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We’ve often bitched about the Old Boys Club that NHL coaches are chosen from. Same goes for GMs. It feels like you only get an NHL job if you had one before, or served as an assistant for years. We think the game could use new ideas, and they need to come from new places.

And yet those coaches picked from different places…it really hasn’t always worked out, has it? In fact, the success rate is pretty low.

Dave Hakstol flamed out in Philly pretty quickly. You can argue about the roster he was given, but no one with the Flyers or who follows them was too upset with his dismissal. At best, you can say the jury is still out on Jeremy Colliton. Remember Dallas Eakins? Boy, that went well. Guy Boucher turned out to be a fraud, twice. About the only coach who worked his way up through the levels and got his first coaching gig without being an assistant is John Cooper in Tampa Bay. It can happen, it just doesn’t all that often.

Jim Montgomery is a name that will get tossed out as a success. And on the surface, that seems correct. Montgomery had a glittering record at Denver University. Over five seasons the Pioneers went 125-57-26, made two Frozen Fours and collected a national championship. If any coach was screaming out for a promotion to the pro ranks, it was Montgomery.

And Montgomery has the Stars in the playoffs. They missed out last year. Except dig anywhere beneath the surface, and there isn’t much difference between the job Ken Hitchcock did last year, which everyone panned, and the one Montgomery is doing now.

The Stars could finish with a max of 95 points, which is only a small improvement on the 92 they collected last year. They could finish with less than those 92 points as well. That’s just a bounce here or there.

On top of that, by any measure the Stars are actually worse than they were last year. They take less attempts, and they give up more of them. They take less shots, and give up more of them. Their expected goals, or types of chances, they both create and surrender are both headed in the wrong direction. The difference is that Ben Bishop has been way better, as they had an ES SV% last year of .925 and this year it’s .934. That’s a difference of about 20 goals just at even-strength, which is about four or five points in the standings. The other difference, of course, is that the conference is so much worse.

The Stars have roster flaws of course. There’s only one line here. They’ve been racked by injuries, as Radulov, Benn, Klingberg, Bishop all having missed time. Maybe for Montgomery to have their peripherals where they are is something of a job. Hard to say, though.

Perhaps hockey is more like football in that the transition from college to pros is just rougher than you’d think. Maybe it’s a path that needs to be more well-worn. It’s also worth noting the Denver has rolled right along without Montgomery, into the Frozen Four again. But those are his kids there, so we know he can recruit. Sadly, that doesn’t do much for you in the NHL.

If the Stars get Montgomery a second and third line, then we’ll see what he’s made of. If they can make noise in the playoffs and Bishop is injured we’ll know. But until then, maybe the exclusive club isn’t as bad as we thought.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 20-24-9   Oilers 23-24-5

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: WGN

EdMo Dee: Oilers Nation

The Hawks conclude this post-break, three-game road trip in the NHL’s “Beyond The Wall,” the hellscape that is Edmonton, Alberta (I assume). And when I say hellscape, I really mean the team that you’ll find there. Though a city that cold can’t have that much going on, no matter how much oil money flows or freezes in the streets. I’m sure the Hawks will thank the schedule makers for a five-day trip that spans three timezones and a collective temperature of “go fuck yourself.”

You may have heard about the Oilers, Biggest laughingstock in the league, despite having two more points than the Hawks. If the Hawks were to win tonight most Oilers fans would take being level on points with them as rock-bottom, just to give you a clear vision of what the Hawks are right now. Have the best player in the league as well, these Oilers. Can’t seem to make that count. Recently fired their addled GM two years too late. Now everyone is waiting with giddy excitement to see what drunken, near-sighted clown they hire next. He’ll almost assuredly have played on the Oilers in the 80s, because the one time they tried not to do that they ended up with Peter Chiarelli and his bent vision of reality, which basically involved whatever signing caused him to grab his groin aggressively. So clearly they have to go back to what didn’t work before. God bless this organization.

On the ice, the Oilers have center-depth and literally nothing else. Run CMD, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are by far their three leading scorers, and at various times this season have played with each other. Now they’re all back at their natural center positions, but when you look at what surrounds them it’s enough to make your food turn septic in your digestive track.

Milan Lucic is “skating” with McDavid, except you can’t call what Lucic does skating anymore so much as “thrashing about as the air currents push him ever so slightly.” Alex Chiasson is a second-line winger. Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian are somehow on a NHL third-line together instead of loading up on Skittles at a truck-stop somewhere during an AHL bus ride. “Putrid” doesn’t even come close to starting to describe this, and now you know why they are where they are. They’ve broken Jesse Puljujarvi, if he was anything to begin with, and he’s skating with Kyle Brodziak and Brad Malone in a chilling vision of what the future as a tomato can will look like.

