This summer fell into the excellent category, as any extended sunny stretch on two wheels could be described.
The thing about cycling, though, is that it takes time. For rubber-legged deadweights, dwelling on a miserable power-to-weight ratio does not qualify as time well spent.
So between wheezes, I spent hours thinking about hockey. Specifically, I thought of things I’d like to see once training camp opens on Wednesday. Here are 10 conclusions:
1. Pull the goalie. It took Patrick Roy, of all people, to decide that not playing a useless goalie late in a game is wise. According to the Denver Post, the Avalanche scored in four regular-season games after Roy pulled his goalie with more than two minutes left in regulation. The Avalanche went 2-1-1. Every statistical analysis concludes the risk of allowing an empty-net goal is worth the advantage of having an extra attacker. What’s the difference between losing by two goals instead of one? It’s not easy to clear the zone, to say nothing of gaining control of the puck, when you’re outmanned. At 19:00, when most coaches wave their goalies to the bench, it’s too late.
2. Hire women. Because of tradition, the NHL eliminates 50 percent of brain power by only hiring men as coaches and management. Rubbish. It’s insulting to think that local coaches such as Digit Murphy (Boston Blades) and Katey Stone (Harvard) are not qualified to teach the game to professional men, just like it’s nonsense to think a powerful executive such as Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi couldn’t negotiate a contract.
3. Hire more coaches. Everyone agrees that goaltending is the most improved position in hockey, if not all of sports. It’s no coincidence that goalies receive the best instruction. When goaltending coaches visit their NHL teams, the student-to-teacher ratio is 2:1. I’d bet forwards and defensemen would improve too if they received more coaching. These don’t have to be full-time hires. Get ex-players or college coaches to study video, join practice, and watch games. Players thrive on feedback.
4. Hire full-time skating coaches. More than ever, the game demands speed and quickness. It’s not good enough for a fourth-line forward to lumber after the puck and be left behind. In the tractor-pulling months of January and February, it’s easy for tired players to slip into lazy skating routine. It’s critical to keep on top of edgework and explosive technique. The head coach and assistants don’t have time to monitor or emphasize good habits.
5. Practice occasionally at night. The puck drops on the average NHL practice at 10:30 a.m. Of the 1,230 games last year, just one started before noon Eastern time: Winnipeg at Philadelphia at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 29. Research would be required, but common sense dictates that players would perform better if they played at the same time as they practiced.
6. Hire full-time chefs. After games in Buffalo, road teams usually snack on wings in the dressing room. Even us gluttons know this is not health food. It’s critical for athletes to refuel with good, nutritious meals after maximum effort. My team would have a chef and an assistant preparing healthy meals during the game to be ready for consumption in the room and on the plane.
7. Invest in wearable technology. The average soccer mom can track her heart rate, calorie burn, and pace on a morning run to Starbucks. There’s valuable intelligence in monitoring how hard a player works in practice — early in a battle drill, in the middle of a line rush, or late in post-practice sprints. With such information, a strength and conditioning coach can tailor on- and off-ice workouts for maximum efficiency.
8. Ditch the morning skate. A player wakes up early, travels to the rink, and gets geared up, all for a 20-minute, sleep-disrupting skate. Then there’s the cooldown, stretch, shower, and change of clothes. This is useless burning of matches that should be saved for the game. If they need pregame activity, get to the rink mid-afternoon for a bike ride.
9. Try positional scouting. Viewings on amateur players are crapshoots. There is no science behind how to project a 16-year-old as a 25-year-old professional. To limit the noise, amateur scouts should focus on positions. Teams would have a clearer picture on all the draft-eligible defensemen, for example, if some of their scouts monitored only D-men.
10. Invest in video. Specifically, teams should stop depending on their TV partners. The same stuff that you and I watch is going directly into a coaching staff’s laptops. On a breakout, a director might want a tight shot on the puck-carrying defenseman’s face. That’s the shot that will be in a coach’s game tape instead of the wide-angle look on the formation that he’d prefer. It would be expensive for teams to collect video from all of a network’s in-house cameras (six is the average number) and pipe it into their computers. But it would be worth it. Coaches wouldn’t have to miss a faceoff because TV wanted a crowd reaction shot. That stuff makes them cuckoo.
hired as radio analyst
hired as radio analyst
Ex-Bruin Nick Boynton, who last played in 2010-11, is nervous about a particular requirement for his new job.
