The NHL will be significantly affected by its salary cap next year. Because of a drop in the value of the Canadian dollar it may not rise much from its current $69 million. This will hurt the quality of hockey in the NHL. The best teams of this season will not be able to be kept together because they won't have the salary cap space to give their current players the raises they deserve.
There is an optional salary cap escalator that the NHLPA and NHL can invoke to increase next year's cap by 5% above the value that last year's revenue would give. The NHLPA is not interested in doing this because they have lost significant amounts of their salaries to escrow in the past few seasons. The dollar figures that player's sign on their contracts are not the dollar figures they actually get paid. The players get 50% of the defined revenue that the NHL makes, with the owners getting the other 50% plus all money that is not defined as revenue. If the contracts signed by players are likely to be for more money than 50% of defined revenue, the players have to pay into an escrow account. When revenue is clearly known, the players likely get some of the escrow money back. Players can lose 15-20% of their contact values due to escrow. The players do not like this. Thus they would rather keep the salary cap figure low to reduce escrow.
At the beginning of February, I reported that Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit farm team) was the top scorer in the AHL. I also predicted that he wouldn't be the top scorer at season's end because he would likely be called up to the NHL. That prediction has turned out to be correct. Brian O'Neill of the Manchester Monarchs (LA Kings affiliate) has re-taken the scoring lead. O'Neill has 67 points in 57 games played. This is a six point lead on Pulkkinen in eleven extra games played. O'Neill has been hot lately. He scored five points in two games over the weekend.
O'Neill is 26 years old, so he is young enough that he may make an NHL impact. However since he is very small for an NHLer at 5'8" 165 pounds, he is not on the fast track. Los Angeles may give him a shot, but it isn't clear if they will take a chance on him during their stretch run. I think he will likely have the chance to win the AHL scoring title.
In mid-February I last made a Norris Trophy pick. At that point, Shea Weber had moved in front of Mark Giordano for the lead. The race between the two had been very tight. Both Giordano and Weber had led the race a couple of times. When Mark Giordano suffered season ending injury, I presumed that Weber would run away with the Norris Trophy in the rest of the season. That hasn't happened. Weber's play has not been as strong recently. In fact his whole Nashville team has failed to play at the same level. They have only one win since February 24th. This has allowed the Norris Trophy race to tighten with other players as contenders.
PK Subban has now taken the lead. Subban has more points than Weber. He has better puck possession numbers relative to his team. Nashville has been a good puck possession team this year, much better than in years past and Weber has not seen the same improvement in his numbers. Montreal has not been as strong in terms of puck possession. Their success is far more tied to strong goaltending from Carey Price. Montreal's strongest puck possession numbers have come with Subban on the ice. That is why PK Subban is the current Norris Trophy leader.
Subban has already won a Norris Trophy in 2013 and he has played better this season. In 2013 he was criticized by some for his defensive play. Today his defensive play has improved a lot. Subban has been a top offensive defenceman his whole career and his defence is catching up.
I try to pick the point where a player becomes a Hall of Famer regardless of what will happen in the remainder of a player's career. Today I think Duncan Keith has reached that point.
The main argument for Keith is that he is a two time Norris Trophy winner. That places him in a prestigious group of twelve players who have won multiple Norris Trophies. All of the players on this list are Hall of Famers (Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey, Pierre Pilote, Denis Potvin, Rod Langway, Larry Robinson and Brian Leetch) or have not been retired long enough to be eligible Nicklas Lidstrom and Duncan Keith). There are a few players who have won the Norris Trophy once and are hall of Fame eligible but have not been inducted (Randy Carlyle and Doug Wilson). While it would be unlikely to win multiple Norris Trophies that may be possible if they had few other accomplishments in their career.
Keith was the ice time leader in the 2010 Olympics when he was a member of the gold medal winning Canadian team. He also won gold in the 2014 Olympics. He has also won the Stanley Cup twice in 2010 and 2013. There have been few All Star Games recently due to Olympiads and lockouts. Nevertheless, Keith has appeared in three of them. He probably should have appeared in two or three others if they existed. During this time he has posted some very good puck possession numbers. This year is no exception where he is currently second in raw Corsi. Since we have passed the trade deadline we are far enough into this season to know that it will be a success. Even if the season falls apart or Keith suffers a season ending injury, this is a successful season. Given his previous accomplishments this is enough that he is a Hall of Famer.
I haven't written about the AHL standings since mid-January. At that time the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oiler affiliate) held down first place. Since then they have fallen out of first place and currently sit five points behind the league leading Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate). Hershey holds a two point lead over the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate). Hershey has played one game more than Manchester.
Both Hershey and Manchester are the same style team. Manchester has scored four more goals. Hershey has allowed three fewer goals. Hershey has been the hotter team more recently as they have moved up in the standings.
Manchester has more front line scoring ability with Brian O'Neill second in league scoring and Jordan Weal fourth in league scoring. Tim Kennedy is the top Hershey scorer and he is ninth in the league. Hershey has had stronger goaltending from Philipp Grubauer having a strong season.
It will be a tight race down the stretch between these teams and perhaps a couple other contenders for the AHL regular season title.
The trade deadline came and went today. It was relatively uneventful. That is not to say there were not a lot of spare parts changing hands, but no top flight players were traded. I think it is clear that nobody in the top 75 players in the NHL today changed hands. The biggest name player traded was Jaromir Jagr. He is still good enough to lead a weak team like New Jersey in scoring. At age 43 his NHL days are clearly numbered. Perhaps the best player changing hands was Keith Yandle. He is the tenth highest scoring defenceman in the NHL. His defensive skills do not measure up to his offensive skills but he clearly has a value. In terms of top prospects traded, there was nothing earlier than a late first rounder. I think the best prospect traded was likely Anthony DuClair who went from the New York Rangers to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Yandle. He was a top scorer in the QMJHL and a significant player in the World Junior Championships. He hasn't succeeded yet in his 18 NHL games played before returning to the QMJHL this year. He did have seven points in that time - in limited ice time.
