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Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Playoff hot takes, be gone

As I write this, two teams have already been eliminated from the playoffs. By the time you read this, we might be up to three or four.

Which, hey, that’s the playoffs baby! Things happen fast, too fast for people to really wrap their heads around, and it leads to a lot of takes looking very bad in very short order. “Oh you thought the Caps were in trouble because they didn’t have a goalie? Well they won Game 3 with the guy who won a Vezina a couple years ago but was like .908 this season, so it shows what you know!”

The problem, I guess, is that people ascribe a lot of importance to every shift, every period, every game of the playoffs. No doubt every game is important when you get seven of them max per round, but generally speaking wouldn’t it be nice if we chilled out and didn’t get all ultra-reactionary? I mean, we know for sure that small sample sizes are bad to base big takes on, and yet here we are, with people doing that constantly for two months.

Anyway, I tried to pick questions this week that did not revolve around the need to do this kind of thing, so I hope I’ve done just that.

Here we go then:

Telfo asks: “Wouldn’t it just be so very nice if Fleury led Vegas to the Cup causing mass hysteria among team owners wondering why their teams are so bad when this expansion wins in year one?”

Well it’s funny, right? Because Vegas definitely swept the Kings in four one-goal games by scoring just seven goals in 13.75 periods of hockey, more or less. Which, this is not a good barometer of long-term success.

I don’t think teams need a Vegas Cup win, at this point, to realize how badly many of them screwed up. Even leaving aside the conditional circumstances that led Vegas to get Fleury (the Pens were in a cap crunch and had a goalie) or the Florida guys (Dale Tallon needed to cut salary and didn’t understand their value), I think if teams had to do it over again, their protected lists would look pretty different.

Vegas was, however, put in the most advantageous position of any expansion team ever, and it’s something that won’t even be afforded to Seattle in a couple years, because there’s (probably) no way something like 10 GMs are gonna pooch it like this again.

Pietro asks: “What’s the ceiling for San Jose? If they get past Vegas can they beat Winnipeg/Nashville? Do they have a legit shot at the cup?”

Yeah so this is the other issue for Vegas: Los Angeles was a team that had one line, and even then only kinda. San Jose has at least two, and a much better defense overall.

You hesitate to say any matchup is impossible for a team because “look what the Senators did in the current format just last year” is a perfectly valid argument. Again, these are small samples and it’s really not that hard to win four out of any seven games if you get quality goaltending. Fleury for-sure showed he’s capable of being incredible for any four-game stretch.

Having said that, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the difficulty of winning playoff rounds only increases as time goes on, and it certainly benefits Vegas or San Jose that Nashville and Winnipeg have to play each other. Put another way, if you were going to pick an ideal division out of which to emerge into the conference final, the Pacific would absolutely be it.

The Sharks are very good, for sure, but there’s a difference between very good and elite, right? Neither Vegas nor San Jose are elite teams in this league. I honestly think that series is fairly close to a coin flip, with maybe a slight edge going to San Jose.

So while winning the Cup is certainly a possibility, it’s not a particularly strong one.

Dixon asks: “Is it likely that the Flyers are better, the same, or worse next season?”

Not really a surprise that Philly fans are already looking ahead to next year, but I think you’ll find that the answer to your question is heavily dependent upon whether they can get an extra scorer or two, and what happens with their goaltending.

The latter is interesting not just because wow isn’t it crazy that an Elliott/Neuvirth battery isn’t working out, but because both those guys are signed for next season fairly cheap, and they still need to re-sign RFA Peter Mrazek, if they want to do that. So they have options for perfectly competent goaltending and maybe a little better than that if things go right. And apart from a couple guys on that blue line I think they have some pretty good, young defensemen.

I just don’t see a lot of “ceiling” for this forward group unless a couple guys can step up and be bigger contributors on ELCs or second contracts. Looks like Nolan Patrick figured it out late in the season or whatever, but they’re gonna need a little more than that because they had Giroux go nuts this season and still weren’t that great.

Ryan asks: “Do you think coaching is significantly more valuable in the playoffs when teams have time to do more scouting and gameplanning against other teams?”

I think roster adjustments are huge at this time of year, yeah. The thing I always say about it is I thought Chicago was cooked pretty early in the 2013 Cup Final, but Joel Quenneville (genius coach) found a way to tweak matchups and lines juuuuuust enough to exploit Zdeno Chara’s immobility due to what I seem to recall was a hip injury. On the other bench, Claude Julien never adjusted to that adjustment, and the Bruins lost three straight.

Of critical importance in this, especially as things go along, is last change, much more than in the regular season. That’s something you always have to keep in mind and watch for: Who’s out against the other team’s top line on a consistent basis, etc.

I don’t know how much adjustments matter in the first round because it’s a bit of a feeling-out process even for teams internally, let alone dealing with the other guys, but once coaches have a read on things after two, three, four games, that’s when it becomes more of a chess match.

John asks: “Which playoff teams are misusing their depth guys the most?”

I think to some extent everyone misuses their depth players. The NHL is all about conservatism at this time of year, understandably, and coaches would often rather dress veterans who are known quantities than younger guys who probably are better or at least have a higher ceiling.

The Maple Leafs are obviously the most pertinent example of this because they have a handful of defenders who suck but still get run out over 21-year-olds who are kinda more AHL/NHL tweeners. Mike Babcock knows what Roman Polak brings to the table pretty clearly, and he’s not thinking about that lineup decision as “This is worth x goals for and y against.” I get why that’s his thought process but also I’m not a fan of it.

You can also apply this to Washington, where Barry Trotz had the Caps in a rough spot, down 2-0 in the series in part because he’d rather put “safe” players in the lineup than the ones who actually might be able to score a goal for him.

It’s known that I’m not a big John Tortorella fan but his old mantra “safe is death” — while being funny because of the kind of hockey Tortorella generally espoused — is pretty much where I’m at with hockey on the whole. I’d love to see every team in the league open it up, but guys would rather have a 50 percent chance of winning 2-1 than a 50 percent chance of losing 5-4.

Brandon asks: “Put together the best possible lineup from NHL playoff players. 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, 1 goalie. Can’t use more than 1 from same team. Have to use a player from every division.”

First of all this isn’t a question.

But here ya go, since I’m being such a sweetie lately:

Brad Marchand – Sid Crosby – Nikita Kucherov

Brent Burns – PK Subban

Connor Hellebuyck

Thanks.

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

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.

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