Hockey

I guess I’ll give Stan some dap for appearing in public right before the deadline. Though at the intermission of the game in Calgary is an interesting choice, given the time restraints. But whatever, Stan took the time to talk, which he’s not good at, which means we have to dissect what he said, which we are. Let’s to it.

And I want to start with a question from Mark Lazerus:

Well, you were in pretty much the same situation last year, almost identical, where you’re on the outside but within striking distance. You wound up not really doing much of anything. Is that a strong possibility again this year, that you might just let these guys play it out?

And this is the crux of the whole thing, isn’t it? The Hawks didn’t do anything at the deadline last year, in one direction or the other. Now that’s not all of it, as they did pick up Drake Caggiula, who is at least useful, and Slater Koekkoek, who probably isn’t, well before the deadline. They also swapped Nick Schmaltz for Dylan Strome, which looked last year like a great move and this year looks no worse than break-even. But the Hawks didn’t pick a lane last year, they held on to Erik Gustafsson at the peak of his value. They didn’t add anything and mortgage any of their future in the process, which is good. But they didn’t fully commit to the following years either, which left them not doing anything all that effective in the summer, other than signing de Haan, and now he might have one arm forever.

Again, this year they have a choice, and while Gustafsson doesn’t have the value he did they have more pieces to play with in the form of Lehner and if they want to get really goofy, Strome. Maybe even Maatta. But it’s likely they’ll do nothing, and have less cap space next summer, which is pretty much going to leave them running in place again.

Of course. In the moment, that’s fun. But you pay the price down the road, and we’re kind of down that road now. It’s always that balance of the push and pull of the present and the future. Because you’d love to be able to go for it and not have it impact your team three or four years down the road. But that’s usually what happens, is the players or draft picks that you give away, you don’t feel it that next year or two years. It’s usually four years later when those players are in their early 20s and they should be helping you, but you don’t have them because they’re somewhere else.

It’s important to be fair to Stan here as well. Because this is right. The Hawks are paying the piper now for the picks they didn’t have and the prospects they had to give up. Phillip Danault would help. Teuvo Teravainen would help. Maybe one of the picks they surrendered in ’15 or ’16 would have been a contributor by now. This was the line Stan tried to walk back then, and it’s nearly impossible. He’s trying to get out of that now, which is also near impossible.

Probably not a couple games, no. I guess you look at from the trade deadline backwards to the All-Star break. That’s a pretty good chunk of games there. I think when we get to a week from now, next weekend, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how we’ve played. We haven’t been good the last few games, that’s true. But we’ve got a few more games before next weekend, four games. So I think we’ll add it up to the last five or six and we’ll see where we’re at. We certainly have to get some good fortune here over the next stretch. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough.

Now this is the big thing. We’ve dismissed the Hawks thought-train as they’ll use the efforts instead of the results this past week as a justification to do nothing. They’ll say they dominated Vancouver, which they did, and they got a couple bad calls in Edmonton, which they also did. They’ll point to the seemingly small-ish gap to the wildcard, even though it’s actually quite large. But every team that falls short has got a story. You still fell short. Admit what you are.

But I don’t know that they’ll do that. For an adventurous front office, or at least one with an actual vision, this past week would be the justification they would need. They’re not as good as the Jets. They’re not as good as the Predators. That right there is more than enough to prove they won’t make the playoffs. They might not be as good as the Flames. I think they’re as good as the Oilers or the Canucks, maybe even better, but the standings are the standings. They’re not making the playoffs, which means the aim has to be doing everything they can to make the playoffs next year. That process has to start now.

Maybe Stan feels the same way, but we’ve seen nothing to indicate that.

There’s no perfect answer for that, how do you make everybody happy. I don’t know if you can.

I’ve got to look at a broader spectrum, try to get ourselves to be in a position so that we are on top of the league. That’s where we want to get to because, like you said earlier, that’s when it’s most fun, when you’re on top and trying to add pieces to make you the best team in the league. We want to get back to that. We know what that’s like. We’ve got to get back to that.

This is where it starts to feel like Stan does get it, at least a bit. He knows he can’t keep the vets happy and build this team for the future at the same time. But he knows the latter is probably more important than the former, and both will meet up in the middle if he can accomplish it.

The part that’s hard to figure out is that last year, the Hawks made it clear they would keep the vets apprised and informed of what they were trying to do. Which they should. Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, and Crawford have earned that. And they have earned the right to say if they’re on board or not.

