Everything Else

This generally happens every October. As we know, the NHL season tends to be wacky and fun and Seussian in the  first month as teams scramble to entrench themselves into their standings position. We know they pretty much have to because of how hard it is to make up ground late in the season, and the percentage of teams that are in the playoffs spots at Thanksgiving that stay there (just north 0f 75% as of last check). You can’t entrench by gaining one point. You need two. And you generally need to keep the other team from getting one. So teams actually go for it. If this is where you’d ask wouldn’t this be solved season-long if wins were worth three points you can just shove it because your logic has no place in the hockey world! Put your telescope away, Galileo! (He used one, right?)

So scoring is up so far. But is it simply that? Will teams pull back, combined with boredom, in December and beyond to give us the turgid, uninspiring morass we’ve come to know and…well, know? I’m not so sure.

The numbers are there. Teams are averaging 3.11 goals per game after 2.97 last year. Though this is just about the same jump we saw from two seasons ago to last, which was 2.77 to 2.97. Maybe it’s just the way things are going? That’s a bit simplistic, so let’s dive a little deeper.

There are four teams averaging over 35 shots per game, when no team managed it for the total of last year (topping the list are the Hurricanes who are averaging a simply bonkers 41 shots per game so far). However, only 22 teams are averaging over 30 shots per game, while 28 managed it last year. So the high-end, the more volatile selection, is higher. But overall there aren’t more shots being taken from last year. In fact, teams are averaging slightly less shots than last year, 31.3 to 31.8.

As far as overall attempts, there are five teams averaging over 65 attempts per 60 minutes at evens, and nine over 60. Last year, only five teams got over 60 per 60 (isn’t that neat?), and none over 65. So there are more teams attempting more shots, but that doesn’t mean that many are getting through. That would suggest there is more action, just not that much more important action.

Teams are getting faster and copying all the time, so you do see more teams trying to replicate what the Penguins, Knights, Predators have done over the past couple seasons. A couple teams have pivoted to more aggressive coaches. The Stars went from Ken Hitchcock to Jim Montgomery, and they’ve seen a slight uptick in both attempts and shots per game. Bill Peters went from Carolina to Calgary, but they’ve actually seen a downtick in both categories. His replacement in Raleigh, Rod Brind’Amour, certainly has not overseen a downtick. The Coyotes have changed their system, and Ottawa and Montreal at least have tweaked theirs.

The number that jumps out most so far though is that team SV% has dropped .912 to 908 this year. Some will attribute this to the new goalie pads, and that probably plays a role. Some will attribute it to some of the league’s better goalies getting off to slow starts, or not being around at all in the case of Corey Crawford or Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Quick has been abhorrent in LA, Cam Talbot is still stepping on his tongue in Edmonton, Marc-Andre Fleuy has been pretty woeful in Vegas (and really, who could have seen that coming?), Holtby terrible in DC as he was at the start of last year, Martin Jones has been bad, Sergei Bobrovsky worse, and Connor Hellebuyck has been mediocre (say it like Immortan Joe).

Still, they can’t all be off to slow starts, right? There must be something.

Combine that with how many teams simply whiffed on their goaltending decisions. Trusting Mike Smith in Calgary was always going to end in ennui. Jake Allen in St. Louis…well, you know what we’d write here. Did they really thing Carter Hutton would work in Buffalo? Jimmy Howard has been an anchor for a while, which is good for a team trying to bottom out like the Wings (wait, they’re doing what?). The decision to stick with Brian Elliot in Philly is why Gritty looks like that.

The amount of teams getting steady goaltending right now is pretty thin. The Rangers and Ducks are, and those teams both suck eggs. The Stars are getting good work from Ben Bishop. If you want to argue the Hawks now that Crow is back, I guess you can but we’ll need more than the three games Crow has gotten. Dubnynk is doing his normal thing, Kinkaid has been really good in New Jersey, and Varlamov has been a mutant in Colorado (not hard for him). Throw the Lightning, Predators, and Canucks on the list. Essentially, 10 teams are getting average goaltending at even-strength. One of them is Calgary that has Rittich making up for the toxic waste Mike Smith is leaving behind. Minnesota and Anaheim are getting incredible goaltending, but they’re also giving up the most shots in the game. So there are still goals to be had against them. Without their goaltending, the commissioner would have to step in and relegate them.

But that’s not all of it. Could it be the pressure and chances these goalies are asked to stand up against is higher? Yes, it appears that way. Currently, eight teams have an expected goals-against per 60 minutes over 2.8. Only one team did that last year, which was the Rangers. Still though, deeper you go it’s about the same. Nine teams had an xGA/60 last year over 2.5. This year that number is 11 (it always comes back to Nigel Tuffnel on this blog).  A difference to be sure, but not huge.

There clearly isn’t one answer to this. Everyone hopes it sticks around, though.

Everything Else

One of the worst things about hockey is the amount of old, concussed, entitled men who are not just around the game, but actually running it. It seems the only qualification to be the GM or president of a lot of teams, or a broadcaster, is that you can tell people what was the hot spot to hang out at after a game at the Hartford Civic Center (answer: there wasn’t one).

