Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-12-6   Knights 15-12-5

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

DIAMONDS AND DUST: SinBin Vegas

You most certainly don’t feel like it, but if the Hawks were to get a point out of this one, and they only just got their first two points ever in Vegas in four tries last month, they would have something of a points-streak. I don’t know if four games count as a “streak,” but these days we have to take what we can get. And it’s going to take an extended one if the Hawks are going to leap all the teams they need to get into the playoff discussion. They’ll start the desert swing tonight before wrapping up this small road trip in St. Louis, which is only a desert of the mind.

They’ll find a Knights team that isn’t quite having its own way as it had in its first two years. They hold the last wildcard spot at the moment, but somehow find themselves trailing both the Coyotes and the Oilers by five points. They won’t expect either of those teams to hold up, and you’d think when those bubbles burst the Knights will be there to pick up the pieces and go home. It’s still the smart money.

In some ways, the Knights are the opposite of the Hawks. They do all their good work between the goal lines, but when it comes to making it count on either end they’ve been a little shy. They rank in the bottom 10 in both shooting-percentage and save-percentage, which kind of undoes their top-1o standing in both Corsi and expected goals percentage. Whereas the Hawks can’t do any of that in-between shit but do get saves and do get goals because they have experts on that at both ends.

It would be easy to point to the aging Marc-Andre Fleury and think that’s the problem, but only his injuries have been a problem. The real issue is the Knights don’t have a representative backup. Malcolm Subban has been thoroughly mediocre, with a .901 and the sub-.500 record he and the team has when he starts. Fleury has bee fine, but has missed the past couple weeks. Luckily for the Hawks, he returns tonight.

At the other end, the Knights just haven’t made their chances count even if they get more of them. The days of Max Pacioretty being amongst the league’s best marksmen are probably past. Mark Stone never was. Wild Bill Karlsson was never going to match the 25% shooting-percentage of two years ago. Marchessault and Smith haven’t really made up the difference while also doing just enough. It’s likely the Knights won’t have a 30-goal scorer, but might end up with six or seven 20-goal ones. But if Smith or Patches or Marchessault catch fire for a month, they will most likely rocket up the standings.

It’s still the lightning quick squad that has been a nightmare for the Hawks for most of their meetings. Get it out, get it up, get it the fuck up there as quick as possible is always the plan with the Knights so they can get their forwards in space. And their defense, thanks to Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore mostly, is just mobile enough to give themselves just enough time to do so, whether it’s one pass or off the glass or chipped out to the red line. When it’s on song it can be impossible to live with, but you also need to make those things count by actually finishing, which has been something of a struggle so far this year.

To the Hawks, who will start Corey Crawford tonight. Adam Boqvist is up, and is the only Hawks d-man who can play at the Knights’ speed. Where he’ll play hasn’t been determined yet, or if he’ll play at all. It’s likely he’s in for Koekkoek while everyone still worships at the altar of Dennis Gilbert. And he is likely to get very exposed tonight, chasing hits he won’t come within five feet of as the Knights forwards gleefully sprint into the space he vacates. The rest of the lineup should remain the same.

The Hawks have gotten three of four points available against Vegas so far this year, which seems a miracle given what we saw the first two years. Without Keith and this plodding blue line, you really don’t look forward to this one much. But the Hawks can’t afford to deem any game beyond them if they’re serious about playing games that matter later on in the season. So they’ll have to be quick with the puck, no 17-pass breakouts, and perhaps collapsing a bit more to their crease instead of chasing forwards they can’t catch all over their zone would be helpful.

Off we go.

Hockey

If you want to feel better about organizational methods, it’s always good to laugh at someone else. It doesn’t mean your team is run any better, but at least you know there are other idiots along with you. Misery loves company, and so does idiocy. AMERICA.

Cast your mind back three years ago, when the Montreal Canadiens traded PK Subban to Nashville. Part of the reason they did that was they felt he was a problem in the dressing room, and the reason they felt like that was their captain Max Pacioretty pretty much made that clear. Because Pacioretty is the most boring person in the world and adheres to the strict hockey code that no one can ever be interesting in any way, or something.

Well, less than two years later Pacioretty was gone to Vegas, so that’s some excellent long-term planning there. And the Habs haven’t won a playoff series since all this started anyway. Sounds a touch familiar. Strange that Les Habitants are run by a former Hawks employee, no?

Not that Pacioretty has been all that glorious himself. A big reason the Canadiens decided to punt him before he hit free agency is they felt he was already on the decline. And there was reason to think that. His last year in Montreal saw him play only 64 games, and score just 17 goals. And while a 4.7% shooting-percentage at even-strength and an 8% overall just aren’t Patches numbers, there were other warning signs. We would never trust Marc Bergevin to actually heed them, but maybe he got it right anyway.

