- Craig Custance
Will the next contracts for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews derail the long-term plan in Chicago? Who is the early Olympic gold medal favorite? Has one hockey fan discovered the perfect overtime solution? All this and more in this week’s hockey mailbag.
If you want to be featured in next week’s mailbag, send your questions, hockey ideas and observations in here.
First I'd like to say you do a great job on the ESPN Hockey Today podcast. They are, however, few and far between. Is there any chance of more frequent podcasts in the future? Now, on to hockey. The Oilers are a certified disaster once again, despite the assemblage of talent they gotten through the draft in recent years. The finger is most often pointed at poor defensive play, and it's hard to argue with that. But where does the problem really lie -- do they simply lack talent in the top-six, is there a lack of defensive effort from the forwards, something else? The goaltending hasn't been great, but it hasn't been terrible. What the heck is wrong in Edmonton?
Dave McDaniel, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Truly appreciate your comment on the podcast, doing those are one of the things I enjoy most about my job, mostly because it’s just talking hockey with two close friends in Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun. It’s no different than when we’re hanging out and watching a game over a beer, minus the record button being on. This year, we’re rotating the third guest more often, which adds to the variety. Currently, Scott hosts one podcast a week and I’m not sure there’s plans for expansion beyond that. With travel and workloads it’s often hard to line everybody up. As for your question, it’s one a lot of people are asking. I think there were a lot of explanations for Edmonton’s early struggles. They were adapting to another new coach, which means a new system and that takes time. Their goaltending was really bad early on, although there have been signs recently of that settling down. As dynamic as some of the young forwards are in Edmonton, part of the problem is their lack of size, especially down the middle. It’s hard to match up with some of the big, heavy forward groups in the West like St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Jose when you don’t have similar size. The Oilers also lack that high-end shutdown pair that the elite Western Conference teams have. For as long as they've been rebuilding, there's still a ways to go in Edmonton.
Where do you suppose the Kane and Toews deals come in at next summer money wise? Stan Bowman has done a good job of getting guys to take a tad less money to stay in/on a good situation/city/roster in Chicago. Also, if Kane and Toews do want to break the bank, does that screw the up the whole plan?
Great question, Colin. I recently went to Chicago to chat with both of them and they talk about their next contract at length in the next ESPN The Magazine. Make sure to grab a copy when it hits newsstands. But it's a fascinating negotiation.
One of things we talked about was whether they needed to have the exact same deal and they pointed out that we've seen teammates such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf all take different amounts of money to get long-term deals done. In the case of Kane and Toews, they’re both represented by Pat Brisson, which might make things easier in that regard. But those are the deals I’d look at when figuring out their potential value. You have to throw out Sid's deal because it was done before the new CBA. But Perry, Getzlaf and Malkin are certainly fair comparables, so we’re talking something in the annual range of $8.5 to $9.5 million. Malkin had KHL leverage, which Kane and Toews don’t, so I’m not sure Stan Bowman has to go as high as the Malkin deal. Also, I don’t know how you do anything less than eight years for these two considering their age (25). So let’s split the difference and say they get $9 million per season, for the sake of answering your final question. That’s an extra $2.7 million per season cap hit for each player, for a total of an additional $5.4 million compared to their current deals. A healthy raise but not debilitating to Chicago’s future cap.
It doesn’t screw up the long-term plan at all because most salary-cap projections have it continuing to grow in the next couple of years, especially considering the billion dollar Canadian television deal. I don’t think it’s a reach at all to think that the salary cap will be north of $70 million when the new deals kick in for Chicago. Even if the cap just gets to $70 million for the 2015-16 season (the first year of a new Kane/Toews contract), which I think is conservative, that’s a $5.7 million increase from the cap this season, covering the $5.4 million raise we’re giving those two annually. If you look at the cost certainty Bowman has already built into the equation with his other long-term deals, the Blackhawks should be able to keep the band together.
The more I read about Olympic hockey, the more excited I get for February. Team Canada is a fear-inducing powerhouse, and Team USA is looking better everyday. Do you think Team USA has a legitimate shot for gold in Sochi? Will Team Canada repeat? Or will another nation rise to gold?
Ryan Wiley, Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.
