Hockey

It seems fitting that the Hawks would get a double dose of the Avalanche this week after the city received it’s first real snowfall of the year and season on essentially back to back days. And after for the most part not really having any kind of answer for the solidly middle ground Minnesota Wild for over the weekend, this week certainly doesn’t bode well. There hasn’t really been a particularly good time for the Hawks to face the Avs over the past few seasons, but right now seems particularly bad given how things have been going in Denver for a while now.

1/24 – at Colorado

Game Time – 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
Frontier Psychiatrist – Mile High Hockey

When last the Hawks saw the Avs, Cale Makar was putting Kirby Dach in a covid-infested blender before burying an OT winner on his backhand from an angle few would even attempt let alone roof and water bottle. Since then the Avs have gone 9-0-1, and are 17-2-2 since the beginning of December. This run has caused them to ascend to their rightful place atop the Central and the Western Conference, and has them only two points behind Tampa and the Cats for the best record in the league, and they have games in hand on both. They’re tops in the league in scoring at 4.15 goals per game, and second in goal differential, only one behind Florida with the aforementioned games in hand. They have five players averaging over a point a game, including the prohibitive favorite for Norris in Makar. And they’ve been doing it all with a 53 share, so this isn’t exactly a fluke- nor was it ever constructed any other way. Darcy Keumper has been fine with a .913, which is more than serviceable with an offense like this. Quite simply, keeping a game competitive and not getting embarrassed right now is really all that can be asked of this Hawks team, and even that feels like kind of a reach.

1/26 – at Detroit

Game Time – 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio – TNT, WGN-AM 720
Pointes High Class of ’87 ReunionWinging It

Right now, delusional Red Wings weirdos will tell anyone who will listen that this team is ahead of schedule and they’re better than they have any right to be and they’re FUN and they’re just outside of a wild card spot. And while some of that is partially true – Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have been the first real Wings prospects to actually jump to the show and make an impact since now-captain Dylan Larkin SEVEN years ago, the reality of the situation is that while yes, there is no one between them and the last wild card spot, there are 8 points between them and the Bruins, and 11 between the next closest team in the Leafs, with each of them having four games in hand. They also have a goal differential of -26 with Alex Nedjelkovic having a wholly respectable .926 at evens in 30 appearances. So while there are some bright spots here, there is nowhere near enough offense on this roster as presently constituted. That being said, the offense here is still getting more than the Hawks are currently (2.67 goals per game to 2.34) while having a particularly dire power play at 14.8% where only the Coyotes and Habs are worse. This game will be on TNT for obvious television market reasons, but certainly not for the quality of play. Neither of these two teams are even wacky-bad anymore, it’s just boring low event hockey from both sides as that’s the only way either can hang on for dear life against better competition. But who knows, maybe these two sub-mediocre teams may produce an entertaining spectacle on the national broadcast out of being so evenly matched. Don’t count on it however.

1/28 – vs Avalanche

Game Time – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Summit County Mountain Retreats – Mile High Hockey

Same as above but at Club 1901 this time. The Avs host Boston on Wednesday, which is the headliner late game on TNT after the Hawks/Wings opening act. And oh yeah, the Avs have won 15 straight at Pepsi Ball Bag Arena or whatever.

Hockey

Jumping back in after 2 weeks of the most recent covid layoff was always going look less than organized for basically any team, let alone one that has had as many issues (on the ice) as the Hawks have to this point in the season. Exacerbating things was having to jump back into the mix against three real(ish) teams, and not having their top two goalies available for first two of this stretch thanks to protocols. Things went about as could have been predicted.

1/1 – Preds 6, Hawks 1

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

With both Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen still in protocol to start 2022, Derek King turned his bespectacled gaze towards Collin Delia and Arvid Soderblom to try to get the Hawks through the first two games of the year, and Delia once again proved why he is not in the NHL with any consistency. In a move reminiscent of The Jeremy Prinze Jr. era, the Hawks allowed goals in the first minute of each of the three periods, including a nice 2-for-1 as the Preds also scored in the waning seconds of the first. Delia allowed two goals about 15 minutes of game time before he had made two saves, and gave way to 12 year old Arvid Soderblom in the second. The kid fared no better right off the bat, but he was put in an impossible position. The Hawks dominated territorially in this game, but even a dope like John Hynes is smart enough to recognize that this particular opponent has no scoring punch and is currently unable to stop a damn thing at the other end, so he allowed his troops to merely hang back in the neutral zone for basically the entire game.

