Hockey

As was stated a couple of weeks ago, it’s going to be a different approach this season with regards to previews and wraps, in part due to logistics and in part due to this franchise exhausting all but the last quark of patience around here both on and off the ice. Whille dodging and mishandling their most recent sex scandal, the Hawks decided to revamp their roster and double down on their idiot himbo coach, because apparently Duncan Keith wasn’t big enough or fast enough to run his SYSTEM, and he’s never had an NHL caliber roster before in four Magic Training Camps. Enter the reluctantly vaccinated Jones Brothers and Marc-Andre Fleury, along with Jonathan Toews’ return from Havana Syndrome or whatever, and the Hawks are primed to miss out on the playoffs yet again while the hemorrhage chances and pray Fleury puts up the Vezina numbers he did under a coach who actually works to supress shots in Peter DeBoer in Vegas. Time to get FIRED UP.

 

10/13 At Colorado

Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: TNT, WGN-AM 720
Epic Day Pass: Mile High Hockey

The big news out of Denver is that perennial Hart candidate and complete dietary psychopath Nathan MacKinnon will miss tonight and at least a couple other games in Covid protocol after testing positive yesterday. With the league’s claims of a 98% vaccination rate it seems like it’s just a temporary thing and that he’s asymptomatic, but given the reports in the NFL of faked vaccine documentation and Evander Kane’s most recent investigation being for trying to procure one, that percentage seems dubious. Even without MacKinnon, and Brandon Saad leaving for St. Louis, there’s still more than enough firepower to tear this Hawks defensive zone limb from limb. Philipp Grubauer has gone to Seattle, with Darcy Keumper now entrusted to backstop a team with actual aspirations instead of succeeding in obscurity in the Arizona, what’s left of the Kings, and whatever Minnesota was attempting for years. His counterpart in Fleury is going to have to be at the absolute top of his game, particularly on the PK, considering the Hawks just flat out forgot to work on it during the preseason.

10/15 At New Jersey


Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
The Many Saints of Newark: All About The Jersey

From a mile above sea level to below it in the Meadowlands, the Hawks jump two time zones in well less than 48 hours to play the Devils and see their new toy in Dougie Hamilton, the second biggest blue line acquisition this off season behind the Hawks and Jones. What Dougie brings to this team that gets them out of their transitional phase is anyone’s guess, as it’s all going to hinge on Jack Hughes taking the leap to being the #1 overall franchise defining pick he was supposed to be. Their other big acquisitions were Tomas Tatar now plaining for his 78th team in 5 years and Jonathan Bernier being given the 1A job for reasons. Apparently Tyler Dellow likes players from bad Wings teams over the past 8 years. Given that this is the front end of a back to back, it would not be surprising to see Lankinen start.

10/16 At Pittsburgh


Game Time: 6:00PM
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
The Chilliest of Willies: PensBurgh

So the Pens had the “honor” of being the visitors on hand for the banner raising ceremony in Tampa, their second this calendar year, which is truly a weird feat. And as is often the case, the Bolts weren’t exactly fully engaged given the delayed start and all the pomp and circumstance it entails (if anyone remembers those sorts of things around here anymore). Even without Sid and Geno for quite a bit, the Penguins jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then things started getting wacky with empty netters in the final minutes to make things 6-3 when all was said and done. And despite the ESPN broadcast’s best attempts to turn him into a conquering hero, and no matter how tough his struggle against leukemia was or how nice a guy he might be, Brian Boyle is a 36 year old obelisk who in no way shape or form comes close in his wettest dreams to providing what even mid 30s Sid and Geno do. Same for Jeff Carter, who despite having 2 rings and was a key member of another finalist might be getting into Who Gives A Shit territory now as well. Tristan Jarry is still who the hopes and dreams in net are pinned on despite all evidence stating that that is folly, and this era might finally be coming to a close in western PA. But this is still a well coached team capable of playing hard and exploiting mistakes even when outgunned as they proved last night. And even if the Hawks will have more firepower on paper than the Pens, it’s not nearly as much as the Bolts have, and they were able to do so on the road without the benefit of matchups. Look for Flower to get this game given his history in the building.

