Hockey

Evander Kane – As always. But it’s a conspiracy against him, don’t ya know?

Erik Karlsson’s Effect On The Media – Should you be completely bereft of something to do, watch a Sharks game through the opposing broadcast. Because it won’t be much more than 5-10 minutes before the color analyst or studio one gets in a shot at Karlsson’s defensive play or paycheck or both. The grumpy old men or wannabe grumpy old men that comprise hockey analysis still can’t seem to wrap their minds around that Karlsson has always been a different type, and overall still one of the best in the league because he keeps his team out of its own end. Yeah, he might not play a 2-on-1 well, but he also is almost never in one because of his skills. But anyone who makes a big check and isn’t a good ol’ Canadian boy is the enemy. If they really need fodder, they only need to look to…

Brent Burns: Maybe the most overrated player in the league. He racks up points, and then when he plays any team with a plan and skill he gets rolled over. The definition of a flat-track bully who avoids criticism because he’s Canadian and at least hints at having a personality. Which up there only means to not have all your teeth. Seriously, walking around like that makes you teflon to the hockey media.

Hockey

Slightly tweaked feature this year. Instead of the Douchebag Du Jour, we’ll list a couple doofuses on the opponent that night. 

Evander Kane – Always the king, one of the bigger scumbags in the league, and now comes equipped with a victim complex that somehow justifies pushing and slashing referees. There isn’t a manhole deep enough for him to fall into.

Brent Burns – Looks like a jackass, mostly plays like a jackass, but no one seems to notice until he gets his hairy ass scorched in the playoffs by any team that bothers to notice he can’t play defense. This man has a Norris, people.

Pete DeBoer – Yet another coach who has passed over young players to play genuine turds like Michael Haley last season. It wasn’t the only season that he was fascinated by Haley or some other drooler who needed help tying his skates. Holding the Sharks back.

Hockey

It’s not often a team loses its captain and its leading goal-scorer and is still considered among the conference favorites. But such is life in the West where no one has really jumped forward aside from the Colorado Avalanche. The San Jose Sharks return Erik Karlsson, which if he can remain upright for even 60 games and more importantly the playoffs, is about half the battle in itself. While Joe Pavelski may be gone, they still return a host of nifty forwards who can fill the net on at least three lines. Brent Burns might be overrated by a factor of 12, and losing Justin Braun may turn out to be nearly as big as Pavelski. Still, this team never felt like it clicked for very long last year and ended up with 101 points and in the conference final (WHERE THEY FAILED US ALL MISERABLY AND SHALL NEVER BE FORGIVEN). Can they do it again?

2018-2019

46-27-9  101 points (2nd in Pacific, lost in conference final)

3.52 GF/G (2nd)  3.15 GA/G (21st)  +31 GD

54.9 CF% (1st)  54.3 xGF% (4th)

23.6 PP% (6th)  80.8 PK% (15th)

Goalies: The only reason the Sharks didn’t end up with 110 or more points last season was their goaltending. Martin Jones was simply awful, Aaron Dell wasn’t any better, and the Sharks had to overcome it most nights. And most nights they did. Doug Wilson has bet that Martin Jones simply can’t be that bad again. And with good reason.

In the three seasons as Sharks starter before that, Jones never had a SV% below .912. That’s the thing with the Sharks, they don’t need Carey Price back there. They don’t need a Vezina finalist. They just need league average. Jones couldn’t even manage that in the playoffs and they still got to the conference final. Jone will turn 30 during the season, so it’s hard to imagine last season was the begin of age-related decline. It feels like a very weird and ugly outlier, and the Sharks need to hope so. Dell isn’t going to ride in like Mighty Mouse if Jones is coughing up his esophagus again, which would mean Wilson would either have to look for answer at the deadline or close his eyes, clinch a towel between his teeth, and hope his team can plow ahead dragging Jones along.

The Sharks always have the puck as well, giving up the least amount of attempts last season and in the top half in expected goals against. The job is just about as easy as it can be for a goalie. And they merely need to pass on a pass/fail course. Do that, and the Sharks can take this division.

