Mar 112013
 

Yahoo Sports

I’ve been busy moving but I haven’t stopped watching hockey… well, when I can find it, which, in LA, isn’t easy. Over the last few weeks, there have been a lot of things that have me going “Hmmm”. Hockey fans’ inability to forgive, Kesler’s latest injury, and the debate about visors top the list.

Hockey Fans Hold Grudges

Matt Cooke is the devil. He could cure cancer, save orphaned kittens from a burning house and get Gary Bettman fired and people would still hate his guts. I get that the old Matt Cooke was a monster. No two ways about it. But the new Matt Cooke – the post-2011 Matt Cooke – isn’t. He’s changed his ways drastically. Need proof? Last season Matt Cooke had 42 PIMs. Henrik Sedin had 52. And I’m talking last year’s Hank, not the enforcer we’ve seen this season.

But it seems hockey fans do not forgive and forget. Because when Matt Cooke’s skate sliced Eric Karlsson during a game, fans everywhere – mostly but not just Ottawa fans – wanted him executed.

Was the angle weird? Yes. Was the leg up? Yes. But was it on purpose? No. I get Sens fans being angry because they’ve already lost Jason Spezza and they can’t afford to lose Karlsson. I know how easy it is to judge someone on their past – but just because it’s easy, doesn’t make it right. Matt Cooke has changed. The experts, and ultimately the NHL, agreed the laceration accidental. It amazes and disappoints me that a lot of hockey fans refuse to give Cooke the benefit of the doubt, even though he’s earned it.

Kesler is the New Salo

Ryan Kesler sure has a pretty physique, too bad it’s made of glass. I don’t know what is happening to this poor guy, but he can’t stay healthy. It’s infuriating because he’s got such a hefty contract and he can be a key player when he’s focused and in the zone. I guess we’ll have to blame this on bad luck, but there’s still a reason to be concerned. Kesler’s injury apparently happened in his very first game back. Now I’ve broken bones in my foot – it’s not easy to ignore. But Kesler did it.  His agent confirmed, Ryan knew there was something wrong and chose to ignore it. That’s not cool. Did he make it worse? We need him to play but we need him to do it healthy not with broken parts.

His injury and predicted 6-week recovery time means the Canucks are in a pinch on the second line once again. The problem with him being injured, for me, is we’ll probably learn to play without him.  If someone else shines in the second line spot, are we willing to give that up (in a short season) for Kesler’s return? Luckily for Canucks fans Alain Vigneault isn’t big on sticking with what works. If a line does start clicking, he’ll likely scramble it up like his morning eggs before Kes even gets back anyway.

Visors

Marc Staal is out indefinitely after taking a puck directly to the eye in a game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. The accident looked as severe as Manny Malholtra’s in 2011, although the Rangers, the doctors and the Staal family are saying he should make a full recovery. Sadly, I’m not so sure because as a Canucks fan I’ve seen Malholtra’s struggles and I know that hockey teams tend to give the best case scenario to fans and media, not the actual truth.  I’m a huge fan of all things Staal and I have wondered for a long time why none of them wear visors – and not just because I find their faces particularly adorable and worth protecting. Jordan Staal took a fairly serious puck to the face a few years back. That would have scared me into a visor if I were Jordan, any of his siblings or his teammates.

Marc Staal’s injury has reignited the debate on whether visors should be mandatory. What makes me go ‘hmmm’ about this whole thing is why there is even a debate.

Visors should be mandatory – end of story. It’s a safety issue. It’s owners protecting their investments and players protecting their careers. Obviously, it’s not impossible to see through a visor. The guys that usually lead the league in scoring – Crosby, Giroux, Malkin, Stamkos – all wear visors. As for the old guys, or the “tough guys” that aren’t used to it, I say get used to it.  According to Bill Daly, the NHL is in favor of a mandatory visor rule and wanted to incorporate it into the most recent negotiations. The NHLPA wants the players to have a choice. This is the first time I’ve ever said I agree wholeheartedly with Team Bettman. It feels dirty and uncomfortable, but in this case it’s right.

Oct 212011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

If you live in a wooden house, and you have someone obsessed with fire over to visit, you don’t give them matches.   

If you’re a party planner hosting a VIP party you aren’t inviting the guy who streaks naked when he drinks.

If you own a bank, and a known bank robber applies to work as a teller, you don’t give him the job.

These are all (terrible) metaphors for why the NHL, in the next round of collective bargaining talks, should tell the NHLPA that fourth-line players are no longer welcome in the league.  

Reducing NHL roster size would eliminate many of the penalties, suspensions and violent acts that create public relations nightmares for the league.  

During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, 67 NHL suspensions were handed down. The majority of players suspended were forwards. 

Position# of suspensionsAverage ice-time per player suspendedAverage length of suspension
Defense1620:34 minutes per game2.5 games
Forward519:55 minutes per game2.85 games

Taking a closer look at those suspended forwards shows it’s a particular kind of player getting suspended most of the time.  

