The Hockey PDOCast is a well-respected, analytically minded podcast that covers various topics in the NHL. Each episode is hosted by Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) and features a guest who can lend his or her expertise to the discussion. The following three episodes were part of a series that detailed the best players at each position.
Episode 108: Top 10 Wingers (Nikita Kucherov at #6)
Transcript from 11:50 to 14:20. Episode Guest: Andrew Berskhire (@AndrewBerkshire). For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “sort of,” “I mean,” and “like.”
Filipovic: I have Nikita Kucherov at six - and I’m glad that the Lightning got him back on board because I like watching Kucherov play and it would’ve sucked if he missed the start of the year like we’re seeing with a guy like Hampus Lindholm [Anaheim Ducks], for example. It’s just amazing. Has Steve Yzerman ever lost a game of chicken? The fact that they got him on board for the contract that they did is just remarkable. It’s basically wizardry at this point, because Kucherov is such a high-end finisher. But he’s also not a liability, like you think, in other areas of the game. You just got to love the guy if you watch him play.
Berkshire: Yeah, absolutely. I honestly - I don’t know how Yzerman does it because, like you said, he’s never lost a game of chicken. I know a lot of people are saying, “Oh, it’s a bridge deal. I thought we all agreed bridge deals are terrible.” But it’s a bridge deal for the three years where the Lightning are going to be the most competitive. I think everybody knows this is their prime time to win a Stanley Cup - and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens this year. But yeah, Kucherov - amazing, amazing goal scorer. I thought his breakout year, I definitely thought that he was the guy kind of riding along with the Palat and Johnson show, but I think he’s the best player on that line now. Whether it’s transitioning the puck or scoring - even defending - he’s got strong numbers all around, like you said. Extremely exciting player to watch too and a guy that - I remember him being pretty lauded coming out of the draft, but he fell due to the quote-unquote “Russian Factor.” Sometimes teams just take advantage of that and obviously it’s paid off big time in this case.
Filipovic: Yeah, and the fact that he’s 5’11” I’m sure also contributed to that.
Berkshire: Yeah, absolutely. The so-called undersized guys who are not that far below average.
Filipovic: No, but no. Kucherov’s amazing and he scored 30 goals last year and he’s also one of these guys where - last year was finally the first year where he got - he was sort of the man there, especially when Stamkos went out. He was the trigger man on the power play and he played a lot more. He jumped from under 15 minutes a night in 2014-2015 to over 18 last year. If he gets that kind of volume again, he could very easily - just like we said with Toffoli - kind of hover in that 35-40 goal range, which very very few guys are doing in the league these days. So, I love Kucherov. Where did you have him on your list?
Berkshire: I also had Kucherov at six.
Filipovic: Okay, perfect.
Episode 109: Top 10 Defencemen (Victor Hedman at #2 / #4)
Transcript from 31:20 to 35:42. Episode Guest: Andrew Berskhire (@AndrewBerkshire). For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “sort of,” “I mean,” and “like.”
Filipovic: Alright, so we’re in your top four now. Give me your number four.
Berkshire: I’m guessing that our top four will be pretty similar. I’ve got Victor Hedman
Filipovic: Hmm, I have Victor Hedman second actually. Is that a hot take?
Berkshire: No, no. I don’t think so. I think the top four are all pretty close. I made one change from my list, which is more bias than anything. Victor Hedman - man, what can this guy not do? He’s basically - and the reason that I have him ahead of Drew Doughty is - I think he’s like Drew Doughty, but 6’6”. There’s not even much to say. He’s just incredible.
Filipovic: Well, that’s a good campaign slogan for Victor Hedman: Drew Doughty, but just 6’6”. You discuss how with Doughty and Letang, there’s not much behind them, and that’s what makes them so important to their teams. Anton Stralman is awesome, but obviously last year in the playoffs, he was either out or when he came back, he definitely wasn’t himself. It was just, I don’t know, a little jarring to watch Victor Hedman just take on the type of responsibility that he did and just do it seamlessly without really falling off at all. He was just insane. Everything was running through him and the Lightning were doing really well while that was the case. I don’t know - the thing that kind of bugs me with him is that the reason why he hasn’t been high up these Norris lists every year is because - and this might be smart kind of long-term plan by them - but they never really ride him like some of these other guys do. He’s generally playing around that 22, maybe 23 minute per game range which is really good, but then some of these other guys, you seem them and they’re clearly over 25. That might be just a good plan by Jon Cooper, realizing that he is a bigger guy and you want to keep him healthy and you don’t want him to wear himself out during the regular season, considering this team does have Stanley Cup aspirations. As a big picture thing, that’s probably good for both him and the Lightning, but that’s the one big issue that I have with his statistical résumé is that I wish he played a little bit more.
Berkshire: Yeah, and that’s something that’s bothered me for a few years because I think he’s shown that he can do that. I think [former Lightning head coach] Guy Boucher actually played him more than Jon Cooper does which - he was younger and less experienced. Maybe it’s just keeping him fresh and maybe it’s because he’s so big and they look at some other big guys around the league. I don’t know, he kind of - he doesn’t have the Chris Pronger kind of game that you could play 35 minutes, but I think he could play Zdeno Chára [Boston Bruins] minutes. It’s not like that hurt Zdeno Chára. Now Chára looks like he’s really struggling, but he’s what - 39 years old? Two years ago even, Chára was still very very good - among the top 20 defencemen in the league, I would say. So it’s not like they need to worry about Victor Hedman declining at an early age. I would take advantage because these are their prime years. I don’t think there’s any reason why Alex Pietrangelo [St. Louis Blues] should be playing more minutes than Victor Hedman. Especially with the D-core - the bottom four - that Tampa Bay has below Hedman and Stralman. By bottom four, I mean bottom four because I don’t think they have a top four. They just have an elite first pair and four mediocre defencemen.
