I just wanted to let people know, in case they didn't and were interested, that Alice Hoffman has written a prequel to Practical Magic about the Aunts, and it's coming out in October: The Rules of Magic! I only found out the other day!
I love both the book and the movie, though they are very different, and I'm excited to read the Aunts' story! #please don't suck!
You knew it was trouble the second it was announced.
Dale Tallon was back in charge of all personnel decisions after a year of being, ahem, promoted, and all the smart, younger hockey guys who worked to improve a team with a decent framework were out.
The way the Florida Panthers have been run the past few years has been tumultuous to say the least, with new ownership and a vascillating commitment to whatever they deem the best way forward in any given week.
The Panthers made the playoffs in 2015-16 — despite subpar underlying numbers — on the strength of their PDO and a whole lot of three-point games. They were a talented team, no doubt, but one with numerous procedural deficiencies. They spent the following summer after losing in six games to the so-so Islanders evaluating what was wrong with them and working to address it.
Shawn Thornton retired. They signed Keith Yandle. Dmitry Kulikov got shipped to Buffalo for Mark Pysyk. James Reimer signed on a pretty reasonable long-term deal. Jonathan Marchessault came in on a bargain contract. Jason Demers was another relative bargain given what he brings to your second pairing.
These are all good things that make your team better on paper. But Florida went from 103 points and first in their division to 81 and a mile out of the playoffs. Panthers management was certainly expecting a step back in terms of the win total, but this was more than a little beyond the pale. Lots of people lost their jobs as a result.
That brought Tallon back into the fold as everyday GM, and his singular focus this offseason has been to undo all the progress his predecessors (who were also the guys who took over from him in the first place) made. This doesn’t need to be relitigated too much, but let’s start with the obvious fact that the Panthers took their CF% from 20th to 11th in a single offseason and played a far more up-tempo brand of hockey that’s generally more conducive to success in the game as it’s played today.
Moreover, while the power play didn’t take a step forward for reasons we’ll get to in just a second, the penalty kill improved markedly, jumping to 85.3 percent from the previous 79.5 percent.
However, a few problems presented themselves that hindered their results. First and foremost, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov, two-thirds of the team’s top line, missed big chunks of the season. Then Roberto Luongo went from a .922 save percentage (well above the league average despite his advanced age) to .just .915 (right at it probably because of that advanced age). Reimer was very good at .920, and Reto Berra was predictably awful as a short-use stopgap, but the team’s decline from .921 to .915 overall did some serious damage to the goal differential.
But wins are wins and hockey lifers are stuck in their ways, so Tallon sees the only rational solution he could put forward here as a means of getting back to the kind of success the team had two seasons ago as, “undoing everything the Computer Boys did, or would have done.” That includes the following personnel decisions which, taken as a whole, actively make the team worse:
Jussi Jokinen got bought out despite huge possession numbers two years in a row (over 53 percent both years), a perfectly fine contract ($4 million), and a shootout skill that all but ensures you get a few extra points every year (close to a 40 percent success rate).
He made no attempt to re-sign Jaromir Jagr despite his status as a clear top-line player at his position.
He not only let Vegas take Marchessault, a 30-goal scorer on a sub-$1 million contract, in the expansion draft, he actively traded Reilly Smith, a youngish possession driver whose normal strong goalscoring record was undone by a shooting percent of 6.7 last season, to entice them to do so. As if they needed the enticement.
Most recently, he traded Demers, who’s a good second-pairing guy, to Arizona for forward Jamie McGinn, who is just bad in any circumstance. And he retained salary to make that trade happen. (Confirmed by local media: He first tried to trade Demers to Vancouver for Erik Gudbranson, who’s arguably even worse at what he does than McGinn, but Demers rejected the trade.)
This is irresponsibility of the highest order. The Panthers roster had its problems, but none of them were the guys Tallon either actively or passively let go. Then you look at the guys he brought in, apart from McGinn, who is bad. Michael Haley, who sucks. Radim Vrbata, who fills some sort of second-line role but he’s certainly no Jagr. And that’s it.