The problem is the Hawks have also told us, “there’s no plan, there’s a process.” So what did they tell them, exactly? Was it they would go all out this season? Well, that didn’t work, so how do the vets feel now? It would mean there would have to be a new map, as it were. Why would they believe in a second map after the first didn’t work at all? Or did they tell them it was going to take multiple years after already missing the playoffs for multiple years? But it’s never sounded like that from anyone. So where do they go?

I think Jeremy’s done a fantastic job. I really do. I know the results aren’t where we want them to be, and he would say the same thing. We get frustrated when we don’t win games. But I look at the way our team’s playing, in particular the last couple months. I think the beginning of the year, the hardest part was trying to instill some new habits in our players. We spent a lot of time trying to ingrain habits and they don’t form overnight. So I think early on in the season, you saw guys that were trying to do the right thing, but there was a little bit too much thinking going on.

And then we get some Stan horeshit, and a primo version of it. First off, you can’t say your coach is doing a remarkable job and then in the next sentence say the results aren’t there. They don’t square up.They’re almost in direct opposition to each other, in fact. That only works for a truly rebuilding team rife with youngsters and you’re just trying to develop them. The Hawks have aggressively told us they are not that.

And we’re still going with “instilling new habits.” It’s fucking February of the second year. First it was hard to do in the regular season last year. Then it was all-we-need-in-magic-training camp. Now it’s still going on. How much longer do you think we’re going to believe this? Maybe the players suck, or the players know the coach’s system sucks and they won’t play it. Maybe it’s both. But Colliton has been in charge more than long enough to “instill” whatever it is they’re looking for. Fuck, it was enough last February. You can’t keep moving the goalposts to justify what looks increasingly like a bad hire.

And the Hawks still play like shit, in that they give up far too many shots and chances and lose guys in their zone all the damn time. If this is what makes Stan happy, then everyone has to go. Perhaps the most sobering paragraph actually comes from Scott Powers today, in an article looking at the Hawks’ cap problems to come:

The next question is obviously whether the Blackhawks would be better with this roster than they are this season. That’s hard to say. They’re probably banking on the young players taking that next step, Seabrook coming back improved, de Haan finding that same level again, Shaw contributing and the veterans at least maintaining their performance.

We already did that once. And it led to this. I don’t mean to over-binge on Anton Chigurh memes but they seem to fit…

 

Everything Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Else

You’ve probably heard all the complaints and conspiracy theories about baseball’s offseason. Be it tanking teams, teams that are only “tanking,” collusion, analytic front offices, whatever the cause you might think has led to everyone being quite bored. But if anyone actually paid attention to hockey, or if the players had a union worth a shit, the case of Andreas Athanasiou this past summer would have generated similar talk, especially considering the inaction of everyone else.

Athanasiou came off his rookie year when he played 64 games and scored 18 goals. Hardly Earth-shattering, but given that he’s perhaps the fastest skater in the league and his age, there’s certainly a lot of potential there. A player a lot of teams would certainly like to have in their holster, for sure.

And then he sat. And sat. Now, this is where you’d have to interject that Ken Holland boned himself with a lot of stupid contracts and simply didn’t have the money to pay Athanasiou what he probably deserved. This wasn’t a GM playing hardball, at least not totally. More like the hardball hit him in the head and Athanasiou was left to deal with the dizzy GM afterwards.

But then again, Holland didn’t have any reason not to even if he had the cap space. As Athanasiou was only a restricted free agent, he basically either had to take whatever the Wings offered him, or go to the KHL. It’s quite a league where your promising young players have to threaten going to play in Russia, where they assuredly don’t want to go, just to get anything near the money they’ve already earned. And according to reports this wasn’t a massive gap. Athanasiou wanted somewhere around $2 million.

Hey, we’ve been on both sides of this. We’ve been critical of Stan Bowman and the Hawks awarding contracts to their players well before they had to. The trade of Brandon Saad, the first time, was another example of the Hawks not wanting to play hardball. The system is rigged to let teams do that, and without any punishment. They can play chicken and never have to swerve.

Because no one came for Athanasiou. How many teams could have used a middle six winger with this speed and scoring instinct? All of them? Damn close. And as the Wings only had somewhere around $2 million in space, an offer of more wouldn’t have been beyond most GMs, and compensation would have been a first and third round pick.

And that’s a twofold problem. One, any player making $2-3 million per year, with exceptions, are not going to be worth a first and third round pick, at least to most GMs. The compensation levels are ridiculous. If you go above $3 million, it’s a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Think about a player making $4 million. Probably a 20-goal scorer, yeah? Second pairing d-man? Second tier starting goalie, maybe? Is that worth three draft picks? Then again, that depends on what you think of draft picks, because they develop a lot weirder than they do in baseball. It’s a hard system to judge, but GMs horde them like leprechauns to gold even though most of them don’t have any idea what to do with them.

But for someone it should have been. The Oilers are missing wingers everywhere, they couldn’t give up a couple picks for Athanasiou, who is certainly better than a lot of wingers they have? We could go down the list here. Isn’t Athanasiou the idealized version of Vinnie Hinostroza? What would have been the better signing for the Flames, him or Jagr?

But GMs don’t do it, and it’s not just the compensation. There’s a gentlemen’s agreement that restricted free agents will never be poached. Shouldn’t this be some sort of collusion? Except the compensation is in the CBA and could always be pointed to. It robs the players of all leverage until they’re 28 or so unless they want to go play in a lesser league thousands of miles from home. How can that stand? The idea of an offer sheet is to provide some sort of leverage for younger players and it’s been taken away from them by an unwritten agreement between GMs.

This would be something that the NHLPA should go after in the next negotiation. But you know how that will go.

 

Game #49 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built 

Everything Else

If you’re sick of Jason Zucker, we wouldn’t blame you. First of all, he needs to decide how he wants people to pronounce his name, because it’s run the gamut. More to the point, if it feels like he kind of murders the Hawks, you wouldn’t be wrong there either. The stats say in the regular season, it’s only been eight points (five goals) in 20 games. Feels like more, right? Part of that is the Hawks were finally able to keep him quiet last year, with no points in four games. Still, he’s been a nuisance.

Zucker is on pace to have his career-best season this campaign. He already has 14 goals, his career-high is 22. He has 25 points already, his career-high is 47. Yes, he’s been awfully hot this season, and a 20% shooting-percentage isn’t going to stick around forever you wouldn’t think.

More to the point, Zucker isn’t getting the same number of attempts he has in the past few years, averaging just 11 when the past three years he’s averaged between 14-16 attempts per game. His individual expected goals are down as well per game, so he’s riding the percentages a bit. What Zucker has been able to do is maintain his possession numbers while the team’s around him has collapsed. Zucker’s relative numbers have sky-rocketed, case in point being that Zucker’s relative expected goals-percentage is +12.1 over the team-rate, fifth best in the whole league.

And if you’re GM Chuck Fletcher, you’re kind of hoping Zucker’s agent doesn’t point that out this summer.

Zucker is a restricted free agent after the season, which pretty much blows for him. Should he be able to keep grinding down the railing of high-percentages, he’d find himself a 30-goal scorer and 55+-point man at the age of 26. On the open market, that’s a $5 million-a-year player. But Zucker isn’t going to be on the open market.

And he’s on a team that’s going to have no space at all. The Wild are already up against the cap right now, thanks to their Monty Python-foot-like deals to Parise and Suter. They don’t get much relief after the year either, as only Chris Steward, Matt Cullen, and Daniel Winnik’s deals come off the roster. That’s only about $3 million to play with. Rumors of the cap going up must have Fletcher with some kind of Jobu-like shrine in his office, praying to whatever god can make that true. Because the Wild also have to re-up Matthew Dumba, and seeing as how they punted Marco Scandella away to elevate his role, you’d best believe they’re not going to give up on him.

If the cap went up $3 million or so, with the three they have coming off the books, the Wild might be able to play hardball and get both Dumba and Zucker in for $3 million each. It’d be a slight raise for each, but you’d have to think that both want more than just a mere percentage-point raise.

And this is where if the NHL didn’t have an unspoken, collusion-lite system of no offer sheets things would get awfully interesting. Part of the reason there are no offer sheets is that the compensation system for them is utterly insane. As stated above, Zucker might prove to be a $5 million player. But if you were to offer him that, it would cost you four first round picks. In any kind of vacuum, you’re not trading four first rounders for what is at best a second line winger. If you were to offer Zucker $4 million a year, an amount the Wild might simply not be able to match, that still costs you a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Again, for a second-line winger. You’d have to think this is something the NHLPA will revisit in a new CBA. That is, if they had a clue.

Look for some contentious negotiations this summer between the Wild and Zucker. They simply can’t give him more than $3 million, and he’s earned more than that. Would the Wild allow Zucker to bet on himself for a one-year deal and then go UFA in the summer of ’19? The Wild system is actually stocked. Jordan Greenway looks to be eying that spot as soon as next year.

