[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]
With the so-called stats war having been declared over — the nerds won! — the hockey media can now move on to sifting through the rubble in its aftermath and thinking carefully about What It All Means.
It, of course, doesn't really mean anything, other than the fact that provable, reasonable data once again won out over guesswork. It happens like this all the time and in every single sport. Data becomes available, people who have been around forever poo-poo it, teams accept it, people who have been around forever say they still know better. It's why Miguel Cabrera still wins MVP awards over Mike Trout because he won the Triple Crown but demonstrably didn't have as good a season.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in Matt Larkin's semi-comprehensive oral history — led, hilariously, by the wonderful Steve Simmons CORSI Hockey League tweet — on the subject, in which every canard used by one side against the other was rehashed for what could conservatively be estimated as the trillionth time. These old guys are stuck in the past! These new guys are too thin-skinned! These old guys don't understand hockey! These new guys only think they do and by the way they're smug pricks about it!
If you want to really get to the heart of the “rivalry,” though, it's basically a battle between willful ignorance and antagonism, and people who hate seeing people with considerable media influence wield either of those things.
Case in point, there's this line on Simmons and colleague in curmudgeonism Dave Shoalts: “Talk to the old guard and they want the analytics community to lighten up. Simmons and Shoalts say they’re goaded by their rivals, but admit to deliberately doing the same to stir the pot. Shoalts says he simply does it when he’s bored.”
Right, that's the point of all of it, isn't it? People don't like to admit they're wrong — and especially that they've been wrong for years or decades — so those who are lob bombs while still screaming that they're right, and those who aren't wrong don't like being bombed.
Soon, one hopes, we'll get to a point where we can read thinkpieces on the thinkpieces. I think we can probably wait until next summer for that, when the teams analytics say will fail largely do so.
6. The Justin Schultz contract
Let's get a show of hands for people who think Justin Schultz might one day win a Norris Trophy.
That one hand you see in the air belongs to Craig MacTavish, who late last week gave Schultz a one-year show-me contract worth $3.675 million. Which doesn't make a lot of sense.
The benefit of giving a player a “bridge” contract is to let him show you what he can do while playing for a relatively nominal amount of money. Nearly $3.7 million is not nominal. Not for a player of Schultz's abilities.
Does Schultz put up a lot of points? Not really, despite his reputation as an offensive defenseman. His 0.49 points per game over the last two seasons — during which he was 22 and 23 years old — puts him 27th in the league among defensemen who played at least 80 games over the last two seasons. And you'd say that yeah, 27th really isn't bad at all (insofar as there are 30 No. 1 defenseman spots in the league) but you have to consider the circumstances.
Did Schultz play the toughest competition in Edmonton? Did he get tougher zone starts than his teammates? Did he drive possession? Far from it.
So what, exactly, is Edmonton doing with this contract? If you're going to pay the guy a middling salary, rather than a low one, then you don't give him just one year. And if you think he has potential to win a Norris (again, he does not), you lock him for longer than that.
Schultz is currently 24 years old and he has a long way to go toward being a legitimate top-pairing guy, as a baseline. Anything beyond that would be a bonus but he's not close yet. Meanwhile, he's only 36 days younger than Erik Karlsson, so even a huge improvement doesn't actually get him to being any kind of elite.
Yes, Schultz took a paycut in terms of his cap hit (of $100,000) but most of that “money” was bonuses. This is actual salary now. And it's unjustifiable.
5. Bad coaching decisions
You remember Dany Heatley, don't you? A guy who scored 50 twice in two seasons just seven years ago and who most recently netted a dozen in a disastrous final season with Minnesota. A guy who will be paid just $1 million this season to prove he can actually still play at the NHL level. A guy who generated just 110 shots playing almost 15 minutes a night. A guy who got buried at even strength.
And he's going to play with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, at least until he inevitably proves that he in no way should be doing that. Surely the Ducks have someone on that left side, literally almost anyone, who they think would be better suited to this role. Like, even Patrick Maroon has to be a better option.
Hockey is always going to defer to past success, but who on earth signs off on this kind of coaching decision?
4. The Look-Up Line
This concussion-prevention idea got a little bit of play last week because the Predators built a new rink and painted a yellow line along the boards. The idea is that it helps players know when they are in an area where getting boarded could end their careers. Good innovation in theory.
In actual practice, though, it might not make that big of a difference. I was at the Hockey East outdoor games at Fenway Park last year, and eight different NCAA teams played on it over the course of two Saturdays. Just about everyone asked about the lines said they barely noticed them once the game was actually under way. Players tend to know where they are on the ice, and thus giving them a kind of “warning track” doesn't really let them know much more than they already knew.
But the thing is, this isn't really for players who are already among the few hundred or so best players in the world in their age groups. It's for players learning the game. Maybe if this is implemented correctly, in 10 years guys won't get run from behind if they're standing in the yellow paint. Or maybe they will. The point is you gotta try, and with this idea in particular you probably gotta try for a long time. It sure doesn't hurt, though.
Well, it must be getting close to the start of hockey season, because the KHL is once again acting like it's going to lure Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin back to Mother Russia to play hockey in a higher-paying AHL.
Maybe they'll really do it this time, too! The Hockey News says the Caps would be better for it anyway.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is seeing all the borderline NHLers — or guys who are basically walking market inefficiencies — lining up to try out for contracts with various clubs. I don't know why I love it so much but I do.
So far, only a few tryout deals have been announced, but they're pretty good ones. Scott Gomez going back to New Jersey? Love it. Bruins killer Simon Gagne trying to catch on with the Bruins? Fantastic. Tomas Kaberle trying out with literally anyone? Delicious. Sheldon Brookbank maybe squeaking onto Calgary's roster? Okay, who cares.
And as camps get closer, we'll see more invites, and I'm screaming for joy already. A lot of guys who are at least replacement level players are still unsigned, and thus could go around hat in hand for a deal. You can see someone giving Michal Handzus a run-out, right? Or Ryan Carter, maybe. Dustin Penner is basically a 100 percent sure thing to get such an offer. The list goes on. I love it.
1. Guys still unsigned
Of course, before teams can go around signing tryout deals with whomever, they might want to also address their currently unsigned restricted free agents, of whom there are still a shockingly high number.
Obviously Ryan Johansen is grabbing all the headlines here, but there are a number of other pretty big names still not locked down. Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper don't have new deals in Minnesota. Torey Krug and Reilly Smith are in the same boat for Boston. There's Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin in Dallas. Tyson Barrie. Ryan Ellis. John Moore. Eric Gelinas. Danny DeKeyser. Devante Smith-Pelly. Jaden Schwartz. These are good young players who can make meaningful contributions to their teams.
Training camps open two weeks from tomorrow. These guys will be there (well, maybe not Johansen). These deals will get done, obviously, but for the most part teams need to work some things out first; Boston probably needs to make a trade and get Marc Savard's LTIR cap relief, for instance, to get Smith and Krug safely under contract. Still, though, most fans would probably prefer things not get cut too close.
(Not ranked this week: This list of the top centers in the league.
It is questionable at best.)
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