The days immediately after Christmas are the time for soul-searching.
If U.S. Thanksgiving is the time when we really need to start looking at the standings and coming to terms with the fact that probably 14 of those 16 teams are basically playoff locks at that point, then Dec. 27 is the time for teams to really get introspective.
“Where are we at? Where are we hopefully going? What do we need to get there?”
The fact is, if you’re not in a playoff spot now, or at most like four points out of one, you can probably hang a for-sale sign around most of your valuable players’ necks as long as they’re on contracts that expire this summer or, maybe, next.
So hey, it turns out a lot of people have questions about that sort of thing. We’re mostly looking to the future, folks. And hey, there’s only like three and a half more months of the regular season to go, which tells you plenty about how many games are actually necessary in this league.
Anyway, off we go:
Ryan asks: “Do you think the Flames will trade Backlund if they don’t improve? What kinda money will he be looking for?”
The Flames are, as of this writing, only one point out of the wild card with a game in hand, so let’s not give up on them just yet. The teams ahead of them are…. not very good.
But let’s say they get to the deadline and they’re not particularly close. I can’t imagine a scenario in which trading Backlund becomes advisable. The Flames have one truly notable contract expiring this summer besides Backlund’s, and that’s Matt Stajan’s. You can give basically all that money to Backlund for all anyone should care. Plus, the cap is likely to go up by like $5 million. Therefore, the idea that you’d break up the 3M line is crazy.
Backlund is probably worth at least $5 million and I’d err more on the side of $6 million for five or six years. That’s really not that much from the $3.575 million he makes now, and he’s a bargain. He probably won’t keep up the scoring forever since he’ll be 29 in March, but his is a skill set that probably doesn’t erode as much with age. The value you get out of that line almost can’t be overstated.
You just don’t trade guys like this while you’re still Going For It.
Chris asks: “Will Parise actually help the Wild when he returns, or are they so far gone it wont matter?”
Another guy asked about which of Minnesota, Dallas, and Chicago is most likely to miss the playoffs, and I mean, check the standings.
Dallas is still in a playoff spot right now, four points ahead of Chicago and Minnesota. They’ve played two and one more game, respectively, than those other teams. It’ll be a dogfight for most of the rest of the season, but I like the talent levels on Dallas and Chicago more so than I do Minnesota’s. It’ll be a close, and Minnesota certainly isn’t “so far gone” but does Parise move the needle that much coming off this long injury? I’m dubious.
Rebecca asks: “As far as international hockey tournaments go, would you rather watch World Juniors or the Olympics? Does your answer change if the NHL let their players go to the Olympics?”
This year the answer is definitely the WJC and it’s not close, but obviously I’d rather watch six or seven NHL All-Star teams play international-rules hockey like they give a crap than a bunch of teenagers, many of whom are from countries where they haven’t learned how to skate backwards.
I’ve said it before, but the World Junior format needs to change, because there’s such a huge gap between Canada, the US, Sweden, and (in any given year) either Russia or Finland, and the rest of the world. Denmark made the tournament and lost 9-0 to a US team that stopped trying after the first intermission. Belarus might not even be a country anymore.
It would be great to see a Big Five tournament or something, maybe let the Swiss, Czechs, or Slovaks in every once in a while or something. But I really can’t get too excited for World Junior until the medal round because there’s just such a talent gap.
Not that there isn’t one in the Olympics — I fear what NHLers would have done to the South Korea team — but it’s not as bad as it is in World Junior.
C.G. asks: “Where will Rasmus Dahlin stack up among Swedish D when he’s all done?”
It’s a little tough to say because I’m not really old enough to know what kind of level, like, Borje Salming was operating on. But I know from really good Swedish defensemen from, say, the mid-1990s to today. I think Lidstrom and Karlsson are probably two of the three best defensemen to play the position regardless of nationality.
It’s tough to project Dahlin could play at that level, but he might be close to it. If he ends up “only” being Victor Hedman, man, that’s a great player, huh? And maybe that’s the baseline. Him, maybe Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Hampus Lindholm.
Let’s say the ceiling is somewhere a little south of Nos. 5 and 65, but wide open after that. If you’re the third-best player from your country to ever do something, that sounds nice.
Zachary asks via email: “Why are some bad teams like Detroit and Vancouver so reluctant to blow it up and rebuild?”
I think the answer usually boils down to ownership, generally speaking. How many owners are willing to knowingly say, “Yeah we’re gonna be really f’in bad for the next three years,” knowing that probably means a lot less revenue during that time? Probably not many, even if it’s probably the best thing for the franchise.
Tough to say that’s what’s going on in Detroit, for sure, but that’s almost certainly the edict in Vancouver, where the owner is more vocally opposed to a full strip-down rebuild because he thinks people won’t show up. (Of course, they’re not showing up now when the team is directionless, but I’m that’s…. someone else’s fault.) That effort for the Canucks is further muddied by the idea that the Sedins would have to have been traded and that playing elsewhere is and should be seen as gross.
Detroit probably has a good bit of that Loyalty problem as well, with Henrik Zetterberg, for instance. But also, if you want to do a tear-down rebuild, you have to have people who will help you with that tear-down, and who on Detroit has a movable contract? It’s not a big number of guys.
Lowetide asks: “What current NCAA college player, either free agent or drafted, who you would rank as the most productive ‘plug-and-play’ NHL option at this time?”
I’ll give you three, two drafted and one a UFA.
The two guys I think are probably most pro-ready draftees right now are Avs No. 4 pick in 2017 Cale Makar, a defenseman at UMass Amherst, and Florida first-rounder from 2016, Henrik Borgstrom out of Denver. Both are putting up very good numbers, both scoring and underlying (Makar would have more points if the rest of his team weren’t pretty bad) and will absolutely be signing NHL contracts in the spring.
As for the UFAs, gimme Daniel Brickley at Minnesota-State. He’s a very good defenseman who’s already WCHA player of the year last season and is on track to finish his degree in just three years. He’ll be 23 in March, which is a bit old, but he’s big, he can skate, and he’s scoring almost a point a game for the second straight season.
Sam asks: “Do gritty checking lines have any real value in today’s speed game, or do they mostly exist because high-end talent is spread that thin across the NHL?”
Certainly people think they have more value than they do, but there are guys who are very effective players despite not putting up a ton of points. Until he started scoring a bunch with the 3Ms, I would have put Backlund in that mix.
But this is the age of — and I hate to say this kind of thing — the two-way forward. If you’re not insanely effective at putting the puck in the net to the extent that defense isn’t really a concern for you, you have to be able to put up at least 30 points and carry 50-plus underlyings to be any sort of useful.
But to your point, high-end talent is too spread-out over 31 teams (soon to be 32) to employ only those types of players exclusively, so guys who have very clear deficiencies in their games will continue to get work for some time to come. At least until some Analytics-First team wins a Cup with the kinds of guys Dale Tallon gives away almost for free every summer, the ones who don’t pass the eye test every single game but are always 52 CF% players with 14 goals.