in town for free camps
at least there's still bubble hockey? [Bill Rapai]
I don't know if there was anything Jim Hackett could have done about this in the short time he's been athletic director, but man, for the second straight year the hockey schedule is deeply unappealing to me as a season-ticket holder. Worse, it doesn't set Michigan up well for an attempt to make the tourney in Red Berenson's final year. Let's run down the problems.
The nonconference schedule sucks
Here's the nonconference schedule, with last year's RPI out of 59 in parentheses after. Home games bolded.
- Mercyhurst x 2 (39)
- @ Union (30)
- @ RPI (46)
- Robert Morris x 2 (25)
- Niagara (58)
- @ BU x 2 (3)
- Dartmouth x 2 (22)
- NMU (GLI) (35)
- Tech or State (GLI) (8 or 32)
- Ferris State (34)
The best nonconference home game is none. The only team that made the tournament last year (other than Tech, which is in the GLI with Michigan every year) is BU. BU has been thoroughly mediocre for the past five years when Jack Eichel wasn't around. He and his +51(!!!) are no longer around.
The opponents aren't even interesting from a historical standpoint: other than Ferris State and NMU in the GLI, none of these teams are old CCHA teams. They are just random Eastern teams that aren't good and want a paycheck.
This is especially grim because the Big Ten was so bad last year. In a tough, or even reasonable, league a 22-15 record is a good shot at the tournament. Michigan had none because the Big Ten was a disaster. Even if the league gets off the mat somewhat this year (doubtful since MSU and Wisconsin both inexplicably retained their coaches), Michigan is going to need some help from a solid nonconference schedule. This is emphatically not it.
And that goes double since the home/road split is 9/5. The current iteration of the RPI irrationally overrates road wins and irrationally underrates home wins, so any team that is willing to scrimp for guarantee games like Michigan clearly has is putting itself even further behind an already rather large eight ball.
There are infinite football conflicts
It's like this was intentional:
- There are only four road games before the Christmas break.
- Two of them come during football's bye week.
- One of the Robert Morris games is on October 31st. Michigan plays Minnesota that day. That game has already been announced for 8 PM.
- There is a home game on the day of a home OSU game that's at least 50/50 to be at 3:30.
- In the unlikely event Michigan makes the Big Ten Championship game, there is a home game against Wisconsin probably at the same time.
I understand that some conflicts are inevitable. This is close to maximum hypothetical conflict. Michigan has scheduled games that no Michigan fan is going to want to attend that hurt their chances to make the tournament.
There are way too many games early and way too few late
As mentioned, the season ticket has 12 of its games before the break and just 7 after, one of which is the NTDP exhibition. There is another month-long gap between home games. (At least this time it's not because Michigan sold a game against MSU so Chicago could ignore it.)
- And Michigan inserted the Ferris game into a weird mid-February bye week. They go six weeks(!) between home league games, from Ohio State on January 17th to Ohio State on March 4th.
There are still no playoffs
Maybe I'll fly to Minneapolis, though. It could happen.
The extra slot. Max Bielfeldt could return next year if Michigan was so inclined. It does not sound like they are rushing to make this happen, though. Bielfeldt:
"I don't even know," the 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward said. "I've just been looking to see what else is out there. If this (situation did come up), I knew I'd have to take it for what it is. If I end up making a decision here in the next week or so and nothing pops up Michigan-wise, then I'll move on.
"(I haven't talked with Beilein about it) since the scholarship opened up."
It might be hard to kiss and make up here with Bielfeldt fielding serious interest from multiple Big 12 schools.
Harbaugh profilin'. Bruce Feldman on the man in khaki:
Most coaches will say they are much better at their jobs than they were a decade ago thanks to experience, but Harbaugh isn't most coaches. "I don't know that I am (a better coach)," he said. "Even though you've proved something before, that's the very nature of football playing or coaching. You could have proved something 1,000 times before. You could prove it again, but now that's all that matters.
"It's irrelevant no matter how many times you prove something. This is the only time that matters."
Well worth a read.
That this is a hard decision is a bad thing. Dylan Larkin is playing at the World Championships for the USA, an impressive accomplishment for any college player. He is still considering signing with the Wings. That would be far from unprecedented, except for the fact that his pro team doesn't seem to be pressing for it at all:
Should Larkin sign with Detroit, he would most likely spend the season in the AHL with Grand Rapids, a team that has consistently been successful recently under the stewardship of coach Jeff Blashill. …
From what I’ve been told, the Red Wings would be happy with Larkin’s decision either way. If he returns to Michigan, he gets to play that big role on a young team (the team had a dearth of juniors this season, so there will only be a handful of seniors next year) and he can learn from mistakes now rather than in a couple years when he’s in the NHL.
