays with Malkin 99.99999% of the time, but either way), I'm just saying why the Grabovski deal is pretty fair for both sides.

Another thing that was pointed out on the good ol' Interwebs today, was the market inflation. $5.5 million is 8.5% of the current salary cap.

So, with that information, 8.5% of the previous salary caps would be: $3.32 million, $3.74, $4.28, $4.82, $4.83, and $5.05 for last season. In English, Grabovski's not overpaid, it's just inflation combined with being really good at hockey. That's all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Prospect Profile: Nathan Beaulieu

Name: Nathan Beaulieu

Birth Date: December 5, 1992

Birth Place: Strathroy, Ontario

Height: 6'3"

Weight: 191 pounds

Hand: Left

Drafted: 2011, 1st round, 17th overall by the Montreal Canadiens

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 QMJHL Draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs, Beaulieu's father was briefly the head coach until being replaced by Gerard Gallant. This made Beaulieu strongly reconsider playing with the Sea Dogs, but he eventually opted to stay with the team after speaking with Gallant.

Noted as an offensive defenseman with an edge, Beaulieu is another good, young defenseman that is good on the powerplay, reliable in his own end (whether it be with a stick check, or taking the body), and overall a great skater. Eliteprospects describes him as such:

"A defenseman with fast, strong skating. Moves the puck well and is very useful as a playmaker on powerplay. Has a strong shot and good vision. Uses his stick well defensively and can be physical, when needed."

Vastly improving since his rookie season with the Sea Dogs where he scored only 10 points in 49 games, Beaulieu scored 45 points in each of the two following seasons. This season, you ask? Through 49 games, Nathan has an outstanding 51 points (11 goals, 40 assists). Add to that an incredible +42 and 91 PIMs (verifying his edge or nastiness, as some say), and I'd say this 19 year old defenseman is doing at least a few things right.

And now, we watch:

The kid has a great shot, great agility, and even a little bit of swagger (as much as I hate that word). Remind you of any other Habs' defensemen? Hint: P.K. Subban. I'm not sure I want to imagine Subban and Beaulieu running the point, that's going to be deadly.

Montreal's bad season aside, they've got some good reinforcements coming in on their blueline soon. Very soon, Habs fans.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mike Komisarek.

Yes, Komisarek is overpaid and underperforming. Yes, the Leafs would probably be better off without him most nights. No, it doesn't make sense that he's been a healthy scratch several times even though he wears the 'A' on his jersey. Throw all that aside for 30 seconds to admire this hit he put on Chris Campoli tonight:

Similar to how Johnny Boychuck met Chris Neil last week, this is why you keep your head up and don't admire your pass. Especially with heavyweights like Mr. Komisarek on the ice. Tsk, tsk, Campoli.

Is Randy Carlyle the Right Guy for the Job in Toronto?

As it's been passed around by now, the Leafs fired Ron Wilson yesterday and replaced him with former Ducks' coach Randy Carlyle. The general
consensus is that he's the wrong guy due to various reasons. He's just like Wilson, he's surly, he hates the media, he's not a "players coach", so on and so forth. And for what it's worth, I'm on board with all those. I especially don't like the whole situation that went down with him and Lupul before he was traded.

Alas, as of the press conference this morning in Montreal, apparently Lupul and Carlyle kissed and made up, and "the past is the past", and there allegedly won't be any issues with them. We'll see about that. I'm a bit of a skeptic and have my doubts.

The media is saying that Carlyle has his good points, though. Along with owning the second best playoff record since the lockout (Babcock is first), Carlyle is a strong defensive coach and can bring structure to a "young Leafs team". I feel as if the Leafs (Burke) need to do a lot more than change coaches, though. There are players, who shall remain nameless, that I feel would be better suited elsewhere, but then again, I'm just a random guy behind a computer, and I don't know anything about anything.

