Hockey

For most of the summer, it looked like the Jets might struggle to get either of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor into the fold by the season’s opening. Getting both seemed just east of Oz on the possibility scale. And yet they managed it. The strange thing was that they chose to lock up Connor long-term, while Laine only got a two-year bridge deal that won’t even take him into unrestricted free agency. But was it that strange, really?

At this point, it’s pretty well-documented how much Laine ran into the rock wall painted to look like a tunnel by Wile E. Coyote last year. From 44 goals to 30, from 70 points to 50, a 33% drop in shooting percentage, and some metrics that were truly horrifying. Meanwhile, Connor racked up his second straight 30+ goal season on the Jets’ top line, although his metrics weren’t all that impressive either. But when you’re skating with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, you’re probably always going to outscore what your metrics say.

Still, the thought that Connor was a product of his linemates and Laine had to do it himself was a popular one. It was even one Laine felt necessary to voice himself during the summer. If they switched spots, would Laine be the one the Jets felt they had to keep, and Connor the one they would wait-and-see on?

Connor actually spent as much time away from those other two forwards as he did with them last year. His attempts and shots per 60 percentage do go down without them, but the team’s goals-percentage when he was on the ice without them went up. More worryingly, the expected-goals count when down about five percentage points. The only thing that went up significantly was Connor’s shooting percentage, which appears to be blind luck thanks to the expected goals mark, and thus would explain the goals going up without Wheeler and Scheifele.

On the other side, Laine only got about 200 minutes last year with Wheeler and Scheifele, though that’s just about 15 games worth or so. Laine’s numbers hold steady whether he was skating with them or not. But what’s worth noting is how much worse the whole line’s numbers were than they were when Connor was on the top line. It’s four to five percentage points across the board. Quite simply, Laine was dragging them down.

So in that sense, it makes sense to see what Laine does for a further two seasons, and that’s both on the top line and away from it, to see who’s a product of whom. Laine’s bitching has got him on the top line this year to start though, where he’s put up 10 points in five games. And while the points are nice, once again the metrics say this line doesn’t work at all. Their Corsi % together is 29.7%. xGF % is 37.3%. Laine is outscoring it for now, but that can’t last much longer.

Meanwhile. Connor has been put on the second line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp, though that will be Bryan Little‘s spot again when he recovers from concussion. Their metrics still aren’t in the black, but they’re far better than what Laine is doing on the top line, though not with the end-product (three goals between them).

So it would appear that Connor is the more all-around player, capable of doing work anywhere, though we’ll obviously need a much bigger sample size. Laine is going to have to continue to shoot the lights out to outrun the fact that his line almost never has the puck. He’s done it before, but if he wants bigger numbers on his paycheck when these two years are up, he’s can’t stop.

Hockey

As you can tell with the swing of our content over the past couple weeks, it’s hockey dead season. Training camps are still weeks away, even the prospects tournaments aren’t all that close, and everything off the ice has come to a standstill (except for Bill Guerin’s face slowly melting off his skull, apparently).

Still, there’s some intrigue, and even for Hawks fans. Except that nothing will move before camp starts likely, and maybe right on the eve of the season. And that’s in Winnipeg, and to a lesser extent Denver.

The Jets currently have Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine unsigned as restricted free agents. And though both would seem to be as important to the Jets, the atmosphere around those negotiations (if they’re even taking place) are very differently. Connor seems to want to be locked down for a good long time at a high salary, whereas the Jets and Laine seem to view things differently. Laine is coming off what was a disappointing seasons, though his disappointing season would look great to about 75% of the players in the league.

The funny thing is that even with Laine’s apparent downturn and Connor establishing himself as a top line player (at least for the Jets), their numbers the last two seasons are remarkably similar. Connor has gone 65G-58A-123P the past two seasons, and Laine is at 74G-46A-120P. And Laine has another 36-goal campaign in front of that. It’s funny how differently their contract talks are viewed by both player and team and media, when overall they’ve been the same player. It’s humorous that Connor could end up with $8M or more, while the Jets would love to lock in Laine at $6M or thereabouts and only for a couple years if possible.

Now, if the Jets are looking at such things, and I would heavily doubt they are but if it saves them money I won’t rule it out, Laine’s metrics are much worse than Connor’s last year. Whatever role that plays in talks, I leave to you.

It’s pertinent to the Hawks because Alex DeBrincat is going to find himself in this position a year from now. Top Cat’s numbers are 69G-59A-128P, which looks an awful lot like Connor’s and Laine’s, don’t they? Unless he has an injury or completely falls in the tank or some other indignity befalls him (Weather Girl-itis, let’s call it), it’s pretty easy to picture DeBrincat meeting or exceeding Laine’s three-year total. Which, because it won’t come after a disappointing and somewhat mysterious season, probably nets him more money than Laine is going to get from the Jets.

