Last weekend the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes farm team) had moved into first place in the AHL. They appear to have benefitted from playing fewer games than the Eastern teams and were probably overachieving. Their game last Saturday was postponed when captain and top scorer at the time Craig Cunningham collapsed before their game due to an apparent heart attack. This puts the Roadrunners in a tough situation. It is hard to return to hockey and succeed given the emotional toll and the lack of a top player. They lost their first game back to the Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate) 3-2 and dropped from first place.
Taking over as the league leader is the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predator affiliate). Milwaukee has a 12-5 record with three regulation tie points. This gives them a .794 winning percentage and first place. They have points in their last eleven games with nine wins and two regulation ties. Milwaukee is a relatively low scoring team. Their 49 goals puts them behind most teams with similar games played. Their success has been from preventing goals. 41 goals against is a low total for a team with 17 games played. Juuse Saros has been a top goaltender with a league leading 1.59 GAA and .945 saves percentage. Much of their success comes from his play. This is a precarious position for an AHL team. What happens if he gets called up to the NHL?
Milwaukee may not be a high enough scoring team to hold onto the first overall spot in the AHL for too long. They have played very well lately and are on a good streak with points in their last 11 games. In the meantime, Tucson will probably fall in the standings with their problems with the loss of their captain.
NOTE: Milwaukee's lead in the AHL is made more precarious by the fact that goalie Juuse Saros is in the NHL and played today versus Winnipeg.
There is a solid crop of rookies this season. They are doing a good job of creating a competitive race for the Calder Trophy. About two and a half weeks ago I reported that Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets had taken the lead as at that time he was the NHL goal scoring leader. He had taken the lead from Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Laine has cooled recently. He has one goal in the last two and a half weeks and is dropping in the overall scoring race. Thus Zach Werenski has taken the rookie lead this season. Werenski has 16 points which makes him the fourth highest scoring defenceman in the NHL. He is only two points behind Laine despite being a defenceman. Werenski leads his Blue Jacket team in total ice time and is a big part of the reason that Columbus would make the playoffs if the season ended right now. In a year where top draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are getting much of the rookie press, I think a relatively unheralded Columbus defenceman has been the best rookie so far.
Yesterday I looked at the team that has paid it players the most this season in the Detroit Red Wings. Today I will look at the team that is paying its players the least (according to capfriendly.com). They are the Carolina Hurricanes. They have a salary cap hit of slightly over $57 million which is more than $6 million less than any other team in the NHL. There is a salary floor of $54 million. Carolina only exceeds it because of buyouts to former players James Wisniewski and Alexander Semin. There are almost $6 million tied up in both of those former Hurricanes this year.
Carolina is a team that is rumored to be a candidate to move - with the latest rumors suggesting Quebec City. They have struggled at the gate most of the time since they have moved to Carolina. Owner Peter Karmanos is 73 years old and his sons are suing him because he failed to put over $100 million in a trust for them- this money was largely spent running the Carolina Hurricanes. It sees clear that the Hurricanes have no future in the Karmanos family. Karmanos is smart enough to know that new ownership needs to be found while he is still young and healthy enough to pass the team off to the new owners. It may be necessary to move the team to do this. As a result Karmanos is not putting the money into running the team that any other NHL squad is.
Carolina is struggling as a result. They have the second worst record in the Metropolitan Division and seem unlikely to make the playoffs. Going into today's games they have one more point than the highest paid Detroit team. This shows that while spending money on your team is no guarantee of success, not spending money on your team leads to almost certain failure.
The highest paid team in the NHL so far this season according to its salary cap hit (from capfriendly.com) is the Detroit Red Wings. They have a projected salary cap hit of $79.68 million this season. This is despite the fact that the NHL salary cap this season is $73.0 million. They are using longterm injured reserve to go $6.68 million over the cap.
Johan Franzen, Darren Helm and Joe Vitale are all on the longterm injured reserve. This allows the Red Wings to go nearly $9 million above the salary cap.
Franzen is the most disturbing of these players. He played two games last season and will probably never play another NHL game. He is out with "concussion like symptoms" and will remain that way until 2020. It has been an inequity in the salary cap that teams can hide bad contracts by leaving a player on the long-term injured reserve for years while they no longer try to play in the NHL. Johan Franzen is a clear case of this.
Salary-wise it gets worse for the Red Wings. They also signed Pavel Datsyuk who has a $7.5 million salary cap hit. They have been fortunate to trade his salary to Arizona.
The player who leads the NHL in ice time so far this season is Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets. He has played 28:07 per game so far this season. His ice time has increased annually over the past while. Last year Byfuglien averaged 25:12 per game. The year before that he was at 22:41 per game.
