What type of hockey do you prefer? Offensive hockey with chances at both ends, speed, skill, etc. or defensive hockey that features countless blocked shots, low scoring games, little flow through the neutral zone? I myself enjoy offensive hockey, I like to see the speed, the slick passing, the odd man rushes, etc. I’m obviously not alone because we’ve all seen what happened when the ‘dead puck’ era was around in the mid 90′s and early 2000′s. The offensively challenged hockey of those times led to the NHL adopting rule changes to free up the superstars and increase scoring. The rule changes worked for several seasons after their implementation. 50 goals and 100 points were reachable goals again and scoring was up all over the league. However, the goals have started to dry up again as teams have started to deploy defensive schemes to quell scoring. This defence first philosophy appears to be the way to go in the current NHL as the final 4 teams left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs play with a defence first mentality.
Is Mike Smith really Vezina quality or is the dead puck era back?
The players who have benefitted the most from the decrease in offence are obviously the back stoppers. Mike Brophy posted a great article on the lack of scoring in the NHL and suggested that possibly the great years by goalies such as Brian Elliott and Mike Smith are products of their teams defensive systems rather than new found skill. I tend to agree with Brophy on this subject with the goalies. If the above two goalies were playing in Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or San Jose would they still have Vezina caliber years? It would be hard to convince me that they would.
It’s apparent coaches have adapted to the new rules and have mastered ways to squash scoring. Players also seem to have found ways to get away with just enough obstruction to slow the flow down without taking a penalty. So what’s next for the league? Do they just leave things be and accept the fact that defensive hockey is here to stay? The suggestions have been flying in from all over: bring the red line back, no glove passes in your own zone, icing on PK, bigger nets, bigger rinks, etc.
Ratings may be up in the US for hockey these playoffs, but this likely won’t last if the league slips back into a dead puck era. Fans come to the rink to see the likes of Ovechkin, Stamkos, Crosby, Sedin dazzle with their skill, they don’t pay hard earned cash to watch Dan Girardi block 14 shots in a game and watch 2 good scoring chances per game. At least I wouldn’t anyway. I’ll of course stubbornly continue to watch no matter how non-exciting the product on the ice is. Here’s hoping the big wig executives can figure out a way to modify the rules again to give us at least another 4-5 years of offensive hockey before the smart coaches figure it out again.
Patrick Kane’s stats have fallen each of the last 3 seasons. Hard to be Superman in the current NHL
The first month of the MLB season has just ended and the Toronto Blue Jays are right in the thick of things in the stacked AL East. The Blue Jays currently sit at 16-13 which is good for the 4th best record in the AL. Defence, starting pitching and Edwin Encarnacion have been carrying the Jays thus far. The defence has been especially strong up the middle with Escobar, Johnson and Rasmus. The Jays are the league leaders in rolling double plays and Rasmus has already made several highlight real snags. The starting pitching has been strong lead by ace Ricky Romero. The starters have routinely been pitching 6 innings plus keeping the bullpen fresh. Edwin Encarnacion is having an incredible start to the season with 9 dingers and 24 runs batted in. However, there have been some poor starts to the season in the bullpen and with the rest of the hitting line up not named Encarnacion or Lawrie.
Edwin Encarnacion has been carrying the Jays offence thus far with 9 home runs and 24 RBI’s
The bullpen was a major focus in the offseason for the Jays as they were near the top of the league in blown saves. A new closer in Sergio Santos was brought in as well as a fire balling set up man (Cordero) and a crafty lefty specialist (Oliver). Unfortunately for the Jays the revamped bullpen has struggled thus far converting only 4 saves in 10 opportunities. The 6 blown saves are 2nd worst in the AL behind the LA Angels. The Jays will give Santos a long leash to figure things out once he gets back from the DL. Santos has all the tools you want in a closer, but will have to keep his 95+MPH heater down to be successful. Any big league hitter can hit a grooved belt high heater no matter how fast its thrown.
Of more concern to Jays fans is the slow start by the Jays bats. Adam Lind and Jose Bautista have struggled mightily. Lind is batting .200 while Bautista is hitting .180. They have combined for 7 home runs and 23 RBIs which falls short of teammate Encarnacion’s output. Definitely not numbers you want to see from your #3 and #4 hitters in the line up. Bautista has been showing some signs of life lately as he has been hitting the ball hard the last few games. His timing looked just off in April, but it appears it’s just a matter of time before he gets back to hitting at an all star level. I’m predicting a monster May and June for the slugging right fielder. As for Lind the same hopeful optimsim can’t be shared. As pointed out by Gregg Zaun on today’s Jays broadcast it appears Lind has lost his ability to hit the fastball on a consistent basis. A MLB player who struggles to hit the fastball is in big trouble. Lind may soon drop in the order and if he continues to struggle may lose some playing time to EE at 1st.
Bautista won’t hit .180 for much longer
Overall a solid month for the Jays. Being above .500 in a division of super powers is an amazing accomplishment in itself. What’s even more impressive is the Jays have this record while not having all the parts of the machine running optimally. If the starters can keep doing what they’re doing and the defence keeps doing what they’re doing the Jays will be fine. The bats will come around and the ‘Pen will mesh and settle down. There’s no rush or anything… I mean there’s only 6 months left in the season