“Language,” Boynton said with a laugh. “I grew up on a farm. Some of my language is not the best.”
Boynton, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 1999, will be a radio rookie this season, Phoenix’s color analyst alongside play-by-play man Bob Heethuis. Crisp, accurate, and articulate insight will be Boynton’s task instead of muscling forwards out of danger areas. The farm boy from Nobleton, Ontario, is ready for the challenge.
“I’m excited to get back into the game,” said Boynton, who lives in Phoenix for most of the year. “It’s something I’ve been away from for a few years now. The opportunity came up, I did an audition, and fortunately I got it. I’m excited to get back on the road. It’s been a while since I really paid attention to hockey, but I’m really looking forward to getting back into it and being part of something.”
Boynton played in 605 career games for Boston, Phoenix, Florida, Anaheim, Chicago, and Philadelphia. He played a support role and won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2009-10. Boynton was on the ice when Patrick Kane scored the Cup-clinching goal on the Flyers’ Michael Leighton.
But the same year he won the Cup, Boynton also suffered injuries that would lead to the end of his career. During a fight with Cam Janssen on March 30, 2010, Boynton absorbed a flurry of damaging punches. He couldn’t see out of his eye for half an hour. He was diagnosed with a concussion.
Boynton tried to play the following season, but he felt ill any time his head took contact. On the bench, crowd noise and arena lights gave him headaches and made him dizzy. Away from the rink, he was sensitive to light. He forgot things easily.
So after three doctors warned him of the risk of continuing his career, Boynton said goodbye after the 2010-11 season. He feels better now after rest and healing.
“I was fortunate,” Boynton said. “I was lucky enough to win the Stanley Cup. But I wanted to walk my daughters down the aisle. When three different doctors had the same answer for me, that made it easy.”
Like all ex-players, Boynton hated watching from the press box. But like they all say, the game looks a lot simpler and slower from up top than on the ice. From that perspective, Boynton will provide his analysis as a defenseman who isn’t far removed from the game.
“I think it will be great,” Boynton said. “You can see plays develop. You can see what teams are trying to do. It’s great as far as broadcasting. As a player, it’s totally different. It’s an easy game sitting in the press box. On the ice, it’s a little different.”
The snarly defenseman last called himself a Bruin in 2005-06. Teammates such as Don Sweeney and Bill Guerin have moved on to management positions. Andrew Raycroft, who was in Boynton’s wedding, is the goaltending coach at the University of Connecticut. Life has moved on for Boynton, but he considers the days he spent in Boston and Providence among the best of his life. As proof of that, Boynton still hasn’t changed his Rhode Island phone number. Some roots never wither.
Julien wants Bruins
to get more aggressive
to get more aggressive
The Bruins traditionally have been good at possessing the puck. They were a top-five team last season.
That’s not good enough for coach Claude Julien. This season, his eighth in Boston, Julien will ask his players to be more aggressive in the neutral zone to seal off rushes quicker.
He wants to introduce new things to longtime charges such as Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Milan Lucic to keep things fresh. But Julien also wants to increase the time his team spends with the puck.
“Let’s say our forward has the guy picked up in the middle,” Julien said. “If our D’s can squeeze that guy out early, we will. That will be a trial run for us in the preseason.”
Julien has always preached patience with his defensemen. He teaches them to hang back, stay within the dots, and let plays come to them. Their forwards are good at applying back pressure and steering puck carriers into the teeth of their defense.
This season, if the defensemen have a good gap and read that a neutral-zone stoppage is possible, they’ll be given the green light to step up. If they take away the puck in the neutral zone, opponents won’t have a chance to carry it over the blue line or dump it in. The Bruins will be on the attack instead.
“For the most part, we’re pretty good about the time we spend with the puck,” Julien said. “If we can get a little more aggressive, we might spend even more time with it. You’re trying to be a little more dominant with your puck-possession time. What you do with it, that’s another story. But instead of letting the guy come all the way down and the D’s staying within the dots when he could have closed a little quicker and letting the forward do all the work, we might have the D squeeze them a little earlier, if we have the numbers coming back.”