The message here is clear enough based on the talent swapped in and out: Tallon thinks the team succeeded two years ago on “effort” and “being hard to play against,” and absolutely not on “a PDO of 102.2.” The hiring of Bob Boughner, known in his playing days as a real hard-nosed kind of a player, seems to confirm this thinking.
(That two of his big pickups this summer were Arizona Coyotes, who have been decidedly not hard for anyone to play against for a good long time doesn’t really help Tallon win the argument, or more hockey games.)
The good news is Tallon has a good, young core to fall back on. Basically all their good forwards are under 25 and therefore still set to improve (if they can stay healthy) and the blue line of Ekblad, Yandle, Pysyk, Petrovic, Matheson, and one more guy seems pretty solid. If Luongo bounces back, great, and if not, Reimer looks like he can carry the load a ways.
However, forward depth seems to be a major issue. Who puts the puck in the net once the top line comes off the ice? And moreover, what do Huberdeau and Barkov look like away from Jagr, who has a bit of a talent for making already-good young forwards suddenly look like great young forwards? These are major questions with no clear answers.
The Panthers are now a team that has suddenly and markedly rejected “process,” because “process” didn’t work for a single injury-riddled season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Tallon were also acting out because he felt a little hard done by with the whole Computer Boys thing. Don’t see why he’d want to take it out on his roster.
Whether the Panthers will return to their winning ways or continue to mire in the NHL’s non-playoff doldrums as they did for much of Tallon’s initial reign — he took over in 2010 and played just 13 playoff games in seven seasons — is obviously consequential, but now they’re going to win or lose on Tallon’s terms.
At least when they lost last season, you could see the process behind what they were doing. If they lose again this season — which seems more likely than not — they have no apparent process to go on, save for whatever idea occurs to Tallon next June. If things go sideways because Tallon threw a summer-long temper tantrum, where do you go from there? If you accept that as the cost of doing business, how far back are you resetting the odometer on this new, worse process?
They don’t say, “Trust the process but only for one season,” because the process takes time and occasionally, mitigating circumstances will slow or even reverse your apparent progress. Patience is a virtue for a reason.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
- as per this xkcd (hat tip to twistedchick), & should be used for friendship and / should be used for romance. Please stop getting my hopes up that there is new pairing fic to read in my rare pair when it is not, in fact, pairing fic.
- it's bad enough that I'm following a bunch of works in progress now, but what is up with people getting to the penultimate chapter of a work (and I'm not talking anything short here, I'm talking well over 100K words) and then just...never posting the last chapter? I would plaintively cry, "who does that?" except I am now in possession of such knowledge and it's more than one person! (And I know this because it'll be listed as 53/54 or whatever.)
- this is less a complaint and more a bit of bafflement, but I never know what to say to people who leave feedback along the lines of "I hope you keep writing!" or "I hope you've written more!" Like, click on my name in the by line? There'll be 700+ stories there? I mean, thank you! But yeah.
- why is writing such a garbage hobby? when I have the words, I don't have the time. when I have the time, I don't have the energy. when I have the energy, I don't have the words. Bah.
- subset of the above: I actually opened a story to work on last night, wrote one (1) sentence in two (2) hours, and gave up when I realized it would need to be all porn from there on out. Bah.
(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
Flames GM Brad Treliving has been on a bit of a media tour in the last week, and a common theme keeps coming up.
Understandably, he’s been asked by multiple people — Bob McKenzie for TSN, Eric Duhatschek for the Athletic, and more besides, I’m sure — what the hell he thinks the Flames have in net. Mike Smith and Eddie Lack is the tandem the Flames are more than happy to go with. The Mike Smith and Eddie Lack who played in the NHL the past couple seasons? And the Mike Smith who’s 36? You gotta be joking, right?
