Detroit shouldn’t be offended by Tomas Vokoun’s reasons for choosing Washington

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The early July free agent frenzy included a lot of bewildering decisions, but the most surprising development might have been the lack of interest in underrated goalie Tomas Vokoun. Many will counter that there are only so many goaltending jobs available in the NHL, but it was still surprising that it came down to just the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals. (Two teams who already had at least passable goalie situations, by the way.)

CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley caught up with Vokoun on Tuesday to get his take on that decision.

Gormley is justified in calling Vokoun’s line of reasoning a “jab” at the Red Wings, pointing out that the goalie claimed that the Capitals have a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that Vokoun made that kind of comment after he signed with Washington. When you break it down, Detroit shouldn’t take it personally.

Vokoun’s true reasoning is better explained as the article goes on. The Red Wings shouldn’t be offended by Vokoun’s comments for these three reasons (even if he might have provided some bulletin board material for their first meeting on October 22, as Gormley suggests).

1. A clearer path to the starting job

With all due respect to Michal Neuvirth, Jimmy Howard’s grip on his starting job was far more secure. The Capitals are justified in bringing in Vokoun with a one-year contract because it will gives Neuvirth more time to grow while giving the team a reason to look at both its short-term and long-term prospects. Howard, on the other hand, is right in the middle of his prime and just signed a team-friendly contract extension.

Neuvirth wants to fight Vokoun for playing time, but head coach Bruce Boudreau admitted that Vokoun has the inside track on the starting job. Vokoun took a one-year deal with a contender to compete for a Stanley Cup, but he also signed that short-term contract as a glorified audition to get a big final deal next summer. He has a much better chance to get more starts (and impress more buyers) in Washington than Detroit.

2. It’s easier on his family.

People often forget the human side of transactions, which is easy to do because money usually wins the battle. Still, Vokoun pointed to Washington as an easier situation for his family than Detroit.

Vokoun acknowledged there were also personal reasons for choosing Washington over Detroit. Because his contract is for just one year, Vokoun and his wife, Dagmar, decided it was best that he live in Washington while his family – the couple has two daughters, Adelle, 11, and Natalie, 5 – remains home in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, Fla.

“Once you get to a certain point in your life and you have other people depending on you …” he said. “It will be easier for them to visit me here. Detroit’s got the worst travel in the league.”

(Mike Modano seconds that comment.)

3. Feeling special

The least pertinent reason might be the most fun one: winning Washington’s first championship would be more “special” than winning yet another one for Detroit.

Vokoun, 35, said the challenge of being the first goaltender to bring a Stanley Cup to D.C. overrode Detroit’s reputation as Hockeytown.

“They’re comparable teams, but Detroit has won the Stanley Cup three times [actually, four since 1997] and Washington has never won it,” Vokoun said. “I think that’s a lot better challenge for me and for the team to do something special.”

Again, that might be a small reason, but let’s face it: Vokoun probably wouldn’t even be the best Czech-born goalie in Detroit’s recent history unless he did something special. (After all, the Red Wings recently employed Dominik Hasek.)

***

Ultimately, reason 1 probably towered over all of the other concerns, but the bottom line is that the Capitals and Vokoun needed each other this summer. Don’t be too shocked if they end up celebrating together next summer, either.

Locking up Evander Kane is smart business for Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck at the trade deadline when they acquired Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres. No one was really sure how Kane would fit in with his new team, but he made enough of an impact that the Sharks are reportedly about to hand a new seven-year contract extension, according to Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet.

The report suggests that Kane’s new contract will come with a cap hit in the $7 million range. Locking up the enigmatic winger for that long could be seen as risky, but the fact that he’s going to be 27 years old when the season starts takes some of the risk out of the new deal.

When the trade between the Sharks and Sabres went down in February, many speculated that Kane would be nothing more than a rental. After all, if San Jose extends him, the second-round pick they’re sending to Buffalo becomes a first-rounder in 2019. Kane fit in so well on the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi that it appears as though they don’t mind giving up their top selection in next summer’s entry draft (can you blame them?).

