A quick look atop the saves percentage leaders finds Ben Scrivens leads the NHL with a .935 saves percentage. He is a newcomer to the Edmonton Oilers and has already shown his worth with a 59 save shutout against the San Jose Sharks. This has many around the NHL wondering about how good he is.
Scrivens is relatively unproven in the NHL. He has 32 games played over two seasons before this one began. He put up good numbers in the minor pro leagues - the ECHL and AHL. Many proven NHL goalies have weaker minor pro numbers. The problem is it is hard to make an accurate projection with such a limited sample size.
The biggest naysayer I can find on Scrivens is Steve Simmons who writes:
Ben Scrivens had a game for the ages, is a terrific person to talk to, but don’t get too carried away. I counted 41 goalies on NHL rosters I would rather have than him and that includes Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer
When I looked at the AHL standings last in early January, Manchester, Grand Rapids and Springfield were in the race for the AHL lead. Manchester is pulling away with the lead in the points race. This is because they have played three more games than Grand Rapids and four more games than Springfield. Currently, they have a two point lead on Springfield and three on Grand Rapids. That lead might not be safe when teams catch up in terms of games played.
I thought Manchester's secret weapon would be that Martin Jones was a star goalie in the NHL who would be returned to the AHL. That has changed when Los Angeles (the Manchester affiliate) trading Ben Scrivens to Edmonton and making a spot for him on their NHL roster. Now their chances of staying atop the league do not look as good.
I think Springfield is the team to beat. However they haven't won in their last three games played and that has kept their opponents in the race.
Will Manchester keep their lead or will they get caught? We will have to watch and see.
While it is hard to put too much stock into the meaning of a streak in professional sports, it is hard not to notice them when they happen despite trying circumstances. The San Jose Sharks have won their last six straight games. That is a solid run from a good team. It is all the more impressive because they are missing as many core players to injury as any team in the NHL. Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Scott Hannan and rookie of the year candidate Tomas Hertl have all been hurt for this streak. Adam Burish and Raffi Torres are also hurt, but they fall below the core player level. I think this is strong evidence that the San Jose Sharks are a very good team. If they can be healthy, they have to be considered a Stanley Cup contender.
Every summer teams feel a lot of pressure to sign free agents. There is a limited class of players available each year and few of the players available are clear gamebreakers. While it can be worth a lot to sign an all star player, they usually are not available. Some of the most heavily pursued free agents usually wind up to be younger free agents who are still in their 20s and have reached unrestricted free agency for the first time. If a player in this group is coming off of a solid season, they usually get pursued by a lot of teams. These players do not have to have ever been proven to be all stars. They merely have to be the best of the younger UFA players.
Last season two such players were David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss. Neither had ever been all stars, but as some of the best younger ufas they were pursued and given some lengthy lucrative contracts. Clarkson is signed with Toronto until 2020 with a $5.25 million salary cap hit. Weiss is signed with Detroit until 2018 with a $4.9 million salary cap hit. These are numbers neither is worth.
It is often hard to assign much meaning to a streak. Any given team is capable of playing a few games very well or very poorly and it rarely has any long term meaning. Nevertheless the Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL. They are on an eight game winning streak and have moved themselves into a playoff spot.
Can we find any meaningful reasons for why Columbus is playing so well that hold into the longer term? The simplest reason is Sergei Bobrovsky is back from injury and is playing well. He is a big step up from Curtin McElhinney who was manning the nets in his absence. Nathan Horton is also back from injury, although his return dates don't fit as well with the beginning of the streak. Nevertheless he is a key piece of the Blue Jackets offence when he is healthy.
Officially, the Masterton Trophy is given to the player who best combines perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. In practise, it is usually given to the player who has the best season after overcoming a significant obstacle. Last year's winner was Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild. He is overcoming multiple sclerosis to play in the NHL. The problem is his 2013 season was nothing special. He was limited to five games played in the season. He posted a lacklustre .863 saves percentage and a 3.24 GAA. At times he was unavailable to play because of complications from his MS.
