Gasp! Some Real Hockey News…Posted: 04/06/2012
As I (Andrew) said in my incredibly brief SCF preview, I was on vacation all last week, and Mike has been busy making the adjustment to his big boy job, as a result we’ve let some real hockey news stories slide by. In light of the Penguins doing something I’m going to attempt to remedy that. After the break, the SCF so far, stealing directly from thePensblog, Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, Tomas Vokoun, and some more thoughts.
The SCF so far:
The Kings are up 2-0 over the Devils (what a surprise). So far both games have gone to overtime, which is a very rare feat. Game 3 is tonight, and the series shifts back to LA, this might be the worst news for the Kings, who have only lost at home so far these playoffs. For what it’s worth, the Devils believe they can come back in the series and so does the Sporting News.
Looking objectively, the Devils do have the benefit of experience on their side, by my own hastily conducted count, both teams have two cup winners apiece, the Kings have Rob Scuderi (should be pretty obvious where he got his) and Dustin Penner (who was part of the ’07 Ducks), the Devils have Petr Sykora (who won it once with the Devils in ’03 and again with the Pens in ’09), as well as Martin Brodeur (who has won it three times, ’95,’00,’03). That’s a lot more Cups on the Devils side. Realistically speaking, until the Devils can figure out their power play this could be a really short Finals series.
Now to steal directly from thePensblog, how unreal has Drew Doughty been? His goal in Game 2 is the best goal scored by a defenseman I have ever seen live. Again, as thePensblog says, I really hope Kris Letang is tuned into this series to see how much of a game breaker he can and should be in the playoffs. I’m not saying this to be critical of Letang and admittedly I think he really matured after his ejection from Game 3 of the Quarterfinals, but the last two years (or in other words without Gonch watching over him) Letang has struggled to be disciplined in the playoffs. Here’s to hoping.
Salary Cap to exceed $70 million? That’s the rumor and if you evaluate that number strictly from the Penguins’ perspective it is good news indeed. The Penguins organization, who are quick to realize that without the salary cap the team very well might not be in Pittsburgh now, are greatly in favor of keeping the salary cap. Despite that, it doesn’t mean that because of their last 5 or 6 seasons of complete sellouts that the Penguins are not able to spend to the limit of the cap. Again, this bodes very well for the Penguins as they attempt to work out new contracts for both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. According to CapGeek, if the cap would be at $70.3 million, which is based on a 57% revenue sharing agreement, then the Penguins already have 19 players signed and $8.77 million in free space with which to work out new deals with free agents, as well as Crosby and Staal (which as I’ve written before should amass no more than $4 million in increases). This is all before you even work out the cap savings if the Penguins are able to get rid of Martin and or Michalek for players with lower cap numbers!
In other words, this is good news for the Penguins. Overall though, I’m not sure if this is great news for the NHL as a whole. A high salary cap is good and it is a real testament to how well the league has survived and thrived in the wake of the 04-05 lockout. My question, though, is, is the talent that much better? Are players deserving of such substantial gains in salary? In some ways yes, in some ways no and this is a point that could be contended for years to come, so I’ll have to come back to it at another time. Either way, a higher cap also means that there will likely be a proportionally higher salary floor as well. As we saw last year, sometimes when traditionally low spending teams are forced to spend a significant amount of money (*cough Florida cough*) just to be cap compliant it can turn them into a playoff caliber team for the first time in 10 years, however, there’s no doubt that a lot of low spending teams are that way because they are still struggling with the flow of revenues. Hopefully both Florida and Phoenix fans will remember their team’s success in the forthcoming season and all of the talks about relocating or even, (big gulp) contraction will go away. And salary cap issues will be a thing of the past. The reality is though, that non-traditional sports in non-traditional markets often don’t work, and just by allowing traditional teams in traditional markets the opportunity to spend more does not guarantee that the League is going to make any more money, if anything it might just enable the league to make more while its owners go bankrupt.
