Musings: Lessons from the finalists and more expansion buzz

The Predators have four D-men with 10+ points, while Pittsburgh has the four leading scorers in the postseason

– As we relearn every year in hockey, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The final four teams in the 2017 playoffs were drastically different in style. The defending champion Penguins were built around two megastars down the middle, a younger rotating cast of supporting pieces and a patchwork defense. The Senators have one all-world talent on defense but mainly made it so far because of an outstanding commitment to team defense and dogged determination. The Ducks have probably the league’s deepest defense and are a load to handle up front, but were very top heavy. And the Predators have the most offensively active blueline in the league to go with an under-appreciated roster of blossoming young players. There’s no one model to achieve success in today’s NHL.

– Another example of those contrasting styles is the difference in shot generation between the Penguins and Predators. Nashville is a far better possession team than Pittsburgh, which, like New York, is frequently outshot but often makes the most of its limited opportunities. Check out this thread from Adam Gretz for more on the Penguins’ success flying in the face of what analytics have taught us:

– I continue to be amazed that the Penguins are still in this without Kris Letang. He’s one of the league’s great defensemen, a true No. 1. If you took Ryan McDonagh away from the Rangers, where would they be?

– On the injury front, I’m choosing to believe that four-to-six weeks off will be a good thing for Henrik Lundqvist. Hopefully that forced rest and the sweet taste of victory alongside his brother will rejuvenate The King for another run. The Jesper Fast came at an interesting time. I assume the team doctors wanted to see if Fast’s injury would heal on its own before recommending surgery, but this is obviously noteworthy with the specter of expansion looming. I’m not sure Fast was going to be the guy for Vegas anyway, but torn labrums are trickier to come back from than, say, a broken wrist. Finally, I loved Elliott Friedman’s report on Rick Nash.

-I’ve been one of Nash’s harsher critics over the years, but he was magnificent all season and during the playoffs. And for Nash to keep his mouth shut about that injury is pretty impressive given all the grief he’s gotten for past playoff failures.

– If the Golden Knights wanted to, they could make a good portion of the league miserable over the next two weeks. But that doesn’t seem to be the attitude of GM George McPhee, a long-time league executive in a wholly unique position. McPhee has plenty of strong relationships around the league and seems willing to play the long game to build his team. That means that he’s more interested in draft picks and future assets and less eager to pick apart the hard work of his rivals. Thus far the expansion draft process seems very amicable – McPhee appears to be working with his opponents to find mutually acceptable solutions rather than exercising his right to poach at will.

– I’m pretty sure Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be a Ranger, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. New York has sorely lacked shoot-first players and has desperately needed a power play specialist for years. Kovy is both of those in one man.

– How awesome has the atmosphere been in Nashville? I’m dying to go see a game there – it’s probably right behind Montreal on my arena bucket list at this point.

– Check out this video about the role Lady Luck plays in hockey. We can learn a ton about players and teams by studying long-term statistical trends, but that means squat on any given night. And in many ways, that’s what makes the sport so great.

Question time:
1) Stealing this from Matt Kapnick on Twitter: which trade was worse, Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez, or Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat?
2) What are the top three rinks on your arena bucket list?
3) If you were McPhee, what would your big picture strategy be?

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  • First of all, Kovalchuk isn’t the player who left for Russia a few years back. The man has slowed down due to injuries, and father time. I for one would avoid him at all costs, because they will want a king’s ransom…….Another very expensive retread that won’t work!!!!!!!!!

    If anyone saw the game the other night, with about 3 minutes left in the 2nd, Malkin was fighting for position, and got dumped on his tail end by a Pred, didn’t see the name, but I just loved it. Seeing Igor on his rump, and the facial expression, it was priceless. I made mention that we need a big, nasty, physical stay at home d-man the other day, and was scoffed at. Seeing that play just reinforced my desire to get such a player, something lacking for years on our blue line!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now to the LV team, they have themselves a great GM in George, and in a few years they will be a good team, mark my words on this!!!!!!!!!

    • Hey Walt,
      How far back do you go?
      Do you remember a defense man years ago on the Blackhawks with the nickname King Kong (Jerry) Korab?

      • I certainly do, he played around 74 time frame??????? I could be wrong, but he was coached by Billy Ray!!!!!!!!!

        • That’s the type of guy the Rangers need on defense. He also had a rocket slap shot from the point.
          Suddenly I’m feeling older

          • Sure, if ‘that guy’ can also skate, pass, and play hockey.

            We don’t need more pylons just because they could theoretically ‘clear the crease’ like a bouncer; we need guys who play so well that such a thing isn’t needed every thirty five seconds (look at Nashville’s defense, for example).

