I think the biggest upset in the 2010 playoffs has just occurred. The Philadelphia Flyers have defeated the New Jersey Devils. Philadelphia was without their first two choices to be starting goalies as Ray Emery and Michael Leighton were injured. This left the Flyers with Brian Boucher in goal. Boucher was coming off a lacklustre .899 saves percentage and had not won a playoff game since the year 2000. Philadelphia almost lost their playoff berth with due to their goaltending problems. They went on a streak where they lost seven of eight games and needed a run where they won three of their last four games to clinch a playoff berth on the last day of the season. Things looked even worse when Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne both suffered foot injuries that will keep them out for weeks, if not the rest of the season. Nevertheless, Philadelphia defeated New Jersey four games to one in the first round.
Today will be the nomination announcements for the 2010 Calder Trophy. If the early playoff results are any indication, perhaps the best player to debut in the 2009/10 season will not be nominated this year. So far in the playoffs, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals has made a claim to being the best rookie in the NHL. Carlson has appeared in all four Washington Capitals games and scored four points from defence. He has a +7 +/- rating in the playoffs so far. This is quite an impressive showing for a rookie.
Carlson will be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season because he only played 22 games this season (and the Calder cut-off is 25). In those 22 games, he logged an ever increasing amount of playing time with six points and a +11 +/-. Carlson is a 20 year old World Junior Championship hero who was a Caps first round pick in 2008. He has the pedigree of a future NHL star and is playing like one so far in the playoffs. He is a very logical front-runner for next year’s Calder Trophy.
I like to pick leaders in any NHL awards race as soon as there is a meaningful front-runner and what to see when and if they lose their front-running status. We are now three and four games into the first round playoff series and it is the earliest possible time to pick a meaningful early playoff MVP. That man is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby has 11 points in four games played and a playoff leading +7 +/- rating. That is a very strong streak of four games. It is unlikely that Crosby can keep that level of play up for the entire playoff run, but he is off to a big lead over the rest of the pack and is thus the early playoff MVP. Should Crosby continue to play at this level and Pittsburgh make another deep playoff run (both are reasonable possibilities), a Sidney Crosby Conn Smythe Trophy is a strong possibility.
It is usually a bad sign when a team changes goaltenders during their Stanley Cup run. Something must have gone wrong and there is little time to fix it before a team is looking at elimination. The President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals are the first team to find themselves in that situation this year. They began the playoffs with Jose Theodore in goal. Theodore had a strong stretch run, but after he allowed goals on his first two shots in game two of their playoff series with Montreal, he was pulled. Theodore’s playoff saves percentage had dropped to .875 and his goals against average was at 3.70. Thus Washington chose to use goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who had replaced Thoedore in the playoffs last year as well.
Varlamov completed game two and played game three. He earned wins in both games and Washington now has a 2 games to one lead against Montreal.
A few days ago Scott Cullen of TSN published win loss records for individual players who missed considerable numbers of games this season. For the most part this is not a very good method to learn anything statistically. To show this, here are the ten players who had the biggest improvement to their team’s win/loss percentage from Cullen’s stats.
Last year in the playoffs, one controversy was the outdoor viewing parties outside Mellon Arena for Pittsburgh Penguins playoff games. When the games were broadcast on NBC, this viewing party, which was good for the promotion of the game was killed. NBC argued that this cost them money - which it did on a small level. The few thousand viewers at the Penguins viewing party were watching the NBC feed. The problem is that they are not counted. The Nielsen TV ratings count the number of TV sets watching a game and not the number of viewers. Advertising ratings are linked to Nielsen ratings. Thus NBC wants the maximum number of TVs on. They may lose some viewers in the process (as some people who go for the viewing party would not bother watching a game at home) but it increases revenue marginally. For the same reason NBC does not like sports bars or large families that watch TV together. It is a broken system where an event that is great for promotion of hockey with an NBC feed watched by thousands is not in NBC’s best interests.
It is very early in the playoffs, but two of the weaker performances in goal have been turned in by the two goalies with Stanley Cup victories who have played this year. Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils has a .884 saves percentage and a 2.54 GAA. Marc-Andre Fleury has a .870 saves percentage and a 3.03 GAA. Both have not performed well enough for their respective teams to have any serious chance at a deep playoff run. Unless their performance improves, both of their teams will soon be eliminated. It is a well-believed myth that playoff experience in goaltending is important to a team’s success. This year (so far) Ryan Miller, Pekka Rinne, Jaroslav Halak, Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick have to top five saves percentages. None have ever been in the Stanley Cup finjals. Of those five, Ryan Miller is the only one who has ever played a complete playoff series. It is important to have a goalie who has plays well in the playoffs, but playoff experience is not a predictor of this.
In 2007, the Edmonton Oilers signed Sheldon Souray to a five year contract worth $27 million. The deal was a bit ill-conceived in that Edmonton had publicly announced that they would sign some free agents and Souray was one of the few remaining. Souray was not likely to be a difference-maker during his contract, but he was as big a name as the Oilers could find to sign.
Three years into the deal, the Edmonton Oilers finished in last place and Souray has decided he wants out. He requested a trade from the Oilers. Technically, he has a no trade clause until the beginning of July, but he seems willing to waive it to be moved to almost any team.
One moral of the story is that last place teams tend not to be attractive draws to players who have some control over where they are going. Even signed players with some power may want out of a situation that they would otherwise have been happy with if their team is winning.
Yesterday, the Atlanta Thrashers moved Don Waddell out of the general manager position and into the team presidency and replaced him with Rick Dudley, the team’s assistant GM. Is that really the big change that the team needs? Don Waddell is still around and it remains to be seen how involved he is with the team. There is no new blood in as general manager. Rick Dudley has been the assistant general manager with the team for the last year. If he had a brilliant plan that was going to change the team direction, we would already be seeing signs of it on the ice.
Dudley has two previous GM runs in the NHL. Both were short. In 1998/1999 he was general manager of the Ottawa Senators. This was the year that the Sens took a significant leap forward. They won the Northeast Division for the first time. Giving Dudley the credit is misplaced. Their improvement was due to a young core picked up with some early draft picks before Dudley began as general manager.
With the regular season over, two of the more ineptly run teams have announced that their GM and coach will not be back in those positions next year. The Tampa Bay Lightning have fired GM Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet and the Atlanta Thrashers have moved GM Don Waddell to team president and fired coach John Anderson.
Tampa has been owned and managed very dysfunctionally. The Oren Koules and Len Barrie ownership circus atmosphere ended when the team was sold to Jeffrey Vinik, but its problems remained. The GM and coach did not get along. In mid-season, GM Lawton fired assistant coach Wes Walz and coach Rick Tocchet did not agree with the move. Jim Johnson was brought up from AHL Norfolk to replace Walz and was seen by Tocchet as a GM spy in the dressing room. Eventually Johnson was re-assigned to Norfolk, but the bad blood remained. In order for Tampa to make a fresh start, it was necessary to turf both Lawton and Tocchet and start again.
About The Puck Stops Here
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