Tracers: Systems


One of the things Oilers fans should look for this season are subtle wrinkles in playing style. Things like how the team forechecks, how they get out of their own zone under pressure, how they run their powerplay. History tells us "systems" can make a helluva difference. A lesser team can level the playing field with hard work and a game plan the other team is unprepared to deal with; 35 years ago, it stopped a dynasty in its tracks.

Two teams kept the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970’s from running the table 1973-1979 (they pretty much did it anyway). The Philadelphia Flyers won their two Stanley’s right in the middle of 5 victories for the Habs. The Buffalo Sabres also stopped the vaunt in the mid-70s with a stifling checking style.

Scotty Bowman, Montreal’s coach, after the series: "He’s (Don Luce) one of those players who knocks around for five or six years, lands in Buffalo, fits into their system, and becomes an outstanding player. He has learned from his experiences. We get him tied up and he wiggles free. He seems to know where the puck is and both he and Craig Ramsay know how to shoot to the top of the net. Buffalo’s French Connection Line didn’t knock us out of the playoffs. It was the Luce-Ramsay line that hurt us the most. Buffalo’s system of coming in deep on us worked because of them. All these teams have systems now and we can’t sit there unconcerned."

The system was a demon forecheck that inolved both Luce and Ramsay (along with Danny Gare) forcing the play at every turn. Unlike the old timey forecheck (perfected by Dave Keon, who was so fast he could be in two places at one time. Almost) the Montreal defender would find himself under pressure AND find his defense partner being marked. That Sabres team would often have all three forwards in the offensive zone without possession of the puck. How could they do it? All three had good speed and were committed to the forecheck. A team like Montreal had such a good defense getting out of their own zone was fairly easy most nights. Buffalo made it difficult.

Don Luce after the series: "We played the game as planned. We wanted to stay on them, force the play. We went to them and I think that disrupted their attack."

Craig Ramsay: "We played a smart checking game and frustrated them. It was a job done by three lines, four defenseman and a goalie."

The ironic thing about it was that the source of the system played came from outside the organization. Although GM Punch Imlach claimed credit for it (no one on earth would have credited coach Floyd Smith. He was not an innovator), the genesis of the pressured forecheck came from Ramsay’s junior coach: Roger Neilson of the Peterborough Petes.

When fans go to an open practice expecting to see a couple of scrimmages between the instruction, it can be galling to see all instruction and no scrimmage. However, the "devil is in the details" and those details are being hammered into the young group of Oilers this fall. Beauty. I can hardly wait until the modern Luce and Ramsay emerge. We’ll have something then.

  • Shapeman

    Thank you for the glass-half-full insights.

    There are plenty of expert commentators, some of whom you share space with on this blog, whose MO these days is to use their expertise to foretell the deep amounts of suckage that the team will emit this year. And they may be right, but it gets old.

    A rebuild will take time and hard work and a bit of luck. There is no doubt that denial, bad judgment and hubris at the top of the organization have dug a deep hole. But let’s look for the signs that at least the digging has stopped. Better players, management, coaching, training and chemistry will raise this team.

    Now, who is in favor of a campaign to improve the ice surface at Rexall so all these puck artists have a proper canvas to paint on? Surely some water treatment and a new compressor can be within DK’s budget? Or if it is Northlands’ problem, who are they trying to punish?

  • CurtisS


    TSNRyanRishaug Russell hurt in columbus. 2-4 weeks. Souray trade more likely? Probly premature, but they’re a possibility. Commodore back? All speculation.

    I could live with that. And LT you are my favorite right from HF to Lowetide blog, now here. Read everything all the time.

  • PerryK

    “Now, who is in favor of a campaign to improve the ice surface at Rexall so all these puck artists have a proper canvas to paint on? Surely some water treatment and a new compressor can be within DK’s budget? Or if it is Northlands’ problem, who are they trying to punish?”

    Agree!!!!! Over the last few years, the “best” ice in the NHL has become absolutely the worst! We don’t have time to wait for a new arena. It is inexcusable that our arena ice is that bad! There must be a way to improve that.

  • After seeing Colorado’s success playing a trap, I wouldn’t mind the Oilers playing a counter attack style while they develop.

    The team has good speed but doesn’t have enough skill on defense to play all out puck possession yet.

    “Left Wing Unlock”

  • book¡e

    I am somewhat concerned with all of the praise going to LT over the last few weeks. I am worried that it may all go to his head and he might just start ‘mailing it in’ like the mainstream media. So, taking a precautionary approach to ensure that LT doesn’t slide. Here it is.

    LT – you suck!

    That hurt, but it had to be done.

    • Lowetide

      bookie, (I’m too old to learn how you do that thing with the ‘i’) I share your concern; so LT I say ‘ditto’ and please, remember, we are doing this for your own good. You know, like the parent who says, “This hurts me more than you”… Actually, as a kid, I never believed that….still don’t”… except in this situation right here.
      But you are good LT. You bring pleasurable, thoughtful writing to hundreds, thousands,…..? I have no idea the number of readers who frequent this site or the LT one. But thanks for the pleasure you provide us.

  • Milli

    I think you got a good point there bookie, sooner or later it will get to his head…Lowtide is good..but is he great?? Even if he is, he doesn’t need to know it, not yet..

  • Milli

    Is there a good primer about hockey systems out there? I find you don’t hear too much about systems during broadcasts… what are most teams using these days? Is there any indication what the Oilers will be implementing?

    • Lowetide

      go_oil: Its a great question and the answer is no. Its pretty easy to see a system failure (“Staios rips it around the boards for the third time this shift, and once again Joffrey Lupul can’t muscle it past the blueline”) and when a system gets famous (MacT’s trap vs DET ’06 spring) it gets overused.

      There are a series of systems for each team. Getting out of the zone (Pat Quinn liked a pass from D to F before the blueline and did NOT like Lubo’s puck carrying) or forecechecking, PP and PK.

      It serves two purposes: allowing everyone to know their role (and others on the ice to be familiar with where everyone should be) plus it can also disrupt an opponent used to the Oilers predictable style in a specific situation.

  • Ribs

    Great article Lowetide.

    Is that guy in the photo wearing a motorcycle helmet? He looks like a star wars pilot.

    Go_Oil. I also have difficulty finding any info on the more technical aspects of hockey. I wish the media would use their access more often to get info on the nuts and bolts of systems play. There have to be a lot of fans out there that would be just as interested in that as they are in how many pounds Hemsky lost in the offseason.

    While I think everyone agrees that Pat Quinn didn’t do a great job in his year as head coach, it may turn out to be a blessing in the long run.

    A few of the younger players that may have been having difficulty accepting Mact’s approach of preaching responsibilty and detail may be more receptive to Renney after spending a year of getting clobbered while trying to free wheel under Quinn.

    • book¡e

      I think that MacT was starting to get a little to intricate. Some guys like Gilbert who I get a sense like systems were complaining about the complexity and diversity (depending on opposition) of the team that they were playing. With that said, I have never seen a more static PP than the Oilers had in the last MacT year.

      However, I think Quinn even managed to purge the ‘just let them play’ out of the fans. So, I agree, perhaps it is for the best.