Week 5 of the Nerdy 30+1: Happy Notes and a Debate in the Senate

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J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Dispatch

With a summer free agent and midseason trade deadline market that just finds a way to get worse and worse by the season, the best acquisitions in the NHL these days come at times when people least expect them. Last week’s three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa, Kyle Turris to Nashville and seven various assets to Colorado was that acquisition that fits that bill. On the surface, every team got what they wanted out of the trade.

Ottawa gets an elite household name talent at forward that they haven’t had since Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. Bobby Ryan was supposed to be that guy, but just hasn’t completely lived up to the billing, especially now that he is hitting 30 years old. For Nashville, they add another scoring punch past their top line and now have among the most talent at center in the NHL when everyone is healthy. Oh, and they still have $2.5 million of cap space to work with if they want to make another trade. The Predators haven’t been completely firing on all cylinders, but that flexibility is ridiculous considering how they can improve from last year’s Stanley Cup Finals run.

As for the Avalanche, say what you want about how the situation involving Duchene was handled, but somewhere along the line, a trade had to happen. Yes, it is awkward as heck to see Duchene play two minutes of hockey in a regular season game and then have to be sent to the locker room and change into street clothes immediately once the deal was finalized.

That being said, the whole notion of having trade rumors ruining his confidence and getting to his head garners sympathy, but it’s guaranteed Duchene will not be the first or last player to deal with such a situation. What about Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan Mackinnon who go through the exact same trade rumors right now that Duchene just went through? How about Alexander Semin who seemed to be on the trade block every single season since the 2010 Montreal series? Or how about Phil Kessel or Taylor Hall any time their own team’s respective front offices continued their eternal incompetence yet the fans forever ignorantly pointed all the team’s failures at them?

The point is, just be happy that we don’t have to hear broken record sound bites involving Duchene’s future so that he can go back to playing hockey like any player wants. For Colorado’s sake, Vladislav Kamenev and Samuel Girard are genuine puck movers that this franchise has lacked in their prospect pool for years. Add in Tyson Jost, Cale Maker and Nick Meloche plus 16 draft picks in the next two seasons to play with and the Avalanche are finally building for the future, even if they are almost a decade late in doing so.

No matter how you look at this, this trade will certainly cause ripple effects throughout the NHL and it will be fascinating if other teams make a move to counter what these three teams just did. For now, let’s observe the lay of the land in this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30+1.

  • 31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 32 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Buffalo (Pace: 62 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 28. Florida (Pace: 66 pts, LW: 20)
  • 27. Boston (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Winnipeg (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 13)
  • 25. Washington (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 23)

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  • 24. Pittsburgh (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 29)

In my first draft, I was about to let write some damning stuff about my Capitals because they just haven’t deserved my attention at all this season, unless Alex Ovechkin or Braden Holtby do something awesome. Also, letting my boy John Carlson play a league-leading 27 minutes a night is just going to run him to the ground in the long term and he’s probably going to leave after this summer since every veteran defenseman around him is making over $5 million and Brian McClellan broke his team’s salary cap while probably being blacked out. But since they beat Pittsburgh, I’m going to write about these guys instead.

First of all, thank you for signing the always talentless Ryan Reaves. Really, I thought I forgot Steve Downie, Maxim Lapierre, Aaron Asham and Tom Sestito when it comes to players that shouldn’t belong in the league for their lack of outperforming Tom Wilson in actual hockey talent. I think his sole purpose of being on the team is to have the referees further forget that they need to call penalties on Patric Hornqvist because you can only dole out so many without disrupting the flow of the game. Now my sworn Swedish enemy can get away with tripping goaltenders and drawing four-on-fours in the crease when anyone with common sense knows they should be four-on-fives like he’s done throughout his career.

Otherwise, this defense isn’t getting better anytime soon in Pittsburgh isn’t it? After last night’s game, the Penguins are the seventh worst team in the NHL at even strength shot prevention and it’s almost cancelling out any positive shot generation that they have been producing while Mike Sullivan has been their head coach. While Pittsburgh is still eighth in offense, that is no longer the best of the best as they’ve been in the past couple of seasons.

