Hockey

Ok, so as if the Hawks week can’t get any better as they get routinely thwacked by real-ass teams in their own division (oh, and they see a potential 60-goal scorer Thursday), evidence that they actually have no idea what they’re doing in the front office continues to mount. And I don’t mean getting capped out last night to the extreme of 17 skaters.

At the top, we should say that the Hawks are just in the same net with the rest of hockey, and their actions or behavior is more just a symptom of the whole damn culture than they being unique. What it does do is tear down this idea, that they are the biggest promoters of, that they are somehow the gold standard organization.

It started last week or so, when Akim Aliu said that he had been racially abused by Bill Peters while both were in Rockford. Now we know pretty much the whole story, and it involves team captain at the time Jake Dowell having a sit-down with Peters over what he had said to Aliu.

This is hockey, and if there is any sport where this kind of thing can somehow not make its way up the food chain, it’s here. Players are afraid to cause waves, organizations are terrified of media distractions, everyone else is in the middle. However, your AHL captain meeting with your AHL coach over this, it’s nearly impossible to think that this doesn’t set off alarm bells for everyone both in Rockford and Chicago.

And as friend of the program Chris Block has pointed out, there are other people in and out of AHL dressing rooms all the time. Agents, families, team personnel, some media, so the idea that this was completely contained in the dressing room and the coach’s office, there’s just no way to buy that. Peters was gone a year later to join Mike Babcock’s staff, so maybe the Hawks just thought everything was taken care of with that. Maybe they thought the gloss of a newly contending team washed away all. Maybe they were afraid of dulling that in any way. Whatever the answer, it isn’t enough.

And now they have to investigate their own assistant coach, one they brought in to babysit their struggling young coach/take over when that young coach finally drowned. Again, I wasn’t really aware of Marc Crawford’s past, but it wasn’t really my job to be. When doing due diligence on a new hire, you’d have to believe if you scraped anywhere beneath the surface you’d find his record of abuse. Y’know, because it was in a former player’s book and all? I didn’t read O’Sullivan’s book, but someone somewhere did and might have mentioned this kind of thing. Call me crazy.

It’s kind of amazing how recently this shit has gone on. We are 40 year beyond Woody Hayes punching an opposing player, which ended his famous career, and that’s in football which is the only sport that has a bigger attitude amongst its coaches of how tough they are due to how saggy their balls are and whatnot. We’re over 20 years since Bobby Knight was kicking and choking his own players (and son) at Indiana. All this in hockey is in the last five to ten years. Amazing what happens in this dark corner.

Again, on the other side, some would tell you that hockey’s culture of “just take it and shut up” handicaps them from acting. But we know that the Hurricanes went up the chain to Ron Francis. We know the Red Wings did the same to Ken Holland about Babcock. We know Dowell confronted Peters at the very least. So while there’s certainly an element of players afraid to speak up, it’s not like they’ve been totally silent either. The problem is that when they have spoken up, they’ve faced an indifferent or callous organization looking in the opposite direction.

If you’ve paid any attention, you know the way the Hawks paint themselves isn’t anywhere near reality. Any crisis they’ve faced they’ve royally fucked up, and combined with their current fucking up the on-ice product (what only anyone really cares about at the end of the day) they’ve been revealed to be one of the more balloon-handed organizations around.

But to restrict this as a Hawks problem would be unfair and silly. I’ve thought a lot about this lately and why hockey is so far behind everything else. And it’s mostly that it operated in the dark for so long, anything could go on because no one knew except for those in it. There was no one around to point out all the things wrong, because the only ones who knew were the ones in the culture and they could behave however they saw fit. Hell, the reason some of us became fans was because no one else was. So it’s not that hockey is upset that it’s being scrutinized now, it’s upset that anyone is looking at all. It doesn’t want to jibe with the wider world because the wider world was never aware of its existence for so long. But that’s not a justification, and far from it.

