The Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year is one of the more poorly decided NHL awards. It is often given to the coach of the biggest surprise team. The assumption being that improvement can only be due to coaching and not due to any other reason. The other assumption is that god coaching leads to improvement, when there are many reasons a team can fall in the standings despite good coaching.
A case in point that I want to look at is last year's Adams Trophy which was given to Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa improved in the standings from 8th in the East Conference to 7th despite injuries to their top forward, defenceman and goalie in Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson. Was there any reason to suggest that MacLean was the reason for this? Many other reasons existed. There was a shortened season due to the lockout. Random chance is more significant in a 48 game season than an 82 game one. Maybe Ottawa exceeded expectation due to good luck. Craig Anderson gave perhaps the best goaltending performance the Sens had ever had in their history. He played exactly half the games in the season and posted a .941 saves percentage and 1.69 GAA. These are numbers he could not repeat. So far this year, Anderson is posting a .901 saves percentage and a 3.26 GAA. Good goaltending is perhaps the most common way to make a coach look like a genius, when in fact it is goaltending. Key veteran leaders in Ottawa in Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar have departed. There are lots of reasons that we can explain Ottawa's surprise last season and their struggles this season and none of them require the assumption that Paul MacLean was anywhere near the best coach in the league in 2013.
Only six days ago, I wrote about Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks holding down the top +/- rating in the NHL. He has been passed by his linemate. Hampus Lindholm the Swedish rookie now has a +22 +/- rating. This puts him one point ahead of Beauchemin. Lindholm is a highly regarded prospect who was selected sixth overall in the 2012 entry draft. He has pushed himself into the Calder trophy race with his defensive play. Lindholm has been the best defensive playing rookie so far this year. I currently pick Torey Krug of Boston as the Calder Trophy leader. He is another rookie defenceman who made an impact at an earlier point in the season. Krug leads rookie defencemen in points and is not too far back from the overall rookie point lead - thanks in part to Tomas Hertl of San Jose being injured.
A few days ago, I posted my Canadian Olympic Team. Today I post my American team. This is not my picks for who will be selected to the actual Olympic team. It's my picks for who I think should be on the team.
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
Cory Schneider New Jersey Devils
Early in January the Olympic hockey teams for the Sochi Olympics will be announced. I am going to take this time to list the players i would pick for the teams if I was given the opportunity to select them. This is not necessarily the group of players I expect will be selected. It is my choices.
Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks
Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Mike Smith Phoenix Coyotes
I would use Price as the number one man. Luongo should be a reliable number two. Mike Smith is a solid goalie who could be useful in a number three role if the depth is tested to that level.
There have been two goalies who have established themselves as the leaders for the Vezina Trophy. They are Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. In early November I picked Rask as the Vezina leader. In early December, Price passed him in the race. I think Rask is back in the lead. Rask is posting a 1.87 GAA and a .936 saves percentage. Price's numbers are not quite as strong. He is posting a 2.10 GAA and .932 saves percentage. Rask is clearly in the lead right now.
The race is close enough that a good game from one and a poorer game from the other could change the rankings. Tuukka Rask is one of the better goalies in the NHL and it is not impossible that he establishes himself as the top goalie in the league over the next couple of years. He is a 26 year old who has always posted good goaltending numbers. He has only once played more than 36 games in an NHL season. His playing time is taking off this year as Chad Johnson is his back-up and will not challenge Rask for ice time in any significant way. Rask is leading in the Vezina race this season and is in a good position to stay in or near that position for a significant time into the future.
Currently the top +/- rating in the NHL belongs to Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks. He has a +21 rating and is one point ahead of four other players. Beauchemin is a very good defenceman and there is an interesting myth surrounding him that he only plays well in Anaheim.
Beauchemin first had success in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2005/06 season. He quickly became an important part of the Ducks as their number three defenceman, where he won the Stanley Cup. He played significant minutes with the team but was kept behind future Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger in the depth charts. In 2009 he signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There he was immediately removed from the shelter of playing behind Niedermayer and Pronger. Beauchemin was moved into a very tough role. He played all the most defensive shifts against the opponent's best offensive players with little support from his team. Toronto wasn't a good team and the fans needed a whipping boy to take things out on. Their new free agent signee became that man for many fans.
