NHL rookie fighting, Kovalchuk and bargain hunting (Puck Daddy Countdown)

(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)

5 – Fighting in rookie camp

Most NHL teams have had their rookie orientation camps in the last two weeks or so, and I saw in more than a few cases that someone tweeted about two prospects getting into fights during scrimmages.

The fact that there’s fighting in NHL games is an unfortunate fact of life, and it’s even more unfortunate that in the preseason borderline NHLers feel like they can improve their chances of making the team by getting into fistfights that often end with brain injuries.

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The fact that players who are just starting their pro careers, or haven’t yet done so, take on the same mentality in literally meaningless scrimmages is pathetic and bad and it’s something that the NHL, if it were smart, would just flat-out ban. It seems to me that limiting the number of potential litigants in a potential future class action suit would be, like, a good idea but hey, I’m no lawyer.

More to the point, why would NHL teams let that happen just from a logistical standpoint? If a kid thinks he has a better shot of impressing team executives by getting into a fight in a scrimmage against a potential future teammate, isn’t that doubling the concussion risk for a team? One prospect getting a concussion would be bad. Two is, like, twice as bad. Maybe more than that! I’m no mathematician.

I say it every year but the solution is easy: Just don’t let them do this any more. Doesn’t take a lot. “Hey guys? No fighting this week, alright?” That’s the end of it.

The idea that, in 2017, letting a bunch of 20-year-olds whale on each other would be a good idea? That’s extremely something only the NHL would do.

4 – Waiting on Kovalchuk

So Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t coming back to the NHL this season, and will instead give it a whirl next year as a totally free unrestricted free agent. Which is a bummer because he would have been a tremendous help to whichever team traded for him.

Greg had a great post about it last week, detailing the fact that any efforts to paint this as somehow being Ray Shero’s fault for asking too much of potential partners. No one wanted Kovalchuk badly enough to even try trading for him.

Which is dumb, because Kovalchuk, even at 34, Kovalchuk was well above a point a game in a relatively low-scoring league that’s roughly equivalent to the AHL. Even if you have to shelter him on the second line a bit, he’s going to be an absolute monster on your first power play unit. Teams with that kind of offensive need who passed on him, well, they might be kicking themselves when their man advantage is running at 18 percent in January.

Of course, any team that signs him next year — if he indeed even wants to come back to North America — will probably get that benefit next year without giving up a pick or whatever the Devils would have wanted, but in the meantime, they don’t have an elite offensive talent.

More selfishly, it would have just been nice to see a player of this caliber in the NHL again, playing against the best talent in the world. Easy to forget now, but Ilya Kovalchuk was a worth-the-price-of-admission kind of player. Given what made him so engaging, I doubt that’s changed.

3 – The Tyler Johnson deal

This is one of those risk-reward contracts for the Bolts. Love the fact that they locked him up for $5 million AAV and seven years. In theory!

He scored at just a 50-point pace over the past two seasons, and 50 points is good and everything. It would have put him in a tie for 98th in the league in scoring last year with guys like Milan Lucic and Henrik Sedin; the top one-sixth or so is a good place to be.

He’s going to be 27 this coming season, so locking him up through his age-34 campaign means you’re gonna get a good number of useful years. But you obviously hope, if you’re Steve Yzerman, that he gets into the 60s on a regular basis. Anything more than that — which is what he did in 2014-15 — would be incredible. But even if he just gets to 60 again, being that high moves you into the top 40 or so in the league, and at that point the $5 million AAV is a steal.

But those health concerns are real. If smaller guys can’t play in the league without getting hurt on a regular basis — he missed six individual stretch of at least three games since the start of 2015-16 — that’s a concern.

And at that point, the $5 million AAV probably isn’t that big a deal, since even when he’s banged up he produces goals for you. But that’s when the term becomes a serious worry.

2 – Rick Tocchet

I mean sure, I guess. As good a hire as any, one supposes.

But my bigger takeaway here is that I personally cannot wrap my head around this team’s direction. At all.

Obviously relatively inexperienced head coaches can have success in this league, but is Arizona Going For It with this hire or is it more of a holdover until the team can compete with a roster that’s buttressed by current prospects’ talent? The past month or so seems to indicate the answer is “maybe both?”

Which seems weird, right? How can it be both? Why go out and get all these useful players? Maybe to convince Oliver Ekman-Larsson not to “John Tavares” them after 2018-19? Other than that, this team’s forward group is Derek Stepan and a bunch of moderately talented children, an okay blue line with basically no depth, and Antti Raanta in net as a starter for the first time in his career at 28 years old.

This doesn’t look much like a playoff team unless Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, and Anthony Duclair all do great. Because they all need to be top-six forwards at the very least, and then hope someone like Nick Cousins or Tobias Rieder does the same. And that’s just to be respectable; they’re still paper-thin in the bottom-six.

Is Tocchet a good coach? I don’t know. Lots of bad coaches get jobs all the time. But even a good coach probably can’t make this team competitive any time soon unless John Chayka really fills out the rest of the roster this summer by going…

1 – Bargain-hunting

The good news is that a lot of the guys who are going to sign between now and the start of training camps are going to provide solid bargains. Travis Yost outlined a couple of them this week, with Yohann Auvitu already having been scooped up by Edmonton (smart signing). But there are plenty more out there.

Jaromir Jagr is one. Just sayin’.

(Not ranked this week: LTIR in the summer.

This from James Mirtle gets a little complicated but it turns out teams can use LTIR in the summer. Not that most would need to, of course, but it’s a possibility. Which is weird because its the first I’m hearing about it. And I feel like I pay pretty close attention. 

Even weirder: Most team executives Mirtle spoke to didn’t seem to realize this was a thing either. So the question is, how do these guys who get paid millions of dollars a year to know this stuff, like, not-know it?

What a league. Honestly.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)


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