(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – Alex Galchenyuk
Earlier this week, Claude Julien told reporters that he had no intention of bumping Alex Galchenyuk up in the lineup, let alone to the top line. This despite the fact that the Canadiens currently couldn’t put a puck in the ocean off the end of a pier.
And look, the Habs’ offensive struggles aren’t going to last forever, so maybe it’s understandable that a coach this good is sticking to his guns.
But also: Whose dog(s) did Galchenyuk run over in Montreal to get this kind of treatment?
This looks like a classic case of a player who’s never going to do anything until he’s traded, so really, the Habs should just trade him. They won’t, of course, but they should. They obviously have no use for him and he’s drowning there despite being one of the better forwards on the roster.
It’s just one of those things, but it’s silly that it’s gotten to this point.
6 – That Oilers offense
This is what everyone who was worried about the Oilers as an ongoing concern was actually worried about. They traded a lot of offense for marginal defensive help over the last two summers and outside of Leon Draisaitl, who returned from a concussion on Tuesday, there’s no one beyond McDavid who can generate any kind of offense.
Milan Lucic? Turns out that contract is a bigger anchor for the club than he was on the McDavid line last year.
Patrick Maroon? Turns out he’s only okay, which no one could have predicted.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Turns out being stuffed on the third line isn’t conducive to racking up points.
Actually, on the subject of Nugent-Hopkins, it’s been funny to see him take the blame for the team’s overall offensive ineptitude. Not just because it ignores that he’s not being put in a position to score (he gets less power play time than Mark Letestu for some unknowable reason), but also because he’s apparently not good at faceoffs or something. This is all prep work for when Chiarelli inevitably trades him for, like, Jonathan Ericsson this summer, make no mistake about that.
Nugent-Hopkins’ biggest problem isn’t that he’s getting slaughtered at the dot (his current 52 percent is the best mark of his career by a mile), but rather that people think it matters that he could get slaughtered at the dot. It, by and large, does not. Faceoffs matter only situationally, and while it’s better to be good at them than not (and RNH typically is not), they have a marginal impact on shots, let alone goals and wins.
How about this one: You would have to literally lose or win hundreds more faceoffs than your opponents to have it be equivalent to a single point in the standings. Hundreds. And guys just don’t get that opportunity because of the marginal differences in elite faceoff percentages over 50 percent. What do the best guys win? Like 60 percent? That’s probably about a plus-300 difference over the course of a season, and that’s probably equal to about one point in the standings. So yeah, all Nugent-Hopkins would have to do to meet everyone’s expectations here is become an elite faceoff guy and also get top-line minutes in all situations. That’s something that will definitely happen. For sure.
Sorry to get all fired up about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or whatever but people just don’t understand this sport on a fundamental level and I can’t stand it.
5 – The Wild
Well this is not the start they wanted and oh hey look, Zach Parise is out m-o-n-t-h-s after back surgery. The last eight years of that contract are gonna look really good.
4 – “Maybe try taking more goalies next time?”
Last week in this space, I talked about the kind of danger Vegas faced as a team by only having two NHL goalies in their system, when they had the ability to take multiple NHL-quality goalies in the expansion draft, then do with them what they wished after the fact. That came about because Marc-Andre Fleury was out indefinitely with a concussion, leaving only Malcolm Subban as a guy who was even nominally an NHL talent.
Well now Malcolm Subban is out a month as well. And that leaves … Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk? Good lord. Dansk has never had a pro season in North America in which he cleared .890 and that dude just played an NHL game. Can you even believe that?
Like, hey, I guess it’s good that Vegas isn’t likely to win most of their games for the next little while here, but George McPhee could’ve taken Philip Grubauer or Petr Mrazek (though both of them have crap numbers so far this year, too).
This is just not a well-run team until further notice. I don’t care how many games they win.
3 – Job opportunities
But hell, goalie injuries are a real issue.
Florida’s so hard up for help at the position with Roberto Luongo (apparently) out a while that they claimed Antti Niemi off waivers shortly after their own in-state rival lit him up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve during a light bulb convention. Folks, I’m saying they lit him up.
The league average save percentage right now is .910, the lowest it’s been since 2008-09, and that means a lot of guys are playing badly (you’ll be not-surprised-at-all to hear refs are also giving out the most power plays per game since that same year, which is a total coincidence I’m sure). That also means a lot of coaches are perfectly happy to give someone else a whirl, and why not?
So yeah, shout out to Niemi for continuing to find employment in the league despite being by far its worst regular goalie over the last two-plus seasons. Way to wring several hundred thousand out of these GMs!
2 – The Kings
The good news is the Kings will get an all-situations of PDO of 103.2 forever. It’s the new coach. That’s why Dustin Brown — DUSTIN BROWN! — has 11 points in eight games, too.
1 – Goalie controversies
Did you see this thing where Boston has a goaltending controversy because Anton Khudobin is actually stopping pucks at a normal NHL rate for the first time in forever? Haha, yeah he’s probably a lot better than Rask, right folks? For sure!
(Not ranked this week: Andreas Athanasiou.
Well, he ended up taking the short-money deal he didn’t really deserve, and that’s to be expected because the NHL’s CBA is rigged against young guys who deserve to be paid unless they’re overwhelming talents like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
And then to go through all that and get a contract with the Red Wings of all the teams in the world? Yikes. No fun!)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)