Now that we have a bit of distance between ourselves and the end of the Stanley Cup play-offs, the attention of hockey fans everywhere is fully turned to the off-season. We're on the first step of the journey from the despondency of June to the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed optimism of October. It's not quite hope yet per-say, but the glimmer of a better future is just out there on the horizon. The draft, all the of the hoopla surrounding it, and the free-agent frenzy of the next 10 days are familiar friends. This next short period will be the last flurry of activity, analysis and heated fan debate before the lull of July and August. It's the silly season, but it's silly because it's fun.
Let's get to it!
Deals for Stone and Zibby
The biggest news for Sens fan amid a busy week was probably the re-signing of Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad. Stone and Zibanejad are two of the team's foundational pieces, and any chance the squad has to contend in the East next year will in no small part relies on their contributions and evolution. Signing both to bridge-style contracts eases the pressure on the team's budget in the near term, and it's hard to fault Bryan Murray for getting his young stars locked up at such reasonable rates ($3.5M AAV for Stone, $2.65M AAV for Zibanefad). The signings are also consistent with management's message that the time to win is now; for the next two years the core pieces are all under contract, and virtually all at reasonable rates. But any analysis of these deals needs to consider the trade-off: the Sens probably could have locked up both players for more years, and perhaps achieved long-term savings, if they were willing to offer more money up front. They weren't and so Murray needs to make the most of his cheap, young core in the next two years. What he does with the complimentary pieces in the next two weeks will be instrumental in determining if this team has a chance to contend in its prescribed window.
Give Mike Hoffman His Money
The Senators' inability to reach an agreement with Mike Hoffman has the two sides headed to arbitration. Given what I just wrote above about the team needing to contend now, it's baffling to me that management hasn't made it a priority to get one of their top scorers re-signed. The Hoff is two seasons away from being an unrestricted free-agent, so anything more than a two year term might not be palatable to Hoffman. But that should be exactly what the Sens are looking; they need to keep their costs relatively low for the next two years and not trying to buy up Hoffman's UFA-eligible seasons should allow them to do that. So why the gap? By the sounds of it, the two sides aren't too close either. Hoffman's not the perfect player, but he was 23rd among all left-wingers in scoring last year. That type of output would put him squarely in the category of key contributor. There are a lot of moving parts right now, including the ever-present goalie trade, so we'll have to see where this is all leading. Hoffman's future is a key, if perhaps under-discussed, piece of the puzzle.
Erik Karlsson's place in history
How good is Erik Karlsson? He's only the fourth player in the league's history to win the Norris trophy twice by the age of 25. The others are Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey. So many people have written so many articles debating whether or not he's one of the best defensemen in the NHL. To me, we've passed that point because barring some sort of catastrophic injury we're talking about an all-time great. Genius is rarely appreciated in its own time, but Karlsson has been so good, at such a young age that I think as hockey fans we're being presented with the rare opportunity to watch history in the making. Savour it, Sens fans because a player like Karlsson is once in a liftetime.
3-on-3 overtime is coming to an NHL rink near you, and I'm not sure exactly what to think. The AHL has been playing 3-on-3 in OT for some time now; here's a collection of some of the best moments from those extra time sessions:
I guess 3-on-3 will feature a lot of cheesy techno music?
But on a more serious note, there's bound to be a lot of griping by fans of teams with a poor record in the extra time. It's also another step away from tradition, which isn't inherently bad in and of itself, and that's bound to rub some people the wrong way as well. Personally, I think it's going to be a lot of fun to see some of the Sens' real burners get loose with that much space. Nonetheless, what I think all these different game-ending scenarios fail to properly address is the bizarre point system. As long as games decided in regulation time are only worth two points total, and games decided in extra time are worth three points, there will be a greater than necessary incentive for teams to play to that stage. Trying to decide a tied game in a "fair" manner will always result in a gimmicky solution; the best thing to do would to line up the incentives so more games are decided in regulation.
Finally, this is more a plug than anything else but this is something that I wanted to bring to everyone's attention. There are a lot of really cool projects looking into the value of microstats, that is the tracking of events like zone entries, exits, or completed passes. Hockey analytics have come a long way in the last few years, but we still don't have a great look into "why" things happen. The Passing Project, headed up by Ryan Stimson, aka @RK_Stimp, is doing a lot of exciting things to get at the "why". Ryan and his crew of trackers have accumulated an incredible database from this past season that is slowly being released over the course of the summer. You can check out the first in the series here. At some point when the frenzy of the next two weeks subsides, I'll be writing in more detail about this type of thing but until then I highly recommend reading up.
Thanks for reading!