Hockey

Canadian Media’s Fascination With Crowd Pictures – If you’re on Twitter or Insta, next time a Canadian team plays in Sunrise check out how long it takes before their beat writer posts a picture of the arena not full. It’s like a duty or a reflex for them. Yes, the Panthers have attendance problems. They’ve also not won a playoff series in over 20 years, have only been to them twice in the interim, play in the middle of nowhere, and Miami is just a slightly more entertaining place to be with more to offer than fucking Ottawa. We get it. You don’t think South Florida deserves a team. Well, they’ve got one, and they don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. A move back to downtown Miami would probably solve a lot of their problems, but we’ll see if that’s on the cards. What’s the attendance in Ottawa like these days? What’s it going to be when Winnipeg bottoms out? We’ll hang up and listen for our answer.

Brian Boyle – This tall doofus will never suffer for work because people think being tall and winning faceoffs are the last keys to victory for a team. Remember when he was going to be the final piece for the Preds last year? Or the windburn he got from the Hawks in ’15? We bet Quenneville loves him, though.

Mike Kitchen – Boy, this guy knows where his bread is buttered, huh? Clearly a moron who can only get work as Q’s cabana boy. Wonder how long it’ll take the players in Florida to start requesting his firing in postseason exit interviews. Took him two years here, though he was able to hang on to a job for five more years because of Q.

Everything Else

The year was 2012. The Predators had finally won their first playoff series the year before, and in 2012 were looking to make some serious noise for once. They were in a four-way battle for the Central Division with the Red Wings, Blues, and Hawks. They were poised as anyone to make some noise, and as it played out they really had a chance when they got a sweetheart second-round matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes, after they easily dispatched the Red Wings.

And part of the reason they coughed up their honey bunches of oats all over themselves in the second round, and part of the reason they did that was David Poile’s idea to boost that team was to give up a FIRST ROUND PICK for Paul Gaustad. Heavy-breathing hockey journalists couldn’t wait to proclaim what a genius move this was, because Gaustad would do VERY IMPORTANT HOCKEY THINGS like win draws and be big and smell bad.

Gaustad provided all of four assists in 14 games, and another two points in the playoffs, and spent the rest of the time getting utterly clocked in possession. Turns out winning draws and being “a big body” doesn’t do as much as, get this, scoring.

Fast forward to this year. The Preds are in their third year of being Cup contenders, and the ticks from the clock are getting louder. They appear to only have one line, and could really use some secondary scoring. What did Poile do? Gave up a SECOND ROUND PICK for Brian Fucking Boyle.

Brian Boyle sucks. He’s sucked for years. He’s somehow made a name for himself by winning faceoffs and being a big, dumb goofus. He’s ultra-slow in a league that’s getting ultra-fast. He’s a nice story in being a cancer-survivor, but that doesn’t make him a must have. It’s Gaustad all over again.

To boot, Poile paid less for Wayne Simmonds, who’s less of a goofus than Boyle but even dumber, and quite possibly even slower. He’s provided exactly one goal since coming over, and shows no sign of being able to keep up when the Preds come up against the Jets or Avalanche or Flames or Sharks or Knights. David Poile gave up two draft picks and at least a useful bottom-sixer in Ryan Hartman for two-thirds of a fourth line.

But they’ll keep throwing bouquets at Poile, because hockey writers don’t want to jeopardize their free dinner at Jack’s or whatever.

Poile also sought to bolster his top-six with the pick-up for Mikael Granlund for the never-impressive Kevin Fiala. And that looked a good trade when it happened. Granlund has contributed one goal since showing up. Maybe Poile can’t help that, but here you are.

The question for Poile, or at least it should be, is how much longer does he get? In his tenure, the Predators have seen one conference final and beyond, and that seems to be enough for everyone. And while this team looks poised to take a few more cracks at it, this might be their best chance. The Jets can’t play defense. The Flames and Sharks don’t have goalies, and the Knights might not have the magic again. It’s all there for them.

Because next year, it won’t be as clear. If the Flames ever get a goalie, they’ll be West favorites. The Avalanche look set to be a real beast with the addition of Cale Makar and Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko next season. The Jets might sort out their defense.

And the Preds don’t have a lot of wiggle room to improve. They’ll have about $7M in space in the summer, and may require another top-six forward. That will eat up just about all of it. There won’t be a huge margin for error.

But he’s got a lifetime subscription there. He seemingly can’t be moved. Ask yourself what other GM gets 20 years on the job with only one Final appearance to show for it?

 

 

Game #82 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

While it’s hard to do, the following is going to do its best to ignore the off-ice story of Brian Boyle this year. Which isn’t fair, because it is a good story for what everyone agrees is a pretty good guy. Boyle was diagnosed with leukemia before the season, and is playing through the treatments, essentially. We’ll put that to the side.

