We are far enough into the season to determine that there is a good crop of rookies this year. A surprisingly large number of 18 and 19 year olds are on NHL rosters and playing pretty well. There are John Tavares of the New York lslanders, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche and Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrashers who are all 18 year olds playing with NHL clubs and making an impact so far. The list of 19 year olds include Steve Stamkos in Tampa Bay, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Zach Bogosian of the Atlanta Thrashers, Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. Some of the nineteen year olds were rookies last year, but it bodes well for the future of the NHL.
The surprising leader of the rookie class is Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers. He is the highest scorer among defencemen in the NHL, with 10 points so far. He is the second highest scorer among the NHL’s teenagers (Stamkos has 11 points).
On Thursday, the NHL suspended Evgeni Artyukhin of the Anaheim Ducks for three games for his slew footing of Matt Niskanen of the Dallas Stars. Niskanen injured his head (probably a concussion) on the play. He has not played since the Wednesday 4-2 Dallas victory where the incident occurred and is not expected to play tonight vs. St Louis. On the night of the three game suspension, Alexander Ovechkin slew footed Rich Peverley of the Atlanta Thrashers. This happened in the final minute of the Capitals 5-4 victory. Peverley was not injured on the play, but it still looked like something that merits a suspension from the NHL.
Artyukhin was suspended for three games and forfeits almost $35,000 in salary for his transgression. Ovechkin was not suspended to his. He was fined an undisclosed amount by the NHL (which under the current CBA is limited to $2500).
Michael Nylander has one of the larger contracts on the Washington Capitals. He has a salary cap hit of $4.875 million and is signed through the end of the 2010/11 season. This makes him the third highest paid player on the Capitals (behind Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green). However, he has fallen out of favor with his Capitals team. He only scored nine goals last season and that had the Capitals reconsidering his contract. The Capitals tried to get Nylander signed in the KHL last summer and failed. So far this season, they have yet to play Nylander in a game and have sent him to the AHL in Grand Rapids (the Detroit Red Wings affiliate - not their own affiliate) for a conditioning stint. Conditioning stints can last up to two weeks. Many expect that Washington does not want him back and hope to have found him a KHL suitor by the end of that period.
The salary cap loophole of sending unwanted players to Russia is not new. It has been exploited in the past, but it shows the NHL’s hypocrisy. The NHL screams bloody murder when Alexander Radulov is signed by the league, while at the same time trying to send players to the KHL to hide their salary cap hits.
The Los Angeles Kings are off to a pretty good start. They have a 5-4 record through nine games. They created some controversy when coach Terry Murray did not dress Alexander Frolov for their last game, which was Monday versus the Dallas Stars. Frolov is one of the more talented players on the Kings. Last season his 59 points placed him second in team scoring (behind Anze Kopitar). This season he has five points in his eight games played so far.
The problem with Frolov is he has a style that appears as though he isn’t trying. When everything works he looks very slick. He is in the right place to exploit offensive openings and lead the Kings attack. When things don’t work he doesn’t find those openings and often is invisible. It is a style of play issue that makes him appear to be not trying. The language and culture barrier with Frolov since he is Russian is also an issue. He is not as easy for a Canadian coach like Terry Murray to understand and to motivate, since they have very different backgrounds. As a result, Murray is unhappy with Frolov when there isn’t a strong case for problems.
With an 8-1 record and a six game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins have established themselves as the early leader in the NHL standings. The defending Stanley Cup champions have 33 goals scored to only 19 allowed. Offensively their attack has been led by Evgeni Malkin with 11 points and the more well-rounded skills of Sidney Crosby (who has contributed 8 points). Tyler Kennedy’s five goals make him the team’s leader in goals scored. On defence, Sergei Gonchar leads the way offensively with eight points. He is followed closely by Alex Goligoski, with seven points and a +9 +/- rating. Jay McKee has been a useful addition for his stay home play. In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury won all eight games and sports a .926 saves percentage and a 1.96 GAA. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a team that is performing at the top of their ability throughout the early season. They look like a championship team. However, it is not uncommon that October’s championship team is nowhere to be seen come the Stanley Cup finals. The true test of the 2009/10 Pittsburgh Penguins is not how they look a few weeks into October. It is how they will look when they run into some problems in the stretch. Will they recover quickly or will they fall back into the pack?
