It was less than a week ago when I last looked at the AHL scoring race. Chris Wideman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate) had taken the lead. His lead was short-lived. After the weekend's games, he has been passed by Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit affiliate). Pulkkinen has 23 points and Wideman is in a three-way tie one point behind with 22.
Pulkkinen is an NHL prospect. He is 22 years old and is in his second full season in North America. Last year he put up a solid 59 points in 71 games. He is showing improvement in his second AHL season. He played three NHL games last season without scoring any points. Pulkkinen grew up in Finland and established himself as a successful player in the Finnish Elite League before coming to North America.
Pulkkinen will likely not win the AHL scoring title. If he has the talent to maintain his lead in the scoring race, he will be in the NHL by season's end. The top scorer in the AHL will likely be an older player who is no longer considered an NHL prospect and thus is less likely to get an NHL callup.
At the end of October, I picked Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings as the early Vezina Trophy leader. While he is having a good season, he has been passed by Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Rinne is posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.82 GAA. He is the league leader among number one goalies in both statistics. Rinne is a big part of the reason that Nashville is in a tie for first place in the league.
Rinne missed most of last season with a hip injury. His comeback has clearly been successful. If he can keep up his level of play this will be a career best season. Rinne is having a Vezina calibre season so far.
The only trophy that interests me where i have yet to pick a leader is the Selke Trophy. There are two strong candidates and picking the leader between them is difficult. Defending champion Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks are the two strong candidates. Both play a strong defensive game. The most meaningful difference between them has been their usage. Toews has strong offensive ability and often is given offensive zone starts. This may maximize his offence, but it limits his chances to show his defensive game. Bergeron succeeds despite playing many more defensive zone starts and more frequently against top opposition. They both play strong defensive games and manage to control the puck even in defensive circumstances.
Bergeron is a top level defensive forward. He is on the rare Bob Gainey track, where a defensive forward can make the Hall of Fame. He has two Selke Trophies in his career to date. Boston does not have any top offensive stars but Bergeron is as good an offensive player as they have. He has 16 points, which is good for second on the team. He does this on top of the best defensive play of any forward in the NHL.
In early November, i first looked at the AHL scoring race. At that time, Kris Newbury of the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals affiliate) led the league. His closest challenge came from Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate). A few other players remained contenders for the scoring lead including Chris Wideman of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa affiliate). Wideman has since taken the scoring lead. He has 22 points in 18 games. This places him a point ahead of Newbury and Morin. It remains a close race between these three.
Wideman is young enough to be considered an NHL prospect. He is 24 years old. The most impressive thing about him is he plays defence. A defenceman leading any league in scoring is rare. Wideman spent four years playing hocking in the NCAA with Miami University of Ohio. There he was drafted by Ottawa. After graduating, he spent most of his time in the AHL. His offensive numbers have improved in every year he has spent there. Last season he managed 51 points in 73 games played. This season he is scoring at well above that rate. It may be an unsustainable improvement, but it clearly makes Wideman a player that Ottawa should be interested in calling up this season. I think Wideman will have a hard time holding the scoring lead all season in part because he is a defenceman who is making a big improvement, but more significantly because he will likely be an NHL callup. A player like Chris Wideman looks too good to remain in the AHL all season. He is currently leading the AHL in points.
A week and a half ago, I picked Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers as the Lady Byng Trophy leader as the player who best combines gentlemanly conduct and playing ability. He has doubled his penalty minute total since I made that pick, which means his gentlemanly conduct credentials have dropped. My new pick is Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane has 21 points, which currently places him in 17th in the league in scoring. He has no penalty minutes at all which gives him strong credentials for sportsmanlike play.
Kane has come close to winning the Lady Byng Trophy in the past. In 2013, he was the runner up to the award - which Martin St Louis won. Statistically he probably should have won it. The main reason Kane did not win the award is a dispute over a taxi fare in 2009, which lead to an indictment on criminal charges. He wound up with a conditional discharge. While this is embarrassing and not exactly gentlemanly conduct, it did not fall within the realm of the award. It did not occur on the ice or within the season the award was for.
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.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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