Hockey

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

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

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 6-7-4   Knights 9-7-3

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN

DIAMONDS AND DUST: Sinbin.Vegas

The Hawks will begin a mini-roadie through the nouveau riche of the NHL, with tonight’s stop in Sin City before heading to Music City on Saturday night. Clearly Sin and Music go together, as every person who’s thrown a bible at you has told you.

And these are not two venues that many in the following will be greeting giddily. We know what happened to the Hawks the last time they were in Nashville, and they have yet to get a point out of Vegas in two seasons and three trips. In fact, they’ve been done to the tune of a combined 13-7 there, and last year’s 4-3 loss was the only time they were within a zip code of the Knights in their own resort.

You can debate whether or not it’s a good time to catch a team after they’ve lost four of five and six of eight. Clearly, they’re not playing well. But also clearly, they’re probably pretty angry and going to come out with a fair measure of piss and vinegar. Especially as those four losses for the Knights were on the road and this is their first home game since. The archers and drummers will be even more amped up.

Not that there weren’t some bad losses for them on their recent trip. There are few excuses you can come up with to justify losing to Detroit and barely squeaking by Columbus in regulation. OT losses in Winnipeg and Toronto are more understandable, as is getting kicked to shits by the Caps in DC. Just kind of a thing they do these days. That all happened to Vegas.

And it’s mostly because the offense has dried up. They scored 10 goals in those five games, and they haven’t managed more than three goals in any game in November, nor more than two in their last four. They only managed 19 shots in their loss to Detroit, which was definitely a “Let’s get this the fuck over with and get home” kind of effort. They kind of did the same thing against Columbus, which sort of indicates they’re picking their spots a bit.

Don’t worry, the Knights are still going to be annoying all season. They’re still one of the better metric teams around, and they produce just about as good and as many chances as anyone, ranking third in xGF/60 at evens. They’ve had issues with the other side, as they’re barely middling in the ones they’ve given up, and that might have something to do with having a pretty immobile defense beyond Nate Schmidt. They’re also unlucky in that they’re shooting less than 7% as a team, and they can’t get too many saves with just a .909 at evens. The former will straighten itself out before too long. The latter…

…maybe not so much. As you know by know. Seabiscuit lookalike Marc-Andre Fleury is old and has been abhorrent of late, with an .877 SV% over his last five starts. Malcolm Subban isn’t going to save any team, and counting on him for more than a spot start here and there is going to lead to a downfall. The Knights had better hope for that goals-explosion soon, because there’s a more than zero chance their goaltending just never quite comes around again. They’re just going to count on a soon-to-be 35-year-old Fleury to find it.

Still, this is a test of the Hawks apparently new “system” of being more open and adventurous…which saw them give up 57 shots to a barely interested Leafs team. If the Knights are fully engaged, then they might give up 75. This is a team the Hawks really haven’t come close to being able to run with since they came into existence, and now they apparently seem intent on going toe-to-toe with just about anyone, it could be ugly. It could also be the only way.

The Hawks almost got their first regulation win against the Knights the last time they played, but that involved maxing out while the Knights were kind of only there. And even that got them a last-minute equalizer. The Hawks were able to skate with them in the neutral zone and Duncan Keith had his best game in three seasons or so to cut off things at the blue line. That game also cost the Hawks Connor Murphy, which indicates some of the strain of the effort.

The tweaks the Hawks have made are meant to get their forwards out against d-men they’re either faster than or more skilled than or both, and usually that will be the case. It will be here, as you want to get isolate in space against the likes of McNabb and Engelland and Holden. The problem is you have to sacrifice a bit the help you’re giving your d-men to get out from under the frightening speed of the Knights forwards, so how the Hawks escape will go a long way to indicating where this one will go. Can the Hawks D find enough time to even just chip off the glass and behind the Knights defensemen for their forwards to skate onto?

Good test for Boqvist tonight too, as this is the exact type of opponent the Hawks need him for while also being the one he has to figure out how to get out from under. He has the feet to actually open himself up and get the Hawks into the neutral zone and beyond, and he’s the only one, but he also has to navigate his way through the furious Knights forecheck which has buried basically all of his teammates on the blue line in every meeting. See how he handles it.

If the Hawks are serious about taking their hand off the throttle, then it won’t be boring. At this point, we can’t ask for much more.

