Posts Tagged ‘Ice hockey’

Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row?

Could Rick Tocchet’s departure cost the Penguins a third title in a row? Few people think of an assistant coach as an important piece to a championship puzzle. Like any machine, every component plays a vital role and is never recognized until you are missing it. Think about the Jesus nut found on the UH-1 helicopter. What does Tocchet’s departure mean?

For starters, Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh blog notes another writer’s perspective on the relationship between Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan. Mark Madden, the author Hooks refers to, hints at a contentious relationship between Kessel and Sullivan as noted by this, “But Sullivan was often less than pleased with Kessel. Tocchet, however, served as a buffer and conduit between Sullivan and Kessel, and did his best to steer Kessel in the preferred direction. He also talked Sullivan off the ledge regarding Kessel.”

The next hint comes from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Okay, I do not think highly of Cook, but he’s in Pittsburgh and I am not. He in his article of July 11, 2017 says we shouldn’t be surprised if Kessel is traded. He connects this to chemistry concerns and Kessel’s contract. Cook sees Malkin as unhappy at playing alongside Kessel and Crosby has no chemistry with Kessel. There is his belief that management was unhappy with Kessel’s performance during the playoffs. There is one element that connects Madden’s article to Cook’s and that is Cook’s belief that Kessel drives Sullivan crazy.

How does Rick Tocchet play into this. The blog by Hooks Orpik basically states that Tocchet was the buffer between Sullivan and Kessel. In other words, Tocchet translated Sullivan’s frustration into a meaningful explanation for Kessel. Tocchet was the glue that kept the two together. How much of this is valid and how much of this is Kessel baggage?

Kessel’s time in Toronto gives us a clue, and there will be no references to elongated food items. Watching video of Leafs games with Kessel, you could see Kessel take games or shifts off that led to stupid opportunities and goals for the other teams. Coaches were frustrated in the level of play by Kessel. His work ethic was and continues to fall far behind of Sidney Crosby, but how many others suffer the same issue on this topic. Kessel’s defensive play is far from the level Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and P.K. Subban.

I really haven’t seen others stating a major issue between Kessel and Sullivan, but that does not mean it isn’t there. The reality is that there is some Kessel baggage here but also a standard coach versus player issue. If you watched Penguins games, then you did see Tocchet with Kessel quite a bit on the bench. It is reasonable to believe that Sullivan is not satisfied with Kessel’s output and is pushing Kessel. Placing more shots on net is a valid request by any coach. How the request or any request is communicated becomes the issue. If Tocchet was the intermediary, then the communication between Kessel and Sullivan just got more difficult.

Since Tocchet worked with the forwards, he was closer to Kessel and could figure out how to communicate with Kessel while Sullivan managed the team and provided the strategy for playing. Losing Tocchet doesn’t indicate bad things to come because of Kessel. It is more likely that Tocchet’s tactical coaching will be replaced by another coach while Sullivan’s gameplan strategy remains unchanged. The new coach will be the intermediary between coach and player.

There are several ifs. If there is a relationship issue between coach and player, then Tocchet may have been a vital cog in the Penguin machine, and if the new assistant coach cannot succeed in this, and there is a frosty relationship between Kessel and Sullivan, then you have a Penguins team falling short of their third cup. If the Penguins are truly unhappy with the Kessel run during the playoffs, then you will see a trade much sooner than later, and we can conclude Tocchet never had such an important role as Mark Madden believes. For me, there is an element of truth for both scenarios. Kessel appears to be frustrating at times, and he didn’t lead the playoffs in goal scoring. He was only five behind Guentzel with his eight goals to young Jake’s 13.


Is Jake Guentzel Good?

Tied for the most points by a rookie in postseason scoring. Led the playoffs with 13 goals. Won a Stanley Cup. Was fourth in playoff scoring with 21 points with only Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel ahead of him. Is Jake Guentzel the next superstar in ice hockey?

Statistically speaking, Jake had 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games for his first year. Combine this with his 25 playoff games and Jake played 65 games, scored 29 goals for a total of 54 points. In an 82 game season, he would have scored 37 goals and have 68 points. The 37 goals are close to Sid’s 39 goals and beats Malkin’s 33 goals as rookies. The guy Jake reminds me of the most, Patrick Kane, scored 21 goals in 82 games and had another 9 goals in 16 games during his rookie year. These two are close, but does this indicate stardom for young Jake Guentzel?

