Ok, so as if the Hawks week can’t get any better as they get routinely thwacked by real-ass teams in their own division (oh, and they see a potential 60-goal scorer Thursday), evidence that they actually have no idea what they’re doing in the front office continues to mount. And I don’t mean getting capped out last night to the extreme of 17 skaters.

At the top, we should say that the Hawks are just in the same net with the rest of hockey, and their actions or behavior is more just a symptom of the whole damn culture than they being unique. What it does do is tear down this idea, that they are the biggest promoters of, that they are somehow the gold standard organization.

It started last week or so, when Akim Aliu said that he had been racially abused by Bill Peters while both were in Rockford. Now we know pretty much the whole story, and it involves team captain at the time Jake Dowell having a sit-down with Peters over what he had said to Aliu.

This is hockey, and if there is any sport where this kind of thing can somehow not make its way up the food chain, it’s here. Players are afraid to cause waves, organizations are terrified of media distractions, everyone else is in the middle. However, your AHL captain meeting with your AHL coach over this, it’s nearly impossible to think that this doesn’t set off alarm bells for everyone both in Rockford and Chicago.

And as friend of the program Chris Block has pointed out, there are other people in and out of AHL dressing rooms all the time. Agents, families, team personnel, some media, so the idea that this was completely contained in the dressing room and the coach’s office, there’s just no way to buy that. Peters was gone a year later to join Mike Babcock’s staff, so maybe the Hawks just thought everything was taken care of with that. Maybe they thought the gloss of a newly contending team washed away all. Maybe they were afraid of dulling that in any way. Whatever the answer, it isn’t enough.

And now they have to investigate their own assistant coach, one they brought in to babysit their struggling young coach/take over when that young coach finally drowned. Again, I wasn’t really aware of Marc Crawford’s past, but it wasn’t really my job to be. When doing due diligence on a new hire, you’d have to believe if you scraped anywhere beneath the surface you’d find his record of abuse. Y’know, because it was in a former player’s book and all? I didn’t read O’Sullivan’s book, but someone somewhere did and might have mentioned this kind of thing. Call me crazy.

It’s kind of amazing how recently this shit has gone on. We are 40 year beyond Woody Hayes punching an opposing player, which ended his famous career, and that’s in football which is the only sport that has a bigger attitude amongst its coaches of how tough they are due to how saggy their balls are and whatnot. We’re over 20 years since Bobby Knight was kicking and choking his own players (and son) at Indiana. All this in hockey is in the last five to ten years. Amazing what happens in this dark corner.

Again, on the other side, some would tell you that hockey’s culture of “just take it and shut up” handicaps them from acting. But we know that the Hurricanes went up the chain to Ron Francis. We know the Red Wings did the same to Ken Holland about Babcock. We know Dowell confronted Peters at the very least. So while there’s certainly an element of players afraid to speak up, it’s not like they’ve been totally silent either. The problem is that when they have spoken up, they’ve faced an indifferent or callous organization looking in the opposite direction.

If you’ve paid any attention, you know the way the Hawks paint themselves isn’t anywhere near reality. Any crisis they’ve faced they’ve royally fucked up, and combined with their current fucking up the on-ice product (what only anyone really cares about at the end of the day) they’ve been revealed to be one of the more balloon-handed organizations around.

But to restrict this as a Hawks problem would be unfair and silly. I’ve thought a lot about this lately and why hockey is so far behind everything else. And it’s mostly that it operated in the dark for so long, anything could go on because no one knew except for those in it. There was no one around to point out all the things wrong, because the only ones who knew were the ones in the culture and they could behave however they saw fit. Hell, the reason some of us became fans was because no one else was. So it’s not that hockey is upset that it’s being scrutinized now, it’s upset that anyone is looking at all. It doesn’t want to jibe with the wider world because the wider world was never aware of its existence for so long. But that’s not a justification, and far from it.

I don’t know why these GMs like Holland or Treveling or Francis or whoever knew here or whoever was Crawford’s boss just tried to shoo it away. The easy answer is callousness, and that might be it. I think it’s at least part laziness too. Because if they had taken action, that would only lead to more questions they would have to answer. Questions they aren’t equipped to handle. And we know how much they hate the media and questions. It’s just easier to say “man up” even though we’ve eliminated that term as a qualified answer years ago. It’s easier to hope that things just go away, which they did.

Well, they won’t now, and it’s a bigger mess. Who’s around who is actually equipped to deal with it?