Filipovic: Yeah, I’ve criticized the guys they’ve brought in to surround those guys. Because for a smart team that realizes that you’ve got to play fast and size doesn’t really matter, they seem to try to compensate for their smaller forwards with these big, lumbering defensemen who can’t really move - whether it’s a Braydon Coburn or a Jason Garrison and so on and so on. I kind of wish that they had more around him, but it’s good to see that at least this year so far - it is only five games - but he’s playing 24 1⁄2 minutes a night. So hopefully that’s a good sign that they’re gonna really just kind of ride him moving forward, because - he’s not even 26 years old yet, but this is his eighth season in the NHL, which seems crazy, but I’m glad that we’re getting to witness the full Victor Hedman experience.
Episode 111: Top 10 Goalies (Ben Bishop at #8)
Transcript from 3:58 to 7:18 and 18:27 to 20:15. Episode Guest: Nick Mercadante (@NMercad). For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “sort of,” “I mean,” and “like.”
Part 1: Transcript from 3:58 to 7:18
Filipovic: For example, I have Ben Bishop fairly high on this list and I feel weird doing that, considering I don’t even think he’s the best goalie on his own team. But based on the goalie he’s been, I can’t in good faith put Andrei Vasilevskiy ahead of him on this list, just because of how...
Mercadante: Well, right - and Vasilevskiy had a really tough year last year. He struggled. Everybody remembers, obviously, the playoff performance, but before that he really really struggled. He had a tough, tough year where they talked about, “Hey, maybe he needs more time on the farm - to start in the minors.” So you’re right, yeah, you want to take into consideration past performance, but one of the things you’ve got to acknowledge with goalies is that we’ve improved our set of descriptive statistics. We haven’t crossed the threshold into really good predictive information except for the guys with the crazy long sample of performance, and those guys are rare. So it makes it really tough with a guy like a Ben Bishop, it even makes it tough. He doesn’t have an enormous sample that you can draw on where you could definitively say, “You know what - next year is going to be just like last year.” Next year - meaning this year - could be a little bit of a cliff for him. He could be heading down. Based on what I’ve learned about goalie peak performance, it’s a short window. What I’ve found is it’s that 27-29 age range. Well, Bishop is heading out of that. So, I don’t know.
Filipovic: At the same time though, I’d consider myself - especially in years past - I’ve been a Ben Bishop skeptic, just because - especially early on - it seemed like the only thing he really had going for him was that he was really tall. I can see why it would be easy to kind of fall in love with that and just be like, “Well the puck will probably hit him more frequently than other guys.” But listen, in his three-four years in Tampa Bay, he’s started 60 games all three of those years. I think he’s seventh or something in the league in save percentage during that time - and eighth in 5-on-5.
Mercadante: Yeah, he’s been good.
Filipovic: He’s been good.
Mercadante: He’s been good. I hate to say it too. A lot of goalie coaches and people that study goalies, they kind of say it begrudgingly as well, because first of all, none of us have that - I’m 5’6”. So I’m looking at him going, “What the hell, man.” And then secondly, he’s a blocker in every sense of the word. He uses his body to his advantage to block shots. He doesn’t really make saves, per se - if that makes any sense to you. It’s the difference between a finish type of goalie whose really making saves, got his glove out in front him, his blocker out in front of him, he’s active towards the puck. Bishop is in position and uses his body to his advantage, so that’s kind of ugly. So goalie experts look at that and they go, “Ugh.” But, he’s been pretty good. Not pretty good - he’s really been in that top ten mix. So I think it’s fair if you have him in there.
Filipovic: Well, he’s been reliable. And in a lot of these cases, being reliable goes a long way just because of how volatile the performance at the position is.
Part 2: Transcript from 18:27 to 20:15
Filipovic: Alright, so I have Bishop eighth, as I mentioned. I don’t love the guy, but it is hard to argue with the track record he’s had in Tampa Bay. It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of happens the rest of this year and then moving forward with him because it’s pretty clear that Vasilevskiy’s going to be their long-term guy. They didn’t really make much of a secret about the fact that they were trying to trade him this summer, just because of all of the complications with the Expansion Draft coming up. It seemed like Calgary really was going to get him, but the demands that he had for his contract extension to push that trade through were just very unreasonable. I’m kind of curious to see both how he plays this year and if he has another really good year, let’s say starts another 55-60 games and has a .920 save percentage, how much that earns him in the off-season.
Mercadante: Yeah, yeah. Big goalies worry me. We’ll talk - I know we’re going to be talking about Carey Price - big goalies worry me as they age. They’re just so injury-prone. You’re just slamming those knees down underneath whatever Bishop weighs. It’s just - over time, the wear and tear on any goalie is immense. But I think when you’re a big guy and you’re slamming those knees down the way he does - I just think the timeline for his decline might be sped up a little bit. So it’ll be interesting to see what he fetches on the open market, if teams are kind of aware of that and say, “Eh, this might not be the guy that’s going to carry us for the next three or four years because he might simply not be able to play.” He’s already run into some injuries.
Filipovic: Yup, I’m with you.