Hockey

From Wednesday…

When trading for Nazem Kadri, the Avalanche knew they were taking on some risk. While Kadri had been a dutiful soldier in Toronto and did a lot of the dirty work that Auston Matthews or John Tavares wouldn’t be concerned with, there is always the chance that Kadri goes off the deep end and gets himself suspended at crucial times. Kadri has been suspended five times in the past six years by the league, and fined or sent him by his own team a few times as well. The risk seemed worth it though, because A. Kadri is one of the more dynamic two-way centers in the league and B. perhaps being out of the pressure-cooker of Toronto which frays just about everyone’s nerves would calm him down a bit.

The latter we won’t find out about truly until the playoffs. The former is the problem, because Kadri hasn’t been what he was in Toronto so far with the Avs.

Kadri has 22 points in 30 games, which is certainly more than enough. It puts him on pace to match or even exceed his career high of 61 points, set three seasons ago. And that’s what the Avs do, get up the ice ASAP and fill the net.

But you’re supposed to get a possession-driving checking center with Kadri as well, and the Avs haven’t seen that yet. Kadri is carrying by far the worst relative numbers of his career. Kadri was continually above the team-rate in T.O. and with far worse zone starts. He’s -9.2 in his xG%, and -4.0 in his Corsi percentage. Both would be nearly double the worst marks of his career in Toronto. And the weird thing is, Kadri is starting more shifts in the offensive zone than ever before. So why is he backing up all the time?

Is it teammates? Hard to say. Kadri has spent most of this time this season with Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky. Donskoi is certainly no moron when it comes to the defensive side of the puck, Burakovsky can be a little more flaky. But there are certainly worse combinations. And that isn’t really that much worse than Leo Komarov and Patrick Marleau, whom Kadri spent most of his time with the past three years in Toronto.

Maybe it was Babcock’s more conservative system that kept him buffeted, where in Colorado you have a fair number of yahoos (in a good way) on the back end. Toronto certainly had no less speed and skill than Colorado does, but the criticism of Babcock (among others) was that he rarely unleashed it. Jared Bednar certainly does, and maybe Kadri is just finding his way in a more open spaces.

And maybe the Avs don’t care. They have Pierre-Edouard Bellmare to take the true dungeon shifts, with Colin Wilson and Tyson Jost doing some of that work as well. Maybe the Avs just need a straight-up #2 center. At the end of the day, the Avs are outscoring their opponents 22-15 at evens with Kadri on the ice, whatever the possession numbers are. For now, that’s probably enough.

Still, the Avs will be holding their breath come April. The Avs don’t have a blood feud with anyone like they do with the Leafs did with the Bruins, so Kadri’s blood won’t be boiling yet. Especially as all the Leafs heard about last year during the season was how they couldn’t beat the Bruins (and they didn’t). Still, put Kadri in the middle of the cauldron of an extended series, against someone annoying like the Flames or Blues, and you wonder if he can keep in check for the first time.

 

Hockey

When trading for Nazem Kadri, the Avalanche knew they were taking on some risk. While Kadri had been a dutiful soldier in Toronto and did a lot of the dirty work that Auston Matthews or John Tavares wouldn’t be concerned with, there is always the chance that Kadri goes off the deep end and gets himself suspended at crucial times. Kadri has been suspended five times in the past six years by the league, and fined or sent him by his own team a few times as well. The risk seemed worth it though, because A. Kadri is one of the more dynamic two-way centers in the league and B. perhaps being out of the pressure-cooker of Toronto which frays just about everyone’s nerves would calm him down a bit.

The latter we won’t find out about truly until the playoffs. The former is the problem, because Kadri hasn’t been what he was in Toronto so far with the Avs.

Kadri has 22 points in 30 games, which is certainly more than enough. It puts him on pace to match or even exceed his career high of 61 points, set three seasons ago. And that’s what the Avs do, get up the ice ASAP and fill the net.

But you’re supposed to get a possession-driving checking center with Kadri as well, and the Avs haven’t seen that yet. Kadri is carrying by far the worst relative numbers of his career. Kadri was continually above the team-rate in T.O. and with far worse zone starts. He’s -9.2 in his xG%, and -4.0 in his Corsi percentage. Both would be nearly double the worst marks of his career in Toronto. And the weird thing is, Kadri is starting more shifts in the offensive zone than ever before. So why is he backing up all the time?

