Welcome to Murphy’s Hockey Law – where the truth on hockey is the law. What you’ll find here is my ‘tell it like it is’ take on things. I’ll be asking for your opinion on controversial hits, for you to chime in on what I have to say and your song suggestions for the ‘Play of the Week‘ page. You’ll also find audio clips from my weekly radio show called “Murphy’s Hockey Law” on the show page and ‘Show Archive’ section on the sidebar.
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The James Norris Memorial Trophy is the annual award “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position”. People likely have differing opinions on what “greatest all-around ability” is, but my opinion is it’s the player that best combines offensive production with excellent defensive play with more emphasis of defense because that is the name of the position.
There are several ways you can analyze defensive play, but I think the confidence a player’s own coach has in him in key defense oriented situations is telling. There is no more of a “defense first” situation than the penalty kill and where a player ranks within his own team’s defensive corps for short-handed time (SHT) on ice and SHT on ice per game is a strong indicator of the coach’s confidence in a player. The last two Norris Trophy winners, P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson didn’t even rank within the top 5 on their own teams for SHT on ice per game. Last year, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien used five defensemen on the penalty kill with more frequency than Subban and two years ago Erik Karlsson was 7th on the Senators defense in average PK time. I can see where there might be a guy or two on the team who are truly PK specialists, so a Norris Trophy candidate might fall to 2nd or 3rd, but 6th and 7th place rankings tell me a lot. In the past 10 seasons, the Norris Trophy winner has never ranked lower than 3rd on their own team with the exception of the last two years. In fact, all other winners were either 1st or 2nd on their team except for Niklas Lidstrom in 2010-11, but I have a theory on that too, which I’ll touch on a little later.
Plus/Minus is another good way of determining how well balanced or “all-around” a player’s game is and the same 7 out of the last 10 trend applies to this statistic. Other than the past three seasons, the Norris Trophy winner ranked no worse than 11th among the league’s defensemen in plus/minus and finished first in this category three times. However, Subban (19th) and Karlsson (T29) fell well below this standard and Lidstrom was way off the charts at 177th place, which brings me back to Niklas Lidstrom’s 2010-11 Norris Trophy award. It was a retirement gift, albeit year early. He had a solid offensive season with 62 points, which was 2nd amongst defensemen, but even his coaches knew he was slipping defensively and they reduced his PK time accordingly to 3rd on the team. Another bit of evidence that the award was sentimentally and/or reputation driven was his career worst -2 plus/minus rating.
By no means am I saying that Subban and Karlsson are undeserving of their awards. I’d take them on my team every day of the week and twice on Sundays. They are extremely talented, exciting and creative players that bring fans into the building and out of their seats. It just seems to me that the media members who vote for the award have started to put more emphasis on offense than has historically been the norm. This may be a reflection of how important the power play has become in today’s game, but that would also mean that the penalty kill shares the same increased importance – kind of a tit for tat or debit/credit thing.
What I am saying is that there should be a new trophy awarded each year to the Top Offensive Defenseman – The Bobby Orr award. We have a top defensive forward award in the Frank J. Selke, so why not recognize the most productive and exciting defenseman with an award named after the player who revolutionized the position. It’s a win-win situation. We can return the Norris to the top all-around defenseman with the emphasis on keeping the puck out of the net and reward those talented players who have a gift for offense. There’s no rule stating that the Norris and the Orr couldn’t go to the same player. In fact, should that happen, it would be a fitting tribute to the legend that is Bobby Orr.
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Hurricane season is winding down but as the NHL season nears the quarter point both NHL teams in Florida find themselves weathering some tough storms.
There is no doubt that the Lightning — and the NHL – will miss Steven Stamkos after the superstar forward went down with a broken tibia in his team’s 3-0 loss to the Bruins Monday afternoon. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman later announced that Stamkos was to undergo surgery in Boston Monday morning to repair the fracture and would be out indefinitely. Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada — always doing his due diligence — later tweeted some info on the recovery time for broken tibia and it appears that at the very least, Stamkos could be out for close to three months. That’s extremely tough news for a team that as of Monday night still sat atop the Eastern Conference with 24 points.
With the exception of the Colorado Avalanche, the Lightning have to be the biggest surprise of this young season. As expected, Stamkos was leading the way for the Lightning — tied for the league lead in goals with 14 and leading the NHL with 23 points — but the Bolts were also the beneficiary of something they really haven’t had since Dwayne Roloson’s magical playoff run took the Lightning to Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals: goaltending. Ben Bishop is 11-2-0 with a 2.12 goal-against average and .927 save percentage and has been the backbone an overachieving defense needs. Captain Martin St. Louis has also been a major factor in the Lightning jumping out to this amazing start as well with 16 points and new head coach Jon Cooper seems to finally have the youth of the team on the same page and buying into his system. But this new found chemistry in Tampa Bay and the team’s collective resolve is about to truly be tested as they will be without arguably the best player in the NHL for an extended period of time. After Stamkos went down, the Lightning seemed to unravel in the game as they were understandably shaken after watching their best player carted off on a stretcher. The Bruins broke a 0-0 deadlock with two goals in 20 seconds and Tampa Bay also lost defensemen Sami Salo and Keith Aulie to injuries. Can they survive this first major test?