Defense: That doesn’t mean they’re without questions. The first is will Erik Karlsson ever finish a season healthy? His groin having all the gremlins doomed them in the playoffs (NEVER FORGIVEN), and he missed large chunks of the season. He hasn’t managed a full slate of games in four seasons. They’re nowhere without him, so expect him to get a regular slate of games off to try and preserve him for April and May. When he’s on the ice he still dominates, as his metrics were seven or eight points ahead of the Sharks as a whole, who again, were one of the best possession teams in the league. He’s still otherworldly when on song.

After that though…Mar-Edouard Vlasic loses his main defensive running buddy in Braun and there isn’t an obvious candidate to take the hard shifts with him or to cover for whichever of Burns or Karlsson Pickels doesn’t. Brendon Dillon is a post. Tim Heed and Dalton Prout are seat-fillers at best. Jacob Middleton is a kid that will get a look, but coach Peter DeBoer famously hates any young d-man. One outside candidate is rookie Mario Ferraro, but he’ll also have DeBoer to overcome.

Burns was completely exposed as a runway in the playoffs last year, and there’s no reason that won’t be true this year. He’ll pile up a ton of points again, which will be close to empty calories. This unit could use some buffeting at the deadline too, because Burns can’t really be trusted with anything than a third-pairing yahoo deep in the playoffs.

Forwards: Losing Pavelski is a ballsy call. This is still a team that features Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Evander Kane. It shouldn’t hurt for goals, it just might not have a wealth of them as it did before. Kevin Lebanc stepping up into a top-six role would help the cause, and maybe they think he’s ready for that. Joe Thornton is back for another go-around, and while he can still make a play here and there his days of being a genuine top-two center on a team are gone. Luckily, Couture and Hertl don’t require him to do that. There are enough foot soldiers to fill out the bottom six without standing out. But the Sharks always seemingly round out their bottom six with pieces from their system.

Prediction: It doesn’t feel like the doomsday machine they could have been last year but fell short of. The loss of Pavelski and Braun will be somewhat canceled out if Martin Jones can escape from whatever pod person took over his body last year, but not entirely. They look short a top four d-man and maybe one forward.

But there’s more than enough here to win the division and conference. The Flames haven’t gotten away from them, and whether the Knights want to admit it or not they have the same questions in net and on their blue line. Another 105-110 points seem on offer if Karlsson can manage 60-65 games or more. The bet is that Couture and Hertl at center can take some wingers with them even if they’re not Pavelski. Perhaps. But nothing the Sharks do will be judged until they get into April again. They could be in any kind of shape by then.

Everything Else

It’s bad enough that we all know that Evander Kane is a piece of shit. He’s been sued/investigated/charged for all sorts of actions against women, whether it’s assault or being grabby or suits over supposed agreements to pay for abortions that he didn’t fulfill. There are enough of them around, however they’ve ended up, to make it pretty clear that he’s someone we could all do without.

But there are enough of them around in the league, and there hasn’t been anything yet that would be grounds to throw him out of hockey, no matter how good it might feel. What there also isn’t are grounds to actively use him to do NHL promotion.

Kane appears in an ad for NHL Network, though you’ll only find it on the NHL Center Ice package when they don’t show local ads. Still, the NHL has no business being anywhere near Kane, and yet they can’t help themselves. This seems to be a hockey thing, where not only does the NHL duck and hide when it comes to dealing with these sort of issues, but they’re in a huge rush to try and rehabilitate any player’s image if they’re in any way a star. Whether Kane is would be debatable, but we know they did this with the other Kane as well. They’re more concerned with either ignoring these things totally or jump-starting a rehabilitation of one’s image. But never of their personality.

It’s not asking much of a league that when a player has a cloud as big and stormy over him for years, that Evander Kane does, he’s merely an employee and not a poster boy. That would seem to be the bare minimum any fan who cares about this stuff would ask of the NHL. It sends a horrific message to a huge portion of hockey fandom. And yet the NHL constant fails this easy, step-over-able hurdle every goddamn time.

