Many Edmonton Oiler fans appear ready to throw in the towel on the 2009/10 season now that Ales Hemsky is out for the season recovering from shoulder surgery. Hemsky has been the top scorer on the Oilers in every season since the lockout (he tied for the lead in 2006/07). Offensively he is very important to the Oilers. The Oilers currently have 10 wins in 27 games and sit in 14th place in the West Conference. Is the season effectively over?
While the Oilers look unlikely to make the playoffs, I think they will probably stay in the race until late in the season. They are a team with some talent. Dustin Penner is among the top 10 scorers in the NHL so far this year. They have some other offensive talent in Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Patrick O`Sullivan and Gilbert Brule. Most of those players are young enough that it is reasonable to expect they take a significant step forward in the remainder of the season.
The NHL has been slowly losing talented players to the KHL. The top eight scorers in the KHL are all ex-NHL players. All of them (Maxim Sushinsky, Alexei Yashin, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Zinovjev, Marcel Hossa, Mattias Weindhandl, Patrick Thoresen and Aleksey Morozov) are players who easily hold down NHL jobs. For the KHL to experience future growth, they must be able to attract top prospects to play in their league (and not the NHL) and they are doing this. Russian prospects who have not had instant success in the NHL are returning to the KHL. So far this season, Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Viktor Tikhonov of the Phoenix Coyotes have returned to play with CSKA Moscow. Both of these deals are officially player loans. These are unhappy NHL players who are missing their homeland and not making as fast progress in the league get a chance to go home. It is unclear when if ever these players will be returning to the NHL.
As the season progresses, I like to track the player who is leading the race for the major NHL trophies. One award I have not written about yet this season is the Lady Byng Trophy which is given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. At this point in the season, I think the leader is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. Richards is tied for fifth in scoring in the league with 30 points and has only two penalty minutes to show for his sportsmanlike game. Richards is a former Lady Byng Trophy winner. He won the award in 2004.
In the early part of Richards’s career he appeared to be on a Hall of Fame track. In the 2003/04 season he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, in the Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup run, along with his Lady Byng. In the season following the lockout he scored a career best 91 points and represented Canada in the 2006 Olympics. Things have not gone so well beyond that point.
The Los Angeles Kings have had some recent injury problems. Jarret Stoll suffered an injury in LA’s game against Calgary on Saturday and is out day-to-day. Rookie Andrei Loktionov suffered a dislocated shoulder in Wednesday’s game against Edmonton (which was his NHL debut). This left the Kings one forward short of their regular 12 for their game in Vancouver last night. With their AHL affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the other coast of North America, there was no way to get a twelfth forward to Vancouver in time for the game last night. Los Angeles dipped into the WHL for their solution. Their 2009 first round draft pick Brayden Schenn was in Victoria for a “Super Series” game pitting top Canadian junior players against top Russian ones. That made Schenn close enough to Vancouver than he could arrive in time for the game.
Under normal circumstances, after an NHL team sends a player back to junior, they cannot call him up for the remainder of the season. The only exception to this is in an emergency situation, where the team could not otherwise ice a full lineup of players.
I have never fully understood power play numbers. My line of logic is that a team that has a very good group of talented offensive players (including a power play point man) should have a very good power play and teams that do not have the appropriate talent do not. The situation is complicated when some teams may have better special teams coaching and be better able to play successful systems. Following that line of logic, one might expect Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Washington to be among the best power plays in the league. That logic does not hold up well in reality. Calgary is 16th, Chicago 11th, Detroit 7th, Philadelphia 1st, Pittsburgh 27th, San Jose 3rd and Washington 6th. Aside from Pittsburgh (who had injury to Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin this season), those teams are among the top half of the league and tend to be among the top, but it is not a method that is overly successful in finding top power plays.
One team that has had success this year that I cannot easily explain is the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have the second best power play in the league; with a 26.1% success rate (they were first in the league until last night when the Flyers passed them going 1 for 2 on the power play versus the New York Islanders). The main reason I cannot account for the Columbus success so far this year is they had the worst power play in the league last year with a 12.1% success rate. What has changed?