Ok so the quarter mark is a little past but I’m getting to it now so shut up. As a reminder, I like to occasionally take a look at what the NHL standings would look like if they had a standings system that was actually logical. So basically, we’re going to remove overtime results from the equation, and anything that goes beyond 60 minutes is a tie. So this is purely regulation results.  First, your actual NHL standings:

Atlantic Division GP W L OL PTS
Boston Bruins 22 14 3 5 33
Florida Panthers 22 12 5 5 29
Montreal Canadiens 22 11 6 5 27
Toronto Maple Leafs 24 10 10 4 24
Buffalo Sabres 22 10 9 3 23
Tampa Bay Lightning 19 10 7 2 22
Ottawa Senators 22 10 11 1 21
Detroit Red Wings 24 7 14 3 17
Metropolitan Division GP W L OL PTS
Washington Capitals 24 16 4 4 36
New York Islanders 20 16 3 1 33
Carolina Hurricanes 22 13 8 1 27
Pittsburgh Penguins 22 11 7 4 26
Philadelphia Flyers 22 11 7 4 26
Columbus Blue Jackets 21 9 8 4 22
New York Rangers 19 9 8 2 20
New Jersey Devils 20 7 9 4 18
Central Division GP W L OL PTS
St. Louis Blues 23 14 4 5 33
Colorado Avalanche 22 13 7 2 28
Dallas Stars 23 13 8 2 28
Winnipeg Jets 23 13 9 1 27
Chicago Blackhawks 22 9 9 4 22
Nashville Predators 21 9 9 3 21
Minnesota Wild 22 9 11 2 20
Pacific Division GP W L OL PTS
Edmonton Oilers 24 14 7 3 31
Arizona Coyotes 23 13 8 2 28
Vancouver Canucks 23 11 8 4 26
Vegas Golden Knights 24 11 9 4 26
Anaheim Ducks 23 10 10 3 23
San Jose Sharks 23 11 11 1 23
Calgary Flames 25 10 12 3 23
Los Angeles Kings 22 9 12 1 19


Ok, now let’s throw out OT.

Atlantic Division GP W RW L OL T PTS
Boston Bruins 22 14 14 3 5 5 33
Florida Panthers 22 12 7 5 5 10 24
Montreal Canadiens 22 11 8 6 5 8 24
Toronto Maple Leafs 24 10 7 10 4 7 21
Buffalo Sabres 22 10 7 9 3 6 20
Tampa Bay Lightning 19 10 8 7 2 4 20
Ottawa Senators 22 10 8 11 1 3 19
Detroit Red Wings 24 7 6 14 3 4 16
Metropolitan Division GP W RW L OL T PTS
Washington Capitals 24 16 10 4 4 10 30
New York Islanders 20 16 10 3 1 7 27
Pittsburgh Penguins 22 11 8 7 4 7 23
Carolina Hurricanes 22 13 8 8 1 6 22
Philadelphia Flyers 22 11 7 7 4 8 22
New York Rangers 19 9 8 8 2 3 19
Columbus Blue Jackets 21 9 5 8 4 8 18
New Jersey Devils 20 7 5 9 4 6 16
Central Division GP W RW L OL T PTS
St. Louis Blues 23 14 9 4 5 10 28
Dallas Stars 23 13 11 8 2 4 26
Colorado Avalanche 22 13 10 7 2 5 25
Winnipeg Jets 23 13 7 9 1 7 21
Chicago Blackhawks 22 9 7 9 4 6 20
Nashville Predators 21 9 8 9 3 4 20
Minnesota Wild 22 9 9 11 2 2 20
Pacific Division GP W RW L OL T PTS
Edmonton Oilers 24 14 11 7 3 6 28
Vancouver Canucks 23 11 9 8 4 6 24
Vegas Golden Knights 24 11 9 9 4 6 24
Arizona Coyotes 23 13 8 8 2 7 23
Anaheim Ducks 23 10 9 10 3 4 22
San Jose Sharks 23 11 8 11 1 4 20
Calgary Flames 25 10 6 12 3 7 19
Los Angeles Kings 22 9 6 12 1 4 16

Over in the WestSo what are some differences? Well, the Bruins are even more the class of the league, and the Panthers are trailing by some distance. The Capitals have an incredible 10 ties in 24 games, and come back to the pack a little more. Carolina and Pittsburgh swap places. Carolina and Philly are your wild card teams in the East.

Over in the West, the Blues come back to the pack a little, the Stars and Avs swap places, and the Hawks, Preds, and Wild are tied in a group of sadness, having only the Flames and the Kings beat. And the Flames are probably having all their shoestrings removed. The Hawks would be only two points out of a playoff spot though, instead of the current four they are now. Arizona would fall from second to fourth in their division. Arizona and Anaheim would be your wild cards.

Just some food for thought.


