Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus. He also writes for Hockey Buzz.
The Return of McDavid
There is really no bigger story in the division right now. Yes the Ducks are surging, the Sharks are figuring it out, and the Flames are still bad, but Connor McDavid returning has to be the talk of the division right now.
The young phenom played his first game back from a broken collarbone on February 2, and how did he make his presence felt? A three point not, capped off by this beauty:
McDAVID. IS. BACK.https://t.co/J2vjqimBcJ
— NHL (@NHL) February 3, 2016
Connor McDavid is good for the Oilers. How good? While he had a somewhat sleepy start, he simply took over the team right before his injury. He currently holds a 13.47 CF60 RelTM and an 8.2 CF% RelTM. He simply has been the best player on the Oilers this year. Losing him was like the equivalent of the LA Kings losing Anze Kopitar, or the Canadiens losing Carey Price (Which we see exactly how that is impacting them right now).
Not only is McDavid good for the Oilers, he is good for hockey and good for the NHL. He is an exciting player, an intelligent player, and someone who is fun to watch. Despite all the schadenfreude that often follows the Edmonton Oilers, the success of Connor McDavid is a great thing to see. More goals like the above one and less injuries will make the league much more exciting. Keep an eye on Edmonton down the stretch. They may have slim hopes of a playoff chance, but they are now a much better team now that they have the young McDavid back in the fold.
Square Peg, Round Hole, Anaheim Duck
LA Kings fans will tell you there is no harsher voice to listen to than Ducks TV color analyst and former NHL goalie Brian Hayward. However, Hayward had an outstanding spot today on NHL Network Radio with Simmer and Stellick. He was talking about Jiri Sekac and Carl Hagelin, and about how the Ducks front office may have potentially miscalculated their needs this summer and how they were shifting. The team wanted to address a concern they had from the past seasons, and that concern was speed. With that in mind, the team opted to let Matt Beleskey go, trade Etem for Hagelin, and also bring Jiri Sekac on board for Devante Smith-Pelley. All of these were moves to address a lack of speed, particularly on the wing.
Not so fast.
Sometimes it can be difficult for a general manager to evaluate and tweak a team that has been altogether successful, but not winning the ultimate prize. Bob Murray may have attempted to do what other GMs in the past have done as well, and that’s try and fix a not broken product. While they did get noticeably speedy players, they lost an edge, they lost some synch, and it got the team off to one of their worst starts in recent memory. Recent moves, like acquiring Ryan Garbutt and David Perron, have moved the Ducks back into their more familiar style of play. That style is annoying, agitating, physical, and aggressive. They lost speed, but speed has never been a big part of this team. It has always been size and skill coupled with a nasty edge. Looks like things are semi back on track with the team making a pretty strong second half push so far.
L.A. Trade Talks
Talk from several major news figures, ala Pierre LeBrun and The Fourth Period, is that the LA Kings are looking to add one more piece to their blueline. Dustin Byfuglien is the player du jour, and the Kings also seem to be the team du jour.
Never mind the fact that the Kings have probably the fewest amount of assets to trade, a limited amount of cap space for an extension, and NO first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Also, the Kings blue line has been altogether competent for the most part. There really is not a whole lot to dislike when you see things like this graph from Micah Black McCurdy on HockeyViz:
Maybe a more relevant need? One more legit middle six winger to help scoring. That trade rumor won’t catch many headlines as Byfgulien to LA though for sure.
It’s bad to give up chances against right? The more shot attempts you give up, the greater chances one of those are going to go in. Someone might want to let the Calgary Flames know that.
If you took the 598 players who have played at least 200 even strength minutes this year, NINE Calgary Flames players appear in the top 80 players in the league in Corsi Against per 60. Those nine are: David Jones, Kris Russell, Mayson Raymond, Dennis Wideman, Michael Frolik, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne, and Sean Monahan. Only one of those guys, Frolik, makes up for it with a high corsi for per 60. Some of those names are players playing prominent minutes for the Flames, and considering they are amongst the worst 15% of the league…that’s bad. Giving up that many chances towards net, coupled with supremely bad goaltending is not going to end well for anyone. Chance trading is not getting you anywhere when you have these numbers between the pipes:
Sometimes you get a boost from goaltending, sometimes you get a boost from good defense, sometimes you get a boost from more scoring.
Then when you are the San Jose Sharks you do all three and launch back into Pacific Division relevance.
Better goaltending, better defense, and more scoring are why the Sharks have gone 7-1-2 in their last 10 and 12-6-2 in their last 20. Like the Ducks, slowly the Sharks have come around to being more like the team people anticipated at the start of the year. A healthy Logan Couture, who has eight points in his last 14 games since returning from injury also helps.
Player to watch
Keeping right in line with the elevated play of the Sharks, rookie Joonas Donskoi has helped add another level of scoring touch to the roster. The 23-year old Finn has 22 points in 44 games, as well as nine points and three goals in his last 11. The return of Logan Couture has also helped Donskoi out, as he has combined with Couture and Tommy Wingels to form one of the most effective lines the Sharks have had over the last stretch of games.