Over the past couple of years, Jeff Schultz has been a whipping boy among Washington Capitals fans. He has been the team`s number six or seven defenceman and a relatively frequent healthy scratch. He has been given a lot of criticism for his apparent lack of effort. This season, as Schultz has the second highest +/- rating in the league (+27 - one point back of teammate Alexander Ovechkin), he is showing that he can be an above average NHL defenceman.
Schultz is a former first round draft pick. He was selected 27th overall by Washington in 2004. He is one of the larger defencemen in the game at 6‘6“ and 230 pounds. Historically these large defencemen tend to take a few years to fully develop into NHL players. As a comparison, reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara (6‘9“ and 255 pounds) had an 11 point -27 +/- season in 65 games with the New York Islanders when he was Schultz`s age (23).
This summer when the Calgary Flames added Jay Bouwmeester, they were a popular choice to be the top defence in the NHL. Bouwmeester was joining Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf. They were to form the best top three on any defence unit in the NHL. If former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff bounced back into form behind that defence, this was a Flames team that could dominate. They could allow the least goals against in the NHL and be a Stanley Cup contender.
There was a solid chance that Calgary would provide three of the Canadian Olympic Team defencemen. When the team was actually named, Calgary had zero defencemen on the roster. What happened?
The CHL Top Prospects Game is this Wednesday in Windsor, Ontario. It pits two teams of the top players who are draft eligible in 2010 who play on teams in the three CHL leagues. The teams are coached by Don Cherry and Bobby Orr and are thus called Team Cherry and Team Orr.
Here are the rosters for the CHL Top Prospects Game:
Of the major NHL awards, I think the Masterton Trophy is the one that has the most ambiguous description of who wins it. It is officially given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. In practise, I think the award goes to the player who overcomes the biggest adversity anevertheless contributes the most to his team. That is how I pick it and it is consistent history. Despite the fact it is explicitly mentioned in the award description, sportsmanship plays little or no impact in the selection of Masterton winners.
I think the man who best fits this description this season is Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Bergeron essentially lost his 2007/08 season to a concussion. He only managed to play ten games. Although he was back last season, he was not the same player he had been in the past. This year he has been the top scorer on the Boston Bruins and is on the roster for the Canadian Olympic Team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the worst penalty kill in the NHL this season. They have killed 68.9% of opposing team’s penalties. The second worst team is the Edmonton Oilers who are over 7% better with a 76% success rate. The NHL has recorded penalty kill success rates since the 1963/64 season and this year’s Leafs team has the third worst rate in history. Behind the Net Hockey has a nice summary of the worst penalty kills in history.
The two teams that were worse in raw percentage than this year’s Maple Leafs are the 1979/80 Los Angeles Kings and the 1982/83 Kings who came in at 67.7% and 68.24% respectively. With a bad game or two, the Leafs could be in that range. In fact at times they have fallen behind the 83 Kings penalty kill rate only to recover a bit.
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 *:
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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