Putrid Pacific, Penguins' moves and softening the bench (Wednesday Countdown)

Putrid Pacific, Penguins' moves and softening the bench (Wednesday Countdown)

(Ed. Note: The column formerly known as the Puck Daddy Power Rankings.)

7. The Pacific Division

Well, you can't say it's not competitive.

The Kings lost on Monday night but still sat comfortably atop the league's worst division since the Southeast, with 40 points from 30 games.

The next-closest team in the division was......... oh god, it was still Arizona, wasn't it? It was. Good lord. The Coyotes have 30 points in 30 games, nominally tied with the 30-from-31 — and streaking — Oilers. But just to give you an idea of what a disaster the Pacific is, the team tied for second in the division was only three points above last place in the seven-team conference.

And five above 30th in the entire NHL.

No joke, the Avalanche entered Tuesday's games seven points out of a playoff spot. If they were in the Pacific, they'd be ahead of both Calgary and Anaheim.

This is literally what everyone was talking about when they said, “Oh wow, this divisional playoff idea is a really stupid one because it guarantees bad teams entrance to the postseason.” For the second year in a row, some garbage-fire 84-point team is gonna finish in the top three in that division and get to play an even worse 82-point team and then go, “Yes well we got to the second round,” while leaving out the “...and then got f'n humiliated by the one actual good team in the Pacific.”

What do you think the “Divisional Final” series in this one lasts, like four games? Five at the most?

Let's put it this way: That division is so bad the Oilers are in a playoff spot. No further questions.

6. Compensatory picks

They get nixed and, what, a week later the first coach gets fired? Crazy coincidence, I'm sure.

The thing with this rule was that it was good in theory but bad in actual practice, and I think a lot of that has to do with the infrequency with which these issues were arising. Not many coaches get fired every year, and while a good coach can certainly be worth well above what a third-round pick is likely to produce in terms of impact at the NHL level, teams were still reticent to give up that third just to bring in someone else.

The NHL doesn't really have a lot of new ideas about who would be a good coach too often. The Columbus hire of John Tortorella, who flamed out spectacularly in Vancouver and doesn't appear to have many good plans for the Blue Jackets either, highlights this perfectly. If anything, Tortorella probably provides negative value to your team over the long haul, so you're better off keeping the pick, and fair enough. Promote from within, as the Penguins just did, and you don't have this problem.

Part of it, too, probably relates back to the idea that this kind of benefits cash-rich teams to the disadvantage of bad ones. Toronto had floated the idea that they could simply just hire whomever they liked as a coach at either the NHL or AHL level — money being no object for the Leafs — and then farm those guys out for compensatory picks when other teams fired their coaches. Given the wealth disparity in the league, this probably wasn't a popular idea either.

But mostly, I think people were probably mad about the rule because they didn't understand it. “But he got fired!” doesn't mean he's out of contract. No one would have had anything to say if “fired” NHL coaches were put to work in the front office or down on the farm team. In the same way that if you send a player to the AHL a team that wants to trade for him has to give up something for him, the compensatory pick rule placed value on someone other than players.

And for that it had to be killed.

5. Mike Johnston

Speaking of fired coaches, boy could you ever see this one coming down the pike basically the second Pittsburgh hired him.

And really, that's not to say it's Johnston's fault. I think he probably did as well as anyone could have in his situation. But he was the second Pens coach fired in a pretty short period of time for the same problem: The roster sucks.

With Dan Bylsma — who's now making decent hay in Buffalo — the problem was bottom-six forward depth. The Pens could go out and push anyone around with Crosby and Malkin, but then get cudgeled in the one-third of the game during which neither of those players were on the ice. There was a decent blue line there, but nothing to write home about. And Marc-Andre Fleury would be fine in the regular season then have a sinkhole open up underneath him the second the playoffs started. These aren't controversial opinions. They are commonly held.

Now with Johnston, the problem is not only bottom-six forward depth, but also GM Jim Rutherford made the defense ludicrously young and stripped it of anyone besides Kris Letang who can actually get the puck up the ice. And also Crosby has been pretty bad this year. That doesn't help either.

Anyway, at least in firing Johnston, Rutherford recognized that his roster wasn't very good, which is why he made...

4. Our first trade

It's been a while, but I think we can safely call this the first “lose-lose” trade in recent memory.

Okay, like Trevor Daley is on a bad contract regardless of what you think of his play, but here's what Chicago thinks of his play: They'd prefer to have Rob Scuderi. Pretty damning indictment, all things considered.