Brendan Shanahan isn’t as old as some, but he’s doing a damn fine impression of them. If you want the detailed version, here you go. If you want the cliff notes, it’s basically that Shanahan thinks everyone player on the Leafs should take less money than they can get to keep the team together, and here’s the kicker, because that’s what they did in Detroit. The money-shot: “At the end of the day we all found a way to fit with each other so that we could keep adding to the group.”

Gee, what could that method have been? I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with no salary cap and Mike Illitch’s checkbook.

This is Brendan Shanahan, who had to be dealt to the previously mentioned Hartford because of his maximized contract from the Blues. And then traded to Detroit with that same contract.

That same Detroit team that had Sergei Fedorov making $28 million one season due to signing bonuses. That same Wings team that paid Shanahan $3.6 million in 1998, and now think of that in 2018 dollars. Shanahan also made $6 million in 2002, and again, translate that to 2018 dollars. Also on that 2002 team, 104-year-old Brett Hull made $3.5M, Lidstrom made $8.5M, Luc Robitaille made $4M while being older than Hull somehow, Yzerman made $7.5M, Chelios made $5.5M, and the biggest, brain-gooifying fact is that Uwe Krupp made $4.5M. That’s $40 million, in 2002 mind you, for six players.

They’re practically fucking Job, they are!

While it’s a nice thought for Leafs fans, and probably is meant to poison the water for said players against those fans in upcoming negotiations, they don’t owe the Leafs shit. The Leafs are just the team that happened to draft them. 29 other teams would have gladly taken Nylander or Matthews or Marner if the Leafs didn’t. The system is already rigged against most players that are either in their prime or approaching it.

Maybe Shanahan should explain to his fans why they’re paying Patrick Marleau and his oatmeal $6 million for two more seasons or Ron Hainsey $3 million when they need to sign these players. And they still have $30 million in cap space for next year, plus whatever the cap changes.

Shanahan can go get fucked, is what I’m saying. Anyway, here’s tonight’s stuff:

First Screen Viewing

Ducks vs. Sharks – 9:30

Erik Karlsson’s unveiling, and one of the more boisterous joints in the league should be jumping. It’s pretty exciting to see what the Sharks might look like with #65 in tow, and how they handle the expectations. The Ducks are annoyingly metronomic and these games usually turn pretty chippy. The power play the Sharks are sporting could be showtime.

Second Screen Viewing

Canadiens v. Leafs – 6pm

Well of course the season has to start in Toronto. It’s amazing they’ll play games anywhere else, honestly. Still, it’s Tavares’s debut and as much as the noise around them is going to drive us all to drink more, the product on the ice should be highly entertaining. Assuming Mike Babcock doesn’t get in the way. And hey, who doesn’t enjoy the Habs getting paddled?

Other Games

Bruins v. Caps – 6:30

Flames v. Canucks – 9pm

Everything Else

I’ll admit my first reaction last night when I saw that Austin Watson had been suspended 27 games for pleading no-contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge was, “Well, at least they did something.” Such is my weariness and the way my expectations have been beaten down, not just by the NHL’s, but really all sports’ handling of such things. Honestly, I don’t envy anyone who has to come up with what the right number should be for this charge. There’s many who are incensed that it’s barely more than Nate Schmidt got for his sneeze’s worth of a banned substance, but that’s actually negotiated with the NHLPA and has a standard.

It goes two directions from there. The first is that there are those who think Watson and anyone else caught up in a domestic violence charge should immediately be banned, fired, tarred, feathered, whatever. And believe me, I understand that impulse. Playing in a professional league is a privilege and there’s certainly an argument to be made it should be taken away much easier than it is today.

But various survivor’s groups have said that really isn’t a solution, partly because loss of income doesn’t help anyone in the long run and is a factor in the fear of coming forward for women to report such things. Second it can make a woman or partner an even bigger target for someone who’s already shown to be violent, which can lead to somewhere much worse. I can certainly see the problem.

The second is to mock or spew venom at the NHL for not having a standard, domestic violence policy, and this is obviously understandable, too. Except the standard policies in the NFL, MLB, and NBA haven’t really satisfied anyone either. And I’m not convinced a bad policy is better than none at all. That’s a discussion that could go on forever, but for the only the optics this is probably something the NHL should hammer out with the NHLPA tout suite.

There’s also the small complaint that the players’ union is filing an appeal. And while I could just settle for the usual, “That’s just what unions do,” at some point they have to draw the line as well. It’s one thing to file an appeal to a weird, flimsy failed drugs test or an on-ice suspension. This guy swung at his wife and mother of their baby, and whether or not that’s what they’re actually doing the optics are that the union is taking the side of a wife-beater. Some cases you just let slide by and tell that union member to sit down and swallow this one.

What I do know is that as long as hockey players stop going to school around 7th grade, and their entire social world is developed inside a hockey dressing room and around a hockey team, this is almost always going to be a problem that they’re going to have to deal with.

I don’t know what the answers are to any of these questions, but I do know what I worry about most, even though it’s not the most important component.

When Watson returns to the Predators’ lineup, currently scheduled for December 3rd against the Sabres, we know that he will get a standing ovation from the Bridgestone Arena faithful. This doesn’t really make them any worse than every other fanbase. We’ve already seen this in town with Daniel Murphy and up the road a bit with Josh Hader just in the past couple months. However, next time any media member tries to proclaim that there’s something special about Preds fans, you’ll know there isn’t.