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: Canes 12-7-1   Hawks 9-7-4

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

REMEMBER, NORTH CAROLINA GAVE US TRUBISKY: Canes Country

In the ashes of the Bears demise, some hope has risen about the Hawks. They’re playing well, or at least they’re getting results. They’ve taken some scalps off teams that either used to give them a ton of headaches (Knights, Preds) or have name recognition (Leafs). They’re scoring goals. However, this week is when we’ll see just how much the Hawks can handle opening up the throttle. The Canes start it off and are still one of the best possession teams in the league. The Lightning are scuffling but also have the biggest collection of scoring around and throat-fucked the Hawks twice last year. The Stars are the hottest team in the league. The past two weeks has seen the schedule cut the Hawks some favors, as all of the Knights, Leafs, Preds, and Sabres have been fighting it of late. Not so much here.

The Canes kick it off, rolling into town on the back of three straight wins, though two were in OT over the just-vanquished Sabres and the simply unfortunate Wild. Before that, the Canes had some ugly losses to the Senators, Rangers, Flyers, and Devils, which are not teams the Canes should be losing to. It’s a bad look. This will also be the end of a mini road trip for the Canes, so the Hawks might catch them already thinking about the flight home.

As always with the Canes, they are a dominant even-strength team. They rank first in team Corsi-percentage, third in expected-goals percentage. And this time around, they’re only having problems at one end of the ice turning all that into actual results. The Canes are 8th in the league at 3.45 goals per game, and have spread it around nicely with seven guys having four goals or more. Erik Haula on their third line has eight, to give you some idea. Their power play has actually been a threat too, ranking eighth in the league at the moment.

But as is the Canes’ way, they keep buying into illusions of a goaltender. They got a remarkable run from Petr Mrazek last season, doubled down, and now stand gobsmacked that he suddenly turned back into Petr Mrazek. He has an .886 in November. He’s not this bad, but he’s also probably not last year’s .914 either. He’s been all over the map in his career, so it’s hard to guess. James Reimer was brought in to at least stabilize the backup spot and provide something of a safety net if Mrazek went to the dogs again. That hasn’t really worked out yet and suddenly the fear that last year’s flop in  Florida portends to a career-downturn are real. The Canes aren’t really getting saves, but filling the net at the other end to make up for it while limiting attempts and chances against so their goalies can’t torpedo them completely.

Again, this feels like a real test for the Hawks’ rediscovered UP AND AT THEM ways. They’ve passed the other ones to be fair to them, with the help of some shoddy goaltending at the other end. They may get that tonight as well. But the Canes defense is probably the best in the league and among the most mobile. They won’t be fearing getting caught with forwards behind them, and can pinch more aggressively in the Hawks zone because they can recover. The speed the Canes have at forward as well should be an utter nightmare for the Hawks’ defense, who will have less escape routes.

But again, the Hawks don’t have to break even on attempts and chances. They have the better goalie who is playing better (Lehner), and they have higher quality finishers. Stay in the neighborhood, as the Hawks have been doing, and they can rack up some more points. On the flip side, the Canes have utterly destroyed the Hawks the last three times they’ve played, because they just play at a higher pace than the Hawks can manage.

We’ll see how far this new “style” goes tonight against a team that’s been doing it better and for years longer. Get the feeling this one will have some goals in it.

 

Hockey

Joel Edmundson – For the rest of his career, he’ll have that Stanley Cup sheen that blinds every GM and commentator to the fact that he sucks and is stupid. Edmundson has always been a rock that Blues fans worshipped because he hit Toews once, and he only fits in Carolina because they have so many other mobile d-men. But don’t you fret, this is still the same shit-for-brains you remember, leading the Canes in PIMs at the moment.

Dougie Hamilton’s Coverage – It’s not going to matter to far too many people that Hamilton leads the Canes in points, or is one of the better puck-moving d-men in the league and has been. No, all they’ll focus on, and you can bet Pat and Eddie will remark on it tonight at some point, was that he avoided one hit from Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs that led to a goal. Never mind the Canes won that series or the next one. They’ll do their best to make it seem like all of his teammates hate his guts for that one bailout while extolling the virtues of Edmundson. Bank on it.

Ryan Dzingel – And they may make time to mention how great of a signing Dzingel would have been because he’s from here and got Olczyk’s autograph once because his dad made him while he had no idea who Eddie was.

