Ryan Lambert

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    [Author's note: Every sports website on earth dedicated to covering just one league publishes a weekly power ranking, and we here at Puck Daddy have finally decided to do the same. However, the problem with power rankings in general is that they are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

    6. Contracts Signed This Summer

    We're now deep enough into the season that it's fair to start evaluating some of the big contracts signed this summer and boy oh boy are there some absolute stinkers. And because no team wants to be the one that signed the worst contract, there's bound to be a lot of discussion about exactly who messed up instead.

    You might want to start with the logical choice: The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. It's not because any deal they signed this summer was more egregious than the others in the conversation (which, again, there are many), it's because there were two of them. Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell both got big raises because they played well in the playoffs, and both have promptly returned to sucking pretty hard once they got their nice, fat raises.

    Crawford's — $6 million against the cap for the next six years — hasn't even kicked in yet and he's got a save percentage six points below his already below-mediocre career average. This isn't an accident. Bickell, meanwhile, put up 17 points in the postseason last year, including two game-winners, and got bumped up to four years and $16 million. So far in 22 games this year, he's got five goals and an assist, and that's with having shot 14.3 percent.

    Fortunately for Stan Bowman, Dave Nonis isn't about to take this kind of thing lying down, and that David Clarkson deal is looking worse by the day. Yeah, he'll be making $5.25 million against the cap for the next seven (SEVEN!) years, and he might even be able to keep more than two-thirds of that if he can stop being suspended for five minutes. He's already been banned for 12 of the first 35 games of his Leafs career, and even when he's in the lineup, he's been flat out awful. Two goals and four assists in 24 games. Leafs fans are already turning on him.

    Not that they're wrong, mind you. Even if he surges in the latter 50 or so games, this is an awful start; does he even get into the double digits?

    But not even Nonis was outdone by a guy widely and repeatedly hailed as one of the finest general managers in the league, who gave out a contract so bad Rick DiPietro is spinning in his retirement home. Ken Holland's decision to give Stephen Weiss five years and $24.5 million seemed a curious one even by the usual “well he's one of the better free agent centers on the market” standards. He almost certainly already regrets the decision. In 26 games, the 30-year-old Weiss has just 2-2-4 and is getting less than 15 minutes a night. That deal sucks now. It's going to be a disaster in two years.

    At least the cap is going up, though, right?

    Read More »from Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Dumb Christmas videos, bad signings and NHL suspensions
  • What We Learned: It’s time for NHL to get serious on suspensions

    Getty ImagesThe NHL's Department of Player Safety was recently profiled in a lengthy and fascinating feature in the Boston Globe, and in it we learned that when a dangerous hit happens, the process goes thusly: Someone sends out an email briefly explaining to almost 20 people what happened, if there was an injury, the player's history of supplemental discipline, and the offending player's next game.

    After that, Brendan Shanahan tends to reply-all with the simplest of responses: “Thoughts?”

    It's an interesting process, in that some 800 plays are reviewed every year for fines or suspensions, and obviously of that number a relatively small percentage actually results in one. Maybe, though, it's time to up the conversion rate.

    Shanahan told the Globe that he thinks players are “getting it” and that there is indeed a culture change under way. All evidence, however, stands to the contrary.

    Last season there were just 21 regular- and postseason suspensions levied for a total of 55 games (2.62 games per suspension), and that in a shortened campaign. This season, we're already up to 26 suspensions, for 114 games (4.38 per, but that is brought up heavily by the lengthy bans for Shawn Thornton, Patrick Kaleta, and David Clarkson; excluding those, the average is 3.43 per). In 2011-12, under some slightly more restrictive circumstances, there were 55 for 204 (3.71 per).

    And as of this writing, that doesn't include the pending suspension Deryk Engelland, a repeat offender who laid a dirty and dangerous hit on Justin Abdelkader over the weekend. This is an in-person hearing too, meaning that it is also going to be lengthy at six games or more.

    Jared Cowen, though, recently dodged any kind of action from DPS for a blatant elbow which concussed Pavel Datsyuk, and which the league somehow ruled “accidental” and “inadvertent,” which is stretching credulity thinner than the Leafs' current forward depth. Two and a half weeks later, Cowen picked Zemgus Girgensons' head as he came across the blue line, and was subsequently suspended for just two games. So it would appear as though Cowen is developing a bit of a reputation for hitting opponents right on the chin, and yet only one of two recent incidents has risen to the level of league discipline.