Decision pending in Montreal
For four seasons, Brian Gionta served the Canadiens well as their captain. The former Boston College standout wasn’t their best player. By the end, Gionta was a matchup forward more than go-to scorer. But Gionta was a respected and reliable presence on the ice and in the room. If skill was the issue, P.K. Subban would be Gionta’s replacement. But it’s doubtful the Canadiens would give the “C” to their superstar defenseman. There is no questioning Subban’s talent. He’ll be even better as he progresses into his eight-year, $72 million blockbuster. But the Canadiens have traditionally turned to quiet and understated leaders such as Jean Beliveau, Bob Gainey, and Saku Koivu as their captains. Subban is none of those things. The more likely outcome is Tomas Plekanec serving as a short-term captain. In several years, Subban might be ready for the position. Right now, he’s not.
Soderberg’s next stop
The Bruins have David Krejci locked up through 2021 and Bergeron through 2022. Next season, Dougie Hamilton will require a raise, as will Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, assuming the latter two sign one-year extensions. These circumstances signal that Carl Soderberg, unrestricted after 2014-15, will be interested in exploring the free market for the first time as an NHLer. Soderberg, the Bruins’ third-line center, is under contract for one more year at a little more than $1 million. The 28-year-old Soderberg will not displace Bergeron or Krejci. But if Soderberg plays like he did last season, when he scored 16 goals and 32 assists as a first-year NHLer, another team will consider him a top-two pivot and pay him accordingly. In Washington, for example, Soderberg could slot in behind fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom as the No. 2 center. Nashville will have a handful of centers (Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen, Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro) reaching UFA status. In Ottawa, Soderberg could complement Kyle Turris.
Wings excited about Mantha
The Bruins will play the Red Wings twice in the preseason. There’s a good chance they could see Anthony Mantha in both games. The Wings have a history of scoring big in later rounds, be it Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round), Henrik Zetterberg (seventh), Jonathan Ericsson (ninth), Darren Helm (fifth), or Gustav Nyquist (fourth). It’s been a long time since they’ve had a blue-chip prospect like Mantha, their first-round pick in 2013. Mantha, who turns 20 on Tuesday, ripped up the QMJHL with 57 goals and 63 points last season for Val d’Or. The Wings like fast, quick, and cerebral forwards. The 6-foot-4-inch, 217-pound Mantha is a specimen — a widebody with down-low skill. Detroit’s recent homegrown players, such as Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and Riley Sheahan, have spent time in Grand Rapids, the team’s AHL affiliate. The Wings won’t rush Mantha, especially with Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill quickly gaining a reputation for being one of the game’s better young teachers. But Mantha, who projects as a top-six wing, may be too good for the Wings not to consider.
Bergeron scored a career-best 14 power-play goals in 2006-07. He might have a chance to approach that number in 2014-15. Bergeron has traditionally been a second-unit man. But the Bruins are considering Bergeron as a first-unit, right-shot replacement for Jarome Iginla. Bergeron’s one-timer isn’t as good as Iginla’s. Even if he doesn’t score goals, Bergeron’s presence will open up the penalty-killing box and provide options for other players . . . It’s disappointing that HBO will not air “24/7: The Road to the Winter Classic.” Starting in 2011, the network produced three brilliant seasons. It prompted a spike in behind-the-scenes programming. But nobody matched the beauty and artistry of HBO’s work. It will be missed . . . The Maple Leafs kicked off their four-team rookie tournament on Saturday in London, Ontario. Other teams participating are Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Rogers is televising every Leafs game live. Only in Canada . . . The second season of “Behind the B” will start on Monday at 8 p.m. on NESN. Last year’s debut show was excellent, as it chronicled the bosses through the process of trading Tyler Seguin. The rest of the run did not match the inaugural episode’s candor . . . Alex Ovechkin played right wing for ex-coach Adam Oates. According to CSN Washington, first-year coach Barry Trotz will shift Ovechkin back to the left. Here I thought Washington’s power was moving to the right in the midterm elections.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.