Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

EP Rinkside 3 Stars: Joey's world tour

I was looking at the NHL standings page as I so often do, and I couldn't help but notice the bottom five in the Eastern Conference are, from best to worst, Detroit, Montreal, Buffalo, Columbus, and Ottawa.

Leaving the Habs aside, because I don't think they had any particularly strong aspirations for this season, that's a lot of teams that were convinced they were going to be able to take a step this season. Obviously the Senators have already made wholesale changes — the GM change being forced on them by circumstance rather than some sort of clear vision for the future — and the Blue Jackets' abortive coaching hire over the summer was a real wrench in the works. But it's hard not to notice that anyone believing in these clubs was a sucker. Maybe you couldn't have foreseen Buffalo or Detroit being precisely this bad, but you have to acknowledge that this was always a possible outcome for any of them. They're not as bad as, say, Anaheim (another team a lot of people were like, "It's take-a-step time!" about) and certainly Chicago and San Jose are in full tank mode, to their credit. But the East was probably always just going to be too top-heavy for any of these clubs to weasel their way into the playoff picture.

You can talk about what a disappointment the Devils or Lightning are, but the former is on pace for about 94 points, which at least puts them on the bubble, and the latter has the excuse of injuries. The Wings have had top-10 injury luck in terms of man-games lost this season; so why are they this bad, other than, "We bought it with the Alex DeBrincat trade." Say, that's two straight teams trading for him who ended up disappointed that the team results didn't follow. Interesting trend.

Hey, there's still plenty of season left, and only a handful of middling teams to leapfrog in the race to finish, like, seventh in the East.

Let's go:

3. Getting eight points this week

If the number of headlines and opinions about who should be the MVP as 2024 began is any indication, some PR people might have working overtime during the holiday break.

Nathan MacKinnon, who has been a Hart finalist numerous times in recent years but never won (due primarily to not really deserving to do so), went nutso this week, racking up 3-5—8 across four games. Wow, that's leadership. That's making a statement in what feels like a wide-open MVP race. That's the drive of a champion, of a legitimate "best player on earth."

Except he was one of five guys who had eight points this week, which kind of mutes the whole, "Can you believe the heater he's on?" conversation, because no one is having that conversation about Carter Verhaeghe (4-4—8 in four games) or Mason Marchment (3-5—8 in four games), let alone more perennial MVP favorites like David Pastrnak (3-5—8 in four games) or Connor McDavid (2-6—8 in three games).

I'm not even knocking MacKinnon. Great player. Will almost certainly be a Hart finalist again this year barring some sort of unforeseen disaster. But if you're getting "The Year They Decided Drew Doughty Was Winning The Norris At 26 Despite Not Deserving It" vibes off the last week, you are not alone. McDavid's slow start/October injury plus the fact that the Oilers aren't currently in a playoff spot have people overthinking the hell out of this one. I don't think they're going to be able to do it in March, but hey, it's early January. You gotta pass the time somehow.

2. "What about ______?"

One of the best things about the NHL naming All-Star participants every year is how fraught it gets among fans who believe in their heart of hearts that not only should the guy from their favorite team who made it have made it, but so too should several other guys from that team.

Now, they only let you pick 40 of these guys to get into the All-Star weekend, and 32 of those have to represent an NHL team. So right there, you are severely limiting the pool of double-dip options.

Moreover, you have to be able to convincingly roll out a handful of goaltenders that at least passingly resemble an All-Star-caliber player who will be, y'know, playing goal. You can't count on the fan vote to make up the difference for you, either, which is why among the first 32 All-Stars named, four are goalies. Then there's the messy politics of it all; can you leave off, say, Quinn Hughes to instead name teammate Thatcher Demko? Maybe, but the idea of leaving off a guy who is an MVP candidate on the blue line feels like a bridge too far, and Demko happens to be not even the best goalie in his own conference. That also leaves aside the number of guys who kinda get to be like, "Ehh, not this year." Artemi Panarin and his wife are expecting a kid around All-Star weekend, for example, so he gets to say, "Why not let my teammate who has been a Hart finalist and Vezina winner in the last few seasons go instead?" Simple substitution that, oh yeah, adds another goalie to the mix.

And sure, is Tom Wilson or Boone Jenner an All-Star if we don't have the "team representative" rule? Obviously not, but that rule has existed for years now and will continue to exist until the sun swallows our planet. These are the unhappy realities we simply have to expect in professional sports.

If you want to know how much this means to the players involved, all you gotta do is watch the video the Kraken put out of Oliver Bjorkstrand being told he couldn't go on vacation because he was an All-Star instead. He reacted with the same amount of enthusiasm as if Dave Hakstol had said to him, "We don't have Coke, is Pepsi okay?" I have no idea why they posted that video.

I guess my point is, what do you care who does or doesn't make this team? Even if it were 100 percent merit-based, your team would probably have like two or three players on the All-Star roster, max. What, are you that desperate to buy an All-Star jersey from Fanatics?

And statistically, you're probably not gonna watch any of it anyway. If it gives you a sense of justice, you can pretend that's a boycott instead of what it ultimately always boiled down to: indifference.

1. …Joey Daccord?

I will not be engaging in any, "Have the Kraken found their goalie?" discussion at this time.

My feeling is that they probably have not. Like, let's be reasonable here. But you gotta give credit where it's due, and it's certainly due to Joey Daccord, who played three games this week and allowed just two goals (.979 on 97 shots faced, which is a lot of shots to face in three games).

In fact, since the start of December, Daccord has conceded just 18 goals in 12 games, posting a .948 save percentage and two shutouts, the most recent coming in the Winter Classic (first-ever WC shutout, for the record) against an extremely good Vegas team, in which he turned aside 35 SOG. Doesn't really get better than that. And the last five weeks papers over the .895 run he had in 12 appearances from the start of the season through the end of November, so hats off.

Seattle needed a pick-me-up that would at least allow them to pretend there was a playoff race to be had here, and look at that, they're suddenly in the last Wild Card spot as I type this. Not by points percentage, of course — Edmonton, for example, is two points back with four games in hand — but it's better than nothing.

Long-term, how good should you feel about a team that needed a goalie to go almost .950 for a month just to get back into the playoff conversation? Probably not good. But that's not Daccord's fault. They keep sending him out there going, "Please stop as many as possible, for the love of god. There is no further help on the way." And he's done that.

Pretty cool for a guy who had 19 NHL appearances across four seasons before this year.

This article is about:
NHL Colorado Avalanche Seattle Kraken NHL Oliver Bjorkstrand Joey Daccord Nathan MacKinnon
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