Week 8 of the Nerdy 30: Back in Black(hawks) and Suited Up Penguins

crosby-lemieux-080505-620

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Before we get to this week’s power rankings, I want to talk about Sidney Crosby and his apparent “riff” with team owner and former Penguins great Mario Lemieux. Like everything in the NHL, because every employee working in the league is the most tight-lipped than any sport in the NHL, it is almost guaranteed that most of what the mass media reports is some form of biased and/or uninformed piece. That is why the likes of anybody working in the NHL media will always receive such vitriol to fans and critics alike that they demand that they get fired from their profession or their livelihood.

That being said, surely every Capitals fan should be gloating at record rates now that Crosby, the darling of all things Canadian and of the entire sport so much so that no one in complete masse will ever suggest to him to stop growing his awful attempt of a mustache ever again, is ten years too late from receiving any form of extremely harsh criticism. This is certainly in comparison to the six years of what Washington’s superstar, Alex Ovechkin, had to deal with from rival fans and “experts” alike telling the whole world that he is a “coach killer”, a “one-trick pony” or a “selfish player that has never taken the game seriously”. However, I am not one to join in the gloating.

If there is anything that analytics has taught me and many fans alike is that the salary cap world of the NHL has limited any chance for one player to ever have such a presence on a roster that it would straight up carry them to the promise land of a Stanley Cup on his own. Jonathan Toews needs at least four other hall-of-fame caliber players to be on his side to win three Stanley Cups with him. Crosby needed his general manager to trade for one hall-of-fame caliber player every season his team made it to a Stanley Cup final and a coaching change in the year they won it. Los Angeles needed to trade for the two best players on another team to  win their two Stanley Cups.

In short, depth matters in the NHL and it matters probably more than any of the other three major professional sports in the United States. Even in the NFL, the rule changes has skewed the play of the game to such an extent that if your team’s quarterback is not of a decade-long guaranteed elite caliber talent, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the roster is.

As I’ve learned from watching a talent like Alex Ovechkin sweep my hometown like a tsunami since 2008, you can’t take world class talent for granted. Will every “chosen few” win a title or fulfill their complete potentials? Absolutely not. Just ask those that ever knew Len Bias. Call me incorrect, but check out RG3 too.

At the end of the day, it’s among the many reasons why we watch professional sports. While the athletes that play them may make almost ten or a hundred times more money than they ever deserve, they also deal with the most scrutiny and handed the most challenging tests that are put under such a public microscope. The greatest of all time, even if it happens once, finds a way to get through them and it’s that “once” in which we the public don’t know when it will happen. When it does happen, we forget to cherish it and that’s why we are seeing the scrutiny of Crosby now.

He is 28 years old, which is three years past his prime according to hockey analytics. He has suffered multiple concussions to the point where he could and maybe should have retired from hockey in 2011 and 2012. His team stupidly fired the greatest coach he has ever had and replaced him with an ex-junior coach that makes more puzzled look GIFs than Tom Coughlin. He hasn’t had a young talent to help him out and stayed completely healthy since Jordan Staal.

All I know is, Sidney Crosby is an all-time great, even if he never wins another Stanley Cup. He currently sits in the top-100 in career assists and is in the top-90 in both era-adjusted points and assists. Let’s assume Crosby racks up another 300 assists and maybe 150-200 goals in the next decade, assuming he stays healthy during that time. If that were to occur, Crosby will finish in the top-20 all-time, at minimum, for era adjusted goals, assists and points. Is that good enough for everyone when judging the career of the “next one”? If you want set the standard no lower than Gretzky, probably not, but otherwise, it’s still one of the greatest careers in the history of hockey.

Enjoy it. Savor every waking moment of greatness and take every challenge by stride. Otherwise, it will go spoiled by Nick Kypreos.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Calgary (82-game standings points pace: 66 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 63 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Colorado (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. Buffalo (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 26)
  • 26. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27)
  • 25. Edmonton (Pace: 59 pts, LW: 22)
  • 24. Anaheim (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 25)

Welp, it was fun while it lasted Buffalo. After looking like the hockey team has improved so much from the 50-70 point disasters of years past that the city may experience some meaningful hockey in March and April, the Sabres’ puck possession and wins are starting to decline. Sure, Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly has improved the Sabres overall and Jack Eichel is a talent, but the 18-year old wonderkid’s possession numbers is a reflection of the rest of the team. When he’s on the ice, the Sabres give up 59.3 shot attempts per 60 minutes; well worse than league average.

