The Philadelphia Flyers are not having a strong season. With 13 wins and 17 losses (one of which earned a regulation tie point), they are tied for the second last position in the East Conference. A big reason for their poor showing has been goaltending. The Philadelphia Flyers chose Ilya Bryzgalov to be their starter when they signed Bryzgalov and traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to make salary cap room. I criticized them at the time because they gave up a lot of present value to get a goalie who seemed chosen to win now.
Bryzgalov turns 33 early this summer. He is no longer performing at the level he performed at when he was in Phoenix. He is posing a 2.79 GAA and a .898 saves percentage. Those are lacklustre numbers. His back-up goaltending hasn't been any better. Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton have only appeared in five games between them and both have worse saves percentages than Bryzgalov.
Meanwhile the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in part because they added Carter and Richards. Philadelphia would clearly be a better team if they didn't make those moves.
The decision to make Bryzgalov the Flyers starting goalie has cost the Flyers again. Since he was their chosen starting goalie they traded away back-up Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for draft picks. Bobrovsky has been one of the top goalies in the NHL this season and Bryzgalov has been below par.
Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers has the worst +/- rating in the NHL. He has a -18 rating. He is also the ice time player in the league this season. He has played almost 25 more minutes than Ilya Kovalchuk, who is second in ice time in the league. These two numbers go together when you consider that Florida is the last place team in the NHL with the worst +/- rating.
It shouldn't be a big shock that the player who plays the most on the worst +/- team has the worst +/- in the league. Largely this shows that +/- is a team stat and Campbell is on a bad team. This is one problem with using raw numbers to compare players statistically. Nobody plays more than Campbell and there is no worse team than where he plays. It shouldn't be surprising that his raw numbers are bad.
In the salary capped NHL, teams gain an advantage when their players produce a bigger value to their team than the price of their contract. It is necessary that several players exceed the value of their contract for a team to win the Stanley Cup. The most likely player to exceed his contract value is a player on an entry level deal. Thus it is very important not to waste the years in your entry level deals.
A player who is drafted at age 18 can enter the NHL immediately and play on his entry level deal for his first three years of his pro career. This will be ages 18, 19 and 20. Instead a player can be returned to junior and defer those years until he is 20, 21 and 22. You can trade-off a player's 21 and 22 year old seasons for his 18 and 19 year old seasons if you rush a player into the NHL at a young age. A player will be better at ages 21 and 22 and thus be more likely to exceed to value of his contract at those ages. Instead of following that advice, NHL teams like to rush players into the league before they are ready and waste their entry level years.
Buffalo wasted the entry level year of Mikhail Grigorenko recently returning him to junior after barely giving him any playing time. They are not the only team making this mistake. The New Jersey Devils have done the same with a lesser prospect than Grigorenko who was given even less chance to play in the NHL.
Stefan Matteau was returned to Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL yesterday.
In mid-February I picked Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks as the Selke Trophy leader. While he remains a strong candidate, I think there is a stronger Selke Trophy leader right now in Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Bergeron has a stronger +/- (adjusted or raw) while playing against a similar quality of competition with more penalty killing time.
Bergeron leads the Bruins in scoring with 25 points and in +/- with a +21. He is tied for second in the league with that +/- rating.
Bergeron has been a solid Selke candidate for a few years and I think this is the year where he may win the award.
As a general rule it is a bad idea to rush your draft choices into the NHL. This rule of thumb exists regardless of the question of hurting their development by rushing them too quickly into a role that they are not ready to succeed in. A player can become an unrestricted free agent at age 27 or after seven NHL seasons in the current CBA. A player who is rushed to the NHL at age 18 will have completed his seven seasons by age 25. This is a trade-off of the player's seasons at age 26 and 27 later for their seasons at age 18 and 19 today. Almost every player in NHL history was better at age 26 and 27 than they were at age 18 and 19.
Worse in the salary capped NHL, a team needs to have a group of players who exceed the value of their contracts to be a top team. In most seasons since they came into existence the players who must exceed the value of their contract is on an entry level contract. This contract covers the first three years of his NHL career. If he is still junior aged and does not play a sufficient number of games in the NHL his contract can start can be tolled onto the next season. This makes the cheap entry level deal a trade-off between ages 18, 19 and 20 and ages 20, 21 and 22. NHL players are almost certainly better at ages 21 and 22 than they are at age 18 and 19. In many cases this is a bad trade-off. This trade-off may be worthwhile if a team has a chance at winning the Stanley Cup now and his presence might help.
We have a recent case where a team made the wrong choice. The Buffalo Sabres demoted 2012 first round draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko to the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL yesterday.
I made my first coach of the year pick this season about a month ago. It was Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators. I feel that he is a top coach and has been a top coach for years and it is a shame that he has not won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year in the process. He has done a wonderful job with the Predators and has not has his due in terms of awards.
