The New Jersey Devils are both the lowest scoring team and the team with the fewest goals against. It makes for some low scoring New Jersey Devils games. The Devils franchise is famous for slowing down games and keeping scoring down. They popularized the trap in the NHL with their 1995 Stanley Cup win and survived for years behind Martin Brodeur's goaltending keeping goals against down.
This year's team is a continuation of that style even though the players have changed. Cory Schneider is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he has kept goals against down. New Jersey plays a solid defence. They have allowed the eighth fewest shots against. Andy Greene and Adam Larsson are strong defensive defenders who have little offensive value. Travis Zajac is the defensive leader of a defensively responsible group of forwards. The problem is New Jersey lacks any significant scorers. Lee Stempniak is their top scorer with 40 points. He is 46th in the league. There isn't much scoring depth. They have only four more players with more than 15 points on the season in Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
Less than a week ago I posted that Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers had taken the Vezina Trophy lead. He passed Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals who had led for a couple months. Holtby has the league lead in wins and may set a wins record this year. Holtby's problem is that his other stats are not on the level of his wins total. He has a good saves percentage but some goalies have better ones. Wins is a team stat and his win success is largely a product of playin oin the Washington Capitals. Luongo has fewer wins but is a more significant part of Florida's success as they have less overall talent. Luongo had a better saves percentage than Holtby so he was a better Vezina pick. In the few days since then, Luongo's saves percentage has dropped a bit from .930 to .928. This drops him among league leaders. At the same time, Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings has an improving saves percentage which is up to .934. Mrazek is the league leader in saves percentage among goalies who have played the majority of their team's games.
The problem with Mrazek as a Vezina Trophy candidate is that he as fewer games played than most of the other candidates. This is because he did not start the season as the clear number one goalie in Detroit. He was essentially sharing the job with Jimmy Howard. He has won the starting job outright with his play this season. Mrazek has only five fewer games played than Luongo so the games played difference is shrinking, but Luongo still has almost 200 more saves this season. Thus Mrazek still has a weakness of less hockey played, though that weakness is shrinking. However his saves percentage lead is growing. It is time to call Petr Mrazek the Vezina Trophy frontrunner.
Yesterday the Toronto Maple Leafs traded their captain Dion Phaneuf. The return is nothing that should excite the Leaf fans. It looks like Milan Michalek who has 10 points so far this year is the best player in their return. This is a move that further tears down the Leafs. Their goal was to get rid of Phaneuf because it isn't clear how this trade makes the Leafs a better team in the near term or in the longer term since they don't bring in any significant prospects.
Toronto is currently a last place team and this move makes them worse. It isn't a sensible move under the premise of tanking for a better draft pick because there is a draft lottery and Toronto already has a good chance at being the team with the best chance of winning.
If we look back a little over a year, Toronto was in a playoff berth when they opted to fire coach Randy Carlyle. Brendan Shanahan made a conscious decision to change course and tear things apart. As a result, Toronto lost last season. They have also lost this season so far and it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.
Almost a week ago I asked how the Winnipeg Jets will make the salary floor next year. The Jets have the smallest payroll in the NHL. General fanager has them at $59.8 million this year. Two of their more expensive players Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer and it seemed a reasonable guess that they would leave as free agents. It turns out that isn't what will happen. Dustin Byfuglien just resigned with the Winnipeg Jets. He is signed for the next four years with a $7.6 million salary cap hit.
I didn't see how Winnipeg could make good hockey decisions and make the salary floor. It turns out that a big part of doing this was signing Byfuglien for more than he will be worth. Does anyone imagine that at age 34 he will be worth a $7.6 million salary cap hit? I think it is quite a stretch. It is almost certain that this is a bad contract that Winnipeg will regret. Byfuglien will be ery hard to move given his salary cap hit.
It seems that every few days I am reporting that a new player has taken the AHL scoring lead. My last such post was four days ago when I reported that TJ Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs farm affiliate) had taken the lead. Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) has now taken the lead again. He had a good weekend with six points in two games played. That gives him a total of 51 points in 46 games played. This is a three point lead over Brennan.
Bourque has already won the AHL scoring race once in 2010. He is a strong candidate to do it again. He is a 30 year old who is no longer a serious NHL prospect. He has 51 career NHL games over the course of the years with Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston but has only managed 8 points. His last NHL game was in the 2012/13 season. At this point he is veteran leadership in the AHL but not expected to jump to the NHL. This gives him a better chance to win the AHL scoring race because he is less likely to be called up to the NHL than most AHL top scorers.
Chris Bourque is an AHL veteran who is one of the better players in the league. He has re-taken the AHL scoring lead and is a good candidate to win this scoring race. He is Ray Bourque's son and a successful AHL player over the years but he has failed to have a significant NHL career. Perhaps his smaller size of 5'8" 180 pounds has limited him at the NHL at level, but he has been a strong AHL player. He is a top candidate to win his second scoring title in the AHL this season.
