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Did You Know? Eric Staal could make plus-minus history

The “Did You Know?” series ties in the news of the day with some little-known hockey factoids and/or trivia. It’ll be fun. Trust me.

Plus-minus is one of hockey’s most contentious statistics. Traditionalists find it a valuable asset — heck, the league still hands out an annual plus-minus award — while those into advanced metrics find it somewhat useless.

Player ratings aren’t often dictated by the player, after all. Plus-minus is affected by team performance, so to use it as a player gauge means taking into consideration the defensive ability (or, inability) of the team as a whole.

With that clarification out of the way, let us now discuss Eric Staal’s minus-16 rating.

Staal is minus-16 through 14 games this year, the worst in the NHL. It ranks him 681st out of 681 skaters. Four players — Keith Ballard, Jan Hejda, David Booth and Derick Brassard — are tied for 680th with a minus-11 rating.

So not only is Eric Staal the worst-rated player in the league — he’s the worst by a fair margin.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Staal’s a very good player. The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t especially good (5-6-3, 13 points), but they’re not especially bad. Their goal differential (-12) is bad, but they’ve only been outscored 31-23 five-on-five. Staal’s regular linemates, Jeff Skinner and Chad LaRose, are minus-7 and minus-2 respectively.

Not even Staal’s coach, Paul Maurice, can figure it out.

“There is no explanation for it, or else we would have dealt with it,” Maurice told NHL.com. “He’s just trying to find chemistry with other people and he has taken that pressure of his offensive game completely to heart.”

Projections say Staal is on pace to go minus-94 this year. Let me repeat: MINUS-94.

That’s so bad it’s almost good. And should Staal somehow manage to do this, he’ll join elite company.

The worst plus-minus rating for a single season was set in 1974-75 by Washington’s Bill Mikkelson. He went minus-82. Let me repeat: MINUS-82.

The Caps played 80 games that year, which means Mikkelson was essentially minus-1 every night. For an entire season.

Mikkelson’s minus-82 is one of the NHL’s most unbreakable records. Talk all you want about Wayne Gretzky’s 92-goal season never being eclipsed — Mikkelson’s mark is equally unattainable.

[NB: 1974-75 was terrible for all members of the expansion Caps, not just Mikkelson. Jack Lynch went minus-69, Greg Joly went minus-68 and Michael Marson went minus-65.]

Mikkelson went minus-82 three decades ago, and nobody’s come close since. A handful of players have gone minus-61, but they all did it prior to 1982. The only recent player to get within sniffing distance of Mikkelson was Pittsburgh’s Rico Fata, who went minus-46 in 2003-04.

Staal probably won’t go minus-94 this year. In fact, I can all but guarantee he won’t. His rating will most likely revert to the mean and we’ll go back to ignoring the plus-minus statistic.

Which is too bad. Especially for Bill Mikkelson.

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.