Laidlaw checking in. I swapped days with the Dobber Man so he can cover me while I make my way down for the Dobber Hockey event this Friday so you’ll have to wait for your next fix from the big man. You can find more details on the event here.
I hope you enjoyed the return of my Autobots vs. Decepticons piece. I hope to make that an annual tradition. I also hope to be a bit more active on the article front.
The biggest question I got on the piece was regarding Alex Stalock. He didn’t make the article because I am treating him like a backup, not a surprise starter.
We had a sweet comment in the ramblings a couple of weeks back discussing how Stalock needs to make a certain number of appearances or else he becomes a UFA this summer. I don’t see San Jose getting desperate just to keep their hooks in a backup goalie, which is why I’m not too concerned about him stepping on Antti Niemi’s toes down the stretch or in the future. I see Stalock as a current and future backup and no more.
I cannot tell you how lucky I was to have Canada-Finland go to overtime. If you recall, I bet Finland at +350 to win Group B assuming that it would come down to a Canada-Finland battle for the group on the final day of round robin play. That all came true but along the way Finland lost their top three centermen Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov. That left Canada -400 favourites to open the game. Damn!
I’d hoped I could hedge that group bet but it wasn’t to be until, of course, luck struck. Finland forced overtime and I was able to hedge my bet with a live bet on Canada at -164. With profits guaranteed I was fully vested as Drew Doughty sealed the deal for Canada.
That wasn’t the end of my luck, however. By forcing overtime, Finland also locked themselves into a spot in the Quarterfinals, meaning that they were just three wins away from winning Gold, which I happened to have bet at 12/1. I can now bet a tidy sum on each of their subsequent opponents and guarantee myself some share of profit.
I love when a plan comes together even if it’s total luck.
So now the Quarterfinals are set. Sweden will have beaten Slovenia by the time you read this. Not that Slovenia isn’t threatening and not that Sweden is SOOOOO dominant but it’s a mismatch, plain and simple.
Next up is the marquee game of the Quarters between Finland and Russia. I am so, so, SO tempted to let my Finland bet ride past the Russian’s here. It is all too easy for me to picture the Finns stifling them, chipping in a couple of goals off mistakes and counterattacks and just continuing to follow the game plan that kept them in it against Canada.
The Russians appear to me to be a weaker squad than Canada, particularly on defense so it’s a game plan that could easily work.
I’d say that the Russia forwards terrify me here and that’s why I will ultimately put a small hedge in place but really what I’m terrified of is risk. As talented as the Russians are up front they aren’t unstoppable.
The final two Quarterfinals are two games you are actually likely to watch after having read these ramblings and they’ll be played simultaneously. USA vs. Czech Republic is no doubt the closer of the two games after Latvia upset Switzerland yesterday.
It’s a ton of mixed emotions with Latvia pulling the upset. On one hand, the Swiss were a scary defensive-minded team. Latvia should represent a lesser challenge for Canada. I’m not sure that’s a good thing though.
Playing a tougher opponent is a riskier endeavour but offers the upside of another challenging tune up for the Semis. And there’s always the risk of looking past the Latvians, which it would seem was Switzerland’s downfall.
Good on the Czechs for rounding into form for playoff time. They’ll be a tough out for the US but I still see them as heavy dogs. That has more to do with how impressive the US has looked though.
The Czechs jumped all over Slovakia early in their matchup yesterday. Roman Cervenka has looked great skating alongside Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr. He wasn’t great in his half-season cameo with the Flames last year but that wasn’t exactly a great opportunity for him coming over with limited training camp time, a shortened season and a team caught up shit creek without a paddle.
I’d like to see Cervenka give the NHL another go. He could be successful, I’m sure of it. A great destination for him would be Montreal, who are desperate for wingers. Hell, imagine they could get Cervenka for the KHL and Jagr from the Devils?
