Friday, October 28, 2011

When In Doubt

With news that Mika Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden rather than staying with the Ottawa Senators, there were conflicting feelings in the nation’s capital whether this was the right decision or not. Based on the Senators current situation, many feel that this team of young guys with nothing to lose by keeping him up. There are many others though who feel the same way I do: the Senators are doing the best thing they can do for their 18 year old prospect.

There are very few 18 year olds who have played in the NHL and made an impact in their first season. Obviously, every 18 year old is not Sidney Crosby. And the debates coaches and media go through on whether a player should stay up or be sent down around the 10 game mark are, frankly, annoying. How can you possibly be debating after rookie camp, training camp, pre-season AND nine games on whether a player is worthwhile to keep up or send down?

I think that if you’re debating it, then send the player down. You’re not doing the players ANY favours by having them warm the bench or yawning from the press box. In the past two drafts (2009 & 2010), only four players drafted in the top 10 from each draft have played more than 10 games. Last year was Taylor Hall (EDM), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Jeff Skinner (CAR) and Alexander Burmistrov (ATL/WPG). In 2009, this was John Tavares (NYI), Victor Hedman (TBL). Matt Duchene (COL), and Evander Kane (ATL/WPG). Only Jeff Skinner and John Tavares played all 82 games of the regular season.

Some of these players would have benefitted from being sent down. Burmistrov had 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 74 games played, and was scratched for the remainder. Tyler Seguin is one who some use as an example of someone who was beneficial in staying with Boston, especially since they won the Stanley Cup. However Seguin was scratched for 8 regular season games, and put up 22 points in those games, and only played 13 of the 24 games Boston played in the playoffs. He had 7 points in those games, which made an impact, but not enough for him to play all the games. Seguin would have led team Canada at the World Juniors, and possibly even carried the Plymouth Whalers deep in the playoffs (especially after being named league MVP the year before). He would have learned how to be an impact leader and first line centre amongst his peers, rather than learning how to perform spot-duty in the NHL.

If a player is drafted to be a first line player, as most first round players are, why not have them play and develop in the farm system until they are ready to do this on your team? In Zibanejad’s case, he was playing less than 15 minutes a game on the third line. By going to Sweden, he can play on their first and/or second lines and tear it up there, or develop more in that position so when he comes back to Ottawa he can contribute to the team in the way he is expected to. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are playing on Edmonton’s first line, and contributing the way Edmonton’s coaches and GMs expect of them, so it makes sense to develop them in the position and role where they are ultimately projected to thrive. But if coaches are questioning whether a player is ready, he generally isn’t.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Asham-Beagle fight

I was initially going to write this post about the team I have been cheering for (for the past 8 years since moving to Ottawa)the Ottawa Senators. But I told a friend that I would give them 10 games before passing judgement, so I'm going to hold to that, but I doubt my views will change.

Instead I want to comment on the Arron Asham-Jay Beagle fight. People were in an uproar over, what Asham himself, called a "classless act". Jay Beagle, who is trying to prove himself to his team, was being a bit of a pest to Pittsburg defensemen Kris Letang. Asham, one of Pittsburg's enforcers, took issue with this and called Beagle out to drop the gloves. Punches were thrown, and Asham ended up knocking Beagle out.

Now if you're new to watching the sport of hockey, and have been inundated with Brendan Shanahan's videos cracking down on head shots, you'd think that the uproar is about the fact that a player was knocked out (clearly some kind of head trauma causes you to black out). Well, you'd be wrong.

The issue comes with what happened after the fight. With Beagle out cold on the ice, Asham celebrated the knock out with a lights out gesture. THIS is what people have issue with.

Now I enjoy a good hockey fight as much as most hockey fans do. I stand up in the area, move from side to side as people who are taller than me continually block my view, by jockeying for a view of their own, and give the applause at the end of a fight for a job well done. And I want to be clear that I DO NOT want fighting to leave the game.

However, my problem is that people's issue is with the knock out gesture, rather than the knock out itself. In a time when people are calling for tougher punishments for head shots, shouldn't it be looked at when someone gets into a fight and does have their lights punched out? Yes I think it was unnecessary for him to make the gesture, but seriously who cares?

If we're going to take great offense to gestures, that frankly cause no harm, then why are we not taking GREATER offense to things that actually cause people harm, and in some cases, SERIOUS harm?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Head Shots

Well the NHL preseason is over, and there has been a lot that has happened that is a preview for the next 82 games. The new regime of Brendan Shanahan has show that the league is taking hits to the head seriously. This is coming after major hits to the head happened to Sidney Crosby, and the possible career ending hit to Marc Savard by Matt Cooke.

Shanahan is getting praise for his harsh penalties for hits to the head, and even harsher ones for repeat offenders, as James Wisniewski and Pierre Letourneau-Leblond have found out. Since September 22, Shanahan has issued 9 suspensions. He has even taken to issuing a video explanation as to the reasoning behind the suspension, placing it on the NHL website, and on Twitter.

However, yesterday Ryan Malone was NOT issued a suspension for his hit to the head of Chris Campoli. Shanahan explained that the reasoning behind this was that Campoli changed the position of his head prior to the hit.
In the end, we felt that Malone had committed to the hit when Campoli was
upright. However, when the contact was made, Campoli's head position
significantly changed just prior to the hit. Shanahan said in a statement
released by the league.
The problem I have with this decision, is that it now creates a precedent. Similar to how last years hit by Zdeno Chara, that shoved Max Pacioretty into the stanchion, created an uproar to the precedent it set. If a repeat offender laid a similar hit onto someone, there would be no recourse for any discipline since Chara did not receive any. Now, if a vicious hit to the head happens, but results due to a shift in position, how can Shanahan justify any kind of punishment? Malone jumped into the hit, and head contact was incidental however there was contact nonetheless. And he led into the hit with a jump. I don't understand how Shanahan can justify this.

Fans across the league were upset with the hit to the head that Sidney Crosby received during last season's Winter Classic. Dave Steckel, who was the one who blindsided Crosby, was not punished, and was chastised for months after by fans and commentators alike, and people wanted a change to the rule. Crosby has played one game since then, and has been out with post-concussion like symptoms. The league's biggest star has not played a game since the first week of January 2011. This hit was not intentional, and Crosby's position changed, which caused his head to be hit.

Clarke MacArthur was one of the first time offenders who has had a Shanahan suspension handed down to him. MacArthur was quoted as saying,
I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game. I think that is
going to happen. No one wants to take five- or 10-game suspensions. You’ve
really got to think when you’re going to go finish your hit, you’ve really
pay attention because the guy with the puck doesn’t have any responsibility
any more. It’s on the guy hitting.
I don't believe that things would get this far. However, I do agree that players will really have to think about what they're doing when going in for a hit. Hitting is part of the game, and will be, as it has been for over a century. But I do think that suspensions, punishments, etc. need to be consistent and have the punishment fit the crime.