The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Olympic odds, Russia’s defense, King Henrik’s new deal, Fire Cappy? and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I just got Bovada’s latest odds to win Olympic gold. Here’s how they look:

Canada 2/1
Russia 9/4
Sweden 5/1
USA 11/2
Czech Republic 10/1
Finland 12/1
Switzerland 25/1
Slovakia 33/1
Norway 200/1
Latvia 400/1
Austria 900/1
Slovenia 900/1

No huge surprises, though it’s interesting that Russia was the favorite in July, and now Canada is. Personally I’d drop Russia even further down, below Sweden and USA. I know Russia’s got a ridiculously talented group of forwards, but I just can’t get past the candidates on defense, of whom a player by the name of Eugene Ryasensky is apparently one. I suppose it’s possible they could gain an advantage playing at home in Sochi. On the other hand, I could just as easily see them choking under the pressure, as a very unhappy, and possibly shirtless, Vladimir Putin watches on.

Mike Halford: Yeah, that defense. And it’s not like they’ll be able to hide their bottom guys. The Olympics is a bit different than the NHL. “Canada’s fourth line hops over the boards for a rare shift…let’s see what Matt Duchene, Patrick Marleau and Corey Perry can do.” The thing with Russia is you can get caught up playing fantasy hockey with its forwards and, in turn, overlook its glaring roster flaws. Like, yes, Russia could ice a top line of Malkin-Datsyuk-Ovechkin…which it would need, because Anton Volchenkov is anchoring (quite literally) the D. That’s why I really like the Swedes’ chances. They have three of the NHL’s top-10 defenseman scorers — Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and Kronwall — plus the likes of Brodin, Edler, Hedman, Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Ericsson. I’d argue only Canada has superior blue-line depth, and even then it’s close. But enough about the favorites. One country always seems to surprise at the Olympics — Slovakia in ’10, Belarus in ’02, and I seem to remember the United States playing well in ’80 — so, who’s your dark-horse pick? Are we all overlooking Slovenia, Jason? ARE WE?

JB: I think a lot of people would answer Switzlerland to this question, so I won’t. No disrespect to the Swiss, who won silver at the 2013 Worlds and nearly beat Canada in 2010. They’re like the international version of the 2003 Minnesota Wild. I just don’t want to pick the same dark horse everyone else is picking. For that reason, I think I’ll go with Austria. Not to win a medal, but I could see them pulling an upset and reaching the quarterfinals. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are pretty talented players, and I assume their goalies have all the necessary equipment — glove, blocker, chest protector, etc. Oh, and let’s not forget that Austria won gold at the 1927 European championships. So this is a team with a history of success at big tournaments.

source: APMH: How they beat Belgium that year, I’ll never know. I see you mentioned Grabner and Vanek, so congrats are in order — you wrote about the Islanders without questioning Jack Capuano’s job security. Why do you hate Jack Capuano so much, Jason? Is it his hair? His wardrobe? His charming Rhode Island accent? I just don’t get why you’re constantly writing about his potential firing. Is it because New York has lost seven straight and sits last in the Metropolitan Division, seven points back of a playoff spot? Oh, wait, I get it now. I guess I just feel bad for Capuano, who lest we forget isn’t far removed from helping the Isles snap a five-season playoff drought, for which he finished fifth in the Jack Adams voting. I fail to see how this year’s flawed team — terrible goaltending, no Streit/Visnovsky, etc. — lands at his feet, but I guess that’s the business. Garth Snow might have immense loyalty to Cappy but, as the old saying goes, you can’t fire the players, you can only trade them to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.

JB: You make it sound like I’ve been pushing for his firing. Not true. I feel for the guy, too. I’m simply wondering where Snow’s breaking point exists. It took a 10-game winless streak for Scott Gordon to get canned in 2010, and the Isles could easily get to that point with their upcoming road trip through St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, and Phoenix. I agree, the team has flaws — significant ones, and those fall on management and ownership — but that doesn’t mean Capuano should escape responsibility. Otherwise, why not just prop up a mannequin, or one of those water-drinking toy birds, behind the bench and call it coach? Actually, I wonder if the Isles might consider that. If there’s one NHL team that loves to save a buck, it’s the Isles. And I bet the water-drinking bird would work cheap, unless it has a really good agent. Anyway, maybe it’ll be good for the Isles to get out on the road, even if it’s to play five of the top teams in the league. At least there won’t be any “Fire Cappy” or “Snow Must Go” chants for a little while.

MH: Funny you mention the financial limitations the Islanders face, because they were only accentuated by their hated rivals, the Rangers, who just dropped nearly $60 million to retain Henrik Lundqvist. That’s a lot of scratch, but I guess when you’re negotiating with the NHL’s most consistent goalie over the last eight years, you gotta pay that man his money. The goalie market is blowing my mind a little bit right now. Lundqvist, Rask, Rinne, Quick and Luongo are all on mega-deals, to the point where the contracts for Price, Smith and Howard — which are all six years and worth at least $31 million — seem conservative. At this point, I don’t know whether a guy like Ryan Miller is in a good position or a bad one. He could capitalize on the “good goalies get paid” trend, but where? So many teams have locked into their guys, it’s not like he’s going to have his choice of places to play. Same goes for other pending UFA goalies like Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak and Tim Thomas.

source: Getty ImagesJB: The Rangers were always going to pay Lundqvist. He’s arguably the best goalie in the world, and you don’t let a player like that walk away. Especially if you’re one of the league’s financial powerhouses. And especially when he’s so handsome. Wait, what? But you’re right, the goalie market is fascinating. For GMs, it’s a question of paying for certainty with a proven veteran, or rolling the dice on a youngster or reclamation project. Personally I’d be wary of giving a goalie a lengthy contract. Look at what happened in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo. Look at Pekka Rinne’s health issues. Not to mention, so much of goaltending is mental, and a goalie’s mind can be a fragile thing. They’re a bit like golfers and NFL kickers in that way — one day they look amazing, the next you wonder if they can tie their shoes. Yet having said all that, if a team doesn’t get good goaltending, it’s pretty much finished, so I fully understand the desire to get the good ones locked up. Do you get the feeling I’d be a very indecisive general manager?

MH: Yes, but I don’t think you have to worry about it.

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.