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Hockey Talkie:The Monster, The Trap, and The Hit.

November 19, 2011 2 comments

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on November 15/2011]

With even Marty Turco’s name entering the discussion of future Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltenders now, at this point, the writing’s gotta be on the wall for Leafs’ goalie, Jonas Gustavsson, wouldn’t you say?

As much as Brian Burke refuses to admit any loss of confidence in “The Monster”, it’s his actions that tell the true story.

Look, I’m sure Jonas was as good as he was scouted to be in the Swedish Elite League.  His last year there, he had a 1.96 GAA.  And he had an intimidating nickname to boot.  So what could go wrong?  What went wrong was the Leafs gambling a goaltender would put up Swedish Elite League numbers in the NHL.  They needed him to be better than Vesa Toskola, Andrew Raycroft, and the rest of the revolving door of past Leaf goaltenders that failed to guide the Buds to the Stanley Cup.  Let’s be honest, he’s been average at best, and has in no way lived up to a moniker as lofty as “The Monster”.  Unless your lack of confidence in him scares you, or you compare him to the creatures from the animated Pixar movie, Monsters, Inc.

For all intents and purposes, Gustavsson should be the Leafs starting goaltender right now.  He’s 27 years old, and into his third NHL season.  I’ll give him credit, he did outlive 34 year old, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, J.S. Giguere.  But with the emergence of 23 year old James Reimer on the scene, Gustavsson was again shuffled to a secondary role.  And with Reimer hurt, the Leafs elected not to give the reigns to Gustavsson, but to bring up 25 year old Ben Scrivens, who has basically been rendering Jonas obsolete altogether.  How many times does Jonas have to give way to other, younger goaltenders before even he realizes his lifespan in Toronto is limited?  Either the Leafs enjoy having 1.4 million dollars inactively sit on the bench, they’re too proud to admit a mistake and trade him, or are going to try and “show him off” in limited activity this year, in order to reclaim some value from him at the end of the year when his contract expires.

Whatever the scenario, I wouldn’t bet on Gustavsson being a Toronto Maple Leaf past this season.

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Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Flyers/Tampa Bay Lightning “stalemate”.

Tampa Bay was playing a system – “The Trap”, if you will.  Philadelphia realized this, and countered the system that relies on an active breakout to breakdown, by being completely passive.  Which is intelligent; some might even say smart.  But most are saying it’s boring, and bad for business.  And to Tampa’s credit, that’s one heck of an effective system, if you can make it work.  Both teams were simply trying to win the game (Tampa did), or at least not lose it.  Philadelphia later showed they could break the trap, and the game went on, but for 2 minutes of play there, it was pandemonium at NHL headquarters.

Here’s the thing: the new NHL is all about speed, scoring, and doing everything at a million miles an hour.  So while what both teams were doing were fantastic moves from a strategic we’re-trying-to-win-the-game standpoint, they are horrendous channel-changing deal-breakers to casual southern American hockey fans tuning in to hopefully see a hybrid-blend of boxing and NASCAR on ice.

If there was ever a more poignant example of the fact that the NHL is trying to run an entertainment business rather than a sports league, I can’t think of it.  It’s like Gary Bettman got scared NBC was going to back out of their freshly signed 10-year broadcasting deal if they saw that game.  We are now at the point where NHL higher-ups are going to have conversations about making rule changes in order to negate coaches ability to implement solid game strategies.  It’s no longer about winning folks, it’s about presenting an entertaining product.  I can’t think of one reason why a true hockey fan should be happy about this development.

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And finally, the Buffalo Sabres are officially the largest collective of gutless cowards on the planet.  Their all-star goaltender, Ryan Miller, got run by Milan Lucic, and not one Sabre players did anything of consequence to him.  I’d be generous to say that Thomas Vanek and Andrej Sekera both gave him mild bodychecks.  Announcers said during the broadcast that the Sabres didn’t have anyone tough on the ice at the time to respond, but the hit took place with 6 minutes left in the FIRST period.  That means there were 46 other minutes worth of hockey for at least one of the Sabres to grow a set and attempt subtract a few incisors from Lucic’s mouth.  This is the EXACT instance where fighting in hockey is required.  Of anyone who supports fighting and hockey, they would all agree, this is the prime example of where it is justified.  The Sabres absolutely embarrassingly failed to do the right thing, and they got walked all over the rest of the night.  Their goaltender is out with a concussion, and if Buffalo’s mentality doesn’t change, I’d bet they’re going to get walked on the rest of the season too.

Even minor leaguers knows that if someone punks your team out, it’s not necessarily how you do or how tough you are, but that at least you do something; as evidenced by this vid of Justin Bourne dropping the mitts with a player that had just knee’d his teammate in an ECHL game a few years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yfvWdS6MAU

Every player in hockey knows this is the norm, and it’s astonishing that Buffalo didn’t do a SINGLE thing immediately, or for the duration of the game. Boston will likely continue punking teams out because they have guys who can, will, and that get away with it; and teams like Buffalo that continue to not at least take the punk test will continue to fail it and get walked all over.

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