          • The defenseman described has to be able to skate, not hit you with their purse in the crease!!!!!!!!!! We unfortunately don’t have either, especially with the Pylon Twins!!!!!!!!!! This makes resigning Smith a must…………….

  • I really appreciate the angle of this write up; the ability to win differently. Gives me hope that our team can win with some minor adjustments.

    As for McPhee, I feel he needs to generate short term excitement with an eye towards long term success. Get a young star to build around as well as a name to sell jerseys​, but stockpile picks so 2020 can be competitive.

    He can’t burn too many bridges this year or no one will deal with him in the future.

    As for Kovulchuck, the Devil’s don’t give away ice in the winter so be careful.

  • we now have a match I can see Nashville beating the pens in Pittsburgh also the draft should be interesting let’s see what vegas ends up with

  • 1. Toss-up
    2. Don’t have one but if I did neither Nashville nor any other “sun-belt” arena would be on it.
    3. Win the Cup of course.

    I think adding the Las Vegas franchise is a real nadir for the NHL, always a Mickey Mouse operation, but now descending into absurdity with too many teams in too many places that don’t make sense. Bringing in Gary Butt-head, a basketball guy, was one of the biggest mistakes ever made by the league and that’s saying something.

    Hard no on Kovalchuck.

    On the stats video – pretty shallow analysis but considering the source (Vox) not surprising. Statisticians are really quick to attribute to “luck” things their models can’t measure or explain. Might as well call them “evil spirits”. I don’t think its “luck” that the team with probably the best 1-2 punch in skill, the Penguins won the Cup last year and are in the SCF this year.

  • 1: Gomez was on his last legs, no one knew Erat would flop so hard.
    2: I’m running out of rinks: Boston, Winnipeg, Copenhagen
    3: Get 2 additional picks in the 1st 2 rounds over the next 4 years.

    Forget Kovy.

    Ulf back in the NHL, NYR D was worse: Maybe the coach doesn’t know what he’s doing.

    • Disagee on 1. Gomez put together two respectable seasons following his trade. Erat was already flopping when Washington traded for him. Erat shot >11% when he was “good”. As soon as that fell to the norm, he hasn’t cracked double digits since. Gomez was always more of a setup man and continued for two years to shoot around his career percentage and produce assists around his normal average.

      • I agree with John on this. I think Forsberg will ultimately be a greater player than McDonagh. If so, then Nashville pulled off the bigger “heist”.

        • Not at all. McDonagh is as good as Forsberg for his position as Forsberg is to his. They each have a positive effect to their comparative position and players

          • That, and just getting out of Gomez’s contract was in of itself a steal.

            It’d be like trading Staal for a future all-star.

    • Half the board out here wanted Ulf’s head on a platter, and many said that if only we would have Beukeboom here, all would be well in our world. Obviously, the best coach of the past decade sees the value in Ulfie that others out here didn’t see.

      As for “the coach coesn’t know what he’s doing”, are you referring to AV or Beuke? Because if the latter, AV and Ulfie had a great relationship from everything I heard. AV didn’t fire him. He had an opportunity to be a minor league head coach, and he grabbed it. It’s obvious he wants to be an HL head coach one day. He probably would still be in Charlotte if it wasn’t for the fact that one of his closest friends from their Whalers days asked him to come back to the NHL and coach with him. Why that would have anything to do with AV I’m not sure. But since it was raining at Yankee Stadium last night, I assume that’s AV’s fault too.

      The jury is out on Beuke, but the whole starry eyed nonsense about him based SOLELY on the nostalgia of 1994 means nothing in his current role. Beuke has to prove that he can be a high-end NHL defense and PK coach. Certainly he did not do so last year IMO.

      • Many said all would be better in the NYR defensive corps if Girardi and Staal were gone. Not if the coach changed.

        If a table only has 3 of 4 legs on it, changing the table cloth isn’t going to make it any more effective.

        • “If a table only has 3 of 4 legs on it, changing the table cloth isn’t going to make it any more effective.”


          It certainly doesn’t help when you have a coach who can’t tell a busted three legged table apart from furniture straight out of Buckingham Palace…..

          • Great point, and I largely agree with the first part. As for the second part, the last I checked, I’m not seeing a lot of “high end furniture”, especially on defense, to choose from. So can’t really fault the guy running the store if his loaction is not stocked properly by the guy he reports to.

          • To continue the analogy, any given rock from someone’s backyard might make for a better ‘table’ at this point.

            I gotta question the judgement of a guy who is bringing me a stinky, rotting, and clearly broken beyond repair “table” out of the salvage dump (instead of just admitting that the aforementioned rock might be a better option).

