[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.]
5. The Rangers' decision-making
Pretty strange to see Glen Sather's decision on Derick Brassard over the weekend.
The market these days is one of growth and so his getting $5 million isn't in and of itself shocking. He's a decent driver of possession and put up 45 points last season. In today's NHL, that's maybe worth about $5 million. In theory. If it can be sustained.
And so the fact that the Rangers seemed willing to enter into a one-year deal with Brassard as of last week was wholly reasonable. He has never been a legitimate No. 2 center before, and auditioning him, even if it's for $4.95 million — the award Brassard sought in arbitration — or less, at that kind of money seemed like a no-brainer. That the arbitrator would have almost certainly come down at a more affordable number for the 2014-15 season would have been a bonus.
What doesn't make a lot of sense is giving him more than that dollar figure not only for next season, but the four following that. Curious.
Again, Brassard has never been a No. 2 center on an ostensibly good team before. He's never faced the tougher competition that Brad Richards did last season. It's not nearly as hard to succeed when you're not being asked to put in the hardest minutes. Stands to reason. So that one season that Brassard just put up was probably worth $5 million, given the market. But what guarantee do the Rangers have that he's worth that going forward? His scoring rates have dropped in each of the last four seasons — it was ninth on the team last year, behind Richards and Ryan Callahan — and that should be a considerable cause for concern.
The obvious argument is that if Brassard improves in the No. 2 role from what he did as the No. 3, then $5 million might end up being a bargain. He turns 27 in September, though, and that doesn't exactly portend an increase in output.
But even beyond the fact that they're committing $25 million to a No. 3 center who had a borderline-No. 2 center output last season — all while letting actual good players on the team go in free agency — there's also the fact that the Rangers are committing an awful lot of money to what is shaping up to be a not-very-good team, and one that's going to be right up against the cap. They have $1.33 million left to spend, and only John Moore to re-sign. He'll come in below that number, but not by much more than that.
In terms of what they're paying guys, the Rangers are pretty top-heavy. Six guys are making more than $4.5 million each, and those guys include Dan Boyle (bad contract), Dan Girardi (awful contract) and Brassard (potentially bad contract). Rick Nash, Marty St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh? You pay those guys what they want. But the rest of this roster is makeshift. It's easy to have faith in Alain Vigneault because he's an excellent coach, but most of this roster doesn't look like it has any business being in the “best teams in the East” conversation.
No one, by the way, was happier with that Brassard contract than Derek Stepan. He is much better than Brassard, and when he saw his teammate pull $5 million for no readily apparent reason, he had to know he was about to pull in the neighborhood of $7 million plus. That doesn't yet create a cap crunch for the Rangers next season, probably, but it's further fuel for the potential fire if things go sideways for this team any time soon.
The Rangers just put a whole lot of eggs into what could already be a declining basket. That's definitely good news for the rest of the division.
4. Eric Staal
It was reported this week that Eric Staal picked up a knock in his offseason training, but would be ready to go before the season starts.
The problem is that with his new coach watching him like a hawk and ready to be all over him if he doesn't play well, it seems that any setback, however minor, will be a bad one. What people forget about Staal is that he gets paid $200,000 less per season than Sidney Crosby, and so when people say “His worst season since the 2004-05 lockout still saw him score three-quarters of a point per game,” that discounts the fact that 0.77 points a night isn't a great value at $8.5 million.
The good news is that he's not so far removed from his huge lockout-shortened season, and he was actually pretty unlucky for much of last year. People point to his one power play goal as a curiosity, as well they should, but they need to also keep in mind that there's something much more concerning about it.
It's pretty easy to write off one goal on the power play over 79 games as a fluke. Especially when said player averages in the double digits. But he scored that one goal on just 37 shots in 243 minutes of power play time, tied for 86th in the league despite his being 50th in power play TOI. Andrej Sekera took one more than that in 53 fewer minutes of power play time. Will his shooting percentage rebound? Of course it will. But even still, the last time Staal broke 10 power play goals in a season was 2010-11, when he had 12, and that was his lowest total in four years at that point. Over the last three seasons, he has just nine goals on 119 shots at 5-on-4.
That simply isn't good enough, and if he wants to have any damn success on the power play, he's going to need to up his shot rate considerably.
