Monday, December 8, 2008

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: In Which Heather B. Says "Bucky is Right!"

(If you haven't read Saturday's post regarding my feelings about shaking up the team by firing Lindy Ruff yet, you might want to read that first. But then come back here.)

I was delighted to pull up TBN's website today and see the headline Rather than replacing Ruff, kick players to the curb. "Oh, goody!" I thought to myself. "Someone agrees with me. It's... Bucky."

I sighed and shook my head for a few minutes but you know what? I'm just gonna say it. I agree with everything Bucky says. And I don't even feel conflicted about it. This might be one of the signs of the apocalypse.

There have been a lot of comments lately complaining about the system and how Lindy should just let the players go and play their offense-first style of hockey. I certainly understand the inclination because clearly these guys are, for whatever reason, not buying into the system even though it has worked for them more often that it hasn't when they actually do it. But Bucky is right when he says that Lindy isn't letting them play that style because it doesn't work in today's league. It doesn't. It doesn't work. It's not 2005-2006 anymore, guys. You can't make passes from one end of the ice to the other, you can't speed past five bodies in the neutral zone, you can't stick handle your way to the goalie's doorstep. We missed our chance to win a Cup playing that kind of hockey when the defensive corp blew up in the 2006 playoffs. The Sabres are victims of their own success. The run-and-gun teams were blowing opponents off the ice so teams that didn't have the personnel to play that kind of hockey compensated by playing a completely different style, one that has now overtaken the league. Lindy understands that and he's trying desperately to make his players, who seem to be stuck in 2005-2006 mode, understand that. If they can't wrap their brains around that, they're not going to win, at least not enough for it to matter.

I could say more on this subject - and probably will - but it's late and I have a loooong week ahead of me at work so I need to get to bed. But please discuss. I'm curious to see what everyone thinks. I'll chip in more later.


Katebits said...

I agree. It's not the system's fault!

Meg said...

I agree as well.

Lee Andrew said...

I disagree!

Heather B. said...

I agree. It's not the system's fault!

I agree as well.

Oh. Okay. Well, maybe I don't have anything else to say :P

(I'm ignoring Lee. He's just being contrary. Little brothers, you know?)

Jill said...

I almost choked when I saw your headline.

Vanek's Hair said...

I still blame, to a great extent, "the system" My main problem with "the system" (as evidenced last week against the Panthers) is that is leaves little to no margin for error. And more importantly, eye gougingly boring hockey (OK, I overuse eye gouging). Maybe my complaint should be directed away from Lindy Ruff and towards the NHL. The NBA, NHL and to a lesser degree the MLB are constantly tweaking their rules to ensure their games do not go stagnant. The NHL has ignored "system" hockey since I was in college (for those not keeping track, that was long ago).

I realize that the NHL wants to cater to its passionate fans, which causes them to shy away from tweaking. However, its 2008, sports are longer competitions that happen to be televised entertainment. They are televised entertainment that happen to be sports and they need to embrace that. Allowing stars to excel is what turns dials. People do not tune away from the thousands of other entertainment outlets to watch systems. Even the New England Patriots, one of the most dominant teams in NFL history drew no viewers until last year when they scored at will. Prior to that, they were a "system" football team.

Vanek's Hair even has two suggestions to help. Eliminate the point for overtime losses. You either win or lose, that's it. Darcy Reiger once said, we start every game with a point. Exactly, that mentality leads to systems. Why push the envelope when you could lose the point in doing so. Take that away, and teams may be more aggressive, fearing a point hanging in the balance of the hated shootout. And, make the crease more than painted ice. If a goalie is in the crease, he cannot be touched. If he moves out of it, he is like every other skater with the puck and open to checks. Purists will hate all my ideas, who cares.

I have more, but I have taken enough of your time.

Heather B. said...

I guess I really need some clarification on what The System is, Vanek's Hair. The Panthers game was dreadfully boring. But the first bunch of games of the season in which the team played five man defense, forechecking AND backchecking like mad, were all pretty good, I thought.

I was a little afraid you were about to throw out, "Make the trap illegal!" which, while admirable, is not at all feasible. But I'm totally down with doing away with the extra point. The shootout was implemented to insure a winner and a loser. The loser should never, ever get a point IMO. I think the crease rule is a little harder to enforce but I wouldn't be opposed to getting some of the bodies piled in front of the net out of the way.

The thing I find most frustrating by far is that I think the players we have, with a couple of exceptions, are more than capable of playing The System and skilled enough to make it perhaps a little more entertaining. They're just too stubborn or lazy or SOMETHING to stick with it for more than a few games at a time.

Vanek's Hair said...

My use of the Panthers game as an example is that game was both teams really standing and waiting for something to happen. Yes, the Sabres got 40 some shots on goal, but the were from the outside. No real quality scoring chances, much like what the Panthers did in kind. And the Panthers got two odd man rushes which they converted on. At that point, there was no way the Sabres were going to score without a puck bouncing off a bunch of skates after an outside shot. If there was no 5 on 3, I doubt the Sabres would have scored.

I agree that forechecking and backchecking make for exciting hockey, I love games like that. My interpretation of "system" is no forechecking. It is three forwards waiting at the blue line for the opposing team to bring the puck out of the zone. Forechecking is a forward actually entering the zone and pressuring puck. There is very little of that because that sort of aggressive play leads to offensive chances not generated by point shots that get through sets of legs, sticks, skates, etc. I actually have a photo I took at a recent game where the Islanders three forwards were standing at the blue line waiting for the Sabres attack as though there was a force field keeping them from penetrating the blue line. I may name that photo "The System" because it is perfect illustration of what I dislike.

I am not, for the record, in favor of a coaching change. I am always the last person to the "fire the coach" party. I get that Lindy Ruff is trying to survive in a league that apparently resists exciting hockey.

As far as outlawing the trap, that would be too difficult to enforce. But a few tweaks to the game would make trapping impractical. Hockey games full of the trap is like football with out the forward pass.

Holy moly have I been a gas bag today!

Heather B. said...

Hmmmmm.... See, I've been thinking of The System as being as committed to defense/backchecking as you are to offense/forechecking, maybe a little bit more. Perhaps I've been having so many arguments with people about The System because I don't know what the heck The System actually is :)

But for the record, I do agree with you about the Panthers game. Dreadful. And I agree that 40 shots is a deceiving stat when they're all from the perimeter. The scoring opportunities were much, much lower.

In the end, the fact that you're not for a coaching change is all I care about anyway :P

Holy moly have I been a gas bag today!

Awww, but you're OUR gas bag!

Vanek's Hair said...

Forechecking and backchecking is awesome. I love watching games that have that. It really opens things up. More odd man rushes. And a very exciting play is an odd man rush broken up by a backchecker coming back with his "hair on fire" as the saying goes. The system means the forward never gets aggressive enough to have to backcheck.

About five of six years ago I thought the Sabres could use a coaching change because the "players tuned the message out" But I have grown beyond sports cliches and realize how stupid I sounded saying that. Coaching is about preparation and practice. Gameday speeches and all that are meaningless to today's player.

More gas bag. What is wrong with me?

Heather B. said...

I definitely like my definition of The System better than yours. Yours is a snooze :P

I think there probably are situations where a new coach does make a difference and I do think there are situations where it's just more of a personality conflict than anything in which case booting the coach is a valid choice. In the Sabres situation I really think firing the coach would be futile because the problem is we have a bunch of talented, mule-headed players who want to win the easiest way possible (IMO). Fire the coach and we're still stuck with those guys.

Vanek's Hair said...

My definition of a system is a snooze. I like yours better too.

I think this current group of players was spoiled a bit by coming all fresh faced into the NHL in 2005- 2006 and going on a run to the ECF two years in a row after going deep in the AHL playoffs. They think the playoffs is their birth rite and that everything will fall into place. Last January they all said "Holy bleep, we actually have to work to get into the playoffs!?" At least this year they said that in late November when there is still time to fix things.

Heather B. said...

Yep, yep. Completely and totally spoiled. I would've thought that last season's "Holy bleep!" would've carried over into this season but it seems they needed to be reminded yet again, that hockey is usually hard. But you're right. Better now than in March or April.

::sigh::: We'll see what happens, I guess.

Jonathan said...

dave in Rocha said...

I think the need to change the Sabres' style of play is not only a result of other teams styling their defence to stop us, but also (and perhaps to a greater degree) the fact that other teams have rethought what a good team nowadays consists of.

Think back to the first year after the lockout. Everyone loved Philly because they had Hatcher, Gauthier, and other goons on the blueline. Turns out they were just slow. Now their top blueliners are Coburn and Timonen. Look at Chicago. Instead of going with huge guys like Daze, Bell and Aucoin, they've turned to Kane, Sharp and Campbell.

All of a sudden, the Sabres don't look quite so fast anymore. Is it because MacArthur, Stafford and Paille are that slower than Drury, Dumont and Grier? No. It's because everyone else caught on. Our biggest weapon has been taken away from us. In order to win, we have to change our approach. Simple as that.

Heather B. said...


dave, I never really thought about what you're saying in quite that way but it's an excellent point. I think you're on to something with everyone have more speed and skating ability now.