I have been picking Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers as the rookie of the year but it has become clear that he has been surpassed in the race by John Tavares of the Islanders. Tavares has a significant lead among rookie scorers with 27 points. That total puts him in the lead among his New York Islander teammates. He has been everything the Islanders hoped he would be when they picked him first overall last summer.
Tavares is looking like he may have the best offensive rookie season since Evgeni Malkin three years ago and possibly since Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby the year before that. Does that mean he will establish himself as a star on their level in the near future? He has the potential.
I think it is clear that the most improved player in the NHL is Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty, the second year defenceman is among the Norris Trophy favorites. He has 24 points, which places him fourth among defencemen and leads the Kings defence with a +10 +/- rating. Doughty’s 24 points have almost matched his 27 point output in his rookie season. That was a rookie season where he remarkably led the LA Kings in ice time, as an 18 and 19 year old. It was a season where he finished fifth (as the top defenceman) in the Calder Trophy voting.
Doughty has jumped from being the workhorse on a defence with no stars to being one of the best defencemen in the game this season. He has inserted his name as a likely member of the Canadian Olympic Team.
A quick look at the standings shows that the Carolina Hurricanes have been the worst team in the league, by a significant margin, so far this season. They have a 7-23 record (with five regulation tie points). This leaves them in last place in the league by an eight point margin. This is a team that made a semi-final appearance last season. How did the Hurricanes fall so far so fast?
The Hurricanes have had no offensive stars so far this season. Ray Whitney leads the team in scoring with 20 points. This is the third lowest total for a top scorer on his team (Phoenix and St Louis have 19 point top scorers). Carolina has the lowest goals per game total in the league. They have dropped over half a goal per game from last season. Three players have shouldered a large portion of this drop. Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind’Amour have all had significant drops in their offensive output.
According to Murphy’s Law it was bound to happen someday. The Montreal Canadiens used an ineligible player Tuesday night versus the Ottawa Senators. Ryan White was in the line-up for the Habs, but they had failed to notify the league by the 5 PM league deadline that White had been recalled from the AHL. When this was noticed, White was pulled from the game and the Habs completed it one forward short. This is being treated as a big deal. Bob McKenzie reports that the Habs could face a fine in the six figure range. He also says that had it not been noticed that White was ineligible and he was pulled from the game, Montreal may have had to forfeit their 4-1 victory.
Many questions are raised by the incident. Why was this news story not widely reported until more than 36 hours after the game (Bob McKenzie’s story is dated at almost 10 AM ET the Thursday after the game - and I haven’t seen anything reported earlier)? Did the NHL attempt to suppress the story? This is an example of how the CBA has an unwieldy amount of regulation. What is the harm really? Montreal called up a player that they have called up before and failed to tell big brother about it. Why does big brother even care? Because they keep a complex salary calculation going all season and this kind of minutia is needed to be kept correct to keep the salary calculation correct.
The Frank J Selke Trophy for best defensive forward is usually a tough award to select. There is rarely a consensus as to who to nominate for the award. This year might be even worse than normal. When Jams Mirtle looked at the top defensive forwards in the league so far, he noted that a lot of new faces were on the list. It is also noteworthy that last year’s Selke nominees, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Richards and Ryan Kesler are not on the list. This suggests there is a wide open field for the Selke Trophy and that somebody who has not been a contender in the past might win it.
I think the leader at this point is Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils. I scoffed at the fact that he received a sizable number of votes last season. I thought it was a recognition of his high +/- rating (+33 last year) than his skill level and the role he played with New Jersey. Afterall last season it was John Madden who was used as the number one defensive centre on the Devils. Madden led Devil forwards by a significant margin in penalty kill time (Zajac was 2nd but with about 50% less penalty kill time).
For the last several years, the West Conference has had a winning record versus the East Conference. So far this year, the West is 65-51 (with 15 losses credited as regulation ties). This is a better pace than the 141-129 (with 26 regulation tie points) record the West Conference put up last year. Does this mean that the West is becoming even more dominant over the East Conference this year, when compared to last year?
At least part of the early season improvement in the West Conference record against the East is a predictable travel effect. As the season progresses, travel wears on both conferences. The West Conference travels a further total distance. They lose more time that could be spent on practice, rest, injury rehab etc. to travel. After a few months of the season it weakens the West Conference relative to the East, allowing the East to win a few more inter-conference games later in the season. Thus, the early season pace that the West Conference holds in inter-division games is never maintained the full season.
It is far enough into the season to begin to look at the free agent signings made this summer. One stands out as being a complete failure so far. Martin Havlat left the Chicago Blackhawks to sign with the Minnesota Wild. He signed a six year contract worth $30 million. He was intended as a replacement for NHL goal scoring leader Marian Gaborik, who had jumped to the New York Rangers, but it has not worked out that way.
Havlat has not been a key to the Wild team. He has two goals and nine assists, for eleven points. This places him seventh on the Wild team in scoring. His -17+/- rating is a team worst ranking. It is second worst in the league. He has not been successful so far in Minnesota.
There is a new goon sitting atop the NHL penalty minute totals. It is Zenon Konopka of the Tampa Bay Lightning has 113 penalty minutes so far this season. That gives him a significant lead over last year’s leader, Daniel Carcillo of the Philadelphia Flyers, who has 87, Konopka has always been a tough guy, but for a long time he was never pictured as a potential penalty minute leader in the NHL.
Konopka played in junior with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. He was undrafted by the NHL. He managed to continue his hockey career when he got a job with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. He was an ECHL power forward scoring 70 points and adding 231 PIMs. He bounced around the AHL and ECHL for a few years. In the 2005/06 season he had his first NHL shot. He played 23 games with the Anaheim Ducks. He attempted to be an NHL power forward. He scored 7 points in 23 games and posted 48 penalty minutes.
With the Chicago Blackhawks recent resignings of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, we have a very good idea what the core of the team will look like for the next several years. With their length contracts that would be hard to move, we can assume that Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet will be part of the Blackhawk core as well. Anyone else will be hard to keep around for salary cap reasons. There is already speculation that Cam Barker, Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel are among the players on their way out.
Chicago is clearly a good team. Their 17-10 record (with three overtime loss points) places them in fifth place in the NHL. They haven’t won the Stanley Cup. Last year’s semi-final appearance is their first playoff berth since 2002 and we are already talking about which players the team will have to get rid of to stay below the salary cap.
One of the biggest surprises this season is that it took until December for a team to fire a coach. This makes faux rumors prediction that 25-50% of the coaches who started the 2009/10 season would be fired before game 82 look to be in doubt.
The first coach fired this season is John Stevens, who was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers. Stevens coached the Flyers for slightly over three seasons. He found himself coaching a team with a 13-12 record (with one loss counted as an overtime tie), that has his time in tenth place in the East Conference.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???