Five Thoughts: Kunitz and Downie debate; Is Ilya Bryzgalov worn out?

3 Comments

After a night that saw all four road teams win playoff games last night, it’s only fitting that we’re talking about head shots once again. Everyone can thank Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz for that. That’s not all there is to discuss though because, hey, it’s the playoffs and there’s more to playoffs than head shots and suspension debates, right?  RIGHT? All right then.

1. You’d think we would be able to escape the head shot discussions in the postseason with everyone being focused on winning the Stanley Cup. Instead, we’ve been treated to two instances of a player’s head being targeted on a hit thanks to Raffi Torres’ brutal hit on Brent Seabrook and now Chris Kunitz elbowing Simon Gagne with ill intent. I get that sometimes you have to play on the edge and that a lot of players are hoping for more respect between each other but it’s pretty clear it’s not going to happen.

Torres getting by without a suspension on a technicality of sorts on his play is bad enough, but don’t expect Kunitz to escape similarly. Kunitz’s hit evoking thoughts of Matt Cooke’s past transgressions is natural in this case especially with it involving the Penguins but Dan Bylsma has to be furious that his guys go out of their way to take such needlessly selfish actions on the ice when the team needs every guy possible to win games.

2. As for Steve Downie’s huge hit on Ben Lovejoy even in spite of Downie’s past it’s tougher for me to swallow that one as being a “terrible” hit. With Lovejoy himself saying after the game that he thought the hit was a good, hard hit that he’d expect to have happen means a lot, especially given the opposite tone that Gagne had in his words for Kunitz’s dirty elbow. Both guys will talk with the NHL about their hits but the gut feeling says that Kunitz gets at least one game and maybe two for his elbow while at worst Downie gets a game for charging Lovejoy if he gets anything at all. Spin away Wheel of Justice.

3. Nice of Boston to finally show up in their series and all it took was scoring the first goal (or in this case the first three goals) of the game against Montreal. With these two teams being very defense oriented getting that lead first is huge. During the regular season, Montreal was 32-6-6 when scoring first the 10th best record in the NHL while Boston was 30-6-6 good for 13th in the league. Boston being able to make Montreal battle back is key for them. If they can take Game 4 and even this series up, we’re in line for a raucous series where home ice means nothing. I think everyone aside from Boston and Montreal fans are rooting for as much mayhem as possible.

4. A lot of people will point to Brian Boucher’s play in goal and how solid he looked for good reason in the Flyers 4-2 win over Buffalo. 35 saves is nothing to sneeze at but let’s give some credit to the Flyers defense for finally playing a strong game in front of their goalie. They played tough and despite the number of shots given up and Boucher stood tall. Getting those kinds of efforts from both goalie and defense while Chris Pronger continues to sit out with a broken hand are inspiring for the team.

5. There are two series in the Western Conference that are at 3-0 and they feature a pair of teams that have been efficient and led their divisions all year beating up on teams that scrapped and fought to get into the playoffs until the final week (or day in Chicago’s case). It can’t be too surprising to see Chicago getting dominated by Vancouver and Phoenix is getting taken out easily as Ilya Bryzgalov looks worn out putting up with the Detroit attack.

The two early goals he allowed in the first period in their 4-2 loss to Detroit made it look like he wasn’t dialed in yet. The guys in front of him didn’t help but it’s possible Bryzgalov is worn down. Bryzgalov has been starting non-stop in goal since March 20 and hasn’t played in just two games since February 1 (28 games). Goalies are built for the long haul but just two games off in the final two months of the season takes its toll.

Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

Getty
Leave a comment

For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

Here are the top five teams for most miles:

1. Avalanche – 48,639
2. Flames – 47,931
3. Blackhawks – 47,926
4. Coyotes – 46,856
5. Oilers – 46,815

Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

31: Penguins – 34,041
30: Devils – 34,052
29. Sabres – 34,175
28. Red Wings – 34,759
27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
3. Hurricanes – 18
4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

While these teams face the fewest.

1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
2. Canucks – 10
3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

***

As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

(Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

* – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?

Report: Panthers want Jagr back (just for less money)

Getty
3 Comments

Jaromir Jagr made $4 million with the Florida Panthers last season. The team wants him back in 2017-18, but at least a mild discount, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.

Ultimately, the Panthers may remain the best fit for the 45-year-old, although it would be awfully interesting to see what kind of interest Jagr would draw if he truly put “feelers” out there.

Jagr saw a reduction in production last season, generating 16 goals and 46 points after a spellbinding 27-goal, 66-point campaign in 2015-16.

(He actually seemed to rotate such years, as he had 47 points in 2014-15 after generating 67 in 2013-14).

Of course, beyond the production, Jagr brings name recognition. He also continues to chase history; Jagr currently ranks third all-time in goals (765), with at least an outside chance to be the third NHL player to cross the 800-goal mark. Jagr may also want to boost his second all-time points mark of 1,914 to 2,000.

For a team struggling for relevance (not to mention a clear direction), having a box office draw isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Sorting out Jagr’s situation isn’t the only key decision for (reinstated?) Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who gets to assert his viewpoint on a team with about $20 million in cap space. Then again, for the Panthers, there’s always the battle between cap space and their actual budget.

Will Jagr be worth the money? Could he leave for greener pastures? It likely won’t be long before we get some answers.

Report: Kings among several teams in contact with Joe Thornton

Getty
12 Comments

Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Update: The Kings are the most interesting team connected to Thornton thanks to their location and status as San Jose’s rival, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes some other interesting suitors: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers.

5. He’s staying low profile — and there is serious doubt he actually wants to leave San Jose — but there is a list of teams who want to peer inside Joe Thornton’s head. At the draft, there was a lot of talk it would take a three-year deal to lure him. Potential suitors include Columbus, Los Angeles, Montreal and the Rangers. I could see Toronto having interest, but I’m not certain. There was a time Detroit appealed to him, but it doesn’t seem right now for either side. It looks like San Jose is closing in on extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both can be announced on Saturday), so we’re all waiting to see what is left for Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau. I’m really fascinated by the Blue Jackets, who are going all-in over the next two years and will try something big. Toronto is quieter about its intentions, but don’t forget that Mike Babcock has plenty of Team Canada history with both Marleau and Thornton.

Friedman also makes passing mention of Thornton eventually leaving for Switzerland. Interesting stuff.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

Getty
1 Comment

A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.