I’ve been harping all year about how Jagr can’t keep up his relentless pace. He’s too old and too injury prone and the season is too long. But he’s shown no signs of slowing down. It’s a pity the Devils still have a shot at the playoffs because Jagr would make a great pickup for the Habs or another contender. Maybe it happens anyway.
It was nice to see another potential rental, Ales Hemsky, get some more burn for the Czechs. He’s one who would benefit a lot from a trade even if his years in Edmonton have slowly sapped the intensity from his game. A new team with greater expectations would reignite his fire. I haven’t seen that fearlessness he once had yet in the Olympics though so maybe he’s just broken. Look for it today against the US.
It’s a real shame it took a 3-0 lead after the first to ignite the Slovakian team. They underwhelmed all tournament and waited too long to get desperate.
Part of that is due to a lack of talent though. If it wasn’t for Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus and Tomas Tatar I’m not sure the Slovaks would have even shown up to play at all. They did however turn it on in the second but not before giving up the clincher on a break by Cervenka to make it 4-0 so that once the Slovaks started scoring it was too little too late.
Hossa did score two goals with Tatar and Handzus getting assists. Andrej Sekera also got a couple of assists but he looked a rather shaky. It was his mistake that gave Cervenka that fourth goal and he made several other shaky plays throughout but he was the best that Slovakia had pairing him with Zdeno Chara for much of the game.
Chara was quiet on the scoreboard but he was all over the ice taking chances you’d never see him make in a Bruins uniform. He had one glorious chance on a shot from the slot that ultimately went wide. The Olympics have been stingy about their video sharing but Chara essentially transformed himself into a gun like he was Megatron and knocked the stick clear out of Ondrej Pavelec’s hands.
Other players I’m sure you’ll want to hear about:
Pavelec wasn’t terrible, folks.
Ondrej Palat was mostly invisible in this one, sorry to say.
So was Michal Frolik, although he had a couple of nice shifts. Just didn’t get much ice time.
Marek Zidlicky is THE MAN for the Czechs, just as he is in New Jersey. Underrated fantasy asset for sure.
Patrick Elias is still sick and missed the game. No word on his status for today.
Martin Marincin was pretty solid for the Slovaks and definitely needs to be on your radar. He doesn’t have a ton of upside but he’s starting to get minutes in Edmonton. He’ll be awhile adjusting to the game before he starts to really produce but if you believe the Oilers can get right then he has potential to get 40 points with nice peripherals.
Andrej Meszaros showed some jump I haven’t seen from him in a long time. Philadelphia would love to have this Meszaros on a regular basis.
Richard Panik really didn’t flash on my radar.
Tomas Jurco had one really nice run but that was mostly the result of Radko Gudas taking himself out of the play while gunning for the huge hit. Jurco made him miss so that warrants style points but he didn’t do a lot outside of that one play.
Someone really ought to send the game tape of these Canada games to Darryl Sutter. I swear Doughty and Jeff Carter have scored more for Canada in three games than they have for the Kings all season and it’s not for lack of talent.
I had a theory that part of the reason Doughty has had such great success at the Olympics and in the playoffs and in that lone 2009-10 season was because of his defense partner. I figured that Doughty, when paired with a stay-at-home type would be much more successful than when paired with a more offensively inclined one because the stay-at-homer would give him much more freedom to take chances. I went back over the years and looked at who his top partner was each season:
2013-14 – Jake Muzzin 59.0% – 30 points – 59 games – 14 PPP – 13.6% Kings PP
2012-13 Playoffs – Robin Regher 76.3 – 5 points – 18 games – 2 PPP – 17.3% Kings PP
2012-13 – Muzzin 44.5% – 22 points – 48 games – 10 PPP – 19.9% Kings PP
2011-12 Playoffs – Rob Scuderi 89.9% – 16 points – 20 games – 6 PPP – 12.8% Kings PP
2011-12 – Scuderi 72.3% – 36 points – 77 games – 13 PPP – 17.0% Kings PP%
2010-11 – Willie Mitchell 43.4% – 40 points – 76 games – 15 PPP – 16.1% Kings PP%
2009-10 – Scuderi 56.6% – 59 points – 82 games – 31 PPP – 20.8% Kings PP%
I’m not so sure that theory completely holds up. He has had success and failure alongside stay-at-homers like Scuderi, Regher and Mitchell. I’ve little doubt that Doughty has to hold back some skating alongside Muzzin because Muzzin is still a developing player and one more likely to take chances of his own but it’s not like the difference is huge.