I don’t know why these GMs like Holland or Treveling or Francis or whoever knew here or whoever was Crawford’s boss just tried to shoo it away. The easy answer is callousness, and that might be it. I think it’s at least part laziness too. Because if they had taken action, that would only lead to more questions they would have to answer. Questions they aren’t equipped to handle. And we know how much they hate the media and questions. It’s just easier to say “man up” even though we’ve eliminated that term as a qualified answer years ago. It’s easier to hope that things just go away, which they did.

Well, they won’t now, and it’s a bigger mess. Who’s around who is actually equipped to deal with it?

Hockey

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – It would be easy to put Patrick Kane here, thanks to his point-streak, but I don’t do easy. But Saad is the only forward I notice every night, and I know I’m not alone. He scored against Dallas in their only win the past week, and got the opener shorthanded against the Avs on Saturday. Whereas Kane can go missing when games have been close and occasionally has been cherry-picking to benefit the point-streak he’s probably all too aware of, Saad just gets on with it. And he’s been the Hawks best forward the whole season whether you like it or not. He’s piled up 18 shots in the four games here, and he’s on his best expected goal per game of his career, and he’s top-25 in relative Corsi and xG percentage among forwards in the league. He’s played so well, it probably makes sense to explore trades for him in the way they didn’t for Erik Gustafsson last year. He’ll have one more year after this left on his deal, and he’s a difference-maker on a good team’s second line. That is if he’s not part of the long-term vision here, which no one knows. He’s been good enough where you probably can’t go wrong either trading him or keeping him, but if anyone can it’ll be the Hawks.

The Terrifying Lows

The Front Office – Boy there were a lot of candidates for this. But let’s just review, and there will be more on this later, but the Hawks organization has been part of two of the current abuse/racists scandals this week in hockey (Peters and Crawford) and have turned their palms up at both with the, “Me no speaka da English” defense. Either the front office is that willfully ignorant that their AHL captain having to confront their AHL coach about his racist remarks doesn’t send alarm lights to the main office, and their assistant hire’s past abuse of players being documented in a book or two, which means they’re just about the clueless bunch of dopes around (could be!). Or they knew all this stuff…and they just didn’t care.

Much less important, but worth mentioning, is that they’ve built a team that again, is one point off the bottom of the West more than a quarter through the season, and is capped out to the point they couldn’t ice a full team last night. This collection of ne’er-do-wells and the truly bewildered costs as much as any team in the league. Your four offseason acquisitions that make significant money total  which cost $15.6M (Smith, Shaw, de Haan, and Maatta) have got you one fourth-liner who’s slow, a bottom-six winger they keep trying to play into the top six even though all he’s done this year is take o-zone penalties and wave to the crowd, a middle-pairing d-man who also can’t move, and a barely-third pairing d-man. This is how you get capped out, because all these positions are supposed to cost a fuckton less than this.

But hey…ONE GOAL.

The Creamy Middles

Patrick Kane – It’s really not surprising when he keeps scoring. He might fire in some garbage time (symmetry) goals to keep his streak alive, and he may be trying to do that too many times, but he’s also the only other threat besides Saad these days. Without either, the Hawks get clubbed 4-1 every night.

Hockey

This is going to be the major story in hockey today, and it wouldn’t not be shocked if Bill Peters is fired by the end of business today. We’d like to believe it would lead to a reckoning in how hockey coaches are viewed, judged, and forced to change, but nothing works like that in hockey.

So the headline and how it relates to the Hawks first. Akim Aliu, a former Hawks draft pick, on Twitter last night was commenting on Mike Babcock’s firing when he connected it to Bill Peters, who served as a Babcock assistant for three seasons before taking the Carolina job. In those tweets, which you can see here, Aliu alleged that Peters called him the n-word several times. When Aliu rebelled against Peters, as he should have, Peters requested to the Hawks brass of GM Stan Bowman and President John McDonough that Aliu be sent to the ECHL. He was.

The Hawks released a statement today:

The Notes App press release is a nice touch.

Right, so first the Hawks. They’ll have plausible deniability on this, which doesn’t mean they’ll totally skate, or more accurately should. What they’ll say is they got a letter or request from their AHL coach, who of course wouldn’t mention what actually happened, and they took his word at the time.

