Random Thoughts - The Cut of Your Jib

Kent Wilson
November 12 2013 09:01AM

 

 

The topic du jour around here and in many other areas of the Flames fandom has been the treatment of Mikael Backlund and Sven Baertschi at the hands of Bob Hartley this season. Both guys figured to be major pieces for the team moving forward, but Hartley has been ambivalent at best when it comes to both of them.

My thoughts on Hartley's experimentation and how it can impact the rebuild (and more) below...

- In a very general sense, there's nothing wrong with the Flames coach experimenting to see what he has on the roster this season. That's precisely what should be happening with this team since they aren't going to be contending for a championship any time soon, so swapping guys in and out of certain combinations isn't, in and of itelf, worrying.

The consternation, I think, comes from a couple of areas - firstly, that the hard love treatment handed to Backlund and Baertschi seems to be more or less restricted to just them. Each guy has his particular warts - Backlund's never going to win a scoring title and Baertschi's youth and naivety on the ice causes him to try to do too much now and then. But then no player in the NHL - and certainly no player on the Flames - is perfect. If you squint, you can rationalize a reason to beat up on just about anyone on any roster who isn't an established superstar.

Which is why it's curious that Hartley is swift to demote or scratch Backlund or Baertschi, but slow to act in other instances. For example, Curtis Glencross began the season looking like a man who woke up in a ditch with bottle of whiskey in his hand but he was allowed to more or less play his way out of the funk. Sean Monhahan began the season on a tear and generally looks like a capable NHLer, but he has also been consistently put in a position to succeed by the bench boss (good linemates, easier starting position, PP time). Nor has Hartley seriously entertained demoting the lad even though he's had just five shots and one point in the last five games.

Which is to say, the rules governing rewards and punishments seem to vary quite widely depending on the player in question. It's possible Hartley is tailoring his reinforcement system to maximize the future performance of each guy, but it really just looks like ol' Bob simply doesn't like young Backlund or Baertschi for one reason or another.

- That may seem awfully presumptuous, but you see this kind of behaviour in the league all the time. The Bruins decision to trade Tyler Seguin was more or less because the uppers decided they didn't like the kid. When he was in town, Mike Keenan found ways to give ice time to Todd Bertuzzi while simultaneously looking for ways to grind down Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius (scratches, demotions, more difficult circumstances) until they left town. Greg Gilbert feuded with Marc Savard until the team finally traded him for nothing. etc.

- Here's why this is potentially worrying: a coach who doesn't like a guy can find every possible method to confirm his own biases. Matt Stajan was permanently in Brent Sutter's doghouse once Darryl was shipped out of town so Brent buried the former leaf with lackluster ice time and crappy line mates. Stajan looked defeated most nights and his contract appeared to be a boat anchor. With a new coach and a different set of circumstances and Stajan looks like a different player.

It's easy to claim a player must "earn his right" to ice time and such, but in the end the quality of a guy's ice goes a long way to determining his output and, often, the perception of his abilities. I suspect one of the reasons players at the end of the rotation so often run around and try to crash, bang and hurt the opposition (aside from the fact that coaches and GM's choose these player by type) is that mucking it up is about all you can clearly and memorably accomplish in 5 minutes of ice while playing with other grinders and fighters. 

So it's within a coach's power to demote a dude, kick some dirt on him with plausible but non-specific criticism in the media ("he needs to want it more") and then let the destiny become self-fulfilling.

- The natural rebuttal to all this is coaches are motivated to win and they do themselves and the team a disservice if they privilege personal feelings and grudges above icing the best roster. That's true, but then as we can ably demonstrate, NHL coaches are also human and fallible, despite being experts in their field. There isn't an organization in the league that can't relate a laundry list of highly useful players who were besmirched and run out of town by a decision maker and then went on to have a healthy career elsewhere. It happens.

- In fact, I think player prediction and decision making via personality and idiosyncratic values assessment is so rife and entrenched in the NHL that I recently created a short-hand concept for it - "cut of your jib" management.

We all know there are culturally prescribed norms in hockey and the NHL that define the "archetypal" hockey player and how he should be at the rink and play the game. To some degree, these are probably useful heuristics for determining who will turn out to be worthwhile pro or not.

Of course, sometimes heuristics stop being rules of thumb and become rigid dogma instead. The problem is, attitudinal heuristics are useful right up until the point they stop helping identify and keep quality hockey players and instead become the criteria by which you evaluate guys. That is kind of inverting casue and effect - if you are sacrificing skill because a guy's personality isn't archetypal, ie you're valuing the heuristic rules bove the actual results, then you're doing it wrong.

- The are likely other factors at play - picking players by "jib cut" could also be a method by which coaches confirm and/or reinforce their own authority within the group. Being seen as unimpeachable authority is an on-going challenge when trying to wrangle and manage a room full of alpha males. This may be why a coach sometimes chooses to skate an objectively worse roster - the guys he favors are the guys "who play the game the right way" (listen to him). In contrast, If a given player is undermining your authority in some implicit or explicit way, trim the threat by sitting him, demoting him, etc.

- This is all a very long preamble to my ultimate point: that while separating the wheat from the chaff sounds like an easy task, particularly when winning isn't a primary concern, it is easily bungled. A primary error you see rebuilding teams make all the time is devaluing useful players because they aren't obvious "solutions" to the problem (that is, they aren't instant stars). Collecting and keeping useful pieces goes beyond drafting top-5 picks ahd have them step fully formed into the league as teenagers; it's gradully and patiently developing guys over a number of years. Gathering together talent at all level of the roster.

A useful case study: The Edmonton Oilers spent the first few years of their rebuild discarding quality middle rotation players because they were too busy whale hunting, and/or the utility of the guy was buried beneath a misalignment between expectations and the player's actual ability. So instead of keeping guys like Kyle Brodziak, Curtis Glencross and Andrew Cogliano as the connective tissue of the roster, they instead pursued "stars" (and, of course, truculence because you need that when everyone is young. Or something).

