I think the biggest hockey-related decision (not to be confused with a business decision) left to be made this season will be made by the Florida Panthers. The Panthers have to decide whether to trade or keep Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester is an All Star defenceman who leads the NHL in ice time. He is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Last summer, it seemed clear that he wanted to leave Florida and fine a team to play for that would compete for a Stanley Cup. Florida had one last chance to show a skeptical Bouwmeester that they were capable of contention. Have the Panthers done this?
They are currently in ninth place in the East Conference. They are one point back of a playoff berth with one or two games in hand against most of the teams just above them. It is very possible that Florida will qualify for the playoffs this year. It would be Florida’s first playoff berth since 2000 and the first of Jay Bouwmeester’s career. Most likely they would lose in the first round, but they might be capable of a run. If Bouwmeester is looking for a team that contends, is this good enough? Florida has a young team and might be able to do better next year.
A while ago I wrote a post about the lack of top scorers in the NHL who are born in USA. I noted that given the percentage of American players in the league, there should be far more top scorers than currently exist. Given that American players make up 21.8% of the league, one would expect ten American scorers in the top 46 scorers league wide (this is the point where 10/46 = 21.8%). That is not what is seen, when I wrote the piece, it took 85 players before there were 10 Americans. That is well below expectation.
Tom Benjamin offers up a theory for why this is true. The problem comes from the way NCAA hockey is run. Most American players tend to be developed by the NCAA before they come to the NHL. As the quality of US high school (and USHL junior) hockey has increased, the NCAA has decided to preferentially give out scholarships to Americans. This has reduced the NCAA talent pool.
Periodically I like to take a look at what is happening in the AHL. It is great hockey and since most NHL players spend some time in the AHL in their careers it can directly affect the NHL, yet a large number of NHL fans do not pay attention to it.
This season, there is a two team race that has developed for first place overall in the league. The race is between the Manitoba Moose (Vancouver Canuck affiliate) and the Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate). Currently Manitoba leads the league with 71 points, but Hershey is only one point behind with two games in hand.
Manitoba has done things so far by being a defensive power. Their 117 goals against is the least allowed in the league. Hershey has done things so far by being an offensive power. Their 190 goals lead the league.
In the history of the NHLPA one of the clear problems has been a lack of oversight for the head of the union. Alan Eagleson was embezzling money from the organization and Ted Saskin was spying on players email. This should not happen with any reasonable level of oversight. Even the non-corrupt NHLPA head Bob Goodenow was replaced because his hardline stance with the owners had lost support of the players. There has to be a route of oversight to have the player’s concerns heard by the union head.
The solution to this problem was to appoint an ombudman to oversee the NHLPA. Eric Lindros was chosen for this position. He has recently resigned from that position. He was not well received in that position by the rank and file of the union.
Historically in the NHL, right wing is a higher scoring position than left wing. The right winger is often seen as a sniper while the left winger is seen as a grinder. I don’t think there is any meaningful reason for this. There is no asymmetry built into the game of hockey that forces a strong difference between left and right. European systems have not followed suit. There have been a few top snipers who play left wing. Currently, the NHL has Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Thomas Vanek and others who are top snipers who were produced in Europe. Oddly, there is a lack of top scoring right wingers in the NHL this season. I don’t know that it is a meaningful trend, but it is a clear one from the scoring race.
Here are the top ten right wingers in the scoring race:
Yesterday the Ottawa Senators fired coach Craig Hartsburg. This does not come as much of a surprise because the Senators currently are the third worst team in the league. This move likely solves nothing. Ottawa is on their fourth coach in less than two seasons. If changing coaches from John Paddock to Bryan Murray and then from Bryan Murray to Craig Hartsburg does not turn the team around, then it is unlikely that changing coaches from Craig Hartsburg to Cory Clouston will turn the team around. It is pretty clear that the problem in Ottawa is not a coaching problem. But what is the problem?
In a nutshell, the Senators have a problem with depth. They have three really good players in Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza and nobody else who makes an impact. In fact, their fourth highest goal scorer this season (behind those three) is Mike Fisher who has seven goals. That won’t do. It allows the opposing team to put all their efforts shutting down the big three and ignore the rest of the team. The added defence against the big three reduce their scoring and nobody else is good enough too pick up the slack
The hottest team in the NHL right now is the New Jersey Devils. They have won their last eight games and are safely in first place in the Atlantic Division (they have a five point lead over the New York Rangers. This run is surprising because they have done it with Martin Brodeur, their superstar goalie injured. How have they done it?
They have had strong goaltending from Scott Clemmensen. He has done a surprisingly good job filling in for Brodeur. It will be interesting too see what becomes of him when Brodeur returns. Will he continue to play or will he become a seldom used backup?
For several years, Rod Brind’Amour was a very valuable NHL player. He was the forward with the most ice time (or very close to the most) in the entire league. Brind’Amour could score pretty well, but his true value was defensive and he won the Selke Trophy twice for his efforts. At age 38, his Selke Trophy days are gone and he has struggled at times this season. His -29 +/- rating is tied for the league worst with Brendan Witt. Brind’Amour has still scored 29 points (which ties him for third on his team) and he still plays a large role in Carolina. Among forwards on the Carolina Hurricanes, Brind’Amour has the second most ice time.
Eric Staal is first. Staal has not only had more ice time than Brind’Amour, he has played against a higher calibre of opposition. I think Staal is developing into a top level defensive forward and a possible Selke Trophy candidate.
Yesterday Peter Forsberg announced that he will not be playing in the NHL this season. If he plays hockey this year it will be for his former team Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik in Sweden.
Forsberg’s career has basically been put on hold due to serious problems with his right foot. Last season, he held out most of the year to have surgery on it before signing with the Colorado Avalanche at trade deadline time. Forsberg managed to play nine regular season games and seven more in the playoffs, with eleven games along the way missed due to injury. He did manage the highest points per game in the regular season last year. His 14 points in nine games (for a 1.56 PPG) beat out eventual Art Ross winner Alexander Ovechkin.
Goaltending is extremely important in the NHL. It is very hard to win without good goaltending. Naturally, the team with the weakest goaltending in the NHL will be a weak team. So far this season, that team has been the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Usually, Vesa Toskala plays in goal for Toronto. Toskala has been a solid NHL goaltender in the past, but he hasn’t done it this season. Among goaltenders with enough games played to qualify for the individual stats, Toskala has the second worst saves percentage in the league (his .884 beats Chris Osgood’s .880). His 3.31 GAA is also second worst - but this time Johan Hedberg is the worst.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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