Things really are exaserbated in that the Penguins are by far the worst team in the NHL at both even strength shooting and save percentage. In total that gives you a shocking 94.4 PDO over their first 18 games. That simply isn’t going to last considering that the worst PDOs of last decade are usually at about 97. Also, this is Pittsburgh we are talking about: they always have things go their way.

In goal, Pittsburgh signed Antti Niemi over the summer…and then remembered he isn’t an NHL goaltender anymore. Matt Murray has been shocking to start the year, but I just don’t see how he can maintain a 90.6% for the entirety of an NHL regular season. On offense, Kris Letang is trying to come back to full fitness, so there is no way he is going to finish the year with just one goal in 55 shots rate. Neither is Carl Hagelin going to continue at one goal in 36 shots rate. Still, it just seems like all of Pittsburgh’s bottom six forwards have struck midnight and are turning into pumpkins after two seasons of inexplicably good production. Along with that, Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary just aren’t producing at the elite levels like they have done from a season ago.

It’s still early days to count out these Penguins and the fact that they have cap space and a general manager that knows how to use it just confirms things will change for the better. Still, the problems with this team are not new news. They just had two Stanley Cup championships and a handful of blind referees that hid those issues all this time.

  • 23. Anaheim (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 19)
  • 22. New York Rangers (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Montreal (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 18)
  • 20. Chicago (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 16)
  • 19. Colorado (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 28)
  • 18. Dallas (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 25)
  • 17. Edmonton (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 21)
  • 16. Ottawa (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 14)

Among the teams involved in the three-team trade, there’s no denying Ottawa received the most airwaves because of the talent they recently picked up. On paper, the trade is a potential success, but Let’s be blunt here. It’s horrifyingly difficult to have free agents sign in Ottawa and all of their best players have either been acquired via trade or have come through the draft. For Ottawa to get another star through the former is fantastic for them.

Now many out there will logically think that replacing Kyle Turris with a tad younger Duchene makes Ottawa a Stanley Cup contender since they were Conference finalists last year. This is where I say slow your role. Once more, with more feeling, Ottawa took advantage of two opponents who either were too injured (Boston) or gave Tanner Glass and Dan Girardi sweaters for some dumb reason (you know who they are) last postseason. I think I could coach my way out of those two opponents and make the Conference Finals too.

Remember, Guy Boucher’s trapping system worked in his first season with Tampa Bay, only to see it flame out massively by the time his goaltending and the rest of his lesser talent he used failed him. Ottawa is slightly different in that Craig Anderson is much better for the long term than whatever was left of Dwayne Roloson. Still, can you really count on a Johnny Oduya-Dion Phaneuf second defense pair to get you to a Stanley Cup Final? How about a group of forwards in which Zack Smith has to play on the team’s top line?

Sure, having Bobby Ryan and Mark Borowiecki on injured reserve isn’t helping, but it’s not like those two swing the needle so much that the Senators are a significantly better team because of them. There just isn’t enough elite talent to make them a good team every single season now.

Fortunately, Buffalo, Detroit, and Florida are three of the worst teams you’ll see this season while Montreal is absolutely capitulating. Also, Boston isn’t super terrible yet, but it will be fascinating to watch them perform against much better competition as things move along. Those facts within itself are enough for Ottawa to get back to the playoffs out of the Atlantic Division. Still, Toronto and Tampa Bay are significantly better on paper and that’s enough of a barrier to prevent the Senators to improve on what they did last postseason.

  • 15. New York Islanders (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 15)
  • 14. Vancouver (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 12)
  • 13. Carolina (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 11)
  • 12. Nashville (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 24)
  • 11. Calgary (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 17)
  • 10. New Jersey (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 1)
  • 9. Minnesota (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 10)

While they may have lost to the Capitals this week, life in Brooklyn has been pretty good for this season’s Islanders. The team is rolling with great results and good underlying numbers. Overall, the Islanders are in the top twelve in both even strength shot generation and prevention at even strength.

Along with that, Matthew Barzal has lived up to his prospect billing as a point-producing centerman coming out of the first round of the 2016 NHL draft. In his age-20 season, he is already playing on the second line and not looking out of place with linemates Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd. Because of Barzal’s presence, they don’t feel pressured to play Anthony Beauvillier in the top six or to give Josh Ho-Sang an NHL spot when he is not ready.