Maybe Kane’s next crime/indiscretion/mistake will get the NHL to finally do something about it. But they’ll have a hand in why he hasn’t learned anything from all the previous ones, whatever they may be.

 

Game #35 Preview Suite

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Sharks 43-23-9   Hawks 31-36-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT EITHER: Fear The Fin

A friend of the program, one Kevin Kujawa–guitarist and singer for great local band of the past Mannequin Men– used to refer to the first game after the trade deadline as “New Toy Day.” Well, the Hawks didn’t get that this year as it was clearance sale time, but Hawks fans will get some of that this week as the Hawks show off what they hope will be a couple pieces that matter in the future.

The first one arrives tonight in Victor Ejdsell, probably referred to from here on out as “Eggshell.” He’s a big center, whom they’re probably already envisioning taking Anismov’s place so they can punt him to the nearest taker this summer that’s also on his list (YOU’RE ON OUR LIST. HE NAMED NAMES!). Ejdsell comes with plus-hands, so we’re told, though the Hawks are probably already telling him to get his ass to the front of the net which will kneecap his playmaking abilities we’re told he has a bit. Whatever, there will be plenty of time to worry about that next year. The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter, or if he’s just a monolith the Hawks hope they can park at the other crease but which hurts you in every other aspect. He’d better be the former, otherwise the trade of a definitely useful Ryan Hartman is just simply running in place (because he was a first-round pick at #30, which seemingly everyone evaluating that trade forgot). The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok (Jan Rutta excluded and they’re going to give that one another go anyway).

The other one is Dylan Sikura, who will arrive Thursday. We’ll talk more about him then but he’ll be an interesting watch because he’s got a big chance to more than just ballast on the team next year, even if he’s in desperate need of a sandwich. Just a shame he couldn’t bring Adam Gaudette with him.

As for the rest of the story with the Hawks, there isn’t one really. Toews is still out, with some mystery injury that definitely isn’t either “tired of this shit” or “has been playing with something for months and can’t be bothered anymore but don’t think it’s a head injury” or “we’re actually trying to tank.” After Anton Forsberg looked decent against the Isles he’ll get the start again, but we know what it’s looked like when he’s tried to put two starts together. So JF Berube should probably be properly warmed and stretched, as Q pulls a goalie switch for the 46th time this season.

This game matters a little to the Sharks, though not that much. They’ve pretty much held off either the Kings or Ducks for the second spot in the Pacific, especially with the seven-game winning streak they’re currently on (you can do that?). They’re four up on the Ducks and have a game in hand, and six up on the Kings with a game in hand. So they’ll start the playoffs at home against either, and really they should beat either. But these are the Sharks, and without a healthy Thornton anything is possible for them. Pavelski has been great at center, and that should be enough to see off either of their California brethren. But again, the Sharks have found a way in the past to drive their car into a swimming pool.

After a hiccup around the turn of the year, Martin Jones has been excellent the past two months and the Sharks would enter either series with the better goalie, which is a leg up (sorry Jonathan Quick but we know what you are). While it doesn’t jump out at you, the Sharks are deeper than most teams even without Thornton. Pavelski and Evander “I’m The Other Fuckstick Named…” Kane have been quite the force on the top line, Couture and Hertl have dovetailed on the second line, and Tierney andLeBanc have been a surprise on the third. A Thornton return along with Joonas Donskoi (who’s only day-to-day) only adds to that. They’ll be deeper up front than either the Ducks or Kings, that’s for sure.

You know the story on the blue line. Marc-Eduoard “This Is What Seabrook Was Supposed To Be” Vlasic and Justin Braun are the human shield for Brent Burns on the second pairing, and he simply runs wild. Again, a unique weapon to have. And Brenden Dillon and Dylan “Fine And” DeMelo on the third pairing aren’t really a disaster. Again, sneaky depth.

