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]
Jalil Irvin's commitment post is here.
One of many softball-related activities that did not occur yesterday [Brian Fuller]
Severe weather delay. Most of the WCWS was rained out yesterday, so they'll try again tonight. This might be good for Michigan since starting pitcher Megan Betsa has a sore back. Michigan plays LSU at 9:30, or after the conclusion of an Alabama-Oklahoma game that was stopped in the middle of the second last night. On the other half of the bracket, Georgia continued its Cinderella run with a win over FSU; Auburn beat UCLA. Game's on ESPN2 tonight.
Harbaugh just likes it man. While nobody is denying that satellite camps are about recruiting, for Harbaugh it's also about football. Pick a report from one of these camps and you'll get some insight into Harbaugh's maniacal intensity:
During one exercise -- a one-cut drill with running backs in linebackers -- Harbaugh was so into things he completely lost track of time.
Another staffer shouted over toward him after taking a look at his watch: "Ready to rotate, coach?"
"No," he fired back with excitement. "OK, I guess so."
247's Keith Niebuhr is an Auburn reporter who was at the camp for his own Auburn-related reasons:
-The kids loved being around Harbaugh. He's very personable when he coaches these guys. It seems genuine. He speaks their language. Makes them all feel special -- even the kids that have no shot of being D-I guys.
Dude just likes football more than most people like anything. But he dislikes "soup sandwiches."
Sliiightly misplaced priorities. Let's recap events in the SEC since Greg Sankey went on his smarm offensive about satellite camps:
- Tennessee is hit with a Title IX lawsuit that alleges Baylor goings-on in Knoxville.
- Alabama fires an assistant coach because of recruiting violations. Saban further bitches about NCAA drug testing policies, implying that someone got McGary'd.
- Ole Miss is hit with a half-dozen Level 1 NCAA violations that don't even include the revelation from Laremy Tunsil that he was paid by Ole Miss employees. Contrary to the lies Ole Miss fed various credulous reporters, most of the allegations concern Hugh Freeze's tenure, not Houston Nutt's.
- Mississippi State enrolls a five-star recruit who was caught on tape beating a prone woman. They suspend him for the Southern Alabama game.
- Texas A&M loses a quarterback commit, causing an assistant coach to go on a twitter rant that causes further decommits. This one is more dumb than troubling, but it's really dumb.
The comeuppance here is truly spectacular, not that any of the various mouthpieces down south have noticed. Here's Tony Barnhart setting the last vestiges of his dignity on fire:
Had Mississippi State not taken Simmons, there was no guarantee that he could not enroll at another SEC school. https://t.co/hIf7LjctRA
— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) June 2, 2016
Hooooooly shit. Turn around and show us Sankey's hand up your back, buddy. Barnhart's descent into the SEC's personal Iraqi minister of information has reached its climax. What an ass.
Oh right and also that. Baumgardner runs down why Saban's crocodile tears about compliance are particularly funny/enraging:
Harbaugh did more than that. He called him out -- a hypocrite, actually. And I'm not sure how anyone can find fault with it.
Saban -- who has, of course, won four national titles at Alabama -- is literally in the middle of a situation where recruiting violations within his program were found. An assistant coach has been forced to resign and the school currently is awaiting the result of that NCAA investigation.
And if that were the only thing going on here, it'd probably be enough. But it's not.
Like in 2009 when a businessman paid for stars Mark Ingram and Julio Jones to go on a fishing trip. Or in 2013 when a former Alabama player was caught giving Tide offensive lineman D.J. Fluker impermissible benefits. Or later that same year when Saban had to fire a staffer after he paid safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Anyone remember that whole deal about the disassociated Alabama booster who continued to sell signed Crimson Tide merchandise -- from players who still were on the team -- back in 2014?
Like Ole Miss this is just the tip of an iceberg. It should be interpreted as a glimpse into a sophisticated NCAA rule violation factory that occasionally screws up. Alabama does not care about NCAA rules one iota. Saban doesn't want to know. Bo Davis's mistake was knowing.