A few days ago I wrote a post called How will they make the floor? where I asked how the Winnipeg Jets would make the salary floor with sensible hockey moves assuming Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd leave as unrestricted free agents. There is another team in a similar situation. The Carolina Hurricanes has a $63.5 million salary cap hit according to General Fanager. They have Eric Staal and Cam Ward who are unrestricted free agents and making over $14 million between them. These players will take a reduced salary on their next contracts and will likely do so in another city. To make the potential departures list longer, Kris Versteeg ande John-Michael Liles are also UFAs with over $6 million tied up in salary between them. Those four players take up nearly 1/3 of the total Carolina salary. It isn't obvious how Carolina can fulfill salary floor requirements and replace these players with other NHLers who will make hockey sense.
Carolina has been a team that has struggled to make playoffs recently. Perhaps it is possible this yeara although they are currently three points out of the playoffs. Likely making the salary floor requires overpaying free agents who don't do much to improve the team. Carolina remains a non-playoff team after a few moves with little hockey value. What does one do to improve in the off-season given their situation?
Which player in the NHL has the worst Corsi? Corsi is a measure of attempted shots when a player is on the ice at even strength. Attempted shots mean missed shots, blocked shots and shots on goal. We calculate the number of attempted shots taken by the player's team and subtract those taken by opponents. This number is useful because it is a measure of puck possession. A team that attempts a lot more shots than their opponents has the puck. So which player is on the team that plays without the puck the most while he is on the ice? That player has the worst Corsi in the NHL.
If I told you that the worst Cori player is the player who plays on the worst Corsi team would that surprise you? It probably wouldn't. Puck possession is largely a team skill. Although we can extract individual player contributions, it shouldn't surprise you if the worst Corsi player is on the worst Corsi team. The worst Corsi team in the NHL this year is the Colorado Avalanche. Which Av player should have the worst individual Corsi? Probably the logical guess is the guy who has the most playing time. The more you play on the worst Corsi team, the worse your Corsi would be expected to be. That is the case. Francois Beauchemin, the Avs leader in playing time has the worst Corsi in the NHL.
It was a week before Christmas when I picked Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals as the Vezina Trophy leader. Listening to commentators in the All Star Game it seemed as though Holtby had already been coronated as the top goalie in the NHL. However things are not so clear, Holtby is leading the league in wins. Potentially he could set a wins record this season. However he is only one win ahead of Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, so that doesn't make him unique. Wins are not a great individual stat. Teams win games. Neither Holtby nor Crawford would be wins leaders if they didn't play for top teams. Also wins today are easier to obtain since no games end in ties creating more wins for goalies to pick up. When we look at his other numbers, Holtby is not the league leader. He is not the saves percentage leader. His .928 saves percentage is good but a few goalies are doing better.
I think Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers is the Vezina leader at this point. He does not have the same quality of team in front of him as Holtby or Crawford but he is still putting up very good numbers. Luongo has a .930 saves percentage and a 2.11 goals against average. No goalie has more games played and a better saves percentage. Florida's success so far this year is largely built on Luongo's back.
Just before the AHL All Star break, I reported that Seth Griffith of the Providence Bruins (Boston affiliate) had taken the AHL scoring lead. He didn't manage to hold onto that lead into the All Star break. With two point nights on the last two days of games before All Star break, TJ Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs affiliate) took the lead. He has 47 points in 46 games and is one point ahead of Seth Griffith. Griffith has 11 fewer games played, hence Griffith will likely retake the lead if he remains in the AHL.
TJ Brennan is a defenceman. He is 26 years old. He has 46 NHL games over the years with Buffalo, Florida and Toronto. He has been a successful offensive defeceman at the AHL level. He scored 72 points in 2013/14, his last full AHL season. Brennan has not yet been able to show an NHL team that he has the defensive ability to play at the NHL level consistently and he hasn't been given the frontline ice time to be a scorer. He may earn an NHL shot this season.
Brennan is a very good scoring defenceman at the AHL level. He currently holds the AHL scoring lead. This position has been heavily contested recently with two more players within three points. As long as Brennan stays in the AHL and does not get called up to the NHL he could hold onto the lead but there are other contenders who are scoring at a better rate who may overtake him.
The Winnipeg Jets are likely a non-playoff team. They are currently last in the Central Division with a 22-28 record with three regulation tie points. This gives them 47 points, which is eight fewer than anyone else in their division. They are also the lowest salary team in the NHL. General fanager has them at $59.8 million right now. The NHL's floor is $52.8 million this year.
Two key Jet players are unrestricted free agents this year. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd are quite likely to be playing for other teams next year. They are involved in trade rumors as the trade deadline gets closer this year. If they left Winnipeg more than $9 million will be leaving. Assuming nobody was brought in to replace them, this would put Winnipeg below the salary floor.
There is no current Jet who looks like a candidate to get a significant pay raise to fill their spots in the Jets salary scheme. The Jets would have to bring in players from elsewhere in order to make the salary floor. More than likely if Byfuglien and Ladd were traded, they would be traded for prospects who would be cheap and may not be NHL ready yet. There is likely little salary coming back. No salary comes back at all if they are allowed to leave as free agents.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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