Brian Burke is one of the more active general managers in the NHL. When he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was clear that he wanted to make some trades to put his stamp on the team. This was not so easy to accomplish under the current NHL CBA. Trades are rare except around the NHL trade deadline (where players with expiring contracts are usually moved) and during the summer (when a team has not set its roster yet and thus has some flexibility). This scarcity of trade opportunities has frustrated Burke. He has suggested that the CBA be amended to allow trades where a team trades a portion of a salary cap hit. This idea is a non-starter without CBA amendment (which is not trivial) and it is not clear how it improves things for the fan (do a lack of trades have anything to do with the quality of hockey games? I don’t see how.).
Nevertheless, Burke has pushed (often unsuccessfully) to make trades. One of his priorities has been to make his team tougher. In order to do this he has been willing to trade a more talented player to get more toughness. When a GM gets desperate to push a trade through and is willing to give up the most talented player in a deal, they are ready to be taken advantage of and this is what happened to Brian Burke.
It looks like Alexander Ovechkin is finally going to be suspended. In October, he got away with a slew-foot on Rich Peverley of the Atlanta Thrashers. The NHL treated him as a first time offender and let him off without a suspension because they had overlooked a handful of other transgressions in the past. He got away with a knee on knee hit on Sergei Gonchar in last year’s playoffs. There had been a hit from behind on Jamie Heward (who has not played since) and a late hit on Daniel Briere. Last week, Ovechkin received a game misconduct and a major penalty for boarding Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres, but once again was not suspended. Last night, he had a knee on knee hit on Tim Gleason of the Carolina Hurricanes. It was Ovechkin who took the worst of the hit and left the game without returning (Gleason did return), but it was clear that Ovechkin instigated the hit. Given the NHL’s recent suspensions, it is clear that they will have to suspend Ovechkin. They recently suspended Georges Laraque of the Montreal Canadiens for five games for a similar knee-on-knee hit on Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings. At this point, the NHL must suspend Ovechkin right?
EDIT: The suspension is for two games.
Many Edmonton Oiler fans appear ready to throw in the towel on the 2009/10 season now that Ales Hemsky is out for the season recovering from shoulder surgery. Hemsky has been the top scorer on the Oilers in every season since the lockout (he tied for the lead in 2006/07). Offensively he is very important to the Oilers. The Oilers currently have 10 wins in 27 games and sit in 14th place in the West Conference. Is the season effectively over?
While the Oilers look unlikely to make the playoffs, I think they will probably stay in the race until late in the season. They are a team with some talent. Dustin Penner is among the top 10 scorers in the NHL so far this year. They have some other offensive talent in Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Patrick O`Sullivan and Gilbert Brule. Most of those players are young enough that it is reasonable to expect they take a significant step forward in the remainder of the season.
The NHL has been slowly losing talented players to the KHL. The top eight scorers in the KHL are all ex-NHL players. All of them (Maxim Sushinsky, Alexei Yashin, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Zinovjev, Marcel Hossa, Mattias Weindhandl, Patrick Thoresen and Aleksey Morozov) are players who easily hold down NHL jobs. For the KHL to experience future growth, they must be able to attract top prospects to play in their league (and not the NHL) and they are doing this. Russian prospects who have not had instant success in the NHL are returning to the KHL. So far this season, Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Viktor Tikhonov of the Phoenix Coyotes have returned to play with CSKA Moscow. Both of these deals are officially player loans. These are unhappy NHL players who are missing their homeland and not making as fast progress in the league get a chance to go home. It is unclear when if ever these players will be returning to the NHL.
As the season progresses, I like to track the player who is leading the race for the major NHL trophies. One award I have not written about yet this season is the Lady Byng Trophy which is given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. At this point in the season, I think the leader is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. Richards is tied for fifth in scoring in the league with 30 points and has only two penalty minutes to show for his sportsmanlike game. Richards is a former Lady Byng Trophy winner. He won the award in 2004.
In the early part of Richards’s career he appeared to be on a Hall of Fame track. In the 2003/04 season he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, in the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup run, along with his Lady Byng. In the season following the lockout he scored a career best 91 points and represented Canada in the 2006 Olympics. Things have not gone so well beyond that point.