I know it’s not the biggest problem, but it’s the one that seems to wound the most. It’s what I never got over with Patrick Kane at Notre Dame, and we could pick any one of hundreds of instances where this has happened with a player and that team’s fans. Oh, I’m sure some dimwitted Brewers fan would try and tell me, for instance, that what they were really doing is showing Hader that they support him in his attempts to evolve and become better from what he had done and was.

But that’s horseshitt. They know it, we know it. What it is is putting being a fan above all else, that no one really cares what these guys do away from the field as long as they can strike out 38% of the hitters they see or be a decent penalty-killer (if that’s what Watson does and that’s up for debate). When Preds fans salute Watson in December (or November on appeal), it won’t be to show support in his rehabilitation into a non-piece of a shit, if he even does that much. It’ll be a thumb in the nose to his suspension at all, because he’s a player on their team. And what he did to that woman won’t matter, and certainly her emotions won’t either.

And mostly out of ignorance rather than maliciousness, what it will be is a thumb in the nose to any Preds fan, hockey fan, or anyone who is a survivor of domestic abuse or anyone close to one. That their feelings, their history, the damage caused doesn’t matter as much as the Preds winning a hockey game. And there will be Preds fans who feel this, and they’ll feel helpless to say anything because nothing will change and they will fear being drowned out by the masses.

We can figure out the standards and suspensions at some point soon. What the Predators and NHL can do now is find a way to avoid the above scenario. Watson doesn’t have to be booed by his home fans. I feel like it should be greeted by nothing but silence, out of respect to those in yellow who have had this heinous scenario in their lives and also as a patient approach to force Watson to earn the adulation back through demonstrated progress, contrition, learning, and evolution.

I don’t know how you go about that. A concerted campaign by both team and league to illustrate the horrors of this. Perhaps Watson himself doing an ad or speech on the jumbotron, though that would probably just garner applause, too. Some sort of regular press-release about the details of the case and the reasons for the suspension, so it doesn’t fall out of the memory or news cycle. Maybe that’s harsh, but it doesn’t feel like it’s too much so. Perhaps Preds fans themselves could start a campaign to makes this happen, but I’ll just go ahead and assume they’re too busy trying to figure out yet another way to keep Hawks fans from buying their tickets.

There are obviously loftier goals we should be reaching for when it comes to professional sports and domestic violence/sexual assault. And we shouldn’t stop. But for right now, this one, small, attainable step should be something we can accomplish and sharpish.

So the next time a team acquires an Aroldis Chapman or Roberto Osuna or Watson or Mike Ribeiro (never forget), their fans aren’t spurred to cheer even louder because every other fandom is disgusted. That only polarizes and hurts.

Let’s just aim for silence. It doesn’t seem that far away.

Everything Else

In my time doing The C.I. program, I had to sift through every player’s PR photo. And pretty much every hockey player looks the same. A bad haircut, iffy skin, and vacant eyes. Oh sure, there’s a Patrick Sharp or Vinny Lecavalier or Henrik Lundqvist every so often. Mostly though, you just see hundreds of guys you’d just want to get out of your way in some Canadian bar without another thought.

But every so often, I’d hit a photo and just say, “Whoa, that is an unfortunate looking man right there.” Or straight up Scarsipious, “WHOA GOD, THAT GUY’S UGLY!” And for any of you who get that reference, seek help immediately. And as we ramp up here a bit leading into actual season previews, I thought I’d continue yesterday’s work and present the All-Ugly Team.

So strap in tight, and prepare to feel a little better about yourself. Except, of course, these guys are world-class athletes and millionaires and all that goes with it. But we don’t have to think about that.

Goalie: Devan Dubnyk

The only person to double-up on both teams so far, we present Devan Dubnyk, who is a perfect fit for Minnesota as he’s the type to tell the bartender he’s “looking for some action, if y’know what I mean” in some bar in the woods. Being extremely tall and gangly probably isn’t going to help the cause much either, giving him a demonic wavy-arm ballon guy vibe. And this smile is something you’d see on a toddler when he won’t tell you where exactly he took a shit.

Defense: Roman Polak

It’s not easy to toe the line between “circus bear” and “mug shot of a sex offender” but Roman Polak is able to turn the trick. And that’s the only line he can toe, believe me. Perhaps the only player to appear on this team whose game is actually uglier than he is, which is really saying something. You have to hand it to Polak, though, because this is central casting when looking for a palooka of a defensemen whose play is an interpretation of a sausage belch. You could scour the Earth and not do better than this.

Defense: Charlie McAvoy

Honestly, the Bruins could have made up this whole team, as you’ll soon see. Fifth Feather has made a regular habit, both on the podcast or just in life, of making sure to call McAvoy either a “moon-faced mouth-breathing loser” or “pie-faced, mouth-breathing loser.” Whichever way he goes, his claim of “you can hear him breathing through the TV” is apt. No wonder Bruins fans worship this guy, as their whole city is filled with morons who look like they tried to head-butt a manhole cover.

