Hockey

Well, the Hawks have a FOR REAL first round opponent after Vegas knocked off the Avs in OT earlier this afternoon for the privilege of now getting to play the lowest remaining seed as the Stanley Cup Playoffs now begin in earnest. There is no schedule set yet for the series, but we’ll try to get in as much preview as possible for the matchup ahead, which really it could not have been any other way now that Robin Lehner is in Vegas. But this isn’t the goalie preview. This is the forwards preview, complete with the first of several hundred thousand Killers references, and Vegas is obviously considerably deeper than the Oilers were with another very matchy-uppy if boring coach in Peter DeBoer (yeah, he’s here now).

Everything Else

Be better than the call. 

It’s a hockey cliche, but unlike most of them it has real application. You’ve heard it around these parts from time to time, but it’s thrown around anywhere that has actual winning tradition and real substance. In any playoff run, something will go against you. A bad call, an injury, a post hit instead of an open net, a bouncing puck that becomes a delay-of-game penalty. These tests are all around in the spring. You have to rise above.

But people and teams that have been handed everything don’t want to be told they have to be better. Isn’t that America today in a nutshell? The Knights never had to work for anything. Due to the generosity/stupidity of the league and fellow GMs they were given this roster. Due to playing in a division with three or four of the most incomprehensibly-run organizations, they were given the division last season. Due the exhaustion of the Jets, they were given the conference. When a question was finally asked of them by Washington, they were done before you could blink while wondering when it was time to hit their catchphrase.

And those that are installed at the top of instead of climbing there will always run for the stronghold of unfair bias, or injustice, or things not working as they’ve only known them meaning the universe is out of whack.

What the Vegas Pissbabies (really not all that far from “Golden Knights” if you think about it) will come to realize is that nothing was taken from them. Nothing was stolen. They dropped it on their toes and broke four of them. They didn’t have to be there.

Let’s rewind. They led the series 3-1 against a team that was pretty much throwing a sloth who only listens to The Cure in net. They were playing a team that has only known playoff disappointment and angst. The Sharks are basically always looking for a reason to chuck it. They’re not buttressed by the memories and confidence of past glories. There aren’t any. The Knights themselves have just about the same markers of success recently.

Except that what they forgot is that Marc-Andre Fleury is always capable of becoming Martin Jones himself. Probably didn’t remember that when they handed him a new contract that starts when he’s 35. Oh well…not like they made that mistake aga….what’s that you say?

So there was Fleury treating Tomas Hertl’s shorthanded, desperation heave like a rabies shot of yore, and suddenly they’re in a Game 7.

But that’s cool. Martin Jones became Martin Jones again. They got a beneficial call when Cody Eakin, who is apparently 3′ 8″, tipped in a shot with his stick above his shoulder. Perhaps he might have realized he got away with one with his stick high and be more careful from there on out. Maybe next time, Ginger Ninja?

Martin Jones arrived again to let Max Pacioretty’s suggestion of a shot through his legs. That was it. Jones was Jones again. The Sharks were down three, staring yet another playoff loss and the ending of yet another forlorn chase for glory in the eye. Deep down, there was an assurance and comfort within them to settling into what they’ve always known. The Knights had only known success. It was all there.

Here’s a strange note I found buried within the NHL rulebook. You might not know this, but it says you don’t have to let in four goals on a major power play. I know. I really wouldn’t have thought so, but here we are. And suddenly Fleury looked across the ice and screamed, “No one out-playoff-barfs me! I was the Osiris of this shit seven years ago!”

And then he wasn’t anywhere close to any of San Jose’s offerings in the next four minutes. He was a cigar store Indian. Construction sign-men would have put up more of a fight. He came so far out on Labanc’s goal it looked like he wanted to reenact the front cover of “Wish You Were Here.” ( You can probably guess which one was on fire). Never hustle a hustler.

Enter Gerrard Gallant with an excellent Dusty Baker impression. Frozen. No timeout. No, “Let’s settle this down and figure it out.” Not even a call for a pointless review to get the heat out of a building that was starting to sound like an Anthrax concert. Just glares and bitching. This wasn’t in the script. This isn’t the plan.

