Pragmatism

Jonathan Willis
March 13 2009 11:05AM

Reasoner

A physical game is not a prerequisite for a bottom six forward. There are those who would argue that is, but I really don’t see it as a defensible argument. Consider the following list of forwards:

  • Kris Draper – more than 1000 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Todd Marchant – more than 1000 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Radek Dvorak – more than 900 NHL games, hasn’t been a top-6 player in four years
  • Jay Pandolfo – more than 700 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Sergei Brylin – more than 700 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Matt Cullen – more than 700 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • John Madden – more than 600 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Richard Park – more than 500 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Ryan Johnson – more than 500 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Marty Reasoner – more than 500 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Pascal Dupuis – more than 400 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Matt Pettinger – 400 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Fernando Pisani – more than 300 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Brooks Laich – more than 300 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Erik Christensen – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a third line forward
  • Dominic Moore – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Vernon Fiddler – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Andy Hilbert – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Jay McClement – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward
  • Toby Petersen – more than 200 NHL games, mostly as a fourth line forward

I didn’t include any players with less than 2-1/2 seasons at the NHL level (200 games), and I didn’t include any retired players. I also didn’t include any players who have the reputation of having an above-average physical game. Certainly there’s some grit there – Matt Pettinger and Andy Hilbert, for example, have some decent size and definitely some grit, but they aren’t physically dominant players. The players on that list, and especially at the top of it, have made a career of either shutting down top opponents with speed and positioning, or doing something very simple: scoring more goals than their opponents.

Teams need a balance; a team without physical players is going to get pushed around, and obviously there should be some grit in a team’s bottom-six. But to argue, for example, that Marc Pouliot won’t have a career as a third line forward because he doesn’t have a dominant physical game is to ignore a host of very good players who have proved exactly the opposite.

It’s been that way all down through history – players like Rick Meagher and Bob Gainey forged reputations as defensive stalwarts, despite not being physically dominant. More recently, a player like Marty Reasoner has forged an NHL career despite a) no real physical game b) suspect skating and c) minimal offensive production.

The reason these guys have careers is because despite what people will tell you, toughness, speed and even goal-scoring aren’t the most valuable assets to a team that a player can possess. The most valuable asset is actually rather elementary – scoring more goals than the opposition. It’s how teams win games, and it’s glossed over far too often in favour of big hits and flashy but one-dimensional play.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 RossCreek
March 13 2009, 04:00PM
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Anybody think LW Johan Franzen could be a good fit on the 1st line next year? Gregor if your reading give us your thoughts.

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#52 Fiveandagame
March 13 2009, 04:14PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Fiveandagame wrote: ~ Wait… You win by scoring more goals than the other team???? See this is why I tune into this web/book thing, ground breaking game analysis. And it’s amazing how many people argue that you win, not by scoring more goals, but by throwing more hits than the other team. Hits are helpful only insofar as they help you score more goals than the other team. Obviously.

I agree whole heartedly. Towel Boy suggested earlier this week that this symbol

" ~ "

would denote sarcasm as it is very hard to detect in post/email form.

Not sure why you're getting the gears today, people must be mighty choked from the mounting OT losses.

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#53 Chris
March 13 2009, 04:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I take it then that “Chris” isn’t a pseudonym for Lou Lamoriello or Ken Holland.

No, I'm just a dumb fan who likes a physical team.

@ Q:

Last time I looked the Flames were ahead of the Oilers in the standings. Take a good look at the 87/88 Oiler Roster. (The most dominant team Oiler team at 16-2 in the playoffs) There wasn't mant players who weren't named Gretzky or Kurri who didn't bring a physical game every night.

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#54 ReasonerFan
March 13 2009, 04:23PM
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Jason Gregor = OWNED by Willis!

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#55 Trakor
March 13 2009, 04:27PM
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"A physical game is not a prerequisite for a bottom six forward."

Correct.

However, when your top 6 is soft as baby shyt then it becomes vital.

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#56 Peter Pan
March 13 2009, 04:27PM
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Fiveandagame wrote:

Not sure why you’re getting the gears today, people must be mighty choked from the mounting OT losses.

No, its because his belittling and disparagement of others is not appreciated. Its like nobody else can have opinion. But that's okay JW, puberty will soon begin for you and when it does, you'll realize that screwing around with girls is a lot more fun than righting a blog every 15 minutes. (Notice I didn't use the sarcasm symbol)

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#57 Chris
March 13 2009, 04:30PM
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@ Q: I re-read your post... I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Are you saying the Flames aren't physical? The Oilers are too physical? What? I think the Flames play with more edge, hence greater success. Teams hate going to the Saddledome and love coming to Rexall... Pouliot may be part of that problem.

