Everything Else

Timing is everything, and Ben Bishop has learned that lesson more than most.

You may not know this, but the past five years, Ben Bishop has been a top-five starter in the league. It’s true. In the past five seasons, the only goalies to better Bishop’s .920 SV% in all situations are Carey Price, John Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Devan Dubnyk. Gibson and Vasilevskiy haven’t even been starters that whole time like Bishop has (save on injury-riddled season), so you could vault him ahead of them if you were so inclined. He’s just a tick ahead of Corey Crawford.

And it’s not like Bishop has been helped by wondrous defensive teams. He was in Tampa before they became this juggernaut, and even the Hitch-led Stars weren’t an Iron Curtain for a season. These days we only have expected Fenwick-save percentage to deal with against actual Fenwick save-percentage. In difference between those over the past five years, Bishop ranks 12th among starting goalies, ahead of names like Rask, Jones, and Hellebuyck. So he hasn’t had to perform as many miracles as Crawford or Gibson, but he’s done more with what he’s asked than can be expected.

And yet you’ll find Bishop to be one of the bigger bargains around. Bishop is the 18th-highest paid goalie in the league, making a lower cap hit than such luminaries as Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick, Martin Jones, and Mike Smith. And you may point to playoff pedigree, but Bishop does have a Final appearance to his name, as well as aiding an additional conference final appearance, which means he has more playoff pedigree than Howard, or Jones, or Smith. It’s been a few years though, so maybe that fades with time.

But Bishop hit free agency, or was due to, on the back of his rotten-luck, no good, groin-exploded, very middling 2016-2017. That’s the year he ceded the Tampa job to Vasilevskiy, got traded to the Kings, and then was moved before the draft afterwards to the Stars. It’s the only season in the last five he didn’t manage a .916 save-percentage, and really could not have come at a worse time. In one of Jim Nill’s more shrewd moves, as it turns out, he jumped at the chance to get Bishop at a cut-rate.

And now there’s an argument to be made that Bishop is a Vezina candidate. His .930 SV% only trails Vasilevskiy (how many players are they allowed to produce at this point?). Gibson’s injury and dip in form might shroud his wizard-like season in doubt. The difference in Bishop’s actual Fenwick SV% and expected only trails the dual-headed Lehner and Greiss, who will probably split votes, Gibson, and McElhinney. If Gibson was the front-runner a month ago, Bishop has to be in the conversation.

A win would make Bishop the only Vezina-holder making less than $6M per season. And he’s locked in until 2023 at that rate, which is a real coup.

Then again, the discussion of what goalies should be paid has always been weird. Only Carey Price’s hit or salary is over eight figures, and that doesn’t square. In terms of importance, even with the higher-scoring atmosphere, goalies might only be behind quarterbacks. No one seems to mind when QBs make a fifth or quarter of a team’s cap, because that’s just the way things are. And yet you can only find one goalie paid on par with McDavid or Matthews or Crosby? Strange, no? Look at the top goalies this year and the standings. Vasilevsky – best team in the league. Lehner and Greiss – 1st place. Halak and Rask – top five team. Andersen – top five team. This isn’t all that hard.

One day, a team is just going to hand a goalie $12M and everyone will laugh. Or a goalie will ask for that and be mocked as selfish. If Bobrovsky hadn’t totally whiffed on his free agent year, maybe he would have. Teams seem to know this, which is why goalies are getting locked up as soon as possible. Look at that Crawford deal now, at least before the concussions, and how people lost their mud when it was signed.

Price shouldn’t be alone at that plateau. If Bishop had timed it better, he’d be a lot closer.

 

Game #68 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

That’s probably not fair. Because for once, Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars didn’t do something in the summer that had every hockey writer falling off their chairs and onto a Timbo’s wrapper(s). That’s usually been the M.O. in Texas. Whether it was signing Ben Bishop or trading for Jason Spezza or Tyler Seguin or whatever draft pick it was this time, it felt like very summer they were telling us the Dallas Stars had “arrived.” Arrived at what exactly I couldn’t tell you, because they’ve won one playoff series in 10 years. At least no one is expecting them to do that again.

I’ll give them this, I’m really all for teams hiring coaches from outside the normal, old-boys, well-I-drank-with-him-in-an-airport-bar-in-Manitoba crew. Jim Montgomery turned Denver into one of the premier hockey programs in the country, clearly has a knack for developing players, and it’s worth a shot. Sure, it hasn’t gone all that well with David Hakstol in Philly, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.

What’s he got in his team? Let’s do the scooping.