It’s not any better on the back end. This is a team that traded FOR Brandon Manning, remember. And he plays. Adam Larsson is parading around the top pairing with a Kings castoff. Darnell Nurse will occasionally flash the modern-Pronger bit we thought he was destined for, and then remembers he’s spent almost all of his career with Kris Russell and retreats into sadness done in blue and orange again. Andrej Sekera wanders the arena looking for whatever fell off of him this week. It’s bleak.

And when the Oilers have threatened to be good in the past, it was because Cam And Magic Talbot could bail them out. He hasn’t this year, and this is where they are. They’re trusting Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old whose flights got crossed up and ended up signing here from the KHL rather than try and figure out how to rebook. In Chiarelli’s final act of lunacy, he re-signed Koskinen for three years to kind of just stand there, which is what he does. But his .908 is better than Talbot’s .893.

The Oilers tried to salvage this by hiring Ken Hitchcock midseason, because his track record of success is so blaring over the past 12 years. They’ve gone 14-14-4 with Hitch, a massive improvement over the 9-10-1 they managed with Todd McLellan. You know it’s bad when Hitch is longing for Jay Bouwmeester and Alex OrangeJello again. He gave up his Civil War reading for this?

This is maybe the biggest mess in the league, and whatever stooge they install as GM is going to find it nearly impossible to extricate. There’s barely any money coming off the books in the summer, really only Talbot’s $4M+ hit. And this team has no wingers. Lucic is in Seabrook territory at this point, and Kris Russell isn’t far behind. That is if the Oilers were inclined to move Russell, but they still seem oddly infatuated with him, mostly to sneer at most of the hockey world pointing out he sucks.

And really, that’s all the Oilers have been for nearly three decades now. Most of the hockey world has been pointing out they suck since 1991, and they still point and gloat about five Cups won before most of you could form a sentence. They’re convinced that run that started 35 years ago still makes them ahead of the game and won’t hear otherwise. This organization has accomplished exactly dick since their glory days, save one goofed Final appearance the first year of the lockout when nothing made sense and is something Chris Pronger clearly erased from his memory (the Blues traded him for Eric Brewer, by the way. Take a moment to think about that).

Anyway, tonight’s challenge is simple enough. Hitch will throw McDavid out against Keith and Seabrook as often as he can, unless he still thinks it’s 2013, and he might. Failing that, Forsling and Gustafsson will be similarly tortured. If the Hawks can somehow keep McJesus on a leash, they should have a good chance at this one. The Oilers recently gave up four power play goals in a game, so the Hawks’ PP should barely be able to keep from slobbering when they get their chance.

As for the Hawks, no word yet on who starts but one would hope Delia gets wheeled back out there. Ward’s had two decent starts in a row though and we know Coach Cool Youth Pastor will shit himself if he has to tell any veteran other than Chris Kunitz anything bad, so you never know. Perlini should stay in ahead of Kunitz, but that’s about it.

As we said at the weekend, the schedule is pretty shitty now, so if the Hawks are insistent on chasing playoff spots that don’t really matter, this is where they’ll make their run. With the Canucks and Wings at home next, they could actually put together a substantial winning streak. Then again, this is just about the same outfit that got worked by the Wings at home last year. The Hawks have lost to the Oilers twice already this season, but hey, they’re both under .500 so maybe they’re not good enough to beat anyone three times.

We’re in this together.

 

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Yes, that’s probably an insult to Denmark to compare it to St. Louis. We hope the Danes forgive us. We love Christian Eriksen. Does that help?

Alex Pietrangelo is something of a yearly post for us. While the Blues have touted and used him as a #1 d-man for a good few years now, we aren’t the only ones who have gone to lengths to show that he’s just not. Is he a good d-man? Yes, unquestionably. If he were a #2 or #3 on a team, that team would almost certainly be really good. At least on the blue line it would be.

But as we’ve pointed out, probably far too much for anyone who still pretends to be of use to society. Pietrangelo just doesn’t push the play that much against the toughest competition. We started when he somehow conned his way onto Team Canada in ’14 (with Bouwmeester! And he played ahead of Subban! Assuredly not because Subban is black!) He’s not prime Keith. He’s not Doughty. He’s not Karlsson. He’s not even Kris Letang. Pietrangelo’s metrics are fine. They’re usually right in line with the team’s, though the Blues’ numbers were always skewed by Ken Hitchock’s ultra-defensive system that didn’t give up much but sure didn’t create much either.