Is it teammates? Hard to say. Kadri has spent most of this time this season with Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky. Donskoi is certainly no moron when it comes to the defensive side of the puck, Burakovsky can be a little more flaky. But there are certainly worse combinations. And that isn’t really that much worse than Leo Komarov and Patrick Marleau, whom Kadri spent most of his time with the past three years in Toronto.

Maybe it was Babcock’s more conservative system that kept him buffeted, where in Colorado you have a fair number of yahoos (in a good way) on the back end. Toronto certainly had no less speed and skill than Colorado does, but the criticism of Babcock (among others) was that he rarely unleashed it. Jared Bednar certainly does, and maybe Kadri is just finding his way in a more open spaces.

And maybe the Avs don’t care. They have Pierre-Edouard Bellmare to take the true dungeon shifts, with Colin Wilson and Tyson Jost doing some of that work as well. Maybe the Avs just need a straight-up #2 center. At the end of the day, the Avs are outscoring their opponents 22-15 at evens with Kadri on the ice, whatever the possession numbers are. For now, that’s probably enough.

Still, the Avs will be holding their breath come April. The Avs don’t have a blood feud with anyone like they do with the Leafs did with the Bruins, so Kadri’s blood won’t be boiling yet. Especially as all the Leafs heard about last year during the season was how they couldn’t beat the Bruins (and they didn’t). Still, put Kadri in the middle of the cauldron of an extended series, against someone annoying like the Flames or Blues, and you wonder if he can keep in check for the first time.

 

Hockey

J.T. Compher – Sometimes you’re not a prick, you just keep scoring against the Hawks even if you’re no damn good. Compher might be good, he might not be, but against the Hawks he’s some sort of HYDRA creation. Five games last year, four goals and five points. He scored a goal against them last time the Avs were here, and three of his 17 points are against the Hawks this season. All in one game. He hasn’t scored more against anyone else in his career than he did against the Hawks last season. He has two goals this year. He’ll probably double that total this weekend.

Nazem Kadri – Ah, here’s our prick. Maybe being out of the pressure cooker of Toronto will un-fuck his brain, but Kadri has helped torpedo a couple seasons with selfish and dirty hits that ended in suspensions. A wonderful checking center who can score, that is when his brain is turned on. But can’t help himself with being a dipshit, and the Avs can only hope that doesn’t rear its ugly head again at the absolute worst time.

Ian Cole – BAYBAY!

Hockey

J.T. Compher – Sometimes you’re not a prick, you just keep scoring against the Hawks even if you’re no damn good. Compher might be good, he might not be, but against the Hawks he’s some sort of HYDRA creation. Five games last year, four goals and five points. He hasn’t scored more against anyone else in his career than he did against the Hawks last season. He has two goals this year. He’ll probably double that total this weekend.

Nazem Kadri – Ah, here’s our prick. Maybe being out of the pressure cooker of Toronto will un-fuck his brain, but Kadri has helped torpedo a couple seasons with selfish and dirty hits that ended in suspensions. A wonderful checking center who can score, that is when his brain is turned on. But can’t help himself with being a dipshit, and the Avs can only hope that doesn’t rear its ugly head again at the absolute worst time.

Ian Cole – BAYBAY!

Everything Else

Before we get started, we didn’t do one of these yesterday because talking about hockey didn’t feel right yesterday. When you’re in this morass, do you really want to even think about next season right now? But anyway, this is our charge now so let’s resume.

Ok, Nazem Kadri is a complete penis. He’s more likely to do something horribly damaging to your team when it matters most than help it. In fact, had he kept his head on straight for once the Leafs might have actually beaten the Bruins. Any future infraction from this dickhead is going to result in a long suspension, and seeing as how you can’t trust him to learn or trust your substitute teacher of a coach to straighten him out, the risks are quite clear.

