Monday, June 02, 2008


What it takes to win

"That's why you build a good foundation -- so when you get an opportunity like this, you can go out and just do what you do."

That's an approximate quote from this morning's Mike Babcock presser, which I just heard on XM204. It was actually fascinating, to me at least, given the nature of the (sparse) hockey discussion around this site lately. Any listeners hoping to hear about how the last one is the toughest to win, or how proud he is of his key players stepping up when it matters most, or how he has a couple of tricks left up his sleeve to give that knife in the Pens a final twist, would have been left pretty cold. Instead, it was a lot of (I paraphrase):
We're going to do what we do... everyday professionalism... do what we do... we expect their good players to be good, we expect our good players to be good... we just need to do what we do... we have a lot of good players who do what they do well... we want to establish normalcy... we don't worry about that, we just worry about doing what we do... I slept great last night.

**Metrognome has a terrific post today, fleshing out the "experience" factor a bit. He explains many of the relevant concepts very well; read the whole thing. That's definitely something I want to follow up on further another day.

Better than that, though! From later that same post... just try telling me he hasn't coined a brilliantly useful shorthand concept:
There's a famous SNL skit about the Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper", featuring Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell. In it, Walken plays producer Bruce Dickinson who "has a fever for the cowbell". No doubt a fair measure of the skit's comedic value comes from the juxtaposition between Ferrell's typical obnoxious flailing and Walken's now iconic flat stare and wooden delivery. However, the underlying joke the skit is predicated upon is the Dickinson's (Walken's) manic and nonsensical obsession with the cowbell, which is a relatively inconsequential aspect of the track.

In a way, I think a lot of fans and even coaches or GM's have their own "cowbells": those factors they foreground and elevate above and beyond their true values. Personally, when I played hockey myself, I was under-sized and I survived via speed and agility. Now, the smaller, quicker players are the ones that elicit my sympathies (which likely explains my continued quest to insulate Lombardi from criticism). One of the reasons the above inquiry was interesting to me is I consider "experience" to be one of Darryl Sutter's cowbells: he seems to have a fever for it, even though it's contributions to the tune may be minimal.

So when news of a dubious veteran signing appears here in early July under the heading, "More Cowbell", now you know why.

**Greg Wyshynski brings in James Mirtle for a debate at his Puck Daddy blog; Mirtle's rhetorical victory is more one-sided than King Kong Bundy over S.D. "Special Delivery" Jones. Actually, maybe I'm overstating it: Wyshynski's prime beef seems to be that it's really unfair that the 2000 Devils are tarred in the history books as being a boring, trapping team when they were actually a very good two-way team (and thus, if life were fair, this season's Wings would be looked at in the same way). Fair enough, although that's a rather esoteric topic for the day the 2008 Stanley Cup will probably be awarded. A couple of points, though:

- Mismatches/routs are virtually always boring (except to the fans of the routing team, for whom they are dee-lightful). Every year, every sport. The only exception to the rule is when there is an outstanding individual performance (e.g. record-setting) in play.

- To my knowledge, no one in the anti-defense crowd -- whether they are arguing in earnest, or as a devil's advocate as Greg is -- has ever proposed a remotely plausible solution to their problem. When the object is to outscore the other team, then preventing a goal gains you the same advantage as scoring one. I dearly wish that one of these bright people who hates suffocating defense would acknowledge as their starting point that this "problem" (a rather intractable one, it would seem to me) is what needs to be solved.

- Further to that, it's probably worth noting that "volleyball-sized nets", or even "slightly larger nets", would be more to the advantage of the Detroit Red Wings (over time) than any other team. They have the puck in the other end more, they take more shots that hit the net, they take more shots that miss the net, and they take more shots that are blocked. Bigger nets wouldn't level the field, they'd tilt it even more.


I love defense, but I'll start; once an offensive player dumps the puck in, the defensive player cannot face the offensive player and shadow the offensive player AT ALL, or impede them in any way (especially in that skating backwards in front of the forward sort of way). The defensive player needs to turn and make an effort to play the puck, rather than the man, to avoid an obstruction call. Forechecking would become a lot more interesting, with more pressure on the D, and goalies would have a harder time getting out to play the puck.

I realize that this isn't as big of an issue as it was in the late 90s, but it still happens way more than it should.

Heh, thanks for the kudos.

I can probably provide you with the dataset if you want to take a stab at the experience question. Only after I compiled the whole thing (boy was that a lot fun) did I realize how complicated the inquiry is and likely beyond my own modest math abilities.

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