3. Bargain hunting
Daniel Winnik is one of those guys who waits around for weeks after July 1 just about every year, and then ends up signing super-cheap and super-short, hoping to once again prove that he's worth having on the roster. The longest contract he's ever received at the NHL level was his entry-level deal, and when he signed with Toronto earlier this week, he took a pay cut of half a million dollars from what he earned in Anaheim last season.
What's interesting about Winnik is that he's seemingly never going to score a lot of goals. His career shooting percentage is 5.9 percent. For most guys, you could expect a big rebound following any season in which that kind of number was posted. Not for Winnik, who seems a perennial 25-30 point player. But what he's done well over the course of his career is put up solid possession numbers against third-line competition.
All that combined may not sound like much — it sounds like it's worth about $1.5 million — but it's important to have. The Maple Leafs now have three players who are more or less like this on their roster, meaning that their forward depth might actually be good this year. Between Winnik, David Booth and Mike Santorelli, the Leafs now have what could and probably should be a third line that gets the puck into the other team's end and basically gives the team a little breathing room while Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk catch their breath. All that for a combined $3.9 million is a pretty great deal.
And speaking of potentially very solid deals, the Blues signed Peter Mueller yesterday on a two-way deal that essentially costs them nothing. Mueller spent last season playing very well in the Swiss A League, but has led an injury-plagued and disappointing NHL career to this point. Just 297 games played over six seasons, and not one with more than 43 since 2009-10. When he was healthy, he could be effective.
There's obviously no guarantee Mueller does much at all this season, but given that the Blues can just stuff him in the minors if he pancakes on his re-entry to North American hockey, any contribution at all helps add depth to a team that didn't need all that much. Very shrew move from St. Louis.
And seriously, someone needs to sign Dustin Penner already.
2. Being mad at James Reimer
(And now we enter the “Guys who remain unfairly maligned for things that were well beyond just their control” suite of this week's Puck Daddy Power Rankings.)
The Maple Leafs signed, ahem, backup goaltender James Reimer last week to a two-year deal that keeps him at just $2.3 million against the cap. They did this because Reimer is a solid goaltender; his .914 career save percentage is right in line with the league average since he started.
However, the news of this roster decision by the Maple Leafs — and nerdboy Kyle Dubas!!! — was galling to many in the wise Toronto Media because Reimer, a) wasn't as good as Jonathan Bernier last season, and b) blew Game 7 against the Bruins two seasons ago.
Meanwhile, the Leafs fired all their awful assistant coaches and canned two awful assistant general managers. But keeping Reimer around, these prognosticators said, was surely a sign that the franchise had gone to the dogs: Evidence that the calculator crowd was steering the ship into the rocks.
Can you imagine how dumb you'd have to be to think a backup who can post a league-average save percentage and still costs considerably less than the starter who's signed to what looks very much like a deeply discounted contract is in any way detrimental? Can you imagine how disingenuous you'd have to be to say that Reimer was less valuable to the team than some demonstrably bad assistants? Can you imagine how myopic you'd have to be to think that one playoff game two seasons ago should be the defining moment in the career of a 26-year-old goaltender who put up a .924 save percentage that season?
James Reimer is good, and now that the Leafs appear to be actually well-run, it seems they'll also keep him around for a while here. Having two good goalies signed for $5.2 million seems, to me, to actually be a good thing.
1. Still acting like Alex Ovechkin is a problem
How many times do you think we have to have this exact conversation: “But the revolution won't amount to much without Ovechkin's buy-in to playing an effective two-way game.”
Ovechkin leads the league in goals two years in a row, the rest of the team was so bad both coach and GM were fired, and still it's on the future Hall of Famer to turn his game around. We tried this before. Ovechkin posted a plus-45 and 50 goals in 72 games in 2009-10. The next season, he was told he had to be more “defensively responsible” and scored 32 in 78 but went plus-24.
Which was more valuable to the Caps, do you think? Oh right, plus-minus is a bad stat. Unless it's useful to my unsubstantiated case that Ovechkin is a lazy bum. In which case go right ahead and use it.
I'm going to scream.
(Not ranked this week: The Subban/Stanley Cup controversy.
You guys realize that guys who win the Cup let their idiot friends drink out of it all the time, right? Dogs have eaten out of it. One time, a baby pooped in it. Let's stop acting like consuming things out of the Stanley Cup is some sacred thing that only True Champions can do.)
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