What We Learned: GMs face long summers after wasting top talent

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/6743/" data-ylk="slk:Connor McDavid">Connor McDavid</a>’s contract extension kicks in this summer. (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Connor McDavid’s contract extension kicks in this summer. (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Two players are on a lot of people’s minds right now, and both of them are going to miss the playoffs.

The first is Connor McDavid, who picked up three points in an OT loss against Anaheim Sunday night to run his season total to a league-leading 99. With five games left, it is almost assured he will clear the century mark for the second straight season.

The second is John Tavares who is likewise running at more than a point a game while his team flounders, but who appears certain to at least test free agency once the summer rolls around.

Both are interesting for the same reason: Apart from the insipid “value” discussion about the MVP vote, they are avatars of big problems both their GMs have long fomented. Peter Chiarelli and Garth Snow have been unable to effectively build successful teams around two of the, what, six best centers alive?

The executives’ approaches to this kind of futility have been very different, however. Edmonton almost certainly had the goods to be competitive when McDavid first came aboard. Chiarelli has traded away all the wing depth the team now desperately, desperately lacks in pursuit of help on defense, and made a few ill-advised free agent decisions to hamstring himself going forward.

Snow, meanwhile, has failed to build any sort of cogent depth up front or on the back end, and for a former goalie, one would think evaluating goaltending quality would be something of a skill. However, he seems to totally lack it.

What some people might not understand is how difficult it is to waste point-a-game seasons by not making the playoffs. Since the start of the salary cap era, 133 guys have played at least 75 games and scored at least a point a game before this season. Only 29 missed the playoffs, and the vast majority of those guys were on teams that shared common traits: Their teams were either just starting or in the middle of rebuilds (think early-cap-era Pens or Avs), they were in small markets with tiny budgets (think mid-2000s Tampa or Carolina), or they were on the Thrashers.

This year, it looks as though five names will be added to the list of point-a-game scorers whose teams missed the playoffs anyway: Tavares and Mat Barzal from the Islanders, McDavid from the Oilers and Johnny Gaudreau from the Flames are the locks here. There’s also the fact that either Sasha Barkov from the Panthers or Taylor Hall from the Devils will be on the outs, because only one of them can make it.

Meanwhile, it’s technically true that Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, as well as Anze Kopitar, could fall short as well, but their teams seem to be in at least pretty good shape at the bottom of a tight Western Conference playoff race.

The difference between Gaudreau (whose team I talked about at length on Saturday) and the McDavid/Tavares situations is a subtle but important one. I don’t think it takes much work to pull out of the Flames’ problems; they have depth and potential goaltending issues, sure, but there’s a lot of talent to work with. They have a lot of answers to their problems — Gaudreau, Monahan, the 3Ms, Hamilton, Giordano — locked up long term.

With the Oilers and especially the Islanders, the future is a lot less sunny even if things start to go right soon. McDavid’s big contract kicks in this summer and brings the team to nearly as much cap obligations with just 16 players signed as they have right now with a roster of 25. They also have to re-sign Darnell Nurse, who has been something of a bright spot in this lost season as well.

More problematically, they have a bunch of guys who don’t help much sticking around for a good, long time on rich contracts. The good news is that they will have plenty of money to spend — as much as $20 million this summer — but the bad news is they’re probably going to let Chiarelli be the one to spend it. Not that there are a ton of attractive free agents hitting the market this summer, but how likely is Chiarelli to pursue an Evander Kane (who’s demonstrably good at scoring when he has help) instead of a James van Riemsdyk (who’s also good but is two years older and shooting about 600 percent this year?)

The thing Chiarelli, and a lot of other hockey people, seem to have missed as the Oilers traded Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and some important draft picks is the narrative that McDavid himself is a selling point. If they can use him to sell Milan Lucic on coming to Edmonton, why would they not have been able to do that with players who actually help over the next four or five or even six years, rather than, in Lucic’s case, two tops?

Obviously the pitch to a Kane or van Riemsdyk this summer would be “We’ll put you on McDavid’s line.” But would any single addition be enough to fix this team’s problems? One imagines the answer is “probably not.”

The Islanders’ issue, of course, is that one of the high-end free agents hitting the market this summer might be Tavares. The organization is a mess. They didn’t have a rink until a few months ago, and even then it’s gonna take them a few years to actually build it. The team stinks and might actually be in a worse position than the Oilers just in terms of long-term cap commitments; it’s paying a combined 11.85 million to Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Josh Bailey for another THREE years. Yes, Bailey looks good next to Tavares and Anders Lee, but if Tavares leaves…

Snow’s love of throwing long-term deals at guys who either help nominally or not at all is well-established, but he’s had almost nine months to get the same done for Tavares and can’t make it happen. Maybe this becomes a Stamkos thing, where he comes back at the last minute anyway, but if he doesn’t, this is suddenly a team with very little to look forward to.

