During the course of the season, I try to track the worst player who plays regularly in the NHL. Last year, I picked Raitis Ivanans then of the Los Angeles Kings. He dressed regularly as a Kings goon but failed to score at all this season. Ivanans is in Calgary this year and has only played one game so far thanks to injuries suffered in his fight with Steve MacIntyre of the Edmonton Oilers on opening day.
I think it is too early in the season to clearly pick a worst player so far this year, but one very good candidate has been Simon Gagne of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His poor start is surprising because Gagne is a proven NHL player who has twice represented Canada in the Olympics.
It is informative to track the leaders for the NHL awards throughout the season and see when the eventual winners take over as the leaders for the possible awards. In many cases, the early season leaders do not wind up winning the awards, but sometimes they do. The early Vezina Trophy leader is likely Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. He has stopped 95 of 97 shots taken on him. He has a 0.67 goals against average and a .979 saves percentage. These are remarkable numbers that nobody can maintain over an entire season. However, it is quite reasonable to imagine Thomas will have a very good season. Thomas is the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner.
Last year, he lost his number one goaltending position in Boston to rookie Tuukka Rask. This is not because of poor play of Thomas but because Rask had a league leading saves percentage.
Taylor Hall was the first pick overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He is likely to be a future NHL star, but he isn’t off to a fast start with the Edmonton Oilers. He has one assist so far in his four game NHL career. This has happened despite a solid amount of ice time - over 15 minutes a game. The best scenario for the Edmonton Oilers would be to send him back to the OHL for the season.
Edmonton holds Hall’s rights for seven NHL seasons of until he turns 27 years old (whichever comes first). This season will not count as one of the seven seasons in question unless he plays nine or more games this year. He remains on an entry level deal for the first three years of his NHL career and is presumably a good enough player to be significantly underpaid by the end of that period of time. He is more likely to have a higher value as he matures and gets older. 18 year old Taylor Hall will not be as good as 21 year old Taylor Hall. You are more likely to get a better season out of Hall if you control his NHL career at age 26 and 27 than at 18 and 19.
I like to track leaders for the NHL awards from early in the season through to season’s end to see when players secured their leads for the awards that they wind up winning. Now that a few games have been played, it becomes possible to start picking award leaders. It is likely the case that these early award leaders will not wind up winning awards, but it is interesting to track how long they remain top contenders. Today, I am looking at the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP. I think the leader at this point is Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars. He is tied for the league lead with 9 points, the assist lead with 7 assists and the +/- lead with +7. All of this is despite playing only four games so far, which is one of the lower totals in the league. A Brad Richards MVP run would be interesting because of his impending unrestricted free agency this year. It would suddenly make him in line for a huge contract this summer, when many were predicting he would be forced to take a pay cut from his current 5 year $39 million ($7.8 million per year cap hit) contract.
This summer, Atlanta walked away from Clarke MacArthur’s arbitration award. They decided they didn’t want him at all and had decided to walk away from his arbitration award, regardless of what it might be. This made MacArthur a free agent. Since this occurred well into the free agency period, he had limited options to pursue. Eventually he signed a lowball offer of $1.1 million with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now that the new season has begun, Clarke MacArthur is leading the NHL in goals. He has five goals in four games. MacArthur is fitting in as a frontline player on the Toronto Maple Leafs and is a big part of the reason they have been off to a fast start. Atlanta’s decision to drop him so quickly and for nothing in return is starting to look really stupid. Atlanta has never won a playoff game in their history and decisions like this one will help to keep that trend alive.
If you have read this blog for a while, you know that I am not a fan of Marc-Andre Fleury. I think he is an average at best goalie who was in the right place on the right team to win the Stanley Cup. This has led to his being overrated by a significant portion of hockey fans. I wrote this not too long ago stating that Fleury is in jeopardy of losing the starting goalie job with the Penguins if he doesn’t have a strong year.
So far things have not gone well. Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a poor start. He has three games played with three losses. He has a 3.41 GAA and a .853 saves percentage so far. The one game that Pittsburgh has won was the game that Fleury did not play. I argue that Fleury has been the worst goalie in the league so far this season.
The New Jersey Devils played Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with only 15 skaters as they lacked salary cap room to dress a full roster. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh won the game 3-1. The news today is that the NHLPA is investigating the issue. The cynical side of me thinks their investigation will be similar to OJ Simpson’s investigation to find “the real killer”. The NHLPA wants to be involved because players who are in the minors who would be called up to fill out the Devils roster would benefit from getting NHL playing time and salaries. The problem is that the NHLPA has been so marginalized by NHL ownership that it isn’t clear what they can do at this point. Probably that is what is being investigated. Does the NHLPA have enough power to do anything at all? It isn’t obvious that they do.
It’s very early in the NHL season. It is far too early to celebrate when your team is off to a fast start and it is far too early to panic when your team is off to a slow start. The team that has had the most remarkable start, either good or bad is probably the Anaheim Ducks. In three games played so far, Anaheim has three losses. They have only scored two goals so far this season, which gives them the worst goals scored per game in the league. They have allowed 13 goals, which is third worst in the league. That gives them the worst team +/- of -11 in the league. Anaheim’s best game to date was a 4-1 loss to Nashville, where they were outshot 49-37.
There are Anaheim fans panicking, but it’s far too early for this. Every team has a few weak games over the course of a season. It looks more important than it is when there are no strong games played as well, since it is the beginning of the season.
When the New Jersey Devils play against Pittsburgh on Monday, they are likely to not have a full roster. The Devils have been pushing up against salary cap limits since they signed Ilya Kovalchuk. There had been rumors that they were going to make a trade or be forced to send some NHL regulars to the minors in order to stay below the salary cap. Thus far it has been unnecessary because Bryce Salvador and Anssi Salmela are on the long term injured reserve. This gives the Devils a $3.5 million cushion above the $59.4 NHL salary cap, in which they are using all but about $80,000. Hence they do not have any room to add anyone to their roster above and beyond the 12 forward, seven defencemen and two goalies who are on their current roster and not on LTIR.
The biggest hockey related story in the summer was probably Ilya Kovalchuk’s signing with the New Jersey Devils, contract rejection and re-signing which was grudgingly accepted after some CBA amendments. The moral of that story is that front-loaded contracts have to be less obviously set up to circumvent the salary cap. New Jersey wound up with fines and a loss of draft picks for their front-loaded Kovalchuk contract.
Other teams want to avoid this and we see that the Boston bruins treaded very gently in this direction in their seven year contract extension that Zdeno Chara just signed.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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