Five Leafs thoughts to begin the week – April 8th

A few thoughts to begin the week… TV rights, Jake Gardiner, effort, and more…

No. 1 – Leafs back in the win column… if you got to see it

As soon as CBC announced that Montreal and Boston was going to be the national game for this last week, I immediately looked for somebody to handle the game recap, and made my own plans for Saturday night. I live out in BC, so I wouldn’t be able to get the game on TV with the benefit of a PVR system allowing me to rewind plays and double-check observations or whatever it is I do.

So not only is the game blacked out in Vancouver, but it’s also blacked out on GameCentre Live, and the only feed available is a usually-unreliable CBC online feed. Not that I want to discourage CBC from moving their product online. I think five or ten years from now, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that cable companies will be “out” and we’ll watch our TV primarily by streaming services or downloadable content.

By the way, here’s some good reading about a potential lawsuit launched last year by some fans of the NHL and MLB, who don’t like the league’s internet blackout restrictions. If any legal mind knows if that case has picked up since December I’d love to hear about it.

No. 2 – Is Jake Gardiner… okay?

Twitter lit up early into last game after Steve Bernier hit Jake Gardiner into the boards and he went shaky to the bench, before going into the lockerroom. There was also, unfortunately, a lot of snarky tweets directed at bloggers because it looked for once like the Leafs were handling a head injury with some caution. Of course, those arguments would be more convincing if Gardiner hadn’t already played earlier this season with what was later revealed to be a concussion.

On this moment though, it doesn’t seem like there was another concussion. Jonas Siegel said Gardiner got ten stitches from the hit and should have a nasty shiner this week. Still, there are some quotes in Jonas’ piece that leave more questions unanswered than answered:

It is unquestionably for that reason that [Leafs head coach Randy] Carlyle has demanded more from Gardiner in recent days, weeks and months. While sensing the obvious natural talents, Carlyle is focused on rounding out the game of his youthful defender, ensuring that he become more than just a race-horse capable of joining the odd rush. 

“I think I have to be better defensively with coach Carlyle,” Gardiner said of the contrast between Carlyle and his first coach in the NHL, Ron Wilson. “It seems like he’s a little more detailed than Wilson was in that sense. Last year it seemed like I could, not get away with anything, but just [be] more offensive-minded than defensive.”

Nothing wrong with focusing on defence since it isn’t Gardiner’s strong suit. But there’s very little specific in just what Carlyle is going to do to help Gardiner’s defensive game. It’s more than “making good plays” or “making smart decisions” since those are the plays for the most part what Gardiner was doing last season. Was there anything wrong with what Gardiner was before?

No. 3 – James Reimer again

Word on the street is that Reimer put together another strong game. I still haven’t seen it, but the Leafs were out-shot by a hefty margin on Saturday and came away with a victory. If you look at the Behind the Net Fenwick timeline of the game, you’ll see that the Leafs didn’t record a single un-blocked shot after the 2-1 goal. Madness.

There was something oddly pleasant about Reimer being named First Star of the Saturday night game as Miikka Kiprusoff got lit up by the Canucks and Roberto Luongo was on the bench. At this point there’s a part of me that wants to see Reimer keep winning games because there are a lot of media types in the city I live who are acting almost insulted that Dave Nonis didn’t go out of his way to acquire Roberto Luongo, and instead decided to live with the younger and cheaper Reimer who is having a fantastic season.

No. 4 – Plus players

The Leafs who had a positive shot differential against New Jersey:

  • Jake Gardiner (+4)
  • Phil Kessel (+2)
  • Clarke MacArthur (+1)
  • Carl Gunnarsson (E)

The Cody Franson (-11) and Mark Fraser (-15) pairing got absolutely eaten alive. There seems to be so much focus on improving Gardiner’s play that nobody’s noticed Mark Fraser has been a liability in both ends for the last two weeks or so. I guess he’s allowed to get away with it because he has a lower ceiling?

I don’t know why he can’t also be held out of the lineup.

No. 5 – Effort

I bring this up because @67sound linked to it over the weekend. There’s a reason you can’t judge what Fraser, Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren et. al do based on effort alone. Effort is illusory. Merely succeeding in your role isn’t enough. Some roles are more difficult.

Sometimes, the way you rate a player is biased towards the effort he displays, even if it doesn’t sync with his actual value. If that sounds like the controversial remarks of an outsider, it isn’t. Stan Bowman, Stanley Cup-winning general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks said that at the Sloan Analytics Conference in 2011.

Here’s more I wrote on the subject using Bowman’s words:

Well, Bowman pointed out, the ratings provided by the coach, tallied up after every game, never matched reality. A coach’s subjective bias, he explained, benefit the third line players and the players who were closer to replacement level. Those players ratings were “unfairly propped up because the expectations for that player are much lower.”

For a grinder, “he’s expected to go out on the ice and create energy,” Bowman continued. “That player can probably do the job to the coach’s liking without a doubt as long as the effort’s there.”

But for a scorer, things are more different. While any scrub with a strong set of shoulders and good skating ability can go out, bang and crash and get the crowd into the game, a scorer requires a different skill-set. The best scorers and players in the game will usually benefit from three or four scoring chances a night and six or seven shot attempts. When you consider that a fraction of those chances or attempts hit the back of the net, you can find that a grinder is more likely to do his job than the scorer.

“You can’t necessarily score every game, no matter how hard you try.”

There’s no real substitute for talent, in the end.

  • If you think it’s hard to watch games when they’re blacked out in Canada, don’t try and watch hockey in the UK… When things are blacked out over here, it’s because they are being shown on a sports channel which requires satellite TV (which I can’t get), and costs £50 a month. And of course, because the game is on at 2am, it’s not like I can go to the pub to watch it.

    Oh, and since this channel will show the whole of the playoffs, the whole of the playoffs will be blacked out in the UK. Fact is that I’m more than happy to pay for Gamecentre Live if the NHL is offering the games, but since they aren’t…

  • The Craig

    VPN service my friend. Google it. I’m watching anything I want on GameCentre live, by virtually residing anywhere I want. Its affordable, good quality, and I get every game, no cable required.