Much like the Oilers with McDavid, any success the Islanders have had this season has run through Tavares and Eberle. The latter is eligible to re-sign on July 1. Think he stays if Taraves goes?

To get to this point with one generational talent and one that’s pretty damn close, Chiarelli and Snow have had to screw up big-time. Their missteps are well-documented and numerous. They’ve utterly wasted all of McDavid’s ELC and all of Tavares’ sweetheart deal. How either gets to stick around to make more decisions after this is beyond me.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson has quietly been very good pretty much all year. Can’t recall any “down” stretches for him, performance-wise. Like maybe two bad games in a row or something happened at some point, but I don’t remember it at all.

Arizona Coyotes: How are there new lottery odds AGAIN this year? Pick a number and stick to it!

Boston Bruins: It’s honestly getting to the point where the Bruins were down 2-0 to the Stars on Friday and you had to be like, “They got this.” Then they did have it! And everyone’s still hurt. Remarkable.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres’ problems have little to do with “accountability” and everything to do with “they have very little talent.”

Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan is done for the season, which I guess doesn’t really matter, but also it’s still not good to make a guy play through two separate injuries.

Carolina Hurricanes: Ah, congrats on winning three of the last four. Very important.

Chicago Blackhawks: Hey, they’re gonna sign Dylan Sikura after all. He’s elite at the college level, but I’m interested to see how his game translates to pro hockey. Not sure he’s an NHLer right away.

Colorado Avalanche: This was a big, big W for the Avs, and guess which line led the way with a combined 15(!) shots.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Well they finally lost, but do you wanna play ’em in the first round?

Dallas Stars: Yeah I mean if you start worrying about scoreboard watching, you’re already in trouble. And well, I guess Dallas is in trouble, right?

Detroit Red Wings: Anthony Mantha wants to be like James van Riemsdyk and I bet that’s double-true once he sees what JVR gets this summer.

Edmonton Oilers: I’ll tell ya this, too: Jamie Benn also won the Art Ross for a team that missed the playoffs recently, but it wasn’t as big of a deal because there’s a difference between leading the league with less than 90 points and doing it with 100-plus.

Florida Panthers: It’s a literal crime that the Devils and Panthers don’t play each other before the end of the season. You know this race is gonna come down to a shootout on the last day of the season.

Los Angeles Kings: Losing to the Oilers, not great. However, I just looked and the Kings have one road game left on the schedule now. I’m feeling good about their chances.

Minnesota Wild: Ah yes, Jason Zucker, the 30-goal scorer we all know and love.

Montreal Canadiens: You really don’t want to be the subject of headlines like this.

Nashville Predators: It’s Tolvanen time!!

New Jersey Devils: The Devs have beaten the Lightning three times this year? Huh.

New York Islanders: Next summer it’s just gonna be Mat Barzal wandering around like the guy in the Twilight Zone episode where he breaks his glasses at the end.

New York Rangers: Oh, uh, congrats?

Ottawa Senators: Matt Duchene would be making a pretty big mistake to re-sign in Ottawa. At least wait to see what they get for Karlsson!

Philadelphia Flyers: Seems to me that it’s pretty bad if you can’t regularly beat the team in the same state as you. Because, y’know, you probably gotta play ’em in the playoffs and stuff.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Given how this team started, the fact they’re even in the conversation for 100 points on the season is bonkers.

San Jose Sharks: That Kane pickup has worked out pretty well. Not, like, morally though.

St. Louis Blues: Gotta give these guys a ton of credit for hanging around after even their GM bailed on them.

Tampa Bay Lightning: What goes on with this team, man?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Can’t say the Leafs aren’t deep, but it’s easy to look good against the Red Wings.

Vancouver Canucks: These Canucks? Sluggish? No way!

Vegas Golden Knights: They have points in their last four, but only two regulation wins in the last six. And those were against Vancouver and Calgary. I dunno.

Washington Capitals: If all you’re doing is whaling on bad teams, that’s still pretty good.

Winnipeg Jets: Yeah I also love to punch my friends in the face.

Play of the Weekend

Jake Allen, not bad!

Gold Star Award

I was at college hockey games all weekend and I loved it!!!

Minus of the Weekend

If the Kings miss the playoffs and the Blues make it, after all this? That’s ugly.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Ola” wants to make some changes.

Trade 1: NYR trades Boston or Tampa’s 1st round pick in 2019, Sean Day and Ryan Gropp to CALGARY for Travis Hamonic

Trade 2: NYR trades Travis Hamonic, Ryan Spooner and a 2nd round pick in 2019 to WINNIPEG for Jacob Trouba

Signoff

I see. You know, these hamburgers are quite similar to the ones they have at Krusty Burger.

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

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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