Hockey

It was only a couple years ago that the reigning thought about the Leafs was that their blue line would hold them back (everyone in Toronto can conveniently forget the goalie on command in amazing fashion). They clearly have the forwards for a Cup run, perhaps the most talented grouping in the league. And yet for a few years now the Leafs have given up way too many chances and shots. This year’s been a little different, as they’re in the middle of the pack in the amount of attempts and chances they give up. Their penalty kill has let them down, but at evens they’ve been just about where you want to be.

A couple years ago, the Leafs blue line was a bit slow. But then they picked up Jake Muzzin last year. And Travis Dermott got more experience. And then this past summer, they made the big splash and shipped out problem child Nazem Kadri to Colorado for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. Barrie was supposed to be the missing piece, the third puck-mover they didn’t have who could keep the forwards from having to come all the way back in their own zone and could get them out in space more often where they’re beyond lethal.

About that…

On the surface, Barrie’s numbers don’t look too much worse than what he did in Denver. His Corsi-percentage is almost exactly the same as it was as an Avalanche last year. But do any digging and things have been a tire fire so far. Barrie’s xG% has dropped from 52.4% to 45.4% this year, and he’s lagging way behind the team rate. Moreover, Barrie provided scoring from the back end in Colorado. He had 14 goals each of the past two seasons and over 55 points as well. So far this year he only has five assists. Even worse, he’s not getting the looks he got earlier in his career either. He’s getting the same attempts at evens, but they’re from beyond three-point range, as his expected tallies and scoring chances are down either to one-third or one quarter of what they were in Denver.

It’s the same story on the power play, where he’s not getting as much time in Toronto, and his chances just aren’t as good as they used to be. So what gives?

It could be a matter of partner. In Colorado, Barrie spent most of his time with Ian Cole (BAYBAY!), who would just simply be a free safety for him and back him up in his forays. Now in Toronto, he’s playing with Jake Muzzin, who has a very similar game to Barrie’s. So it appears that Barrie is deferring to Muzzin, as Muzzin’s numbers are a little closer to what he’s done before. It’s not the best use of Barrie, but then again it might not be the best use of Muzzin to reverse it either. It’s only 17 games, and there’s plenty of time to see how they can get the best out of both, but it’s been a rocky start.

Maybe it doesn’t help that every Leafs defender aside from Morgan Rielly and his odd expressions is on audition. Every one of them is a free agent in the summer, and the Leafs can only keep a couple thanks to their cap situation. It could be a complete reset. Throw in the normal pressure of playing in Toronto, and you see what the issues could be.

It’s not what they pictured when they picked up Barrie, and Kadri killing it Colorado hasn’t helped the fans’ morale. Then again, nothing does. But the Leafs blue line went from one of the slower ones around to one of the more nifty ones in just two seasons, and the question is whether Mike Babcock the one to figure out how to maximize it. While there’s plenty of games, the Atlantic Division is just about as devilish as it gets and the last thing the Leafs want is to be staring up at the Bruins and starting the playoffs in Boston again. Figuring out this puzzle would be a major step.

Hockey

The only team that matters. Don’t believe it, just ask them. The Leafs got Mitch Marner into the fold before the season, which was something of a minor upset. They’re going into the season with a better defense than they did last year, now a full year of Jake Muzzin, along with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci arriving this summer (the latter already causing hilarious furor). And yet, this collection of players still doesn’t have a playoff series win to its name. The thinking is that if they get the first a whole bunch more will follow. Problem with that is they’re still in the same division with Tampa and Boston. And we know if they don’t get past them, it’ll be a national disaster and you all have to have a week of mourning. Is this the time? Could be, but it’s no guarantee.

2018-2019

46-28-8  100 points (3rd in Atlantic, out in 1st round)

3.49 GF/G (4th)  3.04 GA/G (20th) +37 GD

51.7 CF% (8th)  51.7 xGF% (10th)

21.8 PP% (8th)  79.9 PK% (17th)

Goalies: So here’s the thing. The Leafs can dress up their changes, acquisitions, and experience gained all they want, but they’re still counting on Freddie Andersen. And Freddie Anderson is the very definition of “good enough to break your heart.” It’s what he does. It’s what he’s always done. He’s certainly more than enough to rack up points in the regular season, especially when you score a ton of goals as the Leafs do. And he wasn’t even bad in the playoffs last year, with a .922 SV% in the series against Boston. But it wasn’t enough in Game 7. It never is. That’s what happens. And the Leafs seem to think they can break through the same wall this time. They don’t have a good enough defense to shield him. They need Freddie to make the saves. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a team that just scores its way through four rounds. Freddie has yet to do it. I’m not betting on him to do it now.

