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On Peter Laviolette's System and the Call For Change


Guest Irishjim
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Geoff Detweiler

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There has been a lot of talk lately about Peter Laviolette's system and whether or not it is to blame for, well, everything. From turnovers to Bryzgalov's season to the playoff exit to many other things we've surely missed.

Part of that is because GM Paul Holmgren, in answering a question about the number of goals allowed by the Flyersthis season, said "It is related a little bit to how we play."

That one little sentence has sparked a discussion on Peter Laviolette's system, perhaps best covered by Bill Meltzer on Sunday. First, it is important to mention that this is a great conversation to have. I am fully on board with discussing Laviolette's system, evidenced by my... writing about Laviolette's system.

The problem, however, is maintaining intelligent discussion about it. That's a very complicated thing to do when talking about such a complex issue that almost every observer only gathers bits and pieces of evidence. As someone who is not an expert on Laviolette's system - and very few people are - any discussion should start with the specifics.

Rather than immediately blame the system for the Flyers' second round exit, we should start identifying what we know, what we think we know, what we hope to learn, and what we are unlikely to ever know.

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If you have continued reading without yet reading Meltzer's column, do so now. It really is a good look at the positives and negatives to the Flyers traits under Laviolette.

Before discussing Laviolette's system, let's just point out the difficulty that comes with separating out how much blame should be assigned to individual factors, such as the poor play of <a class="sbn-auto-link" href="http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/players/54622/ilya-bryzgalov" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-bottom-width: 0px; border-left-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; background-image: initial; background-attachment: initial; background-origin: initial; background-clip: initial; background-color: transparent; color: rgb(190, 61, 18); text-decoration: none; font-weight: bold; ">Ilya Bryzgalov, Chris Pronger missing most of the season, trading away elite shutdown centers in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Peter Laviolette's system, or any other contributing factor.

If anybody is able to properly assign blame for the Flyers' rise in goals against across those multiple factors, they should be working in the team's front office. However, the fact that there are multiple factors that could reasonably be blamed for more goals against should, by itself, be enough to absolve Laviolette's system of blame.

Unfortunately, that's not how things work.

What We Know

So let's get right to the discussion: Below are some of the Flyers' relevant defensive statistics, followed by League rank:<table align="center" border="1" style="margin-top: 8px; margin-right: auto; margin-bottom: 8px; margin-left: auto; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; border-collapse: collapse; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 1px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 1px; border-top-color: rgb(170, 170, 170); border-right-color: rgb(170, 170, 170); border-bottom-color: rgb(170, 170, 170); border-left-color: rgb(170, 170, 170); "> <tbody style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; "> <tr style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; "> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> </td> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> Goals Against/Game</td> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> PK%</td> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> Shots Against/Game</td> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> Shots Against/60

Score Close</td> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> Shots Against/60

4-on-5</td> </tr> <tr style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; "> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> Flyers</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 2.74</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 81.8%</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 28.4</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 26.17</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 40.2</td> </tr> <tr style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; "> <td style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> League Rank</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 20th</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 17th</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 7th</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 7th</td> <td align="center" style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-bottom: 3px; padding-left: 3px; outline-width: 0px; outline-style: initial; outline-color: initial; font-size: 11px; vertical-align: top; "> 3rd</td> </tr> </tbody></table>

The Flyers were in the top 75 percent of the NHL in terms of shot suppression, whether it be total shots against, shots against with the score close, or shots against on the penalty kill.

The problem was not preventing shots. It was preventing goals.

Ilya Bryzgalov

It is no secret that the goals against problem starts with Ilya Bryzgalov. Holmgren said so himself the sentence prior during his press conference.

Afterall, the Flyers had the worst save percentage while on the penalty kill of every team outside of the Steve Mason-led Blue Jackets. They were tied with those same Blue Jackets for 22nd overall in 5-on-5 save percentage. Surely not all of that falls on Ilya Bryzgalov, but different people - including our own Eric T. - have shown that team effects on save percentage are negligible.

While we don't know how much of the problem is Bryzgalov, we know a good portion of it was.

