It is relatively rare that a player establishes himself as a legitimate NHL player during a playoff run, but that is exactly what Darren Helm has done this year. Prior to the playoffs he has two partial NHL seasons with a grand total of 23 games, no goals, one assist and a -9 +/- rating. In these playoffs he has managed four goals and five points, which is a far bigger output than he has managed in the regular season, but his big contribution is his play as a checker. Darren Helm has been one of the key “energy” players on the Red Wings. This is shown by his playoff league leading 110 hits. Helm has shown he has an NHL calibre game under the toughest conditions the NHL offers (the playoffs) and that is rather impressive.
The biggest outdoor hockey party in the world in 2009 has been killed on orders of the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a big screen viewing party for many of their playoff games as possible outside Mellon Arena. The problem is that the NHL doesn’t want this. NBC has complained that the games broadcast on their station suffer apparent rating drops due to this big screen. Since the NHL’s only stream of money from the NBC telecasts is a share of advertising revenue, which is dependent upon the game’s Nielsen ratings, they have killed these parties.
Nielsen ratings count the number of television sets that are tuned to the game. They do not count the number of people actually watching the game. Thus one screen with thousands of viewers counts the same for them as one screen with one viewer. This is a rather poor methodology, because obviously many people watching a screen means many people watching the commercials and more likely to buy the products advertised.
One area of play in the Stanley Cup finals where Pittsburgh has dominated over Detroit is special teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins have scored four power play goals in nine opportunities. That 44% success rate is far above anything that can be sustained. The Detroit Red Wings have only one power play goal in ten power play attempts and they allowed a short handed goal as well. That gives them a net of zero goals to show for their power plays.
Detroit’s power play failure in this series does not fit with their regular season. They had a league best 25.5% success rate on the power play. Pittsburgh’s 17.2% success rate left them well back in the pack in 20th. The Penguins did better on the penalty kill where their 82.7% success rate placed them eighth in the league. Detroit struggled on the penalty kill. Their 78.3% success rate was 25th in the league and the worst among teams that made the playoffs.
I started a bit of a controversy when I claimed no elite goalies are left in the playoffs during the semi-finals. I stand by that statement. The statement is part of a bigger problem that I have discussed in the past - how to identify a team that is among the greatest of all time. How to find the historically elite teams is an interesting problem.
Historically elite teams do not exist in the NHL every season. In the salary capped NHL they are rarer than ever before. I argue (based on historical precident) that a historically elite team necessarily has several core players (who may include the goalie) who are on Hall of Fame tracks (it is reasonable to project them to making the Hall of Fame in their careers) and they must have a top goalie (one who can arguably be called one of the top five in the game). These conditions are not sufficient to make a team an elite one. Obviously there are many other factors. The players must play well together as a team. Without the elite players, including a top goalie, a team cannot be an elite one. They need the players as well as a top performance.
The NHL Entry Draft is coming up in less than a month. It begins on June 26th. In order to succeed in the draft, teams with vacancies at general manager need to fill them now. The Colorado Avalanche had fired GM Francois Giguere following a horrid season where they finished last in the West Conference.
Colorado’s first attempt at hiring a new GM was to offer the position to Patrick Roy. Roy is an ex-star player. His qualification for GM comes from his involvement with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Roy is a co-owner who has taken on the GM and coach jobs in 2005. He has no NHL front office experience and there exist several CHL officials with far more experience than Roy. Roy would likely have been a poor potential GM. He turned the Avalanche down. Colorado was left without any serious GM candidates and was rushed to fill the position with the draft coming up.
UPDATE: Colorado has hired Joe Sacco as their coach. This hiring comes one day after Sherman’s hiring as GM. This is too fast for it to be a Sherman move which suggests Pierre Lacroix is GM in all but name.
Yesterday the Hockey Hall of Fame announced their annual media inductees. The press inductee is Dave Molinari, a longtime Pittsburgh sports writer. He wins the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award. The broadcaster inductee is John Davidson, who was a popular New York Rangers color commentator before leaving that post in 2006 to become the St Louis Blues president of hockey operations. He wins the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
Dave Molinari has had a 26 year career writing about the Pittsburgh Penguins. Through most of it he has been the beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
I have written in the past about the unworkable co-GM situation of the Dallas Stars. With both Les Jackson and Brett Hull sharing the GM job, it was unclear who was truly in charge and led to conflict between them (the most high profile case was the Sean Avery signing that Hull supported and Jackson did not). Dallas has solved that problem by hiring a GM who jumps ahead of both Jackson and Hull in the Stars organization. Dallas has hired Joe Nieuwendyk to be their GM. Les Jackson returns to the role of director of scouting and player development that he held before his stint as a co-GM. Brett Hull becomes the team’s executive vice president and alternate governor. This sets up a situation where Dallas has a considerable brain trust in their front office and it is clear who is in charge (Nieuwendyk),
The NHL’s suspension policy of acting tough on lesser players who commit infractions and going easy on the stars who do the same thing took another hit tonight. With 19 seconds left in game two, Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins instigated a fight against Henrik Zetterberg. There is an “automatic” one game suspension of anyone who instigates a fight in the final five minutes of a game or in overtime. Since Malkin is too good a player to receive a suspension (after all Malkin is the top scorer in the playoffs), his suspension was rescinded.
The most coherent interpretation of the rule for suspensions for instigating fights at the end of the game is that you will be suspended for it, unless you are a key player to the NHL’s marketing and they want you to stay in the game. The NHL would not like to be accused of deciding who wins the Stanley Cup due to suspending a star player.
One obvious weakness of the Pittsburgh Penguins is that their offence is too dependent upon Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. No other Pittsburgh player has more than half as many points as either of the Penguins stars. Those that lead the pack of the rest of the Pittsburgh scorers are Crosby and Malkin linemates. For the most part, goals are not being scored without Crosby or Malkin involved.
One key player who should be relied upon to provide these goals is Jordan Staal. Staal is seen as a key member of the Penguins core. They drafted him second overall in 2006. He is signed to a contract that will get him $4 million a year for the next four years. He will be the third highest paid Pittsburgh forward next year (behind Crosby and Malkin) unless there are further big forward contracts this summer. For Pittsburgh to succeed they would benefit from secondary scoring and a talented third line centreman should be a big part of providing it.
There is an often repeated hockey maxim that “If you can’t beat them in the alley, you can’t beat them on the ice.” King Clancy was famous for saying it. I do not believe that it is true. This season had a negative correlation between PIMs and points. There is even stronger evidence that avoiding penalties is a key to success in the playoffs. The two teams with the least penalty minutes per game in the playoffs are the teams that will meet ion the playoffs.
Pittsburgh leads the league with 11.1 penalty minutes per game and Detroit is a close second at 11.2. The next team in the league is Washington at 11.6. On the other end of the scale, the most penalized team is the Montreal Canadiens. They took 25.8 penalty minutes per game while getting swept in four games.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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