But here’s the thing. When he’s not trying reenact the Battle Of Saxony by himself, Nazem Kadri is a hell of a player. He has four 50+ point seasons on his resume (one was at that pace in 2013), and he’s done that mostly taking the dungeon shifts as a checking center either as the #3 center behind Matthews and Bozak or Tavares this year. He won 55% of his draws this year, which you know will still make some people in the Hawks’ front office tumescent. He put up 44 points this year mostly playing with a corpse in Marleau and something called Connor Brown. He’ll produce with just about anyone.

And the Hawks have a need, whether they want to admit it or not. As it stands right now, you don’t really want Jonathan Toews taking a massive amount of draws and shift-starts in his own end. But the Hawks only have one other player who can do that in David Kampf. Strome needs to be completely sheltered, and really so does Anisimov until you finally get him off this roster. Swapping in Kadri and punting Arty to wherever will take him for an Edible Arrangement gives you two centers you can leash to the d-zone, allowing Toews to really focus on the offensive end. At this point in his career, it’s one or the other for the most part.

Second, Kadri is cheap. His cap-hit is essentially the same as Anisimov’s, but you get a ton more. You get more skill, more speed, and a far better defensive player. Sure, he’s signed for three more years but at 28 he’s not likely to fall off a cliff before it’s up. And even if the offense starts to dry up you still have a pretty hellacious checking center on your hands. And there’s really nothing in the system at center unless the Hawks take Turcotte (which they’re going to), but you can worry about that shuffle whenever Turcotte is ready. Or you could just not take Turcotte if you swing for Kadri here.

Where this all falls apart is that the Hawks don’t really have anything the Leafs want. The Leafs need NHL-ready d-men. If they were run by a complete jackass, as they were in the past, you could probably really sell them on the offensive production and the cheapness of Gustafsson, which would still allow them to make moves considering he makes nothing. But Kyle Dubas probably isn’t a complete moron. Prospects don’t do the Leafs a whole lot of good as they are all about NOW NOW NOW, unless you could involved a third team for them to swing those prospects to. If you were looking for an actual landing spot for Keith, you might be able to sell him on this given Babcock and their chances but I don’t know that you could sell the Leafs on it. But there’s been no whisper that Keith has asked out or that the Hawks have asked him if he wants out.

Yes, Kadri wouldn’t solve your top six winger deficiency. But if you’re going 19-17-43-64 down the middle you can probably live with some third-line winger moonlighting on the top six. No, he doesn’t help the defense but his cap number is low enough, especially with any jettisoning of Anisimov, that you would retain all the flexibility to do something about that as well.

Yes, the gray matter is a concern. The hope would be that even with an overmatched coach, a leadership stable of Toews, Keith, Seabrook would keep him in a line a ton better than whatever it was in Toronto. The Hawks have made that bet before.

It hinges on just how sick the Leafs are of his bullshit. You get the sense if you could have made this trade in April they would have given him to you for a song. But now that time has let everything cool, it’ll be harder. But it makes sense, if the Hawks want to get creative.

Everything Else

I know when the lights are brightest in the NHL that most analysts and media and players and coaches want to make it clear what makes their sport special. Or what they think makes this time of year special, even though no one has any idea. Or if they do they don’t want to tell anyone, for fear of…well, I haven’t any idea what they’re afraid of, but here we are. So the NARRATIVES flow like an open sewer downhill at this time. This spring, it seems that the amount of horseshit in every series has been especially amped up. Let’s keep it to this: the first night of the playoffs, during the first intermission of the Isles-Pens game, Liam McHugh set up professional hairpiece with a highlight of Brock Nelson’s power play goal and asked Eddie, “How did the Islanders score on the power play.” Eddie’s answer, “Confidence.” Jesus fucking christ.

So let’s start with the biggest story of the first round, the Lightning’s capitulation to Columbus. Last year, the story that everyone wanted to push was that the Caps intimidated the Lightning. That the Bolts were soft. They weren’t up for this kind of time of year, even though a great majority of this team has been to a couple conference finals and a Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the main reason was that Braden Holtby was putting up a back-t0-back shutouts in Game 6 and 7 and John Cooper only used one puck-mover to bust through a Trotz trap. So those whispers and headlines were always bubbling underneath the surface waiting to be cracked open by anyone who didn’t want to bother to explain what was happening to Tampa should they not roll to victory.

