September is here and there remains no shortage of intrigue. With all the usual Insiders coming back from the cottage and reminding everyone they haven’t looked at Twitter all summer, rumours about what might be going on behind the scenes are finally starting to filter out to the public.
This also comes at a time when there’s CBA intrigue, trades swirling and general concern about the state of the league. So, as usual this summer, there remains plenty to talk about.
Aaron asks: “The NHL just asked you to make the preseason more interesting. What do you do?”
No checking in preseason games is probably the big one for me.
Yes, you will lose some of the “dumb guys who like seeing AHLers whale on each other to Make An Impression” demographic.” But you’ll see more scoring, guys with actual hockey talent will be able to differentiate themselves and Make An Impression in a way that actually works in 2019, and you’ll avoid players — of any importance — getting injured in a meaningless game absolutely no one in the crowd really cares about.
Also, teams should never be allowed to charge NHL prices for a half-AHL roster. These are very simple things.
James asks: “Is Phil Kessel excited to play for the Coyotes?”
Well, you saw the video.
I mean, Kessel is never going to be Mr. Enthusiasm about anything, at least publicly. But you can bet he’s very happy to be in a place where he’s basically guaranteed top-six minutes, plenty of touches on the power play and so on. He’s got Kessel Whisperer Rick Tocchet as his coach again and the goals will assuredly come, as they always have.
Plus, my understanding is that the weather in Phoenix over the winter is a little better than it is in Pittsburgh. This is the team to which he engineered a trade, as was his right, so yeah, I expect he’s more than happy with his current situation.
Big Road asks: “Is there enough frustration with escrow and Olympic uncertainty that you think the NHLPA will open the CBA?”
It would definitely be more about escrow than the Olympics, but the former alone is a big ol’ yes from me. And I know there has already been talk about, “Well, players shouldn’t have taken the cap escalator all those times if they don’t like escrow.” That’s true, it was not the best idea to continually jack up the cap ceiling by 5 percent artificially every year.
But at the same time, if the league is pulling as much as double-digit percentages out of every guy’s paycheck every year because the league can’t hit its revenue projections, that seems like it would suck. Let’s say you sign for $5 million a year, right? You’re losing $750,000 on top of taxes and everything else and maybe getting NONE of that money back because of how far off HRR estimates were? Who would sign up for that deal if they had to do it over again?
Something needs to change there and you can bet the use of the cap escalator is only part of that puzzle. Is that worth having a strike over? I’d say yes.
Anyone who says the players should leave well enough alone and accept a few more years of the current CBA “For The Good Of The Game” doesn’t really understand that they’re only kicking the can down the road if things continue as-is. Which they will.
Dan asks: “Is Tim Thomas really a Hall of Fame guy?”
Probably not for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but definitely for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s absolutely one of the best American goaltenders of all time.
But overall, for the entirety of the global sport, I would say he didn’t play long enough in the NHL — only 426 career games — to make the cut. His run from 2007-12 is the stuff of legends (a .926 save percentage on a heavy workload, to go with two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe, all richly deserved) but before that he was rather ordinary in parts of three seasons at the NHL level.
Afterward, he derailed his own career by taking the lockout year off and he only played one more (bad) season for Florida and Dallas and didn’t make a single friend along the way.
Like Cam Ward, he’ll always have that dominant run, but a silver medal in the Olympics as a backup on top of all his other accomplishments don’t really add up to “Hall of Fame career.” If he plays two or three more years at the NHL level, maybe it’s a different story, but he didn’t so that’s that.
Felix asks: “Do you see Chicago getting any value out of the final four years of the Kane/Toews contracts?”
I guess it depends what you mean by “value.” They will both likely be valuable in that they will continue to deliver something north of one win above a replacement-level player, and Kane in particular can be significantly better than that.
But a lot of it depends on their linemates, and a lot depends on luck. They’re both north of 30 and will thus be more reliant on others (relative to what they used to be) to drive their production and overall contribution to winning efforts. With Chicago’s depth being what it is, I’m not optimistic that Toews is going to be able to effectively lug Brandon Saad around for another season without Saad rediscovering his form.
But as to whether they will continue to deliver $21 million worth of wins above replacement, I think you know the answer to that one: No.
Tracer asks: “Which coach is the most likely to be fired before Thanksgiving?”
What’s interesting is that I don’t see too many teams where a slow start would doom a coach right now. Most teams are either clearly in rebuilding mode or their coaches should be secure enough based on past performance that they’ve bought themselves slack with their GMs.
Also remember we also had a LOT of coaching turnover of late. By my count, nine teams have installed new coaches since the start of last season, and six more coaches are just starting their second full seasons. That’s half the league where a coaching change would be a legitimate shock.
There are maybe two or three guys who I think might have short leashes: Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice are the obvious ones. Their teams were good last year, but not great and certainly not as good as everyone expected them to be. The other one is a little more out-of-left-field but I could absolutely see Columbus moving on from John Tortorella — who’s only under contract for this year and next — if they’re as bad as I kinda think they will be.
Billy asks: “Frozen Four prediction?”
First of all, thank you for asking a college hockey question.
As for your question, I’m going to go with something like Minnesota-Duluth — can’t knock a back-to-back champ that returns a huge percentage of its roster — and Denver from the NCHC. Those seem like borderline locks unless they play each other in the regionals for some reason.
After that, things are a lot murkier. Minnesota State is probably the most likely because they were great last year and didn’t lose anyone of consequence that I can recall.
I like Penn State but they do have a history of melting down in the NCAAs. I like Wisconsin’s talent level but can you really trust a team that went four games below .500 to rebound like that? The same thing, to a much lesser extent, can be said of Boston College, which was mediocre last season and lost some important players, but returns plenty more and added an incredible amount of talent this summer.
I realize I gave you five teams there so let’s just cut out Wisconsin and call it for now.
Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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