A fellow blogger has asked me to participate in answering a few questions that have recently been asked to Scott Howson. My answers are written below.
Question: Given the expectations surrounding this club heading into this season, how surprised are you to be closer to last place than a playoff spot in the Western Conference?
-To be honest, I'm not very surprised. I've always seen this team as a team who has to work extra hard to get results and was never under the impression that wins would come easy. Blue collar. That's a great way to describe my view of this team; starting at the bottom and working their way up. I think the excitement of clinching the playoffs last season shadowed a lot of peoples realistic view of how the team was built to perform and in that had their expectations set too high.
Q: What player, what aspect of the club, has been most surprising?
- Most surprising to me has been the lack of physical play from everyone. Everyone knows a Hitchcock team is going to be a brutal in your face, down your throat team, but I haven't seen enough of that this season. Checks aren't being finished and pressure isn't being put on the opponent on a consistent basis.
Q: Why is coach Ken Hitchcock the right coach for this club right now?
-You can't look past a resume like Hitch's. Beyond that though, I believe that Hitch is the right coach for this team because he genuinely wants to help this team and this city succeed. I can see the emotional attachment Hitch has to the group of guys he coach's. His 'tough love' approach is his way of humbling the players and not letting them get above their heads because he knows that can only take you so far. He teaches them to work, work, work for what they want knowing that it will make them an all around better player.
Q: You have one of the youngest clubs in the NHL. Does he work well with a group like that?
-Just like a teenager thinks his parents are out to make his life miserable, so it is with young kids and Hitch. What few of them grasp right away though, is that while his process might be a bit harsh it is setting a foundation of character and grit. Nothing measures a players inner strength more than putting them in situations that might make them feel belittled, uncomfortable or inferior, and seeing how they react to it. He makes them earn their place and their ice time which coincides with the 'blue collar' work ethic that Hitch embodies.
Q: Do you feel like you over-estimated Derick Brassard, expecting him to be a No. 1 center this season?
-It seems that way right now, but that's not to say that Derick isn't capable of the duties. That is a lot of pressure to put on a very young kid who is just coming off a season ending injury and I think even Derick set his own expectations too high. He is still a very bright, young, promising player who has the determination and passion for the game. The team slump and his personal slump are probably causing him to grip his stick too hard these days, but knowing Derick, once the kinks start getting worked out so will his performance and he will then be able to be the player he thrives to be.
Q: How close did you come to making a deal over the last few days, before the NHL's holiday roster freeze went into effect on Saturday?
-I will admit that after the Colorado game I was expecting things to get a little hairy on the trade front, but I believe Scott when he says he thinks the answer is in the locker room. With such a tight knit group of guys it is probably hard to do anything that might mix up emotions or chemistry. If the guys can stick through this slump and climb the hill together I don't see Scott doing anything drastic.
Q: Do you consider talking during the next week, even though you can't make a move until after Dec. 26?
-He said he did, so the answer is yes. For a team in the situation we are in, he's a smart man for doing so in the case that things don't start looking up.
Q: Any thought given to a minor league call-up?
-You can't turn aside the fact that Matheiu Roy has been a breath of fresh air in the face of injury. He's a big physical guy who has great hockey sense so to keep him around for the long term wouldn't surprise me at all. As far as any other major call-ups, I don't see it happening in any case other than injury.
Q: You made one change to your blue line last offseason, adding defenseman Anton Stralman. If you had it to do over again, would you have done more to upgrade the defense?
-When our defense is playing up to par they are damn good. We saw it last season and we've seen snaps of it this season. Anton Stralman has proved his worth here and with those two facts it's hard to argue a do-over.
Q: Could this club use another strong veteran presence in the dressing room?
-There can never be too many veterans in a locker room (just look at Detroit), but that's not to say it is a dire need. With the likes of Freddie Modin and Jason Chimera-among others-this team is not lacking in veteran presence. I think we have a pretty healthy mixture of young and 'older' in the locker room, however I wouldn't turn away someone like Michael Peca if the option came along. The great thing about the mixture we have is the fact that the young can learn from the old and vice versa. That is essential for a team who is trying to stay on the same page.
Q: You talk about "going through the process" and "working through it", but isn't that what last season was about? Didn't you feel like you'd already gone through all of this?
-Last year was a rush. The team was on an upward spiral and had their mind set on making the playoffs. This year, with somewhat of a slump going on, they have to start looking at the picture as a basic process. i.e. buying in, playing 60 minutes, winning and continuing down that same path. Every year is a different process the team has to conform to so to think that after last season the team was set to go for this one is completely unreasonable.
Q: Do you need an enforcer? [Why or] Why not?
-I don't believe so. Our entire team, when playing the way they are molded to play, serve that purpose. There are more than a handful of guys on the team who would be more than willing to drop the gloves if the situation called for it, but right now I think the boys believe that if they aren't getting momentum from within, breaking out into fights isn't going to be much of a boost either. Their priorities need to lie in the focus of doing what needs to be done to win the game and if a situation comes up that requires bare hands, then someone will be there to act accordingly.
Q: Sitting here, five days before Christmas, do you still feel as if that's a playoff-caliber club?
-I absolutely believe that this team is a playoff-caliber club. Recent play may suggest otherwise and if things don't start looking up within the next ten or so games that could be an inaccurate assessment, but what these guys possess inside of them is what's going to determine the answer to that. They all have it in them to do what they need to do to play, shut down and win a game - the question is whether or not they are able personify that on the ice.