The NHL’s Central Bargaining Agreement comes to an end this summer leaving the real possibility of a lockout next season. We can look back over the current CBA and see which teams did well and which teams did poorly. This was supposed to be a CBA that would bring about parity and let the small markets win - at least that is how the NHL marketed it. Let’s see what the results look like and what really happened in the passing CBA.
Here are the total points achieved by each team from the 2005/06 regular season to the end of the 2011/12 regular season:
It is time to make my first round playoff predictions. Before doing so I want to explain a bit about predictions in hockey. In the regular season, I have never seen anyone capable of predicting the winner in as many as 60% of the games in the season. If we take that number as a theoretical limit for the maximum number of correct predictions one can make by picking the team that is most likely to win each night, then we can conclude that 20% of the time the winning team in a game is the team that is the better team. The other 80% of the time the game is decided by random luck. Either team has an equal chance of winning when a game comes down to random luck. 40% of the time the favorite wins by luck and 40% of the time the underdog wins by luck. One in five games is decided based on the talent of the better team. In the playoffs the worst teams are gone, so the difference in talent between the best and worst playoff teams is smaller. Thus any playoff predictions are a crapshoot. With that said, here we go:
With the regular season over it is time to reveal who I would pick as the winners and nominees of the major NHL awards, as I have done in years past.
Calder Trophy - 1. Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche 2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers 3. Adam Henrique New Jersey Devils Here is when I picked Landeskog for the award. He played a tough role for Colorado with a strong defensive component to his play and tied for the lead in rookie points. Nugent-Hopkins would have won if he had been healthy all season, but as things happened he scored as many points as Landeskog with much weaker defensive play and defensive responsibility.
In the regular season, teams are limited to 23 players on their roster and they must keep their total payroll below the salary cap. Neither of these rules remain true in playoff time and teams tend to skirt the rules to exceed both of these limits come the start of the playoffs. No team is doing it as blatantly as the Vancouver Canucks this season.
Injured Canuck players who have been on long term injured reserve and were not healthy enough to play in game 82 will be healthy for game one of the playoffs. This includes Daniel Sedin, Keith Ballard and Aaron Volpatti. Their term on the LTIR allowed the Canucks to exceed the salary cap by their salaries during the regular season. When they return during the playoffs there is no more salary cap to worry about.
Now that we know which 16 teams are in the playoffs this year, we can look at the teams that missed the playoffs and see which team is the biggest disappointment to have missed out. By this I mean the team that most was expected to make playoffs but didn’t. I am not picking a team that plays in a high profile market and thus has pressure to succeed, like Toronto, but missed playoffs. I want the team that most hockey experts expected the most from before the season that eventually missed the playoffs.
That team is the Buffalo Sabres. They were a 7th seed in the East Conference last year and a new owner in Terry Pegula who wanted to compete and saw that the team added to their payroll.
Yesterday I wrote that I think Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the most improved player this season. Commenters quickly pointed out Brian Elliott of the St Louis Blues. While Elliott has had a huge statistical improvement in his play this season, I do not see it as a huge sustained improvement. I wouldn’t list him among the elite goalies in the NHL. There are several better goalies around while Karlsson is one of the best defencemen in the game. In a fantasy draft next season Karlsson should be picked well before Elliott.
In fact I wouldn’t call Elliott the most improved goalie in the league this year. That honor would go to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.
One award the NHL does not offer that I think should exist is a most improved player award. If such a thing existed, I think the clear winner this year should be Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. He is the runaway top scoring defenceman in the NHL. His defence is rapidly improving and this makes him a Norris Trophy candidate. Some see him as the frontrunner, though I argue for Zdeno Chara. This is a significant improvement from the 45 point season he had last year with the third worst +/- rating in the NHL. Karlsson has now established himself as one of the top defencemen in the game. He is a significant part of the reason Ottawa is a playoff team this season. Ottawa is lucky to have him.
In February, I wrote about how the Philadelphia Flyers were the highest scoring team in the league. They will not finish the season in that position. The Pittsburgh Penguins have taken over that spot. It is no surprise that this happened after Sidney Crosby returned from injury. With Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins have the two highest scoring players in the league in terms of points per game in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. James Neal is also a significant point per game scorer on the team.
Pittsburgh should have two strong scoring lines in the playoffs. One will be centered by Malkin and one by Crosby. It will be very hard for any team to play against that as the top defensive players cannot focus on only one line.
Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks was one of the higher profile rookies in the NHL last year. As an 18 year old he played a significant role with the Ducks. He showed some offensive prowess scoring 40 points from defence. The problem was he wasn’t much of a defensive player. He had the worst team and zone adjusted Corsi rating in the league last year. Anaheim Duck fans attacked me for pointing out this fact.
Another season has nearly gone by. Cam Fowler will not score as well in his sophomore year. He currently has 29 points on the season. Most alarming his +/- is the second worst in the league at -27.
Filip Kuba of the Ottawa Senators is posting a +28 +/- rating so far this season. This is the highest +/- for any player who is not a member of the Boston Bruins. Last season he posted a -26 +/- rating. There were five worse players in the league by raw +/-. Since Kuba played only 64 games in 2010/11, he had the worst +/- on a per game basis in the league. We are seeing a significant improvement in +/- from Filip Kuba. Does this show a considerable improvement in his play?
+/- ratings are significantly influenced by the team for which a player plays. The Ottawa Senators are significantly better this year than they were last year. Last year Ottawa was one of the worst teams in the NHL and had the worst +/- in the East Conference. This year they are a probable playoff team who has scored more goals than they have allowed. A significant portion of Kuba’s +/- improvement is from team improvement.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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