Today marks the start of the All-Star break, something we haven’t seen in three years (because of the Olympics and the strike). Honestly, I can’t say that I missed it. Sure, the skills competition is fun, and while it isn’t as pointless as the NFL’s Pro Bowl, it’s still a glorified exhibition game squeezed for all the dollars (Canadian or U.S.) that can be wrung from it.
A lot of teams need this break. Injuries are piling up, energy is flagging, and teams are looking dazed. It’s the perfect time to stop and take a look around, see what else is happening besides hockey. Hey, wasn’t there some pageant recently?
On second thought, I guess we can’t escape hockey, even when it’s on vacation.
Gone (Ice) Fishing
There were no shortage of TV announcers talking about how such-and-such team could really use the break. Well… Chicago could really use the break. They’ve gone 5-5-0 in January (after a 10-2-1 December), but they haven’t looked good as a .500 team. They’ve lacked energy and looked lackadaisical, with only a few players giving consistent performances (dear Saad: please don’t leave us).
But Chicago did win their last two games before the break, and for all the lackluster play, they don’t have the injury bug as bad as a lot of other teams. Sometime after the All-Star break, they should get back Versteeg and van Riemsdyk, which should have some positive effects. Things like Rozsival getting fewer minutes, and either Nordstrom or Carcillo (more on him later) getting scratched or sent down.
Looking Past the All-Star Game
This chart showed up in my Twitter timeline yesterday, and it fascinates me:
Possession (25-game rolling average) over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/QZMJQCiXXN
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 22, 2015
It looks at team possession in a very specific way: the lines are the last two weeks of teams’ 25-game rolling Corsi numbers (CF%), adjusted for score effects, venue, and opponent. It’s touted as the best predictor of who’s scoring goals, and thereby winning hockey games. A team that is above 0.50 is generally possessing the puck more often than their opponents.
For the ‘Hawks fan, this chart is both comfort and worry. Though trending slightly downward, Chicago is back at the top of its division. The worry is that 6/7 of the division is above water in terms of relative possession (Colorado being the only exception, naturally). We knew that the Central was going to be a dogfight this season, and it looks like that’ll continue after the All-Star break.
No Two Mups Are Not on Fire
And now for my “grumpy old hipster” moment.
I can’t have an All-Star-themed post without mentioning the musical acts playing this year’s game. I’m a damn curmudgeon who leans indie-ish in his music tastes, so I don’t expect to see or hear much that appeals to me at giant sporting events. I’m okay with that. In the case of the All-Star Game, I think it’s cool that Locksley will be playing the song that Columbus uses when it scores a goal. Cool idea. I have no opinion on the second band playing, O.A.R. I tend to forget what they sound like, but whatever.
But Fall Out Boy as the headliner? Fuck.
I know it’s probably considered cool to hate on Fall Out Boy. I see posts on how the Chicago band has musical chops, and are probably pretty cool. For my part, I had really hoped we had exorcised that gods-damned song about lighting a mup, after it infected the aural senses of anyone watching the World Series. It’s as bad as that damn Carly Rae Jepsen earworm that everyone was making “viral videos” for. And the new Fall Out Boy single is already making its way around TV bumps, and it sounds like it’s the spiritual sequel to “Mups.”
Now that I’ve given my enemies the key to breaking me during interrogation, I’ll give y’all something else. Here’s another Chicago band singing about a different Jeppson. You can thank me with a shot of bitter liqueur.
Suspensions & Salad
If you haven’t had enough bitterness, it’s time to talk about Carcillo. Troll through the NHL suspension tracker on Sportsnet, and you’ll notice a few clusters. This week added another cluster, as three players were suspended multiple games — including the season’s longest suspension so far. (A record that might last less only a few days, but we’ll come back to that.)
The bans started this week with boy scout Ryan Suter, who sat out a couple games for an inadvertent elbow to the head of fine, upstanding gentleman Scott Downie. This was followed a couple days later by repeat offender Brad Marchand missing two games after he slew-footed Derick Brassard. And then there’s Daniel Carcillo.
