Sunday, May 31, 2009

Frontenacs: One of these days — pow, right to the Moon, Springer!

A discussion on NHL Home Ice about Kingston Frontenacs centre Nathan Moon spoke to the poor job junior hockey's longest-running gong show has done with player development.

Russ Cohen and Shane Malloy, during The Hockey Prospect show on Saturday, mentioned Moon while talking about Pittsburgh Penguins prospects.

Very little would come as a surprise to those who follow the Fronts closely, or are familiar with how general mangler (not a typo) Larry Mavety has kept the franchise in the stone age when it comes to nurturing talent, Doug Gilmour's presence as coach be damned.
Malloy: "He (Moon) makes nice passes, he does some offensive things, but he needs to learn play away from the puck. I'd like to see more intensity and dedication, see him win more of the 1-on-1 battles."

Cohen: "You do wonder how long he has been getting by on that really good offensive ability ... I know he had averaged a point a game the past two seasons, but you have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. He needs to be able to show a better all-around game." (Emphasis mine.)
Each stressed Gilmour's coaching could be a boon to Moon's development. That optimism is certainly appreciated, since it's an article of faith it will get better in Gilmour's first full season, since hey, it can't get worse than 50 losses in 68 games.

(Granted, one can hear the spin-doctoring from nine months away. It will be framed as a great triumph if Kingston merely makes the playoffs next season. This means ignoring that 80% of the teams in the OHL get in and owner Doug Springer said at the start of last season their goal was "top four" in the Eastern Conference.)

By most accounts Moon improved during the second half of last season, particularly after being made for a healthy scratchy for a game just after Christmas. The hope here is he'll blossom, although Cohen noted that he probably needs to be in a different NHL organization than the Penguins, who have Jared Staal as their flippin' third-line centre.

Point being, though, what Cohen and Malloy said about Moon's flaws was a familiar refrain to anyone who's had to suffer His Royal Mavesty's creaky act in Eastern Ontario for the past two decades. The man's concept of hockey was hermetically sealed some time around 1989.

That explains his line of thinking, so-called, that "we need goal scorers" when even an ass-talker can figure out an offensive defenceman is the biggest difference-maker in the OHL. Hockey has changed from a freelancing, offensive game to a more structured two-way game. Pure goal scorers, the Tim Kerr types, are about as pertinent to a struggling team as tits on a motorcycle.

Gilmour seems to get that the Fronts need to build from the defensive end. However, it will take years to undo the damage Mavety has inflicted, yet he's still there since Springer in his infinite wisdom has given him a new four-year contract.

It's pretty clear what is implied when learned hockey minds are wondering, as Cohen did about Moon, if an 18-year-old NHL-drafted player is just getting by on natural ability. It ties in with a previous point that the Frontenacs are, to bogart Bucholtz's phrasing, "Unimaginative talent evaluators (who) tend to go with guys who are generally thought to be good by the scouting community." They're slave to orthodoxy when it comes who to take and don't do enough to help them get better once they're there.

(To go back to that point about early-year bias in hockey scouting, Nathan Moon's birthday is January 4. Josh Brittain, the 2006 first-rounder who was traded away last fall, was born one day earlier, Jan. 3, 1990.)

To use an academic analogy, it's as if Kingston, thanks to teams drafting in reverse order of their finish in the standings, gets the players who, as 16-year-old midget players, could get "soft A's" without studying much. Unfortunately, under Professor Mav, they don't learn how to work.

Relatively few players can pull "soft A's" at the OHL level. Detroit Red Wings forward Dan Cleary, for several years, is an example of Mav's hockey machine. Cleary got by on ability when he played for Mavety in Belleville in the 1990s, but he floundered in the NHL until he was 27. It's not a coincidence that he struggled after spending three years for the losingest coach/GM in OHL history. Cleary found his way to a progressive NHL organization, eventually, and his career has taken off.

Meantime, the Frontenacs' former rivals down down Highway 401 seem to be able to find puck-chasers whose grades, to torture the analogy, were "good enough to get in." Cases in point from the Bulls would include Shawn Matthias, Mike Murphy, P.K. Subban and Eric Tangradi. None of them was a first-round pick in the OHL draft, but all are now rising prospects in a NHL's teams system. OHL Prospects also deems the Bulls to have had the league's best defensive forward, Cory Tanaka, whom Duane paid homage to a few months ago. Tanaka should get a shot at the pros.

The Bulls were able to realize if you took a 75% student who studied hard, they could be just as good. Instead of soft A's, they got "Hard B's."

Gilmour told Rogers Sportsnet on Friday that he has two years left on his contract. There's no getting past the fact Mavety is still around the organization. The game passed him by before most of the Frontenacs' current players were even born, yet Springer keeps him around instead of surrounding Gilmour with people whose experience and understanding are actually relevant.

It has been 556 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston.

(Meantime, this is inside baseball, but do you think the Frontenacs website has any news about defenceman Erik Gudbranson, an Ottawa native, being invited to Canada's under-18 selection camp? Don't kid yourself. The Belleville Bulls, however, had a mention of Shawn Lalonde and Stephen Silas being invited to Hockey Canada camps.

Point being, this organization is no closer to learning how to do right by players just because it has a celebrity coach. Not to spread outhouse graffiti, but this might be the greatest message board comment ever left about the Kingston organization:
"Many years ago, a player was traded from Plymouth to Kingston. When the player left Plymouth, he was allowed to take his skates, his sticks, warm ups, pads, gloves, etc. Several years later, he was traded from Kingston. He had to return all of his equipment, right down to his jock strap. If you are a player, do you want to go to Kingston knowing that they are too cheap to let a player keep his jock? Or knowing that you may get a used jock? News of such cheapness gets around. Agents — oops, I mean advisers — let prospects know that some teams are better than others to play for.


Anonymous said...

Bring back Mike Siltila!

MisterDB said...

As a side note, Brittain has been invited to the World Jr tryouts.

sager said...

Yes, I saw ... I was going to mention it but it wasn't central to the post ... it was in The Whig today.