The only time in the past six season that Pietrangelo has exceeded his team’s possession rate by anything significant is this year, where he’s +2.3. That’s going really well for the Blues too, who are still staring up at the Hawks.

Pietrangelo is a good skater, but not great, and can get beat by the faster forwards in the league. And he can get caught with the puck, too. That seems to be a problem this year, where the Blues can’t get out of their zone if there was a carbon monoxide leak. Or maybe there is and that’s the problem. Hard to tell, given the way the whole city smells. Yes, we know carbon monoxide doesn’t smell, just fucking go with us you heathen!

But let’s shelve that discussion for another time. Hockey loves its intangibles. No sport loves to mention what goes on “in the room” more. There is some mystical quality to where the players get dressed, and that has kept some truly woeful hockey players in a job for longer than you’d believe because it was thought they added to this. “The Room” in hockey is somehow weirder than the one with Tommy Wiseau, and maybe it’ll be the subject of its own “Disaster Artist” one day (probably starring David Backes), As if you couldn’t just pack a dressing room full of really good players who win all the time and they wouldn’t just figure it out when they’re not on the ice to get along. We present the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks as evidence.

And it can’t be any clearer that there is something amiss with the Blues both on and off the ice. We can pinpoint the problems on it. The ones off it are a little tougher.

The Blues are about to turf their second coach in less than three seasons. A loss tonight could be the final straw in the case against Mike Yeo. So it’s fair to ask how many coaches the Blues are going to cycle through before they conclude that it’s the group of players who are in someway unreachable.

Pietrangelo is the captain. Along with Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen, that’s pretty much the leadership group in St. Louis, as they’ve been around the longest. While Tarasenko’s performances have never dropped, he clearly had a hand in throwing Hitchcock overboard (quite the feat). But if Pietrangelo is wearing the “C”, the questions have to stop with him.

While the Blues were indisputably stupid under the stewardship of David Backes, you couldn’t accuse them of floating and giving up and trying to undermine their coach. Their effort was in all the wrong directions and tactics, but it was there. This will be the second time they’ve downed tools under Pietrangelo. This becomes a theme at some point soon.

Compare that to the local side, where everyone knew that Joel Quenneville was minutes away from the axe from training camp. And yet you never got the impression the Hawks had quit on him. The front office did last year, but the players didn’t, at least for the most part.

Maybe the silly arrangement of having Yeo right there to succeed Hitchcock jaded the players. They could have soured on Yeo before he even took the job, knowing all the time he was going to take the job. Maybe someone completely new juices everything (though the rumors have it that it’ll just be Craig Berube sliding over from assistant, which is how we got here in the first place). Perhaps the Blues want a completely new voice.

Methinks the players are the thing….

 

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In some ways, it was never going to work out for Mike Yeo in St. Louis. One, the guy who replaced him Minnesota, Bruce Boudreau, has gotten better regular season results with basically the same roster that Yeo had. That always colors a view of a coach.

Second, and more importantly, the whole “succession” plan with Ken Hitchock was doomed from the start. When you tell a team that their head coach’s replacement is standing right next to him on the bench every night, you can’t be surprised when they’re not totally invested in what the coach is selling. Especially when it’s the Blues and were aching for an excuse to quit on Hitch yet again. But by then that lack of give-a-shit and bad habits are already entrenched. You don’t get the bounce of a fresh voice when they’ve been listening to that voice already and it was the one they knew was coming anyway. There isn’t a surprise or a lift on a new atmosphere at work.

Third, Yeo has been saddled with Jake Allen, a slow roster in a league that’s speeding up rapidly, and a lack of scoring depth. His charge was to play a style that was a little more free than what Hitch was running that killed everyone’s soul. Except the Blues haven’t really had the horses, especially with Robby Fabbri‘s (or Fabby Robbri’s) and Jaden Schwartz‘s injury problems. The acquisitions of Tyler Bozak and  Ryan O’Reilly was meant to address this, except Bozak apparently showed up with his give-a-shit still in Toronto to stay.

Still, after all this time, Yeo has only coached one team to 100 points in a season. That was 2014-2015, which got the Wild a second-round sweep by the Hawks. And that was on the back of Devan Dubnyk suddenly becoming a firebreather. It’s not a very impressive record at all, even if his teams consistently have finished around 95 points…that is before they quit on him. Yeo maxed out what he had in Minnesota, and he did it by trying everything. He was the players’ coach. He was the hard-ass. They pressed and harried up the ice. Sometimes they trapped. It seemed at the time like Yeo was trying to keep opponents guessing. Now it seems like he was just trying everything until something clicked.

