Marc and I think we have found a way to settle our constant hockey-related arguments and provide some interesting content for the blog. We're going to start posting the transcript of our email back-and-forths here and let you, the reader, decide the winner.
As they involve issues currently on our minds, hopefully these debates will touch on some hot topics in the Preds community and foster some good discussion.
Today's topic is: "Given the choice, should the Predators scratch Jordin Tootoo or Matt Halischuk?"
We plead our cases after the jump. And after reading, be sure to vote in the poll, to let us know who you thought won.
Sam: By almost any statistical measure, Matt Halischuk is far and away the Predators’ worst possession player. This is because Halischuk often dumps the puck in the offensive zone and hustles after it. Sometimes he recovers the puck, sometimes he doesn’t, but either way he gets credit for making the safe play and trying hard.
In contrast, Jordin Tootoo uses his superior speed to gain the zone and then tries high-risk passes to set up his teammates. Sometimes his passes work, but sometimes theylead to turnovers, which have lately drawn the ire of many Preds fans.
But is Tootoo really being less defensively responsible? If Halischuk dumps the puck in and the other team rushes up the ice and scores, he doesn’t get blamed. But if Tootoo’s high-risk, high-reward passes lead to opponents’ goals, he’s the goat. Yet statistical evidence suggests the "safe" play of the dump-in may actually lead to more odd-man rushes than carrying the puck.
Toots leads the team in primary assists/60 because he takes chances to set up his teammates. Halischuk may score timely goals, but he puts the team at equal defensive risk as Tootoo, without protecting or improving his teammates like 22.
Marc: It's tough to argue against a guy like Jordin Tootoo, but with the incredible depth created by the Preds' trade deadline acquisitions, as well as the return of Radulov, there's a limited number of spots available and tough decisions have to be made. I just don't see any way you can scratch a guy like Matt Halishcuk, especially the way he's been playing lately.
Assuming a healthy forward lineup, we're looking at Colin Wilson on the third line with Spaling and Andrei Kostitsyn, which leaves Gaustad, Bourque and an open spot on the fourth line. Gaustad and Bourque are relentless on the forecheck, and I want a guy playing alongside him who fits the bill and that guy is Matt Halischuk.
That fourth line needs to be a low-risk combination and a guy like Tootoo just wouldn't cut it there. I'll take the safe, hardworking Matt Halischuk over a high risk-reward player like Tootoo, especially come playoff time, where the smallest mistakes are magnified even more.
Sam: Marc, are you suggesting that Toots doesn't go hard on the forecheck? I seem to remember multiple instances of defensemen coughing the puck up at the very sight of Tootoo this season. His peers voted him the second hardest hitter in the league. That kind of respect pays dividends and will mesh perfectly with guys like Borque and Gaustad, who love to take the body.
Your mention of the need to play "safe" in the playoffs makes me think you got your talking points from Coach Trotz. Who was the Predators best player in the Ducks' series, their only playoff series win ever? Did Jordin Tootoo score five crucial points in that series because he played safe?
Your idea of safe is just 20-foot intentional turnover that forces the other team to skate a little before they score. Yes, you need guys like Halischuk to convert the chances that guys like Tootoo create. But Borque can do that. If you start scratching the playmaker for the garbage man, you'll enjoy some safe 3-1 losses to Vancouver...again.
I'm advocating a guy that skates, hits, and fights...and your argument is that he's not suited for playoff hockey?
Marc: Yes, Tootoo was one of Nashville's best players during the playoffs last year, but this year is a new year. The Predators needed Tootoo's offensive contributions to be successful last postseason, because they had virtually no scoring. And a reason he was able to be so successful was his risky play, like we mentioned before.
This year, they have two legitimate scoring lines with a third one that's pretty damn close. The fourth line needs to be a pure defensive/checking line, and can't afford to have a high risk/reward guy like Tootoo playing there.
And it wasn't always pretty for Tootoo in the playoffs last year. Remember those 22 penalty minutes he took in the Game 4 debacle against Anaheim? Yes, he's calmed down a little bit this summer, but we've still seen stints of irresponsible play (his stupid decision to fight early against Chicago the other night, for example).
And you're advocating fighting as a quality in the playoffs? Fighting is virtually non-existent in the postseason, and that kind of mentality only leads to stupid penalties, which could spell doom against a team like Detroit.