After watching and typing all that, I want to issue an apology to the Canadian in the bar I was at for the glaring looks. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m a self admitted Rangers fan, have been for as long as I can remember. I try not to let that influence my writing when I’m talking about the entire league; but at the same time I’m not really at that point in writing were I can just take the Rangers jersey out of my closet, or stop wearing the comfortable winter hat from the Winter Classic. I’m still a Rangers fan, and that’s bound to influence a decision here or there. When I write for Blueshirts United, my tag line insists that I’ve been a Rangers fan since ’94. But I don’t really have any idea at all as to when I started cheering for the NY Rangers. I remember I was around three/four years old when the Rangers won that Stanley Cup, my neighbors across the street who got me into the sport of hockey were celebrating a lot. They passed the fan-dom down to me, partly with their awesome dog… Ranger.
With the current captain, Ryan Callahan, I’ve greatly enjoyed watching him play for the team I like. All of those cliche words about him being the ‘gritty’ ‘tough’ ‘blue-collar’ player really do describe him. He may not be the best finesse wise, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his scoring touch every now and then. He’s no Crosby or Toews, not even a Getzlaf or Tavares – I’m not sure if I’d count on him in a clutch situation like I would those players, and I’d rather build my team around one of those four than him. He’s mostly comparable to someone like Dustin Brown from LA, or Jason Pominville when he was a Buffalo Sabre. His minutes, especially under Tortorella came all over, penalty kill and power play time, even strength and so on. Callahan is a very versatile player, he’s able to excel when placed in different situations throughout a game.
So when rumors of the Rangers GM Glen Sather possibly trading away Callahan with all of the contract talks that are also going around, I was still a little shocked at first. Callahan hasn’t been the best player, but he’s certainly done enough to warrant remaining a Ranger for the time being. At first, I just shrugged all of this off as one side in the contract negotiations attempting to gain an upper hand. Either Callahan’s camp to show the desire for a player of his caliber among other teams in the league, or from Sather’s camp showing them just how easily they can ship him away instead of giving him the money or terms he desired.
When the rumors kept coming out, including that Callahan’s camp is fielding questions on future contract considerations from potential trade partners this season, and that Sather wanted to know more about his future with the team before this Friday, was very surprising. What is Callahan asking for? A reported seven year deal worth around $42 million. What are the Rangers offering him? A five year deal worth around $30 million. To get the latest on what’s going on with Callahan, check out ESPN-NY’s Katie Strang and her update on the situation.
Is what Callahan is asking for reasonable? Probably not. Right now, for his 20-25 goal pace, he is in a 3 year $12 million contract. Add on his injuries and play style, and while that may warrant more, I don’t think it’s upwards of $40 million. Callahan’s agent is probably trying to find a similar deal to Dustin Brown of the Kings who has an eight year $47 million contract waiting for him. The two are very similar players, even that they were raised in a not-so-bad drive in between from the other. But Callahan has never eclipsed the 30 goal mark like Brown has. Callahan has never eclipsed the 30 assist mark like Brown has, and finds himself with 154 less points over an NHL career that is two years shorter than Brown’s. Still, taking in Callahan’s average number of points a season, and adding that to his current total twice to make up for those two missing years, and Callahan still doesn’t match Brown’s output. Simply put, it’s a bad place for Callahan’s agent to start for Callahan. A deal similar to a Getzlaf would be even worse, so at least the man’s using his head a bit.
Looking at the statistics more in depth, as Jonathan Willis of Bleacher Report did, Callahan is simply not worth the contract he’s asking. One of the more telling statistics that Willis pulls out? That if Callahan got a contract over six million a year cap hit, as the contract he’s asking for would, he would join elite company. Company that puts up on average 50% offensive production a year, and minute more of ice time a game. A minute of ice time a game may not seem like very much, but adding up over a season, and that makes a big difference. Especially considering that with the regime change behind the bench, Callahan’s average of around 21 minutes game has gone down to just below 18 minutes a game. That means less time in those situations that he has proved valuable in the past, which will only lead to a lack of production in points. Not a good sign.
