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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
You vented ... I'm answering


Fear not, angst-filled puckheads. Dr. LeBrun is here again this week to soothe you with therapeutic thoughts. I selected the rants I thought were in most need of medical help:

Netminder71: I am sick and tired of the Washington Capitals defense (and goaltending) playing to lose. The team has shown that it can score goals, and create opportunities in the offensive zone. Even the Caps power play has shown promise (though flickering at times). The major problem is defense. First, Mike Green is lazy, unmotivated, and was heaped with a huge contract and praise way too soon. He is looking like a big bust now. Rick Nash made him look silly yesterday. Secondly, Jeff Schultz is the worst defender in the NHL. All that size, and he hits no one, he is constantly finding ways to make himself smaller, but never poke-checking attackers, never engaging when he has support, and he only looks big when he is screening his own goalie. Third, Tom Poti is well beyond his years. He is slow, out of position, and lacks the upper body strength to muscle anyone out or win battles along the boards.

Last, guys like Brian Pothier (too small) and Shaone Morissonn (too clumsy) are not helping at all. The team takes stupid penalties at key points in the game, they lose focus when they get the lead. They let all teams back in games, and the Capitals refuse to play for a win ... they'd rather just play to get one point, or just get to the locker room because they probably have better things to do than be winners. I hope Bruce Boudreau can motivate the team because they are playing poorly night after night.

My advice: Netminder71 (Ken Dryden reference?), you make some excellent points on your Caps. Having covered them in last season's near playoff loss to the New York Rangers, it was interesting to see them metamorphose (just in time) into a team that took fewer chances and played smarter, playoff-style hockey. But they had to go down 3-1 in the first-round series before they figured it out. Now, some those of bad habits are back this season, although the team is sure fun to watch. All of which brings me back to a discussion I had last week with the game's greatest coach, Scotty Bowman. Tell me this doesn't send shivers down your spine when you hear Bowman say this about a team he once coached:

"The team was good offensively, they could score goals, but they played by the seat of their pants," Bowman told me. "And the goaltending was never up to snuff."

Hello? The team in question was the Detroit Red Wings from the early to mid 1990s, a team Bowman believed needed a dramatic correction after his arrival. The Wings needed to play two-way hockey. So, he had a famous meeting with franchise player Steve Yzerman.

"I called Steve in and I said, 'You have a lot of good individual stats, but if you don't play a lot more defense, then the rest of the guys will probably keep playing the way they are.'"

I explain more of this historical conversation between the coach and the star captain in Yzerman's Hall of Fame feature story, which will be posted on ESPN.com on Wednesday. But I pass along this anecdote because I wonder if this isn't the kind of intervention Caps coach Bruce Boudreau needs to have with superstar Alex Ovechkin. Besides, now is a good time, No. 8 is injured!

If Ovechkin sacrificed some offense in order to play safe hockey, believe me, the whole team would follow along. It wouldn't be as much fun to watch, but the Caps would be a more serious contender come playoff time. Until the Red Wings played two-way hockey, they never became a championship team. Today, that culture still exists in Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. It's a mindset you have to buy into. The Caps haven't yet.

100Habbie: Pierre, I'm tired of all the 3-point games. Their detrimental effect on league standings far exceeds the OT/SO excitement. Can we please start a vocal campaign for the 3-2-1-0 point system used in some of the international tournaments? You want a team fighting for the win late in regulation, especially against a divisional or conference opponent? Try it. There will still be exciting OT/SO games, but this has to be better than a league full of inflated records and dead late-game hockey.

My advice: 100Habbie, I was indeed a very vocal supporter of awarding three points for a 60-minute victory and remember writing about it and talking about it on TV for months leading up to the February 2008 GM meetings in Naples, Fla. That's where the three-point win saw its last life as an agenda item in front of the game's caretakers and it finally died a slow death. I remember one particular GM (I won't name him) coming out of the meeting after the idea was rejected, telling me to "stop writing about that stupid idea."

