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Different goalie, different results?

Sep 23, 2017
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Goaltending is a premium position in hockey.  At the final buzzer, no matter how well a team plays in front of him/her, if the goalie isn’t solid, a loss will be the outcome.  That’s why teams make every effort to have a high level tandem in between the pipes, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it.  This year there were some big names shifting about, mostly via free agency, but also through trade, and it stands to reason that the acquiring teams believe they improved at the position by making their transaction.  Let’s break it down:

Ben Bishop | TB to DAL | UFA – 6yrs | $29.5m | $4.92m/yr cap

NHLFans.ca:  Things certainly are bigger in Texas these days!  Ben Bishop comes in on a nice deal that will see him through to retirement.  Dallas desperately needed an upgrade over last year’s duo of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen.  Although blame for Dallas’ terrible season can’t be squarely excused away by blaming the Finnish red light re-treads, they weren’t singlehandedly winning any games either.

Bishop buys the team time to grow a prospect into a position to take over after the then 37-year old Bishop retires.  I see his injury history stopping him from playing beyond that.  Now, I believe the Stars would have been much better even without this move, but it won’t hurt them!  I believe the Stars are a top-3 team in the Western Conference this season, having made a fistful of significant additions (Bishop, Hanzal, Radulov).  Bishop won’t be winning any Vezinas, but he may enter the top-5 in voting!

GRADE: B+

Scott Darling | CHI to CAR | UFA – 4yrs | $16.6m | $4.15m/yr cap

NHLFans.ca:  The Hurricanes had a past-prime Cam Ward and a disaster aptly named Eddie Lack tending net for them last year.  Scott Darling earned his step up to a starting job in the NHL with repeatedly solid performances stepping in for Corey Crawford in Chicago.  This seems like almost a perfect fit!

Carolina will provide Darling with a pretty good, young defence, so he can ease into the heavier workload with a little more confidence.  Despite this addition, I believe Carolina will be a long way from making the playoffs, and think a better landing spot for Darling may have been the Arizona Coyotes, but alas, revisionist history…  Good value signing for the Canes, and a good start for Darling to showcase himself for his next big payday.

GRADE: B

Mike Smith | Trade – ARI | 2yrs. rem. | $5.67m/yr cap

NHLFans.ca:  Calgary gave up a lot to acquire the veteran out of the desert.  Chad Johnson (who played well enough last season, but not elite starter level), prospect Brandon Hickey and a third-round pick (cond.) were the parts sent to Arizona, and Calgary thinks they have the missing piece to get them deep into the postseason.  I have a really hard time putting my finger on this one, because Arizona is one of the toughest teams to figure out.

You can bet that Smith will face fewer shots per game, which can be good or bad, depending on the goalie.  Dominik Hasek was lights-out when he faced 40+ in a game, but was fairly pedestrian when he was facing 20-25 per game in Detroit.  How will Smith be with one of the most airtight defences in the NHL in front of him?

My belief is that the expectations are too high, and that the Flames will be fighting for wild card positioning from the word “go”.  Smith won’t be the reason if they do end up in the playoffs, it will be improved scoring (should that happen).

GRADE: C- (I believe this is the most likely to be a non-difference-maker)

Marc-André Fleury | Drafted – VGK | 2yrs. rem. | $5.75m/yr cap

NHLFans.ca:  The Vegas Golden Knights actually have a very good goaltending duo in Fleury and Calvin Pickard.  Well drafted by GM George McPhee, Fleury will be the reason the Golden Knights win on most nights when they do.  Fleury wasn’t left exposed by Pittsburgh because he is not a good goalie.  He was left available because they had too much money tied up in Fleury to let him be their backup to upstart Matt Murray.  Vegas is not the worst team at this position by any stretch, and I think Fleury will have a very good year (skewed to the talent in front of him).

GRADE: A

 

That’s all for now!

DR

 

The 2017 NHL China Games

Okay, Mr. Bettman, what did we learn?  That travel for Western Conference teams is bad enough as it is without compounding it with random excursions to the Far East?  I can’t imagine how badly jetlagged the players will be upon their return back to North America, but I know I’m pooped from it all, and I only traveled a few hours to Victoria, BC!  Crossing the international date line to play meaningless hockey (although at a very meaningful time) doesn’t seem like a worthwhile investment to me, and I think anyone who watched these two games would agree.  Now that the novelty is gone, I doubt I’ll stay or get up at past-midnight (PT) to watch any more of it should the league extend the initiative.

Mr. Bettman, while I understand the financial benefits of enticing the world’s most populated nation into becoming NHL fans, I believe you create the impression of being two-faced.  You are trying to make inroads with the hosts of the 2022 games in Beijing, while denying NHL participation this upcoming February in Korea.  Are you worried about the North, Mr. Commissioner?  Nuclear fallout from all those failed tests contaminating your players, who will then spread radiation throughout the ranks, destroying your precious league?  Really, explain the  mixed messages here…

With all due respect, Gary, if I can call you that, I’m not sure the Chinese were all that stoked about it anyway!  The first game, in Shanghai, was played in front of a reported 10,000+ people, which makes me think they counted a few spectators twice.  It was a smattering of fans comparable to what you see at a Canadian Junior game.  Not the worst, but certainly not overwhelming.  There was no bitching and moaning about not being able to get tickets!

The second game’s head count was reported as a sellout 15,000, which again is a generous count if you watched the game and saw all the empty seats (in all areas of the rink).  So, while I call BS on the attendance figures, I can also point to the overwhelmingly unenthusiastic looks on the crowd’s faces, unless the camera happened to fall on what I assume were either North American or European fans, just judging by appearance).  Even the cheerleaders made it look like an ordeal to be active participants in what was a nicely presented welcoming of NHL hockey.  The acqueil in China is always grand, but even this was somewhat subdued by contrast to the fanfare surrounding things like the world volleyball or ping-pong championships.

All this to say that I am not in support of growing the game in China this way.  Drop your dictatorial stance on the upcoming Olympics and I’ll consider the China experiment a fair (albeit misguided) attempt at establishing the NHL as China’s premier “Big 4” sports league for viewer consumption.  But, you can’t play these preseason games over there anymore!  I beseech you to stop the madness!  It’s gimmicky and counter-productive (split squads too, yeesh!) and I won’t watch any more of it.  Do it in the middle of the summer if you absolutely must, or wrap it into your World Cup tourney.  Nobody pays mind to that anyway, so it won’t interfere with the Occidental sleep schedule.

Gary, again, if I may call you that, somehow you manage to retain your Commission.  Despite all the idiotic things you’ve done along the way, I hate have to admit the NHL has grown in both size and strength under your leadership.  I can’t explain it!  So, I guess this is just a fancy way of giving you a heads up that I won’t be watching this junk any longer.

6:30am (PT)

OUT!

DR

 
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