It is easy to be blinded to the usefulness of merely "good" players when confronted by the incandescence of high picks and budding elite players. But a lousy team should be committed to incremental improvement everywhere, so it's important to identify and keep around the quality 2nd and 3rd liners as much as the obvious homeruns.

- Which isn't to say Hartley will necessarily run Backs or Sven out of town. We're not quite a quarter of the way into the season and things can change. Backlund's turn with Cammalleri and Hudler the other night might be a performance that cements him in the line-up. And maybe Baertschi takes a step forward and everyone forgets his frequent early season scratches.

I guess we'll see.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 Jeff Lebowski
November 12 2013, 10:42AM
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I think your points are well thought out but ultimately I disagree. I am a huge fan of what Hartley is doing with all the players and I'm even more impressed, truly impressed, with organization.

I won't go into the details but as an overview:

-Troy Ward and the ECHL coach were picked for very specific reasons. Listening to Ward he sounds like Weisbrod's little brother (that speaks to the completeness of Feaster's vision for the org because Weisbrod came after Ward). The differences I've noticed between the Flames and other clubs when it comes to development teams (philosophy, instruction etc) are stark (in an amazingly good way for Calgary).

-The NHL team is geared to win always. No matter what stage the organization is in (rebuild, needing select FA, taking a run etc) the mindset of the NHL team is play the players that give you best chance to win, regardless of 'profile'. That means pushing players to literally compete with each other in all facets in order to bring out their individual bests. Feaster's whole sum greater than parts bit.

I very sincerely believe that not only will Calgary's rebuild impress with it's speed but also its efficacy. I forsee a powerhouse in the making.

I think people are going to look at the philosophies and methodologies being used here (again too much to go into) and the competition is going to copy it (hockey ops people will get opportunities for top jobs elsewhere) and the media is going to write massive stories about it.

I find it unbelievable that people are criticizing Hartley. To me he is creating exactly the environment required for winning a cup. He and his staff are so impressive and so many levles. People make mistakes to be sure but I see him being a coach that will get the very best out of players and they will learn to do it on their own. How? Unflinching belief in his methods matched only by how positive he is.

Hartley doesn't hate players. Teachers rarely hate students. Hartley is creating the healthy competitive environment legendary coaches create.

How can people not see this? Winning is a by-product. It really is about how you play the game.

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#2 Arik
November 12 2013, 09:15AM
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absolutely fantastic, kent. you are entirely spot on.

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#3 JerryUnderscore
November 12 2013, 10:11AM
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It seems like this entire argument, not just in this article, but throughout Flames fandom boils down to a philosophy that suggests that Backs and Baertschi are to good to scratch, demote, etc.

However, I can't help but draw a comparison to the plight of Edmonton who, for all intents and purposes, should have a decent team. I would argue that the development of their four superstars have been hampered by that very same "too good to scratch" philosophy. Which in turn leads to Yak claiming he doesn't want to skate or forecheck, but would rather just play his game.

Furthermore, for the most part the only information we have to go on is what we see in the games and pre/post-game interviews with coaches and players. We have no idea what happens in practice; who is pulling their weight or merely going through the motions.

Additionally, let's not forget that even Steven Stamkos was a healthy scratch for three games his rookie year.

Essentially, I'm not convinced that demoting and scratching Backs and Sven on occasion is because they're in Hartley's doghouse. Hartley seems, for all I can see, to be a consummate professional that is genuinely interested in making them the best professional athletes he can.

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#4 Arik
November 12 2013, 10:22AM
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@JerryUnderscore

I love when people trot out the tired "STAMKOS WAS SCRATCHED" argument.

What's conveniently forgotten is that it was Barry Melrose who scratched him and who was fired 16 games into the season. When Melrose was gone, Stamkos' ice time went up and magically so did his production.

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#5 JerryUnderscore
November 12 2013, 10:46AM
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@Arik

Arik, didn't you write an article a few months back discussion Hartley and his penchant for holding even superstars accountable?

Feel free to disregard the Stamkos example, but do you really think Yakupov is worse off being given some tough love this year? Do you think Edmontons "too good to scratch" philosophy is paying dividends? It sure doesn't seem like it to me.

Considering his track record, let's give Hartley the benefit of the doubt.

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#6 NHL93
November 12 2013, 09:30AM
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To me this is more about your last point (it's early in the season) than Hartley not like Sven or Backs. Despite being behind the bench during the shortened season, I think Hartley views himself as still a first-year coach with this team, and as such has decided to keep things on a short leash. Perhaps he really likes them (hence the 45 minutes he spent with Sven before the last game he was scratched for).

But who knows? He had a reputation for being hard on kids in Atlanta and Colorado and it may be true. Or maybe he's more a teacher and this is all apart of a lesson. I can image that Sven was tasked with something during the last scratch rather than merely "watching the action". Perhaps he was supposed to count turnovers, or something.

I'm an optimist. I hope this is more guidance and not Keenan-esque mind games.

Anything is better than what is going on up in Edmonton right now with Larionov asking MacT to move Yak.

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#8 beloch
November 12 2013, 01:20PM
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Let me put a theory out there, and those who know more about coaching can give their opinions. Let's divy the Flames (possibly ignoring a few) up into three categories.

Stage 1: Rookies The fresh-off-the-vine rookies. These kids need to be developed fast or sent down. Monahan obviously fits in here, but Colborne does too (despite his age) because there was a lot of doubt if he could stick to a NHL roster at all thanks to his time with the Leafs, and sending him down probably means losing him. He's probably going to wind up in Stage 2 very soon though because of his age.