You may not remember, but the idea first surfaced out of the February 2004 GM meetings in Henderson, Nev. Those meetings were the genesis for many of the post-lockout rules changes (shootout, two-line passes, restricted areas for goalies to play the puck). It was in many ways a historic GM meeting. I kept my notes from those two days of meetings. Among the other innovative ideas presented to us that week was three points for a regulation-time victory. There seemed to be enough support for it at the time.

But somewhere between the yearlong lockout and advent of the new rules for the 2005-06 season, the three-point win slipped through the cracks. Too bad, because what the three-point, regulation-time win would produce is a bigger separation between the better and mediocre clubs. But, you see, it's for exactly that reason that the NHL does not want to change the current points system. It's created a massively tight playoff race in each conference that goes right down to the wire. The league doesn't want to lose that.

Parkermerrill: Granted, the Jackets haven't done themselves any favors of late with their defensive play, but there was a stat that our announcers chucked out during yesterday's game in Washington: The Capitals, playing in the Eastern Conference, travel out of their own time zone a grand total of SIX times the ENTIRE SEASON. Columbus? TWENTY-THREE TIMES. 23!!! Is there any recourse in the future for this? Columbus has the most difficult travel schedule EVERY year simply by virtue of being the eastern-most Western Conference team (with apologies to Detroit, who has similar misfortunes). Columbus started the year playing Saturday night in Columbus (ET) and then Monday in Vancouver (PT)! Seriously, it's beyond unfair. Are there any plans to visit realignment at some point?

My advice: Parkermerrill, the travel schedule is harder for almost any Western Conference team. It's why many veteran free agents often sign in the Eastern Conference, because the travel is much less taxing. To answer your question, I had to dig up my old notes, but I believe the last time the NHL gave a good look at realignment was in December 2006, when it floated a redesign idea to its governors. The idea didn't get enough support and it quietly went away. But here was the proposal at the time during the 2006-07 season:

• Cut the divisions from six to four. The overhaul featured the Atlanta Thrashers and Columbus Blue Jackets switching conferences. The Eastern and Western Conferences would each have had eight- and seven-team divisions.

• Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado and Phoenix would have made up the eight-team division in the Western Conference. The seven-team division would have featured Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Minnesota and Eastern Conference newcomer Atlanta.

• The new divisions in the East: One would have featured Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, Pittsburgh and Western Conference alumnus Columbus. The other division would have included the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina.

• The divisions would have been more sensitive to time zones, with a huge consideration to TV start times.

• The top four playoff seeds would have come from the top two teams in each division. Four wild-card playoff berths would then be awarded to the teams with the next-highest point totals. So, it would remain eight playoff teams in each conference.

Like I said, the idea didn't fly. Columbus didn't seem to mind it given that it would be in the East. But I remember Atlanta putting up quite a fuss. So, for now, my friend, it hurts to be a Jackets fan, I guess!

Mark-AZ: Is the League going to step in and fix these headshots, or can we expect the current trend to continue. In the past two weeks we've seen a number of hits to the head that the league did very little about. In saturday's game Doan was given a clear headshot with the league responding that there was nothing illegal about the hit. I know their is no official rule against the headshot, but with the number of players being pulled off on spine boards and stretchers you would think in the very least they would start invoking intent to injure. Do we have to wait for Crosby, or some other NHL golden child to be hospitalized before the league decides that there is a problem brewing?

My advice: Well, Mark-AZ, obviously by now you've seen that the NHL actually suspended Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski two games Monday for his hit on Shane Doan. But your question remains timely, because, once again, head shots have become a hot topic around the league, renewed in earnest with the hit by Mike Richards on David Booth.

After a Maple Leafs practice in Toronto on Monday, coach Ron Wilson delivered an enlightening chat on the subject, his main point being that a hit like Richards on Booth should not be allowed because the victim in this case did not have Richards in his sights. Wilson believes the league should change the definition of what is a clean hit.

"I personally do," said Wilson, a longtime coach and former NHL player. "There should be a field-of-vision kind of test put in there. I don't see how David Booth could see Mike Richards coming from over here."

