One team that made playoffs last year that is looking like they will miss them this year is the New York Rangers. The Rangers are currently tenth in the East Conference with a 31-40 record (with nine regulation tie points). They are three points back of eighth seed Boston.
In order for a playoff team from last year to miss playoffs this year, several things must go wrong. This season, the Rangers have allowed 0.12 more goals per game than they have scored. Last year, the Rangers allowed 0.14 more goals per game than they scored. Essentially the team’s +/- is the same this year as it was last year. The New York Rangers are scoring more than they did last year and allowing more goals as well. I think that is an adjustment to a new coach John Tortorella who allows his team to play a more offensive style than Tom Renney (who coached most of last year).
Veteran poolies know that now is a great time to find sleeper picks for next year’s hockey pool. A young player can have a poor start to the season and catch fire during the last couple months. Usually this is a sign that the player has found his NHL game and should perform at a high level next season. Anyone following that line of logic would likely have selected Steve Stamkos to their fantasy hockey team this year and as a result has a good chance at winning their league.
This year, the young player who best appears to have found his game in the second half of the season is Chris Stewart of the Colorado Avalanche. Stewart is a second year NHL player who has 58 points in 65 games so far this year. He has been the highest scorer in the league since the beginning of March (16 points in 9 games). In the 2009 portion of this season, Stewart has 25 points in 37 games. In 2010, he has had 33 points in 28 games. Stewart has been above point per game pace for the last two and a half months. That is evidence that he can maintain such a pace next season.
As we get closer to the playoffs, we can start to gage the chances the various playoff teams have of winning the Stanley Cup. Of the probable playoff teams, the Philadelphia Flyers look like they could be in very poor shape come playoff time. They have not had particularly strong goaltenders at any point this season.
The Flyers brought in a new goalie tandem of Ray Emery and Brian Boucher this season. It was a move to stay below the salary cap. They could not afford last year’s tandem of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki. It was a case of poor salary cap management that forced the Flyers to have big question marks in goal. This problem was one of the major causes of the firing of coach John Stevens.
On Monday, I wrote about the pending Alexander Ovechkin suspension and how NHL senior vice president Colin Campbell was likely to embarrass himself with his ruling. Ovechkin received a two game suspension for his hit (push from behind) on Brian Campbell that wound up breaking Campbell’s collarbone. Some people are arguing this suspension is too long. Others argue that it is not long enough. That is a sign that the length is approximately right.
Despite getting one disciplinary call correct, Colin Campbell managed to embarrass himself on another call. On Sunday, Steve Downie of the Tampa Bay Lightning slew-footed Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins on the first shift of the game which Pittsburgh won 2-1. Crosby was not injured and managed to return to complete the game. Nevertheless, NHL precedent (should that mean anything) shows that slew-footing is worthy of a suspension as long as a superstar isn’t the one to be suspended.
Often when a player is presented as the most underrated in the NHL, it is a player that few people have heard of who is doing a good job for his team. That is not the case right now. Most people who have some interest in hockey have heard of Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers. They have never thought of him as arguably the best goaltender in the NHL.
The case for Vokoun as a top goaltender is simple. He has been the best goalie statistically in the last several years. Fear the fin compiled saves percentage numbers since the lockout and finds Vokoun’s .923 saves percentage is four points higher than any other goalie on the list. In that time, Tomas Vokoun has had no Vezina Trophy nominations. The problem is that nobody has noticed him as he has toiled in obscure hockey markets of Nashville and Florida. He hasn’t been able to get wins while playing for these teams. These teams have had neither the offence nor the defence to make his job a success.
The NHL has had a poor suspension policy for years. One of its key problems has been that star players get treated much more leniently than fringe players for the same offence. The NHL hesitates to suspend players who drive ticket sales, while sometimes throwing the book at players who are of lesser importance.
The most recent embarrassment has been the lack of suspension the Matt Cooke for a headshot on Marc Savard, in the same week the NHL general managers agreed to a potential rule change to make headshots more suspendable.
When I summarized the trade deadline, I picked the Atlanta Thrashers as the team that had the biggest short-term drop as a result of their deadline deals. Trading away Ilya Kovalchuk, the best player in team history, and not getting any player of Kovalchuk`s level in return is bound to hurt the Thrashers for the remainder of the season.
Thrasher fans were quick to criticize my pick because the Thrashers had gone 4-3 (with two regulation ties) in their first seven games without Kovalchuk. Despite the problems of the small sample size (making the handful of game results not statistically significant), this series of games was supposed to show that Atlanta was better (or at least no worse) for having given up Ilya Kovlachuk. Their luck without Kovalchuk has not held up. Atlanta is not 4-8 (with their two regulation ties) after the trade.
The probable AHL MVP played his first game of the NHL season last night. Jonathan Bernier of the Manchester Monarchs played with the Los Angeles Kings. He was the winning goaltending in Los Angeles’s 2-1 victory over Dallas. Bernier made 29 saves on thirty shots.
Bernier is the AHL leader in saves percentage with .937. This is a significant lead over the rest of the league (as Mike McKenna of the Lowell Devils is second at .929). Bernier has been the second most heavily played goaltender in the AHL. He has 50 games played (behind Alex Stalock of the Worcester Sharks who has 52).
I picked Mike Fisher as the Selke Trophy leader in early January. While he remains a candidate, I do not think he is the top one in the league. I think he has been passed by Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. Marleau has more shorthanded ice time, he plays against a higher quality of competition and he has a better rate stat adjusted +/-. That makes Marleau a better candidate statistically. By watching their teams play, it is clear that both are significant defensive presences for their teams, but Marleau plays a bigger role in San Jose.
Of course, this argument does not address any other defensive forwards. There are many who will get some consideration for the Selke. It is quite likely that half a dozen or more players get first place votes from at least one voter in the Selke balloting. Though some of these might be poor choices, this comes from the vague nature of defensive statistics in hockey. You cannot reliably assess the best defensive forward in most cases. Patrick Marleau is clearly a top defensive forward who is playing a big role on a successful team. He is a very good candidate for the Selke. I think his biggest problem is geography. The award has existed since 1977 and no player west of the Central time zone has ever won it. I think too many eastern voters went to sleep before the west coast games ended and missed out on some Selke candidates (this was easier to do because of the lack of strong statistics). I think there is a very good chance that Marleau could get lost in the same shuffle, but he deserves better. He should be the Selke front-runner.
The major topic of discussion at the recent NHL general managers meeting was hits to the head. After several presentations and proposals, it was decided that headshots are a problem in the league. The following words were unanimously approved by the group:
A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.
That two line statement is the most reported achievement of a three day meeting. It seems a little underwhelming. This two line statement must get approval from the NHL Board of Governors and from the NHL Competition Committee before it becomes law in the league. At best this could happen by the beginning of next season.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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