Hockey

It seemed just a little too convenient.

Just as it happened in Montreal, things did not go the Predators’ way last year. They were out in the first round, and while they addressed their lack of true, frontline scoring by signing Matt Duchene, they didn’t address the fact that their goalie is 107-years-old. And they put the blame on the most noticeable, marketable, and loudest player in PK Subban. Sure, part of it was earmarking Subban’s cap hit for Duchene, but it was easy enough to claim he was declining to move him out again. Both in hockey and in the South, which just so happens to be the nexus Nashville sits on, the first call is to blame the black guy when things go wrong.

Hasn’t really helped the Predators much. But with Subban piling up only six points so far Nashville’s contention that he was slowing down is accepted by the majority of hockey viewers.

But is he? The answer isn’t quite as clear as most would think. Subban’s metrics are certainly down from his Predator days, but he’s on a much worse team. Subban’s relative Corsi and relative xG% are still ahead of the Devils’ rates. They’re not as high as his first season in Nashville or his last one, when he was supposedly dragging everyone down, but they’re still noticeably higher.

Moreover, Subban of last has been paired with Andy Greene, which is just about as exciting as someone named “Andy Greene” would be in your mind. When playing with Damon Severson earlier in the year, they were dominant possession-wise. This was one of the many things that John Hynes got wrong before getting canned and Alain Nasreddine hasn’t really fixed.

So why the point total plummet? Might have something to do with the Devils shooting 5% when he’s on the ice, the lowest any team Subban has been on has managed. That speaks to the complete lack of scoring talent that the Devils have, even less now with Taylor Hall off in the sun. Subban is still on the ice for just about the same amount of chances as he’s been, according to expected-goals-for per 60, but the Devils just don’t have the snipers to bury any of them.

The Devils power play has really hurt Subban as well, and that’s where his individual numbers have really taken a hit. He’s getting 75% of the shots he used to, as well as expected goals, and way less attempts. But is that him or what the Devils do on the power play? The Preds power play was terrible last year too but Subban still got his looks. Again, the Devils are shooting 3.8% when PK is on the ice ON THE POWER PLAY. That’s criminally, if not war crime bad. How much of that can you really put on Subban?

Meanwhile, in Music City Subban’s replacement Dante Fabbro is comfortably behind the team rates in those measures and has two more points. But he’s doing it a hell of a lot cheaper, and that was the idea the whole time. The Preds remain a decent-to-better metric team, so Subban’s absence hasn’t really cost them much on the ice. Still, it’s clear whatever the problems were also didn’t have much to do with him, given their standing just ahead of the Hawks.

Subban probably can’t completely change a team like he did before, and needs talent around him to really make him flourish. One has to ask if that will ever be in Newark. They’re going to need a lot more than just Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier to be something. Subban has two years left on his deal after this one at $9M per, but it’s going to be more than two years before the Devils are contenders again. If the Devils eat some salary will someone take a chance at the draft?

They probably should, because Subban has more to give yet despite what people say. He just needs a touch more help than he used to. But then, who doesn’t?

Hockey

Perhaps the biggest movers of the offseason, the Devils put themselves in a position to be paid attention to for basically the first time in their history. Even when they were winning Cups, we all pretended it didn’t happen or went about our day doing something else. Is it enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But it’s a world where the Devils are fast and interesting, which is the surest sign we’re all imminently doomed. Let’s hop to it.

2018-2019

31-41-10 72 points (8th in the Metro)

2.67 GF/G (25th)  3.30 GA/G (26th)

46.8 CF% (28th)  48.4 xGF% (19th)

17.7 PP% (21st)  84.3 PK% (4th)

Goalies: It would seem just at the precipice of watching his career dispatched off to the Phantom Zone, Cory Schneider might have played his way back into the starter’s role. He was brilliant after returning from yet another injury in February, where he went for a .921 SV% in 17 games. 17 games doesn’t make for a season, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the utter disaster he had been for the previous two seasons.

If it’s not him the Devils have been hoping to turn things over to fiendishly named MacKenzie Blackwood, who put up a .918 in his rookie campaign. Not bad for a kid who was 21 when the season started. He’s clearly the goalie of the future, but for now the Devils are probably going to have the two split starts. At least in the season’s first half, until one of them takes it.

Defense: It used to be you couldn’t name any Devils d-man unless you wanted to make it clear to anyone around you had outlived your usefulness to society, if you’d ever had any to begin with. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the guy attached to Lindsey Vonn. The Devils brought in PK Subban for essentially nothing, and he’ll juice a unit that tried to approach solid but was in desperate need of any dynamism. PK and Sam Vatanen will make for a hell of a power play if nothing else. Andy Greene is somehow still here, because nothing ever dies in New Jersey, it just gets left in a swamp. I’m supposed to say Damon Severson is dependable, except I’m fairly sure he’s just a conspiracy and doesn’t actually exist. Also a joke about Mirco Mueller‘s neck goes somewhere around here, though he was surprisingly effective from a third pairing (+3.22 relative xGF%).

