Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Struggling Habs, hot starts, historical duos

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How will McDavid and Matthews stack up to Crosby and Ovechkin when all is said and done? (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
How will McDavid and Matthews stack up to Crosby and Ovechkin when all is said and done? (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

It has been quite the opening week in the NHL.

The Golden Knights are 3-0 and actually playing pretty well given their talent level. The Leafs are obliterating a lot of teams and having fun doing it. The Habs are horrible because they can’t score. A lot of guys have a crazy number of points already. A lot of rookies are playing very well.

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But with only a handful of games played for even the busiest teams, that leaves a lot of questions to be answered. People sent them to me, and I am contractually obligated to answer several of the best ones.

So let’s go:

Vazken asks via email: “I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan, should I settle in for a long season or will we turn it around?”

Well, the question for this team was always going to be, “Who scores the goals?” Right now, the answer is, “Basically no one.”

Which is, for the most part, not that big of a deal. You’d like the points, certainly, but if your whole team is shooting 2.6 percent through four games while dramatically outshooting the competition (they average a shot differential of nearly plus-10), you shouldn’t be sweating it too much.

Put another way: How many times over the course of the year do we suppose the Canadiens take 155 shots and only score four goals, while also allowing 13 goals on 118 shots? We know the talent level of this team, and we know how good the coach is. They brought in a good number of new players this summer and this is the first full season of the Habs playing in the Claude Julien system, so we might have expected some growing pains.

But it’s not permanent. I still think this is one of the best on-paper teams in the East and while there’s been a too-slow start, the good news is they’ve played less than 5 percent of the season. If they’re still struggling with this in November, I guess that’s a different story.

James asks: “Why is Vegas not making use of LTIR for Grabbo & Clarkson? That space would allow them to take a bad contract and pick for a D, no?”

This is a simple one to answer but I can see why people would be confused. The team’s CapFriendly page tells the story of “why” fairly well here.

You don’t get the cap benefit of LTIR until you exceed the cap and right now Vegas has almost $6.6 million in cap space. And that’s with Vadim Shipachyov buried in the AHL. So there’s just no point in LTIRing them. In theory, the Knights could take on a huge percentage of the contracts in the league (only 43 players have contracts with AAVs of more than $6.5 million) and still not exceed the cap.

LTIRing them also wouldn’t knock those players off their 50-contract limit, not that Vegas has to worry about that, either. As an expansion team with a limited farm system, they only have 42 guys signed.

The only thing, therefore, preventing Vegas from trading one or more of their too-many defensemen is that no one else wants to make those transactions. Given the quality of those defenders, it’s hard to blame them.

Matt asks: “Is there anyone off to a hot start (define that however you want) that you think can keep the pace up for most, or all, of the season?”

I think it’s fair to say that, by definition, hot starts are unsustainable. Anyone who’s scoring more than a point a game is unlikely to do so for the whole season unless we’re talking about Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or maybe one or two other guys.

When it comes to goaltending, though, that’s always going to be more sustainable. Ahead of Wednesday night’s games, the top-10 goalies in the league in save percentage were all north of .950, which obviously no one will do over 60 appearances or whatever the number ends up being.

But if we’re talking about Sergei Bobrovsky — who’s currently .985 — being a top goalie at the end of the year, or Corey Crawford or Semyon Varlamov finishing somewhere in the top five in save percentage, I think that’s feasible. All have shown on more than one occasion that they’re perfectly capable of posting above-average save percentages (though Varlamov was awful last season in just 24 games).

Other than that, I can see a guy like Evgeni Kuznetsov, Patrick Kane, Mark Scheifele, Steven Stamkos, Auston Matthews, et al keeping up their production if they stay healthy. Not at the two-points-a-game rate, obviously, but the fact is that elite offensive talents tend to stay at the top of the stats leaderboard, while guys like Brayden Point (seven points) or Mike Green (six) will surely fade.

On a related note:

Neil asks: “How long does it take to know that a rookie is for real? Flashy early season numbers from Bratt, Milano, DeBrincat and Butcher won’t all last.”

The thing I would say here is that anyone’s season starts to look real convincing the closer you get to 50 or 60 games. That goes for teams or players.

