While looking at the relative divisional strengths this season, I mentioned that the Central Division is helped by travel. While West Conference teams lead the league in distance travelled in a season, they are the further west teams in the conference. This allows the Central Division teams to play a lot of games against travel tired teams. This is something that has been well-established in some work by Tom Benjamin that was done in the 1990s. Most of it is no longer available on the internet. Some readers here (particularly Hockey in HD) had not seen this work and were skeptical.
I cannot re-create all of this work in a short period of time. In order to show how travel does affect the westernmost teams and get a rough estimate of how many points it costs them in a season, I did some work. There is a lot more evidence that can be presented, but it will probably have to wait until the off-season.
There are two CBA related controversies which the NHL has merged into one that are creating some odd precedents for the league. Both involve the Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth round pick in 2009. Last summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jonas Frogren. Frogren’s signing created a bit of a CBA mess. The CBA problems a bit complex, but the biggest thing that bothered the NHL is that Frogren was paying a buyout to his previous Swedish team (Farjestads BK Karlstad) with an increased first year salary. The NHL had forbidden teams to negotiate transfers of players individually (it would drive up transfer costs). Technically, the Leafs did not negotiate Frogren’s transfer. Jonas Frogren did it himself. The Leafs paid him enough money to do it himself. It was a creative solution to a problem that probably should not have existed in the first place.
It is quite well known among hockey fans that the West Conference is better than the East Conference. It is easy to look at the inter-conference record and conclude that. The West Conference holds a 159-129 winning record (with 26 of the losses scored as regulation draws).
The next step is to look at the individual divisions. If we add up the total points earned by the five teams in each division we get the following standings:
I have often suggested that the Hockey Hall of Fame should induct some women, but at the same time never been able to suggest one for this year’s class. There are always a few ex-NHL players who seem to need induction now, thus making the women wait. The Hall of Fame is addressing this issue. Starting in 2010, they will consider male and female candidates separately and induct up to two female hockey players per year in addition to the up to four male ones.
This is a good move to get some of the phenomenal female hockey players who have been dominant players and pioneers in their game into the Hall. I look forward to seeing Cammi Granato, Cassie Campbell, Manon Rheaume, Angela James, Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette and others getting their inductions in the years to come.
The Montreal Canadiens have been very lucky to have some very good goaltending over the years. Two times a rookie goalie has taken over the team and led them to the Stanley Cup and won a Conn Smythe Trophy. Ken Dryden did it in 1971 and Patrick Roy in 1986. Those are unique cases made possible in part by the fact those goalies are both among the ten best goalies ever.
When Carey Price joined the Habs as a very talented young goalie, there was some pressure for history to repeat itself. This pressure mounted as Montreal traded away previous number one goalie Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals, thus leaving Price the number one job in goal. Some expected that Carey Price would now lead Montreal to the Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe in his rookie season. Those are very heavy expectations for anyone.
One story that has been recently mentioned by James Mirtle and Tom Benjamin is that the St Louis Blues have been playing well lately. Despite a poor start that left them in last place in the West Conference at the end of 2008, with a 14-23 record (3 losses counted as regulation ties), the Blues are back in the playoff race. They are currently in eighth place in the West Conference with 83 points. They would hold a playoff berth by their one point lead over ninth place Anaheim.
A lot of the credit for their success goes to coach Andy Murray. He has done a great job with a young bunch of players who suffered through a lot of injuries this season.
Can anyone guess who the top goal scorer in the month of March is so far this year? Rarely does a more improbable player lead the league in goal scoring for a month.
The answer is Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks. He has ten goals so far in March. Burrows has settled in as the Sedins’ right winger and is doing a very good job. He is an unsung hero in Vancouver.
He has just signed an $8 million four year contract extension. This will keep him a Canuck and likely keep him at far below his open market salary.
A couple weeks ago I wrote that Anaheim will likely miss the playoffs. This no longer seems true. A five game winning streak has put the Ducks back into a playoff spot. Right now (their game with Edmonton is still underway) the Ducks are seventh in the West Conference with 80 points. They are only one point up on ninth and missing the playoffs.
If I was a top seed in the west, I would be hoping that Anaheim will not be my eventual opponent. They have a very talented team for a lower seed. Only two years ago, they won the Stanley Cup. Their team is no longer as strong as it was in 2007, but many of the key pieces in a cup winner remain.
I have long maintained that the best way to build a successful NHL franchise is to hire the best hockey person you can find to run things and then get out of the way and let him run things. NHL owners are not ideal GMs. They generally lack the required skill set.
Tom Hicks, the Dallas Stars owner, seemed to understand this. He had kept Bob Gainey on as his general manager and let Gainey run things. That worked and the Dallas Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup. However Hicks has stopped following that path with the Dallas Stars and it is beginning to affect them in the standings and likely to get worse in the future.
The biggest problem with the way the Dallas Stars are run is that they don’t have one general manager. They have two.
As the playoffs are approaching, we look for playoff bound teams that have been playing very well in their final games. These teams will be in hot streaks when they get to the playoffs and might be very hard to defeat. The playoff bound team that has been the hottest lately is probably the Carolina Hurricanes. They have won their last five games in a row. They have earned points in 12 of their last 13 games. This has helped to propel the Hurricanes into fifth in the East Conference with 89 points.
As we came into last night’s games, the two highest scorers in the month of March so far are both Carolina players. Ray Whitney has 18 points and Eric Staal 17 points so far this month. Their offence has been a big part of Carolina’s recent successes.
The Carolina Hurricanes are generally not looked upon as one of the tougher playoff matchups in the East Conference, but if they continue to play this well they will be very tough.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???