I like to do this at the watermarks of the season. If you’re new, and some of you shockingly are, I take an analytic look where I can on where the major hardware should go, but sometimes won’t, at this point in the season. For the most part, it sticks to where you think it would go anyway, but sometimes it diverges. Anyway, to it…

Hart Trophy – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Split It

This would certainly drive the hockey world mad, and you’ll have more than enough saying that Draisaitl’s stats and success are merely based on playing with McDavid. And I could probably accept that, and if they just wanted to hand it to McDavid I wouldn’t complain. McDavid is almost certainly going to wind up like Mike Trout, where he wins three or four of these and then when he retires we realize he probably should have won eight or nine and there was no good reason he didn’t.

Either way, the Oilers suck to high heaven and yet are comfortably in first in the Pacific because of these two. They are both leading the NHL in scoring at 44 and 43 points. No one else on their team has more than 17. Along with their linemate James Neal, they have 43 goals. The rest of the team has 33. If you were to go totally rudimentary on this, the rest of the team is getting slightly beyond one goal per game. These two are accounting for over two.

Norris Trophy – John Carlson

Believe me, this seemed way too obvious for me but it’s hard to make a case for anyone else. And he’s already going to win it, given the buzz his point total at this point has generated. When you’re a defenseman and you’re on pace for 124 points, people tend to take notice.

So I looked for a metric way to get beyond Carlson, but he’s ahead of the team-rate in Coris and expected goals. The argument that will be brought out by someone is that he doesn’t play great defense. But the Caps are scoring 50% more goals when he’s on the ice than they give up, and the whole point of the fucking sport is to score more goals than the other team. Carlson is helping the Caps do that more than anyone.

You could make a small case for Dougie Hamilton, as his possession numbers are better. But beyond that, his argument would be the same one for Carlson. Kris Letang has actually been magnificent for the strangely dominant-at-evens Penguins, but as always he’s been ouchy and isn’t scoring enough.

If there were a Rod Langway Award–for best defensive defenseman–and he had been healthy, I could make a serious case for Connor Murphy here. No, seriously, I can. Murph has the second best relative Corsi-against rate in the league, and the second-best expected goals-against rate. While the Hawks remain The War Rig at the end of Fury Road defensively overall, they’re actually somewhat stout when Murphy is on the ice. No d-man has improved his team’s defense more than Murphy. It won’t get him any hardware, and it’ll probably only get him traded in the offseason as the Hawks continue to cower in fear of Seabrook and need to find room for Boqvist, Mitchell, et al, but everyone should know just how good Murphy has been.

Vezina – Robin Lehner

Fuck you, let’s go with the hometown vote. While Kuemper and Greiss have better SV%, they’re playing behind better defensive teams. So is every other goalie on the planet, essentially. Those two also have bigger differences when it comes to expected save percentages and expected goals and such, but Lehner has had to have great games while still giving up three or four to keep it from being 10. We know what Trotz systems do for goalies. We probably know what Colliton systems do for then too, and it ain’t the same. Lehner has had to perform miracles to keep the Hawks on the periphery of they playoff chase. And I’ll be goddamned if I’m handing anything to Darcy Goddamn Kuemper.

Calder – Cale Makar

This one isn’t even close. Makar is blowing away the rookie scoring race from the blue line, and he has a +7 relative xG%. While the Avs have gone without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog for a good portion of the season, they’re still hanging around the top of the conference with games in hand on everyone because of Makar and MacKinnon. He’s been everything as advertised, and is probably the best hope for a non-truly evil team to come out of the West this year.

Selke – J.T. Miller

Most voters would light themselves on fire before they give this award to a winger, which is why Marian Hossa doesn’t have the three he should, but if you dig deep on the metrics it’s pretty clear. Miller sits atop the rankings when it comes to attempts and expected goals against relative to his team, and in both cases it’s by some margin. Oh, and because morons care about this, he’s been taking Elias Pettersson‘s draws for the most part and is clipping in at a 59% win rate. So there.


If you’re the NHLPA, or any member in it, headlines like this shouldn’t exactly settle well:

Now, there may have been a time in my life where I truly believed that all that meant was that everyone was happy, everyone realized the damage that could be done by yet another work stoppage, and that everyone was interested in growing the game together. That was a wonderful time in my life. I work really hard to get back there, even though I know the road there is pretty much impossible to navigate and pass. It’s gone forever, and all that’s left is this broken down old man (yes, Shawshank was on late last night on IFC. Why do you ask?)

But when a billionaire is smiling and excited…well, one, flee the fucking room if you’re a woman, and two, the only other thing that gets them excited is the thought of more money. Seriously, that’s the only way their heart pumps, and this is how you get the state of the country today. Now again, maybe they’re just happy they can continue making money at this pace without a work stoppage, but you all know I’m more suspicious than that. I’ve been through this once or twice.

There definitely seems to be an element of relief in this, which means that the owners A) genuinely feared a strike by the players, B) feel like they gained something. Which means they had something to lose, which means the NHLPA actually had some leverage.

