The playoffs are almost upon us and it looks like none of the top seeds in the West Conference are without question marks in goal. The Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have all either clinched their division victory or are expected to do so soon, but none of these teams have had strong goaltending recently.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo may have been the gold medal winning goalie in the Olympics, but he has posted a .891 saves percentage since then. That level of play is not likely good enough for a significant playoff run.
San Jose has another Olympic goalie in Russia’s Evgeni Nabokov. He has a .890 saves percentage since the Olympic break.
Chicago’s Cristobal Huet is from France. If France had qualified for the Olympics, he would have been their number one goalie. In the NHL he has been bad lately. He has posted a .833 saves percentage since the break.
The playoffs are not quite here, but I think we have seen enough hockey to determine which player has been the top trade deadline pickup. It has been Lee Stempniak who was acquired by the Phoenix Coyotes from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fourth round pick and a seventh round pick. That is an extremely low price for the player who has led the NHL in goals since the trade deadline with 13. That is four more goals than anyone else in the league in that period and his team has played three fewer games than some teams in the league.
Stempniak has never been a big scorer. He scored 27 goals and 52 points in 2006/07, his career best year before this one, but has dropped into the 30’s of points every year since. Toronto considered him a player of little value and they moved him for that little value. Those kinds of trades rarely improve teams.
The Philadelphia Flyers currently have the worst goaltending pair in the league. Injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, neither of whom are star goalies, have depled the Flyers goaltending for the remainder of the season. This leaves the Flyers with Brian Boucher, who is sporting a .896 and 2.88 GAA ans Johan Backlund, a minor league goalie with two periods of NHL experience. It is an awful goaltending pair and one that makes the Flyers probable first round fodder . That assumes that the Philadelphia Flyers make the playoffs at all. The Flyers have fallen to eighth spot in the East Conference. They are two points up on both the New York Rangers and the Atlanta Thrashers. Things are so bad that that the team signed a new goalie, even though he cannot play with the team in the playoffs because his signing comes after the trade deadline.
The Flyers found Sebastien Caron as their emergency goalie signee. Caron has been playing in the Swiss League since 2007. Before that he was a failed NHL goalie. His only solid NHL season was 2002/03 when he put up a .916 saves percentage and a 2.64 GAA with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then he put up a .883 saves percentage in 68 more NHL games. In all likelihood, he isn’t much of an NHL goalie anymore, if he ever was one.
I do not like most of the popular front runners for the Selke Trophy this year. Many people support Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. He won the award for the last two years. I did not support Datsyuk last year because he isn’t played often enough in defensive situations. Datsyuk has only played 59 minutes shorthanded so far this year. It is a drop by about 50% on last year and last year’s total was unreasonably low for a Selke Trophy winner. The other top popular Selke candidates are people who played strong defensive roles in the Olympics (which will impact the NHL awards - even though they shouldn’t). There is Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks who played a strong defensive role for the US Olympic Team and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks who played a strong defensive role for the Canadian Olympic Team. Kesler is generally considered the better candidate as he was a Selke Trophy nominee last year.
There is a lot of support to give Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes the Vezina or even the Hart Trophy. I think this idea is misguided. The idea is that Phoenix has been the most improved team in the league. They have done so without significantly increasing goals scored (last year they scored 2.50 goals per game and this year its 2.56). Their improvement has come by reducing goals allowed from 3.04 to 2.41. They are crediting this improvement to Bryzgalov. This idea is flawed, in part because Bryzgalov was their goalie last season, so any improvement in goaltending merely shows improvement in Bryzgalov and not his being the most valuable player. It is this kind of thinking that often gives the coach of the year to the most improved team’s coach.
I think the biggest reason for Phoenix’s reduction in goal allowed is better team defence. For the most part this comes from better coaching. Dave Tippett is a far better coach that Wayne Gretzky and this shows in the standings. As a team, Phoenix has made great strides defensively. That will improve their win totals and improve their goaltenders statistics.
