Friday, 16 August 2013

Mobility on defence is nice, but then there's Colin Campbell

Some discussion online today about how the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks defencemen weren't all hulking giants, but rather NHL-normal sized players who skate and defend well.  This was brought up as a way to be optimistic about the Canadiens' prospects this season, seeing as our blueline is nothing if not mobile.  A piece of supporting evidence was referred to in an Ulf Samuelsson's blog post in The Hockey News about mobility being primordial, and size in and of itself not being a guarantee of success.  But I couldn't agree, and wondered where the dissonance was.

I didn't have a problem with the analysis of the Chicago defence, I concur that they're mobile and not all lumbering behemoths.  My caution with respect to Chicago is always that they do have a few big, tough players to mix in and out of their lineup when necessary.  Brent Seabrook at 6'3" and 220 lbs is a mainstay and gets first-pairing minutes, and they can always mix in pugnacious Sheldon Brookbank when desired.  Add in the sizeable forwards like Brian Bickell and Brandon Bollig, and the Hawks could respond when the elbows started flying.  Further, fresh off winning a Stanley Cup, they have added poster boy for facilitated aggression Mike Kostka, the former defender-of-the-future/flavour-of-the-week for the Leafs (see Colaiacovo, Carlo; Schenn, Luke; Yushkevich, Dmitri) and crosschecker-in-training, as well as Theo Peckham, a guy who'll get a few strategically-managed but precious minutes in Colin Campbell's NHL.

Compared to the Canadiens' situation, we can see how we don't match up.  Our one big defenceman is currently injured, and will probably have a difficult season while returning from ACL reconstruction.  Even when healthy, Alexei Emelin cannot play an enforcer role due to his medical history of facial fractures, he can't be the Chris Pronger or Craig Ludwig on the blue line, the guy who can mix it up when necessary.  We pin a lot of hopes on Jarred Tinordi, but I'm fearful that he'll be asked to do too much too soon in that department.  Especially coming out of training camp, it won't be optimal for him to be our lone physical d-man at 21 years old.  My cautious self would rather he be left in the AHL for a while yet, and bring in a sacrificial plug like Ryan O'Byrne instead.

In reference to Ulf Samuelsson's blog, I was having some serious disagreements with the post, wondering how he can be so far out of touch, until I came back to it later, and managed to comprehend that, gee-whiz, it's from way back in 2008.  Back when the New Hope hadn't been crushed yet.  Before Bob Gainey took his Virage Vitesse and signed up Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, and traded for (cough, strangle, gasp...).  There was an optimism then that the game was going to be about skating and skill and scoring.

Then reality set in.  The Bruins mugged and cheated their way to a befouled Stanley Cup.  Teams like the Blues and the Kings set the new prototype for play in the NHL with squadrons of big forwards who pound opponents into submission.  

Erik Gryba happened.  The Senators do have Norris-trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who is supremely talented and relatively slight of build, but then they have these guys.

Cody Ceci         6-2 205 R
Jared Cowen 6-5 220 L
Eric Gryba         6-4 215 R
Marc Methot 6-3 224 L
Chris Phillips 6-3 216 L
Patrick Wiercioch        6-4 192 L

So the Senators don't favour mobility.  I don't see "an increasing number of smaller defensemen (finding) success playing in the NHL" as being proven by the Ottawa roster.  They've gone the other way, and with the complicit negligence of NHL refereeing, put the Canadiens in a box in the playoffs last season.  Ulf Samuelsson's crystal ball is faulty.  Or, more accurately, he was conned by Gary Bettman's office.  And so was Bob Gainey.

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