“It’s tough to lose a guy like that,” Cooper told the media following the bad news. “We’ll see what we’re made of. You talk about a test, this is a test. We went 16 games without anybody being hurt and the snowball went down the hill today. It was a little tiny guy and it ended up a mountain when it got to the bottom of the hill. Again, I don’t know the prognosis on all these guys, but you lose nobody for 16 games and you lose three games in one, that’s tough. And it’s hockey. Everybody loses guys. Just pick a team. Everybody’s lost players. Ours just happened all at once and you can’t hang your head. You know it’s going to happen at some point. That’s why you have depth in the organization and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Cooper is right, he and his players will now see just how deep they are and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will see just how good of a multi-tasker he really is. Already facing the challenge of running his own team while trying to build a gold medal winning team for Hockey Canada, Yzerman must now try and gauge that depth and decide whether his team needs re-enforcements via a trade. He’s in a tough position and fellow GM’s will try to take advantage of that but if his track record is any indication, then Stevie Y will weather this storm. Yes, it is a valid argument that he should’ve taken Seth Jones instead of Jonathan Drouin and yes, he’s made some other mistakes. But many wondered about the contract he gave Valtteri Filppula over the summer or even trading for Bishop last season. Those deals are looking pretty good now so don’t be surprised if the Lightning continue to strike and don’t fall out of the playoff race despite the absence of Stamkos.
Tallon following orders
Last Thursday, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was on Prime Time Sports discussing how disappointing this season has been for the Panthers but as he had in recent interviews, continued to lay the blame on the players and didn’t hide the fact that he was trying to shake the team up via a trade rather than fire head coach Kevin Dineen. But within the next 12 hours, Tallon chose the latter route to shake up his team dismissing Dineen and his assistants Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay. It came as a surprise to many because Dineen had taken many of these players to within a game of beating the eventual 2012 Eastern Conference Champions, New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and according to a Panthers source wasn’t viewed as the main problem internally. That same Panthers source made it clear to “Murphy’s Hockey Law” over the weekend that he and many under Tallon believe the firing came from above and that new owner Vinnie Viola ordered Tallon to lower the ax. That’s how it appears on the outside too and in the eyes of this scribe, if Tallon isn’t able to swing a deal that immediately helps the team or convince his boss that realistically that may not be possible, he could be the next one looking for a new job.
Here’s hoping that Talon isn’t shown the door anytime soon because as many in the hockey world will attest, he is a class act and is also one of the better hockey minds in the NHL. Say all you want about the contract snafus that led to his dismissal in Chicago, without some of his moves, the Blackhawks don’t win either of their two Stanley Cups in the last four seasons. Understandably so, Viola wants to make an impact right away and show fans that he wants to win. But unless they can somehow acquire an impact player or two right now, they are better off having a firesale and stockpiling picks. They’re not trading Jonathan Huberdeau or Alexsander Barkov and despite a tweet by me that defenseman Dmitry Koulikov is available the aforementioned source shot that down as well. Viola needs to let Tallon guide the ship here and see how things go at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He also needs to hope Tim Thomas can’t stay healthy because Thomas can steal some games and he isn’t about looking to the future at this point in his career!
Missed “Murphy’s Hockey Law” on Saturday, November 9? Listen to it here:
First hour guests:
Harry Neale (Leafs TV analyst, future Hockey Hall of Famer (2013 Foster Hewitt Award winner)), Scott Laughlin (Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio host) and Josh Sweeney (former U.S. Marine Sergeant, USA Sled Hockey team)
Missed the latest edition of MHL from Saturday, November 2nd? Listen to it here:
First hour guests: Pierre McGuire (NBC Sports Network), Glenn Healey (CBC Hockey Night In Canada Analyst) and Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet and Sportsnet.ca junior hockey analyst)
If you missed MHL on Saturday, October 26th, listen to it here:
MHL – Saturday, October 26th
If you missed the latest edition of “Murphy’s Hockey Law” from Saturday, October 19th, listen to it now!
Is Oilers forward Nail Yakupov trying to sound like a prima donna? The 2012 first overall pick sure came off that way when talking to Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal after being a healthy scratch for his team’s 6-5 overtime loss at Toronto Saturday night.
Yakupov had gone pointless in the Oilers’ first four games of this young season and head coach Dallas Eakins decided it was time for the 20 year-old Russian to take a breather and watch from above. Yakupov was none too happy about being a scratch nor that Eakins actually wanted him to uh…play hockey and not just float around waiting for offensive chances as he and some other Oilers young guns have been doing so far this season.
“I wasn’t happy about it last night,” Yakupov told Ireland. “You can say a million words about getting better but coach says I’m not playing, so I’m not playing. I’m not happy about it. I just want to play every game.”
“I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.”
Well, with all due respect, Nail, that is the game in North America and if you don’t like it, well hey, follow in the footsteps of your Russian brethren and head to the KHL. Maybe do it now too so you don’t leave your team hanging as Illya Kovalchuk did to the Devils this past summer opting out of a 15-year, $100 million contract the Devils signed him to during the 2010 off-season. Remember, the Devils originally signed him to a 17-year, $102 million deal that was rejected by the league and paid a hefty price for doing so. But that gigantic leap of faith wasn’t good enough for Kovalchuk and thus far the Oilers leap of faith drafting Yakupov apparently isn’t good enough for the talented youngster.
“I love his passion and he loves to play and he takes it real personally when things aren’t going his way and those are great attributes to have — except when it really starts to affect your game. I explained that to him. I said you’re in tough. I have four wingers ahead of you right now who are playing better. Your job is to take one of them out. Players will always tell you this: play me more and I’ll play better. The coach always says, play better and I’ll play you more. We’re going to go by the coach’s rules.”
If Yakupov truly wants to be a star in this league and help this young and skilled Oilers squad take the leap, he needs to suck it up and follow his coach’s rules and lead. If he has issues he should keep it in house. Eakins handled this growing pains situation splendidly and now it’s up to Yakupov to play not just his game but play some hockey, which means playing better without the puck, skating, fore-checking and hitting. If he does that with his skill, the goals will come.