Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Phil Kessel’s physique, Winter Classic drama and Ice Boys

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

[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.] 

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8. Sabres' denials

Are the Sabres planning on tanking to get Connor McDavid? The players say, “No,” but the lines say, “Yes.” 

7. Garbagemen

The Flyers recently made the decision to get rid of their ice girls crew, and replaced them with a bunch of guys who come out and shovel ice while not wearing short-shorts and showing off their cleavage.

At their first home preseason game, this change was met with boos. And boy does that ever tell you something about, A) why ice girls exist in the first place, and B) the kinds of misogynist pigs who actually care about ice girls one way or the other.

Teams which still employ ice girls, such as the San Jose Sharks, do so because they appeal to the stupidest people who buy tickets, for whom the lowest common denominator is something toward which they can aspire to one day climb. Everyone who has heard of them knows on some level that this kind of thing is sexist and disgusting, but the degree to which they care about such issues is ultimately what colors their opinion. If a guy just wants to see pretty girls dressed as little as possible, then he's going to be Very Into ice girls and teams having ice girls and looking at ice girls. And the thought he puts into it beyond that never goes beyond that point.

However, to actively root for ice girls to come out, and be disappointed to the point of booing that a bunch of guys — not even scantily-clad guys — came out and did the thing you were expecting the girls to do is repugnant. Let's put it this way: If you are excited to see ice girls, you're disgusting. If you're mad when you don't see ice girls, you're even more disgusting.

Because there's a pretty simple solution to your problem. If you need to see pretty girls at the hockey game (and you're disgusting for that as well, by the way) then they have cellphones now that allow you to access the Internet. You can pull up a web browser and you can type whatever gross term you use for “women” into it and then look at all of them you want. Or you could just stay home from the games.

In fact, only stay home. And never leave your house again.

6. 24/7

No Power Rankings last week, so I didn't get to address the move of the NHL's uncensored look at the run-up to the Winter Classic from HBO to something called Epix (a network name that in and of itself is annoying).

The thing with having it on HBO was that it was an ultra-reputable name in the realm of “uncensored material.” And for a premium cable channel, it had a loooooot of subscribers (more than 32.4 million through the end of last year). The move to Epix, meanwhile, brings potential viewership down to — and this is a real number here — 9.5 million.

That number could go up in the near future, though. One of the big problems with Epix right now is that it's not carried by Comcast. You know, the company owned in part by Ed Snider, specifically. Ed Snider who also owns the Flyers. Comcast also owns NBC Universal, which you'll recall has the NHL's TV contract. So maybe everyone with Comcast (about 30 million people after the Time-Warner deal last year) starts getting Epix soon. Or maybe not.

(To be fair, the league is increasing availability of the show because of Epix's small reach. Streaming, free online trials, stuff like that. But still.)

Either way, this has to be seen as a huge step back for the league. It's the “documentary with swear words” equivalent of moving from ESPN to the Outdoor Life Network. And it's flat-out embarrassing.

5. Itchy and Scratchy money

What are the Senators doing? Besides doing the most Canadian thing of all time, I mean.

You wanted us to make it happen so... This pre-season you'll be able to use @CanadianTire money inside @CdnTirectr! pic.twitter.com/5E7qoQpreq

— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) September 23, 2014

The good news is that if they can convince Bobby Ryan this is just normal Canadian currency (“Ignore the part that says 'Tire,' Bobby. That's just a typo. I think there's a moose or something on the back so you know it's real.”), they might be able to keep him after this season after all.

4. The World Cup

The problem with the hockey in September is that it is meaningless, and teams know it's meaningless. So do fans.

To that end, it seems that we might not be so far away from meaningful September hockey. Reports out of the Czech Republic indicate that the World Cup of Hockey's long-rumored comeback could be as soon as autumn of 2016, and rap on the first day of October. Meaning that a best-on-best tournament would happen right before the season starts. This would be both good and bad, for a number of reasons each.

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Good: More high-level hockey. Bad: The greater potential for preseason injuries because guys will actually be trying to win this tournament. Good: Less training camp live-tweeting.

Bad: Exhibition games will now be even worse because you won't see star players at any of them. Good: More jingoism.

Bad: This probably means no more Olympics. Good: No more Olympics (because the IOC is gross). Bad: More IIHF.

So I guess you could say I'm conflicted about all this. 

3. The Capitals' Winter Classic jerseys

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

I like 'em! (But Calgary really should have had the market cornered on inexplicable outdoor game striping forever.)

2. Hittin' the gym, bro

Phil Kessel told the media last week that he probably only skated about 10 times over the summer, which if you're Phil Kessel and have a reputation for being a bit doughy, is a really inexplicably dumb thing to do. Because when you say, “I only skated 10 times all summer,” people who don't understand nuance will just wander into the middle of the nearest public square and start shrieking as long and loud and incomprehensibly as possible that you are not doing enough to be as good at hockey as you possibly could be.