If Larkin signs when the Wings are saying "you will play in the AHL"—something they no doubt mean given the guys they've left in Grand Rapids well after they've ripened—that is a devastating commentary on the current state of the program.
Unfortunately, I don't think I would be at all surprised by that. Mike Spath is without question the most plugged-in hockey reporter Michigan has, and when Andrew Copp left he talked to various people in the program and came back with this:
A motivation for Andrew Copp to leave? Apparently his dad didn't like that Copp wasn't the leading scorer the past two seasons and blamed this on Michigan's failure to develop him to be the first-line center he was destined to be.
This is what society has become. Every parent thinks their kid is the next Crosby. Winnipeg apparently told the family he could one day lead their team in points. I like Andrew a lot but that is a crock.
There is only one person who would say this to Spath: Red Berenson. Spath probably should have kept that one under his hat, because it drew a response from Copp's father in which he made it clear that assertions about his character were way off base. A small portion:
Michael it is disappointing that as you have gotten to know Andrew over the last 3 years you should have a gut feeling about how he is as a person. Much has been made about it in the press and by the coaches over the years. Andrew is a very mature young man with character, conviction, and morals. I can tell you that Andrew made the decision to leave completely on his own. We do not parent like micro-managers, we have always raised our two boys to be independent and we support the decisions that they do make. Andrew consulted with our family during the process but never once asked our opinion on what he should do with his life nor did we give it, that is HIS decision. To be honest I don’t know what I would have said, I would have loved to see him play his senior year, see him a couple times a week and every Sunday for family dinner. As a parent you hope you provide your kids with the life skills to make difficult decisions and I am proud of how Andrew has navigated this process.
Red has always been lovably cantankerous about his players leaving before their time. This goes several steps beyond that. Copp was not mentioned at the post-season banquet. When bitterness gets that prominent it starts to seem like a reason for the team's recent underperformance.
Red is going to be back next year, and then he is likely to retire. I'm not particularly optimistic about that final year. That Copp would leave probably doesn't say much about Copp.
For Larkin's part, here's Larkin:
"Not 100 percent," Larkin told The Windsor Star when asked if he's made a decision. "I'm still in between and weighing the options. I wanted to wait until after the tournament to make a decision.
"I'll probably take some time. I mean, I'm not in a rush. The seasons are over. There's really no rush. I really feel like there's not a wrong choice or a bad option. Either way I'm still going to be playing hockey and doing what I love.
"We'll see what's best for me."
I have a bad feel. NCAA muckety-mucks are complaining about the graduate transfer rule, because obviously. They do not have great reasons to do so:
"I don't think it fits the core values of intercollegiate athletics," said Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson.
When asked for specifics on the conflict with core values, Benson said, "It just doesn't feel right."
The core values of intercollegiate athletics are what exactly? If it's about getting an education, these players have already acquired bachelors' degrees. If it's about a level playing field, that ship sailed, sunk, and turned into barnacles a long time ago. If it's about catering to coaches' whims… we should probably have more timeouts in basketball.
Pat Forde says that if the NCAA is actually concerned about their core values they'd look at the scourge of recruits reclassifying. It's not clear that such a thing is at all common—most kids who reclassify are in fact forgoing a prep year, not accelerating. And the ones who do always have the option of, like, not doing so. It's hard to see what the harm is there. Forde's attempt to conjure one is unconvincing:
A senior year of high school is among the priceless commodities in life. I hope giving that away in part because some coach needs you now is a good decision for Thornton. It certainly seems to be one more example of the coach controlling the athlete more than vice versa.
High school is nice and all but if you told me I could go to prom or start at point guard for Duke I think I might take the latter. Thornton could still pick any school he wants as a class of 2016 player; that Duke presented him with an option he found attractive is not a problem.
Then there are the academic questions. By all accounts, Thornton is a bright young man and he may have been planning his class load with this accelerated graduation in mind. But will he be ready – early – for the classroom challenge at Duke? It's not exactly like going to UNLV.
It is. It is exactly like going to UNLV because every school has easy classes for people not interested in requirement X. I was in some at Michigan. Forde probably doesn't know that college hockey was well ahead of the curve here, with three top-ten NHL picks (Zach Werenski, Noah Hanifin, and Hobey winner Jack Eichel) arriving after accelerating their studies. It seems likely that both Werenski and Hanifin will be back at their respective schools next year, which they could only do if they were coping academically.