Also on Bleacher Report, Dave Lozo goes into why this could all just be a move that Sather and other GM’s have used on the regular with information such as this; and partly because of the Rangers upcoming cap situation. They have a lot of free agents in the upcoming seasons, and with Lundqvist’s new contract, and (most notably) the mishandling of Kreider for a few seasons, and that’s going to be a big issue – even if the salary cap level goes up. So when it comes down to it, Lozo concludes (and I agree) Sather and the Rangers are going to fight a lot over a few hundred thousand dollars, because that frees up some more money for Girardi (who Willis also goes into money & stats wise), and other upcoming free agents.
Could he become another Brandon Dubinsky? Dubinsky was another ‘blue-collar’ type player from the Rangers farm system, like Callahan, but last season after a lack of production and/or a lack of gelling with the big names (plus Sather really wanting a prolific scorer like Nash on the team), he was traded to the Blue Jackets. Could they take Callahan out of New York because he doesn’t fit into the ‘plans’?
So far, the stats say Dubinsky is turning into a better player with the Blue Jackets – or at least being used more effectively. His time on ice, point production, and other stats have all improved since joining the team. Dubinsky has one more year left on his deal before the Blue Jackets can even think about over or under paying the man, I haven’t seen any rumors come out, but would Callahan possibly thrive under a new situation? Returning to the article by Willis, the stats say no. At the (about) half way point of that article, Willis goes into stats on players peak scoring age (25 which both players have past), and production for players that begin their career between ages 20-22 (which Callahan did). And the less time on ice for Callahan this season suggests that he’s not exactly in favor with the current coach in New York as he was with the last one.
In the end, I’m in agreement with what both Lozo and Willis conclude with. Lozo writes that he thinks Sather wants Callahan to remain a Ranger, just not for the terms floating out there. Willis concludes that any team, and especially the Rangers, would be crazy in signing him for the terms floating out there – even if he might get it. That sounds about right looking at the whole thing. Even if Callahan does move on to having a year or two of success elsewhere, everything suggests that come year three or even four of the deal, he would be far from warranting that kind of contract.
As a fan that has loved seeing Callahan suit up for the Rangers, the idea that he could be anything but a Ranger for the rest of his career is… sad? Maybe not sad. He is one of those players though that you imagine never taking off the jersey. Like Lundqvist. Like Leetch (whoops that didn’t work). He is a player who, as a younger fan of the franchise, I think of right off the bat when I think of the team. I imagine him being the player that crotchety old me calls into radio talk shows shouting how much the Rangers of future-years need on the roster to get back to former-glory (glory-ish I guess…). And most of all, he’s the kind of guy you name your dog after.
When the season started, I wrote how I thought each division would do this season. You can go check that, and laugh at me, by clicking right here. If you don’t feel like clicking that though, don’t worry. I’m about to tell you who I’m horribly wrong about, who I was right about, and fixes from here. Kind of like what Sean McIndoe did over on Grantland. Just different. I tried to keep all of the stats/standings/etc referenced at Friday the 22nd. I also won’t be trying to have witty titles this time… maybe.
Also: make sure you remember the new NHL playoff system; the top three from each division make it and the next two spots go to the next two best records from the conference. So as of 11/22, the playoff teams would be Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey, Detroit and Montreal from the Eastern Conference & Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix, Minnesota and Los Angles from the Western Conference.
Out of all of the teams in this division, I was most wrong about the Tampa Bay Lightning. On the heels of another hot start from Steven Stamkos, and great goaltending from Ben Bishop, the Lightning have 28 points already this season. They didn’t have that many points in last years lockout shortened season until the end of March, and in 2011-12, not until mid-December – so that’s very good for them. The bad news though? This happened to Steven Stamkos earlier this month. Now they’re on a three game skid, though 6-4 in their last ten games, and with talks that Stamkos will be out until around the Sochi Olympics in February, things could change drastically for the ‘Bolts. They’re scoring around 2.7 goals a game, and allowing 2.6, if those numbers stay around the same, the drop-off won’t be too drastic. Here’s hoping for a healthy Stamkos to return soon, they were a fun team to watch this year.