Anyway, Michael Hutchinson is backing him up. There’s not enough time for all that I want… to say about him.

Defense: It’s new look, and if it doesn’t work everyone here is a free agent after the season except LGBTQ spokesman Morgan Rielly. You would think that would create some urgency, which could help. I’m bigger on Tyson Barrie than most, and provides someone who can get the puck up himself or to the forwards better than anyone they had last season save Rielly. Cody Ceci is already causing Alka-Seltzer sales to go up in Ontario, as everyone expects Mike Babcock to use him way too often. They’ll get a full season of Muzzin, who was surprisingly good last year after arriving from LA. But beyond those four it is ugly, which is probably where the Ceci fears are springing from. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, The Other Schmaltz, Ben Harpur, you don’t want any of these idiots skating more than 10 minutes a night. Which might leave the top four exposed and exhausted by the time the games really count.

Forwards: If any unit can counteract what the defense can’t do, it’s this forward group. Everyone’s locked in now, so they don’t have that hanging over them. There’s still no team rolling out a better top six than this, with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and whatever other jokers you want to pair with them. Nylander should rebound after getting a full training camp and having Marner take all the recent-signee pressure off of him. They’ve lost some depth in trading Nazem Kadri for Barrie, and Kadri did a lot more for this team than people realize.

There isn’t anyone around to take up that role, and you don’t want either of Tavares or Matthews to do it. Nick Shore? Nic Petan? Those are huge steps down from Kadri, who was a shutdown center who could also score a lot. Nobody is going to replace him on either side of that ledger, and the Leafs downfall might be either having some top line go off on them in the playoffs (again) or having to use Matthews to fight fire with fire and losing his production. It’s an issue.

It’s not much different on the wings. where only Andreas Johansson looks like a useful bottom-six piece. Jason Spezza is dead. They’ll be hunting depth via trade.

Prediction: With all the pieces locked in now, one wonders how much patience they’ll have under Mike Babcock again. He’s not a soft sort to play for, and now the Leafs have made their commitments. What happens when Marner and Matthews start rolling their eyes at Babs in January or December even? That’s one iceberg they’ll have to avoid, and it might help that Babs is going to have to play his top six a ton. But if Ceci ends up being a disaster, there’s not much anyone can do about the defense.

And there’s not much Babs can do about Andersen, either. There’s more than enough talent here than make a run…and there’s enough holes to eat it in the first round to any of Tampa or Boston or any surprise like Montreal or Florida as well. Whatever it ends up being, there’ll be far more noise than is warranted.

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Everything Else

Some teams leave with a wave, and some leave with a warning. That’s what the Colorado Avalanche want you to believe, and it very well may be true. It feels like they’ve been gotten this time, but will be right back here again and again in the years to come, and moving on even farther. They certainly do look poised for that given the age of all their important players and they might have the second-best player in the league in their ranks.

Then again, the Duchene-O’Reilly Era Avalanche sure looked poised for bigger things. They never won a series and they’re both on their second team since. Then there was that revival in Patrick Roy’s first year, the one that everyone told them couldn’t last. Avs fans didn’t want to hear it, we didn’t know the truth they claimed, couldn’t understand the INTANGIBLES Roy brought. They were never heard from again. I’m not saying the Avs cry “Wolf!” a lot, I’m just saying…

Sure, it could have gone on longer possibly if the Avs captain, Gabriel SapsuckerFrog, had gotten his lazy ass off to the bench sooner. Maybe a 2-2 tie spring the gremlins in the Sharks’ heads again. Then again, 15 shots in the 3rd period weren’t enough to get even, so really, where were the Avs going? Home, that’s where. The Sharks thank you for bringing Martin Jones back from the land of wind and ghosts.

