(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7. The Flames’ arena
The Flames really made a big push to get the incumbent mayor, Naheed Nenshi, booted from office, because he wasn’t really all that willing to play ball with Flames ownership when it came to funding a new arena deal with public money.
More specifically, he wasn’t willing to give the Flames every single cent they wanted on their initial offer, with no room for negotiation. So team ownership started putting up ads for Nenshi’s opponent, Bill Smith, during games. And both Flames staffers and friendly media members (including Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, who has said in the past that he would move out of Calgary if Nenshi were re-elected) expended a lot of online energy stumping for Smith at every turn.
Smith conceded at midnight Tuesday, and in the end lost by nearly 30,000 votes (minus-7.7 in terms of voter share, 51.4 percent to 43.7) in one of the highest voter turnouts for a local election in decades. In the end, Smith never came close; if everyone who voted for someone who wasn’t Nenshi voted for Smith, a cardboard cutout of a non-substantive capitalist goober, Smith still would have lost by nearly 3 points.
It was a crushing defeat, albeit not as crushing as Nenshi’s previous mayoral win, when he garnered something like 70 percent of the vote.
The arena issue became central to the campaign because of the team and league’s politicking — Gary Bettman, dutifully, issued vague threats about “consequences” if Nenshi were re-elected — but this serves as a pretty clear mandate: Hands off our money.
The Flames won’t open their books to the city and refuse to negotiate further. Now they’re saying they can’t survive in the Saddledome long-term, and only a new rink paid for mostly with public money. Well, they’ve been saying that all along, but you can bet a lot of money — say, $500 million ha ha ha — they’re gonna ratchet up the rhetoric now.
But hey, Nenshi should be humbled: He only brutalized the competition backed by the most popular team and league in town. Seems like maybe people in Calgary, I dunno, don’t want to fund an arena.
No, that can’t be it. It must be a different reason. Yup.
6. Dancing with who you came to the dance with
On one level, you get it pretty easily: Mason had a couple (very) (very very) bad appearances. Certainly he’s not as bad as the numbers (.831 in two starts) suggest. He allowed more than 50 percent more goals on far fewer shots, but also no one in the NHL is an .830 goalie. And Maurice specifically said he doesn’t want Mason sitting for long stretches.
But also: Hellebuyck was quite bad last season in 56 appearances, but has numbers only a little lower than the league average over the past three seasons, and he seems to be hot right now. Not sure why you want to let that go to waste, other than Paul Maurice seems to think his job is to make a series of befuddling decisions. Which, hey, mission accomplished, baby!
5. Making goals worth two points
if you want to hear a very bad argument, here’s one: Goals should be worth two points and assists should be worth one. After all, if you are giving two assists on most goals in the NHL, it stands to reason that the guy actually doing the scoring should get two points as well.
I mean, that’s not the kind of reason to which anything should stand, but it’s certainly the thinking here.
It’s not a good idea. For a lot of reasons, not the last of which is that Joe Thornton instantly becomes very undervalued and it becomes a lot more difficult to glean player value from goals and assists alone. Honestly, if you want to know who had a good season in the NHL, you can do a whole hell of a lot worse than looking at just their point total (i.e. looking at their plus-minus). Hard to understand why you obfuscate that to show, “Ah yes, seems like this Ovechkin guy is good.”
Now, if you want to argue against the value of a second assist versus a primary, that’s a discussion worth having, but it’s hard to square the idea that a goal is worth twice as much as an assist on its face.
We have a pretty good, albeit imperfect, system in place.
4. “Maybe try taking more goalies next time?”
Marc-Andre Fleury is out with a concussion. Now Malcolm Subban, who the Golden Knights claimed off waivers, and who doesn’t seem particularly good, is their starter. Remember how they could have had that guy off the Red Wings for nothing?
Now their goalies are Subban and Maxime Lagace. If you’re asking “Who?” about Lagace, I don’t blame you: He’s an undrafted 24-year-old who went .883 in the AHL last season. Not ideal.
Not that it ultimately matters, of course, because they should be trying to tank anyway, but if you want to accuse this team of having have no plan for long-term roster construction, that seems pretty reasonable right now.
3. Slashing penalties
Some interesting numbers from Bob McKenzie last week that showed slashing penalties are way, way up and every other type of call is way, way down.
Here’s a theory on that: There are so many slashing penalties being called, and it’s such a point of emphasis, that refs are, well, not to say “only” looking for that, but maybe “mostly?”
Also, I think it’s fair to say no one wants to return to the early days of the shootout era, when both teams got 10 power plays a night. So maybe refs, already calling like three slashing penalties a night against every single team in the league, are letting everything else go until everyone figures out the new standard.
It’s not fun, of course. Ideally every game is 50-plus minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, but that’s not realistic. You’d just like to see a consistent standard applied whether it’s Game 7 of the Cup Final or Oct. 18.
As always, whenever there’s a new rules emphasis, you can expect even referees’ interest in it to fizzle out around early November. So, only two more weeks of complaining about this.
2. Being underrated
Are we really gonna say Auston Matthews is underrated?
Like, I just wrote a column two days ago saying, “This guy should be an MVP candidate in April.” He rules. Everyone acknowledges it. What, then, is the standard for being underrated in this league?
It’s a persistent issue. How long did we hear Loui Eriksson was underrated, right? One of the most underrated in the league. It’s not a new idea to say that if enough people push you as underrated, you become overrated, but it shouldn’t even remotely apply in Matthews’ case.
The only, only, only place anyone should say Matthews or a lot of superstar players are underrated is when discussing individual components of their game. “Look how good Crosby is at [insert skill here]! Few discuss this.” That makes sense. But to broadly say Matthews or Toews or anyone who ever gets elected to an All-Star Game is underrated doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Usually the thing that drives such discussion falls into one of two categories: 1) Someone trying to sound smart about a guy who had 60 points last year, or 2) Fanboy stuff, either from actual fans or media members who see the guy play like 65 times a year.
There’s a lot of room to break down the subtleties of everyone’s individual talents over the course of an 82-game season. Let’s not start in on all this quite yet.
1. Erik Karlsson is back
He is my absolutely beautiful boy and I am so glad he will be blessing the league with his presence again. Truly, he is a joy to watch and I want to watch him play every minute of every game.
I love him! Welcome back, Erik! Thank you!
(Not ranked this week: The Tampa haters.
Speaking of things I love, the Bolts are pulling down a lot of wins so far this season. Nikita Kucherov is at seven goals and 10 points in six games. Finally healthy, Steven Stamkos is at nine in six, though only with one goal because he’s shooting 4 percent.
And here’s the thing: Vasilevskiy hasn’t even been that good, and Jon Cooper is making weird decisions on defense, like giving Dan Girardi the fourth-most minutes for any defender on the team.
But here’s something weird: The team is currently second-last in the league in expected goals percentage. Not sure what that’s about! Not a fan!)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)