With the remaining teams, I misplaced Detroit – who have been having some troubles lately amid some injuries to their offseason acquisitions – and it probably isn’t fair to the three Canadian teams to call them middle of the pack compared to Florida and Buffalo. The Senators haven’t been particularly great, but have been at least competitive most of the time. Both Florida and Buffalo have already changed their coaches, and have fans looking towards trade deadline day and next season… and we’re a quarter of the way through. Toronto is on the cusp of being at the top of the division, but we’re led to believe by advance stats that they’ll fall sooner or later from their high spot. I’ve been able to watch a lot of them on the CBC feed that trickles down to Buffalo, and for a good portion of the games I’ve watched they just seem out of it (such as getting outshot by the Capitals for a portion of tonight’s game; or splitting a home and home with the Buffalo Sabres).
I’ll be sticking with all but one of my original predictions – that is, I think Tampa Bay will improve and become a middle of the pack team after recovering from the Stamkos injury. Ben Bishop has been playing lights out, and if Stamkos is able to return after the Olympic break, that will be the right injury they need to fight for a playoff spot. It’s definitely too late for the Panthers and Sabres, but I do think the Red Wings will rebound once the injuries die down a bit – Gustav Nyquist seemed to be a big spark to their lineup the other night.
Ha, boy was I wrong about a lot of these teams. Pittsburgh does indeed lead the division, but after that it’s New Jersey and Washington – two teams I thought would be sitting at the bottom of the Metro-pack. Then come the Rangers, then Philly, oh and then Carolina, followed by Colombus and the Islanders. Whoops. What happened? The Capitals don’t have the best Fenwick and if you click on their name, you’ll see the performance graph isn’t in their favor either. With a lead though, they’re one of the best teams in the league – with above .800% chances to win after the 1st and 2nd periods. That points to an offensive attack that is relentless, and goaltending from Holtby primarily that has been getting the job done. New Jersey has also been very good in net, who knew Martin Brodeur was still one of the best in the league? They also haven’t been too hard-pressed to find replacement scoring from the departure of Kovalchuck, Jaromir Jagr surprisingly has scored some big goals for them this season. However, with one of the lowest goals per game average sitting in the bottom four of the league (near two fellow division teams in the Rangers and Hurricanes… and Buffalo), they could have problems soon if their goaltending stops playing phenomenally.
Meanwhile, the New York Rangers have been hampered down on injuries on offense – Rick Nash just recently returned to the lineup, and others including Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin were injured at times this season. Once again, they’re a team that has the “Could be…” label as they start to get healthy. I’m not totally convinced though, the defense has also been a major problem – though that could just be a result of the offense not being able to provide consistent pressure in the opposing team’s end. Who the hell are these Philadelphia Flyers? After they fired their coach, I thought they’d be more dead than Buffalo; guess not. The Islanders and Hurricanes need more out of their defense and goaltending – last year’s Vezina trophy winner Bobrovsky with the Blue Jackets has said that this season hasn’t been up to his standards.
Where would I place these teams now? Pittsburgh obviously remains at the top, bearing any goaltending issues they won’t be moved atop the Metro Division. From there though, it all goes up in the air. It’s no secret this division is one of the worst in the league . If you place any of the division’s teams in the Western Conference and they don’t make the playoffs right now. That’s really bad. I think Washington will keep up with the Penguins for the most part, with the Rangers not too far behind. After that, and these are all non-playoff teams, you have the Devils, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Islanders. To think right now that the Metro would send one of the ‘Wild Card’ teams is a little too ‘out there’ for me.
I wasn’t so much as wrong with the Colorado Avalanche, but more not thinking Patrick Roy behind the the bench would have this much of an effect on the team. They’re 16-5-0 – that’s crazy good, and a helluva lot better than I thought they’d be. Still though, Chicago and St. Louis sit above them, and with goalie troubles possibly on the horizon with Varlamov being formally charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend, things could turn out to be a little grim for the Avalanche. And with the two powerhouses above them showing no signs of slowing down, the Avalanche may have to get comfy sitting in the third spot in the division. Still, for what I (and I’m sure others) expected out of the team this season this is quite the record, and they’ll be very dangerous come the playoffs.
