In November I picked Chris Pronger as the best defenceman so far this year. Since then his Philadelphia Flyers team have run into problems (they are 14th in the East Conference). The Flyers have struggled lately and Pronger has not avoided those struggles.
My current pick as top defenceman in the NHL so far is Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. Green is clearly the best offensive defenceman in hockey. He leads the NHL’s defencemen with 33 points. His puckmoving ability is instrumental to the Capitals offence. The criticism has been his defence, which is clearly improving. Green is playing in more and more tough defensive situations with the Capitals. Green’s defence was good enough to make him a Norris frontrunner last year and it is better now.
Yesterday I wrote a post complaining about the NHL’s standings system that gets distorted by offering a point for losing games - if you lose in overtime or a shootout. This system appears designed by the NHL to create a false parity in the standings. It is set up to prevent good teams from getting too far ahead in the standings so that weaker teams appear to be in the race for as long as possible. Some people support this idea such as Paul in Miami Beach who writes IMO, it makes the playoff race MORE exciting because it keeps things closer in the standings. more teams have a chance to make the playoffs later in the season - which was the goal, wasn’t it? but it isn’t good for the quality of hockey.
The NHL standings are heavily distorted by a ridiculous point system. Games are worth two points, unless they go to overtime. Then they are worth three points. A team that manages a lot of regulation ties benefits in this system. They have more points available to them (as more of their games are three pointers) and are better able to have a higher position in the standings.
An extreme example of this can be found in the West Conference standings right now. The Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks both have played 34 games played. Dallas has won 14 games and lost 20. Vancouver has won 19 games and lost 15. Dallas is ahead of Vancouver in the standings. How can this be true? Dallas has a league-leading 11 games that they have lost after regulation time has ended. Vancouver is last in the league in that department. They have not lost any games that went beyond regulation time. For that Vancouver is effectively being punished. Vancouver is 11th when ranked by wins per game played (a much more logical way to rank teams). Vancouver is 17th in league standings. Dallas is 23rd when ranked by wins per games played and 14th in league standings.
Near the beginning of December, I picked Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils as the worst regular in the NHL. At that point, Peters had played in the last eight straight games for the Devils - hence qualifying him as a regular. He has not played an NHL game since. Thus Andrew Peters cannot be the worst regular in the NHL because he is not a regular in the NHL.
My current choice as the worst regular is Kyle Chipchura of the Anaheim Ducks. Chipchura is having a horrid season statistically. He has 25 games played and no points scored. He has a -11 +/- rating. He has been traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth round pick.
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.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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