When the NHL announced they would be changing to the current playoff format, I honestly loved it. You’re going to get the best teams, and you’re going to have more teams fighting for their playoff life right down to the wire, frequently right down to the last shot, the last save, the last goal of the season. There is a lot to be said for eliminating the two softest divisions the old Southeast and worse the old Northwest divisions were terrible. There was bad hockey, and the owners were allowed to coast and knew they had a really solid chance of making the playoffs each year just for hitting the salary cap floor.

The six division format with thirty teams just made hockey worse. It was sloppy, there were teams that went half a decade without even backing into the playoffs. You were really only competing with four teams each year. This allowed the Sedin twins to skitter into the playoffs most of their career in a division that was rarely represented in the post season by more than one team. Because teams weren’t competing against more than a fistful of teams you saw the results everywhere. The Thrashers or other southeast teams could make the playoffs with ten less points than the third place team in other divisions, much less the winners of the other five. You saw it on the ice in teams that were bottom feeders every year having guys start fights not over a dirty play, but so that guys who knew the game was meaningless might wake up and pay attention.

The current playoff format, and divisional alignment changes a lot of that. But it got one thing wrong, this year it is manifesting in the east.

Take a look at the current matchups if the playoffs started today:

NHL.com image of playoff matchups as of 4/1/17

The west is currently aligned to give the highest level of appeal as all the teams are facing a divisional rival. Sure it’d be fun to see a Ducks vs Sharks and Oilers vs Flames matchups to open the playoffs, but there’s the potential for one of those to happen in the second round. In the east on the other hand, things are a mess. Sure, the Canadiens and Rangers are rivals in the sense that they’ve been around a very long time and had a few grimy matchups. Certainly the teams dislike each other more than they do at least half the rest of the league. Likewise, the Bruins and Capitals have had some fun, exciting and occasionally brutal games.

But is there anyone, anywhere who knows even a little about those four cities and hockey who thinks ratings wouldn’t be higher if Boston and New York were playing within their division? Even the pinkest of pinkhats knows the Bruins and Habs have an enormous rivalry. If you want to back to the early years of the rivalry, the Patrick Division playoff battles between the Rangers and Caps were fierce, but even more recently Washington has been bounced from the playoffs in three straight series by the blue shirts.

Here’s the fix:

  • In years in which the two wild card slots are filled by a team from each division there shall be no cross over.

 

 

Torey Krug get’s a lot of criticism. Much of it is undeserved, and a lot of it is built around the most mutable, and occasionally meaningless statistics, the plus minus. Today at Blogpolooza, I was asked “Would you expose Krug in the expansion draft?”Before I take a look at that, let’s look at some of what he’s doing well by anyone’s standard.

Through seventy four games played Torey Krug has 48 points, that entitles him to a share of the logjam from fifth to ninth place. Who is he tied with? Dustin Byfugelin, Dougie Hamilton, Justin Schultz, and Kevin Shattenkirk. For those who have forgotten, Shattenkirk is probably going to be the free agent who gets paid the most this off season. Schultz was part of the cup winning Penguins last season, the other two guys are NHL All Stars. Yes, this is a new career high for Krug, and he still has games left to play.

To break the points down further, the next closest defenseman in terms of scoring is Zdeno Chara who has 24.  With just three more assists, he’ll match his career total for points. He has more assists than all the other defensemen put together. With 23 powerplay points he’s one short of matching the total points for Chara, but is still getting most of his own points off the powerplay.

Take a look at the save percentage relative to team to get a good idea on what the team is like when a player is on the ice. You’ll find Adam McQuaid is a hearty +1.0, you’ll likewise see Kevan Miller at -1.7, Colin Miller at -1.0, and Torey Krug at -0.4. Not great, clearly not the worst on the team. When you remember that not only does his twenty three powerplay points laps the rest of the defensemen combined, not just leads the team, but is fifth for NHL defensemen it’s hard not to like his game. There’s only one real surprise in the names above him; Erik Karlsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Kevin Shattenkirk. That’s a Norris winner, a Finn with about eight inches of height and reach on him, and as mentioned above, a UFA that’ll likely get well over six million per year this summer.

 

Stick tap to Puckalytitics & Hockey-Reference

Of all the tired, inexcusable, and completely hackneyed talking points in sports in general and particularly the NHL, the most inane is clearly the “regular season collapse”. Do teams disintegrate in the post season; sure, absolutely they do. That’s a one round slugfest against an opponent who has the time, and presumably the wisdom and ability to scout you well. It’s enormous pressure, it’s pretty easy to fall down for three or four games and not be good enough now. And now is all the playoffs measure. It’s up to four rounds of winning or losing four fifty yard dashes before your opposition.