And we know what that leverage was. There’s an expansion franchise coming on the books in two seasons, which meant a strike the season before that carried over would have put at risk their start date. There’s also a new TV deal coming the season after that, which means talks for that start relatively soon, and you wouldn’t exactly be dealing with a position of strength with NBC or ESPN or Fox or wherever this goes if you weren’t playing games or a large threat of not playing games was hanging over the talks.

Now that said, this is almost certainly what the players were looking at. They want that TV deal to be bonanza too, or as close as hockey can get to a bonanza, and then grab more of the booty for themselves. That’s fair. They erred in not somehow including expansion fees into the last CBA as part of shared revenue (perhaps placated by the 25 extra jobs), and maybe that’s something they could have come after if they’d walked off the job. Don’t smirk, because the owners came after back-diving contracts in the last CBA that used to be legal, so we know retroactive action is on the table.

Maybe the TV deal will be much bigger, and maybe the tweaks the PA and the owners are working toward has enough included for the players with that TV deal that they feel they shouldn’t get in the way. That’s what we can’t know.

LeBrun in this piece says the two sides could hammer out an extension with tweaks to the CBA in the coming months, but I’ll believe that when I see it. The owners now don’t have any urgency and the players discarded the one card they have. While the players say their one bitch is escrow, I find that hard to believe and also don’t see a way around it. It also only really affects players up the scale on the payroll, though no one likes getting shit taken out of their paycheck (even when it’s for the things that everyone needs, but that’s another discussion).

Maybe the players have a plan to just go to a fixed amount that the salary cap is calculated from, instead of a formula that can change from year-to-year or month-to-month even. Maybe they’ve gotten more creative. Still, when you have smiling owners you know something is bad. And while the players may think they have pulled off a real coup here by letting the US TV deal play out unscathed, and they’ll just get a bigger slice simply because, it seems like they’ve forgotten whom they are dealing with here.

And we’re still talking about a system that has multiple restricted free agents waiting for contracts, who are the ones who are going to carry this league. That’s proof the system isn’t working correctly, and also proof that no matter what they say, owners will continue to spend money to win (at least most of them), if only to the cap. Perhaps they should have played on that more?

-There is one aspect of escrow the players take up that I’m not convinced I agree with. You can see it here or here. It’s this idea espoused by Jonathan Toews and others that the players have no responsibility in growing or marketing the game. I just can’t get there.

In one aspect, hockey players have created the unwritten rules or culture that individuality is bad or that anyone who stands out in a dressing room is a problem. Call it the “PK Subban Clause.” (include the racial undertones if you want or not) It’s the players who enforce this idea that everyone has to be the same and completely dull, and that anything with flash and sizzle is to be stamped out and discouraged from ever starting.

Except it’s flash and sizzle that sells, and perhaps if more players had a personality and weren’t afraid to show it, and spoke up in the press in ways other than tired cliches, people might take notice. Hell, you don’t even need the media now. Every player has access to Twitter and Instagram, and can be their own bullhorn if they want. You can get directly to the fans. How many do?

If the players are going to throw all their toys out of the crib over escrow and revenue not increasing how they were promises, are they really going to trust the owners to do that and give them more money? How many times do you have to be bit by the scorpion before you stop taking him across the river? Don’t expect them to do all the work for you.

Secondly, the players are the ones who could easily get rid of fighting and the other bullshit that holds the game back, but they don’t. And while they may think it’s an element that makes the sport unique and intriguing to the outsider, if that were the case we’d have seen major growth from the sport already. They keep the goons and talentless hobos in the league by blanching whenever the idea is brought up to get rid of it. “Part of the game.”

Well, no one watches your game. So maybe it’s not all that necessary?


Gritty means clicks. Everyone knows this.

For the past seven years, the Flyers have been bouncing back and forth between a rebuild that never seems to get past the blueprint stage or a love affair with the #7 seed that always ends in a quick first-round exit that you have to be reminded happened in the first place. The Flyers don’t even generate nearly the amount of empty noise they used to, where they would get coverage and media love simply because it was a natural reflex from the past. Suddenly, the Flyers have become a team that’s just kind of there. And it looks like they’re going to be that again this year. Philadelphia never sinks into irrelevance in anything, simply due to the look-at-me obnoxious and yelling of any of their fanbases. But if any team can manage it, it just might be the Flyers. Let’s take a walk…


37-37-8  82 points (6th in Metro)

2.94 GF/G (18th)  3.41 GA/G (29th)

48.2 CF% (21st)  48.7 xGF% (18th)

17.1 PP% (23rd)  78.5 PK% (26th)

Goalies: If nothing else, the Flyers actually might have stability in net for the first time in a generation or six. Last year, the Flyers used eight goalies. Eight. Ocho. Acht. Huit. Their crease was almost literally a clown car, and definitely clown shoes. Things smoothed out when top prospect Carter Hart got the call, simply because he was a life-preserver in a rollicking sea of incompetence and silliness, and now he gets the con full time. And hopefully for the foreseeable future.

