Report: NHLPA concerned about ‘the lack of goal-scoring’

Originally posted on ProHockeyTalk:

Citing a “growing concern over the lack of goal-scoring,” Sportsnet’s Damien Cox (video) reported this weekend that the NHLPA will bring that concern to the table when the competition committee meets in June.

Cox was short on any specifics, but it’s worth noting that, in 2012, NHL general managers debated whether there needed to be a “re-set” on obstruction. Fast forward to 2015 and the league is coming under increasing fire for what many see as a return to the bad old days of clutch-and-grab hockey.

Or, as the New York Post’s Larry Brooks put it, “the NHL has decided fans and the sport are better served when its officials turn blind eyes toward the hooking, holding and obstruction fouls for which there was supposed to be zero tolerance coming out of the canceled 2004-05 season.”

Calling the games tighter isn’t the only way to increase scoring. We’ll have to…

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My Response To NHLPA’s Concern On Falling NHL Scoring

This was my response to a report on NBC Pro Hockey Talk regarding the National Hockey League Players Association concern about the recent drop in goal scoring.

By Eric Converse

Every time the discussion of increasing the size of hockey nets comes up, people always say that altering the net would change a fundamental part of the game, but practically EVERY ASPECT of hockey changed over the years. From size of players, to quality and size of goalie equipment, to transitioning from wood sticks to composite sticks, to coaching strategies, to how tightly referees call games, to the height of the glass on the side boards making it easier for teams to clear pucks, to the size of the rink, to the size of the offensive zone, to allowing the forward pass etc etc. You name it, and it probably changed in some way. None of those things were considered too fundamental not to change.

The standard NHL net.

The standard NHL net.

So really all that can be argued is, has the dynamic between the goalie and the shooter changed? The answer is yes. All of the changes to the nuances of hockey have led to where the game is now… a much lower scoring game than the 1970s and 80s. There use to be up to 8 or 9 goals per game between both teams. Now the scoring is just a decimal point above 5 goals. So all of the records that people are trying to protect are now slanted towards goalies, while scorers aren’t given a chance to demonstrate their scoring like players could “back in they day”. Over the last 20 years, goalies were more likely to break records, while scorers didn’t have a chance to touch most of the records on the books.

The NHL has tried other solutions in the last 10 years. They eliminated the two-line pass rule, tried to enforce no-tolerance obstruction, shrunk goalie equipment by about 15%ish in 2005, then shrunk the height of pads a few years ago, and a number of other rules. The no-tolerance obstruction only lasted a couple of years partly because there were too many concussions occurring from the players buzzing around interference free at much higher speeds, plus there were people who complained about too many penalties taking away from the “flow” of the game. So now what?

The league could consider more radical changes to goalie equipment and really cut down the size of goalie chest protectors, baggy jerseys, gloves, blockers, and leg pads. That would be a process that would have to go through the goaltending contingent of the NHLPA, but there was a lot of opposition from the net-minders. Maybe the forwards will veto the goalies vote on this, but that could create a divide in the union. It could still happen, we will see.

The NHL could look to increase the size of the ice. That could create more goals on the rush with all the extra space for puck carriers to spread out on. But, if the size of the goal mouth is the same, well coached teams would stay well structured in front of the net like they are now (i.e. Tortorella style defense) once they are set up in the defensive zone. Teams wouldn’t chase pucks outside of the circles by the boards. There would likely be less hitting and more teams could play keep away with the puck, by passing it around with all the extra space on the perimeter. I don’t think that’s what hockey people want the game to become.

So that just leaves the nets. The NHL already made a small change to the nets last year. Not only did they shrink the back of the net to make wraparound goals easier, they changed the top corners of the net, squaring them off more. Here is a link to the new net: http://3.cdn.nhle.com/bluejackets/images/upload/2013/09/NewGoalFrame.jpg

That clearly hasn’t been enough. So the competition committee could calculate a minor increase to the size of the net that wouldn’t drastically increase scoring, but add few more goals to games on average. Whether it be 1 to 4 inches width and a bit in height. This could make shots from more extreme angles and from the perimeter more of a threat, which would also force teams to play more aggressive defense tactics as collapsing to the slot, would expose the team too much. The league would have to experiment with this, possibly in the minors in some way or in pre-season.

I’m not against low scoring games or shut outs. I also do not want a game where there are a bunch high scoring games off of easy wrist shots from the blue line, because the goalie can’t reasonably protect a huge net. I grew up playing goalie in youth hockey and appreciate the art of net minding. I can only imagine how hard it is to play the position at the professional level with the nets as they are now. It is my favorite position to watch. I am also an NHL team season ticket holder. I love the game. What I am against are games that lack creativity and lack a lot of legitimate scoring chances. Those things are very subjective and harder to measure versus calculating the average amount of goals per game. If the players are concerned about it and not just the league, it must be at least a small problem.

