Ramblings: Jason Botterill fired as Sabres GM; previewing Nashville vs. Arizona – June 17

Michael Clifford

2020-06-17

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We got a significant piece of non-RTP NHL news on Tuesday morning:

 

 

A reminder that this comes three weeks after Botterill got a vote of confidence from ownership to return for the 2020-21 season. Now, well, not as much confidence.

Later, John Vogl reported that the firings are going to include people from scouting and player development. This is a cleaning out of most people not named Krueger.

Botterill, in my estimation, made two huge mistakes in his tenure: trading Ryan O'Reilly for a bunch of magic beans and signing Jeff Skinner to that massive contract. How much those played into this move, we'll probably never know.

We can't forget he made a few good moves, too. The original Skinner trade was a home run, he managed to get Henri Jokiharju for a busted draft pick, and the Colin Miller deal was a solid one even if Miller had a rough 2019-20. As with a lot of GMs, there is some good here, but the lack of winning makes anyone vulnerable.

What's interesting here is Kevyn Adams being named the new GM. He's a former NHLer with over 500 games, yet he's from the business side. He's a former assistant coach, yet it appears he's on track for another brand-new role with the team. What type of GM will he be, and will he have anywhere near full autonomy, are questions we don't quite have the answers to. Also, this team would have theoretically had several months to get ready for next season. What changed in the last three months (or three weeks, even), and why the rush to name a general manager right away? Was this just the plan all along for this offseason? More questions, few answers.

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Yesterday, I mentioned in my Ramblings that I was going to start a preview, of sorts, of the impeding play-in matchups. The basic idea is that we've already had over three months without hockey, it'll be four before training camps start, and five before we get back to the season, if all goes well. I wouldn't begrudge people for having forgotten a lot about the regular season, especially for teams that they don't follow closely.

In that spirit, we're looking at one matchup per day in my Ramblings. Yesterday, we went over the Chicago/Edmonton series that promises lots of goals. Today, let's touch on Nashville vs. Arizona, which seems likely to be the antithesis Blackhawks/Oilers. Most stats from Natural Stat Trick or Dobber Tools.

 

Nashville vs. Arizona

Arizona

It was a very uneven year for Arizona, as is the case for a lot of what were non-playoff teams. They went on a big tear early in the year, sitting at 20-12-4 by the middle of December. That's a 100-point pace, something accomplished *once* in the entire history of the franchise (2009-10, 107 points). That's probably why the traded for Taylor Hall in the middle of December – an infrequently-successful franchise was having an unexpectedly good year.

The problem was their team's success was largely being driven by goaltending: when they traded for Hall, they had a team .940 save percentage at 5-on-5, second in the league behind the Islanders. Their expected goal share was more towards the middle of the pack, coming in at 18th. In other words, this wasn't really a top-10 team, they were more a middle-of-the-road team with great goaltending. From the trade onwards, the team had a .919 save percentage at 5-on-5, and the lack of offence pushed the team down the standings.

I do believe they have very good goaltending, but scoring remains an issue. They were tied for 23rd by goals per 60 at 5-on-5, 18th on the power play, and 23rd at all strengths. Nick Schmaltz had a solid season as he may have cracked 50 points, but the problem is that he led the team in scoring. Having your highest point-getter be on pace for 53 points doesn't really bode well for future scoring. The thing is, they're tied for sixth in shots generated and 11th by expected goals. If guys like Hall, Phil Kessel, and Clayton Keller can pick up their shooting percentages, it may be enough to make them a mid-road offensive team, and that would be a big improvement.

The blue line had a hard time staying healthy. Only Alex Goligoski played in each of the team's 70 games, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson at 66 and Jakob Chychurn at 63. No other defenceman was above 60. If guys like Demers, Hjalmarsson, and Chychrun can stay healthy, this is a formidable blue line.

I haven't seen much on the injury front for Conor Garland. He was week-to-week before the pause and I can't find anything (please post in the comments if I've missed it). I assume he'll be fine, as will the rest of the roster.

 

Nashville

I wrote about how Roman Josi really carried the Predators this year when discussing his Norris candidacy. Those thoughts can be read here.

It was a tough start to the year for Nashville, who had hopes of being a Cup contender. Through November 21st, the team was 9-9-3. They were tied for ninth in the Conference, with the San Jose Sharks of all teams. At that point, though, they were first in shot share and fourth in expected goal share, all at 5-on-5. What held them back, early in the season, was goaltending, as the team was 30th by save percentage at at all strengths, with only Detroit being worse.

After that point, Pekka Rinne started just 21 of the next 45 games, partly ceding the net to Juuse Saros. After that, they climbed to 11th by save percentage. (Their shot and expected goal shares fell to the middle of the league, though.) Saros posted a .924 save percentage at even strength in the third quarter of the season and .951 in the final quarter. Rinne had started just 2 of 10 games leading to the pause, and lost them both.

As mentioned, we saw team play falling off as the goaltending improved. Yes, seeing Saros take over and provide stability was nice. But that was accompanied by an expected goals against mark nestled between Detroit and the Rangers. That's not good company to keep. Will the break help them hit the reset button and find their earlier dominance, and combine *that* with the goaltending they got later in the year, this is a dangerous team: in their first 21 games, where they went .500, they were 2nd in goals per 60 at 5-on-5, trailing only Colorado. Knowing that, it's beyond comprehension they didn't have a forward reach 50 points.

Nashville's defence remains their crown jewel. Roman Josi had a Norris-worthy season and there's still an argument he was the second-best defenceman on his team. Mattias Ekholm remains a steadying force, but the depth beyond that is a bit of a worry. All the same, their top two pairs should still be terrifying.

There are no injuries to report.

One area that could help Nashville is if they can figure out their power play. They were last by goals/60 last year on the PP and that improved this year, but only to 23rd. There are only four "playoff" teams below them in this regard: Chicago, Columbus, Montreal, and the Islanders. Not exactly the best of the league. Having a 20th percentile PP probably won't result in a Stanley Cup.

 

This is a fascinating matchup all around. I don't think Arizona is as good as they've shown at times this year, nor do I think Nashville is as bad as they've shown in some respects. Both teams have goaltenders capable of stealing a series but I would give the edge to Darcy Kuemper. Both teams have offences capable of more than they've shown, but I would give the edge to Nashville.

I truly believe that if Nashville lives up to their potential, they're a Cup contender. I would not want to face Darcy Kuemper (or Antti Raanta) in a best-of-5, however.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency NSH Players
14.9% NICK BONINO MATT DUCHENE MIKAEL GRANLUND
14.2% CALLE JARNKROK COLTON SISSONS AUSTIN WATSON
14.2% VIKTOR ARVIDSSON FILIP FORSBERG RYAN JOHANSEN

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