Further Baylor fallout. Baylor's 2017 recruiting class turned into a ghost town, as you might expect. They're down to one dude. More pressingly, seven players from Baylor's already-signed 2016 class did not enroll as planned and are asking out of their LOIs. One of them is already free to pick another school because Baylor treated his LOI like a sexual assault and didn't report it to the relevant authorities. Baylor isn't releasing them yet because they're holding onto a vague hope that Jim Grobe will be able to salvage some of these guys. Survey says not likely:
The elder Cobb said it was a "good visit, but we let them know my son wants to pursue other options. His mind is made up."
"We bought in completely, and we're crushed," JP's mother, Emily, said. "And it's more than Briles. The whole environment is toxic, and there is no way a kid should have to go there."
"We were shocked and appalled when we found out Thursday the severity and widespread extent of Baylor's wrongdoing in multiple instances," Julian said. "We had no idea. Now that we know, we will not be a part of that."
Baylor has 30 days before it has to make a decision and can force the various players who want to go elsewhere to either delay enrollment or pay their own way for a year. It's unlikely it comes to that—it seems like most of the Baylor defectors have no intention of going to Waco, so Baylor would be further killing its reputation for no benefit.
This is another example of why the NLI does little to nothing for players and should be avoided if at all possible. Players can sign financial aid paperwork that locks the school in without locking the player in.
Revisiting potential NCAA involvement. I do think the NCAA is going to do something here. There's a recent precedent in which a school violated its own policies and got hit because of it: Syracuse. Syracuse had a bunch of different things go down under scofflaw Jim Boeheim. One of them was ignoring their own drug testing policy:
"Like many of the other severe violations involved in this case, the institution's actions regarding its dismissal of the written drug testing policies and procedures were aimed at preserving student-athletes' ability to compete for the men's basketball program," the NCAA report said.
Baylor's internal justice-type substances are in violation of their written policies and should be similarly actionable, since it was also in the service of preserving eligibility. Hopefully it's far more actionable than Syracuse's issues.
Uh, yeah, poke around these guys maybe. At least two of the Baylor defectors should be of serious interest to Michigan: four star OL Patrick Hudson and JP Urquidez are both high-profile players who can play tackle. That spot is a sore one for Michigan after Logan Tuley-Tillman was booted and Devery Hamilton flipped to Stanford. Michigan was vaguely involved with Hudson; Urquidez went off the board just a few months after Harbaugh was hired and did not appear to have any relationship with M beforehand.
Michigan will undoubtedly ask both about their interest once that's permissible—schools can't contact any of these guys until they are released.
A balanced schedule. A desultory hooray for Big Ten Hockey, which finally managed to put together a second half of the season for Michigan without a month and a half between games at Yost. Michigan's back half has eight games, all of them in the Big Ten, and the longest stretch without a game at Yost is three weeks. I'm slightly nonplussed by the two bye weeks Michigan has in the second half—the weekends of January 6th and 28th are open. But this is much better than the previous two years.
Adam covered the nonconference portion of the schedule when it was released. In short, it's nice for fans to get BU at Yost but other than that it's a bunch of middling-to-bad teams that won't help Michigan make the tournament if their record isn't as shiny as it was a year ago. Which… yeah. Probably won't be.
Play the penalties before extra time. If one team outscores the other in the subsequent 30 minutes of open play, then that result will trump the outcome of the penalty kicks. If extra time ends in a draw, then the game goes to the penalty winner.
That's brilliant. While the shootout does still have its unsatisfying place in the game, playing it early reduces its impact and guarantees that one team will always be frantically pressing for a goal. That change should be implemented immediately.
Etc.: Pay-to-play in US soccer is a necessity because the money has to come from somewhere. Ken Starr's personality is to the best of his ability. Seriously, can we not send him to jail? Are there not laws against this behavior? Michigan's not attending Baylor's camp anymore, it appears.