No the big outliers are the situations where Doughty scored a ton of power play points in the 2012 playoffs and in the 2009-10 season. During those playoffs Doughty no doubt benefitted from the small sample size scoring six of his 16 points on the power play despite the Kings’ lack of efficiency. He did however succeed in scoring over half of his 59 points in 2009-10 on the power play, the lone season in which the Kings have ever clicked on 20% (they fell narrowly short last season though).
So it probably has more to do with power play efficiency than anything, which screams coaching. The Kings have more than enough talent available to put together a top notch power play but for whatever reason they just don’t have it. That’s particularly maddening because they have seen some of the most power plays of any team in the league.
But I still think Doughty is stifled a bit having to carry such a burden for the Kings on the back end. It’s compounded by the big minutes he has to play but that’s hardly an excuse. Many of the league’s top scoring defensemen carry a similar or heavier burden.
What we’ve been reminded of in Sochi is how lethal Doughty can be when allowed to activate and join the rush. He has done very little of that for the Kings this season. If they are interested in seeing a boost in offense they are going to have to start allowing for more freedom. Oh, and figure out that power play, which currently ranks 29th in the league in efficiency, for goodness sake.
Elliotte Friedman discusses Canada’s struggles offensively.
By Mike Babcock’s count, Finland had five scoring chances. Your teenagers have more in three hours of high school.
The Hockey Writers with a couple of suggestions to improve the NHL draft process:
There’s also the humorous anecdote involving Alexander Ovechkin. Like McDavid, Ovechkin was already the consensus first-overall pick years before his draft year. The Florida Panthers attempted to draft Ovechkin in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, even though he was two days too young to be eligible that year. Panthers GM Rick Dudley claimed Ovechkin was old enough once leap years were taken into consideration.
I’m not on board with either suggestion but found it an interesting read nonetheless. I tend to favour the idea of an auction-style entry draft where each team is allotted a certain amount of money going into the auction based on where they finished. The losing teams from the previous season would get more money the lower they finished but everyone would theoretically have access to the best players.
You could do this one of two ways: either make every player “entering the draft” a free agent able to negotiate with all teams or host a full on auction instead of a draft with players getting nominated one by one. I’m in favour of the latter because the spectacle would be amazing.
There are a number of issues with either option and I’m sure some of you will list some good one below. Off the top of my head I can think of player rights violations with incoming rookies being unable to actually negotiate their contracts being a problem with the literal auction format. Other issues would include what to do about the existing salary cap – specifically with how it would relate to the spending limits assigned for each team. There could be discrepancies. The money allotted would almost certainly all get funnelled to the top prospects in each draft, even more so than it already is.
I just love the notion of an auction. It’s more feasible in fantasy and it’s something I’d suggest you look into for all of your drafts, be it one-year, keeper or partial keeper. I have to confess that I’ve never done an auction draft but I am obsessed with the notion of the auction draft.
Did you know that the guys who invented fantasy sports had their first draft as an auction? It’s the Cadillac (he meant Lexus but he ain’t know it) of fantasy sports drafts. It allows for the most freedom and most strategy. Any player can be had if the price is right.
There was a question in the forum – back and better than ever! – regarding the best way to curb tanking in a keeper league. My suggestion is to consider this auction idea. The auction prices needn’t even transfer beyond the draft. Just use it as a means to make every player available to every team. Sure, the top guys go for the biggest price but so what?
