I haven't written about the AHL standings since mid-January. At that time the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton Oiler affiliate) held down first place. Since then they have fallen out of first place and currently sit five points behind the league leading Hershey Bears (Washington Capital affiliate). Hershey holds a two point lead over the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate). Hershey has played one game more than Manchester.
Both Hershey and Manchester are the same style team. Manchester has scored four more goals. Hershey has allowed three fewer goals. Hershey has been the hotter team more recently as they have moved up in the standings.
Manchester has more front line scoring ability with Brian O'Neill second in league scoring and Jordan Weal fourth in league scoring. Tim Kennedy is the top Hershey scorer and he is ninth in the league. Hershey has had stronger goaltending from Philipp Grubauer having a strong season.
It will be a tight race down the stretch between these teams and perhaps a couple other contenders for the AHL regular season title.
The trade deadline came and went today. It was relatively uneventful. That is not to say there were not a lot of spare parts changing hands, but no top flight players were traded. I think it is clear that nobody in the top 75 players in the NHL today changed hands. The biggest name player traded was Jaromir Jagr. He is still good enough to lead a weak team like New Jersey in scoring. At age 43 his NHL days are clearly numbered. Perhaps the best player changing hands was Keith Yandle. He is the tenth highest scoring defenceman in the NHL. His defensive skills do not measure up to his offensive skills but he clearly has a value. In terms of top prospects traded, there was nothing earlier than a late first rounder. I think the best prospect traded was likely Anthony DuClair who went from the New York Rangers to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Yandle. He was a top scorer in the QMJHL and a significant player in the World Junior Championships. He hasn't succeeded yet in his 18 NHL games played before returning to the QMJHL this year. He did have seven points in that time - in limited ice time.
I usually list the team with the biggest improvement and dropoff in the short and long term in analysis of the trade deadline. The New York Rangers made the biggest improvement with the biggest longterm cost from their Yandle trade. Arizona has the biggest longterm gain and short term dropoff due to that same trade. That makes for simple analysis today.
Yesterday I wrote about the David Clarkson/ Nathan Horton trade which is an LTIR fraud. Toronto is interested in Nathan Horton for no reason other than the fact they can keep him on the longterm injured reserve indefinitely as he never makes an attempt to return to the NHL. This is something that should not be allowed in the rules. A player developing an injury (or more often than not a longterm problem that can be exploited as such) should not allow a team to get out of the salary cap implications of a bad contract.
Neffernin does a good example of explaining why this is a fraud on the team's side with his hypothetical example:
Last year, Alfredsson signs a 5 year contract with Detroit at 2m/year instead of a 1 year @ 4m. He knows he doesn’t have 5 years left, potentially 2 left in him. He’s had recurring back issues, something easily leaned upon when going on LTIR. So instead of a year or two of a 4m cap hit, Detroit gets a cap hit of 2m instead. After Alfredsson retires…. erm goes LTIR, Detroit gets the 2m credited back to them (added on top of the cap amount) instead. During the time Alfredsson is playing, Detroit is getting a discount on the cap due to abusing LTIR.
This time the trade is not directly an LTIR fraud, but it was motivated by a failed attempt at it. This trade is Philadelphia's trading Kimmo Timonen to Chicago for a 2nd round draft pick.
One trade made yesterday was the Toronto Maple Leafs trading David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton. Clarkson has been a major disappointment for the Leafs since he signed a seven year $36.25 million contract in the summer of 2013. So far in this contract Clarkson has scored 26 points in 118 games played. The Leafs want out of this contract. It was assumed by many that they would undertake an expensive buyout to get out of the contract.
Nathan Horton also signed a big contract to join the Columbus Blue Jackets. He signed for $37.1 million over seven years in 2013. He hasn't played an NHL game since last season due to a degenerative back injury. It is expected that he won't play another NHL game in his life.
Both players have big contracts. Neither player will live up to his contract. David Clarkson is going to play in the NHL. Even if he doesn't come close to the value implied in his contract, merely because he can play he will have a bigger value than a player who cannot play at all. Right? Not in the NHL.
The problem is the way players are treated on the long term injury list. There are LTIR frauds. These are players who are no longer attempting to play in the NHL who are effectively retired except they cannot retire. This list of players includes Chris Pronger, Marc Savard and Mattais Ohlund. These players have not played an NHL game since 2011, yet are considered active NHLers. They have taken jobs that are not related to playing in the NHL, but they cannot retire. If they retire their team has a large salary cap hit. If they don't retire, their contract doesn't *#$%@& toward the cap. Thus they do not retire and the only reason they do not retire is to circumvent the salary cap,
Yesterday I wrote that Mike Babcock is in the lead on my coach of the year ballot. Most comments told me that Peter Laviolette will win the Adams Trophy this year. I don't doubt that they are right but I don't think that he should win it. Laviolette is coach of the most improved team and that is often how the Adams Trophy is decided even though it is often a poor way to determine the best coach.