The AHL scoring race this season has been one where the leader has been repeatedly called up to the NHL. I last wrote about it almost two weeks ago when Ryan Strome of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NY Islanders affiliate) was in the lead. Early this season, leaders have included Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) and Nikita Kucherov of the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate) have all held the lead and all have been in the NHL. Morin has the lead back. He is back in the AHL and with 34 points has taken the lead from Strome.
Morin is a candidate to win the AHL scoring title because he is not much of an NHL prospect. He is 29 years old and has played six NHL games with no career points. He has been playing minor pro hockey since 2007. This is the kind of player who often wins the AHL scoring race. If a younger better prospect was in the scoring lead, he would be likely called up to the NHL and lose his chance to win the scoring race.
Yesterday, I wrote a post entitled How valuable is Corey Crawford? In it I argued that Corey Crawford is not a particularly valuable starting goalie. Sure he is the number one goalie on the best team in the NHL, but he is not one of the top goalies in the league. His numbers look better than they would otherwise be because of the strong team playing in front of him. I use Antti Raanta the rookie goalie who has taken over for Crawford during his injury and posted better numbers thus far (in a limited number of games) and Ray Emery, his last year backup who posted good numbers in Chicago and is struggling now that he has moved onto Philadelphia as evidence to support my case. A lot of what I said about Crawford could also be said of Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles. Yet I consider Quick to be one of the best goalies in the NHL. I want to make the case why that is true despite the fact I concluded the opposite for Crawford.
This season Jonathan Quick has posted a .905 saves percentage and a 2.35 GAA. Those are relatively average numbers for an NHL goalie. Quick has been injured with a strained groin for the last month. While he has been away, his backup goalie Ben Scrivens has put up some very good numbers. He has a .941 saves percentage and a 1.66 GAA. This is the best saves percentage among goalies with enough games played to qualify for the league race. Scrivens is new to Los Angeles. Last year in Toronto he posted a .915 saves percentage and a 2.69 GAA. The argument can be made that his numbers look better now that he is Los Angeles. Their strong defence makes any goalie look better.
Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks is the top goalie on the top team in the NHL. Some have argued that he is a candidate for the Canadian Olympic Team as a result of this situation. I have argued that Crawford is not a great goalie. He is a modern Chris Osgood or a Marc-Andre Fleury. He is an adequate starting goalie on a very good team and this causes people to overrate him.
Crawford has been out with a lower body injury on December 8th. Since he has been out, rookie Antti Raanta has taken over in the Chicago goal. Raanta has five wins and one loss since the injury occurred. He has posted a .921 saves percentage and a 2.01 GAA in that time. These are very good numbers. They are better than the numbers Crawford has been posting - .907 saves percentage and 2.47 GAA. Raanta has been better than Crawford. This isn't a good argument for Crawford being an indispensible part of the Hawks lineup.
The Abbotsford Heat (Calgary affiliate) have been atop the AHL for over a month. They did this in part due to the fact that they have been among the league leaders in games played, but they have also been a very good team. In 30 games they have a record of 20-10 with two regulation tie points for 42 points. As the westernmost team by a significant distance, they have had to overcome significant travel in order to do this. They have been caught by two teams with a lesser number of games played. The Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles King affiliate) are the top team in the standings. They have a 19-10 record with five regulation tie points, This gives them 43 points and a game in hand over Abbotsford, but their lead in the standings is due to regulation tie points and not outright wins. Tied with Abbotsford in the standings are the Grand Rapids Griffons (Detroit affiliate). They have a record of 20-7 with two regulation tie points. This gives them two games in hand against Manchester and three against Abbotsford. Probably this makes Grand Rapids the top team in the league. Abbotsford may also have a claim to being the top team but their record is hurt by their excess travel.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???