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.
A lot of people are picking Ryan Kesler as the Selke Trophy favorite. He is a two-time Selke Trophy nominee who is having a great offensive season. He is tied for second in goals in the NHL (with 33). This is a breakthrough offensive year for him as he has never scored more than 26 goals in a season, prior to this one.
The basic argument for Kesler is that we know he is good defensively, his two Selke Trophy nominations show that and he is making a big showing offensively so he should win the Selke trophy this year. It helps that Pavel Datsyuk, the man who won the last three Selke Trophies, has missed 19 games due to injury and that should prevent him from winning a fourth Selke this year.
The month of February has come and gone and the top scorer in the month is Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. He did so by a commanding margin. He scored 21 points in the month. Teammate Patrick Kane and Corey Perry of Anaheim were next with 17 points each. Toews put up a +13 +/- rating in the month.
Had this performance happened at the beginning of the season, Toews would be on the short list for MVP. That is not to say that Toews had a poor start to the season. He is my pick for the Selke Trophy and is 12th in the NHL in scoring this season. Chicago seems to be coming alive for the stretch drive and their attempted defence of the Stanley Cup and Toews is a big part of their success.
Every year after the trade deadline I like to pick the team that made the biggest positive and negative change to their team on both the long and short term. The trade deadline moves started earlier in February than they have in recent years past. For the sake of this post, I will assume the trade deadline refers to the entire month of February.
Biggest Long Term Improvement: Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto acquired a lot of young potential. Likely some of it will pay off in the future. It is hard to predict exactly which players will go on to be key parts of a Toronto core. Acquired was former first round draft picks Joe Colborne (Boston first rounder 2008), Jake Gardiner (Anaheim first rounder 2008), Philadelphia’s 2011 first round draft pick and Boston’s 2011 first round draft pick. It is unclear that they should be trading for first round picks given that they traded two first round picks to acquire Phil Kessel last summer. This doesn’t show a coherent plan in the way things are being run. Trading away younger players like Kris Versteeg for first round draft picks signifies a rebuild that is only now beginning and should take several years to complete. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that this group of first round draft picks will produce some core players in the future. The problem here is that future is many years away.
The Vancouver Canucks are in first place in the league. I have called them the team most likely to be elite this season, though likely there is no such thing as an elite team this year. The Canucks currently lead the NHL in goals per game (with 3.27) and in goals against per game (2.30). That is a dominant showing.
Last year, Vancouver was a good team. They finished in fifth in the NHL. How have they made such a big step forward this season?
When John Tavares was drafted first overall in 2009 many thought he would be a star. He has been a good player for the New York Islanders, but for the first bit of his career he wasn’t able to be a real star. It was tough to develop while playing on the New York Islanders as they have few above average NHL players. The Islanders have been stuck near the bottom of the NHL. The Islanders did not send a player to the All Star Game. They were represented by rookie Michael Grabner who came alive since then, but at the time was well back in the rookie scoring race. Tavares was not selected to play in the game.
John Tavares has been one of the hottest players in the NHL since then. In fact he has been the second highest scorer in 2011 (behind NHL top scorer Daniel Sedin). Tavares has 28 points so far this year. Grabner has 26. This is a big part of the Islanders young core.
My last post was about Brad Richards and what might become of him at the trade deadline. There is another player I am watching very carefully in Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. Vokoun has been arguably the best goalie in the NHL since the lockout. As of last season Vokoun was the top goalie by saves percentage since the lockout. He has since been passed by Tim Thomas, who is having a remarkable season. Nevertheless, second best saves percentage since the lockout is really impressive.
In the past I have called Vokoun the most underrated player in the NHL. Rarely does anyone discuss him as potentially the best goalie in the NHL. He has played his career out of the limelight in Nashville and Florida.
Probably the biggest name player who might be available at the trade deadline is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. Richards is the eighth highest scorer in the NHL right now. He has 63 points in 56 games. Dallas has only won two of their last thirteen games. They are currently in tenth place in the West Conference. It looks as though the playoffs are slipping away from them, yet they are currently only two points out of a playoff berth.
It isn’t clear if Dallas should be bulking up for a cup run or if they should be a seller. I think that Dallas will not make much of a cup run, if they make playoffs, but it isn’t clear that Joe Nieuwendyk thinks the same way.
The Lady Byng Trophy goes to the player who best combines sportsmanship and a high level of play. In early November I picked Loui Eriksson as the leader. Eriksson is certainly a strong Lady Byng candidate. He is having the best year of his career so far. He has 55 career points and is playing solid defence. He has only six penalty minutes so far this season. However I think there is another player who is playing better hockey and also has a very high level of sportsmanship in Martin St Louis. St Louis is the fourth highest scorer in the league with 69 points. Many argue that his passing is a big part of the reason that Steve Stamkos leads the league in goals. St Louis is last year’s Lady Byng winner. He has only eight penalty minutes on the season. Thus I think St Louis is a better Lady Byng candidate.
The hottest team in the NHL right now was the coldest team at the beginning of the season. The New Jersey Devils are 13-1-1 in their last 15 games. That is a record of a top calibre team. This isn’t what one might expect of the team in 13th place in the East Conference. This isn’t even a full strength Devils team as Zach Parise (who is arguably their best player) has not played since October.
The big turnaround seems to be largely coaching driven. A new coach with a new system has done a lot to right the ship. Jacques Lemaire is one of the best coaches in NHL history. John MacLean appeared to be unready to be an NHL coach. It shows how important coaching can be in a parity filled league. This difference is magnified when compared to most coaching changes. Rarely does a team in need of a coach manage to grab one of the greatest coaches in history. Usually teams promote an AHL coach, assistant coach or their general manager takes over. This is often merely a short-term solution.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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