Today the Buffalo Sabres have hired a new GM in Tim Murray. Murray was the Ottawa Senators assistant GM. This is a job he was working for his uncle Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. That alone calls into question his credentials. He had been an assistant GM in Ottawa for seven years. In part of that job he was GM of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators. It is always hard to figure out how much an assistant GM is responsible for the success or lack of success of his NHL club. Ottawa has not been the most successful team during Murray's time there. Ottawa has missed the playoffs twice and only once made it beyond the first round of the playoffs in that time. It is not exactly a successful run and with the possible nepotism in his being hired at all it is questionable that he is the best potential GM out there. He isn't one that would have been on my short list had I been asked to find an NHL GM.
I am always on the lookout for a strategy that one team employs but no other NHL team follows - at least not to the same level. The Chicago Blackhawks are using zone starts to set their lineups more so than any other team in the NHL. They have a group of players who are used as exclusively as possible for shifts that start in the offensive zone and another group of players who are used as exclusively as possible for shifts that start in the defensive zone. If this is done properly, the offensive players will maximize their chances of scoring by starting in the offensive zone and the best shutdown players will prevent scoring opportunities for their opponents in the defensive zone.
The top player in the NHL by offensive zone start percentage is Bryan Bickell. Brandon Pirri is third in the league. Patrick Kane is sixth in the league. Michal Rozsival is ninth and Andrew Shaw is eleventh. Five of the top eleven players by offensive zone starts are Chicago Blackhawks. This group of players is not a group of star players. Patrick Kane is a star, but the others are not. Most of the biggest Chicago stars will have so many shifts that their zone starts cannot be as extreme. The majority of players in this group are players who have more offensive ability than defensive and are hence used in roles to maximize their skills.
The Canadian Olympic Team was named earlier today. Here are my picks if I was tasked with selecting the team. I will comment on this team. Specifically I will comment upon the discrepancies between my team and the team named today.
Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks
Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Mike Smith Phoenix Coyotes
When I last reported on the AHL standings, it was a three-team race between the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate) and Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings affiliate). Time has passed and the Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate) have taken a big run first place. With 33 games played they have a 24-9 record with four regulation tie points. They are tied in first place with the Manchester Monarchs who have the same number of points with five extra games played. They have a 23-15 record with six regulation tie points. It appears they will likely be left behind when Springfield catches up to their game total. Abbotsford and Grand Rapids also appear to be falling behind as well.
It isn't obvious that Springfield will finish in first overall in the AHL. They do not have any of the highest scorers in the league. Their number one goalie Jeremy Smith is not among the top few goalies in the league by saves percentage. They do not have the goal differential that Grand Rapids has. With Martin Jones returning to Manchester to fill their goal nets, it is likely the Monarchs will go on a run.
Springfield has made quite a run to move into a first place tie in the AHL scoring race, with games on hand. They will likely have a run at first overall. It isn't obvious that they have a good enough team to hold that position. We will have to watch and see what happens.
The World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden completed today with the medal round. Here are the preliminary round results and here are the quarterfinal results. This brings us to the semi-finals.
Sweden 2 Russia 1. Oscar Dansk (Columbus prospect) began in the Swedish goal and Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay prospect) began the game in the Russian net. Filip Forsberg (Nashville prospect) opened the scoring with a goal late in the first period. Oskar Sundqvist (Pittsburgh prospect) scored an insurance goal in the third period. Damir Zhafyarov (undrafted) quickly scored for Russia to put them back in the game, but they were unable to make up the second goal. This puts the host team Sweden in the finals.
At the beginning of December, I picked Mike Weber of the Buffalo Sabres as the worst regular player in the league this year. He isn't a great defenceman but he had shown that he was good enough to eat some minutes without hurting you much. On a weak Buffalo team he was thrust over his head into a top four role and he struggled. He is too good a player to remain the absolute worst regular in a full NHL season. Given a new coach in Buffalo in Ted Nolan, Weber has had a chance to begin to turn things around. Weber has two assists now and his puck possession numbers like +/- and Corsi are not getting bad at the same rates.
