<
>
Insider

Mailbag on Kovalchuk, Pens, more

7/15/2013

This is why hockey fans are the best: It's the middle of summer and the questions keep pouring in for the mailbag. I will be tackling them over the course of the summer, so if I didn't get to yours this time, just know that I'm working on it. Submit your questions here for the next mailbag. In the meantime, let's dive in:

Everyone's blaming Ilya Kovalchuk for letting his team down, but the NHL made its own bed with him and perhaps more European players. They lock out the players every decade -- Kovalchuk lost 1.5 seasons during his time in the NHL -- and sign contracts that don't get paid in full. The owners locked him out, changed the rules mid-contract and took money out of his pocket. Why should he be loyal to the Devils?

--Alex Feldman, NY

Alex,

I'm definitely more on the sympathetic side in the Kovalchuk case, and outlined some of the reasons in a blog post last week. My only real criticism of Kovalchuk is the timing. I'm not sure it would have mattered with regard to the Devils signing David Clarkson if Kovalchuk retired sooner, but it would have given GM Lou Lamoriello a shot at replacing him in free agency before things were completely picked over. Considering the millions of dollars and all of the assets the Devils committed to him, I thought Kovalchuk owed New Jersey that courtesy.

The Penguins are close to and soon will be over the cap after restricted free agents are taken care of. Who do you think is the odd man or men out? Matt Niskanen? It's also not been Ray Shero's style to not have some head room for moves at the trade deadline. What do you make of it?

--Arun, Brooklyn

That's a good question. To me, it doesn't make any sense for a Stanley Cup contender to move a defenseman like Niskanen, because depth on defense is critical for a long playoff run. Maybe they move him if they're absolutely convinced one of their younger defensemen is ready to contribute immediately. The solution may be to build this team right up to the cap and not retain the usual flexibility the team has around the trade deadline. It's an unusual season, because this is the first time the cap has dropped, so that may be the cost of doing business this season. Plus, as the Penguins learned last season, trade deadline additions don't always pay off. Maybe the Penguins are better off building this team to completion now and letting it ride all season.

When will the NHL approve expansion so I can finally get a team in Seattle? 2014? 2015?

--JD, Washington State

JD -- It's only a matter of time. During the Stanley Cup finals, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly did a news conference updating the state of the NHL. Daly was asked specifically about the timetable for expansion and he joked that he just wanted to get the Phoenix ordeal solved first. It was interesting because typically the stock answer from the league is they have no plans for expansion. With Phoenix apparently settled, it makes a ton of sense for the league to expand into Seattle and Quebec City in the not-too-distant future. I'm convinced there will be a team in Seattle within five years, and it may be sooner than that.

Craig -- The Sharks couldn't buy out Martin Havlat this summer because of his injury. Once he's healthy, do you see the Sharks telling him to go home, a la Montreal and Scott Gomez last season? And if that happens, does the league step in and let his agent and the team work on an in-season buyout?

--Thomas, San Jose

Thomas -- I'd be surprised if that happened, for a couple of reasons. One, San Jose doesn't throw around money in quite the same way Montreal does. And two, they could use him. If Havlat is healthy, my guess is that the Sharks would rather pay for him to contribute to the team rather than pay him to play elsewhere. I know there's an injury risk there, but Havlat only has one year left on his deal after this season, and San Jose has lots of money coming off the books. To me, it's different than Gomez and Montreal, a team that was in cap trouble because of the Gomez number.

Why isn't there more talk about an offer sheet for Alex Pietrangelo? The kid seems like a great young player. If somebody went in there offering $6 million a year, does that sound reasonable? Would St. Louis just match all offers?

--Jeff Parker, Calgary

Jeff -- I think Pietrangelo will get at least $6 million per season in his next deal, probably $7 million. The problem with an offer sheet is that the Blues have the cap space to match. When I asked GM Doug Armstrong about his concern over an offer sheet for his franchise defenseman, he said there was none. He would just match any offer. So essentially anybody who puts together an offer sheet for Pietrangelo would just be doing the Blues' work for them. Under the new CBA, it's even harder to structure an offer sheet for a player of Pietrangelo's caliber that is tough to match because of the limits on contract lengths. A contract like Shea Weber's offer sheet from Philly last offseason is now illegal, and even that one was matched.

Good afternoon, Craig. I'm a huge fan of your column; it always tops my list of must-reads. My question for you is this: Has there ever been a Stanley Cup champion that was as fortunate health-wise as the Chicago Blackhawks? Throughout the entire playoffs, they didn't lose one man-game to injury until Marian Hossa was held out of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. And the only other postseason injury of any note was when Jonathan Toews missed the third period of Game 5. I know it is tough to quantify, but do you ever remember such a long run of sustained health in the postseason?

--Nick Wood, Washington, D.C.