I absolutely love Olympic hockey. I enjoy the roster debate in the months leading up the games almost as much as I enjoy watching them. Covering the gold medal game in Vancouver is the single biggest highlight of my career, a moment I’ll never forget. Even as an American. Yes, I believe the Americans have a legitimate shot, with just one caveat. Jonathan Quick needs to be healthy and on top of his game for Team USA to win gold. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the country I’d pick to win gold and I’m starting to lean towards the Swedes. Henrik Lundqvist is off to a slow start but are you really betting against him in a short tournament? And the options on defense -- Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Niklas Kronwall, Jonas Brodin, Jonathan Ericsson -- it’s ridiculous. Nobody is playing better hockey right now that Alexander Steen, plus they have a veteran forward group led by the Sedins and Henrik Zetterberg. Yeah, I think I’ve just talked myself into Sweden for gold. There’s no weakness and I like the idea of picking a European team to win on the big ice.
I have some questions about the new playoff format with the realignment, especially since the previous realignment proposal had a novel concept for the playoffs (with four conferences). Once each divisional champion is determined in the playoffs, will it always be Atlantic vs. Metropolitan and Central vs. Pacific with an Eastern vs. Western Stanley Cup series, or will each divisional champ be seeded by record as was proposed in the previous realignment proposal? Also, if a wild-card team is from another division but has a better record than one or more teams in the division they're placed in for the playoffs, will they be seeded by their record, or will they always be the No. 4 seed in that division?
Tim Bishop, Erie, Colo.
This season, the current conferences will still be used to determine conference championships and the eventual Stanley Cup finals once divisional rounds are wrapped up. The seeding works like this: The division winner with the best record will play the wild-card team with the fewest points. The other division winner gets the other wild card. But I found it interesting at the recent GM meetings that there was debate and willingness to make changes going forward, especially if it meant keeping divisions intact during the first round. Other changes may not be as dramatic as the original proposal, which never was quite settled, but the decision-makers want to see how this plays out and go from there. I’m with you though, I was intrigued by the possibility of four conferences and a Stanley Cup finals that pits the two best teams regardless of geographic location. Look at how good the West is this season. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that there will be at least one Western Conference team sent home early that would beat the Eastern Conference champ in a seven-game series. I’d love to see a Los Angeles-Chicago Stanley Cup finals or even Pittsburgh-Boston. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
I think it's kind of ironic that so many people complained about how the East had a harder road to the playoffs than the West because they had 16 teams to 14. Well, look what we have here! A couple days ago, none of the East teams would've made the playoffs if they were in the West. So which conference is harder now? I propose this thought, it's not the quantity of teams in a conference that makes it difficult. It's the quality of the teams that truly matters.
I hear you, Mike. Although the argument would be that there’s no way of knowing how that quality is going to be distributed on a yearly basis. The West may be dominant now but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
I agree with you in that the NHL does not want to change the current point system because it keeps teams in the playoff race longer. I also dislike the shootout as a way to award the extra point. Here is my idea for awarding the extra point after OT. Alternating 5-on-3 power plays. Hockey is a team game and my idea would involve high end skill guys but also your PK guys as well, which you never normally see in a shootout. I see two basic ways this could play out. You can give a team a certain amount of time, say three minutes, to score as many goals as possible. Then the other team must match that in the same amount of time as the other team or they lose. Or you can just say that it's a race to score. You have to score quicker than your opponent or you lose. It will still be fun for the fans as 5-on-3's are very exciting. There will also be coaching/strategy that comes into play as well. What do you think? Have you ever heard of this?
Jay Nishikawa, Englewood, Colo.
Oh man, I love this idea. It’s interesting to talk to GMs, as Ken Holland’s proposal to go to 3-on-3 before the shootout continues to pick up steam because now you’re hearing concerns. There are some who believe that 3-on-3 is just as gimmicky as the shootout. In fact, Blues GM Doug Armstrong made the point that, at least the shootout incorporates the penalty shot, which is an actual part of hockey. A 5-on-3 power play is very much a part of team hockey and might satisfy traditionalists. I could see some pushback from goalies in that they might not like the optics of getting scored on a bunch in a three-minute span, but they already hate the shootout, so maybe this would be the lesser of two evils. And maybe timing it would pacify those concerns. Either way, I love the idea.