Things seem to be settling down a bit after a bizarre start. The Oilers lost, for one thing, and it gave me a real sense of calm. This is familiar, this is regular.
Not everything is familiar and regular, of course: Coaches’ seats are already starting to heat up, guys are maybe wearing out their welcome in net, and the Sharks stink for some reason? I dunno, but we can get into all that.
Anderson asks: “If you were Doug Wilson, would you call Detroit on Howard or Washington on Holtby?”
Let’s just have a look at the save percentages here: .910 for Howard, .846 for Holtby.
Okay, now let’s look at their cap hits: $4 million for Howard, $6.1 million for Holtby.
And let’s finish by looking at trade protections: None for Howard, seven-team no-trade for Holtby.
The choice is clear: Holtby just kidding Howard.
Brayton asks: “Do you believe the Sabres are ‘for real’ this season? What’s the difference between this year’s hot start and their 10-game winning streak last November?”
Well, for one thing, it’s fewer games. But more importantly, they’re actually playing better; pretty even statistical performances this year versus getting outshot by a good margin last year. They also have a coach who seems to know what he’s doing and a legitimate NHL defense (though obviously not a great one or anything).
As to whether this is “for real,” just be honest with yourself and look at the PDO: 18 goals against on 219 shots probably isn’t sustainable for these two goalies (though it’s plausible). But especially not-sustainable is 26 goals on 221 shots.
There’s plenty of reason to believe they’re better than they were last year, but I still don’t really see them as a playoff team. That being said — and this is something we’ll talk about a little more in the next question as well — there’s nothing wrong with banking unsustainable performance to cushion problems later on.
Matt asks: “Ovechkin has won seven of the last 8 Rocket Richards, so what players do you think have the best chance to beat him this year?”
Much like it’s nice to bank the points for the Sabres or the Oilers, it’s nice to bank the goals nice and early. Auston Matthews has seven already. James Neal has eight. The latter doesn’t really feel like it’s going to last even if he gets plenty of time on the power play with McDavid and Draisaitl, but hell, eight on Oct. 17 is a fifth of the way to his career high, so that’s something.
Matthews seems like the obvious choice assuming he doesn’t miss 14 or 20 games like he has in the past. His career per-82-game pace (about 44) at least gets him into the conversation, and that’s taking into account years in which he was in his late teens and early 20s and battled injury. If he’s healthy, this kid currently looks like 50 will be a cakewalk.
Kevin asks: “Over the summer you said on a few occasions that you didn’t think the Stars would be all that great, but now they’re 1-6-1 to start. Are they really this bad?”
No, they are not at the “almost as bad as the Wild” level.
But they also haven’t been playing well, at all. They’re in the bottom 10 in the league in a few underlying numbers and their offense in particular looks very bad.
The idea that Joe Pavelski was going to help them improve that had a lot of credibility behind it, but it hasn’t worked out that way in actual practice. I wasn’t holding my breath on them being a Pavelski, Perry, and Improved Roope Hintz away from being dangerous for the full 82. They also can’t get a save right now and isn’t that so interesting actually that two 33-year-olds who put up insane numbers last year haven’t been able to replicate that performance?
I mean, there’s a lot of talent here and I’m not going to expect Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov to score at this low pace (a combined four goals through eight games) forever. But still, they needed help to get back to where they were last year and haven’t gotten it. Wasn’t that hard to see at least some struggles along the way, but not to this extent.
Marcel asks: “What would it take for a defenseman to win the Hart in today’s NHL?”
Let’s start with an anecdote: Erik Karlsson played almost 29 minutes a night in 2015-16, put up a point a game, had a plus-7.2 relative CF% and plus-4.6 xGF% at 5-on-5.
The Senators were plus-16 in all situations when he was on the ice; they were minus-26 when he was off. They missed the playoffs by eight points as a consequence.
What did that get him from the awards voters? A ninth-place finish in the Hart race and second in the Norris. But you have to understand: DREW DOUGHTY WAS DUE!!!!!!
Anyway, if a guy can play like that and not even come close to the MVP award, it’s just never going to happen. A defenseman would probably have to lead a bad team in scoring and make the playoffs simultaneously. I can’t imagine anyone not named Bobby Orr has ever done it (but I’m also not going to ever look that up).
Braden asks: “Should we expect GMs to fix a team’s problems during the season?”
Short of trading for a goalie or an All-Star for next to nothing, you probably can’t make the kind of changes on the ice needed in today’s cap system to really turn things around. But of course a GM’s job is also hiring or firing a coach and we saw last year that this kind of thing can make all the difference.
So to answer your question: Probably not unless he can swap out a bad coach for an insanely good one.
Jesse asks: “More starts this season: Samsonov vs. Holtby, who ya got?”
Asked about it yesterday, Todd Rierden said, “It’s not a goaltending controversy at this point.” And boy did those last three words feel like they were doing some incredibly heavy lifting, huh?
Anyway, here I gotta go with the guy whose save percentage is currently under .850.
Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports