The Eastern Conference has been viewed, rightly, as a barren wasteland with a meek populace lorded over by a very small number of actual good teams. We know for sure, for example, that Boston, Pittsburgh, and probably Detroit are going to make the playoffs. You might as well not even play the rest of the season as far as they’re concerned. They’re in, unequivocally.
For everyone else, though, things are a little more dicey. Tampa is sub-.500 in its last 10 games because they’re not very good away from home (where six of those 10 have been played), they’re cooling off after a hot start, and of course, they’re missing Steven Stamkos. Yet they entered last night sitting top three in the Flortheast because of Montreal’s slow start and Toronto’s quick decline.
But that’s the thing, right? Even if you finish outside the top three in your division, any crummy team in the East has at least a decent chance of sneaking into the playoffs because of how hard Toronto is dropping off (and will continue to do so because their December schedule is murder).
The Leafs will, rather definitively, not be playing after the regular season ends, and a number of potential suitors awaits, with varying degrees of credibility behind their claims to the conference’s final playoff spot.
The fact of the matter is that we’re now already one-third of the way through the season, and so it’s time to look for some replacements.
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Much to the consternation of the quote-unquote advanced stats community, the Toronto Maple Leafs have repeatedly dismissed the kinds of statistics which state that they’re going to be bad in the very near future, and this is largely due to the fact that they haven’t been given a reason to embrace them.
The Leafs made the playoffs last year, for example, because the season was just 48 games long and their inability to actually possess the puck and generate shot attempts in no way hindered their ability to make the playoffs or push the Bruins far deeper into the first round than anyone outside the Air Canada Centre would have expected. The team rightly saw that brutal collapse against Boston as a stroke of bad luck — and maybe you could say it was a season’s worth of well-earned bad bounces finally going against them in one improbably short period of time — and set about this past summer tinkering with aspects of their team which did not need tinkering.
So it was that the doom-and-gloom nerds who swore up and down that regression was going to pummel them this season got their chance to rub their hands together furiously in anticipation for a season-long period of mayhem brought down by the corsi gods on high. You can’t, they argue, go 48 games at 30th in the league in shot attempt percentage and expect to make the playoffs again and not expect comeuppance. Read the rest of this entry »
When you’re putting a goalie on waivers, and especially when he’s 36 years old and your backup, it might not be that big of a deal overall. But when your other goalie is 31 and his stats are likewise sub-average, even at the start of the season, it could be a very real issue in the very near future.
Obviously the New York Rangers and the rest of the hockey world are resting assured that despite the slow start to the season for the team, and its otherwise world-class starting goaltender in particular, things are all going to work out fairly well. This is, after all, Henrik Lundqvist we’re talking about, and the Rangers haven’t even played a home game this season.
In this week’s 30 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman points out that Lundqvist in particular — out of all elite NHL netminders — might be having trouble dealing with the new, smaller pads because he’s the kind of goalie who previously liked to go deeper than almost all others into his crease because he wanted as much time as possible to see the shots. Without the ability to come out every night shaped like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, that deepness leaves him far more open to shots simply getting through him, whether he sees them or not. If he were more aggressive in coming out to challenge shooters, he might be able to keep the angles down and effectively negate the advantage. Bourne outlined all this yesterday.
So maybe it takes Lundqvist a little more time than others to adjust to the change specifically because of how much deeper he goes, and maybe this rough start — in which he’s gone 2-4 in his starts, posting sub-.880 save percentages in all his losses — will straighten itself out sooner than later. His current even-strength save percentage of .887, by the way, doesn’t speak well for his ability to pin all of this on his defense.
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In the immediate wake of the Peter Laviolette firing yesterday morning, just hours after the team looked like garbage against a team that is itself primed for a truly awful season, a lot of people just kind of shrugged and said, “Well, sure.”
Yeah the Flyers are bad and yeah they’re 0-3-0 to start the year, having conceded far more goals than they’ve scored and probably no one is all that surprised by the occurrence. But with that having been said there are so many questions that emerge in the immediate wake of the decision that spring to mind.
“Why?” is the first question that should come up, for sure. Three games is a comically short period of time in which to consider a coaching change and it is in fact the fastest any bench boss has ever been fired in the entire history of the league. This was a team, though, that always looked on the poise of putrid. There was always something there, of course, enough that you’d say to yourself, “Okay this could possibly be a good team if things break for them.” After all, before last year’s thunderously bad performance, they posted better-than-100-point seasons, and that was after making the Stanley Cup Final in a streak of luck eclipsed only by the Devils’ accomplishment of two years ago.
This is a team that considered, for example, Scott Hartnell to be something other than a reliable 20-25 goalscorer who was at least somewhat defensibly responsible. They pay him like a skill guy, giving him more money against the cap than any other forward on the team this year, based solely on the fact that he scored a complete-aberration 37 goals playing with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. They consider 68-year Kimmo Timonen to likewise be a No. 1 defenseman and both pay and play him commensurately, but largely due to the fact that other, better options simply do not exist.
That Laviolette had to cobble together any success from this roster, given what was being spent on it, is absurd. That he did so successfully for two seasons is a credit to his prowess behind the bench.
