Wednesday February 11th, 2015

Typically, our intrepid trio of staffers sit down on Wednesday for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. Due to the big trade on Wednesday, we pushed our gathering back 24 hours. So here, at long last, are Sam Page, Sarah Kwak and Allan Muir offering up their thoughts on the Evander Kane deal, the surging Wild, the next 50-goal scorer and’s long-awaited acceptance of #fancystats.

Sabres trade for Evander Kane in a high risk, high reward deal for all

• Let’s kick things off with a quick reaction to the Evander Kane blockbuster.

SAM PAGE: I’m just impressed that the Jets got so many assets for a player who everyone in the league knew had to be traded. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had a tough job, making his first player-for-player swap without much leverage. Both teams seemed to get what they wanted in this one. 
SARAH KWAK: I’m more than impressed. I’m shocked that Cheveldayoff got as much as he did since it wasn’t exactly a state secret that this was a trade Winnipeg needed to make. The first round pick—albeit not the top first-round pick—is what got me. A first-rounder, no matter how high or low it is, is a pretty valuable asset to have. Good on Cheveldayoff. 

NHL trade market likely to heat up before deadline; more notes

AL MUIR: So I guess it’s unanimous. We’re impressed. Let me take it in a different direction though, because it wasn’t the quality of assets that Cheveldayoff procured—in what was essentially a distress sale—that wowed me, but rather his ability to make a deal so quickly. We’ve seen recently—in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo, and in Columbus with Rick Nash—how these fractured-relationship sagas can drag on and take on lives of their own. That Cheveldayoff was able to address the Kane issue so promptly and efficiently is a remarkable achievement. As someone who has ripped him in the past for sitting on his hands, I have to give him high marks here.

• The Wild have gotten their game together and are back in the mix for a Western Conference wild card berth. Handicap their chances.
PAGE: After Tuesday night’s loss to Winnipeg in overtime, Minnesota’s chances of making the playoffs are hovering around 40%. Considering the talent of the teams involved in the fight for the final spots, I’d say that the Wild’s chances are even worse than that, though. Based on their Fenwick For percentage, the statistic that heralded the Kings’ run from bubble team to Stanley Cup champion in 2012, Minnesota is the fifth-best puck possession team in hockey. They’ve been undermined by goaltending, obviously, which even with Devan Dubnyk’s recent run, ranks second-to-last in the league. 

Struggling L.A. Kings in playoff bubble trouble as tough stretch looms

I believe in Dubnyk, though. Last season’s disaster aside, he had a rock-solid stint with the defensively abysmal Oilers. In this post-Bryzgalov world there’s always some skepticism when a goalie leaves the Coyotes’ tight-checking system. But time in Arizona with goalie coach Sean Burke clearly did much to get Dubnyk’s career back on track. The biggest threat to Minnesota’s playoff chances at this point may not be its play, but the equally dangerous—and equally desperate—teams fighting with the Wild for the same playoff spot, namely the Kings and the Stars.