Stage 2: Strugglers Young players past the rookie stage who are unlikely to leave the team, but who haven't reached their potential or are battling with consistency. They need to be struggling to improve every game they play.

Stage 3: Veterans Veterans who basically are what they are and aren't likely to take any significant steps forward. Some of them might be trade-bait too.

Stage 1 players need lots of sheltered minutes to develop. If you can't give them those minutes there's no reason to keep them on the team. Benching them just gets in the way of development because they're so raw that they take steps forward every game they play.

Stage 2 players need to be pushed. They've played enough games that they aren't necessarily developing every game they play. They are forming habits that will likely be with them for the rest of their careers though. It may be better to make sure they push themselves hard every game they play, rather than letting them slide along without pushing and without getting results, forming lazy habits in the process.

Stage 3 players are probably fairly consistent by this point in their career. They might hit slumps, but there's not much a coach can do to break them out of it. Benching trade-bait might reduce it's value as well.

Viewed this way, it makes sense for Hartley to be tough on Baertschi and Backlund. They're past Stage 1 and established as NHL'ers, but, unlike veterans, they still need to push hard to develop every game they play. Benching them so they push hard when returned to the lineup might help with this more than letting them play games when they're not pushing. In short, if they're not busy forming good habits, don't let them form bad habits.

Is this the truth of the matter? I'm no NHL coach, so who knows. However, there should be some observable differences between pushing strugglers and picking on whipping boys. A whipping boy, such as Stajan under Butter, never gets good ice-time. A Stage 2 player being pushed should be moving up and down the lines as his efforts are rewarded/punished. Backlund and Baertschi have been benched, but they have also been moving up and down the lines. Line mobility is a good sign in my books. I'm not too worried so long as Backlund/Baertschi don't get stuck on the goon squad for months at a time.

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#9 Feaster Famine
November 12 2013, 10:29AM
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Good article - I tend to look at Kadri as a source of hope regarding this type of "tough love" with Baertschi and Backlund. I was living in Toronto during Kadri's first couple to seasons when he was perrenially in the dog house and the Toronto fans/media were convinced that TO was intent on ruining/running the kid out of town. Eventually Kadri responded and developed into their best centre (yes, much better than Bozak and Bolland). Not saying it works every time, but you gotta hope that Hartley has the big picture in mind.

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#10 Rockmorton65
November 12 2013, 09:52AM
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Great article Kent I agree with what you're saying. One thing I would like to add is that there seems to be more going on behind-the-scenes with Sven than we are privy to. You know, maybe he has a sense of entitlement. Maybe his confidence is shot. Maybe he's not doing what is asked in practice or maybe he's trying to do too much. Could be that he's not what the team thought he was, and management is trying to decide what to do with him. There's so many things that it could be. Something that is rather telling to me, however, is the fact that he hasn't been sent down. Whatever the issue is, they seem to be working on it with him.

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#11 SmellOfVictory
November 12 2013, 12:04PM
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BitGeek wrote:

I wonder how much influence Burke is imposing on Feaster and (more directly) on Hartley. We all know that Burke prefers a certain style of hockey player, of which neither Backs or Sven fit into. Maybe Hartley has no choice in the matter.

It's also interesting that Feaster's tune has pulled a 180 on Sven as well. Last year Sven and Backs were untouchable, and this year after Burke tears down Sven in the media, Feaster is not so high on him anymore.

I can imagine it would be very hard for a guy like Hartley to resist the pressure to sit Sven and Backs if Burke decided that's what should happen.

Backlund has never been untouchable. He's been given a short leash his entire career, and I'd say he's even been mistreated to some degree for the majority of it.

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#12 Kevin R
November 12 2013, 11:10AM
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Jeff Lebowski wrote:

I think your points are well thought out but ultimately I disagree. I am a huge fan of what Hartley is doing with all the players and I'm even more impressed, truly impressed, with organization.

I won't go into the details but as an overview:

-Troy Ward and the ECHL coach were picked for very specific reasons. Listening to Ward he sounds like Weisbrod's little brother (that speaks to the completeness of Feaster's vision for the org because Weisbrod came after Ward). The differences I've noticed between the Flames and other clubs when it comes to development teams (philosophy, instruction etc) are stark (in an amazingly good way for Calgary).

-The NHL team is geared to win always. No matter what stage the organization is in (rebuild, needing select FA, taking a run etc) the mindset of the NHL team is play the players that give you best chance to win, regardless of 'profile'. That means pushing players to literally compete with each other in all facets in order to bring out their individual bests. Feaster's whole sum greater than parts bit.

I very sincerely believe that not only will Calgary's rebuild impress with it's speed but also its efficacy. I forsee a powerhouse in the making.

I think people are going to look at the philosophies and methodologies being used here (again too much to go into) and the competition is going to copy it (hockey ops people will get opportunities for top jobs elsewhere) and the media is going to write massive stories about it.

I find it unbelievable that people are criticizing Hartley. To me he is creating exactly the environment required for winning a cup. He and his staff are so impressive and so many levles. People make mistakes to be sure but I see him being a coach that will get the very best out of players and they will learn to do it on their own. How? Unflinching belief in his methods matched only by how positive he is.

Hartley doesn't hate players. Teachers rarely hate students. Hartley is creating the healthy competitive environment legendary coaches create.

How can people not see this? Winning is a by-product. It really is about how you play the game.

Well said Jeff. I don't necessarily agree with your epic historical type of optimism but good on you. From all the interviews I have heard & articles I have read, Hartley is totally a professional positive coach. I just don't see this man hating a young player, quite the opposite, he seems to thrive in bringing out the best in all young players & walks to his own beat on how he coaches. For the life of me how he can be called a crummy coach is beyond me. He is the coach the Oilers should have had 3-4 years ago & he is perfect for what the Flames are doing now. Agree or disagree with how the man does his job but he's been doing it successfully on many levels for a long time.

