Tuukka Rask is awful this year. There’s no denying it. He has zero shutouts. He’s got no really good stretches of hockey to show for himself. He’s allowed three or more goals in 9 of his 12 starts. That’s not a winning formula. There are a couple questions that have to be asked, in context.

Since Rask arrived in a Boston uniform he has routinely thrown young players and particularly defensemen under the bus. He’s called out Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid, and others as well. These are only the cases we’ve noted. Given the 2/3rds of a goal disparity between his and Khudobin’s GAA, question number one has to be; Has he alienated enough other players in the lockerroom both by direct action and his reputation that they just don’t want to play in front of him? If the team were older and more mature, this wouldn’t be a question. But let’s look at the players in question, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, Heinen, Cehlárik, McAvoy, and Carlo are all 22 and under. Postma, O’Gara, Vatrano, Kuraly, Swarz, Vatrano, and Agastino have all seen very limited action in the NHL either with Boston or previous teams. That is a very high percentage of the locker room. That is a huge number of minutes a night. Hockey players talk to each other. Many of these guys have played in college against each other, or in Providence together and it’s not possible that any two have had or heard of similar negative experiences with Rask would not have talked about it. I’d bet good money that they talked about it in front of at least one other player who has yet to earn Tuukka Rask’s ire.

The other half of the question is how likely is Rask to recover from this utterly ignoble start? October is normally a mixed bag for him. That’s fine, he’s seen a lot of turnover in front of him in his career and communication is important. For his career he has a .914% in October, this year he was at .896%. For those who came out of time machine and looked at that save percentage no it isn’t 1986, hop back in your hot tub and accept the fact that the .896% that would have been reasonable to good in 1991 is shameful today. November is the month Rask has racked up the most wins in his career. In 68 games he’s a 41-20-7 with a .926%. Putting up those numbers over the course of whole season year in and year out would make someone a first ballot hall of famer. December is also a strong month. January and February, well, not so much. With all the historical data that says he start the year off well, and then dips noticeably what does the season hold for Rask and the Boston Bruins?

Also to be asked about Tuukka Rask is how much of his difficulty playing at a professional level this season is physical, and how much is mental? His win percentage and save percentage are both better after the All Star break each season, a time when the bulk of the games and long distance travel is done. Is he just unable to play eight of ten games in a three week period because he’s not durable? Is he failing to stay hydrated and rested when in the air? Does he over think plays when he’s got time off? If it’s mental did he perhaps come into the season knowing he had no challenger for the number one slot and under prepare? With the season Subban, McIntyre, and Khudobin had int he NHL that wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

If you’ve ruled out his contract going from full no-movement to an 8 team can be traded list, you may want to rethink that. We all saw the chaos of the final years of Schneider and Luongo in Vancouver, Rask even got to watch the whole playoff run (and several weeks before) from the bench. He has to know as bad as he’s played, as steadily as his numbers have declined year after year that any general manager would be a fool not part with him and his enormous salary at the earliest opportunity. Of the 53 goaltenders to play at least 5 games this season, Rask’s save percentage is 43rd playing on the same team, with the same players and the same coach Khudobin is 2nd in the NHL. With all the young players who will need a new contract and raise over the next two off season on the Bruins roster, and it being unlikely the cap will rise more than 2-3 million in that time, Sweeney has to be looking for cap space anywhere he can find it. The biggest reservoir of room to sign players wheres number 40.

 

In the last dozen years the hockey world has seen the advent of dozens of statistics used to measure everything in half a dozen ways. We have a dozen different forms of Corsi, there’s PDO, and goals against per 60, and points for by strength, by period, and per game. We have a proliferation of ways to count how much each player interacts with other players on the ice and make pointed observations as to how two or so players together enhance or detract from each other.

