Officially, the Masterton Trophy is given to the player who best combines perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. In practise, it is usually given to the player who has the best season after overcoming a significant obstacle. Last year's winner was Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild. He is overcoming multiple sclerosis to play in the NHL. The problem is his 2013 season was nothing special. He was limited to five games played in the season. He posted a lacklustre .863 saves percentage and a 3.24 GAA. At times he was unavailable to play because of complications from his MS.
A player can only win the Masterton Trophy once in a career, so Josh Harding cannot win the award again. The problem is he has become a far better candidate this season. He has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season. Harding is posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.65 GAA. This is the completion of the story. Harding has overcome MS to be a top goalie in the NHL, as opposed to the bit player who was barely hanging onto an NHL career last year. In an ideal world, Harding could win the Masterton this year and have left it for somebody else (I picked Andrei Markov of Montreal). This year he is a stronger candidate than Manny Malhotra, who I am currently picking, but Harding cannot win this year.
It is many people's conventional wisdom that a poor team's best chance to rebuild is to become as poor a team as possible and try to build through top draft picks. This is the path the Edmonton Oilers have followed. They have picked first overall in the NHL draft three years in a row netting them Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. They have picked up other young talented players in Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Sam Gagner. This rebuild has netted them a team in last place in the West Conference. In fact, that same conventional wisdom that lead to the first rebuild would suggest now is the time to trash the team again and rebuild in exactly the same way that has failed them so far.
While it is true that none of the young players the Edmonton Oilers have picked up are on Hall of Fame tracks. They haven't "hit a home run" with any of their first overall picks - at least not yet. It is still quite possible that one or more of them does project to a Hall of Famer in the future. It is also clear that this route to building a winning team has no guarantees. In fact it appears to be no better than any other method - and possible worse than them.
Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild significantly leads the NHL in ice team this season. He has played 29:33 per game this season. This is more than a minute and a half than second place Brian Campbell of Florida. Over the course of the season he has played almost 140 minutes more than any other player in the league. This makes Suter a valuable player to the Wild. They don't have any other top level defencemen to play. Suter's usual linemate Jonas Brodin is almost five minutes behind him per game. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella are closer to ten minutes behind him.
Suter led the NHL in ice time last year and he is up by well over two minutes a game from that pace. One question is whether or not this is a good strategy for the Wild. Will Suter run out of gap before or during the playoffs? Will he be beaten by players who have been rested down the stretch?
We are in uncharted waters projecting on Suter's ice time and its effect on his game. The last time a player finished a season with more ice time per game it was Chris Pronger in 1999/2000. Pronger won the Hart Trophy that year. He was also eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Since then the NHL has got faster. The new divisional alignment has increased travel for players. It is harder to play that level of ice time today. Ryan Suter is doing it and I am interested in how it will work out.
I think it is often interesting to look at the leaders in some of the more complex stats, including +/- ratings, and explain why that player could lead the league. Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins currently leads the NHL in +/- rating with a +26 rating. He is a bit of an odd leader. When we look over his career, he has posted a minus rating as often as he has a plus rating. Aside from his rookie year, he has never posted a +/- rating better than +9. In his rookie year he had a +22 rating, which looked like an anomaly until this year.
His rookie season and this year have one thing in common. Niskanen has played against some weaker competition. This year he is the partner of rookie Olli Maatta and the two of them have been largely protected from facing top opposition. As a rookie, he was similarly protected.
It doesn't hurt that he plays for the East Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins. That also helps his +/- rating. His team leading PDO is another contributor.
I think Matt Niskanen isn't a player who will finish atop the league in +/- rating, but in his current circumstances he may be in the top few. He is a player who can dominate against lesser NHL competition, but doesn't have the talent to be a successful top line player. If you have sufficient depth that you can allow Niskanen to play a sheltered role, he will put up good numbers for you.
