Week 15 of the Nerdy 30+1: Check Mate and Babbling Babcock

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AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Before we get to another edition of the Nerdy 30+1, I think we really need to talk about Kid Rock.

For starts, let’s ignore the obvious issues here for a second by asking this simple question that should be applied to all sports leagues that want to stay relevant when it comes to hiring half time entertainment. When was the last time this artist mattered? For the instance of Kid Rock, we’re talking “All summer long” back in 2008. Even then, we have to go back to “Picture” back in 2003 which peaked at #4 in the billboard charts. The point is, Kid Rock’s most famous work is hard to come by and it all happened almost a decade ago.

Let’s compare this to Lady Gaga, who performed in last year’s Super Bowl. Even if you think she’s well past her prime in regards to musical and cultural influence, she still had “Million Reasons” and “Perfect Illusion” as songs she can call a success in recent years. Even if you don’t want them to count in you’re mind because you’re still thinking “Born this Way” was the last one that counted, she still was popular later than the last time Kid Rock was. So even if you don’t want to “play this game” of Kid Rock being a racist by loving the Confederate flag too much and spouting hate towards Colin Kaepernick, you should still expect to get backlash for how horrifyingly irrelevant he is and why you would pick him to perform at a nationally televised event in Los Angeles. Just call me if you even think he’ll have farewell tours that are as huge as Bruce Springsteen, the Who or the Rolling Stones if you want to play that contest too.

I mean, how hard is it really to just call up Imagine Dragons or OneRepublic to perform for this year’s All-Star game? How about Portugal the Man or Cage The Elephant? How about Drake or anyone else north of the border? Even if you want to go the country route to appease the vast majority of the demographic among players and fans, I’m almost certain you’ll find someone better and less controversial than Kid Rock. Instead, the NHL, time and again, is proving to everyone from the outside that they would much prefer to have their heads in the sand instead of making the game as popular and as inclusive as possible.

Even if firing Gary Bettman seams to be the most obvious answer to such issues, it’s beyond clear that the extreme majority of NHL executives and front office staff will have to go too in order for the league to have a complete culture change, because examples like the Kid Rock controversy have proven to be a systemic problem for decades. Until then, these men who refuse to admit shame that they have put on their sport will be too busy building “cultures” in their own respective locker rooms.

Anywho, on with the power rankings…

  • 31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 51 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Buffalo (Pace: 57 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Ottawa (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. Detroit (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Montreal (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Anaheim (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 24)

So we haven’t taken a look at the eternally awful Arizona Coyotes since I started these power rankings this year. Welp, nothing has changed for this franchise as they sit on pace to barely make 50 points in the standings. They have only put together one winning streak all year (a three-game stretch from November 16th to November 20th) and their puck possession is finding the most creative ways to fall off a cliff. If anything, it’s what is happening off the ice that is making this team look a little worse.

First, we have to talk about the Anthony Duclair trade and how this organization is handling their young players. Common sense 101 indicates that the Coyotes are in rebuilding mode and will stay there until half their team is full of homegrown talent and high-end draft picks, or young prospects that were picked up in trades. Apparently, the coaching staff hasn’t gotten the memo on that and decided to healthy scratch the now Chicago Blackhawk 10 games this season. The usual “lacking in effort” quotes have come for him and, frankly, those quotes should be saved towards a veteran who is taking advantage of a rigged NHL salary distribution structure more than a possible future piece of your team when they get back to winning again.

To Duclair’s credit, he has righted the ship in some ways with 15 points in 33 games and 49.9% puck possession. If you’re trying to find someone to work harder Mr. Rick Tocchet, try telling that to Zack Rinaldo who has been a career fighter all his life, or maybe Alex Goligoski who has seen his career nose-dive to oblivion since joining the team? Or how about Tobias Rieder who has seen his relative puck possession go red while also only recording 13 points in 47 games. The point is, there is a significant amount of blame to go around, but Duclair is not one of them.