I love information more than most people. If I could drink it, I’d put down a couple gallons a day and still be looking for more. But some statistics are just plain worthless. Some are of very limited use. Corsi for example is a reasonable way to judge teams in the regular season, but recent history has shown it to be a counter indicator in the playoffs. Should it be discarded? Should it be evaluated further? No, it shouldn’t be eliminated, but weighing it as heavily as it has been the last few years is clearly not a winning strategy. PDO, is one of those statistics that is somewhere between vaporware and a clock with a short circuit and hasn’t stopped, but isn’t keeping time properly.

But neither of those is reason for today’s writing session. (It’s not even that my schedule has been eaten in the past week and I didn’t get to the other three posts I wanted to write.) Today is about two other purportedly linked stats: Giveaways and takeaways. Even more than hits, far more than blocked shots, and laughably more inconsistent than plus/minus this pair of stats is both inconsistently kept within a given arena, and across the league.

If you squint just right, you can see a loose connection between giveaways and ice time. Even players who normally have a firm leash on the puck like Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber will pile up giveaways as a result of having the puck a lot.  But takeaways? What are they using to count those? I’ve watched players like Weber, Vlasic, and Seidenberg snuff a rush, take the puck and pass it off for a counter attack twice in a shift and end the night without a single takeaway. This is a long term, endemic problem the NHL has in the way statistics are kept.

If we’re to believe the official NHL statistics then Jeff Skinner, Mitch Marner, and Filip Forsberg all had as many takeaways or more as the four time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron last year.

And that’s a statistic that just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

The two paramount features of any coach who lasts in the NHL has two readily identifiable features. It doesn’t matter if they are a players coach or a disciplinarian. They can give horrid, boring press conferences or be great communicators. They can be first year coaches who paid their dues in the OHL, or be a retread who is in their third or fourth head coaching stint.

The two points every successful coach has short term or long, eastern conference or western are first an appreciation for the talent assembled on their roster and knowing where to deploy those men. The second is an identifiable system for the players to adhere to. Getting ‘the most’ out of given players isn’t even needed to have multi year runs with a single team.

Look at coaches who have won the Stanley Cup recently. The Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan play a very specific form of defense you don’t see anyone else employ successfully. The Los Angeles Kings consistently took the ice with a system that made use of a rugged style, great defense, and you could have changed the uniforms and you still would have known who they were. The Chicago Blackhawks in good games or bad you know who it is, not by the names on the back or the logo or the front but by the style. Claude Julien has deployed a consistent, successful system of play as well.

In forty or so games under Bruce Cassidy, a head coach who was gone from the NHL for over a decade after a very short first stint in the NHL, what have we seen? Erratic play, disinterested or possibly just dismayed players, and nothing like consistency. We’ve seen marginal third line wingers like Riley Nash be deployed as top six centers. We’ve seen turnovers galore,  and a smorgasbord of confusion. Are we seeing anything extra out of any player on the roster? I don’t think so.

We’ve established the two fundamentals of good coaches who stick around, and coaches who win. So what do we call a coach who can’t do either of those things? Short lived. We call them short lived.

I’ve run a league about since when this blog started, and this year is no different. We have our four core players, a couple others who have been around a bit, and a couple new players.

The league has three each at right, left, center, two goalies and five defensemen and a bench. Just about all offensive categories are counted, as well as hits, most goalie stats and faceoffs. Its not an easy league to play in and every year we have people who never even make it past the draft.

One of the things I believe most strongly in is that Yahoo does overvalue certain players. Some of them are ten or twelve spots high, and that’s more than a round in an eight team league. Some of them are twenty to thirty spots over ranked and if you get distracted, end up having to autodraft, or simply have a technical failure they can ruin your team and destroy your chances of having a good year if anyone in your league knows what they are doing. For the most part I pay very close attention to the don’t draft list, and grab players who fill a stat column after the fourth or fifth round.

This year my list is pretty short, with one reluctant pick in Corey Perry, and two or three head scratchers in Alex Steen, Tyler Toffoli, and Henrik Zetterburg who are all between slightly to high, and far, far to high and ranked towards the space our draft will end.