Byfuglien's ice time has increased steadily since he has taken over as a full time defenceman. He has become Winnipeg's number one defenceman. Other Jets defencemen have struggled. Toby Enstrom appears to be past his prime at age 32. Tyler Myers has missed time due to injury. Jacob Trouba held out in a contract dispute.
Dustin Byfuglien is a big physical defenceman. His playing style has to be tough on his body. Historically many big physical players have had shortened careers due to injury issues. That may be in Byfuglien's future. In the meantime he is a top flight defenceman and leading the league in plying time. Time will tell if he can handle this level of ice time over a longer term.
The top offensive team so far this year has been the New York Rangers. They have 4.05 goals per game so far. This is slightly more than three quarters of a goal per game more than second place Columbus. It is an even larger margin than last year's leader Dallas who posted 3.23 goals per game. The last time a team completed a full season with more goals per game than the Rangers currently have it was 1995/96. The Pittsburgh Penguins were that team. The Rangers are on pace to be the best offensive team in over 20 years.
How are the Rangers doing it? Their top scorers are all scoring above past established rates. Kevin Hayes and JT Miller lead the team with 18 points each. Hayes is already halfway to his point total last year. Miller is well ahead of last season's pace tht got him 43 points. Their next highest scorers are Michael Grabner, Mika Zabinejad and Mats Zuccarello in that order. Zuccarello is the only player on that list who is not on pace to post a career best. Their next group of players are the more established Rangers stars in Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh.
The Rangers scoring comes from their depth. In total 14 players have 10 or more points. That leads the league.
Going into tonight's games Michael Grabner of the New York Rangers is leading the NHL with a +17 +/- rating. Grabner has 11 goals in his 19 games to date. This is a surprisingly good start.
Last year Grabner put up only 9 goals and 18 points in 80 games. He has only had one relatively productive season in his career. Back in 2010/11 in his rookie season he scored 34 goals and 52 points. Aside from that season he has never managed more than 32 points in a season. Grabner looked like his contract with the New York Rangers is effectively a last chance at the NHL. If he failed this year, he would likely never have another chance.
Things have been working out this year. However I don't think it is sustainable. Grabner has the fifth best PDO in the NHL this season at 111.79. He has been lucky to do as well as he has so far this season.
Grabner is overachieving. He does have the top +/- in the league, but he won't for long. It is a good prediction that he will not be able to keep up his fast start.
Two weeks ago I picked Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens as the MVP so far this season. He has been the top defenceman so far this season and is currently leading all defencemen in both points and +/- rating. During the post, I noted that many people see Carey Price as the best player on the Canadiens but he had missed the first few games this year and thus had less value than Weber so far this season. That has changed, It is time to pick Carey Price as the MVP so far this season.
Price has a .950 saves percentage and a 1.58 GAA. He is yet to lose a game in regulation this season.
Price won the Hart Trophy in 2015. He missed most of the 2015/16 season due to injury. In some sense that makes him the reigning MVP. He was MVP the last time he was healthy. It makes a strong argument for Carey Price as the top goaltender in the NHL over the past few years. Should he complete this season in a Vezina and/or Hart Trophy position, it will be hard to argue against his having completed a Hall of Fame career while still being in his prime.
Carey Price has been the best player in the league so far this season. The fact that Shea Weber is so close behind is a big part of the reason Montreal is in first place in the league.
Early in the season the first place team in any league often changes a few times. A week and a half ago, I reported that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh farm affiliate) were in first place. A loss on Wednesday to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyer affiliate) dropped them from first place. Taking over the league lead is the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyote affiliate).
In the AHL, the western teams play fewer games in the season than eastern teams. As a result, first place is not determined by points but rather by winning percentage. Tucson has the best winning percentage at .818. They have a record of 8-3 with 2 regulation tie points. This gives them fewer wins than a few eastern teams but the best record in the league.
It is time to make my first pick for the Adams Trophy this year. I think the early season coach of the year has been Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota is a team with an aging core. Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville are all moving past their prime. Their incoming big name free agent in Eric Staal is aging too. A team like that should be in decline. Adding a strong coach in Bruce Boudreau has done a lot to stop that decline. Bruce Boudreau is a significant reason why the Wild are a threat in the playoffs instead of a team that may miss playoffs.
It is true that goaltender Devan Dubnyk's strong play is also a strong factor in the Wild playing well. It has often been said that nothing makes a coach look smart more than a top flight goaltender. However in Boudreau's case he has done very well on every stop in his career. Anaheim made a bad move letting him go and Minnesota is improved for it. At this point Boudreau is the top coach in the NHL and is the leading candidate for coach of the year.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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