The NHL has set up a stupid situation. If a player does a good enough job he gets rewarded with a spot in the All Star Game. A problem is this reward is rather onerous to collect. A player must give up a period where the rest of his team is on vacation. Even if that player wishes to stay in town and not go on vacation, this is a period where one can train and rehab injuries in order to help the player to play better in the stretch drive and potentially help his team win the Stanley Cup. If a player finds that claiming this reward is too much trouble then he gets suspended for a game. Thus we have a chain of events where a player gets suspended because initially he was playing well enough to get chosen for a reward. That should never happen.
This year, two players will have one game suspensions to get the All Star break off (something the vast majority of the NHL already gets suspension-free). They are Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. Both play on teams that are doing well enough that it is highly unlikely that the one game they miss is going to make a difference in the playoff race. Imagine a situation where a team missed the playoffs by one game and that one game was a loss due to their key player's All Star suspension.
At the beginning of January, I posted my all star teams. Now that we are in the All Star break, it is time to make a few last minute changes due to injuries. Of course injuries at All Star time are sometimes subjective. I may have selected a player different from the NHL selection who would get out of the game with an injury and accept a one game suspension after the break ends. We can never know about those players. I am assuming that the full list of NHL injuries is accurately given the injury list which is posted on TSN.
There are four players I selected as All Stars who are injured. They are James Van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jake Allen of the St Louis Blues, Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin is a case of a player who is accepting a one game suspension to skip the All Star Game. The other three have been out for a while. Of these four players, only Van Riemsdyk is the lone selection from his team, so he must be replaced by a Maple Leaf, but I am free to select anyone in the division who plays the appropriate position for the other three.
The NHL's salary cap is $71.4 million this year. A few teams have been able to exceed it as a result of injuries. One such team is the Vancouver Canucks who have had Dan Hamhuis on the long-term injured reserve due to facial fractures from taking a puck to the face. Henrik Sedin is also on the LTIR. General Fanager lists their salary cap commitments at $72.6 million this year. Thus when Hamhuis returns from injury (which is expected to happen soon) there may be moves required to comply with the salary cap.
Despite the high payroll, the Canucks are not having a strong season. They currently have a 20-30 record wih a league high 11 regulation tie points. This places them in fifth place in the Pacific Division with 51 points. Because the Pacific Division is a weak division, the Canucks are only two points behind third place and the final playoff berth in the division, so all is not lost. However since their record is bolstered by so many regulation tie points, that result does not look promising.
Two days ago, I wrote a post entitled If Only They Had Goaltending about the Carolina Hurricanes who have struggled with poor goaltending despite a strong defence. A strong goaltender would significantly improve the Hurricanes record. There is another team in a similar but not quite as dire situation. They are the Nashville Predators. Ironically the Predators have goaltender Pekka Rinne who is scheduled to take part in the All Star Game this weekend.
Rinne has been a good goaltender in the past. He was a Vezina trophy nominee last season. However this season has not gone so well. Rinne is posting a .904 saves percentage and a 2.50 goals against average. These are numbers that are below average for an NHL goalie. Despite his failures, Rinne has the fifth most minutes played among goaltenders so far this season. This is because Nashville lacks a serious other alternative in goal. They have used Carter Hutton and Juuse Saros as goaltenders this season and neither are proven NHLers.
At the beginning of December, I picked Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres as the Lady Byng Trophy leader. Ristolainen is the top defenceman on the Sabres and probably came close to making an All Star Game roster. Defencemen rarely win the Lady Byng Trophy because there is far more opportunity for a defenceman to take a penalty during a play than for a forward. Ristolainen would be one of only a handful of defencemen to win the Lady Byng. However he has been surpassed by another defenceman who is even a better candidate. He has been surpassed by Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
Weber has a similar point total when compared to Ristolainen. Ristolainen has 31 points and Weber has 30. Weber has fewer penalty minutes. He has 10 and Ristolainen has 14. Weber is a better overall defenceman who plays a more physical game, but he plays it cleanly as is shown by his only ten penalty minutes.
Weber has never had a high penalty minute total in his career. He has had between 36 and 80 penalty minutes in his complete NHL seasons to date. If he finishes the season with a lower total as he has so far, he will be a Lady Byng candidate.
Have you noticed that the Carolina Hurricanes have allowed fewer shots than any other team in the NHL? They have allowed 26.4 shots per game. Despite that success, Carolina is sixth in the Metropolitan Division. They have a record of 21-29 with eight regulation tie points. That is worth 50 points. It isn't good enough to be a serious playoff contender. Obviously one problem is that despite a lack of shots against, Carolina does not have top goaltending.
