Only two days ago, I reported that TJ Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs farm affiliate) had taken the lead in the AHL scoring race. This race has stalled since Marlie teammate William Nylander left his team to play for Sweden in the World Junior Hockey Championships and suffered a concussion. Nylander has not played since. Brennan was leading the AHL with less than a point per game. Last night, Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate) had a three point night and took the scoring lead. Bourque has 41 points in 39 games. This puts him one point ahead of Brennan.
Chris Bourque is Ray Bourque's 29 year old son. He first entered the AHL in 2005. He has succeeded at the AHL level. He is a three-time First Team All Star in the league and in 2010 he won the scoring title. He has not been able to have that success in the NHL, where he has played 51 games scoring 8 points. He is a solid veteran presence at the AHL level and one of the top players in the league but NHL teams do not see him as a serious prospect. He is the kind of player who may win the AHL scoring title. Generally if younger prospects lead the league in scoring they get called up to the NHL. The non-prospects have the best chance to win the scoring title and Chris Bourque fits that category. He may be able to hang onto the scoring title, but he has few other players within a handful of points below him, so it could be a tough race.
The Anaheim Ducks have been the lowest scoring team so far this season. The Ducks have only scored 89 goals so far in their 45 games played. This is 1.98 goals per game. Last year they were 11th in the league with 2.78 goals per game. They have dropped 0.8 goals per game this year. How did that happen?
The Ducks were a popular choice to win the Stanley Cup this year or at least to be a top contender. This dropoff was not widely predicted.
If we look at the Ducks scorers, Corey Perry leads the way with 17 goals and 29 points. It is a drop from the past but when we consider that last year he put up 55 points in 67 games, we see that this dropoff is not too huge. Maybe at age 30 Perry has seen better days. One point behind him is another 30 year old in Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf has surprisingly only scored 3 goals all season. Getzlaf has never been a big goal scorer, but this is a significant drop from his 25 goal 70 point season last year. One big problem is a lack of offensive depth in Anaheim. The only player with a double digit goal total behind Corey Perry is Richard Rakell with 10 goals on the season.
Early this month, I reported that Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas farm affiliate) had taken the lead in the AHL scoring race. He is a former AHL top scorer in 2014, so it seemed reasonable to expect that he might be able to hold onto the scoring title. He hasn't. Morin has only scored 4 points in January so far. This has allowed other players to enter the race. T J Brennan of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs affiliate) has taken the scoring lead. He has 39 points in his 41 games played. Thus the AHL top scorer does not have a point per game so far this season.
T J Brennan is not a serious NHL prospect, but he may still have a shot. He is a 26 year old defenceman. The top scorer in the AHL is not a forward! Brennan has 12 NHL points in his 48 NHL games to this point in his career. He was named the top defenceman in the league in 2013/14 where he scored 72 points in 76 games. Offensively he is scoring at approximately the same rate. Perhaps this can translate to the NHL, but it hasn't so far.
Less than two weeks ago, the Florida Panthers were the toast of the NHL as they had just pulled off a 12 game winning streak. The Chicago Blackhawks have matched that as they are in a 12 game winning streak of their own. Any team in a 12 game winning streak must be having a pretty good season and Chicago is no exception. They are first in the West Conference with a 32-17 record with 4 regulation tie points. This record gives them 68 points and has them second in the entire league.
As the defending Stanley Cup champions it is clear that Chicago is a good team. Last year they proved to be an elite team and there is plenty of reason to image they still are. It is true that there were a few salary cap casualties from last season including Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, but the core is still there. Patrick Kane is leading the NHL in scoring and the leading candidate for MVP. Jonathan Toews remains a top player. Duncan Keith is among the best in the game It is not a coincidence that this streak didn't begin until he was back from injury and playing at 100%. They have added the Calder Trophy front-runner in Artemi Panarin to last season's squad, so the team has managed to make up a significant part of their salary cap losses in the off-season. Goaltender Corey Crawford has rarely been seen as a strength but he has some of the best numbers of any goalie this season and is likely in the Vezina race.