Hart put up a .917 while seeing almost 32 shots per game behind an porous defense, and he might have to do the same again. Still, at evens he was behind his expected SV% (.917 to .923), a difference that was only a touch better than Mike Smith‘s. If you’re in Mike Smith’s neighborhood on anything, baby you gotta move. But Hart did manage a .906 on the kill, even with the Flyers defensive problems, so that’s where they’ll hope roots grow out from. Clearly all the promise in the world, but life with young goalies can be treacherous. Remember they nearly chased Carey Price out of Montreal once upon a time, though in Montreal they chase just about everyone out of town in between drags of filterless cigarettes and a disdain for life.

Backing him up will be Brian Elliot, who’s been a backup for at least five years now but kept I Dream Of Genie’ing coaches and GMs into thinking he was a starter. Elliot has been pretty mediocre for three seasons now, but with a reduced workload and expectation, he probably can get the Flyers out of 20-25 starts. They’ll take it, considering what they’ve been through.

Defense: Clearly an issue last year as it feels like Shayne Gostisbehere has stalled out and to a lesser extent Ivan Provorov has too. Though Provorov is still only 22, and still needs re-signing as an RFA. The Flyers added Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun (who would have looked pretty all right here, but I digest) to smooth out things and provide an easier runway for their kids like Ghost Bear (if he’s a kid anymore), Provorov, Hagg, Sanheim, Morin, and Myers. Not all of them can play obviously, but all will probably get a look.

Ghost Bear had something of a strange year, struggling defensively and not totaling anywhere near the power play assists he had in the 60+ point season he had the year previous. His metrics were ok, though he gives up better chances than he creates, which might be a reason his name came up in trade rumors over the summer. That is if the Flyers were an organization that paid attention this kind of thing, not one that makes prospects fight to the death in a dark room to decide whom to draft.

Sanheim might be the real treasure here, as he put up the same points as Ghost Bear with glittering metrics and worse zone starts. Niskanen and Braun are clearly around to shield him, and with that sort of assistance this could be a real breakout season for him.

Forwards: The Flyers, in the most Flyers thing ever, traded for the negotiating rights to Captain Stairwell, then handed him $7M a year from here until Global Heat Death to watch him pile up 47-point seasons. The fascination with the younger and quite possibly dumber Hayes has always eluded this blog, though as a #2 or #3 center he probably doesn’t completely murder you.

The headliners are still Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, who will always pile up the points and the latter can still mark any opposing center out of the game (Toews only sees him twice a year and probably wants to murder him). Jakub Voracek will continue to bounce between the first and second lines and continue to pile up secondary assists, leaving it a mystery to what he actually does. As is their way, the Flyers are paying premium for James van Riemsdyk‘s decline.

What they need is a leap forward from any of Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, or Nolan Patrick (or Patrick Nolan, I’m not sure it matters), to lessen their dependence on the Garbage Bag Warrior. Konecny has taken a run at 50 points the past two seasons, and with just a nudge and better teammates he could probably get over 60. Though one or two of them might have to move to wing to accommodate Hayes. Konecny, like Provorov, still needs re-signing (we keep writing that. What a strange league).

There’s also Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Isaac Ratcliffe, all candidates to make the team out of camp though more than likely to start in Allentown (what a fate) and perhaps be midseason reinforcements. All of huge promise, and perhaps as soon as next season make the Flyers really dangerous.

Prediction: Niskanen and Braun aren’t dead yet, but are getting up there so depending on them for shutdown or top-pairing roles is a stretch. However, if they can provide shelter for Sanheim and Provorov, and Ghost Bear can find the scoring touch again he has flashed, suddenly this blue line looks pretty tasty. The forward corps looks short, though a leap from one of the kids and a contribution from one of the trio mentioned above and suddenly it might not, even with Claude Giroux definitely on the back nine of his career. They need a full season from Carter Hart, and the Philly crease has swallowed many a kid before and spit back out a smoldering husk of an indistinguishable form.

It’s a lot of ifs, but none are complete fantasy. As stated before, this is a funny division with no truly dominant teams and a few teams that could be just about anything. They would need a 10+ point improvement to make the playoffs, but that’s not asking for the moon given the conditions stated. They’re highly unlikely to grab one of the automatic spots, but fighting for a wildcard down to the season’s last is hardly beyond them.

But again, this is the Flyers. Logic and reason died here long ago, and all we’re left with is a surreal and vulgar landscape. Your guess is as good as mine.

Everything Else

Ok, not really, but it was a fun joke to make.

