Monday, December 28, 2015

To Fish or Cut Bait?

I think it's time to put the CBJ's end of the year streak last year out of our minds.  It is an illusion, a product of 60 games worth of practices before they finally got it right.  Once they got it right, they did show a lot of potential.  A 19-1-1 run is good anywhere.  However, the preseason does not last for 60 games, and the streak is unlikely to be duplicated during a meaningful time of the season.  If you eliminate that stretch, the body of work by this team is pretty brutal.

Many were deceived by that run, most assuredly myself, an avid Kool-aid drinker from Day 1.  But this is not about my deficiencies, it is about how a bunch of professional hockey players can make mistakes that a pee-wee team would make.  This is insanely frustrating, not just for me, but for all involved.  And with the normal over reaction borne of frustration, I began to mutter about blowing the thing up and going with the youngsters.  Which means making this team even younger, which won't necessarily scare the bejeebers out of the part of the league that is actually fielding a real NHL team.

And as I muttered about blowing it up and the trade deadline, the Predator-in-law (Mrs. Gallos' Dad, residing in the music city) began asking me rather piercing questions about what to do then?  Blowing it up makes you feel good as you are pushing the plunger, but what about the time spent picking up the pieces?   What does this team need most?  A cadre of NHL defenseman for one.  How doth one acquire such a thing?   In today's NHL there is a dearth of quality, mobile defensemen, and they are difficult to come by.  A guy like Christian Erhoff doesn't solve the serious problems with our defensive corps, though he would likely bring some offense.

So what do you do?   It is a commonly held belief that you can't really judge an NHL defenseman until he has played at least 200 games.  Other than Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin, the dean of the defensive group is David Savard, with 220 games played.  Just over the line.  Dalton Prout has 170 games, Justin Falk has 156, Ryan Murray has 116, Kevin Connauton has 124, Cody Goloubef has 69, and Andrew Bodnarchuk has 21 NHL games.   It doesn't matter how you cut it, these guys just need to play, and learn the lessons that all defensemen learn as they come into the league.

So it is important to remember that these players are still defining themselves at this level.  But the price for that experience is another lost season.  While it is true Bobrovsky erases some of the defensive short comings, they are going to remain for perhaps another year to year and a half.  Other young defensemen, such as Palliota, Werenski, and Heatherington will mature and take their places in line, learning the hard lessons.  Defensive help is thin on the ground in the trade market, and prohibitively expensive in free agency in today's NHL.    The only available course of action may be to grow our own.  Which takes time, and is a process fraught with uncertainty.

The Predator-in-law thinks acquiring some journeyman defensive help at or before the deadline will help settle things.  The biggest problem with that is our cap situation, and ultimately that you are taking games away from these young defensemen for a stop gap measure.  All that does is prolong the mediocrity.  The organization has to get serious about growing defensive depth at some point in its history, and that time is now.

So we truly know what it means to be caught on the horns of a dilemma, needing defensemen now, but being forced to grow them the old fashioned way.  And Tortorella is not done molding this group yet, not by a long shot.  A saying about teams is that there is a storming phase before forming, that some level of conflict is part of the team building process.  And it may well be that's where we are right now.  This group may be going through those forming pains before they can perform at a higher level.

The Stars come to town on Tuesday.  Time to start getting serious about defending the home barn.


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