With all that said, Carlyle and the Leafs did defeat the Canadiens tonight by a score of 3-1, but it's also just one game. Time will tell, I suppose, but I have a feeling it's still going to be a while before Leafs Nation can plan a Stanley Cup Parade.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prospect Profile: Jacob Trouba

Name: Jacob Trouba

Birth Date: February 26, 1994

Birth Place: Rochester, Michigan (some reports say Minnesota, but that's inaccurate)

Height: 6'2"

Weight: 191 pounds

Position: Defense

Hand: Right

2012 Draft Eligible

Already drawing comparisons to the likes of Jack Johnson and Cam Fowler, Trouba is regarded as one of the best defensemen in the upcoming draft. Scouts describe Trouba as a big, agile, physical defenseman with a booming shot and good overall puck movement.

Although he likes to be physical, he's also smart with his positioning, picking his spots on when take the body, and when to go for a poke check. Not only is he more than adept in his own end, but he's very good at joining the rush and working in the corner down low, and then getting back to his spot at the point before the opposing team has a chance to catch him pinching. When patrolling the blue line in the offensive zone, he's known to command respect due to his agility, patience, and heavy shot. This is all especially impressive, given the fact that he very recently turned 18.

I couldn't find much video footage of him aside from interviews, but these videos show his poise with the puck and heavy shot. On the first video, hearing the puck deflect off the forward's stick somewhat indicates the heaviness of his shot. According to the USNTDP site, through 38 games this season, Jacob has 7 goals (5 on the powerplay), 15 assists and 22 points, with 50 PIMs. I'd say with a few more years of experience, he's going to have his game rounded out pretty well.

Trouba verbally committed to attend the University of Michigan not too long ago after much deliberation on whether he would go there, Notre Dame, or to Kitchener of the OHL (they drafted him and own his CHL rights). His reasoning for taking such a long time to make a decision? He wants to be known as a man of his word. Via University of Michigan's hockey site:

"Jacob Trouba wants to be known as a man of his word.

So when the highly touted defensive prospect is ready to make his decision whether to play in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers — who hold his CHL rights – or the NCAA, there won’t be any late de-commitments or promises broken.

“That’s sort of why I haven’t (committed), because I don’t want to make a commitment and then back down from it,” said the 17-year-old on Wednesday, while in Toronto to take part in the NHL’s Research and Development Camp.


“It’s important because people have to trust you and what you say,” he said of keeping his word. “If you keep backing out of decisions — and all that, going back on your word — then you’re just going to get that reputation.”

The kid turned 18 just a few days ago, but he already sounds as mature as a 30 year old. You can't beat that. This kid's got a good head on his shoulders. Whoever ends up drafting him this June is going to have a real great defenseman for quite a while.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Since Everyone Else is Doing It...

Let's recap the (uneventful) trade deadline today. Via's Trade Tracker:

Let's go over a few of the bigger deals of the day.

-Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson:

I think this is a really good deal for both sides. If last year's Cup Final against Boston was any indicator, it showed that the Canucks don't have as much toughness as the Bruins (understatement of the year, perhaps). Zack Kassian, a winger, is only 21, but he's as tough as they come. He can definitely play a little on the edge and stir up some controversy with hits like this one in the WJCs a couple of years ago. Regardless, the Canucks could definitely use some more physicality to their game if they intend on competing against a lot of the other teams in the league.

Hodgson, on the other hand, is a young, right-handed centerman who is projected to be a pretty decent scorer in the league. As is the case with most good teams, however, he got buried by the depth of the Canucks' roster. Of course, it didn't help that they went out and picked up Sammy Pahlsson, but that's beside the point. Either way, however, Buffalo did good here, picking up a young center that can help their team on both ends of the rink.

-John Scott for a 5th round pick:

A real good pick up for the Rangers. John Scott will fit right in on Broadway because he's their type of player. He's big (6'8 270 pounds), brutal, intimidating, and he'll kick the crap out of you in a fight. I read that he was picked up to do just that, too; to keep other teams from taking liberties at the Rangers' players. The only thing I don't understand about this deal is that Chicago was looking for defensive depth, and they trade away a defenseman. Granted, Scott may not be the greatest at defending, but when you're already limited, why take more away from yourself? Then again, as the saying goes, if I knew anything about the game, I'd be in it.

