A Look At All 2013 Hall Of Fame Inductee Fred Shero Did For Both the Flyers and the NHL

Update 7/12 This piece can be found updated at the URL http://thehealthyscratches.com/2013/07/12/hall-of-fame-inductee-fred-shero-changed-both-the-flyers-and-the-nhl/

When Frederick Alexander “The Fog” Shero was announced as a member of the 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame class, fans of the 1970’s Flyers surely felt a bit of nostalgia.

Shero was the head coach of the Flyers from 1971-1978 and led them to back to back Stanley Cup Championships in 1974 and 1975. During this time the team would become known as the “Broad Street Bullies” for their rough and tumble style of play.

Fans saw a Philadelphia team during Shero’s reign that would go out on the ice and pummel their opponents, never backing down from a scrum or shying away from a collision in the corners. It wasn’t that the team was necessarily being instructed to fight their opponents, but it definitely was not frowned upon if they did.

I swear I have never told a player to attack another player,” Shero said in the HBO documentary Broad Street Bullies. “In fact, I have told my players if they ever hear me saying something like this, they can break a stick over my skull. I ask only that they play aggressively. I had a team that liked fighting, so I let them fight.”

The Flyers were taught to be a fearless group at all times, and let their opponents know that they were never going to back down. But where other teams would go out and use physical intimidation when they did not have any skill, the Flyers used it to go along with their skill.

Under Shero the team was able to get the teams star players such as Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach to buy into the never back down system. These players led a group of skilled players on the team who used rough tactics to accomodate their high skill level, not make up for it.

Shero once told his players,”Take the shortest route to the puck-carrier and arrive in ill humor.”

Shero’s strategy was much more sophisticated than just go out pummel your opponent and put the puck in the back of the net though. He was an astute student of the game-and all things in life- and was never afraid to try something new if he believed in it. This desire to adapt and learn at all times made him one of the real innovators of the game, and a man of many firsts for the NHL.

As a student of the game, it was only right that Shero became the one of the first coaches in North America to travel to Russia to study the Soviet Union’s style of play. Shero did not take this trip lightly, and it would later become evident that he used a lot of what he learned in Russia with his own teams.

“Anatoli Tarasov’s book became my bible,” Shero said to Sports Illustrated in 1975. “I’ve read it at least 100 times. Even now I still don’t know all there is to coaching. I’m still learning, which is why I went to Russia for a coaching clinic last summer. At least I realize I don’t know everything. Trouble is, most coaches don’t know—and certainly won’t admit—that they don’t know everything about coaching.

Shero would use much of what he learned in Russia when he became the first coach in NHL history to employ a system or tactical approach for all five skaters on the ice. He implemented his first system with the Flyers prior to the 1972-1973 season and his players quickly took to it. The Flyers would improve from 66 during the 1971-1972 season to 85 points during the first season his systems were in action.

“It was the first time that a style of game had been perfected. Everyone knew that the Flyers had a certain style of game – and I’m not just talking about the fighting,” said Bobby Clarke about the effect of Shero’s systems.

Shero was also the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, when he hired Mike Nykoluk prior to the 1972-1973 season. While Shero was initially viewed as weak or inept for making the move, with time it was clear the right decision was made. Nykoluk being around allowed Shero to get more individual time with each player, which in turn helped establish a better relationship and understanding with players. This idea was quickly picked up by other teams and today every team in the NHL has multiple coaches assisting the head coach.

Other things that Shero became the first do during his coaching career were the first to use film analysis, the first to employ a pre-game skate to get his players active on the day of a game, and to use in-season strength training. Each of these things made his team better and have now become commonplace for each and every NHL team.

All of these groundbreaking philosophies and ideas changed the game of hockey, but would not have been possible without the players on the ice being receptive to Shero. That was never a problem though, as Shero quickly endeared himself to nearly everyone that he worked with because of his quirky humor and fun personality.

“Nobody on our team missed practice in two years, not even the ones injured,” Shero said in 1975. “They don’t want to miss the laughs. I don’t think you can instruct anyone unless you amuse them first.”

With a personality that made people want to work with him and a mind for the game that none of his peers could match, Shero became one of the most influential coaches in the history of hockey. Without his presence in the game one could only ponder how much longer it would be before his innovations came to the NHL, or if they ever would of.

For a man that had to wait out 13 years coaching in the minor leagues before getting his chance with the Flyers, few could have predicted the success he would have. Shero went on to lead the Flyers to the most successful run in franchise history, and became a legend in the city of Philadelphia. He was able to manage this success very effectively, and changed the way that both players and coaches approach the game in the process.