Follow me on twitter! @ConverseHockey

Providence Bruins Begin Calder Cup Run

David Pastrnak will lead the Providence Bruins attack this post-season. (via Joseph Cronin)

David Pastrnak will lead the Providence Bruins attack this post-season. (via Joseph Cronin)

By Eric Converse

With the Boston Bruins missing the playoffs this season, all hope for a Bruins championship this spring is on the minor league affiliate in Providence. The P-Bruins enter the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs as a lower seed in the 6th spot in the eastern conference, but the additions of David Pastrnak and a rejuvenated Ryan Spooner can make this team play more like a top seed. They are set to face-off against their rivals, the Hartford Wolf Pack.

The Wolfpack are led by the offense of AHL veteran, and former P-Bruins player, Chris Bourque, with 29 goals and 27 assists. This small, but shifty forward can dominate opponents with his underrated shot and slick play making abilities. Center-man Oscar Lindberg and right flank Danny Kristo will make the lives of the Providence defense core difficult in this series. Lindberg is also described as a big game player by Hockey’s Future. Hartford has significant scoring depth below their top scorers, which places them in the top 10 in the league for goals for.

Their defense core is led offensively by Conor Allen with 11 goals and 23 assists. Mathew Brodie is their best all around defense-men who still produces offensively, but also leads the team with a +11 plus/minus. Dylan McIlrath is a sizeable, tough, and fierce defense-man, who makes space tight in the Hartford zone for Providence forwards. As a whole, Hartford is average defensively.

Hartford’s leading goaltending tandem consists of rookie Mackenzie Skapski and mid-season signing/ AHL veteran Yann Danis. Neither goaltender is the clear cut start, so it will be interesting to see which direction the Wolf-Pack go in.

The Providence Bruins are led by the offense of David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khoklhlachev, and Justin Florek. Key goal scoring will also come from Rob Flick and AHL veteran Colin Stuart. This team produced goals by committee, with no player reaching the 20 goal mark. This placed Providence in the bottom half of the AHL in goal scoring, but both Spooner and Pastrnak played large portions of the season in Boston.

Zach Trotman returns to Providence following a strong stint in Boston. (via Joseph Cronin)

Zach Trotman returns to Providence following a strong stint in Boston. (via Joseph Cronin)

Expectations are very high on Pastrnak, who clearly is an NHL level player, but is playing in the Calder Cup playoffs to play in high pressure playoff situations and to develop the leadership skills necessary to grind through future Stanley Cup playoff runs in Boston. This is Spooner’s swan song in Providence as he is expected to make the Boston line-up right out of training camp. The pressure is on for him to play at an elite level against AHL competition.

Zack Phillips, a trade deadline addition from the Minnsota Wild organization is expected to be a key depth center below Spoons and Koko.

The Providence Bruins defensive depth is its bread and butter. The team is 6th overall in the AHL in goals against. NHL veteran Steve Eminger leads the D-Core offensively with 23 points, with the powerful Chis Casto leading the entire team with a +17 plus/minus. Christopher Breen, who is  6’7, will give Hartford little space to create offense. The speedy David Warsofsky will be expected to ignite the transition game with his foot speed and first pass. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow are both expected to be steady defense-men making high percentage plays and chip in offensively. Tommy Cross will likely the 7th D-man on the team.

Smith

Goaltender Jeremy Smith will likely start throughout the playoffs following a strong regular season. (via Joseph Cronin)

Jeremy Smith is expected to be the starter for most of, if not all of the Calder Cup playoff games, as he had a very strong season with 0.933 save percentage and a 2.05 goals against average, placing him 4th in the AHL. Top prospect Malcolm Subban had equivalent numbers to his rookie season, but seemed to slow down overall in his development with some technique issues.

The American Hockey League 1st round playoffs are a best of 5 series. Teams are pressured to get off to a good start pretty quickly, or else they could be forced to win 3 straight games to win the series in a definitive game 5. This dynamic can make these first round series quite intense.

Forward Line Juggling

The additions of Pastrnak and Spooner will greatly help this team, but it also leaves Providence with a lot of questions on how they want to reconstruct their forward lines. Spooner and Pastrnak were separated for Friday night’s game to spread the wealth among the top two lines, but it seemed to lack chemistry, albeit it was only 1 game. If they remain separated for game 1 of the series and the lines continue to lack chemistry, head coach Cassidy should consider pairing Spooner and Pastrnak together on the 1st line.

