[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.]
6. The hit debate
Brooks Orpik went out there on Sunday and did what Brooks Orpik does: Hit someone hard and made everyone mad at him.
This time it was Jonathan Toews whom he clobbered in the corner, and sent to the dressing room with a shoulder injury, and boy was everyone out for blood. Namely, the people who were out for Orpik's blood were idiots — like Blackhawks fans who claimed that if Duncan Keith had hit Sidney Crosby like that, he'd be suspended — or notable national TV analysts — like Mike Milbury — or both — like Eddie Olcyzk.
This was a clean hit but because of who it was thrown by, and the circumstances surrounding an earlier incident in which he was involved this season (i.e. the clean but violent concussing of Loui Eriksson, and his subsequent unclean and ultra-violent by Shawn Thornton, who was “just defending a teammate”) have led Orpik's intentions to be called into question once again.
There is no debate here, by the way, that NHLers hit to hurt, insofar as no one besides Zach Stortini has ever hit to hug. But hitting to injure? One has to really doubt it.
So we had to have The Debate again, and it's baloney. The people who are calling for Orpik to be led through downtown Chicago in chains so schoolchildren could throw rotten vegetables and rocks at him are the same people who would be screaming for him to be benched if he pulled up on any check at any time for any reason.
This is, of course, ignoring the Real Hockey Guy insistence that players who hit hard should have to fight after doing so, because it's asinine and for complete dinosaur morons who want to live by Hammurabi's Code.
What people really want out of this is simple: Star players never getting hit hard enough to injure them. If Orpik had crushed Brandon Bollig and put him out for the season, we're not having this conversation.
5. Nonsense awards candidacy
At this time of year, awards candidates are discussed heavily because most teams' playoff lives are all but decided and there's not a lot to talk about. I've discussed before who should win the Hart trophy and the Jack Adams as the league's MVP and coach of the year (Sidney Crosby and Jon Cooper, respectively).
But because people have short memories, this is consequently also the time of year when players are mentioned in conjunction with awards whose candidacy must in some way be early April Fool's jokes. Take, for example, that of Gustav Nyquist, who has been shredding defenses for the last month and a half. In his last 21 games he has he has 17 goals and 10 assists and that is obviously a ton. He's singlehandedly kept the Red Wings in the playoff conversation — as long as you ignore the stellar efforts of the Maple Leafs to clear a space for them over the past few weeks — and thus is getting the late-season bump enjoyed recently by Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry.
However, unlike those two players, he doesn't lead the league in anything, and even having 17 goals in 21 games only gets him to 27 for the year, and thus places him firmly behind other definitive Hart candidates like Ryan Johansen (30), James van Riemsdyk (29), and Zach Parise (28). For real, Nyquist is a good “young” player — that is, by Red Wings standards, because he's getting his first full season in the league at 24 — but he has 45 points this year. Mark Giordano has 44, and he's a defenseman. On the Calgary Flames.
Which brings us to the other positively ludicrous candidate that's being brought up constantly of late: Ryan McDonagh. His name is being thrown around a lot for two reasons: He's been really good for the last two weeks, and the Rangers have been winning. That's it. Those are the reasons he should be considered for the Norris. And it's dumb.
No one is saying McDonagh, or Nyquist for that matter, is having anything less than good seasons. But the Rangers' best defenseman is having maybe the seventh- or eighth-best season of any blueliner in the NHL right now. He has 43 points on a relatively low-offense team, and is playing some fairly tough minutes, and over the last several games has really made a push. But he's not driving play as effectively as Zdeno Chara or Giordano or even TJ Brodie, and he's not getting their tough assignments either.
Chara should win the Norris, and if anyone has a credible claim otherwise it's Mark Giordano. But he doesn't have Duncan Keith's points or McDonagh's visibility, so he doesn't have a shot. Which is a shame.
4. The Calgary Flames
Speaking of Giordano, it was recently pointed out that he's the reason the Flames aren't quite so bad any more, which is partially true, but other guys (like Mikael Backlund, who is criminally overlooked as one of the better two-way players in the league, and Brodie) are helping too.
The problem is that it's to the team's detriment. Yes, it's the old “Bad teams should try as hard as possible to be bad” argument, but the Flames have played so well of late that they've pulled themselves out of the top three or four teams in the draft, which doesn't help the rebuild much. You obviously can't tell players to go out there and not-win or not-try, but the fact that the Flames have won six of their last 10, and looked good doing it, ultimately gets them nowhere.
They're not going to make the playoffs or even come close once again, and though they're maybe shortening up the length of time a theoretical rebuild might take by showing there's more to the core than meets the eye, the fact that they're not going for a potential top-2 pick next season to get what might be a generational talent in the form of Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid is, at the end of things, to their detriment.
Consider: How many teams are able to succeed — and that means have real success, not just sneak into the playoffs — without talent like that. You need a Crosby or a Toews or a Lidstrom or a Doughty or a Chara to win a Stanley Cup. Teams made up of nothing but Sean Monahan-types don't get very far. Calgary isn't going to attract big-time players in the free agent market, and thus has to get at least one or two through the draft. The vast majority of the time you don't get them by picking in the Nos. 5-8 spot.
Not that it matters much anyway. This is a real Brian Burke quote about his drafting philosophy that came out last week and I cannot in any way believe it to be real, except that because it's being attributed to him it is extremely believable.