The regular season is a decathlon. It’s a compilation of how you stack up in numerous ways. All the physical skills of every guy on the opening night roster. What your coach does to compensate for players struggling. How both players and coaching staff deal with travel and practice. It’s a measure of how well management and scouting did their jobs. It’s about heart. It’s about health. Never doubt for a second that the chemistry of a team matters, not just the twenty guys who punch the clock for the opening game of the season, but injury fillins, extra guys carried, players brought in and moved out, trainers, travel staff and equipment gurus, doctors, the bench boss and the team chef.

The best and simplest way to look at the regular season is its building your retirement fund. You do it right, you play consistently well and you’ll go far after the regular season. Don’t do well and you work until you keel over. It is just that simple.

When a team finishes a season with 64 points they are a bad team. We know that because a playoff berth or greater than average odds in the draft lottery are based on how you did in the whole year. Likewise a team that ends the second week of April with 117 points had an incredible season. It doesn’t matter if they had seven points in the first twenty games and the other one hundred and ten in the last sixty two. If and where you place in the playoffs is about what you did all year. That’s why the season is so long, and teams play so much of the league. No flukes. Imbalance in divisions and conferences are minimized, but after 82 games your record is what it is. If you end with 94 points that’s the season you had, that’s who you are. If you end with 121, or 52, or 88 you had 82 games just like everyone else to show who and what you are. Points in October and April add up the same way, as do ones from December, March and every other month of the regular season.

So when a team has a six or eight game slide after the trade deadline; it doesn’t matter. If they finish outside the playoffs they are no better and no worse than a team with the same points who went on a 12-2-4 run to end the season. The regular season sorts the big dogs from the yappers, and then let’s them settle the pecking order without distractions. Your record is who you actually are. Collapses don’t exist over a season as long as the NHL plays, they are a pretty pure statistical constant. The middle of April tells us there are two types of teams:

  1. Good enough for the playoffs
  2. Not good enough for the playoffs

Anything else is a lie. We’ve seen cup winners who were very low ranked. Recent cup winners have had no power play to speak of, or no one superstar to build the offense around, none of it matters. They were good enough for the big stage where anything can happen.

It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

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There are more than a couple players being speculated about right, left and center in video, radio, Twitter and by writers all over the globe. Here’s my list of the guys someone really should be smart enough to grab at a respectable price.

Matt Duchene is a gimmie. He’s proven he can play at the highest levels as both a center and winger. If I were a team like the Ducks or the Islanders and wanted a forward who can move, pass, and score, I don’t think I’d let Sakic off the phone.

Evander Kane is among the most underrated players in the NHL this year. If the Sabres had managed to stampede into a playoff slot, that might not be the case. More even strength goals than anyone since December 3. Not powerplay goals, but five on five. That’s playing 90% or more against better teams and the top defense because he is playing with Eichel.

Jaroslav Halak is frankly abusing the AHL, a league he doesn’t belong in, and has a very strong NHL playoff record. Maybe the Saint Louis Blues should consider a second visit for him? Or perhaps the Dallas Stars or Winnipeg Jets jump on the opportunity to get him now, both need goaltending badly. Both should be free of worries about disrupting team chemistry.

Michael Del Zotto, in Episode 0005 we talk a little bit about him. I think on a team that needs a guy and can give him clear, firm, direction without screaming it, and pairing him with a consistent partner, he might just be a player who pushes a team one more round, two more wins. Maybe Edmonton is a solid destination, he can play on a team with little pressure and bring his playoff experience as an asset.

Matt Beleskey isn’t getting a lot of attention, and that’s partly due to a run of horrendous luck and iffy chemistry on ice with the Bruins this year. Realistically, he’s done everything that is asked of him. And when he hasn’t been shackled to Jimmy Hayes, or the inconsistent Ryan Spooner, he’s contributed offensively. If the Nashville Predators or Calgary Flames want a little more belligerence and physicality, they could do much worse.

Anthony Duclair had 20 goals last season on very, very few shots, only 105 in fact in the 81 games he played last year. This year he’s been banished back to the AHL. If he can be induced to shoot more, he’s got 30 goal man written all over him. Forty isn’t out of reach either. I’m not confident the Coyotes believe they can get that from him. The former New York Ranger might just find himself somewhere out east again. Maybe as an Islander playing with Tavares, or in Ottawa on a team that could use a tiny bit more scoring.

Of the teams left who are expected to make the playoffs, or sell out to make a playoff some of them have yet to make a move, there are different pressures on all of them, and different asset sets.

