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Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Hockey fans have Bruins on the brain

Boston Bruins center David Krejci, second from right, celebrates his goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

I like to use the mailbag as a way to figure out what fans are generally thinking about. If you see a theme in the questions, that’s usually a good indicator of where everyone’s head is at. Based on the questions this week, “player value” seems to be the talking point, and for good reason.

With the trade deadline just 18 days away, lots of teams are making decisions on their players and, if they look playoff-bound, trying to address needs both internally and externally. So the question of what guys bring to the table currently, or what they could fetch in trade, or whether they represent an internal roster inefficiency. All worth considering at this time of year, so no wonder everyone has questions along those lines.

There’s also a suite of Bruins questions.

Alrighty, here we go:

Demzy asks: “Is there a reason Glen Gulutzan uses Troy Brouwer on the PP and PK when he is clearly not good in either situation?”

As far as the PK goes, it probably has something to do with the reason Mike Babcock keeps giving Roman Polak PK time: He thinks Brouwer is good defensively. And whether Brouwer is or isn’t (he isn’t), this is one of those old-school-hockey-guy things where even if you can prove to him mathematically that Brouwer is quite bad in comparison with some notable alternatives, Gulutzan would still say, “You guys with your numbers.. Look how Brouwer battles!”

And as for the power play, I have no idea. I don’t know what more evidence anyone needs to understand that this guy isn’t any kind of difference-maker offensively.

You shouldn’t even have to get into the numbers, frankly, except one that I think probably helps explain everything: His cap hit. The guy has an AAV of $6 million, so you gotta put him out there because that’s a lot of money to leave on the bench. Calgary has to be rooting for an amnesty buyout window in 2020 because this is a bad contract that’s only going to get worse.

That obviously doesn’t really explain why Gulutzan is actively hurting his team, but here we are.

RL’s biggest fan (ugh sorry.. this was honestly better than what his display name used to be, but not by much) asks: “Which playoff team will miss the player they lost in the expansion draft the most?”

The only answer here is probably Columbus. You’d say Florida but they’re not gonna make the playoffs and no one is delivering value at the level of Wild Bill Karlsson. No one, in fact, is even close.

The Caps (mostly) don’t miss Nate Schmidt, who leads Vegas in ice time. The Penguins would probably be a little better off with Marc-Andre Fleury, but that’s an expensive insurance policy that they couldn’t swing given the cap considerations.

Maybe you say the guys Minnesota gave up matter (if Minnesota makes it) and the same goes for Shea Theodore with Anaheim (if Anaheim makes it) but for the most part it’s the Florida Twins, Wild Bill, or nobody.

Kyle asks: “Are teams that dress seven defensemen smart or grasping at straws?”

A few years ago I went to a hockey analytics conference and a guy named Eric Cantor gave a presentation that showed the Tampa Bay Lightning got better on-ice (i.e. underlying) results when they dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen than when they went with a traditional 12/6 lineup.

(If you want to watch the full presentation, you can HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZQxZfkzVc”do so here. It’s pretty interesting.)

Since then, I’ve tried to take note of when teams do that, both in college and the NHL, and while it’s rare, they generally do seem to perform better. I don’t have any hard stats for that in front of me, but anecdotally, and given what I’m looking for, I have generally become an advocate of going 11/7 if you have the personnel.

Of course, a lot of teams maybe don’t have seven decent NHL defensemen, but most teams also don’t really have 12 decent NHL forwards, so you’re splitting the difference on some level.

There are two things I think are important to keep in mind here:

Someone’s gotta take those forward minutes anyway, so you migth as well give an extra two or three minutes to everyone on your top line because they’re more likely to produce goals in that extra time than a fourth-line forward playing for 10 or 12 minutes, or whatever.

Having seven defensemen means you don’t have to worry (as much) about multiple defensemen taking penalties, and can deploy your guys a lot more selectively and situationally.

When I tweeted about how most teams should try to go 11/7 when they can, a Leafs fan provided a pretty good illustration of what I was talking about:


Not-using Dominic Moore and instead rolling Matthews and Kadri more often, probably leads to more scoring. Meanwhile, that still gives Babcock the wiggle room to dress Polak and use him only on the PK while Connor Carrick gets minutes instead of being a regular healthy scratch.

If you’ve got the guys, why not do it?

Pekka asks via email: “Do you see a fundamental change in the play of Antti Niemi that justifies his save percentage (.929) after six games as a Hab, compared to the abysmal and bad numbers he had with the previous two teams respectively?”

You’re gonna be shocked to find that I think the answer is “sample size” but yeah let’s dig into it.

