Now that we are out of the boring annual occasion that is the NHL All Star Weekend, I am finally glad that we can go ahead and proceed to some real hockey, especially now that we are into the month February and we got a trade deadline to discuss in less than three weeks.
But before we talk about how certain teams have been doing this week, I want to talk about John Scott. First of all, there’s nothing I can’t stand more in all of life, let alone hockey than debating about subjects that still haven’t been unanimously decided for decades when we should already know what the answer is. In short, I hate getting into the debate of whether or not fighting should be allowed in the game of hockey. Nothing encapsulated those fuels of raging debate fire than John Scott’s inclusion into the All Star game and Tom Wilson’s reputation after a handful of Islanders players will forever keep their hatred to their graves after the young Capital’s hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in the playoffs.
First of all, how many MLB, NFL and NBA all-star games, let along NHL all-star games do we need to prove that, plain and simple, fan voting is disgustingly flawed. As much as all-star games are meaningless, they also are a huge part of the final judgment as to whether certain players should make the hall of fame in their respective sport. That being said, John Scott’s inclusion into the game will not be the first, or the last embarrassment in these proceedings. Remember having Zemgus Girgensens in an all-star game while he had third line duties on the worst team in the league just because all of Latvia voted for him? The point is, I don’t mind having “smarter” people select players into the all-star game. The purpose of such games, barring making sure one player from every team plays in the occasion, is to have the best of the best that year on the ice every time. All Star games, along with the award winners, should always be meant to be a yearbook with how every season is playing out. Having Evgeny Kuznetsov replacing Alex Ovechkin in the All-Star game should be a big deal because it meant that four Washington Capitals were all-stars in a historic season, while Sidney Crosby’s exclusion should be a blemished marker in a historic career. These things should matter at all times, even if that means the occasion should be fun and stress-free.
As for fighting, I’ve always loved it. Outside of Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig, my favorite Capital back when I was a kid was Chris Simon. I can’t explain it other than the fact that it was cool to see an Inuit with hair the likes of which we rarely see flowing underneath a hockey helmet and then beat up human beings that cross the line along with that. Even the fighting itself is out of the ordinary from achieving the object of the game. But shouldn’t that last sentence be enough reason as to why we should eliminate it in the first place?
I get why fighting should stay in the game. It keeps all the players in check and avoids having them run roughshod on players for no reason. That being said, isn’t this also an admission that the referees can’t ever do their jobs. Referee’s already have a bad reputation as it is, whether it is calling illegal hits legal and vice versa, the extreme elimination of calling penalties since the 2005 lockout and the statistical fact that they don’t blow the whistles anymore in the third period. Somewhere along the line though, referee’s should be held to a significantly higher standard and should be called out for whenever they have consistently poor performances. The other three sports are in much better agreement in already knowing which referees are good and which ones are not. Why can’t the NHL be this way too?
As for the players, welcome to the age of analytics! We’re 11 years into a long list of rule changes that have (supposedly) made NHL hockey a much more free flowing and athletic sport to watch. Now, we’re into an era that emphasizes skill, long-term salary cap management, penalty differential, shot generation and shot suppression. If you can achieve any of these tasks, feel free to come on in, even if you decide to clobber a few guys in the process. Otherwise, we have enough data to prove that a player’s style isn’t good enough. Sure, there are concussions that we have to worry about too, but clean hits also lead to the same injuries. The point is, fighting isn’t so much being eliminated on purpose. Teams are just finding creative, long term ways to win and it just so happens that fighting has been eliminated along with it.
While others will continue that blather about why hockey’s not the same anymore in for non-goal scoring reasons, let’s move along with this week’s edition of the nerdy 30. Anaheim has now improved so much that they are no longer eliminated from the rankings. Meanwhile, Dion Phaneuf is moving from one eliminated team to another as the Ottawa Senators have taken Anaheim’s strikethrough font as the team crossed off.
30. Columbus (82-game Standings Points Pace: 72 points, Last Week: 29) 29. Buffalo (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 30) 28. Vancouver (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 26) 27. Edmonton (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 27) 26. Ottawa (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 21) 25. Calgary (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 28) 24. Toronto (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 25) 23. Winnipeg (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
As much as Ottawa is such a bad possession team this season, their offensive fire power has led them to a top five shooting percentage and an almost even goal differential at even strength. The biggest weakness of the Senators all year long has been their league-worst penalty kill. Operating at 74.1%, they have given up almost 106 shot attempts per hour, have the leagues worst save percentage at 84.3% and, thus, have given up 45 goals in that department.
It’s already come out of the woodwork how much of a gap there is between Erik Karlsson and the rest of the defensemen on the team, but along with that, Ottawa is not known for having any good two-way forwards. Right now, those distinctions are given to Alex Chiasson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Even though Pageau has had past experience generating opportunities shorthanded (as evidenced by his five shorthanded goals this season), his shot suppression has not been great; especially as the team’s only forward with over two minutes per game of shorthanded time on ice. As for the defensemen deployed there, it’s the same old story that Karlsson is miles better than the rest of his blueline teammates and he usually plays the least amount of minutes per game there.