20170-2018: 42-32-8 92 points  235 GF 225 GA 51.0 CF% 53.5 xGF% 7.6 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: THE BISHOP! We was too late…

We’re only two years removed from Ben Bishop being a Vezina finalist, and deservedly so. But the intervening years have just kind of been “meh,”with a .910 split between Tampa and LA and a just a tick above league average .916 in Dallas last year. If he were truly special, one has to wonder if the Lightning would have been so happy to turn the job over to Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Bishop will turn 32 this season, so he’s not ancient. He’s had groin problems the past few seasons, which for a goalie who is 6-6 isn’t ideal. It’s very unlikely that Bishop will sink this team, and there’s still a chance that he finds that Vezina finalist form he’s produced on two different occasions. Though this isn’t the Lightning he’s behind, and it’s a pretty leaky defense, now that Ken Hitchcock isn’t prioritizing it.

Backing him up is Anton Khudobin, Khubes was more than serviceable as Tuukka Rask’s backup last year, and he’s actually the last goalie to not turn into masticated potatoes in Carolina, all the way back in 2014. He’s never been a guy you want to turn a whole season over to, but if Bishop gets hurt for a few weeks he can get you out of it. And he can certainly give you the 20-25 starts needed to keep the starter fresh through the season. Sadly, this is not the Niemi-Lehtonen Axis Of Confusion it was before at the American Airlines Center.

Defense: It’s the same defense as it’s been, except they added Roman Polak to it, which is not something anyone would do if you were trying to make it better. It will be anchored by Esa Lindell and John Klingberg’s moderately-poor-man’s Erik Karlsson act. It’s been a few years now where Klingberg has dominated possession and put up a fine collection of points, so we have to concede he is one of the league’s best even though you can go games without noticing him. His style is just kind of understated, and yet he remains perhaps the best passer from the back end in the league today.

Stephen Johns and Marc Methot will be the second pairing, at least until some part on Methot goes “TWANG!” which it always does. The underlyings haven’t been kind to Johns, but it is he who both Lindy Ruff and Hitch trusted with the tougher shifts than Klingberg, and Montgomery probably won’t be different. He provides the platform for Klingberg, much like Vlasic and Braun did for Burns in San Jose until this season. He’s also been paired with a collection of stiffs since he arrived.

The third pairing is where it gets ugly, and literally so, as that’s where Polak and youngster Dillon Heatherington reside. These are both monoliths, and in Polak’s case one that can’t move. If Montgomery is smart he’ll play the other two pairings 25 minutes a night and try and keep these doofuses off the ice as much as possible. But if Methot gets hurt, which he will, one of these heavy bags is going to have to take harder shifts with Johns, and that’s where it might go balls-up for this team.

It’s not a bad blue line, it’s just awfully thin. They have to stay healthy. And why isn’t Julius Honka part of this? If they replace one of the security guys on the third pairing with Honka and let him run wild, then this has a chance to be a real strength of the team.

Forwards: Montgomery is going to have the same problem the two veteran coaches had before him. There’s a great top line here in Jamie Benn (and his fear of all things southern), Tyler Seguin, and Alex Radulov. But below that there’s borderline mummy in Jason Spezza and a raft of younger players who have just been “not quite” their whole careers. Matthias Janmark, Radek Faksa, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie are names we’ve heard for a while who promise to break through this time because now they get it, and then April rolls around and they all have 35 points and the Stars are out of it again. Let’s just say they have to prove it to be nice.

Valeri Nichushkin, who in his rookie year looked like he was going to tear the sky off the world at times and then just was kind of there, has returned from a sabbatical in the KHL. Injuries didn’t help him, as he missed a whole season in his first go. He didn’t really do dick in Russia either, so counting on him to be the secondary scoring the Stars have been crying out for for three seasons is probably folly.

Outlook: The Stars didn’t miss out by much last year. You can squint and see where things might improve for them. Maybe Bishop has one more brilliant season in him. Maybe being free of Hitchcock-shackles turns the defensive corps into more of a weapon, especially if Honka flowers. Maybe those kids just were too suppressed under Hitch (and you can easily see why). But they had their chance under Ruff too and never did quite enough.

The top line will score. Klingberg will be great. If they can get one or two others in on the fun, they could sneak back into the playoffs. If anyone important gets hurt, they’ll be sunk.

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Everything Else

For the entire length of our existence, a valuable trait has been schadenfreude. We haven’t always needed it, but when we have the Canucks, or Blues, or Detroit, or Canucks again, then the Blues again, have always provided a hearty laugh. We’ve had other targets, but no matter how bad things get for the Hawks or how laughable they are for others, we can redirect that to someone else and have a good chuckle and go on about our day with a bounce in our step.

So let’s spend some time chortling at the existence of the Dallas Stars.

They’ve been in our crosshairs for a few years now. Mostly because for about three or four offseasons, there’s a legion of hockey writers who can’t wait to declare them and GM Jim Nill “winners of the offseason.” It’s like clockwork. One trade, or one signing, and suddenly there’s a puddle around hockey media members as they race to to be the first to decree, “THIS TIME THE STARS GOT IT RIGHT! CAN’T WAIT FOR SOME TEXAS BBQ IN JUNE!” Mostly, I’m guessing, because deep down all Canadian hockey writers are shit-kickers who just want an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and boots they keep in the closet and are desperate to wear outside of one week in Calgary.