That doesn’t mean the Islanders can be left alone without exposing some massive flaws. Now with Barzal righting the ship on the second line, Brock Nelson is supposed to be the solid veteran presence on the third line. Instead, Nelson’s puck possession has been plummeting every season since the Islanders’ first playoff run in the John Tavares era in 2014-15. Along with that, the rest of Brooklyn’s bottom six forwards have just been an unmitigated disaster. Should Nelson be shipped out like Ryan Strome was in order for the Islanders to get better in that department? Another way to solve this remedy is for the Islanders to go all in on a scoring top six wing so that Andrew Ladd can slide down to the third line with Nelson and Jason Chimera.

Could that piece be attained if it means trading a Calvin De Haan or a Thomas Hickey; two defensemen that are genuinely playing well at even strength and are in the last year of their contracts? In fact, only 36-year old Dennis Seidenberg has played more than six games and has less than 49.8% puck possession this season. This is fantastic news for the Islanders because it has been too long that their depth in defense has been questioned. Now it has become a strength and even some of their younger players like Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield are finally contributing positively to the backend.

Another genuine concern that may not get better anytime soon, it could be their production in goal. Simply put, Thomas Greiss has to do much better than his 89.8% save percentage if Brooklyn is to compete further than just a team enjoying being in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Lastly, despite performing well in high definition shot attempts in this department, both special teams units have to be significantly better in not just all shot attempts. Thanks to the fact that the Islanders have given up an inexcusable seven shorthanded goals this early in the season, they are being outscored 13-17 when someone is in the penalty box despite having a +2 penalty differential. When those shorthanded goals are eliminated, you are actually looking at 11-10 goalscoring advantage for Doug Weight’s team.

If they ever think about showing John Tavares this is the place to be in the long term, the Islanders have to get much more serious about their Stanley Cup championship aspirations. With Weight’s influence and the younger players dramatically improving, they have what it takes to take an even further step at the trade deadline and keep getting better from here.

  • 8. Columbus (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 3)
  • 7. Toronto (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 5)
  • 6. Los Angeles (Pace: 123 pts, LW: 2)
  • 5. San Jose (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 8)
  • 4. Vegas (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 9)
  • 3. Philadelphia (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 6)
  • 2. St. Louis (Pace: 130 pts, LW: 7)
  • 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 135 pts, LW: 4)

Robbie Fabbri. Jay Bouwmeester. Patrick Berglund.

Any team that starts the first two months of the season with that much talent on injured reserve, no matter how much depth it has. Instead, the St. Louis Blues have gotten off to one of the best starts in the NHL and their underlying numbers almost match their performances.

At 13-3-1, head coach Mike Yeo has uncharacteristically gotten the Blues into one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL thanks to having two lines that have traditionally matched their skillsets. Like the days of Ken Hitchcock, any line that involves Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have to be the all-skill line, while any line that involves Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen has to be the team’s shut-down line. This year, however, these two units are performing much better because of the additions of two players.

With only almost a quarter of the season through, Brayden Schenn already has 15 assists (including nine primary helpers). If he were to keep this up, there is no denying his passing numbers will shatter his career high totals of 29 assists (21 being primary) from his 2014-15 season with Philadelphia. This is not the first time Schenn has played with world-class talent before as he has been among Claude Giroux’s most common linemates over the past couple of seasons as a Flyer. However, Schenn was more known for picking up tip-in or point-blank range goals, especially on the power play. For him to be more known as a passer on a line already filled with them is just extraordinary.

As for the other top-six forward line for St. Louis, they aren’t so much welcoming a new face as more as they are happy to see an old friend. After almost three seasons away from the NHL, Vladimir Sobotka returned just in time for the postseason in 2017 and contributed almost immediately. This season, this checking line may not be the most stout you’d see all year. Remember, all three forwards on this line are on the wrong side of 30 years old. If anything, these three are able to handle all the tough assignments so that the more skilled line can go out and feast upon easier deployments and competition.

With that, the Blues top six and a patchwork blueline that is able to reconfigure mostly well in the absence of Bouwmeester has been able to perform at an elite level. If they can just stop playing Carl Gunnarson any top four minutes, this team will really be clicking. And that will be a scary sight to behold.

 

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