I would never have predicted that twelve games into the 2009/10 season, the Colorado Avalanche would be in first place in the NHL. I picked the Avs to finish second last in the West Conference and my prediction was not out of line with most common opinions.
Colorado has a 9-3 record (with 2 losses counted as overtime ties). That is a very good record, but it is the overtime ties that propel Colorado into first. Without them, they would be near the top, but below Pittsburgh in the standings.
For the most part, Colorado has been outshot pretty badly while winning. They average 26.6 shots per game and allow 33.2. This almost seven shot per game deficit is more typical of a weaker team (for example Anaheim has three wins in ten games and has an eight shot per game deficit). Colorado has won largely due to goaltending. Craig Anderson has been outstanding.
Bankrupt Phoenix Coyote owner Jerry Moyes has agreed to sell his team to the NHL. This is after the Phoenix market has been basically destroyed due to a summer of litigation and bankruptcy. Moyes would accept the NHL‘s $140 million offer. This offer would pay nearly $80 million to SOF Investment (the Coyotes largest secured creditor - who had provided the team with a line of credit). It would pay the NHL back $37 million for funding the team since last fall (that‘s right some of the money in the $140 quote paid by the NHL is paid to the NHL). It pays about $13 million to other Coyote creditors. This leaves about $10 million for Moyes (and possibly Wayne Gretzky who has a $22.5 million claim in the bankruptcy case).
Basically, this offer has Moyes losing his shirt. He accepted it because the NHL would continue to deduct the operating costs of running the team from their offer, if it ran into the future. Jerry Moyes had no other options. Wayne Gretzky has not agreed to this offer.
Last week I wrote about the San Antonio Rampage (the Phoenix Coyotes affiliate) taking the lead in the AHL. Their lead was short-lived. The Rochester Americans have now taken over top spot in the league. Rochester is the Florida Panthers affiliate and is enjoying a seven game winning streak. This gives them an 8-1-1 record (one overtime loss). Rochester has a balanced attack (ten players have five or more points) led by Michal Repik’s 11 points. Repik is the Panthers 2007 second round draft pick and a solid prospect. Rochester’s biggest strength has been goaltending. Alexander Salak has put up tremendous numbers. He has a 1.60 GAA and a .947 saves percentage. These are numbers that will have to get him NHL notice if he can keep them up. Salak has had a short NHL trial. He played less than a period in the early part of this season without much success (two goals allowed on seven shots), but he is playing very well in the AHL. He is an undrafted 22 year old who put up strong numbers in Finland last season and looks like a good contender to challenge for an NHL spot in the future.
We are far enough into the season to determine that there is a good crop of rookies this year. A surprisingly large number of 18 and 19 year olds are on NHL rosters and playing pretty well. There are John Tavares of the New York lslanders, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche and Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrashers who are all 18 year olds playing with NHL clubs and making an impact so far. The list of 19 year olds include Steve Stamkos in Tampa Bay, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Zach Bogosian of the Atlanta Thrashers, Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. Some of the nineteen year olds were rookies last year, but it bodes well for the future of the NHL.
The surprising leader of the rookie class is Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers. He is the highest scorer among defencemen in the NHL, with 10 points so far. He is the second highest scorer among the NHL’s teenagers (Stamkos has 11 points).
On Thursday, the NHL suspended Evgeni Artyukhin of the Anaheim Ducks for three games for his slew footing of Matt Niskanen of the Dallas Stars. Niskanen injured his head (probably a concussion) on the play. He has not played since the Wednesday 4-2 Dallas victory where the incident occurred and is not expected to play tonight vs. St Louis. On the night of the three game suspension, Alexander Ovechkin slew footed Rich Peverley of the Atlanta Thrashers. This happened in the final minute of the Capitals 5-4 victory. Peverley was not injured on the play, but it still looked like something that merits a suspension from the NHL.
Artyukhin was suspended for three games and forfeits almost $35,000 in salary for his transgression. Ovechkin was not suspended to his. He was fined an undisclosed amount by the NHL (which under the current CBA is limited to $2500).
Michael Nylander has one of the larger contracts on the Washington Capitals. He has a salary cap hit of $4.875 million and is signed through the end of the 2010/11 season. This makes him the third highest paid player on the Capitals (behind Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green). However, he has fallen out of favor with his Capitals team. He only scored nine goals last season and that had the Capitals reconsidering his contract. The Capitals tried to get Nylander signed in the KHL last summer and failed. So far this season, they have yet to play Nylander in a game and have sent him to the AHL in Grand Rapids (the Detroit Red Wings affiliate - not their own affiliate) for a conditioning stint. Conditioning stints can last up to two weeks. Many expect that Washington does not want him back and hope to have found him a KHL suitor by the end of that period.
