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.
Last year, the Atlanta Thrashers finished with the fourth worst record in the NHL. Nobody thought too highly of the team that went through the 2008/09 season with 35 wins and 47 losses. This year (so far) has gone much better, though the Thrashers have not received much notice yet in part because the Thrashers have played a league least 18 games so far. Through that, they have a 10-8 record (with two regulation tie points), which has the team in 22nd when the standings are sorted by points. If you sort the standings in terms of points per game, Atlanta is 11th (11 positions better than their total points spot). Faux rumors shows this with their projected final standings (which has Atlanta on pace to get 100 points this year). That would make this the best season in Atlanta Thrasher history.
Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack (NY Rangers AHL affiliate) is running away with the AHL scoring lead. His totals of 11 goals, 18 assists and 29 points all are league leading totals. He currently has a seven point lead over Charles Linglet of the Springfield Falcons (Edmonton Oilers affiliate). Probably Locke`s biggest challenges for the AHL scoring title come from Alexandre Giroux of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau of Hartford. These players have point per game scoring rates similar to Locke, but have both been limited to thirteen games played due to NHL call ups (Parenteau is currently on the New York Rangers roster).
Corey Locke is a 25 year old who has not had much of an NHL shot, due to his small size. He is listed at 5`9” 168 pounds. That would make him one of the smallest players in the NHL. Locke was drafted in 2003 by the Montreal Canadiens. He played his one NHL game with them in the 2007/08 season before being traded to the Minnesota Wild. Last summer, he signed as a free agent in New York. Like many AHL stars, he is well travelled and has never had a legitimate NHL shot (probably for reasons outside his control - his size).
A couple weeks ago I wrote that the best teams of the past decade all occurred before the lockout. This was according to a ranking by Puck Daddy. I argue that the decline in the quality of elite teams is caused mostly by two factors: over-expansion of the NHL and the salary cap and current CBA which prevents teams from keeping good teams together. I argue that this is not a good thing for the NHL. It reduces the quality of Stanley cup final series (which should be matchups of two elite teams). I also argue that this is not some equalization procedure to keep big markets from dominating the NHL (afterall the New York Rangers with the biggest payroll in the league missed the playoffs for the final seven seasons of the last CBA). There is a flip side to this. If the best teams are not as good, then the worst teams are not as bad. This is shown by further Puck Daddy analysis.
I like to write a career retrospective when any future Hall of Fame player retires. Yesterday, Brendan Shanahan announced his retirement, so here is his career retrospective.
Brendan Shanahan was born on January 23rd, 1969 in Mimico, Ontario (which became a part of Toronto as Toronto expanded). Shanahan grew up playing hockey in the Metro Toronto hockey system. It was as a 16 year old he was first seriously noticed by NHL scouts. Shanahan joined the London Knights of the OHL to play his junior career. Shanahan was a star in junior. He scored at better than point per game rate in his rookie year and added 92 points in 56 games in his second junior season. He was immediately seen as a leader and ran some Knights practices when the coach was unavailable. As a 17 year old, Shanahan starred for Team Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championships. He scored seven points in six games/ This was the year that a bench clearing brawl between Canada and the Soviet Union left both teams disqualified, so Shanahan did not play for a World Junior medal. Shanahan was chosen second in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils (Pierre Turgeon was selected first overall).
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???