Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a success story. Their 102 points won the Atlantic Division and placed them second in the East Conference. They were the eastern representative in the Stanley Cup final, eventually losing 4 games to 2 to the Detroit Red Wings. As a young team built around superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they were widely considered a team on the rise that would likely win a Stanley Cup before too long. They haven’t continued that momentum. Currently, Pittsburgh sits out of the playoffs in 10th place in the East Conference. They have a record of 21-24 (with four losses counted as regulation ties). They have lost more games than they have won this season. That is a remarkable drop from the previous season. What happened?
The biggest change from 2007/08 to 2008/09 in Pittsburgh is a dropoff in their ability to keep the puck out of their net. Pittsburgh has a sixth worst 3.11 goals against per game. Last season, they prevented better than half a goal per game more. Their 2.58 goals against per game placed them 10th in the NHL. There is also criticism of their lack of offensive depth, but I do not think this is an important part of the puzzle. Last season, the team actually scored fewer goals per game (2.93 vs. 2.98 per game) and struggled through a Sidney Crosby injury. Pittsburgh is a team that could be improved by better offensive depth, but that is not a reason for their drop in the standings.
Miikka Kiprusoff has 26 wins in 42 games played by the Calgary Flames so far this season. That projects to over 50 wins this season (50.76 wins). The NHL record for most wins by a goalie is 48 wins and Martin Brodeur accomplished it in 2006/07. If Kiprusoff has a very good chance of breaking that record, one would think he is having one of the best seasons in NHL history. He isn’t. In fact, Miikka Kiprusoff’s play has often been a weak point that has held back the Calgary Flames this season. Kiprusoff has a .904 saves percentage. This places him 30th in the NHL (among the 44 goalies who have enough games played to qualify for the race). His 2.79 GAA places him 26th among the same 44 goalies. Among this group of goalies, Miikka Kiprusoff is slightly below the middle of the pack.
To get a lot of wins as a goalie, one needs to play a lot of games on a good team that wins a lot. Nobody plays more games than Miikka Kiprusoff. This is because Calgary does not have a legitimate backup goalie. Curtis McElhinney has only played in four games this season (and only two of those are complete games). Kiprusoff has played the rest of the season. He has 40 games played and has the decision in all 40. This gives him a record of 26-14 (where three losses are regulation ties).
I track the player’s I consider award winners as the season progresses, in part to see at what point in the season the eventual winner takes over as a front-runner. I had been picking Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks as the Lady Byng leader. He is a good defenceman, who was chosen to be an All Star Game starter (thanks to some ballot stuffing). He is tied for sixth in scoring among defencemen with 29 points and has only six penalty minutes. This is a good case for the Lady Byng and a rare case of a defenceman front-runner for that award. However, there is a better case right now. That case is Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
St Louis is the Tampa top scorer with 40 points in 41 games (which is quite an achievement given how dysfunctional the team has been). His +8 makes him the team +/- leader as well. If Tampa needs a skater as their All Star Game representative it should be him and not the more famous but not playing as well Vincent LeCavalier (I would argue that goaltender Mike Smith has been the team MVP and would be the best Tampa choice for an All Star Game). While doing all this, St Louis only has two penalty minutes.
The global economy influences the NHL. The current economic problems in the world have led to and made worse economic problems in the NHL. There is speculation that the 30 team NHL may not survive the current economic slowdown. The team that has jumped to the forefront as the most economically troubled (replacing the Nashville Predators who are yet to solve their financial issues) is the Phoenix Coyotes.
The primary owner of the Phoenix Coyotes is Jerry Moyes. Moyes has made his money through the trucking company Swift Transportation. In 2006, Moyes decided to take the company private (buy out all the stock not owned by his family). In doing this he took on $2.4 billion in debt. The sharp rise in fuel prices last year coupled with the global economic slowdown have made this a questionable decision. Moyes is no longer willing to (or possibly able to) afford the Phoenix Coyotes.
As the season progresses, I like to track the players who I feel are front-runners for the NHL’s awards. I had been picking Craig Anderson of the Florida Panthers as the Vezina leader. This pick was a little unsatisfactory because Anderson has only 21 games played (and only 18 decisions). This is less play that Tomas Vokoun, his Florida teammate with whom he has been sharing the Panther goaltending position. This makes him the nominal number two goalie in Florida and it is odd to call a number two goalie the NHL’s best.
The Vezina race is relatively wide open because none of the goalies who have the most games played are asserting themselves as front-runners. It is hard to call the current games played leaders (Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary, Marty Turco of Dallas, Henrik Lundqvist of the NY Rangers, Joey MacDonald of the NY Islanders or Vesa Toskala of Toronto) serious Vezina candidates. None of them have been consistently outstanding goalies.
I would have liked to make a prediction on which players would make the Young Stars roster, but I was unable to guess how many players would make up the roster this year. In the six years that the game has been played it has been subject to many format changes. Two years ago, the Young Stars Game had 12 man rosters and was East Conference vs. West Conference. Last year, they used eight man rosters with no Young Star goalies (the All Star Game goalies were used) and played East vs. West Conference. This year it has 10 man rosters, with Young Star goalies again and is played rookies against sophomore (2nd year) players.
It is impossible to build up a tradition behind the game when it undergoes a format change annually. Anything that changes format as frequently as the Young Stars Game appears to be on the verge of cancellation. The NHL would be advised to come up with a permanent format for the game and quit making changes.
Before the NHL announced who would participate in the All Star Game, I published my All Star rosters. Here are the NHL’s actual All Star rosters. There are several players I selected that the NHL did not and vice versa. It seems the main reason for discrepancies is that the NHL selected the most marketable player, whereas I picked the played who has been playing the best so far this season. The NHL would be more likely to make the representative for a team be their third or fourth best player this year if he is a recognizable name player and I would have been willing to pick a more unknown player who is having a better season, but in the process snub the bigger name player.
There were five players on the Eastern team and eight players on the Western team that we disagreed about. Here are those selections, with the explanation of why I picked the player that I did. I have paired off these players (i.e. I picked player X but the NHL picked player Y). In most cases the pairing is obvious (the representative for a given team), but in a couple cases it is not quite so clear.
Over the last two days, the AHL has named their All Star Game rosters. The game will be played January 26th in Worchester, Massachusetts. It pits the AHL all stars from Canada (Team Canada) against those from the rest of the world (Planet USA). All Star Teams have 24 players each with 13 forwards, 8 defencemen and 3 goalies on each. It is an interesting game because it is a chance to see many future NHL players in one place.
Here are the rosters:
The West Conference All Star Team is announced today (Wednesday) and the East Conference team tomorrow (Thursday). I want to post my teams in advance of the announcements.
First the (assumed) ground rules for the teams. The starters are given by fan balloting. The rosters are 21 men in size (as the last few All Star Games have been) with 12 forwards, 6 defencemen and 3 goalies. Each team must be represented on the rosters - last year this was true of the initial rosters but when injury replacements were made this restriction was loosened.
The bronze/4th game pitted Russia against Slovakia and the gold/silver game pitted Sweden against Canada.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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