The bad news for Nashville and Winnipeg? Their point totals would get them a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. But it won’t when three of the best teams in the league sit ten points up of you, in your own division. Neither have had particularly solid goaltending, though Pekka Rinne in Nashville has been battling an infection in his surgically repaired hip. While the Jets haven’t had much go their way. Looking at the advanced statistics, it looks like a trend upwards is on the horizon. But they’ll need a lot of help from the teams in front of them if they’d like to crawl back into a playoff position even though we’re just a quarter of the way through the season.
Aside from adding Colorado to the front of the pack in this division, I’ll stick to the rest of my picks for the division. Nashville and Winnipeg stick where they are at the bottom, Minnesota and Dallas continue to fight for a wild card spot, and the Blackhawks and Blues battle for the President’s Trophy.
I thought the San Jose Sharks were going to be on their way down from greatness, regressing if you will back to being an average team after all of that time spent as one of the best in the Western Conference. Instead, this year they’ve roared out to one of the best starts, sit with 3 regulation losses, and aside from a recent string of losses but with the loser point (OT or shootout), they’ve been very very good. Goaltending has been great, but even better than that is the amount of goals they’ve scored. They have the largest goal differential, +30, in the league – five up on the next closest team (the Blues). Phoenix can also join that group as playing better than I thought, though they haven’t put up Sharks-like numbers. They’re right up there atop the division, and the problems I thought would afflict them at the start of the year (mostly goaltending) has improved a bit as well.
But yeah, I got sucked into the ‘Edmonton will finally be good!’ hype train. And that train crashed. Then rolled off the tracks. Then down a mountain. Into a river. Then exploded. Twice. Sports Club Stats already has them at a .2% chance at making the playoffs this year. Everything that could’ve gone right with them, goaltending, goal scoring or even a slightly improve defense hasn’t. The recent three game winning streak aside, it seems unlikely they’ll climb out of the hole they put themselves in and will get even a sniff at the playoffs this season. Instead, fans of the Oilers should be looking towards figuring out what the hell they’ll do with their draft pick this season. They certainly can’t take another forward, can they? Hopefully though, they will listen to Ryan Lambert from Puck Daddy; what he says first here and then here should be followed by the Oilers management.
To fix my predictions, lets put the Oilers in the basement with the Flames. That was easy. Then I think California wages war for the first three spots in the division, followed by the Canucks and Coyotes battling for a spot in the wild card for the playoffs. I think California will end with the Ducks first, followed closely by the Sharks with the Kings not too far behind.
Random Predictions: The USA-goaltending race heats up, but Ryan Miller stands tall as the front-runner in front of an awful team. HBO’s 24/7 finally clues us in on the Maple Leafs secret stats team. Patrick Roy goes crazy again like he did at the stat of the year to re-energize his guys. And talks Joe Sakic into getting them a new starting goaltender.
Thursday play, and with it all of pool play, at the 2013 USAU Club Championships are in the book. There were some surprises in all three divisions, but that’s all done now. There are some things we learned, and some things to look forward to. I couldn’t think of anything more cliche to go here, but just imagine there are like three or four more sentences, okay?
Look Forward To
I’ll be tweeting some things tomorrow as I sit around and watch games on Ultiworld, so follow along. I’ll also tweet out my predictions that mean nothing and probably won’t come true as well.
Is it way to early for a post like this? You may be saying yes. Hell, the Rangers playing their second game of the season tonight. But the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t think so. They fired Peter Laviolette today, the coach that took them to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, and several other playoff appearances, even as their rock in defensemen Chris Pronger was knocked out. His firing had Flyers owner Ed Snider talking about culture in Philly, whatever that means. Instead of trying to break that down philosophically based on the different iterations of the Flyers over time, let us instead take a look at other coaches who could be on the hot seat, and those that definitely aren’t.
Todd Richards - Columbus Blue Jackets – The writing is practically on the wall here, and the season has barely begun. Very new GM Jarmo Kekäläinen has been clearing house from the previous management’s screwups that ran the franchise into the ground. The team also entered a new division, giving fans more marquee matchups against some of the leagues best – theoretically increasing ticket sales and interest in Columbus. All of that goes to hell though if the team doens’t perform on the ice. This coach isn’t his pick, even though he helped lead the team to a surprise run at the end of last season, barely missing the playoffs. This year, they’re looking for playoffs. Should the team get to the Olympic break and their playoff chances are starting to look thin, don’t be surprised to see JK take Todd Richards out in favor of a more experienced head coach, someone to help take the team over the edge into the playoffs and even ruther.
