Thursday, May 31, 2012

The blame game

New York Rangers
Some things are never going to change especially in the NHL where it seems that when in doubt, blame the New York Rangers for whatever it is. Most of the time when the New York Rangers are blamed for something it tends to be for something that they didn't deserve being blamed for.

So I wasn't surprised at all when I read about the first day of the NHL GM meetings that the Rangers were blamed for the lack of offense during the playoffs. Now I'm the first one to say that I don't like John Tortorella's obsession with shotblocking, never have, never will.

Yet it's easier to point fingers at the Rangers for doing what they did then realizing that it really did not work. If the shotblocking was effective as people are trying to make it out to be then the Rangers would be in the Stanley Cup finals not the New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers would not have needed three series going seven games in each one if shotblocking was so effective. And what gets me more angry is that those that are whining about it the most were teams that choked their way out of the first round in the playoffs.

Let's start right here:

Several of the managers are also concerned that the game is becoming too defensive-minded and trending more toward a soccer-type style. The New York Rangers secured the top seed in the East and reached the conference finals by strengthening their defensive play with a team-wide dedication to blocking shots.

After the NHL lockout wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season, a package of new rules to spice up the game was adopted. Something similar could be coming in the not so distant future.

''I like offense in the game and I like offensive opportunities,'' Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis said. ''If those opportunities aren't present in the course of a game, I don't like it and I don't support that.

''What I've seen is the lowering of scoring opportunities. You don't see many odd-man rushes at all, and the collapsing around your own net to block shots and not challenge the point man.

Mike Gillis should be asking himself why the team that won the Presidents Trophy his Vancouver Canucks were knocked off by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Yes Mike Gillis likes offense, but he couldn't find any against the Kings the team that gave up the second fewest goals in the NHL.

Of course Gillis wants offense because his Vancouver Canucks were held to seven total goals in the five games that it took Los Angeles to embarrass and eliminate them. But Gillis is not the only one complaining as San Jose GM Doug Wilson has his own take on the situation right here:

“No matter what you come up with, you have to understand you’re going to have to adjust to coaches’ adjustments to stay one step ahead of them,” said San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson. “I truly believe that our jobs as general managers is to look at the big picture and the coaches to do whatever wins that night. They’re not always married together. If you ask (Glen Sather) or John Tortorella, ‘Do you like the way the game is played? Are you playing the way that helps you win today?’ And I think you can probably guess what the answer will be.”

Excuse me a second Mr. Wilson but can I ask you who your team played in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year? And while I'm at it, can I ask how did you do?

Well wouldn't you know, it seems the San Jose Sharks took on the St. Louis Blues who just so happen to have given up the fewest goals in the entire NHL. And wouldn't you know it that the Blues knocked off the Sharks in five games, holding them to a total of eight goals.

As much as I may dislike shotblocking myself at the same time the best way to rid the league of it is not by trying to legislate it but by outsmarting it. This radical idea comes from the fact that the very rules that the NHL put in the place to supposedly rid the game of the clutching and grabbing and other acts of obstruction backfired.

For the record the Rangers gave up only the third fewest goals in the NHL and in the end all the shotblocking didn't save their season. New Jersey showed exactly how to defeat the shotblocking team keep skating.

Imagine that something as simple as using ice-skating in ice hockey. That's the number one reason why shotblocking has become so effective; players go to a spot they stopped skating and they just shoot the puck.

Instead, try skating, forcing the defense to have to keep up with you and forcing them to escape themselves. It's called motion or in hockey we call that cycling.

It's not hard to do you take one skate and you push off. Then you take the other skate and you push off again and you keep doing that. Sometimes you'll turn other times you'll go backwards.

The more you move the more the other team is going to move trying to stay up with you. Keep firing the puck at them because you really are going to either hurt them or you will deflect a puck into the net.

Against the Washington Capitals, Marc Staal scored a goal by doing something as simple as deke left, deke right, fool the defender into thinking you're shooting then step aside and shoot. The goalie was screened and never saw the shot until it was in the net.

Even better is that is exactly how Pete Stemkowski the former Ranger told Dave Maloney, during the intermission right before Staal scored. I died of laughter when Stemkowski said that because it was so simple, so matter-of-fact and he said it like "Maloney you did play this game before right?"

As I have written several times here shotblocking is actually more of a liability than it is a practical defense because it increases the risk of injury to the players while generating a screen blocking your own goalie from seeing the puck.

