Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

Top Rookie So Far

A little over two weeks ago I picked Tanner Pearson of the Los Angeles Kings as the top rookie so far this season.  While he is off to a good start, he has been surpassed by another rookie Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators.  Forsberg leads the rookies in the league this season with 12 points in 12 games.  He also has a league leading +14 +/- rating.

Like Pearson, Forsberg has significant \NHL experience for a rookie.  He played five NHL games in 2012/13 and 13 games in 2013/14.  If he had played more than 25 games in any one season or six or more games in any two seasons, he would no longer be considered a rookie.  If he played one more game in 2012/13, then he would no longer be a rookie.

Forsberg was drafted by the Washington Capitals and traded to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Ladda before he played his first NHL game.  It was a small price to pay for a player with the potential of Forsberg.  That trade alone may be enough to explain why George McPhee is no longer the Washington Capitals GM.

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Worst Player So Far This Year

I think it is an interesting question to try to find the worst player who is regularly playing in the NHL and to try to understand why that player keeps getting an NHL shot.  It helps to understand some of the biases that coaches and managers have when they build NHL teams.  I think the worst player so far this year has been Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers.  He has played all eleven Ranger games so far this year.  He is yet to score and has a team worst -7 +/- rating.

Glass has a long record of being a poor NHL player.  In 2010/11, he had the worst Corsi when viewed as a rate stat.  In 2012/13, he had the worst adjusted +/- rating in the league. 

Glass keeps bouncing around the NHL.  He has played in Florida, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and is now a Ranger.  He doesn't stay anywhere long, but he is quickly approaching 400 NHL games played.  Everywhere he goes he is a hard working popular player with his teammates.  The problem is wherever he plays, the puck is in his opponent's possession.  He hurts his team on the ice.  He can't score.  His best is five goals and 16 points in a season.  He can't stop his opponents from scoring either.  However he plays a tough game and willingly gives his body to try to help his team.  Coaches find it hard to bench him despite the fact he doesn't help his team.

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AHL Top Scorers

Kris Newbury of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) leads the AHL with 15 points in ten games.  He is a 32 year old who has played 76 NHL games in parts of seven NHL seasons.  He is no longer a serious NHL prospect.  Nobody expects him to catch on to an NHL roster.  His most likely challenger in the AHL scoring race is Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate).  Morin has 13 points in eight games played.  He was the top scorer in the AHL last season.  Morin is 30 years old and is no longer a serious NHL prospect either.  If the AHL scoring race is between Newbury and Morin it is unlikely to be decided because one of those players gets called up.

Also in the AHL scoring race are Chris Wideman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) and Cal O'Reilly of the Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks affiliate).  Both have 13 points in ten games played.  O'Reilly is 28 and has 113 NHL games played - but none since 2011/12.  Wideman is 24 and his AHL totals have been increasing each year he plays in the league.  He is the best NHL prospect on this list of AHL scorers.

It is early in the AHL season but several players have established themselves as top scorers.  Most of the top scorers are aging AHL veterans who are no longer considered NHL prospects.  That is a common situation in the AHL.  The men usually outplay the boys.  Kris Newbury leads and Travis Morin is his top rival.  Time will tell if they are both in the race when the season ends.

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First MVP Of The Season

During the season, I like to pick award leaders as early in the season as there is a clear leader and to update those picks whenever necessary.  I want to know when the eventual award winner first emerges in the race and what happens to early leaders by season's end.  I have picked leaders for the Vezina, Calder and Adams Trophies.  It has been a bit unusual that there has been no clear Hart Trophy leader in the month of October.  In early November, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins has emerged as the leader.  He leads the NHL with 18 points (a two point lead over anyone else) despite having as many as three fewer games played as some of the other top scorers.

Crosby has won the Hart Trophy twice in his career so far.  Last year he won by a significant margin.  I had him as the leader for the entire season after he established a lead in October.  I believe he should have been a unanimous winner but eight of the 136 voters disagreed.  First place Hart Trophy votes were given to Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux and Semyon Varlamov.  I think this was a mistake.

We shall see if Crosby can repeat his dominance of last season.  If he does, it goes a long way toward cementing him as one of the best players in NHL history.  Will Crosby remain the Hart Trophy leader throughout this season?

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Coach Of The Year

It is still early in the season but there is a coach who has put himself forward as the early season coach of the year.  Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks is doing a wonderful job.  I have been a Boudreau fan for quite a while.  He was my coach of the year pick last year and the year before.  Boudreau is a good coach who always has his team motivated and playing a strong system.  His team is first in the West Conference despite having changed his goaltending from Jonas Hiller to Frederik Andersen who had only 28 NHL games experience before the start of the season.  He has overseen the development of Cam Fowler into a solid NHL defenceman.  He saw the retirement of Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne without the team skipping a beat.

Even if Anaheim and Boudreau keep up their pace and have top flight seasons, I expect that he may get overlooked as coach of the year despite being deserving.  The coach of the year is often given to the coach of the most improved team and Anaheim won the West Conference last year.  There isn't much room for improvement.  This is a problem with the way the coach of the year is determined.  Bruce Boudreau may deserve the award as best coach, but he won't be considered as coach of the most improved team.

