Ryan Lambert

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  • Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Tuukka Rask finally signed his extension with the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, converting his bargain basement one-year "show-me" deal into $56 million spread out over eight years.

    The immediate reaction is that this is a hell of a lot of money and years for a guy who really only has two good kind-of full seasons in the league. Obviously he was in that 1a-1b platoon with Tim Thomas in 2009-10, when he posted the best GAA and save percentage in the league and, now that the starting job was his again, nearly replicated those numbers over 36 games in this, his age-25 season. That should have been enough to convince any reasonable observer that he's one of the best netminders on earth (even if he's obviously benefiting to some extent from the Bruins' system) and thus Boston had to pay him accordingly.

    The problem with that is that the run on even remotely elite goaltending is going to become an arms race in short order, and if a team has such a player under contract now, they'll soon be paying through the nose for him.

    Read More »from Have a good goalie? Time to start worrying about his next NHL contract (Trending Topics)
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    Hello, 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.

    There were few winners in the free agency period that began midday Friday, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were not included among them. As you might expect.

    They're famously a poorly-run team, pretty much regardless of who's actually doing the running. John Ferguson, Jr., Brian Burke, and now Dave Nonis seem to have suffered, to varying degrees, from what we'll call Terry Pegula Disease: The financial ability to sign almost whomever they'd like leading to their dramatically overpaying just about anyone who comes through the door.

    For example, to list of all the players to whom they have given big-money, long-term contracts in the last several years is to dig up some real head-scratchers.

    Bryan McCabe got one such contract (five years, $28.75 million). So did Jason Blake (five years $20 million). And Mike Komisarek (five years, $22.5 million) and Mikhail Grabovski (five years, $27.5 million). Now you can add Tyler Bozak (five years, $22 million) and David Clarkson (seven years, $36.75 million) to the list of dramatically overpaid Toronto players – universally recognized as such the second their deals were signed.

    The moves were widely criticized in the media; outside the non-Bruce Arthur, Randian objectivism on TSN's coverage, which stated almost across the board that everyone getting the absurd deals players tended to receive on Friday came only because they were worth it and good signings, and not because the NHL's GMs had collectively gone mad.

    Often, those criticisms had little to do with points, and more to do with the fact that Bozak is a Corsi black hole and Clarkson, while a decent driver of possession, is extremely overrated as a points-producer as a result of one good season and because he brings "grit" to his team's lineup.
    Enter Joffrey Lupul, who saw the flak his renewed/new teammates were catching with respect to whether they can help his team win, and decided things needed to be cleared up.

    Sayeth Lupul [consider all mistakes sic in advance on both the first and second tweets]: "contracts aren't awarded by this CORSI i am hearing all about. They are awarded for an equal value of skill and depth (at a certain position … If you bring certain attributes and you play to win. I'll take you on my team 7 nights a week. Lets not look at this like Moneyball."

    This is a problem for a few reasons.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Elegy for Joffrey Lupul’s views on advanced hockey stats
  • Something to keep in mind about the UFAs today (Trending Topics)

    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Getty ImagesThe thing with free agency is that, pretty much every year, it's a feeding frenzy. And the problem with that is that it's usually not warranted.

    A perfect case in point in all this occurred Thursday, when Mikhail Grabovski was put on waivers by the Maple Leafs for the purposes of a buyout, and in doing so became one of the top free agents on the market. This isn't necessarily a knock on Grabovski himself, as he's a fine player who drives possession in a way that Tyler Bozak (the guy they bought him out to pay) very much is not and could be a second-line center or better on just about any team in the league. But when a Leafs castoff, for any reason, is skyrocketing up the free agent class, you know it's a shallow one.

    That's not something anyone is really trying to hide this year, either. "Weak" is a word thrown around a lot in the past few days and that's pretty accurate. Nonetheless, though, it's very probable that teams will be happy to pay guys way too much money, like they always do. This time around, the people who actually give out the money and years will probably do it more for mediocre players than they should.

    The reasons for this are three-fold. First, the idea of getting The Big Free Agent on the market always serves as some sort of enticement, and is indeed a great way to grab headlines in the summer, and possibly make yourself look like a destination market. For this reason, there will be a clamor for the Nathan Hortons and Valtteri Filppulas of the world even if they don't necessarily warrant being paid in excess of $5 million for the next several years.

    There will, for example, likely be a line around the block for Mike Ribeiro, all teams tripping over each other to give him lots of money for a long time, simply because he loaded up on power play points with Alex Ovechkin, and despite the fact that he's on the wrong side of 30 and the team that just saw him for 48 games (and gave up assets to get him) doesn't feel like he's a fit even despite all the production over which other teams will be salivating.

