November 24 2011 11:50AM
The quarter pole has arrived in the NHL season, and News and Notes is back to examine the state of affairs around the Nation and the league. In this episode, the Flames head for the bottom, the Oilers bounce back, and hockey's best rejoins the action.
Well, where to begin? Last night's effort in Detroit might seem better from a score POV, but the team was badly outplayed and is rapidly approaching the point of no return for the year, irrespective of whatever impassioned pleas might be emanating from the boss. I would encourage anyone that hasn't listened to Brent Sutter's Tuesday presser to do so, because it isn't often that we hear any NHL coach so clearly demonstrate they're at the end of their rope.
The sad truth is there might not be much left for the Flames to do but run out the season before starting over next summer. There's no realistic likelihood of any team taking on the Flames' lousy players, and moving the bigger salaries like Iginla or Bouwmeester, if that's part of the plan, might need to wait until teams have more flexibility in the off-season.
Simply flushing a season is a pretty unappetizing prospect, especially for the STHs that keep this enterprise afloat, but the primary goal has to be resisting the temptation to take on contracts with any term attached in a fruitless attempt to salvage the year.
A scroungy effort in Dallas earlier in the week was followed by an excellent performance in Nashville, as Edmonton continues on their road swing through the midwest. The Preds are in a bad way at the moment, as last night's horrible performance in Minny showed, but the Oil were superb in getting Nashville out of their comfort zone in their own building. Dennis King's scoring chance count had Edmonton at 9-0 after one, which is the type of play that will get your team a win most nights.
The Oiler wins over Chicago and the Predators have calmed the waters for the moment, but they still have the look of a team that will need a couple of defenders before they can begin to seriously consider the post-season. I'm not entirely convinced a team routinely dressing Theo Peckham won't hit a slippery patch, in other words.
That noted, the Oilers are on the road to becoming a good team, so the world should be a relatively happy place, irrespective of what dimwits might think. Colin Cowherd has made a very nice living being both loud and wrong without fail, so maybe I'm the one that's missing the point, but it's hard to argue that he has anything but a long history of ignorance on any number of subjects.
The Dys played a very quiet game in Colorado last night, doing an excellent job of suppressing the Avs until a string of penalties in the third forced the Canucks to play a bit of defence. From the outside, Vancouver still has the air of a team running in place after last season's highs, although the underlying numbers are still very good.
The Canucks might also just be feeling a bit of fortune's reversal in terms of the percentages. They've certainly been a good team over the last few years, but they've also had a nice run of bounces along the way. Vancouver's team 5v5 PDOs since 08/09 read 102.0, 101.7, 101.9, and it wasn't just the Sedins magically driving things, since guys like Malhotra, Wellwood and Bernier were also well over 100 in that period.
This year, they sit at 98.1, and the Sedins are the only players on the high side. 98.1 is a bit low, however, and guys like Kesler and Booth will likely start to see things head north soon enough.
They'll also benefit from the return of Mason Raymond, who appears to be a bit ahead of schedule after his back surgery this summer. He's another nice player to add to the arsenal, and should permit Vigneault at some juncture to harness Higgins and Malhotra as a full time duo against the toughs, with all others reaping the benefits.
The Leafs have managed to remain afloat in the face of a daunting run of injuries despite some mediocre outshooting numbers, mostly thanks to the hot sticks of Lupul and Kessel, but in fairness to that club, any team without their hard minutes center, two other useful forwards and their best goalie would be up against it.
This morning does bring some good news in that regard, as James Reimer is back practicing with the club in Dallas. Gustavsson and Scrivens have been OK in the last few games, but Reimer's presence is likely the difference between a team with a sniff at the post-season and one that might end up 11th or 12th in the East. If the Leafs can survive the next few weeks until they get their injured forwards back, we could see them stabilize that spot in the top eight.
The Jets stole a point last night, getting outshot and outchanced in DC before falling in overtime 4-3. The lack of forward depth is one failing that good teams can expose when Winnipeg is on the road, and last night was a prime example, as Jaffray didn't play after the second and Burmistrov and Thorburn sat for good chunks of the third. Scott covered a good chunk of the waterfront this morning on the club, and I'm mostly in accord.
The Buff to forward thing, well, I'll just say again that people that watched the Hawks in the playoffs versus Vancouver are neglecting to note how ineffective he was the other 90 games or so in 08/09 and 09/10 when he played up front and leave it there. If the Jets don't want him at D, they need to trade him, because his contract has no chance of being decent value if he works as a middling RW.
Overall, I'm really not entirely sold on Noel's utilization of his players to this point. I don't doubt that he recognizes the shallow, and callow, nature of his team up front, but Burmistrov likely deserved a better fate than playing seven minutes last night, since his overall game wasn't terrible. He likely rates more PP time than he's getting as well.
