Cheers and Jeers – Oct. 10, 2014

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It’s Friday, hockey season is underway (thank goodness), and now it’s time for: “Cheers and Jeers!”

This regular feature was originally started by Canucks Army forefather Cam Davie during the 2011-12 hockey season. Now that I’m the old hand at this here Canucks hockey blog (that happened… quickly), I figure it’s my turn to carry on tradition.

This week, on the other side of the jump, I give a high-five to some great bloggers getting paid and to Luca Sbisa; while I toss some shade at the NHL’s continued inability to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest in player discipline and the inability to Canucks centermen to win a damn draw.

Cheers: Let’s hear it for our pal Dimitri Filipovic, who formally announced his departure from the blogosphere this week (and CanucksArmy by extension). 

Dimitri was gracious enough to thank me personally in his note, but I didn’t really do anything besides signing a talented kid to a PTO. From there, Dimitri’s talent and intelligence carried him, and carried him a long way, as he’s earned pretty much the best entry-level position any good Canadian boy straight out of school could ever hope for. We’ll miss Dimitri’s insightful commentary and style enormously in this corner of the internet, but we’re extremely excited for him and hope he absolutely crushes it in his new opportunity with an NHL mystery team.

Continuing along on this theme, let’s raise a glass to Rhys Jessop – who officially became CanucksArmy’s new fearless leader this week. Rhys’ business-like approach and extreme hockey intellect has already shone through over the past week, and though that same hockey intellect is sure to get him hired by an NHL club in, oh, about five minutes or so, I’m extremely excited to see where he’ll drive us to now that he’s been given the keys to the CanucksArmy Volvo.

Finally, I want to hand out some daps to a couple of unaffiliated bloggers – unaffiliated with CanucksArmy anyway – both of whom I admire and both of whom earned major and well deserved opportunities this week. Let’s stand and applaud Jen LC, who was hired by Puck Daddy this week, and Steph Vail (@myregularface), who was hired by the impressively forward thinking Boston.com.

As women producing digital hockey media for a male dominated and occasionally quite ugly on-line subculture, Jen and Steph have both both dealt with on-line harassment. To their credit they’ve handled all the unfair, inappropriate garbage thrown at them with a level of grace and persistence that leaves me in awe, and all the while they’ve consistently produced enriching hockey content, which they’ve eagerly shared in the best traditions of the hockey blogosphere.

Here’s the best compliment I can give a hockey writer: I could not do my day job as an NHL news editor nearly as well without the content they produce. There’s like 10 names that I’d throw into that category (including Bob McKenzie, Elliotte Friedman and the like), but Jen and Steph are two of them.

To take just the past 10 days as an example: Jen shared a wealth of Chicago Blackhawks five-on-four microstats with me (that she’d personally tracked), and her data helped guide and focus the recent Unique Team Traits post on the Blackhawks that I concierge’d for Justin Bourne. Steph, meanwhile, is the single best multi-media NHL news editor on the internet in my opinion, and her keen eye for detail and unmatched ability to provide moving pictures of major events in real time improved my Evander Kane knee injury news blast enormously last night.

Boston.com and Yahoo! Sports respectively made excellent decisions to bring these two on board this week, and I’m so excited to see what they can achieve with their new and much louder megaphones.

Jeers: Hey Vancouver Canucks centermen, how about mixing in a face-off win or two?

If there’s one area where the Canucks looked like they’ll miss Ryan Kesler enormously in the club’s opening night victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, it was in the faceoff circle. Canucks centermen were thoroughly stomped in the circle on Wednesday, as they won fewer than 40 percent of their total face-offs against a Flames club that is very unlikely to post even an average team face-off winning percentage this upcoming season.

There’s some mitigating factors at play here, and we’ll mention them in the sake of fairness. The game was on the road, which always gives the home-team a bit of an advantage (home teams won 52 percent of draws during the 2013-14 season). Also if you exclude Linden Vey – who is struggling enormously between the hashmarks – the club won 50 percent of face-offs (19 of 38) in the offensive and defensive zones on Wednesday, and most centermen save their best moves for when the immediate result of a won or lost draw is most impactful.

Still, the club’s performance in the circle was bad enough that Canucks brass is reportedly quite concerned (by way of Jason Botchford’s recent appearance on the Scott Rintoul show), and they should be.

Now, let’s cool our jets for a moment and discuss how important face-offs really are at the NHL level. I tend to believe that they matter a lot, but they certainly aren’t everything. Consider that four of the top-10 teams in face-off winning percentage last season missed the playoffs – a group that includes the Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes, who were the league’s single best face-off team.

On the other hand, eight of the bottom-10 teams in face-off winning percentage missed the playoffs. You can still win if you’re a little bit weak in the circle, but it’s tough to start shift after shift chasing possession.

The key then is not to suck terribly in the face-off circle. If you’re at 48 percent or so as a team, that’s not a huge deal and likely won’t appreciably cost you over the course of 82 games. If you’re below that though, things can get pretty dicey.

