Facing Off is a weekly column, featuring Larry Fisher and Andrew Bensch debating five of hockey’s hottest topics each and every Monday. From current events like trades and hat tricks, to bigger-picture stuff like scandals and expansion — you name it, we’re debating it. Albeit, not always with a serious tone. We’re keeping this column light, so keep that in mind when reading, and feel free to join in on the fun by leaving a comment below.
I know it’s mid-August and most are soaking up the last bit of summer without hockey on their minds, but hopefully the hardcores are enjoying these back-and-forth exchanges between myself and Mr. Bensch. For those who don’t know, Andrew is THW’s San Jose Sharks correspondent and has never experienced a Canadian winter, blessed with mostly hot temperatures all year round in California. I don’t exactly live in an igloo up here in Kelowna — the Okanagan is known as Canada’s California, don’t laugh, look it up — but Google tells me Andrew’s annual average temperature is still about 10 degrees higher than mine. In the mid-20s, err, 70s for you American folks.
Celsius, Fahrenheit. Defence, defense. Centre, center. You’ll see those discrepancies in our writing, but we’re not taking sides over petty stuff like that. We’ll save our jabs — and the occasional sucker punch — for the real pressing matters, the juicy subjects.
This past week started off with Jarret Stoll signing a one-year deal with the New York Rangers, a move I really like and one that still has Glen Sather’s fingerprints all over it. Sure, Stoll got his hands dirty with an off-season drug charge, but he’s a gamer on the ice and will be a solid addition to the Blueshirts. Erin Andrews, his celebrity sportscaster girlfriend, will no doubt be happy with his new home too. If it can’t be Hollywood, it may as well be Broadway.
I see Stoll putting that off-ice drama behind him and bouncing back to become a key depth player for the Rangers this season. I was tempted to make Stoll a Facing Off topic, but I just assumed Andrew’s animosity towards the Kings would have him writing off Stoll as a washed-up plug with a (perceived) cocaine problem.
We obviously disagree there, but where do we stand on Slava Voynov’s future in Los Angeles? Or which backup-turned-starting goalie do we see becoming a star? You’ll have to read on for those answers and more.
Should the L.A. Kings welcome Slava Voynov back into the fold for this season?
FISHER: Sure, why not. He did the crime, now he’s doing the time. Once that’s done, he’ll be free to continue with his life and his career, just like anybody else who has been locked up. I’m not condoning what Voynov did by any means — domestic violence is a serious offence — but if Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter are confident he’s remorseful, rehabilitated and ready to rejoin the Kings without being a further nuisance, then welcome back! L.A.’s defence definitely missed Voynov last season, so if he’s recovered from his torn Achilles in time for the season opener, or even come Christmas, I say suit him up!
Slava Voynov has begun serving sentence at $100 per night detention center | The Hockey News: http://t.co/8XQnmGOJIE
— John Crouch (@jaiProPhoto) July 30, 2015
BENSCH: Hard to answer this one from the opposite perspective and not come across as bias. Growing up in the Bay Area following the Sharks, some will think my bias gets in the way. Regardless, I think the Kings would be smart to move on from Voynov. If any player actually did something worthy of terminating a contract, it’s Voynov not Mike Richards. With the Richards issue continuing to develop and the Patrick Kane stuff in Chicago, it would be wise for the Kings and the NHL to have a zero-tolerance policy to this kind of behavior. Professional sports has a big problem with domestic violence and sexual assault type cases. Keeping Voynov away would be a wise PR move for the Kings and the league if you ask me.
Which backup turned starting goalie will have the most success in 2015-16: Cam Talbot, Robin Lehner or Martin Jones?
FISHER: I’ll take Talbot. The sample size is small, but he’s the only goaltender in the entire league to start at least 50 games in the last three seasons (combined) and not get pulled for any reason. That’s impressive, especially when you’re used sparingly, to never have a stinker. He’s been a model of consistency, granted the Rangers boasted a much better defence than the Oilers. Talbot will be tested early and often this season, but I think he’ll be up for the challenge. Edmonton’s offence should be able to give Talbot decent run support, so that will take off some of the pressure that comes with being an NHL starter for the first time. Talbot is also in a contract year, set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so he’s playing for a big payday much like Devan Dubnyk was this past season. I think Talbot will earn that extension in Edmonton.
— CCM Hockey (@CCMHockey) July 14, 2015
BENSCH: Again, some may point to my Sharks bias, but it has to be Martin Jones. The 25-year-old shined in a short sample two years ago when Jonathan Quick was out of the Kings’ lineup. Jones allowed just eight goals in his first eight career starts. With the exception of two blowout games in his second season last year, Jones had a .929 save percentage. Those two games brought it down to .906. His first year, he delivered a .934. Jones has an extensive AHL track record with a .922 save percentage facing more than 5,000 shots. At 6-foot-4, he is a big body, the type of goaltender the league is trending towards. He takes up a lot of the net. Talbot’s AHL numbers aren’t as strong, and Lehner’s NHL numbers have gotten worse recently.
— NHL (@NHL) July 24, 2015
Speaking of goalies, with so many playoff games ending 2-1 this spring, is it time to make the nets bigger or the equipment smaller?