    It should be said that Shanahan, as the head of the DPS, has faced a lot criticism as anyone in his position would. Some of it has been warranted, some not, and most of it comes from the fans of teams who either had a player hurt or suspended because of one play or another.

    The complaint, though, is always the same: “This is justice?”

    Read More »from What We Learned: It’s time for NHL to get serious on suspensions
  • This was the only way things could have reasonably ended, but given that nothing to do with the Calgary Flames in the last few years has ever approached reasonable, this is an unfortunate first.

    Jay Feaster and assistant general manager John Weisbrod are out of a job -- hilariously and inconveniently inside team president of hockey ops Brian Burke's ludicrous and self-imposed extra-long Christmas trade freeze -- and none have yet come forward to truly praise them, but rather half-heartedly bury them instead.

    The fact of the matter is both should have been gone at several points in the ignominious careers with the Flames, and should in reality never have been hired, but things were left in such a shambles by Darryl Sutter that anyone, even a guy who drove the Tampa Bay Lightning into the ground, must have seemed a more reasonable candidate.

    It's important to remember, though, that Brian Burke was essentially brought in as an insurance measure against the inevitable failure of Feaster's reign, in much the same way Feaster was brought in as a counterbalance to Sutter. Feaster was the assistant GM to Sutter for a period of about five months before the latter was out on his ear and the former carrying a potted plant and box full of files down the hall. This summer, Burke was brought in at the start of September, and his time on the sidelines came to an end even faster than Feaster's.

    But again, this was inevitable.

    Feaster only stuck around this long because Burke wanted to be fair and make sure he knew with 100 percent certainty that the GM he was overseeing was in fact as incompetent as it appeared from the outside, and of course he was. Anyone who's watched the Flames these last few years, with the kind of preoccupied bewilderment and pity typically reserved for Steve Tambellini's Edmonton Oilers, knew that Feaster was put in an impossible situation and only didn't fail completely because no one could have failed in that position.

    Read More »from Calgary Flames are about to become even bigger train wreck (Trending Topics Extra)
  • [Author's note: Every sports website on earth dedicated to covering just one league publishes a weekly power ranking, and we here at Puck Daddy have finally decided to do the same. However, the problem with power rankings in general is that they are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

    7. “It's a dry heat.”

    The Phoenix Coyotes have apparently informed the National Hockey League that they are prepared to host a Winter Classic and I found that very inspiring.

    Upon learning of this news on Monday, I immediately called the head offices of all 30 NHL teams and told them that I was prepared to be their general manager. For some reason, I was not put through directly to the teams' presidents or owner, but asked to leave a message instead. Still waiting to hear back about it. I'm sure they won't forget. After all, there can't be any more qualified candidates, right?

    6. Packing Your Long Johns

    With respect to outdoor games that will actually happen in real life, it seems as though Winnipeg is going to host a Heritage Classic at some point, presumably, within the next two or three years.

    This makes sense. The Jets sell out every night and though their building is teeny tiny, they could move another 3,000 tickets a night no problem. They also have a gorgeous football stadium for their CFL team, and it would probably make for a very nice experience except for one thing.

    It is going to be really [expletive] cold.

    NHL outdoor games usually take place from January on. The Calgary Heritage Classic took place in late February, when it was minus-6 degrees out. And that's in real American temperature. Minus-21 for you Canadians. And that's with most of the game having been played while the sun was up.

    Average high temperature in Winnipeg in February? Just 17 degrees (or minus-8). Average low? That's minus-2 (or minus-19).

    Bumping it to March doesn't help much, which is when the Vancouver Heritage Classic will happen, as average temperatures range from highs of about 30 to lows of 12. Or what about November, when that first Edmonton Heritage Classic was? When it was minus-22, so cold the teams agreed not to check each other and Wayne Gretzky was almost eaten by a pack of timberwolves?

    The average highs are 32 (freezing, you see) and lows are about 15. Seems pleasant. Conducive to good hockey, I'm sure.

    Here's a better idea: Let Winnipeg have the Heritage Classic, but play it indoors. Say, at MTS Centre.

    Read More »from Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Weird outdoor games, Shawn Thornton and fighting NHL emotions
  • What We Learned: R.I.P. The Code (Never-2013)

    APYou've never in your entire life seen anyone so dedicated to an ideal as Shawn Thornton was to “The Code.”