Cam Ward and Eddie Lack are the Carolina goaltending pair. Ward is posting a .905 saves percentage with a 2.42 goals against average. Lack is posting a .896 saves percentage and a 2.86 GAA. Both are well below average in the NHL. Ward has had a lengthy career based on the strength of a 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy win, which he has never been able to back up. Ward is the weakest goalie ever to win Conn Smythe. Lack is having a poor season. He showed some promise in Vancouver but hasn't been consistently successful since moving to Carolina.
Carolina has other problems. For example they are not a strong offensive team. However with solid goaltending to go with their defence, Carolina would be a playoff team at the least. They should be a team that is hard to score on given how hard it is to take shots against them. They are struggling in a significant part because of their lack of solid goaltending.
Only two days ago, I reported that TJ Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs farm affiliate) had taken the lead in the AHL scoring race. This race has stalled since Marlie teammate William Nylander left his team to play for Sweden in the World Junior Hockey Championships and suffered a concussion. Nylander has not played since. Brennan was leading the AHL with less than a point per game. Last night, Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate) had a three point night and took the scoring lead. Bourque has 41 points in 39 games. This puts him one point ahead of Brennan.
Chris Bourque is Ray Bourque's 29 year old son. He first entered the AHL in 2005. He has succeeded at the AHL level. He is a three-time First Team All Star in the league and in 2010 he won the scoring title. He has not been able to have that success in the NHL, where he has played 51 games scoring 8 points. He is a solid veteran presence at the AHL level and one of the top players in the league but NHL teams do not see him as a serious prospect. He is the kind of player who may win the AHL scoring title. Generally if younger prospects lead the league in scoring they get called up to the NHL. The non-prospects have the best chance to win the scoring title and Chris Bourque fits that category. He may be able to hang onto the scoring title, but he has few other players within a handful of points below him, so it could be a tough race.
The Anaheim Ducks have been the lowest scoring team so far this season. The Ducks have only scored 89 goals so far in their 45 games played. This is 1.98 goals per game. Last year they were 11th in the league with 2.78 goals per game. They have dropped 0.8 goals per game this year. How did that happen?
The Ducks were a popular choice to win the Stanley Cup this year or at least to be a top contender. This dropoff was not widely predicted.
If we look at the Ducks scorers, Corey Perry leads the way with 17 goals and 29 points. It is a drop from the past but when we consider that last year he put up 55 points in 67 games, we see that this dropoff is not too huge. Maybe at age 30 Perry has seen better days. One point behind him is another 30 year old in Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf has surprisingly only scored 3 goals all season. Getzlaf has never been a big goal scorer, but this is a significant drop from his 25 goal 70 point season last year. One big problem is a lack of offensive depth in Anaheim. The only player with a double digit goal total behind Corey Perry is Richard Rakell with 10 goals on the season.
Early this month, I reported that Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas farm affiliate) had taken the lead in the AHL scoring race. He is a former AHL top scorer in 2014, so it seemed reasonable to expect that he might be able to hold onto the scoring title. He hasn't. Morin has only scored 4 points in January so far. This has allowed other players to enter the race. T J Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs affiliate) has taken the scoring lead. He has 39 points in his 41 games played. Thus the AHL top scorer does not have a point per game so far this season.
T J Brennan is not a serious NHL prospect, but he may still have a shot. He is a 26 year old defenceman. The top scorer in the AHL is not a forward! Brennan has 12 NHL points in his 48 NHL games to this point in his career. He was named the top defenceman in the league in 2013/14 where he scored 72 points in 76 games. Offensively he is scoring at approximately the same rate. Perhaps this can translate to the NHL, but it hasn't so far.
Less than two weeks ago, the Florida Panthers were the toast of the NHL as they had just pulled off a 12 game winning streak. The Chicago Blackhawks have matched that as they are in a 12 game winning streak of their own. Any team in a 12 game winning streak must be having a pretty good season and Chicago is no exception. They are first in the West Conference with a 32-17 record with 4 regulation tie points. This record gives them 68 points and has them second in the entire league.
As the defending Stanley Cup champions it is clear that Chicago is a good team. Last year they proved to be an elite team and there is plenty of reason to image they still are. It is true that there were a few salary cap casualties from last season including Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, but the core is still there. Patrick Kane is leading the NHL in scoring and the leading candidate for MVP. Jonathan Toews remains a top player. Duncan Keith is among the best in the game It is not a coincidence that this streak didn't begin until he was back from injury and playing at 100%. They have added the Calder Trophy front-runner in Artemi Panarin to last season's squad, so the team has managed to make up a significant part of their salary cap losses in the off-season. Goaltender Corey Crawford has rarely been seen as a strength but he has some of the best numbers of any goalie this season and is likely in the Vezina race.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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