Even in a powerplay situation, each Flyers’ line is allowed no more than one minute to be on the ice and during that minute I want an all out effort.
This all out effort creates the tempo of the game, whereby we are always pushing the other team, keeping them guessing as to our next move. Our tempo keeps us on the offensive and forces the opposition to make mistakes. We built such a tempo in our game against the Bruins in Boston during the 1974 Stanley Cup finals that it just destroyed them.
A team cannot create the tempo of the game with just one line. Some coaches will try to favor one line over the others, thereby giving the other lines a sense of inferiority. I can put (Orest) Kindrachuk’s line against Esposito’s line and not worry about it, because our lines are all good and are capable of playing against any line in professional hockey today.
Boston will play the Esposito line for a 4-minutes shift, while we’ll have three lines against them in that time. Thus, by moving our lines on a one-minute shift, we can create a faster tempo during the game.
We always have a fresh player on the ice.
-Fred Shero, 1975.
I’ve been reading a lot of things online about Dallas Eakins and how he’ll handle things in Edmonton. Button-down, defense first, driving the top 6F past 20 minutes. It’s all guessing, all blue sky. Still, the fact that Craig MacTavish found a kindred spirit in Eakins says a lot, and I thought it might be an idea to look back at MacT in a box. This is from 2009 summer.
MACT IN A BOX
- Does he roll 4 lines or sit people on the end of the bench?He has been going in the direction of 4 lines since the day he started as coach. In fact, the 00-01 team was far less democratic than 2007-08. The 00-01 roster had a big top line (Weight/Smyth/Guerin-Carter), a checking line (Marchant/Moreau/Grier) and a make shift 2 and 4 (Murray, Cleary, Riesen, Lacouture, Swanson, Kilger, Zholtok, Horcoff, Pittis). In 07-08, 13 forwards played over 10 minutes per game at even strength, which is 4 more than the Flames managed (9 forwards playing more than 10EV minutes per game in Calgary). Some of those players were injured, but it’s also true that only one Oiler regular received fewer than 10EV minutes a night this season (Stortini: 8:02). This compares with 6 Flame forwards played less than 10EV minutes a night during at least 40 games. Much of that has to do with roster makeup but then again the coach makes many of those decisions.
- Does he roll 3 D pairings or stick with his best 4 men on the blue? MacT appears to run some specialty (Souray, Staios shorthanded and Souray, Pitkanen with the man advantage) minutes but only 4 men played 15 or more minutes a night at EVs during this past season (Staios, Pitkanen, Gilbert, Smid) as did the injured Sheldon Souray. Defensemen who played less than 15EVs a night included Matt Greene and Denis Grebeshkov. I imagine the Russian would have been over 15 if not for a rather slow start. In the season the Oilers drove to the Stanley Cup finals, MacT gave over 15EV minutes per evening to Pronger, Staios and Smith (along with Spacek after he came over). He would appear to favor a group of three of four horses back there.
- How does he handle rookies? Before the lockout, Craig MacTavish used 22 rookies (or what I consider rookies) in his 4 seasons, or 5.5 per season. Each season the Oilers brought in at least one rookie of interest (00-01: Comrie, Horcoff; 01-02: Markkanen; 02-03: Hemsky, Chimera, Pisani, Semenov; 03-04: Torres, Bergeron, Stoll), and several took up fairly important positions rather quickly. Much of this was probably due to the finances but this isn’t a coach (as has long been held in some circles) who can’t develop players. Since summer 2005, MacT brought in defensemen Matt Greene, Jan Hejda, Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert (among others). Up front, the parade includes Zack Stortini, Marc Pouliot, Brad Winchester, Patrick Thoresen, Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner. I count 16 rookies in the three seasons, or a little over 5 a season. This is still a team reliant on the procurement department and although one is certain the scouts still remember Jani Rita and may stew over Pouliot or Schremp, there’s been a lot of cadets run through the academy successfully.