“We place great value and great pride on researching a player’s character work ethic, accountability, empathy and coachabilty,” said Burke. “We have a list of adjectives on the list and I think there are about 20 and I think ‘work ethic’ appears four times out of that 20. We try to research the kids, at least in the top-three rounds where we have the assets to do it, we make mistakes like everybody, but we try our best. We don’t draft based on skill, that’s the second thing to us. We think you have a better chance of succeeding if you bring in character people than if you don’t.
“So that’s a priority for us. We do have a DND list, Do Not Draft. Some teams will evaluate a guy and say ‘He has NHL skills, but he’s a head case, so put him in the second round.’ To me, he’s still a head case in the second round, so we just take him off the list.”
Just, what do you even say? The Flames are doomed.
3. Being Ondrej Pavelec
Well, it finally happened. Jets fans and media have at long last stopped defending Ondrej Pavelec, prompting his coach to defend him for being awful.
This after an hilarious meltdown that came with the Jets up 4-0 on the Ducks, during which time Winnipeg's win expectancy came in at 98.9 percent. In that game, he made just 31 saves on 36 shots as his team lost in overtime.
And so now he's about to be run out of town, and with good reason, and only about two years too late. His save percentage in March was just .891 — his third month below .900 this season alone — and all but evaporated that mystique Paul Maurice engendered by winning a good number of games after having been hired. His save percentage for the season has slumped to just .901.
But here's the thing, right? Since Maurice took over 29 games ago, Pavelec's save percentage is a little better than that at .906. Have a guess as to his actual save percentage over his entire career? Yeah, it's also .906. So after years of defending him as a good goalie behind a bad defense, and posting save percentages of .906 and .905, Winnipeg fans are turning on him for being who he always was.
You can't make this stuff up.
2. Family ties
But the biggest losers this week are of course the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have flamed out of a playoff spot so spectacularly that an IMAX movie could be made out of it. But hey remember all that stuff that came out of Toronto this year about how this was a team that could compete and if you didn't think so you were being an idiot?
Good news, that was all a diversion tactic to distract you from what the Leafs actually believe: This team was destined to miss the playoffs all along.
At least, that's what TSN Hockey Insider and GM Cousin Darren Dreger is now telling anyone who will listen. “The reality is this team is where management projected it would be at the start of the year,” Dreger said in real life on Toronto radio Monday night.
And also: “Nonis delivered the word to Leiweke and the owners that this was going to be a tough year and next year might be as well.”
Which is a curious thing, because back in October, when the Leafs got off to another hot start, Dreger went on TSN 1050 and said this about Nonis's decision not to trade for Nail Yakupov: “I’m sure there would be interest in James Reimer if (Leafs GM) Dave Nonis were willing to consider it, but it is way, way, way too early in the season to do that, and you might get to the point, which is the trade deadline, where you also say, ‘Well, which one do I trade? Both of these guys have been very solid and I’d like to have both of these guys if I have a chance of contending for the Stanley Cup,’ or you’re certainly in the playoff mix.”
That's right, the Stanley Cup. But we've come a long way since then, haven't we? The Leafs lost so many games in a row, regardless of who the goalie was, that they forgot what a win felt like. And all because they can't play coherent defense, and have never done so. This did not mean, however, that Dreger wouldn't also take the time to go to bat for Randy Carlyle, saying, “Carlyle has developed a reputation of being a very savvy defensive coach, but this group is clearly not listening.”
No one tell him about this chart.
1. And what the Leafs really believe
Speaking of how hard the Leafs have been losing lately, you'd have thought that might have shocked the team into realizing that all the people who have been pointing at spreadsheets all season saying, “Ummmm” a lot while they stuck their fingers in their ears and hummed the theme from Rugrats might have been right after all.
You'd have thought wrong, obviously. Leafs Vice President of Hockey Operations went on the radio Monday and said, “Our shot differential over the last eight games is better, so the analytics talk doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
The reason their shot differential has been better in those games? They've trailed the whole time. By a lot of goals. Score effects are real.
This tells you everything about the head-in-the-sand idiocy going on at Air Canada Centre these days, and also tells you how things are going to be going forward. Nonis isn't getting fired, even though he should. Carlyle's on the hot seat, when he should have been burnt to a crisp by it in January. There's no accountability for anyone but the overpaid and underperforming players, and often the wrong culprits are being blamed because how could a guy like Colton Orr — who's used in almost every game despite being literally useless as a hockey player — be to blame when Dion Phaneuf is out there giving up goals in a system bereft of tactics and James Reimer can't stop 93 percent of the shots he faces every night and Phil Kessel doesn't have 60 goals and Nazem Kadri couldn't keep shooting 17 percent.
Keep going like this forever, guys. You couldn't make me happier if you tried.
(Not ranked this week: Alex Ovechkin had a bad month for the ages. A corsi share of just 38.7 percent, an on-ice shooting percentage of 0.0, an on-ice save percentage of .892. Meaning that not only did he get significantly outpossessed during that time, he also didn't have a single goal go in while he was on the ice for 15 games. During that time, the Caps allowed 14 behind him. This is like the exact opposite of what he did last April, when he scored 14 goals in 13 games. It's funny how hockey balances out over time. It'll be funnier if he gets traded this summer.)