Right Wing: Patrik Laine

I can’t find the original person to write it, but someone said Laine with the beard looks like he should be making me answer three questions to cross a bridge. At this point he’s probably in on the joke, and in some ways being Finnish is a form of cheating for this because Finland has had a remarkable skill of producing the most curious looking hockey players in recent history. Two words: “Olli” and “Jokinen.” Almost every Finnish player, and really most Finnish people from my experience, have this glaze over their mush that makes it seem like the entire country has just seen too much. Considering all the darkness there, maybe they have. And if they’re consistently surrounded by people who look like Laine and Jokinen, they definitely have.

Left Wing: Brad Marchand

Andrew Cieslak, in an issue of the C.I. in 2015, said of Marchand, “He looks like the lovechild of the last Hapsburg and DJ Qualls.” I don’t think I can say it any better. Marchand was definitely the kid in your school who would run up to anyone from behind and slide his hand up their ass crack yelling, “Credit Card!” In kindergarten he definitely ate worms. He eats worms now, likely. Perhaps the reason he plays like such an asshole is he’s lashing out at the world for making him look like this. All that licking is just a desperation to be loved, because it’s never going to happen for real for a guy who looks like a rat got face-fucked by a tire iron.

Center and Captain: Evgeni Malkin

If an unsolvable algebra equation could be a face, then it would be Evgeni’s Malkin’s. Nothing on this lines up. His mouth looks like it’s trying to escape. His eyes are clearly made of two different materials. Seriously, the Russian national team with Malkin, Datsyuk, and Ovechkin on it was just “Monsters Inc.: In The Gulag Now.” When he screams after scoring I’m sure at least two teammates of fainted or run away in terror and forsaken the lord. Sloth watches Penguins games to feel a kinship. Sometimes Geno’s game forces you to not look away…as long as it’s his number showing.

Everything Else

This is a category we invented ourselves. It doesn’t necessarily mean these players suck. It just means that their production never means anything. These are those players when you check the stats, and you see one of them had 33 goals or 71 points and you say, “Did I know that?” And chances are you didn’t because it didn’t mean shit for their team’s success, it took place in the dark, or both. They were empty calorie points. Basically, this is the Brad Boyes Memorial team, as Boyes was the master of getting you 27 goals whether you needed them or not, and it was always not.

So what follows is the All-Stars of putting up stats that rarely if ever matter.

Goalie – Devan Dubnyk

This is always the hardest one to pick, because generally if the goalie is good then the team is good so it’s complicated to find a goalie who puts up the numbers and then the season ends and you forget he or the team ever existed. Thankfully, the Minnesota Wild exist and are always good for forgetting they do. Honestly if their fans didn’t yell so loud about everything they probably would just snap into nothing and the league wouldn’t notice and everyone would just get an open date and then about March the NHL offices would be like, “Oh shit, should we have done something about that? Oh who cares?”

The past four seasons in Minnesota, Dubnyk doesn’t have a SV% under .918. His even-strength SV% has never been below .926. Considering the mish-mash of flotsam in front of him with the Wild, without him they probably miss the playoffs every year and maybe, just maybe, people would stop considering Bruch Boudreau some kind of round, Haagen-Dazs pinata of a genius.

And yet who gives a shit? The Wild have won exactly one playoff series in that time (which came against the Blues so does it really count?), and all that got them was getting thwacked by the Hawks in a sweep in the next round. Since then they’ve won four playoff games. They’ve only finished above third in the division once. Dubnyk is stopping all those pucks to keep a team middling and watch Jason Zucker score a bunch of goals while everyone still waits for Mikael Granlund to become Finnish Truth in hockey’s version of a Beckett masterpiece.

Defense – Oliver Ekman-Larsson

We love OEL. There probably isn’t a more gorgeous skater in the league. We’ve designed hundreds of trades over the years to get him here. He’s still somehow only 27. And yet…the Coyotes always suck. Like, really suck. The “plan,” whatever it is, never seems to work. And before you argue about the roster around him, which is a valid point but not total, look at the dreck Erik Karlsson somehow makes relevant most every year. No, OEL is not Karlsson, but if he were as good as sometimes boasted wouldn’t we know the Coyotes actually exist more than four days a year?

Ekman-Larsson has put up more than 40 points for five straight years. The Yotes haven’t come within a $50 Lyft of a playoff spot in those five years. They’re almost certainly not going to sniff one this year, even with Galchenyuk getting to play center and another year for Clayton Keller. Look around at the d-men that OEL is considered in the class of, and ask how many have teams that are completely irrelevant?

Defense – Alex Pietrangelo

Over the past five seasons, OrangeJello is 10th in scoring among d-men. He’s put up more points than Duncan Keith, Mark Giordano, and Kris Letang. And yet we can’t tell you why anyone should care. Pietrangelo has somehow conned his way onto two Canadian national teams, even though we couldn’t tell you what it is he does at a world-class level. He’s been the #1 d-man on the Blues for years now, and they have never done anything anyone would notice except for one conference final appearance. He’s big, and he’s like, somewhat mobile, but also not all that quick. He’s basically the most boring #1 d-man in the league, and is a bigger reason why the Blues are continually submarined by having mud in their tires than any Blues fan will ever admit outside of having jumper cables attached to their genitals.