    Second, the market in general is likely still going to be feeling the effects of the lockout-shortened season in two ways. In some instances, teams will probably be more willing to forgive guys who had tough years because of the relatively small sample size. The talk out of Toronto, for example, is that Dave Nonis acquired Dave Bolland because he thought he could bounce back from the tough, shortened campaign of 2013. Someone, therefore, is likely to do this with David Clarkson, who only put up 24 points this past season (9-6-15 of which came in the first 12 games). Someone is going to back a dumptruck full of money up to his house hoping that they'll get the 30-goal-scoring Clarkson of 2011-12, instead of the one whose career high before that was 17.

    Then, by the opposite token, teams seem more willing to write off guys for mediocre seasons at the same time. The Leafs are allowing Clarke MacArthur and Grabovski to hit the market, the Sabres are doing the same with Nathan Gerbe. Not that it makes a whole lot of sense, but it only serves to chum the waters in the market in general. The problem there is that a lot of teams have a lot of needs, and all these buyouts (or in the Bruins' case, trades to clear cap space) are being made not because deals are necessarily unpalatable in some cases, but rather because they want to go shopping. It doesn't make a lot of sense to undervalue some of these guys otherwise, especially given how little is actually on the market to begin with.

    Read More »from Something to keep in mind about the UFAs today (Trending Topics)
  • 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.

    One may spin and spin and still be an incompetent.

    Canucks Mike Gillis can try to justify the decision to trade Cory Schneider instead of Roberto Luongo after all of this nonsense any old way he pleases. Was it about getting a good value for whatever asset they could unload? Was it about how unmovable the Luongo contract ended up being? Was it about not wanting to buy out Luongo because of how much it would cost? Was it all of those things? Was it something else?

    At the end of the day, this was handled in an absolutely abhorrent manner by the Canucks, and the only thing that made you forget what a friggin' sideshow all of it was pretty much from the outset was how publicly good-natured Luongo himself was about it.

    Here's how bad it got by the end: The team's owner had to go to Luongo's house in Florida to personally tell him about the deal in the seconds before it happened, while Schneider was left to find out about it on television, even though the deal was apparently agreed the night before.

    The problem with all of this is obviously right out there. They pissed Luongo off by going to Schneider down the stretch and then in the playoffs in 2011-12, then they said they would move him, then they didn't. Then they said they'd figure it out at some point this season, then they didn't. And now they've been forced to settle for what has always been simultaneously the most inevitable and least-comfortable conclusion, much to their own detriment.

    It wouldn't surprise me at all if this were the last major decision of Gillis' tenure in Vancouver.

    Read More »from What We Learned: End of Vancouver goalie absurdity; NHL Draft winners, losers
  • Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    The Tampa Bay Lightning made the entire hockey world have a collective heart attack when it was revealed they would indeed be giving Vinny Lecavalier his long-called-for buyout.

    It was obviously something that needed to be done, but the belief was that it wouldn't. Price tag was too big, and all that.

    It took considerable chutzpah for owner Jeff Vinik to actually get the money together to pay Lecavalier the almost $33 million he's now due over the next 14 years (though one supposes it's preferable to the $38 million in salary and bonuses they would have had to pay him over the next three seasons alone).

    It also took about the same amount from Steve Yzerman, whose idea this must have been and who had to go to the guy cutting checks and ask him

    Read More »from Lecavalier buyout reminder of stupidity of long-term deals for NHL veterans (Trending Topics)
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    Hello, 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.

    BY RYAN LAMBERT

    Following Boston's suffocating Game 3 performance and the way in which the Chicago Blackhawks looked bereft of answers for what the underdogs were presenting defensively, it appeared for all the world that this series was over.

    Those in the ravening hordes who called for Joel Quenneville to do what he did to turn around the Detroit series were once again massing at the gates and screaming, "Put Toews and Kane together!"

    Finally, they were satiated when the Game 4 line sheets came out.

    They weren't wrong, either. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together had, after all, helped to break whatever anti-offense spell the Wings and their flimflam defensive corps pieced together in building their now-infamous 3-1 lead; they played very few minutes together at even strength in Games 1 through 3, but when Game 4 started going badly, Quenneville put them out at the same time and got something out of it. They spent the rest of that series pummeling the Wings in possession if not points themselves (a combined 1-3-4 in three games, all of them wins, all pretty convincing).

    The way in which they pushed around the Red Wings was apparently forgotten in the Conference Finals against Los Angeles, largely because that kind of firepower wasn't all that necessary early on. It wasn't until Chicago lost Game 3 that the bright idea to put two of the 15 or so best players on the planet together dawned on Quenneville once again, and the Blackhawks suddenly went out and scored a lot of goals, driven by four from Kane alone. Almost as if by magic.