So the Avs have a summer to ponder and add to a core that looks pretty tasty in MacKinnon, Rantanen, ThreeYaksAndADog, Makar, Barrie, Girard, and whatever else they might unearth. Or maybe this will be the same team it’s been the past two years, with a canyon-esque gulf between its top line and the rest of the roster. Sometimes a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher is just that. a Colin Wilson and a J.T. Compher.

It’ll be another season of convincing themselves Erik Johnson has anything to offer, even though he spent their first second-round series in a decade getting his head bounced around like a basketball by whatever teal-clad opponent had the pleasure of facing him. Hey look! I think Nikita Zadorov just ran out of position again to miss a hit! Sure is tough though!

There’s a ton of cap space, and other than Rantanen there aren’t a ton of must-keeps here. But $35M is just about what it costs to keep Stan Kroenke in wigs, mustache wax, and bribe funds to get him into whatever Hollywood party wouldn’t let him in. The Avs best hope is that Arsenal supporters murder him.

You forget because of the novelty of a team immediately being the league’s cream of the crop upon arriving in a new city all those years ago, but the Avs were/are well on their way to being Mountain Islanders. Four series wins in the past 16 years, no conference final appearance in 17 years. You don’t think of the Avs has basking in faded glory, probably because you don’t think of the Avs. But they were. And maybe they still will, which would be pretty funny.

It’s all there for them. The Jets and Preds are falling apart. We know the Blues will always find a way to get in their own way, even if it hasn’t happened yet this spring (and it will). But isn’t Denver built upon a society of people saying, “Eh…let’s just have a beer and then go hiking?” Don’t know where you find inspiration where everyone is content to just hang out in the back yard with their dog. And nor should you.

We’re wary of the threat, Avs. But you can only scare people with the ghosts of Sakic and Forsberg’s elbows for so long. You’re going to have to do something eventually. Trucking a fragile and short Flames roster isn’t really it. Neither is stretching a Sharks team without its captain to seven games. Better make it quick.

 

 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose – Tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in San Jose – Sunday, 6:30

Game 3 in Denver – Tuesday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver – Thursday, 9pm

This is where the Sharks are supposed to be, just not how they’re supposed to be here. It took a miracle, they somehow overcame Martin Jones, the NHL’s favorite pet, and various injuries. Do they have anything left? The Avs are here because they have the player who might be playing the best hockey in the world right now, and that their goalie was also as good as anyone. The Sharks benefitted from Marc-Andre Fleury rediscovering his 2010-2013 form. They won’t get such benefits here. Can they overcome a good goalie with less than their full compliment of scorers?

Goalies: While MacKinnon stole all the headlines, along with Mikko Rantanen, Phillip Grubauer was becoming what the Avs thought they were getting when they traded for him in the summer. He put up a .939 against the Flames, who don’t lack for snipers. He only had to work hard a couple times, but giving up 10 goals in five games is a football in the groin. Grubauer has been galactic since February 1st, and it should probably be a given at this point that he’s going to be good.

What to make of Martin Jones. Swinging wildly between really good and slapstick comedy with almost no in-between against Vegas, Jones looked to have tossed away all that the Sharks are with that poor goal from Pacioretty in the 3rd period of Game 7. The Knights’ bed-wetting saw that wasn’t the case, but it wasn’t the stirring performance the Sharks would hope they can build on. He was excellent in Games 5 and 6 when he had to be, but the Sharks can’t have any idea what they’re getting. And they’ll be seeing MacK and Rantanen, who are better scorers than anything the Knights cough up, despite what they tell you.

Defense: The Avs got a boost from the addition of Cale Makar, but this is still a teenager playing his fourth game ever. They were much better than you would have guessed against the Flames, who kept falling apart in front of them. Tyson Barrie was everywhere, and they didn’t pay for having Zadorov and Nemeth on the team. I still won’t buy Ian Cole or Erik Johnson, or Zadorov and Nemeth, but they’re here. There’s more depth they have to deal with from San Jose than Calgary, and if anyone is going to expose them, it’s the Sharks.

