November 04, 2010
Patrick Roy thinks Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher is a bad role model; in the sense that the Hall of Fame goalie and coach/GM/owner of the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) believes Boucher's successful 1-3-1 system has been mimicked by so many other coaches that it's hurt the development of junior hockey players and the entertainment value of the game.
He also may not know his backside from a hole in the ground on this one, which we'll get to in a moment.
First, via Lightning Strikes, Roy's recent (translated) comments regarding The Guy Effect:
First, Roy told the French web site Le Soleil the system "perhaps delayed the development of some young players." Roy also said his team will "play hockey as it should be played," meaning more wide open and free-wheeling.
Roy then told the Journal de Montreal that, "Boucher did nothing to help our league advance. His defensive system was copied by many other teams. I know my comments will not please Guy, but for me hockey should be focused on offense not defense."
Boucher? Disagrees. The facts? Not a friend of Roy's on this accusation. The Hall of Fame goalie's overall point about the state of junior hockey? Not entirely inaccurate, actually.
Boucher responded to Roy via Lightning Strikes:
"I wouldn't be pretentious enough to say I had that much impact, either positive or negative on an entire league," he said. "His comments were about the fact that some teams were playing the same defensive style that we had. The funny thing is my teams were always the No. 1 offensive teams. We were first in the league in junior in offense, the same last year in the American League (at Hamilton). This year we are the top team in the NHL. We spend 80 percent of our time working on offense. If you watch our practices you'll see, so that's all I'm focusing on."
The facts are that Boucher's team scored 345 goals in 2008-09 to lead the QMJHL, and that his Lightning team is currently second in the NHL in goals-for average with 3.32 per game. If it's goal-scoring Roy's concerned about, Boucher's system doesn't discourage it from the players executing it. He picked the wrong fight here.
But his general point about defensive hockey vs. freewheeling offense is valid. A system like Boucher's has facets of the dreaded trap: Defensive pressure in the neutral zone, for example. It's not a fire-wagon system by any means, despite Steven Stamkos's(notes) offensive heroics.
It is easier to teach defence than offensive creativity since in any team sport, it's easier to break a sequence than build one.
The QMJHL has become more competitive nationally in the past decade and a half (four MasterCard Memorial Cup wins across the past 15 seasons). However, we are well into the sports-as-entertainment era. Coaches want to win and stay employed, but most metrics in any sport show fans are more receptive to seeing lots of action and scoring. It is fair to make a parallel between low scores and empty seats. Roy maybe just needed to find a better target, but he knows what draws a crowd.
Which comes back to a classic hockey conundrum: Is it better to play winning hockey or entertaining hockey, in the end?
The dirty little secret about most defensive systems is that they actually generate a fair share of offense. Boucher's does. Mike Babcock's does. The 2000 New Jersey Devils were a trap team that finished second in the league in scoring en route to the Stanley Cup. In 2003, when they won the Cup, the Devils were just two goals behind the league average.
The problem, then, isn't the red light flashing but overall entertainment. Watching turnovers in the neutral zone on every shift isn't exactly a night at the Improv.
Like Neate points out on Buzzing The Net, there's a bit of nostalgia at play here for Roy, looking back at an era with teams that averaged upwards of five goals per game. That was before a generation of coaches (and, ironically, goaltenders influenced by Saint Patrick himself) revolutionized the game with a defensive concentration rather than an offensive obsession.
Is it good for player development? In Roy's opinion it's not, although we'd like to hear those sympathetic to Roy's cause explain how stressing defensive fundamentals is a bad thing.
Is it good for entertainment? That's in the eye of the ticket buyer.
Photos via our brothers and sisters at Buzzing The Net and stick tap to Josh G. for the story.