I keep wanting to say something about Martin Havlat. I’m a Czechophile and all, but every time I try to figure out what I expect from him I find my thoughts drifting to Michal Handzus. Not the same thing at all, I know. Maybe I feel guilty about never visiting Slovakia or knowing whether Czech and Slovak are really different languages or more like dialects of the same. Or maybe it’s because Handzus has a reputation devoid of the uncertainty I find in opinions about Havlat.
The first question I have is why didn’t the Kings keep Handzus? There was that thing about not being able to guarantee him enough minutes but that sounds a lot like a weather prediction: probably only half right. He wasn’t supposed to get so many minutes last year either, but look how that worked out. If I had a player slated for lower line minutes who wound up playing top six minutes in the playoffs I don’t think he’d be high on my let go list. Yes, the Kings recently picked up some skilled forwards, and presumably will have most of their injured top line back this season, but it still seems like a disconnect. Maybe Handzus was tired of LA.
Handzus isn’t known for his speed or his scoring, but clearly he can handle a lot of responsibility. Fear the Fin did a nice breakdown on his defensive stats, and reliability is what Wilson pointed to when he announced the signing:
“He’s very professional in how he approaches the game. He is an absolute workaholic who is a fitness nut. And we’ve seen first-hand what he can do.” -Working The Corners
I like these qualities. I also like, in retrospect, how much trouble he gave the Sharks last season. Very troublesome he was, not by being fast and not by scoring, but by being smart and hard-working.
After the longer than some expected 2011 playoff series against the Sharks, he hurried right over to the IIHF Championships to play for Slovakia. His team didn’t get very far but he did play a lot of minutes for them. On May 6 they named him the team’s best player of the game, though he got no points. He did have more ice time than any other skater except defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. Penalty killing is his specialty, though he can, when asked, fill in as needed. He won’t replace top scorers with points, but he will hold down the fort wherever he plays.
The particular mention of fitness is probably part of why he’s been able to play so many games for the last four seasons. I don’t understand how any NHL player can justify not being extremely fit, no matter what the tradition has been. Of all the tools a player needs to play well, fitness is the only one we absolutely do know how to produce. Fitness isn’t a skill or a talent, it’s a habit. So without taking anything at all away from Handzus and his dedication, I find it mysterious that this habit stands out as it does.
I’m not worried that Handzus is missing the pre-training camp ninja workouts that Burns tweets about. I might be a little worried about others, but Zus clearly has a perfectly adequate routine of his own.
Jonathan Quick promises us that Handzus can block a lot of shots: “…I think Zus blocked more shots than I did this year, best of luck…” That doesn’t sound like something that fitness can really help you prepare for, though I have heard that in some martial arts they beat fighters with sticks as part of the training. I’m not sure that would help, and I’m not comfortable with the idea of anyone being thus tenderized for any reason. I guess the only way to prepare for blocking a lot of shots is to be smart and quick and get the right part in the path of the puck.
Even blocking a shot with the wrong body part takes smarts, ability to read the play and the players accurately. The same sort of hockey IQ would help with things like just getting in the way of faster, more nimble players. It doesn’t sound terribly glamorous, but having a smart and cagey player on your team can be fun, a lot more fun than watching your team play against him. Handzus is one reason I’m looking forward to games against the Kings this season. I don’t expect bitterness or old team rivalry, but they picked up some fairly clever players this summer and I deeply want to see them thwarted anyway, yet again.