Until the Wild realized he had played every card, and waited him out. Based on the Blues giving up a touchdown to the Jackets at home on Thursday, the Blues don’t seem to be too far behind. Whenever the axe comes down on Yeo, it’ll probably be due to decisions that came too late. Jay Bouwmeester hasn’t been a top-four d-man in three years at least. Only this year has he been relegated to the third pairing. Vince Dunn is finally getting a look with Alex Pietrangelo. Carter Hutton was clearly playing better than Allen last year. He got two starts in the season’s final month as the Blues tumbled out of the playoff spots.

That was combined with things out of Yeo’s control. First off, the directive to play Allen might have come from above, because they forced him on Hitchcock as well. They traded Paul Stastny out from under him at the deadline. Alex Steen got old in a hurry, and players like Patrik Berglund and Vlad Sobotka had flattered to deceive for years before last year. Yeo wasn’t the first nor will he be the last to not get that much out of them.

Once again, Yeo has been trying everything, which signifies a lack of answers and desperation than a confidence in one’s decisions and lineups that stability would. Bouwmeester has swung from healthy scratch to third pairing to top pairing in the span of a week. Vinnie Dunn has done the same. Edmundson has played on all pairings. Lines have been shuffled with the kids in and out every night.

And this is still mostly the same roster that torpedoed Hitchcock. At some point, it can’t be the coach anymore. Maybe someone can come in and get this team to play at a pace to match Winnipeg and Nashville and Colorado. It’s at least what the Hawks and Stars are attempting. There isn’t that much time. While the Blues do boast some kids they like, Tarasenko, Schwartz, O’Reilly, and Schenn are in their primes right now. Pietrangelo is 29. There are some years left, but not that many.

Yeo seems like the kind of coach to max out a team that’s looking to scrape into the playoffs with limited talent. Maybe the first coach in a rebuild. But the Blues signaled with their trade for Ryan O’Reilly and signing of Bozak that they were after more.

Then again, firing Yeo seems to have worked out ok for the Wild. Maybe it’s the key log the Blues have been looking for their entire existence.

 

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For the entire length of our existence, a valuable trait has been schadenfreude. We haven’t always needed it, but when we have the Canucks, or Blues, or Detroit, or Canucks again, then the Blues again, have always provided a hearty laugh. We’ve had other targets, but no matter how bad things get for the Hawks or how laughable they are for others, we can redirect that to someone else and have a good chuckle and go on about our day with a bounce in our step.

So let’s spend some time chortling at the existence of the Dallas Stars.

They’ve been in our crosshairs for a few years now. Mostly because for about three or four offseasons, there’s a legion of hockey writers who can’t wait to declare them and GM Jim Nill “winners of the offseason.” It’s like clockwork. One trade, or one signing, and suddenly there’s a puddle around hockey media members as they race to to be the first to decree, “THIS TIME THE STARS GOT IT RIGHT! CAN’T WAIT FOR SOME TEXAS BBQ IN JUNE!” Mostly, I’m guessing, because deep down all Canadian hockey writers are shit-kickers who just want an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and boots they keep in the closet and are desperate to wear outside of one week in Calgary.

Five seasons later, and just one playoff series win, and here they are, likely to not even get a chance to win a playoff series. But how could that happen when they hired noted genius Ken Hitchcock? Certainly the planets must be totally out of line for such a thing to happen! He was the final piece! Everyone said so! Because the Stars did an exhaustive coaching search, y’see, and they oh so creatively came up with, “Hey what about that guy who won here that one time like 15 years ago?”

So how did it end up here, five points out with five games to play even after last night’s OT win over the Flyera? Well, you probably have to start with the goaltending, which has put up a combined .902 SV% in March. That’s not going to win you a lot, as you probably know around here.

And really, who could have seen Ben Bishop’s .911 last year, his .905 in March of last season, and that Tampa was so fond of him they couldn’t wait to shove the job to Andrei Vasilevskiy at the first opening to do so, and conclude that maybe Bishop didn’t have it anymore? Certainly not Jim Nill! And look, the guy who spent three years fucking over the Stars by ignoring the goaltending situation has fucked it over by actually paying attention to it! It just gets better!

Like all Hitchcock teams, the Stars definitely keep it tight in their own end but are hardly expansive in the other. While they’re second best in terms of expected goals per 60 against, they’re 16th in expected goals for. That’s a team with one of the best top lines in the league and hardly bereft of talent farther down the lineup with Spezza (though old), Faksa, Janmark, Shore, and a couple others. At least that’s what they’ve told us season upon season now. And yet past the top line there isn’t a forward with more than 40 points. Hmmmm…who’s the GM who drafted and/or keeps this young talent they keep bleating about that keeps getting them beat, I wonder?