But a lot of what Treliving said made sense, at least on the surface: If you look at Smith’s performance last season, he was a .914 goalie overall — and .925 at 5-on-5, which is potentially a better indicator of quality — despite the fact that he faced the most scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of hockey than any other 1a or 1b goalie in the league (those with at least 1,000 minutes at full strength).
The .914 is a little below league average, which is to be expected, because it’s Mike Smith and he played for Arizona. But .925? That was 19th out of 49 goalies, and it’s actually pretty good. Add in the fact that the Coyotes gave up nearly 32.6 scoring chances of all qualities per 60, and almost 13.3 — more than 40 percent of them — were of high quality, and you think to yourself, “Hey, Mike Smith played well, huh?”
Meanwhile, the Flames’ goalies last season — Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson — faced much easier circumstances. Elliott’s high-danger chances against per 60 minutes ranked eighth-lowest in the league. His scoring chances against was third-lowest. Johnson was considerably worse off (36th in both categories) but still faced far less difficult circumstances than what Smith did.
You can say what you want about the Flames’ goaltending last season, but the quality of that defense certainly made it fairly easy on Elliott, who got into 49 of their 82 games. Then they upgraded that defense both by letting some iffier aspects of that team go (so long, Deryk Engelland) and bringing in a guy they figure will be a very solid addition to their second pairing (welcome, Travis Hamonic).
That Hamonic acquisition in particular is crucial because it gives TJ Brodie a partner who can actually play hockey at an NHL level; remember when there was talk the Flames were going to trade Dougie Hamilton? It was because Brodie was getting his minutes with Mark Giordano, while Hamilton had to lug Jyrki Jokipakka up and down the ice, to ugly results. Then Hamilton got bumped up to the top pair, and all of a sudden it was Brodie who had to carry the water for Dennis Wideman, and the same thing happened. Hamonic was rotten for the Islanders last year, no doubt, but all indications are that if you give Brodie someone to work with who can skate backwards, he’s going to deliver positive results. Hamonic, for whatever concerns you may have about him, is a huge upgrade from the Flames’ fourth option last season.
Plus, if Glen Gulutzan is smart, he’ll shore up those matchups for Brodie and Hamonic by putting them out with the “3M line” of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk, who were an incredible unit last season when Tkachuk was just a rookie. Brodie, more often than not, was out there with the Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-[fill in the blank] line, and none of those guys are proven play-drivers in the way the 3Ms are. Giordano and Hamilton can fend for themselves against top-end talent, but a little shelter from the storm should go a long way for Brodie and Hamonic.
So they now very clearly have one of the best top-four groups in the league and even if you don’t like Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski as that third pair (and frankly, there’s no reason you should) you can rest easy knowing they’ll probably combine for about 14 minutes a night against bottom-of-the-barrel competition.
The thinking is Smith, given what he’s faced in Arizona the past few years, will raise his save percentage thanks to the lower number of chances the team in front of him allows. With this in mind, it’s theoretically possible that Smith will deliver 50 or so games of much stronger performances than what the Flames got from Elliott or Johnson last season. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be that hard. The Flames had the ninth-worst 5-on-5 save percentage in the league last season.
The goal here shouldn’t even necessarily be to exceed the league average in terms of overall save percentage; the Flames made the playoffs last year (and sure, it didn’t go well) with outright “bad” goaltending. Getting something even in the mid-range of the league probably assures them another trip to the postseason.
But there’s a huge caveat to all this, which is that the Flames understand what being 36 years old means for goaltenders, even those who, like Smith, have a relatively small number of games played given that age. The problem is that their new backup, Eddie Lack, was one of the worst regular goalies in the league over the past two years. In fact, his .902 save percentage over that span is second-worst in the league among all goalies with at least 50 appearances, ahead of only Antti Niemi.
