The St Louis Blues have moved into first place in the NHL. They have a record of 45-21 with seven regulation tie points for 97 points. That gives them a two point lead over any other team in the NHL. Given the late point we are at in the NHL season, it is a reasonable possibility that they could win the Presidents Trophy.
I argue that the St Louis Blues are not the best team in the NHL. I would give that honor to the Chicago Blackhawks. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have learned not to over-extend themselves to win in the regular season when the playoffs are what counts.
I would also argue that the St Louis Blues are not an elite team by my definition of an elite team. It is necessary but not sufficient that an elite team has a top goalie and at least three players who are on Hall of Fame tracks. Elite teams must have elite players.
The Washington Capitals are happy to finally be bringing Evgeny Kuznetsov to the NHL. He has been often called the best young player outside the NHL. In 2010, they picked him with their first round draft pick 26th overall. He would have been picked much earlier than that but it was clear that he was going to stay in the KHL after being drafted.
Kuznetsov has been playing with Traktor Chelyabinsk since 2009. He has played in the KHL All Star Game. He has signed an entry level contract with the Washington Capitals. The KHL playoffs have begun and his team missed them. Kuznetsov is looking for a place to play and will join the Capitals for the stretch drive and the playoffs, if Washington makes them. It will be interesting to see if he is as good as promised in the NHL.
This post comes a few days after the trade deadline because I got busy in real life.
When the trade deadline comes along, I like to try to evaluate things to pick the biggest winners and losers in the short term and in the long term. Since there were no significant trades until after the Olympics ended, I will call all trade deals made after the Olympics deadline deals.
Biggest Short Term Winner: New York Rangers. Martin St Louis is the best player moved at the deadline and he goes to the Rangers. He will be their top offensive player from here to the end of the season. It costs Ryan Callahan, who is a legitimate top forward, but he cannot match St Louis's ability. There also are draft picks that were given up in the deal. These make no short term impact.
The Vancouver Canucks have finished first in their division every year since 2009. However they have struggled this season. A tougher division and the increased travel of the new alignment have not helped them. Many of their core players are aging and it looks like their window of opportunity as a contender is closing. That said it is possible with a little luck that the team we had seen most of this season could make a playoff run.
That was true until they decided to trade away Roberto Luongo for a limited return. Jacob Markstrom has been a strong goalie in Sweden and in the AHL but he failed to make the jump to the NHL this year. At age 24 his days as a serious prospect are limited. He could be a solid NHLer, but there is no certainty. Shawn Matthias is 26 years old and is a solid depth player but he has never scored more than 24 points in his five NHL seasons. This is a poor return for a player who was a member of the Canadian Olympic team. Luongo was the backup goalie and only played in one game, but he recorded a shutout in that game. It is a poor return for one of the better goalies in the NHL. Sure Luongo is not a favorite of many Canuck fans, he has a large lengthy contract and he has requested a trade but the move doesn't make the Canucks better and it probably never will.
At the beginning of January, I picked Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks as the Lady Byng Trophy leader. While I think defencemen should get more consideration for the Lady Byng Trophy - as only three have ever won the award - I think Keith's penalty minute total which has swelled to 14 on the season has removed him from the lead. My current selection is Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars. He has scored at essentially a point per game rate with 57 points in 58 games while posting only four penalty minutes.
Another top candidate is Martin St Louis who plays in the weaker East Conference and is also a point per game player with six penalty minutes. There is also some support for Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche because he has no penalty minutes whatsoever. The problem with O'Reilly is he is clearly not having an all star season and there is no reasonable argument that he is the best player on his team this season. Seguin and St Louis have been the best players on their teams this season.
The NHL has been very loudly arguing that they don't want any more outdoor hockey games. They are unnecessary. People get hurt needlessly. For example Sidney Crosby missed almost a year due to complications from a concussion he suffered due to the bad outdoor ice when it started to rain during an outdoor game. That significantly disrupted the playoff run and cost the Pittsburgh Penguins a lot of money. Who was to pay them for their losses?
That paragraph isn't reality. In fact the NHL has increased the number of outdoor games. This increase has gone beyond sustainable levels (there will not be as many outdoor games next year for example). This is done because it makes them money. The outdoor games themselves were an interesting idea at first, but it is clear that the quality of hockey on the makeshift ice surface is poor and it leads to increased injury risk.
Meanwhile, the best hockey in the world is played every four years in the Olympics. It is true that players get injured there as well (John Tavares for example) and it hurts individual team's bottom lines. The NHL's reaction here is to argue against participating in the Olympics anymore. The problem here is that the NHL doesn't make the more (at least not directly) from the Olympics. It is all about money.
The NHL is for their games that make them money and against those that make others money. It doesn't matter that the games they are against are the best games of hockey we ever see and the games they are for are poor games on poor ice. Their motives cannot be any more transparent.
The Olympics are over, but I still feel the "hangover" from the best hockey we have seen in years (at least since 2010). The question worth asking is how did Canada win. In short, they did as well as they did because Canada has more talent than any other nation in the world. More of the top scorers in the NHL are Canadian than any other nation. The top three scorers in the NHL right now are all members of the Canadian Olympic Team (Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares - though he hurt his knee during the tournament). Canada has depth that no other team can offer. 11 Canadian Olympians currently have 50 or more points. Two Swedes cross that threshold (and they won silver). The Americans had three 50 point men. That made them second to Canada. No other country can offer the depth that Canada offers.
That said Canada was not a dominant offensive force. They scored 17 goals in the tournament. Finland scored more. USA scored more. Sweden tied Canada with 17 goals for third in the tournament. Despite Canada's offensive depth, they were not the most powerful offensive team. This was largely a choice.
Sweden 2 Finland 1. Finland opened the scoring in the second period with an Olli Jokinen goal. Loui Eriksson tied the game for Sweden five minutes later. Erik Karlsson gave the Swedes a lead with a power play goal later in the second period. Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves for the win. Kari Lehtonen took the loss for the Finnish team. This puts Sweden in the gold medal game and Finland in the bronze game.
The news out of the Olympics today is that John Tavares of the New York Islanders is out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury. This is a significant hit to the New York Islanders. They lose their best player. He is currently the third highest scoring player in the NHL.
As big a hit as this is to the Islanders, realistically it changes little in the NHL story this year. The New York Islanders have little realistic shot at making the playoffs with or without Tavares.
Despite the hit to the Islanders, the Olympics are good for hockey. The best hockey in the world is played every four years. It far outdoes anything the NHL offers us. The medal round games will likely be the best hockey games we have seen since at least 2010 in Vancouver.
The playoff round at the Sochi Olympics has been played. Four teams remain in the medal round. The qualifying round of the playoffs consisted of the 5th through 12th place finishers in the round robin. Its winners moved on to play the top four teams in the round robin. Here are the results:
Slovenia 4 Austria 0. The Slovenians took a quick lead on an Anze Kopitar power play goal. It grew when Jan Urbas added a short handed goal. In the second period, Sabahudin Kovacevic added a third goal (he had assisted earlier on the Urbas goal). Jan Mursak added an empty net goal to go with an earlier assist. David Rodman also had two assists. Robert Kristan stopped 30 shots for the shutout in the Slovenian goal. Mathias Lange was the losing Austrian goal with 31 saves. Slovenia moves on to face Sweden.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???