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#13 BitGeek
November 12 2013, 10:22AM
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I wonder how much influence Burke is imposing on Feaster and (more directly) on Hartley. We all know that Burke prefers a certain style of hockey player, of which neither Backs or Sven fit into. Maybe Hartley has no choice in the matter.

It's also interesting that Feaster's tune has pulled a 180 on Sven as well. Last year Sven and Backs were untouchable, and this year after Burke tears down Sven in the media, Feaster is not so high on him anymore.

I can imagine it would be very hard for a guy like Hartley to resist the pressure to sit Sven and Backs if Burke decided that's what should happen.

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#14 please cancel acct
November 12 2013, 10:16AM
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Right on the Bullseye ,except for the waking up in the ditch with a bottle of whiskey.That would apply to more than just Glenncross..Hilarious

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#15 Burnward
November 12 2013, 10:25AM
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10,000 words to get to "I guess we'll see."?!?!?!

I keeed. Well done, as always.

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#16 Bottsy777
November 12 2013, 11:00AM
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I have a couple of thoughts from what I have seen - in particular with respect to Sven.

I think that Sven is suffering from the same issue Olli Jokinen had when he was with the Flames that Keenan worked with him on. He has way too many lazy turns in his skating, that are highly ineffective in helping him be the player he could become (and the player we need/want him to be).

Yes we have all seen the potential that Sven has - however he truly does need to start heading more North and South - with a purpose. He needs to get better without the puck. All the great players in the league (Past and Present) were more dangerous without the puck than they were with it... And Sven needs to elevate his game to this stature. When he is around the puck, Sven has been quite good - but his actions away from the puck are concerning from the aspect of his long term development.

I don't like sitting a potential offensive threat like Sven anymore than the next guy, however if his bad habits aren't changing then what option does Hartley have?

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#17 Kevin R
November 12 2013, 04:27PM
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EugeneV wrote:

Other young superstars?

Are you suggesting that we have "young superstars"?

Plural?

I would ask you to give your head a shake, except that may be very difficult for you in your condition.

He doesn't even coach "young stars" at this point.

What condition are you referring to moron? Whatever, you don't have to agree with my posts, that's fine, many usually don't, I could care less. You want to nitpick on semantics about "superstar versus star" whatever. I think guys like Sven & Monahan have the potential to be stars in the NHL, but you are a superstar Eugene & you seem to know more. Hartley has coached other stars early in their careers in Atlanta & Colorado.

PS.

You don't have to insult if you don't agree jerk off.

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#18 the-wolf
November 12 2013, 05:39PM
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The one thing none of the Hartley proponents are addressing (at least not adequately) is why it's just those 2 players (Sven and Backs).

Ok, so you treat your vets differently, but no one has explained why Monahan (I had a feeling I'd regret changing my opinion and getting on the keep him up band wagon) hasn't been scratched. Or Colborne, who struggled mightily to start and was allowed to play his way out of it. Beyond that, he was actually given better circumstances while struggling.

Not saying I'm a Hartley hater, but the team is in a rebuild and if you want your young guys to get better they have to be played.

If the ultimate goal is to go beyond once again challenging for 8th in the conference, than 'winning' can't be everything. Development has to play a key role and that means ice time to your future key cogs.

And, no, I'm not saying be Edmonton. Idiots that run that team, by any measure. But, while they went way too far in one direction, I'm starting to wonder if we're not swinging too far the other way.

Backlund has historically been a hard worker. He's the team's best possession player. He's only 24 years old, but he's been with the team for a few seasons now. He has enough offensive ability to center skilled wingers on the 2nd line and be their defensive conscience.

Sven was praised as the next coming of Mike Bossy/Hakan Loob on this site not even 2 years ago and has the talent to be a legit 1st line winger.

So how consistently benching them and playing them in crap circumstances with crap linemates helps the team acheive the future goal of winning a Cup is beyond me.

Sorry, but the reasons given in defense so far are incredibly weak. Both guys deserve a 10 game run on the top 2 lines with solid libemates and 1st pp unit. Then decide what you have. But what Hartley is doing is assinine and smacks of personality preference.

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#19 the-wolf
November 12 2013, 05:55PM
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Also, the whole "think they're smarter than NHL GMs and coaches" thing is irritating beyond measure. If that's the case, than the only thing on here to say is "go Flames!" Besides, ever hear of Mike Milbury? Literally 99% of hockey fans could've done a better job than that idiot, so there goes the entire argument that "people who are in positions of power are smarter than those whoa re not simply by virtue of being in those positions of power." Ridiculous. Anyone who's ever had a job or even vaguely paid attention to national politics can verify that's not the case. So enough with the "they're right because they have the job" argument already.

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#20 prendrefeu
November 12 2013, 11:43AM
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Yet only a few days ago my comment about how people are overreacting to Hartley's healthy-scratch of Sven got trashed, and in particular "Tom" got a bit irate that I would even so much as disagree with the anger being thrown at Hartley.

Huh.

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#21 Michael
November 12 2013, 11:46AM
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The Flames seem to want Sven and Backlund to either play a certain way or fill a certain role. Just as in the real world, if you are not performing to your bosses expectations you can expect consequences. In hockey, this means not getting played as much, or being benched. Whether you like the coaches call or not, I put this back on the players to perform to expectations.