Pacioretty’s chances and attempts were dropping. After topping out in ’15-’16 with exactly an 1.00 xGF/60, he had declined in the next two seasons. His attempts per game also fell by a quarter in the next two seasons. Same with his scoring chances. Pacioretty simply wasn’t getting to the same areas. A shooting-percentage spike saved one of those seasons, but he fell to just 17 goals in his last season in the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.

Things didn’t improve much in his first year in the desert, either. Patches once again saw his body let him down, as he only played 66 games last year. He did manage 22 goals, but still wasn’t anywhere near the 35-goal machine he had been in Montreal and which the Knights probably thought they were getting some version of when they traded for him and gave him an additional five years on his contract. Again, his metrics continued to slip.

It appears that slide has arrested, at least in the open environs of October hockey.

So far, Patches is averaging more shots per game than he has at any point in his career. His expected-goals is higher than at any time since he became a genuine top-line threat. His attempts per 60 are up around 2016 levels. So even though he’s getting no luck with a 7% shooting-percentage overall, he’s still managed six goals and you’d expect with the chances he’s getting that he’s going to have a binge here pretty soon. Just hopefully not tonight, but when has anything like that worked out for the Hawks against the Knights?

You can probably thank Mark Stone‘s arrival for this. All of Patches’s numbers took a bump up when Stone was on the other side of Paul Stastny from him, and that’s continued this year. Although it could be argued he’s having just as big of an impact on Stone, as in very limited time without each other (just 57 minutes or so), it’s Stone’s numbers that fall off a cliff more than Pacioretty’s. Either way, they make for quite the force. Especially in the playoffs last year, where Pacioretty threw up 11 points in just seven games against the Sharks. Too bad he doesn’t kill penalties though, huh?

They’d better. Pacioretty’s contract was starting to have real potential to become James Neal-like if he’d continued tumbling down the mountainside. He’s signed until he’s 34, and power forwards do not tend to age well in a league that keeps getting faster. And we’ve been over how capped out the Knights are in the near future.

That’s a worry for another day though, because the Knights look primed to take another serious run at a less and less impressive Western Conference. Pacioretty is going to have a major role in that.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Knights 6-4-0   Hawks 2-3-1

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I NEEDED SOMETHING TO CUT THE LIMES: Sinbin.Vegas

We’re staying on the theme of the day, aren’t we?

Let’s get it out of the way at the top. The Hawks have never beaten the Knights. They’ve only gotten a point off of them once in six tries. They’ve been outscored 30-17 in those games. If there’s any team that has spent the last two years illustrating how far behind the Hawks have fallen in team speed and style, it’s the Knights. Most of these contests, the Hawks haven’t been anywhere near them. If the Hawks want to show that they can actually compete in this conference, or have figured out how the game is played now and how they can live in it, tonight would be something of an indicator.

And they might not get a better chance. They have the Knights at home, and on the second of a back-to-back. The Knights got walloped in Philadelphia last night, though some of that was having Oscar Dansk in net and not Marc-Andre Fleury, whom the Hawks will get tonight. So yeah, whole “ANGRY TEAM” thing, but also a tired one. Which means they’ll only be faster than the Hawks by a factor of six instead of eight, or thereabouts.

Let’s start with the Hawks. Robin Lehner will take his turn in net, and seeing as how he had to Atlas the Hawks to two points against the Jackets, he’s probably more in shape for what will almost certainly be a 35+ save effort if the Hawks are going to get something out of this. No word on what the Hawks will do lineup-wise, though they might want to reconfigure their top six again and get Kirby Dach on a wing for this one. Unless they want him dealing with any of William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, or Cody Eakin, Which they definitely do not.

So far, they appear to be sticking with Sunday’s lineup, but look for changes as this game rolls along.

Right, to the Knights. At times they’ve looked utterly unstoppable this season, such as when they pulverized the Sharks twice to open the season or gave the Flames a colonoscopy for fun. They’ve also been well-beaten by the Preds and Flyers, and tied the Senators, so it’s been a bit goofy–as hockey tends to be.

They haven’t been quite the possession monster of years past, at last in terms of attempts. They don’t generate or prevent that many, middling in both categories. When it comes to actual chances though, they’re one of the better teams around, generating far more than they give up. So they’ll let you have the outside, but nothing in the middle and as soon as they block a shot they’re off to the races.

At the moment, it’s their second line that’s the real danger. Mark Stone is a supernova at this point, and taking Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny along for the ride. Not that the Hawks have been able to do anything about Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, or Wild Bill in the past either.

