I’m bored, man.
It feels like we’re all just sitting around watching the clock on a Karlsson trade for the second full week in a row and at this point it feels like something that’s more likely to happen in September than the next six weeks.
And six weeks is already a long time, so here are are. Really seems like hockey people hit the cabin sooner than usual this year, I guess. So here’s a bunch of questions about other stuff, and only one Karlsson thing because it would have made me mad otherwise.
Let’s have fun out there:
Megan asks: “Has Peter Chiarelli truly exercised restraint this offseason, or is there another reason the Oilers haven’t panic-traded Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a pick and the corpse of Marc Staal?”
The Oilers haven’t really done very much at all, period. I think Tobias Reider and Michael Hutchinson were the only really notable NHL pickups here, right? Plus they got backup goalie Mikko Koskinen.
And I think that’s mostly fine. You can chalk a lot of the team’s problems last year up to tough luck and some bad decisions on Chiarelli’s part (obviously), but there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for the team to add anyone who could really help.
Like I said above about the Karlsson trade maybe happening in September, the summer isn’t over yet, so the Oilers might still have some moves, but if you want to call that restraint or maybe just learning from past mistakes, then okay sure.
Kelly asks: “Should the NHL be doing anything in the summer to generate interest? More of the Shanahan summits? A summer league similar to the NBA?”
I almost answered a similar question last week but I didn’t because my answer would have been “Of course” and that’s about it, but let’s really talk this out.
The NBA summer league is an unexpectedly popular version of the classic NHL tradition of 30 different teams having their own rookie/prospect orientation camps.
For those who don’t know the NBA too well: Instead of scrimmaging against each other and otherwise just working out under the watchful eye of team personnel, the NBA actually has their young players participate at least one of three summer leagues (Utah Jazz, Sacramento, and Las Vegas).
Utah and Sacramento only bring a handful of teams, but all 30 participate in the Vegas version. They play three games in Vegas, then participate in a single-elimination 30-team tournament, meaning guys will play as many as 10 games over the course of a couple weeks.
There is no reason for the NHL not to do this besides the expense and some of the logistical issues with college players who aren’t under contract, but one wonders about the “Why not?” factor. Get all 31 teams anywhere you like and do the same schedule as the NBA does. People are more than happy to pay for summer league games, so this could be a revenue source if you do it in, oh I don’t know, say, maybe, just putting this out there, perhaps, Toronto???
Brandon asks: “Do you believe a team can win the Stanley Cup without a superstar (excluding goalie) or is a rebuild like the Rangers are doing pointless unless they find a way to get a superstar as part of it?”
You need superstars, full stop. Name a team that’s won a Cup in the cap era without an established elite player. Maybe Carolina (Eric Staal was a total wild card) but other than that almost all of them had at least two elite players, and often more.
The point of tanking, or “rebuilding” if you like, is to get a superstar out of the draft. The lower you end up in the standings, the greater the chances of picking in the top three, which is where most ultra-elite talents come from. That’s not the only way to do it, of course. Most of Pittsburgh’s best players were top-five picks, but certainly not all of them. On the other hand, Alex Ovechkin was the only true “lottery” pick on the Caps. Toews and Kane were both top-three picks but Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford certainly weren’t.
Basically you can pull elite players from anywhere in the draft — see also: Datsyuk and Zetterberg — but you get the best chances of doing that by picking higher. So if you know you’ve reached a dead end with your current group, it’s better to well and truly blow it up (to the extent that you can in a league with a cap floor) and really invest in your AHL team. That’s what Toronto did, and it seems to have worked out pretty well so far.
Mitch asks: “If you were in charge of the Sharks as of May 1, how would you have run things?”
Honestly, I think they probably did they best they could have possibly done with the options available to them.
