Friday, September 13, 2013

Too Long for Twitter- September 13th

  1. Paul Ranger has a lot of Leafs fan excited because of his teary-eyed camp interview, but hockey wise he said something extremely interesting and I’m just going to copy and paste the entire quote for you to read: “[People think talent is everything in sports, but] it’s not even close. There’s pieces to the puzzle for every athlete. A big part of it is obviously genetics, that’s a huge part … another big piece of that is fitness. I got that drilled into me when I was younger, in my early 20s, how that could take you to the next level and you could compete with the best players in the world. And the other part, which I think is the biggest part of the game, is the mental side. I think that’s the biggest side of life. Everyone has the power to do whatever they want, and that’s something that I’ve learned along the way. There’s all kinds of aspects to the game, and it’s interesting, because the mental side of the game is something that’s never really been talked about a lot, or trained. Self-esteem, just mental strength, courage … Some guys develop [it] without even knowing it; superstitions, rituals, stuff like that. It’s not talked about a lot. But it’s a skill.” 
  2. I bring up that quote because this week I actually had the privilege of sitting in on a sports psychologist lesson with a Jr. A team and it was very fascinating stuff. As you’d expect, especially at that age (16-21 year olds, I believe), a lot of the players are pretty macho in their approach to it all but there was one part that got my attention. The psychologist was able to get the players to open up about their fears on the ice, and some of them were very honest about being scared to make mistakes because it’s embarrassing to do so in front of their fans, family, teammates, coaches, etc. Sure, Jr. A hockey is nothing to sneeze at, but on a good day teams play in front of a couple 100 people yet there they were being worried about being shown up in front of them. That really got me thinking about NHLers and making mistakes. If you play for the Leafs and screw up, you do so directly in front of 20,000 people, plus what has to be at least a couple 100,000 more on TV and highlight packs while you play for millions of dollars. That’s heavy stuff. That’s pressure every single day because nobody cares if you scored a hat-trick last week if you’re getting scored on regularly this week.
  3.  When Chad Kilger was with the Leafs he was on the FAN590 (I wish I could find the link), and they asked him about being the fourth overall pick yet struggling to ever live up to that. He discussed how after being drafted, he made the Ducks, and when he was there that season the coaching staff really hammered away at him (Ron Wilson was the head coach but I don’t 100% recall whether he said it was Wilson specifically so I don’t want to blame him). Kilger discussed how the video of his game was shown to him after each and every game, about what he was doing wrong, and how he was being judged on such a miniscule scale that it weighed down on him and crushed his confidence. From there he said he only went downhill in his career. Kilger spent the majority of the next two seasons in the AHL (he was part of the Selanne deal at the end of his first year in Anaheim), before finally sticking with Chicago and carving out a career. Kilger was a serviceable NHLer at the end of the day, but if you look at his raw tools, he had it all: 6’4, can skate like the wind, has a bomb of a shot (recorded something like 105mph at the Leafs skills competition one year), and is physical, but it never came together for him. Kilger eventually (and abruptly) quit hockey for undisclosed reasons. He’s a great example of a guy who needed help with the mental side of hockey more than anything, and probably never got it.
  4. Conversely, when Michael Grabner broke out with the Islanders confidence was all he talked about. “Beginning of the year, I kept making mistakes. Coaches explained it to me, showed me video and kept putting me out there. That gives you confidence as a player and you obviously don’t try to make the same mistakes again,” said Grabner. Then he went to the all-star game and won the fastest skater contest and he said that really brought his confidence to a whole new level because it showed him he’s basically the fastest player in the NHL. This is such a mental game and we barely even recognize it.
  5. All the rage in hockey is analytics, but I’ll tell you this right now: Whoever can master how to work the mental side of hockey is really going to be the group that’s far ahead of everyone else. Every player has skill or some form ability because you don’t make the NHL if you don’t (fighters aside). It’s the mental side of things that really separate players apart.
  6. Although this is about football, I really recommend reading this article on the Seattle Seahawks and what they do to manage the mental side of sport. I find this stuff extremely interesting because even at the minor hockey level I see coaches yell at players every single time they make mistakes, and it shouldn’t always be like that. You have to be able to communicate to each player on an individual level and find out what makes them tick.  
  7. It’s very interesting to see Cody Franson and Jared Cowen still unsigned because I think it speaks to how hard it is to put a number on a defenseman. Yeah Derek Stepan is also an RFA, but Sather always plays hardball with his own guys so it’s not even a little surprising. It’s just extremely difficult to quantify a defenseman because it’s so important, there are so few spots for them, and it is a very complicated position. At forward, what it really comes down to is, if you’re a top six forward you’ll get paid according to your tier of production and how you stack up against others. If you’re a grinder you’ll get paid according to your role, how much ice time you can eat up, how effective you are and so on. It’s not exactly easy signing a forward, but it’s a lot easier than signing a defenseman. How much do you value points on the backend? Is he in your top four but not good enough to play against top competition? Does he play against top competition yet not excel there? How do you put a price on those numbers? Franson and Cowen, according to reports, seem very far apart from their team’s in terms of what numbers they should be getting.
