Hockey

Box Scores: Game 42 Game 43
Event Summary: Game 42 Game 43
Natural Stat Trick: Game 42 Game 43

Though the game on the ice was ultimately incidental to what was going on off of it for both teams as far as any of the near, mid and long term outlook is concerned, the Hawks managed to take both games from a Jackets team that could very well be appointment implosion television to close out the season. With the Preds winning on OT against the Stars last night and the Hawks OT winner tonight, the Hawks are two points out and 2 regulation wins still back of the Preds with a three game series coming up next week that’s likely to put a bow on this season. But they did what they needed to do and got contributions from kids, which is all that anyone here has been looking for this season.

Hockey

It’s always a little hard to judge what a team does at the deadline. We’re not on the phones, we don’t know what the other offers were, so at the end of the day you can’t really say the Hawks didn’t get enough for what they did decide to move along. This may have been the best they could have done for Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson.

The problem is that in some ways, the Hawks backed themselves into this. We were hardly the only ones screaming for the Hawks to trade Gustafsson last deadline. His value would never have been higher. He was never going to match that season again. And he was never going to be part of the long-term plans here. It was obvious. When you see Brady Skjei going for a first…

But Stan was afraid of not giving the veterans every chance of chasing a highly unlikely playoff spot. He couldn’t take the bigger risk of sacrificing what was right in front of him, which wasn’t much in reality, for what was to come, which is never guaranteed.

So he sat on Gustafsson. And a third round pick is all you get. It’s always nice to have more spins of the wheel, but your expectations of a third-rounder aren’t high.

As for Lehner, the deadline comes when his play had slipped and Crawford had clearly been playing better than him. There was a brief kerfuffle that Lehner was willing to take a discounted, three-year deal to stay with the Hawks longer term. But you know what? Fuck that. One. that’s in direct contrast to him telling the press himself he wouldn’t be taking any discounts a few weeks ago. Two, the Hawks have too many needs to start blowing too much cash in net, because you still have to pair Lehner with someone. Which brings us to three, which is that Lehner hasn’t earned a three-year deal. He’s got one season as a 1A in a Trotz system, and he’s got two months here bailing out a bad defense, and six weeks of being meh. He’s hardly a guarantee. And his mouth may have worn out his welcome in the dressing room.

Once Carolina decided they weren’t going to chase a goalie, or not pay the price for one, there really isn’t a huge market for one. Vegas needs Fleury insurance. The Flames or Oilers probably should have been looking, but it wasn’t pressing for them. So this is what you get.

Still, the Hawks can focus on re-signing Crow, as long as he finishes the season strongly, and it probably won’t cost them much more than $5M for one or two years. That’s at a number where you can bring in a partner for him at a decent rate.

Still, what the Hawks need is clear, and I today doesn’t really get them closer to it. They’re a d-man plus Ian Mitchell short, or two d-men short, and a forward. Maybe Slava Denim is that down the road, but it sure feels like he’s two years away at least. 2nd or 3rd round picks are only the last part of packages to get something that matters.

With the amount of forwards moving today, one wonders if Stan took any calls on Brandon Saad or even Dylan Strome. Seeing as how he didn’t move them, at least in Saad’s case you might as well start talking about an extension with him just to see, because he can still be a part of a good team here.

Every deadline, when it feels like Stan hasn’t done enough, we hope the summer brings more moves. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Saad’s value will be lower then than it is now, so is that even worth it? And maybe a trade isn’t even necessary if they do the things that are necessary to open up cap space (buying out Maatta, keeping Seabrook in the gimp’s closet). You never know what will be on offer.

You can’t force the offers to be out there. Maybe Lehner would have fetched you more a month ago, but a month ago the Hawks thought they were in it. Crawford probably would have been a higher price than Lehner right now, and given that there wasn’t much of a market for Lehner, that’s probably not worth it.

It’s underwhelming, but it probably always was going to be. And that’s what happens when you don’t have a vision and are making things up as you go. And that’s where the Hawks have been for three seasons now.

Hockey

Leave it to Elliotte Friedman to angry up my blood in his 31 Thoughts this week:

7. I do think Colorado checked out Corey Crawford. But Robin Lehner’s future ties into Chicago’s decision. Lehner’s performance during Chicago’s 5-3 loss to Edmonton raised eyebrows. Not because he was bad or anything, but because he was “quiet.” Lehner plays a “loud” game, both in terms of his voice and activity. The Blackhawks and his representatives are trying to find a match, but word is term is going to be a hurdle. Lehner has said that he deserves to be paid “fairly,” and it was so unusual to see him so placid that people were wondering if a lack of progress bothered him. He was back in goal for Saturday’s 8-4 win in Calgary, where he made a big save to preserve Chicago’s advantage when the game was still in doubt.