Mikko Rantanen‘s stalled talks in Denver add to this as well, though he’s got better numbers than Top Cat is probably going to be able to reach. Basically it feels like Rantanen’s number and Laine’s number will give the Hawks and DeBrincat a good bracket to find an answer within. If DeBrincat were to manage an 80-point season he’ll get up around where Rantanen is now points-wise, and should easily pass his 80 goals in three seasons (Top Cat has 69 and fuck you). So a Rantanen number might be closer to what the Hawks have to shell out than a Laine one.

As of now, the Hawks will have $20-$22 million to play with, and we know that they almost never shortchange one of their guys. Other than like Marcus Kruger, who was happy to be that for them. So it would seem $9M or so for DeBrincat is on the way, though maybe they can get him in at around $8. Still, the Hawks will have to sign at least one goalie, and hopefully Dylan Strome proves worth an investment, and that’s basically all the space the Hawks will have.

Basically, Kirby Dach is going to have to be good and in a hurry, because the Hawks are going to have to compete while he’s still cheap if at all possible.

 

 

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Corsica 

It’s unfair, and nearly impossible, to get a handle on what kind of job Jeremy Colliton is doing after 17 games. I could sit here and say that the Hawks don’t quit even when they’ve been down for what is it, 13 straight games? And I could say that he doesn’t have anything to work with, especially on the blue line. I could say that they’re not getting saves (though they did tonight to a point). I could say a lot of things.

But then there’s the starts. And whatever the problems are on the roster, and they are numerous, there’s no way we can sit here and say that the Hawks haven’t consistently come out unready to play. You can’t fall behind for as many games in a row as it is now, and usually my multiple goals, and claim otherwise. And that has to be coaching. Or preparation. Whatever you want to call it.

Now maybe it’s on the players, who got one coach fired and don’t seem to be responding to the next one until there’s a certain level of embarrassment/professionalism/both. But you’d think you’d find a way to get through to everyone, veterans and neophytes alike, to get that to kick in when the first puck drops. It’s been a month since they have. That’s on someone.

Sure, lack of talent is the biggest culprit. But then explain an effort like this from one of your alternate captains:

Maybe Seabrook is so used to getting beat to the outside that he was just turning and getting ready for it. But facing the wrong way and just leaving your stick out there in the hopes that Kyle Connor would somehow trip himself or something, that’s a shit-assed effort. That’s I-couldn’t-give-a-fuck effort. And that’s from a player playing catch-up most nights when he does care.

And he still gets 22 minutes of time. Now, perhaps Colliton fears he simply can’t go to the mat with any of his veterans, but at some point that bleeds from reverence to no one’s accountable. And that’s only going to get worse if it goes unchecked. Maybe the perception would be Seabrook is the easy target, because Quenneville scratched him once last year. But it also wouldn’t make it much of a shock for the rest of the team. Colliton has played tough guy/bad cop the last time the Hawks were outclassed in Winnipeg in the press. At some point that has to happen with the team.

That doesn’t mean going Jim Fucking Boylen on the Hawks, I don’t care about bag skates. I don’t care about turning over postgame spreads or anything like that. But someone is going to have to pay for any part of this with ice time, and stripping it from a young player isn’t the answer.

Fin.

The Two Obs

-The other mark against Colliton is that the Hawks continue to not have any communication in the defensive zone. Don’t fool yourself, switching from the zone system the Hawks used to play to the man system they want now isn’t like going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. The principles are at least based on the same thing. It’s amazing how many times you look and you’ll see the Hawks have everyone covered, and then simple movement from an attacker and a lack of talking either causes the Hawks to not switch guys or completely ignore someone on the other side of the ice. That isn’t about talent. That isn’t anyone getting beat. That’s just a lack of attention to detail.

-There isn’t much else to point out, because you don’t learn anything when the game is over after 15 minutes and the only reason it becomes anything of a contest is because the team leading is already making plans for the night after the showers. so let’s talk about Eddie Olczyk’s and Pat Foley’s race to be the next Hawk Harrelson.

It’s clear Eddie’s war on analytics is directed at Stan Bowman, and perhaps at whoever else told Eddie he couldn’t be a coach or GM because of his dismissal of them. We’ve spilled countless words on the idiocy of this “fight.” Mostly because every other sport, including soccer by the way, has long ago accepted that there is useful information to be found within them and it helps build a team to win.

And Pat and Eddie’s contention that they don’t tell you who wins battles, as close as it is to Hawk’s TWTW mantra, is quite simply wrong. Because it tells you who gets the puck. Which is generally a good idea, or so I thought.

I’m resigned to the rest of the season being Eddie essentially reading his resume on air a la Mark Jackson a few years ago on NBA broadcasts, and Foley being his hype-man. I can only hope Eddie keeps displaying the reasons why no one should ever hire him.

