Erik Karlsson or Matt Duchene? It’s All Here.

Twitter is heating up… rumours are starting to fly… NHL Insiders are starting to get some material fed to them, which they pass on to fans… players and teams are jousting for position, looking for a Summer game plan. The NHL Draft will be held in Vancouver on Friday, June 21st and Saturday, June 22nd. The very next day, pending free agents (restricted and unrestricted) will be allowed to speak to teams other than the one they finished the season with, in order to gauge not only interest, but contract details to see if there is a fit or not. How exciting!

When you’re in a hot bed like Montreal or Toronto, this is enough to keep everyone in the sports media industry employed and when big names are being mentioned, it makes front page of local newspapers and occupy sports radio and TV shows for days. Remember the John Tavares watch last summer? Remember the Toronto sports TV stations going on, and on, and on about the possibility of him going to the Maple Leafs? Remember how they were all but laughing at the Montreal Canadiens because JT didn’t even want to give them a chance to talk to him? Well folks, the roles are reversed this year.

Two of the top pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs), defenseman Erik Karlsson and centre Matt Duchene, seem to have strong ties to the Canadiens and that, folks, has the City buzzing as the Stanley Cup finals between the rival Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues are battling it out for the Holy Grail, still two and a half weeks away from the June 23rd date.

Matt Duchene

It’s been well documented that one of Duchene’s favourite teams growing up was the Montreal Canadiens. While this doesn’t guarantee that a player, later in life, will want to play for them, it certainly doesn’t hurt as we witnessed a year ago with Tavares.

Sportsnet and CBC analyst and well respected NHL Insider Elliott Friedman had this to say on a recent 31 thoughts podcasts on pending UFAs:

Yes, Max Domi did well in his first year at centre. Some fans are concerned that moving him back to the wing risks bringing him back to his production in Arizona. It’s not the case. Both Max and his father Tie Domi have said numerous times that the younger Domi needs to play in a hockey market. He thrives under pressure. It’s not the fact that he was moved to centre that brought him success, it’s the breath of fresh air of playing in Montreal that did it. They believe that. I believe that.

Matt Duchene stating that he’s a huge Habs and Avs’ fan growing up

Adding a legitimate offensive centre like Duchene, a perennial 30 goals scorer, a guy whose faceoffs’ percentage has ranged anywhere between 52.18% to 62.57% in the last five years, and the potential of putting Domi to his left, would improve the Canadiens immensely.

Yes, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be good and he’ll continue to improve but we can’t make the same mistake the Edmonton Oilers have done with their young prospects by putting them in roles they’re not ready for. Playing on a 2A or 2B line (Phillip Danault centering the other) and sheltering him for a couple more seasons would be the sound decision.

Yes, Ryan Poehling had a great game in his NHL debuts last season. But until the World Junior tournament last year, the guy has never been seen as more than a future third line centre. He’s used to playing 30 games a year in the NCAA and will need some maturing. Not physically in his case, but hockey-wise.

Yes, Nick Suzuki had a great camp last year and he had a fantastic year in the OHL, particularly in the playoffs. He is the Canadiens’ only right-handed centre prospect, which is important. But both he and Poehling would greatly benefit from a year or two of maturing under Laval Rockets’ head coach Joel Bouchard. It’s the old adage: better to play big minutes with a key role in the AHL as a young player than fourth line minutes in the NHL. As good as they are, they are not (yet) in Kotkaniemi’s talent pool.

Duchene’s next contract

I’m not in the secrets of the gods here. I have however done some research and from it, I personally figure that Duchene, who earned $6 million per season, should see a substantial raise. I figure that anywhere between $8-9 million would be in the ballpark as this would put him in the category of the likes of Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Getzlaf, Blake Wheeler and yes… Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

If you combine with my Facebook page pool, the total is:
45.5% – Duchene
44.7% – Karlsson
9.8% – None of them
Combined total of 1,096 participants.

Erik Karlsson

According to the Ottawa Sun, citing a well-connected source, the two-times Norris Trophy winner hopes to receive competitive offers from two teams in particular — the Senators and the Montreal Canadiens. Why? Because his wife, Melinda, who was born and raised in Ottawa, is homesick and would very much like to live close to her family again. While Toronto and Buffalo are also relatively close to Canada’s capital, the source says that, as far as he knows, they’re not on the Karlsson’s list.

Many Habs’ fans are going completely crazy about this news. Some because they have yet to swallow the P.K. Subban trade, others because they remember the Karlsson of… three years ago! You know, the fast skating, point per game player who was a big contributor to getting the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals. Those people conveniently forgot the Karlsson two years ago who battled a serious ankle injury, and this past season’s Karlsson battling a sore groin which he just had surgery on.

