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(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
5 – The offseason
I don’t know if you nice folks caught it over the weekend, but the KHL started its preseason. Can you believe it? It’s not even July and hockey’s already back. Sorta. I mean, it’s only the KHL, but still! Hockey is back! It’s been a long five weeks but I can breathe easy now.
Give me all the Barys Astana games!!!
4 – These Olympics, man
Last week it came out the AHL is going to let AHLers who aren’t on two-way NHL contracts go play in the Olympics and represent their countries and all that stuff. I don’t know if we were supposed to be surprised by that but okay, sure.
The caliber of player on AHL-only deals is, uhh, not very good. Even AHL lifers are often on two-way deals that just pay them a bunch of money for playing at the AHL level.
Chris Mueller, for example, was way up there on the AHL’s scoring list last season, and has 53 NHL games to his name at age 31. You wouldn’t mistake him for an NHLer. Is Mueller a good player? Sure he is. He’s much better than the vast majority of even professional hockey players in the world. But also, even though he’s an AHL player, he’s technically on a two-way deal. That means, no Chris Mueller in the Olympics.
I know we all got a chance to get very excited about “alternative schedules” for the NHL and all that, but that was never a likely outcome, was it? Did people think an unsourced Russian outlet’s take on this was in any way definitive? I know Tyler Dellow had a nice little writeup about why it was technically possible that the theory was correct, I have to say I didn’t believe it for a second.
While it’s never a good idea to take Gary Bettman at his word, but his whole “I don’t know how much clearer I can be that the NHL isn’t going to the Olympics” thing over the past few months felt extremely genuine.
Like, these Olympics are going to be fascinating just because of all the non-NHL machinations that have to take place — and hell, Willie Desjardins is coaching Canada for reasons I can’t possibly fathom — but one thing I can tell you for sure is the hockey isn’t exactly going to be high-level.
Time to give up on that.
3 – Politicking
Here’s Brian MacLellan, who lost young, solid-middle-pairing guy Nate Schmidt for nothing while holding on to a very bad defenseman in Brooks Orpik, saying actually it’s perfectly good that he did this: “We like Schmidt, but it’s not as huge a deal as people are making it out to be.”
I mean technically that is a very true statement. Again, Schmidt scans as a solid middle-pairing guy and while he might have a little more to reveal about his potential, this isn’t what’s going to make or break the Capitals’ chances next season.
Now, as for MacLellan’s whole strategy of how to add useful veterans over the past few years — overpay them and worry about the consequences later — well, that is what’s breaking the Capitals’ chances next season.
So yeah MacLellan is right about the overreaction to losing Nate Schmidt, but he’s very wrong about how this whole mess reveals the problems he’s brought on himself. It’s about what you value, right? And saying “Well we can afford to lose Nate Schmidt” shows that while that’s technically true, also you have to kinda dance around the subject a bit to really say what does and doesn’t matter.
2 – Mika Zibanejad
I think I probably like Mika Zibanejad more than a lot of people in the hockey media. He was a great replacement for Derick Brassard insofar as he was younger, cheaper, and slightly better.
But I really do wonder about this contract. Not so much because I don’t think he’s not-worth-it, but more because I wonder if it leads to poisoned perceptions of him. Five years and a $5.35 million AAV ain’t bad for a player of his caliber, but he’s a year away from being the highest-paid forward on the Rangers and this is a Rangers team that’s probably not going to be very good in the near future.
So the thing for Zibanejad is: “How much is being a scapegoat worth?”
I think he’s probably a high-end No. 2 center in the league overall, maybe a low-end No. 1. That’s what Derek Stepan is, for the record, so he’s not a bad replacement. But having two of those guys is a huge advantage over having only one.
So when Zibanejad, who didn’t exactly draw the tough assignments last season, is drawing the tough assignments in 2017-18 and beyond, what’s that look like for the Rangers? I don’t know, but I have a feeling it’s going to lead to a lot of Ranger fans — uninformed though they may be — saying actually it’s his fault the Rangers are bad now.
It probably won’t be, but that never stopped anyone.
1 – Evgeni Malkin
It’s very good that a Russian news outlet said Evgeni Malkin is the best Russian NHLer of all-time.
They’re right. I love Evgeni Malkin. What a player!
(Not ranked this week: Not signing Jagr.
It is now getting a little silly. Officially. Jaromir Jagr is skating with a Czech club for now, but every suggestion is that NHL teams are shortchanging him. This is easily — EASILY — a $4 million player in terms of the value he delivers, but he’s probably going to make much shorter money than that if he comes back to the league.
And it’s to teams’ detriment, quite frankly. The number of teams that could use a good-in-the-room, lovable future Hall of Famer who’s still a top-30 player at his position, and just happens to be a workout freak that makes young players in particular better? It’s at roughly 31. This is one of those things where you literally can’t make an argument against him, apart from his age, and even then, that whole discussion should have been settled some time ago; he doesn’t break down as the season goes on, which is because of that whole “workout freak” thing.
So sign Jagr. You honestly won’t regret it at all.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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