Just for fun, this is how I would construct the top two forward lines:

Florek-Spooner-Pastrnak

Stuart-Khokhlachev-Griffith

The sizeable Florek will mirror the role that Lucic performed for Spoons and Pasta in Boston, while also chipping in a significant amount of offense. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has a lot of options at his disposal and it will be interesting to see what he does with it.

Series Prediction:

Providence wins on the road in Game 5 with the P-Bruins offense being stronger than it was in the regular season and having a far superior goals against over Hartford.

Providence Bruins Round One Schedule Released

Following the Providence Bruins 5 to 1 win over the Manchester Monarchs, the baby B’s first round best of 5 series schedule against the Hartford Wolfpack was released by the American Hockey League.

Game 1 – Wednesday April 22nd – Providence at Hartford, 7:00
Game 2 – Saturday April 25th – Providence at Hartford, 7:00
Game 3 – Sunday April 26th – Hartford at Providence, 7:05
*Game 4 – Tuesday April 28th – Hartford at Providence, 7:05
*Game 5 – Friday May 1st – Providence at Hartford, 7:00

*If Necessary

First Round NHL Playoff Picks

By Eric Converse

All of these teams are chasing after this coveted cup..

All of these teams are chasing after this coveted cup..

It’s that amazing time of year again… unfortunately without our hometown Boston Bruins. Regardless, my hockey addiction goes on without them, especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL is so evenly matched with the salary cap that it was very difficult to make my picks for this year.

In the eastern conference I have Ottawa taking out Montreal, partly because of their hot streak in the 2nd half of the season going in to the playoffs and the fact that the Canadiens leading scorer is out for game 1 and may not be in the best shape when he returns. That puts a ton of pressure on Carey Price to support what seems like it will be a more limited offense. Tampa Bay outmatches Detroit in general and should win that series in 5 or 6 games.

The New York Rangers should take out the plummeting Pittsburgh Penguins in short order who almost had a worse collapse than the Bruins this year. I had a really hard time picking the Washington Capitals-New York Islanders series. With Travis Hamonic out for the Isles, I started to lean towards the Caps, but I think the prospect of playing the Rangers in the 2nd round along with emotion at the soon to be closing Coliseum, could push the Islanders over the top.

In the west, I see St. Louis as finally getting over the hump, after years of knocking on the door of going on a deep run and finally doing it. The added depth at center with Paul Statsny in the fray, makes them a very formidable group. The Minnesota Wild could upset them if their goaltender Devan Dubnyk continues his incredible run in goal. I see the Nashville Predators getting past the Blackhawks if Kane is not himself and some of their inconsistencies during the season show through. The Preds also seem to really believe in their new more offensively oriented system backed by Pekke Rinne in goal and strong and hungry defense core. You can never underestimate the really seasoned Blackhawks though.

I really wanted to pick the Winnipeg Jets​ to beat the Anaheim Ducks, but could not get myself to come around to it. Despite how balanced the Jets are and how I think home ice for them could be a HUGE factor in their first playoff appearance since returning to Winnipeg, I see the Ducks having too much fire power mixed with grit up front. Their young D and not having elite goaltending. Fredrik Anderson had a 2.38 GAA and .914 SV%, which is pretty pedestrian, but the Jets only have slightly better goaltending numbers. Lastly, I see the Vancouver Canucks edging out the Calgary Flames, due to having more playoff experience in the top of their line up. Calgary’s incredible run could continue if the young roster is naive enough to ignore the pressure of playoff hockey.

Peter Chiarelli Exits Boston

The Boston Bruins announced that they have “relieved” Peter Chiarelli from his duties as team GM earlier today and held a rather cryptic press conference about their decision making process, featuring Charlie Jacobs and Cam Neely. However, Chiarelli’s questionable roster transactions are very much public record and is self explanatory as to why they came to this decision.

It’s important to remember that Chiarelli did a very adequate job. This team was in the playoffs every year from 2008 to 2014, with two cup final appearances, a president’s trophy win, and the 2011 cup win. If he was the GM to a majority of other NHL teams, this kind of track record would give him a decent amount of job security. The high pressure and expectations of Boston as an original six franchise, makes a few key mistakes with the roster and cap management a major issue.