Honorable Mention: Keith Yandle, John Klingberg

Left Wing – Thomas Vanek

You know a player isn’t worth a damn if the Wings have signed him in the past four seasons. Every fucking year Vanek would be in some outpost that had only just discovered indoor plumbing, halfway through the season he’ll have potted like 15 goals when his team is down 5-2, and then at least four GMs are like, “WE GOTTA HAVE THIS GUY IN FRONT OF THE NET IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!” Then he gets traded and said GM who wins this derby of doofuses and shit-for-brains is shocked when Vanek spends all of his shifts looking like he’s trying to keep from soiling himself or is just hoping no one discovers he just did. His best playoff output was six goals in 16 games in 2007. That’s 11 years ago. He apparently was on that Wild team that went to the second round in ’15, or as Wild fans call it, “Valhalla.” He didn’t score a goal. Thankfully, I think we’re finally done with this act.

Honorable Mention: Jamie Benn, David Perron

Center – Eric Staal

In his second year, Staal put up 100 points and led the Canes to a Cup, which seems like one of those things where God went out for smokes and didn’t realize that switch had been flipped. In 2009 the Canes made the conference Final. Since then, Staal hasn’t been on a team that has won a playoff round. He has 141 points over the last two years, which has gotten the Wild 11 playoff games. The fact that he’s the #1 center on the Wild is more an indictment of the Wild than him, but he has piled up points in locales that pretty much everyone is looking for a way out of as soon as they get there.

Honorable Mention: Vincen Trocheck

Right Wing – Jason Pominville

This is more of a lifetime achievement award. Pominville has 277 goals in his career, and I can’t say I remember any of them. The last time he was on a team that mattered was 2007. He’s scored over 20 goals, or at that pace, 10 times in his career, and yet it feels like it’s just completing the scoresheet more than making any impact. If Rick Jeanneret didn’t have so much fun yelling his name, you probably wouldn’t know who he is. But don’t worry, he’ll still end up in the Hall of Fame somehow.

Honorable Mention: Jakub Voracek

Jersey Hanging In The Rafters – Rick Nash

Do you remember this past trade deadline, when Rick Nash was considered one of the biggest prizes on the market? The same Rick Nash who has defined “passenger” his entire career. The same Rick Nash that Rangers fans wanted to cover in BBQ sauce and throw into a wolverine pit? Needless to say, it wasn’t a huge shock when the Bruins were pulverized in the second round by the Lightning and Nash spent most of the series with the same expression on his face that was a perfect representation of skunky beer that he’s always had.

Rick Nash should have been unplayable every night. And a lot of nights, the ones in January and February where everyone has basically checked out, he was. When he would back in over the blue line, there was nothing anyone d-man could do. He has three 40-goal seasons. But you see the size, speed, and skill, and you know he should have been potting 50 and even 60 here or there. He should have been terrorizing teams. But no one ever had to plan for Nash when it mattered. The only time he looked like that was the ’10 Olympics when he could be a third-line player and Toews would have broken 10 sticks over his head if any of his linemates didn’t play like their ass-hair on fire. Rick Nash should have been Marian Hossa with better hands.

Instead he’ll just go down as the greatest Blue Jacket ever. That and $2.50 gets you on the bus.

Everything Else

As we settle into a deeper state of depression over the lack of activity, and the seemingly intended lack of activity, from the Hawks, let’s kick around some news outside. Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic did an interview with Hayley Wickenheiser, the most decorated women’s hockey player of all-time. Her comments about what a women’s professional league should look like has raised a few eyebrows. Here it is in full:

” I was just in the NHL offices three weeks ago meeting with them about WickFest, which the NHL is on board with and partnering with us on – and then we had a discussion about women’s pro hockey. The NHL is ready and willing and has a plan in place to take on women’s pro hockey. The problem right now with women’s hockey is the women in hockey. It’s not anyone else. It’s the women in hockey…

…I know the Canadian Women’s Hockey League would be happy to fold and hand it over to the NHL. They seem to be the reasonable people in all of this. The NWHL wants to make a go of it – or if they are going to hand it over to the NHL, want a lot of money to do so, and that doesn’t make any sense. So, I question the motives there.

But at the end of the day, the power in all of this is the players. And I’ve said this to many players. It’s time for the players to band together and rise up and they can make instant change if they wanted to – and make this thing (a unified league) happen. It was the same at the WADA event, watching the athletes of the world realizing, ‘wow, if we all collectively say something, we might make a change.’

It’s the same in women’s hockey. Get the best 40 women’s players in the world to say, ‘we aren’t playing in either league until we have one league to play in.’ That would be the easiest way forward. Gary Bettman does not want to be seen to be breaking any league — or want any lawsuits on his hands. I think that’s a weak way of looking at it. The WHA and the NHL, same thing happened (a merger). I think they should just do it. I don’t think there’s anything they can lose. They would put everyone else out of business and then be able to do it the right way. To me, that’s the only way forward – and again, people want to complain that women need pro hockey, and the women need TV. Well, then the women in the game need to do something about it. So that’s my view – and the first time I’ve ever said that (laughs).”

