Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: The Atlantic, Penguins playoff odds and racism in hockey

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/3737/" data-ylk="slk:Sidney Crosby">Sidney Crosby</a> and the Penguins could use a little puck luck. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins could use a little puck luck. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Hockey has been a little all-over-the-map for the past week. Teams are coming out of the Christmas break, the world juniors are still ongoing and Olympic talk is beginning to heat up.

But mostly people are focused on doom and gloom — not what I’d recommend for starting a new year off right! — and have a lot of questions about teams that are out of it, guys who aren’t getting enough ice time and weird Olympic selections. There’s also a good question about racism in hockey.

Take a look with me now:

Zoe asks: “What’s next for Minnesota, given the aging core and lack of success this season?”

This isn’t a Detroit situation where everything is bad and there’s not really a lot that can be done about it any time soon.

But it might be close.

The Wild have more than $51.3 million in cap space committed to 10 current NHLers three years from now, and of that group, only Jonas Brodin (who they don’t even want that much anymore!) is under 25.

I don’t know how you sort that out without getting rid of good players on favorable contracts, or if Minnesota would want to do that. I’m not sure there’s a good answer on this, period. I said it a few years ago but the Wild spent a lot of money on second-tier stars, and that’s not the kind of thing that will usually result in serious contention.

Is the answer here to blow it up? Probably. But that’s a long, slow, painful process and I’m not sure you can do it with all these cap commitments no one else is going to want to take on.

Matt asks: “Do you think anything changes in the Atlantic or are playoffs/no playoffs pretty much set for the Bad Division?”

Yeah no everything seems pretty hammered into place here. Boston and Toronto will continue to jockey for position for the right to play the other one with an extra home game in the first round of the playoffs, but Tampa has a 10-point lead on the Bruins and Toronto has a nine-point lead on Florida, so I’m calling it.

There’s not a lot to break down here. This division stinks and both it and the Pacific are basically going to be the argument going forward for why three-teams-make-it divisional playoffs shouldn’t exist.

99 asks: “Explain why Alain Vigneault needs to play Pavel Buchnevich more.”

This is not a question.

I’ve seen a fair bit of complaining that the Rangers don’t score a lot, but they’re in the top-10 in goals per game, so I don’t see that being a major issue for them. (They’re also top-10 in goals against per game. They should be higher in the standings.)

Anyway, to your point, Buchnevich is third among Rangers forwards with 400-plus minutes at 5-on-5 in goals per 60 when he’s on the ice, but ninth in time on ice. He also has the best CF%, SF%, GF%, SCF% and HDSCF%. It’s easy to see why you’d want to get that guy more ice time.

With that having been said, this also means a lot of his minutes are coming against guys farther down the lineup, who are easier to push around if you’re a high-skill player. If he gets more ice time, he would probably still succeed, but the likelihood is that it would be at a lower level. He’s also second on the team in power-play minutes, so Vigneault clearly recognizes his value there.

I’d give him more 5-on-5 time for sure, but it might not be wise to throw him directly into the fire, because then if he doesn’t play well, people will send me questions like, “Why is Vigeneault playing Buchnevich so much?”

Benson asks via email: “As someone who’s been told I ‘was beaten at Pearl Harbour’ (I’m Chinese-Canadian) at NHL games I’ve attended, what are some simple moves that the NHL can make to encourage a more inclusive environment around the NHL?”

The problem is that anti-racism campaigns that say “Don’t be racist though!” don’t seem to work as intended.

And not that I, as a white guy, should have the best answer for this, but I honestly think it starts at the grassroots level and with more outreach from the gatekeepers of the sport.

Hockey is not accessible to a lot of people of color because it is incredibly expensive to play. Bringing down costs — such as by having local pro or junior teams subsidize ice time or equipment for youth hockey — is vital to making sure everyone gets a chance to play this great sport. Youth hockey should also be played cross-ice for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it lets twice or three times as many kids get a game in simultaneously, significantly reducing the cost per player.

