Hockey

Let’s get it out at the top, we don’t miss Eddie Olczyk’s insistence on calling Dominik Kahun “The Big Kahun-a.” Somehow, no one ever bothered to explain to Eddie, or he just never bothered to listen, that “The Big Kahun” would suffice easily. We’ll get the joke. Really, we will. It made it sound like he had indigestion every time he said the goddamn name. Fuckin’ eh hockey people have the worst sense of humor.

Anyway, the Hawks fortunes probably don’t hinge on whether Dominik Kahun is here or not. But if you consider the kind of game the NHL is these days, and the one the Hawks are trying to play in it, what makes more sense? Having a quick, smart forward who is interested and effective in both ends of the ice? Or cashing him in for a slow, not all-all-that-skilled d-man and then having to plug up the forward spot you just vacated with a dumber, slower, less interested and far more expensive player? Not to mention older? You see where this goes.

We know the Hawks figured that with the arrival of Domink Kubalik, that the other Dominik was expendable. Maybe even more so if they had an inkling they could pry Alex Nylander loose. And yet wouldn’t you be happier with Kahun taking Shaw’s shifts right now? He’s certainly more flexible, and less prone to ride on his reputation with the locals to loaf around the offensive zone until it’s time to take an idiotic and lazy penalty.

And conceding that the Hawks knew they’d end up with Nylander would concede that they also had any sort of plan, which is clear they didn’t. If the front office was committed to building a team that can play the way Jeremy Colliton wants to play, and that’s assuming the front office has any idea what their coach is doing, you’d want quicker and more dynamic d-men than you had. Ones that can win the races and play the high-pressure way and not lose their man simply because they can’t keep up or get back to where they need to be quick enough. You wouldn’t go out and get a plodder, much less two of them.

But that’s what the Hawks did. Which smacks of acquiring Maatta simply because he was available without ever considering if he truly fit. Same thing with Calvin de Haan, though they didn’t give up anything of value to do that. Worse yet, both are signed for multiple years, which strangles any flexibility. How do they plan on getting Ian Mitchell and Nicholas Beaudin and even Chad Krys on this roster in the next two seasons?

So where would the Hawks be better off? The $7M they’d have saved by just keeping Kahun, never bothering with Maatta or Shaw? Or this? You tell us which path actually speaks to having a plan and which speaks to throwing shit at a wall? And sure, Kahun will be due a raise after this season, but do you really think he’ll get anywhere close to the $3.9M that Shaw is getting? No, you don’t, because you haven’t been hit by a crowbar recently.

As we figured, Kahun has taken to the Penguins’ system like a dog to peanut butter, simply crushing the competition to the tune of a 57% Corsi and a 62% expected-goals share. He’s been used in the offensive end more often than the Hawks did, to be fair. He’s mostly skated with Jared McCann in The Confluence, and now with Evgeni Malkin back will probably slot into a third-line role which he was built for.

We still find it hard to believe that Jim Rutherford knows what he’s doing. But as GM of one of the three modern forces of the league this decade, he seems to be the only one getting it right. And by some distance. Fleecing the Hawks for Kahun is how you do that.

Everything Else

You’d be tempted to accuse the Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury of falling into the famous “Free Agent Year” trap, except that last year Fleury wasn’t in his free agent year. It seems unique to hockey that you have to sign a player to an extension a full season before he gets to free agency, as the dreaded “distraction” of a contract negotiation is feared to be something akin to Godzilla to the fleeing Japanese of a regular season and team. That’s how we got here with Brent Seabrook, after all. You’d think you’d want to grow the sample size before committing money to anyone aging and/or coming off a performance out of line with the rest of their career. But the NHL has always been where logic goes to die.

What was clear after last season is that Flower had a career season. His .927 SV% over the year was the best he’d accomplished by six points, which was two seasons previous in Pittsburgh, a season that saw him give way to Matt Murray late anyway. While Fleury had saved himself after his playoff meltdowns earlier in the decade, .927 was never going to be the norm.

NHL GMs seem to bathe in the good feelings of a team more than any others though, and because everything around the Knights was essentially Prozac from last spring on, he couldn’t help but hand Fleury three more years at $7M. No waiting around to see if Fleury could match that performance. No being sure. No thought that maybe at age 34 that was as good as it was going to get for Fleury.

And then you get what we have now.

Fleury has been terrible for most of this season, though has rebounded the last two games with shutouts to vault his SV% to .913 for the season. It was far below that before, at .901. What was more indicting for Fleury is that the Knights have been defensively more sound in front of him than they were last year. By some margin, as well. They’re giving up six attempts less per game at even strength, three shots less, and their xGA/60 dropped from 2.26 last season to 2.09. Which is why Fleury’s expected-save-percentage at evens went from .920 last year to .923 this year. But his actual SV% at evens went from .931 to .910.

Perhaps Fleury’s back-to-back shutouts signal a turnaround, and all will be well on The Strip once again. And maybe most think that this is the Knights, and the cap space he’s eating up doesn’t matter because they have all of the space in the world thanks to their expansion status. Not so, fucko…

After extensions to Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, the acquisitions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, the Knights only have about $7 million in space next year with just 14 players signed. And that’s before a major raise for William Karlsson, despite his restricted status. He won’t be getting a bridge deal, needless to say. He’s at $5.2M per year now. What’s coming? $7M? $8M? That $7M they’re handing to Fleury next year could actually be costly.

Maybe Fleury has found the Pekka Rinne fountain of youth, which the Predators are also banking on. Goalies certainly do have a different aging curve than skaters. However, in the past 20 years there have only been eight seasons where a goalie put up a .920+ SV% after the age of 35, and only Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas did it twice. And as we know, Tim Thomas’s career didn’t really start until he was 30. Fleury has been in the league since he was a teenager. Is it the miles instead of malaise? 800 starts seems like a lot, and he’ll cross that threshold either this year or the beginning of next.

It was a beautiful dream last year. Perhaps it’s best to not snort that when trying to figure out the future.

 

 

Game #25 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Shift Chart

And sometimes the bear… well, he eats you.

Overall, the Caps are probably a better team than the Hawks. They’re deeper at both forward and defense, and it’s one of the few teams the Hawks have no advantage in goal against. Right now is most certainly not the time to be playing the Caps, who are now winners of eight in a row. Add to that they’re probably feeling their oats even more after skulling the Penguins at home on Wednesday night. So this is the Caps at the height of their powers.

Whether you think the Hawks are short in places, or don’t really care in the middle of January, or some combo thereof, the results tonight were especially ugly.

Everything Else

Box Score

Game Summary

Extra Skater

Well that feels like drunk sex, no? All that labor and you’re exhausted and it isn’t even really that fun but you’re supposed to be there and then you don’t even get the conclusion. Just an odd look and an admission you should probably both go to sleep.

The thing is, the Hawks could have gotten away with it in Game 1. In fact, they probably should have gotten away with it. Because they weren’t terribly good. Their passing was awful, their changes for the last two periods were simply abhorrent (which is not something we’ve seen a lot of in the Quenneville era) and for regulation they basically just looked off. And that’s being kind. Yet still, when you have the lead in ¬†playoff game with less than five to go, you have to see that out. The Hawks cost themselves a game and 42 extra minutes of hockey by not doing so. And they got there by letting a team up off the mat, which actually has been something of a pattern at times.