(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – Officiating
We’ve known for a long, long time that the refereeing in the NHL leaves a lot to be desired. Part of that is the rulebook, which is weirdly vague in too many spots, but which simultaneously leaves way too much leeway for dumb stuff to happen.
Take for example, oh I don’t know, the goal Nashville didn’t score in Game 6. Look what happened on that play. Happens all the time. There’s a shot from a low angle, and it looks like Matt Murray has it. Referee Kevin Pollock straight-up stops skating, because it’s a judgment call and Murray’s a good goalie and all that. But because Pollock stopped skating, he didn’t see the puck trickle loose. It was awful positioning and a no-effort play from the ref.
But the league also has the ability to review plays of exactly this type — on the basis that a ref may have blown a whistle despite a “continuous play” — but didn’t use it. Why? My theory, unfounded by probably right, is that the league didn’t want to undermine one of its officials in so public a setting. That kind of thing happens with shocking regularity.
And you can’t say the refs didn’t know they blew it, because they gave the Preds four power plays — including a kinda-long 5-on-3 — to the Penguins’ zero. Didn’t help because the Nashville power play was horrible for most of the playoffs. It’s like that time several years ago the umpire blew an out call at first base in the ninth inning of a perfect game: The refs “kicked the [crap]” out of this one, and all the apologizing or make-up calls in the world don’t make up for the what-ifs that one dumb, wrong whistle.
Unfortunately there’s no real way to fix the issue. The “ref blows the play dead when he can’t see the puck” call is one where creating any wiggle room is tricky. Make it a two-whistle system? That’s weird. Would be tough to make work. Let play continue even after a goalie has it covered? That’s bad. Will get someone killed.
So the NHL’s official stance on this kind of has to be: “It sucks, but here we are.” Same as it ever was. Classic NHL.
6 – Copycats
One of the best things in the wake of any Stanley Cup Final that always makes me laugh is the 29 — soon-to-be-30 — other teams’ various media members asking something along the lines of, “How close is our team to doing this?”
The reason it’s so funny is you get a lot of deluded-ass people who clearly have no idea what teams actually need, even if they cover them every day. Take the Bruins as an example. I read something yesterday that they need a few defensemen, a good coach, a backup goalie, and Kris Versteeg, and they’re in the conversation. Like, come on. Tuukka Rask is gonna be 30 next year. Patrice Bergeron 32. David Krejci 31. Zdeno Chara 40. Look at their contracts. Look at their coach. Look at their GM. In what universe is this team a few minor roster tweaks away from being Cup-competitive?
The sad reality is that there are probably like four teams in the league that are truly elite, and maybe four or five more that can get deep in the playoffs if a few bounces go their way. That’s almost a third of the league, fair enough. Then another third or so is in decline (this includes the Bruins), a little less than that are in the middle of rebuilds. A few are mired in the basement for other reasons, mostly “dumb management.”
People can’t to evaluate their teams properly, or can’t objectively. I get that, it’s fine. But the number of teams that are “close” to replicating the Penguins can be counted on one hand. That’s the reality.
5 – Hiding Subban
Honestly the whole kerfuffle about PK Subban not talking before Game 6 is the dumbest thing in the world. Honestly, who cares? No one was going to ask him any sort of question that was going to illuminate literally anything we didn’t already know about Game 6 and the battle the Preds were facing and all that.
And it’s not like he begged out. Subban, to his credit, never saw an interview he didn’t want to give. It wasn’t a distraction. It didn’t matter. Who cares. Shut up.
4 – The Top 100 players
I love love love love love that even after winning his second straight Stanley Cup, Jim Rutherford was still like, “Can you [expletive]ing believe Evgeni Malkin isn’t one of the top 100 players in NHL history?”
The extent to which Malkin is undervalued is truly incredible. You hear occasionally that Sid Crosby is fourth all-time in era-adjusted points per game, but Malkin honestly isn’t that far behind and if we’re being honest he’s spent basically all of his career as a top-five player in the league. The fact that the Penguins have both of them at the same time is a tribute to how lucky the Pens got in their tanking days — not that they were necessarily trying to tank at the time — but also how good both Crosby and Malkin are and have been forever.
What a blessing to have one of them. Most GMs would push their own mothers in front of a bus to acquire either. But to have both? It’s impossible to underscore how truly lucky Pittsburgh is.
(We’ll get to more on this a little deeper down the list here.)
3 – The Predators
Speaking of which, the Predators have the makings of a team that’s going to be pretty damn good for years to come. The only guys currently on the roster who will be 30-plus next season are James Neal, Cody McLeod, Matt Irwin, and Pekka Rinne. Maybe they re-up Mike Fisher, too.
But other than that? This is a young team. And it’s damn good. It was sunk by poor goaltending, injuries, and bad luck in the Final. Maybe Juuse Saros is the starter next season. That’d be a smart play.
But the thing is, there also aren’t a lot of bad contracts on this team at all, and there’s a decent amount of cap space. Rinne’s is bad. Craig Smith makes too much money. Neal’s is a problem but not a huge one.
Obviously Ryan Johansen needs a big, expensive extension and he’s earned it. Same for Viktor Arvidsson. Pontus Aberg might get a nice chunk of change. Maybe David Poile needs to figure out a way to jettison Neal. But probably not.
Maybe they trade a defenseman for a little more offensive pop. (And it should be Josi if they do.)
But this is a smart club that’s well-positioned for success in a division in decline. Gotta like their chances to go deep next spring too.
2 – Expansion draft prep
The other cool this about this offseason, now that the Cup Final is over, is that word of various deals Vegas is making ahead of the expansion draft is leaking out.
We knew for a while what their deal with Chicago probably would be, but now Anaheim and maybe Ottawa have deals in place too (as of this writing). I love it. The speculation is fun.
I was telling someone the other day, I hope there are like 50 trades in the next week as everyone gets their ducks in a row.
This is chaos. It’s awesome. I wish there were an expansion draft every summer.
1 – Super teams
It occurred to me while watching the Warriors not-blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals for once that the Penguins are probably the closest thing we’re going to have to a super team in the NHL.
Crosby and Malkin are both among the top-five players in the world. Depending on your feelings on Phil Kessel, he’s probably in the top 30 to 50. If Kris Letang had been healthy, that’s another top-30 guy no problem. Matt Murray’s probably an upper-tier goalie as well, though the body of work is obviously tough to judge so far.
And just given the nature of the two sports, the ability of any NHL team to add even a few players to make the kind of impact Kevin Durant did for Golden State is difficult, especially given the salary cap differences between the NHL and NBA.
But I gotta tell ya: It would be pretty fun to see the Penguins somehow find a way to add, like, Connor McDavid, Brad Marchand, Vladimir Tarasenko, Erik Karlsson, Hampus Lindholm, PK Subban, and Carey Price. Just to see what would happen. What do you think? Like 150 points?
The NHL’s regular season is already irrelevant in a lot of ways, so why not just create like two or three super teams and let them have a clash-of-the-titans-type Final? Maybe just for one year. It would rule.
(Not ranked this week: Not going to Lowell.
Three guys who went to my college won a Stanley Cup on Sunday. Add in the fact that the school also produced a hockey genius like me, and I gotta tell ya: No one is better or smarter. Bless you, Ron Hainsey. Bless you, Scott Wilson. Bless you, Chad Ruhwedel.
If you didn’t go to UMass Lowell, well, I feel sorry for you. Your life must be so empty.)
(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)