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#58 RossCreek
March 13 2009, 04:31PM
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Trakor wrote:

“A physical game is not a prerequisite for a bottom six forward.” Correct. However, when your top 6 is soft as baby shyt then it becomes vital.

Correct.

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#59 RossCreek
March 13 2009, 04:35PM
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@ Chris:

FlamesNation.ca "Olli… keep bringing your poison baby! This a sick mother… and he’s taking the Flames to new levels of BAAAAAAAAAD… Scary Bad!"

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#60 Jason Gregor
March 13 2009, 05:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

In other words, saying that Pouliot, at 23, could never be a two-way guy like Draper is asinine - Draper at 23 wasn’t Draper. Of course, Pouliot may never reach that level, but unless you’ve got a crystal ball, you don’t know that.

Yeah compare him to one of the best all-time checking forwards and Stanley Cup champion? That is more asinine than saying Pouliot won't be Draper. I will take the bet any day that Pouliot won't come close to being Draper. Compare him to someone like all those below Madden, and none of those players have been difference makers. That is a fair and realistic comparison, and none of those players get me excited to thinking he will become a differnce maker.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

Pouliot being an intense, hard on the puck guy, but he’s shown that he can do it, the light just needs to stay on.

How often has he played this way? If he had then when we wouldn't be debating this issue. He rarely shows those attributes that are necessary to be an effective 3rd liner. If you think he has shown these attributes that often then there is nothing that can be said to change it.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

That’s a nice job discrediting a column I didn’t write, but let’s go through it point by point.

I thought you wrote it, since your name was on it. I guess it is okay for you too question my comments on Brule being better than Potulny, or to use your word discredit my point, but if I have a counter point it doesn't work.

Go back and show me where I said that Brule would score more than Potulny? I said he is a better fit for a 4th or 3rd liner because he doesn't have to score to be effective. HE can bring grit, which is necessary. And while you showed a list of players who have done it without grit, how many of them were on the same team at the same time, excluding the Devils?

The Oilers have enough Potulny-types so he has no chance to beat them out, nor does he have the game they do. He won't make them better. Nothing proves that he will. But I guess that is as asinine as saying Pouliot won't be Draper.

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#61 Jonathan Willis
March 13 2009, 05:13PM
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Trakor wrote:

A physical game is not a prerequisite for a bottom six forward.” Correct. However, when your top 6 is soft as baby shyt then it becomes vital.

Yeah, each team needs grit, and beyond that a certain ability to mix it up. That said, there's no reason to devalue individual players in the big picture because they don't have a big hitting game.

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#62 Arnie
March 13 2009, 05:16PM
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b>ReasonerFan wrote:

Jason Gregor = OWNED by Willis!

You must be one of the "stat" disciples. I find it hilarious how Jonathon, or Dennis or the Jack Bauer dork question every opinion Gregor has.

Yet when he asks them to back up a point, they start whining and snivelling. It is really embarrassing. Jonathon you accuse Gregor of discrediting you? How is it when you nit pick( a word you used before) at many of Brownlee's or Gregor's articles, but if they question you it is discrediting you?

Is your ego that big?

If you want to question every one on hear, and think you know more than everyone then be prepared and somewhat mature to handle the criticism. Don't be over-dramatic with accusations of discrediting and such. It really is weak.

Much of you stuff is enlightening, but it is obvious that you cringe when anyone questions you.

I'll keep reading everyone, (although is it just me or is Wanye not here as often. I love his off the course idea) and I enjoy the debates, but the drama queens get old after a while.

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#63 Jonathan Willis
March 13 2009, 05:22PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

I thought you wrote it, since your name was on it.

Did I mention anything on AHL points translating to NHL points there? Even one little mention? No. How about Potulny? Again, no. I did mention Pouliot, as an example, because I think having examples makes it clearer what I'm driving at. My point was a big picture thing - that a player doesn't need to be a big hitter to be useful, even in the bottom six.

I guess it is okay for you too question my comments on Brule being better than Potulny, or to use your word discredit my point, but if I have a counter point it doesn’t work.

I never once said (anywhere) that Potulny was better than Brule, because I agree with you that Brule's the better prospect. He's younger, he has more of a physical game, and their AHL scoring is relatively comparable.

