Currently in first place in the NHL is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have a record of 11-4 with one regulation tie point for 23 points. Although many saw them as a team on the rise, I think it is a surprise for them to be in first overall.
Last season was a breakout year for Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop. He was a Vezina Trophy nominee in his first year as an NHL starter. It wasn't clear that he could follow up with another season at such a high level. This has been true; he is having a solid season but is well outside the early Vezina race.
While their defence looked solid, it looked like it would depend upon Victor Hedman to take it to the next level. Hedman suffered a broken finger five games into the season and hasn't played since. Newcomer Anton Stralman has carried the load, though it is reasonable to doubt his ability to play at this level. He has 10 points already this season and managed only 13 in all of last season.
Throughout the month of October, I was unable to make an early pick for the Norris Trophy. Now that we are into November, a player has emerged. Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames has been the top defenceman so far this season. He leads all defencemen with 18 points. This puts him sixth overall in the entire point race. He also sports a +8 +/- rating. He has been a big part of the reason that the Calgary Flames have exceeded expectations and currently sit in fourth place in the West Conference.
Giordano was considered by some to be a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy last year. He finished tenth in the voting and even got a single first place vote. This is a surprising result for a player who was undrafted and had to play in the KHL in 2007/08 because an NHL job was uncertain for him. Giordano has been a late bloomer, but at age 31 he seems to be blossoming into a star. If Giordano can continue to play at this level, he still has a chance to get onto a Hall of Fame track. A couple years ago, no one would have imagined that could ever be a possibility.
The Los Angeles Kings play the Vancouver Canucks today. Likely they will not dress a full 20 players. Robyn Regehr left last night's practise with an undisclosed injury. That leaves Los Angeles with five healthy defencemen. Under normal circumstances they would call up another defenceman from the AHL. The problem is no salary cap room exists to do this.
The problem comes from the suspension of Slava Voynov. He was suspended after his domestic violence arrest on October 20th. He is still being paid by the Kings but cannot play for them. He isn't injured so he cannot be placed on an injured list. This leaves $4.17 million of Kings cap space sitting unused. This makes them unable to respond to short term problems like Regehr's injury.
The NHL should be concerned with making sure that the best possible game is played every night. One way to do this is to make sure teams play with a full roster. There is a precedent for teams playing with less than a full roster for salary cap reasons. The New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames have both been stuck in this situation in the past. The ultimate problem is the salary cap prevents teams from dressing competitive line-ups. In this case, the problem is the way Voynov has been handled with regards to the salary cap. There is no provision for players who are suspended in his situation. It is an unintended consequence of the situation.
Tonight the Vancouver/ Los Angeles game will not be a very good one. The Kings are going to likely be a defenceman short. That leaves them in a vulnerable state and makes the game a poor one.
About two weeks ago, I took a first look at the AHL standings. The Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville affiliate) and Albany Devils (New Jersey affiliate) had taken an early lead. Neither team had lost in regulation yet. With some more time, both of these teams fell back from their early pace. Milwaukee has played three games since that post and only won one of the three games. Albany has played four games since that post and only won one of their games (although they did manage a regulation tie point).
That leaves different teams atop the AHL standings. The Rockford IceHogs (Chicago affiliate) lead the point race with a 9-3 record in 12 games played with a regulation tie point. They are closely followed by the Utica Comets (Vancouver affiliate) who have an 8-3 record with two regulation tie points. This places them one point behind Rockford. They are leaders in the points race because they are among the league leaders in games played. The Milwaukee Admirals with a 7-2 record are probably doing equally well at this point.
A little over two weeks ago I picked Tanner Pearson of the Los Angeles Kings as the top rookie so far this season. While he is off to a good start, he has been surpassed by another rookie Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators. Forsberg leads the rookies in the league this season with 12 points in 12 games. He also has a league leading +14 +/- rating.
Like Pearson, Forsberg has significant \NHL experience for a rookie. He played five NHL games in 2012/13 and 13 games in 2013/14. If he had played more than 25 games in any one season or six or more games in any two seasons, he would no longer be considered a rookie. If he played one more game in 2012/13, then he would no longer be a rookie.
Forsberg was drafted by the Washington Capitals and traded to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Ladda before he played his first NHL game. It was a small price to pay for a player with the potential of Forsberg. That trade alone may be enough to explain why George McPhee is no longer the Washington Capitals GM.
I think it is an interesting question to try to find the worst player who is regularly playing in the NHL and to try to understand why that player keeps getting an NHL shot. It helps to understand some of the biases that coaches and managers have when they build NHL teams. I think the worst player so far this year has been Tanner Glass of the New York Rangers. He has played all eleven Ranger games so far this year. He is yet to score and has a team worst -7 +/- rating.