The other move that seems destined to fail in the end is the tendency to hard match Slater, Thorburn and Glass versus the toughs. Glass and Slater are sporting EVSH% north of 11 thus far, and there's nothing in their games that hints at that being the norm, so a correction is almost certainly on its way.
That noted, the fact that the Jets have been competitive 5v5 while spending most of the year away from home and sporting an overall 99.5 PDO does indicate that something is working, particularly in light of the fact that Winnipeg has used 12 different D in the first 21 games. Two of their better EV defenders have missed significant time, and in that vein, it was good to see Ron Hainsey back after missing 5 weeks.
He's a slight upgrade from Arturs Kulda, and he jumped right back in the deep end, playing over 23 minutes against a strong team. That might be a timely return in another way, as word escaped this morning that Zach Bogosian has a date with Principal Shanahan to discuss his hit on Cody Eakin.
After the expected shenanigans to start, the Bruins ground the Sabres down last night, winning in a shootout on Benoit Pouliot's one meaningful contribution for the evening. The Bs have improved their underlying numbers dramatically this season, although the overloaded nature of their schedule has played a part in making them seem better.
The Bruins have played 7 games away from TD Garden, and as Steve Burtch showed this morning, they aren't the same team on the road, small sample size and all. They have a run-in with the Wings tomorrow and a date in Pittsburgh on December 5th, and both of those games will be worth watching, to say the least.
Speaking of the Pens, Sid's triumphant return versus the Islanders had people talking, but the Blues are made of sterner stuff, and his control of matters wasn't nearly as complete on a night where St. Louis had Pittsburgh under pressure from the first period onward. Adrenaline is a crazy thing, and that boost almost certainly helped him along in his first game, but even an exemplar like Crosby might need a few more games before he's really on track.
One team that has jumped out in dramatic fashion is Florida, and to this point, it's largely on merit. They roasted the Rangers last night, outshooting them 38-20 on the way to a win. The Panthers have been strong both home and away, and they've done so in large part because Versteeg, Fleischmann and Weiss are outshooting the toughs.
That stipulated, those three guys are riding some crazy percentages, especially on the SH% side of things. A fall back to more normal figures seems inevitable at some point, but Versteeg's overall numbers are particularly strong even when accounting for the bounces. He's finally healthy after a season suffering through a hernia problem, and having watched him a couple of times this year, his speed is obviously back to the level he had in Chicago.
The sale of the Stars has been finalized, as Tom Gaglardi has assumed control of the bankrupt franchise. Despite a fairly extended history of success and a good beginning to building the grassroots of the game in Texas, Dallas is still susceptible to the same dangers that threaten other non-traditional markets. A few years of not making the playoffs and not marketing the club has driven attendance down to the depths, and as James Mirtle's Tweet from last night made clear, it's folly to presume annouced attendance equals people in the seats.
Tyler Dellow has done some very good work this fall in examining the underlying financial state of that club, and one of the obvious things to me having simply watched several games is that not only is attendance down, but the expensive seats are unfilled in significant numbers.
As an experiment, I went to Ticketmaster this morning to check how many seats were stll unsold for the Stars' home date versus the Sens next week. I selected that game in order to have a mid-week game against a team that doesn't have a major travelling fan base, so that I could get at least some handle on how many lower-level seats weren't sold as STHs or mini-packs.
The reason that I wanted to do that is that legitimately healthy teams sell those tickets before the puck drops for game one. That guaranteed income is what allows teams to function with some degree of certainty throughout the entire season, rather than simply hoping they sell tickets on a walkup basis. I counted the unsold seats in the 100 and 200 level, since that's where the money is in terms of high priced ducats, and as of about 10 am CT, there were roughly 2800 tickets left in those areas.
That's a nice chunk of cash on the table. At an average ST price of around $3,000 for those seats, the Stars entered the year trying to sell at least $9M in quality tickets on spec, and I don't doubt for a second that my rough attempt to account for what they have for inventory is likely a bit optimistic. Some of those seats will go via the walkup route for more desirable games, obviously, but the franchise is in a bit of a ditch as of today.
It should also be noted that many of those tickets are in areas with in-seat concession service, and people sitting in those types of places in other arenas are normally willing to spend a good buck on food and drink, so the loss of revenue from not having patrons in the chairs isn't just confined to ticket revenue. I wish Gaglardi well, because he's got a lot of work in front of him to rebuild the fanbase to the point where the Stars can spend in the manner he hopes.
That's all for this week, and to our American readers, Happy Thanksgiving.