Which is obviously bullshit, because they should have been doing due diligence on what was really going on. The challenge for the Hawks then, as it would be now, is hockey’s over-entrenched “stays in the room” culture, which would have made it utterly impossible for them to get corroboration from any other player who would be reluctant to speak against their coach. It’s just not done in hockey, not even now. It’s why all this Babcock stuff is coming out now instead of when it was happening, likely because no player would confirm it while Babcock was still employed (or the Toronto media is a bunch of sycophantic chicken shits, take your pick).

Still, what’s clear is the Hawks probably should have done a little more than simply taking their coach’s word for it. What some will rush to point out is that Akim Aliu was always considered a malcontent or having an attitude problem. Most of this stemmed from his refusal to engage in stupid and demeaning hazing rituals for his junior team, which led to rocky relationships with his team for his entire junior career. We could do a whole other post or six about the backward and disgusting culture of junior hockey, but let’s save it. We do know that Aliu’s refusal to “conform” to what was considered normal behavior in junior poisoned his whole time and every relationship there, because Canada and hockey are basically fucked in the head. There was talk he was disruptive in Rockford too at the time, and now we know why.

There were some NHL players on that Rockford team, including one Corey Crawford. You can bet McDonough has made sure to get to Crawford well before any media availability today (and as Crow is likely starting tonight, he wouldn’t be available anyway and now you can bet he’s starting tonight) to make sure they control the message.

Though it was only 10 years ago or so, and this is hardly a justification, it was a different culture then. The Hawks probably didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, no matter how much the claimed they were different, than what any other team would have and just took their guys in the AHL’s word for it. They’ll probably show a fair amount of contrition today, whoever decides to get in front of the cameras and mics. “We didn’t know,” “We should have looked into it further, “won’t happen again,” is probably the gist of what you’ll get today.

Throw it on top with everything else you’ve seen the Hawks do this decade (Ross, Kane, Reiff, Shaw, etc) and you can see what they’ll do to control any narrative from here. It also doesn’t extend them much benefit of the doubt if any.

As for Peters, he should be done in hockey forever, and if anything starts coming out in Carolina he certainly will be toast. It’s becoming less and less of a mystery how the Canes went from consistently disappointing to conference finalists as soon as he was gone, and you can see the cycle in reverse for the Flames. Already another former Hogs player is coming to back up Aliu and the story of Peters being a real piece of shit.

There’s no doubt Peters isn’t the only one of these in NHL, AHL, NCAA, or CHL ranks and probably in youth hockey too. Some will say it’s just being a tough coach, but that’s horseshit and you know it. There is no place for the likes of Peters and what Mike Keenan was back in the day, and we know better now. It’s not coaching, it’s posturing. It’s bullying, especially in a culture where any player who rises up against a coach is still considered the problem and a pariah. You know where hockey media almost always sides on these things, or at least used to. No one cares until the results turn sour. Frankly it’s abuse.

Hockey will do well to use this as a platform to start cleansing itself of this kind of dickheadedness. If I know the NHL and hockey, it will use it as an opportunity to stick its head in the sand.

Hockey

Did you forget that the Flames finished with the best record in the West last year? You probably did, because if you cut a loud fart and winced you missed their playoff appearance. They were done in five games against the Avs, as they watched Nathan MacKinnon do a full Cirque de Fuck You and were helpless to stop him. They even got a good playoff performance from Mike Smith, which didn’t matter because Mac K was taking 40 shots per game just by himself. Will it get better this season? Let’s find out…

2018-2019

50-25-7  107 points (1st in Pacific, lost in 1st round)

3.52 GF/G (3rd)  2.72 GA/G (9th)  +66 GD

53.9 CF% (5th)  53.2 xGF% (7th)

19,3 PP% (18th)  79.7 PK% (21st)

Goalies: After a season where the fans were clamoring for “Big Save” Dave Rittich to take over for Mike Smith, he eventually did and wasn’t really all that impressive. That left the door open for Smith to take the playoff starts, which went well for him but not the team. This time around, the Flames will give the job to Rittich full-time and hope his career .909 in 66 career games are just a starting point and not an indication of what he is. At 27, one wonders how much room there is for growth, and if this is his prime, it might not be enough to take Blasty through multiple rounds in the spring. Given the way Bill Peters teams play though, it can probably get them through the regular season.