I would say the new rating systems of hockey analytics would bear out that Guentzel is a good players. Compared to Crosby and Malkin, Jake comes close to their analytics numbers. If you look at the postseason metrics, Jake’s CF% (Corsi for % in all situations) is 5 below Sid and 1.8 below Malkin. The relative Corse is worse for Jake, and the same positioning and range is similar when looking at Fenwick. His metrics match that of Phil Kessel more so than that of Crosby or Malkin. What about Patrick Kane, the player I say Jake resembles? Jake’s stats are actually better than Kane’s and Jonathan Toews for that matter.

Even though this is a very shallow study of Jake Guentzel, I believe this indicates his future potential. His 40 regular season games and 25 playoff games provide a good first year set of data to analyze young Jake, and the stats indicate a very good player was found by the Penguins organization. His AHL stint shows that Jake’s performance at the NHL level isn’t a fluke. During the 2016 AHL playoffs, Jake scored 5 goals and 9 assists in 10 games. He was tied for the team lead in goals and led the team in points during the playoffs. During the 2016-17 AHL season, Jake had 21 goals and 42 points in 33 games. He finished 12 points and 3 goals behind Tom Kostopoulous who played 74 games that season.

I conclude that Jake Guentzel is a good hockey player and the statistics show this. In fact, I imagine he will continue to get better. I do not expect him to be a Crosby or even a McDavid level of elite player, but Jake is good enough to be feared like all good offensive hockey players.

NHL Top 100

The Stanley Cup Finals ended with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being, in the media’s mind, as legends now cemented in greatness with their third Stanley Cup. The talk about the NHL’s top 100 players came to the forefront, and the discussion about Malkin’s not being in the top 100 started once more. In February, it was discussed and now once more it is being discussed. What will it take for him to move up in the list?

I am not a fan of this type of list. If we look at Sidney Crosby and his greatness as a hockey player, one element to his game that often mentioned is his work ethic and determination that is not related to scoring. Without watching him play, it become difficult to see this. A few Youtube pundits have mentioned how great he is when you see him live at the arena instead of the tely. His skill as a hockey player magnifies for those that have seen him. Sidney represents a problem with these types of lists. He is on this list because we can see him, but what about players from the past?

The first issue about this list is what determines greatness. This is not very objective as there are different requirements. Even if we develop an objective list, how do we rate players from the past? How do we rate Georges Vezinas? How many of us has seen him play in a consistent manner? We hear about how great he was, but compared to what? Consider the earlier years of the NHL where teams like Montreal could stack their team with homegrown talent. Is the Rocket Richard great because of the team around him or was he truly a great player? Is offense the main key to rate a player? If so, then why is Ovechkin in the top 100 and not Malkin? Offensively, Malkin is better. If it is about goals then we can find other examples. Do we include goalies or defensemen? These players do not score much.

There is the time period players played in. We only need to go back to the 80s and early 90s when everyone scored and compare to today’s scoring where 100 points is an amazing feat. What about the Original Six years or the period before that. Rule changes have altered how players play as have goalie equipment.

Rating the top 100 of anything or even the top ten is a waste of time but a boon for the fluff writers. These people talk hockey but spend very little of their writing, speaking, and gesturing about actual hockey. Most of these people see very little hockey or have a limited scope of what they see. Even I have a limited scope as I cannot watch every team with any consistency. The NHL Top 100 is a subjective rating where players are placed not on their skill but team achievements and current popularity. Is Jonathan Toews or Alexander Ovechkin better than Evgeni Malkin? How do we know Milt Schmidt is better than Malkin? We don’t and may never know.

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Goal or No Goal

Understanding the NHL and the rules is an important element to understanding how a game is played. However, this knowledge doesn’t always provide an answer to why a decision on ice by the Referee is made. The lack of understanding the rules and interactions between players and Referees can lead fans to angst and the wrong conclusions. Game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals had two incidents related to a goal and no goal that need better comprehension.

