Another weirdly active hockey news week here in late August, and there’s no reason at all why that shouldn’t continue for the next couple of weeks before camps open. It’s honestly shocking there’s so much going on, but who am I to complain about lots of hockey news?
Anyway, questions were all over the place this week. I thought they were pretty good. That’s all.
Anderson asks: “Is Cam Ward a Hall of Famer?”
I made the — apparently controversial — point on Twitter that from 2008-12, Ward was arguably the second-best goaltender in the league behind Henrik Lundqvist. He logged thousands more minutes than the other elite goaltenders (Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo) on a much worse team and had roughly the same save percentage as the latter. I’d listen to an argument for Thomas, since his save percentage was 10 points higher.
But the difference in that stretch between a team that won the Cup and came within a point of the Presidents’ Trophy (Boston), a team that went to a Cup Final and won two straight Presidents’ Trophies, and a team that made the playoffs once out of the Southeast Division should be fairly obvious.
Anyway, the freshly-retired Ward was at the very least a top-five goalie over that four-year period, even if you want to be uncharitable. But that was a four-year period in a 14-year career. Yes, he won a Cup and a Conn Smythe as a rookie, but apart from those four great seasons and one incredible playoff run, he never had another season as an above-average goaltender. Not one in 10 other campaigns. Again, the team in front of him sucked for a good chunk of that time, but you gotta stop the puck at the end of the day and he didn’t.
So let’s put it this way: Here’s a guy with a career .908 save percentage, which is low. From 2005-08, he was an .897 goalie. From 2008-12, he was .918. From 2012-19, he was .905. That’s not gonna get you anywhere close to the Hall of Fame unless you convince the voters those numbers are from the ‘80s.
Alex asks: “How would you fix the RFA system so that offer sheets actually happen in any meaningful sense?”
I think the only ways to do it are to either:
Change the way front offices think
Change rules for compensation
Right now a GM looks at Mitch Marner or Brayden Point and says, “This player is not worth a double-digit AAV plus four first-round picks.” The thing is that they probably are, but GMs don’t want to stick their neck out that far. So you either turn over enough GMs that there are guys smart enough to realize the inherent value, or as a league, you lower the price point in terms of assets. Even if those players still cost a lot of money, you can justify it by saying, “Well now it’s only THREE first-round picks.”
There is no compensation at all for extending an offer sheet in the NBA, for instance. All restricted free agent status grants to the controlling team is the ability to match the deal. That’s good for players but obviously teams are going to balk at that, so maybe you find a happy medium and hope.
Jim asks via email: “If the Leafs are too aggressive wielding their financial might — I’m thinking not just signing bonuses but also raids on good front office and coaching staffs, all the money that isn’t accounted for in the salary cap — does talk of a second team in Toronto come back?”
I think we’re done with expansion teams for a while and if there’s going to be one it’s certainly not coming to Toronto. If the league expands to 36 teams, maybe you start to run out of other places to put them, but right now you’d think places like Houston or Quebec City — where fandom either barely exists or is underserved — would be ahead of the Greater Toronto Area.
One also imagines the expansion fee for a team in the GTA would be about a trillion dollars, which would be prohibitive.
Reed asks: “What team is going to be way more watchable this year than they’re getting credit for?”
Watchable as in “good and entertaining,” or watchable as in “entertaining?” Because I can certainly see the Senators fall into that category. They’re going to bleed chances when the top line and Thomas Chabot are off the ice, meaning you’ll see a lot of exciting plays, and then I’d expect a lot more up-and-down hockey when they have the big guns (such as they are) on the ice. That seems like a very real scenario to me.
As far as “good and entertaining” goes, I would probably say Florida. I have them making the playoffs and I think they have enough talent to go toe-to-toe with the bigger brothers in their division, even if they maybe can’t take all those punches all season long. Under Joel Quenneville, especially, they’re likely to play far more entertaining hockey.
Marcel asks: “Is the RFA hell we’re in right now just a result of everyone realizing that a player’s prime is ages 21-28 instead of 26-32 like it used to be?”
I would say yes, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I said it a while ago but the problem RFAs face is that their teams’ GMs spend a ton of money on UFAs who maybe aren’t worth that now, and certainly won’t be five, six, seven years down the line. Then they turn out their pockets to the young guys because it “used to be” that a second contract was still cheaper than market value.
Players going for the big money when they’re worth it and before their bodies start to break down only makes sense. I can’t imagine there’s anyone who still thinks “you peak at 30” is a real and true thing, so anyone arguing you shouldn’t pay guys in their early and mid 20s has to do a lot of mental gymnastics.
Dan asks: “Where do you see video review going in the next few seasons?”
Hopefully player and puck tracking will give officials more data about whether pucks crossed a given line or a guy’s skate was in a certain spot. I can’t imagine it would be exactly right, but as long as it speeds up the review process by a minute or two, I think that’s valuable.
Otherwise, I can’t imagine the league would want to move away from its current state on video review, as it could easily be spun into “I guess they DON’T want to make sure they get calls right.”
I don’t think there’s any good or perfect solution, even the “eye in the sky” officials or the War Room will get it wrong consistently enough that the griping will always continue.
Jake asks: “Is the NHL ever gonna get rid of the trapezoid?”
No, because I think it does exactly what it intends to do. Goalies never come out to play dump-ins like they used to, so even if a dump-in is still conceding possession more often than not, it’s doing so far less frequently than it used to. That increases offence, and that’s what the league wants.
Frankly, between getting rid of the trapezoid or expanding it to the entire area below the goal line, I’d be more surprised by the former than the latter.
The trapezoid works and, to be honest, there aren’t enough goalies who can move the puck like Marty Brodeur that anyone is all that adversely affected by it.
Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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