Monday, November 2, 2009

Patrick Kaleta, Pest of the Year

We're fighting a bug at our house - not the flu (yet) and so far Mark has the worst of it - but as a result, I slept through a lot of the Leafs game and all of the Islanders game.  Lucky me from the sounds of it.  So I apologize, but I can't offer you any hard-hitting analysis on why we sucked so hard this weekend. 

I also didn't get around to responding to a couple of comments on the last post.  I just wanted to reply to people questioning the lack of love for Clarke MacArthur.  Believe me, I'm in no way hating on MacArthur.  I'm really, really happy about how well he's playing.  That said, I'm still a little hesitant about getting too excited about him.  I would have bid him farewell before the season with no problem, and I have no pre-existing sentimental attachment to him.  So I'm pleased but not pleased enough to put him in the top five yet.

I will say that one guy who came very, very close to top five status was Patrick Kaleta.  I think I've mentioned before that I have very mixed feelings about Patrick Kaleta.  As blasphemous as it may be to some Sabres fans, I'm not a huge fan of the physical edge he plays with.  I think he's often on the borderline with those hits that are sometimes considered dirty but "good hockey hits."  They make me uncomfortable.  Maybe it makes me a wuss, but I think players are scarily reckless with each other these days, and I think the NHL is irresponsible in how often it turns a blind eye.  I will not be at all shocked when a guy gets carried off the ice and straight to the morgue, and I know Patrick Kaleta could be the guy on the giving end of that hit.  I don't feel very good about that.  I know for a lot of fans and media, that's part of hockey, but it's not the part of hockey I like.  It's not the reason I fell in love with hockey at all.

I do understand that it's good to have a pest on the team though.  Players that can really get under the other team's skin while having the self-control to take it when the opponent snaps at him are worth their weight in gold.  Last time I complained about our power play (something that may continue considering we currently have the 22nd best PP in the league), my complaint was that we never seem to convert on the penalties Kaleta draws.  At the time I didn't have any numbers on the situation which is why I was happy to stumble across a link to this post on the The Score about Kaleta.  You can click on the link to see the actual numbers, but it appears that, relative to ice-time, Kaleta draws more penalties than anyone else in the NHL and has pretty much since he joined the big club.  Jonathan Willis, the author of the post, figured that Kaleta penalties led to 12 extra goals over the course of last season.  Again, this makes me even sadder that the Sabres seem incapable of pulling together any kind of reliable power play.

What has really made me happy about Kaleta this season though is how good he suddenly appears to be at hockey.  He definitely seems to be bringing more skill to the ice so far, and being able to get goals out of the fourth line is obviously a huge plus for any hockey team.  And obviously, he is, as he's always been, one of the hardest workers on the ice.  He gets that his success at this level largely rests on his effort and you can never fault him there.  I think there will probably come a time when he gets a reputation for being a pest or even a dirty player and at that point, you'd think the number of penalties he draws will drop and the number of penalties he earns will increase so it's good that he's developing other skills.  I don't want Kaleta to turn into an Andrew Peters, a player who is completely one-dimenisonal and once that dimenison is up, completely useless.

So yay for Patrick Kaleta, an almost top five Sabre!

ETA: This is probably getting into what should be a whole nother post but after re-reading this I just wanted to clarify that I absolutely do not think Patrick Kaleta steps on the ice every night intending to hurt someone.  I don't think anyone in the NHL does really.  I do think that the league on a whole has gotten extremely reckless and Kaleta's play is an example of that.  Players don't seem to take as much care with each other and while I'm aware that that sounds ridiculous, the truth is that these guys absolutely hold each other's well-being in their hands every time they stop on the ice.  I don't know if players are less cautious due to increased safety gear (which would be the wrong attitude since we've seen that the hard plastic shell on shoulder and elbow pads actually make hits more lethal for the guys on the receving end) or what but the concern for each other isn't there.  It's like Ryan Miller said a couple of weeks back in regards to players crashing the net and goalie: When there's the possibility of a goal, guys can stop on a dime.  When there's no chance of scoring, guys suddenly can't control themselves.  I think you can apply that same phenomenon to situations all over the ice.  You can talk to me all you want about the game being faster and players being bigger and stronger, but I don't think that's enough to explain away the current attitude.  And you know what, the game being faster, stronger, and bigger is all the more reason for players to be more careful and for the league to take borderline hits, particularly to the head and from behind, more seriously even if it means over-penalizing.  Considering how much more we know now about concussions and how strings of concussions can affect a player's quality of life long after his hockey career is over, the league continuing to turn a blind eye is a tragedy.  They expect a player on the ice to control his stick.  If he hits someone with his stick, no matter how incidental, it's penalized.  If the other player squeezes out even a drop of blood, it's an extra penalty.  So make the players control their bodies too.  At some point, speed and size have to make way for safety.

End of only vaguely-related rant.


PKB said...

I have a huge problem with the NHL in this area too. Some hits are so dangerous I find the objective part of my brain thinking that this hit will no doubt force the hockey bureaucrats to change the status quo. Not only does even a whisper of that discussion not happen, but the player often isn’t even suspended! Ri-dic-u-lous.

Then I read some idiot like Matt Barnaby tweet something like, “Hits are part of the game! Keep them in! Gotta keep your head up!” and it makes me want to puke in my soup. Did he see that hit?

The victims of dangerous hits are not given a fair chance to protect themselves like say, a running back or wide-receiver, who expects and prepares to get hit. Most of the dangerous hits that occur happen to people without the puck and therefore are NOT expecting contact. There’s a lot the NHL could do to refine the way players make contact so that it is fair, safe, and still entertaining, but the first thing they could do is start enforcing their own basic rules.

I actually think this is a player’s union issue more than a league issue, though. The league only cares about ratings and hockey fans watching now are not likely to stop watching if these hits continue. The NHL might even be able to pull in a few of the violence obsessed Americans while they’re at it.

The players union wants as few suspensions as possible because they speak on behalf of the players and the players want to keep their money. Suspensions, remember, take money out of their pockets. The union should be worried about player protection but who knows what they’re thinking. I can’t even speculate really. We all know that the NHLPA has always had horrible leadership. The players that I suspect would be willing to make a beef about this are the victims and their grievance would probably be dismissed as biased. Unbiased players are probably nervous of being cast a wuss in a macho sport and having Neanderthal, hockey purists like Barnaby give them crap.

I’ve thrown around the possibility of someone dying from one of these hits too. Is that what it’s going to take? And will people really be commenting after the fact that the player should have kept his head up?

Mark B said...

I've always thought Pat Kaleta had more to offer than a player like Peters or even Adam Mair. I'm really glad he's showing it. I can see Lindy using him more on the PK if he continues his upward ways.