Discover more from Shap Shots
Shap Shots Mailbag, Vol 1
On tanking, logistics, Jake Oettinger's Vezina chances, and much, much more
A fair warning, this mailbag is close to 3,000 words.
But that’s one of the great things about being your own boss and editor, you get to make important content decisions and live with them yourself.
So welcome to the first edition of the mailbag here at Shap Shots. The plan is for this to be a weekly feature, typically posting a call for questions on Sunday mornings, with the story itself published on Tuesdays.
The story itself is available to everyone, but you have to be a paid subscriber to ask a question. It’s one of the perks of financially supporting this project.
Speaking of subscribing, you can do so right here:
Shap Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Ok, let’s get into subscriber questions…
I've always been curious... What stops teams from purposefully tanking after the playoff spot has been lost? Revenue-based for fear of fans not buying tix and showing up?
You hear things like the "Blackhawks are playing for last place"... Hyperbole? (From Andrew)
Teams tank, but players don’t and won’t. That’s the biggest obstacle a team runs into when it’s trying to tank.
When you think about the roster of a tanking team, it’s typically filled with younger players, NHL-AHL tweeners, and veterans who haven’t been traded away yet. For all three of these groups, each NHL game is still an opportunity to get their next job and perhaps a tanking roster is their only chance to prove to the rest of the league they belong in the NHL.
Players also don’t care about draft picks, they are rightfully selfish about their own careers.
So when you hear phrases like the “Blackhawks are playing for last place,” it’s not entirely accurate. Because the players on the ice aren’t playing for last place, but the roster construction is built around having a better chance of accumulating losses as opposed to wins.
It’s best to think of tanking as roster management and team-building philosophy rather than an ethos on the ice.
Good or bad, which team are you most excited to watch this season?
Also, do you think that the NHL has reached a point where even the revised draft lottery and cap floor is not preventing teams from tanking? If so, do you think a penalty should be implemented, if so, what do you envision the next step is? (From Jason)
Let’s talk more about tanking. I think in order to properly address tanking you have to create a system where there is actual risk and reward outside of making the postseason.
I’m a big proponent of promotion and relegation, but North American sports owners will never accept that after getting the safety net of a closed system.
So I would propose the system, which others have talked about in the past, where points earned after mathematical playoff elimination determine the draft order. The teams that are really bad would be officially eliminated earlier in the season, so they would have the most time to acquire these points.
This season, for example, the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks will likely be officially eliminated from the playoffs in late February. That gives them all of March and April to win games to prove they should have the top pick, imagine the intrigue of a late-season game between two playoff-eliminated teams were both fan bases actually want to win?
As far as the first part of your question, I’ve found myself paying more attention than I expected to the Los Angeles Kings. It’s a young team that made the playoffs last season, but has some pieces coming together and they’ve played some exciting games thus far.
Once Arizona plays a home game I’ll probably tune in a couple of times to the games on campus at Arizona State, just for the oddity of it all.
Any teams outside if the obvious choices that would be exciting to watch regularly this season? (From Sarah.)
Similar question, and I’ll actually add the New Jersey Devils to the list of teams that will be exciting to watch this season.
The Devils goaltending is awful, horrendous, actually, but they have some young, fast offensive talent that should put the puck in the net. It’s not as much of a reason to watch a specific team, but a factor that if New Jersey is playing, the game will likely have an exciting scoreline.
Where do guys who split time between the AHL and NHL live? Do they just couch surf for the entire season? Especially for teams like Carolina or Seattle, where their AHL affiliate isn't down the road. (From Tiffany)
One of the most important lines an AHL-NHL Tweener or an NHL prospect will hear from a coach or GM is, “You should get a place.”
That’s the indication and sign you’ve made it, it’s time to get an apartment and you can move out of the hotel, which the team has been paying for.
For players that bounce back and forth, many will typically have an apartment in either the AHL or NHL city, and when they are in the other league they are staying in either a hotel or a team housing.
As you noted, the easiest set ups are the ones with AHL teams in the same city. In places like Calgary, Toronto, even Los Angeles, players are able to live in the same place for the entire season.
I have always wanted to understand the game day structure of a player. Can you take us through a players routine at home and on the road? Between periods and after the game. (From Michael)
Every player has their own routine, but a typical NHL gameday schedule usually goes as follows for a player for a home game.