1/2 – Flames 5, Hawks 1

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

A quick turn around saw the Hawks hosting the Flames on West Madison, who got a bonus off day themselves missing a date in Winnipeg on their way here. That resulted in Soderblom getting the crease once again, this time in his first NHL start. Overall the kid hung as tough as he could, and the Hawks themselves managed to keep the first period fairly low event for him with only six shots on net in the frame, with the elder of the Garbage Tkachuk Sons scoring in traffic shortly after DeBrincat gave the Hawks a brief lead. But the middle part of the 2nd period saw the Hawks rapidly surrender a ton of attemps on successive shifts, and then turned around and gave the Flames 3 quick power plays and that was about it. The score actually could have been worse than this, as Dillon Dube was stopped on a penalty shot in the middle of the third, but Soderblom tracked Dube nicely as he tried to cut across the slot and get the kid to open up and commit one way or another.

1/4 – Avs 3, Hawks 3 (Avs Win 3v3 Clown Show)

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

And now to the game that actually became interesting in spite of itself. Marc-Andre Fleury returned just in time to face one of the most potent offenses in the league, having come in to last night’s game putting up some comical numbers over the past month or so, give or take a plague stoppage. And that looked to be the case again last night as the Avs forced Fleury into acrobatics right from the start of things, and jumping out to a 2-0 lead while never really getting out of 2nd gear. But give credit to whatever message was delivered in the room by King and Crawford, because the Hawks pretty thoroughly outplayed the Avs in both the second and third periods, the second in particular where the Hawks nearly doubled the Avs in attempts.  There was most certainly an element of the Avs playing with their food a bit throughout much of the middle portion of this game, which long-time observers may remember the vibe of. But after DeBrincat’s second of the night to put the Hawks ahead 3-2, the Avalanche definitely woke up a bit and eventually broke through to force the game to OT. And then of course Cale Makar did what he did and everyone saw it. At a certain point it’s just impossible to be mad at something like that.

A couple of points here regarding the Avs game:

  • Whatever has been constituting the bottom pairing of late, whether it’s Gustafsson, Jones, Stillman or some combination thereof, has been verging on grotesque. Last night in particular, with Amy’s Youngest and The Garbage Stillman Son tasked with 3rd pairing duties, one shift saw them taking turns chasing below the offensive goal line. Ordinarily that’s offensive enough coming from a third pairing, but given the situation of a 1 goal game in the second period in January against possibly the best quick strike team in the league, it just screams stupidity on both of their parts. This is of course to say nothing of Jones skating across the ice to out by the blue line (not on his side) to chase a puck carrier, which left his partner alone for a down low 3-on-1 which resulted in Newhook scoring. How can Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin possibly be any worse than this, especially with how they were both touted less than a year ago. It speaks to their either being no plan or an organizational inability to even sort of develop a defenseman. Or both.
  • There was no bigger microcosm yet of the company line here of Kirby Dach being unworthy of the “Foundational Piece” label that the Organ-I-Zation has slapped on him for a couple years then in the waning minutes of the third and then on the game winning play from Makar. Dach was leading a (potential) 2 on 1 rush down the right wing when a streaking Nathan MacKinnon burst into the play from off screen and backchecked the puck off Dach’s stick and the play into nothing. And then of course he was the victim of Makar putting him in the blender and hitting the “liquify” button before roofing MAF in tight. And that’s just the thing, THAT’s what foundational pieces look like. That’s how the jump off the screen. And whether Dach’s “development” has been somewhat derailed by covid and injuries, 110 or so games is still enough to know it when you see it. There’s a number 3 overall pick at center on this very team who showed right away scoring a highlight reel goal in his first game on his first shot, and 110 games in was already doing literally everything for the team he was on. That’s the standard the team themselves have been holding Dach to, they’ve said as much in word and deed, going so far as to even give his brother the David Toews treatment and drafting the kid out of courtesy. And there’s just nothing there.

    Again, it’s likely he’ll have a solid NHL career and make a very decent living for himself for years. But as far as being what the Hawks have needed him to be in the rapidly approaching AFTERMATH, there’s been zero evidence that that’s what’s coming.

