Attack of the Pacific Division Zombies

Wait a second. Who's that guy on the left with Teemu? SECURITY!

ROBBY:

I am by no means a hockey expert. I'm a passionate Ducks fan, and for the most part, I work to stay current about players and teams across the league. I have a pretty good handle on what happens in our division. So I feel like I have a reasonable gauge of where the Ducks, and the other teams in the Pacific, stand.

It would appear that Todd Maternowski of Pegasus News (yes, that's the real name), author of one of the worst diatribes I've ever read, does not. If you haven't read it, don't fret. I'm about to cover much of it for you, thus saving you the same aneurysm I felt when reading his work. Here's a high-level summary: Under the headline "Rise and Fall of the Pacific Division", Mr. Maternowski uses his wit and charm to analyze the off-season activities of each team in the Pacific Division and also offers his prediction about where each of them will end up in the standings.

From the outset, I want to dispel the notion that I'm irritated by this post because he ranks the Ducks dead last in the Pacific. I will show that Mr. Maternowski doesn't have much hockey knowledge (outside of clichés and general assumptions), so his conclusions regarding the Ducks do not bother me in the least. Rather, what offends me so deeply as someone who enjoys writing about hockey, is how unabashedly incorrect he is about many of the assertions he makes.

Grab your favorite Pacific Division team Snuggie, get comfortable, and enjoy the show.

My analysis will be done in two acts. Act One: Reviewing the assertions and claims by the "author". Act Two: Reconciling Mr. Maternowki's resulting conclusions.

ACT I: The Dubious Claims

Losing two of their streakiest scorers while their rookie savior and Matt Niskanen lookalike Logan Couture enters his sophomore slump means fewer goals, and the loss of Wallin on the third pair will hurt more than Sharks fans might admit.

In 97 games with the San Jose Sharks, Niclas Wallin registered an even 0 on +/- and racked up a whopping 10 points. In 2010-2011, Wallin's 0 +/- rating was worse than only three other defenseman, none of whom played more than 28 games (while Wallin appeared in 74). His 8 points over the season were also worse than only two other defenseman, neither of whom played in more than 17 games. To suggest that Wallin will somehow be a giant loss to the Sharks seems to be based on Mr. Maternowki's own special player assessment system (which he apparently consulted frequently during the writing of this post), rather than, oh I don't know, facts.

Like all good hockey writers he deals almost entirely in speculation [sarcasm font]. He assumes that Logan Couture will somehow endure some terrible sophomore slump. I'm not familiar with the Unified Theory of Sophomore Slumps. That class was full when I tried to register.

Havlat is another odd addition, a guy who's almost a point-a-game player unless he's playing on a defensively-responsible team like the Sharks. He's also a guy who's somehow lucked his way off the "season-ending injury" list for three straight seasons now, so either he's finally eating his Wheaties or he's totally due for a dislocated v****a in the second week of November.

(Editrix note: Dislocated vajayjay sounds horrible. I can only imagine Mr. Maternowski's pain having experienced the same injury himself - JN)

The bane of hockey analysts everywhere - the injury claims. While certain players certainly struggle with injuries more than others, trotting out this line about a player who has failed to play more than 50 games only twice in his 11 year career seems like an odd decision. In Minnesota (whom, as I understand, are generally considered to be a "defensively-responsible team"), Martin Havlat racked up .768 points per game during his tenure before being traded for Dany Heatley. While this number is lower than his average in Chicago (.93 points per game), it's pretty close to his .789 points per game in over 200 career games in Ottawa.

Richards gives the Kings a physical dimension East Coast sportswriters with 10pm bedtimes claim they had but they really never have.

Ooh, intangibles! Mike Richards is really physical, as evidenced by his 397 PIM and 647 hits in 453 career games. Naturally, one would compare Wayne Simmonds, one of the pieces traded for Richards. No one else has, so I will. In 240 games - 213 games LESS than Richards - Simmonds has amassed 264 PIM and 383 hits. By the String Theory (if he's making crap up, so am I), Simmonds has taken penalties at a higher rate (1.1 PIM per game as opposed to Richards' .876 per game) and has hit at a higher rate (1.6 per game vs. 1.43). So by trading away a player that was more physical than the player they got, the Kings clearly bolstered their physicality. I feel the aneurysm coming back.