The San Jose Sharks went as deep into the playoffs as you can go last year, and made some savvy moves in the off season adding some speed, and some playoff acumen. As it stands they are likely the third most dangerous team in the west. They could go out and make a move and add something now, but what? There isn’t as much pressure to do something as there has been in the past. They also lack assets. They don’t have either a second or third round pick in the next two drafts. The talent pipeline for the Sharks really isn’t good either. They are ranked as the 23rd best farm system. Don’t expect much.

The Edmonton Oilers made a minor move to add Henrik Samuelsson back on the first, but haven’t done anything that will impact their playoff prognosis, and nor should they. They have literally no pressure. Lucic, Maroon, and Talbot have all been to the post season before and can help mold how the team responds to the pressure, the highs, and the lows of the second season. They really shouldn’t make any moves, I can’t think of any available combination of players that would make them the best in the west, much less the favorite to win the Cup.

The Boston Bruins need to either commit to the rebuild and move out everyone they don’t expect to see on the roster in three years or just do nothing. They have decent to really good prospects in the system at both wing and defense, and they have some goalies who have high potential as well. If anything I think they should ask two of their biggest salaries (Rask, Krejci) to waive their movement clauses and see what they can get for them. I don’t expect a significant move, because this isn’t a contender.

If the Nashville Predators have decided this isn’t this year (and they should), they should move some older player for young assets. Fisher is well regarded, and at 36 he’s not got many more chances to go for a Cup. A contender who added him would be getting a better deal, and a guy with more miles left than Doan or Iginla. Vernon Fiddler is inexpensive, versatile, and playoff experienced. If he can be moved for anything he should be as I doubt the team brings him back next year. If they do want to make a move for a push into the second round, they are only short one fourth round pick in the next four years.

The Colorado Avalanche have two of the most talked about potential trade pieces of the last three months, and whatever they go after with those pieces, they players they bring back should be defensemen. Maybe they make a trade with the Hurricanes that brings them Faulk or a wealth of prospects from a team like Nashville. Sell, sell, sell should be the mantra of the team. Pretty much everyone on that team over the age of 25 should be made available, with the possible exception of Erik Johnson who would likely fetch as big a return as anyone but MacKinnon.

 

For the Minnesota Wild I think the biggest goal in adding depth to the team is pretty simple; Don’t disrupt the chemistry. Offensively, and even at defense they don’t have a single current NHL superstar. Eric Staal once held that status, Ryan Suter probably should hold that status, and Zach Parise spent several years right on the cusp of superstardom, Mikko Koivu has been largely ignored in his career.

Hanzal at 30 will have all the things he should need to contribute without disrupting the locker room:

  • agemates
  • motivation to perform as he’s a UFA
  • the opportunity to play on a team that is easily the best of his pro career going into the playoffs.
  • no need to do everything
  • guys happy to see him because of what he brings

On top of that, being that Minnesota is a medium or small market, he won’t face the galactic size culture shock of going someplace like Montreal, Toronto, or one of the big cities where you not only have all the pressure of playing and winning but are likely to be set upon by fans, media, and traveling rival fans at any given moment. The Twin Cities are sure as heck going to be colder for the next few months than the greater Phoenix area, but playing hard and long shift will keep him warm. Not to mention the hope of a Cup playing for what is quite likely the most consistently good team of the year out west.

Win or lose in the playoffs, how he does for individual stats will greatly impact the number of teams, and number of dollars he is offered in July when he hits UFA status.

According to the NHL Network, Ben Bishop has been traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Peter Budaj went the other way, and there are other pieces involved. What those pieces are, is almost completely irrelevant because there is only two ways the Kings keeping Bishop past the trade deadline makes any sense whatsoever.

Option A:

Jonathan Quick has another injury that has yet to be disclosed.

Option B:

The Kings have decided to keep Bishop past the deadline in the hopes of having him taken over any of their skaters in the expansion draft.

But I greatly doubt either of those is the case.

I think the Lightning needed to move him, and the only teams that wanted him wouldn’t make sense to trade to. I suspect the Kings have a destination in mind for him back east. If you look around not very hard for teams the Kings have had several successful trades with, who also need a goalie, the Philadelphia Flyers should leap to the tip of your tongue. The New York Islanders are another team that is really, really in need of goaltending stability. While it makes less sense for a three cornered trade to involve Winnipeg or Dallas, neither of them is in the same division as either the Kings or the Lightning, both teams are need of goaltending, and the Jets are going to need to move one or more forwards on the upper end of the age curve if they intend to keep the younger ones.

I’m willing to venture the odds of Ben Bishop not being a King on March second are greater than him playing there the rest of the year.