It’s been just over a month, meaning we can take an opportunity to sit back and discuss which teams are actually as good or bad as their record indicates, and which moves and signings last summer look either really smart or really terrible.
After one month, which contract handed out or move made last summer looks like the biggest regret?
Mike “The Bike” Commito: David Backes. He’s already missed five games this season and given his age and style of play, it’s unlikely that will be the only time he will miss this year. Let’s pretend he plays all of Boston’s remaining 66 games. That would put him on pace for 21 goals, which on the surface is in keeping with his career norms, but then again, $6M is a lot of money for a 20-goal scorer, whose production is only going to decline, perhaps even precipitously, in the coming years.
Curtis LeBlanc: Andrew Shaw, acquired by the Canadiens for two second round picks—the 39th and 45th overall—is only 11th in team scoring with a dynamite Montreal squad. The first of those picks traded to the Chicago Blackhawks turned into undersized OHL forward Alex DeBrincat who is currently second in OHL scoring with 40 points in 18 games. I don’t care if DeBrincat could fit into my shirt pocket—that’s a hell of a hockey player the Habs gave up for Shaw (not to mention the other second round pick).
Pat “Go Rangers!” Keogh: It’s gotta be Andrew Ladd. Given the way the Islanders have been playing lately, the money and term on that contract, and the fact that he’s been finding himself somewhere in the bottom six as of late, it’s hard to see how that contract is anything but an albatross. It sucks to see a great player like John Tavares have to deal with a lack of scoring talent around him, but I’m just glad that Ladd didn’t tun out to be the winger they thought they were getting. Here’s to a great seven years!
Scott Maxwell: Danny DeKeyser has been atrocious this season for the Red Wings, especially since they count on him for being their top shutdown defenceman. That $5 million cap hit for six years is not looking too good to start.
Shawn Reis: Giving an obviously declining Andrew Ladd $5.5M for 7 years seemed like one of the many bad ideas teams had on July 1st. Especially when they could’ve given that money to Kyle Okposo. Now, with just three points in 16 games and the Islanders really struggling, Ladd’s contract looks even worse.
Which signing or move looks a lot better than you’d expected?
Commito: Raise your hand if you said Michael Grabner would be tied for second in goals at nearly a quarter way through the season. Now put your hands down because you’re a filthy liar. I don’t think there much concern about the cash and term on Grabner’s deal with the Rangers but I don’t think anyone expected he’d already have 10 goals this year. He’s already exceeded his output last season with the Leafs and is on pace to cruise towards his best numbers in six yearsHe’s currently riding an unsustainably high shooting percentage (27.8%), if converted at that rate last year with Toronto he would’ve scored 32 goals. Granted that is not an inconceivable number, after all he did score 34 goals with the Islanders in 2010-11, but it’s unreasonable to think he’ll continue to shoot the lights out all season. For now, it’s money well spent and if you have him on your fantasy team, ride the wave, it won’t last forever.
LeBlanc: Hard not to root for Jonathan Marchessault, who currently has a firm hold on the Panthers scoring lead with eight goals and six assists in 15 games. Michael Grabner’s 10 goals with the New York Rangers also stands out.
Keogh: I’m not saying it was a good trade, but the Shea Weber/PK Subban swap certainly looks a little bit different than it did this summer. What was at the time a candidate for “worst trade ever” has quickly become something of a debatably good short term trade. How things play out over the life of those two contracts remains to be seen however, but in the here and now that trade doesn’t look nearly as bad as I thought it would.
Maxwell: Everyone is already talking about it, but Jonathan Marchessault has been a great depth signing for the Panthers thus far, paying off in spades.
Reis: Eric Staal looked like he was beginning to settle in as a good middle-six center over the last couple years, but he’s looked great in Minnesota (13 points in 15 games). I don’t know if he’ll keep it up but he hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down yet.
Which team has been the biggest surprise for you so far this season, good or bad?
Commito: I’ll take the Toronto Maple Leafs for $200, Alex. I think most of the hockey community suspected the Leafs would see some significant improvement this year. Their underlying numbers from last season suggested the team was stronger than the standings showed and it stood to reason that with an injection of elite, young talent, they would take a step forward. But that’s not why I am surprised. I am genuinely surprised at how much fun it has been to watch them play this year. What is happening on the ice is miles ahead of what I had envisioned in my mind and they’ve truly been a joy to watch. While there will undoubtedly be moments of pain throughout this season (please see Oct. 25 and Nov. 8), Leafs fans can still be realistic about the team’s trajectory while thoroughly enjoying the on-ice product.
LeBlanc: The Los Angeles kinds are sitting at tenth place in the Western Conference with a 7-8-1. They’re league-best 54.36 CF%—and conventional wisdom—suggest they’re better than that.