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Exactly what, apart from what he ended up doing, was Phil Kessel supposed to do in that situation? The whole world is having a good ol’ laugh at Kessel this week after he took a two-hander at John Scott’s ankle. Kessel’s options at the time were threefold:
- Fight John Scott and have the Christ beaten out of him.
- Skate away from Scott as fast as possible and bear the brunt of the next several decades of laughs that would come his way.
- Try to keep Scott away from him long enough for someone to intercede on his behalf, perhaps by wielding his stick like a hatchet.
He obviously chose the third and final of these choices and it proved the most judicious. The time on the IR with a concussion that came with No. 1 was always a non-starter, and the scorn from No. 2 likewise was never an option. And now hockey pundits in every major market, most of all those with reason to dislike Kessel (Boston) or the Leafs (Montreal), laughs at Kessel. The Toronto media, for their part, defended their boy and team as well they should have: The kinds of tactics the Sabres employed in that game, following Corey Tropp asking Jamie Devane to fight following a goal. Devane, an aspiring NHLer with naught but 36 pro games (and 90 PIM in them) to his credit obliged. By KOing Tropp. And, in doing so, allowing the player five inches shorter and 40ish pounds slighter than himself to bounce his head scarily off the ice.
In turn, Sabres coach Ron Rolston put out John Scott and an assortment of other non-skill players. Randy Carlyle, given that he had last change a total lack of things happening in his brain, put out his top line, which included Kessel. Thus began the chaos of a line brawl, David Clarkson leaving the bench, and a goalie fight.
But let’s not forget where all this started: It started when the Leafs themselves started loading up on brainless goons, as a means of becoming “harder to play against.” That the Leafs had none of them (save for Devane) in the lineup mattered not at all; if you’re playing Toronto, you prepare as though you’re going to have to fist-fight some people. Thus the inclusion of Scott in the lineup. Read the rest of this entry »
There has been in the last few days, a seeming run on professional tryout contracts being offered to longtime veteran NHLers as teams turn an eye toward signing them but first want to see how they stack up against rookies, or whoever.
Dave Steckel with the Wild. Guillaume Latendresse with the Coyotes. Mason Raymond with the Maple Leafs. Brad Boyes and maybe, by the time you read this, Tim Thomas with the Florida Panthers (though they might have just outright signed him to a standard player contract). Both Hal Gill and Danny Cleary with the Flyers.
And while Cleary’s is a regular-old PTO for right now, and Paul Holmgren swears up and down that that’s all it is, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment, the rumor kicking around is that he’s been signed to an absolutely awful contract that will pay him way too much money for not one, not two, but three seasons. This is, you’ll recall, 34-year-old Dan Cleary we’re talking about. The same Dan Cleary whose knees seem to have long since done the sensible thing and called it a career, and are now waiting patiently for the rest of his body to follow suit.
A real Dan Cleary quote about the condition of his knees from the 2012 season included the words “loose cartilage” and “bone on bone” and “a lot of fluid” and that’s not a good way for any living human being to have to describe their knees. That was also a year ago, during which time Cleary just played another 62 largely ineffectual games for the Red Wings. Ken Holland wanted him back, because he does continue to have an odd fascination with Detroit’s borderline lifers long after they’ve outlived their usefulness (see also: Osgood, Chris). But he seemingly did not want him back for three years, and certainly not for the rumored $2.75 million he will receive per annum during that time. And certainly-certainly not with an accompanying no-trade clause. Read the rest of this entry »
The lack of progress on the Nazem Kadri extension front has been making headlines in Toronto for surprisingly little time, given how important he seems to be to the Maple Leafs’ future plans.
Under normal circumstances — say, if Jonathan Bernier went this deep into the summer without a contract — the local papers would normally be delivered to subscribers’ homes literally on fire. That there has been no such uproar over Kadri’s situation comes as something of a surprise, but perhaps the Toronto media has been so satiated by the team’s acquisition of David Clarkson (the Prize Toronto-Born-And-Bred Free Agent for which they have been ravening for years) and retention of Tyler Bozak (All-Around Good Teammate (Who Also Sucks But Who’s Counting?)) that no one particularly cares that the team probably doesn’t have the cap space to sign Kadri, who you’ll recall was nearly a point-a-game player in the NHL at age 22.
The only thing thing that’s really caused any kind of an uproar in the past few days with relation to the ongoing talks was when he said, “The closer it comes to training camp, it becomes more and more of a distraction. I know I’m being pretty reasonable, taking cap into consideration, when really, that’s not my job.”
Again, under normal circumstances, this phenom high draft pick who was second on the team in scoring in his first full year in the NHL should have everyone in a furor, with talk-radio phone lines jammed by people screaming for Nonis’ head. Instead, Damien Cox of all people(!) is actually pleading for everyone to NOT get worked up, Steve Simmons is saying that Kadri’s confidence in his own abilities is what’s at issue here rather than greed, and Dave Shoalts is praising Nonis for being “patient.” What universe did we wake up in? Read the rest of this entry »