The NHL trade deadline is February 27th. It is two and a half weeks away. One of the big name players who is likely to be moved is Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton media is writing pieces to prepare their fans for this inevitability. This is likely not such a smart move. Tyler Dellow writes two intelligent pieces on this situation here and here.
Hemsky has been a good player for the Oilers. In his best years he was ranked in the lower part of a top 50 player rankings list. In a 30 team NHL that should make him the second best player on his team, however on a weak Oiler team he was their top player. He has in his third straight lacklustre season below that level. This has been largely brought on by injury issues. Hemsky has never had as low a value in his NHL career as he does now.
The CHL Top Prospects Game was played last week. Team Orr (coached by Pat Quinn) defeated Team Cherry (coached by Mark Recchi) by a 2-1 score. Here are the rosters from the game. This game is essentially an All Star Game for 2012 draft eligible players in the CHL, but it isn’t a poorly played no defence game like the NHL All Star Game. Players want to make an impact in the game because it may improve their draft position and potentially increase the value of their first contract in the NHL and potentially their chances of making it to the big leagues. Despite the desire to play in the game, some players get injured and cannot play. Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting is one such player.
Yakupov is the probable top pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. He was the CHL Rookie of the Year last season with 101 points scored in 65 games. So far this season he has 55 points in 29 games. He has missed significant time due to injury.
As recently as the 2008/09 season I was writing about how great the Montreal Canadiens power play was. In the 2007/08 season Montreal had a league leading 24.1% success rate on the power play. This season they have a league worst 12.1% power play success rate. What happened? How did the best power play team in the league become the worst in a few seasons?
The personnel have largely changed. The first unit power play in 2007/08 consisted of Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov and Mark Streit. Only Markov remains a Hab and he hasn’t played a game this season due to injury. However power plays are often not as dependent upon personnel as they are on the system employed. Systems are usually a product of coaching. Usually teams have one coach in charge of special teams.
The Montreal Canadiens have been a playoff team for the last four seasons. They won at least one round in two of them. It looks like that streak will end this season. Montreal is currently tied for last place in the East Conference with 49 points. They have a 20-33 record with nine regulation tie points. Only Anaheim and Columbus have fewer wins than they do. What has gone wrong?
The biggest problem surrounding the Habs is the uncertainty of who is in charge. In December Jacques Martin was fired as coach and replaced by Randy Cunneyworth. This soon led to controversy as Cunneyworth does not speak French and this angered some Quebec language activists’. This situation was handled badly as owner Geoff Molson went on record to say that Cunneyworth is only an interim coach. Montreal would hire a French speaking coach for next year.
In mid-November, I picked Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators as the top defenceman in the league so far this season. In January after Weber had lost time to a concussion, I updated this pick to Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Now that Weber is back and healthy he has played himself back into the position of Norris Trophy front-runner.
Weber has 35 points which places him among the top scoring defenders in the league and second on his team. His +19 +/- rating leads his team. Weber is a dominant defenceman who has had more value to his team than any other. Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom are other contenders for this award but neither has as many points or a team leading +/- rating. Erik Karlsson is also worthy of mention since he is the dominant offensive defenceman in the league but he is not nearly as strong in his own zone.
The team with the best goals against in the NHL right now is the St Louis Blues. They have a low 1.92 goals against average. This is quite amazing from a team that fired its coach in early November. It wasn’t that Davis Payne was horribly failing as much as Ken Hitchcock is a top coach who brought in a strong defensive system. Hitchcock has been a strong reason why the blues have been a top team so far this season. His effect on the Blues is an example of the maximal effect a coach can have on his team. Rarely does a coach make this big a difference. One wonders where the Columbus Blue Jackets would be if they had hired him as was rumored when the Blues hired him.
The biggest strength of the St Louis Blues is goaltending. Brian Elliott is having an outstanding comeback season. He is posting a .938 saves percentage and a 1.69 GAA. Jaroslav Halak has recovered from a slow start and he is posting a .921 saves percentage and a 1.96 GAA. This is one of the best goaltending pairs in the NHL.
It is quite an achievement that Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the top scoring defenceman in the league. He currently has 48 points in 52 games played. This gives him a 12 point lead over any other defenceman in the league. This season is already his career best offensive total. That is quite an achievement for a 21 year old player.
Karlsson is playing against top competition. No other Senator regular plays against as tough competition. His +7 +/- rating is among the best on his team. He is starting to be seen as a solid Norris Trophy candidate. I would argue that three more well-rounded defencemen exist in front of him in Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber and Nicklas Lidstrom, but he is the best of the next group.
Last season the Buffalo Sabres finished in the seventh seed in the East Conference with a 43-39 record with 10 regulation tie points. Many thought they looked like a team ready to make a big step toward being a solid Stanley Cup contender when new owner Terry Pegula opened the purse strings and signed free agents Christian Ehrhoff to a ten year contract worth a total of $40 million (which pays him $10 million this year) and Ville Leino to a six year contract worth $27 million. That hasn’t been the case.
Buffalo is currently fourth from last in the East Conference with only 21 wins in 51 games played. So what went wrong?
The easy answer is that the Sabres overpaid for their new signings. We knew that when Ehrhoff and Leino were signed, but it is more obvious now. Leino has been limited to four goals and twelve points so far this year. Ehrhoff has scored a little higher from defence, but his -9 +/- rating is among the worst on the team.
I last picked Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders as my Selke Trophy leader in mid-December. It became clear to me that another player had moved into the lead just before the All Star break, but I hesitated to announce it because he was out with a wrist injury and should he remain out of the lineup for a prolonged period of time he would soon be surpassed. Last night Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks returned to action. He only missed one game because of the All Star break.
Toews is a wonderful two-way player who can score. His 51 points place him tenth in the NHL scoring race. He can also play outstanding defence. Toews plays against tough competition and shuts them down. He plays in tough defensive situations and he plays almost two minutes of penalty kill time per game.
January isn`t over yet as we still have games to play tonight, but it looks like the top scorer in the month with be John Tavares of the New York Islanders. He has seven goals and 11 assists on the month for 18 points. This gives him a three point lead over the four players who are next with 15 points each. Tavares also plays tonight versus Carolina so he may increase his lead.
Tavares has 49 points so far this season and seems likely to increase his point total for the third straight season. He leads the Islanders in points and is 12th in the league.
He is an often overlooked rising star who was selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and has been playing somewhat out of the limelight on Long Island. The Islanders have never seriously contended for a playoff spot in Tavares`s time and he has had few talented teammates to play with.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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