Claude Noel - Winnipeg Jets – Noel has been the coach of the Jets since their recent re-inception in 2011. Since then, the Jets have been… well bad. The closest they got to the playoffs this whole time was 2nd in the Southeast last season, and they were still quite bad. If he can’t turn this first season in the Western Conference into a playoff appearance, something I don’t think will happen mostly due to the team that has been put on the ice, True North, the ownership group, has to start looking for more than just the one machine up there in Winnipeg printing money since that new franchise came about – that next machine is the one you get upgraded too when your team makes the playoffs. Ask the Leafs about that, their management just got to dust that off this past season for the first time in a long time.
Mike Babcock - Detroit Red Wings – Last year, the Red Wings found themselves in the playoffs, and losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Semifinals, even with their not that great defensive core. At least compared to when they had that one guy from Sweden around… maybe you remember his name being mentinoed once or twice? So far, the move East isn’t that big of a deal to stopping another playoff appearance. They’re 2-1 through 3 games too, good for 3rd in their division. But man was that loss bad. The Boston Bruins beat them 4-1, and it wasn’t even that close as the Bruins were really able to exploit the defense of the Red Wings. I think this year more than last the defense of the Wings could be questioned, and with the eventual disappointing results that will bring (i.e. no Cup for Wings fans), questions will come for Babcock’s head. But I don’t see it. GM Ken Holland knows that he needs to get a real replacement for the Swedish ghost that lingers around their team, and he hasn’t gotten one yet. Until he gets a true replacement, and the Wings don’t succeed with him in the lineup, Babcock is safe in Detroit.
Randy Carlyle - Toronto Maple Leafs – The popular pick this season was that the Maple Leafs would regress from their great play last year. Partly due to their free agent moves, both players added and players lost. Another reason was the (sometimes) very bone-headed moves their coach Randy Carlyle seemed to enjoy making occasionally with his personnel. Right now though, the Leafs are coming off that playoff appearnce with a very strong first week, including a strong showing from new goalie Jonathan Bernier, finishing it 3-0. Even if Toronto implodes the rest of the season, and doens’t make the playoffs, I don’t think management turns their head on Carlyle so quickly. They want to keep things relatively constant in Toronto, so unless the lockroom turns on Carlyle (a la Torts in New York) a change I think is unlikely.
Barry Trotz - Nashville Predators – Trotz is the longest serving coach in the NHL right now, with 14 years at Nashville under his belt. This pick is a complete wild card. The Predators don’t have the best season ahead of them, with many expecting the offense to be wishy-washy at best, with inconsistent play and a trouble scoring goals being the main issues, and a goaltender in Pekka Rinne that many are questioning as ‘elite’. If those all come to fruition, Trotz being shown the door at the end of the year (along with a possible amnesty buyout on Rinne?) would be surprising for sure. But if the team isn’t performing at the end of the year, and a young defensemen in Seth Jones and Shea Weber there to help him along, maybe a new coach along with some new offensive weapons wouldn’t be a bad choice. If this change is coming though, don’t expect it during the middle of the season, no matter how bad they’re doing. With 14 years, Trotz has earned the right to play out the full season as coach, even if it ends up being as a ‘lame duck’.
Adam Oates – Washington Capitals – This prediction is based on one thing, and one thing only. If Alex Ovechkin plays out of his mind with the Russian team at the Sochi Olympics, and isn’t playing so hot back on American soil, then seeing Oates let go I think could enter play. Yes it would be Ovie on home ice, doing his home country and Putin a solid by winning gold or even just playing extremely well. But the Capitals run through Ovechkin at all levels. If he isn’t performing, or un-happy in not winning in the NHL yet again, I could see a change. So far though, all signs point to Ovie being so energized in playing the Olympics later this year at home that he’s been playing great through the Captials few games.