The concern here, from my perspective, isn’t really the club’s face-off winning percentage, it’s the suboptimal lineup decisions the club may be forced to make in order to avoid being really, really bad on draws this season.

The most obvious likely mistake is Brad Richardson playing a regular shift on the third-line, but rushing Bo Horvat into a full time NHL job (even if he’s not quite ready), or deploying Henrik Sedin in a way that doesn’t really take advantage of his skillset are other tough choices that the club will face. Hopefully the team’s decisions won’t be unduly influenced by Vancouver’s likely woefulness on face-offs.

Cheers: Was that Luca Sbisa putting together a quietly effective outing in his Canucks regular season debut, or doth mine eyes deceive me?

In comparison with the preseason, where Sbisa was delivering pizzas and running around way out of position just looking to lay the body, I thought Sbisa handled the season opener exceptionally well. He looked calm and composed on the other side of the puck, his speed showed well on zone-exits, he drew a penalty, he managed the third best even-strength shot attempt differential among Canucks defenders (behind Chris Tanev and Alex Edler) and he came out even by personal on-ice goal differential. If he keeps that up, he might earn a qualifying offer yet!

Granted our expectations were set extremely low, but still, Sbisa surpassed them! Cheers to you Sbisa, and bottoms up!

Jeers: The NHL hiring Chris Pronger is all kind of outrageous, as many others have detailed. Personally I kind of think former dirty players make sense for the Department of Player Safety, because after all, a player like Pronger know every injurious trick in the book. No one is getting away with an “accidental on purpose” excuse or an “ooopsie” in a conversation about a borderline hit with Pronger. The dude is a scholar of the black arts! He personally invented some of it.

The problem I have with Pronger joining the Department of Player Safety is that he’s still on the Flyers payroll and this is just the latest example of the NHL behaving in a way that suggests that they have no idea how to insulate the supplementary discipline process from the appearance of conflicted interest. Either that, or they just don’t care.

You’ll recall that Boston Bruins forward Gregory Campbell’s father Colin Campbell, an ex-Canucks defenseman, was deposed as the chief disciplinarian in the wake of a scandal in which he was found to have likely described Marc Savard – a player whose career was later ended by a brutal Matt Cooke hit that did not result in a suspension – as a “little fake artist” in an e-mail. He was describing Savard this way because he’d drawn a penalty by diving (in Colin Campbell’s opinion) in a game against the team that, at the time, was employing his son.

During the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Colin quite rightly recused himself so as to avoid having to rule on disciplinary matters that might influence his son’s chances of having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. So Mike Murphy took over for that series, and when Aaron Rome caught Nathan Horton with a late hit, he consulted former Canucks employee Brian Burke when deciding on Rome’s still unprecedented four game suspension. Burke! Who reportedly wasn’t on speaking terms with the Canucks ownership group, and who’s close confidante Dave Nonis had been fired.

Though I’ve never met him, I tend to think of Burke as a man of rigid character – who else sues a web user named Poonerman with literally zero hope of coming out ahead financially in the matter? – and I don’t doubt for a minute that the advice he gave Murphy was objective and dispassionate and without malice. I also think it’s inappropriate for him to be put in that position in the first place, and I’m kind of amazed that Murphy and the league didn’t agree.

Pronger apparently won’t rule on decisions that impact the Flyers, but based solely on recent history, you’ll excuse skeptical hockey fans for not giving the league the benefit of the doubt on these matters…

Cheers: Claude Julien’s copycat game is on point, and deserves our final cheers of the day.

On Thursday night as the Bruins were about to drop a game against the Detroit Red Wings, the veteran bench boss pulled out a page from Patrick Roy’s “balls on the table” playbook and gave Tuukka Rask the hook when his team received a power play opportunity with 150 seconds left in the game. It didn’t work, but if the Bruins do this consistently this season, they’ll score an additional comeback or two over the longhaul.

Also: it’s just more fun for hockey fans. Here’s to you Claude!

NATIONDRAFTS IS BACK!

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The NationDrafts charity pool is back! Once again, it’s time to flex your hockey brain, build a championship team, and take a run at some fantastic prizes.  The cost to enter NationDrafts is $20, and a portion of all proceeds will be going to help the Inner City Children’s Program.  To enter the pool, head over to nationdrafts.com and build your championship team from the boxes provided. Seems easy enough, right? Prove it! Internet infamy awaits you.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    Man – I can’t believe how all the talent that this blog churns through ends up getting pretty high profile, impressive gigs. Kudos to the blog. Thomas – honestly – the day you go work for an NHL team we will all be sad.

    I’m sure I speak for many when I say that we are blessed with some great talent here. There will be a day in the not too distant future where we are saying about someone running and NHL team, “I remember when I used to read that guy on Canucks Army”…

  • You can’t always fix a weakness but you can sure mitigate it by strengthening everything around it. If you’re a team that loses face-offs regularly, you just better be damn good at getting the puck back.

    I just hope the team doesn’t go crazy over it and lose its focus on the rest of the game. Even with those sub-optimal face-off numbers, Vey’s line still dominated possession.