There’s some pretty meaty stuff in there, but I remain unconvinced it’s as simple as Wickenheiser says it is.

First off, it’s not really clear what is meant by Gary Bettman “being on board.” Does that mean they’ll simply lend the NHL’s name to a possible women’s league, a WNHL as it were, without taking ownership of it? A dual-marketing drive? Or does she mean more the WNBA arrangement where NBA owners also own WNBA teams? The latter isn’t as simple as well.

The NBA is bathing in money, and thus can afford to take on a loss like the WNBA (and the WNBA still does lose money, though not as much as it used to). The NBA recognizes there are benefits to having a women’s league associated with it, and is willing to deal with the financial ramifications. But it’s also in a position to do that.

While I’ll never truly believe the NHL’s claims on their books, it is clear it doesn’t make anywhere near the money. How many teams, if that’s what the NHL was actually considering, could take on a “WNHL” team, at least to start before finding new ownership? Toronto? Montreal? That might be it. Maybe the Rangers? I’m not sure. Again, it would be great if the NHL could take on a loss because “it’s the right thing to do,” but I’m not convinced it’s in that spot.

It’s also never sat comfortably with some that the WNBA is a league that the NBA basically lets use the gym when the boys aren’t. It’s a little more natural to have basketball in the summer, but would a WNHL take place in the summer to have more attention? Would it run along with the NHL season as the CWL and NWHL do now? There are marketing benefits to that obviously, but there are challenges as well.

Secondly, the idea Wickenheiser puts forth here that fans and especially players should just go along with his idea seems a bit short-sighted. I don’t have any idea what the actual reasoning the players would have to try and stay out on their own, but it wouldn’t shock me if some of them said, “Um, the NHL is trash?”

One, this is a league that’s about to have several teams competing to sign Slava Voynov. It’s one that’s put Patrick Kane front and center of its marketing. This list could go on long enough to cause a lot of us to throw up so hard we wet ourselves at the same time. Maybe that’s not something the players have thought of, but maybe it is. Quite simply, it could be the world’s best female players don’t want to be associated with a league that has demonstrated it couldn’t give a flying fuck about its female fans.

Secondly, we know the NHL isn’t that well run. Even if the first part wasn’t as big of a concern as it could be, you’d have to wonder if a possible professional women’s league that can’t really ever seem to unfuck itself.

It’s obviously ideal to wish for one, unified women’s league, as basketball and soccer have, but even the latter has had a dizzying time maintaining that and  that has more participation among kids than hockey does. The challenges are greater for hockey as well. Women’s basketball has been at least part of the sports scene at the college and Olympic level far longer. The NCAA tournament is on TV, so anyone who’s a fan can follow those players into the WNBA. Arguably the soccer team gets more attention because it has World Cups and Olympics to grab eyeballs, whereas the hockey team really only has the Olympics.

The CWL and NWHL at some point are going to have to figure out some merger, you’d have to think. And even then it will be a struggle. But there’s nothing to suggest the NHL is the one to help them navigate that.

Everything Else

It wouldn’t be a good idea to use the New York Islanders as a barometer for what common thinking is in the NHL. Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are… well, we don’t really know but I’m going to go ahead and guess they’re not going to be mentioned with Socrates or Plato or Vecini. They got their new stadium, and good for them, because the Isles need it. They’ve kept around Garth Snow for too long, and making a change is probably a good idea.

But hiring Lou Lamoriello is the kind of dinosaur thinking and Old Boys Club that keeps this league squarely in its own ass, and why things like the Vegas Golden Knights can happen.

Ol’ Lou is a Hall of Famer, and rightly so. He built something of a dynasty in New Jersey, even if it was the last place anyone wanted one and it was the last team you’d ever want to watch. And maybe, yeah, they set the sport back a decade or six with the neutral zone trap. But hey, it worked, it won, no one was really doing it, and the NHL was flat-footed in figuring out how to stop it, or even figuring out it needed to stop it. Except the Red Wings kind of did it with Scotty Bowman and the left-wing lock but we’ll leave that for another time. The Devils perfected it, and Lou brought through guys like Brodeur, Stevens, Elias, Daneyo, Gomez, Sykora, Niedermayer, et al.

Here’s the thing with Lou, though. Aside from that goofy Final appearance in 2012 that really doesn’t make any sense other than the entire Eastern Conference went for shawarma or something, four of the last five Devils teams missed the playoffs, and only one of them came anywhere close. The previous three before that went out in the first round. So for over a decade, Lou’s Devils teams made it out of the first round three times. They missed the playoffs four times. This isn’t exactly a glittering record as the game sped up and got more open.

As for this current Devils team, the one that did make the playoffs and was actually something more than a torture device to get people to talk when you watched them, Lou’s fingerprints aren’t really present. Their core players are as follows:

Taylor Hall – traded for after Lou left

Nico Hischier – drafted after Lou

Kyle Palmieri – signed after Lou

Will Butcher – signed after Lou

Jesper Bratt – drafted by Lou

Miles Wood – drafted by Lou

Sami Vatanen – traded for after Lou

Pavel Zacha – drafted after Lou

Now, Cory Schneider was a Lou trade…except he’s been terrible for two seasons. Keith Kinkaid was a Lou draftee as well, though. But you can see where Ray Shero has basically spent three seasons trying to clear all the trash Lou left him.