So as always with Hitch’s teams, keeping it so close means your goalie had better match your defensive leanings, and probably be better. Just like Jay Gallon in St. Louis, when the bottom drops out on that there is no answer. Because they’re certainly not filling it enough to counteract some wonky goaltending. At least Lindy Ruff managed that once.

Boy, I can’t wait to see how Nill wins this offseason.

-As we nearer the end, and the broadcast keeps shitting on Brandon Saad because he seems like the easy target (or Adam Burish threatens to fight him, which I’m sure would end with Saad turning Burish’s face into silly putty), I have this really uneasy feeling the Hawks will trade him and get to use “cap relief” as the reason to keep anyone from looking at it with any measure of scrutiny.

Let me just share this with you. When it comes to individual even-strength scoring chances per 60 minutes, Brandon Saad is 12th among forwards. 13th on that list? CONNOR FUCKING MCDAVID. Brandon Saad, himself, is getting slightly more chances per 60 minutes than the best player on the planet. When it comes to high-danger chances per 60 minutes, Saad ranks 10th among all forwards. 9th on the list? TAYLOR FUCKING HALL. A very likely Hart finalist is only slightly outdoing Brandon Saad when it comes to getting really good chances.

Now, it would be folly to suggest that “finish” is purely luck. It is not, but it’s too simple to say, “He’s not scoring enough,” when we can dig deeper and see why he might not be scoring enough. As we’ve said all season, Saad’s shooting percentage has bottomed out, Even a return to last year’s 11.4%, instead of this year’s 7.9, would see Saad with 25 goals right now. And assuming the power play could ever get the toad out of its ass it might be closer to 30.

Saad could simply repeat this season, process-wise, have his SH% spike to 13 or 14% because he got to see a couple more hungover goalies than this season, and be a 30-35-goal guy and then we’d get all these “redemption” stories.

Trading Saad when his value would be at its lowest, unless a monster return, would be monumentally stupid. Remember this when the Hawks now invariably do so.

Everything Else

This will be the third year we do this. It’s because the trade of Stephen Johns still stings a bit. It’s the trade that the acquisition of Connor Murphy is basically trying to make up for. It’s easy to just say that the punting of Johns simply to get rid of Patrick Sharp’s salary crippled the Hawks blue line to its current state. But is that really true?

Johns has been skating third pairing minutes in Dallas, though he’s flipped at times with Greg Pateryn for second pairing time with Dan Hamhuis. Lately, Ken Hitchcock has found a comfort level with Pateryn and Hamhuis, though he’s not been shy about giving Johns and Honka just about as much time. He’s seeing 13-15 minutes at even-strength per game for the past month.

Metrically, Johns is not having the season he’s had in the past. Of their current regular six, Johns has the worst relative CF% and xGF%. He does start more in his own zone than the top pairing of Klingberg and Lindell, but not as much as Hamhuis and Pateryn which has become something of the shutdown pairing for the Stars.

However, it’s worth taking Johns’s numbers with Julius Honka on their own. Because they’ve taken quite a leap. Honka and Johns together are carrying a 53.4 CF%, and a 52.9 scoring-chance percentage. It’s the best mark he has with any of Dallas’s d-men.

We’re still a long way from learning what Johns is, though getting closer. He’s got 126 games in the NHL, and an additional 100+ in the AHL. So he’s passed that magical 200 professional game mark. What we can say is that he’s best with a puck-mover, where he’s not the one asked to get the puck up the ice solely. Johns’s strengths are in the corners and down low and stepping up at his blue line to squeeze the play. He can do that better behind someone instead of in front of his partner. At least that’s the way it’s worked out so far.

How he would have fit in the Hawks is hard to say, and probably not even worth thinking about. How many times would he have been scratched behind TVR, for instance? While the Hawks might claim different, they were high on him. They tried multiple times to get him out of Notre Dame, and then had to give him special circumstances in Rockford to get him out of South Bend after his junior year. They wanted him in the system badly, and they wanted him in Chicago as well.

It’s just one of those things will never know. If Stan Bowman  gets the sack this summer, or soon, the biggest black mark against him will be that he lost too many NHL-worthy prospects for nothing. Johns had to be the sweetener to get the Stars to take Patrick Sharp. Teuvo had to be that so the Canes would take Bryan Bickell. Phillip Danault was punted in a rental-trade for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. Those three players are almost certainly the difference between this team being a playoff team right now and where they actually are.

