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Hot takes, Panthers' changes and guarantees (Puck Daddy Countdown)

(Ed. Note: The column formerly known as the Puck Daddy Power Rankings. Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)

7. Writers of hot takes

A few weeks ago Deadspin had an article about “The Death of the Hot Sports Take,” which as we know was a hot sports media take in and of itself because the hot sports take is going quite literally nowhere.

What we're seeing instead is the rise in awareness of the hot sports take, and the rightful excoriation of those who would deploy it. So now, when writers come up with sizzling takes, they couch their scorching takes by saying they really, really don't want to have to write them. Like, really, they know the take is molten but man, someone has to say it and they guess it might as well be them.

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Here's Dejan Kovacevic on a column in which he bases Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for Not Producing and by extension being the big reason the Pittsburgh Penguins were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning over the weekend:

I hate this subject matter. I’m sick and tired of it, truth be told. It’s become talk-show tripe and social-media spam, bashing the team’s stars — particularly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — every time the team sputters. Especially since the data illustrates that they’re the NHL’s top active playoff scorers at 1.129 points per game and 1.060, respectively.


But right now, I don’t care.

Swish. The level of self-awareness now coming to the even the most scalding take imaginable is wonderful. You present all the arguments as to why what you are about to say is idiotic, and then you say, “But who gives a rat's ass about those arguments? I have feelings about this!” Isn't that right, Rob Rossi?

The argument will probably be that Crosby scored winning goals in Games 2 and 3 against the Lightning.
Great. Awesome.
Where was he in Game 5?

This is beautiful. 

6. The hot takes themselves

Of course, that comes with the acknowledgement once again that the takes are trash and should be treated as such. Fortunately, that treatment is increasingly common. Unfortunately, that's not much of a deterrent.

Because not only are people blaming Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for losing the Penguins this series (and not, say, the five non-Kris Letang defensemen who are getting absolutely run over every night), they're also blaming Vladimir Tarasenko for being the reason the Blues are now sputtering against a significantly better San Jose team.

Star players who don't perform are not necessarily immune from blame. If a guy stinks a guy stinks, and deserves to be called out. But there is a qualitative difference between “this guy stinks” and “this guy isn't scoring” that obviously gets lost in the mix with the surface-level analysis you see from most of the hockey media. 

Teams and players, even in 2016, are good when they're winning and bad when they're losing, and people don't usually want to hear the word “luck” thrown around even in a sport in which every game is basically a very slightly weighted coin flip.

Take the blame Alex Ovechkin got in Washington's loss to Pittsburgh. Washington had 15 goals in the series, and Ovechkin had points on seven of them. He personally generated more scoring chances than any other player in the series. But his team lost 16-15 on aggregate in six games, so he is the loser, and not the overmatched defenders and depth players who got demolished by the Penguins' speed. And again, this is criticism for a guy who had seven points in six games.

Crosby and Malkin critics (and let's be honest, they're the same people as the Ovechkin critics) at least had the excuse the the two entered Game 6 with a combined six points — 2-1-3 for Crosby, 1-2-3 for Malkin — while it was the Kessel line carrying the water offensively. Doesn't matter that the third line hasn't done anything, nor that the team's defensive depth is being exposed. This is on Crosby and Malkin because they aren't scoring “enough,” which is to say, “enough that the Penguins were up 3-2 instead of down 3-2.”

And as for Tarasenko, well, again, no points in the series. And he hasn't exactly been great, either. But if you're watching these Blues/Sharks games and saying to yourself, “Tarasenko is the reason they're losing,” then please just see yourself out. The Blues have been outscored 17-11, and all but five of those St. Louis goals came in Game 4 alone. Again, just a team that's very clearly overmatched, and is frankly lucky to have gotten this far. But yeah, that's on Tarasenko. If he singlehandedly scored three or four goals, things would be... probably the same.

Hmm yes.

5. Vegas

Still no real word on whether a team will actually play there any time soon, but rumors that prospective owner Bill Foley would tank if the team wasn't approved for 2017-18 were denied by the man himself this week. That start date for the new team is, of course, still the goal, but who knows if that actually happens at this point?

This is just one of those things where, until it happens, honestly, I'm not going to believe a single rumor one way or the other. Remember when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg? Denials up and down for months that any such move was going to happen, then it happened in a very, very short time. These things apparently come together quickly. 

I know we're all just itching for that 31st or even 32nd team to come into the league and further dilute the talent pool, but boy oh boy let's just chill out a little bit.

4. Stamkos suitors

The Steven Stamkos waiting game, too, has been an excruciating one.

But it's one that was at least sped up a bit with Stamkos taking an injectable blood thinner that could get him back to being able to play safely. That could be very good news for the Lightning in the near future.

It's worth noting, though, that if this is a medication he just has to take regularly from now on, there should be some concern about his long-term prospects. This blood clot problem is a tricky one for Stamkos, because while it's good that they caught it when they did, it might have also put something of a damper on his free agent prospects.