The Sharks would have a bigger advantage if Erik Karlsson‘s groin didn’t sound like trying to pull the rack out of an oven that’s never been cleaned right now. He’s moving maybe at 60% of his usual grace, and that’s a problem. Still, it was enough to barely outlast the speed of the Knights, and the Avs aren’t any faster. Brent Burns is a disaster waiting to happen at any moment, But that’s why you have Marc-Edouard Vlasic around. Peter DeBoer finally figured out that Brenden Dillon blows, and was actually playing Joakim Ryan in OT of Game 7. That should continue, but won’t because DeBoer has his idiotic tendencies. Again, they got through the Knights, and here they really only have one line to deal with.

Forwards: This is easy. The Avs have one line, and probably the best line left in the West, and it was more than enough to kick the Flames’ dick into the dirt. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going to be stopped, and he’ll bring Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog with him. But beyond that, you can have it. Yes, they were enough against the Flames, but Colin Wilson and J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto will return to their own level. There’s a collection of nice players under the top line, but no game-breakers here. The top line just might be enough, though.

The Sharks would have a big advantage here if Joe Pavelski was going to play, and we have no idea if he will. Without him, Logan Couture lacks wingers. Sure, there’s still Hertl, Kane, Thornton, Meier, and Nyquist and a few competent bottom-sixers. They’re still deeper than the Avs without Pavelski, but that gap is monumental with him. I think it’s doubtful he shows up, but this being hockey, who can say for sure?

Prediction: Tough one. The Sharks are much deeper than the Flames, and won’t have their top center just completely go Copperfield on them like Sean Monahan did. They should, should, expose the middle and bottom pairing of the Avs, which even with Makar isn’t up to this. And with Pavelski, I’d be much more assured that happens. But Grubauer over Jones makes up for that, or most of it. The Sharks might want a rest. They won’t get one. But they’re just a better team, especially if they get a Pavelski return.

Sharks in 7. 

Everything Else

Tyson Barrie is a name we’ve tossed around the FFUD lab for years. It didn’t hurt, or help him, that the Avs seemingly could never warm up to him. He was definitely on the trade-block a few years ago, primarily because he wouldn’t commit axe-murder on the ice like Patrick Roy required of his defensemen. A right-handed, puck-moving d-man is something the Hawks have been crying out for for years, and kind of necessitated the drafting of both Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell. It’s no coincidence that the Avs extended Barrie the same offseason they told Roy to do one, realizing what they had and what was ruining it. Always best to choose a talented d-man over a loudmouth dope, at least in our minds.

Barrie has paid the Avs back and then some. His 109 points from the back end the past two years ranks him sixth among all defensemen, ahead of names like Roman Josi, Mark Giordano, and John Klingberg. The only ones ahead of him are Brent Burns, John Carlson, Morgan Rielly, Victor Hedman, and Keith Yandle, He walks among the best.

Barrie has of late also been metrically affluent, as he’s carrying the play in terms of expected goals and Corsi. And his rates are far above the team-rates. Yes, Barrie has spent most of his time behind the Troika Of The Apocalypse in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. But someone has to get them the puck, and their metrics take a heavy drop when Barrie isn’t back there (also dragging around Ian Cole, baybay!). All three of those forwards see their Corsi, scoring chance, and high-danger chance rates drop 4-7 points when Barrie isn’t out there with him. He’s an engine.

Which puts the Avs in something of a curious spot.

You may not know, but there’s something pretty sparkly about to hit Denver. Its name is Cale Makar. He’s currently lighting up Hockey East for UMass, the #3 team in the nation, with 46 points in 36 games as a d-man. Hockey East being just about the realest-ass conference there is, and Makar merely being a sophomore, you can pretty much bank on him being the realness. And like Barrie, he’s right-handed. Makar may even join the Avs for the playoffs, if they make it and he doesn’t take UMass all the way to the Frozen Four.

Ideally, next season Barrie would be used to shelter Makar, leaving the latter to simply fistfuck second and third lines from a second pairing. And perhaps that is the plan. Where that gets rough is that Barrie will also be in the last year of his deal. Should he put up another 50-60 points, and there’s no reason he won’t other than health, he’ll be hitting unrestricted free agency at a still springy 29. Perhaps good for the Avs is that if you look ahead, the summer of 2020 could be loaded when it comes to free agent defensemen. At the moment, Alex Pietrangelo, Justin Schultz, Barrie, Torey Krug, Jared Spurgeon, and Justin Faulk are currently slated to be on the market then. Obviously, not all will get there. But Barrie can easily ask for $7M-$8M with another like the last two have been.

