Was Scott Howson A Bad GM? Well, Is the Pope Catholic?

The difference between retiring and being fired

Looks like there’s a couple of struggling organizations looking for new leadership this week.

However, unlike Scott Howson, the Pope wasn’t fired but chose to retire voluntarily. Mind you, it would be pretty tough to fire the Pope for cause, what with the whole "Papal infallibility" and all. That’s not something you could ever accuse Scott Howson of. His record of abject fallibility is about as long as the Pope’s hat is tall. As the headline to @CamCharron‘s piece over at Puck Daddy put it, "Blue Jackets part ways with GM Scott Howson, probably because of all the losing." 


Anyway, all this talk about the Pope got me thinking about how long it’s been since I went to confession…

Let’s just say it’s been longer than the Maple Leafs’ record of futility. Less recent than the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup win.

Coincidentally, a confession is also one of the only ways we’ll ever know what really happened in the game between these two storied franchises on Saturday night: 

If only there had been a Canuck involved...

Unfortunately Mikhail Grabovski plays for the Maple Leafs and not the Canucks, so we will never really know whether he actually did bite Montreal’s Max Pacioretty during a scrum on Saturday night. Maybe Shanahan and the League should set up a CSI team for cases like this where a Canucks skater isn’t involved.

It might have been a Leaf biting a Hab, but it was Montreal that left the Bell Centre wilth a bitter taste in their mouth after a 6-0 drubbing at the hand of a resurgent Toronto team. James Mirtle wrote up an interesting piece in the Globe and Mail yesterday delving into one of the potential reasons behind the Maple Leafs’ improved play of late.

You can read the full article for the details, but essentially he thinks it’s because Carlyle has implemented a defensive scheme very similar to the one Jacques Lemaire pioneered in New Jersey. The cool part of the piece is that Mirtle references shot distance data from @theninjagreg‘s cool online shot distance tool to make his case, showing that average shot distances against the Leafs have increased this year compared to last year.

So that’s all very interesting, but the snippet that caught my eye was this quote from Dion Phaneuf:  

"The little things that have been implemented with the changes in the system, when we do play that system, it gives us a chance every night. That’s why we’ve had success this year."

And that’s just it. When you don’t have the skill to drive play and control possession, your best bet is to take your chance on chance. As I’ve noted before, this defense-first strategy on the part of underskilled teams is most prevalent during the playoffs when the stakes are higher and over the course of a seven game series, a few lucky bounces can be all you need. I’m not sure it’s sustainable over the course of a full season, even a truncated one like this.

Sure, the NJ Devils made this an art, but they had some skill to go along with their trap.

There was a really nice piece over at Japers’ Rink last week that came at this from another angle. In that post, J.P. fuses some insight with stats-based analysis and wraps it all up with some great writing to pinpoint where things went wrong for what was at one fleeting point in time, the most exciting and dynamic team in hockey. Yes, the Washington Capitals.

You would never know it, looking at the way the team has performed the last couple of seasons. J.P. concludes that, then coach, Bruce Boudreau’s decision to switch from a high tempo, possession-driven offence to a defense-first trap team while in the midst of a slump was the beginning of the end for both Boudreau and the Caps’ dominance. 

Instead of controlling the puck and letting offensive skill decide the game, the trap levels the playing field. That’s why it’s the last resort for struggling teams and those who don’t have the skill right from the start. As J.P. puts it:

The fewer the goals that are scored in a game, the more likely it is that chance — a bounce here, a power-play there — will decide the outcome. And that’s essentially what the trap is — an attempt to water down and muddy up the track so that the horses can’t run… in either direction. 

Some people say that "you have to be good to be lucky," and to some extent that’s true. But what’s even more true, is if you’re good, don’t let it come down to luck:

Fewer goals opens the door for more luck

That’s essentially what has happened to the Caps of late.

They’ve turned into just another team that lets luck decide games, despite having some of the most creative offensive players in the game. Or at least they did at one point.

Now, Boudreau is in Anaheim, back to coaching a more up-tempo style that has the Ducks playing well enough to be a playoff contender; something nobody thought possible coming into this season. On the player front, the Caps let Semin walk away for nothing as a free agent. Backstrom and Green have struggled with injuries. And Alex Ovechkin, well, let’s just say the Washington Capitals are facing a situation much like that of the Canadian Mint: 

The Russian Ovi

As J.P. noted in the Japers’ Rink post, "sometimes the coin-flip comes up heads, sometimes it doesn’t."

I guess in this case, the coin being flipped is a penny.