Well folks, Happy Thanksgiving if you live in the good ol’ US of A, and happy regular boring Thursday if you’re from Canada. You don’t have some weird holiday that lines up with ours, right? But you get Black Friday off or something? I can’t remember. Hard to keep it all straight. Boxing Day, honestly what is that?
Anyway, it’s a weird and bad thing happening, but there aren’t any NHL games Thursday night, despite the fact that hey, almost a quarter of the damn league doesn’t play in the United States. It doesn’t make any sense to me and someone was very nice to ask the first question about that very subject, so I’ll get to talk about it more.
So before you enjoy your turkey and stuffing (which is gross by the way) and mashed potatoes and whatever else you’re having, let’s wade together into yet another mailbag and talk all about how the NHL is being too weird this season:
Greg asks: “Why is there no hockey today?”
I can only assume the answer is, “Because the NHL doesn’t want anyone to accidentally stumble on the sport in a post-turkey stupor and find out they like it.”
In reality, it’s the same reason the NHL has occasionally moved away from doing the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, or playing on Christmas: They don’t want the ratings competition from sports that are far more popular. Thanksgiving is a day for the NFL, just like Christmas is for the NBA, and New Year’s Day is for college football.
If the NHL is gonna have an all-day hockey binge fest, it’s always going to be on some random Saturday in January, when no one knows about it and probably has other stuff to do, after the NFL has already gone to Saturday games or gone into the playoffs.
It’s the same reason the NHL will often have a Saturday where 28 of 31 teams are playing, and puck drop for more than half the games are at 7 p.m.: No one really thinks hockey fans just want to watch hockey for 12 hours straight.
Or, in the case of Thanksgiving, even literally one hockey game between two Canadian teams to keep the diehards happy. The league doesn’t care about the diehards.
Jonah asks: “Who is going to receive the next new terrible contract in the league?”
It’s an interesting mix of guys out there who will be UFAs this summer, that’s for sure. A lot of them are pretty old, or at least a little past 30, and not particularly likely to get a big long-term deal. Some of the higher-end guys also happen to be pretty good.
Someone is, of course, going to get overpaid. That’s the nature of free agency. And looking at the list of guys who could be available on July 1, only one really stands out to me as a guy who’s about to get overpaid by a decent amount: John Carlson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not terrible or anything, but he’s scoring at the highest rate of his career right now and posting his first positive corsi-relative numbers since 2010-11. That’s like the dictionary definition of contract-year over-performance and much like Karl Alzner last season, you feel as though he’s gonna get too many years and too much money.
Will the contract be “terrible?” That remains to be seen. But it probably won’t be good.
The dark horse candidate here is, of course, Jack Johnson, because there’s always the potential for him to get $4 million AAV for four years somewhere. But the way things have gone for him in Columbus the past few years, I’m less optimistic about that as I would have been in 2015.
Not really, man. For real, this is an okay team at this point. Solid in a lot of positions, but not good enough to really go on any sort of deep run unless some serious flukes happen. Plus there’s the whole arena thing, which is an understandable concern for anyone.
I honestly don’t see why, besides his comfort and loyalty to the organization or something like that, he would want to stay with the Islanders. I feel the same way about Erik Karlsson, who’s a UFA in 2019-20 along with Drew Doughty. Woo baby.
Marc asks: “If you are below 20 points as of today, are you eliminated from the playoffs?
Let’s assume you’re gonna need 94 points to make the playoffs this season. That’s about where it’s been the past few years.
And let’s also keep in mind that the only teams with fewer than 20 points at the time the question was asked (ahead of Wednesday’s slate of games) were also the only ones playing at a pace of fewer than one point per game. These are the bad teams in the league, in terms of results and how the media is treating them, and there are only five of them: Montreal, Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo and Arizona.
All of them need to play at a pace of at least 103 points for the remainder of their schedules, and it’s very, very hard to do that. Especially if you’re bad in key positions, which all of them are. Tough to see a way out of the woods here, and it’s getting dark. Another week of losing might do it for all of them.
Some of the bubble teams in your scenario are a little interesting. In all, there are another 11 teams that will need to play at a pace of at least 95 points the rest of the way to hit that plateau. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible for, say, Dallas, Chicago, San Jose, Minnesota, Washington or the Rangers to do it, but a lot of things would have to start going right.
Roy asks: “With so many teams in need of D depth why aren’t more borderline forward prospects converted to D. Is the skill set much different?”
It’s an interesting question because it happens every once in a while, but it’s pretty rare, and it’s even rarer that guys have a lot of success doing it. Brent Burns might be the only guy I can really think of who was able to do that at a high level.
And that’s really the issue, right? “At a high level.” I don’t think the skills necessary to be a defenseman are all that different from being forward, in and of themselves. You need to be able to move the puck up the ice, get your stick in passing lanes, and so on, regardless of your position. I think the issue becomes rewiring your brain as, say, a center to go “Oh I need to be 25 feet back and to my right now.”
So much of what makes players effective, especially within extant coaching systems, is the ability to know what to do without thinking about it. That’s Hockey IQ, right? So if you’ve spent the past 15 years or whatever learning hockey as a forward, to suddenly be asked to succeed as a defenseman is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most guys who are, as you say “borderline” forward prospects.
Tom asks via email: “What would your USA Hockey roster with NHLers look like? And do you think they’d have a real shot at gold?”
Well, Tom provided a potential roster of the following:
Johnny Gaudreau – Auston Matthews – Patrick Kane
Max Pacioretty – Jack Eichel – Phil Kessel
Brandon Saad – Dylan Larkin – Blake Wheeler
James van Riemsdyk – Joe Pavelski – TJ Oshie
Clayton Keller – JT Miller
Jonathan Quick (or Jimmy Howard)
I don’t want to be too boring here, but apart from a few quibbles with where guys are slotted into the lineup (you gotta get those Columbus boys more ice time!) this looks about right.
This is, however, not a group that can be meaningfully competitive with a full-strength Canadian roster, unless one of the goalies gets Ryan Miller-in-Vancouver hot, or the whole team starts scoring at a high rate. As has been the case for a few years, a well-constructed U.S. roster probably has a top-six that matches up well with the Canadian middle-six, and a big problem in the blue line matchups. I’d still take the U.S. goaltending battery over whatever the Canadians put together, especially with Carey Price no longer being alive.
Keith asks: “Any signs of hope for Travis Hamonic despite a mediocre start in Calgary?”
You’re being really nice to call his start mediocre. He’s been quite bad for the last little while, despite playing with T.J. Brodie, and it looks like the only way he’s gonna work himself out of it is if he gets dropped to the third pairing and gets his game back together against lower-skilled guys.
JD asks: “If a beer leaguer were put on an NHL team and given 10 minutes a night, how long before they luck into a goal?”
If we’re not counting empty-netter scenarios, I would imagine it would take thousands of minutes. Brendan Gaunce is a forward who played more than 540 minutes in all situations last year and didn’t have a goal. This despite being a pretty good AHL scorer.
Yeah, that’s bad luck, but buddy, if a guy who has 44 points in his last 56 AHL games can’t get a goal in the NHL in 500-plus minutes, some 35-year-old who isn’t a professional athlete would probably take multiple seasons to do it.
Alexandre asks: “Who do you think is likely the worst tipper (pizza, restaurant) in the NHL?”
It’s one of the vocal MAGA guys, for sure.