Also on the list are the Monreal Canadiens Alex Galchenyuk who I love the potential of, but haven’t loved the results of, Mikeal Backlund, Derrick Brassard, and Boston Bruin Frank Vatrano who might not make the roster at all

Who is on your “Don’t draft list”?

Two of the most interesting and impressive forwards of the day were Sean Kuraly and Austin Czarnik. Both are likely fighting for roster spots. The two were notable for largely the same reason; being willing and able to grab pucks around the crease and either put them in the net, or start them out of the zone. Czarnik in particular put a couple shots in the twine the goalies didn’t even have time to react to.

Rob O’Gara was paired with Kevan Miller during drills, and displayed a consistent ability to take pucks from forwards. Including some jobber named Patrice Bergeron.

Matt Grzlecyk was paired with Adam McQuaid during their session. In that time he showed off something I don’t remember noting in the past; a slick and crafty ability to disrupt shots in and a round the crease and get them moving in the right direction. On a couple of rushes he disrupted he showed off soccer feet effortlessly moving the puck from skate to skate to stick. If you’re looking for a defenseman who is solid in his two way game, and stood out today, look no further.

Paul Postma played beside Torey Krug. Postma is coming off a career high in points and games. He looked respectable. He skates well, passed well, and never looked out of place. Despite his 84 points in 74 games in his final season in the WHL, he’s yet to display much offense in either the NHL or AHL.

Some of the forward groupings (not always by position):

  • Bergeron with Marchand & Bjork
  • Beleskey – Ryan Spooner – Ted Purcell
  • Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson -David Backes – Frank Vatrano
  • Sean Kuraly – Zach Senyshyn – Tim Schaller
  • Pastrnak – Krejci – Jake Debrusk
  • Nash – Acciari – Cederic Pare
  • Kenny Agostino – Austin Czarnik – Ryan Fitzgerald

David Backes was in the first session and lead stretches at the post practice stretch. During the first half of the session before ice maintenance he quite frankly did not look good. As practice wore on he stopped tripping, and looked better.

Matt Beleskey looks mechanically more sound than he did at any point after his first injury last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald looked committed to being there, focused and driven, something I couldn’t saw the last time I saw him in a camp.

The four goalies on the ice were Rask, Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban, and Anton Khudobin. You could split them into the pairs by the first and last two and argue quality all day. For my money McIntyre was the best goalie today, and Khudobin did not make the top three. Or even cast a shadow on them.

While it’s an outside chance of him making the team, don’t be surprised if Jesse Gabrielle makes the first or second cut.

From what I saw, and talking to other people at camp, I’d say Frank Vatrano is most in danger of losing a roster spot among the forward to play in Boston last year.

Of the three first round picks from 2015, I was unimpressed by Jakob Zboril in just about every way. Jake DeBrusk never looked out of place, and managed to both steal the puck from, and evade Connor Clifton.

More on Two Man ForeCheck which will be recorded in the evening 9/18.

With a summer full of discussion of various RFA’s remaining unsigned far, far to long, and of course the saga of the unsigned Jaromir Jagr, people have left out the other future hall of fame inductee. This particular winger is younger, still faster, and despite the years still more pugnacious. Obviously I’m talking about Jarome Iginla.

The last few years of Iginla’s career have been spent entombed in the Colorado Avalanche roster. His numbers tailed off. That’s undeniable. What’s also undeniable is that Colorado Avalanche have been the worst team in the NHL for most of the last half decade and beyond. Amazingly, they are getting worse. They don’t have a defense worth naming, their goaltending, which would be uninspired behind a good six pack, can’t pick up the slack, and the forwards… the less said about the defense of the forwards as a collection the better.

Iginla had just eight goals in 61 games for Colorado before being traded. The eyeball test will tell you that’s ungood. No need for fancy stats. What happened when he got to a team that was also struggling enough to fire the coach who brought them two cups? Well, he stretched the twine six times in 19 games. Taken over a an 82 game season that’s on pace for 25 goals (no rounding).  And that’s on a team who’s offense was carried all season by Jeff Carter and the equipment guy who made sure #77 had his skates and sticks.