Wonder if the Wild might think about a trade this season? Stay tuned.

Game #33 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Some free agent news breaking the past couple days, which is rare for August but hey we’ll take it.

-Today, the Edmonton Oilers signed Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $65 million deal. Drice was coming out of his entry deal, and the Oilers weren’t going to fuck around with a bridge deal, just like they didn’t with Run CMD who starts taking home $12 million a year starting the season after this upcoming one.

And nor should they.

Everything Else

We’ve moved beyond the quarter-mark of the season, almost at a third of it. In the first month of the season, we all sort of marveled at how sloppy the hockey was. We blamed it on the World Cup, with most teams not getting to have a training camp with their full rosters for more than a few days. While play has tightened up a little bit, as the season enters its third month we’re still left with a product that quite simply, isn’t very good.

What’s become clear is that the salary cap has flattened the entire league so that there’s little difference between the best team and the worst team. If you toss out overtime losses, which are essentially ties settled by glorified skills competitions, no one in the Eastern conference is below .500. Only 12 points separate the conference leading Habs from the bottom-dwelling Islanders. While that’s not a gap that’s going to be made up (likely), it’s not all that large for an entire conference.

Thinks are a little more split in the West, where the conference-leading Hawks have a 17 point gap over the wooden spooners, the Avs. But we’ve all seen what a conference-leading Hawks team in the past looks like, and it’s pretty obvious this isn’t the same vintage. Adding to the Hawks somewhat shaky hold on the West is that they lead the league in wins in overtime, which isn’t really a true test of what kind of team you are. They’re 13th in regulation wins.

Essentially, we have a mishmash of a lot of the same things.

Everything Else

For those of you that joined the blog recently, during the summer on Friday’s is when I tend to just write about whatever I want, as do the others on the blog. Feather even went through a streak of reviewing video games and The Walking Dead. So prepare yourself, as I’ve got all sorts of things rattling around this bald dome of mine.

-As the Hawks sit between several rocks and a very hard place with the cap constraints, the past couple days I can’t help but cast my mind back just short of three years ago. That would be Bettman Lockout III. Or maybe even Bettman Lockout II, which got us this current system. During that lockout, most owners were under a gag order. We never got what Rocky was really thinking during all of it, and whenever he did talk he was on the party line, out of fear of massive fines from The Commish.

And owners do that during labor disputes, but those labor disputes, at least these days, aren’t really about owners vs. players. They’re owners vs. owners, and the owners take it out on the players to protect themselves from each other and themselves. They know that when back to normal business, they’re going to do everything they can to put a winning team out there and all those loopholes get closed in the next CBA.

Everything Else

Ok, so it’s time to get detailed. I’m not sure any of this will be anything you don’t already know, but we have to get through it anyway. So let’s do this. For this exercise, I’m going to assume the cap is at $71 million as that’s the number I keep hearing and even though the players have made serious noise about not using their escalator, I would be surprised if they didn’t help out their free agent brethren by bumping it a little, as well as the owners having the option of doing so as well and these guys want to sign their own and other players as well because they do want to win for the most part (and at this point, it feels like Rocky should say he wants it at $71 million and everyone else will fall in. Certainly Bettman should listen to the owner of his league’s signature franchise at the moment. This is all half in jest).

Ok, so let’s do it.

Everything Else

I suppose that with it being summer and the Hawks having already made their signings and not yet a trade to clear cap space, we have more time than we should to study the narratives they are pushing. It’s not something I consistently want to do, but they keep putting this stuff out there and some of it is just wide of the mark. And those who are supposed to stand watch and call it out are once again passively accepting and even echoing it themselves.

During yesterday’s press conference, the Hawks and the sycophants who cover them couldn’t wait to tell us that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane took less money so that they could keep the team together (even though the team is already over the cap). Their agent told everyone that they could have asked for the maximum $13.8 million per year.

That’s nice. I’m sure they could have asked. And Stan Bowman could have laughed them out of the room.

Everything Else

Now that Daydream Nation is firmly secured in Chicago until the next lockout and one of them has to be bought out after to get under the $12 salary cap Bettman instills to end that dispute, Stan can start figuring out just how he’s going to put next year’s team together.

What’s that you say? This year’s team is still over the cap? Why yes, it is. But we’ve been down this road a few times already, and the answers to get under this cap are known to everyone. It’s a punting of Oduya, or Sharp, or Rozsival, or Seabrook, or Versteeg (that would be a miracle) or some combination thereof.

It’s next year where some of the challenges lie. But is it that bad? Let’s look, yes?