I apologize in advance for the possible crappiness of this week's installment. Pre-planning is this week, and getting stuff ready for my heathens is pooping me out, and is a bit important, I suppose. Before you get offended, the quality of authoring over at Wazzupwitchu is sucking too, so it's equal opportunity.
We've touched on the dread +/- statistic and the importance of defensive responsibility in the offensive zone. But as far as a team make up goes, there are two decidedly different camps: do we draft for speed and firepower, or do we draft to cut the other team off at the knees? Coaches are chosen on their style of play - shut down trap or quick puck moving system - both of which require players at all positions to contribute in a style that is appropriate for their coach's demands. One of the time honored debates of hockey nerds and fans alike is - which one will win you the Cup?
The Other Team Should Score as Often as Joan Rivers.
Frankly, many people will tell you, the purpose of playing hockey is to score more goals than your opponent. If they don't score any, or manage to only score one, then bingo - you win. Easy as that. Of course, if you're facing a quick team like the Chicago Blackhawks or the LA Kings, you're not going to score by asking them for the puck, or standing around waiting for a turnover. You have to knock the other guys off of the puck. You have to fight along the boards. You have to scare the bejezus out of them enough to where they panic, make a stupid play, and turn the puck over. And, of course, you have to be everywhere that they want to go.
If your team is a bunch of big and rough guys, it can be exciting. Vancouver is a good example of a defensively responsible team that can play rough and tumble if they have to. Calgary is another. They do it "right" by making sure that their brand of hockey is defensively strong, and yet still exciting. You have the other side of the coin though. You have the teams who just lock down into a system called the trap. Built to minimize the opposition's chances to create a scoring opportunity, the trap, when used in moderation, is successful and helps push a team to the Cup playoffs. Some teams overuse the trap. Two teams coached by Jacques Lemiare, the New Jersey Devils (which kept the habit after he left) and the Minnesota Wild are usually cited as the teams who are the biggest offenders. The Devils won two Cups using this system, and the Wild were, until last season, fairly successful in the playoffs. But have you ever BEEN to a game? I am surprised that the whole state of Minnesota doesn't go into a collective coma when the Wild are on TV. I've seen both of these teams play live, and they were some of the most unexciting games that I have ever seen in. My. Life. I went to the bathroom and came back 10 minutes later, and the dude next to me was sleeping. Well, ok, he wasn't, but they should have been.
Bag 'Em, Man! We Gotta Go Score!
The new NHL is supposedly all about high scoring shootout fests. The pre-lockout era was the time of the trap, and huge goalie pads. Everyone's GAA's plummeted between 1997 and 1998. The league wondered if this made the game boring, so after the lock out talks began on slimming down the goalies and tweaking rules to make it easier to score (trapezoid, removal of the two-line pass, always tweaking with where faceoffs take place after penalties, offside, and icing). Teams have been drafting exciting scorers and playmakers for years, and marketing them to a tee: Staal(s), Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Semin - the two last 1st overall picks have been quick power forwards. Teams don't market their defenseman - Hedman was drafted by the Lightning too, but is there a "Heard of Hedman?" campaign? Hm... no. Very few markets go out of their way to market their big bruisers - Philly is about the first and only team that comes to mind, especially when the Pronger trade is discussed.
You win the game if you score more than the other guy. It's as simple as that. If you have Crosby and Malkin coming at you, good luck defending unless you are all over one of them... and you better hope that your teammates are all over the other one. Backstrom and Ovie? Ditto. You can't even see a Kovalchuk slapshot. These are the guys who get their names on the t-shirts and the jerseys... or if a D-man becomes a fan favorite, usually they are offensive or have an offensive upside - Pronger and MacInnis come to mind.
Who do we love more in St. Louis - Hull or Igor Kravchuk?
The Blues recently have been drafting and making trades with a focus on the defense: EJ, Cola, Polak, Rundblad, Ponich, Shields, Petro, Cole... The last several years, our first round picks have gone to D-men (though not always first - but if the Blues have more than one 1st round pick, like in 2007, you know one's going to the D). Why? We have been drafting young, quick forwards - several of whom can lay people out. But the front office wants balance. Balance is how you succeed without being irresponsible or boring people to death. When looking at the rest of the Central, including the farm teams, the Blues have the best mixed crop of players and kids. You can be quick as a flash, but someone's gonna shut you down. You need to be able to look at those guys who are trying that, smirk, and lay them out. You need forwards who can be a threat, and you need d-men that can set up plays.
Yeah, I think we got it covered.