Nick -- I appreciate the kind words. The difference between a Stanley Cup winner and those knocked out early is often health. The Blackhawks were definitely the healthier of the two teams in the finals, although we found out later just how injured some of the Chicago players were. It was amazing to stand next to Marian Hossa on the ice as the Cup was being passed around and he revealed that he lost feeling in one leg because of a pinched nerve in his back. He joked with a big smile that he felt no pain at that moment, though. But even last season, the Kings were a very healthy team when they dominated their way to their Stanley Cup victory. I don't remember any injuries of note with that team, at least nothing that derailed them. The Stanley Cup playoffs are a battle of attrition, and many times the team left standing is the one that dodges the most injuries.

As a Detroit-area native, I can say that an upgrade from Joe Louis Arena is necessary, but how can the Ilitch family possibly justify a bankrupt city with very little actual tax revenue footing the bill for a brand new arena in downtown Detroit? Wouldn't a renovation (or at least a cost study to prove their decision for a new building) of Joe Louis be a little bit more responsible? Tying the arena to a multi-use project seems like a cop-out to justify splitting the cost of something the city of Detroit clearly can't afford.

--Tom P., Atlanta

Tom -- According to MLive.com, a public investment of $284.5 million is going into the new Red Wings arena and entertainment district, although no money comes from the Detroit general fund. Instead, it is financed through taxes. One estimate said the new entertainment district could have a statewide economic impact of $1.8 billion.

That said, in my opinion, Detroit shouldn't pay a cent toward a new hockey arena. Not a single penny. Maybe that's not realistic, but I live five minutes from Detroit and see first-hand how many other priorities there should be for the city. I'd hope that people learn from the lessons of the past in other cities and realize that these arenas should be paid for by the owners of the teams -- in this case the Ilitch family -- and not the city. You need to look no farther than Glendale to see how a seemingly good idea can turn sour in a remarkably short period of time. I'm sure there were rosy projections for that arena when it was built.

I think Joe Louis Arena is beyond renovating, and it's definitely time for a new arena, but it's nothing the citizens of Detroit should be paying for.

Tuukka Rask just got a massive eight-year, $56 million deal. The cap hit doesn't bother me so much, even if he is [tied for the highest of any goalie], but does the length of the contract surprise you at all? Given that the goaltender position has seen some other recent big deals go poorly (Ilya Bryzgalov), I was a bit surprised to see so many years. Not to mention the fact that the Bruins used their first-round pick on Malcolm Subban last year.

--Greg, Amherst, Mass.

Give credit to Bill Zito, the agent who negotiated that contact for Rask. That's a heck of a deal, but Rask's numbers are among the best of any goalie in the NHL since he broke into the league. And this was a huge postseason for Rask, who proved he can lead a team to the Stanley Cup. If Boston had won it all, Patrice Bergeron or Rask would have won the Conn Smythe. Rask would have been a free agent next summer, and somebody was going to pay him, and Boston couldn't risk turning the keys over to a unproven prospect like Subban at that point.

However, goaltender is the one position for which I'd have a hard time giving a lot of years. In an ideal world, you'd never want to extend beyond four or five years to your starting goalies, because things can change in a hurry at that position. You mentioned Bryzgalov, but there are also cautionary tales in Rick DiPietro, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury. You need a good one to win, but sometimes the good ones don't always stay good.

Hi Craig -- A lot has been made this offseason about advanced statistics being used in analyzing player value, probably most evident with Toronto's decision to buy out Mikhail Grabovski to free up cap space to re-sign Tyler Bozak and sign David Clarkson. While a lot has been written about teams starting to use these advanced measures to gauge player performance, I'm curious to know whether teams/coaches are implementing the data and the conclusions reached from it in their lineup decisions and game strategy on a game-to-game or shift-to-shift basis. I suppose looking at the data is one indication (i.e., zone starts for the Sedins in Vancouver), but I am curious to know if coaches are actually aware of and incorporating the information into their strategic decisions.

--Tim DeBruynt, Caldwell, N.J.

Tim -- I love this question. I've spoken to a lot of front-office types about where they view advanced stats in hockey (some use them, some find them completely useless), but never a head coach. I'm definitely going to start asking now that you bring it up. To me, the stats have the most value in trying to project how a player will fit with a team and how much you should value his contributions. So, to me, that value is stronger in roster construction rather than game management. I don't think Pete DeBoer would play Patrik Elias less during the course of a game if his in-game Corsi was horrible, or something like that. But if there was a way to quantify with advanced stats that certain players possessed the puck more when they skated together rather than apart, maybe that would affect a coach's decision. I have no sense as to how much of that is going on right now, but I will definitely try and find out.

What are your thoughts on banked shuffleboard?

--Stephen Whyno

This is a very important question. I think it's the equivalent to bumper bowling. So, if I was teaching my 5-year-old daughter how to play table shuffleboard, I'd prefer to do it on a banked shuffleboard until she got the hang of it and was ready to play on a real table. But let's say, hypothetically, I was at a local establishment with a group of fully grown adult hockey writers, I don't think there's any debate: You play on a table completely surrounded by a gutter. Thanks for asking.