So if you’re Joe Sakic, do you keep Barrie around to be the Makar-Whisperer, and then quite possibly lose him for nothing? Do you try and cash in this summer and hope Makar is ready for it all next year (which he might be)? Do you extend Barrie at 29? The Avs can probably afford to so thanks to MacKinnon’s simply laughably team-friendly deal. And that’s with Rantanen pulling in whatever he gets this summer as an RFA.

Should the Avs go that route, they could look awfully scary next year with Barrie and Makar driving the bus, that top line, and hopefully a step forward from literally any of their other kids, as well as the addition of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, thanks to the Senators paint-huffing style of management. If the Jets and Predators want to know where their likely challenger is coming from in the Central, it probably should look to the mountains.

 

Game #74 and #75 Preview Suite

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 vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-19-6   Avalanche 19-10-6

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago +

JOE WALSH SAID IT WAS COOL: Mile High Hockey

Complaining about the schedule usually seems on the petty side. Everyone has rough stretches and back-to-backs against a team that’s been waiting for them. They tend to even out. That said, the second of a back-to-back and in the middle of a three-in-four at altitude against an Avalanche team that didn’t play last night seems excessive. Maybe flying in late at night and playing straight away can be one of those things where you’re out before you notice the air is thinner. Anyway, complaint department closed. The Hawks try to keep this mini-streak of competence going against the best line in hockey. Joy.

There’s really no point in talking about the Avs beyond that top line. That’s what they are. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog are putting up boxcar numbers, with Rantanen and MacKinnon especially on pace for things the NHL hasn’t seen in a long time. Not only are they highly-skilled and jet-heeled, they’re big and can play with an edge. They’re an absolute nightmare. They’re underlyings aren’t that great, but they don’t have to be. Much like we discussed with Patrik Laine when the Jets were the foe, this is a line that’s always going to outshoot whatever the numbers suggest they “should” score. So good luck, Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom, especially after both took one upside last night.

The problem for the Avs, such as you can call it that, is that they haven’t found much under that line. It doesn’t matter when they’re scoring at this pace, but it could be a problem down the road. Only one forward after the top three has more than 20 points, and that’s Carl Soderberg, who is pretty much here to make up the numbers. Tyson Jost or Alex Kerfoot or J.T. Compher have not grabbed the brass ring yet, and one day the Avs will need that if they’re going to make serious noise when it counts. Otherwise you just have some competent foot soldiers here, convenient as the Avs have a big foot on the shoulder patches, like Matt Nieto or Colin Wilson or Sven Thank You Very Much Andrighetto.

On the blue line, one of their bounties for Matt Duchene has come good, and that’s Samuel Girard (always listen to the Big Dog because the Big Dog is always right). He has combined with Golf Cart Hero Erik Johnson to give the Avs a genuine shutdown pairing. Something they haven’t had since…Obi-Wan was merely a trainee himself. Tyson Barrie continues to do just enough to make you think he could be doing more, and Ian Cole is still wildly overrated. It’s a better blue line than it’s been, but it still has some miles to travel.

Phillip Grubauer was supposed to grab the #1 role from the soon-to-be-departed Semyon Varlamov, but it hasn’t happened. Varly is in a contract year, so it figures he would not be so easily displaced. That said, he’s been woeful in December, to the tune of .886. Grubs was excellent against the Canadiens last out, and he might get the chance to back it up tonight.

For the Hawks, you doubt there’d be too many changes. But there were rumblings that Colliton might roll Cam Ward out again, which would be a mistake. The Hawks have something of a glimpse at Collin Delia, and they should take it. If he’s your guy of the future, get every look you can. If it doesn’t work, hey he was just an injury-fill-in and return him to Rockford. If he takes it and runs, well then, you’ve got yourself something. Also Ward is going to turn back into Cam Ward at any moment, so why push it? Fuck, give Delia the next two. Remember what you are, and that’s a team that’s seven games under .500. You’re not getting back into this, so find out what you have when you can.

It’s a challenge given they played last night. Let’s see how up for it they are.