Ice-time rank amongst team forwards# of suspensions# of gamesAverage length of suspension
1st-3rd (First line)8182.25 games
4th-6th (Second line)6122 games
7th-9th( Third line)*6223.67** games
10th-or lower (Fourth line or marginal player)311133.64 games

That’s right. Almost half (46%) of all suspensions were given to forwards who ranked 10th or lower (aka fourth-line minutes) in ice-time on their team.  

This same trend appears when you look at penalty minute leaders or players with the most 5-minute majors.

Position# of players among the top-30 PIM leaders (2009-10, 2010-11)# of players among the top-30 leaders in 5-minute major penalties (2009-10, 2010-11)
Defensemen54
Forwards5556

Ice-time rank amongst team forwards# of players among top-30 PIM leaders# of players among top-30 5-minute major penalty leaders
1st-3rd (First line)00
4th-6th (Second line)61
7th-9th (Third line)61
10th or lower (Fourth line)4353
 

Reducing the number of starting forwards a team can dress from 12 to 11 (or even 10) would mean more ice-time for the game’s best, most creative players.

It would also mean no ice-time for the league’s worst players, who cause most of the drama anyways.

If the NHL really wanted to get serious about violence in the game, getting rid of fourth-liners is where they should start.

** It should be noted 10 of the 22 games handed out in suspension to third line players is the result of Matt Cooke’s elbow to Ryan McDonough’s head. Otherwise the average length of suspension is roughly equal to that of a top-six forward.

Thoughts on the Fly

  • While Mark Scheifele got all the pre-season press, it’s 20-year old Alexander Burmistrov who looks like the real deal. He’s been the team’s best forward so far, and looks looks Igor Larionov-esque.
  • Staying with the Jets, their top line right now consists of Burmistrov, Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood. That’s like a sitcom that casts David Spade as the lead and expects a ratings bonanza. Blake Wheeler and especially Evander Kane have to get going. (Sidenote – god that’s an ironically titled, dreadfully awful, Rules of Engagement link).
  • You read a story like this and it’s awfully hard to root against Jaromir Jagr.
  • For those keeping score, that’s two closed-door meetings in Canada already: one in Ottawa and one in Calgary.
  • I’m sure Columbus fans are feeling good about Mike Modano’s recent tweet: “Rick Nash please ask for a trade.”
  • Speaking of the Blue Jackets, Scott Arniel’s term as coach in Columbus can be measured in games right now. Fox Sports Ohio caught Arniel getting into it with a fan after the Dallas game, which ironically is the same thing that Gerard Gallant did before he was fired as Blue Jackets coach. Shouldn’t general manager Scott Howson also be on the chopping block? This franchise hasn’t improved since he took over the GM position from Doug Maclean, and they’re tight to the salary cap (only $850,000 under).
  • Final Blue Jackets note: Yes they’ve been losing without James Wisniewski, but it also looks like they miss Jan Hejda.
  • Speaking of defense, the hope had been that Minnesota’s unheralded blueline would be good enough to sneak the team into a playoff spot. So far so bad. Only Clayton Stoner’s stood out – leading the team with a +3 to date.
  • Edmonton Oilers fans are learning what Wild and Blackhawk fans already knew – Cam Barker looks like a lost cause.
  • Some thoughts over at thegoalieguild.com on Jaroslav Halak’s early season struggles.
  • Braydon Schenn may have been a -3 in his first game for the Flyers, but he played pretty well. Sean Couturier, who had been anchoring the 3rd line, was bumped to the 4th line and scored a goal. It will be interesting to see if the Flyers keep both players around. It certainly looks like the team is comfortable using the youngsters in defensive roles, giving them time to grow into more offensive responsibility.
  • Speaking of the Flyers, Scott Hartnell isn’t feeling the love these days. One imagines Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has already left messages on Paul Holmgren’s phone.
  • This week’s excellent roundup over at Grantland by Katie Baker.
  • One of the reasons the San Jose Sharks are off to a 1-3 start? Marty Havlat hasn’t played a game yet. Without him, the Sharks attack isn’t the most fleet of foot or dynamic. The defense hasn’t exactly been consistent either.
  • Wayne Scanlan writes 10 reasons why an Ottawa Senators rebuild can’t happen soon enough.
  • The more you think about it; doesn’t some sort of trade involving a Predators defenseman for an offensive forward from the Oilers make sense?
  • In their continuing effort to kick Atlanta hockey fans in the balls, the NHL started the year blacking out games by geographic neighbours Nashville and Carolina on the local Centre Ice package. The blackout was lifted this week.
  • Teams that have a lot of cap space and could probably use the reportedly available Rene Bourque: Phoenix, Nashville, Dallas, Ottawa, Carolina, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Minnesota. Thing is, Bourque isn’t exactly a world-beater. He’s a slightly better version of Michael Ryder.
  • Still not convinced Ryan Kesler wasn’t rushed back into the Canuck lineup too soon.
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