Looking back on all that he did during his coaching career, it is clear that Shero deserves his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“No one deserves it more than Fred Shero in my opinion,” Flyers Chairman Ed Snider said. “He was the guy that put it all together. We gave him the parts, and he made it gel.”


Is It Possible For Tim Thomas To Have A Successful Comeback?

JULY 3, 2013 — Four time All-Star, two time Vezina Trophy Winner, two time Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award, 2011 Conn Smythe Winner, and 2011 Stanley Cup winner.

With credentials like that, one would expect that Tim Thomas would be one of the most coveted goalies of the off-season, even if he is 39 years old. But Thomas is no ordinary free agent, as he is coming off a year long hiatus from the game and has proven to be a controversial figure in the past. This makes him one of the real wild cards this off-season and led me to wonder, can he reasonably be expected to have a successful comeback with the New York Islanders, with whom he signed this week?

When looking for similar situations to Thomas’ in recent times what I have found is that the only other player to willingly take a year or more off from the NHL before returning is Alexandre Daigle. Daigle took off the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons at the age of 25 to pursue an acting career before returning with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After returning he enjoyed moderate success, as went on to play three more years in the NHL and enjoyed the best year of his career during the 2003-2004 season with 51 points. Daigle played one more season in the NHL before heading over to Switzerland for the final three years of his career.

While this proves that one can hypothetically take time off from the NHL and enjoy moderate success upon returning, teams will be looking for much more than moderate success from Thomas.

During his last two seasons active in the NHL he combined to go 70-30-10 with goals-against averages of 2.00 and 2.36. He has continued this success during the playoffs each year, combining to go 19-13-5 over these two postseasons with GAA’s of 1.98 and 2.14.

One of the main goals his agent has stated for his comeback is that he wants one last crack at competing in the Olympics, which the U.S. will do in Sochi in February. In order to make the team he will have to be one of the three best goalies the U.S. has, meaning he will have to play better than at least two of Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and Craig Anderson. To reach this goal Thomas will first have to prove to the Islanders that he can be their unquestioned number one starter.

Along with having to find a team that can both offer him a chance at winning and the ability to play consistently, his new team will have to be willing to take on the controversy that can come with Thomas. This potential for controversy stems from bold political stands that Thomas has made in the past, specifically when he decided not to go with the Bruins to visit the White House following the teams 2011 Stanley Cup win. He was the only member of the Cup-winning team that was still a part of the Bruins to not go.

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control,” said Thomas at the time. “Threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people. This is being done at the executive, legislative, and judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the constitution and the Founding Fathers’ vision for the federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a free citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL (emphasis his). This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic.”

While this likely did not have any major impact on the Bruins in-clubhouse dynamics, when playing in a big media market such as Boston these types of statements can cause controversy that affects the team in other ways. Side issues like this cause headaches for front offices that normally stay out of political issues that can alienate part of their fan base and causes them to take focus away from hockey matters. Having to manage issues like this and constantly answer questions that have nothing to do with hockey is never something that either management or teammates want to do with any player. These types of issues can be the difference in choosing between two players of equal ability and Thomas’ track record does not show a player that is afraid to make a controversial statement or two.

All of these factors do not mean that it will be impossible for Thomas to find a team and return to his previous levels, but it will surely make it more difficult. He will likely have to settle for a team that is on the fringes of the playoffs and believes that a veteran goalie could be the difference in making a deep playoff run next season.

One team that meets this criteria are the New York Islanders who are in need of a starting goaltender for the 2013-2014 season after stating they will not resign Evgeni Nabakov, their starter this past season. If the Islanders were willing to take the risk of signing Thomas, then he would be dumb not to sign the contract immediately. They could meet his requirements of playing on a playoff contender and offer the ability to play consistently so that he has the opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Even if Thomas is given the ability to compete and win a job in the NHL, his return will be deemed a success or failure based on how his body reacts to playing at the NHL level once again. At the age of 39, getting his body to hold up for an entire season and play effectively could be even harder than finding a team that fits all of his needs.

Thomas has made a career out of overcoming the odds though, having been drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 draft and spending 8 years in the minor leagues and Europe before becoming an NHL starter. After beating odds like this just to become an NHL player, it should be expected that Thomas will not give up easily in his comeback. And if anyone can be a success in coming back at the age of 39, Tim Thomas can do it.