KWAK: I think this will be a really interesting race, but who says that there is only one spot up for grabs? Sure, the Jets have a seven-point cushion, but they have also played three more games than both Minnesota and L.A., and two more than Dallas. The Sharks, now in sixth place, have a five-point cushion, but the five teams that are chasing them all have at least two games in hand. That said, I’m not sure I’m buying in on the Wild just yet. Since the seven-goal explosion against the Sabres, and the six-game winning streak that followed, Minnesota is averaging 2.50 goals per game. That may sound OK, but it ranks 20th in the league in the same time frame. The Wild have relied a lot on Dubnyk, and he’s been great, but he also has no postseason experience and hasn’t really ever had the workload and responsibility of a No. 1 goalie. 
MUIR: I think that’s what it comes down to for me as well. Dubnyk feels to me like a player who has caught lightning in a bottle. Here’s a guy with a career save percentage of .911 and who elevated it to .916 in Arizona, and all of a sudden he’s firing at .941 with Minnesota. Does that feel in any way like it’s sustainable? And if he stumbles, does anyone feel good about Darcy Kuemper’s ability to steady the ship? And you’re right to bring up the offense, Sarah. This is a team that has struggled to score goals for long stretches this season, and now it has lost its second-most prolific sniper, Jason Zucker, to season-ending collarbone surgery. The Wild are also missing Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter long term, and that puts pressure on their depth. Who steps up? Sure, Minnesota is in the mix, but they’ll be hard pressed to make the cut.
• Will the NHL have a 50-goal scorer this season?
PAGE: Rick Nash and Alex Ovechkin are both on pace to barely clear 50. Ovechkin has a chance, but I’d be shocked if Nash does it with the amount of shots he takes. Barring a late run from Steven Stamkos, I’m going to say no.
KWAK: Both Nash and Ovechkin, during their careers, have seen a downtick in their goals-per-game averages after the All-Star break. For Nash to break 50, he would have to score at a pace of .57 goals per game. Ovechkin would need to score at .61, and Tyler Seguin would need to average .75 per game for the rest of the season. That might seem far-fetched, but it’s definitely doable. More than 50 players since the 2004–05 lockout have averaged better than .57 goals per game after the All-Star or Olympic break. I’m going to go ahead and say yes. Nash will reach 50 if he stays healthy. 
MUIR: Seguin? The guy has four goals in his last 22 games, and that’s with the Stars facing a steady diet of backups. The way he’s shooting, I don’t see it happening unless the nets are suddenly widened by two feet. I think the Rangers will have to tighten it up defensively to compensate for the loss of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and that’ll shave Nash’s hopes. And Ovechkin? I think the Capitals will make a move to shore up their first line, and that the new player will eat up a few chances that otherwise would have landed on Ovi’s stick. So I’m saying no one hits the mark this season.
• The NHL is going all in on advanced stats with its new online database. What’s it going to take to hook the average fan? Name changes? A PR campaign? Or are these numbers doomed to remain a niche interest?

NHL to unveil cool advanced statistics package

PAGE: It seems like Corsi and similar stats are headed for a change of name—or perhaps more accurately, no name at all—before they hit Corsi could end up being called “shot attempts” or “shot ratio.” It’s the same stat, but with a more descriptive name. That could actually end up hurting their acceptance slightly, as they will now be easier to dismiss with, “Just shot ratio.” Really, I don't think anything will increase their popularity except maybe the slow march of time. I think most fans know at this point whether they think explicating sports with analytics increases their enjoyment or not.  And that’s OK! There’s no real upside to sports water-cooler talk getting “smarter.” It's not like debating public policy. 

KWAK: I think we’ll see a feeling-out stage with these advanced stats where everyone figures out which are valuable and which are just noise—coaches, players, reporters, everyone. It’s not going to be an overnight process, but I think once a consensus is built, we will see more media, players and coaches use them more frequently. Then they’ll become more digestible to the average fan. I think they’re here to stay, but first we need to figure out what’s what, what’s worth explaining and what’s not.

Eye Test: How can Shea Weber's stats be this bad?

MUIR: First off, good on the league for expanding its stats package. It’s additional information, and that’s always a good thing. That said, I’m doubtful there’s widespread demand for much of what they’ll be adding. The NHL already provides some pretty cool data, including a team’s success at five-on-five or a goaltender’s save percentage at even strength, and those numbers haven’t gained a ton of traction despite being easy to understand and undeniably insightful. If those don’t grab the masses, I don’t see how Fenwick has a chance. And maybe more to the point, we all expect these proxy stats to be replaced by technology that more accurately captures possession, maybe as soon as next season. Until then, the numbers will be useful to fans who get a kick out of digging deep. For the mainstream fans, though, they’ll just be additional columns to ignore after they’ve checked how their fantasy players performed.

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