Week 23 of the Nerdy 30: No More Raleigh Towels and Bear Markets

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Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

We’re into the home stretch of the regular season, folks, and the races for the final playoff spot in both the Western and Eastern Conferences are getting really exciting. However, we will avoid talking about the four teams involved for another week. It’s good to get another couple of games in to see if the margin has widened or if things will go down in the final week of the season.

So for now, let’s talk about another four set of teams and each one of them has either failed to maintain their high standards or have not let their analytics better translate their win-loss record. On that note, Carolina is officially eliminated as we dive into this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Vancouver (82-game standings points pace: 75 points, Last Week: 28)
  • 29. Buffalo (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Columbus (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. New Jersey (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Edmonton (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Arizona (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 24)
  • 24. Ottawa (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 23)
  • 23. Calgary (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 25)

Even after seeing them eliminated from the rankings months ago, it still feels like complete vindication that Calgary, a team whose puck possession was among the worst in the league and still found a way to make the playoffs last year, miss the postseason entirely this year. However, just not having great puck luck isn’t the only reason Calgary has struggled this season. Remember, this team still has crummy goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo.

If anything, it was their fantastic special teams that got them into the playoffs. Last season, the Flames had the highest penalty differential at +71, had a 12th-best power play at 99.9 shot attempts per hour and had an eighth-best penalty kill at 93.4 shot attempts per hour. This year, things are different. While the penalty differential is still really good at a third-best +35, Calgary’s power play has dipped to 94.9 shot attempts per hour and a fifth-worst shooting percentage at 11.6-percent.

While shorthanded, the Flames are even worse in that department now that they are giving up a fourth-worst 103.2 shot attempts per hour and an eye watering 83.1 save percentage. No other team in the NHL has been able to come within a percentage point close to Calgary’s league worst figure in stopping pucks from going in the net shorthanded. One immediate solution to fix the penalty killing woes is to stop playing their supposed best player in that department. Like the Capitals with Brooks Laich, Calgary seems to have an extremely false love affair with Lance Bouma being a penalty killing specialist. In over 361 shorthanded minutes in the last three years, the 26-year old has given up a team worst 110.6 shot attempts per hour while he has been on the ice.

With the season coming to a close, it is important to note that the Flames could come in to next summer’s draft with nine picks, including four of them within the first two rounds. General manager Brad Treliving may have sold Jiri Hudler short considering he scored 30 goals last season, but Florida was able to ship their 2nd round pick for this year and their 2018 4th round pick in return for an aging skilled player on the last year of his contract. Meanwhile, Kris Russell could deliver Dallas’ first round pick back to Calgary if the Stars make the conference finals and the defenseman plays over 50-percent of their games. Otherwise, it will be another second round pick, plus a cheap young defensemen in training in Jyrki Jokipakka. Who knows if the Flames will be able to make this group of players work, but the sense has to be that this summer will be a critical one for the future of this hockey team.

  • 22. Toronto (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Winnipeg (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Carolina (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 17)
  • 19. Montreal (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 20)
  • 18. Colorado (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 19)
  • 17. Minnesota (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 18)

If you thought Calgary gave up Jiri Hudler too easilly, check out how desperate Carolina was in giving up probably the greatest player the team has ever had. Yes, Eric Staal is 31 years old and on the last year of a very expensive contract, but to still get one second round pick each for the next two years from the New York Rangers seems quite small for a player that constantly plays like a top line forward when it comes to his shot generation.

Like the Flames as well, though, Carolina will be coming into this summer with plenty of draft picks to work with at 11. Of that massive bundle, seven of them will be from the first three rounds of the draft. Along with the pick in return for Eric Staal, Carolina will also use Los Angeles’ first round pick from the Andrej Sekera trade, Boston’s third round pick from the John Michael-Liles trade and Winnipeg’s third round pick from the Jiri Tlusty trade. If there’s a season where general manager Ron Francis can finally flex his muscles, this has to be it.

The coaching has been in place now for two years thanks to well-worked system under Bill Peters. Now is the time for the Hurricanes to pick up some talent and keep them for years to come so that they can wake up a franchise that has been catatonic for too long.