“If anyone can do it,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, “It can be him, regardless of his conditioning. He’s done some pretty special stuff at a later age.”

Only time will tell.

Examining Why Teams Using Both Cap Buyouts This Offseason Could Be In For a Dark Future

Since NHL teams were given the ability to buy out players on Wednesday at 11 p.m. et, 8 players have been bought out of their contracts.  These buyouts ranged from the unpredictable for players such as Vincent Lecavalier to many more that were expected such as Ilya Bryzgalov.  One thing that each buyout had in common was that they all gave the team that was using their compliance buyouts more cap space to operate under so that they could upgrade their roster for next season.

What is being overlooked though in the mass exodus of players that have signed horrible contracts is that teams can use compliance buyouts this year and next. Many teams are going to forget this though as they are only looking towards the upcoming season when the salary cap will drop from $70.2 million to $64.3 million.

This will prove to be a steep drop, especially considering that 16 out of the 30 NHL teams spent over $60 million this season. This has put each of these teams in a precarious situation where they will likely have to shed veteran players and move towards having younger players on their roster.

Three teams- the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks- have already used both of their buyouts allocated for this year and next.  Even with these buyouts each of these teams is within $8 million of the cap for next year.  Without another option to get out from under the salary cap next offseason, each of these teams is effectively hoping that the salary cap will rise for the 2014-2015 season.

But what happens if the salary cap doesn’t increase for the 2014-2015 season?

If the salary cap does not go up significantly for that season then we would see these three teams- and others who could use each of their buyouts before the July 4th deadline- having to trade valuable assets.  It could mean players such as Patrick Kane or free-agent to be Claude Giroux moving on for effectively nothing in return.  This would effectively mean that teams are being penalized for not being able to operate under the salary cap and for the dreadful long-term contracts their management entered into.

Other teams meanwhile that have operated under the cap such as the New York Islanders would likely be rewarded for building through the draft and not trying to sign their way out of trouble.  With only $35 million committed for next year and with a core already in place that went to the playoffs last year, the Islanders are the type of team that the cap allows to exceed.  They spend within their means, draft well and lock up their players that are young all while not overspending for older free agents.

Other teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Ottawa Senators are all very well under the cap heading into next year and either were in the playoffs this year or very close to it.  They have combined to use one buyout so far this year and have put themselves in a spot where they can use one this year and next.

This allows them a level of flexibility that many teams are placing themselves out of by using both buyouts this summer, a decision they may regret.  These teams are not banking on revenue going up, something never guaranteed, and are being rewarded for good financial decisions they made in the past.  With the salary cap, financial decisions are more important than ever before and these buyouts can not save teams from all their bad decisions in the past.

Welcome to the real effects of the salary cap era folks!


The One Disgrace of the Stanley Cup

For the entirety of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey fans everywhere were blessed with the opportunity to watch the best athletes in the world play the best game in the world.  They got everything they asked for- skill, grit, fights, comebacks, overtime games- and apparently loved it as television ratings were the highest on record for any Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Off of this information, one would expect that at the end of the season all fans would be cheering as Jonathan Toews accepted Lord Stanley’s Cup from Gary Bettman.

But instead everyone watching on NBC was greeted with what has become a tradition of booing Gary Bettman as he handed out the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup. And what a disgrace it is that fans choose a time dedicated to honoring the champions of the sport- athletes that endured and played through pain that one doesn’t even want to imagine- to voice their displeasure with one man.

Many may blame Bettman for the three lockouts that have occurred during his reign as commissioner.  Or maybe they disagree with the expansion and relocation that has gone on during his tenure which has seen 5 teams relocated and 6 new teams enter the NHL.  Every team has also seen ticket prices rise significantly during his reign-which you may want to blame your local management for- which even the most loyal fans hate to see.  All of these things could in some way at least be partially attributed to Bettman and certain choices that he has made.

But is the handing out of hockey’s-and possibly sport’s-most revered trophy really the right time to voice your displeasure?

I for one think that there should be an unwritten rule-or hell really it should be wrote down somewhere- that the handing out of the Stanley Cup becomes an official 30 minute period of if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.

If for nothing else, fans should maintain a period of silence during this time out of respect for the player’s who both won and lost the cup.  Many of these players showed great will and determination just playing through injuries to even be skating at the end of the season.