In a salary cap world, your cheap, young talent have to be used or moved along for things you actually use. And you get almost no margin for error. The Hawks are learning that now, and some of that error is Stephen Johns-sized.

 

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Taylor is the editor-in-chief of DefendingBigD.com. Follow her @TaylorBaird.

Last time we saw the Stars, they were in the muddle of the last playoff spot along with the Hawks. They’ve since separated themselves into the first wild card spot and are hot on the heels of the Blues for the third spot in the Central. What’s been the change?

The Stars defense continues to improve. They’ve climbed from somewhere in the 20’s in the league in terms of goals against average to 5th in the league, allowing only 2.56 goals against on average per game. It’s been improvement in both even strength defense and penalty killing (where they rank 9th in the league today at 82.2% of penalties killed.) The goaltending has been fantastic of late, with Kari Lehtonen having a renaissance in terms of stats (.919SV% and 2.22 GAA) and Ben Bishop’s performance nothing to sneeze at, either (.919 SV%, 2.44 GAA). The offense has also come on of late, averaging slightly more than three goals per game on average now. It’s a big change from the first roughly 15 games of the season, when the team was struggling in all aspects other than the power play.
Jason Spezza only put up 50 points last year, and is on pace for way less this year. He’s been shuttled between center and wing. Is it just time that’s caught up? Is this a major problem?

The Stars have struggled to figure out Spezza’s role on the team. It’s driven by Radek Faksa emerging as a premier two-way center on the team as well as the offseason signing of Martin Hanzal. Spezza struggled offensively at the beginning of the season, and his ice time suffered because of it. He’s also been paired with wingers that haven’t been known for finishing, and think the game a pace behind Spezza. That’s contributed to his offensive decline. One thing I will say is that Spezza has looked better since being reunited with Mattias Janmark, so there’s still hope that it might turn around for him in the last 20ish games or so. As they say, it’s all about how you roll into the playoffs, right?
There are two players in Brett Ritchie and Julius Honka who don’t have the scoring stats you might want, but have glittering underlying numbers. Are the Stars happy enough with these two just pushing the play?

I think they are happy to a degree, yes. With Ritchie, the coach has come out and even said that he’s struggled mightily this year. That’s why he’s found himself pushed down the lineup or eating some healthy scratches at times, as other players look better and produce. But he’s still getting the chance to play through his struggles for the most part, even if it’s to the chagrin of some fans. As for Honka, it’s tough for fans to see a young player with that much potential get jerked around in terms of playing time, but at the end of the day, the Stars need a defense that works. Honka seems to have taken his healthy scratches in stride, and his games of late have shown he’s listened when the coaching staff has said he’s been too cautious in terms of offense. I feel like he will be tough to fit into the lineup when Marc Methot returns to the lineup healthy, if only because I’m not sure he’s done enough to beat out Stephen Johns for the 6th D spot, and Hitch seems to love him some Greg Pateryn (even if the underlying numbers are just blah with him…)
Is. a 2.44 GAA and .919 SV% what you expected out of Ben Bishop? Is that enough to go where the Stars want?
The last few years, all Dallas would have needed was LEAGUE AVERAGE goaltending to go far. Those numbers are far and away better than what Stars fans have seen in the past 5ish years, so we’ll happily take it.
What will the Stars be looking to do at the deadline?
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much that the Stars will do at the deadline. I think they like their lineup, and it’s been working for them of late, so it’s possible that they won’t want to overpay for a deadline rental. If they target anyone, I’d bet on a top six right wing to add some depth to the second line in terms of scoring, or someone that adds to the second power play unit to make that player set more lethal. But with the draft coming to Dallas this summer, they likely won’t want to deal too many of their picks — and their pipeline of talent isn’t in a position to deal too many of those (though if they are going to do so, blueline seems to be a position of depth but not necessarily strength, and they have a few forwards that could be of interest to other teams.)

 

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We give Dallas GM Jim Nill a lot of shit for a lot of things. The way he completely ignored his goaltending situation the past three years or so. Or when he did try to remedy it he ended up with Antti Niemi. And then ended up with Ben Bishop, which might only be a slight upgrade. The way he stuck by Lindy Ruff when it was clear that his defense-less ways were never going to allow the Stars to go anywhere. Or the way he “wins” every offseason according to the hockey media, and then the Stars are still not around when the calendar gets to May. Or they miss the playoff altogether.

We’ve spent so much time going over all that we’ve missed his Martin Hanzal signing. And this one might really suck. It might be one of the worst of the summer, actually.