Cody Glass and his eminently punchable, smirking rich kid face is the new hotness on the third line, and whenever Alex Tuch returns to flank Eakin on the other side this third line will be as dangerous as many top six units in the league. And that’s if they don’t move Glass to center, which is his natural spot.

At this point, the drill with the Knights is well-known. They have a profusion of speed at forward on all four lines, and their game is simply to get it up to them and up the ice as quickly as possible. One pass or one chip out into the neutral zone and they’re gone. When not doing that, they have no compunction about sending two forecheckers below the opposing goal line to free up the puck and get chances while the other team is scrambling.

The Hawks struggle, at least for one reason, against this team because they still try their intricate breakouts or exits, and it just won’t work. They also don’t have the foot-speed on defense to even give themselves enough time to inhale and bank one off the glass to get out of the zone. That’s the game against the Knights, is you have to get the puck past their forwards that constantly look like the Tasmanian Devil in that cloud he would create when really losing it. Once you do that you can get at this defense as the Flyers did last night. It’s not that good, but it’s well protected and not asked to do much more than clog the middle of their zone, and wing the puck in the general direction of their forwards.

The Hawks think they’re equipped to do this now. We’ll see.

Hockey

Upon trading for Mark Stone, the Golden Knights signed him to an eight-year extension worth $9.5M. It’s in the top-20 among cap hits in the league, except everyone above Stone have either major hardware, 90+ point seasons, or something similar (aside from Jack Eichel, who at least has youth on his side). It caused me to write this. Surely this was another excessive move from the Knights, who in just to seasons had capped themselves out and cost themselves a player like Gusev or Erik Haula or one or two others.

Looks like a nailed another one.

Mark Stone has 12 points through the Knights first nine games, and what the Knights might have guesses is that getting out of Ottawa would boost his production and game. Stone only put up 11 points in his 18 games in Vegas last year with just five goals. But if you looked beneath the surface, you could see that if things came correct, Stone is going to bust out in serious fashion this season.

All of Stone’s metrics took off upon arrival in the desert and haven’t stopped this year. His individual shots per 60 minutes went from 6.15 in Ottawa to over 10 in Vegas. His individual expected goals from 0.65 to 0.9, and it’s over one this season. His attempts from 11.3 per 60 to 17.3 last year, and 14. 1 this year. Scoring chances or high-danger chances have both gone up nearly 50% at least.

The only reason Stone saw his production drop in Vegas last year is that he suffered from some wicked, fiendish S% treachery. He was shooting over 19% in Ottawa, and only managed 9.3% in Vegas. Well here comes the argument…we mean the correction, because he’s shooting over 20% so far this season. His career mark is 15%, so while he’s not this guy, you wouldn’t count on a huge drop-off fro the rest of the year.

So yeah, the 54 goals and 109 points he’s on pace for right now would probably be worth $9.5M, huh?

So while we want to make fun, it just might be the Knights are set up. The entire top six is locked in long -term here, which means it might not matter much what’s on the bottom six. Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves are all free agents next year, but those spots could be filled with kids or vets who only require $1M-$2M.

Sure, there’s some holes on defense. Holden and Merrill will be free agents, but as the Knights have already proven, their fates don’t really rest on the quality of their defense, John Merrill and Nick Holden are not going to sink any team with their departures, and if they do that team probably sucked anyway. Again, they could fill those spots with kids and probably be fine thanks to the top six and their style.

Perhaps George McPhee just deserves credit for identifying a player who was being somewhat wasted in a defensive system run by a coach who is a genius only in his own mind and thinking he would flourish in the way Vegas play. Hell, that’s what he did with his top line. It hasn’t spread to Max Pacioretty yet, but with the way Stone is playing, it might not be long now.

It also suggests we should just shut up.

Hockey

How does an expansion franchise follow up one of the most improbable runs in professional sports history after reaching the Stanley Cup final in their first year of existence? Well, in the case of the Vegas Golden Knights, they have zero self awareness regarding all of the good fortune that fell their way the year prior, and bitch relentless about a perceived screw job at the hands of the refs that apparently led to their ouster. Furthermore, their cap situation is already a complete nightmare going into their third season of existence thanks to Brain Genious and Lorne Molleken Puncher George McPhee, who got kicked upstairs in the middle of this summer. The entire on-ice product is a house of cards that could come down at any point, but they are basically guaranteed a playoff spot given the state of affairs in the Western Conference and specifically the Pacific Division. What a competitive league!