The narrative that the addition of Karlsson will make the Canadiens Cup contenders is based on him getting back to his old form of three years ago. Further, did the San Jose Sharks, a much better team than Montreal, a team with Brent Burns on the blue line, win the Cup with Karlsson? Why would the addition of Karlsson make the Canadiens a Stanley Cup contender?

No matter where he signs, Karlsson should have 11-12 million reasons to smile.

I’m from the school of thoughts that a defenseman’s number one job is to defend. Points are an added bonus. For those who, like me, were fortunate enough to watch Bobby Orr play, he was an outstanding defender and tough as nail. The bonus is that he was an excellent skater who changed the game by supporting, even driving the offense. But he was a defender first. Karlsson? People look at the points and “forget” about the defense. Oh you want proof?

In 2016-2017, the Sens’ All-Star had, in my opinion, the best all-around season of his career. He managed 71 points in 77 games with a respectable +10 rating. In the playoffs that year, he added 18 points in 19 games with an outstanding +13. Even his 2015-2016 season when he had 82 points in 82 games wasn’t that great considering that he was -2 that year. Oh I know, plus-minus isn’t the end of it all but if you’re on the ice for more goals against than goals’ for, it’s never a good thing. It negates the points you put up.

His play drastically dropped in the past two years, mostly due to injuries affecting his speed, as pointed out above. In 124 regular season games, he managed 107 points (12 of them goals) and was… -19 overall. While some people are raving about his 16 points in 19 games in the playoffs this postseason, he was -3. His teammate Brent Burns had 16 points in 20 games and was +2. Remember folks… in order to help your team, you have to be on the ice for more goals for than goals against and that, even when putting up a lot of points as to win hockey games, you need to outscore your opponents!

Now that’s just hockey-wise folks. Think a bit further, as will Marc Bergevin. Subban makes $9 million a season. Drew Doughty in Los Angeles makes $11 million. Karlsson is on record saying that he won’t accept anything less than fair market value. Based on that, isn’t it fair to say that he will request between $11.5-12 million per season? Is the gamble of him returning to form worth taking that chance, with a bullet-proof No-Movement Clause protecting him against expansion draft or trades? As a fan with crystal balls, who cares, right? As hockey management, in the real world of the NHL with a salary cap, rest assured that it does matter a whole lot.

Karlsson’s next contract

Again, no scoop or particular science here folks, certainly not pretending to be “in the know” but simply looking at logic. Up until recently, Subban was the highest paid defenseman with a cap hit of $9 million. That was before the L.A. Kings signed Drew Doughty to a $11 million cap hit. Karlsson himself stating that he wants fair market value would bring him to, at the very least, in $11.5-12 million range. Now that’s a whole lot of money to tie into a player period, but especially one coming off not one, but two serious lower body injuries impeding his greatest strength: skating.

Conclusion

If I’m Marc Bergevin, I go hard at Duchene and I consider lowballing Karlsson. Preferably, there are a couple of good options for left-handed defensemen rumoured to be on the market: Nick Leddy and TJ Brodie (yes, Brodie is a LD even if he played RD due to the Flames’ overload of LD). Duchene up the middle, Domi moving to left wing, sacrifice one of Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron or Andrew Shaw to get one of Leddy or Brodie and you have a better team without jeopardizing the Canadiens’ entire future cap into a very questionable player in Karlsson. Go Habs Go!

Advertisements

NHL Must Stop Trying to Reinvent The Wheel

NHLgrip

British writer and lay theologian Clive Staples Lewis was a smart man. He once said: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” The NHL isn’t run by very smart men, and hasn’t for quite some time. Or if they are smart, they are also experts at hiding it, as actions speak louder than words. Those actions – and sometimes lack of thereof – are quite telling.

Apparently, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is good for the league. At least, that’s what the Governors are saying. In a league where coaches and players are fined for telling the truth in post game interviews, one can wonder if they would speak up if they felt differently. Of course, let’s not forget that they’re looking at the bottom line: money in the owners’ pockets! But does that mean that what’s good for 31 owners (soon to be 32 with the addition of Seattle) is good for the entire league, including general managers, coaches, players and fans alike? I’m not so sure of that.

Instigator Rule

The first and most obvious example of NHL’s governors’ lack of foresight is when, in their wisdom, they tried to address something that wasn’t even a need. When they altered the Instigator rule, they said that they wanted to prevent so-called goons from going after star players into fighting. Yet, when you talk to players involved in the NHL in those days, enforcers where there to prevent such things from happening.

