LAKings.com Presents 4 on 4 - Week 2
Week 2: Four writers answer the biggest questions surrounding hockey.
Our weekly feature on LAKings.com. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide (formerly of Hockey Wilderness), Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Dimitri Filipovicof Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
CLICK HERE to read Week 1 of 4 on 4.
Give your own answers and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. Take out your crystal ball, where does Ryan Miller end up and when?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - Edmonton was perhaps the most obvious place, which usually means he wouldn't land there because logic in sports can be a rare commodity at times. Additionally, now that Ilya Bryzgalov has signed on with the Oilers, you can rule them out anyway. So now what? Well, like we saw with Roberto Luongo this past summer, the market for high-priced goaltenders is extremely thin. At 33 years old, with a $6,250,000 cap hit, Buffalo will most likely need to retain some salary to make any sort of a deal attractive to another team. The Calgary Flames are one of the few clubs crazy enough to give it a go. However, trading for Miller may be just out their reach. So, unless a major injury takes place to a top goalie in the Western Conference, look for the New York Islanders to be team that will land Miller.
Natahn Eide - If he continues playing in Buffalo? Jail. He's going to absolutely lose his s*&t one day and go around slashing every member of the Sabres front office and ownership, and I don't think he'd be convicted. Everyone would understand.
Now, if we assume he's going to be moved, it's going to be somewhere like Philly or Toronto or Pittsburgh. Somewhere ready to make a deep run if only for their craptastic goaltending. I'll go out on a limb and say he ends up backstopping the Pens to the Cup.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - Every indication is that he has his heart set on California and, really, what self-respecting human who has spent the last decade living in Buffalo wouldn't? The problem for Miller is that the Sharks and Kings both boast starting netminders who have earned Vezina Trophy nominations over the past two seasons and presumably aren't going anywhere. Jonas Hiller is an impending free agent in Anaheim but with Viktor Fasth inked through 2015 and high-end goalie prospects like Frederik Andersen, John Gibson and Igor Bobkov waiting in the wings, it seems unlikely the Ducks would splurge on Miller. I think Miller's best chance to land with a contender is in St. Louis, where Jaroslav Halak is slated to hit the free agent market this summer and has struggled with injury concerns and inconsistency since the start of the shortened season. But given how tight the goalie market is, I'm not sure it happens until July 1st.
Dimitri Filipovic @CanucksArmy - I’d wager that, barring something really unforseen taking place, Ryan Miller will end the season as a member of the lowly Buffalo Sabres before bolting in free agency. Just from quickly glancing at the standings there isn’t really where many options that would constitute as reasonable landing spots for him.
The only team that could potentially make a move for Miller would be the New York Islanders, since they actually have a pretty good team. Maybe they’ll eventually get tired of Nabokov’s ineptitude costing them games and a chance to compete. But they’ve proven to be a pretty cheap organization in the past, so that could throw a wrench into those plans. Other than them, though, all of the other teams that have a realistic shot at doing something come the Spring already have someone in net that is getting the job done for them.
2. Goalie Fights – Get them out of the game or greatest thing ever?
John Hoven - How about neither? It's hard to label two guys wearing full masks and enough pads to make the Michelin man proud as the greatest fights ever. Yet, at the same time, there's no reason to start a campaign to ban goalie fights. In between those two extremes is the reality, they're fairly rare and pretty entertaining when they do happen. Living in Los Angeles, the bigger question is how has Kings netminder Jonathan Quick not found his way into a scrap yet? There have been a few times he looked so close, including being on the brink of one last season. It's likely coming. We just don't know when.