Carolina, meanwhile, has had a lot of interest in Lehner, and has that extra first-rounder.

I’m going to start with the trade idea, because that’s more exciting. Crawford to Colorado less so, but Lehner to Carolina…yes, yes please. First off, with the way Francouz has played in Denver, I can’t imagine the Avs have a goalie too high on the priority list even with Philip Grubauer on the shelf. And given their injuries up front, that has to be the priority. We’ll circle back to this.

Carolina, on the other hand, definitely needs a goalie. And this has been the case for like five years. While they were able to miracle a conference final run last year out of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, that was never a long term solution. And while they might not like the idea or even agree to it, the Canes are in their window right now. Metrically, they’re one of the best teams, as always, in the league. They’re still young, but with the uncertain budget in Raleigh every year it’s hard to know what is going to stick around and what isn’t. They’re clinging to the last wildcard spot, though are also only a point behind the Flyers for the last automatic spot in the Metro. And they’re better than the Flyers, or the Jackets who are behind them.

The only reason they’re even messing around with this kind of shit is Mrazek turning back into Mrazek. Now, Jame Reimer has been good for them so far, but if you want to turn your team’s fortunes over to James Reimer, that’s a great way to have your heart broken. It’s just not what he is, and if you’re the Canes you want to get back into the Metro spots because you do not want to have to negotiate Tampa and Boston in the first two rounds just to get back to where you were last year.

So if you’re the Hawks, you have to be circling the Canes as a main partner. And you have to start ignoring what your aims were this year. Your vets aren’t stupid. You’re eight points out of it with four teams to leap to get into the playoffs. They should be at least able to hear the argument that at least a second first-round pick is better long-term for this team.

And just a first-rounder should only be a starting point for Canes and Hawks talks over Lehner. If Blake Coleman gets you a first rounder and a prospect (one of the garbage Feet sons), then Lehner should be similar. Or you can pick off one of the extra picks the Canes have in the second and third rounds too. Or both. Or pry Jake Bean loose (or flick him loose, as it were). And then perhaps at the draft you can parlay the two first-rounders you have into a higher first-rounder, or package them for a real winger from a rebuilding team.

Would two first-rounders be enough to get you maybe Timo Meier or Tomas Hertl from the Sharks, who are going nowhere in a hurry? Worth a call, don’t you think?

As for the Avs. I am loathe to part with Brandon Saad for just about anything, but given that Mikko Rantanen is made of boogers and Gorilla tape, they need a middle six forward. And as he only has one year left on his deal after this one, it gives them flexibility. And if it sends Bowen Byram the other way, which would be the asking price for me, you’d have to think about that one long and hard.

If you could pull that off, you have Byram and Mitchell joining up next season, which means your defense could look like:

Boqvist-Murphy

Keith-Mitchell

de Haan-Byram

Give me all of that. Not only that, but with the presence of the three kids, it’s cheap for at least two seasons. And when it gets expensive, Keith will be spinning off his hockey mortal coil.

Even if that costs you Saad, with that defense you’re only a forward or two away from being something serious. Play things right by buying out Maatta and telling Seabrook to do one somehow, and you’d also have Saad’s cap space. Would that be enough to tempt Taylor Hall? If Kreider makes it to free agency? Toffoli? Let’s say there are options.

Oh who the fuck am I kidding? They will do exactly none of this and sign Michael Frolik on July 1st.

 

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…

 

Baseball

One would think that after being one game from the team’s first World Series in 36 years, the Brewers would have wanted to build on that this season. The offseason came, and they sort of did with the signing of Yasmani Grandal, which was certainly an upgrade at catcher. Still, the team’s bugaboo–the rotation–remained untouched. It made some sense, as full seasons from Brandon Woodruff and a returning Jimmy Nelson would have improved the team’s weak link by themselves.

But those things didn’t happen. Both Woodruff and Nelson have been discovered to be made of leftover moving boxes and used engine oil, and rotate on and off the IL every couple of hours. Gio Gonzalez was once again scavenged from whatever forest discarded toys go to live, and the Brewers have made up the rest along the way. Jhoulys Chacin couldn’t rediscover whatever potion some witch in a hut gave him last year, and he’s hurt as well now.