Go back and show me where I said that Brule would score more than Potulny? I said he is a better fit for a 4th or 3rd liner because he doesn’t have to score to be effective.

Since I never claimed that you made that statement, I have no idea what you mean.

HE can bring grit, which is necessary. And while you showed a list of players who have done it without grit, how many of them were on the same team at the same time, excluding the Devils? The Oilers have enough Potulny-types so he has no chance to beat them out, nor does he have the game they do. He won’t make them better. Nothing proves that he will. But I guess that is as asinine as saying Pouliot won’t be Draper.

I don't think that's asinine at all. For Potulny to make it with the Oilers I think he needs to usurp Nilsson - not likely but not impossible either. He's probably a fringe NHL'er, although it isn't terribly unlikely that he weasels out a Glen Metropolit or Derek Armstrong style career.

We really don't disagree on any of that. That's why I made my comment about attacking a column I hadn't written - I disagreed on some very specific points you made in the comments a few threads down, and this article wasn't even aimed particularly at you. It was aimed at the general (and commonly-held) notion that a bottom-six forward needs to be a big hitter to be effective - and while being a big-hitter, just like being a good skater, is a positive, the really important thing is outscoring.

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#64 Jonathan Willis
March 13 2009, 05:23PM
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@ Arnie:

Re-read the column and the comments. Gregor attacked points that I didn't make. Anything I say is fair game for questions/criticism, but he wasn't attacking what I said. He was attacking things that I either hadn't said or that he had misunderstood.

But thanks for coming out.

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#65 Jonathan Willis
March 13 2009, 05:29PM
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Arnie wrote:

You must be one of the “stat” disciples.

I love how everybody needs to be on one side of the line or the other. Is it so crazy to think that an experienced and capable observer and a competent statastician would come to the same conclusion? I don't think it is.

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#66 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 13 2009, 05:37PM
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Arnie wrote:

You must be one of the “stat” disciples. I find it hilarious how Jonathon, or Dennis or the Jack Bauer dork question every opinion Gregor has.

Deep Oil? Is that you?

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#67 topshelf
March 13 2009, 06:22PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: @ Jason Gregor:

Helmets and gloves...do it.

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#68 kingsblade
March 13 2009, 06:34PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: @ Jason Gregor:

Jonathan Willis wrote:

Is it so crazy to think that an experienced and capable observer and a competent statastician(sic) would come to the same conclusion?

In general this is why I read this site. It is not only interesting to have both points of view but, in my opinion, critical to arriving at a complete analysis. If the views do not coincide then a deeper look is required, but when they do the answer should be beyond dispute.

The problem is when you guys argue while seemingly unaware you hold the same belief - amusing but ineffective.

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#69 Fiveandagame
March 13 2009, 06:50PM
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You know what I hate?

How when a blogger makes a post and then somebody comments and doesn't agree, that they expect the blogger to do an about face or say

"hey thats a great opinion, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I think yours was super duper pal"

Quit yer bitching kids. We throw shyt at the fellas who blog, they sure as heck are going to throw it back.

Take your thumb out of your mouth and come back with something concrete instead of pouting.

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#70 The Towel Boy
March 13 2009, 07:56PM
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Arnie wrote:

I’ll keep reading everyone, (although is it just me or is Wanye not here as often. I love his off the course idea) and I enjoy the debates, but the drama queens get old after a while.

Last I heard he was stalking Erik Cole in various locales throughout the U.S.

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#71 Deep Oil
March 13 2009, 08:07PM
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Jack "FMNF" Bauer wrote:

Arnie wrote: You must be one of the “stat” disciples. I find it hilarious how Jonathon, or Dennis or the Jack Bauer dork question every opinion Gregor has. Deep Oil? Is that you?

Nope - pretty lame.

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#72 Deep Oil
March 13 2009, 08:09PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

Arnie wrote: I’ll keep reading everyone, (although is it just me or is Wanye not here as often. I love his off the course idea) and I enjoy the debates, but the drama queens get old after a while. Last I heard he was stalking Erik Cole in various locales throughout the U.S.

All you have to do is go to the red light in the RBC Centre and you will find Cole and Staal celebrating.

Just goes to show DOHO to do some due diligence if the player you are trading for, actually wishes to leave and play his heart out, for the new team.

Hug - Staal and Cole - tears of Joy.