Hockey

Not every team has crossed the 41-game threshold yet, but it’s close enough for disco. For any newbies, I like to go through the major NHL awards and decide by my own parameters who should win but probably won’t because hockey is stupid and weird and values the wrong things. Anyway, let’s to it:

Hart Trophy – Nathan MacKinnon

You can give this to Connor McDavid, and much like the Mike Trout Corollary you’d never be wrong to do so, but MacK should be zeroing in on his first MVP (he finished second to Taylor Hall two years ago). The Avs have lost everyone else who matters for some length of time–LaxativeLog, Rantanen, Makar, and either of the goalies–and have still found themselves comfortably in 2nd in the Central and waiting for the Blues to cool off to chase them down. He’s only two points behind McDavid for the scoring title, and he hasn’t had his running buddies all year like McJesus has with Draisaitl.

Calder Trophy – Cale Makar

While Victor Olofsson has passed him in the rookie scoring race (whoever that is), that’s only because Makar was out injured. The Avs are simply a different team with him around, evidenced by their demolition of the Blues last night with him and deservedly losing to the Hawks at home without him. Quinn Hughes might make this interesting for a minute or two as well, but Makar is still well ahead of the field.

Vezina – Connor Hellebuyck

He won’t get it, because he’s down the list of top save-percentages or GAA among goalies. But considering he’s got no defense in front of him and he’s by far the biggest reason the Jets are still in an automatic playoff spot, he’s the pick here. Varlamov and Bishop play behind stout defenses, and Lehner is going to fall apart here soon enough. Kuemper is out longer-term so that ruins his chances. Hellebuyck has to perform small miracles every night after Josh Morrissey or Tucker Poolman cover themselves in their own vomit. Hellebuyck has the best difference between his SV% and his xSV%, and that’s enough for mer.

Norris Trophy – Dougie Hamilton

This is where things get interesting. Because everyone has their own theory on how to define the best “defenseman.” Some think it should be to whoever is playing the best defense. Others just find who scored the most points from the blue line and give it to him. Which makes the answer probably to split it, and give it to who’s been the best player who happens to be a d-man. And that’s Hamilton. He’s within, barely, enough points of John Carlson to not make that automatic, and his metrics are simply the best in the league (best CF% and second-best xGF%). Hamilton’s relative numbers blow Carlson’s out of the water as well.

If you’re looking for simply the Rod Langway award, which would go to the blue-liner playing the best defense, you can honestly make a serious case for Connor Murphy. No, I’m not kidding. His relative numbers in keeping attempts and chances down relative to how terrible his team is are second and third best in the league. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Selke Trophy – Zach Aston-Reese

This one always goes to whatever center people can remember wins a lot of faceoffs and scores a lot, so basically Patrice Bergeron. But we can do better. Aston-Reese has the lowest Corsi-against per 60, the lowest expected goals-against per 60, and he does that while only starting 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Seems pretty simple to me.

 

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 13-8-2*   Hawks 10-9-5

PUCK DROP(S): 3pm Friday, 8pm Saturday

TV: NBCSN Chicago for both

BUCKWHEATS: Mile High Hockey

*Wednesday’s game not included

The Hawks will try and help you shake off the tryptophan and dealing-with-family hangover this weekend with an old school home-and-home against the Avalanche. And with it, they may get a look at what might be the class of the division now, and certainly will be before too long. Seeing as how St. Louis is in Monday, the Hawks will definitely have some idea of just how far behind they are.

No team had more preseason buzz than the Avs. Nathan MacKinnon ascended to demigod status in last year’s playoffs, they finally got Mikko Rantanen signed, made a nifty trade with Toronto that brought them back a multi-faceted (though at times dunderheaded) Nazem Kadri, and most of all it is a full season of Cale Makar. And when the Avs have been fully healthy, it’s looked very boomstick. They started the season 8-1-1, scoring 40 goals in those 10 games.

But it’s been only 5-7-1 since, and a lot of that is injuries. Rantanen and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog have been out for a while now, though Dear Rat Boy could return this weekend. Depth pieces like Matt Calvert and Nikita Zadorov and Colin Wilson and others have missed time as well, thinning out what was a deeper team than before but not exactly deep either. Those are slowly returning, but they’ll have some ground to make up.

But the Avs can’t curse the gods for their fortunes totally, either. Their PDO is right behind the Hawks’, as they’ve gotten excellent work from their goalies at even-strength, with a .935 SV% overall, third in the league. But they’ve had real problems on the kill, where they have the fourth-worst save-percentage. And looking at their metrics while shorthanded, they’re only middle of the pack in the chances they give up while killing penalties, so their goalies just have to be better.

