In late December, the Calgary Flames were in fourteenth place in the West Conference. They were eight points out of a playoff berth. This was when Calgary brought in Jay Feaster to be GM after Darryl Sutter resigned. Since that time, Calgary has posted a 19-12 record with six regulation tie points. In 31 games, Calgary has earned points in 25 of them. Calgary is now in fifth place in the West Conference.
It looks like Calgary will be a playoff team. The Calgary Flames have saved their season. Offensively, Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and Alex Tanguay have come to life giving them more offensive depth. The biggest change however is not on the individual performance level. Calgary has played better as a team.
The Ottawa Senators are not having a good season. They are in last place in the NHL. Their top scorer and All Star Game representative was Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is a second year NHLer who leads the Sens with 35 points. That makes him the lowest scoring player who leads his team in scoring. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that he is worst in the NHL with a -34 +/- rating. In fact the three worst +/- ratings in the NHL are all Ottawa defencemen. There is Karlsson at -34, Filip Kuba at -28 and Chris Phillips at -26. These are two of the three leaders in ice time in Ottawa. Karlsson leads the Sens in ice time, Sergei Gonchar is next and Chris Phillips is third. Kuba is ninth in ice time.
Ottawa has the worst team +/- in the league. It is not surprising that their players have the worst +/- ratings in the league. It is not surprising that their players with the most ice time have the worst +/- ratings.
A quick look at the NHL saves percentage leaders shows James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs is in third place. He has a .929 saves percentage and is well back of league leader Tim Thomas of Boston and marginally back of Pekka Rinne of Nashville.
Reimer is quite an interesting player to be that high in the saves percentage race. He is a rookie who has only played 21 NHL games. His NHL debut was in December of last year and his first complete game did not happen until January 2011.
While it is always interesting to note rookies putting up good numbers, it is clear that Reimer doesn’t have enough games played to be a serious Calder Trophy candidate. Last year Tuukka Rask led the NHL in saves percentage as a rookie, while playing in 45 games. He was not a Calder nominee. Should Reimer play every game remaining this season he will only play 38 games.
A rookie defenceman has taken the league lead in +/-. Adam McQuaid of the Boston Bruins leads the league with a +27 rating. This is more impressive given that he didn’t play his first game this season until the later part of October, almost a month into the season.
McQuaid hasn’t even been the best rookie defenceman in the league that season. I would give that honor to John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, my current pick for the Calder Trophy.
The main difference between Carlson and McQuaid is that Carlson regularly plays against the best players who play his team and McQuaid has been sheltered from that. McQuaid has played against the weakest competition of any Bruin defenceman.
A lot of people are picking Ryan Kesler as the Selke Trophy favorite. He is a two-time Selke Trophy nominee who is having a great offensive season. He is tied for second in goals in the NHL (with 33). This is a breakthrough offensive year for him as he has never scored more than 26 goals in a season, prior to this one.
The basic argument for Kesler is that we know he is good defensively, his two Selke Trophy nominations show that and he is making a big showing offensively so he should win the Selke trophy this year. It helps that Pavel Datsyuk, the man who won the last three Selke Trophies, has missed 19 games due to injury and that should prevent him from winning a fourth Selke this year.
The month of February has come and gone and the top scorer in the month is Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. He did so by a commanding margin. He scored 21 points in the month. Teammate Patrick Kane and Corey Perry of Anaheim were next with 17 points each. Toews put up a +13 +/- rating in the month.
Had this performance happened at the beginning of the season, Toews would be on the short list for MVP. That is not to say that Toews had a poor start to the season. He is my pick for the Selke Trophy and is 12th in the NHL in scoring this season. Chicago seems to be coming alive for the stretch drive and their attempted defence of the Stanley Cup and Toews is a big part of their success.
Every year after the trade deadline I like to pick the team that made the biggest positive and negative change to their team on both the long and short term. The trade deadline moves started earlier in February than they have in recent years past. For the sake of this post, I will assume the trade deadline refers to the entire month of February.
Biggest Long Term Improvement: Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto acquired a lot of young potential. Likely some of it will pay off in the future. It is hard to predict exactly which players will go on to be key parts of a Toronto core. Acquired was former first round draft picks Joe Colborne (Boston first rounder 2008), Jake Gardiner (Anaheim first rounder 2008), Philadelphia’s 2011 first round draft pick and Boston’s 2011 first round draft pick. It is unclear that they should be trading for first round picks given that they traded two first round picks to acquire Phil Kessel last summer. This doesn’t show a coherent plan in the way things are being run. Trading away younger players like Kris Versteeg for first round draft picks signifies a rebuild that is only now beginning and should take several years to complete. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that this group of first round draft picks will produce some core players in the future. The problem here is that future is many years away.
The Vancouver Canucks are in first place in the league. I have called them the team most likely to be elite this season, though likely there is no such thing as an elite team this year. The Canucks currently lead the NHL in goals per game (with 3.27) and in goals against per game (2.30). That is a dominant showing.
Last year, Vancouver was a good team. They finished in fifth in the NHL. How have they made such a big step forward this season?
When John Tavares was drafted first overall in 2009 many thought he would be a star. He has been a good player for the New York Islanders, but for the first bit of his career he wasn’t able to be a real star. It was tough to develop while playing on the New York Islanders as they have few above average NHL players. The Islanders have been stuck near the bottom of the NHL. The Islanders did not send a player to the All Star Game. They were represented by rookie Michael Grabner who came alive since then, but at the time was well back in the rookie scoring race. Tavares was not selected to play in the game.
John Tavares has been one of the hottest players in the NHL since then. In fact he has been the second highest scorer in 2011 (behind NHL top scorer Daniel Sedin). Tavares has 28 points so far this year. Grabner has 26. This is a big part of the Islanders young core.
My last post was about Brad Richards and what might become of him at the trade deadline. There is another player I am watching very carefully in Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. Vokoun has been arguably the best goalie in the NHL since the lockout. As of last season Vokoun was the top goalie by saves percentage since the lockout. He has since been passed by Tim Thomas, who is having a remarkable season. Nevertheless, second best saves percentage since the lockout is really impressive.
In the past I have called Vokoun the most underrated player in the NHL. Rarely does anyone discuss him as potentially the best goalie in the NHL. He has played his career out of the limelight in Nashville and Florida.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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