The World Junior Hockey Championships are upon us. Teams are being selected and preliminary games are underway. A question that comes up every year is how great it would be if all the junior aged players in the NHL were sent to play in the tournament. This year three NHLers look to be going to the tournament. Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild will be joining Team Canada, Elias Lindholm of the Carolina Hurricanes will be part of Team Sweden and Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres will be joining Team Russia. All of these players are being sent to the World Juniors because they are struggling in the NHL.
Grigorenko has three points so far this season. This is his second NHL year. Last year he scored five points. His development into an NHL player has yet to happen. Buffalo threw away two years of his path the unrestricted free agency when he was ineffective. It is a poor bet. Grigorenko will be eligible for unrestricted free agency at age 25 as opposed to 27 like normal NHLers since he will have played seven NHL seasons by age 25.
The NHL has done well in terms of public relations in their battles with the NHLPA. The NHL periodically shuts itself down depriving fans of hockey in order to force players to accept a smaller piece of the pie than they did they did the last time the league was shut down. Despite that, many fans support the NHL in these labor battles.
Here is one prime example of how the NHL achieves this. Hockey players have the right to appeal lengthy suspensions with the NHLPA working as their legal counsel during the appeal. Thus it is going to be reported in the media that the NHLPA is appealing the suspension of an NHL evil-doer. The NHL comes out on the side of law and order and the NHLPA comes out on the side of supporting a violent offender. It makes the NHL look good and it makes the NHLPA look bad. This is the kind of public relations battle the NHL keeps winning.
One story this season is disappointment regarding the progress of 2012 first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov. He was the top scoring rookie in the lockout shortened 2013 season with 31 points. There were questions about his defence but it was pretty clear that he could score. Big things were expected for the 2013/14 season. They haven't happened yet. Through 32 games he has only five goals and 11 points and a league worst -21 +/- rating. There have even been rumors that the struggling Oilers are considering trading him.
The Calgary Flames have fired General Manager Jay Feaster today. He had a slightly under three year run as their GM as he was hired in December 2010 when he took over for Darryl Sutter. During that time Calgary never made the playoffs. Their playoff prospects are not looking any better today than when he was hired. Brian Burke takes over as an interim GM. He claims that he will step aside when a new GM is hired, but it is hard to believe that he will be really out of the picture. Any new GM is likely to have Burke looking over his shoulder.
One of the more interesting moves over the summer was when the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks effectively traded coaches. Both teams got rid of their old coach - Alain Vigneault in Vancouver and John Tortorella with the Rangers. They then hired each other's former coach. It was largely seen as a lateral move in terms of coaching tactics and both coaches tended to select their forwards based upon the zone in which the shift starts. The Rangers and Canucks are the teams that most dominate the lists of top offensive and defensive zone starters in the 2013 season. The main difference was a stylistic one. Tortorella is more intense and drives his players harder. Vigneault is more of a player's coach who gives his star players more room to be creative. The biggest reason for the coaching changes was probably just a chance to reset expectations and give players a bit of a jolt in hopes of improving their fortunes.
In the first half of last season there was open speculation about whether or not Alexander Ovechkin's best days were over. He was off to a relatively slow start. Things turned around and he finished with the NHL goal scoring lead and won his third Hart Trophy. I argue it was a poor choice, but it wasn't a totally off the wall selection. This year he is again leading the NHL in goals. With four goals scored today, he is up to 26 goals on the season. The problem is none of his numbers other than goals are as impressive.
Ovechkin only has nine assists on the season. This is good enough to put him in sixth place on his team tied with Martin Erat. His -10 +/- rating is a team worst. His once dominant Corsi numbers are long gone. In short, Ovechkin has abandoned several parts of his all-around game to concentrate on goal scoring. He is very good at goal scoring, as his league leading totals show, but he would be a more valuable player to his team if he played a more well-rounded game and let his goal totals fall a bit.
Last week I wrote about the AHL scoring race. Colton Sceviour of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) had pulled into a tie with Travis Morin his teammate. Morin had been the early points leader, but he fell off the pace because he was called up to the NHL. Morin played three games with Dallas before being returned to the AHL.
The early season top contender to Morin's point lead had been Nikita Kucherov of the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay affiliate). He has been called up to the NHL as well and remains on the Tampa Bay roster.
Last season the New York Islanders were a surprise playoff team. They took the eighth seed in the East Conference and some saw them as a team on the rise. That hasn't happened so far this year. The main reason for this is poor goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov was expected to be their number one goalie. At age 38, he no longer seems capable of playing at the NHL level. In 14 games played he has posted a 3.30 GAA and a .892 saves percentage.
There is no proven backup on Long Island. Kevin Poulin has done little to prove he is NHL worthy. He had played 21 games over three seasons but accomplished nothing too noteworthy. This year he is proving he isn't capable of a regular NHL job. He is posting a 3.15 GAA and a .888 saves percentage through fourteen games played.
About a month ago I picked Tuukka Rask as the top goalie so far this season. He has been passed in the Vezina race by Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. Price is posting a .938 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA with a weaker defence in front of him then Rask has in Boston.
It is a myth that Team Canada has a weakness in goal for the 2014 Olympics. Perhaps they didn't have a goalie who was a serious contender in the 2013 Vezina race, but they have the top goalie in the league right now. Carey Price would be a strong choice to be the top goalie for Canada in the Olympics.
Price was a top draft pick in 2005 coming fifth overall. He was a successful junior goalie in international play. His development into a Vezina worthy goalie at the NHL level has been slower than some hoped. However at age 26, Price is only beginning to enter his prime years. He could be a top NHL goalie for many years to come. Right now he is the leading contender for the Vezina Trophy.
At the beginning of November, I picked Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks as the Lady Byng Trophy leader. While he is a contender for the award, I don't think he is the leader on his own San Jose team. Joe Thornton has more points (31 vs. 28) and fewer penalty minutes (2 vs. 6). Joe Thornton is a better Lady Byng Trophy candidate.
Thornton is a future Hall of Famer who has won the Hart Trophy, but he has never been a serious Lady Byng Trophy candidate before this season. In fact, he has exceeded 100 penalty minutes three times in his earlier career. The veteran Thornton has played a more and more sportsmanlike game. In 2011/12 he had 31 penalty minutes in 82 games played. He is on pace to significantly reduce that total this year. He is also on pace to have his best offensive season since 2008.
Joe Thornton is a top NHL player who has had a very good career. He might be on pace to increase his Hall of Fame credentials with another good season that could lead to the Lady Byng Trophy.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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