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Top Goalie

As I pick award leaders early in the season, it is inevitable that many will change as the season progresses.  Some may change many times before the end of the season.  We have our first award leader change today.  I picked Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild as an early season Vezina Trophy leader.  He had shutouts in his first two starts and three of his first four games.  That pace was not one that could be maintained for a whole season.  In fact we are early enough into the season that one poor start is enough to change the race.  In his last start on Monday night against the New York Rangers he allowed five goals on twenty shots.  Hence it is time to pick a new Vezina Trophy leader.

The current Vezina Trophy leader is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.  He has posted a .950 saves percentage and a 1.78 GAA in eight games played.  Nobody who has played the majority of his team's games has better numbers.

Quick is putting up a strong career.  He has twice won the Stanley Cup and once won the Conn Smythe Trophy.  If he can put together a Vezina calibre season this year, it will go a long way toward making his case as a Hall of Fame goaltender.  To date, his regular season numbers have been up and down.  He hasn't shown the consistency of a Hall of Famer.  Is that changing? 

One thing we know for sure is it is early in the year.  October is almost over.  At this point, Jonathan Quick has been to top goalie in the NHL.

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Early AHL Leaders

The American Hockey League season is underway.  Most teams are one or two games played behind the NHL teams. This is the first point where there appear to be two early front runners.  

The Milwaukee Admirals have six games played and have won them all.  They have outscored their opponents by a tow to one mark (22-11).  They are the Nashville Predators farm affiliate.  A big part of the Milwaukee success has been strong goaltending.  Marek Mazanec played in five of the games and is posting a 1.96 GAA and a .931 saves percentage.  Their offence has been deep with five players who have five or more points.  

The Albany Devils (New Jersey affiliate) are the other front runner.  They have five wins and a shutout loss in their six games played.  They have a 28-13 goals for and goals against.  Paul Thompson, Scott Timmons and Joe Whitney are all in the top ten scorers in the league right now.  Keith Kincaid has been strong in their goal.

It is still early in the season and it is too early to predict that these two teams will challenge for the league title.  They are both off to a fast start and will likely be top teams this year.  Neither team is defeated in regulation and both have outscored their opponents by a 2 to 1 margin or better.  Should the cores of these teams stay together in the AHL they will be tough to defeat.

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Arizona Goaltending

It is still early in the season, but one result which could be very significant is the Arizona Coyotes goaltending.  It was expected that Mike Smith would be the successful starter and Devan Dubnyk would be the lesser used backup.  Smith had been a successful NHL goalie in the past.  He was the number three goalie on the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team.  Although he did not play in the Olympics, given the number of NHL goalies who are from Canada that is an endorsement that he is a pretty good player.

Dubnyk struggled last year playing in Edmonton and Nashville.  He was given a chance to be a number one goalie in Edmonton but struggled in that role. 

So far this season, Mike Smith has really struggled.  He has posted a .849 saves percentage and a 4.54 GAA.  These are the worst numbers for any goalie who has played the majority of his team's games so far this year by a significant margin. Smith will almost certainly improve his play with more chances but if he is not a top flight goalie the Coyotes will struggle.  So far Dubnyk has been adequate.  He has posted a 2.31 GAA and a .904 saves percentage.  That is better than Smith but it is not the numbers of a starting goalie either.

Arizona will struggle to make the playoffs unless they have strong goaltending.  So far they have not had goaltending at all.  If Mike Smith continues to struggle it could be a long year in the desert.

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Early Season Rookie Of The Year

In the early days of the season, I am actively trying to pick out leaders for the various NHL awards.  I want to see how often the early leader wins or remains a contender come season's end.  While I am yet to pick a Hart Trophy leader, I have picked a Vezina Trophy leader.  Today I am picking an early season Calder Trophy leader in Tanner Pearson of the Los Angeles Kings.

Pearson is the top scorer on the Stanley Cup champion Kings.  He has seven points and a +7 +/- rating in only six games played and he has done this in moderate ice time of a little over 12 minutes a game.

Pearson was passed over in the 2010 and 2011 entry drafts.  It wasn't until 2012 when he was selected in the draft.  He had been the top scorer on the Barrie Colts with 91 points.  This allowed him to be the final pick of the first round in 2012.  He spent his next season in the AHL but got to play one playoff game.  Last season was spent mostly in the AHL but he got a significant NHL play.  He played 25 games in the regular season last year and 24 more in their Stanley Cup run.  That makes Pearson a very experienced rookie.

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I NOW Consider Roberto Luongo A Hall Of Famer

One question I find interesting is exactly when in a player's career does he establish himself as a Hockey Hall of Famer regardless of what may happen in the remainder of his career.  I think Roberto Luongo has reached that threshold.

Luongo has been a top goaltender in the NHL for many years.  The problem has been that I have been waiting for that one final big accomplishment that cemented his case and it hasn't come.  Luongo has never won the Vezina Trophy - though he has had several Vezina worthy seasons and could easily have been a multiple time winner in his career.  He has never won the Stanley Cup.  In part this is because he did not play of a team that was capable of winning the cup until a few years into his run with the Vancouver Canucks.  He probably should have won a cup there.  He famously melted down in the 2011 finals when Boston won the cup.  These could have been the final Hall of Fame securing achievement if they happened slightly differently.

Nevertheless he has some significant achievements.  He was the starting goaltender on the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team.  He was a backup who posted a shutout in his only game during the gold medal run in 2014.  He has twice made the NHL's second team all star.  In 2011 he won the Jennings Trophy for being part of the team with the best goals against average.  He has made four NHL All Star Games.  These accomplishments may not be enough to make the hall of Fame by themselves but they put him on the right track.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com

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