So right now, 31 NHL clubs are sitting about staring off into space while a guy who has no character issues, is physical, a sniper, a leader, and hungry for a Stanley cup is still unsigned. Based on last years goal totals, if the Arizona Coyotes had gotten 25 goals from Iginla they’d have likely picked up another seven or eight wins on the year, meaning they slide even with or even pull ahead of last years Kings. The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each finished within a win of the playoffs. One win over the course of 82 games. A motivated, experienced veteran goal scorer could be exactly that difference maker.

The Carolina Hurricanes finished just seven points behind the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs last season. they had 15 overtime losses. With a little more leadership, and a little more attitude, not to mention the scoring touch, even they could have seen the playoffs last year. For reasons that can’t be explained, the Calgary Flames when in search of a right wing earlier this summer signed Kris Versteeg. Versteeg may be younger, but he’s not nearly as healthy, has never had a better offensive season than Iginla and seems determined to play for every team in the NHL before he retires.

For all that they had a record winning streak, and finished with their best point total in franchise history last year the Columbus Blue Jackets finished fourth in goals for in the Metropolitan Division. Number 12 would add an incredible element of consistency to a team that had great highs and equal lows last year. Someone, anyone tell me why in a summer where loads of guys were overpaid on long term deals there hasn’t been even a short term deal for Jarome Ignila? Someone let me in on the secret please.

After being months late to the dance, and casting a pall over the Boston Bruins summer, and training camp, the Boston Bruins have in their own sweet time signed one of the most dynamic talents in the NHL under the age of 25. Perhaps, the age qualifier is unfair, but it’s worth noting. Had they failed to sign him they were giving up as much as fifteen years of very productive hockey.

The deal he did sign according to multiple sources is most charitably described as team friendly. This deal is almost two million below what Leon Draisaitl received, and we know how close the two were in points last year. Of the two, I I can’t help but believe the one who has the higher ceiling is being paid the least. Two other comparable players are Filip Forsberg who signed at six million a year last season and was at the time the highest paid forward on the team. And Nikita Kucherov, a player on a team where there is no state income tax.

Looking at the three, Forsberg is hands down the least consistent, he regularly sleep walks through the first half of the season and then has a spectacular second half, usually built around something flashy like ten goals in five games. It is to the point where there are multiple Reddit threads about his inconsistency. He’s remarkably talented, and if he played better in the first half would probably regularly put up about 50 goals. But he doesn’t.

Kucherov is a very solid player, surrounded by quite a few other very solid players of similar age. The Tampa Bay Lightning are awash in young, talented, NHL battle tested players. The Boston Bruins are not. Neither Forsberg nor Kucherov means as much to their team. The Predators are built around the best defense in the NHL. Tampa is silly deep at forward and has one of the two or three best defensemen in the NHL right now in Victor Hedman. Boston? Before the next Stanley Cup is won, all three of the top forwards on the Boston Bruins will be over 30.

Who else do the Boston Bruins have for young talent? Vatrano has shown flashes, but no consistency. Ryan Spooner is a confirmed middle six guy. Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, Jesse Gabriel, Zach Senyshyn combine for zero point zero goals, assists, points, and NHL minutes played and they are likely the four best forwards in the system after Pastrnak. Not many people are projecting any of them to meet or exceed Pastrnak’s mature, three zone, consistent effort and production. If this deal is just a precursor to trading the young Czech sensation, this year or next, something none of us know for sure, who replaces him?

The Boston Bruins have once again stated loudly, clearly, and monotonously they don’t spend money. This is why the last two high end free agents to arrive in town did so more than a decade ago when Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard landed. None of the free agents who have ever been high end and played in Boston have done anything like their peak numbers here. The reason is simple; Why should they waste time negotiating with a team that isn’t going to get them to reasonable market value, and because of that won’t get them complimentary teammates that can help them win a cup?

Why not listen to the latest episode of Two Man Forecheck while you read?