-Also their 10 minute discussion of the 80s Oilers and 90s Penguins wasn’t all that far off from Hawk’s love letters to Yaz.

-Last point, Olczyk did claim that they both think the goaltending has been good. Crawford is at .901. Ward is at .888. They have the ninth-worst SV% at evens and the 4th worst overall. So yeah, it’s been great.

-As for the on the ice. it’s clear that Dylan Strome has use. How much, don’t know yet, and his learning curve is going to be longer. He’s got the hands and vision but he’s going to have to wait until his anticipation and instincts get him to the spots he needs faster than his feet get him there now. That can happen. It may only lead him to being a poor man’s Brad Richards, but that’ll play. It certainly is going to take more than the 50 games the Coyotes gave him.

Connor Murphy is a clearly more confident player when he’s not worried about his coach painting a big, red #4 on his face and then beating Murphy over the head with a shovel every time he makes the tiniest mistake. I look forward to what it looks like when he’s up to game-speed.

Onwards…

Everything Else

Derek Gagnon is a contributor at ArcticIce.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekGagnon1.

Overhanging the Jets season is a sort of “Cap-ocalypse” in the summer. Does this season have a feeling of now or never?
Not so much, though there is a feeling that this group will see some change next year. This team is still young, and players like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine should only improve as time goes by. The way things are going, the Jets should be a contender for a number of years to come.
With the cap going to $83 million or so, the Jets have something around $27 million in space now, with Trouba, Laine, Connor seemingly the must-keeps, along with a few other free agents. It seems doable, Is it?
I think it’s doable, though some sacrifices will have to be made along the way. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor look to be Jets long term, and will get paid handsomely on their next contracts. There are some questions on defense though. The Jacob Trouba contract situation has been a concern for years, and with only one more season of restricted-free agent status left after this season, if they aren’t able to sign him long term it may be time to move him in the off-season. Tyler Myers is another situation that needs addressing. He’s being paid $5.5 million  this year to play third pairing minutes, and not play them overly well. As an unrestricted free agent, I would expect the Jets to cut ties, but they may not if the Trouba contract isn’t long-term.

The cap being projected to go up to $83 million definitely works in the Jets favor, as that extra room will come in handy. Even then, it might mean more players on entry-level contracts on the team, rather than guys like Brandon Tanev. Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen are a couple of names that could benefit from a cap crunch.

Why hasn’t Jack Roslovic popped more? Huge pedigree, big excitement, is it just the fourth line role he has right now?
Right now, I think it’s a combination of a lack of minutes and the insistence he play center, where he seems to be struggling. While dominant at the AHL level, it just hasn’t clicked at the NHL level yet. Things seemed to be progressing when he was briefly reunited with the former Manitoba Moose (AHL) line of Nic Petan, Roslovic and Mason Appleton, but Petan was dropped from the lineup in favor of Brendan Lemieux and there hasn’t been chemistry. Playing an average of 7:43 per night doesn’t help either.
Is there real worry about Connor Hellebuyck two months plus into the season? Or just negotiating the following season after playing deep into the playoffs for the first time and he’ll bounce back in plenty of time?
I think that it actually might be the change in pads that has plagued Connor Hellebuyck. The smaller chest protector seems to be taking some getting used to for Hellebuyck, which has seen more rebounds and the occasional tentative effort. I have full confidence that he will adapt and overcome, as he has exhibited his ability to be great at every level he has played at, including the NHL. His last three starts have been quite solid, stopping a combined 89 of 92 shots, so perhaps that corner has been turned.

 

Game #32 Preview Suite

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It was only two weeks ago that the Jets were at the UC, so here’s what @GameTimeArt had to say about them then. 

So the Jets have lost to the Preds twice in the past couple weeks. Does that put any fear into your playoff hopes or does the fact that the Jets (barring something stupid) will win their first playoff game and quite possibly series since being resurrected be enough for everyone?

In a strange way it doesn’t really put fear into most Jets fans because those last two meetings have been with a Jets team with four or more regulars out of the lineup including their top center and top defenseman and really save for a stretch of ten minutes at the end of one game and ten minutes at the start of the other, a depleted Jets lineup hung in ok against the Preds, so I think there is still hope that if the Jets can get healthy, they should give Nashville a good fight. That said, I think everyone expects good things from the first round and then we’ll worry about a potential second round blood bath against the Predators.

Blake Wheeler has 89 points. He shifted to center when Scheifele was hurt. And yet he doesn’t seem to be getting any Hart Trophy love. While it would be hard to make a case for him over say MacKinnon or Hall or Malkin or Kucherov, shouldn’t he at least be discussed?