Increased flexibility for players is generally a good thing. Let them accelerate cake and graduate transfer cake.
Don't mind if I schadenfreude, thanks. EDSBS's ERASE THIS GAME series strikes upon the USF-Notre Dame game that caused Brian Kelly to turn into Yosemite Sam. Notre Dame's next game was this one:
If you could get in the college football hall of fame for making fanbases other than your own happy, Rees would be a holy lock.
Now when is #M00N happening EDSBS? For pants' sake.
Scouting centers. Brendan Quinn on Austin Davis and Jon Teske:
Davis: While quiet in-person, he's not shy on the floor.
Davis is aggressive with the ball, while remaining steady and methodical, refusing to rush. He knows how to work offensively on the low blocks, utilizing good hands and a soft touch. Most importantly, Davis looks to score the ball. Points to just come to him -- he shows himself well on post-ups and gets his own points.
Teske: The shot-blocking ability is abundantly apparent. Teske is a natural with instinctual patience and timing. He's does well to go up and block shots in the air instead of lunging to get shots at the point of release. That defensive prowess translates to his movements and awareness on that end of the floor. Teske seems to anticipate without guessing, and looks to make defensive plays without leaving himself susceptible to mistakes.
Interesting that MLive is getting more into the scouting/video stuff for recruits. Davis got a bump to four stars on 247, BTW. It looks like there is going to be a severe difference of opinion between the sites on him. Brian Snow has made it clear that Scout is not going to follow suit.
Etc.: Tyus Battle will visit officially tomorrow; Duke has taken a big lead in the Crystal Ball, and this one doesn't seem like guesswork. Remember when a playoff was going to kill the bowls? Speaking of coach catering. On 2016 combo guard Bruce Brown.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Michigan 5, Wisconsin 1
Michigan 1 Wisconsin 0 PPG 14:45 Hyman (20) from Larkin (30) and Werenski (16)
The puck rims around the boards off of an errant shot and is picked up by Boo Nieves. He passes to Zach Werenski at the point, who holds it just long enough to get the high defender moving before passing to Dylan Larkin on the wing.
Larkin somehow sneaks a shot underneath a charging defender. Zach Hyman is doing an excellent job screening in front, safely tucked underneath the defense and in front of Joel Rumpel. Larkin’s shot is deflects off of Hyman’s stick and under Rumpel’s pads.
The puck hits the bar in the back of the net and bounces out. Hyman slides to his right and backhands it in for good measure; after all, it’d be hard to disallow a goal on review if it goes in twice. Unless the ref meant to blow the whistle. I rescind my earlier comment.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the tournament]
Michigan ends up one win short of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, so here's this. I'm operating under the assumption that Berenson will continue, but it's not like anything is going to change in terms of personnel if he decides to retire.
Hockey has a LaVell Blanchard now [Paul Sherman]
Michigan loses Zach Hyman and Travis Lynch from the forward corps, plus defensemen Mike Chiasson, Brennan Serville, and Andrew Sinelli. Third goalie Luke Dwyer also departs.
Hobey finalist Hyman is obviously the biggest loss from that group. Hyman was incredible driving zone time and scoring points next to Larkin, and disrupting that line is a great misfortune. Other than Hyman, though, losses are minimal. Lynch was a fourth-liner; Chiasson barely played; Sinelli bounced between F and D. Serville is the most prominent non-Hyman departure, and his career was a frustrating exercise that saw little improvement.
MICHIGAN HOCKEY SUMMER CANDIDATES
IE, guys who might leave during the interminable attrition period between the final game and the first one next year.
Larkin was rather good. [Bill Rapai]
There are two prime candidates: Wings first-round pick Dylan Larkin and pending top-ten draftee Zach Werenski. Either departing would be a surprise. Larkin recently reiterated that he's "not looking to go as soon as possible" and talks like he is not even considering a departure:
"The future is bright and I think with all of us coming back, we will be even stronger next year."
Meanwhile the Wings tend to leave their prospects in lower leagues a painfully long time. Larkin is not likely to be an impact NHL player next year, and smart organizations tend to delay signing their prospects to team-friendly entry level contracts anyway.
Meanwhile, Werenski is already at Michigan and is a defenseman. Defenders develop more slowly and Michigan has had only one D leave after one year: Jacob Trouba. Werenski was pretty good last year, but he was not Trouba. Werenski skipped his last year of high school to enroll, so next year "should" be his freshman year.