Oh, and by the way, the 2019 pick is lottery protected, according to the Associated Press. So if the Sharks were to fall apart next season, they could push the selection to 2020.

Kane hit a bit of a rut during his time in Buffalo, but it’s hard to blame him? No one should be making excuses for a millionaire on skates, but these guys are human, too. The Sabres haven’t played meaningful hockey in so long that daily motivation is probably hard to come by.

In San Jose, it became clear pretty early on that Kane was going to be comfortable in his new surroundings. He had 20 goals and 20 assists in 61 games before the trade and nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks. In the postseason, he added four goals and one assist in nine contests.

As you’d expect, all of his advanced metrics went up after he moved to the West Coast. According to Natural Stat Trick, his CF% went from 49.94 in Buffalo to 53.60 in San Jose. His FF% 50.80 to 55.03, his SF% went up by almost six percent. When Pavelski was on the ice with Kane, his CF% was 56.11. When Pavelski was on the ice without Kane, his CF% was 46.27 percent. Playing together clearly made both players better.

There’s a risk anytime a team hands out a long-term contract. In this case, Kane hasn’t been the most consistent player over the course of his career, so there’s a little cause for concern. But it’s also important to note that power forwards that can skate and that are under 30 rarely hit the open market. Even if they do hit free agency, you never know how well they’ll fit in with your current group of players. This situation is already different in that respect because the Sharks had a couple of months to evaluate him in their building, with their players. He fits.

Handing over roughly $50 million over to Kane likely means that they’ll be out of the running for John Tavares, but there’s no guarantee that the Islanders captain will go there if he hits the market anyway.

GM Doug Wilson is making the right decision here.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options

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WASHINGTON — When you think of the Washington Capitals’ power play the first thing that probably jumps into your mind is Alex Ovechkin casually standing on top of the left circle, waiting for somebody to lob a perfectly placed pass directly into his wheelhouse, and then him bombing a one-timer at the net. If you are a fan of the Capitals or have no rooting interest in the outcome of the game it can breathtakingly fun to watch. For everybody else there has to be a sense of inevitability to it all because you know where he is going to be, you know what is going to happen, and you know your team is probably not going to be able to stop it.

It is perhaps the most dominant play in the league, and it is a big part of what makes the Capitals power play such a valuable weapon for them. It is not the only weapon the Capitals have on the power play.

Entering Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) the Capitals power play is clicking at 29.8 percent, which is an absurdly efficient rate. Among teams that have played at least 15 games in a single postseason that is the second-highest mark in league history (up from the fifth highest a few days ago when we last looked at these stunning numbers) trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders.

What makes the unit so difficult to defend is that is it has so many different options that can — and will — beat you.

The Ovechkin option is the obvious one, and the one that gets most of the attention both in terms of how the unit is talked about and defended.

In the second round the Penguins tried to take that option away from the Capitals by shading a player over into Ovechkin’s office and trying to keep him from unloading his one-timer on net. In terms of shutting down Ovechkin, it kind of worked. He didn’t score a single power play goal in the series (the only series this postseason in which he has not scored a power play goal, and only the fifth playoff series in his career he did not score a power play goal) and was limited to just five total shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play time That is only 0.25 shot attempts per minute, a shockingly low rate for Ovechkin. By comparison, he attempted 27 shots on the power play in 37 minutes of power play time (0.729 shots per minute) in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and has attempted 22 shots in 20 minutes of power play time in the first six games against Tampa Bay (1.1 shot attempts per minute).

The problem the Penguins ran into: All of that focus on Ovechkin left T.J. Oshie and John Carlson (17 shot attempts in 20 minutes of power play ice time, including a massive goal in Game 5 of the series where he was able to walk down the middle of the ice wide open) alone to beat them. And they did. Even with Ovechkin being a non-factor on the power play in terms of shot attempts and goals, the Capitals power play still managed to convert on 26.6 percent of its power play opportunities in the series. The top power play unit in the NHL during the regular season (Pittsburgh) converted on 26.2 percent of its chances. So … still great. Still better than everybody else.

