One of my favorite aspects of amateur (and professional) hockey commentary is how every team is depicted as being one small move away from being a contender. I suppose it’s somewhat dissatisfying to say, “The key to success is the slow, methodical drafting and development of prospects in the context of a strong, puck-possession system coupled with increased spending on complementary talent at strategically opportune times. And luck.”
I’m as guilty as anyone of simplifying. I can remember at one time suggesting that Ottawa needed to go after Steve Yzerman before he was hired as Tampa Bay’s GM. Look at the moves that guy has made! Great, great job, me from 2010.
But hey, it’s July, there’s nothing else to write about, and this blog puts food on my family’s table (they’re dead)…so let’s go! Here are my favorite turnkey solutions to instant success. Favorite because they’re ridiculous.
4) Get a puck moving defenceman…no, wait, get a shutdown defenceman
Defence is a little bit harder to quantify than offense, since it doesn’t lend itself to goals and assists so much as on-ice vision and “hockey sense.” (Which is like spider sense, but with a high school education.) This is especially apparent when armchair hockey experts get involved.
Success requires a delicate balance between moving the puck with a great first pass; driving possession with puck handling skills; a good shot from the point; a good shot from everywhere else that isn’t the point; blocking shots; sound positional play; and consistently putting people on their ass. (This also applies to every single player on the ice who isn’t the goalie.)
But because a defenceman’s skills get codified in this way, it ensures that if your team, say, gets creamed by Pittsburgh, you can always pick one or more of those things and say “we gotta get more of that.”
For this reason, Erik Karlsson can be an absolutely dominant offensive player, and perfectly competent defensive player, but if Ottawa loses an important game you can be sure someone will start looking longingly in the direction of a Hal Gill-type who has the frame and mobility of a dumpster full of Sega Saturns.
There’s a sign hanging on my office door that reads “Ottawa is currently in need of a puck moving defenceman” on one side and “Ottawa is currently in need of a shutdown defenceman” on the other, and I flip it over depending on my mood.
3) Trade for a goaltender
While it’s true that a goaltender on a hot streak can have a transformative effect on your team, getting one is sort of like buying a packet of scratch tickets and standing out in the convenience store parking lot, scratching all of them, one after another.
Does it make sense to lock a guy down for years if he has a solid record? Nope, because he’ll still have a stinky night every once in a while, and single-handedly lose the game, and when that happens, we’ll agree that he actually sucks and is not worth his salary. Is it worth it to do goaltending on the cheap? Nope, because management will be blamed for handicapping their team right out of the gate, unless…they win the cup.
Anyway, there aren’t really any reliable statistics for goaltenders, which leads to us conflating their performances with team factors so that basically we’re just admitting that we don’t know anything. (See: our stupid insistence on saying “this goaltender has X number of wins!” as if it doesn’t matter at all that they’re playing for one of the best teams in the league.) Highly regarded goaltenders can become busts overnight. (See: every highly regarded goaltender the Leafs have ever traded for.) And so goalies become this kind of logical black hole where improving your goaltending will solve everything, but you will never, ever be able to finish improving your goaltending.
Ask Tampa about this one when they give up on Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback in the middle of next season and trade yet more picks for Ryan Miller / Jonas Hiller / Jaroslav Halak.
Ottawa specific example: Sens trade worst-goaltender-in-the-league Brian Elliott for oft-injured and on-the-decline Craig Anderson, and both immediately become amazing.
Like goaltending, but even less track-able, I have no doubt that adding some veteran leadership is probably a good idea. I just don’t know how much leadership is the right amount. One veteran is probably too little. How about two or three? That’s pretty good. How much leadership is contained in each veteran? The answer is Eight. Eight out of 10 leaderships.
Oh, and be careful, because at some point it becomes “too many voices in the dressing room.” This is also known as leadership poisoning. If this happens, immediately kill one veteran player.
If leadership was a factor that could be cross-referenced to success, you have to think Pittsburgh wouldn’t have been swept by Boston. Brendan Morrow! Jarome Iginla! Sidney Crosby! Paul Martin’s been around awhile, right! How about Detroit? They’re pretty old. They don’t seem to win the cup every year anymore.
Anyway, in Ottawa’s worst season in years, they still had Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Filip Kuba, Jason Spezza, and Alex Kovalev. Now they’re made up of a school bus full of teenagers and they’re fuckin’ awesome. So figure that one out.
And, the number one best (worst) way for a team to instantaneously get better….
1) “Get Tougher”
Nothing contributes to the performance of an NHL hockey team like signing or trading for a player with minimal ability to play NHL hockey, putting him on the roster at the expense of a kid who could probably use the development time, and then playing him six minutes a night. Whatever swagger your team develops as a result of having a tough guy with a funny mustache on it (I’m developing a metric called SWAGFAC to sell to NHL teams) is probably immediately wiped out in the one instance in which he finds himself in a critical situation and the team gets scored on because he didn’t realize that he was holding his stick upside down.
Montreal is probably the funniest, and most recent example of trying to raise one’s SWAGFAC™. They basically got mugged in the first round last year by…who beat them, again? Hold on, let me look it up…hmmm…can’t find it anywhere. And then they went out and signed another tiny, skilled forward in Danny Briere.
BUT DON’T WORRY BECAUSE THEY JUST TRADED A PICK TO FLORIDA FOR GEORGE PARROS.
Parros had two points in 39 games and was a ghastly -15. Is it even fair to look at his possession metrics? They’re not very good! He played less than seven minutes a night, and when you look up his profile on behindthenet, your computer just makes a long, slow farting noise and then crashes.
Oh, but don’t worry, because he had 57 penalty minutes…good for 50th in the league. He had four more penalty minutes than Mike Ribeiro.
I’m picking on Montreal here–and really, when you give up an asset, even if it’s only a 7th round pick, for an enforcer who doesn’t enforce and who can’t play hockey, you kind of deserve it–but most teams are guilty of this at one time or another. Ottawa traded a sixth round pick for Matt Kassian, though at least his possession numbers aren’t horrific, and he’s funny as hell.
So there you have it. Four sure-fire ways to take your hockey team–no matter how putrid and terrible they are at playing hockey–and instantly make them into a contender.
Sign an enforcer. Trade your shitty goaltender for another shitty goaltender. Sign two veterans (or kill two veterans). And have more, or less, of one, or both, of puck-moving or shutdown defencemen. Simple!
And if Ottawa doesn’t do one or more of these things I’m going to be furious.