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Splinters - Beyond the Island: Turtling, managing, the limits of straight-talking

Some thought-provoking links while awaiting the first "Islanders should trade for Kovalev!" comment in a random online forum:

"It's not about speed, it's about effort. ... When we have failed, it’s not because the player lacked the speed to make the play,” said Gordon. “It’s because he either didn’t execute properly or he didn’t make the effort.”

That line had some fans understandably wondering if Gordon realizes the reality of the underskilled roster he has. But to me, Gordon was treading that "honesty line" that coaches -- no matter how frank they are -- must tread in order to "keep the room."

Gordon acknowledges the injury challenges, but if he came right out and said, "Look, our roster stinks" (like some former Isles coaches have done), he'd undermine both his current players and what he's trying to build long-term (i.e. adherence to the system by players who will still be here in a few years). The subtext of this season is that Gordon is instilling the foundation of his system now, with the youngsters of the future, regardless of whether all the current vets can execute it.

Put it this way: Although players don't like to have their effort questioned, that at least helps them dig deeper within themselves to skate harder, play smarter, focus on the process more. But when you tell them, "Look, we're just not good," then what's the motivation for them to keep trying? If the team belief tends overwhelmingly toward "No matter how hard we try, we'll still fall short," then the locker room mentality gets really ugly, really quickly. That's why you hear veterans like Doug Weight and Bill Guerin in the pre-season talking themselves into, "You never know." Without that belief in something, the player's heart quickly vacates the ice.

It's locker room psychological voodoo to an extent, but it's the land a team must dabble in to prevent everyone from playing only for themselves.