Past Subban there isn’t much here, but he should improve it from the top. That is if he isn’t on the decline, which a lot of experts seem to think he is, because he’s not white. And now he’s motivated, and having a PK that’s determined to fuck the world is a weapon you want to have. The joker card here is if Ty Smith, the Devils best prospect before they took Jack Hughes makes the team or not. He dominated the WHL last year, and most think he can skip the AHL and head straight to the Devils. With Subban, Smith, and Vatanen, that’s a lot of get-up-and-go for a team that wants to play that way.

Forwards: Clearly, all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who will step right into the #1 center role and hopefully can bat his eyelashes at Taylor Hall enough, and pass him the puck enough, to keep Hall in town past this season. With Nico Hischier being bumped down to the #2 center role, the Devils hope they are set down the middle for the next decade. They were also able to pick up the scraps from Vegas and their unnoticed cap idiocy for Nikita Gusev, whom the Knights had been pumping for a couple years but apparently sucks now that they traded him. If he slots in behind Hall the Devils might have a find here. The two Jespers–Bratt and Boqvist–will bring even more speed to a lineup that was already kind of dripping with it. The Devils have filled their lineup with nippy forwards you don’t necessarily know but are getting past people constantly. You know it because you’ve seen them torch the Hawks the past two seasons.

Prediction: Most seem to think the playoffs are going to be just out of reach for the Devils. It might be, but they’re going to get pretty damn close. Hughes is going to step right in and won’t need much of an adjustment period. They’re likely to get no worse than representative goaltending. And they’re in a division where more teams are heading the wrong way or are just confusing as all hell. Adding 23 points seems like a big ask, but it’s been done before. Of course, the drama over Hall could be a distraction, and if they’re not in the thick of it come February the Devils might decide to cash in on what they can with Hall instead of watching him head for the exit in July. Still, the top line is going to be must-see TV, Smith and PK on the blue line could be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, even if it might need another year to really come together.

 

Everything Else

Last week, The Maven brought up the idea of trading Brandon Saad. You should read the whole thing, but the SparkNotes version is that the Hawks might have as many as three forwards who can maybe do what Saad does for less money. This money will be important for re-signing Alex DeBrincat after next year.

While we’ve been hemming and hawing over how the Hawks need to make a legitimate run at Erik “My Crotch Is Itchy” Karlsson, it’s hard to picture the organization having the stomach to pay him the $12 million per over eight years he’ll probably ask for (and deserve). EK65 will always be the dream(boat), but you can see the Hawks balking, with DeBrincat and possibly Strome asking for the money the Hawks owe them in arrears for setting the world on fire.

With all that in mind, there are three things the Hawks should be looking to do this offseason:

1. Shore up the defense

2. Improve the penalty kill

3. Add a top-six forward

Shoring up the defense and improving the penalty kill are so far ahead of adding a top-six forward in my view that if the Hawks decided to trade Brandon Saad—who himself is a top-six winger, even if Beto O’Colliton thinks he was born for this third-line horseshit—to solve the first two problems, I wouldn’t even be mad.

I’ll stop edging you here.

Let’s offer Brandon Saad, Erik Gustafsson, and a pick/prospect for P.K. Subban.

How the FUCK Did You Come Up With That?

After the Preds were hilariously bounced from the playoffs much earlier than anticipated, the trade rumors around Pernell-Karl began circulating immediately. (Whether they’re true or not doesn’t matter right now. We’re bored and don’t really want to think about the Cup, so this is what we’re doing.) If there’s even a small consideration that David Poile would trade someone as dynamic, fashionable, and wonderful as P.K. Subban, you absolutely must make a phone call, division rivalry be damned. (As much as I’d like to use the Hartman–Ejdsell trade as proof that in-division trades can happen, what I’m proposing is a much more unwieldy beast than that.)

P.K. Subban on the Hawks definitely shores up the defense. He most likely improves the penalty kill as well.

OK, Dumbass, Why Would Nashville Ever Do That?

Let’s say you get Poile on the phone and offer Saad, Gus, and a pick/prospect. Let’s say the pick/prospect is either Boqvist or this year’s second round pick (#43 overall). Is this comparable? Let’s start with the stats.

2018–19 GP G A P CF% xGF%
P.K. Subban 63 9 22 31 53.61 50.54
B. Saad 80 23 24 47 52.69 47.27
E. Gustafsson 79 17 43 60 50.24 45.50

Last year was Subban’s worst year as a professional hockey player. He posted his lowest games-played total (not counting the season-in-a-can in 2013), his lowest assists total, his lowest points total, and third-lowest goals total. He was out for six weeks nursing an upper body injury, which no doubt contributed to his off year.

Compare that to the two players the Hawks would give up. Erik Gustafsson not only had the best year of his career by far but also was one of the best offensive D-men statistically in the NHL last year. He and P.K. Subban have exactly the same number of 60-point seasons under their belts. He’s also younger (27 vs. 30) and on a much friendlier albeit soon-to-be-ending contract ($1.2 million vs. $9 million). Something tells me you can use these points to convince Poile it’s not a bad idea.

