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.
The Colorado Avalanche are going through a rough patch. They have lost their last eight games. This is the worst losing streak the team has had since they moved from Quebec to Colorado. As a result of this losing streak, Colorado has fallen to second last in the West Conference. Their last loss was by a score of 9-1 to Calgary. So what is wrong?
There isn’t an easy answer. Sometimes cold streaks happen. Colorado has not been without key players throughout this slump. It hasn’t corresponded to a ridiculous quality of opposition or a lengthy road trip. The biggest story that happened to Colorado during this slump has been the return and then retirement of Peter Forsberg. While Forsberg only played in two games, he was not able to find his game. This is not sufficient explanation for the entire slump - which largely appears to be bad luck through a rough stretch - it is a factor that helped to keep the slump going.
Today, Peter Forsberg has announced his retirement from hockey. He is a future Hall of Famer and as such, I want to write a career retrospective for him.
Peter Forsberg was born on July 20th, 1973 in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. He grew up playing hockey in the Swedish system. He first came known to hockey scouts in 1989/90 when he played for Modo HK Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Junior League. At age 16, he was nearly a point per game scorer with 27 points in 30 games. He was given a one game trial in the Swedish Elite League, where he scored an assist. His next season was a breakout year. Forsberg scored 102 points in only 39 Swedish Junior games. This earned him a permanent spot in the Elite League, where he put up 17 points in 23 games. This was good enough for the Philadelphia Flyers to draft him in the first round sixth overall in the 1991 Entry Draft.
It you had asked me last summer who I thought would be leading the NHL’s defencemen in points at this point in the season; I probably would have picked out Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. After all, he led the defencemen in scoring the two previous seasons. If it were not Green, I might have guessed Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks or Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. They had been Norris nominees last year and finished second and third in scoring among defencemen last year. If you had suggested Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes, I don’t think I would have taken you seriously. He is a good young defenceman who just finished 23rd among defencemen in scoring in 2009/10. He was a good candidate to improve to a top ten position in scoring, but number one seemed far-fetched.
Antti Niemi was the 2010 Stanley Cup winning goalie with the Chicago Blackhawks. His reward was getting bought out by the Blackhawks and eventually signing as a free agent in San Jose. The theory was that Niemi is not a particularly impressive goalie and was in the right place at the right time to get a successful Stanley Cup run. With their salary cap constraints, the Chicago Blackhawks were willing to let him go.
Early in the season, Niemi was not looking like much of a goalie in San Jose. By late October, he had a .854 saves percentage. That has changed recently. Niemi has not posted a regulation loss in his last ten starts. He has a .917 saves percentage and a 2.56 goals against average so far this season.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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