Ever since the NHL came back from the 2004/05 season that was lost due to the lockout, the story had been that Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were developing into and soon became the two best players in the league. By that story line, now that Ovechkin is 26 years old and Crosby is 24 years old, they should be closing in on their primes and their dominance should be near its maximum. Ovechkin has won two Hart Trophies and Crosby won one, but their last win was in 2009. Since that time they have both fallen from dominance.
Sidney Crosby lost the last half of last season to concussions. He is yet to play this season. He is slated to play his first game this season tonight. It isn’t clear if Crosby will be the same player he was before the concussions. Even with a step backwards he would remain an NHL star. He might come back as he NHL’s top player, but I would guess things won’t be that simple.
In early November I picked Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers as the top goalie in the league. He is having a surprisingly good season given his poor recent past. While he remains a top goalie so far this season, there is another goalie who has surpassed him. He is Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Mike Smith has almost as good a saves percentage as Khabibulin at .936 and a 2.16 GAA. He has faced a much tougher workload than Khabibulin has. He has made the second most saves this season behind Pekka Rinne, but with three fewer games played. Smith has been a huge part of the Coyotes success so far this season.
The lowest scoring team in the NHL so far this season is the Anaheim Ducks. Their 2.0 goals per game is the lowest total in the NHL right now (that does not include “phantom” goals for shootout wins).
Anaheim is off to a poor start this season. They have the fourth worst record with 6 wins and 13 losses. Four of those losses gave them regulation tie points to give them a total of 16 points on the year.
Anaheim’s lack of scoring is a bit of a surprise. They have several talented offensive players, but the only one who has real offensive success this season is Teemu Selanne. Selanne has 18 points in 19 games. Since Selanne is 41 years old, it is reasonable to wonder if he can keep it up all season.
We are almost a quarter of the way through the NHL season and the first place team in the league is the Chicago Blackhawks. They have a 12-7 record with three regulation tie points. This gives them a total of 27 points in 19 games. This is not an overwhelming first place record but it is good enough for now.
Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010 but had salary cap difficulties to deal with. They have had to part with some key talent since then including Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell. Though all of these players have potential all star abilities, they were not core players in the Chicago Stanley Cup run.
I thought it would be a good idea to write an article in an accessible (as non-mathematical as possible) style to discuss Corsi analysis and some of issues discussed on the internet regarding it.
Buffalo Sabres assistant coach Jim Corsi wanted to better understand how busy goalies had been so instead of counting only shots against, began counting blocked and missed shots as well. After a while it was realized that this could be a basis of individual player assessment. It was found that the differential of Corsi events (the difference in the number of shots attempted for and against) correlates extremely strongly with which team possesses the puck and also with which zone the puck is in. A team with a high Corsi possesses the puck the majority of the game and keeps the puck in their opponent’s zone. These are good things that are valuable to playing winning hockey and this is the best (known?) statistical measure from the information the NHL routinely publishes online.
Nearing the end of October I picked Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs as the top defenceman in the league so far in the season. While Phaneuf is having an all star calibre season so far, it is clear that he is no longer the top defenceman so far this year. Several of the usual suspects are having very strong two-way seasons so far. They include Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks. These are three players who all have won Norris Trophies in the past. Other candidates include top defencemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. In this crowded group we also have surprise players including Sheldon Souray of the Dallas Stars and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers. There is a strong group of top defencemen so far this year and no one candidate is way out in front of the pack.
If forced to select one at this point I pick Shea Weber.
Corey Perry may have won the MVP in 2010/11 but he isn’t looking like he will be in the running this year. After 17 games played he has 11 points. This puts him on pace for a 53 point season, which would be his lowest total since 2006/07.
Perry has become the target for his opposition. Teams have keyed in on him more than his teammates - especially Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne - since he is the reigning MVP. Opposing teams have learned that one of the best ways to keep Perry from beating them on the ice is to keep him off the ice. Perry leads the NHL with 15 minor penalties. He is far more valuable to his team on the ice than in the penalty box, but teams have learned to get him into the penalty box.
From early in the season, Toronto Marlie players Joe Colborne and Joey Crabb led the AHL in scoring. Crabb was called up to the big league Toronto Maple Leafs leaving Colborne in the scoring lead. Colborne has suffered an “upper body” injury and has missed his last two games. This opened the door for another player to take over the AHL scoring lead. TJ Hensick of the Peoria Rivermen has done this. He has 21 points in 15 games so far.
Hensick is a St Louis Blue prospect. He was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2005. He played 99 games with the Avs over three seasons but was unable to earn a regular roster spot. In 2010 he was traded to St Louis for Julian Talbot, who has yet to play an NHL game. Hensick has spent most of his time in the Blues system in the AHL, but has 13 NHL games last season.
It is always hard to evaluate coaching. The NHL writers often do not do this well. They often select the coach of the most improved team. This has led to coaches and coach of the year nominees being fired shortly after their nomination because they cannot keep up their often improbable run with their team for which they got their nomination. That is a very poor way to evaluate coaching.
Coaching evaluation is a long term thing that requires looking at the system and circumstances a team plays. I think that in an ideal world, it is something that could be evaluated sabermetrically, but there is no theory that comes close to doing this.
One team that continually does well despite a low payroll that always plays a strong system is the Nashville Predators. This year is no exception, so I pick Barry Trotz as the leading candidate for coach of the year at this point.
The top scorer in the NHL is Phil Kessel. He leads the NHL with 12 goals and 23 points. He was drafted fifth overall by the Boston Bruins in 2006. In 2009 he was traded to Toronto for three upcoming first and second round draft picks. These picks turned out to be Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton.
The top scorer in the AHL is also in the Toronto system. He is Joe Colborne of the Toronto Marlies. He was the Boston Bruins first round draft pick in 2008. He was traded to Toronto last season along with a couple draft picks for Tomas Kaberle. One of the picks was later moved on to Anaheim and a 2012 second round pick remains.
It is quite a coincidence that the top scorers in both the NHL and AHL are former Boston Bruin first round draft picks who have since been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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