The Anaheim Ducks are currently in first place in the NHL. They have a 21-12 record with five regulation tie points. That gives them 47 points on the season and a two point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year Anaheim was first place in the West Conference and finished one point out of first place in the NHL. That makes them not a big surprise to be at or near the top in the NHL.
The biggest change between last year's Anaheim Ducks and this year's team is goaltending. Last year Jonas Hiller was their number one goaltender. He left as a free agent and now plays with the Calgary Flames. Frederik Andersen has been their number one goalie so far this season. He is an unproven goalie who started off well this season but has since slowed down a bit. Ilya Bryzgalov has been signed to give them a veteran presence. Goaltending is a weakness and it will likely knock this team out of first place.
Yesterday the Edmonton Oilers fired their coach. Dallas Eakins is fired. What is surprising is that he lasted this long before his firing. The Oilers have had exactly one win since November 9th. In that time they have lost 15 games. The Oilers are stuck at the bottom of the NHL. Something is horribly wrong with this franchise. The problem is firing the coach will not solve it. Dallas Eakins wasn't a great coach, but his isn't a significant portion of the problem. Edmonton has struggled for years. The only time this millennium they actually won a playoff series was in 2006. A constant throughout that period was Kevin Lowe. Lowe coached the team, managed the team and then became president. Somehow as he failed he has failed upwards into a higher position in the franchise. Lowe needs to be fired. Knowing the Oilers they will somehow find a way to promote him instead.
They have Craig MacTavish as a general manager and now an interim coach. He was the last moderately successful NHL coach. He coached the team for their trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. He also missed the playoffs in five of the eight years he coached the team. Somehow he failed upwards too and became general manager.
One of the stories in the 2013/14 season was the dominance of Sidney Crosby. He first took the lead in the Hart Trophy race in October and held that position all season. He won the award and I was disappointed that it wasn't a unanimous decision. This year has not been quite as strong. It was November before I could first pick him as the Hart Trophy leader. He does not lead the NHL in scoring. He is in fourth place three points behind Tyler Seguin. Now that he is out with the mumps, he will fall further off the pace. This makes it time to pick a new non-Crosby MVP.
My selection is Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Rinne leads the NHL with a .937 saves percentage, a 1.75 GAA and 19 wins. His return to form after some injuries has been a big story in Nashville. Little was expected from the Predators and they have climbed to fourth place in the West Conference. Rinne's play in goal is a big reason for their success.
Pekka Rinne has been the NHL MVP so far this season. He is the first player other than Sidney Crosby to hold that position in quite some time. Can he keep up this level of play for the rest of the season?
About a month ago, I wrote about how the Pittsburgh Penguins power play was on a record setting pace. They have not been able to keep that up. They have fallen to second place in the league with a 27.5% power play success rate. Washington is now the league leader. Both Pittsburgh and Washington fall well below the 31.9% mark the 1977/78 Montreal Canadiens set. Pittsburgh has run into injury problems with Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz missing several games to injury. Sidney Crosby is now out with an apparent case of the mumps.
This isn't the only special teams record that is being flirted with. The Chicago Blackhawks have a 91.5% success rate on the penalty kill so far this season. The NHL record is held by the 2011/12 New Jersey Devils who had an 89.6% success rate. There is plenty of time for the Hawks to fall off their current pace, but they have a historically good penalty kill so far this year.
A little over a week ago, I last looked at the AHL scoring race. Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit affiliate) had taken over the scoring lead. He has since been surpassed by Charles Hudon of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal affiliate). Hudon has 29 points which gives him a three point lead over a group of three players including Pulkkinen.
Hudon is a clear NHL prospect. He is 20 years old and in his first AHL season. He was drafted in the fifth round in the 2012 entry draft by the Montreal Canadiens. He would likely have been picked earlier had it not been a smallish player. Hudon is 5'11" but he is only listed at 178 pounds. He scored quite well in the QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. He was a roughly point per game scorer in his rookie year and got better each season. In total he scored 238 points in 211 games in Chicoutimi. He was traded midway through his final QMJHL season to Baie-Comeau Drakkar where he put up 35 more points in 24 games. He has graduated to the AHL and is a scoring star there as well.
