An Outsider’s Perspective: Sean McIndoe aka Down Goes Brown

This week, I got a chance to chat with the man, the myth, the legend, Sean McIndoe or as many of you know him as, @DownGoesBrown. Sean has also been one of the most recently hired to write for The Athletic and he has a book coming out titled “The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL: The World’s Most Beautiful Sport, The World’s Most Ridiculous League”. It comes out on October 30 and will be perfect for hockey fans that want to read about the history of the league while probably laughing their asses off. Huge thanks to Sean for taking time out of his summer to answer some questions, and congrats on the hire!

Erik Karlsson has yet to be traded from the Ottawa Senators. After all of the drama surrounding the organization, is it possible at all for Ottawa to re-sign Karlsson? If not, what do you expect the return would look like if he’s traded with Bobby Ryan and without Bobby Ryan (Editor’s note: this was obviously asked before Karlsson was traded)?

If Ryan is forced into the deal, I don’t think the return will be all that impressive. In general, fans (and media) tend to underestimate the impact of a bad contract on a trade’s fair value. Years ago, I remember seeing someone make the case that Vernon Wells’ bad contract would take four Roy Halladays to offset. That seemed insane, but the numbers were there. Ryan isn’t quite that bad, but fair value for taking on his deal probably negates most of what the Sens would expect in return for an elite player like Karlsson.

The good news for Ottawa is that while fans and media aren’t good at figuring this stuff out, we don’t have a ton of evidence that NHL GMs are all that much better. In one sense, fair value is whatever the market will pay, so If Pierre Dorion can find a GM who can’t properly factor Ryan’s contract into a trade then he might be able to do OK. But I’m betting that “OK” is about the best he can do, and that may not be enough in Ottawa (Editor’s note: it turns out OK was the best Dorion could do even without including Ryan… woof).

As for Karlsson re-signing, you never say never until a trade is done. But everything I’ve heard makes me think it’s extremely unlikely, at least as long as Eugene Melnyk owns the team.

Part of what makes the Karlsson situation even stickier, is that the Colorado Avalanche own their first round pick in the 2019 draft. With the meager return they got on Mike Hoffman (who was then hilariously flipped for a larger return), Ottawa has clearly gotten worse. Did they make the right decision in keeping their 2018 first rounder to draft Brady Tkachuk?

I think they did. The big fear is that they gave up the Jack Hughes pick. But with the way the draft lottery works, even a total disaster of a season still only means a 20% chance of losing the first overall pick. They could finish dead last, and there’s still about a 50/50 chance they only get the fourth overall pick. And while all signs point to a bad season in Ottawa, anyone who thinks it’s a sure thing hasn’t been paying attention to recent NHL history. I’d assume that Colorado fans know better than anyone that a team everyone is writing off as a train wreck could surprise you.

So even if Ottawa is a disaster, they’re still only a coin flip to lose a better asset than the fourth pick. And if they’re one of those teams that turns out to be better than we thought, then the odds shift solidly into their favor. They could also get stung by a lottery day disaster, but when you mix in the P.R. element of selling this season to your fan base, I think they made the right call.

(But as I’ve said before, they should still be trying to work out a deal with Joe Sakic to buy insurance on the pick.)

Do you feel like the Carolina Hurricanes got a good enough return for Skinner? If not, what more would you have expected? With an extension currently not signed, do you think he plays the year out in Buffalo and hits free agency?

My first reaction to the deal, like a lot of people out there, is that it wasn’t enough. I thought the package they got was just OK, and I like Skinner as a player so I saw it as advantage Buffalo.

But the thing with Skinner is that this wasn’t something like Taylor Hall or P.K. Subban that comes out of nowhere and other teams are going “Wait, we would have given up more than that.” Skinner’s name has been at the top of the trade block for most of the last year. I think it’s safe to assume that Carolina talked to everyone about him, and ended up taking the best offer they had. For whatever reason, other teams either had zero interest or weren’t willing to match Buffalo’s offer.

So the question isn’t really “Did they get enough” so much as “Should they have waited into the season to see if the offers would get better?” And that’s risky, because maybe Skinner gets hurt, or struggles, or the Sabres start off terribly and decide they don’t want a guy on an expiring deal after all. So instead the Hurricanes took the best offseason deal they had and moved on. It wasn’t a great return but I get the reasoning. 

The Calgary Flames made a big play this year in trading Dougie Hamilton, Michal Ferland and Adam Fox for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. They also made a big splash in free agency and signed James Neal. In a Pacific Division that seems inconsistent, is this enough to take them to the playoffs?

Sure. Will they? No idea!

