I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the Los Angeles Kings would be first in the West Conference in mid-December, but they are. The Kings have a 22-14 record (with three overtime loss points) to give them 47 points. Skeptics are quick to note that Los Angeles leads the NHL in games played and some western teams (San Jose and Chicago) have better winning percentages in fewer games played. Whether or not you think Los Angeles can maintain top spot in the West, it is clear that they are a much better team than predicted.
They have a good young core of players that is emerging to stardom together. At forward, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll have significant talent and are leading the team offensively. Ryan Smyth was a significant contributor as well, before he fell to injury (he may be back soon). Justin Williams and Wayne Simmonds have also been significant contributors. This is a deep group of offensive players and many have the potential that they will likely keep improving.
When I last wrote about the AHL standings the Rochester Americans (Florida Panthers affiliate) had taken a bit of a lead. They have been caught by a couple teams. The Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate) and the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars affiliate) have passed them in the standings. Manchester has the league lead with 43 points in 31 games. Texas is next with 42 in 30 games. Rochester has 39 points in 27 games and maintains the top winning percentage, but has fewer games played at this point.
None of these teams have anyone among the top scorers in the league. Rochester’s top scorers are Jamie Johnson and Chris Taylor who have 22 points in their 27 games. They have two players with higher per game scoring rates in Jeff Taffe (17 points in 18 games) and Michal Repik (18 points in 22 games) who have been called up by the Florida Panthers. Manchester’s top scorer with their team is Gabe Gauthier with 19 points in 31 games. Called up are Corey Elkins (19 points in 30 games), Andrei Loktionov (17 points in 20 games) and Oscar Moller (18 points in 25 games). Texas does not have any high scoring call ups missing, but has been led by Greg Rallo and Aaron Gagnon who have 18 points apiece. All of these teams have deep offences that are among the top scoring teams in the AHL, but none are lead by top scorers. Rochester and Manchester have been weakened by NHL call ups.
After a summer spent in bankruptcy, the Phoenix Coyotes may finally have new owners. The NHL bought the team out of bankruptcy, but that solved little. The NHL was still committed to keeping the money losing team in Phoenix, where the market has been destroyed. The NHL was committed to finding an owner who would buy the team and keep them in Phoenix despite a bleak future economically. Perhaps that owner has been found.
Ice Edge Holdings LLC has signed a letter of intent to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. The purchase price is believed to be around $150 million (the NHL paid $140 million to buy the team from bankruptcy). Ice Edge Holdings is a group of five owners that have been fronted in the media by Anthony LeBlanc, who is a former executive at Research In Motion (Jim Balsillie’s company). There are questions regarding this group’s finances. It isn’t clear that they have the money to keep this struggling team afloat.
I have been picking Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers as the rookie of the year but it has become clear that he has been surpassed in the race by John Tavares of the Islanders. Tavares has a significant lead among rookie scorers with 27 points. That total puts him in the lead among his New York Islander teammates. He has been everything the Islanders hoped he would be when they picked him first overall last summer.
Tavares is looking like he may have the best offensive rookie season since Evgeni Malkin three years ago and possibly since Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby the year before that. Does that mean he will establish himself as a star on their level in the near future? He has the potential.
I think it is clear that the most improved player in the NHL is Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty, the second year defenceman is among the Norris Trophy favorites. He has 24 points, which places him fourth among defencemen and leads the Kings defence with a +10 +/- rating. Doughty’s 24 points have almost matched his 27 point output in his rookie season. That was a rookie season where he remarkably led the LA Kings in ice time, as an 18 and 19 year old. It was a season where he finished fifth (as the top defenceman) in the Calder Trophy voting.
Doughty has jumped from being the workhorse on a defence with no stars to being one of the best defencemen in the game this season. He has inserted his name as a likely member of the Canadian Olympic Team.
