Now that teams are beginning to play their third game in the playoffs, I think it is a good time to make my first pick as a playoff MVP. I select Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues. He has three goals and four points in two games played. Both of those numbers place him in ties for the league lead.
Tarasenko is an interesting player. He has appeared to develop into a Hall of fame track player this year. His offensive totals have been continually improving in his three year NHL career. He scored 19 points as a rookie, 43 points in his second year and 73 points this year. That is a remarkable annual improvement. Is it possible that he can continue that improvement next season and beyond? Is it more likely that a player who takes such big steps forward is due for a regression?
As a rough guess, Tarasenko has scored .75 points per game in his NHL career. There are 82 games played in a season. As a rule of thumb, a player's best season is about 25% better than his peak. If we assume 80 games played a season (with a couple missed games) a player's best offensive season will be approximately 100 times his career points per game. That would suggest that Tarasenko is playing near his peak - assuming he doesn't continue to improve. When we look back on his career, Tarasenko will probably have a career best offensive total that is around 100 times his career points per game, however I think it is likely that his points per game improves in his career. Thus I would argue that Tarasenko does not have the ability to make another big jump in his offensive totals in the future but he will likely show some improvement into the near future.
At any rate, Vladimir Tarasenko is the best player in the playoffs so far. He is a developing young star. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this level of play into the playoffs and how long he will continue to improve his regular season numbers.
The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs this season despite a 96 point season. That is the most points ever achieved by a team that missed the playoffs ever. They posted a 41-41 record with 14 regulation tie points. A big part of the reason they missed the playoffs is because the Bruins took a run at the Stanley Cup in 2014 and thus put themselves into salary cap problems. They were forced to trade Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders. Undoing that move alone would likely have placed the Bruins in the playoffs. Despite this the Bruins fired GM Peter Chiarelli.
Chiarelli was given a raw deal. I think Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald makes this case very well.
This leaves coach Claude Julien twisting in the wind. Likely a new GM will want to bring in his coach. Until then he remains the Bruins coach - at least on paper.
One end of the regular season story is the Toronto Maple Leafs firing much of their front office. Gone is GM Dave Nonis. Gone is Peter Horachek and the entire coaching staff. Gone is the amateur scouting staff. Toronto finished fourth last in the league. It didn't have to be that bad but it appeared Brendan Shanahan wanted it to be bad so that he could bring about the changes he wanted whether they were needed or not.
The last rebuild began in earnest when Brian Burke was hired in 2008. The rebuild was slow but Toronto slowly became a playoff team by 2013. Burke was fired during the stretch run of that season and replaced by Dave Nonis. Toronto fans had grown impatient with the rebuild even though it was starting to work. There wasn't a plan to replace Burke, so they replaced him with Brian Burke light. Dave Nonis had worked with Burke in the NHL headquarters as well as in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto. They have very similar philosophies regarding team building. The main difference is Burke maintains more of a media profile and appears to have a better skillset. There probably was no reason to fire Burke, but if you think one exists you don't fire him and replace him with somebody who will have the same philosophy. Nonis was the replacement for Burke largely because he was available. That doesn't mean that Nonis failed as GM. He had the Leafs looking like a playoff team this year until Randy Carlyle was fired as coach. Toronto was in seventh spot in the East Conference at that point. Everything fell apart under coach Peter Horachek. Toronto had a horrid finish to the season and finished near the bottom of the league.
The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins on Wednesday, so I am giving my predictions today. While I usually manage to predict more playoff series correctly than incorrectly, I am well aware that predictions are not reliable and many NHL games are decided based upon luck. I expect that some of these predictions turn out to be wrong but they are the best choices I can make at this point.
Anaheim defeats Winnipeg. I see the Jets as a team that is happy just to have made the playoffs. Anaheim is the team with something to prove. With Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler leading their offence, the Ducks have offensive talent that the Jets cannot match. That alone should make this a one-sided series.
Every year, I like to make my picks for who I would vote for if I had an award ballot. When the award winners are actually announced I can then compare with my picks. I am going to expand my ballot slightly from what I have done in years past to include five choices for those awards that have five picks on the actual NHL ballots although I do not exactly like this. The Hart Trophy (or any other) should never be determined based on a 4th or 5th place pick on one ballot and potentially that is possible.
