I would love to be able to publish an informed ranking of the twelve teams in the Olympics from first to twelfth, but the weaker teams in the tournament have far too many players on their roster that I either have never seen play or have seen play so rarely that it is hard to make a meaningful assessment of them. I cannot realistically tell you if Latvia is better than Belarus or vice versa. As a result, I will list the teams I think are the top five, with a blurb about each. In a short tournament like the Olympics, upsets will happen. With a small number of games played, those upsets may be significant and it is unlikely that the teams actually finish with strongest on top, second strongest in second. There will be variability in the standings.
Here are my top five predictions:
Over the last few games, one of the hottest teams in the NHL has been the Carolina Hurricanes. The have won nine of their last eleven. That has gone largely unknown because their 24-37 record (with seven regulation tie points) has them in second last place in the East Conference. Carolina is currently nine points out of a playoff spot and that is likely too big a margin to make up in the remainder of the season. The Carolina Hurricanes have recovered from horrible start where several key players were injured and nobody stepped forward to fill their roles.
Over the last eleven games, Carolina has had several very good performers. Jussi Jokinen has 15 points in that stretch. Eric Staal has 13, Ray Whitney has 11, Brandon Sutter has 10 and Joni Pitkanen has nine points. Most of these players were injured earlier in the season. The others are having breakthrough seasons. Jussi Jokinen has 49 points so far this year. That is his highest total since 2006 and is likely to improve by season’s end. Brandon Sutter only had six career points before this season. Their improvement is important to the team and has been significant in the last few months.
In the best of times, American Olympic coverage is not particularly good. They will tape delay events so that they can appear in prime time, when the results of the event are easily found on the internet hours before it is shown on television. Many events are not shown on television if Americans have no realistic chance of medaling. Often significant Olympic stories that do not involve Americans are completely omitted from coverage. Given that track record, it is no surprise that the 2010 Winter Olympic coverage on NBC will not be optimal.
The first major complaint is that the preliminary round hockey game between Canada and USA will not be shown on the main NBC network. Instead it will go to MSNBC. NBC is choosing to show the original dance in the ice dancing competition. Most likely, this will maximize their ratings.
The top scorers in the NHL who are not going to the Olympics are all Canadians. The seventh, eighth and tenth highest scorers in the league right now were all omissions from the Canadian Olympic Team. They are Martin St Louis, Steve Stamkos and Brad Richards respectively. They are the third, fourth and sixth highest scorers among Canadian players in the NHL. The older two of the group in St Louis and Richards have Olympic experience. I think their omissions from the team are highly questionable. In fact, I had all three of them as choices on my Olympic team.
If the Canadian Olympic team has trouble scoring (and they did in Turino), they have nobody to blame but themselves for their roster choices. Shouldn`t a former Hart Trophy winner who is seventh in scoring in the league be good enough to make the team?
It is often quite informative to attempt to keep track of the worst regular player in the NHL. It is interesting to see which kind of player a team will continue to dress despite their lack of success on the ice. More often than not, the worst regular in the NHL is a goon who contributes nothing but penalty minutes to his team. I think teams are starting to get the message that a goon like that is a poor use of a roster spot.
Earlier this season I picked Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils as the worst regular in the league. New Jersey quit playing him as frequently. He lost his spot as a regular. My most recent pick was Donald Brashear of the New York Rangers. Since his selection on January 11th, Brashear has only played in three NHL games (and only one since January 14th). He has lost his spot as a regular.
The Washington Capitals have won their last 14 straight games. This is getting close to the record longest winning streak of 17 games that was set by the 1992/93 Pittsburgh Penguins. Like the Mario Lemieux Penguins, the Capitals are a high-powered offensive team led by the best player in the league (in Washington’s case Alexander Ovechkin). Washington has several other players with significant scoring ability. Eight Capitals have more than 30 points so far this year (Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison) and Eric Fehr is one point back of that mark with 29 points.
Washington has the highest scoring best puck moving defenceman in the game in Mike Green. He is a significant part of their offensive machine and a significant omission from the Canadian Olympic Team.
Washington’s perceived weakness is goaltending. Jose Theodore is the number one goalie and has been solid but unspectacular. His Hart Trophy days are long gone, but a .908 saves percentage and a 2.87 GAA are more than adequate.
Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey announced that he is stepping down as their general manager yesterday. Assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier takes over the role. The timing of the move is poor as the transition takes place just before the NHL trade deadline. This was a move that Gainey had contemplated for a while. It is the second time he has walked away from an NHL general manager position in mid-season. He did the same with the Dallas Stars in 2002.
Gainey was a very successful Dallas GM. He took over the team in 1992, while they were still playing in Minnesota. He built the 1999 Stanley Cup champion team. When the Stars were into their downslide from that success, he stepped down as GM in mid-season to let his assistant Doug Armstrong take over the role. Gainey was quickly recruited to come back to Montreal, where he played his NHL career, and be the Habs GM.
In late November, I picked Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars as the Lady Byng leader. He has been surpassed in quality of play by a better Lady Byng candidate. Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning has the same point total (63) as Richards, but plays a better defensive game. This is shown in part by the fact that Richards has the second worst +/- rating on his team at -11 (Steve Ott is -13), while St Louis has a 0 rating, which is more in line with his team. St Louis also has a slightly lower penalty minute total (8 vs. 10). This makes Martin St Louis a better Lady Byng candidate at this point.
Though Martin St Louis has never won the Lady Byng in the past, I think he should have and would have voted for him last year. Perhaps this will be the year he wins it.
When I wrote that Alexander Ovechkin has become this year’s Hart Trophy leader, a debate started in the comments about the defensive merits of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Neither of the two are defensive stars who are likely to be Selke Trophy nominees. Both provide most of their value to their teams as offensive players. More than likely any Hart Trophy race between the two of them (and this year’s race definitely has other strong candidates - I wouldn’t be picking Crosby as runner up at this point) would be decided upon offensive differences and not defensive ones.
Both Ovechkin and Crosby are the top offensive talents on their teams. It would be a waste of their talents for either to be used regularly in top defensive situations. Neither are frequent penalty killers on their teams. Ovechkin has only spent about two minutes killing penalties so far this season. Crosby is more frequently used in penalty killing situations, but is 12th on his team in terms of penalty kill time. That is a choice on how to use players and little more.
The Oren Koules and Len Barrie reign of error is officially over in Tampa Bay. Since buying the Tampa Bay Lightning, they managed to create a circus atmosphere around their inconsistent management decisions. It was a lack of money that brought this to an end. It was never clear that they had enough money to run an NHL team, given how they had to finance their purchase of the team by a private loan from outgoing owner Bill Davidson. This loan was eventually defaulted upon and that led to the sale of the team. In under two years, the Koules ownership managed to kill any momentum from their 2004 Stanley Cup victory and saw attendance at Tampa Bay attendance decline.
The new owner is Jeffrey Vinik. He is a Boston hedge fund manager. Although we have no idea what will happen under Vinik, it is highly likely to be a better situation than the Koules ownership.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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