Likewise, Brandon Saad’s 47 points would have made him a top-five scorer for the Preds last year. His 23 goals would be third behind Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. His 24 assists would also be top five on the Preds.

Based solely on last year’s numbers, this trade is a huge win for the Preds, statistically.

But of course, we can’t neglect history. P.K. Subban is without a doubt one of the top D-men of his generation. He’s been a consistent force on both sides of the puck and on both sides of the special-teams ledger. His presence on the PP is devastating, and in the four years prior to last year (2014–2018), Subban played a top role on both the Canadiens’s and Preds’s PK units: Each team’s PK finished 7th, 12th, 15th, and 6th, respectively, and in the two years a Subban team finished outside the top 10, Subban had missed at least 14 games. Neither Saad nor Gus have anything close to his pedigree.

At this point, it’s probably not a bad idea to talk about cap implications, because that could matter.

With this trade offer, the Preds would free up $1.8 million in cap space, giving them just about $9 million to play with (according to CapFriendly). Maybe they use that money to add another scoring threat in, like, Jeff Skinner, I don’t know. Fuck Nashville, I’m not doing this for them.

The point is: If Nashville truly believes it’s Subban’s fault they got knocked out so early and would consider trading him for it, Gus and Saad both provide as much or more offense than they currently have for less money. Nashville can then use that additional money to re-sign Josi or sign Duchene or Ferland or whichever other good ol’ boy they think is the missing piece but obviously isn’t. Plus, Poile might be getting itchy feet, as his team hasn’t yet won the Cup all of its entitled, illiterate, hillbilly, raising-banners-for-nothing-that-matters fans have been stealing college chants about, such is the depth of that pool of cleverness. He can MAKE A MOVE and trade his misidentified scapegoat in one fell swoop.

While Saad and Gus would be good adds for Nashville in the contexts of last year; Nashville’s need for more scoring from their forwards; and their need to replace the defensive offense Subban provides; P.K. Subban is a legitimate star who can pull the receipts out of any one of his agonizingly fashionable outfits as proof. That’s where you’d hope the #43 pick pushes this offer over the top.

I had wanted to use the #3 overall pick in this peyote-driven fantasy. As much as I love Subban (fuck, I’m offering SAAD for Christ’s sake), giving up 100-plus points AND a decent lottery ticket is probably feeling my oats a tad too much. Maybe you talk #3 if it’s an either/or with Saad and Gus, but that’s gonna complicate things more than I’m willing to get into. So you offer the #43. If they say no to that, or if they said, “No, we’d rather have Boqvist,” fine, I don’t fucking care, you can have him.

Because remember, you’re getting P.K. Subban, a proven two-way D-man who can play well on special teams. Boqvist doesn’t project to do that, and even if he ever became that, the Core will be long dead by then (or retired or whatever it is hockey players do when they’re done playing). And by all indications, the goal is to make one last run at it with this Core, specifically, Kane and Toews.

So again, the point of this trade is to shore up the defense and improve the PK, with the overarching goal of making one more run at a Cup with the Core. If the price is right, Subban might be the missing piece.

I’ve Made It This Far. What’s It Look Like?

What do the Hawks look like if something like this goes through? Let’s start by using the current roster after the trade.

DeBrincat–Strome–Kane

Kabulik–Toews–Kahun

Perlini–Kampf–Sikura

Caggiula–Anisimov–Wedin

Hayden

Murphy–Subban

Keith–Jokiharju

Boqvist/Beaudin–Koekkoek/Seabrook (Kill me)

Crow

Delia

That top four on the backend starts looking a lot better. Subban also gets Seabrook off the PK, which is an absolute must after last year’s trainwreck. You can mix and match Murphy and Harju, Subban and Keith. Having Subban back there solves a lot of defensive and PK problems. Subban also knows how to move the puck, which the Hawks have missed as Keith has aged.

This line up as you see it makes a few assumptions. First, I’m assuming that the Hawks re-sign the entire third line at $1 million per: Each of Perlini, Kampf, and Sikura is an RFA this year. This is purely a guess at what they’ll get. I’m also guessing that Kabulik brings a $2 million cap hit, because I don’t know what his contract actually looks like.

With these assumptions, the Hawks still have $11–12 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s probably not enough to both sign a top-six forward this year AND re-sign DeBrincat/Strome next year, unless you find someone willing to take Anisimov’s contract. This also asks a lot of Dominik Kabulik, but slotting him with someone he knows (Kahun) and someone he can probably trust (Toews) is about as soft a landing as you can get. It ALSO doesn’t consider what the Hawks will do about Crawford, who is a UFA after next year.

P.K. Subban would solve a ton of problems the Hawks have. He’d give them the second-best shot (after Karlsson) of shoring up the Hawks’s woeful blue line (and he might be a safer bet than Karlsson anyway). He’d keep this Core’s window open just a little bit longer.