If you watch the videos of NHL Referees or players mic’d up, you begin to see the relationship between the two groups and how a game will be called. The Referee notifies the players how they will call the game and even tell the goalies their intent. There are discussions between the two groups of why the Referee made or did not make the call. It is clear the Referees are trying to not influence the game but will try to take care of the goalie, “We’re gonna protect ya.” That is a statement from the 2016 playoffs between Pittsburgh and Washington. Referee Jean Hebert, I believe, makes this statement to Braden Holtby during game three. This entails quick whistles and penalties if needed.

Refereeing is not only an objective job but also a subjective one. All fans can recall a moment of where the Referee did not call an obvious penalty during a game or called a “ticky-tacky” penalty. These are subjective and is easily understood when you listen to the Referees interact with the players. Their intent is to let the players play without interfering. There is an intent to call a game evenly and even if the Referees do not admit to make things even, there appears to be attempts by Referees to correct a bad call with another bad call. This is where we see penalties that sometimes do not make sense in the scheme of how the game is being officiated.

There are downsides to allowing these players play. Skilled teams are hampered by lesser skilled or even defensively minded teams as infractions are ignored in the attempt to allow teams play. If we look at the 2017 Stanley Cup games we see the uneven calling not only during a game but between games. If we look at one of the earlier games, Conor Sheary is crosschecked multiple times before a penalty is called. P.K. Subban hits Sidney Crosby in the head a few times without a penalty called. This isn’t a one-way issue as the Penguins were guilty of similar infractions such as game five’s event where Crosby was gently dribbling Subban’s head on the ice. It can be agreed upon that there are plenty of no calls and bad calls where no single event is truly the major event we like to make it out to be.

The first of Game Six’s issues was the no goal by Colton Sissons. Forsberg shoots the puck from Murray’s right. Murray initially stops the puck and from Referee Pollock’s position this looks like a save as he cannot see anything on the left of Murray. There is about a second before the whistle is blown. Before the whistle and unbeknownst to Pollock, the puck is on edge and rolling away from Murray across the crease about a foot away before the whistle is blown. It is roughly less than a second before Colton Sissons dives and knocks the puck into the net. There are two issues with this play. The first is the whistle and the second is the goal. (

Per Rule 38.4, this was a good no goal call. Paraphrasing this part of the rule, “”The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals. This would also include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle” we see that Pollock’s call could be overturned, but in this case, the puck was not moving into the net prior to the whistle and Sissons made contact with the puck and knocked it into the net after the whistle was blown. This was no longer a continuous play. The Referees made the correct call based on the rules.

The next issue is the quick whistle. This is the subjective part of the game where the Referee made an assumption and likely for the protection of the goalie. Keep in mind the conversation between Holtby and Hebert or even look at other instances of the keeper getting the puck and in the attempt to pass it to a teammate the whistle is blown. This is simply part of the game. We either like the call or hate it based on whose team it affects. Now we can argue did some of the penalties called against the Penguins and not called against the Predators later on was an attempt to fix things or make someone happy. That is a personal decision as the Referees aren’t likely to state their intent.

The second issue was Patric Hornqvist’s winning goal. There were some fluff commentators and fluff sports writers stating it was goal tender interference. Honestly, I don’t believe most if not all of these people actually understand hockey, but that is my opinion. In this case, Justin Schultz shoots the puck wide and to the left of goalie Pekka Rinne. It hits the boards behind the net and only Hornqvist reacts to the rebound. Rinne is next to react as he drifts to his left partly outside his crease where he is converging with Hornqvist’s attempt to retrieve the puck. Hornqvist is trying to skate around the moving Rinne but cannot avoid Rinne as Rinne lifts his left leg in a kicking motion to impede Hornqvist. Hornqvist hits the puck out of the air against Rinne’s elbow or glove and the puck enters the net. A goal. (

People and one Canadian mouthpiece I am specifically thinking of believes this is goalkeeper interference. He apparently ignores Rinne’s kicking motion. Predator coach Peter Laviolette asks for a coach’s challenge. Good decision as anything can happen. What do the rules state? Paraphrasing Rule 78, “Protection of Goalkeeper

(b) If an attacking player initiates any contact, other than incidental contact, with the goalkeeper, while the goalkeeper is outside of his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

(NOTE 1) In exercising his judgment under subsections (a) and (b) above, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

  1. In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and offensive player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

It is clear that this was incidental contact on Hornqvist’s part as he was outside the crease and Rinne was impeding Hornqvist while Hornqvist was not initiating contact. This was also a rebound of sorts and Hornqvist was attempting to play the puck while Rinne was hoping for a miracle, I guess.


