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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Help Me Understand: NHL, Hot Takes, and More

Welcome to the ninth edition of Help Me Understand.

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

— Help me understand what the Anaheim Ducks are doing. The Ducks finished 30th in the NHL last year after being 27th in 2020. Anaheim’s only off-season change thus far has been signing Buddy Robinson and not re-signing Carter Rowney. That is it. They did re-up Ryan Getzlaf for one year and will re-sign four young RFA forwards in Maxime Comtois, Max Jones, Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom. The Ducks scored the fewest goals, 124, in the NHL last season, but I guess they are hoping for internal improvement. It is quite the plan. Or they are waiting to acquire Jack Eichel?

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Did you know the Ducks had the worst PP in NHL history last season?

Since the league started tracking powerplays in 1977/1978 (a total of 1,122 teams), no team has a lower PP% than Anaheim’s 8.9%. They scored 11 powerplay goals in 56 games. Not only was it the lowest % in NHL history, they also become the only team in history to have a powerplay net goal differential in single digits. Anaheim gave up five shorthanded goals, so their net powerplay was six goals. Unbelievable.

I realize they only played 56 games, but the lowest PP GD in a full 82-game season was 17 by the 1998 Tampa Bay Lightning. Anaheim would have needed to score 11 powerplay goals in their final 26 games, and not allow a shorthanded goal to tie Tampa. Their PP was record-breaking bad, and the only forward change thus far is Robinson. Wow.

— If you thought PP opportunities/game were down last season, you’d be correct. This past season saw four of the lowest PP/game totals in NHL history. Columbus (2.09 PP/game) was the lowest ever out of the 1,122 teams. Anaheim was 2nd lowest at 2.20, while Buffalo was 6th at 2.55 and the New York Islanders were 9th at 2.57. Hello NHL, help me understand how despite the game being faster than ever, we are seeing fewer powerplays. It doesn’t make sense.

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Colorado had the most PP/game at 3.70, which is 703rd among the 1,122 teams since 1978. Florida was 822nd, Tampa Bay (889), Rangers (892), Arizona (903), Chicago and Calgary (933) and Ottawa, Edmonton and Vegas were tied for 939th all time. Compare that to the 2005/2006 season coming out of the lockout, when the NHL said it was cracking down on obstruction.

That season saw 22 teams crack the top-50 all-time in PP/game.

Los Angeles and Phoenix (now Arizona) had the highest PP/game of all time at 6.60, while Carolina (6.48), Atlanta (6.44) and Vancouver (6.41) ranked 3rd to 5th all-time.

Nashville and St. Louis sit tied for 7th at 6.24, while Toronto (6.11) is 10th, San Jose (6.10) is 11th, Dallas (6.07) is 13th and Pittsburgh (6.06) is 15th.

So 11 of the top-15 PP/game came in one season. I don’t recall many fans complaining about there being too many powerplays. The players actually adapted to the new rules by the end of the season, and the game was better, but the NHL eased off on the rules and now 15 years later we are seeing half as many PP/game. I’m not saying we need six PP/game per team, but the league shouldn’t be at record lows of powerplay chances when the game is faster than ever. The NHL and the NHLPA should recognize this trend and collectively want it to improve. The part I don’t understand is despite the solution being very simple, the league and players don’t seem interested in initiating change.

Just call the game by the rulebook. Call the rulebook. Call the rulebook. Call the effing rulebook.

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— I don’t understand why some Oilers fans think playing Connor McDavid with Leon Draisaitl in the regular season is a bad idea. Did you know that during the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons Sidney Crosby’s most common linemate at 5×5 in Pittsburgh was Evgeni Malkin? In those two seasons, Crosby played 1,857 minutes and skated 709 minutes with Malkin. That is 38.1% of his 5×5 TOI with Malkin. The Penguins made the Cup Final both years, and in the playoffs, Crosby only played 10% of his TOI with Malkin.

McDavid and Draisaitl are the most dangerous duo in the NHL. Why shouldn’t Dave Tippett play them together at times during the regular season? I don’t expect him to do it the majority of the time, but 25-30% in the regular season would be smart. I won’t be surprised it happens, and people shouldn’t freak out because they are playing together in October, November or February. If they are together in May, it might be an issue, unless a second line of Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi is ripping it up. If they are, then Tippett could keep the dangerous duo together.

— I’m amazed at the conditioning of athletes who run the 400m, 800m, 1,500m and up to the marathon. It is freakish how fast they can run for long stretches. Watching them on TV doesn’t do justice at how fast these men and women perform their races. For instance, I don’t understand how Sifan Hassan is able to do what she does. She is running the 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m in these Olympics. You probably saw her trip on the final lap of her 1500m heat, only to get up and pass the entire field in the final 350 meters, but that is just a glimpse of her greatness.

She is running all the heats and finals in these three events, sometimes on the same day. She won Gold in the 5,000, blowing away the field with a sizzling time of 14 minutes and 36 seconds. That means she averaged 17.5 seconds for every 100 meters. Go out and run a 100m and see how fast you can do it. Then imagine running 50 of those in a row with no rest. Watching all these great athletes compete against one another downplays how ridiculous their athletic accomplishments are. I have so much respect for all the athletes in the Olympics.

— I’m curious to see what the Dallas Stars will look like. They were 29th in 5×5 goals by forwards with 77 last year. Much of that was due to Tyler Seguin (3 GP) and Alex Radulov (11 GP) not playing. The other forward changes saw them add Luke Glendening and Michael Raffl and move out Jason Dickinson and Andrew Cogliano. But what I don’t understand is their plan in goal.