Clearly, the story with the Avs starts with Mac K and Makar. When they’re on the ice, and they’re on the ice together a lot, the Avs are nearly unplayable. It’s two of the two most dynamic forces in the league together, and yes Makar is already rocketing up to that status in just his rookie season. He’s going to walk with the Calder Trophy at this rate, averaging a point per game from the blue line and leading the rookie scoring race by seven points barely a quarter of the season in.

Still, the rest of the roster needs some tuning, and again when they get their full lineup this will help. Nazem Kadri has not been the possession and defensive monster he was in Toronto, mostly getting domed in possession. He’ll get help when Donskoi is allowed to slot down upon Rantanen’s return. They’re still waiting for a pop from Tyson Jost, and JT Compher hasn’t gotten to play the Hawks yet and pile up 17 goals. Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog’s return will definitely help with the depth scoring.

Another problem for the Avs is they’re just not a great possession team overall. While trading Barrie made sense given that he’s a year from free agency, it’s left Makar as basically the only true puck-mover from the back. It’s not Erik Johnson‘s game, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Samuel Girard‘s (THE BIG DOG IS ALWAYS RIGHT) game either, thought there’s room for growth there. They could probably use another one back there to really challenge, as right now Girard and Johnson are deployed merely as fire fighters.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge headache for the Hawks, who only managed one regulation win over the Avs last year and lost the two big games against them when the playoffs were actually something worth discussing. Still, this was one of the opponents the Hawks did play even in terms of shots and chances, just didn’t get the goaltending the Avs did from Grubauer or Varlamov. That shouldn’t be a problem this time around.

It’s not like you need a big dossier on how to get past the Avs. Contain the explosive device that is MacKinnon into no more than a controlled explosion, and you’re half the way there. On Friday, Colliton will be tempted to use Toews to do that, but it should be Kampf. If you can do that it’s not a great defensive team, you just have to get past their goalies, which was a challenge for the Hawks last year. But the power play scratched on Tuesday against the Stars, and the Avs have been pretty welcoming in that spot this year too. That would help.

Huge stretch here for the Hawks, as the next four are against some of the best the league has to offer. They can’t afford too many dry stretches from here on out, even if we’re not to December yet. And get used to the Avs, as the Hawks will be seeing them four times in the next month.

So get your post-Thanksgiving shit in early, this one has a chance to be fun.

Hockey

There was an inkling last year when Cale Makar was simply toying with the strongest conference in college hockey as a sophomore that he night be something special for the Avalanche. 49 points in 41 games from the blue line for UMass is not a stat-line you see every day. It only got stronger when Makar suited up for the Avs in the playoffs and not only didn’t look out of place, but was taking shifts by the throat.

So yeah, you can probably just give him the Calder Trophy now.

Makar has amassed 25 points in his first 23 regular season NHL games, and might be the biggest reason the Avs have gone from lively upstarts to very much Western Conference favorites this season. Makar is also simply going upside the head of the competition metrically, as he’s carrying a +6.5 relative xG% rate over the rest of his Avs teammates.

The caveat, if you can call it that, is Makar has seen most of his time on the ice behind fellow tool of Galactus Nathan MacKinnon, who can puree most anyone facing him no matter whom he is on the ice with. But neither MacKinnon’s or Makar’s numbers sink terribly without the other.

Numbers probably don’t tell the whole story of Makar, as he might already be the best skater on a blue line anywhere in the league. He can simply be devastating, especially when in space and generating odd-man rushes with merely his feet. He can also do it with his passing when the lanes are bottled up. Basically, if you were curious what Paul Coffey might have looked like in the game today, this is it.

You’d think merely getting to the second round wasn’t enough to burn the first year of Makar’s entry-level deal last year, and that the Avs might come to rue that in two years. Probably not, and it’s once again due to the insane deal they got Nathan MacKinnon on that will pay him $6.5M for another three seasons after this one. So when it comes time to pay Makar, and at this pace it’ll be paying him a lot, they’ll still have two years of cheap Mac K, and their only other expensive deals are Rantanen and Erik Johnson (and not even that much in the latter case). Landeskog will need a new contract by then, but the Avs should easily be able to soak that up.

