The Anaheim Ducks have some very good frontline talent. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are three very good forwards. They are as strong a group of three forwards as any team can offer. Lubomir Visnovsky is having an outstanding season defensively. I pick him for the Norris Trophy. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are experienced forwards who provide very good depth. This is a great core for a team. What keeps them from being a top team is little depth. Jason Blake is the only other forward they have with more than 20 points.
They are currently in tenth place, two points out of a playoff berth (and with two games in hand on eighth place Calgary). Their playoff berth will probably be decided by their goaltending over the shortterm.
Last summer, I figured that the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup in 2011 might be the Washington Capitals. Washington won the President’s Trophy in 2009/10 and didn’t lose any significant players over the course of the summer. Washington had been the highest scoring team in the league. Alexander Ovechkin led the way with the best point per game total (109 points in 72 games). Nicklas Backstrom’s 101 points was fourth in the league, Alexander Semin was 13th in the league in scoring and Mike Green was the top scoring defenceman in the league. It was clear that Washington could score.
The question was their ability to keep the puck out. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are unproven at best. It is unclear if either will ever be a star. Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti had done a good job as defensive shutdown men, but neither had star potential. In the salary capped world, this looked like a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
In late October I picked Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Norris Trophy leader. Letang has done a wonderful job of having a breakout season that makes him a Norris Trophy candidate, but he has been caught. He has been caught by Lubomir Visnovsky of the Anaheim Ducks. Visnovsky would be a much bigger name player if he had played in the East Conference. He is a very talented defenceman who has spent his career in markets that don’t play until the eastern sportswriters go to bed.
This season he is tied for the league lead in scoring among defencemen. He has the second best +/- rating on his team, while playing against a high level of competition. He leads Anaheim in ice time and has been hugely important to the Ducks puck control. I think he has been the best defenceman so far this year, in a rather tight race with several participants.
One event that has potential to significantly change NHL labor relations is underway right now. The NFL is on the verge of a lockout that threatens the 2011 season. The NFLPA has decertified. This is the strategy some have suggested for the NHLPA. If there is no union to agree to the CBA, then there is no CBA. It is assumed (although likely several lawsuits would stand in the way first) that this would mean the NFL would have to live by the same laws as any other non-union business. Non-union businesses do not have drafts or salary caps, so the NFL couldn’t have them either.
Should this work out positively for the NFL players, look for the NHL players to want to follow in the same direction. There are a lot of questions regarding this process as it has never happened before in pro sports. Here is a CNNSI article that tries to run down the possible outcomes of the situation in the NFL.
Late in the second period of Tuesday night’s Boston at Montreal game (which Montreal won 4-1), Zdeno Chara caught Max Pacioretty with a serious hit. Pacioretty had gotten rid of the puck about a second before the hit. Chara’s hit knocked Pacioretty into the glass divider at the end of the visitor’s bench. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion. This is a situation where the result is quite serious. Chara was not suspended.
The NHL has a problem with concussions. Far too many players are suffering them and they are ending careers and affecting player’s quality of life after retirement. Sidney Crosby was well on his way to a Hart Trophy season before he suffered a concussion. He hasn’t played in over months and it is unclear if he will be back this season. This is affecting the NHL at the box office as well as on an individual player level.
Last year I wrote a piece called takeaways as a Selke stat. I argued that takeaways are a poor number to use to make the key part of decisions like who should win the Selke Trophy. Last year Pavel Datsyuk led the NHL with 132 takeaways and he won the Selke Trophy. He won this despite averaging only 44 seconds in penalty kill time per game. This placed Datsyuk ninth on the Detroit Red Wings in penalty kill time among forwards. That isn`t a sign of a player being used as a defensive forward. It is a forward who is not used in key defensive situations.
Nevertheless, Pavel Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy. It was his third in a row. I argue it was largely won on reputation. The Selke Trophy voting is usually quite messed up in part because many voters don`t have a clue how to recognize a defensive forward.
In late December, the Calgary Flames were in fourteenth place in the West Conference. They were eight points out of a playoff berth. This was when Calgary brought in Jay Feaster to be GM after Darryl Sutter resigned. Since that time, Calgary has posted a 19-12 record with six regulation tie points. In 31 games, Calgary has earned points in 25 of them. Calgary is now in fifth place in the West Conference.
It looks like Calgary will be a playoff team. The Calgary Flames have saved their season. Offensively, Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and Alex Tanguay have come to life giving them more offensive depth. The biggest change however is not on the individual performance level. Calgary has played better as a team.
The Ottawa Senators are not having a good season. They are in last place in the NHL. Their top scorer and All Star Game representative was Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is a second year NHLer who leads the Sens with 35 points. That makes him the lowest scoring player who leads his team in scoring. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that he is worst in the NHL with a -34 +/- rating. In fact the three worst +/- ratings in the NHL are all Ottawa defencemen. There is Karlsson at -34, Filip Kuba at -28 and Chris Phillips at -26. These are two of the three leaders in ice time in Ottawa. Karlsson leads the Sens in ice time, Sergei Gonchar is next and Chris Phillips is third. Kuba is ninth in ice time.
Ottawa has the worst team +/- in the league. It is not surprising that their players have the worst +/- ratings in the league. It is not surprising that their players with the most ice time have the worst +/- ratings.
A quick look at the NHL saves percentage leaders shows James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs is in third place. He has a .929 saves percentage and is well back of league leader Tim Thomas of Boston and marginally back of Pekka Rinne of Nashville.
Reimer is quite an interesting player to be that high in the saves percentage race. He is a rookie who has only played 21 NHL games. His NHL debut was in December of last year and his first complete game did not happen until January 2011.
While it is always interesting to note rookies putting up good numbers, it is clear that Reimer doesn’t have enough games played to be a serious Calder Trophy candidate. Last year Tuukka Rask led the NHL in saves percentage as a rookie, while playing in 45 games. He was not a Calder nominee. Should Reimer play every game remaining this season he will only play 38 games.
A rookie defenceman has taken the league lead in +/-. Adam McQuaid of the Boston Bruins leads the league with a +27 rating. This is more impressive given that he didn’t play his first game this season until the later part of October, almost a month into the season.
McQuaid hasn’t even been the best rookie defenceman in the league that season. I would give that honor to John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, my current pick for the Calder Trophy.
The main difference between Carlson and McQuaid is that Carlson regularly plays against the best players who play his team and McQuaid has been sheltered from that. McQuaid has played against the weakest competition of any Bruin defenceman.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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