2018-2019

43-32-7 93PTS, 3rd in Pacific
3.00 GF/G (13th), 2.78 GA/G (10th), +19 GD
54.36% CF (3rd), 54.66% xGF (3rd)
16.7% PP (24th), 80.8% PK (14th)

Goaltending: We talk a lot of shit here at the FFUD Offices, and a topic of fixation two years ago was that after a spike in performance in his first year in Vegas sporting a .929 overall save percentage, Marc-Andre Fleury would come crashing back to reality with a .907 the following year. It wasn’t quite that precipitous a drop to the .913 he put up last year (.917 at evens), and with goaltending down league wide that number didn’t look as bad as it would have in years past. But it still was a major contributing factor in the Knights dropping to third in the division after winning it the year prior. Flower will turn 35 in November, and while the general rule is that goalies age a bit slower than skaters, keep in mind that he’s been in the league since he was 19, with multiple deep playoff runs. There are a ton of miles on him, and asking for the 61 starts he gave last year is asking for trouble. Subban The Younger, Malcolm, will resume his role as Fleury’s backup, and he was servicable if not scintillating in 21 starts and a .902 save percentage. Realistically he should be making at least 6 to 8 more starts this coming season, and if he can’t improve a little bit on his .912 at evens, they’ll have to work very hard in spotting him in favorable matchups. Assuming Fleury stays in one piece, which is always a question.

Defensemen: Once again the Vegas blue line managed to not get their skulls caved in while regularly trotting out and giving meaningful minutes to Derek Engelland, but as they have shown over two years, with forwards as fast as they’ve got, they can pretty much blindly fire the puck out of the zone and the wings will track it down. Colin McDonald and his Wisniewski-eque wind-up were cap casualties and sent to Buffalo for nothing, but Nick Schmidt and Shea Theodore remain. Theodore still has all the tools to be an actual #1, but hasn’t quite put it together yet at 24, but he’ll get the top assignments whether he’s ready or not. Blog favorite Nick Schmidt is one of the few Vegas defensemen that can skate himself out of trouble if he needs to, but his problem has been staying healthy, as he’s never put together a full 82 game season. Brayden McNabb is a poor man’s Radko Gudas, and Nick Holden couldn’t find his way in the defensive zone if he were led by sherpas, but having a forward corps as fast as the Knights do will continue to mask a multitude of defensive sins.

Forwards: Even though his goal scoring predictably fell off the table last year, William Karlsson still centered one of the most dynamic lines in hockey with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault on his wings. The three of them together had a 54% share, and regularly drew top assignments, particularly on the road. Karlsson’s drop from 43 to 24 goals (and a commensurate drop from a 23.2 shooting percentage down to a more human 14.2) allowed the Knights to sidestep one of the bigger RFA deals they may have had to dole out, and were able to give Karlsson a relatively reasonable $5.9 mildo over the max 8 years. Of course, what they saved on that deal, they immediately pissed away in wildly overpaying in extending  pre-deadline acquisition Mark Stone, who was promptly given $9.5 over 8 years. Now make no mistake, Mark Stone is a hell of a player. He drives possession and certainly has finish, and is a large boy at 6’4″ 220. But his two best marks in points per game are 1.06 and .94, which are the last two seasons, neither of which he played 82 games in, and he is also now 27. Even as salaries climb year after year, this is still a big overpayment for a guy who is being paid the same as Nikita Kucherov, who has 228 points in that same time frame. He’ll likely be joined on the second line by Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, which sounded a lot more fearsome back in 2012. Patches is looking to put together a rebound season after failing to hit the 30 goal mark for the second year in a row after doing so 6 times in the past. They’ll need to get more out of Alex Tuch than the 20 goals he put up for what they’re paying him, particularly if Pacioretty has indeed aged out of effectiveness. Cody Eakin and Tomas Nosek provide plenty of bottom six speed and nuisance, and Ryan Reaves is still here to bark and fart and get skated around.

Outlook: Once again, the Knights have enough forward depth and the Pacific is bad enough elsewhere that even if Fleury declines further or is hurt, there’s probably enough here to get one of the guaranteed spots in the Pacific. And undoubtedly there will be countless bouquets thrown at the Vegas brain trust for putting together this team if only because hockey journalists like visiting Vegas as much as opposing players do, completely ignoring the cap issues this team will have in perpetuity having now paid all of their inagural roster and losing some players (McDonald, regarded import Nikita Gusev) to do so. It’s probably not enough to come out of the West in June, because the first time took two months of Fleury heroics, but clearly stranger things have happened with this team already.

