The Backcheck: This and That and the Motivational Techniques of Coaches


[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: Canadian teams will be busy on deadline day

Before we start making up this week’s trade rumours, some rule-related housekeeping from recent NHL action.

The Colorado Avalanche were involved in two unusual replay situations, both creating confusion because we hadn’t seen them before. The first came in last Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over Montreal. In the second period, Jarome Iginla had a goal wiped out because he knocked over goaltender Ben Scrivens.

Coach Patrick Roy did not challenge, as the team was told it could not do so. (To be honest, I’m not sure the no-goal/penalty would’ve been overturned.) However, we reported during the game the NHL indicated a review could have occurred.

The team and league spoke Thursday to sort things out, only to see the exact same situation unfold days later.

This coach’s challenge, though still fully backed by the league, needs some tinkering. Let alone the fact teams can challenge an offside play a full 2 minutes after it happened (as long as there was not stoppage), some of the goaltending interference calls have made no sense.

I think, as most do, the whole process will get better with time, but there needs to be some kind of interjection from the league on these cases. With the process being so young, I honestly think some of the refs feel a little bit nervous about going against some of the coaches involved. The biggest part of the whole process is that the refs need to be confident in their decision, not influenced by who is making the challenge.

Last year, Patrick Kane missed the final 21 games of the regular season, returning for Game 1 of the playoffs.

No one’s doubting his injury, but it was a marvelous manipulation of the salary cap for post-season purposes. There is no limit after Game 82. Chicago could play Kane, newly acquired Antoine Vermette and everyone else without hassle — although opponents weren’t thrilled with the loophole. Now, we’re going to see who copies it in 2016.

Number one on the list is Los Angeles, which won’t have Marian Gaborik for awhile. The Kings were already looking at defencemen, but the winger’s injury adds the possibility of a forward, too. No surprise if they do it, because, as an opposing exec says, “When Dean (Lombardi) has the opening, he goes for it.” (No one quoted in the blog is an anonymous source.) The Rangers would be another, if Rick Nash needs more time.

I remember thinking last year that Pat Kane could have come back earlier than he did, and his performance in the playoffs probably suggests he was healthier earlier than the end of the season, but Chicago obviously thought the extra rest wouldn’t hurt him and the extra cap space wouldn’t hurt the team.

Knowing this information puts Eric Staal squarely in my focus. Word is out on whether or not Staal wants to move out of Carolina, but if he does decide to waive his no-trade clause, look for these contending teams with a lot of cap sitting in their IR. They’ll be the most likely to grab the big center.

The Blues and Kings played a terrific game last Thursday, with St. Louis winning 2-1 in overtime. Armstrong had huge praise for Jonathan Quick. “Whenever we play LA, he’s a superstar. You’re almost surprised you beat him. He’s always so competitive, so athletic. He’s one of my favourite players to watch.”

Just a note on watching hockey: You find a non-goalie who likes watching goalies and you’ve found yourself a real hockey aficionado. Any casual fan is going to like Patrick Kane dangling guys, but when you find a fan who appreciates the efficiency in which Carey Price patrols the crease, then you know that fan knows the sport.

Calgary GM Brad Treliving wasn’t offering any clarity, but several rumblings indicate the Flames asked about Matt Murray during talks with Pittsburgh.

The 21-year-old was the AHL’s Top Goaltender and Rookie of the Year last season. I don’t think Calgary’s the only team that’s tried to pry him from the Penguins, either. So far, everyone’s been rebuffed, meaning they either aren’t trading him, or it’s in stealth mode. (Probably the former.)

I haven’t seen much of him, but didn’t come across anyone who didn’t like him. There are different opinions about how ready he is for the NHL, but he’s got a lot of fans.

There’s no way Pittsburgh moves any of their high-end prospects until they see the outcome of this season. If they a) miss the playoffs or b) collapse in the early rounds again, big changes will be coming to the Steel City. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t been the problem in Pittsburgh, as far as I’m concerned, but if they don’t make a run this season, he might be the easiest to move out of the big five (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, Kessel). The Penguins aren’t going to move a top-flight goaltending prospect if they might need him in their goal next season.

Have to think Jonathan Drouin re-enters the rumour mill at some point, too.

This is more of a spitball than anything, but would a prospect-for-prospect swap work of Drouin for Ivan Barbashev? Born nine months apart.

Not sure if Tampa will circle back to some teams who thought they were out of it — the likes of Colorado, Nashville and Ottawa, for example. In Denver, Nathan MacKinnon was putting in a good word for Drouin, hoping his friend gets a fresh start soon.

For real, Drouin really overestimated his worth in this situation didn’t he? You’re no Lindros, Jonathan.

Whatever you thought of Michel Therrien’s decision to single out Subban following the loss to Colorado, there is one thing that should be unanimously felt: he’s one of maybe two or three players on the roster who could handle it right now.

He’s always had that “Up Yours!” kind of mentality, an “I’ll show you!” attitude to anyone in the NHL who’s stood in his way. He’s just as stunned as anyone else at what’s happened, but he doesn’t look as lost as many of them.

There are two players a coach will bench:  A player he’s completely done with and a player who has the right mental make-up to take it. Coaches rarely, if ever, bench a player if they don’t think they can handle it.

There is a distinction between not getting a lot of ice and getting benched, too. See, a fourth liner who gets eight minutes a night isn’t getting benched; he just doesn’t play. You can only get benched if you should be on the ice in a situation, and you’re not.

From my experience—and I coach the college level, so there’s never really a time where I’m completely done with a player—I bench the guys with a “Up Yours” attitude 90% more than anyone else. You can get responses from players in a variety of ways, but the “Up Yours” guy gives you the biggest, best response, after a benching. It’s a calculated risk, but most times, that player is going to come back better than he’s ever been. So for all you players who get benched, just hope that you’re not in the done-with category. It actually means your coach thinks the world of you and just expects better. Motivation 101.

What do you think?