They've got a solid two-way #1 d-man in Jack Johnson

If you've ever visited our sister blog Battle of California, this statement will make your head explode. As the venerable Rudy Kelly (a die-hard Kings fan, by the way) has demonstrated on numerous occasions, Jack Johnson is not a very good defenseman. Like most of the claims Mr. Maternowski makes, this assertion reveals a) he doesn't really watch much hockey, b) he relies on "conventional wisdom" to make his key points and c) is likely thinking of the surf crooner. Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe by "#1 d-man," Mr. Maternowski is referring to the fact that Johnson is currently the highest paid d-man for the Kings. Or maybe he just looked at salary and thought, "Hey, he makes a lot of money, he must be great!" If that's the case, Scott Gomez sends his regards.

Doughty's contract squabbles are more fluff than anything else, but it shouldn't surprise any fans of the other Pacific Division teams that he considers himself on par with Shea Weber. This, despite just one pretty good offensive season, not matching up against the opponent's top lines, throwing weak hits to pad his stats, diving a minimum of once per game and driving a bulldozer over lockerroom chemistry by holding his breath and demanding to be the highest-paid player on the team.

Really? REALLY?!? Doughty's 2010-2011 Quality of Competition was .046. You know who else had that score? Shea Weber. But apparently Shea Weber faced way better competition (and kicked our ass...)

Make no mistake -losing [Brad] Richards hurts.

Hey look, a reasonable statement. Must be the "Come to Jesus" moment.

He led the team in scoring, made his wingers better, and played all two minutes on the point on every single power play.

AMEN!

Richards weakly surrendered more backbreaking shorthanded goals than any other pointman in the NHL. He also received the most favorable zone time, the best draws, played against the weakest competition, and still declined in PPG from last season.

This must be the fire and brimstone part. I'm not sure how you can prove the claim about Richards giving up the most shorties. Yes, Dallas gave up the second-most SHG in the league, but but they're not THE WORST. This series of tubes call the interwebs allows me to find things called "stats". These "stats" also prove he's fantastically wrong about Richards' zone time. Richards enjoyed an offensive zone start percentage that was worse than 9 other Stars. And does anyone want to guess where Richards stacks up in terms of Quality of Competition? Somehow ranking 14th out of 28 players actually means that you faced the weakest competition. But don't let the "stats" get in the way of the gaping vortex of a black hole left by Richards' departure.

Crawford wrote an easy ticket out of Dallas in the second half of last season, pushing an obviously-exhausted Kari Lehtonen out there each and every single night and starting the Incredibly Bad-Timed Turnover Machine Jeff Woywitka over Dallas' most physical presence on the ice, Mark Fistric.

A quick look at the game logs for Woywitka and Fistric show that both played in over 50 games, though Woywitka did enjoy three more minutes of ice time a night. Who wouldn't be pissed about an extra 3 minutes?!

Bryzgalov is a good goalie with exactly two better-than-average seasons in his career and both were under Dave Tippett. His playoff numbers and ability are absolutely atrocious, in fact they are significantly worse than Sergei Bobrovsky's playoff numbers, and that guy allegedly sucks. Here's hoping the Flyers keep the gift receipt on him for whatever team they idiotically trade him to.

Why you heff to be mad, Mr. Maternowski? Having the memory of a fly, I assume he's referencing Bryz's supposedly terrible postseason numbers the past two years with Phoenix. Otherwise, I'm not sure how we can justify saying Bryz is "significantly worse" than Bob given that Ilya owns a career .917 Save % and 2.55 GAA in the playoffs as opposed to Bob's .877 Save % and 3.23 GAA. (Editrix note: Bryz will never win a Stanley Cup...wait a second - JN)

Fiddler is probably the biggest loss, but seeing the embarrassingly slow JovoCop take his 20 points a season elsewhere should make up some of that.

That starting goaltender they lost would likely be the biggest loss. Going from a guy with a career .916 Save % and 2.53 GAA to a guy with a .906 Save % and a 2.71 would seem like a drop-off to me, especially for a team that ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring. You could argue that losing Belanger hurts more than losing Fiddler, given that Belanger scores at a career rate that is twice that of Fiddler and that he outscored by 18 points in just 11 more games last year. Silly numbers, what do they all really mean?

The Ducks are a paper-thin one-line team with no defense or reliable goaltending, and they just got even more like that. Replacing Marchant with Cogliano might be one of the statistically-biggest downgrades in hockey in a decade; it isn't every day you see a super-fast checking center who wins every crucial draw get replaced by an average skater who never scores and wins about as many faceoffs as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders won pennants.