Which apparently spread to the Lightning themselves, because there’s no logical reason that after just one loss, Nikita Kucherov and others should be running around doing a Tom Wilson impression instead of doing what they did all year, which is just score all the time. Now the Lightning are playing the wrong game.

And even then, really the only thing you need to know about this series are two numbers: .866 and .940. That’s Vasilevskiy’s and Bobrovsky’s save-percentages this series. Everything else is pretty much even, if not tilted to to the Bolts a bit. Vas is letting everything in. There you go. It doesn’t have to mean more than that. It doesn’t have to be more than that. One goalie is making stops.

Meanwhile, every series save the Flames and Avalanche and the Caps and Hurricanes has descended into a cesspool. The hockey has been pretty horrific to watch, and every goddamn whistle becomes a dick-measuring contest. We like our playoff hockey with passion and a bit of bile but this has gone beyond even a level of stupidity. Which is how you end up with Nazem Kadri, already a shithead, trying to be an axe-murderer. Or analysts trying to tell you how important Ryan Reaves is.

It’s been accented because there haven’t been that many close games. And when playoff games have obvious winners in the 3rd period, there seems to be some tenet of hockey written by someone who struggled to breathe that you have to act like a petulant child. That you have to “send a message,” which doesn’t amount more than to losing like an asshole. Every other sport, if you were to clobber guys in the lane in the NBA in the 4th quarter or start throwing at guys heads in the 8th inning of a loss, you’d be mocked endlessly and probably suspended. In hockey it’s the thing to do. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as hockey is filled with a bunch of rich white kids who tend not to react well when things don’t go their way. Taking it on the chin isn’t in the vocabulary.

This kind of thing tends to dry up as we get to the business end of series and moving on or going home gets awfully clear in the viewfinder. We can only hope. I already watch Monday Night Raw for my fill of bad booking.

 

Everything Else

I don’t know how the NHL couldn’t figure out to stagger the start of the playoffs, but then again it never does. Sure, I don’t know what the building conflicts are for each city, though there seem to be only a handful that are housing both NBA and NHL playoffs teams. Toronto, Boston, DC, Philly are the only four. But because of whatever, we had five games to deal with last night and only three the night before. And like the NHL playoffs always seems to do, some wonderful play and high drama is being overshadowed by the height of dumbassery and useless vengeance/dick-measuring that this time of year tends to descend into. And then the Leafs lose. Let’s go around:

Leafs 1 – Bruins 5 (BOS leads 1-0)

It’s never a good sign when someone on your team decides he’s going to out-Brad Marchand Brad Marchand. But step to the front of the line of imbeciles, Nazem Kadri! I know being a shithead has always been a part of Kadri’s game too, but when you’re already down and basically getting thwacked, it just makes you look even more like you emerged from some swamp somewhere and can’t count to four, which Kadri assuredly can’t. And the best part is Kadri had been penalized for a dumbass boarding call just minutes before he decided to reenact Asuka’s hip attack on Tommy Wingels’s head against the boards. That’s good coaching, Mike Babcock! What leadership!

If the league is serious about getting this bullshit out of the game, and it never will attain any sort of status until it does, Kadri should be tossed for the rest of the series. That’s a deliberate attempt to injure an opponent. There can’t be a bigger crime on the ice. Whereas if I squint and could see where Drew Doughty’s hit was simply poor aim or poorly executed but an actual attempt at a “hockey play,” this was simply assault.

Anyway, the Leafs blue line sucks deep pond scum and the Bruins are going to treat it like a lit up runway all series. And then we won’t have to listen to Leafs fans anymore and quite frankly I’m all for it. Oh, the Leafs firepower will probably spasm a win at home, maybe even two, but this won’t be as close as it looks when it ends.

Devils 2 – Lightning 5 (TB Diddlers leads 1-0)

Feels like this game went on in the dark. I still have no idea what the Devils are doing here other than Taylor Hall, and he did his best to drag them to a startling Game 1 win. But the Bolts are simply too much. They get you from so many places. Fast forward us to TB-Boston already. The rest of this is just a charcuterie plate.

