Earlier this season I picked Mike Smith of the Tampa Bay Lightning as the best goaltender so far this season. His fast start is over and he seems to be dropping off of his early levels. I think the best goalie so far this season has been Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.
Hockey is a rough game. Anyone who plays regularly for many years will have a sore shoulder, knee, back or some other body part. This would be a recurring injury or a degenerative condition. This is especially true at the NHL level.
In the current CBA, teams can buyout players during a period in the summer. Generally, underperforming players get their contracts bought out. Teams save money in this process. They pay out 2/3 of the remaining money on the contract to a player over a time period of two times the remaining time on the contract. This reduces the annual salary cap hit to 1/3 of what it otherwise would have been and allows teams (with this salary cap penalty) to use the remaining salary cap room to pay for other players. Problems can come in this arrangement when players are injured. Injured players cannot be bought out - although they can be placed on long term injury exemption lists to free up salary cap space. The problem is most players who have had lengthy careers will have recurring or degenerative injury conditions and can use these to claim that they are injured and cannot be bought out, if they believe they will not get another NHL contract.
Yesterday, the NHL released the list of players that will appear on the ballot for the NHL All Star Game. Voting begins online on November 12th and continues until January 2nd. The voting will occur at vote.NHL.com which is currently an unavailable website (the NHL would have been better advised to have this site up when they announced the ballot).
Here is the list of players on the ballot:
One of the NHL’s victories in the 2005 lockout was the breaking of the NHLPA. Bob Goodenow, who had been a tough adversary for the NHL, was replaced as NHLPA head by Ted Saskin, who was much easier for the NHL to keep in place. Saskin’s NHLPA had little purpose for the players. He spent much of his effort trying to maintain power and was ousted because he eavesdropped on player’s email to do this.
The Paul Kelly NHLPA is making an effort to be relevant to the players and is willing to fight for their causes and be more proactive with their positions. They are holding a secret ballot vote about whether or not the current CBA should be renewed (since the players can opt out this summer) and have been on record about potential franchise re-locations.
Their first battle of the season is over the defected player status of European players.
Last Friday I wrote about the leaky pipeline of Russian talent coming to North America that lost Pavel Valentenko. There have only been two Russian rookies to play in the NHL so far this season (Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets) and the NHL is on the verge of losing its second Russian prospect to the KHL. Alexander Nikulin, an Ottawa Senator prospect, has demanded that Ottawa trade him (with a deadline of tonight) or he will return to Russia.
UPDATE: It turns out that Nikulin is not leaving North America yet. He has been traded to Phoenix for Drew Fata.
When teams begin the season, they have an expectation of which players will be the frontline players and which will be the backups and lower line players. As games are played, the circumstances change. Players get hurt. Players exceed and fail to reach expectations. In a given year, a few teams will start the season with a given number one goalie and replace him over the course of the season. The first team to fall into that situation this season appears to be the Ottawa Senators
Most people expected the Dallas Stars to do pretty well this season. They were fresh off a trip to the Stanley Cup semi-finals and would have Brad Richards joining their offence for the entire season. Marty Turco had provided solid goaltending for the last several years. There was no reason to doubt his ability to keep that up into the future. However, the goaltending has not been there. Dallas has the worst goals against average in the NHL. They have allowed 4.09 goals per game (they had a sizeable lead over second place Atlanta’s 3.70 GAA).
Although Russians make up some of the most talented players in the NHL today (including reigning MVP Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and current top scorers Alexander Semin of Washington and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins) there influx of players from Russia is strongly in decline. In fact there are only two Russian rookies in the league so far this year. Russian players tend to be staying at home due to the lack of transfer agreement and due to better opportunities in their homeland.
When the pipeline of players has become as weak as to only produce two new players in a season, any further losses of players are significant. During the years of no transfer agreement, approximately three or four Russian players a year have headed back to Russia during the NHL season. They have generally been AHL players who were help to under $100,000 salaries per year while in the minors due to two way contracts that would be subject to re-entry waivers if they were paid higher.
The latest player in North America to depart is Pavel Valentenko of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Southeast Division has been the weakest division in the NHL for the last several years. Last year, only the Washington Capitals made the playoffs of the southeast teams. Washington won the division. They needed a very strong stretch run to get 94 points which tied for the lowest total of all east playoff teams. The other four southeast teams all missed the playoffs. Given the large number of intra-division in the unbalanced schedule last year that is quite an achievement.
This year doesn’t look like it will be much different. If the season ended right now, based on current point totals only Washington would make the playoffs again. They would tie for the worst point total among east teams again.
If a company has massive layoffs and makes multiple policy changes to save money such as stopping matching employee contributions to employees 401(k) and banning overnight and express mail, then it is usually a sign that the company is on shaky ground and may not be around much longer. The Florida Panthers are doing this according to George Richards’s blog.
The economy is taking its toll on the NHL and the weaker NHL markets will have some trouble. Most of the more recent NHL markets including Florida, Nashville, Phoenix and Atlanta will be tested. In good times, these markets have had trouble financially. In bad times, they may not all make it.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???