The interesting card here is Cam Talbot, who will start as the backup. Talbot simply died of exhaustion in Edmonton, getting 73 and 67 starts in successive seasons before coughing out most of his organs the past two seasons. But it was only two seasons ago that Talbot was putting up .919s and .924s with the Oilers, and possibly with spot starts at the beginning of the season he can rediscover some type of that form. He could be just cooked, but he’s worth the risk as a backup and safety net.

If neither work out, the Flames will definitely be in the market for a goalie at the trade deadline, or pray to God that Tyler Parsons lights up the AHL and can be rushed up to Alberta. But that would be the height of desperation, and even their ability to get anyone at the deadline is going to be complicated with their cap situation.

Defense: This seemed like the strength of the Flames all season…and then MacKinnon burst through the walls and declared he was here to fuck shit up before flipping over the whole buffet and draining the keg himself. And now the Flames appear to just be running it back.

They have to do that, because the plan was to introduce Juuso Valimaki into the lineup, but his knee when blooey while training in Finland in August and now the Flames are fucked without the customary enjoyment. The only hope for change is continued growth from Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, which they actually should get. If one or both can start to take on second pairing responsibility, the Flames should be ok.

Maybe. Because even though Mark Giordano put up a Norris campaign, he was nowhere near the Avs top line in that first round immolation. It looked exactly like when Joakim Noah won Defensive Player Of The Year with the Bulls and then spent the playoffs getting his neck stepped on by Nene (now let’s all picture MacKinnon with Nene’s dreads). Gio is 35 now and if the spring was some kind of signal of a tumbledown the hill, the Flames could be in serious trouble. And it can happen fast. Ask Duncan Keith. Gio has already proven he’s dragged around TJ Brodie to any kind of competence, and if he can’t do that anymore then this unit could be in serious trouble.

Forwards: The big question is when, and possibly if, Matthew Tkachuk is going to rejoin the fray, as he’s still unsigned. More and more RFAs seem to be coming into the fold, but it’s now crunch time to get him in before the season.

Without him, this outfit is even more top-heavy than it already was. There’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan at the top, and Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on that unique checking/scoring line, but that’s about it. Elias Lindholm can join either, and put up 78 points at 23. They’ll need Dillon Dube to show a lot more than he did in his first toe-dipping at the top level. We’re talking about a team that took Milan Lucic on, so you know there are major holes in the bottom six. Which only get larger if someone has to rise up to replace Tkachuk. And if he’s anything like his dad–and he’s everything like his dad–he’s going to go into the tank as soon as the ink is dry on the new paper (or more accurately, demand his bathtub of chicken wings in the dressing room).

They’re short up top, but in Gaudreau and Monahan and a hopefully not-blob-like Tkachuk can mostly outscore it.

Prediction: Lucky for the Flames, the division still blows. San Jose and Vegas will be good, but they can harvest on Vancouver, EdMo, LA, Anaheim, and Arizona enough to comfortably remain in the top three. You could squint and see where if Giordano is stumbling through a quick decline, and Rittich isn’t up for it, and Tkachuk never matches last year, it could be a disaster. All of that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on likely. 107 points again seems a bit beyond them, but a comfortable 98-100 is probably still on the table, given that Peters always has his teams getting more chances than they give up. And in Calgary, unlike his Carolina days, he has the horses to finish them. But this team needs or needed one more half-step to truly become a power. Maybe it was Valimaki. Maybe it’s another goalie. Maybe it’s a player from nowhere. It doesn’t feel like they got it.

 

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Everything Else

How do you say goodbye to something you barely knew was there?

Sure, Calgary was the West’s #1 seed, and you probably treat that revelation with an, ‘Oh…riiiight,” response. You knew it, somewhere in the back of your mind, and then forgot it, much like whether or not there was cream cheese in the fridge. You’re just as likely to buy more and then come home to realize you have even more cream cheese you’re probably not ever going to get to. And that’s the Flames. They’re in the fridge, but you always forget, and they’re just in the door until they go green.