    That the coach then went back to the "keep them apart" well to start the Cup Final was perhaps predictable because he had done it before, but it also didn't seem to be particularly well-advised. Neither Kane nor Toews factored into the scoring, and in fact seemed completely confused as to how both the Zdeno Chara/Dennis Seidenberg pairing and Patrice Bergeron line were shuttering them, even as they drove possession.

    After pulling out the opener on the thinnest margins, Games 2 and 3 didn't go well for Chicago by most measures either. So it was that facing another game at TD Garden, where Boston had been largely invincible in these playoffs, once again called for drastic action. Quenneville was being thoroughly out-coached by Claude Julien, but only because he couldn't figure out that, or at least why, Bergeron was killing Kane in particular. Putting together the two best offensive talents in the series, then, seemed a pretty good solution for only having scored five goals in about 12 periods of hockey.

    Nine goals in 129:51 later, and the people who called for the two to be put together are now looking rather prescient. Toews has three points, Kane four. A series that seemed so hopeless about a week ago now appears almost ludicrously winnable. But this isn't the decision that turned the series around. Anyone could have made it. Quenneville, in fact, should have made it after Game 2 and saved himself and his team the indignity of being dominated the next time out. The series might already be over.

    Instead, the coaching call that altered the shape of the entire series and backed the Bruins to the precipice of being eliminated on home ice was Julien's.

    Read More »from What We Learned: How Stanley Cup Final turned entirely on one coaching decision
  • Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Getty ImagesThis Stanley Cup Final has been crazy. So much drama, so much overtime, and so little difference between wins and losses. Because this is the Final, and there's so much time between games, that lends itself to a lot of lazy navel-gazing which in turn lends itself to some rather inane analysis. Not that it's not easy to buy into.

    Take, for example, the trope that Corey Crawford has a weak glove hand, and that the Bruins have somehow discovered it and thus targeted it throughout the series. This was brought up continually throughout Wednesday's Game 4, as all five of the goals he conceded beat him high to the glove side, and oh the laughs we shared. "Doesn't he know he's supposed to catch the puck?" the hockey world snickered collectively in a million-car pileup to see who could craft the best Michael Jackson glove joke before someone overdosed on glee and dropped dead before the overtime started.

    Dan Paille's two goals in Games 2 and 3 were both to Crawford's glove side, as were all three in Game 1. Wow, why are they starting the guy, right? It got to the point where even Doc Emrick was making derisive comments in his own way, noting that when the occasional saved shot to that side which was gloved and held, Crawford seemed to do it with no problem at all, as though it were a novelty. Certainly, this has not been a good series for the Chicago netminder, who earned a share of the Jennings this year, but this is another tired extension of the same, "The book on this guy is to shoot high," gimmick media members trot out to sound like they have any idea about a goaltender's weaknesses.

    The book on every goalie is to shoot high, and the book on Crawford has always been to shoot to his glove side. This analysis of Chicago's 2010-11 and '11-12 seasons shows that about a quarter of all goals scored against the Blackhawks over those two seasons were high to the glove side, while another 23 percent or so were low blocker, and about one in five went five-hole. Crawford, you'll note, has been the No. 1 goaltender for Chicago in each of those campaigns. This isn't National Treasure. Claude Julien didn't find some centuries-old code about it scrawled on the other side of a ceiling tile from George Washington's first military headquarters in Cambridge. Even Crawford acknowledges that this is a problem. Not that it would be easy to get a breakdown of how each of the Bruins' 150 shots so far in this series has been targeted, but his stated "99 percent" doesn't seem like it's all that far off. Even still, he's stopped 138 of those 150 (.920 save percentage), so I don't think it's necessarily all that detrimental.

    Read More »from Come for the exciting Stanley Cup playoff hockey, stay for the narratives! (Trending Topics)
  • What We Learned: Worst thing about NHL Awards? The voters

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    Hello, 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.

    Hockey fans will absolutely hate to hear this, but here it is anyway: There's one thing baseball does way better than hockey, and to which this sport really needs to switch as soon as humanly possible.

    The Baseball Writers' Association of America makes a point to publish the ballots of every person who voted for Major League Baseball's awards, and that level of accountability is generally welcomed in the sports world at large. You know exactly who voted for exactly what, and writers who made some of the more absurd picks for the MVP or Cy Young awards have to try to defend those choices as best they can.

    The Professional Hockey Writers' Association, however, does not publish the individual ballots of its members, and that they don't is ludicrous. This was a debate that kicked up around the end of the regular season, when some writers, in the interest of transparency and to engender discussion, said who they voted for when it came to a number of awards and often why they did so. That they were occasionally wrong in their voting is to be expected, because no one can get everything right all the time, but at least those writers in particular had the guts to say, "No, I didn't think Sergei Bobrovsky was more valuable to his team than Jonathan Toews," no matter how ridiculous such a statement was.

