Puck Daddy Countdown: Norris race already controversial

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The hockey media seems obsessed with keeping the Norris Trophy away from <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/4491/" data-ylk="slk:Erik Karlsson">Erik Karlsson</a> at all costs. (Getty Images)
The hockey media seems obsessed with keeping the Norris Trophy away from Erik Karlsson at all costs. (Getty Images)

6. Marc Bergevin

I talked about this briefly in WWL the other day, but what’s happening in Montreal is bananas.

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This team is legitimately going to try to rebuild? And somehow Marc Bergevin thinks he’s gonna get to be in charge of all that? This guy traded a young, elite defenseman who’s signed long-term for an older, worse, more expensive defenseman who is also signed long-term. He just signed his goalie, who can’t stay healthy, to a $10.5 million AAV through his age-39 season (and P.S. that contract hasn’t even kicked in yet).

He just traded a high-ceiling teenage defenseman to a division rival for a slightly older Francophone forward that also got a nice big, long-term contract, and who’s been fine but not great so far this season. And everyone  and their mom knows the promising young forward the team has booted around the bottom of the lineup for the entirety of the last two years is and has been one misstep away from getting traded for a bag of pucks.

So now the Montreal media is coming for the guy Bergevin apparently chose over P.K. Subban to be the captain of the team and is trying to stir up rumors of difficulties in Carey Price’s marriage (what a city, honestly). They couldn’t possibly come for anyone else on this roster since they’re all the kind of “Heart And Soul Guys Who Also Happen To Be Not That Good” the team and media have been pining for forever.

This is therefore probably not the guy you want rebuilding the team from the ground up, considering he’s been GM for six years and is for sure the reason the roster is as troubled as it now seems to be. Right?

Well not so fast, buddy! You’re forgetting Bergevin also sucks at drafting and developing talent! And that’s the whole point of rebuilding. Bergevin was hired before the 2012 draft, so even if we’re being generous and saying he was the brains behind that one (when they took Alex Galchenyuk), only eight players Montreal selected with 39 picks across six drafts have played more than 10 games at the NHL level.

And really, who’s the best one besides Galchenyuk? Michael McCarron? You’d really hope not, but that seems to be where we are.

So your ol’ buddy Marc Bergevin isn’t having a good month. Or year. Or run as GM. Sorry, pal.

5. “Thank god”

Speaking of which, there wasn’t a lot of context to be had around it, but there was a quote from GM meetings last weekend where Dale Tallon, whose team entered Tuesday night tied for 29th in the league and on pace for 66 points this season, that was just too good to ignore.


Undeniable that the Computer Boys made some mistakes but “thank god I’m back” is such a great takeaway. This guy is awful as a GM now. He gave away two top-six forwards for nothing this summer (budget constraints!), is shocked that he has exactly one line, and the latest rumors say he’s interested in Erik Gudbranson, who’s not even a higher-end defenseman on the Canucks.

Man, I hope he keeps the job forever. He’s really bad at it, but in a fun way I like.

4. Any GM with a half-decent defenseman to spare right now

How many teams feel like they’re gonna need a defender who can skate backwards in the next week or two? If U.S. Thanksgiving is the traditional demarcation point at which teams start feeling like they need to make a trade, guess what Thursday is, folks.

If I were a GM — and I’d be great at it! — with a spare defenseman I want to get off the roster, I’d be calling Peter Chiarelli every hour on the hour to say, “Hey Pete, just checking in if you want to get something done here.” My man has to be desperate, especially since he probably doesn’t understand scoring is his real and actual problem. So yeah, you wanna give me a second-round pick and a decent prospect for this guy who’s not that good? Sure. Hell, I’ll even retain a million bucks, how’s that sound?

Of course, this doesn’t apply to George McPhee, who doesn’t have a half-decent defenseman to spare despite taking about 40 defensemen in the expansion draft.

3. Ken Hitchcock

Damn, did you see what good ol’ Hitch had to say on Tuesday about why the team is up-front about guys’ injuries? It’s terribly good and cool, as a take:

This all started with some NFL injury list nonsense, and probably when Bill Belichick started saying Tom Brady was “questionable” every week with an undefined injury of some kind. That’s when it felt like “upper-body injury” crept into the sports nomenclature, and now everyone does it.

But in the end it’s just like the stuff about, “Per team policy, terms of the contract are not disclosed.” And then two minutes later Bob McKenzie or Elliotte Friedman have it on Twitter and everyone moves on with their days.

2. Clayton Keller

My little buddy is doing so good! Everyone has decided this.

Is he gonna shoot 15 percent all year? Probably he is! Is he gonna continue racking up all these assists despite the fact the has no real help? Probably!

I am an extreme believer in Keller’s talent; I loved his game in college and it doesn’t seem to have changed in any appreciable way during this transition to the NHL. But people who are freaking out about his Calder candidacy seem like they’re getting way ahead of themselves.

It’s 20 games. Rookies hit walls constantly. Especially when they’re still teenagers. So, y’know, it’s a nice start and everything, but he’s not quite locked in here, right? Right.

1. Alex Pietrangelo

And speaking of anointing guys with awards they don’t really deserve in mid-November, how about the goobers at NHL.com who think Alex freakin’ Pietrangelo is the frontrunner for the Norris this season.

The basis for this claim, reflected in not only the NHL.com feature about Pietrangelo being the guy but also in a Michael Traikos column a few weeks ago, basically reflects the “We will contort ourselves into any possible shape to say someone other than Erik Karlsson deserves it” stance of the Canadian media writ large. So here’s the reasonining:

Two weeks into the season, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues was the top scoring defenseman in the NHL. … Seven weeks into the season, Pietrangelo remains first among defensemen with seven goals, and his 19 points are tied for first with John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.”

My dudes, you gotta be friggin kidding. First of all, if we’re gonna say this guy deserves it because a defense-first defender suddenly started scoring, why are we not even mentioning Erik Karlsson, who’s averaging 1.2 points per game and is two points back of Pietrangelo and Klingberg despite playing seven fewer games?

Karlsson, to be fair, got six first-place votes out of the 18 geniuses polled, and Pietrangelo is sitting on nine. The other first-place-vote-getters are Victor Hedman (two) and Drew Doughty (one). These are your Jill Stein/Gary Johnson voters, for sure; wackos throwing their votes away for lost causes and effectively sealing it for the guy who shouldn’t win under any circumstances.

Let me put things to you this way: If offense is the basis on which we’re now judging Norris qualifications, you dirtbags retroactively owe Karlsson about three more Norrises. And if it’s not, then what are we talking about? Because Karlsson, by dint of dragging his weak-ass team to a Conference Final last season, was supposed to have finally passed the “plays defense” test already. And he’s still scoring at a literal “the same points per game as Connor McDavid when he was broadly considered the only real MVP candidate” rate.

Let’s just call this what it is: Karlsson is so far ahead of the curve that the people who vote on these kinds of things have to come up with reasons why-not for him, and find some Good Ontario Boy to give it to instead. It would be boring otherwise. “Oh look, Karlsson just won his sixth consecutive Norris.” But buddy I gotta tell ya, he probably deserves all of them.

A case can certainly be made. But it won’t be, because Karlsson is from somewhere that isn’t North America, so being probably the third-best defenseman of all time isn’t going to move the needle for these people. It’s a case of people trying to outsmart themselves, and they’re not that good at it.

You really think Alex Pietrangelo is the best defenseman in the league because he’s shooting almost double his career average? Consult a brain doctor ASAP.

(Not ranked this week: Nothing.

I love you all and I hope you have a great and relaxing long weekend!!!!!)

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

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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