“But I believe there’s still a role for fighting and I shudder at the idea of the game without it. Because I think we have a rat problem now because of the instigator penalty, and if you take the big dogs off the ice, now it’s overrun with rats.” ~ Brian Burke

As we’ve explored on this very blog, there are multitudes of examples of the negative effect the change has created in the league. Has the number of concussions diminished since the amendment to this rule was done under Bettman? No, quite to the contrary. Players are targeting the head more than ever and the respect amongst players in the game seems to be all but gone. Rats are running the place and there is simply no accountability anymore, which is why many people around the NHL want to rule to revert back to what it used to be… and I’m with them 100%. ratmarchand

Composite Sticks

In 1981, aluminum sticks were made legal in the NHL. They were even more durable and lightweight than their wood and fibreglass counterparts, and blades were separate from the shaft, making replacements easy and reducing cost.

Sticks made with carbon fibre as the main material came out in the early 1990’s. These sticks allowed players to adjust their own blade, however, they were not very cost effective.

In 1995, the first composite blade was introduced, and today it is this very stick that dominates the game. By allowing composite sticks, they now have to call penalties for slashing the stick… because they break! In the good ol’ days, if someone slashed your stick out of your hands, the coach would give you a hard time for not hanging onto it tighter! Now, if a player gets the stick knocked out of his hands, he gets a penalty. You know how ridiculous that is? Guys break their sticks making a pass!

Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Bobby and Dennis Hull, Al Iafrate, Adrian Aucoin and Al McInnis were said to be shooting at over 100 mph… all with wooden sticks. Now that’s something to brag about!

Everything is interrelated. By allowing composite sticks, the goaltenders need to better protect themselves with bigger, better equipment. By doing so, they cover more of the net, making it harder to score. They tried to solve that by making the neutral zone smaller and making more room behind the net. Now, some have been talking about making the nets bigger. When will they understand that every time they change something, it creates another problem.

Think about this: ever since it’s very first game ever in 1871, baseball has been using wooden bats. As a matter of fact, Major League Baseball still has wooden bats. The NHL instead, is trying to change the rules and reinvent the game… but at what cost?

Equipement

The game is faster than ever. The players are bigger and in better shape than ever. You now provide them with an armour and protect them against the pain suffered for delivering a hit and there’s no more fear. Today’s players are now dressed like tanks and what used to be a hit that would “tenderize” the opponent, now has the potential to seriously injure him instead.

Whether you like Don Cherry or not is irrelevant. What he’s showing there is totally relevant… and that was in 1999. Imagine today! Further, players today are trying to play goal and shot blockers are seen as semi gods for putting their body at risk. And that’s not counting on countless injuries due to the make up of today’s equipment! The NHL wants more offense and more goals? They want fewer head injuries? There’s a rather simple remedy folks. Simply regulate the equipment worn by the players. Why were there more goals scored when Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy were playing? Yes, goalie equipment is one reason but do you honestly think that players will keep blocking as many shots with equipment worn by Gretzky or Bossy? Think again!

Two Referees System

Four words: It is NOT working! Those who follow me on Twitter have certainly noticed that the Instigator rule and the two referees system are sort of my pet peeves in today’s NHL.

KerryFraser

When the NHL, in their “wisdom”, decided to go to a two-referees system, they not only killed consistency by putting two different judgments on the ice, but they added incompetent people in places where they have no business being in. Worse, it created a ripple effect in every single league below. Guys who shouldn’t be in the AHL are now officiating in that league, at a level over their head, creating a dangerous situation for players down there. And it ripples back to Junior and College hockey as they all followed suit with the NHL by having two referees. It’s putting guys who are not ready or just plain incompetent for that level in a position of failure, creating frustration for everyone around the league.

When you had Andy Van Hellemond, Kerry Fraser or Ron MacLean as your referee, they would each have their own style. Stuff they would let players get away with and other things they were more stingy about. Players knew, by seeing who was refereeing, what to expect. Today, you have two judgments on the ice. How many times have we seen the referee 20 feet from the play, looking right at it, shake his head judging it wasn’t a penalty, only to see the one 70 feet away raise his hand to call that penalty? Players, coaches, fans… nobody knows what to expect in a game, let alone from game to game!

In conclusion, the NHL should look at other sports. It’s okay to have traditions and more often than not, there are reasons why rules were a certain way. Of course, some change is needed as the game progresses. But several changes have proven to have very negative side effects, ultimately creating problems that are bigger than the initial one. Think, NHL… Think and think again.