It isn’t clear how badly the H1N1 flu will affect North America as we enter the traditional winter flu season. Nobody knows how many people will be affected. There is a precedent in hockey for flu causing disruption. In 1919, there was no Stanley Cup winner as both finalists - the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans - were hit hard by the flu and the finals were cancelled. At a time, the entire Montreal Canadiens team was hospitalized and defenceman Joe Hall died of the flu. This was the famous Spanish influenza epidemic. Returning soldiers from World War I brought back a new strain of the flu and it killed an estimated 50 million people (about 3% of the world’s population). This was the second wave of the Spanish Flu, as World War I had ended in 1918.
Hopefully medicine is better equipped to deal with a major flu pandemic today than it was in 1919, but we never can know for sure. However, with the invention of vaccination, there is a new weapon to fight a flu pandemic.
At the end of October, I picked Alex Goligoski as the top defenceman in the NHL so far this season. I think this was a good selection at the time, although some commenters disagreed. I think the main complaint was that they did not understand that I was picking the top defenceman so far in a month old season and not the top defenceman in hockey. Lindas1st understood the difference when he said So what you’re basically saying is that Goligoski is the defenseman of the month for October in the NHL. Obviously when October is the only month of play so far, the best player in the season so far would be the player of the month for October.
Not surprisingly, Goligoski did not stay on a Norris Trophy pace for a long time. That would be an awful lot to ask from a second year defenceman in his first full season of NHL play. He has been surpassed by Chris Pronger.
It is obvious that Sidney Crosby is one of the most talented players in the NHL. He has the ability to become the player who dominates a generation. He won the 2007 Hart Trophy as a 19 year old and seemed to be well on his way to a significant period as the standard bearer for the NHL. This is yet to happen. He was not a Hart Trophy nominee in either of the last two seasons. His team won the 2009 Stanley Cup, but he was not chosen as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Crosby remains one of the best players in the NHL, but he is unable to make the jump to be the best player in the game. I think one reason for this is immaturity and a lack of self-discipline. One clear symptom of this is his penalty total. Crosby has 31 penalty minutes so far this season. That puts him second on his Pittsburgh Penguins team (behind Jay McKee). He leads the NHL in minor penalties (with 13 - tied with Hal Gill of Montreal). There is no reason Sidney Crosby should lead the league in minor penalties.
In late October, I picked Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche as the top goalie so far this season. He is having a very good season (so far), but has given way to Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. When I picked Anderson, it was clear that the race was between him and Miller. Miller had a slightly higher saves percentage, with fewer games played and fewer shots faced. In the meantime, Anderson`s numbers have dropped a bit, while Miller has done a better job of maintaining his level of play. Miller has a 1.89 GAA and a .936 saves percentage. Miller is a big part of the reason that the Buffalo Sabres lead the Northeast Division.
Goaltending is a position that can have a tremendous effect on a team. A team with a top goalie can significantly exceed expectations. Likewise, a team with poor goaltending will fail to live up to expectation. Short term predictions based on goaltending are hard because it is a very streaky position. It is not uncommon for a goalie who has not had much recent success to suddenly have a very hot streak and become nearly unbeatable and it is not uncommon for a top goalie to have a cold streak.
Two goalies who were largely overlooked in the free agent market who are off to good starts this year are Antero Niittymaki of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Andrew Raycroft of the Vancouver Canucks.
I like to try to pinpoint the time in a player’s career when he cements himself as Hall of Fame player. This is the point where his Hall of Fame credentials are strong enough that anything that does or does not happen in the remainder of his career cannot threaten his value as a Hall of Famer. Today, I believe that Joe Thornton has made it to this level.
With the year 2010 less than two months away, it is natural to start looking at the results over the decade 2000-2009 (some might chose decades as 2001-2010 or to correspond with the start and end of NHL seasons but the results remain about the same). It is clear that Joe Thornton will be the highest scorer in the NHL over the 2000-2009 decade. He has 783 regular season points so far. This puts him ahead of a Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson tie for second place with 712 points. Jaromir Jagr is fourth with 671 points and is no longer playing in the NHL. It is clear that Thornton will be the top scorer in this (2000-2009) decade and extremely likely that he will be the top scorer in the 2001-2010 decade (he currently has an 80 point lead).
I think we are far enough into the season to conclude that the Chicago Blackhawks have the best team defence. Chicago has held opposition to an amazing 22.7 shots per game so far. This is 3.5 shots per game better than any other team (Los Angeles is second). The Blackhawks have a solid 8-6 record (with one regulation tie) but have not been able to capitalize on this top defence so far because of lacklustre goaltending. Cristobal Huet has put up a .895 saves percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. The GAA looks acceptable, but when you consider how few shots he has faced, it is not so good. So far rookie Antii Niemi has done a little better that Huet in goal, but he is largely untested. His first of four starts was a shutout against Florida and that one start alone (which may be a bit of a fluke) makes up the difference between Huet and his numbers.
There is an incredible offensive performance underway in the AHL. Alexandre Giroux of the Hershey Bears (the Washington Capitals affiliate) is tied for the league lead in scoring with 17 points. He is tied with Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack (the New York Rangers affiliate). Giroux’s performance so far is impressive because he has done it in only eight games played. He has scored more than two points per game in the AHL so far this season. By comparison, Locke has 12 games played. Giroux was called up to the NHL for a short time. He played three games with the Washington Capitals scoring a goal. This has limited his AHL games played.
Giroux is no stranger to being an AHL top scorer. Last year he won the John B Sollenberger Trophy as the top scorer in the league as well as the Les Cunningham Award for MVP. Giroux is an AHL superstar and he appears to be getting even better as time passes. So why is he not an NHLer?
The NHLPA is in a shambles. The NHL is using this weakness to launch an attack on the NHLPA, as the NHLPA is not in a position to defend itself well. This summer, Dany Heatley, then an Ottawa Senator, demanded a trade. Heatley then declined to be traded to the Edmonton Oilers, as he had a no movement clause in his contract. This allowed him to deny any trades (despite the fact he requested one). Ottawa spent most of the summer dealing with the Heatley drama until they finally traded him to the San Jose Sharks. Heatley and a fifth round pick were traded to San Jose in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round pick. So far, this trade has favored San Jose as Heatley has 17 points by himself and Michalek and Cheechoo have combined for ten points in Ottawa.
One of my biggest concerns with the NHL of today is that is hard (impossible?) to build a team that is as good as used to win Stanley Cups. This is a direct consequence of the salary cap and rapid expansion. A team cannot afford to hold onto all of the talent it produces if it drafts well and there are more other teams to gobble it up when it comes available on the open market. Teams cannot get as strong as they did in the past. For the most part, we do not see any more elite teams.
Puck Daddy began their retrospective of the decade today by listing the nine best teams of the decade. This is a ranking of all of the nine teams that won Stanley Cups in the years 2000-2009. This is an unscientific listing, where the criteria to rank teams is unclear. That said, the results of their rankings more or less agree with my opinions (and likely those of most impartial observers). The top three teams are the 2002 Detroit Red Wings, 2001 Colorado Avalanche and the 2000 New Jersey Devils. The top teams are pre-lockout.
About The Puck Stops Here
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