The Anaheim Ducks have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the past couple years. Their peak occurred with their 2007 Stanley Cup victory. One of the main reasons for this has been a strong defence built around former Norris Trophy winners Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Along with Francois Beauchemin, these three defenceman have played a tremendous amount of minutes for the Ducks. No team depends upon three defencemen as much as the Ducks depend upon these three. In terms of total ice time, Niedermayer is second in the league this season (behind Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames), Pronger is fourth and Beauchemin is 10th (despite having missed a game to injury).
This situation is forced to change now that Francois Beauchemin tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. Beauchemin is expected to be out for the remainder of the season. Does Anaheim have the defensive depth to recover?
I like to track the players who I think are the leaders for the NHL awards as the season progresses. In October, I picked Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens as the top defenceman in the NHL. While Markov remains one of the top defenceman in the league this season, I think another defenceman has jumped to the forefront. He is Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. He is the top scoring defenceman in hockey with 18 points in his 17 games. He leads his Nashville team in ice time and +/- playing over 24 minutes a game and sporting a +9 rating.
The Calgary Flames are not having a particularly bad season. They currently have a 9-9 record (with one regulation tie point). This is not a particularly good season either. If the season ended now, they would hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the west. The main reason they have been held back is goaltending.
Miikka Kiprusoff has proven himself to be an elite goalie in the past. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2005/06. He was a nominee for the Vezina in 2003/04 and 2006/07. Since then, he has not been an elite goaltender. Last year his goals against average grew to 2.69 and his saves percentage dropped to .906. This made him an average NHL starter. So far this season, he has a 3.49 GAA and a .885 saves percentage. Those numbers just won’t do.
Have you ever been in a fantasy hockey league where a brash new owner comes in who is confident that he will build a winner of his team? He talks trash and makes a whole bunch of brash but questionable moves. When his team doesn’t win, he decides to repeatedly make that that final desperation move to try to right the ship. The problem is his team is far more than one move away from winning and the owner wouldn’t be able to recognize that final good move if it existed (which it probably doesn’t). All that is available are bad desperation moves where the other teams are capitalizing on the desperate crazy moves.
That is happening in the NHL today. It is happening with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie are running the Lightning that way.
The most recent example of their stupidity is firing coach Barry Melrose after only 16 games coached. Melrose took over a last place team and brought them to 26th place. They have a 5-11 record (with four regulation tie points). It’s not a huge improvement but it could easily be worse.
In the earlier portions of the season, I picked Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks as the best rookie in the NHL. I not longer believe that to be true. Versteeg has fallen to second in the rookie scoring race (tied with Mikhail Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs - who has three more games played). The rookie scoring leader is Derick Brassard of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I think he has been the top rookie in the NHL so far this year.
Brian Burke has been replaced as the Anaheim Duck GM. Burke will remain as an advisor to the Ducks. He is free to negotiate employment opportunities with other teams. Bob Murray takes over as the Anaheim GM. Burke was in the last year of his contract with Anaheim and it was widely believed that he would leave the team at the end of the season. Burke had refused to sign a contract extension. Anaheim decided that they would rather have an unproven GM who is staying with the franchise than have one of the best GM’s in the business who is on his way out the door. If Anaheim had realized this during the summer, they would have had better options as a replacement GM than Bob Murray. That would have been preferable if they were unwilling to complete the season with Brian Burke. It is not uncommon for teams to complete seasons with GMs who do not return (either as the team fired him or as he chose to not re-sign). That seems like a preferable situation for the Ducks - assuming we have all the facts of the situation.
It is often valuable to look at the leaders in the AHL to learn about which NHL franchises have depth and players available who might make a significant NHL impact. Currently, the first place team in the AHL is the Portland Pirates. They have a 9-2 record (with one overtime loss). This gives them 19 points in 21 games. They are the Buffalo Sabres minor league affiliate. So not only is Buffalo off to a good start with 19 points in their 14 games, which has them in seventh place, they have plenty of depth in the minors.
The Masterton Trophy is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. In practise this means that a player who overcomes a significant handicap (injury, illness etc.) to continue his NHL career and make a significant impact on his team. This working definition is a more meaningful one than worrying about which player is more sportsmanlike.
By that definition, I think it is quite clear that Teppo Numminen of the Buffalo Sabres will likely win it this season, assuming he has any level of success with his team. Numminen is a solid defenceman with a good team. He plays about twenty minutes a night and has six points in 14 games played. He is even on the All Star ballot.
Yesterday, I decided that I would write something today about how the San Jose Sharks have been the best team in the NHL so far this season. They made me second guess that decision when they lost 4-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes last night. However, a second look at the standings after the loss only helped to show how well San Jose had been playing. Even with the loss, San Jose sits first in the league with 26 points. San Jose has the best “winning percentage” of .813 (in their case it is a true winning percentage as they have no regulation ties that became losses). San Jose has the best team +/- as they score 0.87 more goals per game than they allow (Montreal is second at 0.75).
Last year, San Jose was a good team that finished second in the league. They were good enough to have expected a playoff run and fire coach Ron Wilson when it didn’t happen. They are doing even better this year. It is a reasonable question to ask what has improved.
Generally I disagree with the mainstream media when they pick coach of the year candidates. I feel that picking the coach of the most improved team as coach of the year is usually wrong. There are lots of reasons why teams improve. Coaching is only one reason.
If Bruce Boudreau is such a wonderful coach. why is he not a coach of the year candidate this season? Is it because Carolina leads the Southeast Division this year? That is likely because their goaltending is not so strong with Jose Theodore in net and they missed Alexander Ovechkin for a few games and he is not among the NHL’s top scorers. Boudreau came into a good young team that was ready to take off and they did under his coaching.
For several years, including this one, I have believed that Jacques Lemaire is the best coach in the NHL.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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