Bryan Reynolds - Well, we have yet to see a goalie fight this season, so we really don't need to settle it just yet. Unless you call the unsolicited beating of Brayden Holtby by the hormonal teenager dressed at Ray Emery a "fight." Other than the random beating of a man who did nothing to offend Emery, there is no reason to take goalie fights out of the game as long as fighting is allowed. There is nothing special or unique about it, save for the fact that both guys have 50 pounds of gear on and have to skate a bit further to engage. Of course, it is a bit hypocritical that goalies are allowed to hit each other, but no one else can touch them. That said, goalie fights may be the only thing Oilers fans have to look forward to, so keep it in the gam
Who’s bubble bursts first, Anaheim or Colorado
Derek Tanabe - As long as fighting is legal, it seems silly to preclude goaltenders alone from dropping the gloves (or glove and blocker, as it were). For better or worse (mostly worse), incidents like the one in Philadelphia last week where Ray Emery jumped Braden Holtby are an inevitable byproduct of a hockey culture that promotes fisticuffs as the only organic way of policing the game. Zac Rinaldo fighting Aaron Volpatti doesn't accomplish anything towards preventing the Capitals from doing whatever it is the Flyers objected to them doing (blowing them out 7-0, presumably) but going after Washington's best players, goalies or not, does serve the purpose of punishing the Caps for their imagined indiscretions. If we're going to allow fighting, and people like Brian Burke are going to justify its allowance by making the argument that it "protects" the players and keeps everyone on the ice honest, I see no reason why goalies shouldn't be able to get in on the fun too.
Dimitri Filipovic - I personally find it entertaining, as long as it’s consensual between the two participating parties. For example, the scrap between Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier back in the preseason was something that I enjoyed. But obviously this question is stemming from last week’s incident that saw Ray Emery skate over to Braden Holtby’s end of the ice, en route to pummeling him.
Now, that particular example, I have an issue with. Holtby was pitching a shutout, and clearly had no desire to mix it up with Emery (who at this point is significantly better at fighting than at stopping pucks). It’s idiotic that Holtby had that happen to him, and I personally thought that Emery should’ve been handed a hefty suspension for his actions. I have no time for stuff like that.
3. Who’s bubble bursts first, Anaheim or Colorado?
John Hoven - It has to be Colorado. Last year, many of us kept waiting for Anaheim to come back to Earth - and it just never happened. Since then, they've added Dustin Penner (who's leading the league in plus-minus) up front, Hampus Lindholm to a previously thin blueline and seem to have found another solid goalie in Frederik Andersen. Through the early part of this season, the Ducks are proving that last year was no fluke. They look to be real deal in the Pacific Division. Of course, that's taking nothing away from what Patrick Roy has done with the Avs in a very brief time. They're a fairly young team though and will need to prove their worth as the season wears on. Yes, Matt Duchene is blossoming into a rock solid player on offense. But, where's their Norris Trophy-type defenseman? Before anointing them the class of the Central, Colorado will need to a few more pieces to prove they're in it for the long haul. Otherwise, they're more likely to fall than Anaheim.
Bryan Reynolds - The Avalanche have their heads down, gas pedal to the floor, and are headed straight for a brick wall known as "being the Colorado Avalanche." The Ducks have underperformed for years, and seem to finally be playing to their ability. While they're flying V may be a little close to the sun right now, the Avs cannot expect Semyon Varlamov to keep up his impression of his head coach, save for maybe off of the ice. The lack of depth on defense (read: anyone who can play defense) will eventually come back to haunt the Avs, and once JS Giguere is the only option in Denver, things will start to look much more like Edmonton than Los Angeles.
Derek Tanabe - Colorado, but it's awfully close and at this point I think both teams have banked enough wins to nail down a playoff spot even when they inevitably come back to earth. Ultimately, the Avalanche can't count on continuing to receive a .947 even-strength save percentage from their goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and J-S Giguere. The good news for Avs fans is that their team is a legitimately improved one that outshoots opponents in score-close situations, a much more sustainable measure of success. So while they aren't the best team in the league the standings currently say they are, they should still be able to hang with conference powerhouses even if I wouldn't bill them a Cup contender just yet.
Dimitri Filipovic - Colorado, 100%. But that’s not necessarily to say that I don’t like the Avalanche, but instead it’s just that I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing over in Anaheim this season.
In the preseason I was asked how I thought the Ducks would do last season, and I honestly had no idea whatsoever. I thought they had quite possibly the widest possible range of outcomes out of any team in the league. For those that are unaware, the analytical community found their success to be rather suspect last year; they were a poor possession team that was instead riding the percentages (meaning they were getting very lucky in a shortened season).
This year, though, they’re 6th in Fenwick Close% (at 54.9%). Fenwick Close, quickly, is essentially the shot attempt differential (shot attempts for - shot attempts against), in “close” game situations which takes out the outlying data of teams throwing everything but the kitchen sink at their opponent when they’re down big in a game.