The Detroit Red Wing season has not gone according to plan. They spent much of the season just outside the playoff positions in the West Conference. Detroit’s problems have been due to age, injuries and player losses due to salary cap constraints. They have recently been able to avoid any key injuries and this has helped the team to get on track. They have climbed into sixth in the West with a 40-36 record (with 13 regulation tie points - the highest total of any playoff team). They are one point back of fifth seed Nashville, with two games in hand.
It is clear that Detroit is going to make the playoffs, barring a major collapse. Most likely they won’t be a bottom seed looking to knock off a team that just won the conference; they will likely face a team that had approximately the same record they had in the regular season. As things stand, they would face the Vancouver Canucks and if they slide into fifth seed they would face the Phoenix Coyotes.
The KHL is a threat to the NHL. It is not going to put the NHL out of business, but it is drawing an ever increasing pool of talented players who could be successful NHL players. Assuming the KHL cannot steal away current NHL stars - though it has had success drawing Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Yashin, Alexander Radulov and others - the key for its growth is to draw young potential laden young players to the league. It seems to be succeeding with Kirill Kabanov.
Kirill Kabanov was once considered a potential first overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. He came to play in the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats this season. He missed most of the season with a wrist injury that required surgery. It kept him out of the World Junior Championships. He played only 22 games this season, scoring 23 points. The problem for the NHL is that Kabanov appeared unhappy in Canada and has been allowed to depart his Moncton team during their playoff run so that he can return to his native Belarus and prepare to play for them in the World Championships next month.
The NHL regular season is almost over and we see that the West Conference remains stronger than the East Conference this season. The West has a 152-103 (with 28 regulation tie points) record against East Conference teams. Almost sixty percent of inter-conference games have wound up with the West Conference winning. The only West teams that do not have winning records against the East are Edmonton, Dallas, Columbus and Anaheim (the latter two have apparent winning records when the point for losing is taken into account).
This inequity between conferences is seen in the NHL standings. Colorado has 89 points and holds down the last playoff spot in the West. In the East, Boston is in the last playoff spot with only 80 points. Calgary looks likely to miss playoffs in the West. They have a 38-38 record (with 9 regulation tie points) that would have them sixth in the East. This compares with the Boston Bruins 34-40 (with 12 regulation tie points) record that looks good enough for playoffs in the East.
The NHL got its first 100 point scorer of the season last night. With two assists in a losing effort last night against San Jose, Henrik Sedin now has 101 points. He is the first player this season to clear the 100 point barrier. As a player who had a previous career best of 82 points, would you have predicted this last summer? I know that I wouldn’t have.
Henrik Sedin was picked third overall in the 1999 entry draft by the Vancouver Canucks. Though he has been one of the Canucks top players for a few years, this is the first season where he has been one of the best in the league. At age 29, it is a little late in his career to make such a jump. Most players do so at a younger age. One of the most debated questions this summer will be whether or not Henrik’s season is repeatable. I am unconvinced that he can score 100 or more points on a routine basis.
A few days ago I wrote about subjective stats where a scorer makes a decision about whether or not an event occurred (when there often isn’t a clear definition of the event) or a scorer makes a decision about who is responsible for a goal. The problem with these statistics is they are filtered through the subjective bias of the scorer. It is hard to determine any meaningful conclusions from these statistics because the systematic bias of the scoring is often the signal and there is no underlying effect in the actual hockey. I was prompted to write this because of Dave Staples +/- system where he scores pluses and minuses to who he thinks were responsible for the goal as opposed to all players on the ice in the NHL’s +/-. I am arguing that the systematic bias this system imposes makes it a poor way to learn about hockey.
There is an example of an even simpler subjective stat that is very hard to interpret because of systematic scorer bias. The NHL scores hits in its games. In principle it should be simple for a scorer to determine if a hit occurred, but behind the net hockey shows that this isn’t so.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???