Everything Else

Something I like to do at the landmarks of every season. Most of these are the players that should win certain awards on analytic bases. But they probably won’t. And remember, the “quarter-pole” is when there’s a quarter of the race or season left, and you’ll hear plenty make this mistake. Including Pat Foley on Sunday night, which should never happen considering who is broadcast partner is. Anyway…

Hart Trophy – MVP: Conor McDavid or Patrice Bergeron

The problem with MVP debates in every sport in this country is that they split between “Player Of The Year” candidates, which is what the award should be, and some nebulous, indefinable “What This Player Means To His Team” connotation. And no one is going to hear the other side, and I’m one of them. As it seems to me, “most valuable” means “has the most value,” it’s simple. And you’ll never be able to define what would happen if you remove a player from a team without any doubt. Call me a lunatic, but removing the best player from any team is probably going to irreparably damage it.

Anyway, Connor McDavid is the best player in the league. So you don’t have to overthink it. Yes, a section of Avalanche fans (ones with names like “Anthrax”) are going to come running with weaponry in hand about Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, who should have won it last year. They have each other and Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog. McDavid has been playing with Nugent-Hopkins and a various sculptures made of boogers.

You could also give this to Patrice Bergeron, and it will be the only time you can as he’s going to miss the next month. The Bruins have half of a roster and are still near the top of the Atlantic because Bergeron has kept their one line humming. See what happens to Brad Marchand now.

Vezina – Best Goalie: Pekka Rinne

I don’t like it any more than you, but he’s been the best goalie. He’s got the best overall SV% of any starter, the best SV% at even-strength of any starter, and the best difference between his expected save-percentage and his actual save-percentage at evens. That’s a clean sweep.

Selke – Best Defensive Forward: Jonathan Marchessault

Ah, here’s where the fun begins. Normally, the Selke goes to whatever forward scores a lot and everyone knows wins a lot of draws, or it just goes to Patrice Bergeron. And Bergeron is never a wrong choice, but we can do better this year. If you’re looking for best defensive forward, then you want someone who keeps attempts down, keeps chances down, keeps scoring down. And Marchessault, and his linemates William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, are doing that better than anyone right now.

Marchessault leads all forwards in Corsi-against per 60, shots-against per 60, and expected goals-against per 60. Karlsson and Smith aren’t far behind him, so you can claim that’s all the line’s work. But any defensive forward is going to be hard to separate from the rest of his line. Marchessault is starting 51% of his shifts in the offensive zone, which is one of the lower marks in the league among forwards who have amassed 300 minutes of even-strength time. Anze Kopitar actually starts the least amount of shifts in the offensive zone, and his metrics aren’t that far behind Marchessault’s, so if you want to make a case for him I’d listen. Actually, I won’t, because Kings fans have spent so much time spilling out their bladders about how they get no award attention that they should all be punted into the ocean.

This award never goes to a winger though, otherwise Marian Hossa would have at least one. But if hockey voting is going to catch up to the rest of the world, it should. Marchessault is your clubhouse leader.

Norris Trophy – Best D-man: Justin Faulk

Yeah, that’s fucking right. I’m gonna hand this to a guy with just eight points. Because I’m fucking crazy. TALK TO ME WHN YOU’RE ON MY BLOCK.

The Norris suffers from a lack of definition as well. It almost always goes to the blue-liner who scores the most. And then there’s a nutcase faction that wants it to be the Rod Langway Award (James Mirtle’s term), which means figuring out who the best defensive defenseman is. And we can do that, but stick with me.

So you basically have to synthesize the two. A d-man’s job is over all 200 feet of the ice these days, so they have to be able to do both. And Faulk is doing it better than anyone.

Faulk has the league’s best Corsi-percentage and expected-goals percentage. He has the lowest Corsi, shots, and expected goals against per 60. While he plays on a possession monster of a team, he’s still well above the team-rate in all of this.

The knock is going to be the eight points. Fine. Faulk is shooting 1.7%, and he’s a career 6% shooter. That goals-total is going to shoot up. Faulk’s major problem is that his team is only shooting 6.8% while he’s on the ice, and given the lack of front-line scoring on the Canes, that might not improve that much to vault his assist totals to where anyone will notice him for this award.

