One of the surprises this season has been the success of the Boston Bruins. Last season they finished eighth in the East Conference taking the last playoff spot. Most predictions had them finishing in the same territory this season.
Very early in the season in became clear that they would exceed expectation. Tim Thomas is having a Vezina quality season in goal. That was unexpected. While Zdeno Chara was expected to have a good season on defence, the development of Dennis Wideman was not expected. At forward, Marc Savard has continued to become a well-rounded player (his defence is much improved) and young players like David Krejci, Phil Kessel,, Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic all took big steps forward. Boston has a talented (mostly) young core that took a huge step forward this season. It places them first overall in the East Conference and the favorite to win the East Conference in the playoffs.
When I last talked about the MVP race I supported Evgeni Malkin over Alexander Ovechkin. I did this in part because Malkin has a significant lead in the points race. He doesn’t anymore. Malkin’s lead has shrunk to two points. Ovechkin has a huge lead in goals and it would take a minor miracle for him to not win the Rocket Richard Trophy. Since goals are a more significant measure of offensive status of a player than assists, I support Alexander Ovechkin as the current Hart Trophy leader.
There are a few other fringe candidates that might obtain support in some circles including Zach Parise, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Mason, Sidney Crosby and Tim Thomas but none are likely to seriously impact the Hart Trophy race. It is between Ovechkin and Malkin and Ovechkin has recently pulled into the lead.
One question I decided to look at is the importance of being a tough team to winning hockey games. As a marker for toughness we will take the team’s total penalty minutes per game and plot it against their points so far this season.
While looking at the relative divisional strengths this season, I mentioned that the Central Division is helped by travel. While West Conference teams lead the league in distance travelled in a season, they are the further west teams in the conference. This allows the Central Division teams to play a lot of games against travel tired teams. This is something that has been well-established in some work by Tom Benjamin that was done in the 1990s. Most of it is no longer available on the internet. Some readers here (particularly Hockey in HD) had not seen this work and were skeptical.
I cannot re-create all of this work in a short period of time. In order to show how travel does affect the westernmost teams and get a rough estimate of how many points it costs them in a season, I did some work. There is a lot more evidence that can be presented, but it will probably have to wait until the off-season.
There are two CBA related controversies which the NHL has merged into one that are creating some odd precedents for the league. Both involve the Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth round pick in 2009. Last summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jonas Frogren. Frogren’s signing created a bit of a CBA mess. The CBA problems a bit complex, but the biggest thing that bothered the NHL is that Frogren was paying a buyout to his previous Swedish team (Farjestads BK Karlstad) with an increased first year salary. The NHL had forbidden teams to negotiate transfers of players individually (it would drive up transfer costs). Technically, the Leafs did not negotiate Frogren’s transfer. Jonas Frogren did it himself. The Leafs paid him enough money to do it himself. It was a creative solution to a problem that probably should not have existed in the first place.
It is quite well known among hockey fans that the West Conference is better than the East Conference. It is easy to look at the inter-conference record and conclude that. The West Conference holds a 159-129 winning record (with 26 of the losses scored as regulation draws).
The next step is to look at the individual divisions. If we add up the total points earned by the five teams in each division we get the following standings:
I have often suggested that the Hockey Hall of Fame should induct some women, but at the same time never been able to suggest one for this year’s class. There are always a few ex-NHL players who seem to need induction now, thus making the women wait. The Hall of Fame is addressing this issue. Starting in 2010, they will consider male and female candidates separately and induct up to two female hockey players per year in addition to the up to four male ones.
This is a good move to get some of the phenomenal female hockey players who have been dominant players and pioneers in their game into the Hall. I look forward to seeing Cammi Granato, Cassie Campbell, Manon Rheaume, Angela James, Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette and others getting their inductions in the years to come.
The Montreal Canadiens have been very lucky to have some very good goaltending over the years. Two times a rookie goalie has taken over the team and led them to the Stanley Cup and won a Conn Smythe Trophy. Ken Dryden did it in 1971 and Patrick Roy in 1986. Those are unique cases made possible in part by the fact those goalies are both among the ten best goalies ever.
When Carey Price joined the Habs as a very talented young goalie, there was some pressure for history to repeat itself. This pressure mounted as Montreal traded away previous number one goalie Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals, thus leaving Price the number one job in goal. Some expected that Carey Price would now lead Montreal to the Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe in his rookie season. Those are very heavy expectations for anyone.
One story that has been recently mentioned by James Mirtle and Tom Benjamin is that the St Louis Blues have been playing well lately. Despite a poor start that left them in last place in the West Conference at the end of 2008, with a 14-23 record (3 losses counted as regulation ties), the Blues are back in the playoff race. They are currently in eighth place in the West Conference with 83 points. They would hold a playoff berth by their one point lead over ninth place Anaheim.
A lot of the credit for their success goes to coach Andy Murray. He has done a great job with a young bunch of players who suffered through a lot of injuries this season.
Can anyone guess who the top goal scorer in the month of March is so far this year? Rarely does a more improbable player lead the league in goal scoring for a month.
The answer is Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks. He has ten goals so far in March. Burrows has settled in as the Sedins’ right winger and is doing a very good job. He is an unsung hero in Vancouver.
He has just signed an $8 million four year contract extension. This will keep him a Canuck and likely keep him at far below his open market salary.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???