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#22 RKD
November 12 2013, 12:27PM
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I think Baertschi and Backlund are unfairly being singled out. Even though early in the season everyone was calling for GlenX to be a healthy scratch, we all new it was never going to happen. As far as I can remember, they never benched the veterans. Maybe Tangs once, but Iggy, GlenX, Jokinen, Cammy, etc, all got free passes. It's a lot more than Hartley, Brian Burke doesn't like these guys. If Burke wasn't here, Colborne probably wouldn't be a Flame let alone getting more ice time than a lot of other forwards. Baertschi can make other players better, is it any wonder Monahan has gone cold without Barts on his line? That line was flying with Hudler, when you take one player out that has chemistry and hope to get the same results you are fooling yourself. Backlund should be a regular on this team, he wants to be more offensive. The Flames want to slot him in as a checker but he wants to be a second line center. If they want Barts and Backs to develop, they got to play them more ahead of Jackman and McGrattan.

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#23 John
November 12 2013, 12:41PM
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I agree with alot of the points you made Kent. However, Hartley motivation for Benching Bartchi and Backland might be also that he sees that they have the most ability to improve their games and wants to take them out of their comfort zones. For example, i always thought Backland is such a good skater and wonder why doesn't he score more goals? Of course Bartchi i have high expectations for him as well. I'm not saying i agree with his methods but if i got benched i'd try my damdest not to get sat out again, so it is a motivator.

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#24 BitGeek
November 12 2013, 02:59PM
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beloch wrote:

Let me put a theory out there, and those who know more about coaching can give their opinions. Let's divy the Flames (possibly ignoring a few) up into three categories.

Stage 1: Rookies The fresh-off-the-vine rookies. These kids need to be developed fast or sent down. Monahan obviously fits in here, but Colborne does too (despite his age) because there was a lot of doubt if he could stick to a NHL roster at all thanks to his time with the Leafs, and sending him down probably means losing him. He's probably going to wind up in Stage 2 very soon though because of his age.

Stage 2: Strugglers Young players past the rookie stage who are unlikely to leave the team, but who haven't reached their potential or are battling with consistency. They need to be struggling to improve every game they play.

Stage 3: Veterans Veterans who basically are what they are and aren't likely to take any significant steps forward. Some of them might be trade-bait too.

Stage 1 players need lots of sheltered minutes to develop. If you can't give them those minutes there's no reason to keep them on the team. Benching them just gets in the way of development because they're so raw that they take steps forward every game they play.

Stage 2 players need to be pushed. They've played enough games that they aren't necessarily developing every game they play. They are forming habits that will likely be with them for the rest of their careers though. It may be better to make sure they push themselves hard every game they play, rather than letting them slide along without pushing and without getting results, forming lazy habits in the process.

Stage 3 players are probably fairly consistent by this point in their career. They might hit slumps, but there's not much a coach can do to break them out of it. Benching trade-bait might reduce it's value as well.

Viewed this way, it makes sense for Hartley to be tough on Baertschi and Backlund. They're past Stage 1 and established as NHL'ers, but, unlike veterans, they still need to push hard to develop every game they play. Benching them so they push hard when returned to the lineup might help with this more than letting them play games when they're not pushing. In short, if they're not busy forming good habits, don't let them form bad habits.

Is this the truth of the matter? I'm no NHL coach, so who knows. However, there should be some observable differences between pushing strugglers and picking on whipping boys. A whipping boy, such as Stajan under Butter, never gets good ice-time. A Stage 2 player being pushed should be moving up and down the lines as his efforts are rewarded/punished. Backlund and Baertschi have been benched, but they have also been moving up and down the lines. Line mobility is a good sign in my books. I'm not too worried so long as Backlund/Baertschi don't get stuck on the goon squad for months at a time.

If I were to summarize what you are trying to say here Beloch, I'd say...

"Different expectations for different types of players, and as such you treat each type of player differently"

You don't expect growth from Glencross anymore, so benching might not have the same effect as a rookie. If they're really green then you don't expect them to make leaps and strides with low minutes or tough playing circumstances. If they're beyond green but not seasoned, then there's still room to grow and your expectations for improvement are higher.

Would that be close to what you're saying?

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#25 Kevin R
November 12 2013, 10:58AM
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Burnward wrote:

10,000 words to get to "I guess we'll see."?!?!?!

I keeed. Well done, as always.

It's optics & Kent is calling them as he sees them. Fair enough, but you shouldn't be kidding because ultimately we will see. Hartley has coached other young superstars before, especially his years in Atlanta & Colorado, I'm surprised no one has looked at who some of these players are & how they got the Hartley treatment. I remember reading somewhere that Hartley was a toughie on the rookies, so that's what he does & that's what he's doing. In fact I remember reading on this site that when Hartley was hired that it would probably benefit guys like Iggy & Tanguay & Cammi the most & Hartley likes to play the snot out of guys with long tenure in the league. Seems like Backlund is getting the condensed crash course because in Hartley's eyes he's an older rookie maybe.

It's too soon even if we can waive the white flag on the playoffs, to play rookies Edmonton style. I think we will see some different trends after the trade deadline. On another note, it seems Colborne is playing with Bouma & McGrats on the 4th line. So much for conspiracy theories.

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#26 Parallex
November 12 2013, 11:43AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

The Flames reported that Backlund was the best conditioned veteran in camp.

#1 sign that you're in a rebuild... you refer to 24yo Mikael Backlund as a veteran.

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#27 Subversive
November 12 2013, 12:17PM
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Excellent article, Kent. Spot on.

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#28 Bikeit
November 12 2013, 12:33PM
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Arik wrote:

I love when people trot out the tired "STAMKOS WAS SCRATCHED" argument.

What's conveniently forgotten is that it was Barry Melrose who scratched him and who was fired 16 games into the season. When Melrose was gone, Stamkos' ice time went up and magically so did his production.

I remember a player by the Name of Joe Thorton sitting up in the press box when he was still a rookie. Everyone was saying how samsonov was going to be a better player and the bruins maybe flopped on the Draft pick. It happens! and young players look back and see that was just part of the process.

