Minnesota Wild, angry coaches and Maple Leafs (Puck Daddy Countdown)
(Ed. Note: The column formerly known as the Puck Daddy Power Rankings. Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
8. Outdoor games
Wow, finally an outdoor game with Chicago. Finally an outdoor game with Philadelphia. Finally an outdoor game with Pittsburgh. It's been more than a year since we saw all of these teams play outdoors and so it's really nice to see them rewarded again.
7. The Wild
Boy oh boy. Where to begin with these guys?
What's most amazing here is that no one seems to have seen this coming. They're a decent team with some good players on the roster. But if they don't get Devan-Dubnyk-last-year goaltending (.936 after the trade) they don't make the playoffs then, either. This year, Dubnyk has merely been a little above average, at .918, and so suddenly giving up an extra half-goal a game becomes a major issue when it comes to winning and losing.
“Wow we don't have any elite offensive players!” is not something that should be occurring to people in the Twin Cities just now. Zach Parise is really good, but not someone who can throw a whole team on his back offensively. Mikko Koivu has 35 points and that leads the team this year! What did people expect?
They're a sub-50 possession team that doesn't have anything close to game-breaking offensive talent. They're also in by far the toughest division in hockey. Did anyone really think scratching Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek was going to wake them up? They're fine middle-of-the-lineup guys but they're not going to carry you offensively and expecting them to do so is ridiculous.
Here's the problem: Parise makes more than $7.5 million against the cap. Koivu is at $6.75 million. Vanek is at $6.5 million. Jason Pominville is at $5.6 million. Yeah I wonder why they can't score too.
You can write an article like this but it's been true since Marian Gaborik left town 35 years ago. This team is a weird mix of good players on bad deals and there's no real light at the end of the tunnel. The earliest those four above-mentioned big-money deals ends is after next season. Pominville is signed through 2019(!) and Parise's situation is overhanging a lot here.
Which makes the Wild's apparent refusal to give up either Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter to trade for Jo Drouin so very, very strange. Are you desperate for goal-scoring or not?
That they were in playoff contention this long — and they entered last night's games only three points out with three in hand on Colorado — is kind of amazing if you think about it.
6. Taking the news well
Over the last week, we've seen both Joel Quenneville and Patrick Roy absolutely lose it over disallowed goals and overturned reviews. Who wore it better?
Quenneville got himself a bench minor for this little performance:
Or Roy, who couldn't believe there was no goaltender interference, and also got a bench minor?
For me, I like the Quenneville flip-out more, but you have to say that this is one area where baseball has it all over hockey. Who wouldn't love to see Roy throwing down his hat and kicking dirt on the ref after that call? Plus getting himself tossed from the game might do the Avs a world of good.
5. Andrew Ladd
For a long time now, it has seemed like the Winnipeg Jets were going to choose either Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien as the veteran to re-sign. On Monday, the Jets made their decision known, announcing a nice deal for Byfuglien, and making it very, very likely that Ladd gets traded.
The most recent rumors connected Ladd to Florida, which in terms of climate and team quality is an insane upgrade. Plus you get to meet Jaromir Jagr. Can't beat that. But he could just as easily not-be traded there, and then who knows where all this goes?
And at the same time, one wonder what this does for Ladd's value in the open market this summer. He's a pending UFA and probably looking for one last long-term, big-money contract. He already has a Cup in his back pocket, so he doesn't have to take short money to go to a contender if finances are the bigger concern here.
But the uncertainty probably isn't much fun, which is an under-considered issue in the sports world. He almost certainly knows he'll be traded, as does his wife. That also impacts his kids. And then they have to pack up and move everything in summer.
There's still a chance — albeit a vanishingly small one — that the Jets keep him, at least for the remainder of the season. But that would be very foolish on Kevin Cheveldayoff's part.
But hey, at least he gets away from these people.
4. The Maple Leafs
On Feb. 26, 2015, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded David Clarkson and every penny of his cap hit to Columbus for a guy they would LTIR forever. On July 1, 2015, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Phil Kessel and 85 percent of his salary for some mediocre NHLers and good prospects. Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Dion Phaneuf with no salary retained for an LTIR guy, a guy buried in the minors, and a bad defenseman whose contract is expiring at the end of next season.
That's more than $20 million of bad contracts for many years cleared in about 340 days, for the cost of the guys they're bringing back on soon-expiring deals and only $1.2 million retained for the richest team in hockey. Pretty incredible turnaround.
Sure the Leafs have to deal with some not-great players for a short while, but the cap savings is out of control, and there are ideas floating around that they still might trade Jared Cowen if they can find a buyer. Wouldn't that be something?
The trade is a total win already, especially because they're trying to be bad right now. That it might only get better is unconscionable.
But man, are they still going to be tough to watch for the next year-plus. Nice to have hope, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
3. Amanda Kessel
Such great and surprising news that she's back. Arguably has the talent the greatest women's hockey player ever.
She's nowhere back near her top quality, either, and had a pair of assists in a three-point weekend against No. 8 North Dakota.
2. Big Buff
I think you might start to see more contracts like this. Byfuglien is one of the league's 10 best defenseman or so, but he's also rounded the bend into his 30s and he cannot realistically expect to get six, seven, or eight years any more.
Unless he's, say, Erik Karlsson, he's not likely to be able to dictate that he gets huge money and huge term simultaneously. Teams wisely — and finally — want to avoid term for older players and you can see why; when a guy hits a wall he hits it hard. That's especially true of big, physical defensemen with offensive upside.
So everyone wins here, I think. But Byfuglien has the benefit of setting the market for every defenseman transaction going forward. NHL insiders had been saying for a week that a decision on Byfuglien would get the whole trade market moving, and it looks like that's the case.
For this all hockey fans owe Byfuglien a huge debt of gratitude. February was going to be real boring otherwise.
1. Sidney Crosby
Crosby entered Monday night 10th in the league in points. He closed it fifth. He was 24th in scoring at the All-Star break. He was 86th in mid-December.
In his last 11 games, during which he has 22 points overall, and 14 at full strength, his personal shooting percentage is 28.6(!!!!!!). His on-ice shooting percentage is 15.4. His team has scored 27 times, and been scored on just 10.
This is absurd.
And just to show it's not all smoke and mirrors, his team has the puck 63.8 percent of the time when he's on the ice in that stretch. He could be second in scoring by the end of the week.
(Not ranked this week: Drew Doughty.
He should treat Twitter like he treats top spots on Norris ballots: Stay off forever.)
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.)