(Ed. Note: The column formerly known as the Puck Daddy Power Rankings. Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
6. Ken Holland
What do you suppose goes on in Detroit these days?
I’ve long said that the hardest part of Ken Holland’s job was always walking down the hall and asking Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg, “What do you want to get paid next year?” That was all he had to do to appear successful for a period of about a decade. But then Lidstrom retired and the team took a small step back, but continued to lose ground as a truly competitive team each year since.
Lidstrom retired in 2012, and here are the Red Wings’ playoff runs since then: 14 games (lost to eventual Cup champs Chicago in second round), five games (lost to Boston in first round), seven games (lost to eventual Cup runners-up Tampa in first round), five games (lost to eventual Eastern Conference runners up Tampa in first round). Not great, but they’ve also had some tough outs three of four years.
Perhaps more worrisome, though, are the point totals: 56 in 48 (a pace for less than 96), 93, 100, and 93 again. Diminishing returns to be sure.
And we all remember what Detroit looked like without Pavel Datsyuk at the start of last season: just 8-6-1, with two of their wins coming in OT, and truly dreadful underlying numbers to boot (an expected goal percentage of just 42.6 percent across 15 games!). Once he came back, they were back up to 51.7 percent, which still isn’t great but it’s certainly something you can work with. So without Datsyuk next year, you really have to wonder what this team looks like.
Honestly, at some point does the pursuit of keeping up the incredible playoff streak become actively detrimental to a club that clearly needs a full-on rebuild? Zetterberg turns 36 four days before the season starts. Frans Nielsen — now signed through 2022 as a sort of backdoor Datsyuk replacement — is already 32. Future captain Justin Abdelkader will be 30 in February. The list goes on and on. Tomas Tatar and Dylan Larkin are probably the only meaningful contributors on the team who are still not yet at their prime, and boy is Tatar ever close.
And yet the Wings now have a roster that exceeds the salary cap thanks to Holland’s spending this summer, despite entering the season with just $57.7 committed and just a handful of RFAs to re-sign. Almost everyone he’s brought in has been overpaid since, and Holland burned more than his remaining cap space on Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Steve Ott, and Danny DeKeyser.
Yikes. This bad July could soon become an even worse season.
5. ELC bonuses
It was a little difficult to track the controversy last week, so I’ll give it my best shot:
Auston Matthews, a guy everyone acknowledges to be one of the great young talents in the game more or less immediately upon his arrival in the NHL, wanted a rookie max contract with all the commensurate bonuses you’d expect for a rookie of his talent level.
But we got to mid-July and he still hadn’t been signed, right? So people were like, “What’s the holdup?” Then Kevin McGran reports that it’s because Lou Lamoriello was holding out some kind of hope that Matthews would take smaller bonuses than he was probably due, for…. some reason? Apparently Lamoriello doesn’t like giving rookies bonuses.
But as Leafs Nation points out, it’s very rare indeed for first overall picks to sign before mid-July. The only three to have done so since 2004 were Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Connor McDavid. All three got maxed-out contracts just like every other first-overall pick in the cap era.
But then Matthews signed, and he got all the bonuses anyone ever expected. Because of course he did. I don’t think it proves Lamoriello is flexible. He was in a wholly inflexible situation.
Were people, like, actually worried about this?
4. The TV schedule
To all those people complaining that a player who is potentially already the best player alive — Connor McDavid — won’t be on NBCSN next season, I get it.
You want to see the guy, sure. Why not? But let’s be real here: It’s another fake controversy that doesn’t actually affect more than a small sliver of the hockey-watching population.
We know from Stanley Cup Final ratings every year that the vast majority of NHL fans are actually more fans of NHL teams than they are the sport itself, in that they won’t watch playoff rounds not involving their clubs. This is, after all, why like a quarter of Chicago’s schedule is on national TV: Chicago has a lot of fans who will reliably tune in and keep the ratings up. Edmonton doesn’t have a lot of fans in the U.S., so they get no games. Pretty simple, honestly.
So the number of people who might, out of curiosity, tune into an Oilers/Penguins game — appointment TV for fans of the sport — is probably minimal. And those are probably mostly people who have Center Ice or NHL.TV anyway. So they’re watching plenty of Oilers games if that’s what they’re interested in watching.
With this in mind, the number of people who don’t have any ability to watch Oiler games but would really like to do so is probably in the dozens, at most. Again, it’s not a real problem.
On the other hand, it points to the league’s problem of really only supporting and promoting a handful of franchises and not trying to grow the game itself, but rather the brands of its teams that are already quite popular. If they were smart, they would be putting P.K. Subban on every TV property they had 25 times a year, but Nashville only has two games on national TV next season. And just playing the odds here, how surprised are you that one of them is against Chicago?
Like honestly, if you’re worried about it, just get Center Ice or NHL.TV. Watch whatever games you want. That way you at least avoid Pierre McGuire on top of all the other benefits.
3. Brad Richards
It’s easy to kind of forget about how good Brad Richards was because he dropped off a cliff so fast, as so many players do when they reach their mid-30s.
But damn, Brad Richards was really good for a really long time. At the height of the first Dead Puck Era, he scored 74 and 79 points in consecutive years, then rampaged out of the lockout for 91. And then a few years later, he scored 91 again in 2009-10.
Add in a World Cup, a Memorial Cup, two Stanley Cups, plus an Olympic appearance, a Lady Byng (he only took six minors in 2003-04), and a Conn Smythe, and you have yourself a pretty excellent career. He almost would have reached 1,000 points as well, had he not been robbed of a season in his prime, and another partial lost year in his early 30s. He finished with 932 in 1,126 games, despite playing in the two eras in league history when scoring was most difficult.
Plus look at this pass:
What a player.
2. Las Vegas’s approach
As those keeping track of my work in the past few weeks have noted, I’m fascinated by the process Las Vegas undertakes as it works toward its league debut, and GM George McPhee was on a podcast this past week talking about his approach.
When asked about analytics in particular he used that old line about it being one club in your bag alongside traditional player evaluation, and that’s both the correct and politically correct answer to give.
But then things got a little more interesting, as he cited the way the Islanders and Team Canada have gone about their player evaluations in recent years. It really is tough to line up against the type of player Garth Snow has targeted in recent years, and while Team Canada has the luxury of being able to throw a rock and hit at least three perennial All-Stars, that is perhaps the approach that best exemplifies where the eye test meets a more analytical approach to player evaluation.
And again, given the success Canada has had in international tournaments of late, that probably speaks well for their process even leaving out the overwhelming talent (good luck getting a coach as good as Babcock, though). I mean, if you’re going to copy someone, there are a lot worse targets than the up-and-coming Islanders and the massively successful Canadians.
Of course, that also means Nashville probably won’t have to protect P.K. Subban in the expansion draft, because Team Canada would only take that guy as a last resort.
1. Twitter dot commercial
Hey maybe you’ll be able to watch an Oilers game on this instead. You never know with the NHL, folks!
(Not ranked this week: Evander Kane.
Just get lost already.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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