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.

Change, chaos, and crushed expectations are the only constants in the NHL. This year will be no different. Their are a fistful of players, coaches, and general managers who might not be in the same position next year. For some it s the hand they were dealt, for others they were the dealer.

Marc-Andre Fleury

The Flower needs to bloom like never before this season. Yes he won a Stanley Cup, but he also allowed more goals than any other keeper that year. Since then he’s been a consistent disappointment in the playoffs, even losing the starting job in one year. This is the last year of his contract, there’s a new general manager, a new coach and some important departures on the blueline. As of now, only 3 of his 8 playoff appearances have ended with a saves percentage over .900.

Joe Thornton

Not only has he had the captaincy of the San Jose Sharks stripped from him, the last week or so of camp he was skated with players who would have trouble holding onto a second line job in the AHL. I don’t know if the messages is coming from coaching alone or if it has the blessing of management behind it. While Joe Thornton is not the MVP level player he was five or six years ago, he’s still a top shelf player, but who knows how long he’ll put up with the disrespect in the building, on the other hand management could decide he either accepts a trade or he doesn’t play.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

The general manager of the Winnipeg Jets has taken “more of the same only different” to a new home. Specifically the general manager who took over when the Jets set Atlanta firmly behind the afterburner and headed true north. Since landing in Manitoba the Jets have sputtered, muttered and done little else. Any objective observer has to question his personnel decisions, his long term strategy, and even his hockey sense.

Garth Snow

In the topsy-turvy world of the NHL, it is a little hard to believe that Garth Snow has been on the job since 2006. That’s a pretty long time in NHL time, more than dog years almost technology years. While its hard to tell how much of the failure to thrive of the Islanders is his doing and how much is Wang’s this team has not won a playoff round in his tenure. They have in fact only won three playoff games. The recent moves should make the team measurably better both in the regular season and the playoffs, that still may not be enough to keep him in place once ownership changes.

Watching the NHL always provides surprises. There’s always one, maybe two teams that make the playoffs or go on runs. But there are some things that are pretty easy to predict.

10:

A healthy Anton Khudobin plays more games for the Carolina Hurricanes than Cam Ward. Just look at the numbers. Even with Jordan Staal healthy the talent pool in Carolina remains too shallow to carry a much loved goalie who hasn’t been in the top third of the league in a while. Sorry, but the Canes are going to have actually focus on the back half of the ice this year to have a hope of keeping the team out of the lottery.

 

9:

Top flight players in ‘small’ markets will be overlooked for award recognition. Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, Mikko Koivu, and others can look forward to another season of being ignore with superior play than guys who play in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, or New York.

8:

A team or teams that spend money and worry on their powerplay but not on their penalty kill will roll through the regular season and get punched out of the playoffs early by a team with the opposite imbalance.

7:

Players who skate with their heads down and get laid out by good clean hits will be defended by people who think that collision sports are a danger free where no one bears any responsibility for their own safety.

6:

A variety of media manufactured crises. Take a long hard look at good hard hits, the way hybrid icing and rules to cut back on fighting have been implemented that’ll be next as guys and gals who take a month and four days to recover  from stubbing their toes tell grown men what’s unsafe for them.

5:

A really early leak of the next Winter Classic game, complete with teams who have already played in an outdoor game.

4:

The trade deadline will come and go with enormously more hype than movement. One, maybe two players who are in the top 50 or 60 in their position will be moved and people will go spastic making comparisons to “huge” trades in recent years.

3:

Don Cherry and whoever his cohost is will continue to mutter inane things while hockey pundits who don’t understand the game feign shock and outrage over things that have been said approximately elventybillion times

2:

The music acts chosen to perform at NHL events will be anything but the American mainstream the league bends over backwards to attract but who aren’t really interested anyway.

1:

Reputation calls will still occur far to often on the ice.

The Boston Bruins are one of the teams with the roughest salary cap position heading into the season. They’re going to have to move someone. Probably more than one someone. Why might the much respected Campbell be part of the departing parade? His value as a penalty killer, his leadership, and the fact that he does have a Stanley Cup right make him worth something. It might be a prospect with 2-3 years before they are NHL ready, or it could be a draft pick.

