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.
The Vancouver Canucks are the first place team in the NHL right now. They have the best team +/- in the league at +60 and no other team is better than +47. They are the team with the best chance of being an elite one in the league. As a result, it is not unexpected that several Vancouver Canuck players are lead in the league in +/- ratings.
Kevin Bieksa leads the league in +/- with a +26 rating. Ryan Kesler is tied for second with a +25 and Daniel Sedin is fourth at +24. The only non-Canuck among the league leaders in +- is Toni Lydman of the Anaheim Ducks.
When Greg Sherman took over as Colorado Avalanche GM it was seen as a surprising move since Sherman is a financial/salary cap guy with questionable hockey background. His first big trades as general manager have come in the past few days as the 2011 trade deadline approached. He has exchanged goaltenders with Ottawa, sending Craig Anderson to Ottawa for Brian Elliott. Then he traded Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a second round pick to St Louis for Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a first round draft pick.
It seems that this is born out of desperation as Colorado has not won in their last nine games and has only one win to show for their last 12 starts. It is never a good idea to trade out of desperation and these deals have not helped the Colorado Avalanche.
It was a common theme earlier in the season that Ilya Kovalchuk’s arrival in New Jersey had destroyed the team and that his departure from Atlanta had allowed them to improve. That opinion can be found in the comments of this Kovalchuk post I wrote in December. We are not hearing this idea as much anymore because the facts are showing it to be true.
New Jersey’s horrible start is over. A coaching change has done a lot to right the ship. The Devils have won 13 of their last 16 games and two of their losses were regulation ties. They have earned points in 15 of their last 16 games. They have done this with Ilya Kovalchuk in the line-up. In that 16 game period, Kovalchuk has 18 points.
A seven man group that call themselves Atlanta Spirit bought the Atlanta Thrashers, basketball’s Atlanta Hawks and the Phillips Arena where they play in 2003. In 2005, the ownership group had a falling out. This happened when Joe Johnson, who had just resigned with the Hawks, was traded to the Phoenix Suns. One minority owner Steve Belkin objected and was to be bought out by the other owners. This process has been tied up in court litigation ever since. He was finally bought out in 2010.
Ownership, who had been more interested in basketball than hockey, was not behind the team in the interim. The remaining owners are suing the law firm that wrote the original ownership contracts that led to the legal problems surrounding the Belkin buyout. They claim they were “fatally flawed” and did not properly define the “fair market value” for his buyout and that the law firm involved (King & Spalding) attempted to hide these problems.
The top goal and point scorer in the month of February so far has been Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders. The rookie has ten goals and 14 points so far this month. This has suddenly propelled him into the Calder Trophy race (where I support John Carlson). Grabner is now the overall rookie goal scoring leader with 25. His 35 points place him third overall in the rookie scoring race (behind Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture). Grabner also has a very respectable +11 +/- rating with the New York Islanders. This leads his team.
Grabner was added to the All Star Game as the lone New York Islander representative. At that time he wasn’t a serious Calder trophy candidate. He was seen as a weak Islander representative, as a rookie who was not among the best in the league. He made a strong showing there by winning the fastest skater competition and hasn’t looked back since. Grabner is now in the Calder race and if he stays this hot will likely win it.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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