Even with all that, it’s hard to know if the Sharks are that good. Their special teams for sure are, and that’s gotten them a long way. But this is one of the more boring Sharks teams we can remember, who play in a terrible division and when you watch them nothing really jumps out. Then again, that’s the exact kind of team that comes alive in the playoffs when things get choppier. Secondly, in that division there’s no one who’s going to turn up the pace on them that they can’t handle, which is what Edmonton did last year and the Penguins the year before. You could see if they ran into a misplaced Colorado team in the second round where that could be a problem, but that’s one line and specifically one guy. Vegas, if it somehow shambles its way out of the first round even without Fleury, will see it all pop against the vastly more experienced Sharks. Really, this team merely has to stand still to get to a conference final, where it probably will be laced by Nashville or Winnipeg, assuming there’s anything left of either of those teams after they’re done bludgeoning each other in the second round.

Let’s have fun with our new toys these last two weeks. It’s all we got.

Game #77 Preview

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Jack Eichel wouldn’t be the first to watch the aura of Buffalo simply sap any knowledge of his existence from the Earth. Really only Dominik Hasek has been able to make a name for himself there, and he had to flee to Detroit to actually win something. Did you know James Lofton actually played football instead of just talked about it? Remember Andre Reed? Of course you don’t 13,000 yards receiving before it was cool. We bet  you think LeSean McCoy died after his days as an Eagle. Nope, He plays in Buffalo. We know, right?

Eichel has suffered because of some things out of his control. One, it’s hot his fault his main contemporary, Connor McDavid, has a Hart Trophy already, made the second round of the playoffs, and has turned various family size cans of tuna like Patrick Maroon or Milan Lucic into useful things for at least a little while. Eichel can’t help that the defense behind him has always been the remedial clown college. It’s not Eichel’s fault the goaltending has been at best up-and-down, and at times looked like a collection of newborn gorillas.

You may not know this, but Eichel’s career 0.84 PPG mark for his first three years at ages 19-21 ranks him comfortably along Tavares, Hall, Toews, and Kopitar at the same ages. And in all their cases aside from Toews basically, they were each playing with trash.

But that’s the thing with Eichel. He hasn’t exactly played with trash.

Last year he mostly skated with Sam Reinhart, who while still young is hardly inept. This year it was Evander Kane, and while we might want to see him come up close and personal with a flame-thrower he’s a talented player, and Jason Pominville, who admittedly at this point in his career is dust and bones. His rookie year saw him mostly with Kane as well. Again, these aren’t world-beaters, but they’re better than Maroon or Lucic.

And what’s a touch worrying is that these players don’t seem to get better with Eichel. Kane’s, before the trade, and Pominville’s metrics stay about the same whether they’re playing with Eichel or not. But Eichel’s go down measurably. It was the same last year.

What may be frustrating Sabres fans just a touch is that given his pedigree, it feels like there should be a touch more from him. Quite simply in the past ten years, no college freshman has come close to Eichel’s 71 points at BU, except for Kyle Connor at Michigan. Connor potted his 25th goals against the Hawks on Thursday, a total that Eichel has yet to see. Though given injuries, he probably would have. Again, he’s not been bad, but it’s fair to question if there shouldn’t be more. Also considering he’s already gotten a coach fired.

On the plus side, Eichel’s possession rates have improved every year relative to his team, though even that comes with the caveat that he’s had to have his zone starts really sheltered this year. He starts over 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone for a team that doesn’t get there very often. A true #1 should be able to start anywhere, you’d hope.

Eichel still promises the moon, and maybe given different winger who set him up more than he’s had he’ll truly take off. He’s definitely a shoot-first guy and hasn’t really had a playmaker with him. The Sabres aren’t going anywhere until that happens.

 

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There is no pleasure in writing about an NHL winger named Kane who has had sexual assault allegations brought against him in the past. I certainly don’t envy the position Sharks fans are in here one bit – when the Hawks stood by Garbage Dick you saw it coming because you knew they wouldn’t abandon their star child and face of their franchise. He was already here and given his status you knew he wasn’t going anywhere. In some sense, you could understand it, no matter how much it made your skin crawl.

