As the season moves on, I am able to make first picks for the NHL awards. It is valuable to see how the frontrunners for the awards change over the season and to see when the eventual winners take over as frontrunners. Today, I am picking an early season leader to the Selke Trophy.
I think the best defensive forward this year has been Jeff Halpern of the Montreal Canadiens. Halpern leads Habs forwards in penalty kill time and has done very well in that role. He plays against the toughest competition of any Montreal player. He leads the Habs in defensive zone starts. Halpern has played an extremely tough role with the Habs and he has succeeded. In this role, Halpern has the second highest +/- rating on his team at +7 and he is fourth on the team in scoring with 10 points. Halpern has played an extremely difficult role with Montreal and succeeded so far.
I think teams should be very careful in using 18 and 19 year old players on their roster. There is an opportunity cost associated with it. The player in question uses up a year of his entry level deal, where he will likely be a bargain to his team. It pushes the player in question a year closer to unrestricted free agency, as that can occur after a player turns 27 or has seven years in the NHL, whichever happens first. An 18 year old in the NHL will reach potential free agency at age 25. This means that his team could lose the player in his prime, two years earlier than he otherwise would have been lost. The loss of the cheap entry level years is also significant. In a salary capped environment, teams win Stanley Cups when their roster significantly outplays their salary cap hits. Entry level contract players are some of the best bargains who outplay their salary cap hits. For example, last year Chicago had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as entry level bargains in their Stanley Cup run. This seems to be a near-mandatory step toward winning a Stanley Cup under the salary cap.
I try to track the worst player who is playing regularly in the NHL. I find it informative to see what kind of player can remain in the NHL despite failure. I have found that during the season, the early season biggest failure is usually a name player who is relied upon by his team. It is through the large amount of ice time that he gets that he is able to distinguish himself negatively. This player usually finds his game before we are too far into the NHL season. As the season progresses, it is usually a goon or a hard working but talentless role player who takes over as the worst regular in the league.
Earlier this season it looked like Simon Gagne of the Tampa Bay Lightning was well on his way to this dishonor, but injury has kept him out of the lineup. Today, I am picking Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins as the regular NHL player who has been the worst so far this year.
At the end of October, I picked my first leader in the rookie of the year race as Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals. Neuvirth is the wins leader in the NHL with nine. However, his other numbers are dropping. He currently has a .912 saves percentage and a 2.46 goals against average. This is a drop of .014 points in saves percentage and a rise of about 0.3 goals per game so far in November. Since Washington is a top offensive team, he is still winning, but it isn’t his doing.
There is a goalie only one win behind Neuvirth who I think is a better pick for rookie of the year because he is playing better than Neuvirth, posting better numbers and is more important to his team’s wins. He is Sergei Bobrovsky of the Philadelphia Flyers.
One of the surprises this season is how well the St Louis Blues have been able to keep goals out of their net. Through twelve games they have allowed only 17 goals. This gives them an amazing 1.42 goals against per game. Last year, St Louis allowed 2.66 goals per game. That is almost twice their goals against from last year. Their current defence appears unsustainable; given that New Jersey lead the NHL with a 2.27 goals against. St Louis is three quarters of a goal per game better than this. Even if their success so far is unsustainable, it is clear that the Blues have a good defence.
The first reason for their defensive improvement is the addition of Jaroslav Halak in goal. Halak is playing very well. He has a .941 saves percentage and a 1.46 GAA. These numbers are surpassed by Tim Thomas in Boston, but are probably the second best goaltending performance in the NHL so far this year.
I will be appearing on “The War Room” on NHL on XM radio’s NHL Home Ice channel, which you can listen to on, XM 204, Sirius 208, or online, at or about 11:00 AM Eastern Time tomorrow (Tuesday) morning to discuss the recent Hall of Fame inductions and the Hockey Hall of Fame in general.
Please tune in.
Updated to add an MP3 of the broadcast:
If you cannot get the MP3 player to work, it can be downloaded here.
Tyler Myers was the NHL’s rookie of the year last year. He looked ready to make another big step forward this season. Many predicted he could be a Norris Trophy candidate in his sophomore season. His strength on defence was one reason Buffalo was predicted to finish at or near the top of the Northeast Division.
So far, neither of these has happened. So far this season, Myers has only four points. He has a -12 +/- rating, which is second worst in the league. This is a big change from last year when Myers led the Sabres defence with a +13 rating,
Buffalo is off to a slow start as well. They have a 4-11 record (with two regulation ties points). Last year, Buffalo won their division with a 45-37 record (with 10 regulation tie points). Things have not worked out so well so far this year, Myers is not the only reason, but he is a big one.
As the season progresses, I can pick preliminary leaders for more and more awards. It is likely that many of these early leaders will not be the eventual winner at season’s end, but some may. It is instructional to see how frequently this happens and if it is more likely in certain cases than in others.
Today, I am making my first Lady Byng selection. Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars is my pick. He is currently the seventh highest scorer in the NHL with 16 points. His nine goals have him tied for fourth in the league. His +12 +/- leads the league. These are numbers that show he has had a very good start to the season. As for gentlemanly play, he is yet to get a penalty minute this season. I think that makes Eriksson a clear Lady Byng leader at this point.
After the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last June with Dustin Byfuglien playing as a power forward who tied for the team lead in playoff goals, it was clear to most people that would be his position for the rest of his career. However plans changed quickly. Byfuglien was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in a move to make Chicago salary cap compliant. Atlanta had the idea to turn Byfuglien back into a defenceman. Though he was drafted as a defenceman, his biggest NHL successes had come as a forward and it looked like he was never going back.
There were few predictions made that supported the Thrasher idea. Many openly mocked it. However, it has turned out very good for the Thrashers. Byfuglien has 12 points in 13 games. This is his best points per game of his NHL career by a significant margin (in 07/08 he had 36 points in 67 games).
When Jay Bouwmeester was a free agent to be in Florida and the Calgary Flames traded for his negotiation rights and signed him. At that time, I warned that this move would not work out as well as they hoped. Bouwmeester had the 15th worst team adjusted Corsi rating in 2008/09. This was partially explained by the fact that Bouwmeester was eighth in the league by defensive zone starts, but it did not look so good.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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