As recently as 2006/07, the Ottawa Senators were one of the top teams in the NHL. They had their fourth straight 100+ point season and went to the Stanley Cup finals. This season, their 11-17 record (with 5 regulation tie points) puts them 12th in the East Conference. How did this team fall apart?
The obvious problem when looking at the team’s statistics is the current Senators have no depth. They have only three players (Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza) with more than four goals scored this season. In 2006/07 they had 15 players on their team finish the season with 30 or more points. The depth is gone. Some of the depth players are gone in Wade Redden, Peter Schaeffer, Mike Comrie and Joe Corvo, but that is to be expected. Teams cannot stay the same year after year in the salary capped era. Some of the 2007 depth players remain in Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly, but they are not scoring anymore. Nobody has been added to the mix who is much of an offensive threat. Nick Foligno, Jarkko Ruutu, Jesse Winchester etc. are not significant offensive players.
When superstar goaltender Martin Brodeur was hurt for the Devils earlier this season, they were written off by a lot of people. Brodeur had surgery on his torn tendons in his left bicep. The surgery occurred in early November and with recovery expected to take 3-4 months, he would project to return in February at the earliest.
Martin Brodeur has been the heart and soul of the Devils franchise for years. His goaltending has been one of the main reasons for the Devils success. Without an elite goaltender, the Devils might be in for a long season.
Not so fast! The Devils have been 9-1 in their last ten starts without Brodeur. Scott Clemmensen has filled in marvelously. He has been the winning goalie for the Devils in eight of those nine wins.
I have been picking Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins as the Vezina Trophy leader this season. He is clearly having a good season and it is a surprise to see him doing as well as he is, but there is another goalie who has been playing even better and his status as my new Vezina leader is even more surprising. I think Craig Anderson of the Florida Panthers is the current Vezina leader. Anderson has taken over the number one goaltender job on Florida from Tomas Vokoun. This is no easy feat as Vokoun is a proven All Star goalie. Anderson currently leads the NHL with a .946 saves percentage and is second to Thomas with a 1.94 GAA despite facing significantly more shots per game.
We are over two months into the NHL season. That should be long enough to get a pretty good gage on how well teams are doing so far this year. There are many factors which may need to be put into context to properly make sense of the standings. One of them is a huge home/away imbalance exists at this point. On one extreme, the Edmonton Oilers have played 18 road games but only 8 home games so far. On the other extreme, the Los Angeles Kings have only 9 road games to go with 17 home games. It should be clear that teams that have spent most of the first two months of the season on the road are probably performing below their expectations and teams that have spent most of their first two months are home are probably performing above expectations.
While I do not expect that every casual hockey fan has noticed this fact, I expect better from Adam Proteau of the Hockey News. He writes the misleading sentence:
In Edmonton, it’s difficult to be cheery, what with the Oilers having won just three home games this season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning made the biggest splash in the free agency market this summer. They spent significant amounts of money to sign free agents Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Olaf Kolzig and others. For the most part, they are regretting those decisions as the Lightning sit in last place in the NHL with a 6-21 record (with eight regulation tie points). One of the signings they regret the most is that of Radim Vrbata. Vrbata has 6 points so far in 18 games played. He has been a healthy scratch for the Lightning in several games this season. They bought that for the healthy price of $9 million paid over three years.
In the crazily run Tampa Bay organization it wasn’t too long before they decided to undo the Vrbata signing. They magically made his contract disappear this season. Vrbata has returned to his native Czech Republic. He will play with BK Mlada Bolesov. Although this has been presented as Vrbata making the decision, one can’t help but suspect that Tampa Bay ownership pushed him out the door and are happy he left.
There was an interesting comment in the if only they had goaltending post where I argued that the Detroit Red Wings have been let down by their goaltending and would really benefit by better goaltending - which may have to be acquired via trade. A commenter JH says:
I’m curious why you think Detroit is currently on pace to have its best season, points-wise, since the “looser” point was established, with 56 wins? Is their goalie really holding them back?
It is an interesting comment despite the fact it is not factually true. Since the shootout was instituted and every game had a winner, the most wins in a season was the Detroit Red Wings in 2005/06 who had 58 wins. Currently this season, the San Jose Sharks are on pace for 67 wins, Boston Bruins 58 wins and the Detroit Red Wings 57 wins. Although one must be cautioned that those are win projections, as opposed to actual win totals, it is interesting that three different teams are on pace to have some of the best seasons we have seen since the lockout. Wasn’t the salary cap supposed to usher in parity to the league? Why isn’t that happening?
There is an interesting situation at the top of the AHL scoring race right now. The three top scorers so far this season have all been called up to the NHL. Keith Aucoin leads the league in scoring with 36 points, but he has been called up by the Washington Capitals (who are the parent club of his AHL team - the Hershey Bears). The next position in the scoring race is a tie between his Washington/Hershey teammate Alexandre Giroux and Pittsburgh/ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin Chris Minard with 30 points. Both of them have been called up the NHL as well. This leaves a four-way tie for the top scorer this season who is currently in the AHL. The tie consists of Jeff Taffe from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Mike Iggulden of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islander affiliate), Yanick Lehoux of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens affiliate) and Jamie Lundmark of the Quad Cities Flames (Calgary affiliate). All four of them have 28 points. Another player worthy of mention in the AHL scoring race is Mark Mancari of the Portland Pirates (Buffalo Sabre affiliate) He has 27 points in only 16 games played due to an NHL call-up. Clearly who will win the AHL scoring title depends upon which of those players remain in the league.
I have annually written a post looking at a team that would improve significantly with an improvement from their goaltending. Goaltending is the position that most affects the success or failure of an NHL team. The addition of one goalie is enough to significantly change the fortunes of a team - even if the goalie is far from superstar quality.
In 2005/06, my choice for the team that could best benefit from a better goaltender was the Edmonton Oilers, a team that added Dwayne Roloson at the trade deadline and went on to make the Stanley Cup finals. In 2006/07 I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning who did not add a goalie and missed the playoffs. Last season, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins who had the goaltending arrive internally first with surprisingly good play from Ty Conklin and then with Marc-Andre Fleury playing the best hockey of his NHL career. The Penguins wound up in the Stanley Cup finals.
This season, my choice is the Detroit Red Wings.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a rather interesting season so far. They brought in new “maverick” owners, made several questionable trades and made a coaching change after only sixteen games played. Since firing coach Barry Melrose and replacing him with Rick Tocchet, Tampa has posted only one win in nine tries (although four of their losses have given them regulation tie points). That clearly shows that the problem in Tampa was not inept coaching holding them back. The problem is a lack of talent. There is a lack of defence and a lack of depth at forward and most of all a lack of coherent ideas from management to solve the problem.
Today came the announcement that Sean Avery suspension will be for six games. Six games for saying the words “sloppy seconds”. That seems a bit excessive. It is clear that the suspension is for far more than that one statement. In the NHL press release there is the following Gary Bettman quote:
Mr. Avery has been warned repeatedly about his conduct and comments, which have too often been at odds with the manner in which his more than 700 fellow players conduct themselves. Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, requiring a high standard of personal behavior. Mr. Avery forfeits that privilege for six games.
It is clear that the suspension is for many unpunished past transgressions as much as it is for the current one. There are several problems that come from that policy.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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