(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
6 – Ranking stuff
Everyone was very mad this week that the NHL Network put out its list of the top 10 goalies in the league. As you might imagine, the list was Very Bad.
Let’s go: Carey Price No. 1? I guess I get it still but y’know. Braden Holtby second? I get that too.
Sergei Bobrovsky at No. 3 seems an awful lot like recency bias but he’s got two Vezinas in the collection and is .923 in his five years as a starter with Columbus.
After that it gets wacky: Matt Murray has 62 regular-season appearances to go with his two Cups, so this seems awful premature. Devan Dubnyk has two good seasons as a starter under his belt. Jonathan Quick at sixth is idiotic on its face. Cam Talbot is fine at seventh if you’re weighing last season really really heavily. Henrik Lundqvist, after one bad season, is only the eighth-best goalie in the world all of a sudden.
Where’s Tuukka Rask? Where’s Cory Schneider? Man, tough crowd (unless you’re Jonathan Quick).
Anyway the 10 best goalies in the league are the 10 best goaltenders in quality-adjusted 5v5 save percentage over the last three years, after a further adjustment for aging curves.
Not accepting any questions or comments on the matter at this time. Thank you.
5 – Bringing up the Olympics again
I have been trying not to think about it, but the AP re-confirmed the thing everyone already knew: No NHLers, and no players on NHL contracts in any other league, are going to be heading to South Korea in February.
Which, fair enough. It’s a bummer but I have accepted it.
Or at least, I thought I had. Then I saw that Canada/Russia line brawl from the other day and just how bleak the situation is really going to be. I looked at a quick writeup of that game and, like, Gilbert Brule starred for Canada. Kevin Poulin was the goalie. Justin Azevedo was in the big donnybrook.
Like I say: Bleak.
Look at this list of Americans playing in the KHL this season. These are the best American internationals, playing in what is probably the third-best pro league in the world, and it’s a bunch of guys like TJ Galiardi and Matt Gilroy at best. The Swedish league’s Americans are even worse.
I’m starting to worry we won’t really even get AHL-level hockey out of these Olympics. This is bad news.
4 -The Predators plans
I wonder, at the end of the day, how much the Predators were counting on this decision by Mike Fisher to call it a career to not-happen.
I don’t like their center depth much even with Fisher in the fold, but going with Johansen, then Bonino, then Fisher, then probably Colton Sissons isn’t terrible. I don’t rate Bonino or Fisher as anything approaching being a legitimate top-60 center in the league, but they’d both solidly be in the top 75 or so I think. If you have two “tweener” middle-six centers, I think you can get by, especially with that defense.
Now, the Preds don’t even have that. One clear top-line guy. One so-so middle-six option, and then after that it’s Sissons, who seems okay I guess, and, I dunno, Freddie Gaudreau maybe?
Obviously I’m still pretty high on Nashville to succeed in the Central based on the overall strength the team has on the blue line and, frankly, on both wings as well. But they’re going to realize pretty quickly that if they want to get back to a Cup Final they need some center help. Probably why those “trade a defenseman” rumors persist, huh?
Anyway, speaking of where the Preds will finish in the Central…
3 – Prediction time
Gotta say: Pretty shocking to log onto Twitter on Monday, Aug. 7, and find predictions about who will finish where in the Central Division. But here we are: The Hockey News Yearbook came out and predicted the standings for most everything you could hope to predict. Pittsburgh over Edmonton in the Cup Final, etc. (That’d be three Cups in a row for Pittsburgh, which seems very optimistic.)
Anyway, the really interesting part in all of this was that the Hockey News has the top-three finishers in the Central as Dallas, Nashville, and Chicago in that order.
It got me thinking, like, I don’t know who I think is any good in the Central, except to say that a good chunk of the teams in it are clearly good, if flawed.
I don’t trust Dallas at all, and certainly not with that goaltending situation, to win a division that will probably take 105 points to win. Nashville could do it, but that center depth is concerning and Pekka Rinne has to be considered a big question mark. Chicago, well, we know their problems. Minnesota has a solid roster but would need another bonkers season from Devan Dubnyk to come close to winning. St. Louis poses as credible a threat to the rest as well. Winnipeg could take a step forward if the goaltending sorts itself out with Steve Mason (that it probably won’t do that will not be a reflection on Mason, in my opinion). Colorado is tanking, so that’s the one team that won’t do any real damage.
In a division with seven teams, probably five of them are going to finish north of 90 points, if I had to guess. I just don’t see where any of them stand out above the rest. If I had to ballpark it right now today, I’d say Nashville wins — they were phenomenal in the second half, and not just because of PDO — over the full 82. But hockey’s funny and things can go sideways.
2 – The benefit of the doubt
One other thing to note with all that stuff about the Central got me thinking: What will it take for a major hockey publication to predict Chicago will miss the playoffs?
I think they’re still a playoff team right now — don’t get mad at me, fanboys! — but I don’t think they’re the third-best team in that division any more. They’re capable of being that, but right now there are too many question marks. Serious ones at that. What does Kane look like without Panarin? What does the whole defense look like without Hjalmarsson? What does this team look like with a dozen 22-year-olds on it?
So I think it’s legitimate to ask when Hockey People will stop saying, “Ah it’s Chicago! Kane Toews Keith!” about these guys. Probably has to be two straight playoff misses, right? They’ll be presumed “in” until they miss once, for sure. You can call that a hiccup.
But for the entire hockey ecosystem to shift to, “Ah they’re past it” — which by the way is a somewhat reasonable position to take even right this second — it’s gotta be two misses.
That puts at “at least two more years of people saying Chicago is elite.” Probably more like four, if we’re being honest. Which is wild, because Dallas won a playoff game more recently than Chicago did.
1 – Sidney Crosby
Also wild: Sidney Crosby is now officially one of those guys I would say is “on the wrong side of 30.”
Death comes for us all.
(Not ranked this week: Not signing Jagr.
Folks, this is getting silly! I do not like it!)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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