It's not the Rangers fault that teams like the Sharks or the Canucks were eliminated with a whimper because they could not generate any offense themselves. The article where Wilson's quote can be found was written by Ken Campbellhim him him him him him him him him him him him him him, who right after Wilson's comments added these choice words of his own:

If that’s a shot against the New York Rangers, so be it. They play a turgid style of defensive hockey that is terrible for the game, but great for them. Sometimes it’s up to teams to find a way to beat that kind of hockey, but there might be some systematic changes that can be made to force the Rangers to not bore people to death.

I don't think any Ranger fan would say they were bored to death but rather they were frustrated by the team's failures to play with a consistent effort. Boring hockey? He did not watch many Ranger games because no team gave their fans more ulcers or cardiac arrests than the Rangers did.

You take the puck right to the net but you keep skating and you force the defensive team to keep skating. The Rangers got three goals each from Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Marc Staal and I'll bet if you go look at the tape, you will see most of those goals came from the outside.

I know that at least six of those goals came from beyond the defensive zone face-off circle. And in each of those cases the opposing goalie never saw the puck coming. Looks like point shots to get through if you keep trying.

No, instead it's much easier to point the finger of blame at New York Rangers as more fans hate the Rangers which makes them a much easier fall guy for the NHL. It's way easier to say "Rangers fault" then tell your fans that your goalie stunk (can you say Roberto Luongo?) or your star players forgot to show up for the playoffs (has anybody seen Patrick Marleau?)

If you really want away to force teams to not block so many shots is to keep firing shots at them. You get enough players hurt blocking shots and eventually somebody's gonna realize what a bad idea trying to block every shot is.

May I have my soapbox please?

I have my own suggestions as to which rules that I would change starting with icing the puck. I would make it illegal for a team that is being called for icing to use their timeout to rest their players.

I would also not allow for a media timeout to be taken when an icing situation has happened and to show what kind of mean person I am; if on back-to-back plays you do ice the puck then two-minute minor for delay of game. If you want to really stop coaches from turning games into chess matches then take away some of their protection.

Since I am fixing the game let me vent a little about the "diving" rule. Now is it me or is it dumb that when somebody is called for "diving" that both teams are punished?

I want to get rid of diving, so I want to try this cute little idea which is only the diver gets called. Oh wait, I'm not done as it's now 2 minutes for diving and 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct to be served at the same time.

You bet if you want to dive, then your team is going to have to defend a five on three power play for 2 minutes. Divers are not hard to spot and if you can call him for it, then make it hurt.

Watch every coach turned into John Tortorella when a player gets caught diving, which by nature is cheating. Do you want to be that player skating back to the bench after you've just given the other team a two-man advantage?

Then there was Gary Bettman talking about how the game had something like over 3 billion in revenues, increased attendance and declining concussions.

3 billion in revenues? Excuse me, Commissioner, but didn't you claim that the 2004 lockout was done in order to keep ticket prices so the average fan could still pay for them?

Here's a suggestion to my fellow Ranger fans make a copy of how much you paid for season tickets during the 2011-2012 season and then make another copy of how much you are being asked to pay for the 2012-2013 season.

Send those copies to

Gary Bettman
c/o National Hockey League
1185 Avenue of the Americas, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10036

That way when the NHL starts claiming poverty during negotiations with the players union, you'll know better.

Increase attendance; yup, all you had to do was move Atlanta to Winnipeg and there is your increase in attendance. Either that or the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils have wonderful disguises for their fans letting them come as empty seats.

Declining concussions? I don't have any kind of sarcastic remark to respond with. What I do have is a great fear that one of the nicest guys I've ever met in hockey might not ever play hockey again.

One player suffering a major concussion that could end his career is one player too many.

Exit soapbox.


Mike Garabedian said...

Your last article on torts and the media has destroyed your credibility. As does invoking Sean Avery in your article.

If you would ask relevant and poignant questions. Maybe he would answer you.

You obviously don't represent the fanbase so why don't you try to write about something relevant. Instead of taking cheap shots after a coaches interview.

mk said...

I stopped reading when you literally began explaining how to skate. Come on, really?

Jess Rubenstein said...


Thanks for looking out for my credibility. Guess you missed the part about that I don't cover the Rangers as part of my normal beat.

Have a nice day