NHL Mailbag: Time for Golden Knights to make a change?

Ryan Lambert

Say, has anybody seen anything going on in the news lately? Feels like there just hasn’t been a lot happening in the hockey world the last week. Just kinda weird considering it’s the middle of November, but that’s life I guess.

Anyway, we have questions to answer.

Let’s go:

Pat asks: “Does Vegas need to change anything up? They’ve been mostly unlucky but the results haven’t really been there recently, so just stick with the plan and hope the results will come?

Well, at 5-on-5 the Golden Knights have the fourth-best adjusted-goals percentage in the league (better than 54 percent), and they’re only a hair out of second. We’re talking Hurricanes, Penguins, Canucks territory. Good company.

However, they also have the fourth-worst actual goal difference (under 43 percent) in the same game state. The teams around them on that end: Detroit, San Jose, New Jersey. Very, very bad company.

They’re not only suffering from the third-worst shooting percentage at 5-on-5 in the league, they also have the ninth-worst save percentage. If the skaters had scored all the goals they were “supposed to,” they’d have about nine more goals than they do right now. That’d be worth about three points in the standings. If the goaltenders were up to their expected level, they’d have allowed about eight fewer, so that’s another 2.5-3 points in the standings, give or take.

Where does an extra six or so points for Vegas get them? Second in the conference and first in the division with a game in hand on Edmonton. And that’s before you deduct points from all the teams they “should have” beaten.

As a general rule, I’d say you just play through that 97 PDO until it’s closer to 100. The bounces will start going their way.

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 10: William Karlsson #71 and Shea Theodore #27 of the Vegas Golden Knights chat and stretch during warm-ups prior to an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on November 10, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Golden Knights should be just fine. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Michael asks: “Is Vancouver the Islanders of last year?”

The Islanders of last year weren’t even really the Islanders of last year, even if their success was outsized based on their quality of play. Vancouver definitely isn’t in that category because, as I mentioned above, they have one of the best expected-goal differences in the league.

The team most akin to the Islanders of last season is probably Edmonton, where they’re playing well enough (51ish percent adjusted xGF%) but getting the bounces too (101 PDO).

Based on the way things are going right now, you’d have to say either the Avs (about 49 percent in adjusted goals but carrying a PDO in the 104 range), Ducks (49 percent/101.5), or well, Islanders (49 percent/103) are your guys for what you’re talking about.

Gurshaan asks: “Who exactly is Sean Walker and how?”

He’s a defenseman even the Kings probably weren’t super high on coming into the season, because he just turned 25 yesterday, he’d played all of 39 games in the NHL, and was always a solid defender in college but never really produced like he has to date.

His underlying numbers (53.5 xGF%, for instance) are strong, but trending down, and he’s only playing with Alec Martinez and Ben Hutton, so it’s not like they’re giving him elite teammates and just letting him exist. They’re also not giving him insane minutes or anything like that, because he’s checking in for under 19 a night.

So basically: They’ve found a guy who can be effective in a limited role and they’re using him to that extent and that’s it. Not a bad way to go about your business.

Anderson asks: “Do you see Kovalchuk landing anywhere after his release? Any obvious fits in your mind?”

So speaking of the Kings, this is an issue.

The obvious answer to your question is “The KHL.” But while this seems like it was a long time coming, the problem is that Kovalchuk probably isn’t going to just get a release. He’s due a big bonus check in December and if he asked for his release, he’d give up that money. More likely, such a move comes after that point, but even then a release strikes me as unlikely.

He remains on the Kings’ books in such a case (since he’s on a 35-plus contract), and he might have some utility to another team with cap space to burn because he’d be on super short money this year and straight salary that’s less than his cap hit in 2020-21.

Of course, he’d have to approve any trade, which complicates matters considerably. Could he maybe help another team if you put him in a sheltered role? I think he could. He’s been productive this year and his underlyings aren’t really that bad, especially considering the team and all that.

But it’s really tough for me to see anyone taking this contract on. It’s the NHL and he’s perceived as a lazy Russian who just burned his bridge. Why are you taking on his money for this year and next in that case?

Zachary asks via email: “Are there certain teams where it’s ‘good for the league’ when they are good?”

Obviously there are. Markets where the team isn’t necessarily popular — like Florida or Arizona — generate a loooooot more ticket revenue and interest when they’re good than when they’re bad. That’s good for the league, especially because it helps grow the game at what you’d call the grassroots level.

It’s also true for major cities where years of mismanagement killed interest. Look at Chicago, one of the premier, Big Name Teams in the league. It wasn’t more than 12 or 15 years ago when they were an afterthought. If, say, the Rangers have their rebuild work out in a year or three and they’re a top team in the league, how is that not a benefit for media attention, revenues, TV ratings, etc.?

Mitch asks: “Who in the generation of players that have recently retired or will retire soon is gonna be the guy that gets inducted into the Hall of Fame out of the blue in 30 years? My pick is Ryan Miller.”

I think Miller is probably a bit too obvious. Even if he’s not a first-ballot guy he was clearly one of the five best goalies in the world for a decent-sized chunk of his career, has a Vezina, success at the international level, could reach 800 games played, had only one full season below .910, etc. He’s just great.

The actual answer to this is Shane Doan, who’s going to get in after a decent amount of time for being a Good Canadian Boy and not so much a Great Hockey Player.

AD asks: “What piece of infotainment should run during Hockey Night in Canada’s first intermission?”

How about some people who actually talk about the game you’re watching with good video work and stuff? Like, just some really smart ex-players or coaches, like a team of Mike Johnson, Ken Hitchcock, and AJ Mleczko (i.e. no meatheads like Roenick, Milbury, etc.) talking the actual Xs and Os of the sport and why Montreal’s power play is working or Buffalo’s breakout isn’t. Have Ron moderate it if you want, but maybe also just give him “Hometown Hockey” duties for the rest of time.

Just do that for eight damn minutes between periods every Saturday night. It would be cool and people might actually learn something.

(And by the way, if they do this, here is me copyrighting this very good idea and Sportsnet will owe me $50,000 a year in U.S. dollars for the exclusive rights to my excellent idea.)

Anyway, hockey TV coverage doesn’t have to be as low-information as it too often is. That’s the point in all this.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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