[Ed-S: NastyIsland=David Nasternak=our hockey beat guy and general doer of things.]
(Patrick Barron) It might look decently filled in, but the entire upper ring is tarped off
Did you watch any of the NCAA Hockey Tournament last weekend? Maybe. Probably not. Did you attend one of the Regionals? Hahaha. Did anyone? [see above picture] This seems…less than ideal. College hockey is fun! Local arenas and atmospheres are intense and intimidating. Couldn’t this sport tap into this energy and utilize one of the main positives that differentiates collegiate athletics from professional sports? I think so.
WHO GOES? 16 NCAA hockey teams.
The number of teams should stay the same. Does more than 25% of all of college hockey making the NCAA Tournament seem a little high? Sure, but the numbers work well and one of the repeatedly mentioned goals is to increase the growth and visibility of the sport, in general. So, 16 it is. Continue using the same selection method: Pairwise Rankings and Conference Tournament winners. Avoid conference matchups in the First Round, obviously.
WHY CHANGE? There are a few well-known issues with the current set-up:
Poor Attendance: A couple Regionals have better attendance than others. Generally, those in the northeast tend to do better because the distance between schools and sites is not as far. Sites with a participating host team also do a little better because there is a rooting interest. However, the random Midwest Regional in an AHL/NHL arena is usually…sparse. I have been to a few of these and it is not entertaining.
No Reward for Dominance: If a team has had a good season and managed to secure a #1 seed, there is no guarantee that their matchup or playoff site is to their advantage. The committee will try to place higher seeds closer to home, but…sometimes, teams are sent to Minneapolis and get paired with Minnesota in the first/second round. Or one of the schools from Boston. That seems like punishment. There have been countless debates about whether it’s better to be in a certain location or be a certain seed. This should never happen! Being a higher seed should always mean receiving a reward!
[Hit THE JUMP for David's elegant solution to the worst postseason in sports]
DON'T START THE PARTY WITHOUT ME pic.twitter.com/19ak6vyOJi
— Joe (@joefedewa) March 9, 2017
HAPPY BIRTHDAY. It's Mark Dantonio's birthday, on this fine March 9th. 3/9, truly the one and only day Mark Dantonio has entered this world. Also Notre Dame went 4-8.
Mom was right. Remember the bizarre end to Malik McDowell's recruitment, which more or less ended with his unhappy mother pounding a shoe on the table demanding that he go to Michigan because he needed to do some growing up and Ann Arbor was the best place for that? Point, mom:
Allow us to explain how a 6-foot-6, 295-pound prime athlete with long arms and big hands who runs a 4.85 40 is on the “losers” list. Said one team: “Worst interview we did.” Added another: “Awful interview. Awful.” What concerns scouts most is that for all his tremendous upside — watch him destroy Michigan, for instance — McDowell’s production and tape don’t always match up. Scouts feel like he takes plays off too often. And when they asked him about that, he got defensive. They also asked him about his attitude and work ethic, which were concerns. Many of those questions remain unanswered.
Rumors were swirling around McDowell all season; the unceremonious end to his MSU career would seem to confirm most of them. MSU has a culture problem, and a lot of it traces back to the back-bends they did to get McDowell and then keep him in the program.
This should not be construed as a general assertion that all moms are right all the time, because no baby needs a sleep sack that makes him look like Roald freakin' Amundsen. We heat this house for a reason! It's to keep the people warm! I digress!
Rather stark way to put this. Hockey pairwise risers and fallers this year:
— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) March 9, 2017
It's bad man.
Meanwhile, Red confirmed the story that had been out there about his return to the Michigan Daily:
He intended to retire last year, which he planned at the beginning of that season. But with a new athletic director in Warde Manuel, Berenson opted to stay to aid Manuel’s transition.
“He didn’t wanna go through hiring a coach — he hadn’t even moved into his house yet,” Berenson said. “And our team played well and I thought they were responding well, so the reasons to stay were those things.
“We’ll revisit all this at the end of the year, but I’m trying not to worry about it right now. It’s just a matter of when — whether it’s this year or next year."
I've mentioned this before: Red could have said "hire Mel, I'm going to go buy a boat, goodbye." That would have helped avoid this season that's going nowhere and not even building to anything. It also may indicate that Michigan's search will be more open than I thought it would be.