Honestly, Calgary is the Canadian team that makes up the numbers. They’re not hilariously run and bad like the Senators or Canucks or Oilers. Their fans don’t make the spectacle of themselves that Toronto’s or Winnipeg’s do. They’re not constantly crying for attention and think they invented the sport like Montreal. They’re just there, kicking the horseshit around their town and not really bothered. Oh sure, they’ll have an arena debate every few months just to remind everyone they’re still alive and maybe act like a big boy. But that’s about it.

Oh, how they tried to make their goalie failures everyone’s problem. But they didn’t do it as well as San Jose, and everyone was like, “No, we already have a contender with no goalie in the fridge, thanks.” They tried to claim that Matthew Tkachuk’s upcoming restricted free agency was a real problem, but the Leafs had that market cornered. And they tried to tell you how good Sean Monahan was…until he died right before the first round. Sky point. So they’re left to try and scream about how Mikael Backlund is the most underrated player in the league, and you look at people spending time talking about Mikael Backlund and you can’t help but wonder who hurt them in life.

There was the Mark Giordano Lifetime Appreciation Tour, and his fellow Norris finalists all might be done in the first round. It’s a cursed award. They retired Jarome Iginla’s number. It was an emotional night for those in Calgary to praise their team’s greatest ever player and an emotional night for everyone outside of Calgary how such a gift of a player could toil in a city that was such an afterthought for so long. Connor McDavid watched the ceremony and wept, knowing there was no way his career would go any differently. And he probably won’t even get a couple gold medals to make it better. Enjoy that trade to Carolina when you’re 35, Run CMD. But that’s not why you called.

The Flames were actually entertaining for a while. They spent the first part of the year just not playing defense, and then wondering why Mike Smith couldn’t bail them out. Recurring theme with Bill Peters teams. Then they seemed to figure it out with either Big Save Dave or Smith, except the former went back to being a goalie you’d never heard of and Mike Smith was Mike Smith.

Then Peters, in his first playoff series as coach, showed up with a plan that consisted of, “Uh, do some shit?” It didn’t contain any notes on how to contain Nathan MacKinnon, who proceeded to mirror Nene when he made Joakim Noah’s Defensive Player Of The Year Award look like the dumbest possible decision in NBA history. Nene! You go ahead and accept that Norris there, Gio, though some one is going to have to hold it for you while you’re in the burn unit. Also, Nate went that way.

Of course, the most interesting thing about the Flames was that after all the kvetching about Smith or from Smith, he was clearly the Flames best player in the 1st round. Perhaps they were just too surprised and kept letting the Avs through to barrage Smith to make sure what they were seeing was real. “No, this can’t be right, not after the last six months. Here, J.T., why don’t you go on through and try again and we’ll sort this out.”

Peters answer for all this was…well, we’re still waiting for an answer. Always has to be encouraging for a team and organization when your coach throws his hands in the air right after his team is eliminated when asked what happened. It’s not like his job to know or anything. This is exclusive to hockey coaches. Imagine an NBA coach trying this. Steven A. Smith would turn puce. But hey, Bill is a good Canadian boy so it can’t be his fault he doesn’t know. Hockey’s weird!

What happened was his defense is slow, and while his top six is quick, it’s not MacKinnon quick. And Monahan died. Other than that, everything is fine.

And this is the team they’ll basically have going forward, partially thanks to James Neal having four years left on his deal. Stationary shooters age so well in a speeding-up league, it’s a wonder this didn’t work. Tkachuk will gobble up most of the space, and if he’s anything like his old man will spend the rest of the time gobbling up whatever is on the table in front of him. The Dreaded Laramie is going to become The Bloated Laramie.

So toodles, Flames. You were here, I guess. No one’s sure why. And you still will be in the seasons to come. And no one will know why then, either. It’s the role you play. Sadly, you’re basically the Oilers or Islanders but only a quarter of the faded glory. Nice threads, though. You’ll always have the Oilers to laugh at, and the Canucks, in your weird little Western Canada cabal. It’s probably going to suck when Seattle comes in and is immediately better than all of you. Probably should have done something anyone can remember. Maybe you can get Daymon Langkow to punch Iggy on his lawn again.

