When Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks scored 36 points from defence in the 2008/09 season, he looked like a star defenceman. He was 21 that season (he turned 22 in March of the season) and was in his third NHL season.
That hasn’t lasted. He dropped to 16 points last year and is yet to score at all this season. He has no points in 26 games so far this season. His -6 +/- rating is the worst +/- among San Jose defencemen. Vlasic is only 23 years old, but he has fallen off the path to stardom. What has gone wrong?
I last looked at the AHL scoring race about two weeks ago. Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa farm team) was leading the scoring race with Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington farm team) on his tail. Since then, Corey Locke has cooled off. He has one point since then. Now Andrew Gordon and Dustin Jeffrey of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh affiliate) are the current AHL scoring leaders with 30 points each. Locke and two others are next in the race with 28 points each.
Gordon is having a strong year as the top offensive player with the Bears. He has been consistently improving in his AHL career. At age 24 (25 this month) he still has time to make an NHL impact. Will he be able to find a spot on the high scoring Washington Capitals?
One important way to gage how tough a player’s minutes are is by looking at their zone starts. We tabulate the number of faceoffs a given player is on the ice for by zone (offensive, neutral and defensive). A player who starts a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone is playing a tough defensive role with his team. This will hurt his offensive numbers, his +/-, his Corsi and almost every other statistic. A player who starts a large percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone has a great chance to score a lot of points. This will show up in terms of improved numbers (points, +/-, Corsi etc.). A player who has a lot of offensive zone starts is using a large number of his team’s offensive opportunities and better be scoring a lot of points. This player’s point totals will be increased as a function of his usage above and beyond the level he would have scored on his own without the beneficial usage pattern.
I have been tracking the leaders in the MVP race as the season progresses. I have been picking Steve Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning as MVP since the latter part of October. Now that he has been passed by Sidney Crosby in points (44 to 40) and tied in goals with 21, I think it makes more sense to pick Crosby as MVP.
Crosby and Stamkos both have most of their value from their offensive play. Neither is used in much of a defensive role with his team. Stamkos plays against slightly tougher opposition, but Crosby is the better defensive player. Stamkos may develop a bit in the future, but Crosby is the better of the two defensively, though neither is a Selke candidate.
The hottest team in the NHL right now is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have earned points in each of their last ten games and won nine of the ten. The big reason things have turned around is Marc-Andre Fleury who has found his game after a horrid start. Sidney Crosby leads the league in points and is an MVP candidate. Kris Letang is the player I would pick for the Norris Trophy. This team is playing very well.
Trades are few and far between at this point in the regular season. It is hard to make a trade that makes sense in terms of the players, contracts and salary cap figures involved. Today a trade of moderate substance was made. Boston traded Matt Hunwick to Colorado for Colby Cohen.
Hunwick is in his third full season in the NHL. He attempts to be an offensive defenceman and sometimes gets burned defensively. His career best is 27 points, which he scored in 2008/09, while playing on 53 games. He was unable to match that last year, when he scored 14 points and is not on pace to do it this year as he has only three points in 22 games. Hunwick is paid $1.45 million this year and is a restricted free agent this summer. Given his lack of offensive success he might not be worth extending a qualifying offer.
I am picking Jeff Halpern as the Selke Trophy leader at this point in the season. He is having a phenomenal defensive season, at least so far and few seem to be noticing. This is a general problem with evaluating defence. It is hard to do statistically and to many people it is decided by reputation more than by reality.
Scott Cullen of TSN recently published his quarter season award picks. This is very interesting to me because I keep track of my picks for the NHL awards and like to track how they change as the season progresses.
It is hard to be the worst regular in the NHL for any lengthy period of time. If you play too poorly, you will lose your spot in the NHL. If you play too well, you won’t remain the worst regular for long. I think it is an interesting thing to track such a player, in order to see which kind of player keeps getting a chance to play regularly despite failure. Usually come season’s end, the “winner” in this particular race is a goon or a fourth line “energy” player who is popular, hard working and totally ineffective. It takes a while for a player like this to show his ineptitude because he doesn’t have as much ice time as frontline stars. Thus, usually in the early parts of the season, I pick a “name” player who is failing as the worst player in the league so far.
Earlier this season, Marc-Andre Fleury took this dishonor. Fleury may be overrated, but he is a proven NHL goalie and it is no surprise that he soon improved his game.
Once again this year, the West Conference is playing better hockey than the East Conference. This story has been repeated for the last several years. This year, West Conference teams have a record of 49 wins and 39 losses with 10 regulation tie points (as the NHL reports things this is a 49-29-10 record). This is a slightly better pace for the West Conference than was accomplished last year and last year was an improvement on the year before. The discrepancy between the West and East Conference is getting bigger.
I explain this as a reaction to the travel discrepancies in the NHL. Travel makes life harder for West Conference teams than for East Conference ones. West Conference teams log more miles over the course of a season and it catches up to them.
The Florida Panthers have a 7.5% power play success rate through about a quarter of the season. This is unsustainably bad. Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had the worst power play in the league, with a 14.0% success rate. Florida was second worst at 14.2%.
In fact, Florida has only scored five power play goals all season. Two were scored by Dennis Wideman and one each by Bryan McCabe, Michael Frolik and Steve Reinprecht. One two power play goals have been scored by Florida forwards.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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