The Bruins also announced that they let go amateur scouts Mike Chiarelli, Denis Leblanc, and head European scout Jukka Holitari. Peter Chiarelli had started making changes to their scouting department over the last few years following a stretch of seasons where they had a lot of underwhelming picks in the draft, often picking over players who went on to have much greater production. Whoever is selected as the new GM will need to quickly right the ship to make sure there is a fresh pool of young prospects with higher projected NHL ceilings. With the exception of a few, most prospects project to be a 3rd line to possibly 2nd line NHLer in their prime.

Cam Neely also announced that the new GM will determine if Claude Julien retains the head coaching position going in to next season.

Calder Cup Fever in Providence

With the additions of David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, who are now both legitimate young NHLers, will man the first line for the Providence Bruins to gain more experience in high pressure playoff situations. The hope is that these experiences will better prepare them for what is expected to be a return to the NHL playoffs for Boston next year. Defenseman Zach Trotman also returns to Providence to add significant depth to their D core there.

Follow me on twitter: @ConverseHockey

Boston Bruins Mixed Bag Press Conference

Here is the entire press conference here via the Boston Bruins twitter account:

By Eric Converse

My first take away from the ‘end of season press conference’ with Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli is that they actually had a press conference instead of being fired like Ted Nolan in Buffalo and nearly the entire staff in Toronto. The Bruins are certainly not on same the level of disarray of those two organizations (yet), but still it’s interesting that they were able to speak to the media about the decisions they are going to make moving forward, amid all the speculation that they could be fired. This could mean Charlie Jacobs is giving them one more chance to rectify their mistakes from this season, albeit on a very short leash… or it could mean ownership is just taking their time with assessing their replacement options before they make any decisions.

As for the actual contents of the press conference, one of Chiarelli’s main points of improvement is that he wants the team to transition the puck better. He specified that this is both a “player personnel and coaching” issue. This is definitely true. Too many nights I saw the Bruins trying to pass the puck safely up the boards, but far too many teams have learned to fore-check the Julien system along the boards, containing the B’s in their own zone. This makes the B’s seem even slower than they actually are compared to opponents who rush the puck so much more effectively. They definitely need to make their transition game less predictable and a bit riskier. This will them have more offensive zone time and bump up scoring, before adding any more goal scorers to the roster. If Julien does stay for next season, this change to his system needs to happen or else he will surely be fired sooner rather than later.

There continue to be looming questions about whether Zdeno Chara has enough left in the tank to lead the Bruins on more playoff runs. (Photo by Dave Kaylor)

There continue to be looming questions about whether Zdeno Chara has enough left in the tank to lead the Bruins on more playoff runs. (Photo by Dave Kaylor)

The GM also seems to think that Chara can still be an ‘elite’ defense-man. I highly doubt it. Chia has too much faith in him to rejuvenate over the summer at the age of 38. Chara is in phenomenal physical shape for his age, despite his on-going knee issue, but I think Chiarelli is wrong on his assessment and should consider trading him over the summer for possible picks, younger up and coming defensemen, and/or more cap space. Bergeron could then be name captain.

He also thinks Seidenberg will recover to top form next season now that he’s had a year to recover from his ACL injury. Since his contract is more reasonable, and he’s a bit younger, I would be more open to keeping him on the roster for veteran presence on the back end (if they traded Chara), but would also trade him for the right picks or players.

Chia mentioned that Lucic did not have the right mindset entering this season likely due to the events occurring at the end of the playoff series against Montreal last year. If that is the case, that should provide even more incentive to trade him. It’s one thing to be a tough guy power forward trying to get under the skin of opponents. It is a whole other thing to lack emotional maturity for a player who is supposed to be one of the core veteran leaders on this team. Lucic had a phenomenal run from 2008 to 2012 (he was more streaky in 2013 and 2014) with many timely goals and plays in the playoffs. Again, Chia thinks Lucic capable of returning to that form, but I have a hard time justifying it due to his inconsistencies and lack of production at his salary. He may have many of the “intangibles,” but if his foot speed continues to worsen, those intangible instincts become far less effective.

All of these assessments are an example of how Chiarelli gets too attached to players who gave the team success in the past. This is not 2009 anymore. To put it another way, in 4 years it will be 2019. The Chara-era started all the way back in the summer of 2006. These core players have put on a lot of hard mileage. Not every player can have the same kind of sustainability like Jaromir Jagr, Gordie Howe, or Chris Chelios.

Lastly, it should come as no surprise that Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell are not coming back. Their “fancy stats” have progressively worsened with each year and this will finally allow the B’s to completely remodel their 4th line like they originally intended to do last summer when they let Shawn Thornton go to free agency. They became less and less effective in 5 on 5 play. Hopefully the Bruins have a rejuvenated, younger, and much speedier 4th line this fall.