I last reported on the AHL scoring race about a month ago. Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) had re-taken the lead after losing it because of an NHL call-up. Because many of the other contenders in the race have also had significant AHL call-ups, Morin has taken a significant scoring lead. His 55 points is a ten point lead over Mike Hoffman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) who is in second place.
Morin isn't the kind of player one might have expected to win the AHL scoring race. He is a veteran AHLer, who is not seen as a significant NHL prospect. Thus his chances of getting an NHL call-up for a significant amount of time are low - though he had a short one earlier this year. He is 30 years old and has been bouncing around American minor pro leagues since 2007 when he left college. He has had six NHL games with no points scored. During his AHL time, he has never scored more than 66 points in a year. This isn't a particularly high scoring track record for an AHL top scorer.
The AHL has changed in recent years. The KHL has opened up another option for players who would have otherwise dominated in the AHL. This cuts into the older non-prospect AHL veteran player who usually wins the AHL scoring title. This reduces the talent available in the AHL and opens up an opportunity for players like Morin to win the AHL scoring title.
It was just before Christmas when I last picked Tuukka Rask as the Vezina Trophy leader as top goalie this season in the NHL. While Rask is having a good season, he has been clearly surpassed by Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bishop is posting a remarkable .938 saves percentage and a 1.80 GAA. These are the best numbers in the NHL by a significant margin. This makes Bishop our surprise Vezina Trophy leader.
When this season began, Bishop was expected to battle with Anders Lindback for Tampa Bay's number one goaltending job. He has clearly won it. At age 27 he wasn't a clear NHL starter before this season. He played a career high 22 games last season, which isn't a number that puts him on the Vezina Trophy radar.
Due to the Olympics there will not be an All Star Game in the NHL this year. Nevertheless since it is All Star Game season in that the KHL All Star Game occurred this weekend and the CHL Top Prospects Game occurs Wednesday, I am going to pick All Star Teams. I am picking hypothetical teams for an East Conference vs. west Conference Game. I will have two 21 man rosters (3 goalies, 6 defencemen and 12 forwards each). Each team must be represented by at least one player. I am selecting starting line-ups based upon which players I think a general group of NHL fans would like to see (I am not assuming that one team will stuff the ballot box - even though that happens in reality.
Here are my teams:
Josh Harding (Minnesota)
Roberto Luongo (Vancouver)
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) *starter*
It is All Star Game season. The KHL All Star Game was played over the weekend with Team West defeating Team East 18-16 in a game where defence wasn't played. The CHL Top Prospects Game is this week in Calgary. The other major remaining All Star Game is the AHL Game. This year will not be a traditional All Star Game. On February 12th, the AHL All Stars will play against Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League in a game in St John's, Newfoundland. Here is the AHL All Star Team:
Jake Allen (Chicago)
Martin Jones (Manchester)
The Winnipeg Jets have fired coach Claude Noel today. He was the only head coach that the Jets have had since their return to the NHL. He was hired because he had been a successful AHL coach with the Manitoba Moose before the Jets returned to Winnipeg. He was a solid enough coach, but an unspectacular one. The problem is the Winnipeg Jets have not been a particularly successful team since their NHL return. They have never made the playoffs and don't look likely to do so this season. They currently have a 19-28 record with five regulation tie points. This is good for 43 points and third from last in the West Conference.
The problem in Winnipeg is a lack of talent. They have never had a player who was in the top 50 in the NHL in their return to the league and there doesn't appear to be one on the horizon. Probably the best player since their return to the NHL has been Dustin Byfuglien and he was not seen as good enough to make the US Olympic Team. It is hard to imagine this group of players being successful regardless of the coach.
It is All Star Game season. The KHL All Star Game is underway this weekend. The CHL Top Prospects Game will be played this Wednesday in Calgary. This is a game for the best players in the CHL who are eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. Former Calgary Flames players Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski will be the coaches. McDonald is coaching the white team (Team Orr) and Peplinski the red team (Team Cherry).
Here are the rosters for the Top Prospects Game:
Team Cherry (Red)
Ty Edmonds (Prince George)
Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth)
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???