Lots of players can have 10, 20, even 40 games where they play well above their normal performance level. Maybe not rookies, but it happens. Barret Jackman won a Calder once. All things are possible.

Likewise, how many teams have been the Colorado Avalanche of a few years ago and had 60-something great games despite poor underlying numbers and then absolutely gone in the ditch from mid-February on?

When you’re like two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the season, time and math just catch up with you. At some point, almost everyone hits a wall in their rookie years, but when you’re only looking at goals and assists, if you’ve banked 50 games of high performance, that’s going to look real good for you at the end of the season no matter how much you drop off in the final 30.

Having said that, I think there’s a chance DeBrincat in particular (at least of the guys you mentioned) keeps up a high scoring rate. His junior numbers are obscene and the quality of guys he’ll be able to play with — especially if given power play time — is pretty high.

Zoe asks: “With the great news of the NWHL-Devils partnership, how can fans encourage other NHL teams to create similar deals?”

This is going to sound like a joke but I’m dead serious: Write to them about it. Not just on Twitter and not just via email, but write an actual physical letter and put it in the mail. Someone whose job it is to read it and forward it to the proper parties will have to read it and send it to the proper parties.

I still think the whole “professional women’s hockey” thing needs to get its own house in order and just merge the leagues, and many people privately acknowledge that will have to happen. That would probably help get everyone on the same page in terms of potentially pushing a partnership forward. There’s no reason on earth for NHL not to help out financially and commercially in much the same way the NBA supports the WNBA.

But with that having been said, there’s also no reason individual teams shouldn’t be making partnerships with their respective city’s NWHL or CWHL teams. The good news is there’s now a template in place. Someone has to be first and, this being the NHL, not everyone wants to be first. But now that the Devils took the step, the odds that other teams get involved just went up significantly. That, in turn, probably pushes the league as a whole to do it.

Jim asks: “Who will be historically remembered as better: Ovi and Sid or McDavid and Matthews?”

Hooooo buddy this is a great question.

Ovechkin and Crosby are both in the conversation for top-10 of all time at a minimum. I think Crosby is irrefutably top-five (I put it Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Hasek, Crosby), and Ovechkin is closer to 10th (albeit probably the best ever in goal-scoring), so it’s hard to top.

But there are two caveats here: First, Matthews is still a bit of an unknown in terms of what his ceiling is, though I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t have the profile of one of the all-time greats. If he ends up being top-50, that’s incredible.

Second, Crosby and Ovechkin are both solidly cemented as elite all-time players because they did what they’ve done for so long. With Matthews and McDavid we’re projecting.

Crosby is the best player of his era, bar none. But he is very much a player of his era; low center of gravity, overwhelmingly skilled in tight spaces, etc. He’s suited to the kind of hockey played post-2005 NHL better than anyone.

But here’s what I think works in the younger guys’ favor: McDavid might legitimately be the best hockey player of all time. It’s hard to say for sure, but the way he moves with and without the puck, and specifically the way he pushes the puck ahead of himself when he’s at full speed so he doesn’t have to slow down (like a soccer player does) could fundamentally change the way the sport is played.

This gives him an Orr- or Gretzky-like talent. If the thing you do is unique and you’re so incredibly good at it that you’re effectively breaking the sport, that puts you in an entirely different class. He really is that good.

So with all that said, give me the Crosby/Ovechkin pair over McDavid/Matthews, but also give me McDavid over Crosby.

Adam asks: “Does it bother you how the clock continued to run during a penalty shot in “Lisa on Ice”?

Yes but The Hollywood Elites (i.e. LIE-berals) seem to have a very loose grasp of the rules of hockey in particular. Watch any Mighty Ducks movie. Hell, in the first one, young Gordon Bombay misses that penalty shot during running time as well. Plus, Duane totally would have gotten a game misconduct, and not just a two-minute minor, for roping.

Sometimes when you’re a hockey fan, you have to accept this patina of nonsense. It’s so rare anyone pays attention to the sport. Are you really gonna Neil-de-Grasse-Tyson “Well actually, the curvature of the earth and force of gravity dictates that …” about it? Nah.

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


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