The online statistical geniuses, who make their hockey assessments via charts and graphs, all but murdered Dave Nonis when he traded for Jonathan Bernier.
They screamed in unison: The Bernier deal made no sense. Because the Maple Leafs had a long-term keeper in James Reimer in goal. He had the numbers to prove it. They yelled that Nonis doesn’t know what he’s doing and that tone continued throughout the summer after the deal for David Bolland, the buyout of Mikhail Grabovski, the signings of David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak and the awkward contract negotiations of Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson.
Nonis was hired last January to run the Leafs and just about the first thing he did was call Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi to inquire about Bernier. He called often. Nonis thought they had a deal done last January and again last February, but each time circumstances prevented it from happening.
The deal eventually got done in June — and while many disagree with me, I say on the cheap. What Bernier has displayed in the early season borders on the remarkable. His style — calm, in control, square to the puck — makes him look capable of being one of the truly great goalies in the game and all the save percentage shouters have been silenced.
The Roberto Luongo trade in Vancouver used to be Nonis’ signature deal. It’s entirely possible the Bernier deal will surpass that piece of hockey thievery.
I believe that the phrase Steve is looking for is “shoved it up the backside of his critics.”
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Doubt it was offered. But would LA have taken Yakupov for Bernier?
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) October 13, 2013
So some Oiler fans wouldn't even consider giving up a healthy scratch for a starting goalie. Fair enough.
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) October 13, 2013
Now, I’ve been known to behave like an Aussie PM on Twitter the odd time:
That said, I’m pretty sure the initial comment there was serious. Between him and Simmons, it’s a pretty knee jerk lot here in Toronto. You’d think nobody’d ever seen a goalie string a few good games together (I’m giving Simmons the benefit of the doubt that he wrote his column before tonight) or a first overall draft pick struggle a little bit early in his career.
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There’s not much to be said about the horrific dropping of the point in Toronto. Worse, the Oilers dropping a point meant that the Leafs got two. The winning goal was what it was – RNH was punched to the ice while Justin Schultz was oblivious to what was developing, a 3 on 1 ensued and I was left to contemplate the ugly turn the game had taken over the last three minutes after I’d been loudly gloating to all within hearing distance at the ACC after the Oilers fifth goal.
Obviously, there’s no lesson that I can learn from that. It’s worth examining the 5-5 goal though, because I think that we can learn a few things from that. As I watched the 5-5 goal unfold, I had a series of probabilities going through my mind. When Dubnyk caught the puck off the initial shot and dropped it for the player who happened to be beside him, I thought “OK, so Dubnyk’s traded the risk inherent in a faceoff for a situation that’s akin to a faceoff win, with the defenceman there to shoot the puck around the boards.”
A crappy clearance attempt later, the Leafs had the puck at the point and I thought “OK, so the probabilities have now changed and this is analogous to a team that’s just lost a faceoff, possibly a little worse because they aren’t as positionally structured.” Ten seconds after that, I was being serenaded by chants of “Where’s your fire drill?” by people who didn’t understand what it means when you chant “Is there a fire drill?” at people leaving early. Ugh.
The tying goal though…the sequence of events leading up to that was somewhat unusual. Here’s the faceoff leading up to the goal. Hemsky at RW, Hall at LW, RNH at C.
A few seconds later, Hall has swung around to the top of the slot, RNH is still tied up in the faceoff and Hemsky is the high blur in the slot.
Everyone on the Oilers falls back into the neutral zone except Hall, who provides some token pressure on the Leafs.
The Leafs break out pretty easily and attack the neutral zone. Note how there are four Oilers.
The Leafs succeed in entering the Oilers zone and…hey – see that blur beside Dubnyk? That’s Ales Hemsky. He’s apparently just turned and skated all the way back to the defensive zone while the rest of the players moved up the ice along with the puck.
So what do we have now? A flat footed Ales Hemsky with pressure coming at him and the net in his way, hoping to rim the puck around and out, with a Leaf well positioned to cut it off.
The whole sequence is fascinating in terms of the tactical decisions. I am assuming that Hemsky was instructed to do what he did and that he wasn’t doing it of his own volition. I’d be fascinating to hear Dallas Eakins’ reasoning here and how he convinced himself that this is the right way to do things. As I see it, there are a lot of costs here.
It all starts with a faceoff in the Leafs zone with 50 seconds left. At some point in the next 50 seconds, they’re going to lose possession, likely in the Leafs zone, at which point, Hemsky will go back and the scheme will play out.
By running things the way that they did, the situation became very similar to 4v5. With minimal forechecking, the Leafs become freer to exit their zone than they otherwise would be. I suspect, although I don’t know, that they also become more likely to enter the Oilers zone by way of a carry than they otherwise and that an attempted zone entry of some sort is inevitable. This all increases the risk of a shot.
What do you gain from this? Well, I assume that what they were hoping to gain was a player to cut off a dump-in and send it back out of the defensive zone or, possibly, prevent a faceoff that comes from a dump-in. Is that gain worth increasing the likelihood of the puck being carried in? I’m not so sure, although I don’t have any hard data on the issue.
The tradeoff is the guy down low, Hemsky. The attempted clearance was pretty lousy, although that’s a tougher clear than it looks. From that position, you can’t just bank it out, you have to rim it, which takes some steam off the puck. He’s flatfooted, so skating it out is impossible. I don’t like to judge process from result but it seems like a play that has to go perfectly right in order to work. Hopefully someone raises this with Eakins before the next game – I’d be interested to have him confirm that it was deliberate and hear a little about the process that he goes through to determine that something like this is a good tactic. It’s the sort of thing that could be answered analytically, I think – if Eakins or someone else has done the work, I’d be excited to hear about it.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org