The hottest team in the NHL right now is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have earned points in each of their last ten games and won nine of the ten. The big reason things have turned around is Marc-Andre Fleury who has found his game after a horrid start. Sidney Crosby leads the league in points and is an MVP candidate. Kris Letang is the player I would pick for the Norris Trophy. This team is playing very well.
Trades are few and far between at this point in the regular season. It is hard to make a trade that makes sense in terms of the players, contracts and salary cap figures involved. Today a trade of moderate substance was made. Boston traded Matt Hunwick to Colorado for Colby Cohen.
Hunwick is in his third full season in the NHL. He attempts to be an offensive defenceman and sometimes gets burned defensively. His career best is 27 points, which he scored in 2008/09, while playing on 53 games. He was unable to match that last year, when he scored 14 points and is not on pace to do it this year as he has only three points in 22 games. Hunwick is paid $1.45 million this year and is a restricted free agent this summer. Given his lack of offensive success he might not be worth extending a qualifying offer.
I am picking Jeff Halpern as the Selke Trophy leader at this point in the season. He is having a phenomenal defensive season, at least so far and few seem to be noticing. This is a general problem with evaluating defence. It is hard to do statistically and to many people it is decided by reputation more than by reality.
Scott Cullen of TSN recently published his quarter season award picks. This is very interesting to me because I keep track of my picks for the NHL awards and like to track how they change as the season progresses.
It is hard to be the worst regular in the NHL for any lengthy period of time. If you play too poorly, you will lose your spot in the NHL. If you play too well, you won’t remain the worst regular for long. I think it is an interesting thing to track such a player, in order to see which kind of player keeps getting a chance to play regularly despite failure. Usually come season’s end, the “winner” in this particular race is a goon or a fourth line “energy” player who is popular, hard working and totally ineffective. It takes a while for a player like this to show his ineptitude because he doesn’t have as much ice time as frontline stars. Thus, usually in the early parts of the season, I pick a “name” player who is failing as the worst player in the league so far.
Earlier this season, Marc-Andre Fleury took this dishonor. Fleury may be overrated, but he is a proven NHL goalie and it is no surprise that he soon improved his game.
Once again this year, the West Conference is playing better hockey than the East Conference. This story has been repeated for the last several years. This year, West Conference teams have a record of 49 wins and 39 losses with 10 regulation tie points (as the NHL reports things this is a 49-29-10 record). This is a slightly better pace for the West Conference than was accomplished last year and last year was an improvement on the year before. The discrepancy between the West and East Conference is getting bigger.
I explain this as a reaction to the travel discrepancies in the NHL. Travel makes life harder for West Conference teams than for East Conference ones. West Conference teams log more miles over the course of a season and it catches up to them.
The Florida Panthers have a 7.5% power play success rate through about a quarter of the season. This is unsustainably bad. Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had the worst power play in the league, with a 14.0% success rate. Florida was second worst at 14.2%.
In fact, Florida has only scored five power play goals all season. Two were scored by Dennis Wideman and one each by Bryan McCabe, Michael Frolik and Steve Reinprecht. One two power play goals have been scored by Florida forwards.
In 2012, it will be the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series which gave us Paul Henderson’s great goal to give Canada the victory in the series. The idea of a 40th anniversary series to be played before the 2012/13 season has been discussed. The International Ice Hockey Federation is behind the idea. Apparently, Vladimir Putin is behind the idea. Hockey Canada has had some preliminary talks on the idea. It would be an interesting series. The growing KHL would set up a series with some players who are not regularly seen by North American fans playing for Russia alongside Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
The problem is this series will not see the light of day. The NHL wants no part of it. Andrew Podnieks of the New York Times Slapshots Blog reports that Bill Daly, the NHL deputy commissioner is on record against it.
The AHL can be an exciting league to watch. It is also interesting because often its better players make jumps to the NHL. Looking at last year’s AHL All Star Game, we see players like PK Subban, Tyler Ennis, Jonathan Bernier, John Carlson and Michal Neuvirth were AHL stars last year.
This year’s scoring race has two players who have jumped out in front of the pack. They are Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa’s farm team) and Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington’s farm team). Locke has 27 points. Gordon has 25. No other player has more than 22 points.
The Boston Bruins are about to face a salary cap crunch. They have used long term injury reserve to exceed the salary cap by about $2 million during Marc Savard and Marco Sturm’s injuries. Savard is ready to come back from his concussion any day now and Marco Sturm is not too far behind him in his recovery from knee surgery. When they both are back, Boston will have to make an uncomfortable roster move in order to get below the salary cap.
Michael Ryder and Andrew Ference are the two players most in jeopardy of losing their NHL job, should Boston not make a trade or have another longterm injury.
As the season progresses, I am picking more and more initial leaders for the NHL awards. Today, I am looking at the coach of the year. Generally, my opinions on this award are out of synch with the hockey media who vote on the award. Generally, the media seem to pick the coach of the most improved team as coach of the year, when often that improvement is due to the players much more than it is due to coaching. Following that line of logic, the coach of the year will likely be one of Davis Payne, Terry Murray or Guy Boucher as St Louis, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are some of the most improved teams in hockey. Past coaches of the year like Bruce Boudreau in Washington and Dave Tippett in Phoenix have no chance to be coach of the year because their team cannot improve enough for them to be candidates again.
At any rate, my coach of the year pick is none of the above. It is Mike Babcock of Detroit.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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