And even with all that, the Sharks couldn’t escape their true nature completely. Of course they couldn’t, it’s too ingrained. So the Knights had yet another reprieve, tying the game with 47 seconds and getting an overtime against an exhausted outfit using about eight forwards and four defensemen.

It’s kind of fitting that the series came down to Pete DeBoer thinking, “Well, I should probably stop using my cemented-footed, rock-headed pylon (benching Brendon Dillon) and my only hope is that Gerard Gallant keeps using his.” And over the boards came Brayden McNabb! You can’t run from your nature forever. I mean, you can get close when you do things at the pace of McNabb, who can tell his grandkids one day that he got scorched by something called Barclay Goodrow and his grandkids can start planning just how fast they’ll change their last name and filling out grandpappy’s DNR. Maybe down the road when they pull the plug on Ol. Brayden his grandchildren will yell, “Look at me, I’m Barclay!”

That seems like an awful lot to hinge on one call, especially as a good portion comes before that call. But I know time warps in Vegas. No clocks and all.

The Knights wanted to be known as something more than an expansion team. And now they will be. So what are you so upset about anyway? Finally you’re something more than a pregame light show. Except that show is going to really suck when The Knight is just complaining to a ref for 10 minutes.

Sometimes the gods shine on you simply because they know you’ve been asked too much. Somehow, in less than two years, traveling Knights fans have become some of the more obnoxious in the league. Who knew that Vegas had so many transplants? Is that why it’s the 43rd biggest TV market? Because everyone moved away? All of them trying to cash in on their memories of watching their hockey team back home in Vegas…what a cherished time that was…

But now any utterance from a traveling Vegas fan (“traveling” in this case is probably going to have to mean the same as “bandwagon”) can be met with holding up three fingers, or merely mimicking a cross-check, or donning a Fleury jersey and standing perfectly still for five minutes. All will be an authoritative “PIPE DOWN, RUB-A-DUB!” And that will last for years.

And it will last for years because it only took George “Piston Honda” McPhee two seasons to completely bork his cap situation. Sure, perhaps McPhee will be saved by his fellow GMs going from undervaluing all the players he plucked from them to overvaluing them and sprinting to acquire them to save him some cash. They have $2 million in space for next year with William Karlsson to sign. They stepped backwards this year, and giving Mark “Ugly Patrick Sharp” Stone the 10th highest cap-hit in the league probably doesn’t arrest that on its own. Handing out three of your biggest contracts to players over 33 always works a charm as well. Hope you enjoyed Max Pacioretty’s 22 goals, because you’d probably better get used to it.

The Knights will ice a roster that won’t have a 30-goal scorer 60-plus point player at this point, aside from Stone who collected most of those elsewhere. Ask the Predators what trying to be The Borg gets you, especially when you run up against a team with genuine star power. This is Vegas, aren’t you a city built on star power? Oh right, it’s faded star power that does a residency there. Suddenly that Paul Stastny contract makes a ton of sense. He’ll be part of Britney’s or Gwen’s show very soon.

I guess we owe the Knights a thank you. They provided us with a period of hockey we’ll never forget. And they probably won’t stop complaining about it for years. Which will only be a reminder for how glorious it was. It’s a true legacy.

 

 

Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Does The Real Caesar Live Here?: Sin Bin

The Hawks finally return to West Madison tonight for the first time in 2018 after their longest road trip of the season that saw them volley back and forth between coasts to welcome for the very first time the Vegas Golden Knights, who inexplicably sit atop the Western Conference with games in hand on basically everyone who is their closest competition for the top overall seed.

Everything Else

You can get a pretty decent illustration of just how hockey works, and doesn’t work, via the journeys of Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault.

Let’s start with Smith. Back in the day, when men were men and all that, Smith piled up 58 goals in two seasons at Miami of Ohio. That’s suggests a natural goal-scorer, because you just don’t see players pile up 30-goal seasons in college, especially when they’re not obscenely overaged.

But hey, you gotta give up someone to get someone, and Smith found himself part of the Tyler Seguin trade. Of course, the Seguin trade was just an example of how dumb GMs can be, and Peter Chiarelli is at the head of that list. Smith put up a 20-goal season in his first year in Boston, and then a further 13 the next season. Not exactly a huge season but he’d already flashed secondary scoring talent and at the time was still only 24 and entering his prime.