The most logical teams to land him are teams for whom the difference in their penalty kill last year might have meant either making the playoffs, or advancing once in. So which teams make the most sense? Here’s the short list:

  • Arizona Coyotes.
  • Minnesota Wild
  • New York Islanders
  • Nashville Predators
  • San Jose Sharks

The Coyotes finished last season just two points outside the playoffs with the 26th ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Even with their goaltending issues finding two to three more points with a penalty kill that didn’t suck would have put them in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild finished with 98 points and the first Wild Card position. As good as the rest of the team was, with Campbell taking penalty kill minutes from Koivu and Parise who were both playing over 20 minutes a night last season, where do they end up? Do they get enough more points to climb into the 3rd or even second slot in the ultra-competitive central division?

The Islanders are a conference rival, and made other moves to improve their team this off season. One more move that takes them from the second worst penalty kill to something respectable could be what it takes to make the last game in their current stadium a playoff game. There’s already been rumors of Johnny Boychuk going to Long Island, why not make it a package deal?

The Nashville Predators are desperate to get back to the playoffs. New head coach with a new attitude and a like of rugged players who play they game the right way, its a natural fit. The penalty kill prowess, and faceoff wins would almost be a bonus for Peter Laviolette. Maybe a prospect like Saku Maenalanen is the return?

For the San Jose Sharks who have little to no problems in the regular season, Campbell might just be able to help fix their postseason woes. Campbell played well in the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Run, and could help solidify both the locker room and the post season shorthanded play.

For the second year in a row, the Metropolitan is the weakest division in hockey and it isn’t even close. Some teams are better than last year, others are worse, and anyone who tells you what the others will do is just a bit out of their mind.

Top shelf:

New York Rangers

The Rangers are a safe bet for the playoffs and likely for the division title as well. Lundqvist will be entering the season with a quality backup, and most of the key players in front of him healthy. Despite an injury to top center Stepan that will keep him until around Halloween, the Rangers have otherwise good health up and down the lineup, McDonaugh, Staal, Girardi on the backend, St. Louis, Nash, Brassard and Hagelin up front will do the heavy lifting for the team again.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Rangers, the Blue Jackets have a high quality goalie, this one who just happens to be in a contract year. They also have an underrated defense group. Jack Johnson, Ryan Murphy, James Wisniewski and the rest will contribute at both ends of the ice. The forward group is unheralded as well, Brandon Dubinsky rarely gets the recognition he deserves, Scott Hartnell is a legitimate scoring threat who should be entering the season with something to prove. If Johansen can be signed, and retained, and Horton can have a healthy season, this team is going to be more than a handful.

Wild Cards

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have a lot of chaos factors to contend with this year. A new coach is one. Their putative number one goaltender is on an expiring contract and unlike Crosby, Malkin, and Letang was not extended early. They lost two of their top four defensemen from last year. Matt Niskanen was their top points producer and Brooks Orpik led the team in short handed time on ice. To replace them they brought in Christian Ehrhoff. Aside from the top 3-4 names, it would be hard for an observer to guess where the rest of the forward group sits as most of them look a lot like bottom line players.

New York Islanders

The Islanders actually made some smart moves this summer. They picked up and locked up Grabovski giving them a compelling one two punch at center. Their defense is a whole lot of young and learning with Visnovsky and Carkner for contrast. On the backend they have two goalies new to the system, the up, then down, then sideways Jaroslav Halak and the surprising Chad Johnson. I will be equally unsurprised if this team is in the playoffs, or in the bottom five in the league.

Washington Capitals

The Capitals are the east coast equivalent of the San Jose Sharks. On paper they’ve had the talent to win the Cup at lest once in the last decade, on ice, not so much. They too have a new coach, and possibly more importantly they have a coach who recognizes what he’s dealing with. Barry Trotz did what was probably the smartest thing a Capitals coach has done in several years and put Ovechkin back on left wing where he is most comfortable and had several pretty good seasons. The defense could shake out into pairings of Carlson-Greene, Niskanen-Orpik, and Alzner-Erskine, which as top six defense units go, is better than many can boast.

The Rest

Philadelphia Flyers

Even allowing for the Pronger/Timonen money once the season starts and he can be placed on LTIR, the Flyers are still in cap trouble. The roster genuinely looks like the team is trying to tank but just doesn’t know how. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jacob Voracek are all top end players, the rest of the forward group and much of the rest of the roster feels like the punchline to an inside joke that you’re not quite inside enough for. That said, this is largely the group that managed to make the playoffs last year.

New Jersey Devils

On the plus side the added Mike Cammalleri and finally admitted who their number one goaltender is. On the other side of the balance they added Martin Havlat who is generally good for one bizarre injury and twenty or more man games lost. The defense is rather bland, no one makes over Zajac’s $5.75m and yet they are still only three million from the cap, all without their seeming to have found a backup goalie.

