It is a good rule of thumb that players who score the vast majority of their points on the power play are not as good offensively as their point total shows. They need the extra space of a man advantage to score and cannot do it at the same rate when playing at even strength. The player who best fits that group this year is one you might not expect - Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. On the power play he has 27 points which ties him for third in the league in power play scoring. He is the top scoring defenceman in the NHL on the power play. In total he has 49 points, which is good for sixth among defenceman in the NHL. Only 22 of his points have come at even strength. 55% of his points this season have come on the power play. That is a huge reliance on the power play for his scoring.
Ekman-Larsson is a solid defensive player. Thus he still has solid value even if he doesn't score well. He is seen as a rising star who may be one of the best defencemen of the future. I think that his reliance upon power play scoring is a reason to doubt that he might have a Norris Trophy future. He isn't nearly as strong an offensive player at even strength.
Few players have seasons where they score as much as 50% of their points on the power play. Ekman-Larsson is at 55% right now. That number should raise a few red flags. Why is Oliver Ekman-Larsson so dependent upon the power play for his scoring? He appears to need the extra space of the power play to score and cannot do it at nearly the same rate at even strength. This is a reason to doubt his overall offensive ability is as strong as his point total.
On January 27th the Nashville Predators defeated the Calgary Flames 2-1. During the game, Calgary's Dennis Wideman took a hit from Miikka Salomaki of the Predators. Wideman suffered a concussion from the hit. While returning to the bench Wideman cross-checked linesman Don Henderson from behind. It wasn't clear that Wideman was aware of what was going on in his state and had any desire to hurt Henderson. It wasn't clear that Wideman even saw Henderson until it was too late to avoid a collison. Wideman was suspended 20 games for abuse of an official. At the time former NHL referee Kerry Fraser wrote in his TSN column that a ten game suspension was reasonable.
Wideman and the Calgary Flames appealed the suspension. The first step was to appeal to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman who upheld the suspension. That step of the procedure appears to be a time waster. It isn't clear that Bettman would disagree with the initial suspension under any reasonable conditions. The next step was to appeal to an independent arbitrator. Yesterday the arbitrator reduced the suspension to ten games. The problem is Wideman has missed 19 games already. There is no way to go back and play Wideman is the nine games that he should have played. Wideman's fine is for ten games missed instead of twenty.
The Washington Capitals are in first place in the NHL. They have a record of 49-18 with five regulation tie points. This gives them 103 points. This gives them a fifteen point lead over any other team in the league. This is one of the better seasons we have seen in the NHL in the last few years. Despite their success Washington could have been a better team if they had not made one of the worse trades of the last few years. Washington traded Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Forsberg leads Nashville is scoring with 52 points. That would be good enough for fourth place on the Capitals and is 29th overall in the NHL. Martin Erat has played himself out of the NHL and is currently playing in the KHL. Michael Latta has seven points so far this year and that makes this season his career best. He averages about eight minutes of ice time per game and is a frequent healthy scratch.
Quite clearly Washington would be a better team had they not made that bad trade. How good could Washington be if they still had Filip Forsberg?
Many people assume that a team becomes a top team because they made a series of intelligent moves. While that is generally true, it doesn't preclude the team from having made a big mistake along the way. Washington made a big mistake in trading away Filip Forsberg. They have a top team in the NHL right now but they could be an even better team.
Every year 16 of the NHL's 30 teams make the playoffs. That leaves 14 teams to miss them. With seven teams playing in Canada it is a good bet that several of them will make the playoffs in any given year. This year it looks like all seven will miss playoffs. That means half of the 14 teams that miss out on the playoffs come from Canada. The Canadian team with the best chance at the playoffs is the Ottawa Senators who are five points out with fourteen teams to go. They must pass three teams in the standings to earn a playoff berth.
There are consequences to the NHL as a whole for Canada to miss out on the playoffs. Canadian playoff television ratings will suffer and this will cost them advertising dollars. The Canadian markets, which are some of the strongest in attendance, will drop in interest and this will weaken demand for tickets. Canadian teams who are already hit with a weakening Canadian dollar will have to deal with weakening demand for tickets. These teams certainly cannot raise ticket prices and may play to more empty seats than they have in the past. This drop in revenue affects the salary cap. The salary cap will not rise as fast as it has in the past and may even drop. Thus good teams will not be able to keep themselves together in the future. The NHL has set up a situation where a fluke event like all Canadian teams missing the playoffs will affect the course of the league into the future.
Before the trade deadline I wrote a post entitled How To Get Some Extra Salary Cap Space. I wrote about how teams can place a player on longterm injured reserve before the trade deadline and use the salary cap space created by this move to trade for a player at deadline time. The injured player returns to his team for the first day of the playoffs. The team did not have salary cap space for both the injured player's return and the player that was acquired by trade. The injured player's return was delayed until playoff time because of salary cap neccessity. During the playoffs there is no salary cap. This happened last year with the Chicago Blackhawks who kept Patrick Kane on the LTIR until the first game of the playoffs because they needed the space for Antoine Vermette who they acquired in a trade deadline deal. Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup but it is hard to argue that this move was a major reason for their success.