To count the number of player’s playing through injuries for both of the contestants in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals would probably mean counting every player on both teams.  For the Chicago Blackhawks- the 2013 Stanley Cup champs- these injuries included a sprained knee for Bryan Bickell, an injured back for Marian Hossa, and both a broken wrist and torn MCL for Michael Handzus.  Chicago’s opponents, the Boston Bruins, also endured many injuries which included Nathan Horton with a separated shoulder and Patrice Bergeron who sustained a broken rib.  Boston also had Gregory Campbell’s injury- a broken leg- that we saw occur as he blocked a shot and skated off the ice before missing the rest of the series.  We will very likely find out much more about what injuries other player’s were competing through in the coming weeks and will surely be astounded by what we find out they played through.

These players that go through incredible injuries and show no complaints about it make the Stanley Cup Playoffs the greatest playoffs in all of sports.  Without them the sport would be nothing and to take away from the sacrifices they went through is a disgrace to everyone involved with the wonderful sport of hockey.

The time has come for a fan base to stand up and cheer when the greatest trophy in the world is being presented and shower both the winners and losers of the Stanley Cup with praise.  The group that does this would prove just what each team has gone through to make it this far and that they appreciate this dedication.  They will also stand up and prove that the game is bigger than any one mane, especially one that doesn’t even play in Gary Bettman.

One can only hope this day will come sooner rather than later.



How Much Can Patrick Kane Accomplish?

Since being drafted number one overall in the 2007 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane has had huge expectations on his shoulders.

These expectations were mainly a result of his great skill set, but his junior linemate Sam Gagner- now an Edmonton Oiler- believed that his drive would make him a success at the NHL when he said this prior to the 2007 draft,”Obviously his skill level is unbelievable, but his vision out there and his scoring touch are something you don’t see very often. But mostly it’s his constant want to be the best and I think that’s why he’ll be good at every level because he accepts every challenge and be better than everyone else, but at the same time he doesn’t bring other people down in the process.”

From the start he has not disappointed, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy and leading Chicago in points with 72 during his rookie year as he proved critics wrong who believed he was too small. Since then Kane has continued to be one of the best players in the NHL- making each All-Star Game since his rookie year, winning a silver medal in 2010 and posting 74.25 points per season from 2008-2009 to 2011-2012- and has become an integral part of an extremely successful Blackhawks team.

Kane has also developed a knack for coming through in the clutch, with 52 points in 51 postseason games prior to the 2013 playoffs and a Stanley Cup win 2010. The team’s Stanley Cup win truly earned him the tag of clutch player, as Kane scored the series winning goal in overtime of Game 6 to bring Chicago it’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Despite accomplishing all of this, Kane still showed a desire to improve in all areas of his game and did just that prior to the 2013 season.

He showed up with a much more disciplined approach that led to him posting both the best points per game and the goals per game averages of his career during the regular season. These totals were helped by Kane getting himself in better shooting situations and taking smarter shots which led to him posting the best shooting percentage of his career, at 16.7%. His defensive play also got much better which led to more opportunities on the defensive side of the puck late in games and a +11 plus/minus rating that was the second best of his career. Kane’s improvement was a direct result of his willingness to improve at all costs, which was exemplified as he went to Switzerland during the lockout while many of his peers stayed at home.

During the postseason this approach continued as Kane led the Blackhawks in points on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and another Stanley Cup. This continued his career of showing up in the clutch and led Scotty Bowman to speak glowingly under his performance under pressure when he said,”He’s the ultimate pressure player. The bigger the game, the better he plays, and that’s a tough thing to do. There are a lot of players who shy away from that.”

With a willingness to improve at all times and the skill set to match any player in the world, Kane will no doubt continue to improve each season. While many believe there is only so high that he can reach, one person who will expect him to come back each year an improved player is Bowman who said of his improvement each year,”Each year, he would kind of work on a different thing, it’s an evolution for him.”

This drive to continue improving should have the rest of the league shaking in their boots with what he can accomplish in his career. Still at the ripe age of 24, he has likely not reached his physical peak and it is hard to bet against him winning scoring titles, MVP’s, more Stanley Cups or really any trophy in the future.

The sky is the limit for Patrick Kane.

Is This One Hole Boston Can’t Dig Themselves Out Of?

For a Boston Bruins team that has faced adversity all season, digging themselves into a 3-2 hole during the Stanley Cup Finals only seems right.  After all, they did come back from down 4-1 with 11:00 left in Game 7 during the First Round against Toronto to win, so no hole is too deep for this group.  They have also been playing with the fragile hearts of Bostonian’s who are still coping with the loss and injuries incurred from the Boston Marathon Bombings, so they won’t be rattled.  But this time, with top players struggling and up against a supremely talented Chicago team, they may have just met their match.

