I have been picking leaders for the various NHL awards. The last award that I am interested in but have not commented upon is the Adams Trophy for coach of the year. It is difficult to decouple a strong coaching job from an improving you team or merely a lucky run. The voters far too often give coach of the year to the coach of the most improved team. One problem with that method is longstanding coaches rarely are considered for the award because there is no reason their team should improve as a result of their coaching. After all they have the same coaching they had last year and the year before.
I think the top coach in the NHL is the only coach in the history of his franchise. I think the coach of the year is Barry Trotz in Nashville. He has his team in fourth place in the West Conference despite a lack of any top scorers. Colin Wilson and Martin Erat lead the team with nine points each. On defence they lost Ryan Suter to free agency, yet they have the best goals against in the league.
Nashville has had a strong defensive system for years regardless of their personnel. Trotz is responsible for this. It helps that they have talented Shea Weber as a lynchpin on their defence but he is not off to a great start and it isn't affecting the team in the standings.
No team owes as much of their success to coaching as the Nashville Predators do and that is why Barry Trotz is my pick for the coach of the year.
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to an incredible start. After 14 games they are yet to suffer a loss in regulation. They have scored 19 goals more than they have allowed. A big part of their success is the play of Jonathan Toews. He is a great two-way player and my pick for the Selke Trophy at this point.
While playing on the league's top team he is clearly a step above his teammates. This is shown by his +/- rating. After on/off ice rate adjustment he is among the top players in the league and doing this while playing against top competition.
Toews has received some Selke consideration in the past but he is yet to be a top nominee. I think this is the year when he could win the award. The success of his team will help to keep him in the limelight and the fact that he has offensive prowess to go with his defensive skill will also help. Jonathan Toews has a solid chance at winning the Selke Trophy this year and he is the early leader.
After yesterday's firing of GM Scott Howson, the Columbus Blue Jackets have announced that Jarmo Kekalainen will be their next general manager. Kekalainen is the first European general manager in NHL history. In principle that sounds like a good idea. There are some great hockey minds in Europe and I am sure some of them would make good general managers. The question is whether or not Kekalainen is one.
Kekalainen had a short NHL career consisting of 55 games played with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators. He retired to become a scout. He scouted for Ottawa for seven years and the St Louis Blues for three. He spent five years as assistant GM in St Louis. When it seemed that he had hit the glass ceiling as an NHL executive from Europe he returned to his native Finland and became the general manager of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League. This is the first overall team in the league. They have climbed in the standings during his time in Finland. It's hard to make short term judgments on a GM in a league in which I am not too familiar, but it looks like Kekalainen is a good GM from his Finnish experience.
Today the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they have fired GM Scott Howson. I have been publicly calling for this move for about a year. Howson has not done a good job in Columbus and there were questions when he was hired.
Howson had been the assistant general manager in Edmonton. He helped to build the team that was so poor that got the first overall draft pick three years in a row. For that he was rewarded with the chance to do the same in Columbus. The Blue Jackets are clearly a bad enough team that they can break the Oilers' streak of first overall draft picks.
In fact Columbus has never had a good GM. Doug MacLean, their previous GM, was no better than Howson. Now is a chance to try again. There is no replacement named yet but Jarmo Kekalainen is considered the most likely choice. He is the current general manager of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League and served as an assistant GM in St Louis working under John Davidson who was the Blues president and is the current Blue Jackets president. I believe Davidson has the skills to bring in the first competent front office in Columbus team history. He did that in St Louis and he can do it again.
As the NHL regular season is about a quarter of the way done, I am picking leaders for NHL awards that I have yet to discuss this season. Today, I am picking a Masterton Trophy leader. This award is officially for perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship but it is more accurately described as the award for the best performance from a player who overcame the biggest hardship. By that definition I pick Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens.
Markov missed the majority of the last two seasons due to knee injuries. He was limited to twenty total games in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons combined. Most figured he would never be the same player again. It looks like he is back to the level of a star defenceman. He has ten points so far this season, which places him fourth among defencemen so far this season.
I am uncertain that he can continue to score at this level (for example his 30.8% shooting percentage looks unsustainable) but it looks like Markov is back after missing the majority of two seasons. It looked like his career was essentially over, but now it looks like he has at least a couple years left as a solid contributor. That is why i think he is the Masterton Trophy leader.