That takes me right to the next issue. There is talk that if the Coyotes can’t find an owner who will keep them in Glendale, there is the possibility of folding the franchise. WOW. Has it really come to this? I can’t think of any professional sport that has ever actually contracted its own league. I mean there have been issues when one professional league of adequate quality has collapsed leading to a flood of “new” talent into the other league: the USFL, the WHA in hockey, most Soccer leagues who have relegation have to deal with players trying to jump ship from their current team if it gets relegated, but this is crazy. Just let the freaking team move, for as good as Yotes fans were during their team’s first ever Conference Finals run, if you let the team move back to Canada it would be like that for every single regular season game. But enough of that.
Farewell to Lidstrom: Last week Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement from the NHL. As a Penguins fan it is easy to say good riddance, but it really isn’t that easy. Very very few have ever played the game as well as Lidstrom, think about it this way, he’s won the Norris Trophy 7 times (1 short of Bobby Orr’s 8), he was the first European player to do so, he is the only player in league history to twice have streaks of 3 consecutive seasons winning the trophy (admittedly Orr won all 8 of his in consecutive seasons, and other 7-time winner Doug Harvey won it for 6 consecutive years, lost it once to his linemate, and then won his seventh), and he is also the only player to ever win it over age 40. Beyond that he’s a 4-time Stanley Cup champ, including the first Swedish, the first non-North American Captain, and perhaps the greatest ambassador for European athletes competing in American sports of all time. In typical classy fashion, Nick took out a full page ad to thank the fans of Detroit just after his announcement.
But this poses an interesting question: realistically speaking the 2011-12 season featured four of the all-time greats, Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, Martin Brodeur, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom has already announced his retirement, and as I outlined in the SCF preview, Brodeur, who turned 40 in May, will either go out a champion, or have to make a hard decision about his future and that of the only NHL team he’s ever played for. Selanne represents another interesting case: his trajectory is a lot like Lidstrom’s, he’s 42 years old, he still managed to put up 26 goals and 66 points despite playing on the fairly woeful Anaheim Ducks, and he just celebrated his 20th year in the league. I have no doubt that Selanne could still play if he wanted, but the same case could be made for Lidstrom or Brodeur. That leaves Jagr, of the four I am the most confident that he is NOT going to retire. The bigger ice and decreased hitting he experienced in the KHL seem to have really rejuvenated his ability to skate and I would not be surprised to see him play even past this next season.
But so what does that say about the NHL? I have no doubt that the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, and others will someday also be recognized as all-time greats, but at this point it is far too early to say that they are there right now. There really is no one to fill the gap between the Lidstroms and the Crosbys. Over the last two decades there have always been stopgaps. When Lemeiux and Gretzky retired there were still guys ready to step in and take on the mantle of all-time great, people like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, then when they retired we had the emergence of Lidstrom and Brodeur. But now Lidstrom is gone and Brodeur likely will be after the SCF’s are over. Will the next generation automatically have to live up to that hype? I don’t know, but I hope it won’t hurt the quality of the game.
Think about it this way, for all the “young superstars” in the league today, Crosby has only won one MVP and one scoring title, Geno has won two scoring titles and is still waiting for his first MVP, Stamkos has never led the league in anything more than goal scoring and unless the Canadian media rig the MVP voting, he’ll have to wait at least another year for that. If you go by those criteria Alexander Ovechkin is in fact probably the closest to being the next all-time great, he has two MVPs and one scoring title, yet this year his 65 points put him one behind the 42 year old Selanne. This was a problem that plagued the NBA in the wake of its biggest stars retiring, and for a while there simply wasn’t anyone to focus on. I understand that since the end of the lockout the NHL has shoved Crosby and Ovechkin down the throat of every fan in the league, but just because they are the respective “faces of the game” they are not yet elite in the grand annals of history. I wonder how long it will take before they are, if they ever make it.
Here’s a BOLD prediction for you: in the wake of Lidstrom’s retirement, how much do you want to bet that there will be a great deal of mutual interest between Shea Weber and the Red Wings? It’s definitely possible that a team like Philly or hell, even Florida might have a better contract and a better situation, but if I were Weber and I was sick of Nashville for being too apathetic about hockey, it would be hard to say no to Detroit.