First of all, this is six appearances since mid-November — only four of them starts. The teams he played in that time are mostly pretty good: Toronto, Nashville, Edmonton (twice), Washington, and Anaheim.

And in those six appearances, he has a 5-on-5 save percentage of .960. His career 5-on-5 save percentage is .923. So giving up just five goals at full strength in almost 219 minutes feels a lot like luck.

The Canadiens actually give up more shots, scoring chances, and high-danger chances than they do for just about any goalie this year (only Charlie Lindgren has faced more high-danger chances per 60, and that’s the only category in which Niemi isn’t busiest).

The same goes for the PK. And you’ll be shocked to learn that he’s quite bad there (.818 being well below the team standard).

So yeah, he’s been lucky at 5-on-5 in four starts and two relief appearances in almost four months. If your operating theory going into the season was that Antti Niemi was bad, well, you were right.

Stephan asks via email: “Do Cornell or Clarkson have a legit shot at a national title this year?”

Stephan, first of all thanks for asking a college hockey question.

Second, yes to both. There’s no single dominant team in a power conference this year that seems like an unbeatable juggernaut, so two pretty dominant teams in a non-power conference probably have as good a shot as any.

Of course, Clarkson hasn’t been winning a lot lately (no longer having a 106 PDO in all situations probably has something to do with that) after a season of significantly outperforming their underlying numbers, so if you want to say they’re in full-on regression mode, that’s fine.

The thing with these teams that seem to be getting by on huge save percentages is that one bad game against an elite team ends their season real quick. Which, hey, that’s kinda the story of ECAC hockey in most NCAA tournaments, right?

Jimmy asks: “How much is Claude Giroux defying the aging curve, and are the Flyers dumb not to trade him after an anomalous season?”

Yeah he’s having probably his second-best season in terms of pure point production (and long gone are the days when he looked like The Best Player In The World for four or five months). The fact that he just turned 30 in mid-January says that yeah, he’s probably not gonna keep this up much longer.

If I were a team in the Flyers’ position, of not really being a playoff team and not really having a super-bright future with the “current core” of guys who’ve been the big contributors, I’d definitely consider trading Giroux while his value will still be pretty high. Will teams want to give up a lot for a 30-year-old with five years left on a deal paying him $8.275 AAV? Doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

If you can get anything resembling fair value for him, and that would have to include a top-six forward who’s younger and cheaper (which, good luck), then sure. If not, you probably just gotta ride out this contract and see where that gets you.

Kyle asks: “Given how much Boston has outperformed what was expected of them at the start of the season, what should they do at the deadline? Tweak slightly? Make a big splash?”

I’ve been saying for a while they should trade for Rick Nash but the rumored asking price is a first-round pick, a high-end prospect, and a roster player. I don’t do that if I’m Don Sweeney because the bruins don’t have a lot of money coming off the books next summer (just Zdeno Chara, who they probably want to re-sign) and that’s an awful lot to give up for a pure rental.

The Bruins need a bit of depth scoring help and they should definitely be willing to give up picks or prospects to acquire it, because they may not have too many more whacks at this with Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, and Marchand, all in the very clear “decline” portions of their careers over the next few years. Marchand is the youngest of those guys and he turns 30 in May, so that’s not a super-exciting long-term prospect of guys that aren’t easy to replace.

The Bruins just look phenomenal this season. One has a difficult time imagining they improve on this performance in ’18-19. So yeah, I’d push the chips in and see what happens as long as the money’s right.

Justin asks via email: “How likely are the Bruins to swing a deal for Karlsson?”

How likely are they to give up Charlie McAvoy, a first-round pick, and probably a few more pieces, just as a jumping-off point?

That’s right: Not very.

So to answer your question, they will not make that trade, and they shouldn’t.

And speaking of Boston…

Mike asks: “What are the odds every Boston pro sports team loses in the final in 2018?”

Honestly, this is a great question. Maybe the best I’ve ever gotten.

First of all the Pats loss is a blessing, so we’re already part of the way there.

The Bruins have as good a chance as anyone to make the Cup Final out of the East, and they’d probably be a coin flip against whoever comes out of the West (I think they’re a shade worse than Nashville and Tampa, a shade better than Winnipeg and varying degrees better than everyone else). Pretty good chance here.

The Celtics and Raptors seem like the only reasonable picks to come out of the East in the NBA now that Cleveland looks like a full-on dumpster fire. And there’s no way either of those teams beats the Warriors, so there’s a very good chance here.

The Red Sox may not be the Yankees or Astros but after that they have as good a chance as anyone in the AL after that. Not a great chance but it’s possible.

The New England Revolution, though, might be the worst team in MLS next year, so…

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.