What We Think We Know

Scoring Chances

If the issue was not solely the number of shots, that leaves either the quality of shots or the quality of goaltending. We already know the goaltending was poor, even if we don't know just how poor. We can't be sure about the scoring chances due to a lack of readily available resources, but through 41 games, Todd had the Flyers giving up 13.66 scoring chances per game whereas George Ays had the Rangers giving up 11.73 per game and Josh Lile had the Stars giving up 11.69 per game.

Maybe some of that two per game differential is the result of how Todd tracks scoring chances, maybe the it is not reflective of the Flyers second half performance, or maybe the Flyers just gave up a lot of chances.

It certainly seems that the defense may be allowing too many scoring chances, at least on half a season's worth of data. We don't know this to be true, though, due to the lack of League-wide data or even an entire season worth of data. Even then, where would the blame fall for those chances against? On Peter Laviolette's system, the absence of Chris Pronger, individual player mistakes, too much time spent on the penalty kill, or more are all viable answers.

Ilya Bryzgalov

Once we receive more scoring chance information, we might be able to conclude that Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to give up slightly more goals per year than the Stars or Rangers. Until then, however, we are left with the conclusion that team effects played a small role in Bryzgalov's struggles this year, but that goaltending is more of an issue than Laviolette's system.

In the Blueshirt Banter article linked above, you see that the Rangers have told their goalies that they are expected to stop six out of every seven scoring chances. If the Flyers have a similar criteria, I would guess - and rely on Todd to back this up - that Ilya Bryzgalov failed to stop 85.7 percent of scoring chances this season based purely on his save percentage for the season and the Flyers' propensity to be a man down that.

Laviolette's System

Most observers talk about Laviolette's system as an offense-heavy, attack-style system, which certainly seems accurate. But we would have to explain the flaw in his system that causes goals against.

The defensive zone coverage seems to be a style that emphasizes one-on-one matchups along the boards - including defensemen following the puck carrier to the point if need be - with a lot of rotation among forwards and defensemen. We see mistakes, especially turnovers and slow reactions, but those don't appear to be systemic issues.

What We Hope to Learn

After we compile all the zone entry and scoring chance data from the season, we hope to learn just how many odd-man rushes the Flyers gave up - and how that compared to how many they generated. We also hope to learn just how many scoring chances they gave up and then compare it to other teams who tracked such information.

What is Laviolette's system in the defensive zone, and how does that result in goals against? For someone who primarily watches on TV, it is difficult to see enough off-the-puck play to analyze the defensive system employed, let alone how it differs from other coaches.

Do the wingers play the point men more closely, opening up the middle of the ice? Does Laviolette play more of a one-on-one style of defending than most?

What We Are Unlikely to Ever Know

Laviolette's System

Are the goals against caused by Laviolette's system, or are they errors in judgment by the players? Those two are almost certainly related, if not causal, which would render this question almost unanswerable. The same is true of whether forwards break from their assignments early, the result of anticipating a breakout sooner? Does the weak-side defender worry more about the puck than his assignment, as Meltzer suggested?

Conclusion

Near the end of Meltzer's discussion of Laviolette's system comes this quote from the coach himself:

"When we make changes, they are minor changes, where somebody is positioned, where somebody goes to, maybe a set break out, maybe something to look for to try and get away from D-zone coverage, maybe an option that might be open or putting the puck in a certain area but they're not drastic changes to what we do."

If Laviolette's system is a problem, I want to know why. Yes, we can all see that the Flyers' defensemen are aggressive in attempting to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Absolutely this creates a likelihood of odd-man rushes against, but through the middle of December, odd-man rushes weren't a problem.

We know the Flyers were very good at suppressing shots but bad at stopping pucks. We think we know the Flyers give up more scoring chances than most teams, but we don't know why or if it excuses Ilya Bryzgalov's poor play. We hope to learn how Laviolette's system is run in the defensive zone and how that system is connected to the goals against, but we are unlikely to ever know for sure whether the goals were the result of a systemic flaw or human error.

Further, unless there was a different system last year, the evidence would point to a personnel problem and not a systemic problem.

Before calling on the system to change, I'd like to know what about the system needs to change. Everybody is in favor of fewer goals against, but before demanding something be different, we need to better pinpoint the problem.

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Exactly...I attended a "chalk talk" with Lavi last year and he basically said that his system is all about puck posession. They other team cant score if we have the puck in the offensive zone. (who knows about that though with Bryz in net...sorry I had to put in a gratuitious Bryz shot). The Devils showed us how effective this kind of strategy can be when applied correctly.

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I think this talk of system is overblown.

Get the puck. Keep it/don't turn it over except to get pucks (and traffic) to the net.

well the devils implemented a system that lavy had no answer for
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One thing we have to keep in mind with those stats that irish jim gave us is...

Although we didnt give up many more scoring chances than the Rangers, we ceratinly gave up alot more goals, and that is because of two reasons...

Bryzgalov/Bob were prone to gving up at least one cheap goal per game, unlike Lundquist

Although our defense didnt give up lots of chances, the few that they did give up were blatant giveaways and outright breakaways.

How many times would you see our D playing a flawless game halfway through and then in one boneheaded Matt Carle moment , the puck is in the net. We dominated so many games, and couldnt score ,then our Defesne would have a couple of major breakdowns and we lose the game.

So by adding two quality dmen, we should have alot less boneeaded give aways that lead to goals. As far as Bryz and Bob go, we need a real top goalie coach who can break them of their bad habits, or we need to buyout Bryz if there is aCBA amnesty.

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I think this talk of system is overblown.

Get the puck. Keep it/don't turn it over except to get pucks (and traffic) to the net.

i can't agree there. the objectives are as simple as you say, but the "how" can get really complicated. who supports the puck carrier where, what passing lanes should whom look to exploit and when, who covers for that player when they commit to the puck, who persues the puck where and how is he supported and by whom and who provides coverage in the event of a turnover. a thing as simple as attacking a defender with the puck along the halfwall. do you attack him goalside or on the blueline side, or straight on? if goalside, you'll tend to push him towards the blueline, where your dman has to be ready to hold the wall and provide support, and the other dman will have to fall back in case the attack doesn't work. if blueline side, you'll push the defender towards the goalline, where your winger/center will have to provide the mirror image support to the dman in the first case. if straight on, you'll cause a tie up and will need a second man directly involved to win the puck, which will open a hole somewhere else that someone else will have to keep an eye on. do a thing not included in your team's "system" and your teammates can't anticipate the play and be where you need them to be. you're playing off-the-cuff catchup at that point.

ideally, a hockey team functions as a 5-man machine, but that requires coordination, which means a specific plan. the more coordination there is, the more effective the machine and more results are produced.

justin bourne does an awesome blog thing called systems analyst here:

http://blogs.thescor...ystems-analyst/

he takes plays and really breaks down what happened and how a system failed. watching the pieces in freeze frame and seeing how the 5 guys should fit together (and what happens when they don't) is really interesting stuff. here's his bit on giroux's goal agains the pens in game 6:

http://blogs.thescor...le-first-shift/

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Yes you need a good goalie to run the Lavy system effctively (see Cam Ward's career/ Stanly Cup year). The Flyers thought they were getting that in Bryzaster...obviously that didnt happen and we are kind of screwed. At this point we will need to bulk up on D to fix this.

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"elite shutdown center" Jeff Crater? "elite shutdown center"?

I offer a bit of advice from the late, great Douglas Adams: DON'T PANIC.

This team just had a remarkable season given all the factors. Not everything needs a magnifying glass and tweezers. I year of experience, a year or development will help players play more together. A year of playing 93 games will help those that hadn't played that much before.

It's not the coach. It's not (just) the goalie. This wasn't their year, and there was no reason to be anything but happy with the overall season given all of the challenges that were faced and overcome.

The future's so bright, I've got my orange and black raybans on :-)

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ideally, a hockey team functions as a 5-man machine, but that requires coordination, which means a specific plan.

Hockey in the playoffs isn't won on the basis of planning. It's almost entirely about desire. I could show countless examples from the Devils series where we had a player with position on the puck, other players offering puck support and still other guys in position to take an outlet pass or whatever. And yet we didn't come away with the puck. We lost virtually every battle. That's got nothing to do with coaching.

Similarly, do you think Lavi coached the guys to dump the puck to where Brodeur could easily get to it and play it? No, of course not. That's poor execution related to other things going on (see above).