I think the worst regular in the NHL this season has been Zac Rinaldo of the Philadelphia Flyers. He has played all 41 games for the Flyers this season. Despite dressing for every game, Rinaldo does not get a regular shift. He averages seven and a half minutes a game and usually against weak opposition and in non-critical points of the game. He has managed to post one assist in that time and has a team worst -13 +/- rating. Rinaldo stays in the lineup because he is a goon. He will fight. His 92 penalty minutes is fifth highest in the NHL. Rinaldo is a typical choice for the worst regular in the NHL. He is a goon with very limited hockey skills. He dresses regularly but is protected from ever being in a tough situation. Despite that, he doesn't score and the opposition does when he is on the ice. Players like this do nothing to help their team win. The Philadelphia Flyers dress him anyway.
In early December I picked Joe Thornton as the Lady Byng Trophy leader as the player who best combines playing ability and sportsmanship. I think he has been surpassed in the Lady Byng race by Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks. It is much harder to play a sportsmanlike game at defence than it is at forward. In fact only three defencemen have ever won this award: Red Kelly, Bill Quackenbush and Brian Campbell. Keith is tied with Thornton in penalty minutes and has done this with more ice time. Keith is also the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy as best defenceman. Keith has been a more valuable player than Thornton as well - as no reasonable argument can be made that Joe Thornton has been the best player at his position. Duncan Keith has always had a relatively clean game but his penalty minute total is remarkably low this season. He has six penalty minutes in 44 games played. Last year he had 31 PIMs in 47 games. That is a more representative season for him over his career. Duncan Keith has played a very gentlemanly game this season while playing at a very high level. That makes him the Lady Byng Trophy front-runner.
The World Junior Hockey Championship quarterfinals were played today. This round consisted of the four teams in each group that survived the preliminary round playing against one another. Here are the results:
Russia 5 USA 3. There was a relatively high scoring back and forth first period. USA emerged from it with a 3-2 lead. Things fell apart for the defending champion Americans in the second period when Russia scored two goals on two-man advantages. The Russians added an empty net goal for a two goal win. Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay prospect) made 30 saves for the victory in the Russian goal. Jon Gillies (Calgary prospect) was the losing goal in the American net. Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo prospect) scored both of the two power play goals on the two man advantages in the second period. Pavel Buchnevich (NY Ranger prospect) also scored two goals. Mikhail Grigorkenko (Buffalo prospect) added the other Russia goal. Anton Slepyshev (Edmonton prospect) had three assists. The American goals were scored by Stefan Matteau (New Jersey prospect) led the Americans with a goal and an assist (but also was one of the penalties that led to the 2-man advantages for Russia). Nicolas Kerdiles (Anaheim prospect) and Ryan Hartman (Chicago prospect) scored the other American goals.
A few days ago, I posted my picks for the US Olympic Hockey Team. These were not my predictions for who would be selected to the team but rather my choices for the best possible team. Now that the actual selections have been announced, I want to look at them and compare them with my picks and to explain why I made the picks I did when there is a discrepancy between my picks and the actual selections.
Here is the US Olympic Team:
The preliminary round of the World Junior Hockey Championships completed today in Malmo, Sweden. Teams are divided into two five team groups. Group A played in the Malmo Isstadion and Group B in the Malmo Arena. Both groups played a round robin amongst themselves, with the top four in each group advancing to the playoffs.
1. Canada. The Canadians lost to the Czech Republic in a shootout and gave up the first goal in each of their games, but nevertheless win this group with three wins and an overtime loss. Anthony Mantha (Detroit prospect) leads the tournament in scoring at this point with ten points. Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay prospect) also was a top scorer. Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh prospect) has been their top defenceman. Zachary Fucale (Montreal prospect) has taken over as their top goalie.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???