“Don't you owe it to the fans? your team? yourself? to do Herbies until you puke all over your skates every day, from the day you're eliminated to the day training camp starts? Of course you do. No wonder you suck, Phil Kessel.”

When the media does this kind of questioning, however, it has to be couched differently. They know that Kessel is a simply outstanding player, and when they yell about this, they will tell you so. What they don't tell you is just how outstanding he is; only five players in the league over the last five seasons (when Kessel landed in Toronto) have played 300-plus games, while at least 0.4 goals and 0.9 points per game. They are Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, and Kessel. (Ovechkin, by the way, also got pelted with such criticism for being a fat, no-workout, lazy jerk.)

But because you can't just criticize Kessel outright — his production in and of itself clearly allows no such scolding — you have to criticize an idealized version of him instead. If a real-world Kessel that only skates 10 times in the summer can put up those kinds of numbers, what could a Theoretical Kessel do? Could he go from that high level of play to an even higher level of play? Could he boost his goals per game 50 percent to be at Stamkos's level? These are questions we apparently have to ask ourselves because we can never ever ever be happy with what we have.

And here's the other thing: Let's say Kessel skates 60 times next summer. Wouldn't that change his physiology to something new, to which he may not be accustomed? Maybe a leaner Kessel isn't necessarily a better Kessel. Maybe a Kessel who skated that much doesn't have as much skill on the puck as normal. Maybe he doesn't score 30 goals, let alone 37 (with 37 being what he's posted in each of the last two full seasons). Maybe he realizes he loves skating so much that he quits hockey to become a full-time figure skater. You never know. It could happen.

(And please, for the love of god, when you write this kind of thing, pretend like you never saw this stuff about Phil Kessel showing up at camp and running away with top marks in every fitness test the Leafs put in front of him. It's probably not true anyway!)

1. Tryout players

It feels as though this year there has been almost a preposterous number of players invited to teams' camps without actually guaranteeing them a contract. It is now epidemic, and as I've said before, it's cynical as well.

The reason that there are so many tryouts these days is that teams want to have guys with decent amounts of NHL experience as possible in their lineups for every exhibition game. But only because the league requires it; every roster for every exhibition must have at least eight players who fit one of the following criteria: played in at least 30 games last season (or was at least dressed for 50-plus, in the case of a backup goalie), was a first-round pick in the latest draft, or has 100-plus NHL games in his career.

To that end, the Devils' lineup on Monday night, for instance, featured four such guys in it: Ruslan Fedotenko, Jordin Tootoo, Tomas Kaberle, and Mike Komisarek. Only Komisarek meets one of the first two requirements (32 inexplicable games with Carolina last year) but all easily clear the 100-game minimum requirement to have them count as veterans. They also left Scott Gomez, also on a tryout, off the roster. 

The thing is, you look at these guys and you say that maybe there's an outside chance at best that even one of them earns something beyond a straight AHL contract. Maybe they like Tootoo's toughness — he popped Mike Kostka pretty good, albeit away from the puck and a little bit blindside — enough to give him a two-way deal, but the rest of these guys are bums. Kaberle and Fedotenko spent last season in Europe, and Komisarek was exposed so badly on three of New York's four goals. These guys are being brought in primarily as warm bodies, and people who pay money to watch preseason games (the season ticket holders/fools!) are essentially being cheated a little bit out of seeing actual NHL talent.

Now, with that having been said, the Devils had nine other guys who met the veteran requirement in the lineup for that exhibition game, likely because it was the first on the schedule, and only as far away as Madison Square Garden. All but two of them were even good enough to actually qualify as non-sideshow acts (the exception being Cam Janssen, and Tim Sestito technically doesn't qualify because he only had 86 games of NHL experience).

But you can bet that number is going to be whittled down significantly as the season approaches, especially because the team has three exhibitions between Thursday and Sunday. Those games, only one of which is in Newark, will likely begin to feature crews that look more and more like AHL games as time goes on, and you can bet that those tryout players will feature more heavily in them than not. As it is, Tootoo got 13-plus minutes for Pete DeBoer's club, which is nearly twice as much as his average TOI in 11 games with Detroit last season. So you see the issue at hand.

Another reason why this has become so prevalent is explained below.

(Not ranked this week: Injuries.

So many, so soon. Pavel Datsyuk picked up a knock already — which might rank as the most predictable thing to happen yet this postseason — and so has Claude Giroux. Jonathan Drouin could be out a month. Kimmo Timonen. Nathan Horton. Josh Harding. Derek Stepan. Jordan Staal. And so on.

You never want to see guys get hurt, of course, and you can't blame teams for being as cautious as possible with them. But there has to be a reasonable balance, somewhere, maybe, between players on one-way contracts getting hurt in the preseason — whether it's a drill or a doesn't-count game — and the farces to which exhibition game rosters typically devolve.)