Aside from those two, Copp and Compher would probably be the most attractive to NHL teams but don't seem like the type to go early or have their teams pressure them hard. Recruit Kyle Connor seems particularly set on Michigan over major junior but if he gets drafted by an NCAA-phobic organization they could pressure him to change course.
Never say never when you're talking about Michigan Hockey Summer, but it looks like Michigan will get through unscathed.
The aforementioned Kyle Connor is the star of the class, a lightning-quick forward with slick hands who led the league in scoring and cracked the top ten of all-time USHL career points on the way. He is projected as a mid-first round pick in the upcoming NHL draft and should slot directly on to a scoring line.
F Brendan Warren will arrive from the NTDP and should be a second-or-third round pick; he had a solid 16-16-32 line in 49 games for the U18s last year. Chris Dilks scouted him in November:
Warren has always been an excellent skater, and he showed a good compete level and willingness to work along the boards and go into rough areas along the ice. But he just hasn't developed into the scorer that many thought he would when he committed to Michigan at a young age. Warren held his own when he took a few shifts with the top scoring line, but he's not a player that's going to create a lot of offense for himself and others.
Sounds like a version of Motte that's a half-step worse on offense.
Former Canadian junior B winger Connor Murphy also enters. He moved to the USHL for his final year of competition before college and struggled to maintain the torrid scoring pace that first brought him to the attention of various scouts. His 13-14-27 in 51 games with Chicago indicates a guy who might develop but should be looked at as a fourth-liner to start.
On defense, Michigan has a couple of potential draftees in Joe Cecconi and Nick Boka. Cecconi is projected as a third or fourth rounder and has a reputation as a steady, big stay-at-home guy:
“He does everything well – moves well, uses the size that he has,” Central Scouting’s David Gregory said. “But his presence and how he uses the game from the back end is one of the most impressive things.”
Cecconi’s calmness with the puck and mobility has impressed Gregory. So has his rapid development. He noticed improvements in just a short span during the summer.
Gregory wants to track Cecconi’s offensive improvements this season.
“He snaps the puck when he passes it, shoots it, so there’s going to be opportunities for him to be involved in offense as well,” he said. “He was getting a little bit of power-play time, albeit it in preseason, and he’s on a good team, so we’ll see.”
At 6'2" and almost 210 as of a year ago, he should be physically ready to play. He's the highest-rated USHL defenseman in this year's draft.
Boka played with the U18s last year and might be a late draft pick. Like Cecconi, he's a relatively big and mobile defensive defenseman, with just 7 points last year. His star has apparently fallen some since he was rated almost on par with Werenski by Over The Boards:
4. 97 D Nick Boka – NTDP U18 – Michigan
The Michigan recruit has an aggressive, athletic upside that could come on very strong in his draft year. Wins battles in the tough areas of the ice and can provide puck support. We like Werenski’s total skillset more right now, but Boka could easily emerge as the best American talent on the blue line in this draft behind Hanifin.
Boka committed a while ago so Yost Built put together a full dossier on him; he decommitted from MSU, giving Michigan the tantalizing possibility of rolling out a maximum-MSU-troll pairing of Boka and East Lansing native Cutler Martin.
If Michigan does lose a player to the NHL or other attrition, they could fill the hole by accelerating a player who is currently ticketed for 2016; the most likely player there would be Cooper Marody, who's both old enough to be eligible for this NHL draft and projected to go in the middle rounds of it. He finished 11th in USHL scoring this year, so he is probably ready to contribute in college.
Michigan is also in the conversation for uber-prospect Auston Matthews, who scored 87(!) points for the NTDP U18s as an underager this year and is projected to be the top pick in the 2016 draft. He's a certain one-and-done who has not yet decided on a team for next year. Like Werenski, Matthews would be entering college a year before his time. He is not only deciding between the WHL and college but also between BC, BU, Michigan, etc.
WHAT ABOUT GOALIE?
Racine was excellent… this weekend [Sherman]
Mike Spath reports that Michigan will delay the enrollment($) of Hayden Lavigne after he struggled to a .881 USHL save percentage last year.
That would leave Michigan rolling with the same two guys who could not lock the job down this year unless they bring in a grad transfer… and they are looking for those. Spath says they are vetting former UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, who was booted from the Wildcat team after domestic violence accusations that passed muster at neither the court nor university level*. There are also a couple of guys in platoon situations at smaller schools, like Alaska's Sean Cahill, who might be interested.