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#29 VK63
November 12 2013, 12:49PM
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"Which is to say, the rules governing rewards and punishments seem to vary quite widely depending on the player in question. It's possible Hartley is tailoring his reinforcement system to maximize the future performance of each guy, but it really just looks like ol' Bob simply doesn't like young Backlund or Baertschi for one reason or another."

I recall the Oilers in some sort of failed effort to remain in a hunt where the prey was already dead... riding Horcoff relentlessly with hard minutes and endless face-offs with one arm basically blown off.

Management apparently wanted to 'shelter" the kids, so they sat on the bench and watched.

A quick look at these sheltered kids 200 foot game NOW is a solid indicator on how the Flames youth should be handled.

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#30 Parallex
November 12 2013, 12:52PM
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@John

"For example, i always thought Backland is such a good skater and wonder why doesn't he score more goals?"

Because he's always been given the low-ground, Penalty killing duties, and linemates that generally lack in that department as well?

It's hard to rack up standard counting stats when you start most of your shifts in the bad half of the ice, down a man, and when your cohorts are Galiardi/Jones (good players but hardly offensive dynamo's) or worse.

If Hartley's expectations are for him to score more then he does in those circumstances then the fault lay primarily in Hartley's expectations.

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#31 McRib
November 12 2013, 01:48PM
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Even if I really don't think that the treatment from Hartley on Backlund (Giving Colborne his ice time) or Sven (Benching when clear steps towards improving defensive zone effort are shown) was totally justified our most recent trade made me start looking at the big picture. As unfortunate as it is for these two in the short term, I think Hartley is using Backs & Sven as the barometer for how all incoming players are judged and what’s expected from this organization. To create a new mentality you have to set the precedence. It’s clear the Oiler System of “too good to bench” and “reward without results” isn’t going to work in a rebuild. No one has been closer to its demise the past couple of season than the Flames.

Our organizational prospect depth has become incredible Abbotsford is starting to dominate the AHL. Top Prospects aside it has become extremely apparent that some of these other kids are going to be knocking on the big clubs door very soon. So the Flames are clearly trying to create a culture of earning your ice time every night. It was something that they mentioned trying to eradicate earlier this season when Hartley / Feaster both voiced their displeasure with the team no showing games following a winning streak, along with other organization loosing habits that continued to prevail. Instead of shipping out all of our veterans and benching them before the season began I think they choose to focus on the guys they actually plan on keeping around for longer than a season or two (Sven & Backlund). It may seem strange for the time being or unfair to those currently being exemplified by it, but let’s hope that the Flames are setting a precedence with these two and will continue to stay with it for everyone.

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#32 maimster
November 12 2013, 02:02PM
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Kent, I think you summarized the situation perfectly. Your main point (which was missed by a few commenters) is that developing players is difficult and easy to mess up if you're not careful, and in Hartley's case, the evidence which strongly suggests two particular players are getting the brunt of the "developing" leads one to be suspicious that this "developing" is more personal than it should be and may not lead to optimal results.

Personally, I think the treatment of Backlund (in particular) and Sven has been horrible, but I can certainly see the point of view of someone who doesn't agree with me - it really comes down to what you think of the two players.

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#33 Craig
November 12 2013, 03:53PM
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I don't mind that Sven or Backlund we're benched but it was the circumstances tjhat they we're benched. They were both benched in favour of Jackman and Mcgratton.

Couple of plugs.

Irritates me.

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#34 the-wolf
November 12 2013, 05:44PM
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BitGeek wrote:

I can see why you might have thought my post was written as a complaint, but it was more as "food for thought".

There are a number of posts praising Hartley and probably more condemning him for his lineup choices (or omissions). I was merely posing the question: "What if Hartley doesn't have a choice in the matter? and What if the decisions are coming from Burke?"

Your point about Kadri is well taken. He's doesn't fit the profile of a player that Burke usually takes, and yet the "tough love" seemed to have worked for him. I'm not saying that the same approach won't work for Sven or Backlund, but just that it may not be Hartley's decision at all.

If you took my post negatively or as a complaint then there's nothing I can do about that. Also notice that I have yet to make a judgment about whether the situation surrounding Sven and Backlund is good or bad.

It is what it is.

I do think Kent has made some good observations as well others who disagree with him make some great counterpoints. How's that for sitting on the fence? ;o)

re: Kadri - did it? Or did Burke leaving and Kadri finally being allowed to strut his stuff with ample amounts of ice time and quality linemates elevate his game? I'll take the latter.

Similar to the Stamkos argument, just because a player was once mistreated and then succeeds later doesn't mean the mistreatment is the ingredient that made him succeed him later. More likely, it's the stopping of the mistreatment.

It doesn't mean oyung future stars shouldn't be benched or scratched, etc. But again, th epoint of the article is that Hartley is treating 2 players and 2 players only with a different set of rules and I see nothing that adequately contradicts that argument.

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#35 Dave
November 12 2013, 02:06PM
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If Hartley is just going with some tough love on Sven and Backs, why did he not scratch GlenX earlier in the season when he was playing like crap? Just seems like a strange occurence, seeing as one of Feaster's buzzwords is "meritocracy". But I do like what Hartley has done, and with yet another injury (GlenX), I suspect Sven will be getting some more icetime.

Great article btw Kent.

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#36 EugeneV
November 12 2013, 03:44PM
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@BitGeek

Bitgeek wrote: "I wonder how much influence Burke is imposing on Feaster and (more directly) on Hartley. We all know that Burke prefers a certain style of hockey player, of which neither Backs or Sven fit into. Maybe Hartley has no choice in the matter. I can imagine it would be very hard for a guy like Hartley to resist the pressure to sit Sven and Backs if Burke decided that's what should happen."

I say what's your point Burke picked and loves Kadri. Kadri bounced up and downfrom the minors and has learned to be a "complete" player from so called "tuff luv".

