(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)
7 – New rules
People getting mad about a bunch of illegal faceoff penalties in the preseason are amazing, truly. Like, honestly, who cares. You’re watching a bunch of guys who you will never hear about again this season, if not ever. If you’re watching preseason hockey because you think it’ll be, like, entertaining? Hoo boy, I have to question your understanding of what goes on with this league.
6 – Injuries!
Zach Sanford, Jay Bouwmeester and Colin White are, as near as I can tell, the first two major injuries suffered in training camp by players with at least a nominal chance of making their teams. Given the nature of these things, there are probably a few injuries that haven’t been given timelines, but man tough break for the young kids especially.
Bouwmeester fractured his ankle; no timetable for him to return except to say that he’ll be re-evaluated in a few weeks. That alone probably tells you this could be a rough one.
But for Sanford, who played 39 NHL games last season, this was his first opportunity to really be a full-time NHLer. Instead, he dislocated his left shoulder and he’s out at least five months. By my math, that puts him at a late-February return if things go exactly right. Woof.
Colin White, by comparison, got off much easier: He “only” broke his wrist and will miss at least six weeks. Not terrible, all things considered, but broken wrists are unpredictable in this sport especially, so who knows what he even looks like in his first full pro season after he comes back?
Tough bounces for the players and their teams. And probably a few more on the way.
5 – *extremely Donald Trump voice* China
I don’t know what the beautiful, nice people of China ever did to deserve a Kings-Canucks series featuring AAAA-level rosters, but this is gonna set back Sino-American relations more than anything since the Cultural Revolution.
The good news is with all the fog that got whipped up in the Canucks’ first practice there, the good, kind citizens of the People’s Republic of China might not have to actually watch the games.
4 – That Bryan Little extension
Hey look I like Bryan Little a lot. Good player. Pretty underrated. And I don’t even think the money on this six-year deal is all that bad for what he currently delivers. BUT:
Six years with a no-move in the first two and a 14-team no-trade in the last four? For a guy who turns 30 in November? Did Kevin Cheveldayoff forget he still has Little locked up for a year on his current contract ($4.7 million, good deal there too).
Again, I like Little, but why on earth do you lock up a guy — leaving aside the limited options he now provides thanks to the various clauses in this deal — through his age-37 season? He’s not a superstar, never been an All-Star. He finished 27th in Selke voting one time. He’s just an above-average complementary player. I’m not sure what that aging curve looks like, especially because he’s missed 20-plus games each of the last two seasons. And 12 the year before that.
That’s Jets Hockey, baby!
3 – Drawing conclusions
Ahh, hmm. That guy who is lighting up the preseason? Looks great. Potential All-Star. Get excited.
Those guys are gonna be just like Jon Sim, who routinely scored like 12 points in eight preseason games in the mid- to late-2000s, and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
2 – Robidas Island
This situation with Joffrey Lupul is fairly weird.
Mirtle had a good explainer over at the Athletic but man, there are a lot of twists and turns there. Basically, the Leafs say he’s too injured to play, that he failed his physical. He says probably he isn’t, and his teammates seem to generally back him up on that.
He said on his Instagram, “Haha failed physical? They cheat, everyone lets them.”
That’s a serious charge, but it’s worth noting the Leafs intend to carry Lupul as an injured player without putting him on the LTIR because, as Mirtle says, “that could trigger an investigation from the league into how injured he actually is?” They could put him in the AHL, shave some of his cap allocation off their total and maybe sign someone else. But they don’t, potentially because Lupul has a rep as a party boy.
But Bob McKenzie says he doesn’t think Lupul would use the NHLPA to file a grievance about all this either.
And here’s something else: Steve Simmons reported yesterday that, “Word around for some time has been that there is more to this story, that the Leafs have something on the veteran winger. Something damaging they just might release should Lupul become an annoyance to them.”
Coming from the purveyor of the Kessel-and-hot-dogs rumor, you might take that with a grain of salt — and certainly I’m inclined to — but you pair that with Mirtle talking about the party-boy thing, and the fact the Toronto media is always more than happy to shiv someone at the team’s behest, and well, maybe that’s why there’s no PA grievance.
Weird situation, but to Lupul’s point about “they cheat, everyone lets them,” it seems like a bit of a coincidence that it’s guys like Stephane Robidas, Jared Cowen and now Lupul who get deemed medically unfit to play and it just so happens that it’s a little convenient for the richest team in the league.
Cowen here and now Lupul have questioned it. (For his part, Robidas never did, but he was old and broke his leg twice in a short period of time.) Who knows what all this means? Probably nothing good.
1 – Don Sweeney … hold on, really? Yeah, look at that: “Don Sweeney.” Says it right here. Huh.
Really having trouble wrapping my head around Don Sweeney winning the staring contest with David Pastrnak.
The contract he ended up wringing from the player — six years at just $6.667 million AAV with zero trade/movement protections except for the last two years — is a stunning victory for a GM who can’t help but overpay all kinds of players who don’t bring nearly as much to the table as Pastrnak does.
Of course, you can call that the Bruins not knowing what’s actually important and not wanting to pay or properly use their young players. I’d say that criticism has been more than earned in recent years. But here we are: Sweeney has his entire top line of Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Marchand locked up for each of the next five(!) years at a total combined cost of less than $20 million. It’s amazing. No team in the league is in that sort of position, at least not with a proven group like this one.
(Meanwhile, the less said about the $13.25 million committed to David Krejci and David Backes for the next four years, the better. Not that the Krejci contract is Sweeney’s fault, but y’know.)
Point being, if you can make good moves to lock up your top players at less than market value — and all three of those forwards definitively earn less than market value — you can afford to make mistakes elsewhere in the lineup. Maybe not as many as the Bruins are currently paying for, but still.
They’re overpaying Krejci, Backes, Beleskey, McQuaid and Miller. But Torey Krug and Tuukka Rask are getting roughly what they’re worth, and the top line is a bargain. Everyone else is either cheap (i.e. on ELCs or making less than $3 million) or old enough to basically not count because that’s the cost of doing business (Chara).
It’s not a bad way to really get your rebuild off on the right foot in earnest.
And it’s Don Sweeney who did it? Well, okay.
(Not ranked this week: Not signing Jagr.
This is getting ridiculous. Not a fan.)