They were reportedly in on Tavares, Kovalchuk, and maybe even a Karlsson swap via trade, plus they pulled off those twin deals with Mike Hoffman. Obviously adding any of those guys they didn’t get would have been a big help, and to be left holding the bag with all that unused cap space isn’t ideal, but there’s no penalty for not-using cap space.
This is still a very good team in a very bad division, so the kind of flexibility they probably have to add talent at some point this season is significant. Even with all their old players getting a year older, they were never likely to suffer or anything, and it’s important to be in on good players even if you don’t get them. The thing to not-do here is to say, “Well we missed out on Tavares so let’s make a panic signing and overpay for the fourth-best center on the market instead.”
Christine asks: “Could a top college hockey program win a game against the Arizona Coyotes?”
This is like that old “Could Kentucky beat the Sacramento Kings?” question.
The answer is kinda the same: Almost certainly not. Hockey’s fairly random and the Miracle on Ice is a perfect example of the randomness of a single game between a relatively weak club and one of the world’s best. I can assure you that even if you think the Coyotes are the worst NHL team by a mile, they’re significantly better than virtually every other professional hockey team on earth. At absolute worst, they’re like 34th-best in the world.
But let’s put it this way: In a seven-game series, the Coyotes would annihilate even the best college team. It might not be a sweep but the college team would be lucky to win more than once.
While almost all good college teams have guys who could absolutely be effective in the NHL right away, the extent to which their best starting lineup — probably Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan, Richard Panik, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Demers, and Antti Raanta — is better than, say, Minnesota-Duluth’s top group is obscene.
Joshua asks: “You’re GM of the Rangers this year, what do you do this summer to make them a top 4 team in the East – extensions, trades, waives, FAs, the whole thing. I know it can be done.”
I think if you can swing trades for Crosby, McDavid, Karlsson, Doughty, and maybe a handful of middle-six forwards, you’re in pretty good shape.
German asks: “When is Karlsson getting traded or is this going to turn into a Duchene thing?”
Okay so that thing about a trade in September makes a lot of sense to me, for sure, but I can absolutely see this turning into a dragged-out process in which everyone is miserable. Only because it’s the Senators.
If you get to U.S. Thanksgiving and there’s no resolution here (which would be a hell) then this might indeed stretch all the way to the trade deadline. That’s some seventh-circle stuff, but there’s a non-zero chance it happens.
I still think he’s gone before the season starts but man, this organization is exactly incompetent enough to let it go on much longer than that.
Andy asks: “You praised the Hurricanes in the Hamilton trade and there’s big optimism around rookies like Necas and Svechnikov that are expected to make the team this year – but none of it matters if our starter is stopping 88.8 percent of pucks. What do you expect from Darling in a make or break year?”
I can’t imagine an NHL goalie of any skill level playing behind a defense and forward group of that quality for two seasons and going .880-something. Now, whether that means Darling gets back to league average is a different story entirely, but the number of wins versus even a replacement-level goalie he cost them was significant.
Put another way, I think Darling can absolutely bounce back behind a team that doesn’t actively hate its coach. The team missed the playoffs by 14 points, which is a ton, but Darling and Ward alone accounted for about 11 of those points versus two league-average goalies.
And they’re improved this summer, overall. Darling doesn’t even need to be great for Carolina to make the playoffs. Of course, he and Mrazek are potentially big gambles in net again, but I’m bullish that things can be just fine.
Michael asks: “With Quinn/Montgomery hires, plus further NCAA hires, what does this mean for the future stability of NCAA coaches being hired into the NHL?”
I’m not really sure what you mean by “stability,” but it depends on how those guys do. I think the jury is still a little bit out with even Dave Hakstol after a few years, so it’s tough to say.
But the fact that three guys have jumped right from college to the NHL in the last three years, after the NHL went decades without having that happen, portends good things for high-end coaches going right from college to the bigs going forward. And if those guys have some amount of sustainable success at the game’s highest level, well, more NHL teams are likely to start thinking “outside the box” until it’s no longer outside-the-box thinking.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.