*[Link is the text of a press release from DeSmith's parents and should be taken in that light. I couldn't find any actual reporting on the case.]
USELESS BUT MANDATORY LINE GUESSES
A senior version of Copp is probably the nearest equivalent to Hyman on the roster; Larkin will have to drive more play next year, with Copp helping win the possession battles and Selman continuing his role as the guy who gets in good places and finishes.
Compher can return to his natural center spot between two extremely skilled offensive players.
I like Shuart's combination of size and speed and feel he'll move up as he enters his upperclass years; he is a prime candidate for Random Breakout Forward. Nieves has been a bit of a disappointment so far but did put up a solid 7-20-27 line and has his uses.
Motte is a generally talented fellow without any standout talent other than doggedness; I do wonder if Michigan might reunite him with Compher, as the two played very well together when they were freshmen and Compher had an off year on the scoresheet.
Take your pick of fourth liners. Dancs played in almost every game but was penalty-prone and –4 on the year. Calderone got 28 games last year and showed a little bit of offense (3-6-9); Warren is probably the most talented of the remaining forwards.
(Also: Talcott, Allen, Murphy)
Talcott and Allen did little in limited time a year ago; Murphy will probably need a year to adjust to college.
USELESS BUT MANDATORY D PAIRING GUESSES
On defense, the roster doesn't really lend itself to traditional 1-2-3 pairings since each one will have an established left-hander and a question mark or two on the right, but in very vague order:
Werenski is enormously talented and began coming into his own late last year as a puck-rushing offensive defenseman. The defense bit could still use some work—no surprise given that last year was scheduled to be his NTDP U18 season until he accelerated. Add some weight and get him more acquainted with what he's supposed to do without the puck and you're gonna have a good time.
As for Cecconi, normally you would not want to put a freshman on your top pairing but Michigan's top three returning D are all left-handed shots. A 6'2" stay-at-home guy who shoots opposite Werenski and is #70 in the current CSB sounds like a good idea.
Martin was probably Michigan's best all-around defender by the end of last year. He's physical without being penalty-prone (just 16 PIMs compared to Downing's 76), he has a nasty snap shot from the point, and he doesn't make the boggling decisions some of his compatriots have made. In a season full of defensive frustrations he was a lone bright spot.
Lohan was just a guy last year but he did play every game and didn't make many glaring mistakes until a bogglingly glaring one against Minnesota. He could end up opposite any of the lefties; it mostly depends on whether any of the freshmen clearly outperform him.
Downing's eventful year featured a 6-16-22 line plus those penalty minutes. He was erratic, laying out big hits and giving up odd-man rushes. The +/- gap between the three left-handed defensemen being discussed here is informative: Martin was +12, Werenski +11, Downing +3. He's frustrating.
Boka will probably slot in as a third-pairing stay-at-home guy.
Also: De Jong, Piazza, Porikos
De Jong got 23 games before being bumped from the lineup in favor of Sinelli; he was weak on the puck and Michigan tended to get stuck in their own end when he was on the ice. He will be called into action frequently as various defensemen invoke the ire of the coaches.
Piazza saw ten games, in which he did absolutely nothing I remember—not always bad for D. Porikos didn't play and seems to be just filling out the roster.
If they do get everyone back and a year older, the offense should be at about that level again: while Connor won't replace Hyman's production his addition plus an extra year for the rest of the eight scoring line players probably will. Some sort of regression to the mean is likely, but they should still score a ton.
Defense and goalie remain problems. Michigan managed to miss the tournament this year despite scoring almost four goals a game, a feat no one else has managed since the internet started having stats on it. (In fact the only team to get worse than a two seed was 2003 Michigan.)
The goaltenders collapsed from a year ago, when Nagelvoort had a year impressive enough to get him drafted as an overager. The defense was possibly worse—those save percentages were negatively impacted by the improbable odd man rushes given away on the regular.
And that's an area I'm not sure gets better. Michigan hasn't seen a lot of improvement from their defensemen since Pearson left. The good guys showed up good and the ones who weren't so good stayed that way. Late in the third period of the Minnesota game, Downing stepped up to lay a thunderous hit… and gave up a two on one as a result. That stuff happens all the time now. The goal to tie it 2-2 was Lohan getting far too aggressive and turning a harmless neutral zone play into a two on one.
That stuff is now all too typical: errors borne of nonsense aggression. At this point you can't just wave that away with "they'll learn." They might. Recent history makes you a little dubious they will.