A quick look at the standings shows that the Carolina Hurricanes have been the worst team in the league, by a significant margin, so far this season. They have a 7-23 record (with five regulation tie points). This leaves them in last place in the league by an eight point margin. This is a team that made a semi-final appearance last season. How did the Hurricanes fall so far so fast?
The Hurricanes have had no offensive stars so far this season. Ray Whitney leads the team in scoring with 20 points. This is the third lowest total for a top scorer on his team (Phoenix and St Louis have 19 point top scorers). Carolina has the lowest goals per game total in the league. They have dropped over half a goal per game from last season. Three players have shouldered a large portion of this drop. Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind’Amour have all had significant drops in their offensive output.
According to Murphy’s Law it was bound to happen someday. The Montreal Canadiens used an ineligible player Tuesday night versus the Ottawa Senators. Ryan White was in the line-up for the Habs, but they had failed to notify the league by the 5 PM league deadline that White had been recalled from the AHL. When this was noticed, White was pulled from the game and the Habs completed it one forward short. This is being treated as a big deal. Bob McKenzie reports that the Habs could face a fine in the six figure range. He also says that had it not been noticed that White was ineligible and he was pulled from the game, Montreal may have had to forfeit their 4-1 victory.
Many questions are raised by the incident. Why was this news story not widely reported until more than 36 hours after the game (Bob McKenzie’s story is dated at almost 10 AM ET the Thursday after the game - and I haven’t seen anything reported earlier)? Did the NHL attempt to suppress the story? This is an example of how the CBA has an unwieldy amount of regulation. What is the harm really? Montreal called up a player that they have called up before and failed to tell big brother about it. Why does big brother even care? Because they keep a complex salary calculation going all season and this kind of minutia is needed to be kept correct to keep the salary calculation correct.
The Frank J Selke Trophy for best defensive forward is usually a tough award to select. There is rarely a consensus as to who to nominate for the award. This year might be even worse than normal. When Jams Mirtle looked at the top defensive forwards in the league so far, he noted that a lot of new faces were on the list. It is also noteworthy that last year’s Selke nominees, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Richards and Ryan Kesler are not on the list. This suggests there is a wide open field for the Selke Trophy and that somebody who has not been a contender in the past might win it.
I think the leader at this point is Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils. I scoffed at the fact that he received a sizable number of votes last season. I thought it was a recognition of his high +/- rating (+33 last year) than his skill level and the role he played with New Jersey. Afterall last season it was John Madden who was used as the number one defensive centre on the Devils. Madden led Devil forwards by a significant margin in penalty kill time (Zajac was 2nd but with about 50% less penalty kill time).
For the last several years, the West Conference has had a winning record versus the East Conference. So far this year, the West is 65-51 (with 15 losses credited as regulation ties). This is a better pace than the 141-129 (with 26 regulation tie points) record the West Conference put up last year. Does this mean that the West is becoming even more dominant over the East Conference this year, when compared to last year?
At least part of the early season improvement in the West Conference record against the East is a predictable travel effect. As the season progresses, travel wears on both conferences. The West Conference travels a further total distance. They lose more time that could be spent on practice, rest, injury rehab etc. to travel. After a few months of the season it weakens the West Conference relative to the East, allowing the East to win a few more inter-conference games later in the season. Thus, the early season pace that the West Conference holds in inter-division games is never maintained the full season.
It is far enough into the season to begin to look at the free agent signings made this summer. One stands out as being a complete failure so far. Martin Havlat left the Chicago Blackhawks to sign with the Minnesota Wild. He signed a six year contract worth $30 million. He was intended as a replacement for NHL goal scoring leader Marian Gaborik, who had jumped to the New York Rangers, but it has not worked out that way.
Havlat has not been a key to the Wild team. He has two goals and nine assists, for eleven points. This places him seventh on the Wild team in scoring. His -17+/- rating is a team worst ranking. It is second worst in the league. He has not been successful so far in Minnesota.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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