A little over a week ago I picked Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators as the top defenceman so far this season. He is a very talented defenceman who had come into form after a slow start and was moving up into the top scoring defencemen this season while maintaining his top defensive play in a tough situation. Since that time Weber has gone -4 with no points scored. When I picked Weber, he was replacing Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins who was my previous pick and out injured. Letang soon returned from injury and has five points and is +3 since that time. I think that Kris Letang has re-established himself as the Norris Trophy leader this season.
Probably there shouldn't be a Norris Trophy winner this season. Nobody is having a year that is worthy of the award. This is partly due to a shortened season and partly due to injury to top defencemen. Letang is second in scoring among defencemen with 33 points in 31 games. His Pittsburgh team has 43 games played. The only defenceman with more points than Letang is PK Subban of Montreal. He too has missed some games with an early season holdout and doesn't play as well defensively or as big a role as Letang does. Other candidates for best defenceman exist including Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf. While they may have been good enough to be all stars it is hard to call any the top defenceman in the league this year.
It is kind of hard to say any player this season is worthy of the Norris Trophy, but since we must pick someone, I pick Kris Letang. Yes he has missed time to injury, but I think he has been more valuable to his team than any other defenceman in the league has.
In mid-March I picked Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as the Selke Trophy leader. He had surpassed Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, who had been my previous leader. Since that time Bergeron suffered a concussion and has missed the last couple weeks of games. Thus I think Toews is again the Selke Trophy leader.
Toews plays against Chicago's toughest opposition and shuts them down. He has a +27 +/- rating leading the West Conference. He is a strong Selke Trophy candidate.
Today the Edmonton Oilers fired their general manager Steve Tambellini today. I'm not sure how much power he actually held as a general manager. Tambellini was hired as the Oiler GM in 2008 but he served as somewhat of a frontman for Kevin Lowe, their previous GM who had been promoted to president. Lowe had run the Oilers into the ground and would not have survived as general manager much longer. Instead he found somebody else to use as a shield while he and his cohort ran the team. Tambellini never really showed much of a plan as Oiler GM other than collecting top draft picks and it isn't clear how much of the plan was actually his.
The new general manager Craig MacTavish is a former Oiler head coach. He was fired in 2009 but remained in Kevin Lowe's braintrust. I think his major qualification is being a longtime friend and teammate of Kevin Lowe. MacTavish is the new shield for Lowe's run of the Oilers. Perhaps he will take more control of the team than Tambellini did. Perhaps he will be able to succeed as Oiler GM. They have a good group of young offensive players who will likely be a strong core in the future but they are in need of goaltending and defence. It is possible to make something out of this team but that is unlikely if Lowe continues to unsuccessfully pull the strings from behind his puppet GM.
I have chosen a rather mundane title for this post because from an NHL standpoint this probably isn't a significant story. The Boston Bruins have signed Carl Soderberg to a three year contract worth $1 million per year. This season counts as the first season of the three so he will not play many games in his first "year". Boston has seven regular season games left this year plus their playoff run.
Carl Soderberg was the second highest scorer in the Swedish Elite League this season. This is his highest scoring season to date in Sweden. He has been reasonably successful in international play, especially in his days in the World Junior Hockey Championships, so he has been on NHL radar for years. At age 27, he will make his NHL debut.
He isn't a serious candidate for the "best player outside the NHL" - that is an award I would give to Alexander Radulov and Radulov wasn't good enough to steal games last year in the playoffs. In fact Radulov's major contribution to the NHL last year was his negative attitude that helped to lead to Nashville's early demise in the playoffs. As Soderberg is a lesser player, I would not expect even that big a contribution - but at least he wants to be there.
Slightly over two weeks ago when I last looked at the AHL scoring race nothing was clear. There was a three-way tie atop the race between Gustav Nyquist of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wing affiliate), Jeff Taffe of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate) and TJ Hensick of the Peoria Rivermen (St Louis Blue affiliate). Three more players were within two points of the threesome.
Nyquist has been removed for the scoring race since he has been in the NHL. Taffe and Hensick remain among the top scorers but another player has taken the lead. Brandon Pirri of the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawk affiliate) has taken the lead. He has fourteen points in his seven April games to date. A big part of that was accomplished in his six point night against the Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canuck affiliate) yesterday. This gives Pirri 70 points on the season and a five point lead over Jeff Taffe.
Pirri is a 22 year old with six career NHL games (though none yet this year). He was the Blackhawks second round draft pick in 2009. He is in his third AHL season after a one year stay in the NCAA. He has some potential as an NHL player and may get a chance as the Blackhawks expand their roster in the playoffs. He has built a lead in the scoring race with his recent hot streak. Since there are only a few games left per team, he will be hard to catch for anyone and it is only recently he became a serious candidate to win the scoring race.