Guys who are permanently on blood thinners might not be more susceptible to injury, but when they suffer just about anything, it's going to take longer for them to recover because these drugs necessarily reduce the amount of red blood cells in their systems, which carry oxygen to injured areas, which speed up the healing process. So now, any team that signs him this summer — whether it's Tampa, Toronto, or a mystery club — might be facing a guy who carries a greater risk of being on the shelf for longer when he does get hurt.

Health problems like these are very scary for the person suffering them, but this tacks an extra “buyer beware” sticker onto the situation as well. You might not be so eager to invest a $12 million cap hit in a guy who will be spending more time on the IR as he ages into his late 20s and early 30s. I mean, he's probably still worth it, but again, due caution if this medication is an ongoing thing.

3. Old School Guys

The Florida Panthers are making wholesale changes to their front office including (apparently) overhauling their entire scouting staff. And boy are people ever mad about it.

The anger is coming from the usual suspects who will always stick up for Good Hockey Guys and appeal to authority whenever possible, and that's to be expected. However, one thing I read about the switch last week that gave me pause was in Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column.

What no one seems to be able to answer, though, is: who makes the final call? Their recent drafts were run by director of player personnel Scott Luce. Will the decision remain his? Or, do they go off the [statistical analysis] list?
“The question is,” according to an executive from another club, “Is this analytics with scouting? Or, is it scouting with analytics? Big difference.”

The Panthers this week dismissed Luce from his position, which is a curious move to some extent because the Panthers are generally good at drafting. However, the two basic questions here don't make sense.

First, the idea that the Panthers would just read off a sheet spit out by a computer as a means of setting up their draft boards is of course nonsense. Not even the most confident “statsman” would sit there and argue that these computations are infallible and effectively replace the need for scouting entirely. However, PCS — the comparison tool the Panthers now use after hiring the two former stats bloggers who developed it — may help to find diamonds in the rough in the later rounds and, more to the point, can help to supplement traditional scouting.

PCS may find a mid-level guy on an OHL team who the numbers really like, and then scouts can be deployed to see if there's anything there. Or conversely, if the scouts really like one guy but PCS doesn't, that might present reason to be skeptical. These are tools intended to be used in concert, not one or the other, and the suggestion that this might be the plan seems silly.

Before the two statsmen got hired, I was lucky enough to be able to play around with their PCS platform, and I used it mainly to examine guys who I see play college hockey a few dozen times a year. Sometimes, the numbers really liked a player's chances of making the NHL and I was a little surprised. Others, the analysis for a guy I thought had a strong shot wasn't quite so rosy. But more often than not, The Eye Test and PCS lined up pretty convincingly; college players I thought were strong candidates to make it to the NHL were typically rates as such. Crazy how that works.

As to the second question, about analytics with scouting versus scouting with analytics, the point isn't how you arrive at the decisions you're making necessarily, but rather that you arrive there. As with the scouting meetings in Moneyball no one is saying you have to throw out traditional scouting, but when is incorporating more data, and deploying your scouting assets in a more directed manner, going to be a bad thing?

Let's put it this way: The Panthers are a budget team with limited resources, and scouting ain't cheap. If they can spend every dollar smarter, they're one step closer to leveling the playing field with the big boys. The process by which they get to “smarter” may not be a straight line, but they have to try. As long as the PCS data leads to decision-makers asking more pointed and informed questions when disagreements arise, who cares if it's analytics with scouting, or scouting with analytics, or scouting analytics with, or with analytics scouting, or with scouting analytics?

You're just trying to improve your chances of picking more needles out of a big haystack.

2. Guarantee-dismissing

Evgeni Malkin guaranteed a win! You're not supposed to do that in sports! Unless you do end up winning then it's awesome. Because if you guarantee a win and lose you look like a rude jerk who is too cocky. And it sure doesn't help if you're not from North America.

But thank you so much to Jon Cooper for immediately dispelling any potential takes on Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins and this series were going back to Pittsburgh for a Game 7.

“Let’s be honest: What’s he supposed to say? ‘Oh, we’re done, we’re just going down there for a formality?’” Cooper, said as the assembled media in Tampa tried to press him for even more bulletin board material. “Of course they’re going to say they’re going to win. They’re a good team and a confident group.”

Man, that's like a team of firefighters coming in and unloading an entire city's water supply on a flickering candle. People were so, so excited to talk about this right up until the final buzzer of Game 6 — and in some ways even Cooper's quote didn't stop them — but when no one's mad about it, there's not a lot over which to gleefully rub your hands together.

1. Changing your goalies

Oh boy did this become a popular thing for everyone to do in these Conference Finals.

Let's just do it every time a guy allows a goal from now on. That sounds fun.

(Not ranked this week: NBC Sports.

How is the coverage getting worse? Honest question. Concuss people, break their bones, hit them illegally. Sidney Crosby needs to try harder. And so on. This is all in one week of coverage. 

Good lord, can somebody do something about this? It has to stop.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)



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