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose tonight, 9:30

Game 2 in San Jose Friday, 9:30

Game 3 in Vegas Sunday, 9pm

Game 4 in Vegas Tuesday, 9:30

I suppose I should stand my ground, as I’ve believed in the Sharks all season, until their late-season pants-filling without Erik Karlsson. The fact that they finished where they did and their metrics are where they are despite having the worst goaltending in the league is a testament to how good they actually are. All they need really is league-average goaltending and not only would they come out of the West, they’d probably amble or mosey out of it. And yet the universe seems intent on shoving the Knights down our throats even though it took their GM less than two seasons to completely bork a blank cap situation and no one cares. Mark Stone showed up, everyone lost their mud, and he scored at a 22-goal, 50-point pace, which is fine, except it’s not fine  for the $9.5 MILLION DOLLARS HE’S GOING TO GET PER SEASON WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE FLABBERGASTED I MUST BE ON THE WRONG DRUGS!!!

But Stone’s contract doesn’t have much bearing on this series. His play does. And boy does this seem a nightmare for the Sharks, and could potentially swing the direction of the entire organization.

Goalies: Before we get to the disaster that is the Sharks’ net, Marc-Andre Fleury is reasons 1-4 the Knights made it to the Final last year. While some want to attribute it to magic dust or a genius front office or a secret style of playing or Ryan Fucking Reaves, just about any thrown-together bunch of fuckwits can win a series or three when their goalie is going .945, as Fleury did in the first three rounds. When he stopped doing that, you’ll notice the Caps dispatched them tout suite.

Fleury was a tick above league average, with spotty health all season. He was marvelous in five March starts, and bad in three April starts, so current form is hard to diagnose. Fleury’s playoff pedigree is also hard to figure, as there’s just as much buffoonery as there has been brilliance. If anyone thinks he’s a sure bet just because of the last two seasons, you’re not paying much attention. It would not be a shock if he’s terrible. He was just a short time ago February.

That still makes him a better bet than Martin Jones, who was just woeful this year. The Sharks had the worst goaltending at evens this year, and in fact were the only team lower than .900. You can’t roll into the playoffs with that and expect to do much. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Jones’s playoff pedigree is rather strong. In three tries with the Sharks he’s at .926 over 42 games. At 29, he really shouldn’t be in a career abyss. Maybe the fresh start of the playoffs lets him reset everything mentally. That’s the only thing the Sharks can be counting on right now.

Defense: You’ll never get me to buy into the Vegas defense. But I’ll also readily admit they basically take them out of the equation, by just asking them to get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible and not much else. They don’t get a ton of scoring from there but they don’t have to. And the forwards have the puck so much that they don’t have to do that much defending. But the Sharks have the puck a ton, too. And the more you’re asking Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb and Deryk Goddamn Engelland to do in their own end, the more likely it is they’ll turn back into the players we’re fairly sure they still are. Because I have to believe eventually things return to as they are, no matter how much of a fantasy land Vegas is of dreams and money and tits.

If Erik Karlsson is healthy, then the Sharks’ blue line is way better. He appeared for the last game and says he’s ready to go, but premature returns from a groin injury have sent him back to the darkness twice already this season. With him, the Sharks boast three pairs the Hawks would honestly kill for. Maybe Vlasic and Braun are a touch slow to deal with the speed of the Knights over a long series, but they know how to take the dungeon shifts. If they can keep the roof from leaking, Karlsson and Burns can get up in it. And they do the scoring the Vegas’s back end doesn’t. Yes, the Knights have four lines, but the Sharks are the rare team with three pairings. If anyone’s equipped…

Forwards: I still may be in denial or not “get it,” but there’s a reason the Knights are here again. They just have a lot of speed and depth. Wild Bill may have crashed back down to Earth, but it’s a real boon to have a second line of Stastny, Pacioretty, and Stone. The Ginger Ninja lurks on the third line with Alex Tuch, and somehow Bellemare and Reaves and whatever other jackass they punt out there come up with big goals. And there’s never a break in pace. It’s so much to deal with when it’s on song.

But again, if you sift through the mishegas, the Sharks have the same depth, but better. The Sharks boast six forwards with 55 points or more. The Knights have two. There are four 30-goal scorers in teal. The Knights don’t have one. They can annoy the piss out of you too with Meier and Sorensen. They could even match center depth by moving Pavelski back to the middle if they so choose. Nyquist performed at the same pace Stone did in Vegas and yet I didn’t see anyone erecting statues of him in their publications like they did with McPhee and Stone. Starting to get the impression the Sharks have better skaters?

Prediction: Last year’s series, after the 7-0 Game 1 in Vegas for the Knights, was pretty even. Fleury made a huge difference. The Knights are maybe better than they were last year, though without William Karlsson and Smith doing what they did maybe not? The Sharks definitely are. Jones could undo it all and they could be done in four. But the possibility of Fleury having a gasoline fight with him are higher than most think. But honestly, I’m tired of the Vegas story and I think the Sharks have just been twiddling their thumbs waiting for this. And once they snap into gear, everyone in the West should be awfully worried.

