(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – The Shipachyov situation
Vadim Shipachyov signed with the Vegas Golden Knights before the expansion draft last summer and likely had dreams of NHL glory.
After all, he’d been an elite point producer in the KHL for years, and if we knew just one thing about the Golden Knights roster even before the expansion draft, it was that they would need guys who could put the puck in the net.
So it makes a lot of sense that Shipachyov … is still technically assigned to the AHL. Of course, he hasn’t actually played a game there, because he’s still in Las Vegas with his wife, who doesn’t speak English. But the fact that he’s not playing and in fact not working out with the team has him pissed off enough that his agent is already looking for an out so Shipachyov can get back to the KHL and play in the Olympics.
And you’ll never guess why this very good player is sitting on a roster other than the Golden Knights’: It’s because George McPhee drafted too many defensemen in the expansion draft and they all stink so no one wants to trade for any of them.
How do you box yourself out of having an elite offensive talent in the lineup for the first three games of the season because you’re trying to decide if Griffin Reinhart or Jon Merrill is your eighth-best defenseman? I mean, that’s amazing, honestly. Someone should be sued for malpractice here.
It’s one of those things where you can almost see what they’re thinking once they explain it to you. So McPhee explained it all thusly: They have a lot of questions about their D-corps and Shipachyov, along with Alex Tuch, another promising NHLer, don’t have to clear waivers. And McPhee says they’ll get Shipachyov et al back in the lineup ASAP, but you have to say, “How did you let it come to this?” Like, do you really care if you lose Brad Hunt on waivers? If someone claims him. Which they won’t.
6 – This whole handling of Vegas overall
But screwing things up seems to be par for the course with this Vegas club already.
Let’s have a look at all the ways the NHL has tried to capture that local enthusiasm we’ve heard so much about:
a) It took an 11th-hour deal just to get their games on TV in the local market, which is one of those things you’d have thought would have been sorted out, oh, I don’t know, before they even officially announced the team would exist.
b) Even though the season began on Wednesday, their first game was on Friday.
c) That first game was in Dallas.
d) That first game started at 5:30 p.m., Vegas time.
e) Their second game was against the Arizona Coyotes.
f) That second game was in Glendale.
g) Their first home game was last night.
h) That first home game was against the Arizona Coyotes.
This is not one of those things where you can even remotely see what they’re thinking, no matter how much explaining is done. It’s amazing.
Any competent sports league in the world has the home opener start at a reasonable hour in one of the season-opening games on Wednesday against a “name” team that Vegas should also be favored to beat, like a Detroit.
This was a free lunch, so of course the NHL picked up the ladle from the boiling cauldron of minestrone soup, promptly fell face first through the table and had the soup spill all over the seat of its pants.
5 – Drawing conclusions
Easy to get excited by that Vegas start, though, eh?
They began 2-0 and James Neal is boosting his trade value with every passing game. But let’s not let looks get too deceiving: This is still a bad team and they gave up 46 shots on goal to Dallas in their inaugural game. (Of course they also pounded Arizona for 42 of their own, but y’know.)
Point is, there’s a really small window at the start of every season where you can just throw out everything you’ve seen. Three weeks, maybe. Give or take.
But by the time you get to the first week of November or so, you’re basically seeing what the playoff races are going to look like four months later.
We are, however, still firmly entrenched in that three-week stretch. And everything you need to know about how telling the results over the last week are likely to come in the form of the standings through the end of Monday’s games: New Jersey and Detroit were both undefeated, and the Devils — with a paucity of offensive talent on the roster — were averaging five goals a game. Hell, the Avalanche are 2-1-0! C’mon man!
4 – The Jets
So this whole Steve Mason thing doesn’t seem to be working out well, which is a shame because the Jets really haven’t played that badly in their first three games apart from all those, y’know, goals against.
They picked up their first win of the season against Edmonton, and looked decent at times against the Leafs despite conceding seven goals (we’ll get to that Leafs offense in a minute). But stop me if you’ve heard this before: The goaltending is a persistent problem.
Connor Hellebuyck looked great on Monday against Edmonton, stopping 37 of 39, which patched over a shaky game in the season-opening goal deluge. Mason, meanwhile, has been abysmal.
This is a team a lot of smart people picked to finally make the playoffs and do well for themselves, but if they can’t find someone to stop the puck all season they’re gonna find themselves in trouble once again.
But I am hoping for them! This is the season of hope!
3 – Breaking a streak
The Flames won in Anaheim on Monday night. Normally, this would not be a notable thing. It’s an early-season victory, and apart from the four-point swing in the division standings that might end up being quite meaningful in April, you’d normally say “whatever.”
But this is the first Flames win in Anaheim since — and I swear to god this is a true and real stat — since late April 2006. Barack Obama wasn’t president yet, and wouldn’t be for more than two and a half more years. And that guy served a maximum term.
And how about this one: It was the first time the Flames won a regular-season game in Anaheim since mid-January 2004. George W. Bush was still more than a year away from the start of his second term. That was two lockouts ago!
2 – Young talent
I hate to be the one to tell you this, folks, but we’re in a golden age of hockey. The vast majority of the good players in the league are like 25 and under. That means we’re about to see another decade — at the very least — of these elite talents being elite talents.
And what’s really amazing is the talent distribution. It seems like just about every team has at least one really good young player under the age of 24, so those guys all have plenty of room to get even better. How lucky are we?
1 – The Leafs’ offense
The Toronto Maple Leafs have scored 19 goals in three games. Again, you don’t want to draw too many conclusions about all that, but what’s amazing is the underlying numbers they’re putting up to support that goal-scoring. If things even remotely hold up, they’re going to potentially score 300 goals this season. Which never happens any more.
Let’s put it this way: The 2014-15 Islanders are the team with the most expected goals per hour in all situations since 2007-08, with almost 3.3 xG per 60. The Leafs are averaging 5.12. Vegas is ahead of them, actually (5.26), and 13 other teams to this point have more than the Islanders’ number.
But you watch this Leafs team and take into account that the 2016-17 Leafs were sixth in xG/60 among all full-season teams since 2007-08, and you have to say they might just push the Isles, or surpass them.
What a fun team. Bless their hearts!
(Not ranked this week: Nothing at all!
Folks, I am so glad hockey is back that I won’t even bring up the disgusting Donald Trump thing (oops) because I feel as though I have been bathed in the beautiful light of 1,000 perfect suns! Long may it last for me and you alike!)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)