Why Andrew Ladd and Josh Harding should make Team Canada, as of today; why the gimmicky shootout is likely to stay; and why shot blocking is overblown.
Some Monday morning musings:
• There are two players you would have never thought would work their way into the Canadian Olympic conversation who should be giving Steve Yzerman and his management team a lot to think about heading into the stretch run for selecting the team.
Those players are, wait for it, Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild and Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets.
Let’s start with Harding. Forget the fact he has one of the most compelling comeback stories in NHL history. None of that matters, nor should it, when it comes to choosing an Olympic team. What should matter much more is that game in and game out, it could be argued there has simply not been a better goaltender in the NHL this season from any country.
Harding has by far the best save percentage among any Canadian goalie who has played 10 or more games this season. And don’t blame him for a lack of work. The Wild has given up 30 or more shots in only one of Harding’s starts this season, but by the same token, Harding has only given up more than two goals in one game this season.
Harding should be there. So should Jonathan Bernier along with Carey Price. Now that’s a goaltending trio nobody would have predicted a year ago. And with those three playing as well as they have through the first quarter of the season, what has appeared to be a black hole for Canada could become a strength.
As for Ladd, think about what this guy can contribute. First, there is nobody better in the league at shootouts. He is 5-for-6 this season with three game-deciding goals. If one of those playoff or medal games goes to a shootout and I’m Mike Babcock, I want Ladd taking one of those shots.
But the best thing about Ladd is he’s hardly a one-trick pony. He can score at a decent clip, can play up and down the lineup, is a versatile player, will accept any role he’s given and has won two Stanley Cups. He’d be an outstanding choice for the team’s 13th forward.
• Those who would like to see the impact of the shootout minimized are getting a fair bit of ammunition provided to them this season. After Sunday night’s games, there had already been 49 shootouts in 308 games, which would put the league on pace for a total of 196 shootouts this season, the most since the skills competition was introduced in 2005-06.
There’s a sense among some observers that the shootout has run its course. But anyone expecting commissioner Gary Bettman to relent is dreaming. The shootout, it appears, is here to stay. Which is why people such as Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland are advocating for a period of 3-on-3 to decide things before the shootout. (Actually, it might have something to do with the fact that his team is 0-4 in shootouts this season, too.)
The shootout is a gimmick to be sure, but isn’t 3-on-3 as well? What is this, the annual Podunk Minor Hockey Tournament? How often do you see teams playing 3-on-3?
It has long been the opinion of this corner that a better solution would be to make a win of any kind – regulation, overtime or shootout – worth two points and a loss of any kind worth zero. Take away the comfort of a guaranteed point and you’ll see teams be more aggressive in overtime.
• There seems to be a certain amount of mystique around shot blocking. Almost anyone will tell you it’s an ingredient used to make championship teams and that all the best teams do it. And nothing epitomizes the esprit de corps of hockey than sacrificing your body by standing in front of a piece of vulcanized rubber travelling at warp speed.
But have you ever thought of the downside of shot blocking? Forget about the potential for injury for a moment. No, the real problem with a team that blocks shots is that, well, it is being shot at a lot. That means it isn’t in possession of the puck, isn’t creating offense at the other end of the rink and is generally spending a fair amount of time having the puck worked around its zone.
The top five teams in the standings – Chicago, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix and Minnesota – had combined for a total of 1,499 blocked shots. The bottom five in the standings – Buffalo, Edmonton, Florida, Calgary and Philadelphia – had combined for 1,537 blocked shots. So if it’s such a key to success, why do the top five and bottom five teams have virtually the same number of them?
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.