The AHL All Star Game is underway today (see rosters here. It is a good time to look at the AHL scoring race. Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) is the top scorer. He has 60 points. Locke had been called up to the NHL but he has been back in the AHL for almost two weeks. He is a streaky player who has been cold for the past week or so. This has allowed Alexandre Giroux of the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton affiliate) to get into the scoring race. Giroux has 58 points. He also has more games played because he has not been called up to the NHL yet this season. There is a good bet that Giroux will not get called up because a 29 year old career AHLer will not likely fit in the plans of a rebuilding NHL team. Locke is 26 and is not really considered a prospect either but is more likely to have an NHL future. There is a bigger risk of Ottawa calling up Locke than Edmonton calling up Giroux. Whether or not either gets called up, the AHL scoring leader this year is likely one of the two.
If the All Star Game must be played each year, I like the idea that each team is represented. The game is supposed to be a showcase and if a given team does not have any representatives, it dampens enthusiasm in that market. As a result, I am not too fond of the idea that some teams are represented only by rookies during the skills competition and by nobody in the All Star Game. It does open up a few more roster spots for deserving All Stars on teams that already have one representative, but at the expense of shutting out an entire market.
I accept that some markets might be shut out of representation if their chosen representative is unwilling or unable to attend. This happened to the Calgary Flames, when Jarome Iginla withdrew. However, the team that should be least happy with their representation is the Florida Panthers.
There are twelve rookies selected to participate in the All Star Skills Competition which has just completed. There is one glaring omission among the rookie selections. The best rookie so far this season is absent. I am talking about John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, who is my current pick for the rookie of the year.
It appears he was omitted because he is not among the top scoring rookies. With 21 points, Carlson is tied for 11th among rookie scorers with Michael Grabner (who is the lone New York Islander representative). Of course Carlson is a defenceman and Grabner is a forward, so it is expected that Carlson will have a smaller point total.
I picked my all stars. I was working under the assumption that each team had to be represented and not by a rookie who isn’t playing in the main game. In the past, I have updated my All Stars at the last minute to replace those who would not be available for the game. I will do that now and I will keep the assumption that each team must be represented. That means if a team’s only player would not be coming to the All Star Game, then he must be replaced with a player from his team. If a player who is not the only player on his team is not there, he can be replaced by a player on any team.
Seven players are in need of replacement: Tobias Enstrom, Ales Hemsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who are injured and Jarome Iginla, who is out for the historically dubious reason of visiting his sick grandmother and Henrik Zetterberg who requested his omission from the team and thus was never added in the actual NHL game.
The All Star Break is a natural time to stop and take a look at what has happened in the NHL in the run up to the break. I thought I would take a look at the top scorers so far in the month of January. We are far enough into the regular season that players who have been “hot” lately are not always so obvious, as they can be buried in the scoring race.
Here are the top 11 (ten plus a tie) scorers thus far in the month of January:
In mid-December, I wrote my annual If only they had goaltending post. I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning as a team that could most benefit from adding a goalie. At that point, Mike Smith and Dan Ellis had been carrying the load for the Lightning. Neither was playing very well. Since that point, Tampa Bay has acquired Dwayne Roloson in a trade with the New York Islanders (for wannabe prospect Ty Wishart). They also auditioned AHL goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.
Roloson played quite well posting a .922 saves percentage and a 2.25 GAA. Desjardins played very well in his two starts as well (posting an unsustainable .968 saves percentage). Tampa Bay now has the goaltending they needed to be a serious contender.
Every year a few players selected for the All Star Game opt out of it. Usually this is because of injury and even in case of injury, the NHL does not take too well to it. In the last All Star Game in 2009, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom opted out of it. They all had nagging injuries that were not serious enough to keep them out of regular NHL games, but they were better served by resting instead of travelling to and playing in an All Star Game. The NHL forced them to either attend the game and take place in the non-hockey activities (such as interviews and autographs) or face suspension and only Crosby complied. As a result, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk were effectively suspended for the following game by the league.
This year the NHL stance appears to have softened. Jarome Iginla was selected to the game and he opted out for personal reasons. His grandmother is not in good health and he is using all star break as a chance (possibly a last chance) to visit with his grandmother.
Not too long after I wrote that the AHL scoring leader Corey Locke had been called up by the Ottawa Senators, he found himself sent back down to Binghamton. He got to play three NHL games and had his first ever NHL point (an assist).
Now that he is back in the AHL he maintains his lead in league scoring. Locke has 58 points for the league lead. He has a six point lead over anyone else in the league. The two players most likely to track him down are Alexandre Giroux of the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oiler affiliate) with 52 points and Mark Mancari of the Portland Pirates (Buffalo Sabre affiliate) with 51 points.
The Selke Trophy is given to the best defensive forward each season. I take this to mean the forward who would earn the most win shares with his defensive play. Generally there are two types of players who are in the race and there is no particular reason that one should be favored over the other. There are defensive specialists who are generally third line players who have little offensive value, but are used to kill penalties and shut down the top players on the opposing team and there are two-way players who play first line roles and contribute offensively, but also play very good defence. Usually it is two-way players who win the Selke Trophy because voters are influenced by offensive totals - even though they shouldn’t be.
I have been supporting Jeff Halpern of the Montreal Canadiens since November. He is a third line defensive specialist who usually has little chance to win the Selke, but he should be in the middle of the race right now. He has slowed down from a fast start and is now out with an upper body injury, so it is time to pick a new leader.
On Thursday it was announced that Evgeni Nabokov had signed a contract for the remainder of the year with the Detroit Red Wings. The contract has a salary cap hit of $570,000 and would pay him less than half of that amount since less than half of the regular season remains. Because Nabokov had played in a major European league earlier this season (KHL), he was subject to re-entry waivers and there was very little chance he would actually play for the Red Wings.
Somebody else would claim him just like somebody claimed Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood from the St Louis Blues. Svatos was claimed by Nashville and Wellwood by San Jose. Both were returning from the KHL.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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