The Los Angeles Kings have had some recent injury problems. Jarret Stoll suffered an injury in LA’s game against Calgary on Saturday and is out day-to-day. Rookie Andrei Loktionov suffered a dislocated shoulder in Wednesday’s game against Edmonton (which was his NHL debut). This left the Kings one forward short of their regular 12 for their game in Vancouver last night. With their AHL affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the other coast of North America, there was no way to get a twelfth forward to Vancouver in time for the game last night. Los Angeles dipped into the WHL for their solution. Their 2009 first round draft pick Brayden Schenn was in Victoria for a “Super Series” game pitting top Canadian junior players against top Russian ones. That made Schenn close enough to Vancouver than he could arrive in time for the game.
Under normal circumstances, after an NHL team sends a player back to junior, they cannot call him up for the remainder of the season. The only exception to this is in an emergency situation, where the team could not otherwise ice a full lineup of players.
I have never fully understood power play numbers. My line of logic is that a team that has a very good group of talented offensive players (including a power play point man) should have a very good power play and teams that do not have the appropriate talent do not. The situation is complicated when some teams may have better special teams coaching and be better able to play successful systems. Following that line of logic, one might expect Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Washington to be among the best power plays in the league. That logic does not hold up well in reality. Calgary is 16th, Chicago 11th, Detroit 7th, Philadelphia 1st, Pittsburgh 27th, San Jose 3rd and Washington 6th. Aside from Pittsburgh (who had injury to Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin this season), those teams are among the top half of the league and tend to be among the top, but it is not a method that is overly successful in finding top power plays.
One team that has had success this year that I cannot easily explain is the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have the second best power play in the league; with a 26.1% success rate (they were first in the league until last night when the Flyers passed them going 1 for 2 on the power play versus the New York Islanders). The main reason I cannot account for the Columbus success so far this year is they had the worst power play in the league last year with a 12.1% success rate. What has changed?
It is a relatively widely held belief among proponents of hockey sabermetrics that goals scored and allowed better predict future success than the win/loss record of a given team at a point in time. This can be explained to mean that luck tends to even out over the longterm and some teams might be lucky enough to win a few close games, but in the future they will lose some close games as well (and vice versa). The teams that are managing to significantly outscore opponents in their wins are likely better teams than those who barely beat opponents. This may not be true in all cases. For example, a team may be very good at shutting down their opponent when they get a lead (and hence win close games) but be completely inept at coming from behind and often allow goals when trying to force thing offensively (and hence lose blowouts).
A generally believed extension of that is that, in general, shots are a good predictor of goals and a good team can be predicted from its shot differential. The problem here is that goaltending is removed from the equation. Teams with outstanding goaltending will win more often than their shot differential predicts and teams with poor goaltending will underperform their shot differential.
Mike Rathje has not played an NHL game since early in the 2006/07 season, yet he is an important part of the Philadelphia Flyers salary cap strategy. At the conclusion of the lockout (in 2005), Rathje signed a $17.5 million five year contract with the Flyers. This deal turned out to be one that the Flyers soon regretted. They found a solution which has allowed them to have a payroll exceeding the cap in the many years that Rathje has been hurt. The Flyers placed him on long term injured reserve with back and hip problems in 2006 and have left him there ever since. Rathje last attempted to play in the 2007 training camp, but when he couldn’t make the team he stayed on the LTIR.
The CBA rules allow team to exceed to salary cap by the salaries of LTIR players if this is needed to pay for the replacements for those players. This means that the Flyers can have up to $3.5 million in extra salary cap room by leaving Rathje on LTIR (assuming they are at the cap when his salary hit is taken each year). This is a preferable situation to buying out his contract. If they buy out his contract (although they pay him less), their salary cap room is reduced by the amount of the buyout.
The San Jose Sharks leading the NHL in the regular season is not a new story. They finished first overall in the league last season. In the past, the story has had a downside where San Jose has not been able to make a significant playoff run. This year’s San Jose team looks to be the best one so far. They are first in the NHL standings by a significant margin (they have a five point lead over Washington). They are on pace to collect more points than they have ever had in a regular season in their history. Three of the top five scorers in the NHL are San Jose Sharks (Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau). They have one of the top scoring defencemen in Dan Boyle and one of the top goalies in Evgeni Nabokov. This looks like the team to beat in the NHL.
Of course, it is November. There are months to go before playoff time. Sometimes good teams peak before Christmas and do not wind up as major players in the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is widespread concern that San Jose might do so this year and that concern is increased due to past playoff failures.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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