Roundtable: Calder race reconsidered; how to boost scoring; more topics
Every Friday, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. This week, Sam Page, Michael Blinn and Al Muir talk about the post-McDavid Calder race, the racial implications of the Blackhawks logo, a quick fix for the NHL's scoring woes, and a hot-starting team with staying power. First up:
• With his shoulder injury likely to sideline him for eight weeks or more, Connor McDavid looks to be out of the running for the Calder Trophy. Who are your three favorites now?
(The table waits for Sam to pick Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson ... three times…)
Sam Page: I’d list Max Domi and Jack Eichel as the favorites, for the simple reason that they’re on Arizona and Buffalo, respectively. Guys like Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, Oscar Lindberg of the Rangers, and Colton Parayko of the Blues all play on Stanley Cup contending teams, which gives their coaches the luxury of reducing the rookies’ ice time when they inevitably hit snags along the way. Domi will play through his slumps, which will help his counting stats.
Mike Blinn: Eichel seems almost like the forgotten man right now, doesn’t he? He’s been outshined by McDavid, Anthony Duclair, Panarin, Dylan Larkin and the rest of an unfathomably deep rookie class. Don’t expect that for too long, though. Domi is the stud we all expected him to be with the Coyotes. Unless you followed the University of Alaska hockey for the past few seasons, Parayko’s early success with the Blues is pretty surprising. With that talented set of veteran defenders around him, he should be able to keep unloading his cannon of a shot.
Al Muir: Well, you name dropped pretty much every rookie but Borna Rendulic and Mikka Salomaki—another Page favorite, no doubt—but I guess it’s okay to have some crossover, right? Give me Eichel, obviously. That goal he scored on Thursday night against Tampa Bay? Those are some gross mitts. Surprised no one mentioned Nik Ehlers of the Jets. There’s another guy who has serious tools and is in a good spot to get consistent ice time in the top-six and on the power play. And let me round it off with Sam Bennett. The Flames are another team that is likely to let a kid work through the occasional valleys, and his work ethic is off the charts. He’ll make some noise before the season’s out.
• Adidas made an offer on Thursday to help sports organizations replace Native American mascots, highlighting the growing social pressure on teams that are currently using them. Is it time, then, for the Chicago Blackhawks to change theirs?
MB: This conversation has been going on for some time, and for good reason. It’s one thing to honor a local historical figure (Sauk Chief Black Hawk), and while the logo is iconic, it’s also a bit outdated. The team has done well fostering relationships with local Native Americans and if the Blackhawks are hearing calls to change, it might be time for a new look.
SP: I wouldn’t use the word outdated. Without even considering the context, the logo is aesthetically beautiful and iconic. To me, it’s either racist or it’s not. And if Native Americans find it racist, then change it. Since the team is actually named after an U.S. Army infantry division that its original owner served in, and not the former chief directly, maybe they could make something out of the division’s shoulder insignia.
AM: That is kind of cool, although it's so far removed from what’s going on now that it would drive the purists crazy. I think there’s a happy medium somewhere. Did you see that proposed new logo designed by a First Nations artist? That thing is spectacular. Apparently it was sold to a minor hockey organization a few years back, so this particular design isn’t available, but it shows that there are solutions out there that sensitive to native concerns and would allow the team to keep its name and colors while updating to a modern logo.
• Scoring is down ... again. Propose one quick-fix solution to the ongoing problem.
MB: The goals-per-game average dips, the league makes changes to favor the forwards, goalies adjust and the goals disappear again. It’s an actual tape loop.
I don’t see changing rules or equipment or increasing the size of the net as a long-term solution. Instead, the league would be wise to tighten up on penalties—more power plays, more room for skilled players, more goals. It might just be that simple.
SP: Piggybacking off Mike’s suggestion, refs could start calling interference more stringently on zone entries. Not only would that create more power plays, it would allow better even strength offense. There aren’t many strictly-defensive defenseman left in the league anyway, so the rule change wouldn’t be singling out any class of player—everyone can skate now. That said, I kind of like the current level of scoring. I don’t want hockey to go the way of the NFL, which penalizes all defender-receiver contact in order to maintain a passing league.
AM: As far as quick fixes go, that’s probably the most practical approach. We all remember how tightly the game was called when it came out of the lockout in 2005-06, right? The standard has really loosened up since then. Fix it and you’re moving in the right direction. I like the idea of eliminating icing as a defense option on the penalty kill, too. Always ticked me off that breaking one law allowed a team to break another. I don’t want it just whistled down, though. That would kill the flow of the power play and would be an even more effective weapon for the shorthanded team. What I’d like to see is icing on the PK called for delay of game. Maybe they get creative, make it just a one-minute penalty, but they have to do something to take away the incentive of icing the puck.
Oh, and if you want to talk bigger nets, I’m all ears.
• The Stars, Kings and Capitals have all gotten off to unexpectedly fast starts. Which of those three has real staying power?
MB: Guys, I looked at some stats for this, and we all know math isn’t my strong suit …
AM: Say it isn’t so!
MB: … but I kind of have to go with my Stanley Cup pick in the Capitals, don’t I? Judging by the early numbers, they have room to improve on their team save percentage, and there’s little reason to believe that Braden Holtby won’t lead that charge. The Kings, on the other hand, are getting some streak goaltending to go with their inconsistent offense, so they have to fall back to Earth at some point. In Dallas, the tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen is statistically average, and I don’t expect that to improve much.
SP: The Caps look really good, but for variety’s sake, I’ll say the Kings. They don’t face the same Central Division slog as the Stars and I always thought last season was a fluke. The Kings are winning in spite of Anze Kopitar’s slow start, too. And while we’re on the subject of stats, the only team with a better score-adjusted Corsi percentage than Washington is of course ... L.A.
AM: Both good choices, but I’m going with Blinn here. Since you nerds have handled up on the numbers, I’ll go with the eye test. The Caps are a team that takes care of business on both special teams, does a Trotzian job of limiting shots and has more offensive weapons than any time during the Ovechkin era. And they have Holtby, who might still have the occasional off night but more often than not looks elite.
• What's the best sandwich?
MP: I swear, the first person to say hot dog …
SP: The #24 at City Subs. Welcome back, City Subs.
MB: Put me down for a Philly steak hero, wiz, and bacon if you can get it.
AM: Gimme the smoked meat from Snowdon Deli in Montreal, although now that you mention it Mike, you can’t go wrong with a Detroit Lafeyette Coney ...