If the Hawks could get him for Saad, Gus, and the #43 or a prospect like Boqvist, I’m pulling the trigger on that every day. For P.K. Subban, the whole package is more than worth it.

If the goal is to make one more run at a Cup with the Core, Subban can help. We’d just need Dave Poile—the winningest GM in NHL history, except in the one game that matters—to prove what a huge fucking genius he is one more time.

Stats from hockey-reference.com and NaturalStatTrick. Cap shit from CapFriendly’s Armchair GM tool.

Everything Else

So what banner are you going to raise now, assholes?

The Nashville Predators, everyone’s darling and if you don’t believe just ask them, have once again bitten the dust before doing anything anyone will remember. And this is truly their nature. Aside from that run in ’17, this is what the Predators do. They’re that veritable “dangerous team no one wants to play” until they run into a team that doesn’t seem to mind terribly in the first two rounds and off they go before any kind of silverware is in the building. And hey, maybe that’s enough for fans who maybe don’t notice while they’re telling everyone who won’t listen that they’re the wildest fans in the league. I always wonder how they cram the 11,000 back into that car they smash outside so they can go back to the shed. Must be quite the sight.

As no hockey writer wants to endanger their free moonshine and grilled pigeon, you won’t hear a bad word about another flameout far too early for a team with this cap situation. But let’s go back through entrenched throbbing brain David Poile’s moves to make this team a Cup-winner, shall we?

Kyle Turris is signed for another five years, and for their investment the Preds have gotten 20 goals and 65 points in 120 regular season games and a solitary playoff goal in two years, and a bewildered gape while he was second best to Radek Goddamn Faksa this spring. Look, when the Ottawa Senators are offering up their consistently fourth-highest scorer, you have to jump on it, ok?

Poile’s other center, Treat Boy Ryan Dough-hansen has managed 44 goals in three years and 179 points. This year, Nashville’s “first ever true #1 center” ranked 35th among centers in scoring. Hey, that averages out to mean only four teams have two better centers! Over the past three seasons, he ranks 31st among centers, behind luminaries like Ryan Getzlaf (hasn’t cared in five years), Brayden Schenn (now a wing), Sean Couturier (checking center), Jonathan Toews (was told he is ready to be a white walker), and Eric Staal (a million years old and playing in a wasteland). That David Poile sure can spot a pivot!

Oh but it doesn’t stop there. Various pundits couldn’t help but have to change their shorts when Poile added tried and tested PLAYOFF GRIT with Wayne Simmonds (never seen a conference final) and Brian Boyle (an ent with no wisdom). Simmonds was on the fourth line within five games and Boyle had a stupid look on his face when something wasn’t falling off of him. Sure can win a draw in the 2nd period, though.

That Mikael Granlund sure looked like he’d fit in. He scored one goal.

All of this would be more than enough rope to hang Poile with, and then you throw in his penchant for stocking the Preds with a true shithead or three every season and you wonder how this guy hasn’t been chucked into the river. Don’t worry, Poile will get more spins at the wheel because due to Southern hospitality/incompetence he can’t actually ever be fired. Maybe one day Preds fans will figure out they’ve only had one and a half true top line forwards for like four years. Maybe after the next standing ovation they’re told to give during a TV timeout.

It’s ok, Preds fans will tell you, Matt Duchene and his glorious record of success are already on their way to Music City in the summer. Funny how that will work when the Preds have all of eight dollars under the cap to spend. That’ll happen when you pay Ryan Ellis for looking great against bums and then are shocked when he can’t handle a top-pairing role. Whoopsie daisy!

The Preds are that team and fanbse that has carried itself with a completely unearned arrogance and are going to look awfully stupid when they continue to be first and second-round kindling. One Final appearance and suddenly these guys think they’ve redefined the sport. The Devils have the same amount of appearances. So do the Sharks. And the Hurricanes. And the Ducks, and the latter two actually bothered to win it. The Flyers have the same. The Canucks. The Rangers. And yet Nashville will have you believe they’re a traditional power. Maybe the next Cody McLeod acquisition will push them over. God knows they’ll try.

You can be sure in the next day or two there will be “whispers” that PK Subban is the problem, that his dating of Lindsey Vonn and his suits mean he’s not committed to the cause, that he’s a dressing room issue, because hockey and the South form a perfect nexus of the tried and trusted tradition of “When in doubt, blame the black guy.” It certainly couldn’t be that Subban was the only one who figured out how to bust the Dallas trap while good clean boy Roman Josi was trying to remove Jamie Benn’s skate from his colon. Perish the thought.

Once again, while the Preds try to claim their strength in numbers is higher than that of any star power, they’ve lost because they don’t have the star power. This year it was Seguin and Benn. Last year it was the entire Winnipeg top nine. The year before that it was Crosby and Malkin. We could keep going. Pavelski and Thornton and Couture put them to the sword in ’16. Keith and Kane the year before. Maybe you’d think they’d learn? But that would go against what they do in the Confederacy, wouldn’t it?