 

 

Game #38 Preview Suite

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 at 

Game Time: 8:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Edible Arrangements: Mile High Hockey

At the beginning of the season, most observers would have marked this game as being between one team who is scrapping to maintain a wildcard spot and another who is getting a look at some kids in a season that has been in the shitter since the end of January due to shoddy goaltending, and they would still be correct. Cue Twlight Zone music (or is Black Mirror the more appropriate reference?) .

Everything Else

It was only five games ago we lowered the shark cage and let @AnthraxJones snarl and yell and chew on the bars Not much has changed since. Here’s what he had to say then. 

Nathan MacKinnon is on a 110-point pace, even though he missed a little time. Why has he become Asgardian this season?

We knew he had this in him, we saw it in the World Cup with the NAU23 team when he stood out over everybody on the roster, including Connor McDavid. Two days earlier this season may have been what evolved mild-mannered Nathan MacKinnon from “maybe we should’ve taken Barkov or Seth Jones” to “Indestructible Cyborg Nathan MacKinnon”: a late-October 7-0 loss to Vegas that saw him wheel and fight Brayden McNabb after a bad hit, and you could tell he was taking out his frustration from a slow start on McNabb. Second was when the Avs traded Eeyore to Ottawa and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top of the lineup, which happened a few days after the Vegas debacle. Part of me wonders if something in Duchene’s attitude was keeping MacKinnon from wanting to really take ownership of the team in a leadership capacity, but whatever it was, it seemed to lift after the trade.

Your Special Boy Mikko Rantanen is also a point-per-game. Tell us why he’s your Special Boy. 

He’s our Big Baby Deer. It’s remarkable that he’s had the season he’s had so far, because he’s one of the most awkward-looking players I’ve ever seen. He looks like a large horse that still hasn’t figured out its legs yet. It makes me hopeful that he still has another gear to get to when he does get himself coordinated. He’s a smart player who finds himself in the right places at the right times, he has murderous hands for a kid his size, and he benefits from playing with Cyborg 29 and Angry Hossa, Babe Landeskog.

Two kids in Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are on the second line. How have their rookie seasons gone?

Kerfoot and Jost have inverted one another so far. Kerfoot started the season blazing hot, and has really cooled down since then, which is natural for a kid who isn’t used to playing this many games against adult men with Dad Strength, instead of physics majors at RPI. Jost started slow and battled injuries, but for the past month or so it looks like something is clicking with him. They’re both gonna be good NHLers, but I think their future roles are still undetermined.
 
Are the Avs done treating Tyson Barrie like a redheaded stepchild and accept he’s actually quite good and necessary?

If the Avs don’t, they better listen to their superstar player, who’s not only best friends with Barrie, but also shares a brain with him on the ice. Their chemistry is ridiculous, and it’s truly a symbiotic benefit where they both make each other better. I haven’t always been on board with the idea of Tyson Barrie as a long-term piece on this roster, especially once Cale Makar hits the NHL roster, but I think it would be a mistake to trade him this offseason.

They going to make the playoffs?

They shouldn’t, but they’re gonna, and it’s because the Central Division beyond Nashville and the Mole People in Winnipeg ranges from desperately mediocre to downright bad. I’d love to see a first round matchup between Colorado and Vegas so we can never pay attention to pre-season “expert picks” ever again, but also because I think Vegas is gonna get picked off by whoever they play in the first round. The Avs aren’t deep enough to beat a Nashville type team in the second round, but every great team has to experience that first tough loss sometime, and I think this is that season.

 

Game #79 Preview

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We’ve never liked Joe Sakic. Oh sure, all-time great player. The center the Hawks could never have, the player Jeremy Roenick could never be. But it was always him standing in the Hawks’ way in the mid-90s. He who scored that goal in Game 4 in ’96 that prevented the Hawks from taking a 3-1 lead (while Chris Chelios’s leg was numbed by his own team’s doctor). He had 65 points in 55 games against the Hawks. It felt like it was 174.

So we rejoiced when he was hired as GM of the Avs in 2013. Surely this was just a move to placate an eroding fanbase, give them a name they recognize and would give the most amount of leash because how would anyone in Denver ever be mad at Joe Sakic? Another rock-headed former player being used to insulate an ownership no one really cared for.