Sharks in six.

 

Everything Else

I guess it’s because NHL writers love the thought of going to Vegas on the company dime in the spring so much that no one ever bothers to question what George McPhee is doing. It’s kind of the same thing with Nashville, but to an even greater degree. And yet, if you look underneath the hood that NHL media is so happy to just settle for, you’ll see that this is one of the dumber contracts around and that in less than two seasons, George McPhee has completely throat-fucked a completely blank salary cap situation. That’s not easy to do!

So let’s go one at a time. While it hasn’t been made official, it was reported as soon as Stone was traded that he will ink an eight-year, $9.5M per extension with the Knights. Mark Stone is a fine player. Better than that, he’s a good player. Probably the highest-end second-line player you can find. Can even fill out your top line as he had to do in Ottawa for most of his career. All well and good.

Mark Stone has never scored more than 30 goals, and he’s likely to just barely scratch it this year for the first time. In a season when a bunch more are scoring 30 goals. Mark Stone has never bested 64 points, though he might, might get to 70 this year. But he’s never been anywhere near a point-per-game.

I suppose the arguments would be that Mark Stone’s metrics have been other-worldly, especially this season. and especially considering the team he’s been on. And I guess if you want to make the argument that those metrics on a team with better talent like Vegas will result in the numbers that would make $9.5M seem a good deal. It would also make Stone the first “analytic” contract in the sport’s history, and you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t think George “Punchy” McPhee is capable of that. Just a hunch.

Here’s just a smattering of forwards that Stone’s cap hit will be higher than: Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Vladimir Tarasenko. Yes, grated, those players signed deals at different points in their careers or in different times. But you also would take any of them over Stone in a heartbeat.

Now, you may say that it’s the Knights, it’s an expansion team, and they can overpay guys. Here’s the thing, they can’t! For next year, the Knights have about $10M in space and that’s without an extension for William Karlsson, supposedly their #1 center. While he’s not shooting 25% anymore, he’s also their third-leading scorer, and on their top line, and you’d have to figure he’s going to gobble up at least 60% of that $10M in space. Fuck, if Stone gets $9.5M then why can’t Karlsson ask for that? After all, he actually does have a 30-goal season on his resume.

Depending on what Karlsson cashes in for, the four highest cap hits next year in Vegas will be to players over 30. Because that’s a solid strategy! Works out for everyone! And you may say they can jettison some salary. Except straight salary dumps don’t tend to benefit the team making them and would also erode the depth that the Knights’ success is built on, so I’m told. I guess you could move out Eakin and Tuch for a combined $8M, maybe throw in Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb for another $5.5M, and then sign Erik Karlsson, to give you five contracts to players over 30 that are your highest. Maybe that works for a season, maybe even two, and then what. And what does it matter if Marc-Andre Fleury suddenly starts playing like he’s 35 (which he kind of already is, unless you want to believe that three March games–two of which came against the Ducks and Canucks–undue his .892 February)? Now you’d have no third line or second pairing or goalie. The Sharks have Karlsson, four lines, three pairings, but because of their goaltending might be a second-round washout. So you’re going to do it with less but better than the Sharks next year there, McPhee baby?

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! And hey, maybe they spasm another run in the spring while beating the Sharks and Flames and maybe even on to the Final again and all the writers get what they’re after anyway. Or maybe they get clubbed by San Jose in the first round and then have a top-heavy and old roster next year, with no cap space. In their third season. That’s some trick.

 

Everything Else

Due to the Hawks’ schedule and personal, I haven’t gotten around to summing up what went on during the trade deadline. So we’ll get to it now. The trade deadline is always a weird portion of the schedule, especially when your team (rightly) sits it out altogether. There are only a few teams that should participate, but yet too many can’t help themselves. So we’ll just go through this team-by-team of those who are trying to make noise in the spring. As for the sellers, we honestly won’t know how they did until the picks are made and the prospects come up.

East

Boston – Boston’s problem is obvious to everyone. It’s that they suck when Patrice Bergeron is not on the ice. They haven’t had anyone top play with David Krejci in like three years. And yet, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson aren’t it. These are third-line players, not second-line ones. Charlie Coyle spent what seemed like a decade tantalizing Wild fans with what he could be, but he remained a player where the idea of him is far greater than the reality. The only thing I remember him doing there is getting his face in the way of Duncan Keith‘s stick. Maybe he’s a winger, maybe he’s a center, but no one seems to know, including Coyle. Johansson is a great checking line player, which is probably a good thing to have when the first thing you’re going to see in the playoffs is the arsenal in blue, but you’ll also need to score a bit. And here’s a secret no one wants to mention…the Bruins’ blue line isn’t any good. Charlie McAvoy is always pointed the wrong way and Torrey Krug has always been a glorified Erik Gustafsson. Sure, it’s maybe enough to get past the Leafs again simply of the voodoo sign they hold over them. But it’s not enough to not get flattened by Tampa. So really, what was the point of all this?

