Your weekly dose of hockey-related banter and chitchat
Welcome to Where the Puck Drops, a weekly-or-more-often-run column in which I cover some of the hot topics around world-hockey, plus some historical issues, random questions and other tidbits linked to the sport of the puck, the sticks and the goalie masks. This week, among other stuff, I talk about Jaromir Jagr coming back for one last ride, an Artemi Panarin’s comparable wonder-player and how stupid is the tandem Pittsburgh has been counting on for so long.
1. Congratulations on signing Jagr
The Calgary Flames have signed Jaromir Jagr. So, we can infer that the Calgary Flames posses a clever enough staff as to complete this operation. Thank God. It felt like this story was about to turn into an infinite unfinished piece of business that would keep Jagr out of our sight for the time being. But, guess what, no! That is not the case no more!
If you’re reading this you probably know who am I talking about. Jaromir Jagr is a man. He, also, was born in Czechoslovakia, which if you know a little history was back then comprised of what now are the Czech Republic and Slovakia. That makes you start wondering how old this guy is. Well, Jagr is 45 years old and will turn – we hope – 46 next February. You know what the average male expectancy is in the Czech Republic? 79 years. You know how many years has Jaromir Jagr spend playing professional hockey? 29 years. This means Jagr is almost equally distant from his death that he his from his first professional hockey player season. Nuts.
Anyways, he is still capable of playing, and by far. Forget about the young players dominating the league for a minute. Jagr put up 46 points in 82 games last season playing in Florida. He finished the year as the 4th Panther with most points only behind three under-26 players and 119th in the NHL (where a total of 888 registered statistics). That’s value right there, and he’s going to Calgary to play for his first Canadian team after having played for eight American ones.
Good job Flames, thanks for keeping this Jagr-mania alive.
2. Ranking players brings back the stupidity of Pittsburgh
Hockey is back tonight as the NHL will keep celebrating its Centennial season, year, anniversary or whatever they feel like they’re are celebrating. Leading up to tonight’s games the main focus of every conceivable media outlet has been to produce rankings. Rankings of teams, rankings of forwards, rankings of defensemen, rankings of rookies, etc. And it’s been pretty hard for me to watch any of those in which 1) Sidney Crosby was not disrespected and put behind Conor McDavid as the second-best player in the NHL right now, which is ridiculous at least at this moment in time; and 2) Evgeni Malkin was not named a Top 5 player among all the field of active NHL professionals.
Look, hockey is not a sport where one player can get you to the championship by himself. The best players in hockey don’t play more than between 20 and 25 minutes per game, which is already insane but just a third of the total available minutes. They see the ice in short spans of time and yes they decide the outcome of games in most of the cases, but it’s not that they’re as crucial as a bonafide star basketball player such as LeBron James or Steph Curry can be for their teams. The thing is, it’s rare to find teams in which two superstars and top – true, true elite – players play in the same team, much less in the same position.
Think of LeBron playing in the same team as Durant, only one of them must be in the bench every time the other is on the court. So the rotation kicks in and you flip them, and what is the outcome? You don’t lose quality at all. Heck, you may even be better now than you were a minute ago. Well, this is what the Penguins have in the Crosby-Malkin pair. And it is insane, and stupid.
How can we not consider Pittsburgh consensus Stanley Cup favorites? Together they scored 161 points last season, and they don’t play on the same line neither do they play different positions. It’s crazy. Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler scored 156. Close, right? Yes, only they play next to each other at center and right wing on the first line of Jets’ forwards. McDavid and Draisaitl got to 177 points, but they played huge chunks next to each other in the same structure as Scheifele-Wheeler. Crosby and Malkin only shared the ice for nine minutes on 5v5 situations during the 2016-17 season, and they didn’t even helped each other score a goal during those brief moments.
Forget about other team beating the Penguins for the foreseeable future. I’m sorry to be the one breaking the news, but they are here to stay.
3. Who’s the new Panarin to last season’s Kane?
Everybody seems to love Artemi Panarin. Everybody thought and still thinks Chicago lost the trade with the Blue Jackets that saw the Russian go to Columbus mostly in exchange of Brandon Saad. But to what point Panarin is Panarin? To what extent is he as good as his numbers indicate? Because you know what? Patrick Kane looks like half-Panarin – and the other way around – if you look at the whole Blackhawk picture.
During last season, Panarin finished with 74 points and Kane with 89. On 5v5 situations, they played 996 minutes next to each other – a good 80% of Panarin’s total TOI on those even strength moments. So while Artemi surely displayed his abilities on the ice and got to his performance numbers in big part by his own merits, the fact that Kane was out there bumped his outcome. This has been a huge topic of conversation during the summer, and it will be interesting to see how this new scenery plays out for both of them.
But something that has escaped most of us is how another player has been in this exact same situation last year during his rookie season, which is normal considering he was even considered by some as a realistic candidate to win the Conn Smythe trophy over Crosby and Malkin and Murray and whoever you want to name. The suspect, Jake Guentzel. This guy was drafted 77th in 2013 and made his debut just a few months ago. He played 40 games for the Penguins, and somehow he ended on the first line of Pittsburgh’s forwards with an average TOI of 15:53. What does this mean? This means Guentzel played with Crosby more than he played with any other player. Just looking at playoff statistics, Jake spent 322 minutes with Crosby and only 98 away from him.
How can you not put up huge numbers playing next to the best player in hockey? It doesn’t matter if you throw rocks at the center of the ice praying for someone to appear. We’re talking about Mighty Sidney. Mighty Sidney will get that rock, drop it to the floor, deke here and there, and score. Boom. There you have your assist. And the same goes in the opposite direction, when Guentzel didn’t have to chase fired up pucks to his wing because they were silky-served from Crosby’s stick.
Things have not changed in Pittsburgh during the summer. Not on this front. So expect another super-season from Guentzel, if you can consider it that good after taking context into account.
4. The worst of the worst
For the first time in 17 years we had an expansion in the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights joined the league and became the 31st (odd) team. An expansion draft – or that is what we were made to believe, because it was just the making of a list – was held, players moved places, GMs traded assets in intelligent and not so intelligent ways and all that put Vegas at the bottom of the order in terms of roster quality. No one gave a dollar for the team back in June, and probably not now either, but opinions have turned a little during the past few weeks.
Yes, Vegas is a dumpster fire. Yes, Vegas doesn’t have a competitive roster. Yes, there will be surprises but those will be the least, let’s be real. The good thing for Vegas, then? They’re not alone! The Red Wings will be down there in the mud. Vancouver doesn’t look like nothing special and the Sedins are still Canada-residents. Colorado exists.
Colorado exists, and this is very important. It is important because the Avs start the new season without even knowing what they’re pursuing. Is Colorado trying to keep their core under Sakic’s reins for as long as possible with the Strangle-a-Duchene strategy? Are the Avs playing the waiting game until there is no time left, the trade deadline arrives, and they find themselves selling low? Should Colorado just blow everything up and start all over again? The answer is – or should be, at least – the latter.
Matt Duchene is toxic. He wants out. Sakic is blocking him because he wants the moon and then some for the forward. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon will eventually feel like they’re losing years by staying in Colorado. The team’s defense, barring maybe the presence of Tyson Barrie, doesn’t look like nothing promising. Even Calvin Pickard bolted and was selected by the very own Golden Knights to play second fiddle to Fleury.
Fire Sakic. Trade half the team. Get picks. Start again. Rebuild. You’re not going to waste more time than the one you’re already burning, Colorado.
5. Speaking of destroying teams
What will happen in Washington next spring? What will happen when Alex Ovechkin, for the one hundred fourteenth time, can’t get the Capitals past the second round? Get ready for some not-so-pretty words coming your way Washington locker room, because oh boy they are coming!
The Caps had the chance to turn the page. Maybe it made no sense to do it after all, but I’m inclined to think it was the way to go. Washington bores us. It is always the same. Another year scoring, another year dominating for months, another year fighting for conquering a league that ultimately slaps them in the face. And it won’t change. It won’t change because the Capitals have already gave it all. I don’t think there is even a little left in that group. Ovechkin is regressing, T.J. Oshie got more money than he could have ever imagined and will gladly let time go by, Kuznetsov will find himself loner than no one and Holtby will be the pillar keeping the structure afloat, but not much more.
What did even Washington did this summer? I mean, what did they do? They didn’t retool. They didn’t improve. They didn’t do nothing important. In any case they lost some interesting pieces such as Justin Williams, Karl Alzner or Kevin Shattenkirk. They traded away Marcus Johansson for nothing. But hey, they signed Devante Smith-Pelly!
This team has lost its north, and that may be fun for us after all. I don’t mind watching the same people trying and fail over and over again. It actually is funnier each new time they do, so there’s that.
6. Sorry not sorry
The 4th overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft, Jesse Puljujärvi, is going back to the minors. Not that it surprises me, but oh boy, he’s lost his spot to Kayler Yamamoto, who is a newcomer drafted just a few weeks ago and who isn’t taller than Johnny Gaudreau.
Yes, Yamamoto will probably play his 9 test-games and go down, and Puljujärvi may come back to the first team, but it must hurt. It must hurt deep.
7. The NHL is finally back!
So what more needs to be said!