It is often quite informative to attempt to keep track of the worst regular player in the NHL. It is interesting to see which kind of player a team will continue to dress despite their lack of success on the ice. More often than not, the worst regular in the NHL is a goon who contributes nothing but penalty minutes to his team. I think teams are starting to get the message that a goon like that is a poor use of a roster spot.
Earlier this season I picked Andrew Peters of the New Jersey Devils as the worst regular in the league. New Jersey quit playing him as frequently. He lost his spot as a regular. My most recent pick was Donald Brashear of the New York Rangers. Since his selection on January 11th, Brashear has only played in three NHL games (and only one since January 14th). He has lost his spot as a regular.
The Washington Capitals have won their last 14 straight games. This is getting close to the record longest winning streak of 17 games that was set by the 1992/93 Pittsburgh Penguins. Like the Mario Lemieux Penguins, the Capitals are a high-powered offensive team led by the best player in the league (in Washington’s case Alexander Ovechkin). Washington has several other players with significant scoring ability. Eight Capitals have more than 30 points so far this year (Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison) and Eric Fehr is one point back of that mark with 29 points.
Washington has the highest scoring best puck moving defenceman in the game in Mike Green. He is a significant part of their offensive machine and a significant omission from the Canadian Olympic Team.
Washington’s perceived weakness is goaltending. Jose Theodore is the number one goalie and has been solid but unspectacular. His Hart Trophy days are long gone, but a .908 saves percentage and a 2.87 GAA are more than adequate.
Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey announced that he is stepping down as their general manager yesterday. Assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier takes over the role. The timing of the move is poor as the transition takes place just before the NHL trade deadline. This was a move that Gainey had contemplated for a while. It is the second time he has walked away from an NHL general manager position in mid-season. He did the same with the Dallas Stars in 2002.
Gainey was a very successful Dallas GM. He took over the team in 1992, while they were still playing in Minnesota. He built the 1999 Stanley Cup champion team. When the Stars were into their downslide from that success, he stepped down as GM in mid-season to let his assistant Doug Armstrong take over the role. Gainey was quickly recruited to come back to Montreal, where he played his NHL career, and be the Habs GM.
In late November, I picked Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars as the Lady Byng leader. He has been surpassed in quality of play by a better Lady Byng candidate. Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning has the same point total (63) as Richards, but plays a better defensive game. This is shown in part by the fact that Richards has the second worst +/- rating on his team at -11 (Steve Ott is -13), while St Louis has a 0 rating, which is more in line with his team. St Louis also has a slightly lower penalty minute total (8 vs. 10). This makes Martin St Louis a better Lady Byng candidate at this point.
Though Martin St Louis has never won the Lady Byng in the past, I think he should have and would have voted for him last year. Perhaps this will be the year he wins it.
When I wrote that Alexander Ovechkin has become this year’s Hart Trophy leader, a debate started in the comments about the defensive merits of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Neither of the two are defensive stars who are likely to be Selke Trophy nominees. Both provide most of their value to their teams as offensive players. More than likely any Hart Trophy race between the two of them (and this year’s race definitely has other strong candidates - I wouldn’t be picking Crosby as runner up at this point) would be decided upon offensive differences and not defensive ones.
Both Ovechkin and Crosby are the top offensive talents on their teams. It would be a waste of their talents for either to be used regularly in top defensive situations. Neither are frequent penalty killers on their teams. Ovechkin has only spent about two minutes killing penalties so far this season. Crosby is more frequently used in penalty killing situations, but is 12th on his team in terms of penalty kill time. That is a choice on how to use players and little more.
The Oren Koules and Len Barrie reign of error is officially over in Tampa Bay. Since buying the Tampa Bay Lightning, they managed to create a circus atmosphere around their inconsistent management decisions. It was a lack of money that brought this to an end. It was never clear that they had enough money to run an NHL team, given how they had to finance their purchase of the team by a private loan from outgoing owner Bill Davidson. This loan was eventually defaulted upon and that led to the sale of the team. In under two years, the Koules ownership managed to kill any momentum from their 2004 Stanley Cup victory and saw attendance at Tampa Bay attendance decline.
The new owner is Jeffrey Vinik. He is a Boston hedge fund manager. Although we have no idea what will happen under Vinik, it is highly likely to be a better situation than the Koules ownership.
The trade deadline is still almost a month away. It is on March 3rd. With a roster freeze during the Olympics, teams have begun trading early. Perhaps the biggest trade of the deadline period occurred last night. The Atlanta Thrashers traded Ilya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela to the New Jersey Devils for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and the 2010 Devils first round draft pick. This trade is seen as disappointment for the Thrashers who find themselves forced to trade a star player who is about to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in recent memory (Marian Hossa in 2008 was the other). Under the circumstances, they did well.
I think they would have done well in the Hossa deal as well if it were not for Angelo Esposito having knee problems. Should he recover and have a significant NHL career, they will still come out well in the deal. The problem is that you cannot replace a talent like Kovalchuk or Hossa at trade deadline time when they are about to leave via free agency.
The Columbus Blue Jackets announced the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock yesterday. He has been replaced by Claude Noel a longtime minor league hockey coach (with IHL, ECHL and AHL experience) who was a Blue Jackets assistant coach. He is an unknown as an NHL coach.
Ken Hitchcock is one of the most respected NHL coaches. He is 11th in all time regular season coaching wins and has won the Stanley Cup in his Dallas Stars days. He is the most successful coach in Columbus Blue Jackets history - being the only one to guide them to a playoff berth.
Ken Hitchcock teams have always played a very disciplined defensive system and are known for keeping goals against down. This season has been a bit of an anomaly. Columbus is fourth worst in goals against with 3.19 goals allowed per game. This is despite being 14th in the league in shots allowed per game.
In November, I picked Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres as the leading MVP candidate and he has held that position for a good portion of the season. However, his lead on other goalies in the league is getting smaller. Miller’s saves percentage of .932 is only one point ahead of Tomas Vokoun of Florida. His goals against average is second in the league to Antti Niemi of Chicago and could soon be caught by others including Tuukka Rask of Boston. Miller is no longer the MVP of the league.
My new MVP choice is my very early season choice of Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. A shoulder injury kept him out of eight games and dropped him from the lead, but he has had time to make up for that missed time. Ovechkin is currently second in points in the league with 77 (one behind Henrik Sedin of Vancouver) and third in goals with 36 (one behind Patrick Marleau of San Jose and Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh = who are tied for the lead). Ovechkin leads the NHL with a +36 +/- rating. He has the best goals and points per game totals in the league. He had been the most dominant player in the league so far this season.
The Calgary Flames seemed poised for a good season this year. They barely missed out on the Northwest Division championship last year, largely due to not dressing a full roster in the stretch drive due to salary cap problems. This year looked like they could do even better. Miikka Kiprusoff looked ready to improve his numbers and get closer to the Vezina Trophy level he had played at in the past. Jay Bouwmeester was added to an already talented defence including Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, to give Calgary a defence that could be the league’s best. Jarome Iginla gave the team a strong scoring threat and players like Olli Jokinen and Daymond Langkow offered some depth. This was a team that appeared to be in contention.
For the first couple months of the season, that prediction appeared to be roughly on the mark and then a very rough stretch hit in January. Calgary has lost ten of their last eleven games. Their only win came against bottom feeding Edmonton, who had not won at all in 2010 so far until last night. If the season ended right now, Calgary would be dropped out of the playoffs as they sit in ninth in the West Conference.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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