Over the years I have often written about how much better the West Conference is than the East Conference. When we look at the head-to-head record, the West Conference has had a much better record. So far this season the West Conference has had a better inter-conference record. They have a 92-89 record with 26 regulation tie points. This makes the conferences much closer than they had been in the past.
In the past, I explained the difference as being due to the difference in travel between the conferences. The West Conference has significantly more travel over a season than the East Conference does as the West has teams in four different time zones and the East is entirely in the eastern time zone. This makes East Conference records better than they otherwise would be and it makes West Conference records worse. This makes West Conference teams better able to get early draft picks and thus draft better players. East players tend to put up better numbers as they have life easier. This leads to them getting bigger contracts and in a salary capped NHL this limits your team’s spending ability.
One of the constants in the NHL this season has been teams rapidly shuttling in and out of the first place position in the NHL. There have been many lead changes throughout the season so far. Even a team currently in 18th place by points - the Minnesota Wild were in first place overall in late November. At All Star break the first place overall team is the Detroit Red Wings. In part this is because they have more games played than some teams (50). Both the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers have better winning percentages in fewer games.
Detroit seems like a perennial contender because of the way they went from a Stanley Cup winning team built around Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov to a Stanley Cup winning team built around Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. This turnover in personal occurred without Detroit going through a weak rebuilding stage. In fact the Red Wings have qualified for the playoffs every year since 1990.
The All Star break is a natural time to look at the season so far. One thing few people notice is which team has been the hottest in the time up to the break. That team is the Nashville Predators. They have won their last four straight. They have nine wins in their last ten games. They have twelve wins in their last 14 games. This has moved the Preds up to fifth place in the West Conference. They have a 30-20 record with four regulation tie points to give them 64 points. This places them a mere three points out of first place in the entire NHL.
Nashville is a team that has its biggest strength in the defensive end of the zone. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are All Star defencemen. Pekka Rinne is a top goalie. They do not have any big scorers. Martin Erat leads the team with 35 points at the break.
I find it interesting to try to try to keep track of the worst regular player in the NHL each season. I want to see what kind of player keeps himself in the lineup despite not providing anything positive for his team. Generally the worst regular in the league is either a goon with limited ice time or a hard working but untalented depth player. Both of these types of players are ones that some coaches will keep in the lineup despite a lack of a positive return on their roster spot. In December, I picked Chris Thorburn of the Winnipeg Jets for this dishonor. Thorburn hasn’t played well, but he isn’t the worst player in the league. He is up to four points (all assists) and sometimes plays in tough defensive situations for the Jets. My current pick is Brad Staubitz of Minnesota Wild.
Staubitz has appeared in 41 games so far this year. He has no points. He plays fewer than seven minutes per game. He has posted -7 +/- rating which is only better than three teammates with significantly more playing time (Darrell Powe, Devin Setoguchi and Marco Scandella).
Alexander Ovechkin has announced that he will join Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne (and possibly Joe Thornton) in missing the All Star Game. The difference between Ovechkin and the others is that Ovechkin did not let the league know he did not want to participate before the player selections were announced. Perhaps he thought his play was not good enough for a selection, so he didn’t have to worry. Nicklas Backstrom was a more logical choice for the Caps, as he is the Caps top scorer. However Backstrom has been out with a concussion and hasn’t played since January 3rd. Ovechkin’s star power makes him a logical Caps choice even in a poor season from a public relations standpoint.
I do not believe Ovechkin’s excuse for missing the game. He is currently suspended and doesn’t want to attend as a suspended player.
At the beginning of January I picked Steve Stamkos as the leader in the MVP race. Stamkos remains the goal scoring leader in the NHL but with Evgeni Malkin taking a significant point lead with fewer games played, it is clear that Malkin should be the MVP.
Malkin has 58 points in 41 games played. This gives him a three point lead over Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, who is second in the league. Malkin also leads his Penguin team with a +12 +/- rating.
In 2009, it was common to think of a “big three” group of NHL players who are the class of the NHL. This group consisted of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Malkin. Since then Malkin has had two injury plagued seasons and most people have dropped him from that group.
Every few months it seems that a new NHL team runs into financial difficulties. This is a problem of a slow economy and of the fact that there do not seem to be 30 markets capable of supporting an NHL level payroll team in North America. The latest team to run into financial difficulties is the New Jersey Devils.
Jeff Vanderbeek, the Devils majority owner, is in financial trouble largely because he made his fortune as an executive vice president of Lehman Brothers, the investment firm that failed in 2008 as part of the financial crisis. This was a bad time for Vanderbeek, who had heavily invested in the new Devils stadium in Newark known as the Prudential Center which opened in 2007. This already placed him heavily in debt.
Less than a week ago, I wrote that the Hershey Bears (Washington affiliate) running away with the AHL lead. I wrote that the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary affiliate) was the team most likely to catch them. Since then, Hershey lost their only game. Abbotsford lost their two games. The Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton affiliate) have been hot and won three games. This moves Oklahoma City into first place in the AHL. They have a record of 26-16 with five regulation tie points. This gives them 57 points. They have a two point lead on Hershey for the league lead.
Oklahoma City has become the top defensive team (best goals against) in their strong week. Yann Danis, the former New York Islander goalie and David LeNeveau have both been strong in the Oiler goal. The Barons top defencemen have NHL experience in Taylor Chorney and Alex Plante. This is a strong defensive team.
The NHL All Star Game goes next weekend. When the NHL announced the 2012 All Star rosters, it was quickly noticed that two veteran players who were expected to be there were omitted. They were Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks. Lidstrom is among the best defencemen in hockey. I would make him a Norris Trophy nominee at this point in the season. Selanne is the obvious Anaheim representative, but his spot was taken by Corey Perry. News soon broke that both of these players had asked to have the All Star weekend off and the NHL was honoring their requests.
I suspect there might be a third player in their camp who the media has not outed. Logan Couture seems an odd choice as the San Jose Sharks representative. Joe Thornton is a more likely choice as he has more points, ice time and a better +/-.
One sabermetric issue that I am watching this season is how well is Brendan Morrison of the Calgary Flames doing. Brendan Morrison is a test case on the Corsi theory. The idea behind Corsi theory is that counting attempted shots both for and against is a very strong gage of puck possession. This is more useful that looking at goals scored based analysis because goals are strongly dependent upon shooting percentages and saves percentages of all the twelve players on the ice. This is something individual players have little control over in general. I have written about this here.
David Johnson of the Hockey Analysis website is a proponent of the contrary position. He has chosen Brendan Morrison of the Calgary Flames as a test case to make his argument. Before this season, Morrison looked good by Johnson’s goals based analysis and looked like a poor signing by conventional Corsi analysis.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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