A dozen years ago I spoke to Craig Hartsburg, the coach of what was then called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
The Ducks had gained a road win here in an exhibition of trap hockey that made your eyes bleed. I commended him on the win but said “you know, that game was unwatchable.”
Hartsburg presented his case beautifully.
“I don’t care.”
What would you say if I told you I could wave a wand and guarantee the Leafs would qualify for the post season? The only caveat: they had to play a trap.
That’s not a hypothetical. Trapping, or at least a defensive system built on its tenets, works.
Last year, Tim Thomas had the best save percentage since they started keeping the stat 35 years ago. He was two years old when the stat was adopted. No one, least of all Thomas, would rank him above Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy, all of whom thrived on dynamic teams during the era of the trap.
The trap won’t bring love, look at the disinterest inside their own jurisdiction and out that greeted the Devils two Stanley Cup wins. The greatest teams in NHL history, the Montréal Canadiens of the late 1950s and early 1970s, the Wayne Gretzky led Oilers, Steve Yzerman’s superb Detroit teams, operated outside the trap.
But storied franchises need wins as much as anyone else. Jacques Martin’s stultifying trap has borne generally positive results in Montreal where the Flying Frenchmen have been replaced by Trappist Monks.
Exposed as the rancid underbelly of defensive hockey by the Flyers Peter Laviolette Wednesday night, the trap can turn a bad team into a mediocre one, a middling one into a playoff team and a good club into a great one.
You have to admit, the trap provides good chat fodder. You can debate how much of Martin Brodeur’s slam dunk into the Hall of Fame can be attributed to the trap until Doomsday.
There are no easy answers here. Teams mix the trap into their game plan. Like any defensive plan, it requires rigid execution. NBA coaches perennially blur the line between a zone and man-to-man defence. When compared to hockey, basketball is infinitely less fluid. Finding a standard to rein in the trap would take years and even then might be impossible to enforce. TSN’s knowledgeable Bob McKenzie has long argued the scheme has more or less always been part of the game.
Winning hockey is exciting.
Follow me @mulmer on Twitter and you will find a blizzard of opinion from Leaf fans whether they would endorse a move to the trap if a playoff spot came with the deal. You will find Craig Hartsburg has plenty of allies.