It all started so promisingly, as the entire franchise bent to the will of Patrick Roy, a vapid bullhorn come to life. They goofed one division crown, and then tried to chase that for three more seasons. They signed Jarome Iginla, which they didn’t have a need for. They signed Francois Beauchemin because Roy wanted a big, bruising d-man while ignoring he couldn’t catch anyone. They jerked around Tyson Barrie. It was going so swimmingly to keep the Avs in the toilet for eternity. The dream was almost real.

Then Sakic fired Roy, or at least got him to quit, which is just as good. He went outside the Old Boys Network to hire Jared Bednar. They didn’t flinch when they had a historically bad season last year. All the while, he drafted Rantanen, Greer, Jost, Makar. They traded Ryan O’Reilly and got J.T. Compher. They finally cashed in on Matt Duchene and got a huge haul out of it. They’ve straightened out Gabriel Landeskog, and put something in Nathan MacKinnon’s food. What the fuck is going on here?

And now the Avs look set to rise out of the muck. No longer will they be an after-thought with weird colors. Can you imagine how obnoxious this will get when the Denver hipsters catch on? It’s going to be awful.

Your ass used to be beautiful, Joe. And now you’ve gone back to our nemesis. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

 

Game #79 Preview

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@Anthrax Jones is a truly scary individual. We asked him these questions and then ducked behind the couch. You should too. 

Nathan MacKinnon is on a 110-point pace, even though he missed a little time. Why has he become Asgardian this season?

We knew he had this in him, we saw it in the World Cup with the NAU23 team when he stood out over everybody on the roster, including Connor McDavid. Two days earlier this season may have been what evolved mild-mannered Nathan MacKinnon from “maybe we should’ve taken Barkov or Seth Jones” to “Indestructible Cyborg Nathan MacKinnon”: a late-October 7-0 loss to Vegas that saw him wheel and fight Brayden McNabb after a bad hit, and you could tell he was taking out his frustration from a slow start on McNabb. Second was when the Avs traded Eeyore to Ottawa and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top of the lineup, which happened a few days after the Vegas debacle. Part of me wonders if something in Duchene’s attitude was keeping MacKinnon from wanting to really take ownership of the team in a leadership capacity, but whatever it was, it seemed to lift after the trade.

Your Special Boy Mikko Rantanen is also a point-per-game. Tell us why he’s your Special Boy. 

He’s our Big Baby Deer. It’s remarkable that he’s had the season he’s had so far, because he’s one of the most awkward-looking players I’ve ever seen. He looks like a large horse that still hasn’t figured out its legs yet. It makes me hopeful that he still has another gear to get to when he does get himself coordinated. He’s a smart player who finds himself in the right places at the right times, he has murderous hands for a kid his size, and he benefits from playing with Cyborg 29 and Angry Hossa, Babe Landeskog.

Two kids in Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are on the second line. How have their rookie seasons gone?

Kerfoot and Jost have inverted one another so far. Kerfoot started the season blazing hot, and has really cooled down since then, which is natural for a kid who isn’t used to playing this many games against adult men with Dad Strength, instead of physics majors at RPI. Jost started slow and battled injuries, but for the past month or so it looks like something is clicking with him. They’re both gonna be good NHLers, but I think their future roles are still undetermined.
 
Are the Avs done treating Tyson Barrie like a redheaded stepchild and accept he’s actually quite good and necessary?

If the Avs don’t, they better listen to their superstar player, who’s not only best friends with Barrie, but also shares a brain with him on the ice. Their chemistry is ridiculous, and it’s truly a symbiotic benefit where they both make each other better. I haven’t always been on board with the idea of Tyson Barrie as a long-term piece on this roster, especially once Cale Makar hits the NHL roster, but I think it would be a mistake to trade him this offseason.

They going to make the playoffs?

They shouldn’t, but they’re gonna, and it’s because the Central Division beyond Nashville and the Mole People in Winnipeg ranges from desperately mediocre to downright bad. I’d love to see a first round matchup between Colorado and Vegas so we can never pay attention to pre-season “expert picks” ever again, but also because I think Vegas is gonna get picked off by whoever they play in the first round. The Avs aren’t deep enough to beat a Nashville type team in the second round, but every great team has to experience that first tough loss sometime, and I think this is that season.

Game #74 Preview

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built