“Quiet Ice is a phrase used to characterize a sliver of playing surface goal-scorers love to find because it’s unguarded by opposing players and can be used to rip off a good, quick shot. It is not, as some had understandably assumed, a reference to any place where Sean Avery isn’t.” (Source, the Hockey News)
from the Quiet Ice . . .
I hear a lot of player assessments — negative and positive — that frankly baffle me. Now, I know I have a memory more sieve-like than most, but sometimes it seems our hockey media “experts” are worse off than I.
They discuss, for example, Ben Bishop as a “playoff goalie” or “playoff-ready goalie,” and I have to shake my head and drink a half a tumbler of adult beverage to make sure I heard correctly. In moments like this, I admit to questioning my own memory. I mean, surely these guys on TV know more than I do. So, I go back to my research — you know, as one does in armchair journalism.
Sure enough, there it is. Written by Matthew DeFranks of SportsDay just last month, Bishop’s “career recently has been dotted with long periods of inaction at inopportune times. A knee injury ended Bishop’s season prematurely last year, just as the Stars fell out of playoff contention with an eight-game losing streak. In the previous three seasons with Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, he was dogged by ankle, groin and wrist injuries toward the end of the season or in the playoffs.”
That seems to jive with my memories of Bishop going down come playoffs at least twice, which for a top-tier goaltender is pattern big enough to cause alarm if not outright ostracism. If Bishop were my number one goalie leading up to the post-season, I would have less confidence than if I had to rely on Antii Niemi. No joke. If not stellar, at least he’s durable.
It’s puzzling — how people in-the-know spout these remarks that clearly butt heads with reality. I intend to explore a few more, which I will refer to as “unsung” vs. “oversung” heroes.
If Bishop is our first “oversung hero,” a close second would have to be the Winnipeg Jets — yes, the team. I believe I am completely alone on this one so please don’t waste your time lashing out, Jets fans. Besides, that’s why I call it the “Quiet Ice” — no one else is there.
But so much greatness has been ascribed to this team that hasn’t yet achieved anything close to greatness, that I can only it arises from good ol’ Canadian wishful thinking, born of a desperation to have one of its teams back in the finals. If you need further proof of this, just notice how any speculation of a Jets vs. Maple Leafs final gets Canadian pundits absolutely shifting in their seats.
It’s that, but also the relentlessly touted “roster on paper” that gives me pause. Watching this team, yes, of course there is talent aplenty and depth in all positions (well, sort of), but they rarely look unbeatable. In fact, they often look quite beatable and their reputed strengths often include notable weaknesses. Take for example Nick Ehlers, who can fly around the ice like a hummingbird on Red Bull, but is he really dangerous when he does it with the puck?
I watched the Sharks beat the Jets 4-0 a year ago; sure, the Jets turned around two months later and gave it back 4-1, but the ways they were beatable back then don’t look any different to me this year.
Throw in their the “Trouba Trouble” contract issues this fall and the likelihood that he’s less than thrilled with his experience as a Jet thus far, and you have the makings of some subtle dysfunction. We’re not talking over or dramatic, nothing anyone would notice even, but perhaps enough to fragment a team’s cohesive commitment.
I went on record at the start of the season and I’m sticking to it here predicting another year of disappointment in Winnipeg.
Let’s shift to highlight a couple unsung heroes. A few elite teams with notable gaps on defense have everyone wondering, including themselves. Can they reach the promised land a la Pittsburg, flipping pucks into fast-skating forwards and covering holes with goal-tending? Will they find that number one-two offensive d-man without sacrificing their future? Can they find him at all?
I say they can, but only if they shift their sights just a notch from that word “offensive.” Let’s start in Anaheim, the home of who I consider a top five d-man in the league, 24-year-old Hampus Lindholm. Although he’s emerging from the relative obscurity he worked under a while back, Lindholm is still underrated and underappreciated. If you doubt this, look no further than NHL.com’s preseason list of the top 20 defensemen in the league. Guess where they have him ranked? They don’t. He’s not even on the list, but Ryan Suter is. Proof enough?
Watching this guy calls to mind Lindstrom, not just because they’re fellow Swedes, but because he has that kind of sheer genius on the ice that is downright scary to opponents. Stick work, positional play, anticipation, passing, skating prowess — all put him in a class well above his partners and most players he comes up against.
Put it this way: if I’m the Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson and the Ducks come to me for a trade involving Lindholm, which they would not do in this lifetime, I’m not sure I wouldn’t trade Brent Burns for him. I’m also fairly sure Burns wouldn’t be enough.
Those who only watch Eastern Conference hockey can talk all they want about John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Charlie McAvoy, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, Shayne Gostibehere and Dougie Hamilton, but they should hold off on any proclamations before watching Lindholm play a few shifts. I know it’s past your bedtime; record it.
Let’s turn to one more unsung hero d-man who would dramatically impact one of those elite teams starving for solid defense. You guessed it, the oft-forgotten stalwart, the 31-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson. In Craig Custance’s book, Behind the Bench, Joel Quenneville calls him “Mr. Reliable.” Quenneville adds that Hjalmarsson is “as good as any defenseman in the game, defensively. He could do it all.” This is a guy who has coached against the very best and has watched Duncan Keith play in front of him nearly every day.
Players report hating to play against Hjalmarsson. Citing his stick reach and positional play that make him impossible to get around. Their frustration seems to come from getting repeatedly smothered and thwarted in their efforts. He is trusted in critical moments at a level rivalling Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And while “Mr. Reliable” doesn’t punish opponents like, say, Dustin Byfuglien, he is arguably harder to play against than these more physical counterparts.
Next time, we’ll look at some unsung and oversung heroes from the East. Keep an eye on the quiet ice.