Neither is Dylan Strome who is TEARING up the AHL but is getting zero opportunities to develop with the Coyotes. Having the former number three overall pick in the draft play a grand total of just 18 games in two years is nothing short of unforgiveable. Either you call him up to the NHL and have him stay there until he retires, loss of form be damned, or you trade him for the sake of his career. The same also should apply for Nick Merkley, who is also averaging close to a point per game in Tuscon. Lawson Crouse…deserves to be yelled at by Tocchet.

Lastly, let’s talk about Louis Domingue. Even with him changing the narrative about who was to blame for his situation post-transaction, the Coyotes have a lot of blame that should still be fallen to them. They’ll already have difficulties signing future quality free agents by not winning already. If anything, this creates an exclamation for anyone as to what will happen to them if their talent starts to wane. It’s these moments right there where even if you think your asset isn’t good enough anymore, that you go out of your way to treat him like the human being that he is. Instead, you felt like the best possible solution was to shove him to the curb with no assistance necessary. That’s a real black eye on a franchise that will take years to recover from.

  • 23. Washington (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. New York Islanders (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 21)
  • 21. Edmonton (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 22)
  • 20. Columbus (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 19)
  • 19. Nashville (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 18)
  • 18. Pittsburgh (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 20)
  • 17. New York Rangers (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)

We go from one team that struggles to get to 46% puck possession to another. As usual, the Rangers are a weird team that keeps shooting at well above average rates and their goaltending is still strong to go along with it. However, it doesn’t look like New York is simply a bad hockey team just because they have a bad puck possession. With 12.74 of these attempts per hour, no other NHL team is better than the Rangers in shooting in high definition areas. In other words, they are the personification of crashing the net. Rick Nash, Jimmy Vesey and Chris Kreider are always among the best on the team in creating such chances and all four of them are in the top 60 in the league in this category. In fact, add Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Jesper Fast, and you’ve got seven of the top 100 in the NHL in net crashing.

However, as always, New York’s defense has just been as abysmal. Only the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals have been worse than the Rangers’ 12.96 high definition attempts against per hour at even strength. Again, this highlights how great Lundqvist continues to be, but you genuinely wonder what happens when the damn finally breaks: just like it did in the second round of the playoffs last season.

And it’s weird to see them as a bad even strength defense once you see that their penalty kill defense is actually fourth best in the NHL with 94.4 attempts given up per hour in such situations. If the Rangers can even have both systems mesh nicely at even strength and while shorthanded, this team could seriously be the contender to come out of the Metropolitan division. If the season were to go as planned, only Columbus would rank in the top half of the league in even strength puck possession. With such a stat no longer being considered a high priority, it can’t be denied the Rangers can spring a strong run towards the Cup through other means. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that there is too much evidence that they can’t defend and that will have to change by the time April comes around.

  • 16. Los Angeles (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 7)
  • 15. Colorado (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 17)
  • 14. Carolina (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 14)
  • 13. Chicago (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 11)
  • 12. Philadelphia (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 9)
  • 11. Minnesota (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 16)
  • 10. New Jersey (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 15)
  • 9. Calgary (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 8)

Los Angeles should be thankful that the Capitals have been known throughout the analytics community as the biggest frauds in the NHL due to their style of play. Otherwise, it would actually be them that would gain that mantra this season because despite outscoring opponents 131-112 this season, they really should be facing a 129-131 deficit instead. Plenty of their first half start has been thanks to a rennaiscance season for Jonathan Quick, whose 92.4% save percentage and 87 relative goals against percentage are the best numbers he has put up since the 2011-12 season that saw him guide the Kings towards their first ever Stanley Cup.

However, the Kings are now reverting back to type with their conversion rates with Quick playing every one of Los Angeles’ 4-8-1 stretch of games. During that span, his save percentage has dipped to 91.3%. He’s been in a worse run of form, but the 31-year old has played 37 of Los Angeles’ 46 games this season after having torn up his groin muscle last season. Let’s also not forget that Quick has 529 career games in the regular season, plus another 81 contests in the postseason. That’s lots of miles that are on his body for one that will be a Kings legend, but if Los Angeles are to get themselves back into a playoff spot, they’re going to have to trust Darcy Kuemper once in a while to get the job done.

