The first place team in the NHL right now is the Montreal Canadiens. They have a sufficient lead that they will still be in first regardless of how today's games come out. They have a 15-6 record with one regulation tie point for 31 points overall. This is a two point lead over second place Anaheim.
This result is surprising given the fact that Montreal has a +7 team +/- rating. That is currently tenth best in the league. Usually goals for and against correlate well with a team's win loss record. They do not in Montreal's case. Essentially Montreal has won their close games and been blown out in their losses. A truly top team should win their blow outs and if they lose, it only occurs in a close game. This suggests that Montreal is lucky to be in first overall and it is only a matter of time before they get caught.
Officially, the NHL calls Chris Pronger an active player. He hasn't played a hockey game since 2011. This will be his third full season without playing an NHL game. He has been hired by the NHL in a non-hockey job in the department of player safety. The only reason he isn't retired is so that the Philadelphia Flyers can circumvent the salary cap. They signed Pronger to a front-loaded contract that will count against salary cap regardless of whether or not he plays unless he can be indefinitely placed on the longterm injured reserve. He will be there until 2017 when his contract ends despite the fact he will never play another NHL and is no longer even trying to do so. Philadelphia regains the salary cap space that would otherwise be used on Pronger with this fraud.
Had Pronger been retired for three NHL seasons he would be eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame. However he isn't retired on paper. He is effectively retired. We it not for salary cap circumvention he would be retired. Thus the Hockey Hall of Fame had to figure out exactly how to handle his case. Instead of saying that a player needed to be retired for three full seasons to become eligible for induction, they are interpreting things as the player must have concluded his playing career for three full seasons. This clearly makes Pronger eligible in the 2015 group.
Chris Pronger will be an active player who works for the NHL instead of playing and has been out long enough to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He will remain active for two more seasons after his likely induction. Does that seem sensible to anyone?
There is always some controversy when discussing the Masterton Trophy and saying that one player is more worthy than another. The trophy is officially for dedication, perseverance and sportsmanship in hockey, but it is more accurately described as the trophy for the player who overcame the biggest obstacle to make the biggest impact with his team this season. Sometimes this doesn't work out as the award has been given to a player who didn't play at all in Ian Laperriere.
I think this year has a clear leader in Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He overcame a stroke last season - which could easily have been a career ending event - to be a top defenceman in the NHL this season. He currently has 13 points in 17 games played. This places him seventh in the point race among defencemen. That is a strong Masterton case in my book.
It is still rather early in the season, but we have a significant +/- rating leader in Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators. He has a +20 +/- rating in 18 games played. This gives him a five point lead on anyone else in the league. Forsberg is the leading Calder Trophy candidate. He has 22 points, which places him in a tie for fourth place in the NHL. That is a very good start to a career.
It is hard to make accurate predictions about the direction of an NHL career when it is only 18 games into his rookie season, but it appears Forsberg could be a superstar. This certainly is a better start to a career than many future superstars have. Forsberg actually has 36 NHL games played, as he has played partial seasons in the past. He has 28 points in that time and a +7 +/- rating (he had been a significant minus player beforehand). Although it is not uncommon for players to make significant improvements in their games as they are as young as Forsberg (20 years old) and adjusting to the NHL, his improvement this season seems too good to be true. This is probably a hot streak and when scouts have a chance to analyze his game players will be better able to play against him.
It is possible at this point in his career that Filip Forsberg is going to be the best player in the league in the future. The odds are against it. Probably he will be an NHL star and probably he will be on a Hall of Fame track. At this point he has been very impressive. He is a big part of the reason that the Nashville predators have been a much better team this year than they were last year.
Today I am making my first pick for the Lady Byng Trophy that combines sportsmanship with playing ability. I am picking Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the top scorer in the NHL with 26 points and has four penalty minutes on the season. Voracek is an MVP candidate who is playing a sportsmanlike game. He has never had many penalty minutes. A 44 penalty minute season is his career high. Last year he had only 22 PIMs.
Voracek appears to be developing into a top level NHL star this season. It will be interesting to see if he keeps it up the whole season. Right now he is an MVP candidate and the Lady Byng leader.
It is still relatively early in the season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are on pace to have the best power play in NHL history. They currently have a 35.6% success rate on the power play. The single season record is held by the 1977/78 Montreal Canadiens. They had a 31.9% mark on the power play.