But that’s out of Faulk’s hands. The things he can control, he’s dominated. And if we’re forward thinking and living in a world where Jacob deGrom wins a Cy Young with 10 wins and everyone is like, “Well of course he did because he was the best pitcher and the Mets are a Soviet era cartoon,” then we can do better with hockey’s awards.

 

Everything Else

We, or maybe just I, spent most of the season bitching about the Vegas Golden Knights, and specifically how stupid they made the league and really the nature of the sport look. Because they didn’t reinvent any wheel here, despite what some would like you to think. They just put together a bunch of fast players, got somewhat lucky when other teams overvalued complete stiffs and gave them useful parts instead, and then told them to get the fuck up the ice as fast as possible and score. And because hockey is decided on such tight margins, you only need a few bounces and a division made up of partially digested foodstuffs to suddenly find yourself with more than 100 points and in a Stanley Cup Final.

But really, the indictment wasn’t on the Knights but on the league that A.) couldn’t see what the Penguins had been doing the previous two years and replicate it and B.) fanbases and front offices who still can’t see how arbitrary all this can be.

It could very easily go sideways on the Knights, and it wouldn’t take too many of those bounces reversing themselves for it to do so. They’re not getting .927 from Fleury again. Wild Bill Karlsson is not shooting 25% again. Without Nate Schmidt, other teams might discover that this blue line actually sucks, though the Knights system and speed shelters it just about as well as any team can.

But they’re also buffeted against that better this year. And the division still requires golf shoes to wade through. We’re goin’ in…to Sin City…

2017-2018: 51-24-7 109 points  272 GF 228 GA  50.9 CF% 50.6 xGF% 8.3 SH% .921 SV%

Goalies: No reason to not run it back from last year, though handing Marc-Andre Fleury the contract extension they did is going to end up with everyone covered in expired pudding (does pudding expire? I can’t even remember the last time I had pudding, honestly. Do adults eat pudding? They do, right? How come I never do? Has it all gotten away from me?).

I know how it goes whenever I say something definitive, as the “Fels Motherfuck” is becoming Chicago lexicon right up there with “Zorich To Linebacker!” But there’s simply no way Flower gets back to a .927 SV% this year. We have 13 years of data to look at with him. His career-mark is .913. Last year’s spasm of godliness was a career-high by six points. Fleury put together back-to-back .920+ years in Pittsburgh in ’15 and ’16, but bottomed out in ’17 with a .908. What exactly he’ll put up this year is hard to pinpoint, so I’ll go safe and general and say it’s probably between his career mark of .913 and .920. Which is fine. Can the Knights do as much with just “fine” in net? Probably not. But they can still be good.

Fleury’s “Starry Season” masked the fact that the Knights also got highly competent work out of Malcolm Subban, both as a backup and when Fleury was hurt. And Subban had struggled in the AHL his last two seasons there, much less the NHL. He’s still only 24, and we know the learning curve for young goalies is steep and treacherous. Maybe last year is a glimpse of what he can be, but the Knights will not be wanting to turn too much over to him this season.

Defense: Whatever you think of Nate Schmidt’s suspension–and you think it’s ridiculous because it really is given his very plausible and backed-up defense–he’s gone for a quarter of the season. It’s a big miss. Which is weird to say, because we’re fairly sure he was never top-pairing quality, and yet he was in Vegas and they were a good defensive team.

So before delving any further into the Knights’ blue line, it’s important to remember how their system protects what is a unit that lacks talent. They aren’t asked to break themselves out of trouble. They barely have to pass. The defense is merely asked to get the puck out to the neutral zone for the forwards to skate onto. It can be the fly pattern or simply a chip off the glass. And because the forwards are so frenzied and make everything look like Smash TV, the Knights d-men aren’t in the d-zone all that much. Their forwards also help a ton on the backcheck. Because they have to.

Because when you look at a list of names like Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland, and Nick Holden, we know everyone pretty much sucks aside from Theodore. And the sample size isn’t huge on him yet. They’re not even that quick. But again, the Knights ask of little of them as possible. So every piece of logic and evidence I have says it’s not a good blue line. But it also might not really matter. Fuck, the Penguins won two Cups with defensive corps that were just above mop-bucket residue. It’s kind of the way things are going.

Forwards: Let’s clear this up right now. Jesse Marchessault and William Karlsson are not combining for 150 points again or 70 goals. I just can’t believe that, because alone Karlsson is not going to shoot 25% again. Seriously, the dude had one of every four shots go in. In the past 10 years, only two players have managed more than one 20%+ shooting season, and they are Alex Tanguay (who somehow did it five times and I don’t know why we even bother trying to figure out this world) and Mike Ribeiro. Karlsson has a date with a Lady named “Regression” and she just ordered the lobster.

Marchessault could actually consider himself a touch unlucky, as even with his 27 goals last year he saw his SH% drop from 15% the year before to 10% last campaign. We’ll see what he is this year. The Knights are simply better supported though for any kind of sinking from the top line because the second line is Alex TuchPaul StastnyMax Pacioretty, which is probably their first line when all is said and done. That’s going to generate more scoring than Tuch-Doofus Du Jour-James Neal. Though with Stastny and Patches, it’s probably not as quick but if Neal found a home in this system, they’ll find a way to get something out of those two as well.

The bottom-six is still comprised of the hopped-up gnats it was last year like Erik HAULA!, Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, and because they have to give away at least one roster spot to galactic stupidity Ryan Reaves is here (please let Gerard Gallant use him with the goalie pulled again. I need as much mirth in my life as I can get right now). The names don’t do much for you but again, they’re all quick and they’re told to be quicker and most teams can’t live with it with their third-pairings.

Outlook: They’re not the Sharks. Regression is going to hit them in a few spots. But with that second-line and all the games they get against the other teams wandering the countryside with no particular plan or urgency, it’s hard to see them losing the 15-20 points that would make a playoff spot suddenly in jeopardy. Maybe Fleury falls completely apart. Maybe Subban can’t bail him out at all. Maybe Karlsson and Marchessault shoot like 7%. But those seem extreme. Second place seems like home, a comfortable 98-102 points. Who who else in the Pacific can you safely say gets there?

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 Friday, Game 3 Sunday, Game 4 April 17th

Amazingly, the Kings and their fans are going to take a break from complaining/campaigning for their players to win awards they don’t deserve to play a playoff series. But as we all know, what really counts is what individual awards your team garners. Anyway, the Kings might have drawn the sweetheart spot here and play a fading Vegas team that still was able to hang onto the division because the rest of the Pacific blows goats. Anyway, this could be a long series, but it won’t be all that much fun to watch.

Goalies: There will be a ton of talk about Jonathan Quick’s playoff pedigree, and it will ignore the fact that Quick has as many crap playoff campaigns as excellent ones. He was terrible in 2014 but his team was so high-octane it didn’t matter. And he wasn’t any better when the Kings got trounced in 2016 by the Sharks. Quick closed the season pretty roughly in three April appearances but that shouldn’t nullify how good he was in March. This was his best regular season since that 2012 triumph, so one should expect something closer to the dominant Quick in the playoffs than the one who couldn’t stop a sloth in the sand.

There may be a lot of talk of Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff foibles, but that was a long time ago. Fleury has been at least good and sometimes excellent in his last three playoff runs, and was possibly the biggest reason the Pens got a second Cup last year when Matt Murray was hurt. And that Penguins team was not defensively sound. Again, he’s much more likely to be average or better than he is to have a full body burf that he did in 2012.

Defense: Well, they’ll try and tell you that Drew Doughty deserves another Norris, and he’s been good as he usually is. But he’s not Norris-worthy, and the Kings probably need him to be because the rest of this crew sucks. Dion Phaneuf is terrible, has pretty much always been terrible, and with how quick the Knights are you’re going to see how terrible. Alec Martinez is fine, I guess. Christian Folin is not. When you need Jake Muzzin, you’re in a place you need to get out of. Look or the Knights to get behind this team a lot.

I don’t know how the Knights did it, because this blue line should suck. The only one you’d want is Nate Schmidt, and maybe Shea Theodore if you squint. I’m not sure the Kings have the forward depth to attack this weakness, and if Jeff Carter is feeling frisky the Knights are going to have some problems. There should be chances and both goalies are going to have to be on their toes to keep there from being a lot of goals.

