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.
A couple weeks ago I posted my NHL All Star Game rosters. Unlike the NHL, I like the East Conference vs. West Conference game a lot more than two teams selected by captains that they will use. Thus I have kept the East vs. West format. I haven't worried about selecting rookies to participate in the skills competition but not the actual game - I see little point in that. In fact it seems to keep rookies who are All Star worthy out of the actual game itself. I have Filip Forsberg and Aaron Ekblad listed as All Stars. The NHL doesn't since they are only listed as rookies despite being worthy All Stars. I am holding myself to the constraint that at least one player comes from each team - which the NHL did initially but after injury hasn't bothered. Detroit will not have an All Star representative in the actual game since Jimmy Howard got hurt. The NHL appears to have let several veterans choose not to play in the All Star Game. That is the only logical conclusion given Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the Sedin brothers not being chosen from their respective teams when they are far more logical choices than the players actually selected (Jimmy Howard and Radim Vrbata). I am not doing this in my game because I have no reliable way of knowing exactly which players may have been offered an All Star berth but declined it. Thus I almost certainly have All Star players who are not actually available.
In order to determine which players are injured and thus unavailable for the All Star Game, I am using the NHL injury list on tsn.ca. This list gives Pekka Rinne, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang as injured players that I put on my original teams. I suspect that Malkin and Crosby may have injuries that will keep them out of the All Star Game but no regular season games, meaning that some players who are opting out of the All Star Game are getting out in my system - but not all.
I often look at the +/- ratings list and try to explain why the current leader is who he is and what that means. +/- ratings are a crude tracker of puck possession. The problem is they track a low number of events. There are usually only a handful of goals in a given game. That gives a handful of data points. Much of the game is not recorded in a +/- analysis. Goal totals can be significantly affected by shooting and saves percentages. A team may possess the puck but struggle to score or may score with little puck possession. Thus +/- is an imperfect tracker of puck possession. Nevertheless it has some value.
Currently Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning leads the league in +/-. He has a +28 rating. This is two points better than teammate Tyler Johnson. In fact their entire line including Ondrej Palat all have very good +/- ratings. All three have very good PDOs. This is the sum of the shooting and saves percentage for their team when they are on the ice in even strength situations. Generally high PDOs like this are a sign of good luck. The league average will be 1000 and most of this rating is usually unsustainable. High shooting percentages and saves percentages rarely last for significant amounts of time. Thus a significant portion of the +/- success of this line is unlikely to last.
Last week I took a look at the AHL standings and found the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate) and Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oilers affiliate) tied for the lead. Oklahoma City has taken a two point lead over Manchester. They have a 27-14 record with five regulation tie points. This gives them 59 points.
The Edmonton Oilers may be tied for last place in the NHL, but they have a top farm affiliate. Is this a sign of better things to come? Not necessarily. The AHL is a league of men who are no longer serious NHL prospects and boys who are prospects. Generally the men are better than the boys today, although the boys will be much better in the future.
Jason Williams the Oklahoma City top scorer is 34 years old. He has no NHL future. Their top defenceman Brad Hunt is 26. He is probably as good a player now as he will ever be and today he is no NHL prospect. Richard Bachman has been their top performing goalie. He is 27 and also will not likely improve. The best players in Oklahoma City are men beating up on the boys who are prospects elsewhere in their league. As a result, they have little future value to the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. The Barons success is not a silver lining for the Oilers poor season.
The KHL All Star Game will be played in Sochi, Russia on January 25th (next weekend). It will have several former NHL players and players who have been seen in international tournaments. It should be interesting to hockey fans. Here are the rosters as Team West meets Team East
Stanislav Galimov CSKA Moscow
Alexander Yeryomenko Dynamo Moscow
It was November when I picked Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames as the Norris Trophy leader. I think he has slipped to second place in the Norris Trophy race. I think Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators has surpassed him. Weber is playing against the toughest competition of any defenceman in the NHL this season. He is scoring successfully with ten goals and 29 points. This puts him a few points back of league leaders Kevin Shattenkirk and Giordano. It is his defence that gives him the lead. Weber is a significant reason that Nashville has been a successful team this year.
Weber has been a Norris Trophy candidate for several years but this could be the year that he emerges victorious. He is the best all-around defenceman in the game right now. Some others have better offensive skills but he has the most value to his team. We will see if he maintains this lead the rest of the way through the season.
I last looked at the AHL standings just before Christmas. The Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks affiliate) led the league with its closest challenge coming from the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate). Utica has slipped back a bit since then. Manchester has the league lead with 54 points. They are tied with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oiler affiliate). One point behind them is the Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate). Utica is two points behind that.
Both Oklahoma City and Manchester have a 25-12 record with four regulation tie points. Springfield is 25-13 with three regulation tie points. There isn't much to separate these teams.
Manchester and Oklahoma City are both top offensive teams. Oklahoma City leads the league with 122 goals scored. Manchester is one goal behind them. Manchester has the two top scorers in the league in Brian O'Neill and Nick Shore. Jordan Weal is fourth in league scoring. Oklahoma City has a more balanced offence. Jason Williams is their top scorer and he is eighth in league scoring. They have seven different players with more than 20 points.
There is no clear front runner in the AHL standings. It will be exciting from here on out to see how things unfold.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???