As the NHL season is nearing the quarter-mark, I am trying to make picks for the awards that I have yet to address. Today I am looking at the Lady Byng Trophy. I think our leader right now is Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is the second highest scorer in the NHL with 18 points. He is playing a sportsmanlike game with only two penalty minutes so far this year. That makes him the Lady Byng front-runner at this point.
Kane is a young talented player who can be a superstar if he gains the maturity for it. So far this season he seems to have made that step. I think some of Kane's off ice problems of years past might make it hard for some reporters to support him as the NHL's most gentlemanly player but so far this season that is exactly what he has been.
It's early in the season (and some teams are almost a quarter of the way through the season) and I have yet to pick a top defenceman so far this season. This is because there has yet to be a clear front runner. Today I make my first pick of Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. He was last season's Norris Trophy winner and is picking up where he left off.
He is the top goal scorer among defencemen with five. His nine points are among the top in the league. His defensive play is still improving. He is playing almost 28 minutes a game and in tough defensive situations. He has posted a +6 +/- rating in this situation.
There are several other defencemen off to fast starts including Tobias Enstrom, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Likely many of these players will fall by the wayside as the season continues. Karlsson has the ability that he could remain on top at the end of the season. Since he has a lead at this early point in the year, he just might remain in the lead come season's end.
It's usually a big deal when a future Hall of Famer gets traded. If Tim Thomas returns to the NHL and he is motivated to play at a high level today's trade could be a big deal someday. Right now it is a trade that has been made for bookkeeping reasons and to allow teams to try to circumvent their CBA responsibilities.
Tim Thomas has been traded from the Boston Bruins to the New York Islanders for a conditional second round pick. The understanding is that the islanders will give up the pick only if Thomas plays for them or if he is traded to another team where he plays. Its a cheap price for the best goaltender in the "inter-lockout" period from 2005 to 2012. The problem is that it isn't clear if Thomas will play.
Thomas chose to take this season off. He had alienated himself from his Boston Bruins teammates with his political views. He chose not to join his teammates when they met with President Barack Obama after they won the Stanley Cup. From that point on in the season his numbers dropped significantly and he seemed to no longer be motivated. Thomas claimed that he was coming back next season. That was the assumption when he was Boston Bruin property. I assume things do not change as a New York Islander but that remains to be seen.
The reason for this trade is the salary cap. Tim Thomas is signed for another season with a $5 million salary cap hit. Since he isn't playing this season, his contract will likely be tolled to next year and can be continually tolled into the future if that is what his team wants to do.
In a shortened season the effect of a fast or slow start will be more significant than in a normal season. The team currently in last place is far from the weakest team in the NHL but they are off to a slow start. The Washington Capitals have a 2-8 record with one regulation tie point for a total of five points. This is currently the worst record in the NHL.
This result is in contrast to my pre-season prediction where I had the Capitals leading their division. What has gone wrong?
The biggest problem with the Capitals is their inability to keep the puck out of their goal. Washington has the fourth worst goals against per game in the NHL. The bottom teams are closely bunched enough that if they allowed one more goal they would be in a dead heat for worst in goals against.
Their goaltending has been below average. Braden Holtby has a .862 saves percentage and a 4.52 GAA. Those numbers do not belong in the NHL. Michal Neuvirth has been a bit better. He has a .893 saves percentage and a 2.99 GAA, but he too is below average. Washington desperately needs good goaltending and their young pair hasn't been able to provide it.
They have few players who have been defensive stalwarts in front of those goalies. John Carlson may be the best example of such a player and he is a -3 right now.
I have been picking the MVP of the season from as early a point as I reasonably can in the season. This is in part to try to determine at which point in the season the eventual MVP emerges. My first pick this season was Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres. Last week he was surpassed by Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. I think Vanek has taken over the lead again.
Vanek leads the NHL with 19 points. This is a three point lead over anyone else. His +6 +/- rating leads his team. That is despite having missed one game with a muscle strain.
Vanek is a player who has had all-star calibre seasons in the past. However he does not do that consistently. Last season he posted 61 points, which while good will not put a player in the All Star Game. This is not his first fast start to a season but it is his best start so far. In a short season, a fast start might be a big part of an MVP season. It will be interesting to see if Vanek remains in the race all season or if he is passed by the usual suspects.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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