In mid-January, I picked Shea Weber as the top defenceman in the NHL so far this year. He temporarily passed Mark Giordano who had been leading the league most of the season to that point. I think Giordano has retaken the Norris Trophy lead. Not only does he lead the NHL in scoring among defencemen with 43 points, he also is playing very strong defence. The quality of opposition advantage that Weber had in mid-January has evaporated. Both are playing against roughly equal opposition. Both are used to shut down the top scorer on their opposition and both do it successfully. Giordano has provided more offence in the process.
Mark Giordano is a late bloomer on defence. Last year at age 30 he had his first run where he received any Norris Trophy consideration. At age 31 this season he has become the mid-season front-runner for the award. That is not the usual age where a star develops. Most star players emerge as stars much younger. This is why Giordano is interesting. How good can he become? How many more top years does he have? If Giordano can keep playing at this level (or above it) for a few years, he may be a Hall of Famer. It is also possible that this is his career year and he will never match it again. It is hard to project players like Mark Giordano who do not follow most standard development curves.
The Buffalo Sabres are in last place in the NHL. They have a 14-36 record with three regulation tie points. This gives them 31 points. It leaves them 9 points behind any other team in their conference and four points behind the Edmonton Oilers and last place. They are currently stuck in a 14 game losing streak. They have scored fewer goals than any other team in the league with 94 and have allowed more than any other with 179. This leaves them with 85 fewer goals scored than allowed. These are all signs of a bad team. This is the same bad team that finished in last place last season. However they did so with more talent than they have now. Ryan Miller, Christian Ehrhoff and Tomas Vanek played part or all of the 2013/14 season in Buffalo and are gone and unreplaced now.
The Sabres are an incredibly poor team. They are the worst the NHL has seen in the salary capped era. Their only player who has scored above a point every other game is lead scorer Tyler Ennis with 30 points in 50 games. That places him 97th in league scoring. Defensively Tyler Myers and Josh Gorges are the only players who are played more than 20 minutes per game and neither are top flight defencemen. In goal, Michal Neuvirth has only three wins in 18 games played but he is the top Sabre by saves percentage with a .907. There is no position where the Sabres are average.
The only solution for a team this bad is a long slow rebuild and there is no guarantee that will lead them anywhere. It hasn't led the Edmonton Oilers to any success. Maybe the Sabres will do better. It is hard to imagine them getting much worse.
It was before Christmas when I last reported on the AHL scoring race. At that time Brian O'Neill of the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate) had taken the lead. He has been passed by Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings affiliate). This is Pulkkinen's second run this season as top scorer. He was top scorer in the league for a short time in early December.
Pulkkinen has 48 points and a four point lead over second place O'Neill. I think he may have too much NHL potential to remain in the AHL long enough to win the scoring title. He has had six NHL games played this season scoring one goal. He has potential to be a successful scorer at the NHL level, but has yet to click. Perhaps that will happen in his next call-up. It is hard to imagine that it will be a long time before he gets another NHL shot.
At the end of November, I picked Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators as the top goalie so far in the season. Rinne was having a very good season until he sprained his knee a couple weeks ago. This has given the other goalies in the league a chance to catch up. Carey Price has caught up and passed him. Price is now the Vezina Trophy leader. He is posting a .933 saves percentage and a 2.03 goals against average. No goalie who has better numbers has played as many games or faced as many shots as Price.
Carey Price at age 27 is developing into the top goalie in the NHL. If he can add a Vezina Trophy win to his previous success including backstopping an Olympic gold medal, he is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
The Canadian Hockey League consists of three members - the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. It is big business. It is the pipeline that feeds much of the talent into the NHL. Some of the better markets make their owners millions of dollars each year. They are facing a lawsuit, which if it has merit, will significantly change the leagues.
A series of class action suits have come together demanding that players in the CHL get paid minimum wage. The CHL has avoided this so far as the players are considered student athletes. They receive a small weekly stipend and room and board is paid. They have a promise that they will have their education paid for in an academic or trades program after they finish in the CHL. The problem is that education is conditional. Players who are injured and do not have full CHL careers, players who do not make CHL teams and play junior B or players who do not get their education within a limited amount of time do not get the same benefits.
It would significantly change the financial make-up of the CHL if they had to pay minimum wage. Some of the smaller markets might not be able to succeed. The problem is under the current system, the players are making far below their market value. In some cases this is okay because they are on their way to the NHL. However most players never make the NHL. The promise of an education is valuable to some players - if they can get it. Some other players may not be inclined to pursuing education. These players are not getting the promised benefits from their CHL student-athlete status.
Here is an ESPN article that talks about this lawsuit.