The good news, one supposes, is that like Smith, Lack kinda has the benefit of saying, “Well the team in front of me sucked!” The Hurricanes gave up the 16th-most scoring chances and ninth-most high-danger opportunities per 60 among all goalies with at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 last year. So perhaps the operating assumption is that he’ll turn around behind a defense this good, too. But at the same time, he faced the 10th-fewest shots per 60 minutes in the league last season; Smith faced the absolute most.
So if you figure the Flames are going to limit Smith’s starts to 50 or 55 (which would be wise), that means you’re getting 20ish games of Lack, who’s an almost total unknown.
The issue, then, is something else Treliving brought up in these interviews: He said when Smith is on his game, he’s one of the best goalies in the league. That’s one of those things that’s true of almost any goalie with an even half-decent track record — anyone can rip off a run of .925 for five, even 10 games. So how likely is it that Smith, at 36, goes on that kind of run for more than a little while? You have to imagine the answer is, “Not very.”
It’s worth noting he started off incredibly hot last year then faded hard down the stretch. Smith was .932 in his first 16 games, but went .906 in his last 39. Not sure to what you can attribute that, whether it’s the workload, his age, or both. Or neither, one supposes.
The point is, Treliving can talk about all the best-case scenarios he likes with his goaltending choices. That doesn’t change the fact that, for the second straight summer he’s turned over his entire battery because the organization just hasn’t developed any real answers in-house in years. God, when was the last time the Flames developed their own goaltending, period? (Going back to 2000, the only guy they drafted who played more than a handful of games in a given season is freakin’ Joni Ortio. And Joni Ortio is awful.) They have a few promising guys on the way, in Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons, but that doesn’t help them this year.
And that’s really the problem: It’s another year of rolling the dice, hoping for the best, in or around the prime years of guys like Gaudreau, Monahan, Backlund, Frolik, Hamilton and Brodie. They have so much young skill on this team that to even enter the season with a, say, 50/50 chance of torpedoing it with bad goaltending seems wildly irresponsible.
But Treliving may be right insofar as everything could work out exactly right for them. If that happens, they might even avoid getting completely embarrassed by the Ducks in the playoffs for the first time in a while. Wouldn’t that be great?
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Have you guys heard Ryan Miller has wanted to play in California for a long time? It’s true!
Arizona Coyotes: Derek Stepan is one of the leaders on the Coyotes because he’s one of like six guys on the team who can legally rent a car.
Boston Bruins: Doesn’t speak very highly of Boston’s forward depth if Kenny Agostino is even close to sniffing a roster spot.
Buffalo Sabres: The way the Sabres’ lines are shaping up, maybe they won’t get completely caved in the second Jack Eichel steps off the ice this year.
Calgary Flames: God damn are the Flames’ owners gross. There’s absolutely no excuse for what they’re asking for from the city in the midst of an economic downturn.
Carolina Hurricanes: Wow, the Hurricanes might actually have a goalie who’s good. Brave new world, man.
Chicago Blackhawks: Yeah a second line of Patrick Sharp and Nick Schmaltz joining Patrick Kane seems like a pretty clear downgrade.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Things may be getting ugly between the team and unsigned RFA Josh Anderson. The good news is they have absolutely no history, organizationally, of starting a long, slow, acrimonious process that alienates their promising young forwards who they end up trading.
Dallas Stars: I will never get tired of the annual “This guy who can’t play really wants to make the team, and he just might do it!” PTO stories. If RJ Umberger makes the Stars, that’s an indictment of the team rather than a credit to the player.
Florida Panthers: Bob Boughner is one of those guys where people have been saying for years, “He should really get a crack at coaching in the NHL.” The junior results are all there, right? This is an interesting team for him to take over; I could see things going either way.
Los Angeles Kings: Every team should do this. What fun!
Minnesota Wild: This is the right approach with any over-30 guy you expect to carry a decently heavy load for you.
Montreal Canadiens: Man, David Schlemko has been on seven teams in the past three seasons? How is that even possible?
I always go into Hugo voting with the best of intentions. I'm going to read all the things, view all the things, and not just get bogged down in the Novel category. 2017 is going to be different!
