Welcome to the 2016-17 NHL season preview mailbag, in which no one asks about Game of Thrones, Friends or Harambe (sorry). Why is your favorite team going to be bad? Why is your least-favorite team better than your favorite team? Why is your favorite player getting screwed out of awards? Why is your favorite team missing the playoffs?
It’s a beefy, comprehensive mailbag, but if your questions aren’t answered here, check back Thursday as we unveil the league’s top 10 teams, the 2017 Stanley Cup champion and all the award winners that will be 100 percent accurate! Mailbag!
1. No Norris
@davelozo Who do the voters decide is due the Norris this year while ignoring the fact that Erik Karlsson is better than him?
— Laurel M. (@ThisIsLaurelM) October 3, 2016
I’ve thought a lot about this. While you sit in your day’s quiet moments and worry about property taxes or how your child is doing in school, I wonder under what circumstances Erik Karlsson could ever win another Norris Trophy after he didn’t win it last year, when he had the best season by a defenseman in about 30 years and one of the best seasons in NHL history.
If Karlsson’s numbers are just five percent off from last season, and he has, say, 15 goals, 63 assists, 78 points and right around 51.7 percent when it comes to score-adjusted possession, people who dismissed Karlsson last season will say, “He wasn’t even as good as he was in 2015-16” and give it to someone else.
And that someone else will have GRIT and TOUGHNESS and BALLS MADE OF PURE SANDPAPER to go with that Drew Doughty sentiment of, “Why hasn’t this guy won a Norris Trophy yet?” Nothing upsets hockey media more than a smooth-skating defenseman with a lot of points, except maybe baseball teams celebrating division titles and wild-card berths with champagne.
For those reasons, it’s really setting up nicely for Shea Weber to get a Norris Trophy he doesn’t deserve.
Consider all that’s working in his favor before the season starts.
• Last season, the Habs had 82 points, a number that has a very good chance of improving now that Carey Price is healthy. I’m not entirely convinced they will be a playoff team because of coach/personnel, but I’m probably in the minority. But if the Habs turn it around, watch how many people attribute it to Weber’s TOUGH LEADERSHIP GRIT.
• Doughty earned a pity lifetime Norris last season because he was the ripe-old age of 26; Weber just turned 31 years old in August. There’s a segment of voters that have been dying to give Weber the lifetime achievement Norris for years. He just needs to jimmy the door open a crack and Old Hockey Media will do the rest.
• Doughty’s numbers last season: 14 goals and 51 points to go with a 58.1 percent raw Corsi in 82 games; Weber’s numbers last season: 20 goals and 51 points to go with a 51.6 percent raw Corsi in 78 games. The 5 percent rule that will exclude Karlsson will probably work the other way for Weber; if he jumps to 55 or so points and gets the Corsi around 53 percent, it’s over.
For a few years, the Norris got away from being a reputation award, but Doughty’s win last season may signal a return to giving it to someone people think he is tough in the corners, even though a defenseman who is always in his corner is probably doing something wrong. Maybe we can institute a SANDPAPER BALLS AWARD so we can get back to giving the Norris to the actual best defenseman.
2. RIP Joe Louis Arena
@davelozo What will you miss most about the Joe?
— Jeff Hoard (@JeffHoard921) October 3, 2016
I have great indifference toward The Joe. Fine building. Fine media food. Fine press box. I loved the location in relation to the Marriott. Any arena that’s a walk from the hotel is fantastic. I enjoy an old building. I’m glad they’re getting a new building, but not glad taxpayers are footing the bill.
This is my only good Joe Louis Arena story.
After the Penguins won Game 7 against the Red Wings in 2009, I somehow wound up inside the Penguins’ locker room. Media are supposed to do interviews on the ice after the Stanley Cup is won, but just like when Kramer gets swept up after winning a Tony, there I was in the center of a champagne-fueled party in the visiting locker room with Bill Guerin putting his face directly in the bowl.
But what I will remember most is Petr Sykora, who, 30 minutes after the game, was the most inebriated human I still have ever seen. I’ve had friends get so drunk they wet themselves on couches in the middle of parties, but Sykora was in another stratosphere. The theory was since he was out of the lineup with a broken foot and it was the last game of the year, he had been throwing back drinks for three hours and perhaps had a pain killer as well. He was sitting in the corner of the locker room, smiling from ear to ear, and it was as if his head was a giant magnet and he couldn’t lift it off the locker stall. It was incredible.
Also: the free Little Caesars Pizza was good.
3. Cup Guys
@davelozo Who would you rather see win the Cup this year: Thornton/Marleau, Ovechkin, Kessel again or Jagr in his 912th season?
— Terry Kelly (@kellytm) October 3, 2016
This is pretty much the last chance for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to win a Cup together in San Jose and I hope they do it. If they had a competent third pairing on defense and a healthy Tomas Hertl, they may have done it last season. Alas, with Marleau showing signs of decline last year, this could be it.
No two players have eaten larger amounts of unfair shit than Thornton and Marleau, so they have my backing over Alex Ovechkin and for sure Phil Kessel. Why am I rooting for him to win it again? Thornton and Marleau survived a summer of scapegoating by their GM to lead a franchise to its first Cup Final two years later under a new coach (hmm) and with a team that actually added good players instead of signing fighters the summer before.
Plus, I once wrote an interview with Thornton’s penis after the whole Hertl/four goals thing and I was told he enjoyed it. Anyone that offers back-channel praise for my fictional penis interviews earns my love forever.
4. Something Bruin
@davelozo Bruins didn't really improve or get worse over summer, but I see predictions that Bs could get 7 or 8 seed. East that bad?