    But that the organization doesn't do so is ridiculous and a little cowardly.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Worst thing about NHL Awards? The voters
  • Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    The Stanley Cup Final started Wednesday night, but the headlines both immediately before that game and on the day following were in some ways far more intriguing.

    There had been a week of questions about what Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero might do, being under the whip from Mario Lemieux as he was, when it comes to making what could potentially be wholesale changes to a team that has been bounced from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion in each of the last three seasons.

    And then the answer to all of them, apparently, was, "Nothing."

    On Wednesday, just several hours before the puck dropped on Game 1 of the Cup Final between the team that beat his team for the best record in the regular season, and the one that swept it out of the Eastern Conference Finals with a vulgar display of dominance, Shero held a one-hour press conference that reminded the neutral observer of Muhammad al Sahhaf. "Everything in Mighty Pittsburgh is as it should be! The jackals around the league cannot hope to damage the great power of the Penguins!"

    Dan Bylsma, rumored to be embattled (though for silly reasons)? Re-signed for another two years.

    All his assistants? Riding back into the breach at his side once again.

    This seemed more than fair. The idea that the Penguins didn't beat the Bruins — and, again, were humiliated by them — had little to do with his inability to adapt to the chess game Claude Julien was playing with him from the other bench, though it certainly didn't help things. The argument could be made that the Penguins certainly had their chances, particularly in Games 3 and 4, to make the series at least somewhat interesting, but they got more or less zero bounces to go their way over the course of those four games, and that's just how hockey goes sometimes.

    Firing a coaching staff whose charges finished second in the league and in the postseason's final four always seemed shortsighted, even if you might have expected an assistant or two to get shuffled out for the sake of someone's head rolling and maybe changing up, well, anything.

    What didn't make sense in that press conference was that Shero, like Bylsma days before him, went to the mattresses for a guy who was the culprit in the first two of the apparently unacceptable first-round losses of the previous two postseasons, and would have been one again this year until sanity prevailed and he got his ass hot-glued to the bench in favor of a 36-year-old with limited playoff experience.

    That Marc-Andre Fleury has received a vote of confidence from his coach and general manager -- using roughly the same words to describe their deep and abiding and unflagging faith in his abilities despite all evidence hollering that they should do the opposite -- comes off very much as being the talking points of an administration embroiled in scandal.

    Read More »from Penguins GM Shero content with status quo, for better or worse (Trending Topics)
  • What We Learned: Do we really appreciate Zdeno Chara enough?

    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.

    A galaxy of Pittsburgh Penguins stars blinked out, just like that; the only light remaining was from black dwarves Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz. At the center of it all, the pillar upon which Claude Julien has constructed his defense and his team and his approach to the game itself, was the NHL's resident Galactus, a towering world-eater who has been the best at his job in the entire world for a period of several years.

    The fact that we aren't falling down in with sheer joy at the idea of being able to watch Zdeno Chara play smothering, punishing, enveloping defense every time he climbs over the boards like a giant is a little sickening.

    Men of his size have moved with grace and skill and speed in other sports, but never in the full armor of an NHL player. Others approach his size, of course. Tyler Myers and John Scott and the late Derek Boogaard, all just an inch shorter. Hal Gill and Brian Boyle check in at 6-foot-7. But none have played the game at a level even approaching that of Chara's, who now moves on to his second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

    Just how unappreciated is Chara in his own time, even with the acknowledgement that he is indeed a former Norris Trophy winner and six-time All-Star? There were certain elements of the Boston media who, as recently as the Maple Leafs series, were advocating that he be stripped of the Bruins' captaincy. All that, though, has gone as silent as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Jarome Iginla, and all but five Penguins did in their terrible dud of an Eastern Conference Finals sweep.

    That Chara wasn't nominated for the Norris again this season -- or indeed, in any season since about 2007 -- seems like borderline criminal oversight by the people who vote on this sort of thing, and whose ballots typically run more or less in accordance with Nos. 1-3 in scoring by defensemen for any given season.

    Letang (who utterly embarrassed himself in every zone during this Eastern Conference Final), PK Subban and Ryan Suter were among the nominees who finished ahead of Chara, and there they go at Nos. 2, 1, and 3, respectively, in points this season.

    Chara? Well shoot, you gotta click over to the second page to find him in a tie for 38th with Patrick Wiercioch and Marek Zidlicky, among others, at 19 points this season.

    What a bum, right?

    Obviously he has a little bit of help on the defensive side of things, what with another terribly underrated defenseman in Dennis Seidenberg capable of parachuting into any matchup, alongside Chara or apart from him, as well as Patrice Bergeron, the premier defensive center in the world, in front of him. All have combined to put Tuukka Rask, as with Tim Thomas before him, in line to become a very, very rich goaltender.

    Maybe, too, it's the ordinariness of Chara's excellence that makes it so difficult to appreciate.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Do we really appreciate Zdeno Chara enough?

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