Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Help Me Understand…

Welcome to another edition of Help Me Understand.

Sports, hot takes and narratives. Some make sense, others perplex me.

1. Help me understand what Blues GM Doug Armstrong is thinking: In 2019 they won the Stanley Cup with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Colton Parayko (all three had 26 GP in the playoffs), Joel Edmundson (22), Vince Dunn (20), Carl Gunnarsson (19) and Robert Bortozzo (17). Gunnarsson (6’2″) and Dunn (6’0″) were the two smallest defenders. They had a great combination of skill and size on their backend.

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Then last fall, Armstrong acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina. Faulk is a right shot D-man, same as Pietrangelo and Parayko. In five seasons (2015-2019) in Carolina, Justin Faulk produced a lot on the power play. He was 19th in PP TOI among D-men. He was fourth in goals and 19th in points. He wasn’t a standout at even strength though, getting outscored 246-293. The Blues acquired him on September 24th. He had one year remaining on his deal. Pietrangelo was entering the final year of his contract, yet the Blues immediately signed Faulk to a seven-year, $6.5m AAV contract. Then he barely played on the power play this past season, scoring only there PP points.

Faulk was -8 at 5×5, and produced a total of 16 points in his first season with the Blues. Signing Faulk before Pietrangelo made no sense, especially when you acquire him and don’t play him on the power play. And now this summer they signed left-shot Torey Krug, who led all NHL D-men in PP points last year, and he has the second most PP points over the past three seasons. So Krug is going to run the PP, while Faulk makes $6.5m not to play on the PP and be average, at best, defensively. And the Blues lost Pietrangelo. Maybe Pietrangelo wasn’t going to remain in St.Louis, and Armstrong knew that when he acquired Faulk, but acquiring Faulk and Krug and paying them a combined $13m for the next seven seasons doesn’t make much sense to me.

The Blues won the Cup anchored by an excellent defence core, which also happened to be huge, and with solid goaltending and sound team defence. Sixteen months later the Blues don’t have Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester or Edmundson. They’ve replaced them with Faulk, Krug and Marco Scandella. Bouwmeester’s unfortunate heart issue likely led him to leaving one year early, but he was replaced immediately by Scandella, who is a solid defender. The Blues have downgraded significantly from Pietrangelo. I don’t understand why Armstrong took the path he did.

2. Skilled, mobile D-men with size are vital in today’s game. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup with a massive defence. Victor Hedman (6’6″), Mikhail Sergachev, Eric Cernak and Zack Bogosian (6’3″), Ryan McDonagh (6’1″) and Kevin Shattenkirk (6’0″) were their main six, while Luke Schenn and Jan Rutta, both 6’2″, also played. Having big, skilled D is a such a plus in the playoffs. They cover more ground, their bodies fill up the lane more and they can wear down opponents. So help me understand why some in Oilersnation are clamouring to trade Darnell Nurse.

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Nurse is 6’4″, extremely mobile and very productive at 5×5. Yes, he isn’t a #1 D-man, but he’s never been paid like one. With Oscar Klefbom’s shoulder issues and Adam Larsson’s recent struggles the past two seasons, Nurse is the only veteran on the roster with size. Edmonton has Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard coming and both are 6’3″. They also have Dmitri Samorukov who is also 6’3″. Ethan Bear and Tyson Barrie are 5’11”, while William Lagesson is 6’2 and Caleb Jones is 6’1″. Kris Russell is 5’10”, and in the final year of his contract. When you look at how Ken Holland will construct the blueline moving forward, you can’t overlook the importance of size on the backend. It has to be skilled size, but you need a lot of it to win in the playoffs.

3. Help me understand why New Orleans head coach Sean Payton would rather use Taysom Hill in gimmick plays, rather than just give the ball to superstar running back Alvin Kamara. Hill is a quarterback in name only. He can run, he can block, but if he was a tight end, which he essentially is, I don’t think he’d get nearly the attention he does from Payton. I’m all for trick plays, I love them, but when Hill is fumbling as often as he has this year, then go back to your money maker in Kamara.

4. Help me understand the push to buyout James Neal. He scored 19 goals in 55 games. Many will say, “but 12 of those goals were on the power play.” That is correct, but a PP goal counts the same on the scoreboard as an even-strength goal. Look at the 5×5 possession numbers of the Oilers forwards this past season.

Leon Draisaitl 71 1163 623 666 -43 69 62 7 561 587 -26 36 37 -1 11.08 90.69 1.018
Connor McDavid 64 1055 555 610 -55 62 58 4 528 538 -10 38 34 4 11.17 90.49 1.017
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 65 914 467 487 -20 45 33 12 409 429 -20 25 17 8 9.64 93.22 1.029
Zack Kassian 59 870 460 487 -27 50 44 6 420 422 -2 31 25 6 10.87 90.97 1.018
James Neal 55 703 336 367 -31 23 33 -10 325 305 20 14 14 0 6.85 91.01 0.979
Alex Chiasson 65 692 325 320 5 21 19 2 285 289 -4 12 11 1 6.46 94.06 1.005
Jujhar Khaira 64 677 283 349 -66 15 34 -19 210 316 -106 9 23 -14 5.3 90.26 0.956
Riley Sheahan 66 667 280 349 -69 17 37 -20 224 318 -94 11 21 -10 6.07 89.4 0.955
Josh Archibald 62 648 266 337 -71 19 36 -17 213 327 -114 12 21 -9 7.14 89.32 0.965
Gaetan Haas 58 517 231 218 13 12 15 3 184 190 -6 6 9 -3 5.19 93.12 0.983
Patrick Russell 45 464 193 213 -20 9 20 -11 156 182 -26 6 11 -5 4.66 90.61 0.953
Kailer Yamamoto 27 418 241 227 14 30 14 16 208 190 18 16 8 8 12.45 93.83 1.063
Joakim Nygard 33 330 148 148 0 13 14 -1 130 131 -1 7 6 1 8.78 90.54 0.993
Tyler Ennis 9 130 66 78 -12 6 7 -1 70 70 0 5 4 1 9.09 91.03 1.001
Andreas Athanasiou 9 106 51 58 -7 2 3 -1 42 57 -15 2 2 0 3.92 94.83 0.987
Tyler Benson 7 67 32 34 -2 2 4 -2 18 34 -16 1 1 0 6.25 88.24 0.945