As difficult as it is for Nashville Predator fans to digest and Penguins haters to accept, these two events were valid in every way. Yes, Pollock’s whistle appears to be a quick whistle, but that is subjective to the fans. There are plenty of instances during the NHL season and playoffs where a quick whistle was blown when the puck was secured in the goalies glove or appeared to be frozen by the goalie. This doesn’t make it easy for an impassioned fan to accept without pain, but this is the reality of sports. I am sure there are plenty of fans for Edmonton that would wish for a quick whistle or a call for interference. There truly are bad calls or ignored calls, but this happens to every teams in all games. As fans, we should be allowed to be upset but also recognize that it is part of the game.

Greatest Hockey Players

The greatest hockey player is a topic I find boring for the most part. Normally, I ignore the idea because the same ten or so players are mentioned with Wayne Gretzky listed as one. It wasn’t until I made the mistake of listening to Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser discuss Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup. As I listened to Wilbon list as many hockey players as he could to crush any idea about Crosby being good, I noticed something that Kornheiser noticed. Wilbon was pushing Chicago Blackhawk players. Wilbon’s argument was weak at best. He acted like a chef throwing all known spices into a meal to make it great, thus creating garbage. Wilbon appeared to be solely basing greatness on cups, points, other writers, and the Chicago Blackhawks. I don’t think Wilbon has ever done any analysis of the players he stated and his argument was way off.

Who are the greatest hockey players? Unfortunately, I have seen many players playing and have only seen snippets of others like Orr. I hear how Howe was great but statistically speaking, it is not that impressive but better than Maurice Richard. Wayne Gretzky has the most points while Mario Lemieux has a better point per game if you remove his comeback years. Bobby Orr looks great, but was it really that good.

I exclude Orr for the simple reason that his greatness existed for only six years and the other years were average. He isn’t the greatest nor should be considered to be. He may have been the greatest scoring defenseman who revolutionized the position. His six years are simply amazing! He is eleventh in all-time scoring for defense but the highest in the points per game with 1.393 with Paul Coffey as the only other D-man averaging one or more points per game, 1.087. Coffey’s defensive abilities were a little lacking. What I can’t find out is his defensive capabilities. Simply put, Orr isn’t close.

Now I hear about Jaromir Jagr but his cup wins were because of Lemieux. Jagr, like many others people think of, has not done more than put up points. His longevity will likely place him at number two in scoring but not in the greatest players of all-time. As I look at additional players like Mark Messier, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau, and Mike Bossy; there are good reasons to not consider them as great players worthy of a top ten list without a full analysis.

What about Sidney Crosby? Is he as good as some think or as bad as Wilbon insinuates? Well for starters, Crosby has won two Stanley Cups. I am certain Lafleur, Béliveau, and Bossy exceed him there. Hmm, what about scoring awards? Well I think that is only a partial, and Sidney isn’t going to beat Gretzky. Could saving a franchise count? I think so. Mario did it twice (bought the team the second time) and Sidney brought the team back with his play. Still, this isn’t enough. His 2016 playoffs work was phenomenal, and I don’t recall Gretzky ever doing that. Mario actually did backcheck in the playoffs, but the problem is you need to do it consistently.

If there was an overall best player, I would lean towards Mario. Sadly, I never saw Gordie play, but he could be number one as well. What about Wayne? For all of the points he scored, Wayne is at number three for me. He was no Mr. Hockey and Mario was a better passer and shot as well as played better defense when he had to. Who else can miss a significant amount of games and still come back and pass Pat Lafontaine to win the scoring title in the 1992-93 season.  And if for no other reason, does the name Warren Young mean anything? No, Wayne must happily be perched at third.

I list Mario at one with the knowledge that a good argument could place Gordie at one. Wayne will remain number three. Sidney Crosby at this current time isn’t close, but that is due to the fact his career isn’t done. He is above Marcel Dionne, Peter Stastny, Peter Forsberg, Phil Esposito, and I believe Lafleur. For me, Crosby may crack the list at ten, but without more analysis, it can only be speculative for me.