The biggest issues with the team of late actually hasn’t been the defense, even though the season-wide expected goal counts say otherwise. In fact, their offense is the area where Los Angeles should consider their area of need. Sure. missing Jeff Carter due to a lacerated ankle tendon is a major loss, but that still shouldn’t excuse the fact that only eight forwards have played over 30 games this season. Basically, they have a top six, some concoction for a third line lead by Nick Shore and a fourth line that might as well be a raffle drawing every night. Even among the eight best forwards, Shore only has 12 points this season while rookie Alex Iafallo only has 13 despite generating great puck possession while he was on the top line.

On the plus side, Adrian Kempe is everything the Kings organization has wanted while Dustin Brown is having a career resurgense as well. Marian Gaborik has played well when he’s on the ice, but he missed over 22 games due to a knee injury. Kyle Clifford has also missed 31 games himself due to his own set of ailments. Best case scenario, the Kings will be fine once the whole band gets back together. But that very rarely happens to them during the regular season. That’s why another addition up front might be necessary for them in this spring’s trade deadline.

  • 8. Toronto (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 6)
  • 7. St. Louis (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 12)
  • 6. San Jose (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 10)
  • 5. Winnipeg (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Boston (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Vegas (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 1)

Somehow, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not taking advantage of a terrible Atlantic Division and are sitting as a middle of the pack playoff team instead. Along with that, their sub-50 percent puck possession sees them as a team that doesn’t look like their getting better anytime soon. Now with Morgan Reilly out of the possible picture due to a left arm that may or may not be broken, the Maple Leafs depth in defense will really be tested.

And in someways, we probably should have seen this coming. Up until their 2-4-3 stinker of a stretch that started on December 29th, Toronto was riding on a 102.4 PDO to get things done for them at even strength. Since then, that PDO has plummeted to 98.5. Even if you want to be sympathetic towards them and their poor puck luck, it’s not like they have been elite at anything this season. Sure, their special teams have actually been quite good this season with not much puck luck to speak of. But at the tried-and-trusted even strength play, Toronto actually sits 15th in shot generation and a continually abysmal 21st in shot prevention throughout the whole season.

Criticisms have come abound of Mike Babcock’s lineup usage this season. For starts, he has favored the always terrible Roman Polak over the younger, more nimble but smaller Connor Carrick despite having a solid season in puck possession. Does this situation ring a bell Caps fans? Even if we’re complaining about two defensemen who don’t get much ice time for their roles, Babcock has been giving over 18 even strength minutes a night to an agin Ron Hainsey. It’s been criminal seeing Rielly prop him up while the two have been together this season. The same also applies to Jake Gardiner when he’s had to skate with the now-injured Nikita Zaitsev.

All the defense pairs just seem like a mess and in my opinion, I want to see what happens when both Carrick and Andreas Borgman are given top-four pairing roles. I like the idea with Carrick and Gardiner becoming the team’s second pair since they have generated over 52% puck possession in over 154 even strength minutes this season. On the top pair, Reilly and his ever-improving game can be paired with Borgman and see what gets created there. As for the third pair, this is where Toronto shows signs of weakness, but I would go Zaitsev and Hainsey and give them as few minutes as possible until you can get an addition to the blue line at the trade deadline. No defenseman within the new top four are over 27 years old, so this strategy should work.

Lastly, let’s talk about Mitch Marner. Even if he only has five goals this season, the second year pro is still shredding it on the assist tally and has been such a key cog to Toronto’s power play. Why in the world is it ever a good idea to sit him down to the fourth line? Even if you want to complain about bad defensive play, Marner actually sits second out of the team’s 17 forwards in shot attempts against rate and seventh in goals against rate. So what gives? Like Barry Trotz has been throughout their tenure, coaches constantly think that to shake things up during a bad run of form, the solution would be to scare off the youngest player on the team so that he can “buy into the system” and “pull on the same rope”. Well what happens to pulling on the same rope when the man in charge doesn’t bother giving it to you? At the end of the day, Marner is one your best players. Play him!

Until then, Babcock has to find other ways to make this team better or they’ll face a season that, despite their continual improvement, should be their coming out party and a sign of future Stanley Cup parades.

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