The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Holding coaches responsible, it’s not Ovechkin’s fault, CSI: Ottawa, and more!

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Every Wednesday we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I gotta ask — what did you think of Bill Daly’s comments about the Bob Hartley fine and whether that could open the door for more coaches to be held “responsible” for the actions of their players? I’m not gonna go all conspiracy theory here, but it seems to me coaches just have to grin and bear it when the league hits them in the wallet. So what’s stopping the NHL from holding coaches responsible for more than just guys who start line brawls? After all, coaches are the ones who send the players out on the ice. If a player does something bad out there, isn’t the coach, in a way, responsible? It’s like the argument that parents should have to pay for the crimes that their kids commit. Even though it wasn’t the parent who spray-painted the school (or whatever it is that bad kids do these days), in some cases the parent is held responsible.

Mike Halford: Thanks for that link. Now I know that, in Oregon, parents are liable when their child commits an intentional or reckless tort. “Oh for God’s sake, Billy, another reckless tort? You need to find some new friends, young man.” Anyway, there’s definite Pandora’s Box potential here — picture an NHL where the coach bears greater responsibility for his players. Now picture the Toronto Maple Leafs, who’ve racked up 22 games worth of suspensions this year. Don’t you think the Leafs would be a lot more cognizant of their actions if the guy controlling their ice times could be affected monetarily? Imagine costing Randy Carlyle, I dunno, $25K because you got ticked off and nailed some guy in the head. He wouldn’t even have to tell you that you’re a healthy scratch next game. He’d just do the universal “rubbing fingers” money gesture, and you’d slink off to the press box.

JB: Yeah, the most disciplined teams in the NHL would be the ones with the cheapest coaches. Based on the time Darryl Sutter’s day was ruined by the outrageous price he had to pay for new reading glasses, I figure we’d see a slightly less edgy Kings team. Now, I do have to clarify something: I don’t believe the Hartley fine is necessarily a harbinger of things to come. In that particular case, I think it was a matter of the league not being able to prove that Hartley told Westgarth to start something, so they went with an intentionally vague explanation. Still, Daly’s wording leaves the door open: “I would say that there are certain things that happen on the ice that we will automatically ascribe a certain level of responsibility to the coach, and there are other things that happen, where we don’t use that presumption.” Talk about vague. If I’m a coach, I’d want more defined guidelines than that. OK, change of subject. The Washington Capitals. How much trouble are these guys in?

source: Getty ImagesMH: They’re in a lot of trouble, for the following reasons: 1. Outside of Alex Ovechkin, they’re really struggling to score. Washington has just seven goals over its current six-game losing streak, and of their 134 goals this season, 35 have come from Ovi (which is 26 percent of the Caps’ offense, or just over 1/4 for you fractional enthusiasts.) 2. They stink on the road (8-11-4) and are about to embark on a five-game trip. 3. They’re dysfunctional. When’s the last time a team had three separate trade demands in the first half of the season? I know Dmitry Orlov has since backed off, but the Caps still have unhappy campers in Martin Erat and Michal Neuvirth, and those are just the ones we know about. But let’s circle back to Ovechkin, because he’s in a fascinating situation as the star of two teams with high expectations. We’ve already discussed Russia’s potential shortcomings heading into Sochi, and you just know Ovechkin’s going to shoulder some, or quite possibly a lot, of the blame if those high expectations aren’t met.

JB: Look, I don’t believe Ovechkin is beyond criticism, but he’s not the problem in Washington. The Capitals have a flawed roster, and that ultimately falls on general manager George McPhee. If the Caps miss the playoffs, I find it hard to see McPhee back next season. I understand you can’t completely rip the guy for not going out and getting what his roster so dearly lacks — in my opinion, that’s an elite two-way center and an elite two-way defenseman, and those types of players don’t grow on trees — but the fact is, Washington hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since making the finals in 1998. Numerous coaches have come and gone since then, but the GM has stayed the same. And that Erat trade — if you’re a Caps fans, that’s even more infuriating the way things are going now. Even if Filip Forsberg doesn’t pan out, what a complete waste of a top prospect. Heck, the Caps would’ve been better off if McPhee had just given Forsberg to the Preds.

MH: You might say McPhee made an *puts on sunglasses* Erat-ional decision. YEEAAAHHHH! That’s my CSI: Miami segue into Eugene Melnyk, because we really need to talk about his forensic investigation into the Matt Cooke-Erik Karlsson incident. Specifically, the fact it’s still a thing! Honestly, what’s the point in all this? Cooke reportedly won’t be affected, and neither will the Wild. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Melnyk presented Gary Bettman with his findings. I like to think Bettman responded as if he was judging a 6th-grade science fair. “That is a very nice diagram, Eugene. Now if you’ll excuse me, Daryl Katz wants to show me his baking soda volcano.”

source: Getty ImagesJB: Did Katz’s volcano work? I bet it didn’t. As for Melnyk, I get the sense even Karlsson thinks this whole investigation is kinda crazy. For the life of me, I just can’t fathom how Melnyk’s going to to prove Cooke intended to injure Karlsson. Maybe he’s discovered a way to read people’s minds? If he has, I think the Sens’ money issues are over, because that’s a profitable invention right there. Like most people, I don’t think Cooke had any malicious intent when he hit Karlsson. In a weird way, though, I enjoy imagining he totally meant to do it. It would be like a great twist at the end of a thriller, when everyone realizes the crazy guy was right all along.

MH: Fade out on Melnyk in a padded room, wearing a straitjacket, as he watches a small black-and-white TV showing Cooke being handed the Lady Byng Trophy.

JB: I just got the chills.

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

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San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

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Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.