Early in the season it is not uncommon that a surprise player gets off to a good start and becomes the early leader for a major NHL award. Most of the time as the season progresses, the player slips back into the pack and the winner is a more usual suspect. Sometimes, especially when it is a young player with significant upside, they may stay in the race or even win the award.
At this early point in the season, Alex Goligoski of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been the best defenceman in the NHL. Goligoski has 12 points, which places him third among defencemen in the NHL. He has a +13 +/- rating which is good for first place in the league. On a Pittsburgh team that suffered a blow to their defence when Sergei Gonchar suffered a broken wrist, Goligoski has done a wonderful job. The Penguins struggled without Gonchar last year, but with Goligoski in his place have not missed a beat this year.
The NHLPA is in bad shape. Is that even news anymore? Over the years I have written posts entitled NHLPA in bad shape, NHLPA problems, NHLPA in shambles, NHLPA shoots itself in the foot and others. The continuing story is that the NHLPA is always in bad shape. It is never strong. It doesn’t seem that the players are capable of creating a strong NHLPA.
Just when it looked like things were on the upswing under Paul Kelly, the players inexplicably fired him. No reasonable cause has been released for his firing. It doesn’t seem that one exists. The players don’t even seem to know what happened. This is shown by the four player committee set up to investigate what happened.
EDIT: A couple hours after this post, Ian Penny resigned from his NHLPA post. It is yet another case of somebody who did wrong being subtracted, but when there seems to be an unending group of such people, can it really be sited as yet another point where the NHLPA is trying to right itself?
Earlier this season I picked Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes as the best goalie in the early season. Bryzgalov is continuing to play well, although his numbers are regressing a bit from his incredible start. There is another goalie who is continuing his incredible start further into the season. Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche has been the top goalie in the season so far. Anderson is a big reason the Colorado Avalanche are in first place in the NHL. Anderson sports a .940 saves percentage and a 1.97 GAA. These are very strong numbers. These numbers have been posted when Anderson is facing over 35 shots per 60 minutes of play (which is a very high number).
Anderson had posted some good numbers as the Florida Panthers backup goalie (but always in limited starts). It is on the strength of those numbers that Anderson has been given a chance to start with the Colorado Avalanche. It is unclear how well he will handle the increased workload and the increased attention scouts give to his game.
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.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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