That was an interesting week of hockey. Chicago picked up wins while avoiding the circus (literally), Martin Brodeur is now a Blue, the NHL suddenly is very interested in vaccines, and we were treated to Jack Edwards belly-aching about not the Bruins getting the Black Friday afternoon game.
We’ll start with the circus, because everybody loves the big top. Except the Blackhawks’ GM.
Circus is Back in Chicago
The Blackhawks closed out November with its annual circus trip, a two-week tour through the arenas of NHL teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. It’s called the “circus trip” because the gods-damned Ringling Bros. kick the ‘Hawks out of the United Center for two weeks. Seriously.
The trip was a bounty of wins (5-1-0), and the team returned home last night, stomping the St. Louis Blues to the tune of 4-1. The line of Brad Richards, Patrick Kane, and Kris Versteeg shredded St. Louis in the 3rd period, continuing their November ascendance. The Blackhawks’ second line has been damn near unstoppable of late. Chicago was lauded for taking a one-year chance on the aging Richards after the Rangers kicked him to the curb to save money. But Richards was also a risk — he’s in the twilight of his career, and was demoted to the Rangers’ fourth line in the playoffs last season. So far, though, he’s turned into the second-line center that Kane needed all of last year.
Versteeg stunk it up with his playoff performance last season. He was patently unwatchable against the Kings in the Conference finals. The unexpected trade for Versteeg was showing some serious tarnish. This season, Chicago was (is) strapped for cap space, and trading away Versteeg’s $2.2 million cap hit seemed like a distinct possibility.
Not any more. Versteeg has looked good so far. Sure, he’ll likely regress (shooting at a clip of 15.1%), but even if his points-scoring cools off he’s still playing solid hockey and getting shots on net. A second line this potent is unfair, but a helluva thing to watch right now.
The Curse of Depth, Revisited
Versteeg and Richards aren’t the only bargain successes. Daniel “Carbomb / Gorilla Salad” Carcillo has yet to blow up in Chicago’s face. In fact, one might say that he’s been pretty decent. Five points in fourteen games, solid Corsi and Fenwick numbers, and he hasn’t done anything horrifically stupid. Granted, his shooting percentage is way above his career norm (12.0% vs 8.6%), and his PIM numbers are way below career norms, so he’s another guy who’ll probably regress. For now, though, he’s like a Wisconsin supper club beer: not bad.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Jeremy Morin. I think Morin will become a top-six forward with a respectable career. But not in Chicago, not as long as Q is the coach. It was one thing to wonder what would happen to Morin’s playing time when Patrick Sharp returned. Sharp is still out, but Morin is now being scratched in favor of a demonstrably worse player, Joakim Nordstrom.
This is not to demean Nordstrom — he’s a perfectly serviceable bottom-line NHL-er — but numbers and eyeballs paint a clear picture. Morin puts a shot on goal for every four minutes of ice time he gets. It takes Nordstrom more than thirteen minutes of ice time to do the same. Morin’s Corsi% is spectacular, Nordstrom’s is below average. Their stats in the AHL last year point at Morin having a much higher ceiling than Nordstrom. Even with the highly-subjective tale of the tape, Morin looks far more dangerous and energetic on the ice than Nordstrom.
And yet Morin sits, while other ‘Hawks draft picks like Kevin Hayes and Brandon Pirri are getting regular ice time with other teams. At this point, Morin will probably join them as an ex-‘Hawk prospect.
The Boon of Depth, Goalie Edition
While Chicago has a logjam in its forwards’ depth chart, at least its rookie goaltenders will get their turns on the ice for the next few weeks. That’s because Corey Crawford missed a step while leaving a Rise Against concert, and will now miss 2-3 weeks. Antti Raanta and Scott Darling have similar GAA and Save% numbers this season, but their sample sizes are so small that it’s anyone’s guess if they can sustain the all-star play like Crawford has.
But at least we have options in goal not named “Brodeur”…
No Looking Back
The Buffalo Sabres have recently forgot the fact that they’re supposed to be tanking this season for McDavid or Eichel. They’re now only the fifth-worst team in the league, and Tyler Ennis just gave us an early candidate for goal of the year:
Damn, that’s pretty.
The Building Epidemic
It was funny when we joked about “the plague” that seemed to hit a couple teams after they passed through L.A. or Anaheim. It was a barrel of laughs when Twitter misinterpreted a Ken Hitchcock joke about the CDC quarantining the Blues’ arena. It elicited a chuckle knowing the only thing that could stop a red-hot Corey Perry was a red-hot virus.
Then it got weird. The virus was identified as mumps, one of those things you never got because of childhood vaccinations. Then more Anaheim players came down with the mumps. Then New York Rangers tough-guy Tanner Glass contracted mumps. And now there’s news that Wild defenseman Ryan Suter is displaying symptoms for the mumps.
Ryan. Freaking. Suter. The guy who logs more ice time than any other NHL player. The guy who hasn’t missed a single game since joining Minnesota. That guy is now going to miss a game for fear he may have mumps. The fucking mumps. I reiterate: this season is absurd.
No Flying Hence, Nor Tarrying Here
After a full day of hockey-watching on Black Friday, the NHL Network gave some of its post-game programming to TSN. During such programming, a question was asked: who is the most underrated player? One surprising answer was the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek — surprising because everybody rates him highly this season. The argument was that he’s performing at a superstar level, but still only gets the respect of merely being a good player having a great season.
This popped a question in my mind: How are Flyers so bad if they’ve got one of the season’s best players (plus a franchise cornerstone like Claude Giroux)? Giroux is okay at the face-off dot, scores more than a point per game, and is near the top of the league in assists. Their top players produce: Braden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds are giving Philadelphia 0.67 points per game and are driving possession. Mark Streit is a possession monster on the blue line and scores a point every other game. Voracek is playing at near-Crosby levels. Heck, even Steve Mason is giving them adequate net-minding — how are they losing?
The owner thinks it’s because their secondary players aren’t scoring. Then again, he probably thought that changing coaches is what actually helped the Flyers make the playoffs last year. I wonder how that old coach is doing with his new team?
Maybe the owner should look at his blue line and the team’s analytics, and the stench that wafts from them. The five players I mentioned above? They all have around 60+ Corsi%, a stat that measures relative possession. A couple of their injured forwards, Lecavalier and Raffl, are slightly above 50% (i.e., slightly above average). So far, so good.
Every other Flyer player, however, has a Corsi% that’s under water. This is particularly scary when you look at defensemen — Streit’s parter, Michael del Zotto, is around 50 Corsi%. But all other defensemen are around 42-43%. This is sub-optimal, not good, very bad. It is terrifying, if I were a coach or GM. It tells me that Philadelphia has talent spread throughout its forward corps, but once you get past their top defense pair, the Flyers’ defenders are little better than spectators. There’s no shot suppression, poor possession, and very little offense.
Look at last night’s game: the Flyers put up four goals on Anaheim, and still barely escaped the shooting gallery with an overtime loss. Their possession number at even strength were awful enough to make you vomit in your popcorn.
It won’t matter if Voracek has a Hart-worthy season, because opposing offenses keep putting Flyers’ defenders in clown suits.
Note: All stats were dissected prior to Wednesday’s games using war-on-ice.com, a site that everybody should check out.