Hoo boy is it ever hard to find hockey to write about in August. Especially given that there might not even be a season and my favorite team has decided not to spend any money—everything seems like it’s stuck in a perpetual holding pattern. Still, I managed to piece together some uninformed opinions about the league in between bouts of drinking outside in the sun.
Detroit: Can’t help but wonder if Kenny Holland’s incredible reputation as one of the best GMs in hockey is only now truly being put to the test. I mean, he had the greatest defenceman maybe of all time playing 30 minutes a night and into his 40s, and you combine that with late round steals like Zetterberg and a goalie like Osgoode, who stunk just enough in the regular season that they never had to pay him and suddenly became incredible in the playoffs every single damn year. This offseason, tasked with replacing Lidstrom, Holland did something very ordinary and predictable, not at all befitting such an apparent genius: he went after the best unrestricted free agents on the market.
This franchise enjoyed the longest sustained hand job from hockey critics the world over as proponents of “moneypuck” alternative metrics, vertical integration, and scouting proficiency. And it just resorted to the very antithesis of those things. Holland wrote a giant-sized novelty check to Suter and Parise, despite all the evidence that they couldn’t possibly provide value relative to that sort of money. And, just like all the other unoriginal big market GMs, when they miss out there’s very little in the way of Plan B.
Now I hear rumors that they’re looking closely at Bouwmeester and maybe even Gonchar, having to pay a premium in prospects or picks for mediocre talent, and I have to wonder: how did they not see this coming? How have they not been shoring up defensive prospects for the last ten years, knowing that one day their linchpin and captain would retire? Unless Holland has some kind of trick up his sleeve, or his metrics are so alternative that we can’t see how secretly good this defense corps will be, Detroit is going to regress hard this year. As a fan of a team that once lost Chara for nothing, I’m sympathetic. I think Detroit’s incredible run of playoff appearances may soon come to an end.
Edmonton: really enjoying the way certain hockey fixtures, especially those in Edmonton (obviously), are speculating on the team’s ability to possibly make the playoffs this season. This is a team that needs a 20 point bump over last year to be competitive for the eighth seed. To give you some perspective, Ottawa finished about 20 points out of the playoffs the season before last, and they were still up about 10 points on last place Edmonton that year. Now, Ottawa made a 20 point improvement on their place in the standings, but on the back of Karlsson’s Norris Trophy season, Spezza being top five in the league in point scoring, quality goaltending for the first time in forever, no injuries, Alfredsson being incredible at age 83, Paul MacLean’s system actually working, Milan Michalek shooting about 20% for a good chunk of the season, and a whole bunch of improbable comebacks. Edmonton makes no changes other than adding another very skilled teenager, a defenseman who is highly touted but has never played in the NHL, and Khabibulin being a year older. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Tambellini—or, god willing, someone else—sitting up there on TSN’s season-ending draft lottery show in the spring.
CBA negotiations: I don’t know if I’m being terribly naïve, but I don’t think there will be an enormous lockout this season. There’s just too much money on the line, and the NHLPA looks too well organized this time around to keep the discussions from being at least partially constructive. I know there’s a lot of posturing, and everyone is afraid of setting precedent for the next twenty of these things, but there just doesn’t seem to be that fundamental, existential discussion required this time. This isn’t about instituting a mechanism that will change every facet of the management of the game. This is basically about tweaking revenue sharing. Not to minimize the size of the differences between the two sides, but it just doesn’t seem so much more difficult than any other standard negotiation on how to split up the pie. No negotiation ever gets fixed early, after all. A few all-nighters in September and I bet we see a deal hammered out.
One wonders if there’s a way during future CBA negotiations to silo off some of these issues—say, have the main contract negotiation essentially comprised of revenue sharing methods, and then have sub-agreements for matters like participation in the Olympics. I know everything is related to revenues to some degree or another, but I can’t help but think that there will be a number of concessions made in the name of expediency if only because the scope of the discussion is so big.
In a way, I’m hoping that the first part of the season is cancelled. I’ve always thought that the 82 game NHL season is way too long, especially when you add all of those useless exhibition games which, here in Canada, are breathlessly announced and endlessly broadcast by a hockey-crazed media. I’m not above it. I watch too, and listen as Dean Brown or whoever analyses how Chris Neil, playing on the first line with all of the team’s good players sitting out because the games are meaningless, really came close to a shot on net there. By the end of every season I’m reduced to hockey exhaustion, waiting out the final 10-20 games in anticipation of the playoffs. I don’t even know how Islanders and Leafs fans feel, their seasons usually out of reach long before. If they could just go ahead and start the season on November first, I’d be okay with that. I’d prefer to trim the last 20 games off the schedule that the first, but I’m not against the concept.
In any case, I wonder how much longer we’ll have to wait before Melnyk weighs in with another one of his “this team needs to make it to the second round to break even” panic attacks.