Forwards: The Kings are top heavy, with most of the heavy lifting being done by Anze Kopitar, who somehow also re-exhumed Dustin Brown. Toffoli and Carter on the second line have dovetailed into a playoff boomstick before, and that’s the Kings hope. If Adrian Kempe pops off that could tilt this. But there isn’t much on the bottom six.

Again, we don’t know much about what the Knights here, because we haven’t seen their top six forwards as top six forwards in the playoffs. Wild Bill Karlsson isn’t going to shoot 25% this series, you wouldn’t think. Can Marchessault and Smith get goals when it’s hardest? We know Haula does when he plays the Hawks. But they’ve gotten this are, and if they can replicate their “get it the fuck up there quick!” style from the regular season a plodding Kings blue line is going to struggle. If they convert those chances, this fluke might go a little farther.

Prediction: I don’t think too many people want to see either of these teams in the second round, but one’s going. The Kings hardly inspire, but the Knights won eight games in regulation since Feb. 23rd. Four of those were over Vancouver, Calgary, and Detroit. That’s not exactly roaring into the playoffs (and an indictment on the division that no one could run them down). I feel like the Kings are just going to attrition this. And it’ll take a while. Kings in 7. 

Everything Else

Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier run SinBin.vegas. They were kind enough to take the time to answer our nonsense. Follow their work on Twitter @Sinbinvegas.

So like the crusty old hockey guys we are, seriously we only drink Molson now, we’ve scoffed for a while at the Knights success. But it’s getting time to get past that, obviously. What is the key here? Gerrard Gallant? A unique style? As lots of people will be seeing this team for the first time live, what should they be looking for?

Boehlke: The biggest thing is their depth. The top line is clearly a cut below every other team’s, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are better than pretty much every team. Plus, their defense pairings can hang with anybody and are pitching in a ton of offense. They all play a quick brand of hockey and no matter who is out there at any given moment they are dangerous in transition. You turn the puck over in your own end or in the neutral zone (or even near the blue line) the Golden Knights will be in front of your net getting a scoring chance in a hurry. Defensively, they play the simplest game you’ve ever seen in the NHL. Simple fast decision making usually has them breaking out of their own zone easily and quickly (except last night against St. Louis). Gallant is the ultimate players coach and deserves a ton of credit, but there’s more to his style that’s any different than anyone else. He just has this calming effect on the players and they seem to really want to play for him. Finally, what should they be looking for? Well, quick decision making, great transition from their own end to the neutral zone into the attacking zone, and a bunch of odd-man rushes. They don’t do anything you’ve never seen before, but they are good at doing things you have. That was a long answer, but that’s what you get when you ask seven questions masqueraded as one.

Pothier: 

The Golden Knights play a relatively simple game. Limiting mistakes, pushing the tempo and maintaining possession are a few reasons why Vegas has 56 points in 39 games. Vegas plays smart, makes quick decisions and keeps their foot on the gas. They’re also very balanced, getting impact production from their offense and defense. Plus, Vegas has gotten steady goaltending all season. Lastly, Head coach Gerard Gallant is the perfect leader. His roster came together quick and believed they could win. He’s not a cheerleader type, but a coach that allows players to trust their instincts. Gallant won’t mess with his lines often, and gives players opportunities to work out of funks. His assurance with the players has created a fun, loose environment. One that’s perfect for winning. 

William Karlsson never had more than 25 points in a season, now he’s got 33 in less than half of one. What’s the deal here?

The main thing is usage. In Columbus he was a third or fourth liner who was normally asked to concentrate on his defense. He’s an excellent defensive center, but now the Golden Knights are giving him a bunch more offensive zone starts and have put him on a line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault who have made him into an attacking star. He’s just an all around stud player and his success is as much an indictment on the Blue Jackets not knowing what they had more so than the Golden Knights utilizing him properly. This guy is a stud and is going to be for a while. He may not score 30 goals every year because that shooting percentage is preposterous, but his 200 foot game isn’t going to change as time goes on.

