Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is Erik Cole out of shape?

9 February 2013

I think we’re seeing a tangible result of the lockout in the lackluster performance of Erik Cole. While we spoke in generalities at the outset of the season, designating players who competed in the AHL and Europe as being in peak condition, in game shape, for example, and others needing ten or fifteen game to ramp back up to speed, and of teams with established coaching teams and systems having a leg up over teams in transition, we’ve seemingly forgotten about this aspect and are now failing to include it into our equations when we’re analyzing the results so far.
Going back to last season, even during his ‘laborious’ start, Erik was a rampaging buffalo, being strong and hungry for the puck, and repeatedly carrying it into the offensive zone with speed, curling around the defender and taking it to the net. It was never a surprise move, something the opponents could game plan for, except for maybe backing off the Canadiens’ blue line sooner to retreat back to their zone when he was on the ice. He accomplished this with power and speed, unrelenting. We marveled at how fast he was, how thrilling his rushes were. Even when he didn’t score on the play, the immediate result was often a scrambling, confused, disorganized defensive team, and that’s when David Desharnais shined, he’d exploit the gaps in the zone and gain the puck before savantly feeding Max Pacioretty or Erik.
This season, we have yet to see Erik Cole accomplish a single one of these rushes. I don’t remember one. He simply seems to be a different, lesser player. The overwhelming speed and power is nowhere to be seen.
One of the common results of lockouts in recent years has been that a lot of players don’t show up to training camp in shape. Not just game shape, but in shape at all. It is explained, often without the reporters naming names, simply by saying that an athlete with a specific reporting date in mind, will punish himself hard in the offseason, with a lot of the strength and power work happening in the meat of the training period, and then taper off in the last couple of weeks before camp. In a lockout season, with an uncertain reporting date, this work is either misallocated, or at least mistimed. The reporting date comes and goes, the athletes try to maintain the peak, then maybe back off when negotiations drag on. They wonder if they should go back on another heavy and intense training period and try to catch their best guess as to when the actual camp date will be. Some athletes may have not invested the time, as well as the money for the personal trainer, at all, for off-season work, thinking it would be a waste. Again, these workouts are brutal, intense. They hurt. Why subject yourself to those for nothing? When you can use that time to hang out with your family, and really allow that nagging (neck, back, hamstring, knee..) injury to fully heal?
Now, Erik was a passionate NHLPA supporter this year, showing how committed and emotional he was with the process and how outraged he was with the ownership stance, so he may have been distracted during his summer training, or may have eased off a little compared to last season. When the start of camp was postponed, he may have been pessimistic, and prepared for a lost season instead of a January start.
While this is pure speculation, there is strong evidence that Erik isn’t as well conditioned as he was last year. There is no jump in his skating. I saw him against the Sabres try to rush around a defender, and not be able to outskate him. He was even with him when tried his patented ‘lean in and wrap around’ the D-man, who simply pushed back. Erik slid to the ground. It was less than impressive.
So Erik may be a victim of the cynical NHL strategy of killing off the early part of the NHL season while the NFL was in full swing, and may have been better served to heed those observers who predicted a mid-January start all along, and trained accordingly. His plyometric work should have been done in November and December, instead of in July-August, if it was done at. His legs, his power and stride would have had a better chance of being at last season’s level. But then again, seeing how little Gary Bettman and Ed Snyder and Jeremy Jacobs cared about playing hockey this season, can we really blame Erik?

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