It is a relatively widely held belief among proponents of hockey sabermetrics that goals scored and allowed better predict future success than the win/loss record of a given team at a point in time. This can be explained to mean that luck tends to even out over the longterm and some teams might be lucky enough to win a few close games, but in the future they will lose some close games as well (and vice versa). The teams that are managing to significantly outscore opponents in their wins are likely better teams than those who barely beat opponents. This may not be true in all cases. For example, a team may be very good at shutting down their opponent when they get a lead (and hence win close games) but be completely inept at coming from behind and often allow goals when trying to force thing offensively (and hence lose blowouts).
A generally believed extension of that is that, in general, shots are a good predictor of goals and a good team can be predicted from its shot differential. The problem here is that goaltending is removed from the equation. Teams with outstanding goaltending will win more often than their shot differential predicts and teams with poor goaltending will underperform their shot differential.
Mike Rathje has not played an NHL game since early in the 2006/07 season, yet he is an important part of the Philadelphia Flyers salary cap strategy. At the conclusion of the lockout (in 2005), Rathje signed a $17.5 million five year contract with the Flyers. This deal turned out to be one that the Flyers soon regretted. They found a solution which has allowed them to have a payroll exceeding the cap in the many years that Rathje has been hurt. The Flyers placed him on long term injured reserve with back and hip problems in 2006 and have left him there ever since. Rathje last attempted to play in the 2007 training camp, but when he couldn’t make the team he stayed on the LTIR.
The CBA rules allow team to exceed to salary cap by the salaries of LTIR players if this is needed to pay for the replacements for those players. This means that the Flyers can have up to $3.5 million in extra salary cap room by leaving Rathje on LTIR (assuming they are at the cap when his salary hit is taken each year). This is a preferable situation to buying out his contract. If they buy out his contract (although they pay him less), their salary cap room is reduced by the amount of the buyout.
The San Jose Sharks leading the NHL in the regular season is not a new story. They finished first overall in the league last season. In the past, the story has had a downside where San Jose has not been able to make a significant playoff run. This year’s San Jose team looks to be the best one so far. They are first in the NHL standings by a significant margin (they have a five point lead over Washington). They are on pace to collect more points than they have ever had in a regular season in their history. Three of the top five scorers in the NHL are San Jose Sharks (Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau). They have one of the top scoring defencemen in Dan Boyle and one of the top goalies in Evgeni Nabokov. This looks like the team to beat in the NHL.
Of course, it is November. There are months to go before playoff time. Sometimes good teams peak before Christmas and do not wind up as major players in the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is widespread concern that San Jose might do so this year and that concern is increased due to past playoff failures.
Last year, the Atlanta Thrashers finished with the fourth worst record in the NHL. Nobody thought too highly of the team that went through the 2008/09 season with 35 wins and 47 losses. This year (so far) has gone much better, though the Thrashers have not received much notice yet in part because the Thrashers have played a league least 18 games so far. Through that, they have a 10-8 record (with two regulation tie points), which has the team in 22nd when the standings are sorted by points. If you sort the standings in terms of points per game, Atlanta is 11th (11 positions better than their total points spot). Faux rumors shows this with their projected final standings (which has Atlanta on pace to get 100 points this year). That would make this the best season in Atlanta Thrasher history.
Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack (NY Rangers AHL affiliate) is running away with the AHL scoring lead. His totals of 11 goals, 18 assists and 29 points all are league leading totals. He currently has a seven point lead over Charles Linglet of the Springfield Falcons (Edmonton Oilers affiliate). Probably Locke`s biggest challenges for the AHL scoring title come from Alexandre Giroux of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau of Hartford. These players have point per game scoring rates similar to Locke, but have both been limited to thirteen games played due to NHL call ups (Parenteau is currently on the New York Rangers roster).
Corey Locke is a 25 year old who has not had much of an NHL shot, due to his small size. He is listed at 5`9” 168 pounds. That would make him one of the smallest players in the NHL. Locke was drafted in 2003 by the Montreal Canadiens. He played his one NHL game with them in the 2007/08 season before being traded to the Minnesota Wild. Last summer, he signed as a free agent in New York. Like many AHL stars, he is well travelled and has never had a legitimate NHL shot (probably for reasons outside his control - his size).
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???