Karlsson’s offensive stats are hard to ignore, but his overall play is what’s more impressive. He’s became a lockdown center effectively playing the full sheet of ice. His neutral zone decisions have created countless odd-man rushes for his linemates Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. Like many Golden Knights, Karlsson has benefited greatly from more ice time. The Swede is averaging four minutes per game more than his career average. Columbus couldn’t promise the same opportunities. Now that Karlsson is on the ice more his skill is more defined. The Golden Knights have a core two-way center that has a knack for finding the back of the net.

It’s the same thing with Malcolm Subban. He was never that impressive in the AHL with the Boston organizations, and is now rocking a .922. Is that just maturity and experience or a huge spasm of luck or something in between?

All the credit in the world goes to the Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior for Subban’s turnaround. He hit the waiver wire and Vegas pounced on him. Why? Because Prior knew it would only take a few simple fixes to turn him from a bum to a the 1st round talent he was when he was drafted. He’s a lot quieter in the net and he doesn’t take nearly as many risks. Prior has taught him to stay standing a bit longer than normal and with his elite reaction speed and big frame it’s made all the difference. He seems to be the real deal, but I still want to see how he responds to getting lit up. It’s been all positives here. That wasn’t the case in Boston and Providence. Can he keep his head on straight after giving up five or six goals? If he can, he might be the future for the Golden Knights, if not, maybe Oscar Dansk is.

Subban has played above anyone’s expectations, including the Golden Knights organization. In Boston, there was internal pressure because he was a first-round draft pick. His role never developed in the AHL and the Bruins were left waiving him. He’s incredibly athletic, strong and humble. Subban has refined his skills with the aid of Vegas goalie coach Dave Prior. Which could be a big reason why he’s playing so well. All that being said, it’s still early to declare Subban as the goaltender of the future. Vegas fans will be happy if he is. They really love to cheer “Soooooob” when Subban makes a nice save. 

So the goalposts have had to shift now, yes? Where George McPhee might have been tempted to do some selling at the deadline to get long-term assets, he can’t really do that now, correct?

Absolutely not. The only thing he can do in regards to selling is “selling to buy.” If he flips one or two of the UFAs (Neal, Perron, and Sbisa) he’s got to bring back a long term piece that can also help now. No longer are 2020 2nd round picks a valuable commodity. My guess is McPhee completely stands pat at the deadline and just lets this team ride it out, but he’s not afraid to make a splash trade so who knows. But I will tell you this, every time he’s asked about the deadline he runs the same line, “I’m not going to sit here and derail anything.” So, if you take him for his word, he’s not going to sit here and derail anything.

I’m not fully counting out roster movement at the deadline. The Golden Knights GM has continuously said he won’t derail the momentum. However, he carefully reminds fans that it’s too early to plan for the playoffs. Which in my mind suggests McPhee is more concerned about building the future. Is it still possible that McPhee trades a player like David Perron for a prospect or draft pick? Of course, the only problem is disrupting a first-place team. McPhee can’t do that, his boss Bill Foley would be livid. 

With the incredibly surprising start, as well as the novelty, how has the first half-season gone over in Vegas? Are they in the news and such? Buzz?

It’s everywhere. Literally the only thing people in Vegas talk about. It’s kind of a euphoric state in which everyone can’t believe how good they are and therefore there’s very little actual hockey talk. Instead it’s just a bunch of hyperbole and disbelief about how awesome it is to have a team that’s not awful. It feels a lot like a college town where you have to know what’s going on or you are basically a social outcast. That doesn’t mean anyone actually knows what’s going on, cause they don’t and not enough people know about my website, but they certainly know what happened in the last game. It’s cool and it’s only going to get better when the real games start in April and hopefully May and June.

The Golden Knights are the talk of the town, and righteously so. However, to my disappointment the local radio and tv stations haven’t fully committed. The NFL, Raiders, NBA, and UNLV continue to lead the local airwaves. During some local programming it sounds as if the Golden Knights were never created. It’s not the fans fault. Vegas fans are loud, passionate and enjoying this fairy tale inaugural season. The entire city is amped for the second half of the season, and possibly the postseason

 

Game #40 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built