FISHER: Absolutely not. This, coming from a former goalie, but it’s simply not fair to go to those extremes in an attempt to increase scoring. Even the slightest changes will force significant adjustments for goaltenders, both technically and mentally. As much as we’d all enjoy 4-3 games on a regular basis — or the 7-6 firewagon hockey from the ‘80s — you have to admit those 2-1 playoff games were pretty darn exciting. There was no shortage of chances, just a shortage of goals. The suspense was there, it kept you on the edge of your seat, but the goaltending was out of this world. Rewatch that Rangers-Capitals series and the battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby, then get back to me if you weren’t entertained. Or if you think those games would have been better with bigger nets or smaller goalie equipment.
BENSCH: Goalie equipment and net size should never be altered. These are not changes that you can sell to fans for more scoring. It is basically saying “our scorers suck, so we are making it easier on them.” There are far better ways to increase scoring than directly making shooting easier. Instead, the league can do a couple of things. First, they could increase the amount of scoring opportunities on the man advantage by taking away the shorthanded team’s freedom to ice the puck. If penalty killers had to chip the puck out or risk icing while shorthanded that would certainly boost power-play scoring. Not to mention, how many times do we see a quality rush negated by an overly tight offside call? Quite a bit. Why do linesmen call it so tight that they often blow down legal zone entries? Conversely, we rarely see goals happen on blown calls that were let go but should have been blow down. That one Matt Duchene goal is the only instance that comes to mind. Instead, retrain the linesmen to err on the side of letting the play go rather than currently where it seems like anything close they blow the play dead.
Which three free-agent forwards are you surprised to see still available?
FISHER: Steve Bernier, Curtis Glencross and Jiri Tlusty really stand out to me. Bernier is a big winger coming off a career-high 16 goals on an offensively-challenged New Jersey team. Glencross struggled last season, both with Calgary and with Washington after the trade deadline and into the playoffs, but he’s versatile and gritty, can kill penalties and chip in offensively. Tlusty is a former first-round pick who just turned 27 years old, a guy who was on pace for 39 goals and 65 points in the lockout year but realistically should be good for 20 goals and 40 points for at least a few more years. Were these guys being greedy or picky on July 1? That’s the only reason I can see for them going unsigned, but now they are going to have to take what they can get just to stay in the league. I’m fairly certain we will see all three sign one-year, cap-friendly contracts prior to training camp, and the same can be said for another half-dozen forwards, but I’ll let Andrew throw out some more names.
BENSCH: Tlusty is definitely an intriguing free agent because of the lockout-shortened year that Larry noted. He probably has the most potential upside of any free-agent forward left. Although some other names that are interesting are all former Florida Panthers. Two bigger names of note (or at least their contracts suggest they are bigger-name players) are Tomas Fleischmann and Scottie Upshall. Both saw a decline in point totals this past season but it wasn’t too long ago that both were key top-nine wingers. Both these guys are capable of 30 points and reliable two-way play. As Larry hinted, maybe the reason these guys are still available is because they expected too much money. Fleischmann is coming off a $4.5-million cap hit and Upshall is coming off a deal that paid him $3.5 million. Perhaps neither player, nor their agents, saw the writing on the wall that their recent performances are only worth $1 or $2 million per year on a short one- or two-year contract. Another forward who is surprisingly unsigned is Marcel Goc. His days as a top-nine guy are likely over but teams could do far worse for a fourth-line center.
How bad are your hockey withdrawals right now? How are you passing the time?
FISHER: I loathe this time of year, every year, but at least the Blue Jays are giving us Canadians an entertaining distraction for the time being. TSN also threw us a bone by televising the Summer Showcase games between world-junior hopefuls for Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic. It wasn’t the NHL, nor did it have the same intensity as the Christmastime tournament, but it was nice little hockey fix. That said, the lack of NHL news really sucks, and no matter how many times I refresh the Rotoworld app, it rarely has any meaningful updates. Back in the day, my BlackBerry trackball would’ve been worn out from all these desperate attempts. I can’t even get a response on my fantasy hockey trade offers lately. I guess it’s time to get excited about the latest episode of Bachelor in Paradise with the wife-to-be. Popcorn, please.
BENSCH: August is without a doubt my least favorite month of the year. Not only is it the worst part of the year hockey-wise with little to no news, but other sports aren’t exactly there to help. Baseball is in the dog days where everyone just wants the playoffs to start already, the NFL is in pre-season — the lamest exhibition games of any sport — and the NBA is in its off-season too. People living in hotter climates will make fun of me, but I hate the heat. Anything above 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun is gross to me. I’m having serious withdrawals in terms of hockey season and the usual cool weather that comes with the majority of the season taking place in winter. But believe it or not, I’m taking the next few weeks off from hockey — and from THW — for a short late-summer break and some much-needed R & R before beginning the grind of another season. My fellow Californian, Félix Sicard — a Canadian transplant — has been kind enough to fill in for Facing Off until I make a triumphant return in September. #IsItOctoberYet?
So who won Round 3 of Facing Off? Feel free to weigh-in with your opinions in the comments below. We will be checking in periodically to both defend and expand on our initial answers. If you want to see us face-off over a topic, we’re open to suggestions as well.
Andrew Bensch has been credentialed to cover the San Jose Sharks since 2010. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University. Follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.