Before we get to what Martin Hanzal is, let’s get to what he was. Martin Hanzal has scored over 40 points exactly twice in his 10-year career. And never more than 41. He’s never scored more than 16 goals in a season. Connected to that, he’s only played more than 70 games in a season four times, and three of them were in his first three seasons. He gets hurt, and he doesn’t score much when he’s actually on the ice.

And Jim Nill gave him $4.7 million for the next three years.

Here are some centers making around the same money. Bryan Little makes the same, as far as cap hit. When he signed that deal, he was coming off 32 points in 48 games in 2013. He then backed it up with a 64 point seasons and a 52-point season. Vincent Trocheck makes the same cap hit. He has two 50-point seasons and has been a point-per-game this year. Artem Anisimov’s cap hit is slightly less, and it’s probably not a good contract, but he’s about to gather his third-straight 20-goal season. Nazem Kadri makes $4.5 per year, and he’s got three 50-point season and is going to add a fourth this year. Other names are Marcus Johansson, Valtieri Fillpula, Tyler Johnson, Alex Galchenyuk, Jori Lehtera. Make of that what you will, which is probably there are some really dumb GMs around.

Hanzal has five points this year. He’s also been a possession black hole, which given his just-shit-myself skating style on a team that can get-up-and-go isn’t a huge surprise. His relative-Corsi is -5.37 and his -10.3 relative xGF% is one of the worst in the league.

Nill will get away with it because Kari Lehtonen’s $5.9 million hit and Dan Hamhuis’s $3.7 million hit come off the books this year. Even with Roussel, Johns, Shore, Elie, Janmark, Smith to re-sign. Then again, they’ll only have 11-14 million to do all that with. The following year Tyler Seguin is going to get his, but Jason Spezza’s hit comes off the books. So Nill might dodge the damage that could come along with such an oversized mistake.

To be fair to Hanzal, Jabba The Hitch has used him exclusively as a checking-line center. He starts only 32% of his shifts in the offensive zone, so of course his metrics are going to be low. Still, if you want merely a punching bag who sucks up defensive zone draws, you can probably find one for cheaper than $4.7 million per year.

More genius. You gotta love it.

Game #34 Preview

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 12-9-4   Stars 14-10-1

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCS CHICAGO

WE GOIN’ HONKY TONKIN’: Defending Big D

The back half of a traditional, divisional home-and-home comes tonight in North Texas, with the Hawks looking to greatly improve on what was a pretty piss poor effort on Thursday. We knew fatigue would come into play somewhere in this hellacious five-in-seven stretch, and at least for the first two periods the Hawks looked leggy. They almost pulled it back in the 3rd, which shows you the flaws in this Dallas team, but their power play problems clipped their hopes.

Obviously, not much can change with these teams in just two days… unless it’s the Hawks and an injury to Corey Crawford puts their whole season teetering on the edge of the Great Abyss. Make no mistake, if Crow were to miss two to three weeks–as he very well might–and the Hawks have a complete balls-up during that, they could be utterly fucked without any of the customary fun before you’re singing Auld Lang Syne. Anton Forsberg has been better than his numbers suggest–that belch-with-barf in Denver skews things–but the Hawks in no way wanted to depend on him full-time this early in the season. Or at all. And J.F. Berube has a terminal case of being J.F. Berube. With his 21 games in the NHL and middling AHL numbers, the Hawks won’t want to break that glass unless it’s a total emergency. Yes, you should be uneasy.

The Stars also play tomorrow night in Denver, so there’s a chance that the Hawks could get a look at Kari Lehtonen tonight which would help the cause, or at least would be likely to. There look to be a couple lineup changes for the Stars as well. Curtis McKenzie was called up to write a sermon that no one will hear as Antoine Roussel has apparently picked up something, and I’m just going to go ahead and say some combo of syphilis and plague because I want to. Martin Hanzal will still miss out, and Julius HONKA! HONKA! won’t get in the lineup so they can keep trained ox Jamie Oleksiak in.

What’s a little worrisome is that with the matchup-advantage at home, the Hawks were still unable to keep Tyler Seguin’s line under control at all. So Hitch can be confident of throwing them out against Toews again and getting chances, or throwing them at the bottom six and having battle station alarms going off in the Hawks zone all night. Expect to see the Seguin line out against Forsling and Rutta at every chance, and don’t expect Q to chase matchups too much because he just doesn’t do it much in the regular season.

Even with Faksa’s and Janmark’s scratching the sheet on Thursday, with Spezza’s wrong-chalice-like decay and Hanzal’s injury, this is still pretty much a one-line team. The Hawks did keep them from scoring at least on Thursday… and lost anyway. So… not encouraging.