But hey, just to help out, Rutherford not only took Daley off their hands, but he also ate a third of Scuderi's salary. Haha, come on. You can't make this stuff up, folks! Ostensibly he made this trade because he wants a puck-mover, but I don't know where you get off thinking Daley moves the puck here in 2015. Pretty easy to appear as though you're moving the puck when the last two teams you played for featured guys like Jason Spezza and Patrick Kane on their second lines, but in terms of Daley's actual personal ability, I think this trade tells you everything you need to know about where it's at. (It's at “non-existent.”)

Now, shedding a bunch of salary and taking back a similarly not-good defenseman might seem like a win for your ol' buddy Stan Bowman, but consider that he just acquired Daley this summer. For Patrick Sharp and decent prospect Stephen Johns. Yeah, your return on that now is Ryan Garbutt, a third of a season of Daley, and another year and a half of Scuderi (albeit at two-thirds of the price).

It's all working out great.

3. No more fighting

Monday night featured three separate fights. That is exceptionally rare these days, and raised the number of fights seen in the league this year close to triple digits.

The fight card for Monday? Zac Rinaldo v. Matt Hendricks, Nick Bonino v. Taylor Chorney, and Ryan Callahan v. Scott Hartnell.

Two very different types of fights represented here, at least in theory: You have the third-liner standing up for his teammates against a guy who can't play in Hendricks and Bonino, and that's dumb. But you also have talented players fighting a talented player fight. Except, of course, that Hartnell is still pretty decent (50th in points so far this season!) and Callahan is pretty bad.

And if this is what hockey in fighting becomes — that is, guys who can play squaring off against guys who can't — then that's pretty dumb. Maybe if you're a fighting-supporter you think it's better than nothing, but at least when it was two morons whaling on each other it didn't really impact the game's outcome.

Fighting is bad in the NHL and I'm not sorry to say it. If you think it's actually good and cool, really, and I'm a dweeb and a nerd, that's fine but please keep in mind that Romans thought letting a guy with a wooden sword fight a lion was also good and cool. The days when Bobby Orr, the best player on the planet, would fight someone have long since vanished and it became a bloodsport between people whose job was to beat each other up exclusively.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT SHAWN THORNTON?” Shawn Thornton always sucked. His career high in goals was 10. Who cares?

Fighting is leaving the game naturally and no one under the age of 35 is going to miss it after like two years.

Then a decade later, kids coming into the league will be like, “Wait, Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara used to fight fourth liners? Why?” No one will have a good answer.

Accountability, firing up the team, etc. is all going to ring hollow. And it should. Because it is extremely hollow.

2. Beach-softening

Crazy that the negotiating positions of the Jets' three big free agents got leaked here in December. Crazier still that they are all more than what most fans would think is a rational payout. Further crazy that one of the players' agents already came out and said the numbers aren't in any way accurate, at least in the case of his client.

Hey, did anyone mention the Jets are a budget team with some tough decisions to make?

Let's assume for a second those numbers for Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and Jacob Trouba are correct. Apart from the Trouba demands — and hey, his agent is the one that immediately denied the report — those numbers don't seem like outrageous “opening offers” from the players' camps.

But what they sure do in the meantime is get all the fans fearful of losing valuable contributors all worked up because of opening-gambit demands getting published in the local newspaper already given to some serious fanboyism. And then they get to say, “Lousy Byfuglien! So selfish!” or whatever and then when that guy eventually leaves for less money or term than was originally published, all the fans say, “Ugh he should have stayed what a jerk!”

All the while, they aren't thinking to themselves, “Jeez why didn't the Jets and their billionaire owner pony up that money?” And that's a Big Ol' W for the franchise.

At least one of these players is going to walk, maybe two. The only one for whom I'd bet any significant amount of money on his staying is Trouba, who's only an RFA and will get the same kind of deal Roman Josi and T.J. Brodie got at the end of the day: Middle-long term, and somewhere between $4-5 million.

This leak is just preparing everyone in Winnipeg for that inevitability.

It's not that they don't have the cap space, it's that they don't have the will to fill it with contracts for all the players they need to be truly competitive in that division.

And the less the fans think about that, the better.

1. Here come the Oilers

They entered last night winners of six straight and they're so fun to watch and Connor McDavid isn't even back yet. I love this team. Playoffs, baby!

(Not ranked this week: Whatever the hell this garbage is.

Nice to see someone finally write the “See Patrick Kane is a good person because he is scoring a lot of points” column that the hockey media was previously only writing in the subtext for weeks now.)

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

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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