Toronto – They made their move early, which was Jake Muzzin. And he’s fine. He’s mostly a product of playing with Drew Doughty, but he’s better than what they had. The Leafs will go as far as they score…until Freddy Andersen turns into cold urine again when it counts. Their ceiling is also being turned into goo by Tampa.

Pittsburgh – How do you top signing Jack Johnson to an actual free agent contract? You trade for Erik Gudbranson, who is Canadian Jack Johnson. They’re gonna miss the playoffs on the back of these two, and the comparisons to the Hawks will only get stronger.

Carolina – Again, they moved early, which was to get Nino Neiderreiter, who has only been a perfect Hurricane his entire career. Underrated, fast, skilled forward who is just short of top-line material. The league office should have engineered his move there like years ago just to have everything in its right place. His 15 points in 17 games prove this. I don’t know how much longer they’ll get goaltending from Curtis McElhinney, but this team can absolutely come out of the division if their metrics carry over and the goalie doesn’t keel over. In some ways the worst team they could play in the first round is the Islanders, who shrink everything down to a bounce or two. They’re going to take Columbus’s run that they so desperately need.

Columbus – The one worth talking about. I don’t really know what the Jackets’ place in Columbus is really like. They’ve never been whispered to be in trouble, they seem to sell enough tickets, and they’re the only professional game in town. So when they say they need to have a run for the fanbase, I wonder. Then again, they’ve never had one, so at some point you have to before you become the Cubs without any of the story or ballpark. And yet I kind of can’t wait for it to blow up.

Panarin and Bobrovsky have already checked out, though the former at least seems interested enough to keep his dollars up from the Panthers. Bob has been a shithead all season, and he just got lit up by the Penguins in a game the Jackets really needed. Doesn’t exactly bode well for the spring. Matt Duchene has benefitted his entire career from being on teams where someone has to do the scoring. You can have him. Ryan Dzingel is Ryan Hartman 2.0. They’re fine if you’re counting on them for depth, and if Panarin, Atkinson, Dubois, Anderson do most of the lifting, that’s what they’ll be. But does it matter if your goalie put up an .896 in the first round?

West

Nashville – I hate the Mikael Granlund move, because it’s a good one and I have a strong distaste for the Preds. Granlund wasn’t quite up to being the guy in St. Paul, especially when Koivu and Parise started putting tennis balls on the bottom of their skates. He doesn’t really have to be in Nashville where Filip Forsberg lives, though someone is going to have to pick up the ball when Ryan Johansen is stuck at the pregame spread during Game 5. Wayne Simmonds remains one of the dumber players in the league and now he’s slow and old, and he’ll take a wonderfully selfish penalty against the Jets at some point that will cost them a game. It doesn’t fix what their problems are enough.

Winnipeg – Something is in the water (or ice) in Manitoba, where the Jets can’t get right. It’s nothing that Connor Hellebuyck returning to form won’t fix, but without a fully functional Dustin Byfuglien they do lack a puck-mover (and even he’s iffy). It’s not Trouba’s or Morrissey’s game, and Tyler Myers is only one in his own head. This was something of their problem against Vegas last year, they couldn’t escape that forecheck at times. That still seems to be a problem, but it probably won’t keep them from winning the division and I don’t see either Nashville or St. Louis going in there and winning twice to move on.

Vegas – You’re going to pay Mark Stone $9.5M, huh? Mark Stone, who is about to cross 30 goals for the first time in his career when everyone is doing so? It’s amazing that George McPhee only needed two years to chew up a completely blank salary cap structure, but here we are. The Knights are still fast and annoying, but it matters less when MAF isn’t putting up a .930 to cover for a defense that just isn’t that good. Even with their goalie problems, the Sharks are putting this down in no more than six games and next year the Knights are going to start to slink to the land of wind and ghosts.

San Jose – Gustav Nyquist doesn’t play goalie. So that’s weird. Maybe Doug Wilson was worried about poisoning Martin Jones‘s stay beyond this year if he were to demote him by trading for a goalie. But the Sharks are all in on this year and this year only. Joe Thornton is going to retire. We don’t know if Erik Karlsson is staying, and he if he goes they’re just a fine team instead of a really good one. All this team needs is someone who doesn’t light his face on fire in net and they would basically waylay everyone in the West. And I’m on record as saying Jones comes alive in the playoffs, but I have nothing to lose if he doesn’t. The Sharks have everything to lose. And if the Sharks pull this off, we’ll get a flood of idiots saying you don’t need a goalie to win the Cup, a myth which the 2010 Hawks drilled into everyone’s head for far too many years (even when they won two more on the back of Crawford).

