NHL Notebook – March 31

Updated: March 31, 2015 at 12:18 pm by Anthony Petrielli

Other than the Stanley Cup deciding game, the biggest moment
of this NHL season will arguably be who wins the draft lottery.

In a regular draft class that wouldn’t be the case, but
this season is anything but ordinary with the generational-looking Connor
McDavid to be had at first overall and a first-overall-pick-in-any-other-year
player in Jack Eichel waiting to go second.

If you’re a fan of any of the 14 teams that do not qualify
for the playoffs, it is must watch television. Frankly, even if your team did
make the playoffs it is must watch stuff because of the potential impact it
will have on the league landscape.

So, naturally, the NHL appears to be making this event a
small-time sideshow in the middle of the playoffs.

Here is an excerpt from a report by James Mirtle:

“But this year, with McDavid at the top of draft lists and
anticipation for the draw as high as it’s been in a decade, the lottery is
scheduled for a Saturday night in the midst of first-round playoff games.

Scuttlebutt around the league is that it may even simply be
worked into an intermission show, in the span of a few minutes.

“Plan’s not 100-per-cent locked in, but likely on the first
Saturday of the playoffs,” a league spokesman said Wednesday on the timing of
the lottery. “Time is TBD.””

If the plan carries through it is a clear admission of fault
by the league in their draft processes. The league rewards the worst teams with
the best opportunities to win the lottery and draft the top young talent coming
into the league each year. On the surface it makes sense—the worst teams get
the best young talent in hopes of turning things around.

With generational talent on the line though, multiple
teams have gone to great lengths to “tank” in order to up their odds of getting
their hands on these players.

Don’t fault the teams for trying to take advantage of the
system though. Every year fewer game-changing players are becoming available
via unrestricted free agency so really this is the best opportunity many organizations
will get at bringing in a potential superstar.

The league has tried to curb tanking by lowering the odds of
getting the top pick when you finish last and giving any team that does not
make the playoffs an opportunity to draft first overall. Clearly, it did not
work.

Should fans have to suffer accordingly? This is a highly regarded draft that is going to change the fortunes of multiple teams.
The league does not have to make it into a dog and pony show, but to not give
the event its due air-time would be unfortunate for fans across the NHL. For
many, this lottery has been the only thing getting them through the season, to
reduce it to a five minute intermission announcement would be a slap in the
face.

The league has made their bed with this draft format, and
now it is time to sleep in it, not runaway. The NHL has to own up to it or
change the process altogether.

Notes

1-     
Highly recommend watching this round table discussion between George Stromobolopolous, Flames GM Brad Treliving, Habs GM
Marc Bergevin, and Panthers GM Dale Tallon.
The segment largely covers topics about their jobs and what it is really like
to work in management, but in it they are asked about managing expectations and
what happens when your team makes a little run but you know they are still far
away. Tallon discussed trading for Jagr because he moved two prime draft picks
to get him and now there is a reasonable chance they won’t make the playoffs.
Considering what they gave up (a second and third) if they only get 20
games out of Jagr (or less) and he walks for nothing it will be a big loss. The Panthers
want to bring him back though, and he appears to like it there. Earlier in his
career Jagr was considered a bit of a malcontent, so it is quite funny to see
all the teams now wanting him to be a veteran leader for all their young
players.

2-     
In the summer the Philadelphia Flyers traded Scott
Hartnell for RJ Umberger and a fourth round pick. It was a cap move for the
Flyers as they exchanged essentially equal cap hits for less term in order to
help clear their books down the road. In the season following, Umberger has put
up nine goals and 15 points in 67 games including being scratched and moved all
around the line-up. Conversely, Hartnell has 25 goals and 54 points with
positive possession numbers and WOWYs. The Flyers are going to miss the
playoffs and are in the bottom third in the league in goals per game; the only
thing keeping their scoring afloat is a great power play. It looks like they
are going to miss the playoffs by a 10-15 point gap, and the gap between Hartnell
and Umberger is going to be roughly 40 points. You wouldn’t say that one move cost
them a playoff spot, but at what cost does the cap effect your team? You’re
wasting prime seasons from Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek if
you’re building for two-three years down the road.