        • Many, like you, did. Many others said specifically the issue was Ulfie, and that Beuke would provide an upgrade.

          Ultimately, regardless of the coach, the defense needs a significant talent upgrade. The coach, whether it’s Ulfie or Beuke, can only do so much.

          • The point for me and many others is they have done very little of the only so much that could be done. It’s like they are throwing rocks into a pond, fully convinced that one of these days, if they just keep tossing those rocks in, one of them is going to float.

      • All we learned from Beuke’s first season is either he thinks a heck of a lot like Ulf did, or Vigneault is actually calling the shots at the end of the day. Too many of the same defensive strategy and deployment mistakes were made by two different men for anything other than those two options.

        • Either way, it doesn’t matter so much who is making these decisions so much as they need to stop (immediately).

          The fact that it has continued this long would be enough to get even the GM fired (in a normal organization, anyways).

          I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but it is one of the internet’s most poorly kept secrets that Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and even Tanner Glass can not, and in # 15’s case, were not ever, able to play hockey at a sufficiently high enough level to warrant any ice time whatsoever (let alone with <3 minutes to go in a close playoff game).

          • That it hasn’t been put to an end already one way or another has convinced me that the whole organization hasn’t seen it as an impact issue. That’s troubling.

          • Jim Dolan signing Sather to basically a lifetime contract, and not questioning the contracts with the Twins proves without a dough, he is brain dead!!!!!!!!! Giving AV an extension only shows how stupid he really is business wise!!!!!!! How did that buffoon ever become the owner of this franchise???????

          • Nobody needs proof Dolan is brain dead – we take it as given!

            But as to AV contract extension, well, that’s on our boy Gorton.

      • We have a different idea about what the defensive coach actually does. Running the defense is not like running the power play. Defense and offense happen at the same time. NHL teams play systems — and those systems are chosen by the Head Coach. Beuk’s job – and Ulfie’s before that – is to get the players who are on the roster to play AV’s system as well as possible.

        The complaint at BSB has been two-fold. First, the defensemen aren’t very good. Second, the system in use magnifies the weakness of said players.

        Beukeboom has probably done very well. I would be inclined to assess on the basis of how well the young players played in comparison to expectations — and I mean McIlrath, Skjei, Clendening, Kampfer — and whether the veterans executed the system to their known ability level. IMO, the only reservation I have is Marc Staal. Are Marc’s shortcomings something that can be addressed by coaching or is he simply no longer able to play well?

        • Most defensive coaches also have a lot to say about defensive pairings and ice time while the game is going on. Let’s not forget that. And he has great responsibility on the PK. If the concern is deployment, then to me, Beuke is as accountable as AV–unless you can show me that the two are at loggerheads. And if that were so, I suspect AV would fire him (which still might happen BTW).

  • 1. Forsberg for Erat far worse. Gomez did not do that bad in Montreal. He posted 59, 38 and 11pt seasons for them. Granted many were on power play. Erat however continues to struggle. Hell even goal wise in 3 years following trade Gomez scored around 21 goals. Erat has scored 12 since traded off Nashville. That trade was by far the bigger heist. Now if Gomez produced like he did from year 3 after trade on, as soon as he got to Montreal then it woulda been that one.

    2. None really. I’m happy to see any game anywhere. However, I refuse to pay the prices for ANY sporting event anymore. I’d rather pay once $300 for the NHL package and watch as many games as I want with “free” food and drink in my own home where I don’t pay additionally to park my vehicle or pay to get to the stadium, then pay $300 average for parking/ticket/food&drink multiple times. Plus my couch is softer than any stadium seat.

    3. Outside opinion, I think McPhee needs to make this team as competitive as possible from day 1. Vegas is too transient a market to build long term with “futures”. By time a rising kid is that good, I’d say a good chunk of that fan base is somewhere else. He needs a team that will draw people immediately. My honest prediction is that within the next 5 years either Vegas or Arizona are going to be in Quebec, and within 2 years of that the other is in Seattle.

    About the first twitter stuff; I disagree with him. If he has noticed Pitt has been significantly out played for larger portions of the playoffs this year. There’s been many a game that was nothing more than a bounce. Yes they have geno and sid that they’re gonna have a usual high shooting percentage. But, if that’s the case why did they go so many years between Cups? Why are they in danger of not repeating? Again, people confuse advanced stats such as Corsi or Fenwick as end all predictors. They’re not. What have they indicated this post-season? That Pitt is not dominating and is not driving the play. They’ve been hemmed in their zone and asking their goalie to stand on his head. Does any of this sound familiar to Rangers fans? You go a combined 30 something minutes between 2 games without a shot or pressure in the other teams zone, you’re eventually going to give up goals. And that has started to happen.