The problem with shading over to Ovechkin and making it a 4-on-3 everywhere else is the “everywhere else” is also filled with talented players that form a cohesive unit that is masterful in what it does. They find the open area. They find the open man. They put the puck exactly where it needs to be to allow for the best and quickest shot possible. 

While the Ovechkin one-timer is the notable play, the Capitals have seemingly perfected another one-timer that takes advantage of all of the attention that goes to Ovechkin. That would be where T.J. Oshie drifts into the soft area in the middle of the penalty kill box and creates just enough space to get a shot of his own. That play has worked numerous times for the Capitals in these playoffs. So far Oshie has a team-leading five power play goals this postseason, with four of them coming from this exact location, standing directly between four opposing players.

This is T.J Oshie’s office.

(He scored a power play goal just seconds after that screen shot).

Three of them were by the one-timer from there and one was a deflection from that spot. The fifth was a rebound off of a scramble in front.

Perhaps the biggest of those goals came in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to break what was at the time a scoreless tie in the second period. This went in the books as the game-winning goal.

After the game on Monday Oshie talked about what makes that play work and gave a lot of credit to the presence of Ovechkin.

“I think the biggest thing there is No. 8 over in his office,” said Oshie. “How teams play us all depends on where he is and how they want to play him. For me it’s just a matter of a couple of feet here and there to find that soft area, whether it’s [Nicklas Backstrom] or [Evgeny Kuznetsov] typically they are able to find a way to get that puck into the wheelhouse and it’s up to me to find the hole.”

So, in a way, Ovechkin still drives the success even if he is not the one doing the damage. This is definitely a case of making players around him better. It is still up to those players to make it work. They do exactly that, and it is what makes the Capitals’ power play almost impossible to defend. If they didn’t make it work the whole thing would fall apart and the “shadow Ovechkin” approach might actually create its desired result: Stop the power play. That is not at all what happens.

Take away Ovechkin’s office? Oshie and Carlson are going to beat you in the middle of the ice. Try to clog the middle of the ice? Ovechkin will once again be lurking above the circle with nobody around him. It is a no-win game. The only way to truly stop them is to just stay out of the penalty box.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Cheveldayoff has plenty of work to do; Gallant’s old nickname

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Since 2005-06, no team has played in more Game 7s than the Washington Capitals. But only three of those 10 do-or-die games have been played on the road. Japers’ Rink looks back at some of the small details that stand out during those road games. (Japers’ Rink)

• Through six Eastern Conference Final games, the Capitals and Lightning are as evenly matched as two teams can possibly be. That wasn’t the case for the Bolts in their 2016 Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh. (Raw Charge)

• Now that Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello are no longer in Toronto, GM Kyle Dubas will get to make a lot of the big decisions in Leaf land. (Sportsnet)

• Fun fact: Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used to be nicknamed “Spudsie” during his days in Detroit. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• Some were skeptical about Vegas acquiring Ryan Reaves, but he earned his moment of glory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has plenty of work to do this offseason, as he has to get Jacob Trouba, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey and several others locked into new contracts. Paul Stastny is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, while Patrik Laine is eligible for a contract extension, too. (Jets Nation)

• Wild GM Paul Fenton made it clear that he’s not going to totally rebuild his new team. Instead, he’s going to “tweak the process”. (Minneapolis StarTribune)

• Two months after fracturing his right ankle, Ryan Suter says he’s been making steady progress in his recovery. He’s still a few weeks away from being able to put any weight on the injured ankle though. (NHL.com/Wild)

• The Florida Panthers missed the playoffs by one point, but they can’t be satisfied with that. They need to figure out a way to make it back to the postseason in 2019 or big changes could be on their way. (Panther Parkway)

• Sports Logos takes a look back at some of the commemorative patches that teams have used in the Stanley Cup Final. (Sports Logos)

• The NHL’s board of governors will meet in Vegas next month to talk about a number of things including the possibility of expanding to Seattle. (Sonic Rising)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Trading Jeff Skinner would likely haunt Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes need to score more goals. You know what’s a bad way to do that? By trading away their best sniper.