3-     
Last season this Scott Burnside article on how the US Olympic team was picked got a lot of attention in the hockey world. One note in the article that did
not get a lot of media play, but was eye opening to me was how little consideration
Kyle Okposo received from the management team. Last season Okposo was tied for
the third most points by an American with Patrick Kane and Blake Wheeler at 69
(the other two made it). He was deemed not a good fit for the big ice
and was hardly even discussed to make the team. This season Okposo has been
hurt but he’s playing to the same 69 point pace as last season with strong
underlying numbers, albeit with John Tavares. He hardly gets any national
attention and his absence from the team was barely noted, but now, turning 27, he
has become a very good player. It was just a few years ago he was almost on the
outs with the Islanders after a four-goal performance in the lockout shortened season.

4-     
With roughly a minute and a half remaining in a
3-2 game between the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks, Tyler Seguin took a
slashing penalty because he slashed Alex Edler’s stick and it fell out of his
hands. Vancouver scored on that power play, was able to push the game to overtime
because of it and net a point. A few weeks earlier Phil Kessel took the same
penalty against Frans Nielsen. The rule states a slash can be a penalty due to ‘Any
forceful chop with the stick [] to the opponent’s stick that is not an attempt
to play the puck.’ The play does not happen regularly, but perhaps it is
something that needs to be reviewed. Sticks are fragile and anyone in the NHL
can easily slash and break one. Jockeying with a player for stick position
and one guy dropping his stick because of a small slash doesn’t seem like it
should be an automatic two minute penalty, but that appears to be what is
happening.

5-     
Going into the 2011 draft year Victor Rask was a
highly regarded player with top five potential, but he had a poor draft season with questions about his work ethic, attitude and vision being asked.
Fast forward four years later and the picture is starting to take form. The
once thought of can’t-miss, top-five pick, ended up getting drafted 42nd
by the Hurricanes. He’s in the midst of his first season in the NHL and he has
already outscored 24 players selected ahead of him. In the 2011 draft class, he
is 20th in scoring and everyone above him has played more games than
him. Rask is 6’1 and left handed, with strong possession numbers and overall splits.
In the draft everyone gets caught up in certain elements of a player’s game and
guys can rise or fall quickly because of them, but rarely do we go back and
revisit how a player has done after the fact. So far, it looks like Victor Rask
may not exactly live up to that original top 5 billing, but he might not be
extremely far away either.

6-     
The other eye opening player from that draft is Ondrej
Palat, selected with the fourth last pick in 2011. Only three players in that
draft class have more overall points (Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins,
and Brandon Saad), but only one of those players matches his points per game
output. It is slightly misleading to compare Palat to his draft class though
because he was drafted at 20 years old. His own draft class would be 2009,
where he ranks 12th in points but has played far fewer games than
everyone else ahead of him- the next lowest having played 268 games.  The interesting thing about Palat is he had a
strong draft year playing in the U20 Czech Republic league with 23 goals with
33 assists in 42 games. However, he only had one goal in six U-18 World Junior
games so it goes to show you how little exposure these players get if they
don’t show you anything on the world stage. Palat went to the QMJHL after
getting undrafted but was overshadowed by Sean Couturier. Tampa Bay was one of
the teams that believed Couturier wasn’t solely responsible for his success. Now Palat is found money.

7-     
Should be interesting to see how much Cody
Franson’s stint in Nashville drops his value in the summer. On the Leafs he was
playing 21:23 per game on the top pairing with Dion Phaneuf scoring 32 points
in 55 games as one of the higher scoring defensemen in the league at the time.
On Nashville he’s playing under 15-and-a-half-minutes per game in 19 games,
with three points. A prime age, turning 28-year-old defenseman that’s right handed
and 6’5 is sure to have value, but going from one of the worst teams in the
league to a contender and barely playing is going to raise red flags. At the
time of the deal I wondered why they needed Franson, specifically considering
they have Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones all on the right side, and
since acquiring him they really have not been able to find a good fit on their blue-line. This could become an example of how
important opportunity and the right fit can be to a player’s success.