Boyle signed as a free agent with the Devils this summer, after stops in LA, New York, Tampa, and a rental for the Maple Leafs last year. When you think of a checking center, or a center who coaches love because they simply win draws, kill penalties, and play reasonable defense, Brian Boyle is probably near the top of the list.

One of the reasons that hockey analytics has failed to catch on in the mainstream, or at least embraced by teams wholly (and they haven’t) is that there really is no way to evaluate a player like Boyle. Yes, he wins a lot of draws and you can measure that, but we also know that winning a lot of faceoffs doesn’t really connect to winning, or even being a good possession team. Individual draws can be important in a game, and it’s certainly a plus to have Boyle around for those, but overall they’re massively overrated. But given the nature of hockey coaches, try and tell them that a defensive zone draw with a one-goal lead and 80 seconds to go isn’t important. That’s where Boyle’s value is seen.

Boyle’s metrics have always been subpar. He’s only had a Corsi-percentage above the team rate once in the past six year. Same as his expected goals, and some are really below the surface of whatever team he was on. But is that fair to him? Boyle has never gotten good zone starts, and some years saw less than 30% of his shifts start in the offensive zone. Given that he’s pretty much a clydesdale when it comes to mobility, it’s asking a lot for him to turn the ice over. It’s doubly hard when he’s usually facing the toughest competition, as he’s tended to take on first and second lines with the Rangers, Lightning, and now the Devils. There are only a very few players who can do all that, and it’s basically Marcus Kruger.

So even winning all those draws, as he does, doesn’t really ever get Boyle out of his own zone that much. Then again, imagine what these numbers would look like if he didn’t win a lot of draws.

We can try and get to the bottom of it by seeing what Boyle’s teams surrender when he’s on the ice, as he’s always been placed to play defense. The past three years has seen Boyle’s Corsi-against per 60 minutes at 41 consistently, which is very good. For frame of  reference your leader in that category this year is Adam Lowry at 38.09, and a mark of 41 would be top ten in the league. Sadly for the Devils, Boyle’s mark this year is 52.8, though obviously some of that is the possession problems overall for the Devils, including a creaking defense.

Boyle’s expected goals-against per 60 over the years has been very good as well, in the 15.-1.7 range the past three years before this one. That mark would be top ten in the league again, except this year Boyle’s at 2.46. Again, some of that is the Devils as a whole, but some of it is that Boyle is A. 33 and B. having to play himself back into shape.

Not all of this matters when you’re shooting 22% as Boyle is at the moment, and he is getting into more offensive areas as the Devils ask more of him than previous teams and coaches have. But we can safely say that while Boyle was a pretty handy 3rd or 4th center, age and health have caught up to him. And he probably can’t outshoot those problems for too much longer.

Game #35 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We still don’t know where @HellBlazerVice came from. And we don’t want to know. Luckily he was once again able to string some sentences together about the Devils for us. And now we run. 

Last time we did this we asked you just what the hell the Devils are doing at the top of the standings. Well, they’re still there, it’s still supposed to be a rebuilding year, so what the fuck?

Outside of their star players playing like stars, they’ve continued to get contributions from nearly everyone in the lineup. Brian Boyle has been absolutely scorching of late with 7 points in his last 3 games and is on pace to shatter his career highs despite missing the first 10 games of the season and playing himself back into game shape. For Boyle’s sake I hope it lasts because if there’s one person who deserves that kind of luck it’s him. Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen have managed to chip in some offense as well and Brian Gibbons has continued to be an effective player. Cory Schneider having a bounceback season also helps seeing as if they were going to be good again, having great goaltending would help seeing as they’re not a great puck possession team. It also helps that everyone in the metro is flawed in some way- the Rangers are pretty similar to the Devils (good goaltending, lots of skill, get badly outshot), the Pens, Isles and Canes can’t get a save when they need it, the Caps are top heavy and the Flyers insist on giving Andrew MacDonald significant minutes. The Jackets are probably the best team in the division but they’re one John Tortorella meltdown away from pissing the division away. The Devils haven’t as good as they were at the start of the season but they’re still atop the metro because everyone else can’t seem to string together some solid play or they’re digging themselves out of a hole.
How has Sami Vatanen looked so far in the swamp?
He hasn’t been their best defenseman but he’s been a workhorse who can play in all situations and they need that with Andy Greene slowly declining. The only complaint so far with Vatanen has been his lack of offensive production (1 assist through 10 games) but it’s excusable to some extent. He was playing himself back into game shape with Anaheim and got traded from an old, slow, physical team to a young, fast team built around skill so there will be some adjustment. It also doesn’t help that the Devils don’t have the same quality of defenseman as the Ducks- going from playing with Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler to a declining Greene and John Moore is like trading in your Ferrari for Ricky’s shitmobile. Adding Vatanen has been nice but there’s still a lot of work to be done on the roster so he’s really just another piece of the puzzle as they try and move away from ultra-safe defenders to guys who can move the puck and dictate the pace of the game.
 