Appropriately for the Hugo Awards this optimistic view proved to be, as usual, pure fantasy. Still, I did pretty well for a lady with a long commute and limited data; particularly when it came to the Best Short Story category. I read four of the six stories nominated in this category for 2017. And what better way to get back into writing than to share all my thoughts with you?
The "Wildcat Peak Trail is closed" signs disappeared a while ago so this morning I went up to see if the trail had really been fixed or just bashed down by foot traffic. But first I was surprised on Upper Packrat Trail by a bicycle coming up behind me. The guy claimed to have come from a trail "up there" and to have seen no signs; I know of no trail "up there" and the ranger I reported it to much later didn't seem to believe the claim, either. I wish I could say I made him turn back, but I think he would have pushed me off the trail had I refused to step aside. So that was a nice start.
Wildcat Peak Trail has indeed been fixed, wider and flatter than before. I guess it was done by a couple of guys with shovels as I cannot imagine how to get any other equipment to the site short of a helicopter. Maybe that's what they did. Anyway, once up that far (the slide site is a lot closer to the top than I recalled, but then I was too freaked to remember clearly) I of course did not turn around (my plan were it not sufficiently fixed) and after briefly contemplating going down Conlon I settled for the connector down to Laurel Canyon Trail and out.
There have been first of season reports for a number of winter species, but I neither heard nor saw any. Wildcat Peak Trail has no hard bits but it's boring and today was no exception. ( Just the usuals: )
So not an exciting morning, and it produced some un-encouraging empirical data. ( Stupid back. )
I forgot to say that the weather was perfect, clearing quickly but cool. I went out in two t-shirts and a light flannel, with my neckwarmer to start, and was quite comfortable.
It is not, in fact, Romeo and Juliet, or it kind of is in terms of love at first sight and climbing up balconies and exchanging poetry in letters, but without the tragic ending. Which I was glad for.
It's very charming, though the male lead's voice was not up to the singing, imo. The ladies were all fantastic, especially Mari Uchida as Hong-niang, the matchmaking maid. The women's costumes were lovely; the men's were...well, they started out all right, but Mr. Chang's wedding outfit was made of what looked like baby blue lamé, which is not a look I personally endorse.
Afterwards - and it was not a short play! - we attempted to go here, because it was a beautiful night for a rooftop bar, but apparently my randomly picking a place in the vicinity of the theater because it looked cool meant I'd actually picked someplace popular and happening? There was a large line outside the door anyway, so we were like, we are too old to wait on lines for bars - even rooftop bars! - so we hopped in a cab and had dinner at the bar around the corner, and then stopped off at Insomnia Cookies for cookies. Which I didn't eat last night, but which will be my breakfast this morning.
All in all, it was a lovely evening, and I got to wear my star-print sun dress from eShakti, which is such a pretty dress, guys. I love it a lot.
I also have been catching up on Gotham Academy so I can make my yuletide request, and when Amy showed up in Second Semester, I at first thought, ugh, did they try to shove Harper in here as well? but I sincerely doubt Harper would ever do the nasty things Amy does, so it's not her undercover. Whew. I'll probably have more to say on Wednesday!
I got out about sunrise, went to three places, and was home about 11:30, so have three short lists. ( Point Emery: )
I didn't stay long before heading up the frontage road to what used to be called Berkeley Meadow. I walked east up the Virginia street extension, through the park, out the west gate, and along the fence back to the car. ( McLaughlin Eastshore State Park: )
There were great reports from Richmond Shoreline yesterday monrning but today it was the least productive. ( Meeker Slough: )
A day of mysteries.
My timing was terrible in that I was at Richmond Shoreline right around high tide and didn't want to hang around for an hour or more while the tide receded. There was also intense clean-up activity, which is wonderful if only briefly noticeable, given the unimaginable amount of crap that washes continually onto those shores and marshes, so too many people, however good their reason for being there.