Maybe a little… If there was an award for most inspiring leader who leads inspiringly – is that the Messier award? – then Blake should get that hands down. As far as most valuable player, I’d say he deserves a brief mention but I don’t even know if he’s the MVP on the Jets as I’d argue Connor Hellebuyck has been far more important to the Jets win totals than anything Blake has done. Then again, maybe I’m just not used to seeing actual good goaltending for my team so I could be biased.

Flying under the radar a bit is Kyle Connor, thanks to Wheeler and Laine and Barzal in the Calder race. What’s most impressive about his game as a rookie?

I love Connor’s ability to weave in and out of traffic when he has the puck, especially when it comes to skating into the offensive zone. He seems to have this ability to find just enough room on the ice to make a move past a defender or at the very least give himself an extra second to move the puck forward or pass it off to a teammate.

How much has Trouba been missed?

A lot and really it’s only because with Trouba out, it has meant Tyler Myers I’d argue has gotten more minutes per game than he can handle and Myers’ game – especially in the defensive zone – has suffered because of it. Byfuglien has done well in stepping up as he does and Josh Morrissey is quietly good as always, but Trouba is kind of the lynchpin that holds the Jets defense together. To put it in a much dumber context, Trouba to the Jets defense is like syrup to waffles. Sure, the waffles are ok without it, maybe even good depending on the quality of the other ingredients you have, but syrup just makes the entire dish so much better. Jacob Trouba is syrup.

What do you foresee for the Jets come the spring?

Increased health going into the playoffs for one thing, a first round series where the Jets have home ice and which should be a win because I think they match up well against Minnesota, Dallas or Colorado and then a second round where the limits of my heart being able to function properly will be severely tested.

 

Game #82 Preview

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Corsica

Remember a few years ago when the Hawks were really truly good, and they’d lose some dumbass game to some dumbass opponent that you knew they should have won, and you thought to yourself, how are they losing this right now? Well, it appears we’ve become that dumbass opponent for the seemingly-legitimately-good Jets. To the bullets!

– Let’s get right to the new guy: Anthony Duclair had a solid first game as a Blackhawk. He sported a 57.1 CF% at evens (70 CF% in all!) and got an assist. And overall, the third line was fast and kept the puck in the offensive zone. It was Duclair maintaining possession in a sequence that got it to Top Cat, who got it to Murphy, who got it to the net with Kampf redirecting it in along the way. A speedy and skilled third line? Please and thank you.

– Speaking of the third line, David Kampf had a big night (and on his birthday too, yay). The aforementioned redirection was his first NHL goal, and he got an assist on Rutta’s goal as well. Everything I just said about the third line, I would repeat here (don’t worry, I won’t).

– Kyle Connor on the Jets was snakebitten tonight. Dude had three points in his last game (granted, it was against the Sabres), but the correction came tonight. Oesterle and Glass both foiled his breakaways in the second period.

–Which brings me to: the defense had some flashy plays tonight. Forsling was the proverbial bat out of hell getting down the ice to save what would have been an empty net goal in the first. Duclair had drawn a penalty and Glass left the ice but the puck, as they say, squirted loose (I hate that characterization) and was hurtling toward the open net, and Forsling hurtled himself faster to pull off a last-second save. Then, in the second period Oesterle was marooned with a 3-on-1 as he came off the bench, yet he managed to poke check Kyle Connor while laid out on the ice. Connor Murphy’s huge shot led to the first Hawks goal. (Way too many “Connors” in this game.) And Jan Rutta scored a soft goal that you can be sure Hellebuyck will see in his nightmares.

Now make no mistake, Forsling and Rutta had plenty of dumb-fuckery in the defensive zone, and Seabrook fumbled a pass into a turnover also in his own zone (which Foley and Konroyd of course spun as a positive thing when he managed to scrape the puck out of the crease), but at least we got some relief from the defensive circus with some acrobatics that were actually landed.

– I know Jeff Glass only gave up one goal, but you’re still not going to convince me he’s an NHL-caliber goalie (he’s a nice guy, it’s a great story, I’m not arguing that). He certainly shouldn’t have been the first fucking star. Oesterle in particular bailed him out multiple times tonight—he deserved the damn first star. In general Glass’s positioning is just wonky, for lack of a better term. Yes he kicks out a leg to make a second stop but it’s because he’s lunging all over on the first stop or giving up rebounds. I get nervous any time the puck comes near him because he’s shimmying like a backup dancer for Tina Turner.

However, the Hawks need every point and especially when they’re playing a division opponent, despite the fact that they won’t come close to catching this one but hey, whatever. Ideally this will give them some momentum going into Sunday when they play the crappy-ass Red Wings, and we can hope they don’t have a repeat of what happened earlier this week when they followed a win with a foolish loss to a team that’s not any better than them. Good start to the weekend; onward and upward.

Beer de Jour: Two Hearted by Bell’s

Line of the Night: “Not many good entries when you’re standing still.” —Pat Foley, describing a shitty power play zone entry (or lack thereof).