A player can only win the Masterton Trophy once in a career, so Josh Harding cannot win the award again. The problem is he has become a far better candidate this season. He has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season. Harding is posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.65 GAA. This is the completion of the story. Harding has overcome MS to be a top goalie in the NHL, as opposed to the bit player who was barely hanging onto an NHL career last year. In an ideal world, Harding could win the Masterton this year and have left it for somebody else (I picked Andrei Markov of Montreal). This year he is a stronger candidate than Manny Malhotra, who I am currently picking, but Harding cannot win this year.
It is many people's conventional wisdom that a poor team's best chance to rebuild is to become as poor a team as possible and try to build through top draft picks. This is the path the Edmonton Oilers have followed. They have picked first overall in the NHL draft three years in a row netting them Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. They have picked up other young talented players in Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Sam Gagner. This rebuild has netted them a team in last place in the West Conference. In fact, that same conventional wisdom that lead to the first rebuild would suggest now is the time to trash the team again and rebuild in exactly the same way that has failed them so far.
While it is true that none of the young players the Edmonton Oilers have picked up are on Hall of Fame tracks. They haven't "hit a home run" with any of their first overall picks - at least not yet. It is still quite possible that one or more of them does project to a Hall of Famer in the future. It is also clear that this route to building a winning team has no guarantees. In fact it appears to be no better than any other method - and possible worse than them.
Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild significantly leads the NHL in ice team this season. He has played 29:33 per game this season. This is more than a minute and a half than second place Brian Campbell of Florida. Over the course of the season he has played almost 140 minutes more than any other player in the league. This makes Suter a valuable player to the Wild. They don't have any other top level defencemen to play. Suter's usual linemate Jonas Brodin is almost five minutes behind him per game. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella are closer to ten minutes behind him.
Suter led the NHL in ice time last year and he is up by well over two minutes a game from that pace. One question is whether or not this is a good strategy for the Wild. Will Suter run out of gap before or during the playoffs? Will he be beaten by players who have been rested down the stretch?
We are in uncharted waters projecting on Suter's ice time and its effect on his game. The last time a player finished a season with more ice time per game it was Chris Pronger in 1999/2000. Pronger won the Hart Trophy that year. He was also eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Since then the NHL has got faster. The new divisional alignment has increased travel for players. It is harder to play that level of ice time today. Ryan Suter is doing it and I am interested in how it will work out.
I think it is often interesting to look at the leaders in some of the more complex stats, including +/- ratings, and explain why that player could lead the league. Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins currently leads the NHL in +/- rating with a +26 rating. He is a bit of an odd leader. When we look over his career, he has posted a minus rating as often as he has a plus rating. Aside from his rookie year, he has never posted a +/- rating better than +9. In his rookie year he had a +22 rating, which looked like an anomaly until this year.
His rookie season and this year have one thing in common. Niskanen has played against some weaker competition. This year he is the partner of rookie Olli Maatta and the two of them have been largely protected from facing top opposition. As a rookie, he was similarly protected.
It doesn't hurt that he plays for the East Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins. That also helps his +/- rating. His team leading PDO is another contributor.
I think Matt Niskanen isn't a player who will finish atop the league in +/- rating, but in his current circumstances he may be in the top few. He is a player who can dominate against lesser NHL competition, but doesn't have the talent to be a successful top line player. If you have sufficient depth that you can allow Niskanen to play a sheltered role, he will put up good numbers for you.
I last reported on the AHL scoring race about a month ago. Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) had re-taken the lead after losing it because of an NHL call-up. Because many of the other contenders in the race have also had significant AHL call-ups, Morin has taken a significant scoring lead. His 55 points is a ten point lead over Mike Hoffman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) who is in second place.
Morin isn't the kind of player one might have expected to win the AHL scoring race. He is a veteran AHLer, who is not seen as a significant NHL prospect. Thus his chances of getting an NHL call-up for a significant amount of time are low - though he had a short one earlier this year. He is 30 years old and has been bouncing around American minor pro leagues since 2007 when he left college. He has had six NHL games with no points scored. During his AHL time, he has never scored more than 66 points in a year. This isn't a particularly high scoring track record for an AHL top scorer.
The AHL has changed in recent years. The KHL has opened up another option for players who would have otherwise dominated in the AHL. This cuts into the older non-prospect AHL veteran player who usually wins the AHL scoring title. This reduces the talent available in the AHL and opens up an opportunity for players like Morin to win the AHL scoring title.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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