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#73 Ogden Brother
March 13 2009, 08:22PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Arnie wrote: You must be one of the “stat” disciples. I love how everybody needs to be on one side of the line or the other. Is it so crazy to think that an experienced and capable observer and a competent statastician would come to the same conclusion? I don’t think it is.

Imagine if the capable observer can be a competent statastician all at once.

*shudders*

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#74 Harlie Chuddy
March 14 2009, 10:03AM
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@ AlBundy:

that's a terrible premise for a "large report". And if your kid is 17 he should be doing his own damn research. I suspect that he knows of a little thing called google. C'mon. Your post rings fake.

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#75 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 10:32AM
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@ AlBundy:

This site isn't dedicated to dragging peoples' names through the mud. Don't bring this up again, unless one of the writers here does a bit on "Oilers Who Have Had Children Outside of The Holy Bounds of Matrimony".

Which isn't going to happen.

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#76 albundy
March 14 2009, 10:58AM
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Sorry about that, I was told this site was a great site for information and keen Oiler knowledge. I thought I was just asking for information that was public knowledge.

On to the game tonight, Oil will come out hard and win big time 6-1. It's a must win and they will not let Oiler Nation down. #1 line will perform huge tonight and make Ryan Smyth look old. @ Jonathan Willis:

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#77 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 11:08AM
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@ albundy:

No worries, and it is. But far, far too often those kind of threads turn into rather ugly muck-raking, so it's best to nip them in the bud.

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#78 Dennis
March 14 2009, 01:06PM
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This seemed to morph into a Pouliot vs Poultny vs Brule thing and my whole point in the beginning was guys don't have to crash and bang to be bottom six forwards. Early on, 78 showed that the GA were kept down when he was on the ice and I think that's the number one job of anyone down in the bottom six. These guys aren't being paid or expected to make a difference - exceptions being the old Palhsson line and the current Bolland line in Chi which is propped up by Havlat - so they're basically being asked to hold serve.

And that is something that 78 can certainly do. Now, I think we all get swayed by where a guy was drafted or who he was dealt for - it took me awhile to like 5 considering he was brought in for Pronger - but once guys get here, then you see what they can do and these days you judge them on their salaries. Regarding Gregor's point that it's either 34 OR 78, I don't see it as an either/or proposition considering they used to play together along with Reasoner and that line did a good job of - wait for it - keeping the GA down; they did it an affordable price as well. The whole thing with 13 vs 78 as a centre is a long way from being settled but I guess we'll give 13 another year of winning ~38 pct of his faceoffs and being poor in defensive coverage before we call that a constant. I think the kid projects as a winger but I guess we'll see about that.

My whole idea of bottom sixers would be fellows who are cheap, hold serve at EV and kill penalties. This allows the top six to play PVP and PP and not have to waste gas killing penalties.

So, there's no way 78 isn't at least a bottom sixer - he also did a good job killing penalties in '07 but for some reason hasn't been used back there since - and for his money, he isn't a problem.

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#79 Dennis
March 14 2009, 01:13PM
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Gregor: And I don't think I said Willis was gonna rip you apart, but I did say I looked forward to seeing him take on your point that offense doesn't translate. I thought you meant that you didn't believe offense would translate.

In any case, it's probably not gonna matter much what I say anyway:) I'm here wondering why no one's talking about how many times MacT got caught with the 4th line out in the third period on Tues night in Mtl - and Koivu's line dinged them for the 3-3 goal - and guys are saying I don't make any points while they're talking about plane tickets and Banff.

People are gonna think what they want and above all I'm about nuts and bolts. Whether it's saying that certain guys should be questioned - the untouchable Lowe - certain decisions should be questions - things like why Didn't anyone talk about MacT getting schooled on Tues - and certain players are worth their contracts.

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#80 topshelf
March 14 2009, 02:18PM
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@ Dennis: If you keep Cogliano at center you can utilize his speed better which is his biggest asset. By playing center is feet are moving more and he is getting the puck while in full flight.

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#81 topshelf
March 14 2009, 02:20PM
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@ Dennis: Also, I agree with you about Mac T getting taken to school by Gainey on Tuesday. I couldn't believe the number times we had unfavourable matchups.

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#82 Chris
March 14 2009, 02:46PM
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Dennis wrote:

why Didn’t anyone talk about MacT getting schooled on Tues

You did. On March 11th. Post #95 of Willlis' News & Notes: The Game Last Night And More...