But thanks to the Cardinals and Cubs also engaging in a season-long “Who can kick their own ass the hardest?” contest, the Brewers remain perched near the top of the division. Surely a move for a starter or two was in the offing. No, Zack Greinke was never a candidate, as the Brewers don’t have the system or the money to bring that aboard. But maybe they could find something with Aaron Sanchez? Or Marcus Stroman? Mike Leake would have probably been an improvement on what’s here. One or two other names would certainly be an alternative to openers and Housers and whatever other flotsam the Brewers have been sending out to the mound on a piece of driftwood.

And yet nothing. The Brewers love to claim small-market whenever possible, and yet they have one of the best attendance marks in the league and drew three million fans just last year. Certainly the profits are there, at least for a couple of months of someone.

All the Brewers did was bring in another converted-starter in Drew Pomeranz, who admittedly has looked good as a reliever. It’s just a doubling down on what went on last year, as the Brewers will essentially ask their starters not to strangle themselves and hope the hopped-up pen can take the rest.

It’s a gamble, because while Josh Hader is still striking out the world he’s been getable. Notice just yesterday his coughing up of a lead to Matt Chapman on his third day of use in a row, the first ever time he’s ever done that. He won’t be doing that again anytime soon. The Brewers also don’t have Knebel around this time, as they did last year, who was having nearly as dominant a season. Jeremy Jeffress is the perfect example of reliever roulette that a team plays when counting on anyone but the very top percentile of relievers. He can be anything on a given day.

And the Brewers might not have any future answers either. They’ll certainly have to try Woodruff and Nelson again next year, but Nelson will be 31 and Woodruff 27, so you might already know where they are. Zack Brown, their highest and closest pitching prospect, has been getting his skull turned into paste at AAA, and other pitching prospects are at least two seasons away. They very well may have to dip into the free agent market, and their fans will probably be whispering the word, “Gerrit” all winter.

Because the Brewers’ window isn’t all that big. Lorenzo Cain is already aging, and most of all Christian Yelich only has two years left on his deal before he makes the moon and maybe one of Jupiter’s as well. Are the Brewers going to pay that? Only Keston Hiura can be considered a young star, and maybe not the kind you can pivot a team around. We don’t know yet. Feels like there should have been more urgency around this deadline considering their standing.

But then again, maybe they feel like we do about the Cubs, and think if you’re knee-deep in this muck, you’re probably not that good anyway.

Baseball

And of course on the day I was just bitching about the nickel and dime and middle of the road moves the Cubs have engaged in this season, they go and get what was one of the best bats on the market, trading for Detroit’s Nick Castellanos. Of course, this is on the same day, even hour, their “contemporary” Astros get Zack Greinke. You see what I mean, folks?

Anyway, there’s no question Castellanos lengthens either the lineup or the bench, depending on what his role is that night. Castellanos is only having an ok year, with a wRC+ of 106. However, he’s been murdering left-handed pitching all year, to the tune of a 166 wRC+ this season, with a 51.7% hard-contact rate. Even if he only starts against lefties, he’ll bring that to the table and take any of Schwarber, Heyward, or Garcia out of the lineup (with Happ moving to second, if that’s a game we want to play) and that’s an upgrade.

If Castellanos gets more playing time than that, it still removes any temptation for Almora (more on him in a second), or Garcia (though I can’t see Happ getting THAT much time at second base), less Happ, or less Schwarber I guess if that’s the way they want to go. At the very least it puts some of those guys on the bench on a given night to give Joe Maddon some pinch-hitting options other than Victor Caratini or Willson Contreras, whichever wasn’t starting.

It’s not without some concerns. When Castellanos plays and moves Heyward to center, or out of the lineup completely with Happ in center, that’s a legitimately terrible defensive outfield. Again, the Cubs mitigate some of this by being the best ground-ball generating team in the league, but any fly ball that heads out over the heads of the infielders is going to have their pitchers swallowing their tongues. Castellanos gets a break in going from the gargantuan outfield of Comerica to Wrigley…as long as the sun and wind don’t cause him to asphyxiate (no guarantee there).

As for knock-on effects, either Happ’s call-up was short-lived and he’s headed back to Iowa, or Albert Almora is. AA has been simply woeful at the plate going on two months now, and maybe the only way to save him is to give him the ABs in Iowa he never really got in the first place. That seems the most likely move.

Even made more so by the acquisition of Tony Kemp, who can play center and left and second base, though none all that well. Kemp isn’t completely helpless with the bat, though it feels like this is the pinch-runner-in-big-games thing they love, except they aren’t going to be playing in any big games, are they (chuckle, chuckle)? Kemp’s BABIP is in the toilet this year, though that might because he never, ever hits a ball hard. Still, last year he put up a 107 wRC+, and with any slice of luck he can at least not be a giant sucking sound at the plate for whatever ABs the Cubs deign to give him. Again, strengthens the depth….but by a measure you’ll need a magnifying glass to see. Kemp probably thieves the defensive replacement role from Almora as well.