More than a few rumors are swirling that the Hurricanes are shopping Jeff Skinner, a winger who easily leads Carolina in goals (89 versus 55 in second place) and points (163, with second coming in at 139) since 2015-16. Elliotte Friedman mentioned growing interest in Skinner in May 11’s “31 Thoughts” while Bob McKenzie opined that Skinner’s “days are numbered” during a recent podcast (or … Bobcast).

Let’s go over all of the reasons why this is a bad idea and an inopportune time to trade Skinner.

Not selling high

OK, it’s probably a stretch to say that the Hurricanes would be “selling low” on Skinner, but they wouldn’t be doing so during a moment of strength, either.

On one hand, Skinner – a player with past concussion problems – played a full 82 games in 2017-18. Skinner’s 24 goals ranked second to rising star Sebastian Aho, who potted 29. Skinner’s typically solid possession stats were even better than usual last season.

Still, if the Hurricanes must trade Skinner (a possibility at some point, as his $5.75 million cap hit expires after next season), they should wait. Skinner’s 8.7 shooting percentage was his lowest success rate since 2014-15, so rival GMs might view him as a less “sexy” option right now, as opposed to 2016-17, when he scored a career-high 37 goals and 63 points with a 13.7 shooting percentage, second only to his 14.4 percent mark from that memorable Calder-winning campaign in 2010-11.

The point is that recent history frowns upon trading players who were riding poor puck luck.

The Oilers didn’t get optimal value for Jordan Eberle. Reilly Smith was comically traded after his three seasons when his shooting percentage was under 10 (all in odd years).

At this moment, trading from a position of strength (defense) to improve a weakness (offense) makes sense for the Hurricanes, although there’s a challenge in getting that right. It’s tough to imagine Carolina enjoying the better end of a Skinner trade, especially in the immediate future.

Why rush this decision, particularly after a risky off-season of front office changes? Especially considering …

What a difference a year makes

It’s easy to forget how drastically an NHL team’s fortunes can change. Hot and cold streaks with goalies often explain why, too.

Last summer, the Winnipeg Jets seemed a lot like the Hurricanes: a team loaded with talent that couldn’t get over the hump, in part because of poor goaltending. The Senators and Oilers both saw flip-flopping seasons because of a number of factors, including stark contrasts between the good and bad for Craig Anderson and Cam Talbot respectively.

One could conceive of a situation where the Hurricanes look downright competitive if everything stayed the same and they merely improved in net, whether that means a rebound from Scott Darling or some other goalie coming in and pulling a Connor Hellebuyck.

This isn’t just about stopping pucks. Carolina wasn’t so great at scoring against goalies either in 2017-18, finishing ninth-to-last in the NHL with 225 goals. Skinner scored 24 of those, so would it really be wise to trade away essentially 10 percent of your tallies?

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell should take caution, as Skinner seems like he’d be part of the solution: a reliable scorer who can skate like few other players and who’s still in his prime at 26. The Hurricanes could regret trading Skinner as they battled in the playoff bubble, much like the Panthers missed Reilly Smith and/or Jonathan Marchessault.

And, if this team continues to flounder, you’d still likely be able to land a princely sum for Skinner during a mid-season or trade deadline move. Forcing a trade for the sake of making changes now seems almost certain to backfire, unless the Hurricanes convince a team to send a superstar their way. Somehow.

***

Look, it’s plausible that someone will make the Hurricanes an offer they can’t refuse. Stranger things have happened.

Red flags wave over such rumblings when you consider how often teams regret trading a player when his shooting percentage has cooled, and sports/hockey history is bursting with examples of teams getting quarters on the dollar when they trade their better players.

It’s possible that the Hurricanes shouldn’t trade Skinner, period. Either way, this seems like a really risky time to make such a move.

I mean, unless Waddell wants to take some heat off of Dale Tallon, Peter Chiarelli, Marc Bergevin, and other GMs who’ve made trades that keep Hockey Twitter giggling into the night.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.