    • The point is that most thought Erat would bounce back (due to deployment issues) to a high teens goal scorer, instead of being more done than a Trump steak.

      Gomez was woefully underperforming his contract. He had one decent year, then the wheels fell off.

      • I do not base an opinion of a player based off their contract. The player asked for $x and management agreed, or they negotiated to a middle ground between the two. Scott Gomez was in no way shape or form responsible for the money that the New York Rangers gave him.

        I can’t fix this anymore. The first column is Goals per game, second is Assists per Game and last is Points per game.

        1999-00 0.23 0.62 0.85
        2000-01 0.18 0.64 0.83
        2001-02 0.13 0.50 0.63
        2002-03 0.16 0.53 0.69
        2003-04 0.18 0.70 0.88
        2005-06 0.40 0.62 1.02
        2006-07 0.18 0.65 0.83
        2007-08 0.20 0.67 0.86
        2008-09 0.21 0.55 0.75
        2009-10 0.15 0.60 0.76
        2010-11 0.09 0.39 0.48

        His second year in Montreal is when he started slipping. Gomez actually produced barely better than NJD pace while a NYR. Erat however was already fading in Nashville when Washington pulled that trade trigger, and the slide became a free-fall.

        The “fans” make the leap of faith that $x = Production Y. That is not the case. Did the Rangers overpay? Yes. Is it Scott Gomez’s fault that an employer offered him more money than they should have? No. Your employer offers to overpay you, are you going to say no?

  • Oh and Kevin, we all know…..

    :insert sarcasm font: that the Dylan McLarth for Chris Summers trade was worst trade ever. Worse than Gomez/McDonagh, Forsberg/Erat, Gretzky/pack of nothing Edmonton got. 😀

    Couldn’t help myself sorry.

    • That was Kampfer.

      IIRC, Summers came over as part of the Duclair

      Yandle & Summers for Moore, Duclair a 2 and a 1.

      We got fleeced pretty hard on that considering how the coach didn’t use Yandle.

    • Hmm. Regarding the Gretzky/pack of nothing trade. I can’t remember who the genius cigar chomping GM was for the Oil, but I’m sure glad we didn’t have anybody like that running our team. Otherwise, a wise hockey mind like that might have signed a bunch of over the hill players to ridiculous NMC contracts.

      • Pavel

        If you don’t know by now my feelings about Sather, please above post!

        In this case I have to defend him, as much as it kills me to do so, but the trade basically was forced on the GM by the owner Pocklington, who was in deep financial trouble!

        Now having said that, Sather is still a dip shit GM, and or VP of this organization!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • Exactly right. The Gretzky trade was strictly about money. Messier’s linemates in 1990? 2 young players in Graves and Joe Murphy, both around 22-23.

        • Hi Walt,
          No, I know about Pocklington. This was more of a tongue in cheek posting to demonstrate my feelings on the ass that gave away all of our 1st rounders for have beens.

          The guy’s been cashing in on the cups won by Gretzky and Co ever since.

  • Talk about horrific trades? Try Middleton for Hodge or Ridley and Miller for Carpenter.

    Today, Richter stops Bure on a penalty shot in 1994. One of the great single moments in Ranger history.

    • Right up there with Ratelle, & Park, for Esposito, & Vadnais . One of the worst days in NY Rangers history, along with Bathgate for Nevin, BARF!!!!!!

      • even though it was a bad trade, it wasn’t awful. obviously it should not have been done but at least the Rangers still won with Espo.

        Francis tried to get Orr instead of Vadnais. Didn’t happen, lol.

        • Yeah, I agree with Richter, Walt. Hated that trade for emotional reasons more than anything else. But Espo was just as productive as Ratelle for the final years of their career. And as much as I worshiped Ratelle, I got to know Espo when I was on the beat. Heck of a great guy and the Rangers of that era literally worshipped the ground he walked on. He was instrumental in their amazing 1979 playoff run.

          The part of the trade that hurt more was Vadnais for Park. Vadnais was very good, but Park was great. So edge on the deal to the Bruins for sure, but taking the emotion out of it (which is still raw for those of us following the team at the time), it wasn’t nearly as one sided as the trades Richter mentioned.