I ranked the Flames as one of the hardest teams to figure out heading into the season. I could see them winning the division, and I could see them missing the playoffs by a decent margin. On paper, they should be good, but the same was true last year and I’m not sure how bringing in a coach with a sub-500 record makes you all that much better.

All year last year last year, the narrative was “the Vegas Golden Knights can’t be this good” and every week they continued to exceed expectations tenfold. They continued to do this in the playoffs as well, making the Stanley Cup Final. Are they for real or do you expect some regression this year?

They’re for real in the sense that we’ve kind of figured out how to tell when a team is a fraud, and the Knights didn’t really check any of those boxes. They weren’t on some sort of PDO bender or getting all their points from overtime and shootouts or whatever else. But I do expect some regression this year. And I’d be willing to bet that you’ll see a lot experts picking them to miss the playoffs altogether, if only because you need a few contrarian picks. I’ll probably be one of them.

Is John Tavares (factoring in the losses of Tyler Bozak and James van Reimsdyk) enough to get Toronto past the first round knowing Boston and Tampa may be just as good next year?

Tavares plus the further development of the kids should be enough. That will certainly be the expectation – losing in the first round again won’t be considered a success in Toronto this time. But Tampa’s still the best team in the division, Boston should be good again, and the Panthers are going to break through eventually, so the road out of the division is tough.

The Leafs have heard a ton of praise about their rebuild, and rightly so. But sometimes you get the sense that some people think that it’s inevitable that Toronto is going to break through as an elite team, and that’s just not how it works. They’re headed in that direction and deserve credit for that, but there’s a long way to go and plenty of opportunities to stumble.

We’re going full chaos-mode on this question. You have the opportunity to take two GMs from two teams and swap them. Who do you swap and what is their first move in their new organization?

Oh man. I swap Bergevin and Chiarelli, then have them make a Klefbom-for-Pacioretty deal on day one just so I can watch Twitter melt down for a week.

The Colorado Avalanche surprised the NHL world last year by not only having a fairly successful season, but getting into the playoffs in a win-and-in game against the St. Louis Blues last year.  What did you see as they keys to their success and where do you think they need to get better?

I’m probably not the guy to ask since I was wrong with just about every opinion I had about the Avs last year. Obviously goaltending is just about everything in hockey when you don’t have it, and going from sub-900 to above the league average was the biggest factor in the turnaround. Having two young forwards make big leaps was also key. And I think we all probably underestimated the impact that coming in so late in the offseason had on Jared Bednar in year one. I’d all but written him off as a decent NHL coach after that disaster in 2016-17, but he was a different guy once he had some experience and a full summer to prepare.

During the draft, the Avalanche traded a 2nd round pick for Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik (who was bought out).  Was this good value and do you expect Grubauer to become a solidified starter in the NHL?

I liked the deal for both sides. I like Grubauer a lot and figured he was going to cost a first-round pick, so Joe Sakic figuring out a creative way to get a discount was shrewd. And from Washington’s perspective, extra cap room today is probably more valuable than a better pick or prospect who won’t have an impact for a few more years. Flags fly forever and they’ve got a Cup core right now, so take your swing.

The Avalanche signed Matt Calvert and Ian Cole to three year deals during free agency.  Do you believe these signings will be beneficial?

The signings were probably fine. Virtually all UFA deals end up being overpays, and I don’t love the idea of spending July 1 money on middle-of-the-lineup (or lower) guys. But Colorado had cap room and roster holes, and neither deal was Clarksonish. The bar for free agency success is so low that you’re basically just hoping that a deal doesn’t end with a buyout. Cole and Calvert probably won’t, so… yay?

As part of your NHL Awards ballot, you voted for Nathan MacKinnon first for the Hart Trophy. What gave him the edge over Taylor Hall and your other votes?

Ultimately I thought he had a better year playing a more important position for a team that was a bigger surprise. The argument for Hall was that he had less support, and maybe he did, but the Avs were coming off a 48-point season so it’s not like MacKinnon was skating with an all-star squad. I went back and forth a few times and also toyed with having McDavid higher, but in the end I was comfortable with how my ballot ended up.

Lastly, what can we expect from the Avalanche for the upcoming year given that the Central just seemed to get better?

If I had to make my prediction today, I’d have them missing the playoffs, and maybe even by a decent margin. I just think the division is too tough, and last season feels close to the best-case scenario in Colorado unless Grubauer stands on his head. Something in the 90 – 95 point range seems reasonable, and that won’t get it done this year.

(And again, I’ve been wrong about pretty much everything about this team over the last year, so congratulations on the coming Cup run.)

We will certainly thank Sean in June when the Avalanche are still playing, however in the mean time, thanks for answering some questions and best of luck in your first year with The Athletic!

 

 

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