I recently wrote about the Nashville Predators are the first place team. They missed the playoffs last year. This improvement is the reason that Laviolette will likely be coach of the year but that improvement is not due to coaching. The biggest single reason for improvement is Pekka Rinne. He has returned from injury and is posting a Hart Trophy candidate season. Their offense is also improved with the addition of Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribiero and James Neal. The personnel changes are enough to explain their improvement. Sure Laviolette is a solid NHL calibre coach but how much of the improvement is due to him? How come he hasn't been able to get results like this in most of his seasons coaching in the NHL? Is his coaching significantly improved from his last few seasons? Do those questions even make sense? The biggest question to ask is who is a better coach - Mike Babcock of Peter Laviolette? I think most people saying Laviolette will win the coach of the year would pick Babcock as a better coach. How sensible is that? It appears that Babcock could only win coach of the year if he takes over a poor team that has significant room for improvement. As long as Detroit remains a solid playoff team, there isn't enough room for his team to improve the next season for him to win coach of the year. Does that make any sense at all? Picking the coach of the year as coach of the most improved team is usually a poor idea.
At the end of October I picked Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks as the coach of the year leader. I think he is a very good coach who has deserved to be coach of the year in several of the past years. However given the Ducks February swoon I think there is a better coach of the year candidate. I pick Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings as the leading candidate for the Adams Trophy as coach of the year. He is a tremendous coach who has also been snubbed for the coach of the year in the past.
Detroit is a team that he regularly has performing well and often above their talent level. This year's team is in transition. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been their best players for several years but Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are younger talents who are taking over their roles. Nevertheless the Red wings remain a team that appear to have little trouble making the playoffs.
Mike Babcock is a free agent at the end of the season. He will be a highly sought after coach. He will likely sign a large money contract for several years this summer. He may stay in Detroit but that isn't certain. Toronto have made some noise about wanting to sign Babcock but it is not likely that he will go to a team that is in the middle of a significant rebuild as it appears the Leafs are. It will be interesting if Babcock wins coach of the year given his free agency. I doubt that will actually happen because the Adams Trophy is usually given to the coach of the most improved team and that makes for a battle between Peter Laviolette in Nashville and Bob Hartley in Calgary. I do not understand how either are better coaches than Babcock.
I have been torn recently between the two top Norris Trophy candidates this season. It is a tight race between Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. I first picked Giordano to be the Norris leader in November. In January, Weber had taken the lead. In the first week of February, I thought Giordano was back in front. Today I think Weber has re-taken the lead.
There is little difference offensively between the two. Weber has two more goals, while Giordano has four more points. They both are playing tough minutes against the best players on their opposition. Weber plays about a minute and a half more per game. They both have put up top puck possession numbers on their teams. They are both helping lesser ability linemates post career numbers (Roman Josi in Nashville and TJ Brodie in Calgary). I think the biggest difference is that Weber is relied upon more by his team as is shown by his greater icetime. Their numbers are very good in both cases and often league leading. They are both having very good seasons. Shea Weber has been the slightly better player at this point.
If I asked you which forward is leading the NHL in ice time so far this season, would you guess Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers? He has played nearly 16 minutes more than any other forward this season. He has done this while playing 54 games so far, while some other players have as many as 57 games played.
This shows how dependent the Oilers are on Nugent-Hopkins. His 34 points place him 87th overall in league scoring. That isn't very impressive given his ice time. Nugent-Hopkins is not a defensive star either. One would expect that the ice time leader would be one of the biggest star forwards in the league.
His ice time shows the lack of depth in Edmonton. The Oilers have few forwards who have clear NHL skills. They are strongly dependent upon a handful of players. This helps to explain struggles the Oilers have had. Nugent-Hopkins has potential. He may be a top player someday. At this point his offensive skills do not warrant his ice time. The problem is nobody else in Edmonton has the skills to take his spot so the Oilers overplay him.
I often like to look at the standings and see if I can explain why the team in first place is in first place. Right now the Nashville Predators are in first place. They have a record of 36-18 with six regulation tie points. This gives them 78 points. They have a three point lead over any other team. This is a big improvement from last year's Nashville team that finished in 19th place. Is their improvement sustainable?
This improvement comes from Nashville increasing their scoring by nearly a third of a goal per game and dropping their goals against by nearly half a goal per game. The defensive improvement is mostly explained in goal. Pekka Rinne has been one of the best goalies in the league this season. Last season was an injury plagued write-off where Rinne was limited to 24 games played. A significant improvement in goal can make a big difference to any team. As long as Rinne stays healthy and plays this well, the Preds will be a much better team than they showed last year.
Whenever a new player takes over the +/- rating lead, I like to take a look at him and try to explain what his +/- rating means about him. +/- ratings are a measure of puck possession but because they only record plusses and minuses when goals are scored they run into sample size problems that Corsi and other metrics do not.
Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens leads the NHL with his +29 +/- rating. He has a one point lead over Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The next three players after Pacioretty are Kucherov and his linemates. Pacioretty is having a good season. He leads his Montreal Canadiens with 45 points. That places him 24th overall in league scoring. He is a good player but hardly the top puck possession player in the league.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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