The NHL has a problem. The biggest story of the playoffs so far has been the violence and suspensions that have occurred this year. In order to address this they were ready to make an example out of the next player to step out of line. That player is Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes and he will be suspended for 25 games. In all likelihood this suspension will run well into next season as it would require Phoenix to make an improbable Stanley Cup run to play anywhere near enough games. They have to play to game seven in each of the four playoff series to reach 25 more playoff games.
Torres hit Marian Hossa in the third period of game three. He “launched himself” into Hossa and appeared to hit him in the head. Hossa was removed from the ice on a stretcher. Since Hossa is a top NHL player that injury could decide the Phoenix/Chicago first round playoff series.
One of the stories of the first round of the playoffs is that of parity in the NHL. Some of the strongest powers in the NHL are facing elimination. These teams include the two-time Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks and three of the last four Stanley Cup winners in the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. Last year’s Stanley Cup winner the Boston Bruins are tied in their series. This shows that any given team can win on any given night. There are no superpowers in the NHL. While there is some truth to that, this level of parity is a fluke. These playoffs so far have been closer than statistical expectations.
The simplest way to see this is by looking at a simple model. Let’s assume that each game is a coin flip. It is a long drawn out dramatic coin flip that takes about three hours, but a coin flip nevertheless. There cannot be more parity than this situation where each game is truly a 50-50 shot.
The biggest story of the playoffs so far is the rise in the number of suspensions and suspendable plays. Nine players have been suspended for one game or more so far in the 2012 playoffs and we are only midway through the first round. Shea Weber could easily be included on this list after his bashing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards but he was merely fined $2500 and not suspended. In the entire 2011 playoffs only four players were suspended. This isn’t a sign of a crackdown on illegal plays. This is a sign that more suspendable plays are occurring.
The worst part of this is that the media is reporting on suspensions and not upon hockey. The hockey is less reported due to the increase in violence. What is causing the increase in violence?
During the regular season I try to pick the worst regular player in the league. It is an interesting question to see what kind of player can continue to get dressed despite his inept play for his team. This year Brad Staubitz “won” this dishonor. He played himself out of Minnesota and wound up on Montreal as a waiver claim. He played 62 games this season and finally scored his only goal in the last game of the year. He played slightly over six minutes a game against weak competition and could not score or prevent his opponents from scoring. Despite that, Montreal Canadiens fans seem to be happy to bring Staubitz back next year. He is a popular guy. He fights. These are common traits of the worst regular in the NHL. If you play as poorly as Staubitz and you are not well liked and won’t stand up for your teammates you won’t stay in the lineup.
I rarely try to pick a worst regular in the playoffs because more than likely the player chosen would be on a team that was quickly eliminated from playoff contention. However so far this season there is a player who looks so inept I feel the need to point him out. He is Arron Asham of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There is a popular hockey myth that a team needs a clutch goaltender to win the Stanley Cup. The best way to decide who is a clutch goaltender is to look at past Stanley Cups and see who was the winning goalie in those runs. Those goalies now have an unquestionable reputation as a clutch goalie. Goalies who may post better numbers in the regular season on a regular basis if they have not won their Stanley Cup but not the clutch goalie who won in the past.
One case in point that shows that is a myth is Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Fleury has been the worst goalie in the playoffs so far this season.
If there was any doubt that NHL hockey in South Florida is on shaky financial ground, I found this on stubhub last night.
That’s right $18 US can get you into a Stanley Cup playoff game. Granted it is poor seats but it is a ridiculously low amount compared to any established NHL market.
I try to pick leaders for the various NHL awards as soon as I possibly can in the season and regularly monitor when I think the leading candidate changes. I want to see at which point the eventual winner takes the lead in the award race. Teams have only played one or two games in the 2012 playoffs, but there is a clear early MVP. Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers is that man.
Giroux has six points and a +4 +/- rating. He leads or is tied for the league lead in playoff goals, assists, points and +/-. Giroux had an incredible game last night and is now the early playoff MVP.
The NHL has had problems with consistency when suspending players for years. With Brendan Shanahan coming in as the NHL’s vice president in charge of suspensions there was hope things would change. The early return from the playoffs is that nothing has changed.
One problem the NHL has long had with suspensions is that they have not wanted to appear to decide playoff series with their suspensions. Therefore star players are less likely to get suspended than role players. That is exactly what we saw after the first day of playoff games.
The New York Rangers signed their 2009 first round draft pick Chris Kreider to a three year entry level contract on Tuesday. He is fresh off helping his Boston College team win the NCAA championship. He is joining the New York Rangers for their playoff run. Is he NHL ready? More than likely we will find out. If Kreider plays one game in the playoff run, it will count as the first year of his entry level contract. Is that a cost that the Rangers can justify? Is Kreider better in his first ever NHL game than any of the 12 forwards that got the Rangers to the playoffs? I am sceptical. I think the Rangers would be better served saving his entry level contract into the future by saving his NHL debut until next year. It is hard to imagine that he is ready to make an NHL impact in his first game in the Stanley Cup playoffs and if he can’t why blow off a year in his contract for it?
For the third year in a row the Edmonton Oilers will have first pick in the NHL Entry Draft. After two years finishing in last place in the league and selecting Taylor Hall first overall in 2010 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in 2011, they finished in second last place and won the draft lottery. Likely this means Edmonton will select Nail Yakupov in June. This is a significant addition to an already very good young core. Add in Jordan Eberle and Edmonton could have the best group of offensive forwards in the league in a few years if all turns out.
It will be hard for the Oilers to not be contenders with that group to build around. Nevertheless they will still need to find some good defencemen and goaltenders, as the Oilers are lacking in both positions.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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