There is a great fear in football, which was there before Andrew Luck retired but is now only exacerbated, about a shrinking player pool. And that’s at every level. As you probably already know, the level of participation at the youth level has been dropping for years, as more and more parents have decided slowly killing their children is less than ideal. And at the top level, more and more players are retiring at younger and younger ages because they’ve made their money, don’t feel the need to ruin their later years, and can still get out with everything mostly intact or as close to it as they’ll ever be.

The other sport with concussion issues, or at least a lawsuit because of it (baseball probably has one too at least behind the plate) hasn’t had this rash yet. We haven’t seen a lot of players retiring early when in the peak of their careers unless there was no other choice. Nathan Horton didn’t have a choice. David Clarkson had piled up so many injuries he didn’t have a choice. There are other names who simply could not even consider playing again. But they’re a far bigger rarity than what we’re seeing in the NFL.

But with Andrew Luck being the biggest name to decide it wasn’t worth it (rightly) anymore, is this something the NHL will have to fear in the near future? I tend to doubt it.

One, and the big one that both sides of the brain-injury debate in football tend to miss, is the very nature of football is destructive to the brain. It’s not the blow ’em-up, wince-on-your-couch hits that are the problem, or THE problem. The arbiters of the game think it is, a lot of fans on both sides think it is, but it’s not the major issue. It’s the contact on every play. It’s the simple blocking and tackling, the sub-concussive contact that adds up over a game, season, career that does most of the damage. And you can’t measure that damage on the brain until it’s too late. It’s also that contact that leads to a ton of other injuries, the type that Luck decided he’d had enough of. Football is just a dull ache at best all the time, disastrous on the body at its worst.

Hockey doesn’t have that. It has contact all over the ice of course, but nothing like football. There are probably entire shifts players can go through without contact (cue Don Cherry losing his mind about Europeans here). Hockey’s injuries come from the big hits, and those are the ones that the rules-makers are ham-handedly trying to fix. You could actually get these completely out of the game if you weren’t so terrified about an old white man with a nose the size of Idaho and as red as Mississippi losing his goddamn mud over it. That’s another debate, but the rate of major injury in hockey just isn’t the same.

Second, hockey players just don’t have the safety net that Luck does.

We joke about hockey players being dumber than donkey shit all the time, but this does enter into it. Luck has a Stanford education, and while there are hockey players from Harvard, Yale, Michigan (it’s a seriously good school I’m not being biased here), Brown, Cornell, BC, BU, and a few others, the ones who stay all four years and graduate tend to be fringe NHL-ers anyway. Your major stars in the NHL are in college maybe a year, some don’t even go, and a ton aren’t in school past like seventh grade in reality. The only thing they can do is hockey. They’d be lost without it.

While a lot of football players don’t do much on campus (and actually we’d be much better off if too large a number only did nothing instead of bad), they have to be there three years. A good portion of them do get somewhat close to a degree if they want, and a good portion go back and get it even while playing, no matter how much of a star. Their options are a little more varied.

Magary covered this yesterday, but one thing hockey and football probably do have in common is searching out players whose life is only the sport they play. This is much easier for hockey scouts, and probably getting more and more difficult for football scouts and GMs. But you’ve seen what hockey minds think of any player who shows any personality or outside interests. Hell, we made fun of Jonathan Toews’s and his interest in green science, because it was fun to do so while also happy that he actually did have an outside interest. But do you think there were some in the Hawks front office who worried his new passions led to his dip in production? You better believe there were.

Unlike football, hockey has the ability to change the things that make it destructive. And at times, it feels like they want to but don’t know how. But it’s not as urgent as football, which is probably why they’ll stick with half-measures for the meantime.

Everything Else

Before we get any farther, this blog has always been pro-union, wherever that may be. NHL owners, all team owners really, and probably almost all insanely rich people are evil and need to be fought against and reigned in. I am wearing three Che Guevara shirts right now.

That said, the NHL is being stupid on all sides. I can’t sum it up any better than Barry Petchesky does here, but in a nutshell we’re in the height of NHL transaction series and no one has any idea what their budgets are. That’s really solid work there, and only possible in hockey. It wouldn’t be so hard to figure out a hard deadline when both sides need to agree on what the cap should be, except neither has gotten around to it for what seems to be simply because neither thought of it. That’s hockey, baby.

Anyway, the main sticking point here is that the players don’t want to use their installed escalator to the cap, which can go up to 5% of what the cap is dictated to be. So if the cap were set at $82.6M, the players could raise it as high as 86.7M. But they won’t, because of escrow.

At this point I’m guessing most of you know what escrow is, but for those who don’t, because the salary cap is pegged at projections of a 50/50 split of revenue, portions of a player’s check are held back in case actual revenue doesn’t meet the projections of a 50-50 split. Now, I imagine having 10% of your salary just held in jail every month sucks, because you have a contract that says you should get paid the full amount. Especially when we’re talking about guys making $8-10 million, that’s a lot of money you’re not seeing. Anyway, at the end of the year when everyone knows what revenues are, that money gets returned to the player or sent to the owners to even everything out.