Five seasons later, and just one playoff series win, and here they are, likely to not even get a chance to win a playoff series. But how could that happen when they hired noted genius Ken Hitchcock? Certainly the planets must be totally out of line for such a thing to happen! He was the final piece! Everyone said so! Because the Stars did an exhaustive coaching search, y’see, and they oh so creatively came up with, “Hey what about that guy who won here that one time like 15 years ago?”

So how did it end up here, five points out with five games to play even after last night’s OT win over the Flyera? Well, you probably have to start with the goaltending, which has put up a combined .902 SV% in March. That’s not going to win you a lot, as you probably know around here.

And really, who could have seen Ben Bishop’s .911 last year, his .905 in March of last season, and that Tampa was so fond of him they couldn’t wait to shove the job to Andrei Vasilevskiy at the first opening to do so, and conclude that maybe Bishop didn’t have it anymore? Certainly not Jim Nill! And look, the guy who spent three years fucking over the Stars by ignoring the goaltending situation has fucked it over by actually paying attention to it! It just gets better!

Like all Hitchcock teams, the Stars definitely keep it tight in their own end but are hardly expansive in the other. While they’re second best in terms of expected goals per 60 against, they’re 16th in expected goals for. That’s a team with one of the best top lines in the league and hardly bereft of talent farther down the lineup with Spezza (though old), Faksa, Janmark, Shore, and a couple others. At least that’s what they’ve told us season upon season now. And yet past the top line there isn’t a forward with more than 40 points. Hmmmm…who’s the GM who drafted and/or keeps this young talent they keep bleating about that keeps getting them beat, I wonder?

So as always with Hitch’s teams, keeping it so close means your goalie had better match your defensive leanings, and probably be better. Just like Jay Gallon in St. Louis, when the bottom drops out on that there is no answer. Because they’re certainly not filling it enough to counteract some wonky goaltending. At least Lindy Ruff managed that once.

Boy, I can’t wait to see how Nill wins this offseason.

-As we nearer the end, and the broadcast keeps shitting on Brandon Saad because he seems like the easy target (or Adam Burish threatens to fight him, which I’m sure would end with Saad turning Burish’s face into silly putty), I have this really uneasy feeling the Hawks will trade him and get to use “cap relief” as the reason to keep anyone from looking at it with any measure of scrutiny.

Let me just share this with you. When it comes to individual even-strength scoring chances per 60 minutes, Brandon Saad is 12th among forwards. 13th on that list? CONNOR FUCKING MCDAVID. Brandon Saad, himself, is getting slightly more chances per 60 minutes than the best player on the planet. When it comes to high-danger chances per 60 minutes, Saad ranks 10th among all forwards. 9th on the list? TAYLOR FUCKING HALL. A very likely Hart finalist is only slightly outdoing Brandon Saad when it comes to getting really good chances.

Now, it would be folly to suggest that “finish” is purely luck. It is not, but it’s too simple to say, “He’s not scoring enough,” when we can dig deeper and see why he might not be scoring enough. As we’ve said all season, Saad’s shooting percentage has bottomed out, Even a return to last year’s 11.4%, instead of this year’s 7.9, would see Saad with 25 goals right now. And assuming the power play could ever get the toad out of its ass it might be closer to 30.

Saad could simply repeat this season, process-wise, have his SH% spike to 13 or 14% because he got to see a couple more hungover goalies than this season, and be a 30-35-goal guy and then we’d get all these “redemption” stories.

Trading Saad when his value would be at its lowest, unless a monster return, would be monumentally stupid. Remember this when the Hawks now invariably do so.

Everything Else

Hawk Wrestler vs. still-of-david-bowie-in-the-prestige-(2006)-large-picture

FACEOFF: 6:30pm

TV/RADIO: CSN round here, NHLN-US not round here, WGN Radio 720

FLASH BEFORE MY EYES: Raw Charge

If the Hawks got to find their defensive feet, and overall game without Patrick Kane, against an offensive soft underbelly ready for tickling against the Panthers, they will swing wildly to the other end of the spectrum tonight. It’s also the second of a back-to-back and while in previous years the Hawks have excelled in this situation, this year they’ve been stunningly mediocre.

Everything Else

Hawk Wrestler vs. still-of-david-bowie-in-the-prestige-(2006)-large-picture

FACEOFF: 6:30pm

TV/RADIO: CSN round here, NHLN-US not round here, WGN Radio 720

FLASH BEFORE MY EYES: Raw Charge

If the Hawks got to find their defensive feet, and overall game without Patrick Kane, against an offensive soft underbelly ready for tickling against the Panthers, they will swing wildly to the other end of the spectrum tonight. It’s also the second of a back-to-back and while in previous years the Hawks have excelled in this situation, this year they’ve been stunningly mediocre.