Everything Else

Mike Pfeil is some nutjob we were pointed to a while ago. He’s got scary views. And face. But we love him, we think. Anyway, he knows his Flames hockey. Which doesn’t say much for him. 

First place and rolling. Is the Flames success merely down to finally, finally switching to Big Save Dave? 

It’s a combination of a lot of things, but the surge of legitimately good goaltending performances boils down to Big Save Dave (David Rittich). It’s hard to believe the Flames’ confidence in Mike Smith continued, but a lot of it comes down to the kids (and even Rittich) being perceived as not ready or unable to carry the workload.
And for the time being, Rittich has proven them wrong; giving the Flames goaltending we haven’t really seen in awhile. We saw glimpses of acceptable or above-average performance at times from Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, and even Mike Smith but this is different.
Beyond Rittich the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and new-Flame Elias Lindholm have been fantastic. A lot of fans were hoping to see Lindholm’s offensive game grow if he spent time with the two and it has blossomed nicely.
Shit-heel extraordinaire Matthew Tkachuk has taken a huge step forward (again, just like each year) and Mikael Backlund remains a constant in dictating pace of play. The revolving door on the right-wing of Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett, Austin Czarnik, or even James Neal has been hit and miss.
Depth in the bottom six is great and we haven’t even discussed the blue line. Dougie Hamilton’s departure is huge, but everyone has stepped up. Mark Giordano remains timeless and in pursuit of a Norris Trophy already. Travis Hamonic has returned to form after last season’s doldrums. TJ Brodie has had his moments, but looks better-ish. The rookies: Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, and now Oliver Kylington all look pretty solid too.
It’s just a lot of good happening for once. I could go on and on about the legitimately good things.
How has Mark Giordano not won a Norris? Is this the year he gets something of a lifetime achievement award? Or Flames fans do what the Kings fans do and just wet themselves until he wins?
Injuries at weird inopportune times and really deep classes of talent. He should have been a finalist in 2013-14 . He probably should have been a finalist and won in 2014-15. He just does so many things well despite just turning 35.
He should be a finalist if he keeps it up at this pace. The thing is, the league has some of the best talent on the blue line in ages. This is a golden age we’re living through and most teams have a guy of exceptional caliber. The problem is this league has weird voting habits and typically pick guys who “deserve” it rather than have earned it.
If he wins, it’ll be evidence that a lot of folks didn’t need, but also needed to prove he has been one of this era’s best.
 Noah Hanifin had a rough start in Calgary. Has that straightened out? 
Yes and no. He looks a step behind the play at time and still makes boneheaded decisions with the puck. You ask a lot of fans and they’ll say he’s better than Hamilton was; I remain firmly in the “prove it then” camp because he hasn’t been as impressive as one would imagine.
I like his play at 4v5, predominately on entry suppression and breaking up breakouts that try to enter the zone quite a bit. It’s a very low key part of his game that shows how well he can manage gap control and time & space with plays occurring.
But to flip that, he’ll throw a puck into a location that is immediately at risk of screwing the Flames over. It’s a weird hot and cold experience with him that hopefully comes down to new town, new team, just some minor anxieties.
So now that he’s got goaltending is it that Bill Peters might not be a moron? 
It remains to be seen, but I like the results and the emphasis on the top-nine getting TOI. [Glen] Gulutzan rode four lines regularly; while Peters doesn’t and it’s a welcome change. He needs to tighten up play resulting in high-danger chances though. It’s a huge issue that hopefully gets worked out.
I think he’s a step above Gulutzan, but anything can happen in this league. I’m sure in a year I’ll be calling for his head for some reason.

 

Game #28 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Any of you who have been around these parts for any length of time know that we rate coaches and GMs on a binary scale of Moron/Not A Moron. That’s kind of how backward the NHL is, that we can’t decipher anything more than that.