    Whenever you needed to be talked down to about The Respect In The Game and How Players Police Themselves and all that kind of thing, your first and last stop should have been Thornton, the acknowledged quote factory on all things pugilistic. This was a fact ESPN's Katie Strang knew, and a resource she tapped, last week.

    Asked if the code still exists and if he still takes pride in it, Thornton said, “People could probably criticize that I’m a little too honorable, I suppose, in some instances. I've been a firm believer my whole life that what goes around comes around. If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point, too.”

    And so it's very interesting indeed that at the first opportunity to show once again that he is “too honorable,” he slewfooted and pummeled a downed opponent with three gloved punches while that player was already tied up with another Bruin and some officials. This kind of thing, of course, runs completely counter to The Code that Thornton holds so dear, and for which he'll attempt to proselytize at the slightest provocation.

    Even going by the very loose above explanation imparted to Strang, this attack checked all three of Thornton's own boxes for not being part of The Code:

    Read More »from What We Learned: R.I.P. The Code (Never-2013)
  • Market value for NHL goalies is quickly becoming awful (Trending Topics)

    Getty ImagesIn the past few summers, the size of contracts given out has obviously expanded along with the salary cap, and often it's some of the league's more mediocre players reaping the benefits. One need look no deeper than David Clarkson's contract, for instance, to see that guys who've never had a 50-point season in their lives can still cash in if you can find someone dumb enough to believe in “intangibles.”

    But one area in which contracts have seemingly exploded within the last three seasons or so is when it comes to long-term contracts for goaltenders. While the ability of teams to succeed to one extent or another on relative bargain basement netminding — which just about everyone briefly bought into — typified by the Blackhawks, Capitals, Flyers among others was probably always overblown, things have very quickly swung in the opposite direction, and teams are once again willing to pay the toppest of top dollar for goaltenders they consider to be elite.

    Since the 2004-05 lockout, only three goaltenders have ever signed deals that assured them $7 million or more against the cap, and all three have been signed since November 2011, when Pekka Rinne got seven years and $7 million per from David Poile. Since then, Tuukka Rask (eight years, $56 million) and Henrik Lundqvist (seven years, $59.5 million) have gotten in on the action.

    This is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that position players have been getting $7 million per season for as long as there's been a salary cap. Jarome Iginla, for instance, got that much when the 2005-06 season began, and the salary cap at that time was just $39 million, but what's interesting about that is that even as the ceiling has gone way, way up in the years since, very few top-flight forwards have found their salaries exceeding that $7 million plateau.

    Currently, just 19 non-goaltenders (and only four of them defensemen) make more than that amount, and for the most part, they are pretty elite players. The only exceptions to this are, at this point, probably Dany Heatley and Alexander Semin, and the former's contract is a soon-expiring holdover from the days when he was a regular 40- or 50-goal scorer.

    For reference, 19 skaters makes up a top-line or -pairing defenseman on slightly more than half the league's teams, and if you consider that each has five of these players, that's 19 out of 150 players who are considered — either by default or because they're just that good — to be players that would be in a team's starting lineup. Obviously your mileage will vary, because guys who get 20 minutes a night in Calgary, for instance, often wouldn't crack the top two lines enjoyed by a legitimate contender.

    We're only just now starting to see goaltenders move into this territory. Three is obviously just 10 percent of the total starting goalie pool in the league, but it's interesting that it's only recently occurred to GMs league-wide that they might want to approach their goaltenders in this same way. In recent history, and only for a little while, Ryan Miller and Cam Ward were the only goaltenders making north of $6 million, before Carey Price joined the party last season. Corey Crawford will do so next year. Even Conn Smythe winner and legitimate Hart candidate Jonathan Quick couldn't get more than $5.9 million (albeit for 10 years) out of Los Angeles after that one Cup-winning season.

    One suspects that this is perhaps the result of the contract that Chicago gave Nikolai Khabibulin immediately after the 2004-05 lockout, which was commensurate with what Iginla and the league's other stars received in the new cap environment. Four years, $6.75 million per, and a disaster on the ice. His stats improved as the time went along, though one suspects that this was largely due to the quality of the team in front of him, but by the end he was in a 1a/1b tandem with Cristobal Huet. The .886 save percentage he posted in his first 50 games of that deal, though, was probably put everyone off that type of contract for a while.