— Colin MacDonald (@MooseMacD) October 3, 2016
Kinda? The way I see it, non-playoff teams Carolina, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal all got better, but probably three or maybe even all didn’t improve enough to get into a playoff spot. The Bruins finished ninth in the East last season, but had a better goal differential than two playoff teams, so with a mostly unchanged roster, a wild-card spot is realistic.
The Bruins’ season likely comes down to how dead Zdeno Chara is.
– Lifelike Chara: Playoff team for sure, maybe even third in the division.
– Mostly Dead Chara: Still in the wild-card mix, but the margin for error is slim.
– Corpse Chara: Trade everyone and commit to the rebuild.
5. Peng-win Another Cup?
@davelozo you think pens are gonna burn out from Cup run/players being in the World Cup before they reach the playoffs?
— Gorms (@Fuckgorms) October 3, 2016
As I write this, I’m also writing a thing for Vice (cross-promotional content alert) about why I think the Penguins have the best shot of repeating in a very long time. They have one significant loss from the roster — Ben Lovejoy. That’s it. And they can replace him with a full season of Justin Schultz. Pretty much all the forwards are back, as are the goaltenders.
The Penguins aren’t so old that they can’t be effective in April-May-June again. They’ll probably have to go through Washington-Tampa Bay-Elite West Team to do it, but they have the best shot of anyone at the start of the season since the full-season lockout.
6. Nice Wagering
@davelozo Who's the best bet to finish the season with 69 points?
— Jacob Born (@jborn39) October 3, 2016
I’d put a nice bet on Columbus to go from 76 points to 69 points in a conference that saw the teams around them in the standings get better.
7. Oil Country
@davelozo which holiday will the Edmonton Oilers be competitive past? Halloween, Christmas…?
— MG (@jampam1018) October 3, 2016
I’ll say they make it to Christmas before reality sets in. From that point, wins and losses will be measured in how many faces Milan Lucic punches because someone legally checked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
8. Trading Places
@davelozo First major trade? Non-Goaltender division (Fleury/Bishop/maybe Hank).
— Tyler Anderson (@TyAnderson9) October 3, 2016
Depending on your definition of major (I won’t call Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley in December major, despite Daley’s impact), the first major trade last season was Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones on Jan. 6, 2016. That trade was fueled by a bad coach fat-shaming an elite center and a team having a glut of defensemen and a dearth of scoring forwards.
Two seasons ago, it was sort of the same thing. There was a Jason Demers for Brenden Dillon trade in November, but it was the Penguins getting David Perron from the Oilers for a first-round pick on Jan. 2, 2015 that was the first “major” deal.
So what we need to do is figure out which team has a lot of one thing and very little of another thing and which team has the opposite situation. Then we have to figure who will blink halfway through the season in an effort to get a jump on the trade deadline. You’re sort of boxing me in here by not allowing goaltending trades in a sport that has fewer meaningful trades with each passing year, but unlike James Caan, I enjoy a challenge.
Kevin Shattenkirk for Rick Nash.
If you’re tired of hearing me say this, take comfort in knowing I’m sick of saying it. Never have two teams lined up so perfectly for a deal, yet refused to get it done. I can see the Blues wanting to get Colton Parayko on the ice more as the season progresses and needing more scoring up front. The Rangers’ season could be dying in January, so getting Shattenkirk (and extending him) serves the purpose of keeping the season alive and setting up the future.
I’ll say this happens on January 23, 2017.
9. Pred A Tour (I Don’t Know)
@davelozo have the Preds finally built a team that's going to the cup this year?
— Joshua Withington (@JWithing14) October 3, 2016
They need an upgrade at center. Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher as your 2-3 down the middle makes it nearly impossible to compete with elite teams come playoff time. The good news is $7.9 million worth of Ribeiro/Fisher cap space comes off the books after this season and maybe the Oilers will trade Nugent-Hopkins for Anthony Bitetto next summer out of frustration. Tyler Johnson is scheduled to be an RFA next summer too, FYI. Who knows what Tampa’s cap situation will be then?
The Preds are my early 2018 pick to win the Stanley Cup.
10. Dicking Around
@davelozo Biggest unforeseen controversy of the season.
— Mike Cassin (@Mcassin11Mike) October 3, 2016
Four words. Matt. Duchene. Dick. Pics.
11. Duck Off
@davelozo What the heck are the Ducks going to do…?? Not many moves and a severely lacking level of player leadership in the playoffs…
— Sam Barker (@samtheman_77) October 3, 2016
I get it. With every fiber of my being , I want to pick the Ducks to miss the playoffs. They downgraded at coach, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are starting to look worn down and the team traded its No. 1 goaltender for Jonathan Bernier. There’s plenty of reasons to say, “This team will go from 103 points to 88 points in one season.”
But then I look at the Pacific Division. How do they not finish third?
Edmonton isn’t closing a 33-point gap from last season. Arizona has dedicated nearly a third of its cap room to dead contracts. Vancouver had the worst goal differential in the league a year ago and sticking Loui Eriksson on the top line and Erik Gudbranson on the back end probably isn’t vaulting them to the top part of the division. Calgary is a legitimate threat with Brian Elliott in net and maybe the worst coach in the league fired, but are you convinced they’ve improved enough to overtake the Ducks?
As long as the Ducks defensemen stay healthy and Getzlaf/Perry make it through the season, they’ll probably be a playoff team in spite of everything.
The 2016-17 Anaheim Ducks: A Playoff Team In Spite Of Everything™