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.

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

 vs. 

RECORDS: Golden Knights 27-16-4   Hawks 16-22-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

SEARCHING FOR ELIZABETH SHUE: SinBin Vegas

It sounds strange to say that the Hawks have never beaten an expansion team. You’d think you’d have gotten one by accident, all things being norma.. But the Golden Knights aren’t really a normal expansion team, and these haven’t been the normal Hawks. So in five tries, the Hawks have drawn an 0-fer. And they rarely have been close. Last out where they took the lead against the Knights in the 3rd is about as good as they’ve done, and they promptly hocked that up like a smoker’s phlegm as quickly as they could. This is also the same team that put a snowman on the Hawks at home. So yeah, let’s just say it’s not a great matchup.

The Knights come in after just having a seven-game win-streak snapped at home on Thursday by a San Jose team they’re having a tussle with at the top of the standings. After some wonky health and dips in performance, the Knights were getting both back at the time, with Marc-Andre Fleury shaking off some of the malaise that’s draped on him most of the year. Paul Stastny returned to give the Knights a second line worth worrying about, though now Reilly Smith and Cody Eakin have ended up on a trainer’s table. Eakin looks like he’ll slot back in tonight on the third line, though.

It’s not quite the fireworks of last year. Vegas’s leading goal-scorer is Alex Tuch with just 15. They’re only middle of the pack, averaging an even three goals per game even though they have some of the best possession-numbers around. And it’s some of the same problems that Carolina has had for years. You have to have some front-line snipers to turn that possession into goals, and not just William Karlsson vomiting up a 25% shooting-percentage for a season out of nowhere. The Knights have a bunch of good players, but perhaps not enough premier scorers to avoid some ruts at times, especially when Pacioretty has been subpar.

That hasn’t stopped them from being a major headache for the Hawks, as they simply can’t live with Vegas’s speed. With Brent Seabrook returning from illness tonight, that doesn’t figure to get any better either. The Knights move the puck out of their zone quicker than the Hawks’ forecheckers can bother them, and their forwards can beat the Hawks’ D all over the ice. especially to the outside. This causes the Hawks’ defense to back up and provide more space at the line, which is where the creative destruction happens. The last time these two met Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom weren’t in the lineup, and Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta were. We’ll see if that makes any difference.

For the Hawks, Slater Koekkoek, their new toy from Tampa won’t play tonight but they say he’s going to get a look. So one would have to believe that Brandon Davidson can start packing his bags. How Koekkoek will then get into the six is another questions, but one thing at a time, people. Henri Jokiharju will flip to the left side to accommodate Seabrook, and one has to wonder how much more accommodation and how much longer the Hawks can afford Seabrook. We’ll start to get answers on that soon.

Collin Delia will get the start again as he should, and shouldn’t see too many other lineup changes from the team that played well against Nashville. That means Caggiula and Saad on a third line and Top Cat in the top six. So y’know, fine.

Whenever the Hawks plan on being relevant again, they’re going to have to find a way to play a game this fast and play it well and beat the teams that already do it. Maybe that’s not tonight, maybe it’s next year. But I for one am a little tired of the Knights’ act, especially against the Hawks. So it would be enjoyable to finally get one over on them, just to see there’s been any progress whatsoever. That means none of this bullshit, three-passes-out-of-the zone ploy. Get it out and up and to your forwards as fast as possible. As little passing to someone standing still or moving backwards as possible, because that’s what the Knights feast on. Forward, forward, forward. You’ll give up chances, sure, but you’ll get Top Cat, Kane, and Toews in space too. Let’s have some fun.

 

Game #47 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Perhaps it’s just sour grapes, and lord knows our vineyard is awash with those. But we were kind of surprised that the Vegas Golden Knights, in less than two years of existence, have become a cap-team. And hey, we guess you can’t argue with the results. A Cup final and what looks to be a chance at another deep run this spring. That’s what a cap team should do. Even if most of it is on the back of a resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury. Still, looking at some of these deals, and what else he might hand out soon, you can’t help but wonder if George McPhee didn’t cock this up royally. And if he doesn’t hamstring the Knights going forward from here.

Some of these contracts are a bit bewildering. Nate Schmidt will see his extension kick in next year at a cap-hit of $5.9M. And ok, fair, he’s 27 and in his prime. He’s also never bettered last year’s 38 points. He’s scoring at a higher pace this year, though won’t get to that thanks to his ridiculous suspension. But for $6 million a year? That’ll give him a higher cap-hit than Matt Niskanen, who has bettered Schmidt’s career-high in points twice and the Caps thought was more worth keeping than Schmidt was. And then promptly beat the Knights in the Final. It’s the same as Matt Dumba, who scored 50 points last year and was well on his way to doing so again before getting hurt this year. It’s more than Dougie Hamilton. Schmidt’s a nice player to have, but at that rate?

So ok, traded for Max Pacioretty. Fine, Knights needed a second line after last year’s foray. Signed him for four more years at the age of 30, and Patches has 12 goals. Sure, Paul Stastny has been hurt most of the year, but Pacioretty has scored without a center in Montreal before. And he only put up 17 goals last year (in 64 games). Was maybe taking a half of a season before committing the worst idea?

Shea Theodore is getting $5.2M for the next seven years. And yes, he’s only 23. Maybe a couple years in this looks a steal. Except he was coming out of his entry-level deal, and hasn’t shown to be that dynamic of a force out from the back yet. He’s good. Is he worth quite this?

Some of this is just matter of degrees. You want players like Schmidt and Theodore on your team. Pacioretty seemed a pretty decent risk given his track record. Stastny has always been injury-prone, but maybe you take that chance, even if he’s never really changed any team he’s been on drastically.

And yet with a completely blank slate, the Knights will only have about $11M in space after the season. And a good portion of that will have to go to William Karlsson. That should make for a fascinating negotiation. Karlsson is only on pace for about 25 goals or so, which is what he probably is long-term. But his 43-goal season of last year will still be prominent in the memory of his agent. He’s restricted, so will McPhee hold the line and try to keep him as close to the $5M per year he gets now? Or will he push that closer to $8 or $9M? Will that force out meaningful depth players like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who is unrestricted and certainly looking for better than $1.4M? Oscar Lindberg? Good thing they’ll lose that David Clarkson money the summer after next season.

That’s what McPhee appears to be aiming for. In the summer of 2020, the Knights will have some $30M in space or more once Clarkson’s insurance policy goes away, and Nick Holden, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin, and Ryan Reaves come off the books. Maybe they’ll run at Taylor Hall to make up for the decaying Pacioretty at that point.

That’s the thing about the Knights. They’re not terribly young. Only Theodore and Alex Tuch look poised to be built around long-term. Marchessault is 28. Smith is 27. And if you think that lasts forever, just look at Pacioretty, who had a bigger resume than them before turning 30.

But hey, they made their splash. It was a much bigger one than anyone could have anticipated. Still, when you have no payroll whatsoever 18 months ago, and now this, one wonders how much longer the magic will last.

 

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Sinbin.vegas is your home for anything Knights. Ken Boehlke is at the heart of it. Follow him on Twitter @kenboehlke.

Last time we talked the Knights were still flickering on and off a bit.  Now they’ve won seven in a row, are a point behind the Flames. What’s been the difference?

The biggest difference has been getting players back in the lineup. It started with Nate Schmidt coming off the suspension, then Paul Stastny got back into the lineup, and then Max Pacioretty got fully healthy. As that happened they began to start playing more consistently and it’s continued even through this recent rash of injuries. They look a lot
like the team they did last year once again with a simplistic style of defending, a tenacious forecheck, and transition game that gives many teams nightmares.

Paul Stastny has recently returned from a long-term absence. How is he  fitting in?

Unbelievably well. He’s such a smart player that almost on every shift he does something that makes you say “Damn, Paul is good.” Playing with Alex Tuch has been a perfect match for Stastny as Tuch’s speed helps settle defenses into the zone and Stastny then picks them apart with his vision. Almost all of Brandon Pirri’s unbelievable run of success has come because of his linemates helping to set him up in great positions to score. Of course, you’ve got to score them, which Pirri has done, but that line has what I call the “homerun hitter feeling” which is that every single time they are out there you are expecting something big to happen. When a homerun hitter in baseball is absolutely smoking, he hits one out once every 10th or 11th at bat, which is a fairly low number when you consider everyone watching feels like it is coming every single AB. That’s how Stastny, Tuch, and Pirri/Pacioretty have felt and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Still doesn’t seem to be clicking for Max Pacioretty. Two goals in his last three but only 12 on the year, and some of the worst metrics on the team. Anyone getting impatient?

He’s been in and out of the lineup with injuries which culminated in a nasty looking one that kept him out for a bit. Since he’s come back, he looks like a completely different guy. He looks faster, he’s around the puck more, he’s popping up in dangerous areas more often, he looks like Max Pacioretty. People were growing very impatient with him (at one
point I called for him to be healthy scratched), but when he came back I decided to completely throw out the first portion of the season, give him a fresh start, and try to re-judge him as a player. In the four games since he’s been back, he looks terrific. I expect great things from Pacioretty for the rest of the year… as long as he’s healthy.

Is Wild Bill Karlsson’s contract going to get straightened out? Seems
weird this hasn’t been resolved yet given how the Knights have generally
conducted business.

It’s such a tough contract because he’s playing in a role that could easily command $9-10 million but his history suggests paying him that much would be ludicrous. Everybody involved seems to be in this holding pattern basically just wanting to gather more information. Is he really a 30-40 goal scorer? Is he really a #1 center? Is he really a consistent Selke candidate? He’s played for a year and a half, and we kind of have answers to those questions, but the more he plays the clearer it gets
for each side. Nothing would surprise me in these negotiations. I can see him taking a five-year deal at $5 million AAV, and I can see him getting a seven-year deal at $8 million AAV. I could also see it being signed tomorrow and I could see it going to all the way arbitration again (technically he signed minutes before the hearing). Either way, I don’t think William Karlsson is going anywhere any time soon.

 

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There’s a school of thought that hockey players, especially forwards, peak at the age 0f 27. Some punch through that, such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, perhaps Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, and this could go on. But for the most part, it’s true. Max Pacioretty was thought to be a player who wouldn’t fall victim to that. Maybe we all should have been paying more attention.

Since he came into the league full-time in 2011, Patches is 9th in the league in goals. He trails Ovechkin, Stamkos, Tavares, Pavelski, Seguin, Benn, Malkin, and Kane. Those are obviously some names. When one of the top-10 scorers in the league goes on the market, teams pay attention.

More impressively, Pacioretty got there playing without any prime centers in Montreal. Some names that Patches had to run with are David Desharnais, an aging Thomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault, and Andrew Shaw (boy that guy really needs to write a book on how to fall upwards). And yet Pacioretty produced.

But dig a little deeper, and the warning signs are there. This is the fourth-straight season that Pacioretty’s attempts per game have dropped. Same story with his shots-on-goal per game. And it’s the same with his individual expected goals per 60 minutes of even-strength time.

Patches has been able to overcome that so far this season by rocking a much higher shooting-percentage than he has in a few years, of 11.3 at evens, which is his highest since 2013-2014, and overall 15.2% which would be a career-high. But he’s doing that with worse shots. That’s not a sustainable model. Then again, Cody Eakin isn’t exactly a huge improvement over the mishmash of whatits he had in Montreal.

Which really makes one worry about the four next years when he’ll be making $7 million. That takes him to 34 years old, or seven years past his prime. It could get icky.

As we said with the contract that Marc-Andre Fleury got when the Knights were in Chicago, just because GM George McPhee had all the cap space in the world to throw around didn’t mean he had to. Patches still qualifies as one of the best scorers in the game, but that has a shelf-life. Perhaps Tavares was never going to listen to him, though he presents the same problem as Pacioretty in that he plays a slower game. Doesn’t seem to be affecting him in Toronto, though. What about Erik Karlsson? Or waiting for Panarin?

McPhee had such a cushion that he’ll get out of it. Only the raise to William Karlsson is on the horizon, and everyone else is pretty much set. The Knights will have $11 million in space in the summer as of now, minus whatever raise Wild Bill gets. Two years from now Cody Eakin and Ryan Reaves are off the books. But there might not be too many more contracts for him to hand out before it’s trouble.

None of this means that Pacioretty is going to be a detriment. He’ll probably get a team 20-25 goals for another few years simply because he can be a bad-shot maker. Hell, get him a prime center some day and it might juice him a little. He’s just not going to be, or likely isn’t, what the Knights had hoped they had traded for.

 

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