And once you get more players of color in the sport, people will at least be slightly less likely to consider this a White Man’s Game (which it predominantly will still be, of course). When you live in more diverse areas, you are less likely to feel animus; a Stanford study found that even brief interactions with people of other races and cultures led to less prejudice.

There is, unfortunately, always going to be racism in any subsection of society. Look at the racial politics of football and the kinds of comments that sport’s fans have been making in the past year about kneeling during the anthem, despite the vast majority of players in that league being black. But if you can increase participation and just get people used to the idea that hockey is indeed for everyone, things could get better.

It’s a long process, but it’s one that needs to be undertaken starting today.

Andrew asks: “Will the Pens PDO regress or are they cooked?”

I think the answer to both your questions is probably “yes.”

As I said in the Countdown yesterday, the Pens need to play at about a 100-point pace for the rest of the year to make it. Their PDO right now is the worst in the league by a wide margin, due to both bad shooting luck and awful goaltending. They have the personnel to turn both of those issues around pretty quickly.

They’re also top-10 in a lot of underlying numbers, and that’s good too.

But the door is closing fast. If they don’t turn the PDO stuff around, like, this week, their opportunity to get things sorted out gets ever thinner. At this point, it’s going to be very difficult for them to make the playoffs, especially in that division. Related to the above question about the Atlantic: If the Pens weren’t in the Metro, this would be an entirely different story.

Gabby asks: “To what do you attribute Dustin Brown’s resurgence this season? No more Darryl Sutter? Playing on Kopitar’s wing most of the year? A soft division?”

I think he’s playing well, first and foremost, under a new coach. You wouldn’t have thought an effort to make the Kings play faster would result in Dustin Brown of all people improving, but here we are. Kopitar having a big rebound year has a lot to do with it as well.

But also, it’s worth noting Brown isn’t exactly shooting a lot more than he has been. In fact, his 5-on-5 shooting rate is down by 1.08 per 60. His shooting percentage in all situations has nearly doubled and is up more than three times what it was in 2015-16.

It seems to me this is a combination of playing well and getting lucky, but you gotta play well to be lucky, so there you have it.

Tony asks: “What am I to make of Olympian Jordan Greenway’s NHL prospects? People rave about his size and skill combo, but isn’t scoring just 22 goals in 95 NCAA games a bit concerning?”

Greenway has improved a lot over his three years at BU, but not to the extent I think anyone would have expected or liked. He still doesn’t shoot the puck enough for my liking and while he’s around the net a lot, it’s not resulting in a ton of points. He’s at 17 in 19 games, which isn’t really that strong for a guy who’s supposed to be a top-end prospect.

I thought he might be a borderline Hobey guy this season, but the fact that he probably isn’t going to get anywhere close to 20 goals — in part because he’ll probably miss a month for the Olympics — should be a major point of concern for both the Terriers and the Wild, who drafted Greenway and are likely to sign him this summer.

As I said in the Countdown, I don’t get the selection here when there are other guys who have had better careers and seasons whom I would have taken over Greenway despite his size. Adam Gaudette at Northeastern has 25 points in 18 games, shoots the puck roughly the same amount, and has 50 goals in 96 career NCAA games. He’s also size-y at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds.

So yeah, I don’t get it.

And to continue the suite of college hockey questions…

Jen asks: “Hobey Baker race as of now.”

Jen this is also not a question. In the future, everyone, please submit your questions in the form of a question.

Anyway, I like another Olympian, Ryan Donato, who has 12 goals and 20 points in 12 games for Harvard. I like Dylan Sikura at Northeastern, who has 9-13-22 in 15. Jake Evnas at Notre Dame probably deserves a look, as does Henrik Borgstrom at Denver.

But right now — and this is likely to change as the season goes on because I doubt he can keep it up — Jake Kielly at Clarkson has a .948 save percentage and has played almost every second of hockey for the Golden Knights to this point. It’s almost impossible for goalies to win the Hobey, but if he keeps up this level of play (let’s say, if he ends the season around .940) and still plays this many minutes, I think you gotta give it to him.

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

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.

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