A look at Nail Yakupov’s summer series play, what to expect from Ben Eager, the difficulty in choosing between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, a potential NHL return for Alexei Kovalev, and some more thoughts on CBA discussions.
1. Nail Yakupov and the Russia/Canada challenge series. I kept an eye on the Russia/Canada challenge series – not watching the games the same way I watch the Oilers, just sort of casually following the play. After Game 1, I was a little bit disappointed in Nail Yakupov, so for Game 2 I decided to track where he was playing, who he was playing against, and the scoring chances with him on the ice. Yakupov drew Canada’s top defence pairing and checking line most of the time, had an even split between offensive/defensive zone starts and out-chanced the opposition 6-to-2. Not mind-blowing numbers, but when I really started counting the chances I noted that the Russians were spending *way* more time in the offensive zone when Yakupov was on the ice – they were dictating the play. It’s a short series anyway, but I came away feeling better about Yakupov’s ability to make an immediate impact.
For more on this series, read Andrey Osadchenko’s interview with Nail Yakupov here.
2. The head-start of a summer series. If there’s NHL hockey to start the year, Nail Yakupov probably just got a bit of a head-start by playing competitive games in August. When Sam Gagner made the Oilers as an 18-year old, the fact that he’d already been playing hockey seemed to give him a leg up in training camp. Of course, with CBA negotiations ongoing, the point may be moot.
3. Ben Eager is what he is. There’s a lot to like about the very particular set of skills that Ben Eager brings to the ice (yes, including that line is just a transparent ploy to use the Liam Neeson clip above). He’s big, he’s fast, he has decent hands and sometimes he’s mean. That doesn’t mean that he’s capable of having his good games every game – his performance in Edmonton last season was the same performance he’s put on everywhere else he’s played in the league. He’s 28 years old; this is what he is. If he hasn’t weeded out the stupid penalties, the willingness to ignore a linemate getting run over from time to time, and the inability to be a force every night by now, over 400 combined playoff and regular season games into his NHL career, he probably never will. That’s why he’s a decent fourth-liner and not a power forward.
4. Slava Fetisov and reclamation projects. There’s a great quote from Red Wings G.M. Ken Holland in the book Behind the Moves about when Scotty Bowman made the decision to trade for Fetisov from New Jersey. It was the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, but even so Fetisov had played just four games for the Devils when the Red Wings dealt for him in April. Holland’s thoughts:
One of the things that Jimmy [Devellano] did – coming from the Islanders – to really try to put this [franchise] back on the map was to bring in veteran players. At the time, it was Rick MacLeish and Brad Park, and he was just trying to bring in veteran players to give some credibility to the organization and buy some time for the kids. Then Scotty Bowman, in 1995, he trades a third-round pick to New Jersey for Slava Fetisov, who was in the press box in New Jersey. I was scratching my head in the press box, thinking, ‘Why would we waste a third-round pick for a 35-year old who can’t play in New Jersey?’ He comes in, Scotty puts him right in the lineup and lets him play. He played great, and all of a sudden, a year later, it’s the Russian Five and in 1997 we win the Stanley Cup.
Fetisov scored 14 points in 14 games from the blue line after the trade, and 42 points in 69 games the next season (matching the career high he posted in his rookie season. His role was eventually reduced but he won two Stanley Cups as an integral part of that Red Wings team after sitting in the Devils’ press box. The Red Wings have made it a habit to find reclamation projects and get them turned around, and have harvested some pretty good players along the way – Daniel Cleary perhaps being the best example currently on the team.
Alexei Kovalev (Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons CC-by-SA 3.0)
5. Alexei Kovalev eyes an NHL return. According to TSN, Kovalev already has training camp invitations and hopes to make an NHL roster this fall (if there’s a season). He’s coming off a terrible KHL season – one goal in 22 games – and at the age of 39 it will be interesting to see how he fares in training camp. He’s only one season removed from a 16-goal NHL campaign, so it’s understandable that there are teams out there willing to see what he looks like in an NHL training camp.
