In a rare Summer-time treat yesterday, Bob and Dan (of The Ticket in Dallas) had Marc Crawford in studio for two whole segments of nothing but hockey talk.
Mark Stepneski has archived the audio on his site here, should you have missed it.
Given the opportunity, hockey nerd and friend of DBD Bob Sturm immediately pressed Coach about the two main issues plaguing this club: Money, and defense. It was an admirable effort on the part of Mr. Sturm, but the sunshine that flows from that special place on any coach is so hard to get through, especially in the middle of the summer (during the sale of a team). Marc Crawford's cheery and bright disposition we saw all season long was present throughout. He even cracked a joke or two.
Still, there were a couple of statements made that leaned more toward truth than others, me thinks, and we'll take a look at those after the jump.
First, for those of you who won't follow the jump, the summer boredom leads us to a little game. Let's unfairly take single sentences from this interview completely out of context and vote on our "favorite." <--- Sarcasm implied.
(And again, we're not trying to beat up on Coach. We're just bored. We're very appreciative of the time he took to talk hockey in June, and to BaD Radio. We need it around here.)
Lot's of quotes after they jump...
The subject of what a coach can say and not say came up a lot during the season. There's no reason for him to publicly trash the pieces he's given to work with, the ownership situation that dictates the quality of those pieces, or the man above him who's job it is to provide them.
Yet wouldn't we all like to get Coach Crawford in a setting without microphones or camera's and hear him say what we the fans are feeling? "Look at this defense. What am I supposed to do with this? These guys can't play my system. The salary cap is going up 2 million and we're still spending $45 million. That's almost $14 million less than the Sharks will spend next year. What do you want me to do?" ...Something like that. I wouldn't blame him a bit. But he can't say that.
Instead, we got the company line. He noted how all 4 team in the Conference Final play an up-tempo game: "It's the speed the game is played [with], the speed, the backside pressure and all the things that we're implementing here with our club is proving to be the most effective way to play."
He mentioned the potential for improvement from Mark Fistric (+28) last season and Nick Grossman (who has yet to be signed.) This is one area where I think we can agree with him. I expect those two to continue getting better and more reliable back there. I don't know where that fits in to "backside pressure" and "activating the defense," but I still expect improvement there.
Then he got to Nisky. "Niskanen was a little bit of an anomaly this year. He's a guy who's had great success at the National Hockey League level, and had, at times this year, not played to the potential that we think he can get to." Did that set off anyone's alarm? Niskanen needs a deal too, btw. He mentioned that Matt's off-season focus is conditioning, and that being able to win a few more physical battles will give him the confidence boost that he needs next year.
"We're paying some dues right now for having some of these younger players in our lineup." Coach said. "A lot of teams aren't. Phoenix's strength this year is they didn't keep any of their younger players. They brought in all older guys and they wanted their development to be at the AHL level."
To be fair, if you look at the top six minute guys for each defense, the average age on the Stars blue line was 27.67 and Phoenix's was 29.16. Yandle is very young and brings their average down quite a bit.
Speaking of young defensemen, Coach offered this: "If a Philip Larsen comes in next year and has a very good half a season at the American league level there's a guy that could potentially come in and be a big difference maker." Whose place would he take? I'm excited about his potential, but calling up a 21 year old defenseman halfway through the year doesn't sound like gearing up for the playoffs.
He went on to say "There's no doubt that we'd love to add a piece, but [that's a] quesiton that has yet to be answered. In the mean time, our defense is not a defense that loses us games."
You can listen to the audio yourself to hear how Bob fired back at that, which he did, as that was a statement no one would let fly by.
The discussion there led to, what I feel like are, the most "intellectually-(hockey)-honest" things he said yesterday:
"When you play an up-tempo game, you need everybody in your team to be able to play in it, so that's where we need some quality people in our third and fourth lines, we need quality people who can skate and be offensive in our fifth and sixth defense pairings. You can't just rely on playing the crap out of your top guys all the time. Especially in the Western Conference."
"Obviously you go through your ups and downs, and we had a great "up" at the start of the season. Then when you start to struggle a little bit, that when you're [dealing] with that inner conflict... Everybody wants to revert to what's comfortable and what they know best, then you're trying to pull it [the new system] out of them. That's what I thought was happening."
There were rumors late in the season that these guys still didn't know exactly what was expected of them in this new system sometimes, so that makes a lot of sense. Can a year make a big difference? How long does it take to beat those old habits (pesky defensive habits) out of a team?
If this interview is any indication, he's not planning on changing anything for next year. The question that we all asked this season didn't really come up yesterday: Why not adjust the style of play to the talent you have, rather than trying to shoehorn a $45 million payroll into a highly skilled style?
Oh well. Until the ownership is changed, I don't know how we can judge anything that's going on with this team, except to say this: If you keep doing what you've always done, you're going to keep getting what you've always got. Which is to say that (so far) Kari Lehtonen is the only real difference heading into next season. But the summer is young. Let's see what else happens.