Hey look, it's something about the Du...wait. Just wait. What's that about Todd Marchant? He's super-fast? Or faster than the guy that won the Fastest Skater competition a few years ago? He must be so fast that they had to slow him down so it's fair for everyone else. Losing 52% of your faceoffs really meant that you won every crucial draw at least 48% of the time. For a guy that even refers to himself as "stone hands", I can see the statistical downgrade in the scoring. Hard to top Marchant's one goal last season. I love Marchant, but the one area he'll be missed the most is leadership.

Now, on to that paper-thin team thing. The Ducks had five skaters with 50+ points. The Sharks had seven, the Kings had 3, the Coyotes had 3, and the Stars had 5. So the Ducks have top scoring that is worse than only one team in the Division, might as well fold the franchise now. Even though nine other teams gave up more goals per game than the Ducks, there is no reason for them to be a team anymore. [Sarcasm font]

The Ducks' first line played absolutely out of their minds just to squeak into the playoffs last season, and they had Selanne scoring critical goals in the dying seconds of third periods down the stretch to help them.

The top line of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf has been one of the best in hockey over the past three years. As with any good player, their dominance down the stretch should somehow count against them. Obviously the goal is to miss the playoffs and they screwed the Ducks out of that!

As for the Selanne thing, you're welcome.

The team's top two d-men, Visnovsky and Fowler, are pretty good except when they have to play defense.

I'm sure Cam loves the praise, but he would be the first to tell you that Toni Lydman was our best defenseman last year. Lydman who? Exactly. A good defensman is one you never hear about, and Mr. Maternowski hit that nail right on the head.

Act II: The Predictions

Same # of points, first place in the Pacific and their annual second-round simpering flameout.

Look, I think the Sharks' propensity to choke in the playoffs is as hilarious as anyone else. Hell, it can be argued that as a Ducks fan, I enjoy it more than most other people. But at least get the facts right. They've been eliminated in the third round the previous two years and they were eliminated in the first round the year before that. The last time the Sharks lost in the second round was four years ago. But hey, it did happen at one point (bright side, Sharks fans!).

Significantly so, and maybe, just maybe, they won't completely embarrass themselves in the first round next May.

Why do you keep forcing me to say nice thing about Pacific Division teams? The Kings were steamrolled by the Canucks two years ago (one of the better teams in the league that year) and barely lost to San Jose last year, despite missing their best player in Anze Kopitar. Implying that they are some kind of chokers on par with the Sharks is disrespectful to Kings fans worldwide.

This is a better team than the one that was second overall in the Western Conference before injuries and shi**y coaching derailed their season in January, with depth signings and hungry rookies crowding every position. With Benn blossoming into a true #2 center and Alex Goligoski/Sheldon Souray taking over Richards' role in the powerplay, it shouldn't be a stretch to say that this team will be markedly better than the razor-thin one that missed out on the playoffs by a single point.

Wow. I mean, just, wow. Relying on Sheldon Souray to help replace Brad Richards is totally going to pay off. I kind of hope it does just for this guy's sanity.

About the same, and the final Pacific team to make the final eight in the West, where they will once again lay on their backs and provide a free bye week to whatever division winner is lucky enough to draw them in the first round.

I've got nothing against Phoenix at all, but I really have a hard time seeing how they're going to manage after losing key players up and down their lineup. And Shane Doan aint exactly getting any younger.

This is the most flawed non-Western Canadian team in the West, but because they made it to the Big Dance, they were content with what they had and sat on their invisible laurels. No team outside of maybe Calgary has as many huge question marks, and if any one of those pieces fails to over-produce, you may be looking at Oilers South come January. So, yeah, worse, then. Waaaaay worse.

Yep, you nailed it. The Ducks finishing fourth in the West last year was a total fluke (82-games is such a small sample size). And only missing the playoffs once in the past five years is a clear sign of our overall weakness as a team. Just like Edmonton.

Conclusion

As I said when we began this journey, I'm no hockey expert. I'm just a fan, and a relatively new one at that. But it's hard to swallow the kind of musings that Mr. Maternowski passes off as analysis. As a person who loves the game (and has access to the Internet!), I just couldn't let this stand without some sort of critical response. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get on my Pegasus and fly home.

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