Neal was -10 at 5×5, but he had 20 more scoring chances for than against, and his XGF% was 49.72. The only forward who played as much as Neal who had a higher XGF% was Gaetan Haas. Neal also played with a broken toe for a few months and then had an ankle injury. When he was healthy in the playoffs, he played quite well. It will be difficult for him to perform like a $5.75m cap hit this season, but a buyout won’t solve that. It only adds dead cap space down the road and the $3m in cap space you save this year will likely get you a 20-goal scorer, which is what Neal is. So how are you ahead?

5. I like Pietrangelo a lot as a player. He is an upgrade on Nate Schmidt for Vegas, but help me understand how he solves their major issue: They lack an offensive game-breaker. Vegas has a lot of depth in their forward group, but are void of a legit offensive threat. Mark Stone had 70 points once, but is usually a 60+ point player. Jonathon Marchessault had 75 points once, but he’s never had more than 58 in another season. Max Pacioretty is a solid 30-goal-65-point-player. Their lack a game breaker cost them the series against Dallas. It is very difficult to obtain one, and that’s why I see Vegas as a solid contender, but not a Cup contender due to the lack of an offensive star. Vegas has a lot of money tied up in very good, but not great forwards.

6. Help me understand why the NHL doesn’t look at having cameras closer to the ice. It would show viewers how fast the game actually is. I realize they would have to eliminate some seats in the lower bowl, but hockey is much faster than it looks on TV, and closer cameras would grab the attention of viewers. What about a camera on a track that runs right atop the glass? Currently, around 70% of the NHL’s revenue comes from season tickets/ food and beverage. Coming out of the pandemic, I don’t see how the NHL will be able to charge the same ticket prices. If removing some seats gives the TV and web audience a more captivating experience, the long-term financial benefits will outweigh the lost revenue from removing some seats.

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7. How is Ryan Tannehill suddenly this good? I don’t understand it. He looked like an average NFL QB for the first five years of his career. Then he missed an entire season due to injury. In his seventh season, not much improvement, but then he went to Tennessee. In his last 14 starts he is 11-3 with 3,602 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and six interception. In Patrick Mahomes’ last 14 games, he is 11-3, has 3,674, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. Tannehill isn’t Mahomes, but damn, he is playing much better than I ever expected he could.

8. With Halloween approaching I don’t understand how any person could be so insensitive and hand out Runts. They are the worst. Kids would rather eat real fruit than eat Runts. Unless you want kids to avoid your house next year, don’t hand out Runts.

9. I don’t understand how in 2020 some people in the United States have to wait up to 11 hours to vote. That is scary, sad, depressing and frustrating. The longest I’ve ever waited was maybe 15 minutes ,and that’s when I went right after my show at 6:30 p.m. Waiting 11 hours in line to vote illustrates how important some feel it is to be heard. Voting is one of the greatest privileges or our life, and reading those stories was a great reminder to never take it for granted. I hope these stories create change and less voter suppression in the future.

10. Help me understand how so many don’t have Jujhar Khaira in the Oilers starting lineup. Once Khaira was moved to centre late in the season and in the playoffs he performed much better than he did when playing wing. More importantly, he was good on the PK all season, and with Riley Sheahan gone they need a centre to fill that spot. Last season, 94 forwards played at least 100 minutes on the PK. Khaira had the lowest GA/60 of all them at 2.39. He was only on the ice for four PP goals against. Until the Oilers reduce their goals against at 5×5, their special teams will need to be good for them to contend. I have Khaira locked in at the fourth centre spot to start, mainly due to his penalty killing prowess and the fact he played much better when Dave Tippett moved him to centre. He will have to play well to remain there, but today I see him replacing Sheahan on the PK.

11. Help me understand why Tyson Barrie, potentially, wearing #94 is such a bad thing? I get it was Smitty’s (Ryan Smyth) number, but Bernie Nicholls, Shayne Corson and Bill Guerin wore #9 before the Oilers retired Glenn Anderson’s number. Same with Jari Kurri’s #17 as Scott Thornton and Rem Murray wore it. Mark Lamb, Martin Gelinas, Jason Arnott and Dan Cleary wore Paul Coffey’s #7 until it was lifted to the rafters. And Fred Brathwaite, Curtis Joseph and Joaquin Gage wore Grant Fuhr’s #31 before it was retired.

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If Barrie wears #94 it isn’t a slight against Smyth, but considering the Oilers website has Anton Forsberg listed as #31, I’d guess the website simply used the number the player wore last year.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your help.

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