  8. I don’t know if this was intentional but as much as people think Nonis is backed into a corner, it’s really Franson that is. The Leafs will more than likely let Franson walk if he gets an offer sheet that would bring the Leafs a first and third round pick, and the only good teams that have the cap space to take that on without making a move right now are Ottawa (no money), and the Islanders (notoriously cheap). The Leafs are basically calling the bluff that no team will offer sheet Franson so that he has to cave because he won’t have any other options. Barring something unforeseen, it should work, and it’s a very smart strategy. As soon as Franson’s agents didn’t file for arbitration Nonis probably sat back and went “we are signing him on our terms now because he has no choice.” In the meantime, the Leafs buy some time for Morgan Rielly to get a long look. I don’t want to blow it out of proportion, and Nonis does have to get Franson locked up soon, but he kind of Walter White’d Kadri and Franson if he gets them both to sign cheap two year deals.
  9. Considering it’s becoming a “thing” now to talk about how heavily involved analytics are in hockey currently, it was extremely interesting to see the Behind the B video of the Bruins deciding to trade Seguin. Seguin is a young star in the making on paper, but the Bruins conversation basically went along the lines of “he doesn’t play our kind of hockey or fit into our system.” They acknowledged he’s probably a 35-40 goal man, but what was important to them was playing “Bruins hockey.” Team culture is pretty well openly mocked on Twitter, yet here was one of the most successful team’s in hockey over the last few years discussing a huge move and the main sticking points seemed to be (and this is according to what they showed us), culture, team play, attitude, effort level, and so on. This isn’t being said to slag down on analytics because I’ve written about how they can play a role. I’m saying this to point out how extremely valuable some of the things that are laughed at and mocked on Twitter and blogs are. And, as outsiders, we only know so much information because we aren’t around the team or in the dressing room. There’s too much assuming that we know it all from behind our computer screens.
  10. The second interesting thing from that video is how the Bruins believed they won the Kessel deal. Look, the Bruins won a Cup after trading Kessel so you can judge the deal narrowly all you want but you can’t say they’ve lost overall. What I question is this: If the Bruins had Kessel the last four years, are we talking about them as the elite team they are now, or a possible dynasty? Do they blow a 3-0 series lead to Philly with Kessel? Do they beat Chicago this year with Kessel? We’ll never be able to say for sure, but I’d rather have had Kessel in my line-up the last few years over Seguin because he’s better right now. So think about the Bruins having an elite player instead of a very good one during the last few seasons, and wonder what heights they might have been able to achieve. Did Boston still win that deal, or did they sell their team a little short on the current window they have right now for championships while Chara is still amazing?
  11. Clarke MacArthur was quietly a very funny guy in Toronto, and so far this week he’s actually had the best line in the NHL. When asked if the Leafs can get over game 7 from last year, he responded “I hope not.” He burst out laughing afterward.
  12. Six years ago the Sabres gave Derek Roy a six year deal worth $24 million hoping that it would become a steal. Buffalo ended up getting some years out of Roy and if he didn’t get so banged up (or had a falling out with Ruff), he might very well still be on the team. As it is, the Sabres ended up dealing him and the deal probably never worked out as great as they hoped it would. It wasn’t really a win or a loss either way; it was really just a decent deal. Six years later that deal must not have bothered Darcy Regier because he basically gave Cody Hodgson the same sort of move. We’ll see how this one goes.
  13. Hockey Central noted that players such as Kronwall, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, along with head coach Mike Babcock, all lobbied Ken Holland for Cleary to be retained because he’s such a valuable guy on and off the ice. To me that is one of the greatest compliments you can receive as a player: the utmost respect from your peers and coaches. Detroit used to, and probably still does, have this motto that you take care of your top players, and your grinders, and if those guys are in place, the players in between will come together. Of course, the Wings used to revolve around the Yzerman’s and Fedorov’s, but they always had the grind line with the Draper’s and Maltby’s too.
  14. It seems like the NHL very quietly shortened the length of goalie pads, as guys like Bernier and Niemi have had to reduce their pads by an inch (I’m sure there are more, but these are the two I know of). Niemi said that it’s all basically the same, except his five-hole is a little more vulnerable. Meanwhile, Bernier said that a few pucks have eluded him. I’ll be interested to see if there’s a noticeable difference in pucks trickling by goalies, especially through the five-hole. Might change the dynamic of the shootout a little bit more than expected. 
  15. Wanted to wish happy retirements from the NHL to two excellent players in Tomas Kaberle and Miikka Kiprusoff. It really ticks me off when players of this ilk, whose play went from excellent to barely being able to keep up, receive a bunch of smart ass comments when they announce they are done by people on all mediums. Kipper might be the best goalie Calgary has ever had, and Kaberle was probably the Leafs best defenseman for a small era in their history regardless of it not being a great time in the franchise’s time. These were all-stars. I don’t want to go on some “show respect” rant, but recognize how great these players truly were. I know as a kid growing up in Toronto and playing defense, I wanted nothing more than to have Kaberle’s poise and passing ability, and I tried to play like him all the time. It was a privilege to watch you play, Kaba; and one of the greatest underdog Cup runs I’ve ever seen was led by you Kipper. Happy retirements, fellas.

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