-Steve Kampfer for Greg Zanon:

Along with the other moves Boston made, this is more of a depth move. Kampfer has potential, but again, he got buried by depth. By sending him to Minnesota, they get an experienced, veteran defenseman in Zanon, who should help them in the playoffs. Minnesota, on the other hand, sheds some salary and gets younger on their blueline. The Wild definitely need some work, but their blueline is going to be rather decent in the coming years. Scandella, Spurgeon, Kampfer, Falk...they have some good players that will be around for a while.

-Paul Gaustad for a 1st round pick:

Gulp. That was the sound of the Central Division getting a little more worried about Nashville. Gaustad and Hal Gill both now? I'd watch out for the Predators. Arguably the biggest trade of the day, Nashville really came out on top on this deal. Yeah, Buffalo put a high price on Gaustad, but Nashville did good to get a fourth round pick out of it too. Say what you will about him, but David Poile is a really good GM in my opinion. Earlier, there was an explanation on why Gaustad had such a high price on him. Buffalo didn't really want to get rid of him, but if someone was willing to pay the price, then they'd be foolish to not take it. One person on Twitter described it as "if I were to sell my car for $70,000, that's a really high price, but if someone wants to buy it I'd be a fool to not sell it" or something along those lines. Valid point, I suppose.

-Sammy Pahlsson for two 4th round picks:

As if Vancouver weren't stacked enough as it is, they just added more depth to their team. They now have three of the best faceoff men in the league with Kesler, Malhotra, and Pahlsson. The latter two essentially play the same style and have the same role (defensive zone faceoffs, kill penalties, etc), but those third and fourth liners tend to be very underrated. Real good move by the Canucks. Now if they could get a goalie, they'd be all set...

-Carter Ashton for Keith Aulie:

Brian Burke didn't make any of the big moves that Leafs Nation wanted, but he did get rid of an underperforming (admittedly, young) defenseman in exchange for a big bodied forward. Ashton was a first round pick a few years ago, and was generally regarded as Tampa's finest prospect. Scouts say he still needs some fine tuning, but he has good speed, he's really good defensively, he's physical, and he can put up some points as well. With that said, Steve Yzerman probably felt he needed to retool his defense after getting blown out by the Penguins last weekend. Aulie isn't a bad defenseman by any means, and he should be in the league for a while once he works on a few aspects of his game. For what it's worth though, he is a big, physical defenseman who isn't afraid to drop the gloves. Good moves by both Burke and Yzerman.

-Mike Commodore for a conditional 7th round pick:

Again, Yzerman was refining his defense, and this is a good pickup for him. I would have liked to have seen Commodore play more than 17 games with the Wings, but as I keep repeating, he got buried by depth. I think Commodore is another underrated, veteran defenseman that just needs an opportunity after getting snubbed by Columbus (how does Scott Howson have a job after the Nash comments???). Either way, he should get his chance in Tampa, especially with Hedman rumored to be out with another concussion. As for the Wings and the 7th round pick, they'll receive it as long as Commodore plays 15 games for Tampa and they make the playoffs. Assuming that happens, we all know what that means for the Wings: they'll be drafting another Zetterberg or Datsyuk.

-Andrei Kostitsyn for a 2nd round pick, conditional 5th round pick:

I say this is a real good deal for Nashville again. A lot of people are skeptical about reuniting the Kostitsyn brothers, but I have a feeling it'll be different this time around. No, Andrei hasn't been a prolific goal scorer, but he's also been playing in the high pressure market that is Montreal. Some people just aren't cut out for that. I think with both of the Kostitsyns reunited in a low pressure city, it could give them a spark and end up surprising a lot of people, but again, I don't know anything. What I do know, is that Nashville isn't messing around this year by going all in and doing what they can to win. Hopefully that's enough to convince Ryan Suter to re-sign with them.

That's enough for now. With the deadline over, that means one thing: the playoffs are right around the corner and it's time to drop the puck.