How about expectations for our Backs or Bartz?

Corey Perry played 2 years of Jr after getting drafted and 1/2 a year in the minors before coming up and getting 25 points in 56 games. Is Sven expected to be a Corey Perry?

What about Patrick Sharp 2oo games in the NHL before he had a season where he tallied more than 35 points. Will Baertschi become a Patrick Sharp? How about a JVR with 259 games and 144pts, will Bartz become a JVR?

Instead of complaining negatively why don't some of you geniuses who are smarter than NHL Coaches and GMs tell us the comparables you see for these players and look at how those guys became the players they are? I think you will find it more productive to look at things from that direction to actually gauge our guys progress and future.

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#37 calgaryfan
November 12 2013, 04:13PM
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Good article Kent! I like what Feaster has accomplished in his time with the Flames. Not sure about Hartley though. His reputation of not playing the younger players is bothersome, as it appears to be playing out in Calary right now. If he continues to put them on a line with Jackman and McGrattan what are they going to learn. They get 5 minutes of ice time chasing the puck, maybe the pressbox isn't so bad afterall! Tonight it appears to be Colborne's turn. Feaster needs to move one of Jackman or McGrattan so Hartley can only dress one. The Flames should be running 4 lines without either of the goons.

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#38 Parallex
November 12 2013, 12:32PM
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@RKD

Oh I think Colborne would have been a Flame. It's not like everybody and their mother didn't look at Calgary, the Leafs, and Colborne's birth certificate and say "The Flames should try and get Colborne". Maybe he wouldn't be getting the ice-time he has (that's a theory I've proposed in the past) but I think Colborne would have ended up a Flame regardless of any Front Office alterations.

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#39 Derzie
November 12 2013, 12:33PM
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Great read Kent.I'm furious with the inequity (sit Sven, play whisky man)BUT I'm hanging my hopes on the tough love theory. Theory is that they know what Glencross is, for example. Sitting him will not serve the purpose of 'making him better'. He needs to play out the cobwebs and get into gameshape (then when he does, get hurt but that's another story). Sven & Backlund must show Bob potential worthy of healthy scratches. Time will tell if he is a genius or idiot. I'm willing to wait it out. Either way, the Yakupov tale is exactly how NOT to handle it. Sheesh.

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#40 Parallex
November 12 2013, 01:04PM
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@VK63

?

Not sure what you're saying here because that's exatly how Hartley is handling them. Take a look at how Edmonton deployed Hall, RNH, and Eberle the first year they were all together and take a look at how Hartly deploys Sven & Monahan. Truthfully it's really not all that different.

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#41 SeanCharles
November 12 2013, 01:19PM
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BitGeek wrote:

I wonder how much influence Burke is imposing on Feaster and (more directly) on Hartley. We all know that Burke prefers a certain style of hockey player, of which neither Backs or Sven fit into. Maybe Hartley has no choice in the matter.

It's also interesting that Feaster's tune has pulled a 180 on Sven as well. Last year Sven and Backs were untouchable, and this year after Burke tears down Sven in the media, Feaster is not so high on him anymore.

I can imagine it would be very hard for a guy like Hartley to resist the pressure to sit Sven and Backs if Burke decided that's what should happen.

The Flames are still high on Sven they just expect more. I think him having a rough rookie camp put him in the doghouse to start the year..

The only Flames who I think are truly untouchable for the foreseeable future are Sven, Monahan, Brodie and Giordano. There are a number of prospects on this list also and a number of vets who would only get moved if a great offer popped up. But all in all those 4 are building blocks..

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#42 exsanguinator
November 12 2013, 04:30PM
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Hartley has always had a reputation as a demanding but fair coach. There must be something going on in the dressing room with these two guys that no one is privy to.

At least, that's my theory.

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#43 BitGeek
November 12 2013, 04:47PM
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@EugeneV

I can see why you might have thought my post was written as a complaint, but it was more as "food for thought".

There are a number of posts praising Hartley and probably more condemning him for his lineup choices (or omissions). I was merely posing the question: "What if Hartley doesn't have a choice in the matter? and What if the decisions are coming from Burke?"

Your point about Kadri is well taken. He's doesn't fit the profile of a player that Burke usually takes, and yet the "tough love" seemed to have worked for him. I'm not saying that the same approach won't work for Sven or Backlund, but just that it may not be Hartley's decision at all.

If you took my post negatively or as a complaint then there's nothing I can do about that. Also notice that I have yet to make a judgment about whether the situation surrounding Sven and Backlund is good or bad.

It is what it is.

I do think Kent has made some good observations as well others who disagree with him make some great counterpoints. How's that for sitting on the fence? ;o)

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#44 EugeneV
November 12 2013, 05:01PM
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Kevin R wrote:

What condition are you referring to moron? Whatever, you don't have to agree with my posts, that's fine, many usually don't, I could care less. You want to nitpick on semantics about "superstar versus star" whatever. I think guys like Sven & Monahan have the potential to be stars in the NHL, but you are a superstar Eugene & you seem to know more. Hartley has coached other stars early in their careers in Atlanta & Colorado.

PS.

You don't have to insult if you don't agree jerk off.

Fair enough Bud. I'll retract the head shake and condition remark.

Just want you to keep in mind that these are young players being coached, not just sent out to play like they are up north.

We also need to keep context on what these players are right now, and what they "may" become in the future.

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#45 please cancel acct
November 12 2013, 05:16PM
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exsanguinator wrote:

Hartley has always had a reputation as a demanding but fair coach. There must be something going on in the dressing room with these two guys that no one is privy to.

At least, that's my theory.

That's my theory as well.There are so many good things happening because of the coaching staff, yet the "Judge Roy Bean" that,s being handed out to a few player's does make you think there's something we don't know.