Oh, and the little matter of teams figuring out that once Ol’ Shit Hip has to move side-to-side, he starts to sound like a car stripped of its converter.

This is what you are, Predators. Your hockey’s Trail Blazers, a funny little quirk of the league’s geography but never meant to be around when things matter. Except you’re not nearly as cool. But look at this way, Rocco Grimaldi has even more time to figure out which Planned Parenthood he’ll spend his summer outside yelling or for Poile to find another sex criminal to sign to his second line. Some traditions never die.

Everything Else

vs.

Schedule

Game 1 in Nashville tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in Nashville Saturday, 5pm

Game 3 in Dallas Monday, 8:30

Game 4 in Dallas Wednesday, 7pm

The only series that might become more staccato than the Penguins and Islanders is this one. The Stars are going to have no interest in making this open or fast, considering their lineup is filled with soldiers of The Foot after their top line and top pairing. And while the Preds boast three or four trap-busters on the blue line, they also don’t have much beyond their top line, thanks to injuries and every deadline acquisition they made being an utter flop. If the Jets are vulnerable, then the team that couldn’t put them away until the final day of the season in the division isn’t much surer of a bet either. Smells like a real upset possibility.

Goalies: This one’s about health. If THE BISHOP! is healthy, then the Stars do have something of an advantage. Bishop is the Vezina candidate behind Vasilevskiy, and also comes with playoff pedigree as he has the same single Final appearance to his name that Rinne does, along with another conference final the following season. But still, health. Bishop is slated to go tonight, but he’s returned from injury a couple times in the second half and then had to go back on the shelf again. He did start the last game and didn’t die, but missed time at the end of March and in February. If he’s playing and upright, it’s hard to see him giving up a ton.

There are teams over which that would give the Stars a bigger advantage than Nashville, though. Pekka Rinne recovered from a midseason wobble to close with a .927 in March and a .935 in April. While we seem to be the only ones to point out that aside from 2017, Rinne has been a playoff pothole, no one else cares. He was good until he wasn’t last year, and then the Predators went home. There isn’t going to be much margin for error here, because the Stars just aren’t going to give up much with a healthy Bishop. If it’s not 2017 again, the Preds might have to turn to Saros or be in serious trouble. Rinne can’t get away with being fine here.

Defense: And this is where the Preds’ big advantage is. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are awesome, but that’s about all the Stars can boast. And they don’t really take the hard assignments, and if you trust the likes of The Circus Bear and Esa Lindell and Ben Lovejoy to quiet Forsberg and Arvidsson, then you see more good in the world than I ever could and I envy your view. If Jim Montgomery can get cute and get those two and his top line out against the softer underbelly of the Preds, maybe they play them even. But that’s no given, especially without home ice.

This has been the strength of the Preds for a while now. The only complaint you might be able to lodge against them is that Ryan Ellis hasn’t looked great against harder competition, but that’s nitpicking. And as much barbed wire and landmines the Stars will plant in the neutral zone, the Preds just keep rolling out guys who can get through it like Josi or Subban or this new asshole Fabbro. At some point they can find a weakness, and then it’s just up to the clods on their bottom two lines to actually convert those opportunities. That’s up in the air.

Forwards: If the Stars had slightly more depth, I’d be tipping them here. They have Radulov-Seguin-Benn, and Hintz has actually allowed them to slide Benn down a bit. But Jason Spezza is basically metamucil now, and even with the return of The Hobbit Zuccarello, they’re still short. Jason Dickinson is playing second center for this team, and you didn’t know he existed until right now. Much like last year’s first round, once the Preds figure out how to keep the opponent’s top line from light flares, they’re almost all of the way there.

Not that the Nashville group is all that impressive. If it proves that way, Seguin could make Treat Boy’s life hell, and Kyle Turris is nothing but a bemused expression. Granlund, Simmons, and Boyle have failed to do anything since donning yellow. But with Craig Smith and Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons and one or two others, there’s just slightly more depth in piss yellow than victory green.

Prediction: You know I desperately want to pick the Preds to spit it here, as their organization’s and fanbase’s piousness combined with their claims to still be adorable have both proven full of horseshit and tiresome. And Bishop is a goalie capable of doing it himself. That’s the only hope for the the Stars here though, as they have pretty much the same holes as the Preds do, just bigger. They’ll make it awfully difficult though with a healthy Bishop. This one feels like seven home wins.

Preds in seven. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Predators 26-15-3   Hawks 16-22-7

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

THIRD MAN HANGERS-ON: On The Forecheck

Not exactly the easiest week for the Hawks. Sunday saw them face the hottest team in the league, a test which they passed. Then they got the Pacific leaders, who let them hang around for two periods before it was swirly time in the third. Tonight it’s one half of the Central’s twin towers, and then Saturday night it’s the defending Western champs who are tied with the team that just held the Hawks at arm’s length on Monday. Boy, the Devils and Rangers can’t get here fast enough!