Glass keeps bouncing around the NHL. He has played in Florida, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and is now a Ranger. He doesn't stay anywhere long, but he is quickly approaching 400 NHL games played. Everywhere he goes he is a hard working popular player with his teammates. The problem is wherever he plays, the puck is in his opponent's possession. He hurts his team on the ice. He can't score. His best is five goals and 16 points in a season. He can't stop his opponents from scoring either. However he plays a tough game and willingly gives his body to try to help his team. Coaches find it hard to bench him despite the fact he doesn't help his team.
Kris Newbury of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) leads the AHL with 15 points in ten games. He is a 32 year old who has played 76 NHL games in parts of seven NHL seasons. He is no longer a serious NHL prospect. Nobody expects him to catch on to an NHL roster. His most likely challenger in the AHL scoring race is Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate). Morin has 13 points in eight games played. He was the top scorer in the AHL last season. Morin is 30 years old and is no longer a serious NHL prospect either. If the AHL scoring race is between Newbury and Morin it is unlikely to be decided because one of those players gets called up.
Also in the AHL scoring race are Chris Wideman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) and Cal O'Reilly of the Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks affiliate). Both have 13 points in ten games played. O'Reilly is 28 and has 113 NHL games played - but none since 2011/12. Wideman is 24 and his AHL totals have been increasing each year he plays in the league. He is the best NHL prospect on this list of AHL scorers.
It is early in the AHL season but several players have established themselves as top scorers. Most of the top scorers are aging AHL veterans who are no longer considered NHL prospects. That is a common situation in the AHL. The men usually outplay the boys. Kris Newbury leads and Travis Morin is his top rival. Time will tell if they are both in the race when the season ends.
During the season, I like to pick award leaders as early in the season as there is a clear leader and to update those picks whenever necessary. I want to know when the eventual award winner first emerges in the race and what happens to early leaders by season's end. I have picked leaders for the Vezina, Calder and Adams Trophies. It has been a bit unusual that there has been no clear Hart Trophy leader in the month of October. In early November, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins has emerged as the leader. He leads the NHL with 18 points (a two point lead over anyone else) despite having as many as three fewer games played as some of the other top scorers.
Crosby has won the Hart Trophy twice in his career so far. Last year he won by a significant margin. I had him as the leader for the entire season after he established a lead in October. I believe he should have been a unanimous winner but eight of the 136 voters disagreed. First place Hart Trophy votes were given to Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux and Semyon Varlamov. I think this was a mistake.
We shall see if Crosby can repeat his dominance of last season. If he does, it goes a long way toward cementing him as one of the best players in NHL history. Will Crosby remain the Hart Trophy leader throughout this season?
It is still early in the season but there is a coach who has put himself forward as the early season coach of the year. Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks is doing a wonderful job. I have been a Boudreau fan for quite a while. He was my coach of the year pick last year and the year before. Boudreau is a good coach who always has his team motivated and playing a strong system. His team is first in the West Conference despite having changed his goaltending from Jonas Hiller to Frederik Andersen who had only 28 NHL games experience before the start of the season. He has overseen the development of Cam Fowler into a solid NHL defenceman. He saw the retirement of Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne without the team skipping a beat.
Even if Anaheim and Boudreau keep up their pace and have top flight seasons, I expect that he may get overlooked as coach of the year despite being deserving. The coach of the year is often given to the coach of the most improved team and Anaheim won the West Conference last year. There isn't much room for improvement. This is a problem with the way the coach of the year is determined. Bruce Boudreau may deserve the award as best coach, but he won't be considered as coach of the most improved team.
As I pick award leaders early in the season, it is inevitable that many will change as the season progresses. Some may change many times before the end of the season. We have our first award leader change today. I picked Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild as an early season Vezina Trophy leader. He had shutouts in his first two starts and three of his first four games. That pace was not one that could be maintained for a whole season. In fact we are early enough into the season that one poor start is enough to change the race. In his last start on Monday night against the New York Rangers he allowed five goals on twenty shots. Hence it is time to pick a new Vezina Trophy leader.
The current Vezina Trophy leader is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. He has posted a .950 saves percentage and a 1.78 GAA in eight games played. Nobody who has played the majority of his team's games has better numbers.
Quick is putting up a strong career. He has twice won the Stanley Cup and once won the Conn Smythe Trophy. If he can put together a Vezina calibre season this year, it will go a long way toward making his case as a Hall of Fame goaltender. To date, his regular season numbers have been up and down. He hasn't shown the consistency of a Hall of Famer. Is that changing?
One thing we know for sure is it is early in the year. October is almost over. At this point, Jonathan Quick has been to top goalie in the NHL.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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