  • 16. Boston (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 16)
  • 15. Philadelphia (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 15)
  • 14. New York Rangers (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 14)
  • 13. New York Islanders (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 12)
  • 12. Detroit (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 13)
  • 11. St. Louis (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 10)
  • 10. Florida (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 11)

Last year, I wrote plenty of posts about how Boston’s underachieving and how their salary cap struggles were preventing them from reaching the heights of 2011 and 2013. This year, it’s the same old situations except Claude Julien’s system might officially be going down the tubes after being the head coach for nine seasons. If the season were to end today, the Bruins would finish outside the top ten in either even strength shot generation, shot suppression or save percentage for the first time ever. In fact, Boston is sitting in their worst rankings under all three categories in the Claude Julien era at 18th, 26th and tied for 16th, respectively.

There are two main reasons for Boston’s struggles at five-on-five: the absolute gulf in talent at forward and the decaying talents of the mainstays on defense. First, the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Loui Eriksson have continued to contribute tremendously on the Bruins scoresheets every night. It’s the extreme lack of talented bottom six forwards that has troubled Claude Julien in putting together a strong lineup. Things haven’t helped when Chris Kelly was forced to miss the rest of the season to a broken leg, but even he has always been a poor possession forward and was in the last year of his contract at age 34. Ryan Spooner has been able to produce great offensive numbers, but has failed to generate good puck possession with Matt Beleskey and Brett Connolly on the team’s third line.

In defense, Zach Trotman is nowhere near good enough to be the team’s top pairing defensemen with Zdeno Chara and even the captain himself is playing like someone that should be out of the league fairly soon. Torey Krug has been Boston’s best defensemen for two years now and it hasn’t even been a contest. With the correct deployments, he should be able to rival Erik Karlsson as the best offensive defensemen in the world. Instead, he is given third pairing minutes with another ghost of Stanley Cup Champions past in Dennis Seidenberg.

While Lee Stempniak has been a positive influence in the puck possession game since the trade deadline, John Michael-Liles has not and it’s been amazing how so many teams still consider him to be an NHL caliber defenseman.

Even if Boston makes it into the playoffs this year, they shouldn’t be able to go anywhere beyond the second round unless groups of players improve drastically. Until then, the Bruins have to come into this summer getting younger and signing at least two new defensemen that can be positive mainstays for the team for years to come. If they can find a way to keep Erickson from signing elsewhere via free agency, that is even better. If that isn’t achievable, it is guaranteed the Bruins will be in the middle of a rebuild as early as next season.

  • 9. Nashville (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 8)
  • 8. San Jose (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
  • 7. Anaheim (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 7)
  • 6. Chicago (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 5)
  • 5. Dallas (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 3)
  • 4. Pittsburgh (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 6)
  • 3. Tampa Bay (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 4)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 124 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 1)

After looking like things were never going to change with the Blackhawks, they have now gone 6-9-3 since February 9th. For most good hockey teams, this is a slump that shouldn’t be that much of a big deal and eventually their above average possession numbers would have them progress to the mean. For Chicago’s case, they have to deal with Dallas, St. Louis and Nashville being in their division: three teams that have a strong core group of players and are among the most well run teams in the NHL. So even one slip up will be enough for them to go from being Central Division champions to having no home-ice advantage in any portion of the playoffs.

Even worse for the Blackhawks is that their advanced statistics have been dipping since their February 9th swoon. Throughout the entire season, Chicago has been 12th in score-adjusted shot generation at even strength at 54.0 shot attempts per hour. However, that number has dipped to 51.7 since their recent slump. Along with that, the team’s penalty kill has gone from bad to worst. Before February 9th, their shot suppression was sitting at 100.9 attempts per 60 minute, but that number has skyrocketed to an even worse 117.8 attempts per hour since then and their shorthanded save percentage is at an embarrassing 82.5-percent.

For starts, Andrew Ladd is going to have to be a perfect fit for Chicago. Otherwise, his 49.8-percent puck possession and two goals in 11 games is really going to drag the rest of the team down. Also, Brent Seabrook has got to stop playing with Trevor Van Riemsdyk because he is making the former Norris Trophy sleeper look like an ECHL player. When together, the pairing have suffered an abysmal 41.7-percent puck possession in almost 391 even strength minutes together. When apart, Seabrook’s puck possession increases to 51.2-percent. Otherwise, things are starting to look dark in Chicago and we may need to see more en-masse changes in order for this team to return to Stanley Cup contention.

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