Calder Trophy: 1. Filip Forsberg Nashville Predators 2. Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers 3. Mark Stone Ottawa Senators 4. Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames 5. John Klingberg Dallas Stars. I have picked Filip Forsberg as the winner for most of the season. As the season closed, the scoring race among rookies tightened significantly and this reduced Forsberg's lead over the pack. I think he deserves the award despite finishing third in rookie scoring (though one point from first) because he established himself as a significant player earlier in the year and had to play against tougher opposition through most of the season that other candidates. Johnny Gaudreau in fourth place is also worthy of mention. It is lower than he likely will finish in the actual balloting but I think this is reasonable because Gaudreau has little defensive presence. He is an exciting offensive player to watch but he is to easily beaten in his own end due to his lack of size.
We will definitely not have a repeat Stanley Cup champion this year. The defending champion Los Angeles Kings have not qualified for the playoffs. Their 3-1 loss last night against the Calgary Flames leaves them four points behind the eighth place Winnipeg Jets in the West Conference. Since the kings have only one game remaining this season, they cannot make up that deficit. Thus the defending Stanley Cup champions have fallen. It is the first time since 2007 where the Stanley Cup champions failed to qualify for the playoffs the next season (in that case it was the Carolina Hurricanes).
This is further evidence to my claims that the 2014 LA Kings were not an elite team. One would expect that an elite team in one season should be at least strong enough to qualify for playoffs in the following season. So what went wrong in Los Angeles?
The New York Rangers are the first place team. They have a 51-28 record with seven regulation tie points. This gives them 109 points with three games left this season. They have a two point lead and a game in hand over second place Anaheim. Given how close we are to the end of the season, they are likely going to win the Presidents Trophy.
I don't think many people predicted the Rangers would win the Presidents Trophy. How have they surprised us? Offensively their 3.04 goals per game have them in third place in the NHL. This comes without any of the top point scorers in the league. Rick Nash leads their team in points with 69. That is good for 15th in the league. Nash is second in goals scored. He has had a solid bounce back season. Derick Brassard is second in scoring on the Rangers and he is 49th in league scoring. Derek Stepan, Martin St Louis and Mats Zuccarello have also scored pretty well this season, but none are among the league leaders.
I don't like the salary cap. Its main effect is to keep teams from getting to be too good. An NHL without really good teams is a mediocre NHL. Sometimes it forces teams to do things that make no sense. The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently in one such hell. They have played their last two games with only five defencemen. That is no logical way to play games in the NHL stretch drive.
The Penguins are in this hell because of injuries to Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff. Neither is injured seriously enough to be placed on long-term injured reserve. During the middle of the regular season, the Penguins might have thought otherwise and kept one of them out longer than needed to gain a roster spot but putting either of them on LTIR would keep them out of the beginning of the playoffs. The Penguins only have five healthy defencemen in Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole and Derrick Pouliot.
The player with the worst +/- rating in the NHL is Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has a -36 +/- rating. He is Toronto's leading scorer and is often a scapegoat for the problems in Toronto.
You would think that the top scorer in the biggest NHL market would be a popular player but that isn't the case. Why doesn't Toronto love Kessel? He is American in a Canadian city. He is socially awkward in an interview. He has a fat looking head and that has unfairly given him a reputation as somebody who doesn't work hard enough to stay in shape. For a large part, he has a bad rap.
It is true that he hasn't scored as well since Toronto changed coaches and the season fell apart. For the most part that statement is true of any player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He isn't the strongest defensive player and on a struggling team like Toronto everyone has a poor +/- rating. It isn't too surprising that a player with a lot of ice time on the Leafs should have the worst +/- rating in the league. The next two highest scorers on the team in James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozek are only one point worse than Kessel with a -35 +/- rating.
In mid-March I picked PK Subban as the Norris Trophy leader. The Norris Trophy race has become the tightest award race with several possible candidates. I think Subban has been caught by Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Karlsson is similar to Subban in that he is a former Norris Trophy winner who plays a stronger offensive game than he plays a defensive game. His defensive game has clearly improved since his Norris Trophy winning season. He has come on strong at the end of this season. He is a puck possession leader on his team. The biggest difference is that Karlsson has better offensive numbers. Karlsson's 61 points leads the NHL among defencemen and his 20 goals is second. Subban is seven goals and eight points behind his offensive numbers. Karlsson is a big part of the reason that Ottawa has come on strong and may make the playoffs.
Karlsson is clearly on a Hall of Fame track. This is only his sixth NHL season. He has played 390 career regular season games. This is not enough of a sample size to guarantee a Hall of Fame career. If he does win a second career Norris Trophy this season it would go a long way to completing such a career. That may happen this year, although given the number of viable Norris Trophy candidates, there is no guarantee of his victory.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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