Due to a lockout there is no NHL All Star Game this year. Usually an All Star Game occurs a little bit after the middle of the season with teams picked around the season's midpoint. In a regular length 82 game season, the 41 game point is the mid-point and teams are beginning to arrive at that point now. Thus I am picking hypothetical All Star teams today.
I am selecting two teams with 21 players each. There are three goalies, six defencemen and twelve forwards on each team. I am forcing myself to have at least one player per team. In the NHL they have an out for this condition in the last couple of years. There are a few rookies selected to the All Star Game in the past few years and these rookies only play in the skills competition and not in the game itself. This has been used as an out on a bad team where a rookie is selected but no other player. I am not selecting rookies for my hypothetical All Star Game and this makes few spots available for more than one player on any given team. I have selected the starters for the game as the people I think would win a fan vote. I am assuming the vote would pick three forwards, two defencemen and one goalie per conference with no concern for the team those players are with. This will further limit the spots available for second players on teams if there are several starters from the same team.
Since this is a hypothetical game I have not been concerned with selecting healthy players. A deserving injured player still earned a spot on my teams.
Here are my All Star Teams:
In order for a team to fall into last place they must be poorly run. That is true of our current last place team the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado's GM Greg Sherman has never shown any skills in player development or talent evaluation of any kind. He was a financial guy who was Colorado's salary cap expert. He has done poorly in some of his earlier trades and has never done anything to convince me he is not well over his head as an NHL general manager.
His Colorado team has a record of 12-27 with five regulation tie points. That gives Colorado 29 points, which is three points worse than any other team in the league.
Their problems can be clearly seen by looking at their defence. The top three players in terms of ice time on defence are Matt Hunwick, Jan Hejda and Greg Zanon. This group doesn't scare anyone and has yet to score a goal this season. This is the worst defence in the NHL. It would make any goaltending look bad.
Nearing the end of February I picked Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Norris Trophy leader. He took over from Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators who suffered an Achilles injury. Letang too has fallen to injury. He hasn't played in slightly over a week. That leaves us in a situation where there isn't a clear front-runner for the Norris Trophy, yet somebody still must win it.
A look at the top scorers among defencemen gives us PK Subban, Ryan Suter and Niklas Kronwall. None of them is among the strongest defensive players in the league. There is room for a strong defensive defenceman who is a little back of these guys as the Norris Trophy leader. That is where I pick Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
Weber had a slow start offensively but he is making up for it now. He is currently eighth among defencemen with 23 points. His defence remains strong as always. Weber is second in ice time in the NHL. He stands 13 seconds behind Brian Campbell. He plays against the toughest competition of any Nashville defenceman and has as good a +/- as any Nashville defenceman. His +4 rating doesn't stand out because Nashville hasn't been a strong team this season. They are well back of a playoff berth and have allowed more goals than they have scored.
It was still January when it became clear that Craig Anderson was the top goalie of the early season. Anderson is posting some incredible numbers. In fifteen games he has a .952 saves percentage and a 1.49 GAA. The problem is he has a high ankle sprain and hasn't played a game since February 21st. He is rumored to be returning very soon but there are goalies who have been healthy all season who have almost twice as many games played as Anderson but nobody is capable of approaching his numbers.
The two goalies who have significantly more games played than Anderson who are now better Vezina Trophy candidates are Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Bobrovsky has a slightly better saves percentage (.929 vs. .928) and Lundqvist has a slightly better goals against average (2.07 vs. 2.09). Lundqvist has more games played (33 vs. 28) and has faced more shots (941 vs. 787) than Bobrovsky.
A major difference between them is Bobrovsky is playing in a tougher conference on a weaker team. New York has a better group of defencemen and plays in the weaker conference (which is effectively a weaker league this season as teams have not player out of their conference). Thus I support Sergei Bobrovsky as the Vezina leader at this point in the season.
Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired by Columbus from the Philadelphia Flyers this summer in exchange for a second round draft pick and two fourth round draft picks. This is a low price to pay for a Vezina Trophy candidate.
The NHL trade deadline occurred this week and I have not yet had a chance to write about it. As is my tradition (here is last year) I like to pick one team as having made the biggest long and short term gain and drop. I define the trade deadline as all the deadline deals that lead up to trade deadline day as well as all the trades that occur on deadline day. Here are my picks:
Biggest Short Team Gain - Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins added Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen without giving up a single roster player. This is an attempt for the Penguins to build up their talent pool and depth to make a Stanley Cup run. Time will tell if they succeed. No team made a bigger group of additions then the Penguins. These additions are one future Hall of Famer, two NHL captains and four players with Olympic experience.
Biggest Short Term Drop - Calgary Flames. Gone are longterm captain and best player Jarome Iginla, top defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and Blake Comeau as well. No roster players came back in return. Calgary has clearly decided to rebuild. The problem is that they didn`t obtain any top draft picks of top prospects in return. At best they got a bunch of lottery tickets in draft picks that may not make a difference and a couple college players who may not have NHL futures. At this point they are probably the least talented team in the NHL right now.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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