The two top power play scorers so far this season are Sidney Crosby with 12 power play points and Evgeni Malkin with 11. They are both stalwarts on the Penguins power play. Patric Hornqvist has 10 points, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang have nine each. That is the Penguins first unit power play. These five players are all among the seven highest power play scorers in the league.
These results are extraordinary. Last year Pittsburgh led the NHL in its power play percentage of 23.4%. Perhaps a mark in the mid 20's is more reasonable over the longterm than this record breaking pace. However if this power play unit can remain healthy, they have a lot of talent.
The Penguins power play is off to a record breaking pace. It will be interesting to watch to see if they can keep it up. This may be one of the stories of the season.
It is an early season surprise that last year's Central Division champion Colorado Avalanche are in last place in the West Conference. They have posted a 4-13 record so far this season. Their record would look much worse if it were not for their five regulation tie points that give them 13 points on the season.
I don't think anyone seriously expected the Avs would repeat as Central Division champs. Their 2013/14 win was quite the surprise. It happened despite weak puck possession numbers. It happened because Semyon Varlamov had a career year in their goal. It happened because although Patrick Roy is a great motivator as a coach, he struggles as a tactical coach and the Avs avoided tactical problems for the most part. The Avs ran on adrenaline. They were a young team that believed in themselves and played over their heads. They were not a team likely to repeat as division winner, but they are far better than a last place in the conference team.
The Avs do not have any players who are scoring well. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie are tied for the team lead with 10 points. This is a significant disappointment for Duchene and MacKinnon. Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla are all performing below the levels they established last year. Defensively, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie are scoring relatively well but there isn't a first class defensive defenceman here. Varlamov has been solid in goal posting a .918 saves percentage and a 3.05 GAA, but has largely been abandoned by his defence.
Currently in first place in the NHL is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have a record of 11-4 with one regulation tie point for 23 points. Although many saw them as a team on the rise, I think it is a surprise for them to be in first overall.
Last season was a breakout year for Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop. He was a Vezina Trophy nominee in his first year as an NHL starter. It wasn't clear that he could follow up with another season at such a high level. This has been true; he is having a solid season but is well outside the early Vezina race.
While their defence looked solid, it looked like it would depend upon Victor Hedman to take it to the next level. Hedman suffered a broken finger five games into the season and hasn't played since. Newcomer Anton Stralman has carried the load, though it is reasonable to doubt his ability to play at this level. He has 10 points already this season and managed only 13 in all of last season.
Throughout the month of October, I was unable to make an early pick for the Norris Trophy. Now that we are into November, a player has emerged. Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames has been the top defenceman so far this season. He leads all defencemen with 18 points. This puts him sixth overall in the entire point race. He also sports a +8 +/- rating. He has been a big part of the reason that the Calgary Flames have exceeded expectations and currently sit in fourth place in the West Conference.
Giordano was considered by some to be a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy last year. He finished tenth in the voting and even got a single first place vote. This is a surprising result for a player who was undrafted and had to play in the KHL in 2007/08 because an NHL job was uncertain for him. Giordano has been a late bloomer, but at age 31 he seems to be blossoming into a star. If Giordano can continue to play at this level, he still has a chance to get onto a Hall of Fame track. A couple years ago, no one would have imagined that could ever be a possibility.
The Los Angeles Kings play the Vancouver Canucks today. Likely they will not dress a full 20 players. Robyn Regehr left last night's practise with an undisclosed injury. That leaves Los Angeles with five healthy defencemen. Under normal circumstances they would call up another defenceman from the AHL. The problem is no salary cap room exists to do this.
The problem comes from the suspension of Slava Voynov. He was suspended after his domestic violence arrest on October 20th. He is still being paid by the Kings but cannot play for them. He isn't injured so he cannot be placed on an injured list. This leaves $4.17 million of Kings cap space sitting unused. This makes them unable to respond to short term problems like Regehr's injury.
The NHL should be concerned with making sure that the best possible game is played every night. One way to do this is to make sure teams play with a full roster. There is a precedent for teams playing with less than a full roster for salary cap reasons. The New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames have both been stuck in this situation in the past. The ultimate problem is the salary cap prevents teams from dressing competitive line-ups. In this case, the problem is the way Voynov has been handled with regards to the salary cap. There is no provision for players who are suspended in his situation. It is an unintended consequence of the situation.
Tonight the Vancouver/ Los Angeles game will not be a very good one. The Kings are going to likely be a defenceman short. That leaves them in a vulnerable state and makes the game a poor one.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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