In December I picked Mike Green of the Washington Capitals as the top defenceman in the season so far. At that point, the race for Norris Trophy was most likely between Green, Duncan Keith of Chicago and Drew Doughty of Los Angeles. Since that time, Doughty has fallen off the pace and Keith has come on strong. He is closing the gap in points and +/- with Green. Currently Keith has 42 points to Green’s 46 and has a +16 to Green’s +17. The main difference between them comes in the fact that Duncan Keith plays against the some of the toughest opposition that Chicago faces and Green plays against a more average level of competition. It is in the tougher competition he faces that Duncan Keith that he makes himself the Norris Trophy leader at this point.
Duncan Keith is clearly having the best season of his NHL career to date. In 46 games played he has 42 points. His previous best (established last season) was 44 points and that took 77 games and that was a strong enough season defensively to earn Keith a sixth place finish in the Norris Trophy voting. Keith has maintained his defensive strength and added an offensive component to his game that makes him the second best offensive defenceman in the world (behind Mike Green). Keith has established himself as the best defenceman in the league so far this season.
In order for the NHL to be a credible sports league, the impression must exist that teams decide who wins the games on the ice. There cannot be an impression that officials (either on or off ice) can decide these things. Reality is that decisions by officials often impact NHL games. As long as any influence is random and cancels out in the longterm, it is an acceptable situation for the NHL, but this is not an acceptable position for the NHL public. Many members of the public must believe that teams are the only factor in deciding who wins games in order for the league to maintain credibility.
That is why the allegations that referee Stephane Auger was out to get Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks in Monday night’s game versus Nashville (which Nashville won 3-2) are serious. It opens the door to fans who had previously believed that the players decide games to the idea that officials play a much bigger role in the outcomes.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been the best player in Atlanta Thrasher franchise history. Ilya Kovalchuk will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. How will the Atlanta Thrashers handle the likely loss of their best player? Do they trade him before the NHL trade deadline? That would trigger a likely end to any hope of contending for a playoff berth this season. Currently Atlanta sits four points back of eighth seed Montreal in the East Conference with three games in hand. They are currently mired in a slump where they have won only one of their last eleven games. Before it started, they looked like a sleeper team that could make some noise in a playoff run.
There are plenty of reasons to imagine that Kovalchuk will not want to return to Atlanta. Atlanta is a franchise that has never won a playoff game in their history. Kovalchuk may want a better chance of winning. Atlanta is not a financially strong franchise. Atlanta ownership has been fighting one another in court and not put sufficient capital behind the franchise. They are a strong contender to be one of the next teams that the NHL is forced to keep alive on life support (much like the Phoenix Coyotes).
In December, I picked Kyle Chipchura of the Anaheim Ducks as the player who had been the worst regular so far this season. He has played himself out of that dishonor by scoring 3 goals since that point.
So far this season, we have seen competition for the worst regular in the league. Vesa Toskala of Toronto was the early season pick. He has improved his game somewhat since that low point. Brad Richardson of the Los Angeles Kings came next. But in time he started scoring. Next up was Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils. Peters lost the spot by losing his status as a regular. He has only played three games since December 2nd. Next I made my selection of Kyle Chipchura.
There is no NHL All Star Game in 2010 because the Olympic break already forces a compressed schedule and the NHL is opting to get rid of All Star Weekend to free up some time. Nevertheless, we can pick teams for a hypothetical game. I will assume that the same rules apply as in the actual All Star Games. There is a fan ballot to select starters. This will have to be “simulated”, in that I will have to guess who fan voters might have selected. Probably my choices would not be accurate should there actually have been a vote because there will be ballot stuffing by some teams and likely undeserving players selected. Nevertheless, I think I chose a reasonable group of three forwards, 2 defencemen and one goalie per conference who might have been selected as starters. The rosters are then filled out to contain at least one player per team and have 12 forwards, 6 defencemen and three goalies per conference.
Here are hypothetical All Star Game rosters, with hypothetical starters denoted by *:
In December, I picked Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils as the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. Zajac remains a top Selke candidate, but with Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo returned from injury, Zajac’s defensive role on the Devils is declining. Hence, I am picking a new Selke leader. My selection is Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators.
Fisher is having a very good season and received some consideration for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. He currently leads the Sens in points with 32. He is doing this while playing one of the toughest defensive roles in the league for the Sens. Fisher is an outstanding defensive centre who regularly shuts down the opposition and he is becoming an offensive threat in that situation. He has been the best forward in the league who is primarily used in a defensive role so far this season.
When I last looked at the AHL standings in mid-December , it looked like a three team race with the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), Rochester Americans (Florida Panthers affiliate) and Texas Stars (Dallas Stars affiliate) fighting for first place and a few other teams including the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) not too far behind. Things have changed. Hershey has won every game they have played since that point. They are on an eleven game winning streak. They have a record of 27-10 (with two regulation tie points) that puts them in first place in the AHL. Hershey is three points ahead of the second place Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens affiliate). All three of the previous leaders have fallen on hard times in the past month. None of Rochester, Manchester or Texas has more wins than losses in their last ten games.
Hershey’s offence is led by two players who have had NHL callups this season. Keith Aucoin has 43 points in 30 games. This puts him second in the AHL scoring race (behind Corey Locke of Hartford - NY Rangers affiliate) but with eight fewer games played than Locke - so he is a good bet to take over the AHL scoring lead if he stays healthy and out of the NHL. Alexandre Giroux is fourth in the AHL scoring race with 38 points in 27 games. Andrew Gordon is a third Bear in the top scorers. He is sixth with 36 points in 36 games. Having three of the top six scorers in the league, Hershey is an offensive powerhouse. Hershey has more than twenty goals more than any other team in the league (Hamilton is second).
In December, I picked John Tavares of the New York Islanders as the Calder Trophy leader. Although he remains the top scoring rookie this season (he has a one point lead over Niclas Bergfors and Matt Duchene), he has clearly slowed down a bit. In fact, Tavares has only one point (a goal vs. Toronto on December 23rd) since I made my selection. This scoring slump has allowed him to be caught in the rookie of the year race. He has been caught by Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres. Myers leads the Sabres in playing time. He has 23 points from defence in 42 games and sports a +9 +/- rating. This is very impressive play from the towering 6’8” 19 year old rookie. He is the current Calder Trophy leader.
The World Junior Hockey Championships concluded yesterday in Saskatchewan. Here are the preliminary round results. This post discusses the results from the medal round.
Switzerland 3 Russia 2 OT This result is a tremendous upset. Most people did not expect Switzerland to qualify for the medal round, while Russia was a probable medal winner. Michael Loichat (undrafted) of Switzerland opened the scoring in the second period. Russia answered with two late second period goals from Vladimir Tarasenko (undrafted) and Kirill Petrov (NY Islanders prospect). In the final minute of regulation play, Nino Niederreiter (2010 draft eligible) tied the game to go to overtime. Niederreiter scored again in overtime to secure the win for Switzerland. Benjamin Conz (undrafted) had a tremendous game for Switzerland making 50 saves. Igor Bobkov (Anaheim prospect) made 28 saves for Russia.
Over the Christmas break, the AHL announced their All Star rosters. The game is played between Team Canada and Planet USA (a team consisting of players from all countries in the world except Canada). The game will be played on January 19th in Portland, Maine and is a great showcase of potential future NHL players. I think that the AHL made a marketing error by releasing team rosters when many people were celebrating Christmas and New Year’s.
At any rate, here are the AHL All Star rosters:
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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