The scary thing for the Central Division is that with Makar only 21, Girard also 21, and Zadorov 24, the Avs blue line looks set for a while. Which is probably why they felt comfortable moving Tyson Barrie along a year before free agency. They’re probably even more comfortable with it seeing how things have gone in Toronto for him and the Leafs.

For now, Makar and MacKinnon on the ice together are a truly wondrous sight, at least for Avs fans. It’s pure terror for anyone facing them, and MacKinnon already proved last year that when he wants to, even in the playoffs, he can’t really be stopped. And now he’s got Makar behind him? Illegal, that should be.

We can only hope Adam Boqvist can emulate just some of this when he gets to the Hawks full-time, because it is how the game needs to be played now. Given how much speed most teams have at forward, you need Makar’s speed to make sure they’re not consistently getting in behind you. And you also need their dynamism to get through their forechecks. Sadly, you think that even if the Hawks were to get it right in the next couple years, MacKinnon and Makar are just always going to be in the way. Until they’re out of sight the other way, that is.

Hockey

I like to do this at the watermarks of the season. If you’re new, and some of you shockingly are, I take an analytic look where I can on where the major hardware should go, but sometimes won’t, at this point in the season. For the most part, it sticks to where you think it would go anyway, but sometimes it diverges. Anyway, to it…

Hart Trophy – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Split It

This would certainly drive the hockey world mad, and you’ll have more than enough saying that Draisaitl’s stats and success are merely based on playing with McDavid. And I could probably accept that, and if they just wanted to hand it to McDavid I wouldn’t complain. McDavid is almost certainly going to wind up like Mike Trout, where he wins three or four of these and then when he retires we realize he probably should have won eight or nine and there was no good reason he didn’t.

Either way, the Oilers suck to high heaven and yet are comfortably in first in the Pacific because of these two. They are both leading the NHL in scoring at 44 and 43 points. No one else on their team has more than 17. Along with their linemate James Neal, they have 43 goals. The rest of the team has 33. If you were to go totally rudimentary on this, the rest of the team is getting slightly beyond one goal per game. These two are accounting for over two.

Norris Trophy – John Carlson

Believe me, this seemed way too obvious for me but it’s hard to make a case for anyone else. And he’s already going to win it, given the buzz his point total at this point has generated. When you’re a defenseman and you’re on pace for 124 points, people tend to take notice.

So I looked for a metric way to get beyond Carlson, but he’s ahead of the team-rate in Coris and expected goals. The argument that will be brought out by someone is that he doesn’t play great defense. But the Caps are scoring 50% more goals when he’s on the ice than they give up, and the whole point of the fucking sport is to score more goals than the other team. Carlson is helping the Caps do that more than anyone.

You could make a small case for Dougie Hamilton, as his possession numbers are better. But beyond that, his argument would be the same one for Carlson. Kris Letang has actually been magnificent for the strangely dominant-at-evens Penguins, but as always he’s been ouchy and isn’t scoring enough.

If there were a Rod Langway Award–for best defensive defenseman–and he had been healthy, I could make a serious case for Connor Murphy here. No, seriously, I can. Murph has the second best relative Corsi-against rate in the league, and the second-best expected goals-against rate. While the Hawks remain The War Rig at the end of Fury Road defensively overall, they’re actually somewhat stout when Murphy is on the ice. No d-man has improved his team’s defense more than Murphy. It won’t get him any hardware, and it’ll probably only get him traded in the offseason as the Hawks continue to cower in fear of Seabrook and need to find room for Boqvist, Mitchell, et al, but everyone should know just how good Murphy has been.

Vezina – Robin Lehner

Fuck you, let’s go with the hometown vote. While Kuemper and Greiss have better SV%, they’re playing behind better defensive teams. So is every other goalie on the planet, essentially. Those two also have bigger differences when it comes to expected save percentages and expected goals and such, but Lehner has had to have great games while still giving up three or four to keep it from being 10. We know what Trotz systems do for goalies. We probably know what Colliton systems do for then too, and it ain’t the same. Lehner has had to perform miracles to keep the Hawks on the periphery of they playoff chase. And I’ll be goddamned if I’m handing anything to Darcy Goddamn Kuemper.

Calder – Cale Makar

This one isn’t even close. Makar is blowing away the rookie scoring race from the blue line, and he has a +7 relative xG%. While the Avs have gone without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog for a good portion of the season, they’re still hanging around the top of the conference with games in hand on everyone because of Makar and MacKinnon. He’s been everything as advertised, and is probably the best hope for a non-truly evil team to come out of the West this year.