This doesn’t provide any concrete solution, and there are people sure to argue with who I would place at number one. Does it really matter? Can you compare Howe and his era with Wayne’s or Mario’s? What about the team they played on? That affects the play of these players. Wayne didn’t play alongside Warren. In the end, it just doesn’t matter.

The Modern Ice Hockey Physicality Myth

1989 Stanley Cup playoffs was the last time fans saw teams play back to back games with a day’s break only happening when the series switched to the opponent’s arena. This meant four grueling games in the first five days. Physicality could be an effective means of dealing with a more talented team as you would punish them with your forechecking and backchecking. The more you hit your opponent the more bruising it became and the body began to wear out. That was the idea of playing a hard, physical game. Today we continue to hear how you can wear out a team by playing physical. This isn’t the case anymore. Wearing out a team through physical play doesn’t happen as is suggested.

Today’s series give teams a day between games and at least two days between the switching of arenas. The body gains an extra day or two of rest thus reducing or eliminating any effect a physical game has on a team. Physicality still can play a role but not a large one. Going back to 1989, a seven game series would take ten days to complete. Using the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks series as an example, the first game was April 5 and the seventh was April 15. Contrast that with 2016 series between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues which began on April 29 and ended on May 11. Playing your first four games in five days is terribly draining while playing four in seven days provides time for the body to rest.

The teams that make it to the Stanley Cup finals have it far easier than Calgary and Montreal where six games were played in eleven days in 1989. If the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks make it to six games, it will have taken fourteen days. Playing four rounds of hockey is now far easier than 1989 or earlier. This extra time gives the body time, though short, to rest. So what does wear out a hockey team if playing physical isn’t it?

Physicality is a component of wearing out a team. Taking punishing checks game after game still batters the body. The physical side of this argument must switch to the mental side of the game for the effect of wearing out a team to be seen. A player can become less effective during a game as they are physically battered, but this doesn’t necessarily carry into the next game when you have a day or two off. How willing is a player to take hard checks and how willing are they to give everything they have to win relies on their mental makeup.

The mental side of the game does far more to defeat a team than the actual physicality of the game. Physical play helps to wear down the willingness of a player to play. When a team is beaten, not physically, in a game, the mental side of a player takes a hit especially if they are dominated by their opponent. Doubts begin to set in, and their desire to continue, even though they want to, wanes. At some point, a player becomes less willing to endure a hard check and thus allows the other team the momentum through their mistakes from not enduring the check in order to make a play. If the results from taking the hit doesn’t produce a positive effect, then the player is more likely to avoid the check and thus create errors and give the opposing team opportunities.

The mental factor is what drives teams to win or lose. If a team has an ounce of doubt then this doubt begins to expand for each negative event during a game. Their actions and words betray what they would normally desire. Complaints of cheating or poor refereeing, slowing mobility, and sloppy play express what the mental state of the player is. They want to win but do not have the mental ability to play through the pain and stress of the game. These players and teams need an injection of mental adrenaline to give them the energy to play on and evaporate this exhaustion.

The current Stanley Cup finals shows how Pittsburgh is willing to endure punishment because of their position in the series. Mentally, they are not exhausted and remain positive. The Sharks on the other hand appear slow and defeated with blips of brief energy when the score a goal. The sharks have out hit the Penguins in the last three games while tying the Penguins with 36 hits in game 1. Penguins continue to remain the faster team and hold a 3-1 series lead with game 3 being a game that got away from the Penguins. The Shark are tired.

Does this mean the Sharks are doomed and will lose the series? Odds are, yes. There is a but with this statement. Unlike being physically beaten where the body just can’t go at the speeds it did earlier or move like it once did, mental exhaustion can evaporate when the spirit of the team rises beyond the exhaustion it has. As they play game five tonight, will the Sharks look slow and old? What fight do they have in them? My guess is an early goal will boost their confidence and energy, but it may not be enough. As I watched the series unfold, the Sharks look more and more tired as if their mind is saying enough is enough. Outhitting Pittsburgh hasn’t worn the Penguins down, but the struggles the Shark are having is wearing out the Sharks. The Sharks desperately need a huge shot of mental adrenaline or else the Penguins hoist the Cup for a fourth time.