It's overblown.

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I think the system is fine. It is fast, physical, and exciting. I think a HUGE part of the problem with the system is the defense. When you had Pronger back there, there were little turnovers, one outlet pass to the tape and the rush was going the other way. Not to mention he cleared the porch, blocked shots and settled the defense down. Losing him had more of an impact then anyone would have thought.

I think we saw in the playoffs that our defense was completely overmatched and lost a lot of one on one battles. Adding two guys, a guy like Suter, and a bigger physical defenseman (as well as a healthy Mezaros) will make a HUGE difference.

Remember this team was without Pronger and Mez for a good part of the year. They also have 2 and sometimes 3 rookie defenseman a game for a good portion of the season.

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I could show countless examples from the Devils series where we had a player with position on the puck, other players offering puck support and still other guys in position to take an outlet pass or whatever. And yet we didn't come away with the puck. We lost virtually every battle. That's got nothing to do with coaching.

and i think you could probably take each of those and break it down and find a systemic error that caused the turnover or lost battle. i know i saw a ton of misplaced support throughout the devils series that killed the flyers' forecheck. a lot of player A working a scrum from one direction while player B supported it from the same side. player A forces the puck free, but his support is behind him and the devils pick it up and go. yes, it is an execution problem, but it's a problem executing the forechecking system put in place.

saying it all came down to desire just seems....too easy. i have a tough time believing that the flyers to a man just did not want to win as much as the devils. i mean, were they all just kinda "meh" about the whole stanley cup playoffs thing? i can't see that telling the whole story.

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i think you could probably take each of those and break it down and find a systemic error that caused the turnover or lost battle.

I disagree, but the burden on proof is on you ;)

i know i saw a ton of misplaced support throughout the devils series

Personally, I don't consider puck support a "system" - winning hockey at any level, even a game of shinny, requires puck support. I learned it when I was 4. Committing to it systematically, requires desire, trust, sacrifice etc.

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It's not the system. The the players missing assignments and not back checking. Odd man rushes happen when the dman pinches and the forward who should cover the point is slow to react or forgets and the puck gets pushed by the pinching dman. Also the third man high is needed. Two forwards down low the third forward must stay between the circles.

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well the devils implemented a system that lavy had no answer for

I'd like someone really knowledgeable to explain the difference between the Flyers system and the system that beat us, the Devils'. To this non expert, it looks like the same system give or take, better executed.

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I disagree, but the burden on proof is on you ;)

Personally, I don't consider puck support a "system" - winning hockey at any level, even a game of shinny, requires puck support. I learned it when I was 4. Committing to it systematically, requires desire, trust, sacrifice etc.

Puck support may not be a system per se, but some "systems" lend themselves to puck support better than others. The Rangers consistently play as a 5 man unit, they don't space out very much. That means they are going to have people in position to provide puck support. I don't see the Flyers doing that very often. They don't seem to pay enough attention to gaps, as a result you get guys isolated in puck battles. Which I thought happened a lot against NJ.

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They don't seem to pay enough attention to gaps, as a result you get guys isolated in puck battles. Which I thought happened a lot against NJ.

Bingo! and no sooner did that happen and it was immediately followed by over pursuit and a general loss of of any cohesive defense....

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They don't seem to pay enough attention to gaps

And yet I guarantee you that Lavi et al talked specifically, probably endlessly, about gap control. To assume or imagine that they did not is to say that they shouldn't be coaching PeeWee never mind pro hockey. So, once again, we get back to execution.

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Personally, I don't consider puck support a "system" - winning hockey at any level, even a game of shinny, requires puck support. I learned it when I was 4. Committing to it systematically, requires desire, trust, sacrifice etc.

true, but it also requires knowing who provides that support, when and where. different systems have different answers.

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And yet I guarantee you that Lavi et al talked specifically, probably endlessly, about gap control. To assume or imagine that they did not is to say that they shouldn't be coaching PeeWee never mind pro hockey. So, once again, we get back to execution.

I am not going to fail to agree with your position, it is entirely conceivable.

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rue, but it also requires knowing who provides that support, when and where. different systems have different answers.

Oh, well if its answers you want, you've come to the wrong place.

This debate could go on endlessly. And probably will!

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