For people wondering about NHL expansion, its happening (pure and simple). It's been on the league agenda the moment the lockout ended.— Allan Walsh (@walsha) January 27, 2013
So it would seem that expansion is coming and Seattle is among the locations being considered:
“When that happens, I think Seattle will certainly be an intriguing marketplace from the league’s perspective,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says. “I think we have a belief in the Pacific Northwest. It being good hockey territory. I think, obviously, the Canucks have done a fantastic job — in Vancouver, but also throughout British Columbia and the Pacific region — at driving interest in the sport.
Las Vegas is another destination I’ve heard rumoured and they are breaking ground on a new arena this spring.
I’d say that hockey is in a predominantly healthy state but expansion might be pushing it just a bit. I think there are still a couple of franchises that are not succeeding in their current locations to the degree that the league should feel confident about expansion but what do I know?
I will say that expansion will only dilute the talent pool further. You could argue that expansion will increase the value of a star player to each franchise and that by having one you guarantee success. That may be true but spreading the talent further just increases the flotsam on each team meaning more conservative hockey and less likelihood of a super team being developed.
Maybe the talent pool in the hockey world has caught up enough that there is room for expansion without a cost to the quality of the game but there’s no doubt in my mind that the expansion in the 90’s is part of what led to the conservatism we see in the game today (though advances in goaltending have done more) and the fact that conservatism is still rampant tells me that the talent pool has in fact NOT caught up enough to justify expansion from a strictly “quality of the game” perspective. No doubt expansion will mean more money in the owners’ pockets, which is why it will happen.
And I’m not necessarily against expansion. It just needs to be done right.
Speaking of the Bettman, apparently he’s not even thinking about the 2018 Olympics. Honestly, considering how disconnected we are with the games on at odd times and being played on the other side of the world I could take it or leave it. I love Olympic hockey but this time around it just hasn’t had the same meaning, which is understandable.
Leaving aside dump-ins that were cover for a change, the Oilers have gone from dumping the puck in on 9.4% of their zone entries with Hall on the ice to doing it on 17% of their zone entries. Worse, they’ve become terrible at recovering pucks that are dumped in – in 2012-13, they were successful, in terms of achieving possession of the puck before the opposition cleared it, on 62.5% of their dump-ins. In the sample I’m looking at, that number’s a smooth 23.9%.
One thing I will point out on this topic is that I think that the majority of people are actually encouraged to see Hall dumping the puck in more. For years the knock has been that while he does a great job of gaining the line with speed, he’d try to go one-on-one or more maddeningly one-on-two, which all too often resulted in a turnover.
“Dump the puck in,” they’d say. “That’s the safe play!”
Nothing about Hall’s game screams safe though. I like when he’s taking risks. He’s better when he’s taking risks, trying to make the big play. People forget how difficult it is to score in this league. It isn’t as agonizing or wearisome as soccer, especially with the end-to-end speed of the game but it is a truly special act to score.
If all you want is “safe plays” then you are trudging towards the agonizing and weary of a soccer match. You ready for that? You’ve already caught a glimpse with the play at the Olympics this past week.
For Hall it’s all about finding the right balance. That’s the party line guys like Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins have been taking with regard to Hall’s play. No doubt he hasn’t been as dominant as he was last year. And you’d think an analytics guy like Eakins would be pushing for less dumps and more possession. Maybe he’s seen the folly in Hall CONSTANTLY trying to do it all on his own. They are pushing for more variety. More balance.
Of course, I don’t know the answers but I like discussing the questions.
“I think he kind of went to another level this year,” Shero said before heading to Sochi. “He’s a much more consistent player. Unfortunately for Washington but fortunately for John I think the injuries to [Mike] Green really helped solidify him as a power-play guy and he’s a go-to guy on the penalty kill as well.”
Fantasy owners would beg to differ.
I was recently offered Pavel Datsyuk in a salary cap keeper league but declined. I'm worried about his age and the fact that he is killing himself for Russia at the Olympics this year. I want to win NOW and betting on him down the stretch is not something I am excited about. Still, he's a beauty:
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.