Over the summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the most talked about teams in the NHL. Their new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie made many bold moves with several signings and trades. It was expected that they would be a relatively high scoring team that would have problems preventing goals. In the early part of the season, that is not what we have seen. The Lightning are yet to win any games this season (though they have three regulation ties. The surprise is that they have been a very low scoring team.
Early in the 2008/09 season, the Buffalo Sabres have been one of the best teams in the league so far. They have played four games and won each one. They have scored 17 goals and allowed only 5 so far this season. At this point in the season, they are playing better than any other team in the league. There are several reasons for this. Thomas Vanek, Ales Kotalik and Ryan Miller are playing extremely well. All are probably playing the best hockey of their lives. Another clear difference between this year’s Sabres and last year’s Sabres is that this Sabres team has been a tougher team. The Sabres lead the NHL with 29.2 penalty minutes per game. Last year, they had the sixth least penalty minutes in the league (12.2 PIMs per game). Is this increased toughness one of the reasons for the Sabres improvement?
The season has barely begun. Most teams have played less than a handful of games. In fact, the Edmonton Oilers have only played two times so far this season. Nevertheless, we are beginning to get an early feel for the way teams are starting the season. The only team that is yet to collect a point this season is the Anaheim Ducks. They have played four games and lost them all. This is a bit of a surprise because they have a similar roster to the team that won the 2007 Stanley Cup and were predicted to do well. What has been wrong with Anaheim so far?
Any team that fires their coach four games into the season is in panic mode. A major piece of the team, as it was assembled in the off season, is already being replaced. The Chicago Blackhawks are already panicking. They have played four games and have announced the firing of coach Denis Savard. There is little sign that Chicago has anything significant to panic about. They have not started the season with a hot streak, but they are not in bad shape. After four games, they have collected three points. They won last night in a 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. They picked up another point in a shootout loss against the Nashville Predators. They collected points in both of their last two games. It seems pretty clear that if the Blackhawks are already willing to fire their coach, then they should not have began the season with him in place.
Mike Peca of the Columbus Blue Jackets has been suspended indefinitely for his actions in Friday night’s game where the Blue Jackets played in Dallas against the Stars. The Blue Jackets won the game 5-4 in overtime. In the second period, Mike Peca appears to have been tripped by Dallas forward Brenden Morrow immediately before Dallas scored to tie the game at 1-1. This occurred during a Dallas two man advantage. Peca was upset with the non-call of the penalty and was arguing it with referee Greg Kimmerly. Peca grabbed Kimmerly’s arm as the referee skated away to try to argue his case. Peca was given a 10 minute misconduct and a game misconduct for abuse of an official. It is likely that this event will garner a 10 game suspension for Mike Peca (abuse of officials has a minimum 10 game suspension according to Rule 41, Category 2). If that occurs, it will place Peca on the list of the longest NHL suspensions ever. Is this one of the worst events in NHL history?
CBC lost the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme and is holding a contest to replace it. The winning theme gets $100,000 and half the continuing royalties. Thousands of entries were submitted and the CBC contest is left with two finalists.
UPDATE: The winner has been announced and it is Canadian Gold by Colin Oberst.
In the first season of the salary cap 2005/06, teams were adjusting to the new economic system and this made for some teams that had very tight finances as they were very close to the salary cap. These teams were unable to add significant talent at the trade deadline, so it turned out that the Stanley Cup was a battle between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers. There were two teams who left themselves enough salary cap space to add some key players. Carolina added Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Edmonton added Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov. That is one reason that they were the teams that wound up in the finals. In the next two years, teams better adjusted to the new system and the next two Stanley Cup winners in the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings managed to leave a bit more breathing room.
This season, there is a change in how the salary cap is calculated. Because it is potentially the last season of the CBA (the NHLPA can chose to end it this summer), all potential bonuses are counted against the cap this year until which time they cannot be achieved. This “helps” the NHL maintain cost certainty under this CBA, since it does not allow teams to exceed the cap with bonuses which are then charged to next year’s cap. As a result, we have more teams that are close to the salary cap than in the last two years. Thus, it might be a similar situation to 2005/06 where the eventual cup winner is a team that left itself cap space to make trade deadline additions.
When I gave my 2008/09 predictions, one of the most criticized picks I made is that the Edmonton Oilers should finish last in the Northwest Division and 11th in the West Conference. The argument against this is simple. Last season, Edmonton finished 4th in the Northwest Division and 9th in the West Conference. They finished strong with a 14-6 record in their last 20 games (one game was a shootout loss and counts as a regulation tie). During the off season, they added Lubomir Visnovsky and Erik Cole, giving up Joni Pitkanen. They have many talented young players such as San Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, who should continue to improve. How can anyone say they will be worse this season? The answer is that last season’s result was misleading. I argue that they will be a better team and not be as lucky in their point total.
The NHL has had re-entry waivers as part of the CBA since the lockout occurred. Re-entry waivers are when a player who makes more than $100,000 a year in the AHL (this number goes up over time) is recalled to the NHL. He must clear waivers before he joins his current NHL team. If a player is claimed on waivers, his original team gets him for half his remaining salary and half his remaining salary cap hit. The prevailing wisdom is that if one team thinks a player is worth recalling, so will another team in the league if he is available at half price. Therefore, you are highly unlikely to get any player through re-entry waivers successfully, so don’t even try. This led to the Los Angeles Kings leaving Jason LaBarbera in the minors for the entire 2006/07 season, even though he was playing very well and won the Baz Bastien Trophy for top AHL goalie, while the Kings were struggling to find NHL goaltending. They would up using re-tread Sean Burke and minor league never-will-bes in Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji instead. I oppose this rule because it is an artificial construct that keeps some NHL talent out of the league. I have written about this several times in the past including here.
I finish up my pre-season predictions by ranking the East Conference. Earlier I did this with the West Conference. Here are more in depth looks at the Northeast Division, Atlantic Division and Southeast Division. This will be a predicted finish of the East Division clubs. Write-ups for individual teams are in the division profiles.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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