Selke – J.T. Miller

Most voters would light themselves on fire before they give this award to a winger, which is why Marian Hossa doesn’t have the three he should, but if you dig deep on the metrics it’s pretty clear. Miller sits atop the rankings when it comes to attempts and expected goals against relative to his team, and in both cases it’s by some margin. Oh, and because morons care about this, he’s been taking Elias Pettersson‘s draws for the most part and is clipping in at a 59% win rate. So there.

Hockey

There probably isn’t a team that will be checked in on Gamecenter by non-partisans more than the Colorado Avalanche. After sneaking into the playoffs and then pulling out the Flames’ organs one-by-one in alphabetical order before giving the Sharks everything they wanted, the Avs have added a genuine center and are going to have a full season of Cale Makar. But they’ve also lost Tyson Barrie, and Bowen Byram won’t get his audition until at least March or April, though likely next season. They seem poised to rise among the top of the Central. But are they?

2018-2019

38-30-14  90 points (5th in Central, out in 2nd round)

3.15 GF/G (10th)  2.98 GA/G (16th) +14 GD

50.0 CF% (13th)  49.8 xGF% (16th)

22.0 PP% (7th)  78.7 PK% (25th)

Goalies: Once again the reins will be handed to Phillip Grubauer, only this time the Avs are a little more sure of what they have. The first half of last year saw both Grubs and the now-departed Semyon Varlamov stake a claim to the job, and then hand it back about seven minutes later to the other one, and then the whole cycle would start all over again. But the second half saw Grubauer take the job by the throat and keep it. Grubs went .929 in February, .955 in March, .937 in April, and a .925 in the playoffs. It’s what the Avs had wanted from the get-go, and had they gotten it they wouldn’t have been messing around with the rabble like the Hawks until the season’s final week.

He’d better be good and healthy, because his backup is some Vaudevillian named Pavel Francouz, which is clearly a mash-up of the things the unwashed hate most to make a cartoon villain, and that’s the French and Russians. This sounds like something out of Bullwinkle. Needless to say, the Avs do not want to have to be counting on a 29-year-old journeyman with two games in the NHL for any length of time. It’s Grubauer, live without a net!

Defense: The headline here is a full season of Cale Makar, who stepped into the playoffs for the Avs and not only didn’t look out of place but ran the show at parts. He was clearly college hockey’s best player and the mind reels at what he can do behind MacKinnon’s line. Still, it’s a lot to ask for a rookie d-man to come in and dominate from jump street, so at least at the start of the season he’ll be sheltered somewhat with Golf Cart Titan Erik Johnson and others taking the more dungeon shifts.

And after the way it’s shaken out, this actually isn’t that impressive of a unit. There was a moment when they looked like they would roll with Barrie, Makar, and Byram on three different pairs to be able to push the play every minute of every game. Well, Barrie went to Toronto and Byram didn’t make the team, so now it’s only Makar as a genuine puck-mover here. That’s never been Erik Johnson’s game. Maybe Samuel Girard has more to show in that category, but it doesn’t really look like his game either.Maybe you keep Makar and Mac K separate and let the latter do it himself for the 20-25 he’s on the ice anyway. Maybe fellow neophyte Connor Timmins has it in him from a third-pairing spot? We know for sure it ain’t Ian Cole (bay-bay!).

This outfit could have had a lot of verve. Now it really doesn’t. Feels like they missed out on something here.

Forwards: But I can’t argue with the Tyson Barrie trade too much, because it brought back Nazem Kadri who is just about perfect for this team. Yes, he’s a raging penis at times who is a danger to himself and his team at his worst moments. He’s also a unique center in that he can take on the toughest assignments while still scoring 50-60 points. The Avs had nothing behind Mac K last year down the middle, and now they have one of the rare Swiss Army knives in the league.

That should leave Tyson Jost with some of the cushier shifts around, which he’ll need to produce more than the 25-odd points he got last year. They’ve also brought in Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to try and bolster the support scoring, which they were badly in need of. Donskoi always seemed like he flattered to deceive in San Jose, and probably isn’t much more than a water-carrier. Still, they bolster the ranks.

J.T. Compher will still score 17 goals against the Hawks this year.