I don't think this is the year. Although Trotz is a very good coach who is doing very well with a limited amount of talent his team is struggling somewhat. Nashville is currently in 10th place in the West Conference. They are only one point back of a tie for eighth. His team has been the second lowest scoring team in the NHL and their defence is not as strong as it has been in the past with Ryan Suter in Minnesota and Shea Weber not having as dominant a season as he has in the past.
There is a new player atop the +/- ratings in the NHL. It is Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Sidney Crosby's left winger. He has a +22 +/- rating. While Kunitz is a good player a big part of his league leading +/- comes from playing with Crosby. Kunitz usually plays with Crosby except for the toughest situations where Crosby double-shifts without him.
Kunitz is a solid player in his own right. He has always posted good puck possession numbers. This has been true since his Anaheim days when he had never met Crosby. It is with Crosby that he is looking like a superstar.
Chris Kunitz is third in scoring in the NHL right now with 37 points. He has a league leading +/- rating. This is going to be the best (partial) year of his career. He has his synergy with his linemate Sidney Crosby, the best player in hockey to that for a significant part of that. The ability to make teammates into better players by playing with them is a sign a player is one of the greatest talents of all time in hockey history and Sidney Crosby is doing that.
In a shortened 48 game season injuries are more significant to teams because a less serious injury can sideline a player for a large portion of the season. Teams that get hit hardest by injuries are in for a long season. The team that has been hit the hardest by injury so far this year is the Ottawa Senators.
Their top forward Jason Spezza had back surgery after playing only five games this season. He isn't expected to play again this season. Their top defenceman Erik Karlsson, who was my Norris Trophy leader at the time, suffered an Achilles injury and should miss the rest of the season. Their top goalie Craig Anderson, my current Vezina Trophy leader, is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. These are the three most important players to the team and Ottawa is forced to be without them. Also out indefinitely are depth players in Jared Cowan, Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin, Mike Lundin and Dave Dzuirzynski.
Despite these injuries Ottawa is in sixth place in the East Conference. They have a 13-12 record with four regulation tie points. They are currently five points up on a playoff berth. This is remarkable given their injuries.
I would be surprised if Ottawa doesn't see a drop-off given their injuries in the second half of the season. Making the playoffs under these circumstances would be quite an achievement. Doing this well without your top goalie, defenceman and forward is remarkable. The Sens deserve a lot of credit for their results to date.
I have written several times (as recently as Thursday) about how poorly the teams in the Southeast Division are doing. They have been historically weak and this season is no exception. So far this season the Northwest Division is not doing much better statistically. The Northwest teams have three more points than the Southeast teams. Only the Vancouver Canucks would make the playoffs if the season ended right now. The other four teams are the four worst teams in the West Conference aside from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Northwest Division is not as weak as the Southeast Division in part because they don't have the same historical record of ineptness. Many of the Northwest teams have been strong in the past. The Northwest Division is hampered a bit by the fact that it is the largest division geographically and thus always has traffic problems. Thus these teams are better than their record shows if travel effects can be removed from their stats. This division is also better than the Southeast Division because the West Conference is better than the East Conference. That said it is one of the worse divisions in hockey today.
The scoring stars of this division are the Sedin brothers. They are a bit back from the scoring lead right now and this may be a sign that they have past their career peaks. Matt Duchene of Colorado and Sam Gagner of Edmonton are also having strong starts to the season.
The Northwest Division has fallen on hard times. It does not have the strength it once did. It will be interesting to see if its teams rebound or if they continue to struggle into the future. Re-alignment may change things a bit but right now the division is down.
The Chicago Blackhawks impressive streak of 24 games without a regulation loss is over. This is exactly half of the lockout shortened season. During the streak they had 21 wins and 3 losses but each loss was not in regulation. This is basically equivalent to an undefeated streak in the days before overtime and shootouts. Those games were recorded as ties in those days. Today they are regulation tie losses.
Thus the comparison for the Blackhawks for the longest such streak is the 1979/80 Philadelphia Flyers. They had a 35 game undefeated streak. During that streak they had 25 wins and 10 ties. Today those ties would be regulation tie losses, overtime wins and shootout wins.
Chicago's streak ending loss was not particularly impressive. It was a 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The win moved the Avs out of a tie for last place in the West Conference. It's neither the close game nor the tough opponent that one might expect to end such an impressive streak.
This streak clearly puts Chicago in first place in the NHL. So the obvious question to ask is just how impressive is this team. We can learn a bit from history to answer that question. The 1980 Philadelphia Flyers did not win the Stanley Cup. They went to the finals that year and lost to the New York Islanders. The team never did win the cup. They had last won five years earlier but the franchise has not won again since. Thus having an even longer undefeated streak than Chicago had did not give them a cup win, so it does not guarantee one for the Hawks.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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