Countdown: WAR, and waiting on RFA extensions

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Waiting on Willy Nylander. (Canadian Press)
Waiting on Willy Nylander. (Canadian Press)

6. What is it good for?

A lot of debate about the efficacy of a WAR stat in hockey this week and as you might imagine it took a whole lot of misunderstanding to get that debate going in the first place.

Not that I want to wade too much into that debate here (obviously I am all for a single-number measure of player quality assuming all aspects of it can be worked out properly) but the thing is if you’re gonna have a debate you gotta understand what you’re talking about. I’m not going to have a roundtable on the subject of, like, volcanoes without getting a couple geologists on the record. Just getting some guy who’s climbed a mountain or two to say, “Volcanoes is when mountains do lava,” is not very interesting.

Like yeah, a good WAR stat would take into account that a shot suppressed might not the have the same value as a shot generated, and would figure out a way to account for that. No one is saying today’s WAR models are definitive but if they routinely spit out that the guys we think are the best players in the league have the highest WAR (and currently, they do) then we’re at least on the right track.

People love to compare this stuff to baseball because baseball had the same stats-based arguments hockey has now 15 years ago. Now, with ample highway in the rearview here, we can see that the skeptics in baseball who were not sure you could suss out the value of a little extra speed when running down line drives relative to that of a guy who walks 7 percent more than the league average were wrong. These are things that can be figured out. In hockey, it might require a little better data than we have today, but the idea that there will never be a useful way to measure a shutdown center’s value relative to that of a high-scoring, never-backchecks winger is absurd.

And by the way, you are absolutely not allowed to @ me about this.

5. What a prospect is

Earlier this week the Flames and Canadiens swapped two 2013 first-round picks, with Hunter Shinkaruk heading to Montreal in exchange for Kerby Rychel.

Both seem like okay AHL guys who never lived up to the hype, but more than a few headlines I saw about the trade (which, look, it’s August) mentioned something about both guys being “prospects.” They are not. They’re both about 24 with about 50 combined games of NHL experience and very little scoring in those games. These are no longer prospects, as they are (maybe) replacement-level call-up guys.

You need players like that, for sure, just as insulation against injury and to round out your AHL roster with guys who can play the full 200 and all that sort of thing. There are plenty of guys who carve out decade-long careers in the AHL and almost always earn six figures doing that. It’s not a bad way to make a living, but let’s not confuse soon-to-be AHL/KHL/Swiss league lifers with guys who just need a break.

With hundreds of games of pro experience in their back pockets, these guys are more or less what they’re gonna be. Doesn’t preclude them from becoming one of those guys who finally gets an NHL job at age 28 or something, but the odds of that are slim. And that’s fine. Let’s just keep some perspective.

4. Auston Matthews being very rude

The Leafs’ best player (sorry John!) caused a small kerfuffle this week when he told the Athletic that he wouldn’t mind being the Leafs captain but also doesn’t think it would change him in any way.

You are not allowed to say stuff like this in hockey. Any time someone asks if you’re ready to be captain of a team, or an All-Star, or anything with some amount of capital-H Honor attached to it, you are supposed to sheepishly go, “Who me? Ohhhh I don’t know!!!” and flutter your eyelashes.

The fact is that being captain carries with it certain fake responsibilities that wouldn’t affect a guy like Matthews either way. Maybe being Shane Doan and being captain of the Coyotes for 40 years is different because you’re the face of the franchise in more ways than one. But if you’re Matthews, a legit superstar in the biggest market in the sport, you’ve got mics shoved in your face with a lot to answer for if you take an extra 10 seconds washing your hands in the bathroom. Having the “C” on his sweater wouldn’t change that one way or the other.

Of course, by not aw-shucksing his way out of this one, he only invites more scrutiny, so that’s a big mistake. This kid isn’t ready for prime time!

3. Extensions for RFAs

Speaking of the Leafs (I know, sorry!), it hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that Willy Nylander still isn’t signed for next season. I’m guessing he’s a holdout when camp opens. Just kidding.

But despite the headlines he’s not the only one. Jordan Schmaltz, Noah Hanifin, Sam Reinhart, Darnell Nurse, and Shea Theodore are also unsigned — plus a handful of other guys I forget — and no one’s really talking about it? Why? Because it’s not really that big of a deal. They have like three and a half weeks to get something signed and they’re all going to. No one thinks otherwise.

But if you pretend like you think otherwise, or that this isn’t just something that happens? You’re in click city, baby!

2. Foreign journalism

One of the best things about the NHL offseason, for me, is when guys from Europe go back home and take the time to do an interview with the local media in their own language. All the stuff we expect from hockey players in North America like, “Ah you know, all credit to my teammates, I just went to the front of the net and worked hard and when you do that, good things happen,” goes away.

In European media, hockey players are fun and engaging and say stuff that’s actually interesting, and Johnny Oduya reinforced that this week when he revealed to the Swedish newspaper Expressen that when he was with Ottawa, it was seen from the inside as a huge mess and a house of cards that would collapse in on itself at the slightest sign of an issue.

Not that we didn’t already know that was the case or anything, because we did, but to hear it anyway? That’s the good stuff, buddy! All European players should only do interviews in their native language from now on.

1. The Ondrej Kase deal

I’m really not sure how Bob Murray got Ondrej Kase to think he was only worth $2.6 million AAV this season but it worked and you have to respect that. For his (brief) career, Kase scores about 17-19-36 every 82 games.

So compare that with what Tom Wilson got this summer and marvel at Murray’s genius.

(Not ranked this week: Labor strife.

Seeing everyone talk about the 2020-21 lockout this week was a real bummer. Not a fan. Don’t read about that.)

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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