I try to track the player who is the worst player who is playing a regular shift in the NHL. It is interesting to see what kind of player will continue to be played despite playing poorly. Early in the season it is usually a better known player, who was expected to produce and is failing. Earlier this season I picked Vesa Toskala as the worst player in the league. At that point he had a horrid 5.56 GAA and an .812 saves percentage. Those numbers are clearly well below NHL calibre. From that point, Toskala has not played much. He suffered a knee injury and gave up the Toronto goaltending job to rookie Jonas Gustavsson. Gustavsson has done a pretty solid job with a .903 saves percentage and a 3.06 GAA, though he was pulled very early in a poor outing versus Calgary in his last game. Toskala has had three further appearances since I picked him as the worst player in the league and he is doing better. Toskala’s season numbers are still bad, but they are significantly improved to a .853 saves percentage and a 4.44 GAA. That drops him from the worst player position because he is not playing as regularly and because he is playing better.
My current selection for the worst regular in the NHL is Brad Richardson of the Los Angeles Kings.
One problem that can derail a team is injuries. When several core players get hurt simultaneously, it is very hard for a team to continue to compete at their expected level. Predictably, some of the more injured teams this season have been the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. These are the two teams that have competed in the Stanley Cup finals in each of the last two years and have thus had the shortest summers. Short summers lead to less time to recover from the long NHL season and less time for recurring injuries to get better.
Detroit started off the season with a rash of injuries. Johan Franzen had knee surgery very early in the season. Valtteri Filppula has a broken wrist. Andreas Lilja has missed the entire season so far recovering from a concussion suffered last year. To make matters worse, free agent signee Jason Williams has a broken leg. In October, Detroit seemed to be the team most affected by injuries, though they have recovered from a relatively slow start. Detroit has won seven of their last ten games (including three straight) and currently hold down sixth seed in the West Conference.
As usual, Jacques Lemaire is doing a great job coaching. This happens every season and is usually overlooked. It required some first class coaching to keep the Minnesota Wild in the playoff race as long as they were last year. Last year, the Minnesota Wild finished ninth in the West Conference. They were two points back of a playoff berth despite having played without star forward Marian Gaborik most of the season. This year roughly the same Wild team exists (Gaborik is now a New York Ranger) and they are sitting last in the West Conference. That is one way to measure the Jacques Lemaire effect on the Wild. Notice how far they have dropped without him.
Lemaire has come to New Jersey where he is doing his usual great job. The New Jersey Devils are first in the East Conference with a 14-4 record. Lemaire teams are always defensively responsible. This year the Devils have the top defence in the NHL - with a 2.06 GAA.
Alan Cohen led a group of Florida businessmen in purchasing the Florida Panthers from Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster Video fame in 2001. Since that point, the Panthers have been one of the have not teams. They have failed to make the playoffs during Cohen’s ownership. According to Forbes Magazine the Florida Panthers have the fifth least value in the NHL and faced the second largest operating losses last year (beaten only by the Phoenix Coyotes). As a result, Alan Cohen decided he wanted out.
Over the summer, Cohen agreed to sell the team to Sports Properties Acquisition Group. This is a publicly traded company set up with the purpose of buying a sports franchise. Should they fall to do so by the end of the year (which appears likely), they will be dissolved and money will be returned to shareholders. The sale was to be for $240 million and included the Panthers franchise, the BankAtlantic Center where they play and some surrounding real estate.
In October, I picked Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals as the early season MVP. He has fallen from the race since suffering a shoulder injury on November 1st. In the meantime, two candidates have emerged as the MVP leaders. There is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, who has 30 points to lead the NHL and top goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, who leads the NHL with a .938 saves percentage and a 1.82 GAA.
I think the current MVP is Ryan Miller, but it is not by a large margin. The main difference comes from the relative values of different positions. A goaltender is the most important player to a team when he plays well. He is on the ice the entire game and has a better ability to singlehandedly keep a team in the game. That is not to say that a position player cannot be MVP (in fact the MVP usually is a position player), but in event of a close race between a goalie and a non-goalie, I tend to favor the goalie.
It isn’t clear how badly the H1N1 flu will affect North America as we enter the traditional winter flu season. Nobody knows how many people will be affected. There is a precedent in hockey for flu causing disruption. In 1919, there was no Stanley Cup winner as both finalists - the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans - were hit hard by the flu and the finals were cancelled. At a time, the entire Montreal Canadiens team was hospitalized and defenceman Joe Hall died of the flu. This was the famous Spanish influenza epidemic. Returning soldiers from World War I brought back a new strain of the flu and it killed an estimated 50 million people (about 3% of the world’s population). This was the second wave of the Spanish Flu, as World War I had ended in 1918.
Hopefully medicine is better equipped to deal with a major flu pandemic today than it was in 1919, but we never can know for sure. However, with the invention of vaccination, there is a new weapon to fight a flu pandemic.
At the end of October, I picked Alex Goligoski as the top defenceman in the NHL so far this season. I think this was a good selection at the time, although some commenters disagreed. I think the main complaint was that they did not understand that I was picking the top defenceman so far in a month old season and not the top defenceman in hockey. Lindas1st understood the difference when he said So what you’re basically saying is that Goligoski is the defenseman of the month for October in the NHL. Obviously when October is the only month of play so far, the best player in the season so far would be the player of the month for October.
Not surprisingly, Goligoski did not stay on a Norris Trophy pace for a long time. That would be an awful lot to ask from a second year defenceman in his first full season of NHL play. He has been surpassed by Chris Pronger.
It is obvious that Sidney Crosby is one of the most talented players in the NHL. He has the ability to become the player who dominates a generation. He won the 2007 Hart Trophy as a 19 year old and seemed to be well on his way to a significant period as the standard bearer for the NHL. This is yet to happen. He was not a Hart Trophy nominee in either of the last two seasons. His team won the 2009 Stanley Cup, but he was not chosen as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Crosby remains one of the best players in the NHL, but he is unable to make the jump to be the best player in the game. I think one reason for this is immaturity and a lack of self-discipline. One clear symptom of this is his penalty total. Crosby has 31 penalty minutes so far this season. That puts him second on his Pittsburgh Penguins team (behind Jay McKee). He leads the NHL in minor penalties (with 13 - tied with Hal Gill of Montreal). There is no reason Sidney Crosby should lead the league in minor penalties.
In late October, I picked Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche as the top goalie so far this season. He is having a very good season (so far), but has given way to Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. When I picked Anderson, it was clear that the race was between him and Miller. Miller had a slightly higher saves percentage, with fewer games played and fewer shots faced. In the meantime, Anderson`s numbers have dropped a bit, while Miller has done a better job of maintaining his level of play. Miller has a 1.89 GAA and a .936 saves percentage. Miller is a big part of the reason that the Buffalo Sabres lead the Northeast Division.
Goaltending is a position that can have a tremendous effect on a team. A team with a top goalie can significantly exceed expectations. Likewise, a team with poor goaltending will fail to live up to expectation. Short term predictions based on goaltending are hard because it is a very streaky position. It is not uncommon for a goalie who has not had much recent success to suddenly have a very hot streak and become nearly unbeatable and it is not uncommon for a top goalie to have a cold streak.
Two goalies who were largely overlooked in the free agent market who are off to good starts this year are Antero Niittymaki of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Andrew Raycroft of the Vancouver Canucks.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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