6. The financial impact of an NHL lockout. Great quote from the University of Alberta’s Brad Humphries on the financial impact of an NHL lockout (h/t to Copper and Blue). After looking at the effect of other lockouts over the years, he describes the impact as “none.”
The evidence is that nothing happens. So the economic activity is identical in periods when there was a strike or lockout compared to periods where there was not.
He’s backed up in that stance by the University of Ottawa’s Marc Lavoie, who found that hotels do basically the same business with or without a lockout.
Naturally, individual businesses are effected, but overall consumer spending doesn’t drop and according to the academics there isn’t a real decline in out-of-city visitors either. So, as much as not watching hockey will be unpleasant, the financial ramifications for Edmonton shouldn’t be particularly troubling. Then again, this would seem to raise questions about whether it makes sense for governments to pump public money into an industry that – again, according to the academics – doesn’t have a big overall economic impact when it disappears, but that’s a whole other conversation.
7. NHL revenues/contraction. It’s worth remembering that the league is coming off seven years of revenue growth – it’s more profitable now than it ever has been at any other point in history. It’s been suggested to me a few times that certain teams are in real trouble and the only solution is contraction, but that’s crazy. When Atlanta moved, not only was the league able to find owners willing to buy the team, but they were also able to arrange for a $60 million relocation fee to land in their own coffers. The cost of expansion is even higher – in the early-90’s, $30 million, than $80 million in the late-90’s, and now undoubtedly the figure would be in nine digits.
Contraction has been a favoured concept for a bunch of fans and media – people who don’t like the sun-belt teams, people who feel the NHL’s talent pool has been watered down, etc. But the league isn’t going to get smaller. They’re making money, and they make more money every time they award a new franchise. So, theoretically, it’s possible that they might fold a team – but only because the revenues from folding a team and then expanding are bigger for the league than the revenue to be made from moving a team.
Found via Twitter – and of course, this is meant as a joke, not remotely as an endorsed action.
8. The January 1 deadline. It’s hard to throw a rock these days without hitting an NHL reporter who believes there will be a lockout, and that said lockout will be over by December/January because the league doesn’t want to jeopardize its national television deal in the United States. Adrian Dater explains the reasoning here. If he, and others advancing the same theory – a theory that I see as making a certain amount of sense – than that’s the deadline NHL owners are looking at: not September 15, but January 1 (Of course, the actual deadline is a little earlier, as the league needs to have some time to prepare for the Winter Classic, but mid-December should give them enough lead time).
9. Decertification. There are those out there angry at the NHLPA for its role in the coming lockout, but there’s always an alternative: no NHLPA. Back in July, Tom Benjamin wrote about a potential NHLPA strategy: to roll over, give the owners what they want on a short-term deal, and then decertify. The impact, in Benjamin’s words, would be “the end of collective bargaining, the salary cap, the draft and any restrictions on free agency once the CBA expires.” Players would win big time – owners have already proven completely incapable of keeping player costs down to a rational level without some sort of salary cap – and fans would win in the sense that they’d never need to worry about lockouts again. The sacrifice would be the destruction of the old model, and a free market system that would see each team stand on its own merits without the help of the draft and restricted free agency and spending limits on teams like New York and Toronto. Maybe some would prefer that; for my part, I prefer a system managed through a partnership between the NHL and NHLPA. The trick now is to get to a point where there aren’t labour stoppages every half-dozen years.
10. TSN’s “Who’s Better” Contest. I’m enjoying watching TSN’s contest to pick the NHL’s best player under the age of 25, and am extremely unsurprised to see a Hall/Eberle showdown in the final slot. Oilers fans have helped to rig a contest that has seen Eberle earn more votes than Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby, and Taylor Hall beat out Steven Stamkos and Erik Karlsson. Good times.