On Torres; the NHL first round's war on favorites

Closer than it looked.

Before I get to the general NHL playoff discussion, chew on this: Raffi Torres. In his walk year he racked up 19 goals (not a career high, but a high since Edmonton's Cup runner-up year) in 60 games on a bad team and made himself into a trade deadline attraction at age 28. Then he logged zero goals and seven assists in 18 games (including postseason) with his new team, who made him a healthy scratch for the final two playoff games.

For those around here who have mentioned Torres as a UFA target this summer -- under the "We need more size/physicality on the bottom six" theory -- does his post-Columbus performance change your mind? Does the fact he was scratched from the playoff lineup twice give you pause?


Raffi Torres GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG TOI SOG PCT
2009-10  (CBJ/BUF) 74 19 17 36 -11 34 7 0 3 13:32 120 15.8

I'm inclined not to blame him for simply being Raffi Torres, but that is also why I'm inclined not to -- in my fantasy GM chair -- pay UFA prices for him. Because while he's Raffi Torres, I suspect someone will pay him like a 20-goal scorer. Beware the veteran who scores 20 goals (or 19) on a bad team: He's good enough to achieve that (and being on the PP for seven goals, in 2:18 per game, sure helps), but you won't be signing him for a role where he'll score 20 goals ... unless you also have a bad team with similarly weak depth.

In which case, what was the intention again? Oh right, a physicality upgrade. Well, that's not insignificant. But it depends how much you're willing to pay. Name your price. (Or decline on principle; your choice.)

NHL Playoffs: Favorites Outshoot but 'Struggle'

Really glad that the vast anti-Capitals conspiracy hockey gods will give us two Game 7's, and I must say they are the two series I least expected to see go all the way. I don't care though: All hail the Game 7.

With the Canadiens' Jaroslav Halak-led upset last night, they get a crack at taking down the giant in D.C. in Game 7. Halak standing on his head to give them a chance to steal a series win in a one-game, winner-takes-all? That's about the best that club could have hoped for once the first-round draws were set.

But the fact Washington is in this dangerous situation reminds me that while seven games is a healthy sample to determine the better team, it's also short enough to let the better team fall prey to luck, goaltending, or a funk at the wrong time (Seriously: 3.3% PP conversion! For the Caps!?). Consider the three series in the first round in which one team has heavily outshot and carried possession over its opponent:


Playoffs Rd. 1 GP GF GA ShF/GP ShA/GP FO%
Washington 6
21* 18* 41.7 29.7 57.9%
Pittsburgh 6 24* 19 36.7 28.8 47.5%
San Jose
6 19 11 40.8 24.8 53.8%

*Washington and San Jose's GF include two empty-net goals each; Washington has also allowed one EN goal.

Each of these series has been closer than the favorite's fans would like, right? And consequently, each series induced a little premature panic among fans. Yet in each, the favorite has lost games in which it dominated possession; so with enough reps, they'd probably show they were the better team.

By shots and by score -- and faceoff percentage* even -- Pittsburgh's was the closest of these three series. Yet the Penguins were the ones who finished their series first and with the least amount of fan and media consternation.

(*For fun, check out the faceoff percentage of each playoff team; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are the weakest series winners in that category. Everyone else isn't even close.)

So by media rendition, Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose each "struggled" by losing two games, their playoff demons re-awakened (the Penguins, as defending champs, are immune to that metaphysical charge). But in reality, each basically dominated to varying degrees, and the problem in their weakest moments, as last night's Halak show and Marc-Andre Fleury's Game 1 demonstrated, was the difference in goal.

One of them still needs a Game 7 to sort things out. Will Halak -- who's stopped 90 of the last 92 shots -- be able to stand on his head one more time? Or will the better team prevail?

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