Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
The following is from an email exchange between Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown). Each month they will talk some nonsense and debate the biggest topics in the NHL in our monthly review. They will also be hosting a soon-to-be-released VICE Sports hockey podcast, Biscuits.Hi Dave…When we last exchanged emails, the World Cup had just started and we were watching Team North America light up Finland in real time. They turned out to be the best story of the tournament, because they were a young and high-scoring team. Then the NHL regular season came along, and basically stole their gimmick.
Through the first few weeks, scoring was up and kids were dominating. We're already seeing scoring rates drop back to normal, because hockey gods forbid that this league ever be any fun, but so far the young stars are still the big story. Do you think we're witnessing a real shift into the McDavid/Matthews/Laine era, or is this going to be like the overall scoring spike where we'll all look back in a month and feel stupid for getting sucked in?---Lozo: Hi Sean. Last time we talked, the Leafs had zero wins and now they have two, so yes, there are a lot of things happening this season that didn't happen last year. I'm ready to hand the keys to the league to the kids. How old is Sidney Crosby at this point? 28? 29? He's aged out of the league. He's washed up. There will be lulls for all these rookies, and even McDavid, but I think him and Matthews will be top 10 in scoring this season, and next year the league will be theirs.
You know what's bugging me? The lack of trades. There are teams like the Islanders, Penguins and Lightning with excess goalies and a team like the Kings in desperate need of one and they haven't made a deal for some reason. The Rangers are loaded at forward and can't find a partner for a trade to get Nick Holden out of the lineup. Trades, much like offense, are rarities in this league and should be treasured when they show up.
---DGB: You're preaching to the choir on this one. I've been complaining about the lack of trades in this league for years. And it's especially true early in the season—last year, we didn't get a single trade involving an actual NHL player until the Scuderi/Daley trade in mid-December. That's ridiculous, and it's a relatively new thing. Trades used to happen year-round, but now we typically get a few right after New Year's, a bunch of rentals at the deadline, a few real blockbusters at the draft, and that's it.And everyone will say what we've been conditioned to say: Well, that's the salary cap, it just made it too hard to trade. But I don't buy that. Yes, the cap complicates things. But this isn't the NBA where everything has to match dollar-for-dollar. Lots of teams have cap space, teams can retain salary now, and everyone has a few bad contracts on the books they can use to balance the ledger. I think the cap has an impact, just like no-trade clauses and all this fake loser-point parity. But I really think the main problem is that GMs are like everyone else: they'd rather not have to do the parts of their job that are really hard. Trading is difficult, and it involves risk, and you can screw up and get fired over it. I think once a few GMs trotted out the whole "the salary cap ruined trading" line and realized fans were actually buying it, human nature kicked in and they were like, "Oh good, I don't have to worry about that anymore."
Note that this applies to most GMs, but not all. Jim Nill trades. So does Stan Bowman. And Jim Rutherford. Are their teams any good? I can't remember. But meanwhile, every terrible team has a frightened baby GM who mumbles "it's too hard" and watches his team fall out of the race in November while he does nothing. And we all just accept it.So yeah, Connor McDavid for Auston Matthews and a seventh rounder. WHO SAYS NO?---Lozo: "The hard is what makes it great." - Jimmy Dugan understood sports and erectile dysfunction better than anyone.What's harder? Accepting that the Oilers are good or that the Ducks are bad? There are a few surprises but through 8-9 games it doesn't seem like anyone is too far away from preseason expectations. The Canucks started 4-0-0 but they look well on their way to a 4-73-5 season like we thought. The Islanders haven't looked great but it's not like their season is over on Nov. 1. Everyone is kind of hovering near the NHL's version of .500. Maybe one team that's looked worse than I thought is the Blackhawks. I had them winning the West but they don't look anything like their old selves. Jonathan Toews, who could totally score 100 points if he wasn't such a two-way leader that loves defense, hasn't done much. I'm not worried that they're going to miss the playoffs but they may not be a Cup contender anymore.---DGB: The Oilers thing is weird. I do a weekly top five power ranking and so far I've refused to put the Oilers on it even though they've been near first place overall for pretty much the entire season. But I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out, especially in a year where nobody other than maybe Montreal is dominating.
The Ducks mess was probably something we should have seen coming, since they made a massive downgrade behind the bench. Chicago should be fine, even though I think you or I could play on their bottom six at this point. The Canucks are just bad.The one team I really can't figure out are the Predators. They look awful. I'm not surprised that Pekka Rinne has struggled or that a few guys up front haven't clicked yet, but they're just bad from top to bottom. It's bizarre. They're going to be OK, right? Please tell me the P.K. Subban trade hasn't ruined them.---Lozo: It's ruined the Internet so why wouldn't it ruin Nashville? I still say the Preds will be fine. They've had a tough schedule, a bunch of guys with track records of performing well suddenly underperforming for a few weeks. The only worry I'd have is Pekka Rinne, who hasn't been great for a while and maybe won't be ever again.
