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Potatoes and perception: Toronto’s divisive offseason

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Depending upon whom you ask, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason ranks as either a shrewd reboot or a baffling series of missteps.

At its core, the debate seemingly pits fans who rely upon “advanced stats” against those who base their opinions on gut reactions, win-loss records, intangibles or other more “traditional” factors.

The most succinct way to summarize the divide probably comes in the perception of GM Dave Nonis.

Against Nonis: 71 percent of voters at popular Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets voted that potato would have had a better offseason than Nonis.

For Nonis: Conversely, Leafs ownership gave him an emphatic stamp of approval by way of a five-year contract extension.

Lupul lets loose

In most hockey markets, the stat-loving crowd tends to argue in less mainstream circles, even as deeper analysis appears to be making in-roads to NHL front offices. In Toronto, the debates are prominent enough that Maple Leafs players are addressing them directly.

For one thing, Joffrey Lupul took to Twitter in July to lambaste the use of Corsi numbers, which essentially track shots in a similar way to how plus/minus tallies goals for and against.* (Click here for a more sophisticated explanation.)

It’s unclear what specifically left the 29-year-old so steamed, although many wonder if his strong 2013 results were fluky, as he connected on a staggering 26.2 percent of his shots on goal during the regular season.

Bozak vs. Grabovski

Still, the Lupul debate is a mere whisper compared to the divide between how the Leafs and some of their stat-leaning fans view centers Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski.

Members of the number-crunching community argue that Phil Kessel is the reason Bozak is a first-line center and many praise Grabovski’s puck possession skills. Conversely, the team gave Bozak a big extension and bought out Grabovski, who’s still looking for NHL work.

These rumblings prompted a public response, too. The discussions were widespread enough that Bozak addressed his critics in mid-July, stating that he’d gladly follow his coaches’ opinions rather than Twitter commentary.

***

Leafs fans are divided on a significant chunk of this summer’s moves, including the additions of David Clarkson and Jonathan Bernier.

Still, considering how long they’ve been waiting to see the Buds bloom into a legitimate contender, it’s likely that most of those fan-critics would be glad to be wrong. For the most part, anyway.

* – Although Corsi includes shots that miss the net and so on.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.