Last season the Atlantic division sent four teams to the playoffs. It did not go well, the division winning Montreal Canadiens were beaten soundly by wild card and Metropolitan division middleweight Rangers. The Ottawa Senators downed the Boston Bruins and were the only division team to advance to the second round. The Toronto Maple Leafs crossed over to battle the Washington Capitals and fell to a team that’s not ever shown itself in the best light in the playoffs.

What’s happening with the Atlantic Division this year?

The Buffalo Sabres have gotten a full season from All American stud Jack Eichel, and his linemate Evander Kane. Together the pair rank among the top duos in the league, particularly at even strength where most game minutes are played. This year they’ve brought in under rated veteran defenseman Marco Scandella to strengthen a blueline that was misused and under performing last season. Behind the bench they have rookie head coach Phil Housely who is the architect that made the Nashville Predator’s defense so effective. In net they add Chad Johnson to one of the best goalies in the NHL.

The Florida Panthers regressed notably last season. They had one decent stretch of wins but were just three points better than the Sabres, and still 14 points short of the playoffs with a losing record. Like the Sabres they added a first time NHL head coach in Bob Boughner, who will have Jack Capuano and Rob Tallas helping him steer the club. Aside from naming Chris Pronger an Shawn Thornton VP’s, and signing a couple of draft picks (Owen Tippett, Sebastian Repo) to entry level deals, not much else has gone on.

The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by just one point thanks to catastrophic injuries up and down their lineup. Towards the end of the year they traded Ben Bishop who had been their number one net minder.  Incoming are Dan Girardi formerly of the New York Rangers, and Chris Kunitz late of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While I suspect a large part of why the two older players were brought in is leadership, no leader can prevent injuries. A return to good health is likely the best off season transaction they could make.

The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs and are currently embroiled in a contract dispute with a one of their better young forwards. The two biggest changes for the Wings in the last twelve months were both off ice. ‘The Joe’ is gone, bringing about an era in a building that isn’t an embarrassment to professional sports. And Mike Ilitch, owner, and driving force behind much of the hockey growth in the Midwest and beyond has passed away. Not enough has changed at ice level for the team to do much worse or much better.

Montreal Canadians, in the last twelve months no Atlantic Division team has changed more. New coach, an almost entirely new blueline including Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner. Up front the Radulov experiment came to an end. Last year’s 103 points are going to be hard to duplicate, but Julien has showed he can drag worse teams than this one to the playoffs, and squeeze 100 or more points out of nearly any roster as long as they show up.

The Boston Bruins had a topsy-turvy season that saw their two best forwards start the year slow. They fired their Stanley Cup winning coach, reshaped their roster, and lucked into a playoff spot. This year Brandon Carlo has a full season under his belt, Charlie McAvoy may well steal the show, and David Pastrnak is still unsigned. It remains to be seen if head coach Bruce Cassidy can recapture the magic that buoyed the team into a playoff spot last spring. The roster will need a lot of young players to step up and not just claim ice time, but own roster spots.

Last years Toronto Maple Leafs were the sensation of last season. They had dazzling rookies, stellar goaltending, and a coach with an aura of greatness. They ran hard towards the playoffs and never anything slow them down. They also had extraordinary good luck in health. Their top 11 scorers missed a total of 10 games. They put on a strong showing in the playoffs, and growth seems likely. The addition of Patrick Marleau for three seasons and more than six million has to be considered at least a little curious given the raises that will be needed for last years rookies next summer and the summer after. The 37 year old spent his entire career to date with the Sharks and has been a very up and down playoff performer.

The post season banner bearers for Atlantic Division were the Ottawa Senators. Despite their inability to fill the stadium, they were perhaps the most consistent team in the division and very quietly finished second. Erik Karlsson will be healthier, Craig Anderson will lack the distractions of last year, and remains a very solid goaltender. They added Nate Thompson and Ben Sexton for depth, but perhaps the most important thing that’s happened to the team was the late year and playoff emergence of the very good Bobby Ryan. He moved crisply, shot precisely, and finished the second round healthy.

