Hockey

It was only a couple years ago that the reigning thought about the Leafs was that their blue line would hold them back (everyone in Toronto can conveniently forget the goalie on command in amazing fashion). They clearly have the forwards for a Cup run, perhaps the most talented grouping in the league. And yet for a few years now the Leafs have given up way too many chances and shots. This year’s been a little different, as they’re in the middle of the pack in the amount of attempts and chances they give up. Their penalty kill has let them down, but at evens they’ve been just about where you want to be.

A couple years ago, the Leafs blue line was a bit slow. But then they picked up Jake Muzzin last year. And Travis Dermott got more experience. And then this past summer, they made the big splash and shipped out problem child Nazem Kadri to Colorado for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. Barrie was supposed to be the missing piece, the third puck-mover they didn’t have who could keep the forwards from having to come all the way back in their own zone and could get them out in space more often where they’re beyond lethal.

About that…

On the surface, Barrie’s numbers don’t look too much worse than what he did in Denver. His Corsi-percentage is almost exactly the same as it was as an Avalanche last year. But do any digging and things have been a tire fire so far. Barrie’s xG% has dropped from 52.4% to 45.4% this year, and he’s lagging way behind the team rate. Moreover, Barrie provided scoring from the back end in Colorado. He had 14 goals each of the past two seasons and over 55 points as well. So far this year he only has five assists. Even worse, he’s not getting the looks he got earlier in his career either. He’s getting the same attempts at evens, but they’re from beyond three-point range, as his expected tallies and scoring chances are down either to one-third or one quarter of what they were in Denver.

It’s the same story on the power play, where he’s not getting as much time in Toronto, and his chances just aren’t as good as they used to be. So what gives?

It could be a matter of partner. In Colorado, Barrie spent most of his time with Ian Cole (BAYBAY!), who would just simply be a free safety for him and back him up in his forays. Now in Toronto, he’s playing with Jake Muzzin, who has a very similar game to Barrie’s. So it appears that Barrie is deferring to Muzzin, as Muzzin’s numbers are a little closer to what he’s done before. It’s not the best use of Barrie, but then again it might not be the best use of Muzzin to reverse it either. It’s only 17 games, and there’s plenty of time to see how they can get the best out of both, but it’s been a rocky start.

Maybe it doesn’t help that every Leafs defender aside from Morgan Rielly and his odd expressions is on audition. Every one of them is a free agent in the summer, and the Leafs can only keep a couple thanks to their cap situation. It could be a complete reset. Throw in the normal pressure of playing in Toronto, and you see what the issues could be.

It’s not what they pictured when they picked up Barrie, and Kadri killing it Colorado hasn’t helped the fans’ morale. Then again, nothing does. But the Leafs blue line went from one of the slower ones around to one of the more nifty ones in just two seasons, and the question is whether Mike Babcock the one to figure out how to maximize it. While there’s plenty of games, the Atlantic Division is just about as devilish as it gets and the last thing the Leafs want is to be staring up at the Bruins and starting the playoffs in Boston again. Figuring out this puzzle would be a major step.

Everything Else

While many of the flapping heads are pronouncing the local squad as now having a closed window and figure to be on the outside looking in come playoff time, it is the two-time champions on Figueroa who have won but a single playoff game in the last three seasons since their last championship. And though they cleaned house in coaching and management with complete scumbag Dean Lombardi finally getting launched and the decidedly unfunny and cantakerous Darryl Sutter going with him, many of the same pieces that have never been able to buy a fucking goal are still here, just now older and with even more miles on the odometer.

Everything Else

20232_king-of-hearts vs evil empire

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN+, NBCSN, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Hollywood Bowl: JFTC, Royal Half

On paper, it’s surprising that what’s become very clear as the vocal majority of Hawks fans aren’t more nakedly jealous of Kings fans. With basically an equal amount of success as the Hawks, Kings fans have been able to enjoy the organization from management to players being unrepentant pieces of since the summer of 2012 (when Drew Doughty was also accused of sexual assault and no one even to this day still seems to give a shit about) without having to mansplain themselves to Social Justice Warriors out to ruin the good times of white men everywhere.

Whether that’s a function of no one giving a fuck about the Kings on a national level even after winning two of the last four cups and leading their division for most of this year, or that Kings fans as a whole merely think it’s funny when it happens to other people without the slightest bit of self-reflection, their loyalty remains largely unquestioned to this point. The option of being able to enjoy their shit SPORTS franchise in uninterrupted complacency without being made to ask larger questions is certainly an option most would take.

Everything Else

evil empire at king

Game Time: 9:30PM Central
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
Fountain and Fairfax: The Royal Half, Jewels From The Crown

Tonight the Hawks will conclude their annual November two-week displacement from the United Center at the hands of Sirs Barnum and Bailey on Figueroa against the Kings, who are taking a novel approach to their regular season by at least cultivating the image that they give a shit about it. But much like their visiting counterparts, they still do not give a shit about women or human decency. 

Everything Else

Moving on back, it’s now time to turn the analytical eye towards the Kings’ blue line, which is slightly revamped after last year’s Cup run. Some of the faces might be different, but the look and feel of this outfit remains the same, with a fairly even split of flash and brawn keeping things away from the ultimate safety net in the crease behind them.