Like the NHL regular season, the AHL regular season is nearly over. Teams have seven to thirteen games left in the AHL season. It is quite likely that Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa farm affiliate) will win the scoring title. With ten games left in this season, Locke has 80 points so far this season. He projects to 93 points. Second in the scoring race is Alexandre Giroux of the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton affiliate), who is currently in the NHL and Darren Haydar of the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta affiliate). They are tied with 67 points. They are far enough behind Locke that it is quite likely Locke wins the scoring title.
Locke projects to be the lowest scoring AHL top scorer since 2003/04. In part this is because of callups of top scorers this season and part because scoring is slowly dropping in the AHL since the lockout rule changes were instituted.
Violence in hockey has been a story in the media recently after the Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty. This was a hit that resulted in serious injury and looked quite bad, but it wasn’t that unusual a play in a hockey game, only the result was unusual. The NHL chose not to suspend Chara and received some criticism for the lack of a suspension. What the NHL needed was a period of a few weeks where nothing to controversial happened and the non-hockey fans who are screaming for changes to the game they don’t watch would go away. This hasn’t happened.
Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins hit Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers with an elbow to the head in the third period of their game today. This is the kind of hit that the NHL needs to get rid of due to concussion problems that result from them.
The big goaltending story this season has been Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. He is the runaway Vezina Trophy leader and could have the highest single season saves percentage since the NHL started officially keeping this stat. Thomas has a .938 saves percentage right now. The best recorded full season saves percentage was .937 which Dominik Hasek recorded in 1998/99. Thomas will have to finish strong to maintain his small lead. Lost in Thomas’s success is the success of Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators.
Rinne is having a season that could win a Vezina Trophy in a more normal season where there is no Tim Thomas having a historic season. Rinne has a 2.07 goals against average and a .930 saves percentage this season. His Nashville team has the best team goals against average so far this season and Rinne is a big reason for that success. Rinne is the most improved goalie this season.
The Anaheim Ducks have some very good frontline talent. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are three very good forwards. They are as strong a group of three forwards as any team can offer. Lubomir Visnovsky is having an outstanding season defensively. I pick him for the Norris Trophy. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are experienced forwards who provide very good depth. This is a great core for a team. What keeps them from being a top team is little depth. Jason Blake is the only other forward they have with more than 20 points.
They are currently in tenth place, two points out of a playoff berth (and with two games in hand on eighth place Calgary). Their playoff berth will probably be decided by their goaltending over the shortterm.
Last summer, I figured that the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup in 2011 might be the Washington Capitals. Washington won the President’s Trophy in 2009/10 and didn’t lose any significant players over the course of the summer. Washington had been the highest scoring team in the league. Alexander Ovechkin led the way with the best point per game total (109 points in 72 games). Nicklas Backstrom’s 101 points was fourth in the league, Alexander Semin was 13th in the league in scoring and Mike Green was the top scoring defenceman in the league. It was clear that Washington could score.
The question was their ability to keep the puck out. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are unproven at best. It is unclear if either will ever be a star. Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti had done a good job as defensive shutdown men, but neither had star potential. In the salary capped world, this looked like a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
In late October I picked Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Norris Trophy leader. Letang has done a wonderful job of having a breakout season that makes him a Norris Trophy candidate, but he has been caught. He has been caught by Lubomir Visnovsky of the Anaheim Ducks. Visnovsky would be a much bigger name player if he had played in the East Conference. He is a very talented defenceman who has spent his career in markets that don’t play until the eastern sportswriters go to bed.
This season he is tied for the league lead in scoring among defencemen. He has the second best +/- rating on his team, while playing against a high level of competition. He leads Anaheim in ice time and has been hugely important to the Ducks puck control. I think he has been the best defenceman so far this year, in a rather tight race with several participants.
One event that has potential to significantly change NHL labor relations is underway right now. The NFL is on the verge of a lockout that threatens the 2011 season. The NFLPA has decertified. This is the strategy some have suggested for the NHLPA. If there is no union to agree to the CBA, then there is no CBA. It is assumed (although likely several lawsuits would stand in the way first) that this would mean the NFL would have to live by the same laws as any other non-union business. Non-union businesses do not have drafts or salary caps, so the NFL couldn’t have them either.
Should this work out positively for the NFL players, look for the NHL players to want to follow in the same direction. There are a lot of questions regarding this process as it has never happened before in pro sports. Here is a CNNSI article that tries to run down the possible outcomes of the situation in the NFL.
Late in the second period of Tuesday night’s Boston at Montreal game (which Montreal won 4-1), Zdeno Chara caught Max Pacioretty with a serious hit. Pacioretty had gotten rid of the puck about a second before the hit. Chara’s hit knocked Pacioretty into the glass divider at the end of the visitor’s bench. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion. This is a situation where the result is quite serious. Chara was not suspended.
The NHL has a problem with concussions. Far too many players are suffering them and they are ending careers and affecting player’s quality of life after retirement. Sidney Crosby was well on his way to a Hart Trophy season before he suffered a concussion. He hasn’t played in over months and it is unclear if he will be back this season. This is affecting the NHL at the box office as well as on an individual player level.
Last year I wrote a piece called takeaways as a Selke stat. I argued that takeaways are a poor number to use to make the key part of decisions like who should win the Selke Trophy. Last year Pavel Datsyuk led the NHL with 132 takeaways and he won the Selke Trophy. He won this despite averaging only 44 seconds in penalty kill time per game. This placed Datsyuk ninth on the Detroit Red Wings in penalty kill time among forwards. That isn`t a sign of a player being used as a defensive forward. It is a forward who is not used in key defensive situations.
Nevertheless, Pavel Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy. It was his third in a row. I argue it was largely won on reputation. The Selke Trophy voting is usually quite messed up in part because many voters don`t have a clue how to recognize a defensive forward.
In late December, the Calgary Flames were in fourteenth place in the West Conference. They were eight points out of a playoff berth. This was when Calgary brought in Jay Feaster to be GM after Darryl Sutter resigned. Since that time, Calgary has posted a 19-12 record with six regulation tie points. In 31 games, Calgary has earned points in 25 of them. Calgary is now in fifth place in the West Conference.
It looks like Calgary will be a playoff team. The Calgary Flames have saved their season. Offensively, Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and Alex Tanguay have come to life giving them more offensive depth. The biggest change however is not on the individual performance level. Calgary has played better as a team.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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