As far as David Phelps, what he provides other than the opportunity for Seinfeld Steinbrenner jokes, I’m not sure. Two years ago he was really effective with the Marlins, when he was striking out nearly 12 hitters per nine innings. But he’s been less so with Toronto, and ouchy. His fastball has lost some serious juice this year, which has caused him to with far more cutters and curves. Neither is generating any results that are going to cause tumescence anywhere. He’s a guy. That doesn’t mean he won’t get more usage than he should, because that’s just how things work around here.

As for what’s going away, neither pitcher the Cubs gave up for Castellanos would be considered anything more than a lottery ticket. Both Paul Richan and Alex Lange have not lit it up at High-A, though they’re only 22 and 23, so they have time to figure it out. At best they were two seasons way, more likely three. On the one hand, you wonder if the Cubs should be giving up on any pitching prospects at this point. On the other, given their track record, they might as well cash in on every one because they’re likely not going to do shit.

As for flogging Carl Edwards Jr. to San Diego for Brad Wieck…it’s just sad. You could see it with Edwards, he was so close to being a real thing. And he clearly wanted it pretty badly. And maybe that was the problem. He couldn’t handle it not working, because you could see him go into a sulk when the slightest thing didn’t go his way. Then he pitched scared, and wildly, and that’s how we got here. It just wasn’t ever going to happen here for him, and it’s best for everyone to move on. I just wouldn’t trust the dude who gave up a ton of homers in San Diego to do much for you.

At least there are more options now. At least they haven’t given up. Now get your head out of your ass and let’s go.

Everything Else

There’s little question that the Vancouver Canucks have been floating in a fowl, still body of water for a few years now. They may be heavily deluded by the playoff appearance of 2015 that they somehow spasmed out of nowhere, but the two seasons after that hasn’t seen them clear 75 points and they’re certainly going to get nowhere near that this season. Anyone with half-decent eyesight and at least five functioning neurons upstairs could see this team needs big changes. It has one player it can build around in Brock Boeser, and maybe a decent piece in Bo Horvat, Troy Stetcher, and Ben Hutton. Maybe. Clearly, there’s a long way to go.

The Canucks had some things that they might have been able to move along for at least additional draft picks, and the more spins at the draft wheel you get the better chance you have of landing something meaningful.

Erik Gudbranson, who uncategorically sucks and that’s not even a phrase, was heading into free agency this summer. Thomas Vanek was another. Alex Edler might be starting to have old man stink, but he’s only got one year after this left on his deal and if the Canucks ate just a touch of his money due, they might have been able to convince some idiot that he can be a puck-moving bum-slayer. Chris Tanev has two more years after this one, and would have been harder to move, but given that he’s 28 and can actually still play, that might have been worth kicking the tires on too. And kicking this season into the can as hard as possible raises the odds of Rasmus Dahlin landing in town, which is a real start. Hell, maybe even flogging Lisa Ann’s favorite defenseman Michael Del Zotto would have been worth inspection.

The Canucks did… none of this.

They only made two trades. One was of Philip Holm, a young d-man who couldn’t crack their lineup, to Vegas for reclamation project Brendan Leipsic. Like, ok, maybe the Canucks can get Leipsic to the heights of a third line player. So…fine. And they did move Thomas Vanek…

…for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte.

HUH?!

The Canucks tried to claim that there was no picks available for Vanek. But he got a third round pick at the deadline just last year. Surely a lower pick could have been had. And what the fuck are the Canucks going to do with Jokinen and Motte other than have other jerseys to make? Jokinen will play for all 31 NHL teams by 2020 at this ace, and Fifth Feather called Tyler Motte an ECHL all-star upon one viewing of him in preseason. Are they really selling that a player on his third organization by 24 is going to be a piece?

Not only that, they re-signed Gudbranson for another four years. He’s a big, dumb d-man in a league that’s getting smaller and faster. This deal is going to look awful…well, now. They didn’t move Edler, who is only going to lose value now, and they didn’t move Tanev. Tanev still has use but will he at 31 or 32 when the Canucks are good again? Assuming they do everything right, which they won’t.

The Canucks will spend $23.2 million next year on Gudbranson, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Loui Eriksson, and Bo Horvat. Only Horvat isn’t a synonym for “millstone” at the moment, and only just barely away from that. And remember, they might not get to 65 points this year.

Sure, Adam Gaudette and Kole Lind are in the pipeline already. But look at how much more the Nucks need? This was a whiff.

 

Game #75 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built