Everything Else

vs.

 

RECORDS: Senators 22-31-5   Hawks 24-26-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT: Silver Seven Sens

There will be some, perhaps lots, who look across the ice tonight at the Ottawa Senators and wish the Hawks had taken their path so far, or at least their path forward. For the Senators are already at the bottom of the league, and will soon discard Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel (or should), and the end of their season will almost certainly be something resembling whatever that was at Daytona yesterday. Except instead of hilljacks it’ll be….Canadian hilljacks, and more Timbo’s. And the Senators will end up in the bottom three of the lottery, where they would have a great chance at a franchise-turning player in the draft.

Except they don’t have a first-round pick, so that’s the part Hawks fans wouldn’t want.

Meanwhile, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, with help from Erik Gustafsson and Alex DeBrincat and possibly Dylan Strome, will keep the Hawks from bottoming out. And whether it’s a reality or not, they’ll continue to chase a playoff spot that the Western Conference as a whole keeps trying to pass around like it was waiting at a highway-offramp. And they’ll end up with anywhere from the 7th to 16th pick, all the while not doing themselves a whole lot of good. Who will be better off when it’s all said and done? Well, the Hawks because they’ll actually have a pick. But you get it. It could be argued they’d be better long-term if they were where the Senators are.

But you didn’t come for hypotheticals.

Anyway, the Senators have been able to only put it together recently when playing the Jets, whom they’ve beaten twice in a week for some reason. Other than that, they’ve lost five of their other six games in February. Their lone win came against the Ducks, because you cannot lose to the Ducks no matter how badly you might like to or even try. It’s akin to Tommy trying to lose to Begbie in Trainspotting. And yes, the image of the Ducks as a whole cowering in a corner trying not to piss themselves works pretty well, I think.

That hasn’t kept Duchene, Stone, and Dzingel from trying to play their way into happier situations, and all have been hot of late. Dutch would seem a perfect fit for the Predators, which is goddamn annoying, which means the Jets are then also interested in that Central arms race. The Flames have been most hotly connected to Stone, but he will have no shortage of suitors either. If they can get a bidding war going for them they could end up with a decent enough haul. Or they’ll end up watching Eeli Tolvanen do nothing for years despite claims he was going to be the greatest Finn every to grace this league since the lovechild of Selanne and various Koivus. It’s the Senators, you won’t bet against anything.

As for the team that’s on the ice now, like the Hawks they are woeful defensively, among the worst in overall Corsi or xGF%, and in attempts and expected-goals against. When Thomas Chabot isn’t on the ice, the other pairings simply get steamrolled into their own end. While there is more than a touch of offensive talent at forward between the trade bait and Chris Tierny, Bobby “I Swear I’m Not The Dumbest Person Alive” Ryan, and Colin White, it doesn’t matter much when it’s backing up.

Craig Anderson is now too old to hold up under an avalanche, and Sens fans can thank him for extending noted-genius-in-his-own-mind Guy Boucher’s reign of boredom much longer than it should have gone thanks to a goofed East Final Game 7 appearance two years ago. Boucher’s “system,” such as it is, requires a goalie to throw a .925 or better at the world, and if they don’t his teams suck. And they almost always suck. Anderson is hurt, as 37-year-olds tend to get, so Hawks legend Anders Nilsson will be in net. He had a hot-streak upon arriving in The North Capital, but has flattened out of late.

For the Hawks, small changes around the edges. Collin Delia will slot back in, trying to come correct after a touchdown surrendered to the Bruins. Gustav Forsling will once again exhibit his modern art representation of sadness in place of Carl Dahlstrom, who was a splatter-painting himself on Saturday. Brendan Perlini will replace Chris Kunitz.

For whatever this is, the Avs and Yotes are also in action today, though both have tough assignments in the Knights and Flames, respectively. Should those results go the Hawks way and the Hawks get one over the Sens, they’ll be within one point of the last playoff spot. A playoff spot that the Wild clearly are treating like it needs disinfecting and have no interest in keeping. As dumb as it might seem, one point is one point, especially with the Wild beating a hasty retreat from the world at large.

You can’t say that the Hawks “should” beat anyone, given their status. But if anyone’s that team, it’s the Senators. And it’s also the Wings, who are on the docket Wednesday. And the Avs on Friday have been backing up for a couple months. Honestly, come Saturday night this could all be very real, no matter how stupid.

Ride the snake.

 

 

Game #60 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built