Will Butcher was the college free agent everyone wanted to wave their dowry at over the summer. The Devils got him. Impressions?
 
Every time I watch Butcher I come away impressed with his puck skills. He always seems to make the right decisions with the puck as opposed to trying to force things or wait too long and get in trouble. His defense isn’t great, but it has more to do with a lack of experience as opposed to being bad defensively. His production has dipped a bit since his hot start but that has had more to do with the Devils’ sticks cooling off than him struggling individually. The Devils haven’t really had a defenseman like Butcher since Brian Rafalski- which is honestly less of a compliment and more of a statement of how bad the Devils organization were at assessing defensemen in the twilight of Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. That being said, John Hynes has put a lot of effort into trying to keep Butcher away from defensive minutes, which has been good in that he’s been able to focus on offense as opposed to worrying about his defense. It has come at a cost seeing as Butcher doesn’t play a lot (averages around 16 and a half minutes) and they could use him more often considering how ineffective Moore is and how Greene brings minimal offense.
Is Pavel Zacha ever going to be a thing? Yes we know, only 20…
 
The toughest part about assessing Zacha is no matter what, there’s always going to be angst about passing on Barzal, Werenski and Provorov to take him. I think the toughest part about him is that he’s an incredibly frustrating player because he doesn’t look like he’s doing enough at times. Most of the good things he does aren’t things that show up on the scoresheet- gaining the zone, setting up passes and playing defense. He’s a very good skater so he can get by half assing it, which was a problem of his in juniors and something that Hynes hasn’t been too fond of (which lead to several healthy scratches). He could also be a bit more selfish at times too, considering he tends to be more of a pass first player as opposed to a shooter. The good news is that he seems to have turned a corner as of late and has looked much better in general, especially considering he’s been dragging around the lifeless corpse of Drew Stafford for the past couple of weeks. I’d have to imagine that if Travis Zajac continues to be a non-factor on offense he should get another shot at the top 6. If he does become a good player, his development path will be much closer to someone like Josh Bailey or Sean Couturier where they were solid players before having a huge breakout season. Which might be fine considering that the Devils aren’t built to win now, but will be painful as long as guys like Barzal and Werenski continue to put their teams on their backs and rack up individual accolades.
Miles Wood… that’s totally a name he took from a porn star, right? Or is he a porn star on off days?
 
His dad is former NHLer Randy Wood, who also happens to have a name that sounds like it’s been taken from a porn star. According to Eliteprospects, his grandpa was named R. Norman Wood, which kinda sounds like a porn star name from the 60s. He has a brother named Tyler Wood who I can only assume he changed his name from “Richard” because he didn’t want to be known as Dick Wood. It’s entirely possible that his entire family is full of people who have taken their names from porn stars… or they’re a family full of part time porn stars.
Everything Else

Sometimes you just have to face reality. And while I would like to sit here and stamp my feet and throw my toys out of the crib, screaming to everyone how important Kruger has been for six years, that’s not going to do anyone any good. Though it might feel good. As previously discussed, there really isn’t anyone in-house who can pick up the slack. The Hawks will try and claim it’s Working Class Kero. The only problem with him is that he’s bad. They may think Vinnie Hinostroza could do some of it, and yet I remain unconvinced he’s anything other than a really fast skater with decent finish for the 8-12 chances he’ll get per year (which is better than Kruger in one category, I suppose).

This of course won’t be able to see who the Hawks could bring in via trade if they do flog someone. We’ve generally thought the Hawks are trading for d-men anyway if they can fit a new one in under the cap. So who’s out there for dirt cheap on the open market?

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, CBC, CITY, WGN-AM 720
Jeff Veillette and Steve Glynn Are Terrifying: Pension Plan

Sure, the Hawks have improbably vaulted themselves into basically a game and a half lead in the central as they close out their eastern Canadian swing tonight in the Dark Center Of The Universe that is Toronto, but they haven’t done it the right way. They take on too many shots, even though that’s a result of having leads, they capitalize on power plays, and they do so while paying players more than their entry level contract. All of these things are instantly disqualifiers for actual success, which is truly indicated by how much cap space a team has at the end of the year, thrown into a pivot chart against their possession stats and 5v5 goal differential, along with some other stupid fucking stats Steve Burtch made up in a craven, desperate, and pathetic attempt to get hired. And naturally, the Leafs are succeeding by all of those measures, and all the good stuff is because of Kyle Dubas (who shielded sex criminal players on the junior team he was GM for), and all the bad stuff is because of Lou Lamoriello. This is how Maple Leafs hockey works.