But I imagine there is somehow a more gross feeling when your team actually goes out and acquires an individual like this. It’s one thing to stand by a player you already have when he reveals himself as a fuckstick, but it’s entirely another to invite one a fuckstick into town knowing full well he is a fuckstick. And as we around here have experienced, trying to analyze and cover a player like Kane (take your pick which one I am referencing) is a delicate balancing act, and sucks a good bit of the fun out of doing this.

Part of that balancing act is just being able to break down the actual hockey of a player like this. Both Kane’s are good players, and hockey-wise this is a good move for a the Sharks to get Evander for their playoff push. But trying to engage in that side of it objectively when you feel negatively about them personally is really hard. Fear The Fin editor Sie Morley bravely and excellently articulates what her vision is for doing so, and I think her plan the right one. It’s pretty much the approach I’ve taken personally, and this blog has taken as a whole.

So welcome, Shark fans, to the club of fans whose teams have deciding selling their souls for hockey results is a defensible move. It’s fucking miserable here.

 

Game #64 Preview

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Melissa Burgess is a contributor to DieByTheBlade.com (still our favorite hockey blog name). You can follow her on Twitter @_MelissaBurgess.

Maybe it only seems like the Sabres are in year 87 of a rebuild, but with names like O’Reilly, Eichel, Okposo, Ristolainen, Kane why has this season been such a balls-up?

Honestly, I wish I knew. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating. Every season, we talk about the rebuild, and every season, the results are the same. This year realistically should be different. The Sabres have all this great offensive talent, like the names you mentioned, plus a new head coach in Phil Housley. But some nights, it seems like they’re just kind of skating around rather than actively playing the game, fighting for the puck, battling in the corners. The opposing team will score goals that leave me scratching my head, thinking “… how did [goalie] not save that?”
I don’t think anyone really expected the Sabres to be playoff contenders this year, but many expected them to at least battle, or be able to compete against other NHL teams. Instead, you’ve got all these seemingly-great players who are barely showing up. Eichel is hit-or-miss. It took O’Reilly seven games to get his first goal of the season, and Okposo 12 games. Overall, sometimes it seems like they lack heart. It doesn’t mean they want to lose, per se, but just that the passion and energy to win isn’t there.
Throw in more off-ice team-building exercises. Shake up line combinations in practice and in games and figure out what works. Make players want to be here, and make them want to fight for their spot. Do whatever it takes, because the team needs SOMETHING to get going here.
Speaking of Ristolainen, he’s in the top three in the league in minutes per game. But is he actually worthy of that kind of load?
 
The short answer, in my opinion, is… yes. As I write this, Ristolainen (27:00) is second in icetime leaguewide, behind only Ryan Suter. Suter’s averaged four seconds more ice time per game than Ristolainen, in eight more games played. He’s been a critical point of the Sabres’ defense and is really, observably, one of the anchors of Buffalo’s blue line. He’s also quite effective on the power play, with 10 shots and 2 takeaways with the man advantage this season.
Is it ideal to have one player skating in nearly half of every game? Probably not. Ristolainen actually played 30:42 in the win over Colorado on Tuesday night. Is there a concern about overworking him? Is it realistic that he could play those minutes every night? Probably not. But is he worth playing that much? Absolutely.
Before the draft of ’15, it felt as if Eichel was right there with McDavid. Run CMD has an MVP and 100-point season to his name. Eichel has had effective, quality seasons as well, but not quite the heights of McDavid. Is that a question of teammates? Just a different learning curve? Something else?
 
I understand where it’s easy for people to put Eichel and McDavid up next to each other, since they both came in the same draft year and all. But in reality, they’re two very different players. McDavid grew his offensive prowess playing in juniors alongside other young guns like Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. Eichel played in the USA Hockey system and only one year at Boston University.
Ultimately, I think what it comes down to is… well, a lot of things. First, you’ve got to consider the different conferences. Yes, you’re seeing a lot of the same opponents overall, but the styles of play and competition in the Eastern Conference as opposed to the Western Conference aren’t the same.  Look at the overall league standings from last season. Three of the top four teams in the league were from the Eastern Conference. Six of the league’s top ten scorers came from Western Conference teams. Do we ever take into consideration not just teammates, but who teams are playing against, and the level of competition there?
It’s also a matter of considering how they’re being used on their respective teams and alongside their teammates. Look at last season, for instance. McDavid had 100 points (30-70) in 82 games. He averaged 21:08 ice time per game. Eichel had 57 points in 61 games; if he had played a full season, that may have amounted to about 77 points in 82 games. His average ice time was 19:55, slightly less than McDavid. Of course, both have been playing on teams that are pretty much at the bottom of the league. McDavid is also significantly a passer, which is pretty evident by the fact that he had 70 assists last year. They’re just different players at the core, and they’re going to be utilized differently in different systems, and having unique learning curves.
With Evander Kane having the numbers he does and this being the last year of his deal, are the Sabres going to flog him for whatever they can get at the deadline?
 

I don’t think you can just let Kane go for anything. Botterill (Sabres GM) has to really carefully consider what he’s doing here. Yes, Kane is having a good year. Yes, this is the last year of his deal. But at what point do you decide “okay, this package is good enough to make this trade” over “we’re going to try and re-sign him?”

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded at the deadline, but the problem with that is, you may not get as much for him since he could end up just being a rental player somewhere else. Focusing on his on-ice skills, Kane’s one of the best players on the Sabres right now – you can’t just give him up for nothing.

 
If you were GM, what are you doing to move this thing along so the Sabres can once again be a playoff team in what is a pretty crap division?
 
Night in and night out, I seem to be saying the same thing as I watch games: something’s gotta give. Okay, maybe I’ve been saying that for years now. And the team has tried different things – new coaches, new players – but the bottom line is, they can’t keep being at the bottom of the league, and the division. It’s obviously easier for a team to let go of one coach versus swapping out 20+ players, but getting rid of the coach isn’t always the right answer. Players have to be committed to the team’s system, and have to want to succeed. Right now there’s a level of frustration building around this team, and although the circumstances aren’t great, maybe that frustration is exactly what they need, to give them that extra spark, that extra push.
If I’m GM, I think I’m trying to move Robin Lehner for the right price. He’s played most of the Sabres’ games this season but still fails to show consistency and lets in a lot of goals that shouldn’t have been. I’m also getting Josh Gorges out of the picture, as he really just seems to be slowing down the team’s defense. I think the other thing that can be done is to really make guys fight for their roster spots. Just the other night, Zemgus Girgensons was a healthy scratch. He has four points this season and, quite frankly, needs to be doing more. So you scratch him, have him sit a game or two, and hope that brings some spark when he returns.
Everything Else

image-sabre_medium vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NHL-US, WGN-AM 720
Don Beebe’s House Of Speed: Die By The Blade

Last month when the Hawks visited Buffalo for a Saturday matinee, surprisingly their hometown hero, the Prodigal Son, received less than a warm ovation, receiving boos every time he touched the puck. Since then, the Sabres’ own Kane, Evander, is now the subject of a rape investigation of his own, and it would stand to reason that those in attendance tonight would feel turnabout is fair play to return the favor because no one even tangentially affiliated with the Blackhawks has had any degree of self awareness for months. Fans on both sides of this equation who feel the need to do such things while not realizing the bigger issues would be well served just to stay home if not walk into oncoming traffic on the Eisenhower.

Everything Else

I’m sure this will be overblown:Chicago Tribune

I’d bet the over:WGN

Next up The Human Shield? Blackhawk Up

This will be a common question:SCH

This made my head explode more from confusion than outright anger:SunTimes

This will be CarBomb’s Legacy and I for one am damn proud:Globe&Mail

Finally good news:NHL

Hard-Working Devil:PuckDaddy

Even with Sid, I don’t see the ROI:TSN

I’m assuming people will have an issue with this:Sportsnet