Hockey

’18-’19: 46-29-7 (99 points) – Lost in Conference Final

2.98 GF/G (16th)  2.71 GA/G (6th)

17.6 PP% (2oth)   81.6 PK% (8th)

54.6 CF% (2nd)   56.4 xGF% (1st)

Something of the feel good story of last season, the Carolina Hurricanes are essentially going to try and run it back again, counting on maturing from youngsters and what is still the best blue line around. There have been a couple smaller additions, a loss of captain, and what feels like a real missed opportunity for the big splash that would have put this team over the top. But hey, their owner sunk an entire football league just to benefit himself, so is anyone really surprised?

Let’s see what’s under the hood here.

Goalies: The Canes have moved on from their partnership of last year, where they alternated between riding the hot streaks of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, and have given the job to Mrazek full-time. That might be a little strange considering that Mrazek’s performance in the playoffs was something you dug out of your ear, but it’s something of Carolina tradition to have a whatsit in goal. Mrazek was very good in the regular season, certainly the best goaltending the Canes have gotten in eons. Mrazek also put up a great season in Detroit once, but there are four seasons of mediocrity in three different places between that and last year, so who is he really?

Mrazek came in over his expected-save-percentage last year (.914 to .916 at evens), and what might be most important is he does that while cheap. Mrazek has only a $3.1M hit, and that matters to Carolina. It’s a shame they didn’t spend it elsewhere that much, though. Still, the Canes make it about as easy as a team can for goalies, as they have the puck all the time. They’ll be counting on that again.

There is a more than decent insurance policy here though in James Reimer. Optimus Reim has an off-year in Florida last season, but had racked up league-average SV%s or better the previous three seasons. He has been a plus-backup for the back half of his career, and the kind that can usurp the top job for a stretch when he gets hot/the starter goes to the zoo for a bit. He has made over 39 starts each of the past three seasons, either due to Luongo’s injury problems or just taking the job, so there is a safety net in net for the Canes. Pretty shrewd here, really.

Defense: Still the team’s strength, even with the subtraction of Calvin de Haan and the addition of Gustav Forsling (assuming he ever gets out of Charlotte, which he shouldn’t). The Canes still roll a top four of Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, and Jaccob Slavin (and his superfluous c). You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that can match that top four anywhere, and if the bottom pairing becomes a septic tank accident through some combo of Forsling, Haydn Fleury (and his missing e), Trevor van Riemsdyk and his missing talent, or kid Jake Bean, they can just run the top four out there between 40-45 minutes a night and not get too worried about it.

There will be some drama around Faulk this year, as he enters the last year of his deal and the whole will-he-or-won’t-he be traded or re-signed thing. Considering what the Canes could accomplish this year it would be near farce for them to trade Faulk, but one wonders what the actual budget is here for this team and we know how teams are loathe to lose players for nothing, even if they have everything to gain here. Still, it’s not that hard to make a case for the Canes to be division favorites now, and you don’t maintain that status by losing Faulk in the middle of the season.

That behind us, this unit can do just about everything, whether it’s pushing the play and supporting the offense or locking things down. You wish the Hawks took notes.

Forwards: In a dream world, the Canes would have already offer-sheeted Mitch Marner for $12M a year, and gotten ready to be the East favorite. They thought smaller however, signing Ryan Dzingel and trading for Erik Haula, who is just about the perfect Hurricane. They’ll also get a full season out of Nino Neiderreiter this time, another perfect Cane, and maybe the production they get from those three is enough to offset the retirement of Justin Williams as well as boost an offense that needs to be a touch better.

They’ll also expect a leap forward from Andrei Svechnikov and possibly Martin Necas, who was excellent in the AHL last year. They still seem intent on using Jordan Staal as a #2 center, and that’s simply not what he is anymore and likely never was. He’s a checking center and should be used as such. When the Canes go deadline-shopping, another center probably should be top of the list.

Sebastien Aho is now locked down and flourished moving to the middle last season. Our Dear Sweet Finnish Boy is still here to break our hearts. I’ve never been totally sold on Dzingel, who didn’t do much in Columbus last year after a trade there and his goal-scoring in Ottawa screams “production because someone had to score.” They look a little short on the wing as well, with only Turbo Targaryn, Nino, and Svechnikov feeling like genuine top-six wingers and none really being genuine top-line wingers for a Cup-contender. Marner would have been perfect here, just as Tavares would have been the year before.