          • E3

            There you go again, bringing logic into this discussion. I never cared for Espo, and just had my heart ripped out when the gentlemen Jean was traded, and soon after one of my all time favorites, Vic Hatfield was also shipped off. How cold was that, leaving just the A, of the GAG line!!! I tend to forget the 79 run, and Espo’s impact on that team. In time I forgave Phil for being a Bruin, he is a paisan, so I can’t hold a grudge against one of my own!!!!!!! LOL

          • Yep…you nailed it exactly Walt. I DESPISED Espo. I would go to the Garden and back then during warmups they’d let you go down near the glass for warmups. I’d bang on the glass and scream whatever nasty words my teenage Brian could come up with at Espo. When that trade happened, and yes, the year before I think it was Hadfield too, it was just too much. I pretty much boycotted Rangers hockey during the ’75-’76 season.

            But then I watched what happened in ’79 and he was amazing. Then when i got on the beat, he basically paved the way for this terrified reporter to do a reasonably competent job right out of college. So I did a 180 on the guy, but then did a 180 again when he became the worst GM in franchise history!

            So I mostly really respect the guy, despite it all. 🙂

          • True…but he was a great color guy with Jim Gordon and then Sam, so there’s that! 🙂

        • Just as well they didn’t get Orr, since Orr was as good as done shortly after that deal. Then that trade would have been pretty one-sided.

          • I can’t help but think that the nail in the coffin for Park was watching Rolfe get the daylights beat out of him by Schultz. Even though Park would have gotten a 3rd man in, in a playoff game.

          • That’s a widely held belief, and I suppose it is possible. But Park was there for one more full season while the Rangers were still a pretty good team (before the JP Parise disaster). Personally, I just think Francis wanted to blow it all up. First Eddie put on waivers. Then one week later one of the biggest trades in NHL history. Just a heart wrenching and crazy time to be a Rangers fan.

            And the irony was, just a couple of months later, Francis was fired.

          • I did some research on this trade for a hockey newsletter that I wrote for, for a while, and you are correct, Francis went to Sinden and said “let’s shake things up” as both teams were mired in mediocrity at the time.

    • So true! That was incredible. And at the All-Star game earlier that year, he had done the same thing. Possibly the biggest ASG save in that without it, maybe Richter DOESN’T make the one when it counted.

      That series was so amazing. But sometimes we forget how the funny little puck bounces. Remember some of the fluky goals that we got in Games 3 and 4? And Bure getting a game misconduct on what was a pretty tough call? And how Lafayette nearly tied Game 7 in the 3rd?

      The Rangers were a great team that year, but between the Devils series and the Canucks series, they were also a very, very, very lucky team. And lucky to have the greatest captain ever to diffuse all the unnecessary Keenan-created madness.

      Back to the trades…no doubt, those are the two worst in Rangers history. Easily. But which was worse? Tough call.

      • Forget Messier, Richter won Game 6 against the Devs. Should have been 5-0 after 20 minutes if not for Richter and then it would not have mattered what Messier did that game.

        Wow, when Lafayette hit the post (not a “SAVE BY RICHTER!!”) I thought I was going to pass out, lol. And then, who knows?

        Middleton, not even close. Hodge played less than a season for the Rangers and was an old stiff in the games he did play. But the other trade is 2nd for sure.

        • I actually DID (briefly) pass out when Zele-PUKE-in scored in ECF Game 7. And then remember when the Devils broke in double OT and Richer I think it was nearly finished us? That puck could have easily hit a skate and then the unthinkable would have happened. I covered my eyes and didn’t even look. Expected the worst. Then a couple of minutes later–Ectasy!!!!!!

          As for the trade comparison, you may be right. But the only reason one could make a case for the other is that they gave up two quality assets to get a guy they kept for less than half a season.

          So given that, maybe the Middleton trade was the worst trade in terms of the long range result. But I would say the Carpenter trade was maybe the most incompetent, which proved that Espo was the classic panic button pusher who just would throw things up against the wall and hoped it would work out. He basically ship wrecked the Rangers. Neil Smith, for all his foibles at the end of his time in NY, literally saved the franchise and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for doing so.

          • And let’s not forget that in 1988, he almost traded Brian Leetch away. Trader Phil was in the same category as Sather for making some of the worst hockey trades ever. Hell, he even traded a #1 pick to Quebec for their coach Michel Bergeron!!!!!!!!

          • Who he then turned around and fired right before the start of the playoffs, only to put himself behind the bench. Fortunately his last hurrah.

          • If you recall, the Devs had a 3 on 1 shortly before matteau ended it. When the Devs came down ice I sunk in my chair thinking it was about to be over. If I remember correctly, the Devs messed it up and didn’t even get a shot on goal on that play. Thank God!!

        • BTW, you are so right about Richter. His performance in Game 6 gets forgotten about. Arguably the greatest performance I’ve ever seen by a Rangers goaltender in any playoff game.

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