The next couple of weeks will be very important times in the Bruins as they assess their entire organization internally from top to bottom.

 

Boston Bruins Earn B- On Deadline Deals

A few trades by the Boston Bruins today underwhelmed most B's fans today.

A few trades by the Boston Bruins today underwhelmed most B’s fans today.

By Eric Converse

Deals Today:

RW Brett Connolly from the Tampa Bay Lightning for 2015 and 2016 2nd round draft picks.

Forward Maxime Talbot and AHL forward Paul Carey from the Colorado Avalanche for Jordan Caron and 2016 6th round pick.

Minor League Deal: C Zack Phillips of the Minnesota for Jared Knight.

With Boston Bruins ownership making public statements that changes could be coming to the front office if they miss the playoffs, the pressure was on GM Peter Chiarelli to make deals to plug up gaps on the right wing, defense, and possibly trade an under-performing core piece for a new top 6 forward.

What the Bruins ended up getting today was quite short of shoring up the many issues with the team. There was no major deal that significantly upgrades the Bruins in to a contender. None of these names wow the casual hockey fan or even the hardcore fan. It is pretty clear the Bruins brass are seeing this more as a bridge year at this point and that they will just see if they can make the playoffs and go for an unexpected run.

I argued that the Bruins should consider trading one top six core forward for another to shake up the general malaise that has set in on these players, but it appears that a deal of that kind was not available today. No teams traded franchise pieces, which has become a rarity in the cap era. Upcoming UFA rental players were available, but that is a huge risk and puts emphasis on winning now with long term consequences. That kind of trade is more beneficial if your team is looking for 1 missing piece to put them over the top. The Bruins are not that kind of team this year. Bigger trades will likely come this summer and maybe Chiarelli, based off of some of the work he did today, is given the chance to dig himself out of the spot he’s put himself and the organization in.

Brett Connolly instantly adds necessary depth to the right wing, with potential for more. His upside will be key to this deal being considered successful. Due to the significant amount of RW depth on the Lightning, Connolly was only earning 3rd line minutes.

Many scouts projected him to be a top 6 forward and it is expected that the Bruins will treat him as such, to give him a chance to produce the way he is projected to. He’s sizable and does add much needed speed. It’ll be interesting to see how they fit him in to the line up right now, especially with Krejci out injured and the Spooner line clicking so well. Maybe Connelly will fill the RW slot for Bergeron and Marchand.

Adding Talbot adds experience and more Stanley Cup pedigree to the 4th line. It helps that Colorado is keeping some of his salary to limit his cap hit. He is showing signs of aging and hopefully joining a more defensively oriented team like Boston will fit his skill set more than the speedy Avalanche.

On a side note, the addition durable Zack Phillips over the often injured Jared Knight will be a solid addition to Providence. Boston native Paul Carey is reportedly a versatile forward who will also contribute to Providence. Each have future 3rd line potential or an offensively oriented 4th line if the Bruins ever go in that direction.

On the negative side, it is unfortunate that the Bruins lost players like Matt Fraser and Craig Cunningham to fill the 4th line spots at a low cost. Chiarelli has mismanaged some of these younger borderline players who signed one way contracts. More two-way contracts should be considered for these kinds of players so they are not lost through waivers for little to no compensation.

Chiarelli made a vote of confidence of his current defense core during today’s press conference, while also acknowledging that the Miller injury makes them weaker this spring. He also insinuated that he did shop for a defenseman, but did not see an available that both fit the Bruins and be here long term. He may not be wrong, but it is disappointing that another experienced D-man could not be added to the team. Bartkowski playing many minutes down this stretch to stay in the playoffs is concerning.

Lastly, Chiarelli continues to blame the cap issues for the situation they are in, saying how much it limits what he can do. Those cap issues stem from his own contracts his gave to the core of players here. His drafting has also been a C to C- at best. He builds a Bruins team built on size and defense and has often drafted smaller skillful forwards that do not end up being a fit in Boston.

If the Bruins miss the playoffs, there is a good chance that Chiarelli is fired by Charlie Jacobs, who seems eager to make his opinion known about the team and is likely itching to put his fingerprints on the team after replacing his father Jeremy Jacobs. Chiarelli put on the appearance that he is unfazed by this pressure, which very well could be true. The worst thing that could have happened is that he made a bunch of trades simply for change to protect his job, which very well could set the Bruins back even more than what they experienced this season.

Hopefully these minor moves today are the first of a makeover for the Bruins that will be further built on with summer trades and free agency signings.

Follow Me On Twitter @ConverseHockey to talk some hawkey!