And players hate it. You can see why, but the problem is that there really isn’t any other way. If you have a system that bases salaries and salary caps on projections, then there’s always going to be some sort of fail-safe to make sure the real numbers match up with the projected ones. You can’t know for sure what revenues will be down to the dollar. And sure, the owners don’t have similar skin in the game because they don’t have salaries, they just take the revenue that’s not given out as salaries. There’s nothing from them that can be put in something similar to escrow.

You could peg the cap to the previous year’s revenues, but then players wouldn’t be making half of what the owners are currently making and the players would hate that. You could try and just negotiate a fixed number years ahead, but neither the players or owners are going to risk getting less than half the pie now. There’s little wiggle room, so not utilizing the escalator is the surest way to keep escrow down or even not have it at all.

And to the players, or at least the bigger ones up the chain, that’s what matters. But the problem is that not raising the cap squeezes out a lot of other players. How many veterans, who probably should be earning $3M a year or so, end up just signing PTOs in September because teams simply don’t have the space to fit them in yet? How many veterans are going to give up total salary, not just escrow, to fit into a team’s cap space simply because they have to. Maybe it’s their last contract.

So Jonathan Toews can bitch about escrow all he likes, but someone should ask him if that money that he only “might” not get is more important than say, players like Marcus Kruger or Valtieri Filppula getting jobs at all or having to take serious pay cuts. You are supposed to be a union after all, aren’t you? A higher cap means more for more players. You would think it’s the greater good.

Again, the players agreed to this system. If they hate it so much they should have actually held out for a luxury tax system, or at worst some kind of veteran or mid-level exception like the NBA so that their non-use of the escalator isn’t costing other players jobs. But at the end, much like owners, players aren’t really that concerned with getting everyone something as long as they get their something.

Everything Else

I mean, take your pick. The hockey hasn’t been terribly enjoyable, there’s yet to be a good game, both fanbases would do the world a favor by leaping into Sarlacc, no matter who wins we’re all going to be sick, and add to that the narratives or stories around these teams are so stupid and wrong. The feeling of relief when this is over will be akin to  the stiff shit that takes five minutes to get out. A metaphor more apt than we should take too much time to consider.

With Zdeno Chara unlikely to make the bell tonight (and I’m still convinced it doesn’t matter much other than numbers), you can be sure Blues fans are going to be pumping that their HEAVY style is the reason the Blues are where they are and very well may pull this off. It’s been what they’ve been pushing for…oh, 25 years now? 30? Their entire existence? I’m not sure, but the Blues have always had to define themselves by how much they make their stained-jersey wearing fans snort and belch and cheer itchy trigger-fingered cops. Never mind this team is actually built on its speed and newfound finish and creativity, because that doesn’t fit into how St. Louis has to portray itself and the hockey media is all too happy to go along with because it’s either too lazy or too drunk to do much else.

And to be fair, it’s the same for the Bruins, who got here thanks to sublime goaltending and having the best line in hockey, along with a very mobile defense that the Leafs, or Jackets, or Canes simply couldn’t catch enough or force into mistakes because they always find space.

So let’s review, because it’s going to come up during the broadcast the next two or three nights. Here is the list of “victims” for the Blues and their supposed torturous style:

Erik Karlsson – carried a groin injury since February that caused him to miss 26 games that got worse, wouldn’t you know, by playing every other day in the most intense form of the game for a month straight.

Tomas Hertl – Illegal hit to the head

Matt Grzelcyk – Illegal hit from behind

Zdeno Chara – puck to the face

So yeah, the Blues GRITHEARTSANDPAPERFAAAAART had exactly zero to do with any of this, unless we’re counting illegal and dirty hits as an actual tactic now. Which they very well may be in St. Louis. I suppose the real fear is with Tom Wilson getting a ring last year, teams are just going to sanction whatever nutters they have on their team to make a couple runs at someone per series, and they’ll deal with the consequences as long as the other team’s defenseman misses time. After all, you have more forwards than they have d-men. And before you shrug that off as an impossibility, remember this is hockey and anything can happen, and the dumber it is the more likely it is to.

Physicality is part of playoff hockey, no one denies this. Sorry, let me get that right, NO ONE DENIES THIS! But seeing as how everyone is trying to be physical and shrink time to make plays and cause turnovers and mistakes and get the puck back deep in the offensive zone with everyone out of position, it’s not really a “strategy.” The defining part is how you cash in when you get those turnovers, or how you set your team up to avoid them. The forecheck and physical play is a given. It’s like saying in football that having five offensive lineman who will definitely try to block people is a strategy (unless this is the Cutler-era Bears, who definitely didn’t have that nor try to do that).