Wilson didn't like the Andrew Ladd hit on Matt D'Agostini, either.

"The Ladd hit, he was trying to rip his head off, there's no doubt in my mind he was going right for his head," said Wilson. "At some point, somebody's not going to come back for a long, long time from one of these."

Wilson's solution is, if a player who got hit to the head did not have a "field of vision" to the player hitting him, it should be an illegal hit. Food for thought. The NHL's 30 GMs will debate this once again at next week's two-day meetings in Toronto.

anblis: Pierre, I am all for suspending players for cheap hits to the head or from behind, but at the same time players have to realize that this is a physical game and just because someone like Mitchell makes a good play and hammers Toews with a clean check does not mean everyone has to go after him.

I wish some of today's players would watch highlights of Cam Neely and other big hitters of the past and see how many times they laid out players with a big, clean hit and play continued without any of the stupid "I have to jump you now b/c you actually knocked my guy down brawls" that occur now. Players should respect the fact they got drilled and just try and come back with their own (clean) hit later to make up for it. I used to love watching Adams and Norris division games in the 80's when guys like Wendell Clark, Neely, Corson etc. would dial up the intensity of the building by drilling a few guys ... now that never happens.

My advice: Andy, I totally agree with you. And again, we bring in Ron Wilson. The Leafs coach believes it has become way too fashionable to take revenge for clean hits in the past six or seven years. He brought up Mike Komisarek's clean but thunderous check on Glen Metropolit on Saturday night. The Leafs defenseman found himself targeted as soon as he had delivered a clean check. The Mitchell-Toews example is another great one. Listen, I'm all for teammates protecting themselves and showing team unity, but a guy who gets nailed cleanly, in the spirit of the rules, should not need avenging. Enough of that.

jagsfan1491: OK, icing. I know exactly where Don Cherry stands in this topic as evidenced by many "Coach's Corner" discussions, but how about you? Personally, I agree with Cherry in that the touch icing is ridiculous and leads to so many unnecessary and often very serious injuries. It is painful to watch. The key word is unnecessary. How often do teams beat out the icing call? Not often, and even when they do, it hardly ever leads to a goal. If a team ices the puck, it obviously wasn't on purpose, i.e. they didn't do it with the intention of it leading to a goal. The league I played in at home used no touch icing, and it is the same in international play as well. When is the NHL finally going to do the sensible thing and move to no touch icing?

My advice: This resurfaced as hot-topic issue in March 2008, when a Kurtis Foster broke his leg in a collision with Torrey Mitchell on an icing play. At its June 2008 board of governors meeting, the NHL did adopt a slight alteration to its icing rule (81.1):

"Any contact between opposing players while pursuing the puck on an icing must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not for eliminating the opponent from playing the puck. Unnecessary or dangerous contact could result in penalties being assessed to the offending player."

But not much has changed with the rule. The one idea I liked the most was a hybrid between international hockey (no-touch icing) and what we have in the NHL. It called for the linesman to call the race at the faceoff circle hashmarks. If the defending player crosses that area first, it's icing. If the forechecker crosses the hashmarks first, it's a live play. This would lead to fewer stoppages, which we have in international hockey, and yet still be a safe alternative to the current touch-icing rule, which remains dangerous.

stlblues94: Could you please tell me what on earth is wrong with the blues? I don't see any difference in their game plan, they still consistently work the cycle in the corners and the players are all the same, yet for some reason the goals never come. I don't understand how a team can dominate a strong Anaheim Ducks team 5-0 then come out a few days later and get annihilated by Pittsburgh in a game that they just seemed to give up hope on. Since that game they've played one strong game, against an aching and slumping Carolina, and a handful of terrible games. The team notorious for its dedicated, hard working players looks dead and unmotivated to win. Is Andy Murray to blame?

Brad Boyes is playing the exact same style of hockey he's played the last two seasons yet this year has only tallied two goals. Is he just getting bad breaks? Or am I missing that he's doing something different in his game play? How come everyone thinks Eric Brewer is such a big part of the team when he's only played 2 games and is already minus-3? I seriously see no difference in game plan and style of play from last year's triumphant second half march, yet there are no positive results like last season. The only difference is the improving of our roster with top defenseman Erik Johnson and top forward Paul Kariya. Besides those improvements, there are no differences, so what is going on here?

