Sunday, July 15, 2007

Banning the Buffalo News and Why I Love Hockey - Part 13

For five days now I have been living a Buffalo News free life. I haven't looked at the sports section in the paper version or the online version and I haven't read the paper's Sabres blog. (I have been reading the rest of the paper, but I might have to give it up too. The TV critic keeps sneaking in references to Darcy Regier and Mary Kunz's stupid complaints about the library system bugged me. How long do you want the library to let you keep things, Mary? And have you ever heard of renewing materials? And did you know that the library will email you to let you know your items are almost due? If all of that is over your head you should a) deal with it and pay your fines or b) use a bookstore.) I also deleted all the Sabres message boards from my favorite places though I will probably wander back to them once the endless debates about who screwed up the Drury/Briere situation and who's fit to wear a letter die down. For the past five days I've read Bfloblog and Sabre Rattling and enjoyed conversation with fellow Sabres fans here and at Interchangeable Parts. That's it. And man, am I loving it. My husband tried to tell me about something Bucky Gleason said about Jay McKee in today's paper and I wouldn't listen even though, I'll admit I was a little bit intrigued. Knowing Bucky though it probably had something to do with the Sabres missing the chance to get Jay at a reduced rate before UFA started last off-season.

Why I Love Hockey #13 - Line-Up Flexibility and Debatability
Football, basketball, and baseball are all pretty easy when it comes to setting the line-up. You put the best players on the field as much as possible. In football you might have a guy you want in certain situations. In basketball you might have a group of guys who work particularly well together. In baseball you can play around with the batting order some. But that's it. Deciding on offensive lines and defensive pairings in hockey are a lot more work just because there are endless possibilities. It's not as easy as throwing out a center and two wings and letting them go. Do the players' styles mesh? Are they going to work well together or drive each other crazy? Are they going to bring out the best in each other or the worst? Who a player is lined up with can change his role on the ice. If Derek Roy is centering Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek, there's more emphasis on his offensive game. If he's playing the wing with Chris Drury and Jochen Hecht he's going to be required to play more of a shut-down defensive game. Where's he more valuable during this game against this opponent? When a line is struggling do you blow it up and re-shuffle everyone or do you let them muddle through and hope they get their mojo back? What happens when someone is injured? (Oh, cruel injuries!) Do you try to fill the gap with as little movement as possible among the forward lines and defensive pairings or do you play musical chairs and move everyone around? So, so much for a coach to think about and worry about. But when you find that magic mix that just seems to work - see Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov last season and Tallinder-Lydman the past couple of seasons - man, it is a thing of beauty. I love seeing one guy put a pass in the right spot just before his teammate is there. You're sitting at home thinking, "Who the heck was that pass to?" and then a split second later, "Oh, THAT guy! Holy crap, what a pass!" I love watching one defensemen peel off one way while the other goes the other way, each one knowing exactly what the other is going to do.

One of the most fun things about all the different ways to ice a hockey team is how much fan debate it inspires. Even during all the Drury/Briere outrage, every Sabres message board had atleast one thread devoted to what next year's lines should look like. Nothing gets second-guessed in sports more than how the lines and pairings are set up on a hockey team and everyone has their own opinions and their own reasons for why things should be done their way. It's kind of ridiculous, especially right now in the middle of July, but it's a fun way to pass the time and it's amazing to me how many different combos people manage to come up with, some of them total head scratchers, a lot of them making sense in different ways.

In keeping with the theme, here's what I think about next season. Feel free to agree or disagree. That's the fun, people!

Vanek - Connolly - Afinogenov
(I know some people are hestitant to break up the RAV line but I'm doing it for two reasons. One, I think you have to have your most gifted playmaker - Connolly - with your most gifted goal scorer - Vanek. Two, I think it became clear during the playoffs that as well as RAV played together, they often brought out the worst in each other. They all have a tendency to get a little too cute with the puck and despite their good +/- ratings, show some lack of defensive responsibility. When Roy plays with a Drury or a Hecht instead it's like you can see a light bulb flip on in his head. "Oh, right. Defense. I can do that!" And he can which is why I'd like to see him away from Vanek and Max.

Kotalik - Roy - Stafford
(Roy and Stafford showed good chemistry when Max was out last season. I love the chemistry between Kotalik and Timmy but I don't think Kotalik is consistent enough right now to play on the top line.)

Paille - Hecht - Pominville
(Hecht has been stapled pretty tightly to Briere's wing the past few years, but I've always liked his game at center and I think he's a really underrated two-way player. He's the most obvious choice to take over Drury's role as the shut down center. I'm tempted to flip Stafford and Pominville since Pominville would probably score more on a line with Roy and Kotalik, but for now I'm leaving them as is. Not sure Stafford is up for a shut down role yet.)

MacArthur - Gaustad - Mair
(MacArthur is obviously a guess since it's unclear who's going to make it out of camp. A lot of people have split Goose and Mair up over two lines which I can understand I guess - spread the toughness around. But I like the havoc they've wreaked together in the past and I'm iffy on either guy being skilled enough to move up. Maybe Goose.)

(Duh. Part of me would like to split them up so each of the offensive defensemen had a more defensive-minded partner, but these two have that magical, unexplainable chemistry. They play together in a way that they don't play with anyone else. Plus we probably need to have one really defensively strong defensive pairing.)

(Teppo brings a little defensive responsibility to the pairing. He can hold down the fort while Soupy is charging up the ice. Soupy played his best defensive hockey while paired with Teppo season before last, in my opinion.)

(Do with it what you will. I'm not as down on Kalinin as most people though he was brutal toward the end of the playoffs. During the regular season he was sound enough to play with Paetsch or Spacek.)

How many days till training camp?


LeeAndrew said...

What happened to "Something about Me". Did you already tell us everything there is to know?

Also, is the All-Star activities going to be one of your reasons you love hockey? I only saw it once and don't remember what they did but it seemed like they actually had some pretty cool events, unlike the dull homerun contest.

Heather B. said...

Lee, I keep forgetting about the "Something About Me" until after I've posted. I get too involved in the hockey talk, I guess.

As for the All-Star festivities... well, you'll just have to keep reading. (Okay, yes, they probably will appear since I liked them even before I liked hockey.)

Kate said...

Hmm. Pairings and line combinations are still too advanced for me, but I liked reading about your thought process. This was a highly educational post.

KMS2 said...

When I was young, I was so awestruck at how the guys could change lines on the fly and not skate into each other or screw things up some way or another. I think I would be more interested in the lines if Crow didn't change the line pairings every single game.

Heather B. said...

Kate, I live to educate! It won't be long before you too can pretend to know what you're talking about!

kms, I'm still fascinated by line changes. When I go to games that's one of the things I watch closely.

Kevin said...

Heather -

I had no idea you had banned the BuffNews sports pages. Good for you! As I was driving home from work yesterday I pondered canceling my dead-tree subscription but I didn't have the guts.

Kate said...

Kevin, you PAY for the Buffalo News?! I can't believe it! I have been SO wishing I had a subscription to cancel. YOU can hit them where it hurts. Come ON, man.


And make sure those bastards know why you are canceling. Kevin, you are subsidizing BUCKY GLEASON. It's not okay. It's not okay at all.

MikeS said...

Awesome Stuff Heather! Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!!