9 am — arrive at the rink, typically teams hold meetings between 9 and morning skate.
10:30 am — morning skate, typically about 15 to 20 minutes at most, some players spend more time than others.
11 am-ish — treatment, equipment check, anything player needs to get done at rink.
Noon — lunch.
2 pm-ish — most players take an afternoon nap around this time.
5 to 5:30-ish — arrive to the rink, depending on a player’s routine, warmups habits.
7 pm — game time.
For a road game, things are essentially pushed back an hour, and instead of driving there is a team bus that handles travel to the hotel.
There seems to be quite a few questions about things like this, I think we’ll try to cover it a bit more in-depth in a future story.
As a logistics guy, I’m always interested in the planning on which hotels teams use when on the road. As an example when teams come to Dallas, do they stay at the nearby W Hotel or go to uptown/downtown (From Jerry G.)
Most teams in Dallas stay at the W, it’s not an exact science, but that’s pretty common.
As far as the crux of your question, most NHL, and NBA teams for that matter, use similar hotels across the league. Hotels gain reputations, players want five-star accommodations, and it became a symbiotic relationship for the two parties.
One interesting hotel note, that applies particularly to the Stars, is that there are some cities where historically they’ve stayed at different hotels than other NHL teams because Tom Gaglardi’s main business is hospitality. It’s better for the business of Gaglardi’s entire portfolio if his NHL team is actually using his hotel chain when traveling through Canada.
During the Quarcast, I asked you and Owen a question about the Stars old banners that were replaced before the 2016-17 season. In your answer, I learned about the existence of a Stars archive in Frisco. I'd love to learn more about what is in there, and what other teams do with historically significant items. Are archives standard for all teams? Are some teams more diligent in preserving history than others? (From Alexander P.)
This is a great question, and honestly, something I’d love to be able to explore to give you a more in-depth answer on.
In Texas, the Stars have an archive in the team facilities in Frisco that has a mix of everything from old equipment to historically important items — likely the old banners from the American Airlines Center.
I’ve been in there once, it looks like the back storeroom of a museum with sliding shelves and stuff like that. I want to get you a better answer on the overall standard across the league for this, let me brainstorm some story ideas on that.
Why does the NHL make it so difficult to view out of market games? Center Ice was a central HUB to watch most games. Now, multiple-source streams are required. It’s very frustrating on game day trying to find the game (From John.)
The NHL Center Ice TV package still exists, it just doesn’t include the ESPN+/Hulu exclusives.
I also followed up with John, who is based in Memphis, TN, so I could better answer this question.
In Memphis, you are in the Predators TV market, so anything related to the Predators will be in-market for you. All other teams, including the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars, will be considered out-of-market for games they aren’t playing the Predators.
So, John should be covered with ESPN+ for any non-national TV game that doesn’t include the Predators.
I know you wrote an article about it a couple of years ago but do you think their is much serious appetite for scrapping the game day suit? Or has the moment where it would/could have happened been and gone?
On a related note, which player would you give a best dressed award to? (From Hannah)
I think eventually we will get to a spot where players are primarily not wearing suits. I don’t think it’ll ever be entirely scrapped, but it will become more and more accepted across the league — with admittedly a slow adoption of policy from certain clubs.
Personally, I think it’s great when teams relax their dress code. There is something nice about a sharp suit, that shows off your style when you’ve chosen to dress that way. But when everyone has been told they must wear a suit, it doesn’t pop the same way.
I also don’t feel qualified enough to judge anyone’s style, especially since I’m someone that still likes wearing a suit to an NHL game. I do enjoy the way Patrik Laine embraces his personality in his wardrobe.
We heard a bunch this summer about Heiskanen maybe getting to be able to go back & play on his strong side this season, how much of a difference does that truly make for defensemen, especially those who are elite at their position? (From Eileen)
I think it’s only a subtle difference for a player like Miro Heiskanen, he’d be great even if he was playing without a stick, for others, it’s more of a mentality and comfort thing.
For example, Ryan Suter refuses to play on his offside, he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it and won’t adapt. As a coach, and a team, employing Ryan Suter comes with this reality.