We’ve always categorized Bill Peters as Not A Moron. His Carolina teams always had some of the best possession numbers in the league for years. And they did it without really any top-line talent, though with one of the best blue lines in the league. That’s really all we had to go on, that and whether the teams actually won or not. Though that’s not always a clean indicator, because as we well know there are plenty of morons who end up with good teams (is that you peaking out from the back, Randy Carlyle?) Hell, Darryl Sutter ended up with two Cups and mere months later his players wanted to knife him in the back and leave him out in the loading dock.

And yet the Hurricanes never really came close to a playoff spot. And the reason they never did is their goalies always sucked. Like hardcore. Last year, they had the second-worst SV% at even-strength. Same story the year before. It was much better the year before that, as they were third-worst. And on it goes.

And it spanned numerous goalies. It was Cam Ward and Scott Darling last year. The previous season Eddie Lack joined in on the fun of turning into a cartoon elephant in net (which you’d think would be quite effective, except for the cartoon part). Two years before that it was Anton Khudobin who kept acting like he misplaced his wallet in the crease. All of Khudobin, Lack, and Darling came to Carolina with a solid rep as backups from previous organizations. Perhaps the GM Ron Francis missed on all of them. Perhaps Peters had no other options. But how many goalies does he get?

It hasn’t started out much better in Calgary. Mike Smith is continually facing the wrong way or waving at butterflies that don’t exist in net so far this year. David Rittich has looked good, but he only has four starts on the year, and yet Peters keeps sending Smith out there. He claims it’s the defense that’s letting Smith down, and yet .871 SV% is an .871 SV%.

Maybe Smith is just too old. Maybe there are too many miles. But this is the fifth goalie in the past five years that ends up staring at the lights at the end of most games. The fault lies not in our stars…

So there must be something in the system, right? Something we can trace? Ah ha. We may be on to something there.

Though Calgary has some great Corsi-percentages, they’re 26th in expected goals-against. Carolina last year was ninth in the latter category, but 22nd in the season before that. In ’15-’16 they were 26th. We now have a foothold.

It’s the problem the Hawks have. They might gather more attempts. But the chances they give up are far better than the ones they get. And that’s because the defense is so active, required to help create offense, that the goalies are left to fend for themselves. You can see where the Hawks need it, given how short they are at forward. But are the Flames? They have one of the best top-sixes around. Sure, the bottom-six could use some help, but it’s not an abyss. Why is the defense running all over the place?

Maybe Rittich can save them. Maybe he’ll be the one that stands up against the mudslide that’s seemingly always headed toward Peters’s team’s net. If he’s not, we’ll almost certainly have an answer on what the problem is.

 

Game #15 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Some creatures fascinate science in how they came into being. And then some are viewed with the feeling, “Some questions are best left unanswered.” That’s the category @BookOfLoob falls into. Don’t ask, just let be.