Outlook: This is still a great team coached very well by Rod The Bod. It’s hard to see where the goaltending will completely sink them as it has in years past, and there’s no reason to think their possession numbers are going to go anywhere given the defense they sport. The only thing that’s going to nab them is a lack of frontline scoring, and Svechnikov has a chance to remedy that (but not by himself). With the Penguins and Capitals having to be in decline, the Islanders being run by Nosferatu, and the Rangers, Flyers, and Devils still in a rebuild, and the Jackets a complete mess, there’s little reason the Canes can’t take the Metro crown away from the Caps for the first time in eleventy-billion years or whatever it is. They were only five points short of that last year, and that gap is going to shrink if not disappear. There should be no boundaries for this team.

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 7pm

Game 2 in Boston – Sunday, 2pm

Game 3 in Raleigh – Tuesday, 7pm

Game 4 in Raleigh – Thursday, 7pm

If you were privy to the private conversations we have here at the lab…well, you’d never read this blog again but I digress. What I meant to get to was over the past two or three seasons, there’s been a general feeling of mystification about the Boston Bruins. They look like one line and David Krejci, and a pretty good goalie and nothing else. And yet their metric numbers are always among the best, they always seem to rack up 100 points, so a first conference final appearance since that wonderful spring of 2013 seems like it’s overdue in some ways. They’ll be favored by everyone simply due to pedigree, but this is stiffest test they’ve seen yet.

Goalies: This would be easier if we could pin down who exactly is playing for Carolina. Petr Mrazek has returned to practice, so it stands to reason he’ll take his normal post…between the posts (that could be better). Curtis McElhinney did close out the Islanders from the third period of Game 2 on, but that was the Isles and their Trotz-inspired offense-allergy. The Bs come with far more firepower, and McElhinney also suffers from a serious case of being Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek has been killing it since February, and if he’s healthy there’s no reason to think he won’t at least be representative.

Sadly for Carolina, representative is probably not going to cut it, as Tuuke Nuke’Em has been excellent all playoffs long. He’s got a .938 over 13 games, and let just 11 goals in against the Jackets over six games. This is probably the best he’s played since that ’13 run to 17 seconds (he was .940 that spring), and in this kind of form he can win a series by himself. And it’s not like the Canes are loaded with deadly snipers here. This is Boston’s biggest edge no matter who dons the gear for the Canes.

Defense: And here’s Carolina’s biggest edge. The Isles trap was dealt with much more effectively by the Canes than the Penguins because they have a puck-mover on the ice all the time. In addition, Jaccob Slavin is setting himself up for Norris candidacies in the future and if the Canes make it to the Final he’d have a serious case for the Conn Smythe. While Dougie Hamilton took a fair share of grief for his dealings with Ovechkin, he’s been tearing opponents apart where it mattes, i.e. getting the puck up the ice. Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk aren’t far behind, and though they’ll mostly only play five with Calvin de Haan joining in as TVR is on the shelf for good, they’ve had basically a full week off and they’ll get an extra day between Games 1 and 2. If the series goes long that five-man rotation could bite them, but we’ll run that kitten over when we get to it.

This is where I just don’t get the Bruins. Zdeno Chara looked AWFUL against the Jackets, and there were some rushes outside of him that made me think of Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.) at the end of his career trying to go first-to-third on a single and really scared every bone in his body would just come spilling out through his heels. The entire corps is below water when it comes to possession and expected goals, and given that McAvoy looks like a busted pool toy in his own zone (when he’s not suspended) and they’re facing a dominant possession team here, it could be a real issue. I expect the Boston defense to try and be really physical with the small Carolina forwards, but they’re going to have to catch them first. And that didn’t really work out for the Capitals either.

Forwards: Normally, you’d say this is a star power vs. depth kind of thing. The Canes don’t have any front-line scorers, but they have a raft of really good forwards who keep the puck. The Teravainen-Staal-Neiderreiter (tear) line has been utterly destroying all in its path, and then you still have Sebastien Aho’s line to deal with. The Canes have gotten contributions from down the lineup as well, and they’ll probably need to keep doing that to get out of this. The Canes are kind of like the Itchy and Scratchy version of Fantasia, when Scratchy chopped up Itchy into vapor but then the vapor just became thousands of tiny Itchys and destroyed him from the inside.