Carolina Hurricanes

The season will kickoff on a sour note with Jordan Staal down-checked for an unknown amount of time with a broken leg. Even assuming Jordan Staal and he rest of the top six forwards were healthy and productive all season, Caniacs were still in for a long slog. The teams defense has high water marks that are merely average followed up by players who are at historical drought levels of talent. It would not be a surprise to see this team draft in the top three next June. The only real hope in season for this team is for the coach with the enthusiastic backing of management to go with whichever goalie is playing better and not with the one they’ve been trying to pass off a a franchise goalie for half a decade.

The Vancouver Sun felt it was useful to refer to the Vancouver Canucks 4th round draft pick from 2013 as “the dark guy in the middle”.  This despite him being the younger brother of one of the more notable players in the entire NHL. “The dark guy in the middle” is everything that’s wrong with Canadian sports media; provincialism, parochialism, and above all a never ending quest to dumb things down to the writer or speakers level. Give me forty seconds and I can spit out half a dozen blogs with more insight, a keener feel for teams, and above all the acuity not to put both feet in their mouths.

I’m not sure anyone in the media in Vancouver has noticed, but there are these brand spanking new innovations in sports called ‘uniforms’.  What that means is all the players on one ‘team’ are playing in clothes that all very, very closely resemble each other. For the benefit of those unfamiliar, those uniforms also have numbers and letters on them unique to each player. They are the players last name and number. Revolutionary as it sounds, this makes identifying who a player is pretty easy even for people not familiar with a team. This makes inane attempts to clarify who a player is when their name or number are visible insulting to the consumer, and in general a waste of key strokes and bandwidth.

I didn’t really want to write this post. It’s not exactly a secret what color my skin is, but I do tend to stay out of race discussions because this is first, last and always a hockey blog. I sat on it for hours, and deleted it not once but twice. But some kinds of stupid just can’t be ignored. While part of wants to dismiss it as just stupid people being stupid, I can’t help but wonder if maybe this isn’t The Vancouver Sun’s “Upworthy moment” where they engage in click bating simply to deliver a noxiously banal product to more people. I’m honestly not sure what would be worse, pure ignorance allowed a public voice for a supposedly respectable media outlet or a news organization that is so desperate for attention it did this deliberately simply to draw attention to itself like some fading Hollywood star years past her prime and still desperate for attention.

The “hot” story of the day is the injury to 2014 1st round draft pick and budding hall of fame winger David Pastrnak. He and Bartkowski made contact during a drill, Pastrnak then made contact with the ice. He came in a scuffed third place in the affair. The hit wasn’t audible at ice level. Even if it were, its better to find out now than a couple weeks into the season when he’d have burnt his nine game tryout. These are exactly the same type of injuries that have already eaten a couple dozen games of the equally underdeveloped Ryan Nugent-Hopkins career.

Matt Bartkowski is an above average skater. He makes smart outlet passes. He occasionally is caught out of position.  In short, depending on the system he is somewhere between a seventh and fourth defenseman in the NHL. Some rough edges, some strengths and good fundamentals. What no one thinks of him as is a punishing hitter. When his career is all said and done he’s not going to be compared to Scott Stevens. It’d be pretty hard to compare him in terms of hitting to Alexi Emelin, Mark Stuart, or Dion Phaneuf.

Given what was said by Claude Julien via BostonBruins.com, its unlikely this is a serious injury. Any attempt to paint the hit or the injury in any other light should be taken with the sort of skepticism you’d reserve for hearing the NHL and KHL were going to merge and expand.

So there’s a fascinating article up over at CBC.CA. Tony Care has taken it upon himself to blame Dion Phaneuf and his contract for all that is wrong with the Leafs, or at least that’s how it reads.

According to the article Phaneuf isn’t a number one defenseman. Let’s take a look at that. Let’s ask three questions about that one. First; Can you name 30 or more better defensemen in the NHL? Second; Does Phaneuf contribute to the the Toronto Maple Leafs like a number one defenseman? And third, is he playing in all situations?

The first question is an obvious: NO. Can you name five better defensemen, sure easy as pie. Can you name ten better defensemen, probably. What that means is that Dion Phanuef isn’t an elite defenseman. But then again there are probably only about five or six of those in the NHL at most at any given time.