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#46 EugeneV
November 12 2013, 05:19PM
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BitGeek wrote:

I can see why you might have thought my post was written as a complaint, but it was more as "food for thought".

There are a number of posts praising Hartley and probably more condemning him for his lineup choices (or omissions). I was merely posing the question: "What if Hartley doesn't have a choice in the matter? and What if the decisions are coming from Burke?"

Your point about Kadri is well taken. He's doesn't fit the profile of a player that Burke usually takes, and yet the "tough love" seemed to have worked for him. I'm not saying that the same approach won't work for Sven or Backlund, but just that it may not be Hartley's decision at all.

If you took my post negatively or as a complaint then there's nothing I can do about that. Also notice that I have yet to make a judgment about whether the situation surrounding Sven and Backlund is good or bad.

It is what it is.

I do think Kent has made some good observations as well others who disagree with him make some great counterpoints. How's that for sitting on the fence? ;o)

That's right, how can we judge them? There is no evidence yet.

Benchings/scratchings can take many forms:

1 "Bad blankity blank player! Don't do that again, now go down to the end of the bench, the sight of you makes me sick!" ie. pissed off your coach.

2 "I need to talk to you about that play, wait there a minute and blank will cover you until we can talk about it." ie. missing a shift or 2.

3 "you're scratched tonight, and I need to see you putting in more effort at practice before you get back in." ie. veteran rap on knuckles

4 "As we talked about after practice, I need you to watch tonight and freshen yourself up. While you do that I need you to look at ways you could have completed x or y play and we will discuss how to implement this into your play. ie. development

5 "F*** no you're not playing tonight. Get some popcorn and go @*%& yourself until I can get Feaster to trade your ass out of here. ie. Torts type

I am hoping that benchings, scratching and 4th line duty are to do with development and coaching than punishment.

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#47 loudogYYC
November 13 2013, 12:32AM
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beloch wrote:

Let me put a theory out there, and those who know more about coaching can give their opinions. Let's divy the Flames (possibly ignoring a few) up into three categories.

Stage 1: Rookies The fresh-off-the-vine rookies. These kids need to be developed fast or sent down. Monahan obviously fits in here, but Colborne does too (despite his age) because there was a lot of doubt if he could stick to a NHL roster at all thanks to his time with the Leafs, and sending him down probably means losing him. He's probably going to wind up in Stage 2 very soon though because of his age.

Stage 2: Strugglers Young players past the rookie stage who are unlikely to leave the team, but who haven't reached their potential or are battling with consistency. They need to be struggling to improve every game they play.

Stage 3: Veterans Veterans who basically are what they are and aren't likely to take any significant steps forward. Some of them might be trade-bait too.

Stage 1 players need lots of sheltered minutes to develop. If you can't give them those minutes there's no reason to keep them on the team. Benching them just gets in the way of development because they're so raw that they take steps forward every game they play.

Stage 2 players need to be pushed. They've played enough games that they aren't necessarily developing every game they play. They are forming habits that will likely be with them for the rest of their careers though. It may be better to make sure they push themselves hard every game they play, rather than letting them slide along without pushing and without getting results, forming lazy habits in the process.

Stage 3 players are probably fairly consistent by this point in their career. They might hit slumps, but there's not much a coach can do to break them out of it. Benching trade-bait might reduce it's value as well.

Viewed this way, it makes sense for Hartley to be tough on Baertschi and Backlund. They're past Stage 1 and established as NHL'ers, but, unlike veterans, they still need to push hard to develop every game they play. Benching them so they push hard when returned to the lineup might help with this more than letting them play games when they're not pushing. In short, if they're not busy forming good habits, don't let them form bad habits.

Is this the truth of the matter? I'm no NHL coach, so who knows. However, there should be some observable differences between pushing strugglers and picking on whipping boys. A whipping boy, such as Stajan under Butter, never gets good ice-time. A Stage 2 player being pushed should be moving up and down the lines as his efforts are rewarded/punished. Backlund and Baertschi have been benched, but they have also been moving up and down the lines. Line mobility is a good sign in my books. I'm not too worried so long as Backlund/Baertschi don't get stuck on the goon squad for months at a time.

Well said, man.

This article suggests that Hartley's being unfair and damaging Backlund and Baertschi, and if you were expecting Hartley to just lean on the players with the highest talent level that notion would make sense. For years, every coach here has leaned on Iggy, Tanguay, Cammalleri, Bertuzzi, etc because they were the most talented, therefore the "leaders".

I rarely disagree with Kents articles, but I'm actually fine with the tough love treatment these players are getting from the coach. They can still be moulded and probably need an occasional fire lit under their butts.

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#48 BJ
November 13 2013, 07:44AM
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@ Kent Wilson

I understand why there is concern over Baertshi and Backlund but I think some fans and writers on this are over-reacting way too much. Backlund played fourth line duty for a couple games and Baersthi was scratched for only a couple games. It is still early in the season.

Kent, you flat out say that Hartley doesn't like Backlund and Baertshi... I think you are way off here. (That is quite a strong accusation and it is based on a couple of games only.) Over the last two seasons Hartley has had tons of praise for Backlund.

All that is happening is that Hartley is challenging B&B to take the next step.

Yes players are treated differently it seems, but that is part of what makes a good coach... to know your players... to know that buttons to push... to know that players are people, and that people aren't the same and to manage their personalities accordingly.

Please reply.

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#49 loudogYYC
November 13 2013, 06:13PM
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@Parallex

That doesn't matter this season. Not saying it's ok to lose, but this season is all about the future.

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#50 kmp
November 12 2013, 09:28AM
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Let hope Burke doesn't trade Sven for one of his picks-Tyler Biggs? Backlund stuggled with his skating early in the year in the 3rd period, maybe he altered his offseason conditioning and it affected his endurance. At this point in the season it shouldn't be an issue.

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