The World Hockey Championships are underway in Germany. That is a very overstated name for a tournament that often does not include the best players in the world because it is played at the same time as the Stanley Cup playoffs and only eliminated players can participate. Many NHL players on eliminated teams chose not to play for various personal reasons. It is hardly a world championship tournament - that was the Olympics. Nevertheless, it can be interesting hockey to see some of the better European players playing with and against some NHLers.
The tournament is being played in Mannheim and Cologne, Germany, with an opening day game (hometown Germany vs. USA - who have a strong level of support due to local US forces bases) played in front of 77,000 fans in a soccer stadium in Gelsenchirken.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 loss in game seven of their second round series last night. The NHL will not have a repeat Stanley Cup champion this year. The NHL has not has a repeat Stanley Cup champion since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. It has been 12 years since a team repeated as Stanley Cup champion. This is something that has not happened before in the history of the Stanley Cup and is a sign that elite teams are no longer being formed and kept together for a period of a few years.
In fact, events during this twelve year period, including expansion and a salary cap, have made it significantly harder for an elite team to be formed or kept together. Today, when a team gets to be pretty good, but not (yet?) Stanley Cup worthy, the salary cap forces them to be broken up.
The second round of the AHL playoffs concluded last night. Coverage of the first round can be found here. These are the second round results:
Hamilton Bulldogs defeat Abbotsford Heat four games to two Hamilton is the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate and Abbotsford is that of Calgary. David Desharnais and Mike Glumac led Hamilton offensively, with Andre Benoit leading their defence. Cedrick Desjardins provided their goaltending. Abbotsford’s offence came from Brett Sutter and Mikael Backlund with David Shantz in goal.
One of the reasons that the Vancouver Canucks are losing three games to two against the Chicago Blackhawks is poor penalty kill. In the playoffs, their penalty kill has been 67.3% successful. This is the worst penalty kill in the playoffs and is a worse success rate than any team put up in the regular season (in a regular season where the Toronto Maple Leafs flirted with having the worst penalty kill ever).
In the regular season, Vancouver had a slightly below mid-range penalty kill. Their 81.9% successful penalty kill was 17th in the league, but it has fallen apart in playoff time. They have actually done better against Chicago than they did against Los Angeles in the first round (but their 61.5% success rate against LA was so bad it is hard not to improve).
Last season I criticized Evgeni Malkin’s Hart trophy nomination because he had a very offensive zone start record and still gave up a lot of scoring chances to opponents. His zone and team adjusted Corsi Number was second worst in the NHL. Now that does not mean he is the second worst player in the league - or anything ridiculous like that - but it means that given his strong offensive usage, the amount of time opponents controlled the puck in the Pittsburgh zone, shows defensive weaknesses in Malkin. It certainly shows that his Hart Trophy nomination was a poor one driven only by his offensive numbers and not a look at his complete game.
In the first round, I picked Sidney Crosby as the early playoff MVP. Since then Crosby has had a mini-slump. he has been held to one point in the last four games. This leads me to pick another playoff MVP. My selection is Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens.
Halak is the lone reason that Montreal remains alive in the playoffs. He has a .933 saves percentage and 2.40 GAA so far in the playoffs. He shut the door on the Washington Capitals by allowing only three goals in the final three games of the first round series. That allowed Montreal to make a comeback and win the first round series. Halak’s play has kept Montreal in their second round series against Pittsburgh so far. Pittsburgh leads the series 3-2, which has Montreal on the ropes. Nevertheless, Halak has played so well to be the current playoff MVP and he would likely remain the playoff MVP for a while after elimination were Montreal to lose their next game.
Twelve playoff series so far this season are either complete or far enough into play that it is clear that they cannot be four game sweeps. There have been no four game sweeps so far this season. That result is improbable.
We can set up a simple model to see the expected rate of four game sweep playoff series. If we assume that each game is decided by a coin toss (which may not be a fair coin) we can calculate the expected number of four game sweeps. In the extreme that the coin is 100% biased, where it is guaranteed to have the same result each time it is flipped, we are guaranteed that every series will be a four game sweep. The other limit is that there is perfect parity and each coin is 50% likely to be heads and 50% likely to be tails. In this case, one out of every eight playoff series will be a four game sweep.
The NHL has another award which it has no clue how to decide its winner with the GM of the Year award. The problem is that it is usually necessary to determine how well a GM is doing by looking at his record over many years. When you give the GM of the Year award, you wind up giving it to the GM of the most improved team, which is much like the way the coach of the year is often determined.
The inaugural nominees are Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes, George McPhee of the Washington Capitals and David Poile of the Nashville Predators. It is widely believed that Maloney will win the award, just like Dave Tippett will win coach of the year. Both will win the awards because Phoenix was the most improved team. I do not believe the idea that Phoenix’s improvement is due to having both the best coach and the best GM in the league. It is just a simple way to give out an award to somebody who is in the right place at the right time.
The West Conference has a far better record than the East Conference this season and over the last several seasons. It is a case where increased travel has forced the west teams to improve, while east teams have been able to be complacent with weaker squads still making and competing for playoffs. The NHL CBA makes the inequity worse as the east players who have an easier run will outscore what they would have done in the west and thus get a bigger salary cap hit than they would otherwise have. Thus east teams effectively pay more for their players than west teams do. A west team will lose about 6 points relative to an east team due to increased travel and this gives west teams earlier draft picks and east teams later ones to increase the inequity. Further, the east teams have an increased number of games against each other, which somebody must win, thus inflating their point totals to give them higher draft picks than they would have if they played the west schedule. This has systematically made the West Conference the stronger conference and its lead appears to be increasing.
When I posted my second round playoff predictions, the most common comment was to tell me that I am wrong about San Jose defeating Detroit. San Jose are “chokers” and being that Kukla’s Korner is a Detroit-centric blog, there are tons of people ready to jump on you if you say something against Detroit whether it is deserved or not.
We are now three games into the second round series and see San Jose leading three games to none. It would be a remarkable comeback for Detroit to win the series. It is nearly impossible that it could occur. The top three scorers in the second round so far are Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley. Judging from comments, Pavelski was an after-thought and Thornton and Heatley were such proven scorers that their current success was impossible.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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