If before the playoffs began, I told you Vancouver would be up three games to two against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in their first round series, would you have said the Canucks were having a pretty good series? I would have too. But that isn’t how most people see things right now.
We are a little bit past halfway through the first round of the playoffs. There are many stories, but things have been largely predictable. No big underdogs have taken leads or won series. I think the biggest surprise is that Montreal is even with Boston. Boston is the better team and though they have pulled even in the series, I would have thought they would have looked better at this point. The over-simplified explanation for this is that the Boston power play has failed to score any goals so far - or conversely the Montreal penalty kill has been perfect. The importance of special teams and the lack of success Boston has had on the power play have made this series closer than it has been expected.
It is still early in the playoffs. No team has been eliminated yet (though it is possible that could change tonight). I am ready to pick my first playoff MVP. I select Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. He leads the playoffs with a .956 saves percentage and has a 1.34 goals against average. Montreal has been outshot and outplayed in their three games with Boston so far, yet they lead the series with a 2 games to one lead.
Montreal is not new to great playoff performances from goaltending. Last year they made the semi-finals on a strong performance from Jaroslav Halak. Before that, history books are full of stories of playoff success under Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and Jacques Plante.
It is still early in the playoffs, but Montreal’s success so far has been largely due to Price’s play.
I will write a comprehensive post when all the award nominees have been announced discussing what I think the nominations mean to who will actually win them. In the meantime, I want to comment on Michael Grabner’s path to his Calder trophy nomination. Though I am not surprised by his nomination, I think it is a bit of a mistake. I argue John Carlson should win this award, with Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture as the other nominees. I fully expected Grabner to be the third nominee, but it is really shameful the way Carlson’s defence has been ignored by the voters. John Carlson was the top shutdown defenceman on the best team in the East Conference and also scored 37 points from defence. His defensive value is significant and overlooked because he was not a player in the rookie scoring race.
With that preliminary out of the way, Grabner’s trip to a Calder nomination is an interesting story.
If I told you that the NHL’s ice time leader in the playoffs so far is a rookie who was healthy scratched in three straight games this December, would you believe it? PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens is the current ice time leader. He has played over 81 minutes in his three games so far in the playoffs. This is quite impressive for a rookie.
Subban was second among NHL rookies in ice time this year (John Carlson was first) and 55th in the league. While I argue that this is clearly evidence that Subban is a very talented young player, it also shows that Montreal’s defence is not in good shape. Montreal is lucky to be up 2 games to one. While Boston can offer Zdeno Chara and Tomas Kaberle on their defence, Montreal counters with Subban and Hal Gill. This is a huge advantage for the Bruins.
We have known for a while that Corey Perry is a good player. He was a member of the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team. He played in the All Star Game in 2008. However I don’t think anyone expected he was as good as he showed this season. Prior to this season, Perry had played five NHL seasons and his career best goals total was 32 and his career best point total was 76. This year his 50 goal 98 point season was well above his established bests. He is likely going to be a Hart Trophy nominee when the nominations are announced.
It is pretty rare that a 25 (soon to be 26 year old) suddenly jumps by over 25% in points or 50% in goals in his sixth NHL season. In those rare cases, it is not common that the player in question maintains his large offensive jumps
When I made my award picks, for the Masterton Trophy, I picked Kurtis Foster of Edmonton to win, with Fernando Pisani of Chicago and Ray Emery of Anaheim getting the other nominations. These are all players who have overcome significant injury to continue their NHL careers. All three could easily have retired given their problems.
Kurtis Foster recovered from a serious broken leg that kept him out of the game for over a year. He was a nominee last year and lost to Jose Theodore who suffered the death of his infant son. Foster, not to be outdone, suffered the death of his infant daughter in the time in between the voting and the announcement of the award.
With the end of the regular season, we can begin to put it into perspective. The second highest scorer this season this season was Martin St Louis. He is also the likely Lady Byng Trophy winner. This is an award that he will repeat as winner. He had also been the first runner up to this award three times in a row before his victories. In 2004, he won the Hart, Art Ross and Pearson Trophies and the Stanley Cup. St Louis is a one-time First Team All Star and a two time Second Team All Star. Likely he will have another post season all star nomination this season.
The issue with Martin St Louis as a Hall of Famer has been a slow start to his career. He went undrafted. He was 23 before he played his first NHL game. They were largely unmemorable. He played 13 NHL games that season, scoring only two points. He played another partial season in Calgary without showing himself to be more than a role player.
The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is upon us. So I will try to make my predictions.
First a note about hockey predictions. It’s often a futile game. In the regular season, it is very hard to have a successful prediction rate much about 50%. The best anyone ever accomplishes might be around 60% (and I am unable to find anyone documented who managed as high as 60%). Nevertheless, I will use that number to make a point. A 60% success rate would mean that only 20% of the time is a game decided by talent. The better team wins 20% of the time. The remaining 80% of the games are decided by chance. Either team has an equal chance to win a game when it is decided by chance. So there is a 40% chance the favorite wins by chance and a 40% chance the underdog wins by chance. The moral is that if we accept these numbers, only 1 in 5 games is won because the winning team is the better team.
The NHL regular season has just ended. As I have done for the last several years, it is time to make my picks for the NHL awards if i had a ballot to vote.
Calder Trophy - 1. John Carlson Washington Capitals 2. Jeff Skinner Carolina Hurricanes 3. Logan Couture San Jose Sharks Here is why I select Carlson. He is not likely the popular pick because he doesn’t have big offensive numbers. He has been the top shutdown defenceman on the first place team in the East Conference and that is more impressive than the offensive rookie’s accomplishments.
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