They’re taking a flier on Valeri Nichushkin, who just could never get quite right in Dallas but seems to have all the physical tools to be a contributor. But no goals last year is no goals last year.

As always, it’ll come down to just how much of a star destroyer the top line can be, and they just brought Mikko Rantanen back into the fold for a cool $9.25M per year (Alex DeBrincat just passed out). They were among, if not the, best lines in hockey last year and there’s no reason to think they can’t match that. MacKinnon will benefit from having Kadri around to take the other teams’ top lines on, so he could produce even more if you can believe it. As if the 99 points last year weren’t enough or something.

The Avs will remain top-heavy, but not quite as much as they were. ;

Prediction: Even with just a full year of Grubauer playing well, this team would move on from the 90 points it delivered last season. I’m skeptical of the defense but if they can find someone other than Makar to move the play, they should be fine. Otherwise they’re basically what they were last year in this spot. Kadri is a big boost, and if a youngster like Jost pops or they can shake something out of Burakovsky the Caps never could, so much the better. They could have three lines instead of one and a half. Are they ready to roll out of the West? That might be a bridge too far, but then again the West doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite anymore. And the Central has its own issues. Easily can see them at least asking questions about winning the division.

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

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

 

 

Everything Else

These could be the most NHL playoff-iest of the NHL playoffs. One division winner, THE division winner, was kneecapped in four games. One is trailing 3-1. The Predators laid an egg big enough last night to feed a few villages. Even the Caps are somewhat lucky to be up 2-1 on the Canes, and were just trucked to the tune of managing all of two shots in the final 40 minutes. If you love an underdog, this is for you. Even the Islanders, though the higher-seed, were probably not the bookies’ favorite heading into that series. That’s what some people love about the NHL Playoffs, though it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. Last year, the chalk pretty much won every first round series, and arguably every second round series. Even if the Caps getting by the Penguins was a surprise simply because of history and the connotations of the two in our heads, they were the higher seed.

But still, while we can debate whether the actual results are good or prove anything at all or if they render the regular season even more meaningless than we thought, the undercurrent here is that the two results in the books and one or two others on the cards have been a result of negative, boring-ass hockey. Barry Trotz teams are successful, they are not entertaining. The Nassau Coliseum (where they come to see ’em) might make it seem like they are, but you sat through enough Predators games in the day to know. I don’t expect or want Isles fans to care. The rest of us can, though.

The Jackets aren’t quite the same bore, as they at least turned their trap up to 11 and moved it up the ice, but it was still a trap. The results were stunning and enough to convince you the process was actually lively, but believe me it wasn’t. The Stars, giving the Preds everything they want and more, are possibly playing the most boring and conservative style still left, and will happily tell you so.

It’s sports, not television, and no team is under any obligation to do anything other than what’s best for their team. That’s all their fans care. But I can care, and I do, because I’m not invested thanks to whatever it is they do on Madison St. these days.

Which is why the best series to watch, and despite all the scary undertones for Hawks fans, has been the Avalanche’s utter destruction of the Flames the past two games. Oh sure, last night’s game went to OT, and if not for Phillip Grubauer’s spot-on Cristobal Huet ’09 impression, the Flames walk out of Denver with a tied series and home-ice back. They also gave up 52 shots, 45 at even-strength. That’s betting your ass kicked. More so when it’s the second straight game they’ve surrendered 50+ shots.

And the Avs have gone the opposite way of the Isles or Jackets. They’ve just turned everyone loose, seeing a kind of slow Calgary defense beyond the top pair. And they don’t have to worry about the top pair, because Nathan MacKinnon has ground their bones to make his bread all series. Whereas the Jackets didn’t bust over 25 shots at evens until Game 4, the Avs have done it the past three games and by some distance. They have a goalie playing well, so they’re not too concerned about needing him from time to time, and have bet that if they turn up the heat on every game, the Flames can’t hang. And they haven’t been able to.

They even took their defenseman out of college, Cale Makar, and figured by replacing Samuel Girard with him they could even play faster. He played 20 minutes last night. They don’t care about his age or experience, he just helps them do what they want to do.

After a season of a jump in offense, goals, and overall fun, it stood to reason there would be a group of coaches looking to snuff that out when things got important. It’s how this always goes, and that’s not exclusive to hockey. Look at the last Super Bowl for evidence of that.

Sure, it portends to a future of the Avs pounding on whatever process the Hawks come up with in the next few years, but that’s life. Perhaps the reputations that Trotz and Tortorella have to uphold play a part, whereas Jared Bednar doesn’t have one yet. But rare is the coach who shows up in the playoffs and says, “We can go faster.” Rare is the NHL coach who has no compunction about tossing a 20-year-old into the playoffs when he was in college last week, no matter how special the prospect he is.

Mostly, Bednar has not coached out of fear of what might happen to them, but out of expectation what could happen for them. That is refreshing, and the kind of thing that should be rewarded. I may hate Vegas, and I do, but that’s a speed of series we should probably all want to catch.

Until they run into Trotz, of course.

Everything Else

For the final time this year, we pick up our torch, arm ourselves, and head into the depths where Anthrax Jones lives. 

Look, ain’t no one complaining about 87 points. But your large adult son Mikko Rantanen‘s pace did drop off in February and March from the ridiculous pace he was on. Anything to be read from that or just flattening out of luck a bit?

On a team as deep as a puddle in the Sahara Desert, I’m not sure it wasn’t just a matter of time before other teams threw their entire checking efforts at MacRanteskog. The Avs have ten players with at least 10 goals apiece, so the “LACK OF DEPTH, HUH” crowd has an argument, but that argument falls apart when you consider that five of the ten have either 10 or 11 goals, and none of Colin Wilson‘s 10 count anyway. It’s not the 1983 Islanders, kids. It also doesn’t help that Rantanen has spent 54 minutes in the box almost entirely due to careless stick fouls, including a punishing late-game high sticking penalty last Friday that cost the Avs at least one point to human sewage drain Corey Perry and the corpse of the Ducks.

*deep breath*

That said, Rantanen’s game is still maturing, and it’s very evident that he still hasn’t put it all together yet. When he does, you’re going to need to spend two weeks training in Siberia with “Hearts On Fire” playing on continuous loop in order to shut him down. We’re getting there.

On the other side of the coin, Phillip Grubauer is on a real heater in March. Is this enough for the Avs to feel comfortable letting Varlamov walk in the summer and giving the job to Grubs?

I think the plan all along was to let Varlamov go at the end of this season, whether Grubauer came around or not. I think Jared Bednar is playing this perfectly: Grubauer is the short-term future of the Colorado net, with a chance to become the long-term future, and he should be getting the majority of the carries down the stretch in what’s still really a “practice year” for this generation of Avs. Grubauer has shown he has the ability to carry a team for stretches in Washington and now Colorado, which is essentially the same playbook Varlamov followed. The potential difference for Grubauer will be whether or not Bednar is able to build a coherent system around him, and the jury remains out on that one.

We asked you about him last year, but it still feels like the Avs are tapping their foot and looking at their watch when it comes to Tyson Jost

By March of 2021, I could see myself looking at a stat line of 10 goals and 20 assists for Jost and be willing to admit yeah, this is just the player he is. I’m not there yet though, because every time I’m ready to accept that he’s probably not going to break out in any meaningful way, he shows me something good that lures me back in. The Avs sent him to the AHL over All Star break, and when he came back, he was a different player: more assertive, less tentative, and it made a visible difference in his overall game. My biggest concern with Jost isn’t his skill level or his hockey IQ, it’s the way he seems to struggle with the physical aspect of the game. At 5’11” 190, hes not the smallest player, but he seems vulnerable to guys who play him hard. He’s not shy about contact, but he more often than not finds himself on his ass when he engages. That’s not something that can be coached or taught, and maybe it’s something he can work on during summer training, but maybe it’s just not in his makeup.

Are they getting in? Does it really matter? What’s the way forward here?

It doesn’t really matter. If they make it, great! That’s more playoff experience for guys like Rantanen, Jost, Sam Girard, and Illinois legend JT Compher, guys who got a taste of it last season and seemed to improve as the Nashville series progressed. Plus, it would be our first chance to see Rockstar Makar in an Avs uniform, and it would be cool to see how he performs under an immediate spotlight.

If they don’t make it? Another potential high pick to add to Ottawa’s pick, which is absolutely going to turn into Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko because god hates Ottawa’s fans and loves dark comedy. I’ve kept a level head this season, whether it was the early hot streak or the mid-season slumpmother, because the target all along has been 2019-2020.

And if we’re still in this position at this time next season, your boy is gonna be having a cow.

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built