This year the Los Angeles Kings appear to be following this path. Marian Gaborik is on the LTIR and that created salary cap space to acquire Kris Versteeg from the Carolina Hurricanes in a deadline deal. It would not surprise me if Gaborik makes his return as soon as the playoffs begin. If that doesn't happen it is almost certain to be because another player suffered a longterm injury and can take his place.
Since February 5th the Toronto Maple Leafs have a record of 2-13 with two regulation tie points. This gives them a .200 winning percentage. Before that point the Leafs were not a particularly good team but they were much better. They had a 19-31 record with nine regulation tie points on the season before that time. They had a .470 winning percentage before February 5th. That date is rather arbitrary but it is a time when the trade deadline is approaching and it is clear that Toronto will be a seller and not attempt to compete this year. It is a time when the only goal of the team appears to be trying to get as good a draft pick as possible.
Last year was essentially the same. After February 5th their record was 8-22 with four regulation tie points. That is a .333 winning percentage. In the earlier part of the season the Leafs record was 22-30 with four regulation tie points. That gives them a .462 winning percentage. In both years of the Brendan Shanahan era in Toronto the Leafs got significantly worse down the stretch.
Last week the first sixteen players on each World Cup team were named. I made my projections for the first 16 players from Team Canada and Team USA. Last week I also wrote an analysis of the Team Canada World Cup picks where the discrepancies between both lists are discussed.
11 of my 16 picks for Team USA were actually picked onto their World Cup team. I expect that when the roster is completed some of the discrepancy players will be added. Thus the lists may be more similar than they appear.
My first problem with the World Cup list is that Team USA named all three goalies. It is always a good idea to leave one position open should a surprise player emerge with a strong stretch run and playoffs. What would happen if an unlikely US goalie surprised by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and was unable to play on the team because the goaltending is full? I selected Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick. I did not select Ben Bishop. Although he is a likely third goalie in my selections, I thought it best to leave one spot in case on unexpected events.
Yesterday the first 16 players on each roster in the World Cup of Hockey which will be played next September were announced. I made my projections for Team Canada's first 16 and Team USA's first 16 a few days back. I want to look at the actual picks and explain why I made the selections that I made when there are any discrepancies. I will start with Team Canada today.
I agree with 12 of the players selected at this point to Team Canada. That leaves four discrepancies. The World Cup team selected Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jeff Carter and they were not on my list. In their places I selected Roberto Luongo, PK Subban, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall. Since there is no need to name the entire rosters at this point, it is possible that some of my picks will wind up on the actual World Cup team and some of the World Cup picks will wind up on my team. Also because the entire roster is not named at this point, we do not have the same positions for our picks. The World Cup team has an extra goalie and I have an extra forward on my team. I do not think that it is wise for any team to completely fill a position as the World Cup team did by naming three goalies. It is always smart to leave one spot open in event that a last minute candidate emerges. Imagine that a goalie not named to the World Cup team catches fire in the rest of the regular season and wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. There would be no room for him the World Cup in this circumstance. I think room must be left if that is a possibility.
In the salary capped era a very bad team will pay their roster at or near the salary cap and nevertheless be in or near last place. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in that situation. Officially they are within half a million dollars of the salary cap. They have four players buried in the minors who would bring them more than $3.5 million above the salary cap if they counted in the NHL. They are Jared Cowen with a $2.15 million salary cap hit, Rafi Torres, Alex Stalock and Mark Arcobello. Of that group only Arcobello has actually played a game with the Leafs this year.
They also have Nathan Horton hidden on the long term injured reserve. He has a $5.3 million salary cap hit that remains on the books until 2020. Horton was acquired to be injured and not play with the Leafs. Also on the injured reserve is Stephane Robidas who is effectively retired but nevertheless stays on the books with his $3 million salary cap hit. There is a little over $3.2 million tied up in players who are not even Leaf property. There is Tim Gleason who is bought out and Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarsson who had salary retained in their trades.
There is about $15 million being paid to players who are not playing with the Maple Leafs at all. That is poor management of money.
Jim Benning was hired as Vancouver Canucks general manager in the off-season in 2014. He has had long enough to adjust into the position and give us an idea of whether he is a good pick for the position. In his first full off-season last summer we saw some troubling trades. He traded away assets for little in return. Kevin Bieksa was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a second round draft pick to be selected in 2016. Eddie Lack was traded to Carolina for a third round draft pick (Guillaume Brisebois) and a seventh round pick to be selected in 2016. It was alarming that he was willing to trade significant roster players for draft picks that are not early enough in the draft to have clear NHL prospects.
Benning went into the trade deadline with what seemed like an obvious key plan. With the Canucks sitting eight points out of a playoff berth some of their free agents to be should be turned into draft picks or prospects. Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata should have some value. However Benning didn't trade either of them. The trades he did make made little sense. He traded away 2013 first round draft pick Hunter Shinkaruk to Calgary for Markus Granlund. While Shinkaruk is an AHL all star and looks to be a solid prospect, Granlund has struggled to make the jump to the NHL. He had four goals and seven points in 31 games so far this season in Calgary. In a worst case Shinkaruk would emerge to a player at least as good as Granlund. Most likely he has a better upside. It is a move that makes no sense given the Canucks position in the standings.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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