I usually list the team with the biggest improvement and dropoff in the short and long term in analysis of the trade deadline. The New York Rangers made the biggest improvement with the biggest longterm cost from their Yandle trade. Arizona has the biggest longterm gain and short term dropoff due to that same trade. That makes for simple analysis today.
Yesterday I wrote about the David Clarkson/ Nathan Horton trade which is an LTIR fraud. Toronto is interested in Nathan Horton for no reason other than the fact they can keep him on the longterm injured reserve indefinitely as he never makes an attempt to return to the NHL. This is something that should not be allowed in the rules. A player developing an injury (or more often than not a longterm problem that can be exploited as such) should not allow a team to get out of the salary cap implications of a bad contract.
Neffernin does a good example of explaining why this is a fraud on the team's side with his hypothetical example:
Last year, Alfredsson signs a 5 year contract with Detroit at 2m/year instead of a 1 year @ 4m. He knows he doesn’t have 5 years left, potentially 2 left in him. He’s had recurring back issues, something easily leaned upon when going on LTIR. So instead of a year or two of a 4m cap hit, Detroit gets a cap hit of 2m instead. After Alfredsson retires…. erm goes LTIR, Detroit gets the 2m credited back to them (added on top of the cap amount) instead. During the time Alfredsson is playing, Detroit is getting a discount on the cap due to abusing LTIR.
This time the trade is not directly an LTIR fraud, but it was motivated by a failed attempt at it. This trade is Philadelphia's trading Kimmo Timonen to Chicago for a 2nd round draft pick.
One trade made yesterday was the Toronto Maple Leafs trading David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton. Clarkson has been a major disappointment for the Leafs since he signed a seven year $36.25 million contract in the summer of 2013. So far in this contract Clarkson has scored 26 points in 118 games played. The Leafs want out of this contract. It was assumed by many that they would undertake an expensive buyout to get out of the contract.
Nathan Horton also signed a big contract to join the Columbus Blue Jackets. He signed for $37.1 million over seven years in 2013. He hasn't played an NHL game since last season due to a degenerative back injury. It is expected that he won't play another NHL game in his life.
Both players have big contracts. Neither player will live up to his contract. David Clarkson is going to play in the NHL. Even if he doesn't come close to the value implied in his contract, merely because he can play he will have a bigger value than a player who cannot play at all. Right? Not in the NHL.
The problem is the way players are treated on the long term injury list. There are LTIR frauds. These are players who are no longer attempting to play in the NHL who are effectively retired except they cannot retire. This list of players includes Chris Pronger, Marc Savard and Mattais Ohlund. These players have not played an NHL game since 2011, yet are considered active NHLers. They have taken jobs that are not related to playing in the NHL, but they cannot retire. If they retire their team has a large salary cap hit. If they don't retire, their contract doesn't *#$%@& toward the cap. Thus they do not retire and the only reason they do not retire is to circumvent the salary cap,
Yesterday I wrote that Mike Babcock is in the lead on my coach of the year ballot. Most comments told me that Peter Laviolette will win the Adams Trophy this year. I don't doubt that they are right but I don't think that he should win it. Laviolette is coach of the most improved team and that is often how the Adams Trophy is decided even though it is often a poor way to determine the best coach.
I recently wrote about the Nashville Predators are the first place team. They missed the playoffs last year. This improvement is the reason that Laviolette will likely be coach of the year but that improvement is not due to coaching. The biggest single reason for improvement is Pekka Rinne. He has returned from injury and is posting a Hart Trophy candidate season. Their offense is also improved with the addition of Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribiero and James Neal. The personnel changes are enough to explain their improvement. Sure Laviolette is a solid NHL calibre coach but how much of the improvement is due to him? How come he hasn't been able to get results like this in most of his seasons coaching in the NHL? Is his coaching significantly improved from his last few seasons? Do those questions even make sense? The biggest question to ask is who is a better coach - Mike Babcock of Peter Laviolette? I think most people saying Laviolette will win the coach of the year would pick Babcock as a better coach. How sensible is that? It appears that Babcock could only win coach of the year if he takes over a poor team that has significant room for improvement. As long as Detroit remains a solid playoff team, there isn't enough room for his team to improve the next season for him to win coach of the year. Does that make any sense at all? Picking the coach of the year as coach of the most improved team is usually a poor idea.
At the end of October I picked Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks as the coach of the year leader. I think he is a very good coach who has deserved to be coach of the year in several of the past years. However given the Ducks February swoon I think there is a better coach of the year candidate. I pick Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings as the leading candidate for the Adams Trophy as coach of the year. He is a tremendous coach who has also been snubbed for the coach of the year in the past.
Detroit is a team that he regularly has performing well and often above their talent level. This year's team is in transition. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been their best players for several years but Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are younger talents who are taking over their roles. Nevertheless the Red wings remain a team that appear to have little trouble making the playoffs.
Mike Babcock is a free agent at the end of the season. He will be a highly sought after coach. He will likely sign a large money contract for several years this summer. He may stay in Detroit but that isn't certain. Toronto have made some noise about wanting to sign Babcock but it is not likely that he will go to a team that is in the middle of a significant rebuild as it appears the Leafs are. It will be interesting if Babcock wins coach of the year given his free agency. I doubt that will actually happen because the Adams Trophy is usually given to the coach of the most improved team and that makes for a battle between Peter Laviolette in Nashville and Bob Hartley in Calgary. I do not understand how either are better coaches than Babcock.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???