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 »
On yesterday’s podcast, which you should almost certainly listen to, Scott Lewis and I were talking about the Edmonton Oilers (starting at 23:40) and picking apart the multitude of reasons for their lack of success so far this season. (Goaltending is obviously a big one, but we were looking beyond that easy answer.)
I mused a little bit on a feeling I have, which frankly, I hadn’t really fleshed out before the show, so I figured I’d give it a try in print today: the Oilers don’t seem to have many heavy-lifters outside of players whose sole role is to lift heavy. Ideally, you’d like the guys who get the most minutes to be tough to play. Skill as a priority of course, but a lot of players are able to provide both. Edmonton doesn’t seem to have many of those.
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It’s very rare indeed that a team goes worst-to-first in modern sports. People made a massive deal in the past week of the Red Sox having done so, obviously, but the difference there is that the Red Sox having finished last was the anomaly for many reasons, not the least of which was the amount of money spent on fielding a last-place team.
In the NHL, it’s even rarer; most teams go worst-to-kind-of-okay-to-good-to-first with a lot of noticeable incremental changes along the way. Getting a new coach, getting a new GM, grabbing some high draft picks, waiting a little while, making notable free agent signings, then finally being good or even great. It’s a process, and it usually goes in more or less that order.
Teams that are very good usually don’t stay that way for long periods of time, unless they’re the Red Wings. Even the very best teams in the league have “windows” in which they will be able to legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup, with the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks in recent years being noted as the kind of team for whom the window is closing.
One team that falls well outside the norm for this kind of thing is currently sitting atop the Flortheast Division, and they are a team that no one expected to finish anywhere near a playoff spot. In fact, that division alone was expected to send Boston (meh), Montreal (meh), Ottawa (ugh), and Detroit (sure) to the playoffs at the very least, with a little wiggle room for the Leafs to sneak in if they kept getting the bounces that served them so well last season (they have so far). Tampa never entered the equation. Read the rest of this entry »
I didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the whole Ray Emery chasing/jumping/attemptedmurdering Braden Holtby thing over the weekend, but with the news that the League may make a change (I’ll get to that farther down), I figure it’s probably time.
Yesterday the Phoenix Coyotes’ goalie coach Sean Burke gave an interview where he weighed in on the actions of Philly’s notoriously “tough” goalie (amateur boxer, yada yada yada), and I liked what he had to say. It’d be an understatement to say he wasn’t a huge fan:
“Holtby had a shutout going and he could have been injured. He’s a Team Canada candidate. Maybe not a favorite, but he’s playing for a lot right now, and that was just bullying. When you punch a guy 10 times in the back of the head, that’s not being tough.”
No, no it is most certainly not.
I also liked:
“Anybody defending Emery’s actions by saying Holtby’s at fault in any way — that’s just archaic. How would people have felt if Holtby had taken his stick and two-handed Ray Emery? Would that have been justifiable to protect himself? What can you do? What are you allowed to do to defend yourself against a guy against whom you’re overmatched?”
Ab-so-lutely. You’re borderline helpless. I’m sure a few people have proudly trotted out “what they would’ve done,” but in reality Holtby’s options were basically: look soft and try to skate away from Emery (I’m sure that highlight would hardly get played on loop for all eternity), smack him with his stick (brain damage, suspensions, not a lot of great outcomes there), or turtle/semi-turtle, which he basically did, which involves letting someone use your thinking machine like a knuckles-only bongo drum. 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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It’s early in the NHL season. I know it, you know it, that terribly uninformed guy at your work who thinks he’s The Schwab knows it. BUT, we are pulling up to the 10% completed mark of the NHL schedule, and some trends are beginning to form. Nobody with zero points by now is leading the NHL in scoring. We’re starting to really get into it, is the point.
For those of you who are only aware of your own team’s successes and failures so far, reading this should give you a good idea of who’s exceeding pre-season expectations, and who’s failing miserably all the way around the league.
Every year some rookies excel. That’s just the way it works in professional hockey – kids can be so crazy talented by 18 even the fact that they’re boys doesn’t stop them from being valued players against men. But this year…this year more than a few rookies are off to some pretty insane starts. For example:
Tomas Hertl: It’s remarkable how quickly the NHL’s scoring leaderboard took on the look we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Crosby’s on top, Ovechkin’s right there, and the other 27 players make perfect sense. Really, it’s uncanny. Only that adds up to 29 players, and it’s a 30 person list on page one – the math doesn’t add up because of this guy, who currently sits tied for third in league scoring with nine points in six games. Oh, and he’s leading the NHL in goals with seven, one ahead of Alex Ovechkin, two ahead of Sidney Crosby. Being on Joe Thornton’s line helps in that regard, but still: crazy start for the 19-year-old Czech.
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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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