Today Martin Brodeur announced his retirement in a press conference. He is a player that I consider a future Hall of Famer and as such I am writing his career retrospective. Brodeur has been at Hall of Fame level for so long that I do not have a post where I first considered him a Hall of Famer. I have been blogging for over nine years. That is a long time for him to remain in the NHL as an active future Hall of Famer. Only one player remains who has been an active Hall of Famer longer than I have been blogging. He is Jaromir Jagr.
Brodeur was born on May 6th, 1972 in Montreal, Quebec. His father Denis was a longtime Montreal Canadiens photographer, so he grew up around NHL hockey. He first became noticed by NHL scouts in 1988/89 playing with the Montreal-Bourassa Canadiens in the Quebec Amateur Athletic Association. His success there got him into the QMJHL where he played for the St Hyacinthe Laser. There he played behind a poor defence and was constantly bailing out his team when they allowed odd man rushes. He made the QMJHL All Rookie Team. He was seen as a strong enough goaltender prospect to be selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft by the New Jersey Devils, 20th overall. He played two more seasons in the QMJHL. He was called up on an emergency basis for four games when the other Devil goalies were injured in the 91/92 season. He made the QMJHL Second All-Star Team in his final CHL season.
On January 6th, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired coach Randy Carlyle. At that point, they would have been a playoff team. The media had been promoting a coach firing, but since the Leafs had done acceptably and coaching was not the issue, it made no sense. The Leafs eventually buckled to pressure when they lost a few games after a six game winning streak in December. There was no good prospect to hire as a coaching replacement; however Peter Horachek was an assistant coach. He had failed in a partial season coaching the Florida Panthers. He was hired.
Since then, the Leafs have played eight games. They have won only one of them. They have seven losses in that time period. The Leafs have fallen to 11th place in the East Conference. They are ten points back of a playoff berth. Obviously the coaching move has failed to produce any short-term success.
Usually even bad coaching changes produce some short-term success. A new coach with a new system creates some uncertainty. Players are uncertain if they will remain in their roles with the team. It often motivates a short-term push as players try to maintain their spot or earn more ice time in the new system. That hasn't happened in Toronto.
Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings has just been sent to the AHL. He will play with the Manchester Monarchs. He cleared waivers in the process. Thus every team had a chance to claim him and nobody did. Why is this?
Richards is a former Canadian Olympian. He was part of the gold medal winning Canadian team in 2010. He has been a contender for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward in several seasons. He has 481 points in 704 career games. His career best total is 80 points in 2009. At 29 years of age it is hard to believe that he no longer has NHL value.
His problem is his contract. He is in the midst of a 12 year contract with an annual $5.75 million salary cap hit that he signed in 2008. He makes $7 million this season. The contract runs until 2019. There are significant salary recapture penalties should he retire and not play the last couple years where his salary drops to $4.5 million and $3 million respectively. No team wants to be stuck with that.
A big announcement yesterday was the NHL is going to hold a "World Cup" in 2016. It will run in pre-season from September 17th to October 1st. The problem with a tournament at that time is it doesn't seem likely that the KHL will stop its season (which is already underway at that point) for the tournament. Thus it isn't exactly a best on best tournament. Several players who should make the European teams will likely be unavailable.
The plans are that the 2016 tournament will have eight teams. There will be Canada, USA, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden representing single countries. In order to fill out the tournament there will be a "Team Europe" which consists of players from other countries that are not represented. It is expected that even players from Asian countries such as Kazakhstan would be invited to play on this team. There will also be an under 23 North American team - the North American YoungStars. In fact all Canadian and American players who qualify for that team would not be eligible for the Canadian or American teams; they could only play for the YoungStars. That is a problem. In fact, there were times when Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby were the best player in the world and they would not have been eligible to play for Canada. This takes away from the World Cup concept.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the most interesting teams in the NHL. They haven't done very well so far this season. They have a 19-29 record with 7 regulation tie points. That gives them 45 points and leaves then 12 points back of a playoff berth. This has been done despite some significant individual performances. Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 56 points. Claude Giroux has 51 points and is fifth in scoring in league. On defence, Mark Streit has 34 points and is fourth in scoring among defencemen. Any team with as many high scorers is unlikely to be doing as poorly as the Flyers. What is wrong in Philadelphia?
One problem is that there isn't a significant scorer beyond the top three of Voracek, Giroux and Streit. The Flyers have no other players with as many as 30 points at all star break. They only have three more above 20 points (Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier). The Flyers have a very limited group of players who can score. They are even worse defensively. There is no top flight shutdown defenceman in Philadelphia. Nick Schultz is the player who best qualifies and he is well below star level. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Andrew MacDonald lead their defence in ice time per game and none are too defensively sound.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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