Keogh: I’m going to be a huge homer here, but the Rangers. I really thought this would be the nail in the coffin for them, but it turns out I was wrong. They’re bound to regress to a certain extent, but I’ve definitely got hope for them as a playoff team, and I wasn’t even sure they’d make it if you had asked me at the beginning of the summer.
Maxwell: The Anaheim Ducks. While it doesn’t surprise me that the team itself is first in the Pacific, it surprises me that Randy Carlyle is coaching a successful team.
Reis: I thought the Canadiens might be able to threaten for a playoff spot but I didn’t think they’d be as good as they have been. I guess when you have Carey Price anything is possible (Alex Galchenyuk is finally getting the chance to shine too).
How about a struggling team that’s likely to start performing better?
Commito: The Islanders can’t be this bad, right? With only 5 wins through their first 16 games that puts them on pace for a 25-win season. Even when the Islanders were actually bad in the John Tavares era, they put up better numbers than that. When they notched only 26 wins in 2008-09, Rick DiPietro was still playing NHL games, albeit with frequent trips to the infirmary, their leading scorer was Mark Streit, and JT was still just a glint in Garth Snow’s eye. To find an even worse season, you’d have to go back 16 years to the 2000-01 campaign when the Islanders went 21-51-7-3. Things are certainly bleak right now in Brooklyn but the Islanders won’t continue to be a lottery team.
LeBlanc: The St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars both have double digit negative goal differentials. The Stars have had some injury trouble and the Blues PDO of 95.43 is worst in the league. I can’t imagine either of these teams missing the playoffs.
Keogh: Nashville has too good of a roster to be playing the way they’ve been playing. I gotta imagine that things start to even out for them over the course of the season. That said, I haven’t watched nearly as much of their games as I would like to, so I could be completely off base here. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Maxwell: The St. Louis Blues, while still in a playoff spot, are performing much worse than they should be. Their offence is struggling to put the puck in the net, and their goaltending hasn’t been what the team is used to. Expect them to rebound sometime down the road.
Reis: Florida’s barely above .500 but they’ve got lots of talent and look strong in the fancy stats department too. It looks like their finally starting to click again and they should be able to be one of the better teams in the East the rest of the season. Shout-out to the Nashville Predators, who I still think turn it around.
????Fire Emoji Round????— Give a one line quip about the following topics:
Commito: As long as they are called the Metropolitans.
LeBlanc: Bring it! The Pacific Northwest needs more hockey.
Keogh: I think it’d be great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, at least not for a very long while.
Maxwell: Great, now we can finally have an even 16-16 conference split.
Reis: I’d love to see the NHL in Seattle, but Bettman’s right when he says they need to build an arena first.
Dan Carter: A U.S. market that wants it? Let’s do it.
Commito: Forensic investigation needed on Parliament Hill game kerfuffle.
LeBlanc: That game hosted elsewhere would have been some kind of cheap consolation prize that I have no interest in.
Keogh: Bold of him to write a column, but I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. I’m a dumb American.
Maxwell: Yeah, and I’m sure he “fought hard” to resign all of his free agents who want to actually get paid.
Reis: Seeing a game on Parliament Hill would be cool aesthetically but I guess it’s never gonna happen which is too bad *shrugs*
Carter: Fuck the Sens.
Commtio: I live in Sudbury, what would I know about arenas in Arizona?
LeBlanc: What’s the over/under on how many games the Yotes will play in said arena before they’re moved?
Keogh: As long as it’s not publicly funded, I think this’ll be a great thing for the team and for the city.
Maxwell: Can’t wait for their next arena project in Quebec.
Reis: It continues to be an uphill fight, but I’d love to see the Coyotes successfully settle in to that market.
Carter: Give it a couple of weeks.
The New York Rangers’ shooting percentage:
Commito: The Rangers aren’t as bad as we expected!
LeBlanc: Cue the regression!
Keogh: Hell yes.
Maxwell: Not having Tanner Glass in the lineup can do wonders to your offence.
Carter: Rush teams can shoot for a high percentage, and with Lundqvist in net their high PDO is reasonably expected.
The Oilers’ hot start and quick step back:
Commtio: Connor McDavid is even better than we expected!
LeBlanc: They’re worse than their 7-1-0 start but better than 4-5-1 in their last ten.
Keogh: I’m really hoping that they’re the real deal – I love a good changing of the guard and a relevant team in Canada (or two! or three!) would be more than welcome in my opinion.
Maxwell: Wait, the Oilers 7-1 start was smoke and mirrors, and they are actually just an average team that happens to have Connor McDavid? What a surprise.
Reis: The Oilers still aren’t well-rounded enough to be great, but I think they’re a playoff team.
Carter: If you average them both out, it’s pretty much what we’d expected they’d be.
Bonus take from our Australian hockey-watching friend:
Carter: Has Peter Budaj proven that Jonathan Quick is an average goalie with his recent form? ????