How much does Phaneuf contribute? Last year on a team that was middling for total offense, Phaneuf , who isn’t an offensive defensemen was still comfortably in the top 50 defensemen in scoring. He played a solid 23:33 of TOI a night with over six minutes a night on special teams. Roughly half of the players who averaged more TOI than Phaneuf last year did not make the playoffs. The highest sv% on the season or a Toronto goalie was .923 for Bernier over 55 games James Reimer in 32 games was at .911, the on ice sv% for Phaneuf last year was .928. That’s only slightly above what Bernier’s was, but significantly over where Reimer who played roughly 40% of the season managed.

When you climb deeper into the advanced stats, and look at zone starts and zone finishes, his raw offensive numbers get even more impressive, as does his on ice save percentage. Phaneuf started 61.2% of his shifts in the defensive or neutral zones. He finished just 53.7% of shifts outside the offensive zone. Ask your financial planner if they can consistently get you 7.5% increases on your investments, just be prepared to be laughed at. Then there’s the quality of competition he’s facing. He was 17th in the NHL last year for QoC Corsi, that’s ahead of the last three players to be awarded the Norris Trophy, and pretty much everyone else.

On the third count we have much of our answer earlier on. Phaneuf played more than 200 minutes more than the next Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman last year. His 17:27 of even strength time was second on the team. His 2:49 of shorthanded time was likewise second on the team. The 3:17 of powerplay time was first overall. No one on the team combined for more hit and blocked shots than Phaneuf either.

Would Phaneuf get less grief if he were an offensive minded player like Ottawa’s Karlsson or Pittsburg’s Letang, maybe, maybe not. Would the Toronto Maple Leafs have finished as high or higher in the standings with either Letang or Karlsson last year; unlikely.  Phaneuf is doing the heavy lifting defensively almost unaided, it doesn’t matter how many more goals either of those two scores, with as mushy as the rest of the lineup is defensively, it would be a not less for the Leafs to exchange him for that type of player.

When the Montreal Canadiens punted Brian Gionta and Josh Georges the team not only dumped their most recent captain but two thirds of their most visible leaders. On and off the ice in good seasons, bad stretches of team play, and when coaching came complete with three rings, a master of ceremonies and a big top, these two were a constant part of the equation on the positive side.

When Gionta inked his deal with the Buffalo Sabres, one of the most scrutinized captaincies in the NHL in one of the most intense media markets in the world. The question of who can replace him is a separate one than who should replace him. This isn’t a franchise at the bottom of the well that needs all the publicity it can get. There’s no freshly drafted future of the franchise who has oodles of talent and no bad history to trot out before the media.

Many will point to the flashiest player on the roster in situations like this and say yep that’s the guy!. In which case you’re looking at two or three players, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk lead that race. Probably in that order. An argument can be made for David Desharnais, who likely lands the francophone vote as well.

Taking a look at each of those candidates many list Subban as the front runner, he’s dynamic, he’s fast, strong, he can score almost at will, he’s young, he seemingly adores the media. On the negative side he’s still got holes in his defensive game, is prone to blowing his top on the ice, and is about the living definition of lightening rod.

Max Pacioretty has been the goal scorer in Montreal for the past few seasons, he’s a bigger body, has a blistering shot and elevates his game against rivals, and at 25 he has years and years ahead of him on the ice. On the negative side not only is he not a local franophone he’s yet another American, has failed in every season of his career to play a full slate of games, and a lot of the penalties he takes can be construed as the “selfish” variety.

Brendan Gallagher is young, smooth skating, possesses a quick shot, willingness to go anywhere for the puck and plays much bigger than his size. From the other perspective, he’s developing a reputation much akin to that of Alex Burrows and Steve Ott, and putting the C on that type of player says things about your franchise. There’s also the notable divisions that have been evident on this team in the last three or four years including the one along age lines.

Alex Galchenyuk has oodles of skill, is a solid powerplay contributor, and may turn into an elite forward. On the negative side you’ve got everything that can be said against Pacioretty and much of what can be said against Gallagher in addition to having the ill grace to have a Russian father.

Skill wise, no one could really fault a choice to honor any of these men. But in a market like Montreal, or any of the other original six markets, it isn’t just about skill. That’s why if I were passing the C along to its next guardian, I’d also consider what their on ice temperament is like, how well respected they are by players around the NHL, and of course looking carefully at where I think the teams window is.

For that reason the obvious choice is none of the above. While giving the captaincy to at least two of those named above would not be a mistake, that doesn’t mean a better choice can’t and shouldn’t be made. That better choice is Tom Plekanec.