Carcillo has picked up a couple nicknames over the years. He’s “Car Bomb” when he flashes some skill and gets under opponents’ skin. He’s “Gorilla Salad” when he’s a liability on ice, committing dumb or dangerous plays. His cross-check on Matthew Perreault in last Friday’s game against Winnipeg is utter “Gorilla Salad” territory. Perreault was chirping at a Blackhawk after the whistle, when Carcillo takes a cheap shot against the unsuspecting Jet, nailing him in a vulnerable part of the arm:
This is the Gorilla Salad that all of Chicago was waiting to show up. Carcillo spent the first third of the season showing us why he can still get work in the NHL: Despite playing on the fourth line little more than 9:00 a game, he still managed 7 points through early December. He took trolling to a whole new level when he delivered a pageant wave to Kings fans after a fight. Yeah, he blocked Teauvo and Morin from getting legitimate chances with the ‘Hawks — but the former might not be ready and the latter might be past his expiration date, right? So long as Car Bomb agitated smartly and kept scoring the occasional point, Chicago’s front office could justify wasting a lineup spot with him.
But this is Gorilla Salad, and he is who we thought he was. Teams keep thinking that they’re getting a poor man’s Marchand (or Steve Downie, or Derek Dorsett, or…) for barely any hit against their salary cap. What they get — every time — is a time bomb skating around the ice. Sometimes he’s a useful bit of chaos, but there’s always a timer on his usefulness. You never know when it’ll hit 0:00, but you ought to know that it’s only a matter of time before he does something dumb and winds up injured or suspended.
But Wait, There’s More!
Up until Tuesday night, Carcillo’s dirty play was the season’s most egregious suspension-worthy act. It didn’t take long for a competitor to enter the discussion, courtesy of Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo. Let us ponder the evidence in .gif form:
This is like a symphony of awful, compared to Carcillo’s pop song of stupid. With Gorilla Salad, you can believe that he maybe wasn’t trying to hurt the Jets’ hottest player. He’s got a reputation as a cheap shot artist who doesn’t think things through, and this fits that rep. Rinaldo’s hit, though, is a beast of a whole different shape.
We have: a defender playing the puck against the boards. The defender has his back to Renaldo the whole time. You would think that Renaldo’s move would be to pin the defender against the boards to prevent him from being able to play or possess the puck cleanly. You and your silly hockey thoughts. Zac Renaldo knew better. The defender was Kris Letang, one of the NHL’s top defensemen. How could he, known asshole Zac Renaldo, pass on a chance to blow up Letang?
After the game, Renaldo said he totally didn’t hit Letang in the numbers, but instead on the backside of the shoulder. He surmised that maybe it was the supreme power of his hit that unfortunately and inadvertently caused an injury to Letang. He then joked that his injurious hit was the game-changer in the Flyers 3-2 OT win. The Dept of Player Safety is investigating.
I can’t see his defense holding much water. Renaldo crouches down right before the hit to both gain speed and prepare himself for launch. He then leaves his skates, hits Letang in on the “backside of his shoulder” (i.e., his back). The speed and location of the hit doesn’t leave much room for anything to happen other than whiplash against the boards. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Renaldo boarded a player who’s already had concussion issues. Maybe. Unsurprisingly, Letang is out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. Here’s to hoping that Renaldo misses a fair few games, as well.
Back to College
I’d rather not go into the break on a down note, so I’ll once again mention my alma mater’s hockey team. Bowling Green State University is now ranked #6 in both major NCAA hockey polls after splitting a weekend series with conference rival Michigan Tech. BGSU’s most difficult series are behind them, and if they can continue to plow through the rest of the season, they have a chance to make the Frozen Four. I’m more than a bit excited.
Unworthy of the Mighty McDavid
Finally, we come to hockey players not attending BGSU, as Central Scouting released their draft rankings. This was Jack’s complete lack of surprise at Connor McDavid topping this list. The release was followed by a perfectly troll-y post over at Puck Daddy by Josh Cooper, who argued that we should all hope that Carolina and Arizona get the top two draft spots. He gives plenty of reasons, many of which boil down to the idea that Edmonton and Buffalo are quagmires that will only drag Eichel and McDavid down with them.
Sporting News, tongue firmly lodged in cheek, took this even further, satirically suggesting that no NHL team is worthy of this year’s draftable saviors. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, but the reason the Blackhawks are unworthy is particularly on point:
…they’d play in the AHL for three seasons before Joel Quenneville trusts them enough for fourth-line minutes.