- What kind of rookie forwards develop well under MacTavish? Vic Ferrari always makes the point that MacT is “typical” of other NHL coaches in that he prefers players (rookies or otherwise) who cheat a little toward their own end of the ice. I understand that but do believe that this coach has shown a very specific and obvious tendency towards defense even in regard to rookie forwards. Fernando Pisani is a guy that may have been passed over (or taken longer to arrive) based on draft pedigree and both the 06-07 and 07-08 teams have had some young players hitting below the Mendoza line and still getting their at-bats. MacT loves forwards who can play solid postional games, and even when discussing kids like Gagner and Nilsson will make a point to mention that they have to ensure the offense they’re generating isn’t exceeded by what they’re giving up. A kid like Gagner is going to benefit heavily from this kind of coach, in a way someone like Rick Nash is only now getting around to in his career.
- What kind of rookie defensemen develop well under MacTavish? All kinds. MA Bergeron is the other side of the Pisani coin. This is a player whose size and chaos style would seem to run counter to a MacT team, but again he measures the player against his “offense created/goals against” ratio. Bergeron was eventually sent away but managed to establish himself in the NHL before doing so. MacT has shown exceptional patience with Matt Greene, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and for a time with Denis Grebeshkov (before the Russian found his way and moved up the depth chart). He has yet to develop a “complete” player back there but that may have as much to do with drafting as anything. There’s a large crop of kids on the way, I think Theo Peckham will be the one to respond under coach MacTavish.
- Is there an area of concern with regard to rookies? There was a time when people like me questioned his ability to get the most out of quality offensive talents. Mike Comrie scored goals but left Edmonton with some pretty nasty words (“communists”) and before the lockout season there was some talk about Hemsky possibly stalling as a player. However, since the lockout and more open offense Hemsky has blossomed and many of the best offensive players are the kids (Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson last year alone). MacTavish has been very effective in using the usual powers of persuasion (press box, playing time, minors) to get the best out of most players and with this most recent season seems to have put to rest the concerns that grew out of the career development of Comrie.
- Does he have specialists for certain roles? How rigid is this? He likes veterans to play in specific roles like penalty killing. MacT has utilized men like Cory Cross, Igor Ulanov and Marty Reasoner in ways that revitalized their careers and sometimes to the point of distraction for fans and (maybe) management. Toby Peteresen became a lightning rod for this issue when he appeared on the PP a few times, and Reasoner not getting a contract this summer after MacT said he wanted him back might also be a sign of some disconnect between coach and GM in this area.
- What are his strengths? His teams are prepared. Probably his shining moment as a coach in Edmonton came spring 2006 in the Detroit series. The Red Wings were a better team, but not by as much as the standings implied. MacT used that and some interesting strategy to smother Detroit and get out of the first round for the first time in forever. MacTavish teams have a solid work ethic, and play a high tempo game. His teams are generally strong at penalty killing. MacTavish sometimes seems to put his roster together bass ackwards, getting good role players to score enough to stay in the lineup. I’d say it never works, but Fernando Pisani has been golden and can score goals and there weren’t too many people suggesting Zach Stortini could play a legit role this past season. MacTavish isn’t easily swayed by draft pedigree or prevailing wisdom which is clearly a strength. Under MacT the Oilers have been quite successful with under the radar defensemen, although I’m not certain how much credit should go to the coach.
- What are his weaknesses? His teams miss the playoffs too much, and his lack of imagination for the PP has been a sore spot forever. Some fans suggest no matter how many skill players this team acquires, MacT cannot manage two successful offensive lines at EVs. He can stay with some players too long, as witnessed the Salo and Oates situation awhile back and possibly Reasoner this past season (although I’d dispute that one).
- What is his future? I think there’s a chance he might quit if they miss the playoffs again in the spring. Even though Groundhog Day is a fun movie, living it must be hell. He’ll get another coaching job and my bet would be that Craig MacTavish wins a Stanley before the Oilers should they divorce in 2009.