So I was off for most of last week and didn’t get the chance to watch much hockey (that’s kind of the point of vacation, y’know?) but I still couldn’t escape all the hullabaloo around Brock Boeser on Saturday.
First, he’s meant to get scratched on Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Then he draws in and eventually scores the game-tying goal to set up the overtime win — and yeah, if you need to come back against the Coyotes, that’s its own problem.
And then the news comes that his agent is allowed to look for a new team that would be willing to take him on in a trade.
This for a guy who just signed an extension five months ago?
Feels like the only real option here is a trade, but if he’s the guy choosing the destination, any team worth trading him to is going to be right up against the cap. That means the Canucks would likely need to take back bad money — or find a change-of-scenery trade for someone who’s on a similarly big ticket. Not sure either one is doable, but I’m pretty sure this situation cannot continue as it has.
Tough look for all involved.
The only way out is through
If you’ve been watching any New York Rangers games lately, you’ve likely been doing so with a growing sense of alarm. Yes, they beat the Blues the other night — get in line, right? — but other than that they’ve been turning in one bad performance after the next and generally can’t count on their previously All-World goalie to save the day.
There has been talk, probably coming from pie-in-the-sky Rangers fans who see an easy chance at an upgrade, of dumping Gerard Gallant and hiring Barry Trotz in his place. Even if it feels like a bit of a reach, the fact that the option is on the table at all tells you how sideways things have gone very quickly.
Yes, they won a lot with smoke and mirrors last season, plus one stretch where they were actually good against a bunch of bad teams, but I don’t think anyone predicted that Igor Shestyorkin would go sub-.900 for any kind of extended stretch, or that the power play would be below the league average. And yet here we are.
I don’t think it would be a good idea to can the coach even if Trotz is guaranteed to come in — and he certainly teased that earlier this season — just because I don’t know that the bottom of the roster is going to set them up for the kind of success they’d need to say, “In retrospect, it was worth it.”
The other option is a trade and, well, I don’t know that they have the assets to get the kind of player who would actually make the kind of difference they’re looking for.
I think the more prudent path here is just kind of expecting a guy who spent a good 18 months or so being regarded as the best goalie in the world to get back to something approximating that level. I’ve said this before, but while him going .940 or something the rest of the way, or getting Chris Kreider back to a 50-goal pace is far-fetched, even if Shestyorkin goes .920 the rest of the way, the Rangers are gonna win a ton of games and at least push hard for a playoff spot.
Obviously, that’s still a disappointment for the “young team that was in the Eastern Conference Final last season” because by defining them as young, that implicitly promises growth. Which, if we were being realistic about a team that frankly isn’t that young after all, was always going to be tough to pull off.
So honestly, I think the best move is take the gut-punch this year, hope your big stars figure it out in the second half and push for a playoff spot, and look at how you can bring all the RFAs back for another go at it. While it was never going to go as well as it did last season, it probably can’t go worse than it did this time around.
Doing an end-zone dance on the 30-yard-line
I know we’re all supposed to be extremely impressed with the Seattle Kraken. By points percentage, they’re second in their division (behind only Vegas), third in their conference (add in a surprising Winnipeg team), and sixth in the entire league (also trailing Boston, New Jersey, and Toronto).
An incredible turnaround for a team that finished 30th last season and who most would have picked in the bottom third of the league at best.
This all feels a lot like overperformance to me. Their underlying numbers are actually quite good, but they’re basically scoring on 1 in every 8 shots they take — outscoring their 21st-in-the-league expected-goals-for rate by 20 percent — and they’re mostly doing this by being a good defensive group. Which, to be fair, is how teams that don’t exactly have a lot of high-end talent should be aiming to win games.
But I think this defensive success leaves them very vulnerable because their goaltending situation is an absolute mess. Philipp Grubauer is still in the mud he ended up in last season (sub-.870 goaltending feels impossible, but here we are), and Martin Jones is very quickly turning back into… well, what you think of Martin Jones being like.
Put another way, the team save percentage has been all over the place this season; it started .860 over the first seven games, then jumped to .927 over the next 11, and is now down to .832 in the past seven (though obviously that includes the 9-8 win over LA). But even pretending that Kings game never happened, the last stretch sees them at .861.
Point being, I don’t know that any team, no matter how good defensively, has enough juice to outscore .880 goaltending. And .880 would be an improvement for these guys.
And with two good teams from Alberta currently on the outside of the divisional playoff spots looking in, it’s hard to see how the Oilers or Flames don’t run these guys down a bit for the rest of the season.
The Kraken have banked a hell of a lot of points through the first third of the season or so, but is it gonna be enough to actually get them into the playoffs? Well, like I said, not with that goaltending.
Finally, someone praises the Toronto Maple Leafs
You gotta say this about the Leafs: All that doom and gloom to start the season is very, very far in the rearview now.
Since the start of November, they are third in the league by points percentage, trailing only the Devils and Bruins. Going 12-1-4 over any 17-game stretch is what you’re generally aiming for, but the fact that these guys are doing this with a guy who just turned 39 as their No. 1 defender and two guys who weren’t previously getting much run-out playing as a second pair? The fact that they’re mostly treading water in the underlying numbers is pretty admirable. They have the obvious talent at the top of the lineup (at least up front) to outscore opponents as long as they’re getting 50ish percent of the expected goals, and maybe even a little less. Their prowess as a defensive team is often overlooked — see also: how many mediocre goalies they’ve made look pretty good — and even thinned out like this, they’re at least holding their own.
That, plus the fact that most of the injuries are going to be temporary, and all the banked points? Man, the Leafs look good.
But no one is going to care even a little bit until the end of the first round, and right now they’re probably just trying to avoid a date with Boston or Tampa. Good luck with all that!