But it's clear that Shea Weber has completely transformed the Montreal Canadiens. At 8-0-1 through nine games, it's clear the Canadiens have Won The Trade. There was something missing last year, and Weber has brought it. And by it I mean Carey Price, because he brings him to the rink every day. Clearly Subban was the problem last year, when the Canadiens struggled to a… let me look this up… huh… to a 9-0-0 start. So if the Habs were 9-0-0 with Subban and are 8-0-1 with Weber, it's obvious that Weber has cost the Habs a point in the standings. Subban is still better. Glad we settled that.
---DGB: It's been a rough month for those who like to make fun of offseason moves, because so many of the big ones seem to be working out. Weber looks good in Montreal. Adam Larsson has been decent in Edmonton. Stamkos staying in Tampa looks like the right call. Even Jimmy Vesey has been lighting it up for the Rangers. Luckily, we still have the July 1 UFA signings to point and laugh at. Who looks like the biggest bust so far? I feel like it's a race between Andrew Ladd and Loui Eriksson but I'm open to other nominees---Lozo: The world was Loui Eriksson's oyster. He was young, productive and for reasons I'll never understand, decided to hitch his wagon to the Vancouver Canucks, a team that's been falling off a cliff for years. Imagine winning a poker hand that gets you a ticket to ride on a huge luxury cruise liner that's doomed to sink and you slowly die while others get off the ship in time. Yes, Loui Eriksson is Jack Dawson. The captain is Willie Desjardins. Jim Benning is the guy who tells Rose he wishes he built her a better ship. So I guess Rose is the fans. And Vancouver is a dark, cold place in the middle of the Atlantic.---DGB: Wait, who are the Sedins?---Lozo: I guess they are Billy Zane. They will get off the boat before it sinks by offering people a good deal but they'll never be the same after the trauma they've endured.---DGB: Speaking of sinking ships [unlocks "awesome segue" achievement], let's close with a look at the league's truly bad teams. We've covered the Predators. I don't think anyone thinks the Stars will finish in the thick of the lottery. That leaves Arizona, Carolina, Toronto and Columbus in the league's bottom six. All four of those teams are in some stage of rebuilding. Is there hope for any of them to make a playoff push this year? Be warned that there is a right answer here.
---Lozo: I don't get why Carolina is so bad again. [Looks at goaltenders] Oh right, two more years of Cam Ward. But they're my pick. Arizona looks real bad. Columbus is real bad. And Toronto isn't ready yet. But you know what? I'm mildly concerned about the Stars. So many injuries. The goaltending is still suspect. That division is loaded. Wait, was the correct answer Dallas is bad? Was this a trick question I solved?---DGB: The correct answer is that the Toronto Maple Leafs are winning the Cup this year and you damn well know it.The Stars should be fine. They had bad goaltending last year and still finished first in the West. And if they do decide that they need to upgrade in goal (which they do), this is the season to do it since the expansion draft should lead to some guys being available who might not otherwise be.
Let's think through how this plays out. We already know that the Blues are going to do their traditional midseason "lose our minds about our goaltending" move and go get Marc-Andre Fleury because he has two Cup rings, but that still leaves plenty of targets for the Stars.My bet: Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman sit down to reminisce about their Red Wing front office years over a few beers, start talking about how Ken Holland lost his fastball years ago and nobody wants to say it out loud, and end up making a Ben Bishop trade at 3 AM. The Stars get way better, the Lightning don't really lose anything by going to Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Yzerman frees up enough money to sign Tyler Johnson to a long-term contract worth 70 percent of what he's actually worth because that's just how he rolls.
This is all happening, isn't it?---Lozo: Sorry, I sort of stopped listening when you said the Leafs are winning the Cup.---DGB: That's fair. Once you give away the ending, I guess none of the details of how we get there really matter.Any closing thoughts?---Lozo: I'm glad we did this when the NHL isn't playing games, so we don't have to worry about Radko Gudas running a guy from behind and causing us to work that into this.---DGB: Agreed. Thanks, NHL, for making our jobs easier by taking a random night off due to some minor quasi-holiday. Please do this again at the end of November, when Dave and I will be back to cover topics such as "Sure they're 22-2-0, but are the Oilers for real?" and "Was it wrong of the PHWA to just go ahead and award the Norris Trophy to Shea Weber after 20 games?"