Jackets 4 – Capitals 3 OT (CBJ leads 1-0)

Not much was expected of the Caps this time around, so you really have to hand it to them that they stuck to the script of throwing up all over themselves anyway. They even let Thomas Vanek score a playoff goal, which is a real trick. Three third period penalties is a stroke of genius, including Tom “No Seriously He’s A Good Player And Not A Detriment To The Team/Society” Wilson going full Battle Of Troy for a charging call that let Vanek tie the game. Watching Panarin come up with that to win the game didn’t exactly feel good, but then again I don’t remember him doing that at any point in the playoffs with the Hawks either. I still don’t know what the Jackets have outside of him and their top pairing, as Bob wasn’t particularly great last night, but if all you have to do is stand still while the Caps fall over, the Jackets are more than capable of that.

Avalanche 2 – Predators 5 (NSH leads 1-0)

As we kind of said in the preview, Nathan MacKinnon is going to do everything he can to make this a series. But given how limited the rest of the team was before Erik Johnson’s and Semyon Varlamov’s injury, there’s only so much he can do. Because as anyone with two eyes that aren’t Canadian or draped in yellow thought would happen, he ate Doughboy Johansen’s lunch and then spit it back at him. When he was out there against RyJo Sen, MacKinnon had a 74 Corsi % and an 85% scoring chance percentage. Laviolette quickly had to change gears and throw Bonino at MacKinnon, which was much better. But the Preds just have too many weapons for Colorado, which  you saw. And Rinne was excellent. But I have a feeling the Avs are going to at least lay down a blue print that Mark Scheifele will be very interested in. Oh, and Johansen should be suspended too for his charge, the only thing he did all night, but won’t be because the Preds have become the NHL’s little precious.

Sharks 3 – Ducks 0 (SJ leads 1-0)

There was a time when you’d take real joy in this. But now the Ducks aren’t even interesting. I’m not sure I knew they pipped the Sharks for home ice because A) it won’t matter and B) most of the time I’ve forgotten they exist. They sure played like it last night, getting skulled in the 2nd period when all the scoring happened, leaving the Sharks to do the beach chair act in the 3rd. Oh look, Ryan Getzlaf had one shot on goal. Not like him to just meander around the outside in the playoffs or anything. Ryan Johansen must have so many Getzlaf posters on his wall. The Sharks probably don’t even need Joe Thornton for this one.

Everything Else

The dichotomy of the Toronto Maple Leafs this year is probably going to drive you utterly insane. On the one hand, there’s likely no other team in the East that you’d be more excited to watch. They are loaded with young, fast talent marshaled by a coach who knows how to play a possession game. They are poised to do many big things this year, and their first three lines could honestly pour in the goals. 300 goals is not out of the question for this outfit.

On the other, the noise generated by the Leafs and more specifically their stupidly carnivorous media and fans has always been outsized by a huge margin for a team that until last year sucked to the nth degree. What’s it going to be when they’re a genuine Cup contender now? It’s probably not going to be like anything you’ve ever seen, because the last time the Leafs were this close Izzy was still in Guns N’ Roses. You’ll be sick of it by December 1st, guaranteed.

Strap in.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

’16-’17 Record: 40-27-15  95 points (4th in the Flortheast)  Bounced in 1st round by the Caps

Team Stats 5v5: 50.3 CF% (13th)  49.2 SF% (20th)  51.7 SCF% (7th)  8.3 SH% (8th)  .929 SV% (19th)

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, CBC, CITY, WGN-AM 720
Jeff Veillette and Steve Glynn Are Terrifying: Pension Plan

Sure, the Hawks have improbably vaulted themselves into basically a game and a half lead in the central as they close out their eastern Canadian swing tonight in the Dark Center Of The Universe that is Toronto, but they haven’t done it the right way. They take on too many shots, even though that’s a result of having leads, they capitalize on power plays, and they do so while paying players more than their entry level contract. All of these things are instantly disqualifiers for actual success, which is truly indicated by how much cap space a team has at the end of the year, thrown into a pivot chart against their possession stats and 5v5 goal differential, along with some other stupid fucking stats Steve Burtch made up in a craven, desperate, and pathetic attempt to get hired. And naturally, the Leafs are succeeding by all of those measures, and all the good stuff is because of Kyle Dubas (who shielded sex criminal players on the junior team he was GM for), and all the bad stuff is because of Lou Lamoriello. This is how Maple Leafs hockey works.