I asked Moritz Seider, a young soon-to-be elite defenseman, about playing on his offhand on Monday morning, here is what he had to say.
“I think you’d want ideally three (righties) and three (lefties), but it can work if you don’t. When you play on the (offside) you have less options, you have to go through to the middle more, and the other team knows that, playing on natural side opens up the ice more and gives less signs to the other team.”
The new boards are awful. This seems to be a pretty universal opinion. One, how are players not distracted by the moving boards? It just seems like it has to have an effect. Two, what are the chances the NHL scraps this terrible idea? (From Rob)
The players can’t see the moving boards, it’s a digital-only product that is projected onto broadcasts. So players, coaches, and fans in the arena aren’t impacted — which is why you’ll never hear a coach or player complain about it.
As far as the NHL scrapping it, that will never happen. Pandora’s box has been opened on advertising. It started with helmet stickers as make-good deals coming out of COVID-19, and the NHL is only looking to add revenue streams, not eliminate them.
There are some hiccups that NHL and the developers have to figure out, because there are times it becomes too much of a distraction and takes away from the game.
Has the fan blowback to the Digitally Enhanced Dashers been about what the league expected, as mentioned in your previous piece, or worse?
Personally I hate them — not just because they’re distracting and glitchy, but because I hate the idea that I’m not watching a live feed of a hockey game, but a somewhat unreal digital simulation of a live game. I’d rather endure an extra ad break than this. (From James)
It’s been expected. Someone from the NHL joked to me that they would probably be staying off of Twitter for the month of October waiting for things to die down when it comes to fan reaction.
As I said to Rob, it’s not going anywhere. It’s a part of the reality of the sport, and as long as corporate partners are lining up to get digitally put into games — which they are — it’s only going to go further down the rabbit hole.
So it sounds like Robertson and Klingberg were very hands-off in their contract talks. Well, Klingberg was until he fired is agent anyway. Do you have any sense for how many players are that way versus more hands-on in the negotiations? And do agents prefer one way or the other for their clients to behave? (From Kelly)
Most players are completely in the dark about what’s happening with their contracts, especially when it comes to the nuance and finer details. Players are the ones that ultimately have to sign the deal, but most don’t have any part of the conversation beyond, “I want to sign with this team” or “No, that salary isn’t high enough.”
When it comes to an unrestricted free agent there is an element of a recruiting pitch, a team might fly a player in, but after the presentation and pitch, the player typically leaves the room and the GM and agent have the real conversation.
There are examples where players have represented themselves, like Drew Doughty, and those are the only NHL players I would consider hands-on in the negotiation.
Between Kevin Kurz reporting the rumors of player dissatisfaction about Barry Trotz' system, the dumpster fire in Montreal under Dominique Ducharme and Faksa, Klingberg, and now Hintz with explicit opinions about dump and chase under Rick Bowness - in talking to players, what subtle hints are clear signs of a player's philosophy at odds with the coach? (From David)
It’s mostly body language. Players follow a hockey code, they say the right thing, they fall in line, and they put the team first. So even when a player disagrees with a system or an approach from the coach, they will rarely say so on the record.
I’ve had conversations with players on background before where they weren’t happy with a coaching decision or approach, but unless a player confirms that on the record, it can’t ethically be reported.
Realistically, what in your opinion are the chances of Jake Oettinger being a Vezina candidate this year? If not this year, the next few? (From Laura)
If he keeps playing the way he has, dating back to the playoffs against the Calgary Flames, he’ll be a Vezina Candidate.
The Vezina is a bit weird, because it’s voted on by general managers, and historically we’ve seen win-loss records overly weighted by that voting bloc. Essentially, it’s hard for a goalie to win the Vezina without making the playoffs, so whether the Stars are in or out of the postseason could determine whether Oettinger makes some ballots.
Do you miss doing the podcast with Owen Newkirk? I sure as heck miss listening to it. The CarCast and its Lightning Round was so instrumental in helping me learn more about hockey as I was getting into the sport. (From ajnrules)
I miss the carcast, it was a fun, organic way to break down the Stars games on the commute home.
I’m currently figuring things out with the podcast space. There are too many hockey podcasts, and many of them are too long, so I want to find a spot in the podcast world that works for me. Hopefully, I’ll have more on that soon for readers.