Razor With an Edge: Scoring School
“Take a person fishing and he’ll eat for one day. Teach a person how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”
“Fish or cut bait.”
“A cat likes to eat fresh fish but does not want to go into the water.”
So what do fishing metaphors have to do with hockey? Well, indulge me here. I think hockey needs goal scoring coaches – it needs to teach more players “how to fish.”
Currently, the most individually (and over) coached position in our sport is goaltending. Every team employs a goalie coach; some keep two on staff in an effort to service their minor league team and prospects.
Personally, I think the proliferation and omnipresence of goalie coaches borders on fanatical coddling, but the proof of their value is in the performance. This season the average save percentage in the NHL is the highest it’s ever been - and that’s with this so- called “war on goaltending equipment size” in full swing.
On the other side of the puck, shooters are put through drills and they blast away with custom made $250 composite sticks at the end of formal practice, yet there is very little individualized “scoring coaching.” It just seems the guys with the whistles are resigned to the fact that there are bigger picture issues (i.e. preventing goals against, systems, players bitching about ice-time, their sanity, etc.) and there are just too many players to have one-on-one “scoring” time with them all. Kind of like a school teacher with a 40-student classroom.
Another factor might be the coaching fraternity’s expertise. 100 percent of goalie coaches were goaltenders when they played (duh), yet the majority of head coaches were far from elite offensive players. Those that were (Wayne Gretzky and Denis Savard for instance) never seem to excel. So in a way, having, say, a former stay at home defenseman with a couple former fourth line forwards as assistants trying to squeeze more offense out of guys would be akin to having Brett Hull as your goalie coach.
I applaud guys like Lindy Ruff, who encourages players to be creative and make plays, or Lightning-era John Tortorella who’s “Safe is Death” mantra was revolutionary in a ‘dead puck’ era. But even with them it’s a team philosophy not individual tutoring. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for consistent individual teaching. And sure they can tell the individual to “go to the net” or “get his nose dirty” or “hit the net” but that’s as targeted as telling the netminder to “square to the shot” or “play big.”
Of course the other long believed truth about goal scorers is that they are born not made - a player either has a knack for putting the puck in the net, or doesn’t. Really? Maybe. But then how is it that 3rd string goalies are playing at starter levels this season? Coaching? Maybe?
How do other sports approach offense? Do they just acquire good offensive players, round ‘em up and point ‘em in a direction like Dolly Parton’s bra? No, other sports have specialized coaching for offensive positions: Baseball – Hitting coaches. Football – Quarterbacks, running backs and receivers coaches. So, why not hockey? Why doesn’t every NHL team have a Scoring Swami? Why?
One day they all probably will. One day.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll talk to Hull, Bossy, Gretzky, Orr, Coffey, Lemieux, Lafleur and Espo about publishing one of those “Scoring for Dummies” books. Considering the void, it might be a best seller.