The Bruins will stake a claim to being more than one line, and they’ve gotten help from Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Jake DeBrusk at times. But when they win, it’s because Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak-Krejci score. When they don’t, they likely lose. The Canes don’t have anything that can match those four, but they don’t depend on anyone like that either. While Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are good, they aren’t what Slavin is right now along with Hamilton. Sure, Marchand is going to try and annoy the piss out of Dougie, but I don’t know that there’s getting to Dougie, especially if he’s pushing the play. This is probably where your series is decided. If Slavin and Hamilton, or Pesce and Faulk in Boston, can keep Boston’s top line at least somewhat controlled, then Carolina’s raft of foot soldiers probably take this. If the Bs glitterati go off, the Canes probably can’t match.

Prediction: Probably more with my heart than my head here, but the way Slavin is playing makes me think the Canes can be the first team this spring to keep Boston’s top line under wraps. Rask is a big challenge, but then so was Lehner before the Canes got to him. Same goes for Holtby. Something about this Canes team. Also, fuck Boston. Canes in 6. 

Everything Else

This spring will prove to most who need it to be true that anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. All you have to do is get in. The Hawks are already pumping this narrative, preparing the ground for a less than stellar summer and the distinct possibility of a 90-95 point team next year. The Kings of ’12 are always held up as this, and unless the Sharks or Bruins carry it all the way to the end, most likely this year’s Cup winner will be touted to prove the unpredictability of the NHL’s spring ninja course.

But this isn’t really the case. If you were around in 2012, you’ll remember that the Kings were preseason favorites, and spent a good portion of that season fucking around and thumbing their own ass. They fired a coach, got their ass in gear in March or so, and romped through the playoffs, which a lot of people saw coming. Some favorable matchups didn’t hurt their cause either (hi there, St. Louis, Arizona, and New Jersey).

Carolina looks poised to be this team. They’re a game away from the East Final, and having already kneecapped the Capitals, they won’t have much fear of either the Bruins or Jackets, especially if those two are hurling themselves at each other violently for seven games. And it’s true that the Canes don’t really have any stars. Sebastien Aho is bordering on one, our love for Teuvo will be the main reason cited when we are hauled off to somewhere inaccessible forever by top men one day, and Dougie Hamilton and Justin Faulk are really good too. But there’s not really anyone here that NBC is grabbing to do those weird promos in the lights on ice in September, basically.

But yet, if you were paying attention, it was clear that the Canes are one of the best even-strength teams around. And they have been for a few years now. Whatever category you want–attempts, shots, chances, or expected-goals–the Canes rank no lower than #3. As always, it was finishing and goaltending that kept the Canes down, as has always been the case, and when evaluating who is the best team in the league you can’t ignore those factors.

But then the Canes got goaltending, they finished a little better, and since the middle of the season they’ve collected just about as many points as anyone, including the Lightning. As someone who wants to see the best teams in the later rounds and then win it, the Canes count. If they’re talent matched their process, they’d probably have a points total in the same zip code as the Lightning did. That talent would also boost a power play that was barely meh.

While the Penguins didn’t have the energy or desire to really work through a Trotz team, the Canes are perfectly built to do it, even if they rode their luck a bit in Game 2. They have a mobile defense and pretty much every point, and can get up the ice and through the Isles’ trap. Trotz teams only work when they have an abundance of finish to not be undone by the small margins he plays on, like last year’s Caps. It’s fine if you don’t control possession or attempts and keep things tight when you have Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, and others to maximize what chances you do get. When Josh Bailey is your #1 sniper, you are up against it.

Because they didn’t get Fleury ’18 goaltending, and they don’t play in Vegas where everyone wants a free trip to, the Canes don’t come with the ballyhoo of last year’s Knights. Except it’s kind of the same deal, just more sustainable. There’s no William Karlsson banking a quarter of the shots he takes or James Neal putting in one last year before dying. This is who the Canes are, and if they were to add another forward or two, or a goalie, in the summer (assuming Aho’s raise doesn’t completely wash away cap space) with the $30M in space they have or so, the Canes are going to be here for a while.