It’s been a wonky year for the Preds, so the fact that they’re still sitting one point off the Jets, though having played two games more, is a real work by Peter Laviolette. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, PK Subban, Kyle Turris (still) have all missed serious time, and yet here they are. Unfortunately for the Hawks, all but Turris are back in the lineup and this is just about as close to the full Predators experience as they’ve been since the beginning of the season.

To wit, a team that had won two of 10 road games before Monday went out and promptly destroyed the Leafs in Toronto, winning 4-0 and holding perhaps the biggest arsenal in the league to 18 shots. So yeah, that’s not exactly encouraging for tonight.

The Preds had something of a dip in December, as both Juuse Saros and Ol’Shit Hip fell off their hot pace. Which makes you think it was a structural thing, and it might have been as without Subban you’re only going to get away with playing Dan Hamhuis and his walking stick as a second pairing player for so long. Still, even with that, the Preds are third in the league in shots against overall per game and sixth in scoring-chances against at even-strength. They’re top-10 in both team Corsi-percentage and scoring-chance-percentage. The one area they’re deficient is they’re 18th in high-danger-scoring-chance-percentage, mostly because they don’t create a ton. That is probably a product of not having Arvidsson and Forsberg for a while, because this is a team that has always depended on its top line to do most of the damage. That has been corrected now.

It’s still perhaps the most devastating blue line in the league, with all of Ellis, Josi, and PK among the premier puck-movers in the league (sidenote: Has anyone in recent history racked up a more impressive social resume than Lindsey Vonn? If she were a dude she’d be Tony Stark. Get it, girl). This is clearly their strength.

Also, in four games in January they’ve given up four goals in regulation, with three of those somehow coming to the Red Wings. So yeah, the goalies are probably fine now. Go get ’em, Hawks!

For the Hawks, the question will be tonight where does the returning, conquering hero Henri Jokiharju slot in. The Hawks may have caught a break in that Brent Seabrook is sick, which would give them shelter to keep The HarJu on his normal side, on a shielded third-pairing, and keep the other two pairings together, as they’ve been working. No word on whether Colliton/Bowman spiked Seabrook’s nachos-for-four last night at Four Moons.

That will be for one night, but the Hawks are going to have to answer that question soon enough. The simplest and best solution would be to pair Keith and Seabrook again, but make that your third pairing. Then you can slot the four of Dahlstrom, Murphy, Gustafsson, and HarJu any way you want. You can leave Dahlstrom and Murphy to do the hard work-which they haven’t been as good at of late but it’s the best you’ve got–and let Gustafsson and Jokiharju bumslay a bit. Or you just divide it up evenly with Dalshtrom letting Jokiharju freelance more and Murphy doing the same for Gustafsson and Keith and Seabrook take the rest. This is the easiest and cleanest solution, and hence it’ll be the one the Hawks don’t take.

No word on what goalie is going tonight as it was a pretty informal get-together this morning. You would think it would have to be Delia, but we keep saying that. The other change is John Hayden is in for Chris Kunitz. Contain your excitement, we just mopped.

Not much to say here. The Hawks have played the Preds tough since giving up the first four goals to them in their first meeting in Nashville, and beat them there later. But this is the full Preds death squad minus Turris. And with something to play for. Might want to hide under your seat for this one.

 

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J.R. Lind is always our Preds guy. Follow him on Twitter @JRLind.

The Predators have only won two of their last nine on the road. What’s the story there?
It’s hard to discount the injuries the team had to deal with in the last bit of 2018: Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban and Colton Sissons all missed significant time and now Kyle Turris is out for a bit. The Preds were also due for a bit of a come-down, particularly on the road, where they started out so hot. The good news is guys are starting to come back and the team looked as good as they’ve looked all season Monday against Toronto with a 4-0 win and holding the Leafs to 18 shots.
Both Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros had something of a rough go in December. So does that make it a team problem more than the goalies having a down stretch?
 
Based on both guys’ last few starts, it seems like it was a general team issue, particularly on the back end. Subban’s injury led to Laviolette having to do some unusual things with the pairings, occasionally splitting up Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi and sticking, say, Dan Hamhuis – an extremely good third pair guy, but a little long in the tooth – on the first pair or playing Matt Irwin with Mattias Ekholm and so on. Since the calendar turned, the team is 3-0-1 and Saros has given up one goal in his last two starts and Rinne is coming off that shutout. I suspect Chicago will get Rinne as a divisional foe with Columbus coming on the other side of the back-to-back, but both guys have looked a lot better as the injured players have returned.
How much of this is Arvidsson and Forsberg being out?
 
