Happy (almost) December, folks. We’re just weeks away from the Christmas trade freeze, which of course means we’re slightly less than just a few weeks away from someone making a hilarious panic trade.
As has been the theme of this season, things aren’t going the way anyone expected, and at this point it’s starting to be one of those things where people are saying, “Look, that was funny for a month or two but knock it off!”
So a lot of the questions this week continue in the same vein of: “What’s up with ________?” And I think these are all valid questions. When so much unexpected stuff is happening on a regular basis, two months into the season, what other reaction are you going to have?
Dan asks: “Are the Wild Actually Bad or are they being sunk by injuries/luck?”
Injuries have certainly been an issue for the Wild. Zach Parise’s is the most notable (he hasn’t played all season), but Mikael Granlund missed games, Nino Niedereitter missed games, and maybe one or two other guys I’m forgetting.
And this was a team I was really high on coming into the season. Liked the moves the made this summer (they’re one of the “smart” teams in the league), like the roster they brought back besides, love the coach, etc. But for whatever reason, the results and the process just hasn’t been there.
Last year they were a not-great possession team: ranked 20th at about 49.3 percent. This year, they are a terrible possession team: ranked 28th at 46.9 percent. I’m not sure just injuries to some key players is the reason for a 3-percent drop.
The team is shooting 10 percent still, which is basically a hallmark of Bruce Boudreau hockey, but the goaltending hasn’t been nearly as good as it was before, and that’s going to cost you points for sure. I don’t know if that’s a luck thing, but it probably comes out in the wash a bit either way since they’re still putting the puck in the net at a high rate.
I’m not sure what the answer is here, other than: I think the defense is pretty bad. Ryan Suter is slowing down a little, finally (though he’s still been pretty good), and Jared Spurgeon remains under-appreciated. But remember how they allegedly spent years trying to get Jonas Brodin off the roster via trade? Yeah, he’s their No. 3 defenseman and having an awful season. Matt Dumba hasn’t really panned out, either, and he’s their No. 4. Both have corsi-for numbers around 44 percent. Which is a very bad number, and can totally sink your team if they’re the middle pairing!
Meanwhile, their third pairing is, like, fine, but nothing to write home about. Which, hey, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Solo asks: “Who’s going to make a bad trade first: Chiarelli, Bergevin, or John Chayka?”
Chiarelli. You know that. Come on, bud.
Did you see that presser Tuesday? My man was talking like he was in a hostage video.
Dap asks: “I know there’s (a lot of) luck involved, but do you think Will Butcher could possibly maintain some semblance of this point production in the future?”
I mean, he’s a perfectly good defenseman, but he’s shooting 8 percent (and 10 percent at 5-on-5) and his teammates are shooting even better than that.
And this is a guy who scored a decent amount in college and that’s part of his game, etc. etc. But we all know that a 22-year-old rookie defenseman isn’t good enough to score like this forever. The underlying numbers aren’t great, but his current PDO at full strength is 106. This isn’t going to last.
With that said, though, he’s a better defenseman than I think most people would have expected. Not me. I knew he was good.
One thing I will note, though, is that this isn’t going to do anything to help slow down the hype train on the next big college free agent. Will Butcher is making everyone forget Jimmy Vesey, though to be fair, so is Jimmy Vesey.
Matt asks: “Is there any merit to ‘Trotz lost the room’ or would firing him be insanely dumb?”
I’m not in the Caps room, obviously, but as with any other “This coach lost the room” chatter, I would imagine the answer is no.
Like, didn’t we all understand going into the season that the Caps wouldn’t be as good as they were last year? And here we are, with them being good but not great and certainly not the best team in the league, and that’s with having suffered through the long-term absence of Matt Niskanen, who’s certainly their best defenseman.
Firing Trotz would obviously be dumb because who are you gonna get instead? Michel Therrien? Ohhhh, maybe Dale Hunter!
Zod asks: “If you were a 14-year-old today what route would you want to take to the NHL? Junior hockey, NCAA, or Euro leagues?”
This is a question that gets asked a lot and I was just talking with someone about it the other day. If you’re very clearly one of the five or 10 best forwards in your age group globally at around 14, like, say, Brady Tkachuk, I think it’s wise to pursue junior hockey. You start playing elite players — some already on NHL contracts — at a young age and will probably be put in a position to fill the net.
If you’re not in that elite-elite forward group — unless you’re a generational talent like Jack Eichel, who can punch his ticket anywhere he likes — I think it’s probably wise to go to the USHL then college, because that gives you more time to develop against USHL players who are also very good, and then when you get to college (you can even accelerate so you’re playing NCAA in your draft year) you’re playing against guys that are as old as 25. Take the extra year or two (or hell, three) and see where that gets you with the team that drafted you. Generally speaking, I think guys who play three years of college and come out at age 21 are more NHL-ready than similar players who play two years of junior and one in the AHL. I’d rather have the three years against the older players than just the one.
If you’re an elite defenseman, though, I think college is the answer regardless. You get way more time in the weight room, four practices a week, etc., and while being a forward is more about scoring instinct, being a defenseman is about learning the game. You get a lot more time to learn the game in college. Especially if you play out east, where most schools are just a few hours away at most.
(And on that note, some kids just aren’t good students and don’t like school, and that’s fine. They shouldn’t go to college regardless of how good they are.)
As far as the Euro thing, you basically have to be European to play in those leagues at age 14, or indeed any time before your 18th birthday. And even then, most Euro leagues wouldn’t take you because you have to be better than the veteran international player they bring in. I wrote a few summers ago about how rare it is for someone to follow the Matthews model here.
R asks: “The Oilers and Sens swap McDavid for Karlsson. Which team is more likely to win a Cup next season?”
It’s a close one but I think you gotta go with the Senators. If you take McDavid off the Oilers, who is gonna score enough goals? Karlsson drives your offense, no doubt, but not to the extent McDavid does. They already can’t score, so what happens when he goes away?
On the other hand, while Ottawa’s defense becomes a disaster without Karlsson, McDavid playing with guys like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman would be, I think, very very good for him. Even if you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket with that one line, they start doing a lot of damage. Especially because I like Derick Brassard a lot better as a No. 2 center and JG Pageau at No. 3.
With that having been said, though, both these teams would still be pretty bad and very unlikely to win a Cup.
Hoy asks, “If you could do a fantasy draft in the NHL, who would be your top five players to build your team around currently?”
There are a lot of guys who are probably just a little too old to really give you a lot of success for “building” going forward — your Crosbys, Malkins, etc. — but these guys are mostly around their prime ages, or just under them, and that’s a good position to be in. But look, all these guys are elite players at their positions and given their ages, will be for years to come.
I also didn’t pick any goalies, though I briefly considered Andrei Vasilevskiy, because I wouldn’t want to gamble on a position like that. It’s the same reason you don’t draft a goalie in the first round, right?
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.
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