With Forsberg in net the Hawks might be tempted to play it a little safer on the road, keeping the third forward as high as possible and dropping their d-men back at the first hint of trouble. Hitch won’t take the foot off the gas too much at home and with the Hawks on the their back up ‘tender. He also won’t stand for the Stars racking up seven penalties again.

Not to keep beating a dead horse–and I don’t know why you keep bringing me down–but given how jammed up things are in the West wildcard picture and given how the strata in the Central have separated, the Hawks can’t afford to drop too many points to teams that are joining them in this mud-covered rabble. They got a point against the Stars last out but really can’t give them more than the two they already did. It’ll be hard to lose touch, but it’ll also be even harder to make up ground. Getting to overtime is something of a loss. Need a regulation win here.

 

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There have been plenty of reasons to laugh at Stars GM Jim Nill. Every offseason, he’s the darling of the hockey world because he’s always doing SOMETHING. But as Dan McNeil once told us, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Or if you prefer, Nill has had quite the Shakesperean time as GM, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

The biggest failing of Nill’s has been the way he has completely mangled the Stars goaltending. To be fair to him, it was his predecessor Joe Nieuwendyk who signed Kari Lehtonen to a purely insane five-year extension for $5.9 million per year, a deal that Nill will get out from under after this season. Let-One-In had only one year of being anything above average before that extension, but Nieuwendyk bit anyway and saddled Nill with a Finnish millstone.

That didn’t mean Nill had to compile the mistake, but there’s nothing he can’t go overkill on if you let him. So he decided that paying one middling goalie an exorbitant salary was so much fun, he’d pay a bad one an exorbitant salary as well, but this time he’d get to pick it! So in came Antti Niemi, who proceeded to almost single-handedly torpedo their division-winning team in the postseason two years ago and then basically all of last year. Lehtonen certainly wasn’t going to bail them out, as you don’t try and put out a fire by throwing a dead cat at it.

Nill didn’t help matters by having Lindy Ruff as coach, whom always employs a system that leaves goalies exposed, helpless, lonely, and longing for the abyss. Even good goalies struggle with it, and you need look no further than Ryan Miller as evidence. So when Ken Hitchcock was hired, you best believe he was assured that Nill would improve the goaltending. Jabba The Hitch isn’t going to have his genius undermined by leaky goaltending, you’d best believe. That certainly never happened in St. Louis. Nope, nosiree bob.

The question then becomes is Ben Bishop really the answer? On the surface you’d be inclined to say yes, with two Vezina finalist seasons in three from ’14-’16. But those are the only standout seasons on Bishop’s resume, and even then they might be a touch misleading.

Hockey in general struggles for a tried and true system or way to evaluate goaltenders, which is quite strange considering their outsized importance to teams. Still, comparing a player’s save-percentage and their expected save-percentage at least gives us some idea of how much they’re lifting their teams and how much they’re benefitting from the team in front of them. And Bishop’s ’15-’16 was only ok in that department, with a difference between the two of +0.22. But that doesn’t put him near the elite. For example, Corey Crawford’s difference averages +1.2 over the past five years. Sergei Bobrovsky has been above +1.8 the past couple years, which is why he’s carrying hardware. Braden Holtby has been over +1.0 the past two years. Matt Murray was +1.6 last year.

Even Bishop’s first Vezina-finalist season of ’13-’14 he was only +0.5, so the Lightning were doing some work for him in front of him. Work this Stars roster is almost certainly not capable of no matter what elixir Hitch is cooking up in the cauldron in his office. Yes, he almost certainly has a cauldron and you know it.

There are other concerns with Bishop. He had groin-injury problems in the previous couple of seasons, and at 31 and at 6-7 those don’t figure to get much better. Signing him until he’s 37 wasn’t exactly the stroke of genius. A $4.9 million hit isn’t going to cause anyone to reach for an oxygen mask, but it’s not brilliant either. It could be in two years that Nill is going to have to once again pay for two starting goalies, if not sooner. Which is how they got into this mess in the first place.

Still, it’s not like there were tons of options for Nill. Scott Darling was out there but the Hawks might have been antsy trading him within the division and hence would have probably asked the Stars for way more than they got from Carolina for just the right to negotiate with him. Brian Elliot? Steve Mason? Trade for Mike Smith? These are not franchise turners.

If Bishop doesn’t work out, Nill is probably going to pay with his job. Goalies are the new quarterbacks it would seem. And Bishop is good enough to not let you down. It’s just that he might not rise a team up to a level it might not quite deserve. And that’s probably what this Stars squad needs.

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