With the playoffs about a month away, one of the hottest teams in the NHL is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were Stanley Cup finalists last year, so one has to think they can be successful in the playoffs. The Penguins have won nine of their last eleven games. This moves them into sixth place in the East Conference. They will be a tough first round opponent for the top seed that draws them.
Since I wrote about the Penguins earlier troubles they have had three significant changes. They fired coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma, they made trade deadline deals acquiring Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar returned from injury to anchor their defence.
One under-reported decision that comes out of the GM meetings (although Mike Chen is reporting this) is the NHL’s decision to give a compensatory draft pick to the New York Rangers for the death of Alexei Cherepanov.
Cherepanov was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2007 entry draft. He was selected 17th overall. Earlier this season he died, while playing a game in the KHL. The Rangers never had a chance to sign him. When a team fails to sign a first round draft pick the CBA gives them a compensatory draft pick. If the pick was 17th overall in the first round, the compensatory pick will be the 17th selection in the second round. Since Cherepanov died, the Rangers will not sign him. Therefore the Rangers are getting a compensatory draft pick. The New York Rangers will have the 17th selection in the second round.
The Anaheim Ducks were the Stanley Cup champions as recently as 2007. Their fall has been surprisingly fast. It looks like this season the team will miss the playoffs. Right now, Anaheim is in 12th place in the West Conference with 68 points. They are only three points back of eighth place but they are tied for the games played lead in the conference. They have fifteen games left to pass four teams in the standings. That seems very unlikely. All that will be needed to eliminate the Ducks is one or two of the bubble teams ahead of the Ducks going on a hot streak. Given the number of such teams that is very likely.
What happened to the Anaheim Ducks? How have they fallen so quickly?
When you fire a coach it is common to see the team improve in the standings. A new coach changes the system. Players will have to play well to keep their icetime and their role on the team. In the short-term it often leads to a boost for the team that fired their coach. That is what the Montreal Canadiens are looking for from their firing of Guy Carbonneau.
With sixteen games left in the regular season. Montreal has 77 points. Although that is good for fifth in the East Conference, it is only one point up from the New York Rangers who would miss the playoffs with the current standings. A short-term run from a coach firing would likely ensure the Habs playoff berth.
The timing of the firing is a little surprising. Montreal seems to have emerged from their slump. They have a 5-2 record in their last seven games. That follows a stretch where they went 3-12. Perhaps that would have been the more logical time for a firing.
On average about three hockey players are inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame annually. Thus in any rookie class about three players will go on to have Hall of Fame careers. Of course some years will produce more Hall of Famers and other years less, but three is the number we should expect to see in any given season.
Can we look at the rookie crop and try to predict those three from this season? Of course we can try, but the process is not very exact. It is a lot like trying to predict which dog is the biggest by looking only at the end of its tail. One certainly can make those projections, but they are imprecise at best.
Projecting rookies to Hall of Fame careers is different from picking the Calder Trophy winner or nominees (for the record Steve Mason is the likely Calder winner). An older rookie (say 23 years old) may be a better player today than a younger rookie (for example an 18 year old), but the younger player is more likely to have a great career. In five years when he catches up in age to the older player he should be a far better and more accomplished player.
One trade that was made on deadline day was the Tampa Bay Lightning trading Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward, Andy Rogers and a 2009 4th round draft pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Richard Petiot. This is an interesting trade because it basically amounts to selling a fourth round draft pick to the Leafs. Olaf Kolzig had surgery on his left bicep muscle and will miss the rest of the season. His contract expires at the end of the season. Jamie Heward suffered a concussion and should be out for the rest of the season. His contract expires at the end of the season. Neither of those two players will play a game for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Leafs will pay them the rest of the season. For their part paying the Tampa Bay contracts, the Leafs obtain a fourth round pick and Andy Rogers from the Lightning in exchange for Richard Petiot.
Neither Rogers nor Petiot look like NHL prospects at this point. They are AHL defenceman who don’t show much NHL upside right now. Rogers is four years younger and a former first round draft pick, so one could argue he is the better prospect, but given the fact he hasn’t scored a goal yet in three years of AHL play, he isn’t close to the NHL and likely never will be.
A lot has been written about the trades that occurred on trade deadline day. There are many interesting stories behind them and many different interesting lines of speculation for what might be their result on the teams involved. In some cases the big story is not the trade that is made, but the trade that does not get made. This is definitely the case for the Florida Panthers. The Panthers best player is defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. He is going to be an unrestricted free agent last summer. I wrote earlier this season that the decision of whether to trade or not to trade Bouwmeester was the biggest hockey decision left this season.
The Florida Panthers have not made the playoffs since the year 2000. Currently, the Panthers have 74 points, which puts them in a three-way tie for sixth to eighth places in the East Conference with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are only one point up on ninth and tenth place Buffalo and Carolina. A playoff berth is by no means a given, but it is a serious possibility.
With the trade deadline passed we can take a look at the trades of the past year and start to make some assessments. One that is very clear is that the worst trade made was one made last summer. The Tampa Bay Lightning sent Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich to the San Jose Sharks for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 2009 first round draft pick and a 2010 fourth round pick. This trade happened only months after Boyle had signed a six year $40 million contract to stay with the Lightning. The new owners, Oren Koules and Len Barrie were doing their job as bad fantasy hockey GMs (except they had control of an NHL team). Several years earlier, Barrie and Dan Boyle had been teammates with the Florida Panthers. There was something Barrie saw then (or at least thought he saw) that proved Boyle was not a player worth keeping. The Lightning owners pressured Boyle into waiving his no trade clause and then made this deal. At this time, Jay Feaster was still the official Tampa Bay GM, but he was not involved in the deal. Tampa Bay’s new ownership was willing to do some crazy, unconventional things and this was an example.
As I have done for a few years (see last year’s summary here) I am posting a quick summary of the trade deadline. I pick the biggest winner and loser both long and short term.
It was an interesting deadline with lots of small deals. Few big name stars moved and as a result few teams gave up significant chunks of their future for a player. It was also interesting for who was not dealt (Jay Bouwmeester).
Since the beginning of January 2009, the best player in the NHL has likely been Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers. He leads the NHL with 23 goals in that time frame. He has not been noticed because he plays in the hockey purgatory of Atlanta. The Thrashers are the second worst team in the standings (only the New York Islanders are behind them) and are well out of the playoffs.
Kovalchuk has climbed to seventh in the NHL scoring race after a slow start. He has 71 points going into tonight’s games.
Kovalchuk is a star player and a top goal scorer. If he is ever given a talented team to play with and a good passing centreman for a linemate, he could do some amazing things.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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