8-     
Tampa Bay and Detroit have the lowest percentage of their power play shots come from defensemen. The Wings have the second ranked power play in the league and Tampa Bay is 20th.
Years ago, then Flyers head coach John Stevens did a study of all power play
goals and found a lot of them originated from point shots. In the 2007-2008
season the Flyers had the second ranked power play in the league, with Mike
Knuble and Daniel Briere leading their team in power play goals, two players
notorious for the work around the net off rebounds and tips. The Wings score a
lot of power play goals working down low plays and having players crowd the net
while Gustav Nyquist walks in from the half-wall, while Tampa Bay of course
sets up Steven Stamkos for one timers and Ryan Callahan cashes in on rebounds.
A lot of time is spent on where and who the shots are originating from, but the
common denominator is always net traffic, screening, rebounds and tips.  

9-     
Though this is technically an “NHL” Notebook, I
wanted to include the awesome news about the National Women’s Hockey League paying players.
I have a few friends that played in either NCAA division one hockey, or for the
elite Canadian University programs, and it was extremely disheartening to see
their hockey options. Post-secondary school hockey was essentially the club
hockey for women and the Olympics was the top of the mountain. If you were a
good player but not good enough to make the Olympic team –and how good are the
Canadian and American teams—once you graduated that was it for you. 

10-  
An addition to last week’s preamble that should
have been included in the first place—The NHL is the only league out of the
four big pro sports that has playoffs decided by accumulated points compared to
record. The NBA and MLB of course do not have ties, while the NFL does although
it is very unlikely (every year it is still funny to see a team tie and for a
player on one team to say that they didn’t know it was possible). With the NHL
being points based along with a loser point awarded for OT, it causes teams to
focus on doing what it takes to rack up points instead of always winning the
game outright, particularly in regulation.

Quotes

“I put a lot of weight on it when you’re plus, not much when
you’re minus.”

– Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper on how much weight he puts on plus-minus as a stat.

Plus minus has become a stat many roll their eyes to and
with good reason, because it is often used incorrectly. It is more of a line
stat than an individual one, but it is not completely useless. The degree of
importance it holds is up for debate and how to use it is the real question,
but this take from Cooper was interesting.

“The situation hasn’t met either side’s expectations
in Philadelphia. If Vinny wants the opportunity to end a fantastic career on a
good note, it’s not going to happen so long as Craig Berube is head coach of
the Philadelphia Flyers. I’m sure if Vinny found a good environment … An
opportunity to go to a new team and end on a good note, I wouldn’t be surprised
if he retired before finishing the term of his deal.”

Vincent Lecavalier’s agent, Kent Hughes, on his experience in Philadelphia.

Last season Lecavalier had 20 goals, this season he’s going
to barely hit 20 points. He’s turning 35, still has three years left on his
deal and his skating has fallen off a cliff. The old saying is skating is the
first thing to go, and hands are the last. His most common line-mates this
season have been Pierre-Eduard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde, though he only
has four power play points averaging two minutes of power play time per game,
which is astounding. With a $4.5 million cap hit it would be difficult to move
him without retaining salary. That said, I don’t think Lecavalier’s game has
completely escaped him in just a year and that he can still contribute. If you
had to take on his deal in order to get another asset from the Flyers it would
not be the worst thing ever.

“Our mentality has been the same since day one. That’s
really important, and I know that the media has a hard time as a whole
understanding it, but it’s more difficult to make the playoffs in this league
than it is to win the Stanley Cup.”

– LA Kings coach, Darryl Sutter on making the playoffs.

I don’t think I’d take it that far, but simply making the
playoffs is becoming more and more of an accomplishment in this league. The
parity is extremely tight as some really good teams are not going to make the
playoffs this season despite over 50 percent of the league qualifying.