The story of the day: Penguins acquire and sign Tomas Vokoun: this was a huge move for the Penguins, and this is exactly why you worry not and waste not when Ray Shero is at the helm. There’s no doubt that this marks the end of the Penguins career for Brent Johnson, and there’s no doubt that I’m saddened by it. The early parts of Johnny’s tenure in Pittsburgh were a total revelation. It was the first time since the Tom Barrasso-Ken Wregget days where you really felt like the Penguins had two goalies that could get the job done. But then, something happened with Johnny, he got off his game, and unlike MAF, he never had the opportunity to play through it. As it is, this is absolutely a move that the Penguins had to make. Honestly, the move would have been better served at the trade deadline, you never know, we might still be playing, but it’s also true that at the deadline, it would have cost the Pens Brian Strait or Carl Sneep, and instead all we gave up was a 7th round pick. Not too shabby.
The deal is 2 years at $2 million per. You might exclaim, “Why so much for a backup goaltender?!?!?” and the answer is look what happened to Fleury down the stretch. The New NHL requires that you split the workload between two goaltenders. Gone are the days when Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy played 72 games a year and were still fresh for the playoffs. The game is faster, the shots are harder, the athleticism is in an entirely different epoch from where it was even in the mid-90s. In light of that, you need a backup who will go wire to wire in 20+ games a year, not just 10-15.
Vokoun is a very interesting choice for the Penguins. He is another former Nashville player of Ray Shero’s and he is about as different from MAF as can be. He’s a bigger (6’3, 210), cage-dominating goaltender rather than a superb athlete. Further, he’s backwards. Unlike 90% of goalies in the league he holds his stick on the opposite side. To me, this is a legitimate complaint, when the Pens are practicing half of the team is going to have to match up against a guy who does not accurately depict the goalie they’re going to see in almost every game. Aside from that though, there is a lot to like about Vokoun.
Statistically speaking he is slightly better than MAF. Overall Vokoun has played in 246 more games than Fleury, and despite that handicap his career save percentage is .008 better (.917 v. .909), and his GAA is .13 better than MAF’s (2.55 v. 2.68). Further, despite only having played approximately one third more games than Fleury, he has more than twice as many shutouts (48 versus 22). I honestly believe that a good way to look at these goalies is that, if all Marc-Andre Fleury does is win games, all Tomas Vokoun does is make saves. Vokoun has never been lucky enough to play for a skilled offensive team, and it shows in his overall record, 287-284-35-43 (W-L-T-OTL). I think this is what a lot of people see when they see Vokoun, and subsequently why certain other sources have referred to him as “Joke-oun” etc. The Penguins famously had a streak of some 5 or 6 straight games against Vokoun when they registered 40 shots on net every game. That isn’t pathetic on Vokoun’s behalf, that’s pathetic on the team he played for. Vokoun won’t have those issues in Pittsburgh, even in spite of the sometimes underwhelming defense, the Penguins allowed as few shots as any team in the NHL, and I feel pretty confident in saying that he’ll get more offensive support than he’s ever dreamed of.
So what’s the bottom line? If the Penguins get 25-30 games start to finish from Vokoun over these next two seasons, he will have been worth every penny, the record hardly even matters, it’s about the games played point blank. There are some drawbacks. It should be noted that just last year Washington signed Vokoun in the express interest of “getting over the hump,” and now a few months later they’ve given him away for a 7th round pick. That has to scream “DANGER!” but there are some things that should assuage us. First off, remember, this guy is coming here to be our BACK UP GOALTENDER, not the starter. Secondly, Vokoun is 36, and Washington knows that the future of their organization is with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in the net. Third, statistically it is a bold-faced lie to say that Vokoun was even a faint failure last year in Washington. Overall Vokoun was 25-17-2 in 48 games for Washington. A little mental math will prove that Vokoun was responsible for 52 of the 92 points the Capitals earned this season. Further you can also conclude that his record was approximately the same as Neuvirth and Holtby. Further, Vokoun put up 4 shutouts, a 2.51 GAA, and a .917 SV%, which are well within his career averages.
So to summarize. This is a great move for the Penguins, they have the potential to get an elite goalie who can hopefully even challenge MAF to be better, there is very little downside, even if Vokoun does suffer, the Pens can turn back to Brad Thiessen, and what does it cost them? Nothing. It’s a thrill to be able to write about the Penguins for a change.
Finally something fun to reward you if you actually read through all of this…