Of course, this being the NHL people will try and glean what the message is and copy. Not too many other teams are going to be able to assemble the talent on the blue line the Canes have, but an increasingly fast defensive corps would seem to be paramount in a league that keeps getting faster and faster. But the thing is, anything can work for a season. We’ll need a few years more on the Canes before we know if this is a real thing. My hunch is that it is.

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Brooklyn – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Brooklyn – Sunday, 2pm

Game 3 in Raleigh – Wednesday, 6pm

Game 4 in Raleigh – Friday, 6pm

Well this wasn’t the matchup you saw coming. For the first time since 2015, the Metro Division Final won’t be contested by the Penguins and Capitals. And since the NHL went to this format in 2014, this is the first time that neither the Caps or Penguins will appear. Which is really quite something when you think about it. For comparison’s sake, EVERY team in the Central has appeared in the second round since this format came into being (technically the Avs are in the Pacific and never the Central but let’s just go with it). So the national audience may not be familiar with these teams, but there’s a lot to get through here.

Goalies: This is a clear advantage for the Islanders, and when you have a big advantage in net in the playoffs, sometimes that’s enough. Mrazek was barely ok against the Caps, with a .899 SV%. And that’s with giving up only three goals in the three home games the Canes had. The Isles don’t come with near the firepower the Capitals do, which will help Mrazek, but you would be shocked if he wins this for Carolina. He’s most likely going to be just fine, and the margins in this one are going to be so tight that fine may or may not be enough. The Isles can’t get him moving like the Caps did, they don’t have the skill or the interest. So maybe that helps just enough?

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner was throwing a .956 at the Penguins, and really not having to work all that hard to do it. He only saw an absurd number of shots in Game 1, and that was an overtime game, and Trotz teams keep him protected. But he might not even need the protection, such is the form he’s in. The last three game saw him give up three goals on 92 shots. That’s a .968. So even if the Canes might actually be better equipped to get through the Trotz minefield, getting past Lehner is going to take more than a smile.

Defense: While the Capitals might make fun of Dougie Hamilton, and he wasn’t particularly good against the Caps, the rest of the defense of the Canes was dominant. Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin carried a 58+% possession rate and just about the same in expected goals, and probably were the main reason the Canes are where they are. If you can believe it, de Haan and TVR on the third pairing were also very good. The depth here has always been the Canes strength. Also, if Dougie isn’t broken, they have three trap-busters in Hamilton, Faulk, and Pesce, though Pesce and Hamilton tend to play together. Rod Brind’Amour would be wise to get them all on separate pairings so they can always navigate the booby traps Trotz and the Isles set up, but with two pairings that should be 40-45 a night. It’s when TVR thinks he’s Paul Coffey that they’ll run into problems. If you were to design a defense to deal with a Trotz team, this is it.

You would be hard-pressed to pick the Isles defense out of a police lineup, but they’re well sheltered by they system and forwards. If the Canes can somehow open this up more than the Pens did, they Isles are in trouble. Nick Leddy has been iffy all season, and the Isles don’t have a proven puck-mover beyond that. But Trotz teams don’t get opened up on. They’re well-drilled and they do what they do, it’s just not terribly exciting.

Forwards: Of all the four second-round series, this one has by far the least amount of star power up front with either team. Sebastien Aho is wonderful, and so are Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey, but they don’t move the needle much. And all of them might be the best second-line players in the league. The Islanders aren’t asked to do much other than work hard and be on the right side of the puck and find the goals when they present themselves. The Canes grunted through and got just enough goals throughout the lineup.

The Canes forwards will depend on their defense getting through the muck of the Isles in the neutral zone. If they do that, there’s probably just enough dash with Aho, Our Special Boy, Nino Neiderreiter, and Justin Williams (and if Svechnikov returns), and enough graft with Foegele, Staal, Martinook, and one or two others. But that’s a big if. You’d feel more confident of them busting through here with just a touch more life on the front end.

The Isles can match a top six, maybe even the whole corps. They just don’t do the same things. This is basically a push. If the Canes get as loose defensively as they were at times against the Caps, Bailey and Barzal and Co. aren’t as lethal but they can make them pay. And we know the Isles won’t be loose.

