Before you start reading, take a moment and start listening to this week’s Two Man ForeCheck.

The three things that define the best of the best are:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Complimentary elements

The winner of the Vezina trophy is a player who can arguably carry a team into the playoffs just about single handedly. The Norris, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, and even the Selke are all very important players for a team to have. A Norris caliber goaltender is even more important. A top forward who plays 18 minutes a night might not play as much time as a goaltender who plays just 35 games in a season. A Even a top defensemen playing 23-25 minutes a night won’t be on the ice anywhere near as much as a top or even average goalie.

Two of this years nominees are The Guy on their team. There is no bigger name.  Each of the three faces slightly different pressures in their market.

Carey Price is probably the best known. Both by virtue of his tenure as the number one in the market that pours more scrutiny on netminders than any other. Having to follow in the footsteps of hall of famers like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy is bad enough. Given that he’s been the man in the crease for a good portion of a very, very long Stanley Cup drought in Montreal. There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys to this man’s game. He is probably the most consistent of the Vezina nominees. He does however play behind Tom Plekanec who should have at minimum two or three finalist appearances as a Selke nominee, but Shea Weber who has been likewise denied his due for the Norris. The biggest counter-weight for Price is that he was the most consistent, and had to play and win with the least scoring support of the three finalists.

Brayden Holtby had the best season of any member of the Washington Capitals. Yes Oshie set a new career high in goals, yes Ovechkin and other were good too, none were a top two or three in their position type player this year. What Brayden Holtby has is perhaps the most capable bottom to top defense of any team in the east. They don’t have a Norris quality defenseman (and neither do the Sharks), but they have six defensemen who could find roster spots on just about any other team in the NHL.

Segei Bobrovsky was the man, the myth, and has to build the legend in Columbus. They are a team who has never seen the playoff success, never had a dominant player good enough to take the team to the promised land when playing well, and never won a Cup. “Bob” is the type of player who if he can find a little more consistently will take a team to the promised land. He has several really good players in front of him, but the Blue Jackets don’t have the depth at either forward or defense of some of the top handful of teams in the NHL.

The eyeball test, and

The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count. 

Every year we look back at a team, bread down what their strengths and weaknesses were and how they can improve. The smallest component of any team is the player. Today each get’s graded.

Brad Marchand, A: Best goal scoring to date, led the team in scoring, still plays an unreal 200 foot game.

Patrice Bergeron B+: Leadership and defense were still there. Offensive production, and possibly engagement took a dip as well. Still the teams most important player, and likely to pick up his fourth Selke this summer.

David Krejci B: The good news is he managed to play in all 82 games, the bad news is he’s got a double digit drop in points with four years left on a contract that seems him taking up ten percent of the team’s salary cap space, and he will turn 31 in just a few more days. He seems to be healthy after early season woes, and that can’t do anything but help the team however long they last in the post-season.

David Pastrnak A: The jump in year over year production alone was exciting. The fact that he scored so much in a number of different ways is even more so. He did hit a flat spot around the beginning of March, but overall it’s hard to argue with what he did.

Ryan Spooner C-: Another double digit drop in production among the Bruins forward group. It’s arguable that he was held down by awful forwards in the second six, and I’ll listen to that, but he also didn’t step up when he got to play with better players.

David Backes C: While no one expected him to put up a 40 goal season in Boston, his offensive production was not good. He did lap the field in hits. His 226 made him 7th among NHL forwards who played 50 or more games.  He did end up playing for three coaches in less than 12 months which I think contributed to the dip, I suspect he’ll be better next year.

Dominic Moore A-: About perfect for a fourth liner. When playing with guys who understand the role, he’s impressive, especially at 36.

Frank Vatrano C: Not the year we hoped for from Vatrano, starting with an injury, and continuing with a season full of all the mistakes young players make but should make less frequently as time goes on.

Riley Nash B: Riley Nash is just about the prototypical depth forward in the NHL. He’s a very solid penalty killer putting in the third most minutes among forwards on the team, and on a top penalty killing unit.

Tim Schaller C: Very uneven season with interruptions due to health. While he tossed up his best offensive numbers, he’s not yet a known commodity, still a pretty solid season for someone who is essentially an undrafted rookie.

Drew Stafford Incomplete: 18 games, starting during the honeymoon phase of a new coach is hard to judge. Yes he had better production than his time in Winnipeg, but not spectacular. For a full season of this production he’d get a C to C+.

Matt Beleskey C-: I really like his effort, his offense was non-existent this season, he didn’t look good at all paired with Hayes and unfortunately played with him a lot this year. Despite playing only 49 games and limited minutes he was still second on the team in hits.

Jimmy Hayes F: His contributions this year were largest from the pressbox and possibly at Cuts for A Cause.

Noel Acciari Incomplete: Fun to watch play hockey, may well have a roster spot to lose when camp opens this fall. He produced as much offense in 29 games as Hayes did in 58.

Sean Kuraly Incomplete: Just a few games, nothing really wrong with them, but nothing really right about them.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson Incomplete: One game, a largely meaningless game in which most of the team was not doing well or feeling well. He played 8:25, had no shots, and was even.

Torey Krug A: Very near the top of the league in scoring, recovered well from his off season injury, eventually. He played more shifts than any other Bruins defesneman.

Adam McQuaid A: His best offensive season since 2011-12, and a career high in games played. Aside from his normal pairing with Krug at even strength and 2:23 of SHTOI a night, he’s also played a good number of minutes opposite Chara when Carlo was struggling.

Zdeno Chara A: There was a big dip in his powerplay time 1:33 last year to 0:33 this year that lead to a general reduction in his offensive numbers, despite having one more goal in five less games. His shorthanded time was tops among all NHL skaters, and at 3:46 was 1:10 more than the rest of the Bruins defensemen.

Kevan Miller C: He’s been unfortunate enough to play with genuinely awful players, but hasn’t shown the growth as a player one would hope for in the transition past the 200 game mark. He may or may not have peaked, but today he looks a lot like a career third pairing defensemen with decent speed and physicality.

Colin Miller F: He has a great demeanor, superior skating ability, top shelf shot and no signs of any understanding of how hockey at the NHL is played well.

John-Michael Liles F: I am entirely baffled how he still has an NHL contract. I saw nothing from him that couldn’t have been done at least as well by any defenseman in Providence. He is legitimately awful in his own zone, produced nothing offensively, and clearly made anyone he played with worse.

Brandon Carlo C: As a rookie he played with Chara against the best in the league on a regular basis. Overall he did pretty well, including playing a big part in the penalty kill. He had one major flatspot in his season, and he wasn’t alone in wretched play in that spot. Overall, I look forward to seeing how well he corrects the serial mistakes he made this year in future seasons.

Joe Morrow Incomplete: I would desperately love to know what he did or didn’t do that left him out of the lineup and has seen Liles and Miller play ahead of him.

Tuukka Rask D-: Rask is one of the most wildly inconsistent netminder to be considered a league star. He ended the year with 8 shutouts, he also ended the year with the year with a quality start number well under .500, and leading the NHL in starts with a sv% under .875 with 14. He undeniably has really good games, but this was his second year in a row leading the league in starts below .875 known as Really Bad Starts.

Anton Khudobin D: Not great numbers, but he played well down the stretch while Rask was ill, injured, and overworked. Unlike some goalies, he was willing to start games towards the end of the season where he was not feeling well and try to get the team a win.

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.