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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

 

Monday Musings – Sept. 18/2017

Sep 18, 2017
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Oh, it's in! Tyler Wong scores leading Vegas to a 9-4 win over Vancouver | Photo: The Province

First off, did anyone else overdose on lackluster pre-season hockey?  Thought so!  Anyway, at least we know there isn’t going to be a lockout or other form of work-stoppage, and real hockey is just around the corner!  That said, I won’t bore you with any real “game analysis” or the like, rather, let’s just peek at some highlights of the weekend.

So, Friday was pretty tame, with only anticipation of hockey to come.  Dialed in some TV pre-season shows, and generally had a stress-free day (well, after I got back from the hospital for a checkup).  Saturday is always hockey day in this Czech-Canadian household, so needless to say I was up at the crack of dawn, eager and ready to turn on the television and take in my heroine-like fix of the greatest game on ice!

The joke was on me, however, as I had completely forgotten that I had moved to the West coast, and that we were three hours behind the action.  Even though it was only 4:30am, it meant I would have to shuffle my viewing schedule to omit some soccer.  Not a big sacrifice, right?  DONE!  Now, come on time – please fly by and get me to my game of the day:  Vegas at Vancouver.

I had watched an almost complete Canucks team play against an almost complete Kings team the night before (not really worth going into much detail about it), and it was nothing but a parade to the penalty box, as the officials are apparently going to crack down hard on faceoff infractions and stick taps around the hands (slashing?).  The players, apparently, had not been properly informed or instructed or even told what the criteria for the call would be, and thus ended up really giving both coaching staffs a chance to view what might well end up being 8th liners at best.

But this would be different, right?  Because it’s the first opportunity to see what the motley assortment Vegas GM George McPhee cobbled together in Sin City.  To see how many defencemen one team could actually ice in a given game!  So many new things!

It went pretty much as expected.

17 total power plays were called, and I would estimate about 65% of infractions would not have been called last season.  The penalties were evenly doled out, with Vegas enjoying nine man-advantage situation’s to Vancouver’s eight.  The Golden Knights converted three times, while the Canucks potted two.

The standout players were all on Vegas, as part of the Canucks was likely either packing or on their way to China (Boeser was good, with a goal and an assist, Jordan Subban was also solid).  The biggest notable was likely Tyler Wong, an undrafted right winger, who is a tad undersized but very determined.  He scored three goals and added a helper, but his tenacity and nose for the puck…  The drive he showed (and the scoring touch) make me believe he has very good chance of breaking camp with the big club.

Another player who really showed some promise was right winger Tomas Hyka, who was drafted in 2012 by the Kings in the sixth round.  He had a previous sniff in North America, but never found traction, went back to Europe to develop, and now wants back in to the NHL.  I think Vegas presents just the perfect opportunity for him to play useful minutes, and entrench himself into a full-time NHL job.

Finally, only because I could blurb a bit about everyone which would be painfully uninteresting, Cody Glass is someone who is a high-risk/high-reward player that I think will emerge a masterstroke for McPhee.  If he ever fills out his 6-foot-2 frame, he has the potential to become one of the cornerstones of this franchise moving forward.  Great skating ability, good view of the game and smart decisions was all I saw from him.  Scrappy, if not feisty at times during the game, we can only hope he develops into at least a second line center.

The game was borderline hockey, but it did the trick in terms of hearing the commentary, the arena sounds, the fans…  At least you wouldn’t get looked at funny if you called it hockey in public.

Duh – Golden Knights win 9-4.


Sunday is always awkward, with football being another household religious affair.

Football won out the day (CFL first, then NFL), so I won’t bore you with anything but the fantastic news that the Falcons beat the Packers!

Monday is still going on, and I’m watching the “Battle Of Ontario“, part 0.1 (pre-season notation).

The Senators look really good, despite missing captain and defenceman supremo, Erik Karlsson, who is now expected to be out until possibly late November, early December.  All eyes are on 20-year old defensive stud prospect Thomas Chabot, who looks solid, but unspectacular on a pairing with Dion Phaneuf.  I think the reality is that Phaneuf is simply not the right fit, and we won’t be able to properly evaluate Chabot’s immediate role on the team until we see him with Karlsson.  Shame that it won’t be until later in the season.

Among forwards, Mike Hoffman looked like he’s ready to go, with two nice goals.  He had a comedic moment that you hope is only a preseason thing though…  (Not posted to youtube yet, will update hopefully!)

The Leafs don’t look quite right, although they are icing a deep forward corps.  Curtis McElhinney was a sieve, and is now in peril of losing the backup job to Garrett Sparks, who didn’t look much better.  But this team isn’t going anywhere if Frederik Andersen goes down for any length of time.

Matthews seems like he’ll pick up where he left off last season, and I believe he will benefit from Patrick Marleau‘s presence on the powerplay, where he scored an astonishingly low eight goals last season.  The rest of the contingent looks impressive, and I believe the Leafs may well win their division this season.

The Senators, once fully configured, will have a slight setback from last season.  It is just my belief, but when a team over-achieves one season, they often come crashing back to EArth the following year, and that involves cratering – i.e going further down than the surface.

Anyways, one last thing to touch on is Joffrey Lupul‘s Instagram post insinuating that the Leafs are cheating the cap system by keeping him (and others in the same boat) buried on Injury Reserve, while he has declared himself fit to play.

First off, if he’s fit to play, he can go get that confirmed by his own doctor, and apply for reinstatement.  Secondly, he should stop accepting paycheques to make a point.  He wants to play, not just be paid.  The Leafs, of course, don’t want his ridiculous contract on the books, in case they need to fill up at the trade deadline.  $5.25 million is a deadline-type budget, so unless the Leafs can find a trade partner (Duchene?), Lupul should quit his bitchin’ and not make things worse for the NHL.  You can’t have this type of discussion publicly as it detracts from both sides.  First, the Leafs aren’t going to accommodate a trouble-maker.  Do Lamoriello and Babcock strike anyone as the type of men who respond well to allegations of improper behaviour in the pubic eye?  Me neither!

Secondly, Lupul is a veteran, and as such should know the basics of the business.  If you want to be traded, make yourself an attractive commodity.  Lupul’s actions do not accomplish that at all, again because teams don’t want to be part of the court of public opinion when it comes to cheating or circumventing the rules.

Next time slam a cheeseburger in your cyber mouth Joffrey!

See you all again next Monday!  Enjoy your week!

DR

 
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