So let’s move over to Toronto, where Lou was the GM or three seasons. He got a crack at two drafts, as he was hired after the ’15 draft and free agency period. And he took…Auston Matthews? I mean, hey, that’s great. But like, it’s not like he unearthed Matthews. This wasn’t a genius display of scouting. He had the top pick, Matthews was clearly the best player in that draft. So there you go. None of the other picks the past two seasons while under Lou’s stewardship have made it to the NHL, though to be fair it’s kind of a short view.

Here are some signings the Leafs made in Lou’s time:

Nikita Zaitsev – ok

Roman Polak, after trading him away once – a circus bear

Matt Martin – can’t count to four

Brian Boyle – fine, maybe? Basically a 4th line center and really a dime a dozen and despite being a good story he’s just kind of there with dumb and bad facial hair

Freddie Andersen – Been good, until you say the words “Game” and “7” and then he does Muppet arms while running away from you

Patrick Marleau – Ok, good, can’t argue with 27 goals. He might be three days older than water, but he provides something.

So what did Lou add to the Leafs’ core? Maybe Andersen? Seems like they’re already thinking about a new goalie when they want to win something serious. Zaitsev? Depth d-man, I’ll give you that one. And Marleau? Pretty much a complimentary scorer at this point.

So what about any of that screams you need him to not only turn around your team but also convince the best player in your organization in at least two decades to stay so you can speed up that turnaround? I mean, maybe name recognition is all that Tavares needs. Maybe he grew up turning off Devils games so he could so something he might actually enjoy, but has memories of them. Still, if Tavares is getting any decent advice, Lou’s hiring won’t mean shit.

There was a time when it would. It’s not now. And yet this kind of silliness keeps happening.

Everything Else

I know, I know. We’ve been labeled as the Eeyore of Chicago sports blogs, or hockey blogs, or just the world in general. It’s something I’m sensitive to and try to change as best I can. Then again, when we try and point out the good points of this Hawks season or why things might not be as bad as they seem, we get called fucking idiots then, too. Maybe you just can’t win. But this has stuck in my craw, wherever that is, all season.

The Vegas Golden Knights are an embarrassment to the National Hockey League, and the NHL would be wise to look at it that way.

Not the Knights themselves. More power to them. They rolled sevens with just about every pick they made, had a coach who knew exactly how to maximize what he had, and took advantage of just an awful division. They’ve certainly established themselves in a new market that wasn’t a guarantee to work, and their success probably buys them more years of stability than they would have had otherwise. That’s all fine and good.

No, their success is an indictment of the league as a whole.

Because you shouldn’t be able to literally make a team up and then have it be competitive at first asking, even with everything going right. As Barry Petchesky pointed out on Deadspin today, the Knights are the first franchise in any of the four major pro sports to have a winning season in their first season. It’s not supposed to happen. Yes, sure, it makes for a unique, underdog story. But what does it say about the league as a whole? It says your product is so fucking watered down by a salary cap freezing for a few years and you have enough dumb GMs around torpedoing their own teams that really you only need a couple guys to shoot the lights out for a season and some goaltending and not only are you competitive, you’re a division winner. What a fucking gauntlet this league is!

Think about it. You’ve seen Erik Haula for years. You know he’s not a 30-goal scorer. He’s a good player, and one we hated seeing because he killed the Hawks. But this isn’t him. They had Dale Tallon have an utter brain bubble in trying to erase what the GM before did because they were stupid NERDS with their spreadsheets and book-learnin’! So he just gave the Knights two of their leading scorers, and more to the point two OF THE PANTHERS LEADING SCORERS. The Oilers should have been making this division tougher on the Knights, and yet Peter Chiarelli has spent a few years sticking the club’s tongue into whatever electrical socket he could find. The Flames stalled out.

And that’s really all it takes. The Knights success means that almost every team is so unremarkable other than three or four that you can just roll the dice and win. You don’t need great players. You don’t need a revolutionary system or tactics. You just need a couple things to go your way, and it won’t hurt if every team that visits you is still actively drunk because hockey players are so rock stupid they’d never heard of what goes on in Vegas until the night before a game. The Knights stuck to having speed, which isn’t a hard concept but one that a lot of teams still can’t figure out, and play to it. Get up and down as quickly as you can. It’s not rocket science, because it’s what the Penguins have been doing for two years. And yet teams watch the Knights skate past them on a nightly basis and treat them like they imported something from space. Quick, let’s give Guy Fucking Boucher another job!

We’ve joked about it a lot, or I have but it’s Slak’s joke, that the only league that has this happen is MLS. And MLS is a joke. Their single-entity system ensures that no team every really stands out except for the destination spots of LA, NY, and Seattle I guess. This why Atlanta United can slide in with one or two signings and be a playoff team, because they don’t have to beat much. It’s why the Fire, a clueless and indifferent organization if there ever was one, can sign one guy in Schweinsteiger and have a forward score with every shot for a couple months and secure a playoff spot while being pretty putrid for the other four months of the season.

And hey, weird things happen in other sports too, I get it. There was that year the Cardinals hit like .310 all season with men on base. The NFL is basically whoever gets hurt the least plays the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I understand that.