This is interesting because there are a couple of guys who look like really good coaches out there:
- UML's Norm Bazin just won Hockey East (again) and will take the previously moribund Rivermen to the tournament for the fourth time in his five years.
- Providence coach Nate Leaman will take the Friars to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year; prior to his arrival their last bid was in 2001.
- Denver's Jim Montgomery has been excellent in his four years with the Pioneers. Denver is a historical power and may be able to hang on to Montgomery, but if his salary is in the same range as the rest of the NCHC it's around 250k. Wisconsin just doubled that for Tony Granato. If Michigan's serious they can point the money cannon at just about anybody.
Or they could hire a conference commissioner, I guess.
All praise Maverick Morgan. John Gasaway:
Once upon a time the Illini beat the Wolverines easily in Champaign, and afterward one of the victorious orange-bedecked men branded UM as “white collar.” Since that moment Beilein’s team has outscored its Big Ten opponents by 0.13 points per possession. The Michigan staff should hire that guy.
Michigan's been the best team in the league since. Purdue finished the conference season at +0.12.
Etc.: Now is the time of year when people go to minor conference basketball tourneys and report back with excellent prose. Firing Tom Crean would be weird. Also: not that weird. BYCTOM on the Northwestern pass thing. 24/7 on Eli Brooks and Isaiah Livers.
1/13/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 5 – 1-4 Big Ten, 8-10-1 overall
1/14/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 4 – 1-5 Big Ten, 8-11-1 overall
Here are Michigan's shot margins since December started: –10, –19, –9, –16, –16, –20, –35, –19. The good news, such as it is, is that Michigan managed to win two of those games. One was against Michigan State in overtime. The other was a 2-1 win against Wisconsin before two ENGs. Michigan got outshot 35-19. This is not just bad. This is astoundingly bad.
If you prefer a grizzled hockey veteran offering up the eye test, color guys at both games this weekend were clearly upset—even depressed—about what was going on in front of their eyes. On the Minnesota-centric Fox Sports North broadcast, Ben Clymer said that "this just wasn't the same Michigan team" they're used to seeing. He was probably feeling the same way I was, having just seen the season's most exciting series—Michigan-Minnesota on the big ice—reduced to a methodical execution. I've felt that way about Michigan State, of late. It is not the same when Ryan Miller is a faint memory and the present day is all pratfalls.
I didn't catch who the BTN guy was on Friday, but I think it might have been alum Sean Ritchlin. If so his extended lament about Michigan's complete lack of a defensive system bites even deeper. No matter who it was, you don't often see that kind of pointed criticism from announcers. Usually they default to talking about how young a team is, which, yep, happened a bunch on Friday.
This is the wrong age-related malady to cite. It's inescapable now: Red Berenson's in the twilight of his career and has hung on too long.
The slide has been gradual but it's also been a long time coming. The last Michigan team that felt truly elite was the 2007-08 squad that made the Frozen Four and was downed by Nickelback and Creed in the semis. The 2010-11 team that made the national title game was driven by Sean Hunwick's absurd save percentage. The semi against North Dakota saw Michigan outshot 2 to 1; it felt worse than that. It felt like being hunted.
Hunwick barely got them to the tournament the next year and they broke the streak the year after; in the five-years post Hunwick their conference record is 44-41-8. Last year's incredible pile of talent got them to the second round of the tourney, where they were once again outshot 2 to 1 by North Dakota. Michigan hasn't played an even game against the artists formerly known as Sioux in over a decade. Now they can't play an even game against anybody.
It's never been this bad; the arrow has been pointing this direction for a long time.
Now what? I don't know. I hope there are some tough conversations that take place and there's a new coach next year. I worry that won't happen because the narrative around the program often doesn't make any sense.
If you've paid close attention over the past few years you've seen Berenson throw Andrew Copp under the bus after his NHL departure. (Copp played 77 games his rookie year.) You've heard the rumor that Red stayed on another year because Warde Manuel asked him to. Even if this is true, Berenson could have said three words—"hire Mel, bye"—and resolved this impasse.
You'd think this would be the end of the road, but since the end of the road should have come a few years ago and did not there is a chance this will continue. You see it when a coach becomes synonymous with a program and nobody can tell him it's over. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are the prime exemplars. Those regimes had upward blips that were just enough ammunition to say "he's still got it" amidst a steady long-term decline, and ending them was either a nasty fight (Bowden) or only triggered by something unthinkable (Paterno).