The KHL All Star Game will be played on January 23rd in Moscow's VTB Ice Palace. The final players in the game have just been named. Here are the rosters for the game. Many players are familiar from international play or as former NHLers
Alexei Murygin Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Ilya Sorokin CSKA Moscow
A player who is very skilled at taking his opponents out of their game plan by getting "under their skin" with his combative play is very useful as long has he has hockey skills to go with his agitation skills. The player who best fits that role in the NHL is Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals. If he isn't a player that you have noticed yet, you soon will
Wilson was the Capitals first round draft pick in 2012. He is only 21 years old and is in his third NHL season. So far this season he has 14 points in 42 games. Half of those points have come in the last month. He is starting to develop as a useful offensive player who does not need a limited fourth line role. He has 425 penalty minutes in his 191 NHL games to date. He has 102 of those penalty minutes so far this season. This is evidence of his agitation skills. He is consistently a big annoyance to his opponents. It costs the Washington Capitals a few penalty kills, so Wilson must walk a fine line between being of value to his team and being a liability. I think Tom Wilson is a player you will soon notice, if you haven't already.
The NHL had almost $4 billion in revenue last year. Apparantly that isn't enough money for them to build a new arena for one of their teams. The Calgary Saddledome was built in 1983. As a more than thirty year old building it is one of the oldest in the NHL. Ideally the Calgary Flames would like to be playing in a newer building.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in Calgary to speak at the chamber of commerce. He wants a new arena in Calgary and he wants the Calgary taxpayer to pay for the majority of it. He spoke in favor of the CalgaryNEXT project which is a proposed $890 million building to be built in Calgary's west village which would be a home to both the Calgary Flames and the CFL's Calgary Stampeders. Bettman made some pointed statements toward Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi that he better get on board with this project.
The NHL is getting more and more blatant in their politicking for local taxpayers to pay for NHL buildings. It has been successful in the past in several cities. It amounts to corporate welfare. Why can't the NHL teams build their own arenas? Why is this taxpayer responsibility?
The Florida Panthers are on a remarkable 12 game winning streak. This has put them into first place in the Atlantic Division. They have a 26-16 record with four regulation tie points for 56 points. This gives them a five point lead over anyone else in their division. This is a surprising result. Nobody was expecting the Panthers to lead their division.
Are the Panthers really as good as this streak shows? They have the third best +/- in the league at +27. Only Washington and Dallas are ahead of that. They have strong underlying numbers. There is no statistical reason to suggest their result so far is a fluke.
The Panthers goaltending has been great. Roberto Luongo is one of the best goalies in the NHL. Though he isn't the front-runner in either case, he is in the conversation for both the Vezina and Hart Trophies. Aaron Ekblad is a fine young defenceman who is on track to have a very good career. Brian Campbell has had a solid career as an offensive defenceman. At age 36, he appears to be slowing down but he is still a useful power play quarterback. Willie Mitchell and Dmitry Kulikov provide depth. This defence is solid. It will get better as Ekblad reaches his prime years of his career.
I find it interesting to try to track the worst player who is playing regularly in the NHL. It shows a lot about the prejudices of how teams are built to see what kind of player continues to get playing time despite a complete lack of success. In November, I picked Jonas Hiller of the Calgary Flames as that player. Given his .862 saves percentage and his 3.76 goals against average show that he has played poorly this year. The problem is calling him a regular is a stretch. He has appeared in three games since the end of October. Part of that period he was injured, but for most of that time Calgary is not playing him. They are clear that he isn't playing well and have stopped - at leeast for now - giving him a chance to bring their team down.
The worst regular player in the NHL must be playing regularly. Thus I pick Anton Lander of the Edmonton Oilers. He has 41 games played with no goals scored. He has two assists and a -10 +/- rating. Lander has succeeded at other levels but has failed in the NHL this season. He scored 7 points in 8 games at the World Hockey Championships last year. He has scored at better than point per game rates in his last two years in the AHL. He has failed to make the jump to the NHL. He looked like he was an NHL player last year when he scored 20 points in 38 games. His scoring has completely vanished and his defence isn't strong enough to give him any value.
It is getting to be All Star Game season. The NHL All Star Game will be played January 31st. The AHL All Star Game will be played February 1st. Another interesting all star game is the CHL Top Prospects Game. It will be played on January 28th in Vancouver, B.C. This is a game where players who are playing in the CHL leagues and are eligible for the 2016 entry draft play against each other. Unlike most All Star Games the players have motivation to play their best. A good or bad performance may affect their draft position. This year's game has many of the top prospects for 2016, although presumed top picks Auston Matthews is playing in Switzerland and Jesse Puljujarvi is playing in Finland so neither will participate in the game.
The rosters are divided into two teams which are historically called Team Cherry and Team Orr and named in honor of Don Cherry and Bobby Orr. These are the honorary coaches of the teams, while other coaches will likely do the majority of the coaching work.
Here are the rosters:
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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