My advice: Hard to figure out indeed, stlblues94. So, I went right to the source, Blues president John Davidson.

"It's been lack of scoring, which has been painfully obviously," Davidson told ESPN.com on Monday night. "It's been our five-on-five scoring and our power play. And it's been all our best offensive players not getting it done at the same time. It's kind of strange."

Paul Kariya, Brad Boyes, Andy McDonald -- you name the Blues forward -- and he's struggled. The team's power play is 27th, which is brutal. Why aren't they scoring? Well, they rank 29th in the NHL in shots per game. That certainly doesn't help. You need to put the puck on the net to have a chance.

Davidson said another disturbing issue was his team's notoriously slow start in every game. That puts the Blues behind the eight ball in a hurry. They need to reverse that trend. In their defense, they've been mighty banged up, although what NHL team hasn't been so far this season?

Sorothlisberger: Brunny, I am just completely annoyed with how everyone has completely forgot about Patrick Marleau. Patty had the captaincy stripped from him in the off-season and now looks better than he has ever been. He's 2nd only to Ovie in points and goals. Everyone has been talking about the play of Big Joe and Heater but nobody takes the time to notice how much better Patty is without the "C" on his chest. I think people need to watch more game film of Marleau to understand how good he is this year. Lets give Patty some credit for once!

My advice: Dude, not sure whom you are referring to with "Brunny," but I completely agree with your take on Marleau's hot start. I have to say, I'm not that surprised. When I spoke with him at the Canadian Olympic hockey camp in August, he seemed totally relieved, focused and energized in the wake of the "C" strip. What a great reaction to what many players would have found to be the ultimate insult. But Marleau, showing his best kind of leadership, has shut his mouth, put his head down and worked his butt off. It's refreshing to see. Many players in that situation would have sulked and asked for a trade. Here's hoping Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman has noticed and Marleau earns himself a berth on the 2010 team. That would mean a lot to him.

Jsum43: Pierre, why does every major hockey network, blog, website, etc, completely ignore the Dallas Stars? I just don't understand it. From on off-ice standpoint they are completely interesting. They recently orchestrated the largest offseason front office overhaul of any team -- capping it off by hiring a Canadian and NHL icon in Joe Nieuwendyk to man their ship for the next five years. They completed the change with the abrupt firing of fan/player favourite Dave Tippett (who has an unbelievable record since the lock-out, and is off to a blazing start in Phoenix) and consequently hired the controversial coach-gone-broadcaster-Marc-Crawford, while his court obligations relating to the Todd Bertuzzi incident are still on-going and could potentially take him away from the bench for extended periods of time. Not only in management, but their ownership also has severe and well-documented financial complications. That's just off the ice.

On it, the new Stars' style is fast, young, and high-scoring - essentially everything the NHL wants its product to be. Why does a team with former/potential Olympians, world class talent, unequivocally one of the best captains in the game, a top-five rookie (Benn), entertaining goaltending, the highest scoring American ever, and one of the most unique and fun to watch players in the game (Ott), get next to no attention from the media?

My advice: I guess I can agree to a degree that the Stars don't get as much national coverage as other teams. For starters, however, they're not an obvious story right now. At 6-3-5, they're better than average, which is pretty much where most of us thought they'd be. They're not shocking us like Colorado or Phoenix, or puzzling us like Detroit or St. Louis. That's why those teams are getting more attention right now in the West.

True, James Neal and Jamie Benn have been terrific youngsters to watch. Brad Richards is coming back strong from an injury-plagued season, Marty Turco is playing well. There are a lot of nice stories. As for off the ice, I guess you didn't see this item in my weekend notebook nine days ago that identified a potential ownership suitor should Tom Hicks decide to sell because of financial issues. But I do promise a blog or two on the Stars this season. :)