What has new coach Bill Peters changed from Glengarry Glen Gulutzan last year? And why should it work better than it did in Carolina?
Outside of the team being able to do anything on the power play, effective players being frequently scratched for reasons like “shrug” and “felt like it”, goaltending ruining any chance of anyone ever dying happy, and being constantly reminded by his presence in the lineup that Garnet Hathaway is in fact a real person, everything is different.
It was nice to see Peters shed the mantra of “Old Ass Idiot Hockey Man” by actually making expensive, shitty Michael Stone ride the pine in favor of both Jusso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson (who is perfect), and the team is generating so much sustained pressure offensively that Mike Smith really has to try hard to lose the game for them.
Which he is absolutely doing.
How’s that Dougie Hamilton trade working out?
You invited me to do this just to ask me that question knowing it would make me cry. Rest assured I will get you for this. (We feel it’s important that Floob express his emotions. -ED)
The short answer so far is “Mixed Results.”
Noah Hanifin, it turns out, is not that good, especially relative to what I believe is a Top-10 defenseman in the NHL in Dougie, but at least he’s not, and this is off the top of my head, Brent Seabrook. Everyone’s kinda hoping he can turn this around soon, and seeing as he’s 21 and it’s still early, he probably can, but underwhelming has been a word I’ve had pop into my head a lot whenever he’s on the ice thus far.
I will not make a museum joke. Much like most Calgary Flames, I’ve never been in one so I wouldn’t know where to start. (What about Amsterdam? -ED)
Elias Lindholm, however, I will walk with that guy forever.
Why does Peters hate Michael Frolik?
I don’t know, but give me two minutes with him and I’ll make him see the light.
There’s a weird thing going on with both Frolik and Austin Czarnik. Both are quality players. Both players have been scratched or benched frequently by Bill Peters. Both have last names that end with “ik”. But when either of them are in the lineup and getting a regular shift, they are on the ice with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, who are heavily relied upon to play the toughest minutes every game, and both Frolik and Czarnik thrive on the 3M or MMA line, whichever it happens to be that game.
Essentially Peters trusts them entirely, or not at all. I don’t really care, he’s not Bob Hartley, so they aren’t benched in favor of Kevin Westgarth and Brian McGrattan at the same time
James Neal, on pace for 12 goals.  So that’s going well. 
Do you guys want James Neal? You still owe us for Brandon Bollig.
Would the Flames be a playoff team if David Rittich took over the starting goalie role?
The only goalie I trust less than Mike Smith is Cam Ward, and he died 16 years ago, so I never have to worry about seeing him in a Flames jersey. I made a joke earlier this season about everyone being afraid of Mike Smith’s save percentage, because .789
Everyone had a good laugh at that because there’s no way an NHL goaltender in this day and age would ever be that bad. Then he let in four goals on like three shots the other night against Colorado and for a good chunk of the game it was literally .789. Life is hell.
They say if you have a good team, you only need league average goaltending to make any noise. David Rittich is my hero and I am building him a house on top of Mike Smith’s car, but he hasn’t played enough for us to know if he’s a league average goalie yet.
But I think this team looks good enough to win a bunch of games if the goaltending is only kinda bad, so even if that’s the bar Rittich needs to clear, I’m willing to retire his number right now. Best goalie since Chris Osgood.

 

Game #15 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

One of the things the NHL probably wasn’t missing that other sports have is a self-involved, I’m-gonna-do-everything shitbag owner. Well, the Hurricanes have one now, and last night we saw the first moves in what will assuredly torpedo this team for the foreseeable future. And Tom Dundon was a shitheel before he ever step foot in the PNC Arena as well.

You may have missed it, because you probably don’t care about the inner workings of the Canes. And fair play to you. Dundon kicked GM Ron Francis upstairs, and now he’s going to sink his hands into the day-to-day hockey operations, no matter who he hires to replace Francis in the GM chair. You can be sure Bill Peters is going to eat it when the season ends, unless he somehow miracles a playoff appearance and might even have to make some noise when and if they get there.

Francis certainly made his mistakes. He’s invested too heavily in Cam Ward for too many years. He got burned by investing in career backups at the time Eddie Lack and Scott Darling, who simply weren’t up to the challenge of being starters (or in Darling’s case, just not yet). Francis has failed to find the Canes a #1 center. But he also put together this fabulous blue line they have, as well as draft nifty forwards like Skinner, Rask, Aho, Lindholm, and stealing Our Special Boy from the Hawks. He’s not a complete idiot.

And really, when has an owner making himself the GM ever worked? Jones hasn’t won a Super Bowl since he started constructing his own rosters. The one he got without Jimmy Johnson was still one with Johnson’s roster. Mark Cuban, shockingly a close friend of Dundon, didn’t get a title until he stepped back from personnel decisions. It’s hard to think of another. And it’s not like the Canes are so stable they can deal with an owner lighting the entire team on fire.

Beyond that, Dundon got his money by simply ripping off the most vulnerable in our society. He started out financing used cars to those who were likely not up for the loans, and cashing in on their late fees and foreclosures as they feared losing their jobs over losing their cars as they could no longer get to said jobs. All you need to know is right here.

Look, most sports owners get their money or protect it in sadistic ways. Just the nature of the thing. But Dundon seems the extreme in his wealth acquiring, and also thinks he’s a goddamn genius for doing so. And Canes fans are going to pay for it.

 

Game #68 Preview

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built