It is the end of 2010. It is still a long time before the 2011 Stanley Cup is awarded. At this point a look at the league shows that the Vancouver Canucks are the hottest team in the league. They have earned points in each of their last ten games. Their last game was a strong 6-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, the team with the third highest point total in the NHL.
There haven’t been any truly elite teams in the NHL for several years. The last team I would pick that made that level is the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, a team that won the Stanley Cup and then had their momentum quashed when Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne went on sabbatical the next season. I think it is a good bet that there won’t be any elite teams in the 2010/11 season either, but the most likely team to reach that level is probably the Vancouver Canucks.
The worst +/- rating in the NHL belongs to Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils. He has a -26 rating. This is not the result New Jersey hoped for after a summer where he was the most sought after free agent signing and his ordeal to get a contract accepted by the NHL was the summer`s biggest hockey story.
This +/- rating is largely an indictment of the New Jersey Devils team. New Jersey has the worst team +/- rating at -53. The worst three and five of the worst six +/- ratings in the league are Devil players. Playing significant minutes on the Devils is going to get any player a bad +/- rating. Kovalchuk is third in ice time on the team. The two players who are ahead of him in ice time (Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder) are the second and third worst +/- ratings.
Yesterday it was announced that Darryl Sutter was being replaced by Jay Feaster as Calgary Flames general manager. Darryl Sutter had been Calgary’s GM and before that coach. He has been with the organization since the 2002/03 season. During his tenure, Calgary went to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. This is largely a coaching success for Sutter as he was in his first year as general manager and the team was largely built. He did make one significant trade in acquiring goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff that helped to lead to that success.
Since that point, Sutter has given up the coaching role to be a full-time general manager. As GM, he has not been so successful. Sutter has been responsible for several forced trades, which have turned out poorly for the team in the last year or so.
The KHL is having a hard time keeping their NHL proven talent this season. Evgeni Nabokov and Marek Svatos are two proven NHL talents who have left the league this season. I have argued that Nabokov is unlikely to return to the NHL this season because he cannot clear re-entry waivers for the team that signs him. Every player who plays in a major European hockey league must clear waivers to re-enter the NHL in the same season. A high calibre player returning to the NHL would almost certainly be claimed and the team that signed him in the first place would not get his services. This team would have effectively signed the player for another team, which is a waste of time and effort.
The test case for this theory is Marek Svatos, who was signed by the St Louis Blues.
Over the past couple of years, a good number of posts have been devoted to the topic of elite goaltenders. Which goalies in the league are elite? What does it mean to a team to have one of them or not have one of them? In the comments of the posts, Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils has often been used as an elite goaltender. He certainly was one during the majority of his NHL career, but for the past few years he hasn’t been playing at that level (which for the sake of simplicity we will take as being one of the top five goalies in the game - there is a much longer discussion than that if necessary). He hasn’t been significantly below that level, but it has been a couple years since he showed he was an elite goaltender. For example, he was one of the goalies on the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team but he didn’t play particularly well and lost the starting job before the end of the tournament. Given his track record, it was entirely possible that he might again show he is an elite goalie, so it was awkward to write him off, but also not accurate to accept him as an elite goalie of today. His performance so far this season has convinced me that it is safe to write him off.
The AHL scoring race has been changed significantly by NHL callups. Four of the top ten scorers so far this season are currently on NHL rosters. They are Max Pacioretty of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens), Dustin Jeffrey of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins), Zach Boychuk of the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) and Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals). When i last looked at the scoring race, about a week and a half ago Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators) held the lead. He has since been caught and overtaken. David Desharnais of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) holds the current lead with 40 points. He has a three point lead over Locke.
When you are a first year coach of a last place team that was expected to make the playoffs your days are likely numbered. The fact that New Jersey fired coach John MacLean today is not a surprise. The surprise is that he lasted 33 games before his firing.
In 33 games, New Jersey posed a 9-24 record (with two regulation tie points). That is clearly not good enough. Sure there were factors outside MacLean’s control. The Ilya Kovalchuk signing hurt the Devils depth. It even forced them to play a few games with a less than full roster. To make matters worse, Kovalchuk has not produced as expected. There have been injuries to deal with. Last year’s top scorer Zach Parise has missed most of the season and many other players have been hurt too.
I try to track the worst regular player in each NHL season. I am interested in what kind of players continue to play in the NHL despite their failure. Usually the worst player in the NHL is a hard working borderline NHL player with little pro hockey talent, but he has the respect of coaching and his teammates, which keeps him in the line-up. The last player I picked in this role is Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings.
It is hard to remain the worst player in the league. There are a couple players on every team with similar roles to you and limited talent as well. If you play too poorly you lose your NHL job, but if you play too well, somebody else takes over as the worst regular player in the league.
On of the more surprising numbers this season is Andrej Meszaros’s league leading +/- rating. His +22 is four points better than anyone else’s. He is a player who has not put up a particularly good +/- rating (last year he was -14) since his rookie year of 2005/06 in Ottawa. He recorded a +34 that season.
There are a lot of similarities between this season and 2005/06. Philadelphia is a first place team this year with the highest team +/- rating. Ottawa was a similar top team in 2005/06.
The NHLPA has finally confirmed Donald Fehr as their new union head. He fills a stop left vacant since Paul Kelly was fired over a year ago. This gives the NHLPA is strong leader for their upcoming 2012 CBA negotiations. Leadership is not the only problem that the NHLPA faces. The players that form the rank and file of the NHLPA are not united or willing to stand up to significant bargaining pressure. The NHL knows this and will apply significant pressure to get an even more owner friendly CBA than the current one which the owners basically wrote and the union capitulated and fired Bob Goodenow.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???