I always like to try to nail down a theme for the weekly mailbag columns to kind of get into the zeitgeist of what people are generally thinking and feeling about the NHL these days.
No such luck this week, as a combination of factors — not the least of which was the announcement that Kid Rock of all the people in the entertainment industry is playing the All-Star Game — seemed to draw people’s interest in a million different directions. Seriously, I got like a dozen questions about Kid Rock, including “What is your favorite Kid Rock song,” “What is your second-favorite Kid Rock song,” and “What is your eighth-favorite Kid Rock song?”
The answer to all those questions is “The one with Joe C,” and you can interpret that how you like.
Anyhow, since everyone’s apparently feeling all punchy about the questions this week, heck, let’s get right to ’em:
Michael asks: “If you were commissioner is there a rule/provision you would enact to force GMs to work harder/do more?”
I don’t really think there’s any sort of rule you can put into place that makes the tragically risk-averse group of 31 hockey lifers not-tragically risk-averse overnight. Obviously the league needs more intrigue in terms of player transactions, especially for, like, moving good players and all that. But the commissioner of course has no actual power over this and serves at the pleasure of the league’s owners, who of course employ the GMs and broadly dictate most of the aspects surrounding the CBA and all that.
So in an ideal world, where I’m commissioner and get to make this kind of call unilaterally, it would be nice to mandate a league-wide effort to give teams incentive to trade cap space, introduce mid-level exceptions to encourage more creative free agent signings, and generally push for the breakup of the borderline collusion that goes into no one ever poaching other team’s RFAs.
No but they generally suffer from the same issues over and over again, most notably trouble keeping the puck out of the net. A lot of that comes in the form of Cam Ward being, a) there forever, and b) bad. But one wonders what’s going on with Scott Darling.
The team gets more skilled every summer, it seems, but there’s still not anywhere near enough high-end offensive talent to really unlock all that potential. A huge percentage of the good forwards on the team are under 25, which is good, but it’s not enough to move the needle.
Until the team can somehow address that — and hey, maybe the new owner can throw around some subprime loan money this summer — they’re going to always look not-as-good-as-they-should-be. It’s a bummer because I really like the team, but that’s how it goes.
David asks: “After everything I’ve endured, I’m definitely not panicking, but is it O.K. that I’m feeling a little angst about the Leafs right now?”
For sure. They’re losing ground to the Bruins (who have two more points in four fewer games played), but while they’re not gonna get caught by Detroit or Montreal or anything, there’s a lot of cause for concern here.
Their underlying numbers are slipping, and haven’t improved in a while. They’re 2-3-3 in their last eight games, and both those wins were in the shootout, so they gave points away in literally every one of their last eight games.
Moreover, Mike Babcock doesn’t think there’s a problem. After they lost 2-1 to the Blues with no goals at 5-on-5, Babcock’s big criticism was that they didn’t defend well enough. He keeps playing Leo Komarov — almost 20 minutes on Tuesday! — and he won’t bench Roman Polak no matter how bad he looks or how many dumbass penalties he takes.
Every coach has blindspots, for sure, but there needs to be more thought here. Getting snippy with the media’s questions about your decision-making when you’ve been lucky to win two games of the last eight seems… not ideal.
They were supposed to take a big step forward. They’ve taken a step back. They’ll still make the playoffs, so they’re not Edmonton, but they’re also, y’know, in a much easier division. Edmonton would probably be ahead of Toronto if it were in the Atlantic. And that tells you plenty about how things are going for Babcock.
Rebecca asks: “Do you think the NHL is aware of how tone-deaf decisions like this are or do you think they earnestly thought a Confederate flag waving, LGBT-phobic performer was a good look for their brand?”
Of course it’s the first one. The NHL loves making tone-deaf decisions and then when people say “Hey this isn’t maybe the best idea you’ve ever had,” they get all defensive. It’s the worst-run major professional sports league in North America.
The Kid Rock thing is dumb for a whole hell of a lot of reasons, but I have seen plenty of new hockey fans see the NHL make Bad Decision X and be like, “What’s that all about?” And all the veteran hockey fans just have to go, “Ah, see, it’s like this…”
Welcome to being a hockey fan. It’s always like this.
Cat asks: “What effect do you think injuries will play in determining the winner of the Central?”
Obviously a pretty big one. Where would the Wild be without all its injuries this year? What will Chicago do with Crawford potentially out for the entire second half (besides implode)? Where would Nashville be if it had Ryan Ellis all year? St. Louis has suffered lengthy absences from Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri. Even division leaders Winnipeg has had more than a few injuries to contend with.
Injuries are a big part of this sport, but one imagines there haven’t been as many long-term injuries to higher-end players than have happened in the Central. Dallas, largely untouched by injury to any significant players (save for Marc Methot, who’s out for another week I think), could potentially take advantage. However, things are so tight in the division generally that it’s tough to do anything other than, once you get to the end of the year, go, “Ah, yeah, that probably shaved three points off their total” or whatever.
But along similar lines…
If he weren’t about to miss a huge chunk of the second half, and if he somehow got Chicago into the playoffs, then yeah absolutely. He’s .929 on a not-good team and, if they made the playoffs in a division that competitive, you’d probably have to give it to him.
But as it is, he’s probably only going to play 30-something games max, if he comes back before the end of the year, which reportedly may not happen. Injuries and a rotten team seem to have torched what should have otherwise been a highlight year in what has, frankly, been a very good career. The guy is a career .919 with just one full season under .917. That’s not something to scoff at, even if people will deride him.
Tom asks: “What are the player rights that the owners target in the next lockout?”
I think it’s safe to say they’re done going after the big player’s rights, if only because the players have been robbed of so many already.
Instead, they’ll start saying, “Well look, we’ll let you go back to the Olympics if don’t make a big stink about escrow,” and stuff like that. By and large, the owners are reportedly perfectly alright with the current CBA, so it will almost certainly be the players opting out. And they should, because the owners have been twisting them pretty hard for years.
LmK asks: “Will people watch men’s ice hockey at the Olympics with the NHL boycott of the games?”
I don’t think people would have been super eager to watch a bunch of games at 4 in the morning or whatever even if it was all NHLers. Now with the games at that time, and the biggest “name” player in the tournament being Brian Gionta? It’s gonna be a pass for all but the truly sick (i.e., me).
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.