The Edmonton Oilers blogs include some of the better sabermetrics blogs out there. There is mudcrutch hockey, irreverent Oiler fans, copper n blue and battle of Alberta. Each have a strong interest in sabermetrics and have written some interesting posts on the subjects. With the high quality of the Oiler blogosphere it is hard for the mainstream media to keep up. However, Dave Staples at Cult of Hockey does a good job. He writes many interesting pieces about the Edmonton Oilers and hockey in general. These are not just the leftover articles that do not get published in the newspaper (as some weaker media blogs tend to do). He regularly publishes some very good information on the internet.
However, one of his recurring themes (that seems to be in protest to the independent Oiler bloggers with strong sabermetric backgrounds) is that hockey statistics are not very useful. This is a case he frequently overstates in his posts. Last year he wrote Why Plus/Minus is a rotten, useless, misleading and irrelevant stat for NHL players.
Like the NHL season, the AHL season is also underway. The AHL is a high quality league that often produces depth players (and sometimes stars) for the NHL. It is a high level hockey league and is important to watch to see the next wave of NHL players before they arrive in the NHL. The early season leader in the AHL is the San Antonio Rampage. They are the farm club of the Phoenix Coyotes. They have a 6-1-1 record (one overtime loss) which puts them in first place in the AHL. They have been the highest scoring team in the league. Four of the top twelve scorers in the AHL are San Antonio players. Sean Sullivan leads the way with 10 points. He is 25 and looks like he may be ready for his NHL debut. He is a Boston University graduate, who has been rapidly improving in his AHL tenure. One point behind is Kyle Turris. Turris is a highly regarded prospect who was the third overall pick in 2007. He spent last year in the NHL, but did not appear ready for that level of competition. He may be a future NHL star and is learning to play at a high level against adult competition. Kevin Porter is the third highest scorer in San Antonio. He spent last year shuttling between the AHL and NHL and may soon be ready to grad an NHL job permanently. The final of the four top scorers from San Antonio is Brett MacLean. He was the Coyotes 2nd round pick in 2007 and has a good chance at a significant NHL career.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a good pipeline of young players in their system. This makes their AHL affiliate in San Antonio a top team. This makes their future look promising, assuming competent ownership takes over the team. The Coyotes have the talent that they could be a good team for years into the future, but uncertainty in ownership could derail it all before it begins.
I like to watch the NHL awards as the season progresses. I like to pick candidates for the awards as they emerge early in the season and monitor those choices as the season progresses, in part to see how far into the season it is before the eventual winner emerges. Today, there is a leader for the Vezina Trophy as best goalie. It is Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes. Bryzgalov has been the bright spot on the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix has a 5-2 record which gives them the Pacific Division lead. This is despite a lacklustre offence that has only scored 2.43 goals per game (tying them with Tampa Bay for 20th in the league). Their success is largely due to goaltending. The Phoenix team has allowed a league leading 1.43 goals per game. Bryzgalov is the man who is primarily responsible for that. He has played in six of the seven games and has a .953 saves percentage and a 1.14 GAA. These are tremendous numbers that are unsustainable over the season. However, a very good season from Bryzgalov (as we have seen so far) could make Phoenix a contender. He is the primary reason that the team has a good record so far and for that is the early Vezina Trophy leader.
After a summer spent in bankruptcy and litigation, the Phoenix Coyotes have returned to Phoenix for the 2009/10 season. They are back because courts found that nobody is suitable to buy the team, so they will continue to be propped up by the NHL until something changes. In the summer a lot of damage was done to the fanbase. It is clear that the Phoenix Coyotes will not remain in Phoenix in the long-term. Season ticket holders were unwilling to renew their tickets over the summer because they didn’t know it there would be a team for this season, thus killing the season ticket base. The Phoenix Coyotes are back, but their fans are not.
The official attendance for Thursday’s game against the St Louis Blues was 6899, with reports that only about 5000 people were present. This makes the official attendance the NHL has seen in several years and makes it look quite probable that the average attendance in Phoenix this season will be the lowest number the league has seen for a team in decades.
Goaltending is the most important position in the NHL. Top goaltending can make an average team look like a contender. Bad goaltending can make a good team look like an also ran. In the early days of the season, the two goalies who were expected to lead the league are off to poor stars. Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins is sporting a 4.00 GAA and a .868 saves percentage. As a result his Boston Bruins are 2-3. Probable Canadian Olympic Team starter Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks has a 3.33 GAA and a .879 saves percentage. Vancouver is also off to a 2-3 start. These are numbers that might have lesser goalies at risk of losing their starting jobs.
Neither team should be worried at this point, but if they cannot get top performances from their All Star goalies, they will not do as well as expected this season. Both Vancouver and Boston rely on goaltending for success and will need to get it to compete for the top positions in their conferences as many predicted.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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