Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

Hot For The Stretch

Since the beginning of January 2009, the best player in the NHL has likely been Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers.  He leads the NHL with 23 goals in that time frame.  He has not been noticed because he plays in the hockey purgatory of Atlanta.  The Thrashers are the second worst team in the standings (only the New York Islanders are behind them) and are well out of the playoffs. 

Kovalchuk has climbed to seventh in the NHL scoring race after a slow start.  He has 71 points going into tonight’s games.

Kovalchuk is a star player and a top goal scorer.  If he is ever given a talented team to play with and a good passing centreman for a linemate, he could do some amazing things.

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Watch Out For The Devils

Since the beginning of January, the New Jersey Devils have had a 20-7 record which makes them the best team in the league during that period.  The Devils have done very well offensively in that period.  Four of the twenty highest scorers so far in 2009 are Devils.  Zach Parise has 33 points in a tie for third so far this year and he is followed by Jamie Langenbrunner with 30 points (7th place), Travis Zajac 28 points (14th) and Patrik Elias 27 points (19th). 

With that offence, Scott Clemmensen did very well in goal.  He was rewarded with a trip to the minors when Martin Brodeur returned.  In Brodeur, the Devils have probably the best goaltender in hockey.  He is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner (a four time winner of that award).  In three games since returning, Brodeur has two shutouts a 0.67 GAA and a .971 saves percentage.  That brings his season numbers to a 1.81 GAA and a .928 saves percentage.  Had he played all season (as opposed to only 13 games) those would be Vezina Trophy calibre numbers.

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Keith Aucoin Running Away With AHL Scoring Lead

Barring a major surprise in the remainder of the season, Keith Aucoin of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) will win the AHL scoring title.  Aucoin currently has 82 points for a nine point lead over teammate Alexandre Giroux and a nearly twenty point lead over anyone else. 

Keith Aucoin is an AHL superstar.  It is interesting to see where AHL superstars come from and why they are not NHL players.  Aucoin is currently 30 years old and likely playing the best hockey of his career.  He went undrafted by the NHL after a high school hockey career in Massachusetts and chose to attend the Norwich University.  This is a division III school in the NCAA.  While there, Aucoin was a star.  He graduated as the school’s all time leader in goals, assists and points.

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NHLPA Trying To Fix Its Problems

There was a bit of a stir created when Eric Lindros resigned as NHLPA ombudsman.  Given the past corruption in the NHLPA history, a man to watch the head of the player’s association is a very positive step.  Watching that man leave the position unappreciated and without having given much of a chance by the players in the league was a bad thing.  Worse was Paul Kelly, the head of the NHLPA, openly campaigning for days when there was no ombudsman.  Since the ombudsman’s job is to watch Kelly, there is no way Kelly should be calling for his removal.

The NHLPA is acting to try to fix those problems.  Buzz Hargrove has accepted the position as interim ombudsman.  This shows that the NHLPA is serious about having a qualified ombudsman.

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All Decade Team

There has been an interesting series of posts in the Cycle Like The Sedins blog about an all-decade hockey team.  Although I question the timing - why would one chose the decade of 1999-2008 as a meaningful time frame.  It seems like a rather random start and end point.

During this decade there were nine NHL seasons (as the 2004/05 one was lost due to lockout).  Thus when numbers are compared to other ten year periods, this one should be about 10% behind.  As one who enjoys the process of trying to put our modern day events into perspective and figure out how they will be seen by people in the future, this is the kind of question that interests me.

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Trades Starting To Happen

In a salary capped NHL there are few periods where teams will trade with one another.  One is at the trade deadline, which is coming on Wednesday.  As a result of the trade deadline approaching we are starting to see some deals.

Last week was the first deal with the Ottawa Senators acquiring Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli from the New York Islanders for Dean McAmmond and San Jose’s first round draft pick in 2009 (which the Sens had previously acquired from Tampa Bay in the Andrej Meszaros deal - Tampa had acquired it in the Dan Boyle trade).  Both Comrie and McAmmond are free agents to be this summer, so they don’t fit into long-term plans.  Comrie is the better of the two, but this distinction is probably lost when both Ottawa and the Islanders should miss the playoffs.  The portion of the deal that will last beyond this season is Chris Campoli for a first round draft pick.  The pick is in the later part of the first round (depending upon San Jose’s playoff success).  That is a big price to pay for a player like Chris Campoli.  I am sure that similar defencemen will be traded before the deadline for less.

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Waiver Rules Keep NHLers Out Of The League

One of my complaints about the NHL system is that waiver rules often keep NHL capable players out of the league.  The most obvious example is re-entry waivers, where certain players must clear waivers to get called up to the NHL.  Any team claiming the player assumes his contract at half price.  Thus it is usually unlikely to get a player through re-entry waivers.  As a result, teams have kept NHL talents in the minors for the whole season instead of risking it.

Another issue is waivers for players who play in Europe.  If a player plays on a European team, he must clear waivers if he is to play in the NHL as well in the same season.  The New York Islanders failed to get Wade Dubielewicz onto their roster as a result of this rule.  If there are other KHL players willing to jump back to the NHL this season, they have been prevented by waivers.  Why would a team sign them when they are not likely to play for that team - but rather an opponent?

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Duncan Keith’s Breakout Season

If the NHL had an award for most improved player, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks should be a strong candidate for it.  I doubt he would win it because players like him often fly beneath the radar of many fans.  Keith is not a top scorer in the league.  He is one of the best defenceman in the league. 

Keith is currently tied for the NHL’s lead in +/- (with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci of Boston) with a +31 rating.  The Boston players come from a team with a better +/-, so their standing is less impressive.  Keith is currently 20th in scoring among defencemen with 32 points and among the league leaders with over 25 minutes played per game.  Defensively Keith is one of the best players in the league.  If the season ended today, I would nominate him for the Norris Trophy ( an award Mike Green should win).

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Rangers Fire Coach Tom Renney

I don’t think too many people were shocked by the announcement yesterday that Tom Renney was fired as the New York Rangers coach.  The team has stagnated lately after a fast start this season.  They have only won two of their last twelve games and are sitting in sixth place in the East Conference only two points up on ninth.  They are worried that their playoff berth may be slipping away. 

Tom Renney was never the high profile media personality that a typical coach in the New York market is.  This makes him more vulnerable.  He wasn’t a “New York style person”.  The next coach John Tortorella better fits the city.  He is a much better interview.  He won the Stanley Cup in 2004.  These are credentials that Renney did not have.

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Look Out For The Canucks

Several times this season, pundits have written off the Vancouver Canucks.  They lost Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison to free agency, while not signing the big name free agent they wanted.  That led to many predicting they would miss playoffs.  In November, star goalie Roberto Luongo suffered a groin injury.  Many thought that would be the blow that stopped the Canucks this year.  In January, Luongo returned and big name signee Mats Sundin joined the team and the Canucks proceeded to fall into a slump.  That slump was going to knock them out of the race.

It should have been clear that adding Mats Sundin and Roberto Luongo would improve any team.  But for the short term it didn’t.  Sundin had not stayed in game shape during his sabbatical from the NHL and was playing quite badly as the Canucks number one centreman.  Luongo also took a while to get back into game shape.  When your number one centre and your number one goalie are not able to play their best, problems happen.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com

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