Gary Bettman has put a black eye onto the All Star Weekend. Friday afternoon, he announced that players chosen to the All Star Game who are chosen to play in the All Star Game and cite an injury as a reason to not play in the All Star Game must either attend the non-game schmooze fest part of the weekend or miss at least one game either before or after the All Star break. Effectively, this suspends players for the first game after the break who decided not to attend the event.
There are three players who fit into this situation. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to get to Montreal for All Star Weekend on extremely short notice. Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings were unable (or unwilling) to get back on time. This means that these two players will be suspended for Detroit’s first game after the all star break - which is against Columbus.
The Philadelphia Flyers found themselves in a situation where they would be forced to make some moves to fit under the salary cap. Their highest paid player Daniel Briere was about to return from the long term injured reserve and this would put the Flyers well above the salary cap. Although a trade to reduce salary might have been the best move, the Flyers could have been under the salary cap with a series of internal moves. Josh Gratton and Jon Kalinski have both been placed on long term injury reserve. Lasse Kukkonen would be waived and sent to the minors, one of Darroll Powe or Claude Giroux would be sent to the minors and Luca Sbisa would be returned to junior. This would leave the Flyers with a 21 man NHL roster that is salary cap compliant - at least until another of the long term injury players return.
That move has been put on hold when Daniel Briere re-injured his groin. He did so after a three game conditioning stint in the AHL (where he scored five points). He was about to re-join the Flyers (as soon as the salary cap problem was fixed) and he was pulled from the lineup. Briere will now have further surgery and miss at least a month.
So far, there have been only two players who were chosen to the NHL All Star Game who have decided not to play. Pavel Datsyuk suffered a hip pointer in his Tuesday night game against Phoenix and teammate Nicklas Lidstrom is sitting out due to a longstanding elbow injury he has been fighting. Their spots in the All Star Game will be taken by Patrick Marleau of San Jose and Stephane Robidas of Dallas. If this turns out to be all of the injury replacements in the All Star Game, this will be a low number compared to recent years. The entire East Conference team as originally chosen is planning to play in the game. There are reports that Pittsburgh would like Sidney Crosby to skip the game but this has not been officially decided. It is also possible that an All Star may suffer an injury of some sort in the final day of play before All Star break, which is currently concluding.
NOTE: It is confirmed Sidney Crosby will also miss the game. Martin St Louis will fill his spot.
One thing I try to track over the season is which player, who is getting as regular a shift as possible, has been the worst player in the NHL this season. It is interesting to see why players continue to play in the NHL, despite ineffectual play. This is an interesting study in that question. I had been picking Raitis Ivanans of the Los Angeles Kings as this player. Ivanans has done little this year. He has two points (both goals) in 44 games played and sports a -7 +/- rating. He is the goon on the Kings. He has 91 penalty minutes (which leads the team) while playing less than seven minutes per game (which among players who have been on the roster all season is by far the least). The fact he plays so little per game is evidence that he is not a very good hockey player, but it also allows for a player who gets more ice time to be a better choice as worst player in the league.
That player is Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders.
When I last looked at the AHL scoring race, it was unclear who would lead the way the rest of the season because the top three scorers had all been called up to the NHL. It turns out Keith Aucoin of the Hershey Bears (Washington affiliate) had the shortest NHL recall of the bunch. He was up for three NHL games (in which he failed to score). Thus he has been back in the AHL for a while and been able to build a bit of a scoring lead with 55 points in his 42 games. His teammate Alexandre Giroux remains second in AHL scoring, but his NHL recall was a much longer one. Giroux spent 11 games with the Washington Capitals. He is scoring at a higher per game rate in the AHL with 52 points in only 35 games, but his longer stint in the show has him behind Aucoin in the league scoring race.
The Vezina race for best goaltender has become a very tight race. I have been picking Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets for this award, but a couple strong games from Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins coupled with a couple lesser games from Mason have been enough to tilt the balance. I am now picking Tim Thomas as the current Vezina leader.
Thomas has a league leading .937 saves percentage and a 2.00 GAA (that is second only to Mason). Thomas has faced more shots than Mason in slightly less ice time. The race between the two of them is very close and could again swing on a couple of games.
I wrote a couple days a go that New York Islanders are the worst team in the NHL and point to the root cause of the problem as poor management decisions off-ice. Both the decisions on who should be in the Islanders brain trust and the decisions by those people have been poor. We had a very good example of such a decision occur yesterday.
The New York Islanders goaltending is a problem, due partially to injury. Rick DiPietro is out indefinitely (probably for the rest of the season) with knee problems. In DiPietro’s absence, Joey MacDonald has been their top goalie. He has a groin injury and should be out a few weeks. That leaves them with Yann Danis and Peter Mannino as their NHL goaltending pair. This is an AHL pairing. So something had to be done.
The Norris Trophy is one of the more interesting trophy races this season. There is no clear front-runner at this point. The biggest name defencemen in Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara have had good seasons, but they haven’t jumped out as clear leaders. Both have teammates in Brian Rafalski and Dennis Wideman who are statistically about as strong Norris candidates. Dan Boyle leads the NHL in scoring among defencemen, but he is not as strong in his own zone as some of the players previously listed. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is another San Jose Shark having a very good year, but he is not as offensively strong as some of the other candidates. Duncan Keith is doing very well in Chicago and also deserves consideration. Mike Green has by far the best points per game among defencemen and should he have been healthy the whole season playing at that level he would be the front-runner. Scott Niedermayer, Dion Phaneuf and Chris Pronger are other serious Norris candidates who could take over the lead given a strong second half. With all of those candidates, I have been supporting Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
The last place team in the NHL is the New York Islanders. They sport a 12-32 record (with four losses counted as regulation ties). This puts them five points below the Atlanta Thrashers in last place. They seem to have given up on this season - as is shown by their pathetic 2-18 record (with 2 regulation ties) since the beginning of December. Thats right! The New York Islanders have won only two games since the beginning of December.
Clearly they have slipped into the race for a lottery playoff spot and have little expectation to win this season. How did this team drop this far?
It starts with questionable decisions off ice. The fiasco when GM Neil Smith was replaced before his first Islanders game and replaced by Garth Snow, their backup goalie with no hockey managerial experience, is a very good example of such a decision. More recently, the Islanders fired top coach Ted Nolan late enough into the off season that the top available coaches were already signed.
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.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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