We are well into the second round of the playoffs and I thought I would take a look at the best defenceman thus far through. Several defenceman have been playing very well including Chris Pronger, Sergei Gonchar, Scott Niedermayer and Brent Seabrook, but one guy stands out in front of the pack. That man is Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. It isn’t unusual to see him in front of the pack; he has six Norris Trophies that show he is often in front of the pack of defencemen. So far in the playoffs, Lidstrom is scoring at better than point per game rate (9 points in 8 games). This points him in the offensive lead among defenceman, even though several have more games played. His +5 +/- rating is among the best in the playoffs as well.
It was a regular season where Nicklas Lidstrom looked like he might be showing his first signs of decline. He is unlikely to win the Norris Trophy this year (despite a nomination) and is no longer his team MVP in the regular season. He suffered through elbow tendonitis for much of the season. He recently turned 39 years old and it is easy to believe that his best days are gone, but what we have seen so far in the playoffs shows otherwise. Nicklas Lidstrom has had a very good playoff so far and has been the top defenceman in the playoffs.
The NHL has given a surprising number of suspensions out so far in the playoffs. There have been suspensions to Daniel Carcillo, Donald Brashear, Milan Lucic and John Tortorella. The underlying philosophy behind the suspensions has been to show an apparent tough face by strongly dealing with goons and marginal players, but to not appear to decide any playoff series by punishing the stars who are most important to their team. That policy will be tested after the knee-on-knee hit Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals gave to Sergei Gonchar of the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Gonchar left the game with a knee injury and is questionable for the rest of the series.
In general, the Stanley Cup playoffs have fewer penalties and less use for goons who offer little in hockey ability beyond a willingness to fight, but sometimes exceptions exist. The main exception to this rule in this season’s playoffs has been Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks. Rypien leads the playoffs with 38 penalty minutes in his eight games so far. That gives him almost five penalty minutes per game. He has contributed one assist (which he got in tonight’s game) and has a -1 +/- rating. His +/- is not quite worst on the team, there are a few players at -2, but they are all players who get significantly more ice time than Rypien does. The Canucks have only played Rick Rypien about seven and a half minutes a game.
In a tight series with Chicago (it is tied at two games each) is it sensible for the Canucks to be dressing a player like this? They could be playing Jannik Hansen in place of Rypien. During the regular season, Hansen certainly appeared more valuable. He outscored Rypien 21 points to 3. Hansen played 14:42 a game in 55 games, while Rypien played 9:19 a game in only 12 games. Why is Hansen deemed less valuable now, when the goonery Rypien provides is less valuable now?
The financial problems have been known for a while. The NHL had been propping up the team financially and looking for a new owner who would keep the team in Phoenix. They had been trying to do this quietly, but the media got wind of it. It looked like the NHL had found their owner to keep the team in Phoenix. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, was willing to buy the team at a cheap rate.
This idea didn’t go over very well for current owner Jerry Moyes. Why should he have to sell the team for a low price? He had a back-up plan. He had been negotiating with Jim Balsillie (the man who had earlier attempted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and move them to Southern Ontario). These negotiations had been ongoing - but unknown to the NHL.
The World Hockey Championships are underway in Switzerland. Games are being played in Bern and in Kloten. The initial Preliminary Round began with 16 teams that were sorted into four different four team groups. Each group plays a round robin tournament with the top three teams moving forward.
Group A: This group was won by Canada. They were not seriously tested as they outscored opposition 22-4. Martin St Louis and Jason Spezza led Canada’s offence with Shea Weber leading the defence. Dwayne Roloson and Chris Mason split the duties in goal. Second place was taken by Belarus- They were led offensively by Alexei Kaliuzhny and Mikhail Grabovski, with Ruslan Salei leading their defence. Andrei Mezin was the top goalie. Slovakia finished third with a shootout loss to Belarus. Marcel Hossa was their offensive leader with Rastislav Stana leading then in goal. Eliminated was Hungary, who was led offensively by Imre Peterdi and used Levente Szuper as their top goalie.
The New York Rangers are in a bit of a jam due to the salary cap. As the 2008/09 season ended they had five forwards, four defencemen and a goalie signed for a total salary cap hit of about $42 million. They have to fill half their roster with the remaining money under the salary cap. If we assume that the salary cap remains constant or falls slightly (due to economic recession) this leaves about a $1 million salary cap hit on average for the players to be signed. You can be pretty certain that restricted free agents Nikolai Zherdev and Brandon Dubinsky will take larger than the average salaries. It will be hard to field a competitive team under those conditions.
The Rangers have had a bit of luck. Markus Naslund is retiring. He signed a front-loaded $8 million two year contract with the team last summer. He is passing up the second year (and $3 million) to retire. He could have waited and had his contract bought out and made $2 million over two years for doing nothing. Both of those scenarios would have given the Rangers a salary cap hit from Naslund. Naslund retiring frees up $4 million that can be spent on next season’s salaries.
During the first round of the playoffs I picked Evgeni Malkin as the playoff MVP, but there has been another player who has passed him. Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks is my current choice as playoff MVP. He has the lead in assists and points, with 10 and 13 respectively. In fact he has as many assists as any other player has points in the playoffs so far.
A lot of credit has been given to goaltender Jonas Hiller for the Anaheim Ducks defeat of the San Jose Sharks are current 1-1 tie with the Detroit Red Wings, but I think Getzlaf has been even more important. He has been the player who has made the Ducks offence succeed.
Over the past few days the NHL has been announcing its award nominations (there is one more award left for charitable giving - but I am going to ignore it). I will compare them to my selections and give my thoughts on who will win given the nominations.
Selke Trophy Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings, Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks, Mike Richards Philadelphia Flyers. I had Richards to win this award, but my other nominees were Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal. I think the writers really missed the boat by missing Koivu. I am not surprised Datsyuk is nominated and he can win, but he doesn’t play all of the key defensive situations in Detroit. This is because Mike Babcock likes to roll out all four lines and often the next line plays in a key defensive situation and not Datsyuk. I think Kesler finishes a distant third.
The San Jose Sharks have failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs in the four years that Joe Thornton has been with them. In a lot of people’s minds, that alone is sufficient proof that Joe Thornton is a choker who is unable to win the big game. This argument is clearly too simplistic to prove anything. Let’s look closer at the issue.
A couple days ago James Mirtle listed the best playoff performers since the lockout. Despite a lack of any deep playoff runs, Joe Thornton places 16th in total points with 35 points in 41 games played. He is the only San Jose Shark to make the lists for top forwards, defencemen or goalies. Those offensive numbers Thornton has are certainly respectable numbers. They are down from his regular season scoring rate, in part because there is less scoring in the playoffs than the regular season, but they are good numbers.
The news slipped out a couple days ago that the NHL has been running the Phoenix Coyotes since February. It was a statement from Glendale, Arizona (home of Jobing.com Arena which is the Coyotes home) city manager Ed Beasley. He was trying to assure local taxpayers that the Phoenix Coyotes were paying their debts for parking fees and security costs at the arena. He was entirely unconcerned about the NHL public relations department that hade been trying to hide this information. Almost immediately the Phoenix Coyote front office denied that they are “reporting to the league”. This appears to be a carefully parsed statement to appear as denial to the Arizona Republic newspaper reports of Ed Beasley’s claims. Bill Daly of the NHL responded by saying “I believe the Coyotes will be in Phoenix next season. I won’t comment specifically on the article, other than to say it contains some inaccuracies,” which is clearly not a denial of the story.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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