Losing your two top goal-scorers is going to hurt any team, and then add into what those guys bring physically – Forsberg probably doesn’t get enough credit for that part of his game and Arvidsson is a stellar forechecker – and Nashville had to make some adjustments. It also had a ripple effect down the lines, with guys like Ryan Hartman and Phil Di Giuseppe actually seeing time on Ryan Johansen’s wing. But for a team that expects to play into June, getting more minutes for depth guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the extra ice time helped jumpstart Kevin Fiala, who had looked moribund early.
What will the Preds be looking for at the deadline?
 
Similar to last year with Hartman, a middle-six or bottom-six wing with a little size or physicality. The rash of injuries this year really put into focus how important depth can be and the series against the Jets last year – and it seems inevitable Winnipeg and Nashville will face-off again – the Preds did get pushed around a little. They don’t need a big, splashy move and I’m not saying Wayne Simmonds, but Wayne Simmonds.

 

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It seems like we do this post every year, and it’s because we do. But then PK keeps doing things that reiterate the point, so there’s not much we can do. In case you missed it, here’s a video he recorded to support a young player in Michigan who had been the target of racial abuse. Also, we could have written this about anyone who racially taunts a fucking child being first up against the wall when the revolution hits, but you already knew that so we don’t need to repeat ourselves.

Obviously, Subban is always going to be put in the spotlight for issues like this because he’s one of the few black players in the league, and certainly the only one in this echelon. Whenever there’s a problem with racism in hockey, Subban is going to be sought out. So yes, he gets more of a chance to shine. And while he has dealt in platitudes at times, he’s never shirked the responsibility. There are a host of other issues it would be great to hear from any NHL player on, but this is a world where Jonathan Toews’s reasoned views on global warming are considered radical.

Subban’s charity work, fashion sense, likability, and yes, comfort in front of a camera are all things that should be cherished by the league and fans. And yet it’s milquetoast Connor McDavid or John Tavares getting the promotion pushes, or known evil shits like the Kanes. The next interesting thing Sidney Crosby has to say will be the first.

We go through this every time. If the NHL wants to expand its audience, which it hasn’t shown a determination or know-how to do, then representation matters. Subban is about all they have. And he should be pushed, and his interest in talking about things that matter shouldn’t make anyone afraid. It certainly doesn’t in the NBA or NFL.

Subban’s ways have been anathema to how NHL players and coaches and execs think a NHL dressing room should work. Fuck, it got him traded out of Montreal. Which should have been a blessing to the league, as having him in a southern market in the US where he can do all sorts of things for you should benefit everyone. Hell, he’s even got a celebrity girlfriend! What more do you need?

He already does a lot for so many. Why should anyone be hesitant to let him do more?

 

 

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This one’s on us. We didn’t give our Nashville friends enough time for this, so we’ll just rerun what we did with JR Lind a couple weeks ago when the Hawks were in Nashville. We’ll make it up to you. 

Most points in the West, second-best goal difference, the Vezina leader…is there anything to complain about in Predators Land?
 
As Blackhawks fans know, there’s always something to complain about, no matter how sterling the season is. Obviously, the Preds are very, very good and were able to sustain success from last season with a minimum of moves (David Poile’s biggest free agency acquisition was bringing back Dan Hamhuis on the traditional This Guy Used To Play Here Contract).
The acute complaint is that the Preds are on a two-game losing streak, just the second time this season they’ve gone consecutive games without a point; largely this is a result of a bizarre inability to solve the Arizona Coyotes.
The more chronic issue is the power play (currently 30th ahead of only…uh hi!). It’d be easy to blame that on the recent spate of injuries with Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris and Pernell Karl Subban all out, though it was worse when everyone was reasonably healthy.
Kevin Fiala has been in a season-long slump (he finally scored five-on-five Tuesday) in what many expected to be a big year for him after a breakout season last year. And while he was sparkling when he was playing everyday when Pekka Rinne was injured, Juuse Saros has been mediocre in a lot of his spot starts lately.
There’s always something to complain about.
Seriously, how has Pekka Rinne been able to come up with a career renaissance at 35?
 
After his surgery and then missing so much time because of the post-surgical infection, it really looked like he was on the downhill. Then goalie Yoda Mitch Korn left with Barry Trotz and the overwhelming feeling really was that it was time for Poile to go franchise goalie hunting in the ninth round again. And then we all realized there wasn’t a ninth round anymore. Fortunately, Rinne had a career year and finally won the Vezina, signed a very team friendly extension for two more years counting $5 million against the cap (somehow David Poile got the guy to take a pay cut after winning a Vezina).
So I don’t know what kind of magic he’s working. The only complaint (and this is a weird one, I recognize) is that he might be playing too well, because as a Preds fan, you’d like his regular season workload to be a little lighter so he’s tanned, rested and ready for the playoffs. Last season, he played a lot more down the stretch as the Preds pushed for the President’s Trophy and as he secured the Vezina. Ideally, he’d get a lot more rest in March and April.
If there’s one quibble, the Preds have gotten 14 goals from Filip Forsberg but no more than eight from anyone else. Is scoring something of a worry down the line? Or is the socialist method of scoring going to see them through?
Part of that is the injuries. Arvidsson, who hasn’t played since Nov. 10 and is out for a few more weeks, is the guy with eight. Then it’s a jumble of dudes – nine with between four and seven goals, led by Old Friend Ryan Hartman (who I contend should just be signed to a series of one-year deals from now until the end of time).
Arvidsson’s absence has meant a rotation on Ryan Johansen‘s wing opposite Forsberg, which has included such strange experiments as Rocco Grimaldi. The STF line of Smith-Turris-Fiala has been ho-hum outside of Turris, who is hurt. Smith is inconsistent and Fiala can’t score. But, there are worse things that having one guy who scores 40, another who scores 25 in an injury-plagued year and nine or 10 who go for 15 to 20.
How is the power play this bad with all the weaponry on it? (please don’t turn this question around on us)
 