Coming off those two seasons, the Bruins were certainly up against the cap but after 13 goals and a restricted free agent, the Bruins weren’t going to have to break the bank to keep him. Instead, they punted him to Florida so they could bring Jimmy Hayes home, and basically bringing him home was the only appeal because Jimmy Hayes sucks.

Smith would go on to score 40 goals over two seasons in Florida. Again, you can’t just “find” guys who score 20 goals per season. They’re kind of the whole point of the operation here. And while the Panthers might have their own internal budget, Smith was considered surplus to requirements by Dale Tallon, who apparently thought this was part of his “I’M IN CHARGE AGAIN!” warpath to undo anything that might have had to do with any sort of analysis. We’ll come back to Smith.

Marchessault didn’t quite flash the same way that Smith did below the NHL. Yes, his last season in the QMJHL saw him score 40 goals, but in that league if you can stand up and avoid sneezing during a game you probably get 40 goals. He put up three 20+ goal seasons in the AHL after that, which isn’t easy but also isn’t a neon sign that he has to be called up. He came up for air for about half of a season in ’16-’17 in Tampa, scored seven goals, didn’t really have a way to crack the lineup, and was moved to Florida last season.

There he popped for 30 goals. And while it’s easy to dismiss that, as he’d never hit 30 as a professional anywhere, a 15.5% shooting percentage isn’t stratospheric. And yet, Tallon thought he was expendable, too. A guy who just put up 30 goals.

And this is where things get really funny. In last summer’s expansion draft, Tallon chose the 4F-D model for his protection list. Which left Marchessault and Smith exposed, for the cause of Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk. Which doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all. Yes, championship teams can be built from the back and the Panthers are going to need something beyond Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad. But Petrovic and Pysyk? They’re ok, maybe even “nice” players. But we all know the adjective “nice” is at best a backhanded compliment. They’re also both 25. If they were going to be anything more than they are, we’d have seen some signs of it by now.

Making it worse, the Knights took Marchessault, because cheap 30-goal scorers just don’t arrive on your doorstep, and then Tallon handed them Smith for a 4th round pick. That’s it. Maybe the Cats needed to dump salary, maybe they didn’t, but Pysyk was making just about the same.

The Florida Panthers are 19th in the league in goals per game, just so you know.

And the story doesn’t end there. Marchessault and Smith have lit it up in Vegas, combining for 25 goals and 68 points so far. Now, if this were a normal world, they’d be doing this for an expansion team that wasn’t going anywhere was was looking three or four years down the line. Both were headed into free agency after the year, Smith restricted and Marchessault into unrestricted. They would have been prized possessions at the deadline for a bunch of teams, where the Knights could have collected high draft picks/prospects that will matter when this team matters.

Except the Knights do matter now. Or at least they think they do. Thanks to whatever you want to attribute it to–insane goaltending, dumb luck in dumb overtime rules, Vegas flu–they sit near the top of the division. So perhaps they thought it would be a tough sell to their burgeoning fanbase to flog two of their three top scorers.

Instead, they extended both for $5 million a year until for the next four years in Smith’s case and the next six in Marchessault’s case. Both will have entered their 30s when their deals are up. It’s not scandalous, but it is curious.

Because if the Knights’ goaltending drops off next year, or they don’t get the overtime results, or visiting teams actually act like professionals, what are the Knights going to want with two scorers in their late 20s that they can’t move? They just eroded a lot of their value. On a normal track, by the time the Knights are really ready to contend, both will be past their primes.

But does anything work the way it’s supposed to now?

 

 

 

Game #40 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: WGN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Panther Like A Panther: Litter Box Cats

With the season coming around the final turn, the Hawks find themselves nearly completely clear of divisional and conference play with 10% of the schedule still remaining. Of the eight games left, only one is against a Central opponent, and since it’s Colorado it doesn’t even really count anyway. And the first five of that stretch are all against eastern conference opponents, beginning with a Florida trip starting tonight in Sunrise before swinging up to Tampa on Monday.