Predictions:

Biggest points riser: Buffalo Sabres, I’ll be shocked if they improve less than twelve points.

Most impactful standings rise: Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman very nearly lifted this team into the playoffs himself last year. There were other contributors, but not enough. Expect them to move up higher than the wild card slot.

Biggest wild card: Toronto Maple Leafs. As I mentioned above, this team was extraordinarily lucky in the way of health. With more than half a dozen rookies breaking out, and making the playoffs the video sessions for the Leafs are going to be much more intense this season. They have about an equal chance of winning the division as they do sliding two or three spots down the standings.

It’s September 1st.

Some teams are still trying to destroy their futures. The NHL, like any ecosystem is a delicate entity. There are many moving parts, and the ratio of one part to another will impact things two or three steps removed from either. You need players on the rise, players at their peak, and ones who are on the decline. They all contribute just as moths, and blue jays, and red tailed hawks all play their parts.

Marcus Foligno is a great example of a middle six forward who gives much, and is well regarded. The Chuck Fletcher thought it was more important to sign aging Penguins discard Matt Cullen, than to secure the return for trading Scandella. CapFriendly and others currently project Landon Ferraro and Joel Eriksson Ek as making the roster, with either of them back in the AHL the Wild would have right around three million in cap space. If they decide to carry just twelve forwards it would give them an additional cushion for injuries. The issue here is do you pay him better or the same as other left wings who had similar point totals like Justin Abdelkader and Carl Hagelin who both made more than four million last year? Or do you simply try and cram him into a roster that is unlikely to go far in the playoffs?

In the last two season Bo Hovart has increased his point total year over year, jumping from third two seasons ago to first last year, and has a better faceoff win percentage in that time than team captain Henrik Sedin. Somehow with training camp close enough to feel, he is without a contract. He’s scored shorthanded, powerplay, and even strength goals. He’s played over 18 minutes a night. He’s done just about everything a setup man can do on a roster that is 80% ECHL and alumni quality to help the team win. Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Jason Spezza all produced less points last year with far, far more help and hugely better compensation.  Ondrej Palat was on a non-playoff team and produced the same number of points, Logan Coture had the same points total, as did Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov. With all or most of the $14,000,000.00 set on fire at the feet of the Sedin twins coming off the books next year, and no other player in the system in need of a big raise cash should not be the issue. Not when they have close to nine million in cap space to work with.

David Pastrnak has been covered in depth over the summer and all that’s worth adding is that the team president said there haven’t been any talks in months.

With all the glory of last season, the Columbus Blue Jacket’s seem to have gotten a pass on Alexander Wennberg not having been hog tied to their roster yet. Year over year ye’s increased his points total twenty points twice in a row. He played in 80 of the teams games last year. Last season he stepped into the gap created by trading Johansen and ended up the team’s second leading scorer, putting up just two less points than the Nashville Predator’s second most famous Ryan. While the Blue Jackets do have a pretty dynamic cap situation with the number of impact players due contracts in the next two years, they do have to be careful. But in the ultra competitive Metropolitan division who can afford to be without their number one center?

The Detroit Red Wings roster is as run down as the Joe, and while Andreas Athanasiou isn’t the level of impact player the other forwards on the list are. That said, you don’t improve by continuing to leak talent. All players are ultimately replaceable, but alienating players for little good reason when you have a new arena to fill, and pay off is senseless. The optics are also poor when it’s time to get free agents into town, or when the next RFA is due a contract.

Damon Severson is one of three men to crack the top fifty among defensemen in scoring while playing less than twenty minutes of ice time. The other two Brady Skej, and Dmitry Orlov were both on playoff teams. The New Jersey Devils were needless to day, not quite that good. His point total eclipsed Noah Hanafin, Jake Muzzin, and Jonas Brodin. So why is a team with unlimited growth potential wasting time dithering with a solid young defensemen? It’s not like they have 299 other defenders ready to hold the line against the Persians and other NHL teams.