Who knows? Nothing seems to work. Subban is hurt and Ryan Ellis has had trouble scoring (at evens and on the power play), which takes away two of the big outside weapons. With Arvidsson out, the coaches haven’t really found a consistent net-front threat (having tried Nick Bonino, among others, down low). Eventually, it’ll click, we’re told, but it’s getting close to 30 games in now and it’s still 14 some-odd percent so.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 9-12-5   Predators 17-8-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: WGN

KISS MY GRITS: On The Forecheck

There’s no such thing as sympathy in the NHL, so even if you’re getting your dick knocked in the dirt night after night, the next team on the docket is going to be real excited to repeat the punishment. So it is for the Hawks, who head from one division favorite to another and the one actually on top, the Nashville Predators. And even in their beat-up state, you fear how quickly it could get out of hand if the Hawks don’t straighten the fuck up. So, cheerful, eh?

Let’s start with the Hawks. Henri Jokiharju will return after an illness, and looks to be paired with Duncan Keith again. The Keith-Forsling Axis Of What The Fuck? never really worked, though it didn’t work for the same reasons that the Keith-HarJu pairing has struggled at times. Both players are inclined to be aggressive and get up the ice, and only one is supposed to play that way. The HarJu is more defensively inclined than Forsling though, and overall this pairing has done ok this season. So it’s good and proper to have it back. But you can look forward to more tweets from us about Keith having to change his game when he gets caught outside the circles again.

That slots Forsling down with Gustafsson in what can only be called “adventure time,” and Brandon Manning and Brent Seabrook are paired in what can only be called “fuck my life.”

Cam Ward looks to be the starter, which is fine because Crawford hasn’t been all that good and could use the extra day. The lines are going to pretty much stay the same, with Dylan Strome at least starting between Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. Jeremy Colliton went away from it in the 3rd against the Jets but will give it another go. To maximize what they do well and to eliminate as much of what they don’t as possible, they really should only start exclusively in the offensive zone. Toews’s and Kampf’s line can do the defensive starts if need be, and you don’t want any of Kane, Top Cat, or Strome there either.

Right, the Predators. The headline, other than their marvelous and expected record, is that a good portion of their team is on a trainer’s table. Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, and PK Subban all will miss out tonight, and Arvidsson is a long-term casualty. It’s put a dent in their mojo, as they’ve lost three of the last four, including getting capsized at home by the Coyotes and getting trounced by the Blues. So if there was ever a time to catch the Preds, it would be now. If the Hawks were anything resembling a coherent outfit, that is.

If there’s a bone to pick with Nashville, is that they can look a touch short on scoring. With Arvidsson out, Filip Forsberg is the only player with more than eight goals in the lineup. Ryan Johansen has gone back to “Treat Boy” status, and Ryan Hartman isn’t going to continue to shoot the lights out forever. Subban was chipping in a bit from the back, points-wise at least, but he’s out now too.

Another quirk of the Preds is that their power play is just as bad as the Hawks’ somehow. It won’t get any better with Subban out, but then again there isn’t a power play that the Hawks’ kill can’t cure.

Given how the Hawks play defense, there’s no reason to think that Peter Laviolette won’t turn the Preds up to 11 and pressure them all over the ice. The Hawks simply can’t match their speed, though they played them pretty tough last year, going 2-2-0. Still, if the Hawks can find their way past what will be a furious forecheck (they can’t), they can get some rushes and chances in the open ice behind it.

Of course, waiting there is Pekka Rinne, coming off collecting his first Vezina and dead-set on getting a second. He’s your clubhouse leader, as he leads the league in GAA, SV%, even-strength SV%, and difference between his expected save-percentage and his actual. He’s simply been brilliant, so you can have a great game and still lose because you can’t pierce him. Which is great for a team like the Hawks that struggle to score.

It’s the Flames tomorrow night, who are playing some of the best hockey around. Which means if the Hawks can’t find another gear and some stability in their own end, they’d be a Top Cat miracle goal from losing seven in a row and 15 of 17. Not that 14 of 17 is that much better.

The season is on the very edge of the precipice. Maybe they should act like it on the ice…or perhaps they’ve already accepted their fate.

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