It you had asked me last summer who I thought would be leading the NHL’s defencemen in points at this point in the season; I probably would have picked out Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. After all, he led the defencemen in scoring the two previous seasons. If it were not Green, I might have guessed Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks or Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. They had been Norris nominees last year and finished second and third in scoring among defencemen last year. If you had suggested Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes, I don’t think I would have taken you seriously. He is a good young defenceman who just finished 23rd among defencemen in scoring in 2009/10. He was a good candidate to improve to a top ten position in scoring, but number one seemed far-fetched.
Antti Niemi was the 2010 Stanley Cup winning goalie with the Chicago Blackhawks. His reward was getting bought out by the Blackhawks and eventually signing as a free agent in San Jose. The theory was that Niemi is not a particularly impressive goalie and was in the right place at the right time to get a successful Stanley Cup run. With their salary cap constraints, the Chicago Blackhawks were willing to let him go.
Early in the season, Niemi was not looking like much of a goalie in San Jose. By late October, he had a .854 saves percentage. That has changed recently. Niemi has not posted a regulation loss in his last ten starts. He has a .917 saves percentage and a 2.56 goals against average so far this season.
The New York Islanders are not having a good season. They are in last place in the East Conference. The most ridiculous part of their story is their goaltending situation. They have four goaltenders who are unavailable to play. Often injured Rick DiPietro has facial fractures and a swollen knee. He will be out for several weeks. Evgeni Nabokov has refused to report to the team after they claimed him on waivers. Nathan Lawson hurt his knee and is out. Kevin Poulin hurt his knee as well. That leaves the Islanders playing their fifth string goalie and dressing their sixth stringer as a backup. Many NHL teams do not have six goalies under contract.
Any team playing their fifth string goalie is in the middle of a disaster. The Islander’s season has been a disaster even without this problem. If there is a game where a team might give up a double digit number of goals, it is the Islanders right now. A weak team with a goaltender who is definitely not NHL ready is a prime candidate to get blown out.
The Ottawa Senators have only one win in their last 17 games. That win came against the New York Islanders, the only team beneath the Sens in the East Conference. Ottawa has the worst team +/- in the league at -59. Their season has completely fallen apart.
They no longer have any top scoring forwards. Daniel Alfredsson is on pace for 47 points, which is quite low for any team. Jason Spezza had a shoulder injury that kept him out for most of the Sens lacklustre run (he has been back the last two games). They have some decent puck moving defencemen in Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar, but they have not had any successful shutdown defencemen. Chris Phillips has been overmatched. They have not had any great goaltending performances this season. Their best goaltending numbers thus far have been posted by Pascal Leclaire, who has been out with a lower body injury since December.
One of the least understandable hockey decisions this season has been the Edmonton Oilers handling of Sheldon Souray. Souray is an NHL level defenceman who pissed off the Oiler organization. He requested a trade in the off season and the Oilers were unable to come up with a deal that they wanted. They placed him on waivers at the beginning of the season in hopes that somebody would claim him. Nobody was willing to take on his contract with two years at a $5.4 million salary cap hit remaining. Edmonton then decided to loan him to the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate in Hershey instead of let him potentially spread his attitude to the players in the Oilers farm system.
At some point it is expected that the Oilers will put him on re-entry waivers, but more than half of the season has gone by and they haven’t so far. The Oilers cannot expect to get anything back for Souray as long as he is in the minors. Whichever team picks him up would have to place him on re-entry waivers and could potentially lose him and have to pay half his salary.
Concussions are the most serious injury issue in the NHL today. Fifteen players are currently listed on the TSN injury list with concussions. Paul Kariya is sitting out the season due to post-concussion syndrome and not listed on the injured list. Sidney Crosby was well on his way to winning the scoring title this season until a concussion sidelined him in early January. Peter Mueller, Bryce Salvador, Ian Laperriere and Kurt Sauer have not played a single game this season due to concussion issues.
All of this has occurred while the NHL instituted rule 48 which banned some hits to the head. This was a half-hearted attempt to solve the problem, but what is the problem, why are concussions an increasing problem in the NHL?
This is all star weekend in the KHL. The game comes to us from St Petersburg, Russia. The all star game is West Conference against East Conference. The West Conference team is known as Team Yashin (named after captain Alexei Yashin of the hometown St Petersburg SKA). The East Conference team is known as Team Jagr (named after captain Jaromir Jagr of Omsk Avangard).
Here are the rosters for the game:
In early December I began to pick Sidney Crosby as the current season MVP. Crosby was the top scorer in the league. He held that position until a concussion knocked him out of the line-up almost a month ago. Since then Crosby has been passed in the scoring race by Steve Stamkos and Daniel Sedin. While I would still argue that Crosby has been the top forward in the league so far this season, he is no longer the MVP.
The current MVP is Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. Thomas leads the NHL in saves percentage (.945), goals against average (1.82), wins (25) and shutouts (7). He is tied for the league lead in the final two categories. Thomas is clearly having a very good season but I have been hesitant to call him the MVP for a couple reasons.
Pending NHL approval, the Buffalo Sabres have been sold. Terry Pegula, a billionaire who made his fortune in natural gas has agreed to buy the team for $189 million. This is $175 million in cash and $14 million in debt assumed. Outgoing owner Tom Gosliano bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2003 for about $90 million. That was $60 million in cash and about $30 million in debt assumed.
This transaction shows a lot about the NHL’s finances. Buffalo is a smaller market that does not spend up to the salary cap. It is a market that has lost more high profile free agents than they have signed in the last few years. It is not the most profitable market, but run well Sabres ownership can make a profit most years (if not all of them). This profit is nothing compared to the profit that comes from the sale of the team.
One of the best predictors of how good a team will be in their near future is their goals for and against. It is a better prediction than won-loss records. In fact every team in the NHL right now that has scored more goals than they have allowed would make the playoffs if the season ended now except for the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings currently have 56 points, which is two back of the playoffs. This places them in eleventh place in the West Conference. They are barely out of the playoffs right now, but in a multi-team playoff race.
Los Angeles has 18 more goals than they have allowed. That is the fourth best team +/- in the West Conference. So why is Los Angeles under-performing their team +/-?
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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