Over the past couple of years, a good number of posts have been devoted to the topic of elite goaltenders. Which goalies in the league are elite? What does it mean to a team to have one of them or not have one of them? In the comments of the posts, Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils has often been used as an elite goaltender. He certainly was one during the majority of his NHL career, but for the past few years he hasn’t been playing at that level (which for the sake of simplicity we will take as being one of the top five goalies in the game - there is a much longer discussion than that if necessary). He hasn’t been significantly below that level, but it has been a couple years since he showed he was an elite goaltender. For example, he was one of the goalies on the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team but he didn’t play particularly well and lost the starting job before the end of the tournament. Given his track record, it was entirely possible that he might again show he is an elite goalie, so it was awkward to write him off, but also not accurate to accept him as an elite goalie of today. His performance so far this season has convinced me that it is safe to write him off.
The AHL scoring race has been changed significantly by NHL callups. Four of the top ten scorers so far this season are currently on NHL rosters. They are Max Pacioretty of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens), Dustin Jeffrey of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins), Zach Boychuk of the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) and Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals). When i last looked at the scoring race, about a week and a half ago Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators) held the lead. He has since been caught and overtaken. David Desharnais of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) holds the current lead with 40 points. He has a three point lead over Locke.
When you are a first year coach of a last place team that was expected to make the playoffs your days are likely numbered. The fact that New Jersey fired coach John MacLean today is not a surprise. The surprise is that he lasted 33 games before his firing.
In 33 games, New Jersey posed a 9-24 record (with two regulation tie points). That is clearly not good enough. Sure there were factors outside MacLean’s control. The Ilya Kovalchuk signing hurt the Devils depth. It even forced them to play a few games with a less than full roster. To make matters worse, Kovalchuk has not produced as expected. There have been injuries to deal with. Last year’s top scorer Zach Parise has missed most of the season and many other players have been hurt too.
I try to track the worst regular player in each NHL season. I am interested in what kind of players continue to play in the NHL despite their failure. Usually the worst player in the NHL is a hard working borderline NHL player with little pro hockey talent, but he has the respect of coaching and his teammates, which keeps him in the line-up. The last player I picked in this role is Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings.
It is hard to remain the worst player in the league. There are a couple players on every team with similar roles to you and limited talent as well. If you play too poorly you lose your NHL job, but if you play too well, somebody else takes over as the worst regular player in the league.
On of the more surprising numbers this season is Andrej Meszaros’s league leading +/- rating. His +22 is four points better than anyone else’s. He is a player who has not put up a particularly good +/- rating (last year he was -14) since his rookie year of 2005/06 in Ottawa. He recorded a +34 that season.
There are a lot of similarities between this season and 2005/06. Philadelphia is a first place team this year with the highest team +/- rating. Ottawa was a similar top team in 2005/06.
The NHLPA has finally confirmed Donald Fehr as their new union head. He fills a stop left vacant since Paul Kelly was fired over a year ago. This gives the NHLPA is strong leader for their upcoming 2012 CBA negotiations. Leadership is not the only problem that the NHLPA faces. The players that form the rank and file of the NHLPA are not united or willing to stand up to significant bargaining pressure. The NHL knows this and will apply significant pressure to get an even more owner friendly CBA than the current one which the owners basically wrote and the union capitulated and fired Bob Goodenow.
When Luca Sbisa was drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008 he looked like he could be an NHL star. When he made the Flyer team as an 18 year old rookie, it looked even more likely.
Then problems occurred. Salary cap issues forced the Flyers to send Sbisa back to junior despite the fact he had played 39 games and had used the first year of his entry level contract. Sbisa went back to the WHL where he starred with the Lethbridge for the remainder of the season. He also managed to play two AHL games with the Philadelphia Phantoms after the Lethbridge season ended. This made him enough of a prospect to be the centre-piece of the Chris Pronger trade, that made him Anaheim Duck property.
The Masterton Trophy is officially given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. That definition is not too well kept by the voters. Nobody considers sportsmanship for this award. In practise, the award is given to the player who overcomes the biggest obstacle to continue his career and makes the biggest impact with his team.
I think the leader for this award this season is Kurtis Foster of the Edmonton Oilers. Foster broke his leg very badly in a race for an iced puck in 2007. He was out of hockey for over a year recovering. Many thought his career was over, but he made it back.
So far this season the Colorado Avalanche have been the top scoring team in the NHL. They have 3.53 goals per game so far this year. This is about 0.2 goals per game more than any other team and a 0.6 goals per game improvement on last season.
For the most part this improvement has come from a deep young offensive team. Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk are all scoring at about point per game rate. Duchene is a talented second year man in the NHL who seems to be on his way to stardom. Paul Stastny has been a good scorer in Colorado for a few years, but has also missed time to injury.
Every year I pick out a team that could be a solid contender if only they had goaltending. Last year I picked the Ottawa Senators, a team that did not solve their goaltending issues and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
My choice this year could not be more obvious. It is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa has the second lowest shots allowed per game at 27.1. They also have the worst goals against average in the league at 3.47. Their goaltenders Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have the two worst saves percentages in the league at .876 and .872 respectively.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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