The key for the Ducks has been the play of Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen on defense, which I didn’t see coming this season. Their blueline play was my biggest reason for concern heading into the year, and if those guys keep it up - and Sheldon Souray eventually returns - the Ducks will remain totally legit in my eyes. They are so, so, so very deep up front, and the goaltending in their system is remarkable.
4. Jonathan Quick currently has a .906SV%, is he off his game or is someone/thing else to blame?
John Hoven - Something or someone? Let's go with the former, primarily in the form of Rob Scuderi. His absence has been felt nearly every night by Jonathan Quick and the LA Kings. That doesn't mean the Kings should have tried to match the contract Pittsburgh gave him, as four years is a long time at his age (and the NHL is a young man's game). Still, his absence has been felt. In contrast to when the addition of Jeff Carter helped Darryl Sutter put everybody 'in their right place' on offense a few years ago, the absence of Scuderi has thrown the defense pairings into chaos. Look no further than who is skating on a nightly basis with Drew Doughty. Sutter has had to chose between Robyn Regehr and Jake Muzzin, neither of whom posses the defensive chops of Scuderi. Quick got off to a slow start last year due to the back surgery he underwent in the summer of 2012. Even with Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell out of the line-up, he eventually put it all together and was his usual outstanding self in the second half. Look for a similar rebound in the coming months. He's an all-world goalie, one of the true elite netminders in the NHL. The save percentage will be on a steady climb up as we get closer to the Olympic break.
Nathan Eide - New goaltender equipment rules. We knew he was a big fat cheater, just like J-S Giguere. He'll need to find a new way to cheat. Maybe with flying squirrel wings in his sweater?
Derek Tanabe - I think unrealistic expectations are probably to blame. Apart from the 2011-12 season and subsequent playoffs, as well as his spectacular series against San Jose this past spring, Jonathan Quick just hasn't been an elite goalie at the NHL level. Over his career in the regular season, Quick has posted a .922 save percentage at even-strength, which is just about league average for starting goaltenders over that span. And I think that's exactly what Quick is; a league-average starting goalie. There's nothing wrong with that, unless you're the Kings and gave him the kind of contract that should really only go to one of the three or four best netminders in the NHL. But seeing as they can't renegotiate that deal, L.A. needs to recalibrate its expectations to reflect what Quick actually is. As Tyler Dellow stated on Friday, "league average goalies go through ten game streaks where they look elite and ten game streaks where they look like AHLers." Granted, Quick has been experiencing the latter for a bit longer than ten games now and perhaps his sub-par calendar year of 2013 means he's trending towards being a few clicks south of the league mean. But given how large a role variance plays in goaltending results, I'd be wary of drawing that conclusion just yet. Ultimately, Quick isn't a top-flight goalie at this level but the Kings control play to such an extent that they don't need him to be one in order to enjoy team success.
Dimitri Filipovic - Jonathan Quick’s even-strength save percentage this season is at .915, which I’d guess - based on the previous handful of years - is slightly above replacement level for a goaltender.. So he hasn’t been as bad as you’d first be led to believe. But that’s obviously not all that comforting considering the $58 million over the next 10 year that the Kings are slated to pay him for his efforts. What has really let Quick down is his .833 save% while his team has been shorthanded, giving up 12 goals on 72 shots against.
His overall save % should at least improve and get over the .900 plateau when those figures regress positively in his favour, but at this point I think it’s fair to start wondering whether we’ll ever see Quick regain his 2011-12 form. I’d wager that we won’t. He’ll go on a run here sooner rather than later, but you should temper your expectations as either a Kings fan, or an owner of Quick in a pool.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - selected as 2012's Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports. As a member of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, his insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the former editor of Hockey Wilderness, retiring in June 2013 to get a real job, smoke cigars, and spend time with family. He now can be found giving sarcastic commentary about the NHL and Minnesota Wild on Twitter @BReynoldsMN, while continuing his quest to become the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings.
Nathan Eide is a recovering hockey blogger. After 6 years on the job, he's spending the year relearning how to be a fan. In addition, Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude associated with the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Dimitri Filipovic (please triple check the spelling, people often mess it up) is the Managing Editor at Canucks Army, and you can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic