Hockey

It was always going to shake out this way wasn’t it? In a year where the Hawks finally tried to fully supplant Corey Crawford in net with noted asswipe Robin Lehner, or at the very least cover themselves against more Crawford injuries, the Hawks were out of it by the deadline, and decided to get what they could for Lehner after he very publicly started demanding to finally be paid what he’s worth, even as Crawford was outplaying him and had been for a couple of months. He was shipped to Vegas who could no longer rely on Marc-Andre Fleury despite giving him a huge contract after harnessing the Reality Stone in the 2018 post-season, and now with the wacky return to play tournament format, the two teams find themselves squaring off against one another for the fate of all humanity.

Everything Else

Timing is everything, and Ben Bishop has learned that lesson more than most.

You may not know this, but the past five years, Ben Bishop has been a top-five starter in the league. It’s true. In the past five seasons, the only goalies to better Bishop’s .920 SV% in all situations are Carey Price, John Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Devan Dubnyk. Gibson and Vasilevskiy haven’t even been starters that whole time like Bishop has (save on injury-riddled season), so you could vault him ahead of them if you were so inclined. He’s just a tick ahead of Corey Crawford.

And it’s not like Bishop has been helped by wondrous defensive teams. He was in Tampa before they became this juggernaut, and even the Hitch-led Stars weren’t an Iron Curtain for a season. These days we only have expected Fenwick-save percentage to deal with against actual Fenwick save-percentage. In difference between those over the past five years, Bishop ranks 12th among starting goalies, ahead of names like Rask, Jones, and Hellebuyck. So he hasn’t had to perform as many miracles as Crawford or Gibson, but he’s done more with what he’s asked than can be expected.

And yet you’ll find Bishop to be one of the bigger bargains around. Bishop is the 18th-highest paid goalie in the league, making a lower cap hit than such luminaries as Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick, Martin Jones, and Mike Smith. And you may point to playoff pedigree, but Bishop does have a Final appearance to his name, as well as aiding an additional conference final appearance, which means he has more playoff pedigree than Howard, or Jones, or Smith. It’s been a few years though, so maybe that fades with time.

But Bishop hit free agency, or was due to, on the back of his rotten-luck, no good, groin-exploded, very middling 2016-2017. That’s the year he ceded the Tampa job to Vasilevskiy, got traded to the Kings, and then was moved before the draft afterwards to the Stars. It’s the only season in the last five he didn’t manage a .916 save-percentage, and really could not have come at a worse time. In one of Jim Nill’s more shrewd moves, as it turns out, he jumped at the chance to get Bishop at a cut-rate.

And now there’s an argument to be made that Bishop is a Vezina candidate. His .930 SV% only trails Vasilevskiy (how many players are they allowed to produce at this point?). Gibson’s injury and dip in form might shroud his wizard-like season in doubt. The difference in Bishop’s actual Fenwick SV% and expected only trails the dual-headed Lehner and Greiss, who will probably split votes, Gibson, and McElhinney. If Gibson was the front-runner a month ago, Bishop has to be in the conversation.

A win would make Bishop the only Vezina-holder making less than $6M per season. And he’s locked in until 2023 at that rate, which is a real coup.

Then again, the discussion of what goalies should be paid has always been weird. Only Carey Price’s hit or salary is over eight figures, and that doesn’t square. In terms of importance, even with the higher-scoring atmosphere, goalies might only be behind quarterbacks. No one seems to mind when QBs make a fifth or quarter of a team’s cap, because that’s just the way things are. And yet you can only find one goalie paid on par with McDavid or Matthews or Crosby? Strange, no? Look at the top goalies this year and the standings. Vasilevsky – best team in the league. Lehner and Greiss – 1st place. Halak and Rask – top five team. Andersen – top five team. This isn’t all that hard.

One day, a team is just going to hand a goalie $12M and everyone will laugh. Or a goalie will ask for that and be mocked as selfish. If Bobrovsky hadn’t totally whiffed on his free agent year, maybe he would have. Teams seem to know this, which is why goalies are getting locked up as soon as possible. Look at that Crawford deal now, at least before the concussions, and how people lost their mud when it was signed.

Price shouldn’t be alone at that plateau. If Bishop had timed it better, he’d be a lot closer.

 

Game #68 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

You can go around to any of the four major sports and it would be nearly impossible to pick a team and position, or helplessness at said position, more identifiable than the Flyers and their goalie situation. For as long as you’ve been alive, no matter how old you are, the Flyers have had goalie issues. And that’s putting it kindly. When describing the Flyers’ crease, some might be tempted to use words like, “garbage dump,” or “wasteland,” or “Chernobyl.”

Going through the list, it’s like Bears quarterbacks. Have some penicillin on hand. The Rockies and a rotation? That’s setting-based and they may have actually solved it, finally. The Cubs and 3rd basemen was in this category for a while. That’s solved now, too (and Kris Bryant is likely to keep both of his feet!). The Browns and a QB? The Browns and everything? That’s about the closest comparable.

Did you know that the best SV% in a season for the Flyers is Roman Cechmanek’s .923 in 2003? That’s 15 years ago, where the SV% of everyone has steadily risen to the point that that mark is just about league-average now. 15 years and they haven’t bettered it. And yes, Cechmanek is now a thrower at some one-terminal airport in the Czech Republic now.

Nor have they even really come close. Once in the past 10 seasons have they had a team save-percentage over .920, and that was three years ago that saw them be a first-round out anyway. For as long as time it seems, the Flyers have been searching for anyone or anything that can make a stop. This is what the U2 song was about, as if it wasn’t bad enough being a Flyers fan.

You want to hear some names? You don’t, but here’s the list of fuckwits and shit-gibbons that have taken the starter’s role in eastern PA for the orange: Brian Elliot, Michal Neuvirth, Calvin Pickard, Petr Mrazek, Steve Mason, Ray Emery (twice), Ilya Bryzgalov, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, Sergei Bobrovksy (pre-Vezina form), Marin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, Shawn Burke, John Vanbiesbrouck at 107 years old, and Ron Hextall at even older. That’s 20 years worth of Flyers goalies, and our fingers just disintegrated after typing all of that.

You’d think over that span, 20 years, you’d just find a goalie by accident. On that list, who even had a passable NHL career after leaving the Flyers? Bobrovsky and….Bobrovsky. Fuck, Ray Emery is dead and he’s assuredly dead from being a Flyers goalie twice. It has to be terminal.

How do you miss this consistently, not just on one position but the most important position in the sport? Of any sport? You’d almost have to be trying to do this. You can’t do this by accident. Even the biggest dumbass GMs end up with a goalie. Somehow, someway they get there. Glen Sather was incontinent and blind as Rangers GM and he got Henrik Lundqvist. Every Canadien GM has literally been the French teacher from the Simpsons and they have Carey Price. The Leafs at least signed Curtis Joseph back in the day or whatever. Bob Pulford was throwing up 17 hours a day and thanks to Mike Keenan as well the Hawks had both Eddie Belfour and Dominik Hasek at once.

Even if you stick to the last 20 years, pretty much every team has had a goalie worth a shit. Not the Flyers, Nope, fuck you, that’s the Flyer way! It’s going to be loud and stupid and orange and then some clown is going to let in a beer-belch from the red line in and we’re going to Wawa (which also sucks)! Generations of Flyers fans have grown up staring at some jerk-ass in net and wondering how they’ve been cursed with such a thing. Or maybe that’s why they’re cursed with such a thing. They want it this way, because it gives them something to complain about.

Maybe that’s why it has to be this way. The Eagles have won a Super Bowl now. The Phillies a World Series and look to be rounding into contenders again. The Sixers are at least young and interesting. As long as the Flyers don’t have a goalie, and at this point you’d be right to conclude they never will, it give the Philly fan something he can stab himself with a fork over in front of the viewing public, because it’s that last part they care about most. They need you to know how angry and red they are, otherwise they wither and die. It’s true. If a Philly sports fan goes eight minutes without someone looking at them they fucking get Thanos-snapped.

They’re going to throw Carter Hart into this at some point, maybe even this year. With any other team, he would probably go on to a successful NHL career. In Philadelphia, his hips will turn into a loose band of goldfish within months. It’s just that way. It’s the way they want. Well, they get it.

 

Game #17 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

This generally happens every October. As we know, the NHL season tends to be wacky and fun and Seussian in the  first month as teams scramble to entrench themselves into their standings position. We know they pretty much have to because of how hard it is to make up ground late in the season, and the percentage of teams that are in the playoffs spots at Thanksgiving that stay there (just north 0f 75% as of last check). You can’t entrench by gaining one point. You need two. And you generally need to keep the other team from getting one. So teams actually go for it. If this is where you’d ask wouldn’t this be solved season-long if wins were worth three points you can just shove it because your logic has no place in the hockey world! Put your telescope away, Galileo! (He used one, right?)

So scoring is up so far. But is it simply that? Will teams pull back, combined with boredom, in December and beyond to give us the turgid, uninspiring morass we’ve come to know and…well, know? I’m not so sure.

The numbers are there. Teams are averaging 3.11 goals per game after 2.97 last year. Though this is just about the same jump we saw from two seasons ago to last, which was 2.77 to 2.97. Maybe it’s just the way things are going? That’s a bit simplistic, so let’s dive a little deeper.

There are four teams averaging over 35 shots per game, when no team managed it for the total of last year (topping the list are the Hurricanes who are averaging a simply bonkers 41 shots per game so far). However, only 22 teams are averaging over 30 shots per game, while 28 managed it last year. So the high-end, the more volatile selection, is higher. But overall there aren’t more shots being taken from last year. In fact, teams are averaging slightly less shots than last year, 31.3 to 31.8.

As far as overall attempts, there are five teams averaging over 65 attempts per 60 minutes at evens, and nine over 60. Last year, only five teams got over 60 per 60 (isn’t that neat?), and none over 65. So there are more teams attempting more shots, but that doesn’t mean that many are getting through. That would suggest there is more action, just not that much more important action.

Teams are getting faster and copying all the time, so you do see more teams trying to replicate what the Penguins, Knights, Predators have done over the past couple seasons. A couple teams have pivoted to more aggressive coaches. The Stars went from Ken Hitchcock to Jim Montgomery, and they’ve seen a slight uptick in both attempts and shots per game. Bill Peters went from Carolina to Calgary, but they’ve actually seen a downtick in both categories. His replacement in Raleigh, Rod Brind’Amour, certainly has not overseen a downtick. The Coyotes have changed their system, and Ottawa and Montreal at least have tweaked theirs.

The number that jumps out most so far though is that team SV% has dropped .912 to 908 this year. Some will attribute this to the new goalie pads, and that probably plays a role. Some will attribute it to some of the league’s better goalies getting off to slow starts, or not being around at all in the case of Corey Crawford or Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Quick has been abhorrent in LA, Cam Talbot is still stepping on his tongue in Edmonton, Marc-Andre Fleuy has been pretty woeful in Vegas (and really, who could have seen that coming?), Holtby terrible in DC as he was at the start of last year, Martin Jones has been bad, Sergei Bobrovsky worse, and Connor Hellebuyck has been mediocre (say it like Immortan Joe).

Still, they can’t all be off to slow starts, right? There must be something.

Combine that with how many teams simply whiffed on their goaltending decisions. Trusting Mike Smith in Calgary was always going to end in ennui. Jake Allen in St. Louis…well, you know what we’d write here. Did they really thing Carter Hutton would work in Buffalo? Jimmy Howard has been an anchor for a while, which is good for a team trying to bottom out like the Wings (wait, they’re doing what?). The decision to stick with Brian Elliot in Philly is why Gritty looks like that.

The amount of teams getting steady goaltending right now is pretty thin. The Rangers and Ducks are, and those teams both suck eggs. The Stars are getting good work from Ben Bishop. If you want to argue the Hawks now that Crow is back, I guess you can but we’ll need more than the three games Crow has gotten. Dubnynk is doing his normal thing, Kinkaid has been really good in New Jersey, and Varlamov has been a mutant in Colorado (not hard for him). Throw the Lightning, Predators, and Canucks on the list. Essentially, 10 teams are getting average goaltending at even-strength. One of them is Calgary that has Rittich making up for the toxic waste Mike Smith is leaving behind. Minnesota and Anaheim are getting incredible goaltending, but they’re also giving up the most shots in the game. So there are still goals to be had against them. Without their goaltending, the commissioner would have to step in and relegate them.

But that’s not all of it. Could it be the pressure and chances these goalies are asked to stand up against is higher? Yes, it appears that way. Currently, eight teams have an expected goals-against per 60 minutes over 2.8. Only one team did that last year, which was the Rangers. Still though, deeper you go it’s about the same. Nine teams had an xGA/60 last year over 2.5. This year that number is 11 (it always comes back to Nigel Tuffnel on this blog).  A difference to be sure, but not huge.

There clearly isn’t one answer to this. Everyone hopes it sticks around, though.

Everything Else

As I was writing up Pekka Rinne’s spotlight yesterday, and noticing the spike in his high-danger save-percentage, I got to thinking. And friends, you know what happens when I get to thinking. Because as I dug around, I saw that a lot of goalies were seeing a jump in their high-danger save percentages at even-strength. Was this a league-wide trend? Turns out it is.

I charted the high-dangers SV% of all starting goalies starting in the 2009-2009 season, and averaged them for a league-wide figure. Here’s what I got:

As you can see, from last season to this, there’s been an 11-point jump. It’s the biggest jump in any season, and by something of a margin. The only other one is the 2012 to 2013 jump of eight points, and some of that could be explained by the season-in-a-can and shooters out of rhythm and such. There was a seven-point jump in the year before that as well.

The NHL will point to a spike in scoring, as each team is averaging 2.93 goals per game this year versus 2.77 goals per game last year. Though that seems to have more to do with a spike in power play goals, which has jumped to 0.63 per game for team over last year’s 0.57. Though not all, as even-strength goals per team are slightly up from last year, 1.84 from 1.81 per game.

One reason that might be is that teams are creating more high-danger chances this year, and there’s been something of a spike. Over the past four years, the average number of high-danger chances every team creates per 60 has gone from 10.1, to 10.2, to 10.3, to 10.7 this year. So while goalies are saving more chances that are considered the best, they’re also facing more.

The reasons for this could be many, but I can’t help but think of expansion and years of a flattening cap. Basically, goalies are facing teams that only have two or three prime finishers instead of four or five that teams might have had back in the day. At the same time, you have worse players on each team, making more mistakes, with more defenders who can’t stem the tide before it gets to the crease.  That’s just a theory.

What we have known for a while is that goalies get better every year. Overall save-percentages have climbed basically every year of your life. So maybe high-danger chances just come along with it. This seems to be a particular spike, though. Food for thought.

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs currently have a plethora of net-minders as their season winds down next week. Taking a look at the list of goalies in town really got me in a pondering mood.

In one corner, we have Lars Johansson, brought from across the ocean as a potential future backup in Chicago. Across the way, we have Mac Carruth, a 2010 draft pick who’s days could well be numbered after spending parts of four seasons with the Hogs.

The plot thickened back in January when Jeff Glass was brought in on an AHL deal to compete for crease time. The new kid (literally)  is 18-year-old Wouter Peeters, last summer’s third-round selection of the Blackhawks, having his tires kicked on an ATO.

Peeters was in Rockford solely to practice with the IceHogs and get a close-up look from the organization; Rockford released him from his tryout Sunday morning. Still, four goalies on the roster gave me pause to think. What may we expect from this youngster in terms of an NHL future? For that matter, what lies ahead for the rest of this motley crew?

Corey Crawford is 32. Deal with it. At some point Chicago will have to find it’s next great (or even good) goaltender. Will it come through nabbing a late blooming prospect or via the draft?

Everything Else

Feels like it’s that time again. Let’s get nerdy!

.969/.929

These are the Hawks’ even-strength save-percentage at home and then on the road. Let’s be clear, the road mark is more more than acceptable. It’s why the Hawks are one of the few teams in the West to be above .500 on the road. Still, it’s a tad weird.

You can understand why skaters would have differing home-road splits. Get better matchups at home, maybe more beneficial zone starts. Goalies are susceptible to the same differences in the colors and the whites, i.e. familiar surroundings, routines, whatever else. But they face the same matchups no matter what.

You’d think with the difference in matchups going your way at home and not at home that the Hawks might be a more defensively leaky team on the road. But it doesn’t appear so. They give up just about the same amount of attempts per 60 between the two, 53.7 off of Madison St. vs. 53.6 on it. Scoring chances? 9.7 on the road per 60 vs. 9.0 at home. xGA60? 2.7 on the road and 2.4 at home.

Everything Else

We’ve moved beyond the quarter-mark of the season, almost at a third of it. In the first month of the season, we all sort of marveled at how sloppy the hockey was. We blamed it on the World Cup, with most teams not getting to have a training camp with their full rosters for more than a few days. While play has tightened up a little bit, as the season enters its third month we’re still left with a product that quite simply, isn’t very good.

What’s become clear is that the salary cap has flattened the entire league so that there’s little difference between the best team and the worst team. If you toss out overtime losses, which are essentially ties settled by glorified skills competitions, no one in the Eastern conference is below .500. Only 12 points separate the conference leading Habs from the bottom-dwelling Islanders. While that’s not a gap that’s going to be made up (likely), it’s not all that large for an entire conference.

Thinks are a little more split in the West, where the conference-leading Hawks have a 17 point gap over the wooden spooners, the Avs. But we’ve all seen what a conference-leading Hawks team in the past looks like, and it’s pretty obvious this isn’t the same vintage. Adding to the Hawks somewhat shaky hold on the West is that they lead the league in wins in overtime, which isn’t really a true test of what kind of team you are. They’re 13th in regulation wins.

Essentially, we have a mishmash of a lot of the same things.

Everything Else

Today’s line of discussion comes from SuperHawk27:

The Hawks addressed what many said was their biggest weakness by signing Brad Richards for the 2nd line center spot, so ….What is the Hawks biggest weakness now if Richards pans out? Which team(s) in the west is the best equipped to take advantage of this weakness?

This is a tough one, because looking over the roster there certainly aren’t any glaring holes. And while I’m heavily tempted to say the head coach is the biggest weakness because I’m a giant smartass, that almost certainly isn’t true and even if Q has faults (at times crippling ones) the things he does well help make this team the force that it is.

So, where should we look?