    This all of course circles back to the contract Lundqvist signed this week, which will pay him $8.5 million a season against the cap until he is 39 years old. That's a lot of money for any player, regardless of who it is. He now makes more money against the cap than everyone in the entire league except former Hart Trophy winners Corey Perry ($8.625 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million), and Alex Ovechkin (more than $9.53 million). All of those forwards, by the way, are in their mid- or late 20s today. Perry, the oldest and coincidentally least-great of these, signed his deal when he was still 27.

    Which is to say that the Lundqvist contract is not a good investment for the Rangers, especially because his stats are down this year, and we have no idea how he's going to respond to the new pad restrictions put in place by the league over the course of 82 games, let alone the following 574.

    The arguments about why that doesn't matter are, despite this, perfectly reasonable, and also myriad.

    Read More »from Market value for NHL goalies is quickly becoming awful (Trending Topics)
  • [Author's note: Every sports website on earth dedicated to covering just one league publishes a weekly power ranking, and we here at Puck Daddy have finally decided to do the same. However, the problem with power rankings in general is that they are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

    8. George McPhee (again)

    Last week Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee made the rankings because Martin Erat, a forward for whom he traded prized prospect Filip Forsberg less than a year ago, a) sucks now, and b) demanded a trade. Puts McPhee in rather a difficult position. If he can find someone to take Erat's salary — which is unlikely — the return he gets for him might be a Filip Forsberg rookie card with one of the corners bent.

    And now, for the second time in less than a week, a Capital has demanded a trade. This time it's 22-year-old defenseman Dmitry Orlov who wants out, and it's not only because of how coach Adam Oates is using him. Instead, it's because of how McPhee is using him. He's been assigned to and recalled from Hershey six(!) times since March and it wasn't until this trade demand came that he even got into his first career NHL game this season, in which he got just 13:41 of grudging ice time. And while he might have gotten used to the Hersey-to-Washington drive, the not-playing had to be maddening.

    So now, naturally, he wants out. That Adam Oates couldn't find a spot for him a defense that includes Steve Oleksy and John Erskine would make anyone want to get the hell out of there.

    Read More »from Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Toronto hockey failures, Couture shaves, Patrick Roy
  • What We Learned: Stop the NHL Canadian TV deal, I want to get off

    Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    Viewers across North America received their first glimpse at what they can expect next season when Rogers takes over the Hockey Night in Canada property.

    The results were, shall we say, mixed.

    The in-game production was of course fabulous, as one might expect. So too was After Hours, as well as a lot of the pregame stuff, including producer Tim Thompson's wonderful introduction of the Leafs/Habs “Forever Rivals” game set to Luciano Pavarotti performing Puccini's “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. But everything else, as one might have come to expect from Hockey Night in certain regards, was iffy at best.

    There was, to start, the point at which Don Cherry essentially told his new employers to leave him and his portion of the broadcast alone. In comparing what he

    Read More »from What We Learned: Stop the NHL Canadian TV deal, I want to get off
  • Getty ImagesThe most goals Alex Steen has ever scored in an NHL season is 24, and on Wednesday night he scored his 20th in 24 games.

    The accomplishment moved him into a tie with the revitalized Alex Ovechkin for the league lead, and both were well ahead of Patrick Kane's third-best 15 after he embarrassed the Calgary Flames in the third period. That Steen is there at all has been something of a curiosity, but it has been exceedingly entertaining.

    This is astonishing, this is fun to watch, and is a race that has as many smoke and mirrors than the last six David Blaine specials combined.

    There are exactly two explanations for Steen's explosion into the top of the goalscoring race, and both are very simple. The first is that he's shooting the puck slightly more often per game than he has in the last few seasons, which is the kind of thing that's always going to result in more goals.

    The reason why “more goals” now apparently means “an absurd number of goals” is that Steen is currently shooting 25.3

    Read More »from The least-exciting NHL goals ‘race’ in recent memory (Trending Tropics)
  • Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Tears for TSN, Torey Krug’s Olympic chances

    AP

    [Author's note: Every sports website on earth dedicated to covering just one league publishes a weekly power ranking, and we here at Puck Daddy have finally decided to do the same. However, the problem with power rankings in general is that they are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

    1,024,342. TSN

    With the new Canadian TV deal, it seems that pretty much the only hockey TSN — Canada's answer to ESPN — will get to air any time soon is the annual pasting the nation's best U-20 players receive at World Juniors.

    It's a tough bounce.

    There's little debating that TSN has long been the go-to source for NHL coverage on either side

    Read More »from Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Tears for TSN, Torey Krug’s Olympic chances

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