Prediction: This one’s hard to call. I feel like the Canes are built to deal with this, I just wonder if they can do so at the first time of asking and with this forward group. And the Isles will be no softer than the Caps were, and maybe even smarter about it instead of running around like kindergarten recess. It’s not going to be pretty. The Isles have the edge in net. Feels like this one goes the distance too, and I’ll decide to punish the Isles for playing this in Brooklyn instead of Nassau.

Canes in 7. 

Everything Else

Let’s start with the raw numbers right at the top. Since he came into the league in the season-in-a-can of ’13, Dougie Hamilton is 4th in CF%. He’s third in relative-Corsi. The names ahead of him are Erik Karlsson and Mark Giordano. The names behind him are Hampus Lindholm and Kris Letang. He’s seventh in that time (min. 5,000 minutes played) in relative expected-goals percentage, ahead of names like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. If you go by straight points, Hamilton is 17th among d-men who have played 400 games in that time. Clearly, Dougie Hamilton has been one of the best d-men in the league for six seasons now.

When you look at the list of d-men around him in any of these categories, you’ll notice that none of them have been traded twice. Most haven’t even once. Anton Stralman is an under-the-radar player that signed as a free agent in Tampa. Brent Burns was a forward when he got traded. Karlsson was traded because his former team is A). going through a rebuild and B.) is an asylum for the truly confused. Quite simply, everyone treats a d-man of this class like a precious stone. Because they are. The amount of game-changing, right-handed d-men who turn the ice over is a list you could compile on barely two plies of toilet paper. It’s Drew Doughty, Hamilton, Karlsson, Burns, supposedly Dustin Byfuglien (we’re skeptical), PK Subban, and that’s about it. Throw John Carlson on there if you must.

So why has Dougie Hamilton been traded twice?

The Bruins and Flames both tried to throw Hamilton under the bus after they traded him, mostly to justify to a fanbase why they made silly trades that ended up with them getting, at best, 75 cents on the dollar. You’ve heard the jokes about Hamilton going to museums while teammates went to movies or holding farting competitions. You’ve heard he’s just kind of out there as a guy.

Most of this is utter garbage, as might suspect. These days, with media being everywhere, a problem in the dressing room would not be able to be kept a secret for very long. And yet you never hear about problems with Hamilton until he’s already been jettisoned. Then it just becomes justification to questions they don’t have answers to for real.

Is Hamilton something of a free thinker? Yeah, seems that way. Is he interested in himself more than others? Probably. So’s PK Subban and it got him dealt to Nashville. They’ve basically been the best team in the Western Conference since and Montreal, whatever the start to this season, has spent a majority of the time with its collective dick in its hand (and this year’s start has taken place without Shea Weber anyway). The Preds sure don’t seem to mind whatever it is Subban is as a person.

Hockey certainly isn’t the only sport that has looked suspiciously on a player that doesn’t seem fully invested in being “one of the guys.” Football has long had this problem, where any player who reads something else other than his playbook is to be regarded with suspicion. Baseball sees some of this as well.

But the fears with Hamilton have gone overboard, considering the rare production a team gets from him every season. What’s more important, that he’s seen as a drinking buddy by everyone or he is one fo the best d-men in the league? While team chemistry is important, it’s not like things happen on the ice because Hamilton was hanging out by himself one night and not out at the local with a couple of other wingers. Sure, if he was an actual disruption or raging asshole, we’d know. And that would be a problem. No one’s saying that he is or has been.

The Hurricanes don’t seem to care, and we’re all too happy to plug him into their top-pairing and watch him kick everyone’s ass on a nightly basis. This is another brilliant example of hockey’s outright terror of “the individual” ahead of the team. Anything that doesn’t fall uniformly in line and indistinguishable from everyone else is to be killed or eliminated as quickly as possible. Mostly because hockey is run by old drunks with a lot of head injuries who can’t remember anything but their way.

Perhaps one day it will change. Until it does, teams and front offices like Carolina’s that rightly swipe it away as nothing more than a slight nuisance will be be a half-step ahead.

 

Game #18 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

This is the Q&A with @Section328 from last Thursday, because four days in an NHL season pass with the impact of a fart in the wind. 

 

Game #16 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineup s& How Teams Were Built

 

Game #18 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built