That is why the Dion Phaneuf trade made sense. Some will continue to look at the eternal narrative for why this is a good trade or not from solely Phaneuf’s point of view, but the real story line should be Bryan Murray making miracles by shoring up the least talented blueline in the NHL. Yes, he had to trade Jared Cowan and Milan Michalek to make the deal work, but both players are decaying assets and Ottawa should be a better hockey team, long term, without them. This is a good first step to make the Senators better. It’s just a darn shame it was too little too late for their playoff hopes.
- 22. Colorado (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 22)
- 21. Arizona (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 20)
- 20. New Jersey (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 19)
- 19. Minnesota (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 17)
- 18. Philadelphia (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. Boston (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 15)
- 16. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 12)
I’ll just leave this tweet by former supposed skilled NHL player Zenon Konopka right here.
The Minnesota Wild have so much talent. All the pieces to be Stanley Cup champs- wasting years isn’t fair to the players or fans #YeohastoGo
— Zenon Konopka (@ZenonKonopka) February 10, 2016
He certainly isn’t wrong in stating that the Wild are a talented team when everything clicks, but I wouldn’t call them a cup contender either. That’s the nature when:
1) You’re in the Central Division
2) You’re best players are between 31-33 years old and the younger players haven’t replaced them with their quality completely.
Is it too much to ask for Mikael Granlund to be Minnesota’s best player instead of Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu or Zach Parise? Probably, and that’s not fair to Granlund, but it’s also not fair to Minnesota fans for calling out management not expecting better out of their young talent. Charlie Coyle is getting better, but you have to think that shooting at 15.1% is not sustainable. Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville are definitely having unlucky seasons, but you can’t count on these guys to score goals for you while contending for a Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile, some alien from Space Jam stole Jonas Brodin’s skills because he has been awful this season. Thomas Vanek had his stolen years ago despite having a bounce back season. This may be weird to say this, but trading for Jonathan Drouin might not be the worst idea for this team. The window is clearly beginning to close on them and they can only be as good as a younger Chicago, Nashville and Dallas for so long. Add the fact that Winnipeg is expecting better return out of their prospects in the next year or two and things are getting dark in St. Paul.
- 15. Anaheim (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 23)
- 14. St. Louis (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 14)
- 13. Pittsburgh (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 16)
- 12. New York Rangers (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 13)
- 11. San Jose (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 8)
- 10. Detroit (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 9)
- 9. Montreal (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 7)
Welp, everyone looked away from the Anaheim Ducks and look what’s happened to them since. Since January 13th, the Ducks have gone 9-2-0 and now host a score-adjusted shot attempt percentage of 53.2%. The last Anaheim team to produce such favorable puck possession was the famous 2007 Stanley Cup Champions outfit that carried the tune of 54.5%, according to war-on-ice. When we last saw this team, they were struggling to put any of their shots in the back of the net more than any other team in the league. Since the start to their recent hot streak, Anaheim’s on-ice shooting percentage has dramatically improved. It is still a below average rate, but it is very nice to see Anaheim finally begin to progress to the mean.
This was supposed to happen when you consider that their shot generation at even strength (57.0 shot attempts per hour) and on the power play (105.1 per hour) are at a top ten rate. Look for Rikard Rakell and Chris Stewart to continue to lead their third and fourth lines on offense while Hampus Lindholm continues to generate offense from the blue line.
Now that they are on a pace of over 90 points like San Jose and Los Angeles, the Pacific Division is no longer an embarrassment to society. There are still tons of warts from that division, but the top of the table is no longer the ones that are joining in the suffering too.
- 8. Nashville (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 10)
- 7. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
- 6. Florida (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. Tampa Bay (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 4)
- 4. Chicago (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 5)
- 3. Dallas (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. Washington (Pace: 129 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 1)
While Pittsburgh is starting to get on a real hot streak and bring back the good old days when Ovechkin and Crosby became one of the greatest rivalry in sports, let’s talk about another Metropolitan division team before I can only write about the Penguins resurgence in the next week or so.
With all due respect to Islanders fans, I was a newborn when the Capitals-Islanders “rivalry” was at the peak of its powers. Wilson hit aside, you’re team is fun for the second straight year. The Islanders are once again, a top-five unit in even strength shot generation and even though the defense is not there in that situation, it shows up with an above average penalty kill and the number one save percentage while shorthanded.
Brock Nelson has blistered his way to a 20-goal season, but shooting at 17.1% and shooting a full five feet further on average (25.10 feet this season versus 20.96 last season).
Along with that, the Islanders are once again, producing at a bottom ten rate in shot generation on the power play. Even though John Tavares, Anders Lee, Kyle Okposo and Nick Leddy are above league average shooters, the gap in quality from the first unit to the second is truly glaring. Along with that, Tavares’ individual point percentage is a shocking 52.6%. With the rest of his career usually seeing that percentage hit the 70s and 80s with ease, that is an unacceptable usage rate for Jack Capuano’s team. Anders Lee’s individual points percentage of 31.6% is also abominable that he is ranked 139th out of 144 forwards with 100 minutes of power play time. Are these nitpicky points on an Islander that probably won’t change due to the stability in Capuano’s coaching? Probably. However, New Jersey and Pittsburgh aren’t too far behind them in the playoff race. Every inch of improvement is vital for a franchise that isn’t used to being sustainably good recently.