One thing to pay attention to throughout the season is Buffalo’s power play, which sits eighth in the NHL in shot generation.

  • 23. Carolina (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 24)
  • 22. New Jersey (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20)
  • 21. Toronto (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Ottawa (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 23)
  • 19. Pittsburgh (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 19)
  • 18. Arizona (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 17)
  • 17. Winnipeg (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 16)
  • 16. Vancouver (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 13)

My little Crosby rant aside, let’s get to other hearts of the matter with Pittsburgh. They might be won six games in a row to recover from a sluggish start and they might be recording points in the standings for seven of their last eight games since November 17th (4-1-2), but the style of play is just not right with the Penguins. Everything about them screams mediocre (13th best shot generation at even strength and 19th best on the power play) to awful (8th worst shot suppression at even strength and 6th worst on the penalty kill).

Aside from Crosby’s Kobe Bryantisms, Pittsburgh is in it’s second or third straight year in which their tightness towards the salary cap are hurting the present and future of this hockey team. General Manager Jim Rutherford is doing whatever he can to make do with all the permanent wrong doings that Ray Shero created, but until other teams bite on a bad contract, there is no way things will get better fast. Kris Letang seems like a shell of himself as the injuries of the past are hitting him hard. Rob Scuderi basically shouldn’t play NHL hockey ever again. Ben Lovejoy, a player that is older and worse than the one Pittsburgh traded away last year in Simon Despres, and the eternally anonymous Brian Dumoulin are the team’s top pair. Eric Fehr, as always, has found a way to get injured this season.

Sure, Pittsburgh’s 5.65% on-ice shooting percentage at even strength could be a sign for better things to come and unless the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers (owner of the now fourth best shot generation team at even strength) find a way to shock everyone and the Rangers remember what it is like to be a positive possession team ever again, there shouldn’t be too much competition in the Metropolitan division that has their playoff position threatened. Still, this is a team that has two of the best hockey players of their generation and is surrounded by poison that won’t go away until they pass their primes.

  • 15. Florida (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 18)
  • 14. San Jose (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 8)
  • 13. Minnesota (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 14)
  • 12. Detroit (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 15)
  • 11. Nashville (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 12)

There is no denying that the San Jose Sharks are no longer a Stanley Cup contender. Their longtime head coach has been replaced by a respectable, but not world beating, one in Peter DeBoer. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are aging and their depth players are good but not great. Sure, new captain Joe Pavelski can certainly stake a claim as being an elite player in the NHL (he did lead the league in war-on-ice’s WAR statistic amongst all stakers), but he is not a universal choice and he is in his age-31 season. What stands out the most is not a single Sharks player under 30, let alone 25 is averaging a point per two games this season. Lastly, get a load of this graph.

San Jose

Rolling 5-game chart by war-on-ice.com

The Sharks just can’t make up their minds as to whether they’re elite or not…and that’s ok. Why, because they play in the Pacific Division. Los Angeles is the only team in that division that has a even strength shot attempt percentage over 50%, let alone reach elite status of 52% or 53%. Edmonton, Calgary and Arizona are bottom feeding NHL franchises that need to wipe the entire motherboard of their coaching staff and front offices if they ever want to be consistently good again and Vancouver is in the same boat as the Sharks. Lastly, Anaheim has to be regretting their dreadful October and it may lead to traumatic consequences for that franchise. So in other words, keep being mediocre San Jose, because no one looks to be competing with you anytime soon.

  • 10. Chicago (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 11)
  • 9. Boston (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 9)
  • 8. St. Louis (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 7)
  • 7. Tampa Bay (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 10)
  • 6. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. New York Rangers (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 3)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 128 pts, LW: 2)
  • 3. Washington (Pace: 125 pts, LW: 5)
  • 2. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 4)
  • 1. Montreal (Pace: 129 pts, LW: 1)

In the bloodbath that is the central division, Chicago’s possession numbers have shown that they certainly miss the players that have left after winning a Stanley Cup last season. However, the Blackhawks have not gone quietly are are still expected to make the playoffs. Their shot generation is still amongst the ten best in the NHL and while the defense is the worst in the Joel Quenneville era, Corey Crawford and Co are surviving, especially on the penalty kill. While down a man, Chicago’s goaltenders have the sixth best save percentage at 88.9%. Only time will tell if that will be enough for them to keep the reigns of the central division away from Dallas come April.

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