I think the hockey program is unlikely to dig out without a new coach; I think a nasty fight might be necessary despite Mel Pearson hanging around; I don't know if Manuel has the stomach for a nasty fight, especially at a program that doesn't drive the revenue bus. At some point a football coach has to go because of the financial imperatives. That is not the case in hockey.
Maybe this is just a one year thing, as they say it is, and a new era can start next year. But I've been hearing that a change is imminent for seven years now. I'm worried it won't happen, and that's the thing that sucks most of all: Red Berenson, the guy who created Michigan hockey out of whole cloth, might keep damaging his legacy by returning. Time makes beggars of us all.
Now that football has ceased, a glance at some ongoing sports you may not have paid much attention to yet.
They're real bad
photo not meant to reflect poorly on Jack Lafontaine [James Coller]
Let us cut to the chase. This is the worst Michigan hockey team since Red Berenson rescued the program from its mid-80s doldrums. The three Michigan teams that missed the tourney prior to last year were at least within shouting distance of a bid. Flip a game or two and those guys squeeze into the tournament.
This year's team is 6-7-1 and currently 31st in RPI, in the bottom half nationally. Compounding matters: they're probably the luckiest team in the country. After getting bombed by Penn State their Corsi* is 59th out of 60 teams, ahead of only Alaska-Anchorage. They've survived because their goalies have a collective .927 save percentage, and that has nothing to do with the quality of shots they've faced. While having a good save percentage is, you know, good, SV% is a notoriously fickle stat requiring something more than a full NHL season to produce anything even sort of predictive. Michigan's ranking there could be skill; it could be luck. If it's the latter, Katie bar the door.
The eye test is little better. They were just blown off the ice by Penn State 6-1 and 5-1; when they played LSSU it looked like a bad WCHA team playing itself. Jake Slaker, a 20-year old former St. Lawrence recruit, went from nowhere to the top line. He's scoring some; he's also –9.
Without a turnaround for the ages the only thing keeping this team from the cellar of the Big Ten is Michigan State.
*[Your percent of all shot attempts in a game. Broadly more predictive than actual goals.]
Slaker, a late add, went from St. Lawrence commit to M's top line [Coller]
Last year's team was fool's gold that forestalled Red Berenson's perpetually impending retirement yet again. They had an insane amount of talent. Tyler Motte, Kyle Connor, and Zach Werenski went directly to the NHL, with JT Compher not far behind. Those four guys drove so much of Michigan's play, and they also lost two productive scoring line wingers in Justin Selman and Boo Nieves.
A decent but not great incoming recruiting class could not replace that production. The academic suspension of promising freshman Cooper Marody (10-14-24 a year ago) did not help. This team has two guys—Alex Kile and Will Lockwood—who look like top six forwards on a good Michigan team.
The defense is hypothetically deep and good, but in practice teams are piling up excellent scoring chances because Michigan can't exit their own zone, can't enter the opponent zone, and are giving up the constant parade of odd-man rushes that's been characteristic of the program over the past few years.
All of this traces back to the head coach. Every player with an opportunity to go pro does so as quickly as possible, even guys like Andrew Copp who are total shocks. Marody's suspension is just about unprecedented in hockey. For years Red has tolerated guys like Tristin Llewellyn and Michael Downing who take awful penalties and constantly pinch at the wrong time.
Even last year's massive pile of talent was outshot 49-27 in a 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the second round of the tournament. Michigan had an NHL first line and the most prolific rookie defenseman in the NHL this year and still got blown off the ice by a program it used to look at as a peer. What does this program look like with good, but not transcendent talent?
Is there any hope?
Not realistically. This isn't a one year issue, but a steady decline over the last half decade that last year's talent managed to defy. This team still has more talent (9 draft picks!) than the majority of teams they'll play in the Big Ten, but one of the teams they have more on-paper talent than just blew them off the ice. One of the others, Ohio State, is sixth in RPI.
Michigan teams have picked themselves off the mat at midseason before and gone on runs to make or narrowly miss the tourney; the difference between those teams and this one is the distance they'd have to go to go from losing games to winning them.
Suck it up and wait it out, I guess. I have to imagine that a fourth missed tournament in five years would be the point at which Red Berenson walks away to prevent damaging his legacy even further. Michigan would have good options afterwards, but the point to talk about that is later.