The salary cap loophole of sending unwanted players to Russia is not new. It has been exploited in the past, but it shows the NHL’s hypocrisy. The NHL screams bloody murder when Alexander Radulov is signed by the league, while at the same time trying to send players to the KHL to hide their salary cap hits.
The Los Angeles Kings are off to a pretty good start. They have a 5-4 record through nine games. They created some controversy when coach Terry Murray did not dress Alexander Frolov for their last game, which was Monday versus the Dallas Stars. Frolov is one of the more talented players on the Kings. Last season his 59 points placed him second in team scoring (behind Anze Kopitar). This season he has five points in his eight games played so far.
The problem with Frolov is he has a style that appears as though he isn’t trying. When everything works he looks very slick. He is in the right place to exploit offensive openings and lead the Kings attack. When things don’t work he doesn’t find those openings and often is invisible. It is a style of play issue that makes him appear to be not trying. The language and culture barrier with Frolov since he is Russian is also an issue. He is not as easy for a Canadian coach like Terry Murray to understand and to motivate, since they have very different backgrounds. As a result, Murray is unhappy with Frolov when there isn’t a strong case for problems.
With an 8-1 record and a six game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins have established themselves as the early leader in the NHL standings. The defending Stanley Cup champions have 33 goals scored to only 19 allowed. Offensively their attack has been led by Evgeni Malkin with 11 points and the more well-rounded skills of Sidney Crosby (who has contributed 8 points). Tyler Kennedy’s five goals make him the team’s leader in goals scored. On defence, Sergei Gonchar leads the way offensively with eight points. He is followed closely by Alex Goligoski, with seven points and a +9 +/- rating. Jay McKee has been a useful addition for his stay home play. In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury won all eight games and sports a .926 saves percentage and a 1.96 GAA. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a team that is performing at the top of their ability throughout the early season. They look like a championship team. However, it is not uncommon that October’s championship team is nowhere to be seen come the Stanley Cup finals. The true test of the 2009/10 Pittsburgh Penguins is not how they look a few weeks into October. It is how they will look when they run into some problems in the stretch. Will they recover quickly or will they fall back into the pack?
The Edmonton Oilers blogs include some of the better sabermetrics blogs out there. There is mudcrutch hockey, irreverent Oiler fans, copper n blue and battle of Alberta. Each have a strong interest in sabermetrics and have written some interesting posts on the subjects. With the high quality of the Oiler blogosphere it is hard for the mainstream media to keep up. However, Dave Staples at Cult of Hockey does a good job. He writes many interesting pieces about the Edmonton Oilers and hockey in general. These are not just the leftover articles that do not get published in the newspaper (as some weaker media blogs tend to do). He regularly publishes some very good information on the internet.
However, one of his recurring themes (that seems to be in protest to the independent Oiler bloggers with strong sabermetric backgrounds) is that hockey statistics are not very useful. This is a case he frequently overstates in his posts. Last year he wrote Why Plus/Minus is a rotten, useless, misleading and irrelevant stat for NHL players.
Like the NHL season, the AHL season is also underway. The AHL is a high quality league that often produces depth players (and sometimes stars) for the NHL. It is a high level hockey league and is important to watch to see the next wave of NHL players before they arrive in the NHL. The early season leader in the AHL is the San Antonio Rampage. They are the farm club of the Phoenix Coyotes. They have a 6-1-1 record (one overtime loss) which puts them in first place in the AHL. They have been the highest scoring team in the league. Four of the top twelve scorers in the AHL are San Antonio players. Sean Sullivan leads the way with 10 points. He is 25 and looks like he may be ready for his NHL debut. He is a Boston University graduate, who has been rapidly improving in his AHL tenure. One point behind is Kyle Turris. Turris is a highly regarded prospect who was the third overall pick in 2007. He spent last year in the NHL, but did not appear ready for that level of competition. He may be a future NHL star and is learning to play at a high level against adult competition. Kevin Porter is the third highest scorer in San Antonio. He spent last year shuttling between the AHL and NHL and may soon be ready to grad an NHL job permanently. The final of the four top scorers from San Antonio is Brett MacLean. He was the Coyotes 2nd round pick in 2007 and has a good chance at a significant NHL career.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a good pipeline of young players in their system. This makes their AHL affiliate in San Antonio a top team. This makes their future look promising, assuming competent ownership takes over the team. The Coyotes have the talent that they could be a good team for years into the future, but uncertainty in ownership could derail it all before it begins.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???