Curtis S agreed with you. So do I. Most people in the nation also would agree with you... Being critical of MacT is passe. It's been done. It's too easy. Just sign off as "FMNF". Same goes for the notion that MSM isn't critical enough of the organization.

Dennis wrote:

In any case, it’s probably not gonna matter much what I say anyway

What's with this sh!t? Don't be a princess.

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#83 rogue
March 14 2009, 03:27PM
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Pouliet at BEST should be 4th. line center. This team needs physicality on each line. Oil need some players with an edge who will push back when pushed and who will initiate contact. Talk all you want about BuckBucks versatility you want. That works great on a Detroit, or San Jose team that has that luxury. When you get run around your own end and no one is taking the body it looks pretty weak.This team needs muscle before finesse.

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#84 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 03:40PM
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@ rogue:

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think this team hasn't been getting run around near so much as they did even last season.

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#85 rogue
March 14 2009, 04:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ rogue: Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think this team hasn’t been getting run around near so much as they did even last season.

Brodziak,pouliet,gags, cogs, nilsson, gilbert, are all as soft as they were last year. Hell even Penner gets pushed around. For every smackdown a Oiler gives, I see 3 in return. Every coach, I would think, tells his players to go hard at the Oil, they wont fight thru a check. Even in the offensive zone, you can turn your back on 75% of the oil forwards without being worried that you will get a faceplant into the boards. There is NO fear among among the opposition which transltes into better decesions and puck handling in their own end. Now if the forwards I listed above were in the 20-25 goal range at this time of year, different story because the Oil would be intimidating thru offense.Aint happening this year.

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#86 Phil
March 14 2009, 04:31PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Arnie wrote: You must be one of the “stat” disciples. I love how everybody needs to be on one side of the line or the other. Is it so crazy to think that an experienced and capable observer and a competent statastician would come to the same conclusion? I don’t think it is.

For the most part yes, because just that's the way at least I'VE seen it work around here. You, Jonathan, I think try a little bit too hard to come across as both the high and mighty statistician, then reason with some of the fans who could care less what you have to say about stats or don't put as much merit into them - as though you either feel sorry for them or just want everyone's respect.

Well, I respect you, and never devalue anything you say and for the most part agree with alot of the stuff you write, but I think you're trying a bit too hard, ala Shawn Horcoff squeezing the stick right now. If I had any advice I'd simply be saying, take it easy partner.

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#87 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 04:37PM
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@ rogue:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you really think Brodziak is soft? Did you watch that preseason game against Calgary where Pouliot was forced to fight Vendermeer - he isn't soft either. Cogliano has plenty of grit, while Penner and Gilbert get by because of size. Even Gagner goes into traffic with abandon (and he's fought this year again).

I really think that this team's "softness" gets overstated sometimes.

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#88 Dennis
March 14 2009, 04:46PM
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Chris: I'm not attempting to be any kind of royalty:) all I ever talked about is who's better, who's worth the money, who's matching with who etc etc.

Some people believe otherwise, that's all I'm saying:)

And what does FMNF mean?

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#89 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 04:48PM
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@ Phil:

I appreciate the thoughts Phil, even though I don't agree necessarily. Take this thread for instance - where were the stats? The biggest list of stats tossed out was by Gregor, who completely missed my initial point and argued a stance I never took.

And damn right I want respect. We're almost 90 comments into this thread, and nobody has made an effective counter argument to the first sentence in this post, with or without statistics.

Maybe I'm missing your point (feel free to let me know), but why wouldn't I reason with folks who disagree with me? Especially folks who clearly have no comprehension of my initial point.

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#90 rogue
March 14 2009, 05:01PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Man,I need your glasses. No team gets pushed off the puck easier than the oil. Grit,yes some of the players do have that. But they are still SOFT. Too many SOFT players. Not the size or will power to win battles. How many times have you heard "they did not win the battles tonite" There is not enough skill to compensate for that!!

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#91 Jonathan Willis
March 14 2009, 05:10PM
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@ rogue:

This team, to my eye, has been far more likely to miss coverage in the slot or hand over an ugly giveaway than they are to lose a puck battle.

Besides "soft" and "winning battles" aren't opposites - Horcoff's frequently described as "soft", but he's harder on the puck than virtually any other forward on the team.

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#92 Chris
March 15 2009, 04:57PM
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@ Dennis: A while back, Gretz wrote an article making the point that bloggers on this site spend countless hours coming up with different ways of saying fire MacTavish... So to save time he suggested simply signing off as FMNF, or Fire MacTavish Now F*ckers.

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