On Monday the Ottawa Senators fired coach Paul MacLean. MacLean won coach of the year in 2012/13. That is about 1 1/3 regular seasons ago. How can somebody fall from the best coach in the league to a coach who isn't even worth keeping under employment in that short period of time?
The first part of the answer is that MacLean was never the best coach in the NHL. Sure he won coach of the year but that award rarely goes to the best coach in the NHL. The coach of the year is usually given to the coach of the most improved team . Teams improve for many reasons. These reasons can be improved players, a reduction in injuries or even good luck. Coaching may be one of those reasons, but there are many examples of teams that have improved despite poor coaching or failed to improve despite good coaching. Simply, the Adams Trophy as coach of the year is often poorly decided. Paul MacLean is an example of a person who won the award without being a serious contender to being the best coach in the NHL.
The Edmonton Oilers are in a familiar place. They are in last place in the NHL. They have a 6-20 record this season with five regulation tie points. This gives them 17 points. Even if they win in today's game against San Jose, they would remain in last place. This Oilers team finished last in their conference last season. They escaped last place by finishing in 28th place. In the lockout shortened 2012/13 season they finished in a lofty 24th place overall. That was preceded by a 29th place finish. Before that, they finished in last place (30th overall) in two consecutive years. In fact since 2004, the Oilers have only made playoffs once. Granted they made the finals that year, but it is not enough success for a decade of hockey. In fact the 2006 playoff run is the only time the Oilers have won a playoff series this millennium.
Obviously there are deep problems in Edmonton. The problem is they do not know how to turn things around. A full rebuild with several first overall draft picks (and other early draft selections) has not worked. That is often a suggested solution when a team struggles. Clearly we have evidence that it doesn't always work. Anyone who suggests that their team tank for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel need only look at the perils of the Oilers to see that tanking isn't a clear solution. A decade of tanking can lead to a future full of another rebuild and more tanking.
One of the surprises so far this season is that Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars leads the NHL in goals. He has 19 goals. His closest challengers are three back with 16 goals. Seguin has a great pedigree having been selected second overall in the 2010 Entry Draft. His offensive numbers have been increasing every year in his career.
Seguin was drafted by the Boston Bruins and traded to Dallas in a seven player deal where Loui Eriksson was the main player obtained in return. This was a poor deal for Boston. Boston would strongly like to find a player like Seguin today. No current Bruin has more than six goals so far this year.
Whenever a player that I think is a future Hall of Famer retires, I like to write his career retrospective. Today, Daniel Alfredsson has announced his retirement. Here is the post that I wrote almost three years ago when I first thought he made it to the Hall of fame level.
Daniel Alfredsson was born in Goteborg, Sweden on December 11th, 1972. He was first noticed by NHL scouts in the 1990/91 season when he played with IF Molndal in the Swedish second division. He joined the team late in the year and played three regular season games. In the playoffs he added eight more points in eight games. He followed things up with a full season the next year. In 1992, he moved up to the Swedish Elite League and played with Vastra Frolunda. After two seasons there, at age 22 he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators with their fifth round selection 133rd overall. This was his fourth year of draft eligibility. Alfredsson was a late bloomer who was not seriously considered to be drafted at age 18.
Fan balloting for All Star Games has always lead to questionable choices. Fans stuff the ballot box for hometown players who often do not deserve an All Star berth. This year is no different. The top vote getter so far is Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres. He is a forward with 14 points so far this season. That places him 121st in scoring in the NHL. That is hardly All Star calibre numbers. It may place him second in scoring on the Buffalo Sabres, but they are a weak team.
Girgensons is getting votes because he is from Latvia and his country decided to stuff the ballot box in his name. So far it is working. Typically fan voting increases as the voting process carries on. More people cast votes in the later days of the process. It will be interesting to see if Latvia can keep up when that occurs or if they will have such a big head start that they cannot be caught.
Right now it looks like Girgensons is going to be voted into the All Star Game. He certainly doesn't deserve to be a starter based on his hockey ability, but given the weakness of the Buffalo Sabres, he will probably fulfill the requirements that Sabres send a player to the game.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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