DE JONG GOAL
ASU 0 UM 1 EV 09:12 Assists: Warren & Sanchez
First of all, it’s hard to tell a lot from these because for some reason the Pac 12 Network decided to post the recap with really quick cuts and zoomed in. Replays a la Michigan Stadium’s pore-o-vision cameras means I’m working from what I remember while watching the stream.
Warren’s carrying the puck up the boards and sees De Jong start to pinch down in the middle of the ice. With two defenders near him and a big gap between De Jong and the nearest defender, the smart play is to move it and let De Jong skate in a bit.
He does precisely that, settling the puck and shooting after a second or two. His cause is aided greatly by an Arizona State player standing in the middle of the slot, screening the heck out of his own goaltender while defending no one. Arizona State goaltender Joey Daccord never sees the shot, which is a rocket that finds its way outside the ASU screener, inside the Michigan skater, and over Daccord’s shoulder.
[After THE JUMP: a goal GIF that you'll undoubtedly watch in slow motion]
it was one or the other this weekend for Michigan's 18-to-20-year-old hockey prospects
An eight-man recruiting class will enter Michigan this fall ready to patch some of the holes left by this spring's exodus. Though there are no players the caliber of Kyle Connor or Dylan Larkin in this class, it seemed almost certain that five of the eight would be drafted in this past weekend's NHL Draft.
Almost, but not quite. Only three of Michigan's eight incoming freshmen (and an addition 2017 prospect) were selected in the draft despite projections that had the two who went undrafted, Griffin Luce and James Sanchez, safely above the bottom of the draft.
Scouting reports for hockey prospects are typically short and published irregularly, so I thought I'd use the boom in available scouting materials to look at what you can expect from Michigan's newest draftees' games, as well as where they're likely to fit when they suit up for their first game in a Michigan sweater this fall.
Will Lockwood, RW
Third round, 64th overall- Vancouver Canucks
Lockwood's 13-20-33 scoring line in 59 games with the USNTDP is fine, I suppose. He's not going to be a revelation, but he should put up a fair but not-at-all sterling stat line in his first season. SB Nation College Hockey's Chris Dilks hints at that toward the end of his scouting report while also making him sound a lot like a third- or fourth-liner:
What I Like:
Lockwood plays with a lot of energy and effort. He's a very consistent player that always gives 100%. He creates opportunities for himself by taking away time and space from the opposition and forcing mistakes
Speed is Lockwood's best asset. He's got light feet which gives him a very quick first step and above average straight-line speed. He doesn't always use that speed to his greatest advantage, but it could be a pro-level tool if he learns how to use it better.
Lockwood wasn't a huge scorer for the NTDP this year, but when he got opportunities, he showed a nice ability to finish off plays. He'll have to show he can do that more consistently, but matched with the right linemate that can set him up, he could be a much bigger scorer.
Dilks goes on to mention Lockwood's inability to create with his hands and win puck battles; you can work on winning puck battles, but relying completely on speed is a bit of a red flag in terms of NCAA point production.
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst agrees with Dilks' assessment while also noting that Lockwood played against good competition and shouldn't have much of a learning curve at Michigan:
Lockwood is near the top of a decent list of draft-eligible sandpaper forwards thanks to excellent straight-line speed and a fearless mindset when engaging opposing skaters. He gets most of his points from a crash-and-bang style that would normally compliment line mates of the finesse variety. Lockwood, however, played most of the season with similar players, yet he was easily one of the NTDP’s most reliable and consistent in that regard.
Hockey Prospectus' Ryan Wagman sees something in Lockwood's physical game that other scouts did not and has a generally less optimistic take:
He is a good penalty killer with a decent wall game. Although well undersized, he is generally a pretty physical player and a frequent hitter. Committed to the University of Michigan, he has low upside, but plays a coach friendly game.
Elite Prospects does a nice job collecting player rankings from around the internet, and you can see Lockwood's all over the place. A few sites had him in the 70s, but others had him as low as #197. Most sites that don't rank expected him to be a mid-fourth round pick; no matter which site's rankings you prefer, he was taken higher than expected.
There's going to be plenty of room to move up with Michigan losing five of their top six forwards. I'd keep the Warren-Marody-Calderone line intact and make that the top line; Lockwood could play on the second line with Alex Kile on the opposite wing and centered by…uh, someone's going to have to learn how to play center in a hurry. Lockwood plays a similar style to Warren and could hit 15-20 points as a freshman.
[After THE JUMP: two more commits get picked]