But parity isn’t good. It’s not how this is supposed to work. You may point to the NFL but that has so many other factors it’s not a fair comparison. And you may hate the Patriots, but they’re box office. And they’re bigger box office when playing the Steelers, because people know the Steelers are also almost always good.

We may bitch about what the Hawks did the past couple years, but in the end the Hawks were punished for developing and having too many good players. The Bickell and Seabrook contracts aren’t the gallstone they became if they didn’t cost the Hawks so many players they drafted. And the same happened to others. Which leaves a scorched landscape for a limited team like Vegas or whoever else to appear better than they are, or they or other teams to scrape up the talent that well-run organizations had to shed simply because. You don’t have to be that smart to get talent in the NHL, you just kind of have to stand still and let it fall to you.

The Knights themselves are a good story. What they tell us about the league though is that’s it’s shallow, stupid, uncreative, and bland. And I can’t see past it.

Everything Else

We here at the FFUD offices have always railed against the NHL standings. The presence of the OTL point, the now gimmick 3-on-3 overtime, and shootouts in general have always given the league false parity. It’s rewarded genuinely bad teams while screwing over some actually good teams. It’s certainly skewed how some things are viewed. For instance. last year’s Hawks-Preds series was a 1 vs. 8 in the standings, but in reality the Predators only had four less regulation wins than the Hawks. It wasn’t that kind of gap, but the Hawks prowess in overtime  saw the gap in points. And as the Preds quickly proved, that gap was basically utter horseshit.

What’s funny is how hard the NHL makes this to look up. You can’t look up regulation wins on the main site, because they don’t want you to see that. You can only get ROW, but again, overtime is basically a bullshit, carnival game now so it’s hardly a measure of what kind of team you are. It just measures how many 2-on-1s it takes you to score. So you kind of have to Excel it from HockeyReference, which I’ve done here and perhaps not perfectly. So excuse me if I’ve fucked up. Here’s the list of straight regulations wins this season:

 

 

It makes for interesting reading on some levels. On the local level…well, not so much. If you throw out everything that happens after 60 minutes (just like all my late-night encounters HAHAHAHA SO VERY DROLL!), the Hawks are 23-32. Yikes. Anyway you slice that, it’s U-G-L-Y YOU AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI. That’s what happens when your goaltending and blue line blow, I suppose. So the Hawks can’t claim much bad luck overall, at least when it comes to overtime and such.

At the top of the standings you see the teams you’d expect. What’s also a bit curious for those of the red and black persuasion is that the other six Central teams are all in the top ten in regulation wins. Which shows you just how bad of a year it was for the Hawks to choose an off year. In the Metro or Pacific, they may have been far better off.

The Metro is funny, as the Penguins have the most regulation wins in that division but only the 12th most in the NHL. The Hurricanes only have one less win in 60 than the Penguins, but won’t sniff the playoffs because they’re getting clocked in overtime. Which you could say is fair because they lack true, top line scoring. Or you could say it’s a damn farce because 3-on-3 is a joke. It’s a little infuriating for Hawks fans I guess, because the Hawks only have one less regulation win than the Jackets and two less than the Devils and Flyers, and all three of those teams are competing for playoff spots while the Hawks have had a thumb in their ass for a month or more now.

Anyway, food for thought for you.

 

Everything Else

As I was writing up Pekka Rinne’s spotlight yesterday, and noticing the spike in his high-danger save-percentage, I got to thinking. And friends, you know what happens when I get to thinking. Because as I dug around, I saw that a lot of goalies were seeing a jump in their high-danger save percentages at even-strength. Was this a league-wide trend? Turns out it is.

I charted the high-dangers SV% of all starting goalies starting in the 2009-2009 season, and averaged them for a league-wide figure. Here’s what I got:

As you can see, from last season to this, there’s been an 11-point jump. It’s the biggest jump in any season, and by something of a margin. The only other one is the 2012 to 2013 jump of eight points, and some of that could be explained by the season-in-a-can and shooters out of rhythm and such. There was a seven-point jump in the year before that as well.

The NHL will point to a spike in scoring, as each team is averaging 2.93 goals per game this year versus 2.77 goals per game last year. Though that seems to have more to do with a spike in power play goals, which has jumped to 0.63 per game for team over last year’s 0.57. Though not all, as even-strength goals per team are slightly up from last year, 1.84 from 1.81 per game.

One reason that might be is that teams are creating more high-danger chances this year, and there’s been something of a spike. Over the past four years, the average number of high-danger chances every team creates per 60 has gone from 10.1, to 10.2, to 10.3, to 10.7 this year. So while goalies are saving more chances that are considered the best, they’re also facing more.

The reasons for this could be many, but I can’t help but think of expansion and years of a flattening cap. Basically, goalies are facing teams that only have two or three prime finishers instead of four or five that teams might have had back in the day. At the same time, you have worse players on each team, making more mistakes, with more defenders who can’t stem the tide before it gets to the crease.  That’s just a theory.

What we have known for a while is that goalies get better every year. Overall save-percentages have climbed basically every year of your life. So maybe high-danger chances just come along with it. This seems to be a particular spike, though. Food for thought.