Even if Ben Bishop isn’t ready to start the season, which seems likely, why did they sign Braden Holtby to a one-year, $2m AAV contract? They also have Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger. Oettinger is the youngest, and still doesn’t require waivers, but he had a .911sv% and 2.36 GAA compared to Khudobin’s .905sv% and 2.54 GAA in 2021. Holtby posted a .889sv% and 3.67sv% in Vancouver. I know Dallas plays a better team defence than Vancouver, but Holtby hasn’t been lighting it up the past four years. He has a combined .904sv% in that time, but has posted .897sv% and .889% the past two seasons. Is he clearly better than Oettinger and Khudobin? Will they send Oettinger to the minors so they can play Khudobin and Holtby? Or will they trade Khudobin?

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— In 2021 eight teams had their forwards combine for 100+ goals at 5×5: Toronto (125), Colorado (112), Minnesota (111), Washington (108), Vegas (106), Winnipeg (103) and NYI and Pittsburgh (102). Toronto and Winnipeg were the only teams whose blueliners combined for less than 10 goals at 5×5 scoring seven and six respectively. So two teams from the North, and three from each of the West and East divisions. The top-scoring Central team, from 2021, was Florida with 95. That division had four of the lowest scoring teams at 5×5 (all skaters combined) in Detroit, Columbus, Dallas and Chicago with only Florida (7th) in the top-11.

What I don’t fully understand is: Was it because that division had such good defensive teams at 5×5, or was it a lack of offence? Carolina (1st), Nashville (4th), Dallas (6th), Florida (7th) and Tampa (10th) were all top-10 in goals against at 5×5. So was it great defence or average offence? The Central was the only temporary division that housed teams from three different divisions and now Carolina and Columbus go back to the Metropolitan division, while Tampa, Florida and Detroit are in the Atlantic and Nashville, Chicago and Dallas are in the regular Central. I’m curious to see what their GA will look like this season when they return to their usual divisions.

— I don’t understand why some sports fans, and some pundits, repeat narratives that aren’t accurate. It happens all the time when discussing individual players. Often it becomes the loudest when a player struggles after having some prior success or signing a new contract. It is interesting seeing how people classify Zack Kassian. I think the most accurate description of Kassian would to say he is frustratingly inconsistent. Kassian has had four NHL seasons where he produced like a top-six player, and another where he was a solid performer. Unfortunately for him, in three of his the last eight seasons he struggled, and looked disinterested at times, and those performances seem to be what many focus on.

Kassian became an NHL regular in the lockout-shortened 2013 season with Vancouver. As a 21-year-old he produced seven goals and 11 points in 39 games. Over the next eight seasons, Kassian has teased teams, coaches and fans with his potential, but has struggled to find consistency. However, he is more skilled than those who claim he is only a fourth liner.

In 2014 Kassian produced 13-15-28 at 5×5. He had 1.91 pts/60. And he did that playing mainly with Brad Richardson and David Booth. He skated 50 minutes with the Sedins and produced no points.

In 2015 he continued his solid play and scored 9-6-15, but got injured and only played 42 games. Again, the vast majority of his time was with Richardson. He did play 120 minutes with the Sedins and scored four goals. He had 1.82 P/60 that season. But Kassian’s off-ice issues caught up with him. He was traded to Montreal in the off-season, and then just prior to the start of the regular season he was a passenger in an early-morning accident after a night of partying and went to rehab. He was traded to Edmonton and joined them in January of 2016. He played 36 games with the Oilers and produced 3-5-8 in 36 games (1.12 P/60).

In 2017, Kassian produced 7-17-24 (1.66 P/60) in a bottom six role. He was physical and engaged most nights.
In 2018, he looked disinterested too often and produced 7-9-16 (1.29 P/60).
In 2019, he struggled to start the season, asked for a trade but wasn’t dealt, and then got an opportunity to play with McDavid for the second half of the year and produced great numbers. He finished the season with 12-11-23 (1.42 P.60).
He started 2020 with McDavid and was excellent for the first three months. He got suspended in early January, then battled injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch. However, he still finished the season scoring 15-17-32 and a career-best 2.21 P/60.
Last season he underperformed with only 2-3-5 in 27 games and had a career low 0.97 P/60. He battled injuries and for much of the season wasn’t engaged enough.

I agree with those who say he is inconsistent, but to claim Kassian only has fourth line skill is inaccurate. In five of the previous eight seasons, his production was good, and in three seasons it was excellent at 5×5. But the frustration comes from his inconsistent play. With his new salary, the Oilers need him to be more consistent. He offers a rare blend of size, speed, physicality and he has better hands than some suggest. He just needs to show it more regularly.

— I don’t understand why more people aren’t pushing for the Olympics to have four permanent homes for each the summer and winter Olympics. Having them in a new city every four years is a revolting waste of money and often leaves citizens of those cities paying the bills for decades. Enough is enough. We need more people to call out the IOC for its corruption and bullshit. I love the athleticism of the Olympics, but loathe the business model. It is awful.

— I don’t understand why the NHL didn’t continue with the two-game mini series. It cuts down on travel and adds a bit of intensity to games in what can be a dull, drawn-out regular season. I know they couldn’t do it for every game, like this past season, but it makes much more sense for Winnipeg to play in Arizona for two games, rather than one in Arizona and the next night in Dallas or Colorado. This would reduce travel, airfare and give players more rest. It would make for a better product. I’ve yet to get a direct answer from anyone in the NHL as to why there are no mini-series. I see it as another missed opportunity, similar to the NHL not enforcing its own rulebook.

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