The attrition of playoff hockey has always struck me awkwardly (then again, what doesn’t? I’m gawkier than the ace of spades!). I know the length and “Wreck Of The Hesperus” nature of it makes it a true test, and what a lot of people love. Which is fine. Still, if the playoffs are all that matter, and we’re using this to decide who the best teams are (which it doesn’t always but whatever not the point), it would be a truer test if these teams were closer to full-strength. Depth is certainly part of the hockey equation, no doubt. But I don’t know that having these things settled by third liners and eighth defensemen is the best showcase of the sport. And we have 82 games to test depth as well, including when top players simply go through slumps.

There is no answer of course other than shortening the season (I can’t stress my 76-game schedule when Seattle arrives enough, knowing it will never, ever happen), which is a nonstarter. So we’ll just have to live with this, as wrong and misguided as it may be.


Everything Else

I don’t expect to get much out of Gary Bettman press conferences. His address at the start of the Final is never quite like Roger Goodell’s at the Super Bowl, though he never says anything much ever either. Something about being a commissioner, you just have to be really good at saying nothing. Unless you’re Rob Manfred, and you end up saying the wrong thing a good portion of the time. But hey, better than Bud Selig… I think?


A good portion of Bettman’s presser was about replay, as apparently we’re supposed still be in a rage over Timo Meier’s hand-pass even though the Blues didn’t lose another game that series (like they were supposed to). Bettman hit all the right notes about “balance” and “pace and rhythm” of the game and such. But you know, the more I think about it, the more there is a limit to what you can review and how it might not be something that keeps expanding until infinity. Maybe.

One, I still pretty much think that the challenge system is ridiculous and far inferior to an additional official in a box with a bank of screens communicating with the refs on the ice via headset. However, the challenge system has kind of relegated the offsides review to the hail mary that it usually is. Coaches banking a delay of game penalty on it has kept them from just throwing any challenge out there and losing just a timeout. That really shouldn’t be discounted. As far as losing that timeout of goalie interference, well, one would actually have to define what goalie interference is and they haven’t gotten there yet.

Still, when it comes to goals, what are we really talking about here? Kicked in, goalie interference, crossed the line, high stick (which seemingly never gets called). Right now, that’s it. That doesn’t seem a huge scope of things that adding hand-passes and whether the puck went out of play before a goal would make this a mountain that a bunch of rich people will die on of possible reviews (Topical!). And the puck going out of play could probably mostly be solved with the nets above the glass being white instead of black, as the lighting in most arenas makes a ripple on a black net really hard to see but much easier on a white one.

That seems possible. Restrict it to hand-passes in the offensive zone and let’s go. All goals are reviewed anyway, we’ve already gotten accustomed to that. I still don’t know why all sports haven’t employed a 30-second limit on reviews (well, I know why the NFL did because they figured out they could cram in another ad or two). If I can tell on my couch after a look or two if something is clear or not, so can they.

As far as reviewing delay of game calls or shots to the head…again, a 30-second clock or simply a video ref radioing down without the need of the refs to go to a phone would solve a lot of this. Yes, NHL arenas can’t get loud but if European soccer refs can manage, so can NHL ones. But that would depend on how seriously the NHL wants to crack down on hits to the head.

I also still contend that moving one ref or both off the ice and to a perch above the glass would solve a lot, as they would spend no time protecting their face or trying to get out of the way of play and could actually watch the action full-time. But I’m not going to sit on a hot stove waiting for that one.

-Bettman also addressed the CBA, which is looming. I’ll give him that he doesn’t pin peace on the NHLPA exclusively, while still firing an opening salvo, saying that both sides have things they’d probably like to change but overall everyone is doing well.

For the most part, you’d have to say both sides are doing well. The owners have the 50-50 split they’ve craved. and players at the top of the chain are getting theirs. Young players, except for the truly elite, are still eating it, but that’s more a fight between players before it even gets to the owners.

So a couple simple things I would want the players to try and get without a lockout, as if there’s any hope of avoiding that. One is an NBA-style mid-level exception or two. It’s vets that are getting squeezed out by teams only concentrating on top end talent and then young, cheap talent. We see a raft of players on PTOs come training camp that really should have contracts. Something like $3-$4 million, or two $3M slots, for players that are over 27 or have seven years in the league or thereabouts.

Second, get rid of the cap recapture penalty. It was a stupid idea in the first place that I can’t believe the union went along with, and punished teams and players for what they did under a different system. It’ll open up flexibility for some teams, and end this ridiculous saga of players having to be on LTIR for four years or whatever that is just silly. Those are two things I would want, which wouldn’t break any owners.

Of course, the owners, if they were ever to agree to any of this, would want something in return. But fuck ’em. They’ve got enough.