The Backcheck: I’ve Fallen in Love with Bill Peters


Every week, Sportsnet’s  Eliotte Friedman writes a column called “30 Thoughts” and it’s basically the NHL article I look most forward to, as it gives—you guessed it—30 tidbits about the goings on the NHL based off of info Friedman has gotten from his sources.

In the past, former writer Justin Bourne wrote the second article I most looked forward to, “Thoughts on Thoughts” in which Bourne picked his five favorite Friedman thoughts and elaborated.

Unfortunately for those who loving reading Hockey articles—but fabulously for Justin Bourne himself—Bourne was hired by the Toronto Marlies as their video coach and so his article has ceased to exist.

However! As is the American way, I shall not let a good idea go to waste!  So for this column, “The Backcheck,” I am going to rip off Coach Bourne and basically co-opt his idea for’s purposes.

Each week, following Elliotte Friedman’s wonderful piece, I will go back (get it? Backcheck?) through—however many—tidbits that interested me and give my opinion on them. It may be five, like Bourne’s; it may be 1, who knows? Whatever topics need to be elaborated on shall be.

This week’s 30 Thoughts: Artemi Panarin and the new KHL development model

Carolina’s strength is on the blue-line, with much offensive potential among the veterans (Justin FaulkRon Hainsey,John-Michael Liles) and rookies (Noah HanifinBrett Pesce,Jaccob Slavin). They’ve got a long rope.

“They’ve got the green light to go,” Peters says. All the time? “All the time.” Peters explained that it’s the forwards’ responsibility to watch for holes. They’ll get benched for coverage mistakes more than the blue-liners will. It’s particularly obvious on the power play.

Well, I just fell in love with Bill Peters.

Way, way, way too many coaches hold their D back, and I’ll never understand why. We expect the forwards to do a job in the defensive zone, do we not? Honestly, imagine a coach saying, “My forwards do not have the green light to play defense in our own zone.” That’d be insanity! So why can’t the defense have a job going the other way? Now, not every team is going to have a blue-line that contributes like the Hurricanes, but why would you ever want to limit your team?

Think about it, if you tell your defensemen that they don’t have a green light, or the green light is only going to come on once in a while, then you’re taking two options away on the ice.

There’s only five options!

How can you take away 40% of your options, just because of the position they line-up in? It’s never made sense to me, in any way. And before you say, “they have to protect their own end,” I know they do. But as Bill Peters believes, can’t the forwards help out in that area too? In fact, when you look at it in that light, by saying the forwards don’t have the responsibility to watch for holes, you’re taking 60% of your defensive options away!

Hockey has always prided itself on being the ultimate team game, yet there are so many coaches who have, or still do, limit the players on their teams to certain jobs. Open it up, coaches. Let each position play the other positon. Restricting them in any manner is inhibiting the team from working in concert.

When the KHL was founded in 2008, there was a ton of debate about how much of a rival to the NHL it would be. It didn’t turn out to be as much of a fight as expected…. The two leagues respect each other’s contracts, and, asked how the current relationship is with the NHL, [Roman] Rotenberg [VP of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation] offered few complaints. He talked more about ideas for future development of the game (China, for example) but he’s also trying different things in his backyard. Russia was extremely disappointed by its 2014 home ice Sochi showing, as a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland eradicated any chance at a gold medal…. Those results aren’t good enough. What’s worse is opponents believe Russia’s predictable coaching — don’t worry about matchups, roll your four lines, etc. — is a major reason why.

I’ve always been intrigued and sort-of dumbfounded by the Canadian versus Russia hockey debate. Not in the sense of in a game, who will win (and obviously, I always cheer for Canada); but in the sense that I’ve never really understood why each Hockey Federation is so opposed to the others style of development.

Both countries are just so entrenched in their beliefs of the right way to build a hockey player. Canada is systems, systems, systems until you know the game backwards; then skill. Russia is skill, skill, skill until your masterful, and then figure the rest out after.  In Canada, coaches over-coach (obviously I’m not talking about all, but definitely a lot). Some games I watch are basically who can out-trap the other team…BORING. In Russia, according to the teams Friedman references, believe the Russian coaches don’t do enough coaching. And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like both federations are taking forever to realize that there is a good way to mix the philosophies.

You can teach skill and systems at the same time; you can coach concepts instead of “do A then B then C then repeat” and specify or generalize as need be going forward…I mean, there’s obvious compromises!

And look, by the time guys get to the NHL, they’ve figured out the compromises. They understand systems and they have tons of skill; they’ve learned everything along the way. Basically what I’m getting at is the amount of time it takes to learn those things.

You know who seem to be the slowest learners in the NHL? And by that, I mean the guys who we all make excuses for like, “He’s still young.”

Do you know who those guys are?

Where they are from?

Well, let me put it this way: How many times, in conversations with your buddies or listening to any Hockey show, do you hear someone, when remarking about a Swede or Finn, say that they still have some aspects of the game that they need to learn?

Now, how many times, when talking about a Russian, have you or your friends, or the commentator you were listening to said, “He needs to learn how to play without the puck,”?

And, how many times have you said/heard, about a Canadian, “He hasn’t quite reached the full potential of his skill set,”?

If you’re not lying to yourself, those last two occur WAY more than the first.

Anyways, my point is, for two countries that love the sport more than anyone (or at least, that’s what we all tell ourselves), there’s a real resistance to adaptation at the development level, even though it would benefit the developmental process. And it’s weird. Because you’d think two countries that want to be the best, would be willing to do whatever it took to be the best. Even adapt.

What do you think?