One of the biggest reasons that the Bruins look doomed to lose this series is that their defense has fallen apart during Games 4 and 5.  During these two games they let up nine goals, which is only one less than the team allowed the previous nine games of the postseason. They have also been out shot by 21 shots during these two games, a large margin that indicates Chicago has been very effective getting through Boston’s defense and making life difficult on Tukka Rask. These statistics show that Boston’s defense, which allowed the 3rd fewest goals in the NHL during the season and had the lowest GAA in the playoffs before the last two games, has been falling apart in this series.

The one player who Boston usually relies upon to get the defense going during tough times is Zdeno Chara, who has looked worn out during this series.  This has been shown by the fact he is -5 in the last two games and his ice time has gone down dramatically during that time, dropping 1:25 from Game 3 to Game 5.  This ranked him number 3 in time on ice for Boston’s defensemen for Game 5, which shows even Claude Julien is beginning to lose confidence in the 6′ 9″ Slovakian defender.  Chicago’s captain Jonathan Toews even exuded confidence when speaking about playing against Chara when after Game 4 he said,”He’s not a guy that we should be afraid of. We should go at him, protect the puck from him, make plays around him and through him. We use our speed.”

With Chara seemingly out of whack, the Bruins have still tried to implement their physical strategy, in fact they outhit Chicago by 41 the last two games, but much of their intimidation factor has been lost without Chara’s looming presence.   What has made it even harder to implement this style is that Chara’s defensive partner Dennis Seidenberg has gone -4 over the last two games.  This shows that neither of their top two defensemen are playing well and Chicago’s forwards both know this and are taking full advantage.

With their top defensive pairing being taken advantage of, the Bruins need to continue giving their second pairing of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk first line types of minutes.  This will both reward them for actually combining to go +2 over the last two games and also provide extra motivation for Seidenberg and Chara.  It will also give them different looks, which will be even easier to provide in Game 6 as Boston will have the final change,

Boston will also need their first line of forwards- David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton-who all struggled mightily in Game 5 as they combined to go -6, to improve. They are as much to blame as the defensemen for the goals that were given up in Game 5, with missed assignments in the defensvie zone leading to both of Patrick Kane’s goals. Both of these goals could have been prevented by either Krejci or Chara picking up Kane and  mistakes like these must be corrected in Game 5.  Correcting these mistakes will alleviate pressure in the defensive and and allow the team to transition and spend more time in the offensive end, which will make life more difficult on Chicago’s defensement.

While in the offensive end they will need to better maintain pressure throughout the game, which will tire out Chicago’s defense.  By doing this they will be able to both get better chances in the offensive zone and limit the Blackhawks defensemen from jumping up in the offensive zone as much because they will be more fatigued.  This in turn would make life easier on Boston’s own defensemen and makes it imperative that Boston’s forwards step up their games on both ends of the floor for the rest of the series.  If they are not able to do this their plus/minus rating will continue to be poor and they will watch Chicago lift the Stanley Cup in the Boston Garden after Game 6.

Boston will also need their secondary forwards to step up and possibly have a game changing performance during one of the next two games, or both.  This primarily calls upon players such as Jaromir Jagr, and Tyler Seguin to provide a goal scoring threat to take some of the pressure off of the first line.  They can provide this threat by gaining the zone and maintaining possession better, which could lead to attracting penalties that would put their team in a great chance to score.  Doing so will be more difficult with Patrice Bergeron looking likely to miss the next game, but if they can even contribute to putting in one goal, Boston’s chances of winning go up exponentially.
In order to win the next game, let alone the next two, the Bruins must implement their strategy from the first face-off to the last one and control more of the puck. Being able to do this and putting the game back on their terms will be very difficult against a Chicago team that is full of confidence and only has to take one of the next two games. But doing so will be crucial in order for them to win the series, and will be a little easier if Chicago captain Jonathan Toews misses the next game.
In the end, I do not expect the Bruins to go down without a fight and in fact expect them to pull out another close game at home in Game 6 to force a deciding Game 7.  But winning this Game 7 at the Madhouse on Madison will be nearly impossible with Chicago having the last change that will allow them to pick and choose the matchups they want. Doing so will make Boston’s defenders face their biggest weaknesses and we have seen how that went the last two games.
Sorry Boston fans, but it looks like your run will be coming to an end and you will be watching Chicago lift the cup this year.