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.
One thing I have found interesting is to try to identify the worst regular in the NHL in a season. It is interesting to see what kind of player continues to be given playing time despite failing with it. So far this season I think our inept leader has been Brian Lee of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lee is a big hard working defenceman who hits and blocks shots. He is a former first round pick with high expectations. At age 25 it is starting to look like he won't turn out to be a solid NHL player, but he is still getting shots.
So far this season Lee has no points in seven games. He is the only minus player on the high scoring Tampa Bay Lightning and his -6 is well into the minuses.
Lee may play a physical game but it doesn't stop his opponents from scoring and he has no ability to create offensive abilities for his team. On a successful team, as Tampa has been so far, there is less desire to change things up to make things work so perhaps that is why Lee keeps getting playing time.
Lee is a good example of a worst regular in the NHL. He is a hard working physical player who is struggling. He doesn't stop his opponents from scoring or score points. He has been a waste of a roster spot. However as a former first round draft pick he usually gets more chances than other players who were not as highly rated by scouts seven years ago in his draft time.
Before the lockout shortened season began the clear rookie of the year choice was Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers. He led the AHL in scoring for much of the first part of the season as a rookie defenceman. Projecting that to the NHL he looked like a likely star. He has been a solid rookie. He leads all rookie defencemen with five points so far this year but another AHLer has been the top rookie so far this year. Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been the rookie leader so far this season.
Conacher has 12 points in eight games with a +7 +/- rating. Those are great numbers. Only five players in the league have more points than Conacher. His Tampa Bay Lightning have been the highest scoring team in the NHL and he is a big part of it.
Conacher did not have such a high scoring run in the AHL during the lockout. He scored 28 points in 36 games, which is good but it is nowhere near his NHL scoring rate. In 2011/12, Conacher was the second highest scorer in the AHL. His slow start this season was a bit of a surprise; however his NHL success is a bigger surprise in the opposite direction.
Conacher has never been too big on NHL scouts radar. As a smaller player who is 5''8" 175 pounds he went undrafted. He played in the NCAA and was a respectable scorer. In his junior year he scored 53 points in 35 games. He didn't improve his offensive totals as a senior where he dropped to 42 points in 37 games. That was good enough to earn him a minor pro career which has put him into the NHL this season.
I have been interested in trying to establish when the NHL award winners take over the lead in their award during the course of the season for many years. As a result, I have made picks for the NHL awards as soon as I can in the season and re-assessed those picks when necessary - in some cases many times in a season and in other cases that player held the lead for the award the whole season. In a shortened season it is logical that the end of season award winners will establish themselves earlier in the season.
Before the weekend my first MVP pick was Tomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres. In the comments, Fugazi suggested Patrick Marleau who was still playing his fourth game of the season as my post was written. It is clear now that Marleau is the best MVP pick so far this year. He leads the NHL with nine goals (the second place players have 5 - hence he has almost twice the goals of anyone else in the league). He is tied for the point lead with 13 points. His +6 +/- rating is tied for the league lead among forwards.
Marleau has been established as an all-star calibre player in the NHL for several years. At age 33, conventional wisdom was that his best years are likely done. His career best point total of 86 occurred in 2006. His start to the season has been better than one would have expected. He likely will not keep it up. The question is whether or not he will be able to ride his fast start to a complete season and wind up a serious MVP candidate.
I have played in a successful online fantasy hockey league since 1999. We have 30 teams with large (30+ player) rosters. It is a league for a dedicated hockey fan who knows all the players in the NHL and top prospects outside the league. Our website is here. We had a couple GMs who have lost interest during the recent lockout and thus have a couple spots to fill. If you are interested, please leave a message with contact info or contact me through your profile.
Early in the season there is usually some jockeying around as the first place team in the NHL is established. We have the early first leader in the Chicago Blackhawks. They have won all five of their games so far this season, posting a 5-0 record with 10 points. The toughest game they have had so far was an overtime victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. They won 3-2.
Chicago is a strong team with a solid core of star players including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. It's probably the deepest group of front-line stars any team in the NHL can offer. However there is reason to wonder if they are truly the best team in the NHL. Last season the Blackhawks posted a strong 101 points. This was good enough for tenth overall in the NHL. That was only ten points behind first overall - so it's possible that is a small enough margin that it is within the uncertainty from random results in a given season.
Chicago is a good team. It is possible that they could finish first overall. Their fast start this season will help to get them there but it is unlikely that they will hold that position all season long. There are too many other teams that can challenge them. More than likely there will be a season-long race for first overall'
It's early in a short season. It will be interesting to see when the eventual award winners emerge this season. I expect some will ride a hot start to winning an NHL award. The top goalie so far this season is off to a hot start. He is Ottawa's Craig Anderson.
In three games played Anderson has a 0.67 GAA and a .976 saves percentage to lead the league with both numbers. Anderson is an unlikely choice to win the Vezina and an unlikely choice to have become an NHL starter. He was 26 years old before he played his first full NHL season without a trip to the AHL. He has put up some very strong short runs in his NHL career and this has allowed him to be a starter. He was 28 before he became a clear NHL starter for the first time. He has lacked the consistency and stamina to match the numbers he posted as a back-up in a starting role anywhere. Perhaps a shortened season will benefit him given that he is off to a fast start. It will be interesting to see if Anderson remains in the Vezina race by the end of the season. Will he have a good enough season to get any votes? Right now he has been the best goalie in the first few games of the season.
It's very early in the 2013 NHL season but it will be a fast season with more games crammed into fewer days in order to get in a season after the lockout. I am going to take this early point to pick my first MVP of the season so far. I select Tomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres who leads the NHL in scoring with eight points in three games (where a significant number of players have played four games).
Vanek is a proven NHL player who is capable of an All Star season. He has never been a serious MVP candidate and he may not by the end of this season but you never know. In a short season a fast start for an all-star calibre player may be all it takes to be MVP or at least a solid candidate. It will be interesting to see where Vanek finishes up this season but so far he has been great.
The recent three lockouts have shown that the NHL's only method of seriously negotiating with players when the Collective Bargaining Agreement ends is to lock the players out. They have found this is the most successful way to extract concessions from the players. Under the owner's model this is a positive financial move. Sure the NHL will lose revenue during the games lost to the lockout but the player's concessions will pay for the lost revenue plus a healthy profit. This assumes that revenue is not jeopardized over the long-term with a drop in fan interest. We are seeing in the short-term as the NHL has returned that assumption is correct.
The NHL is proudly telling us how great their television ratings have been at the start of this season. NBC's ratings in the United States show a record high since hockey returned to NBC in 2006 for a regular season game. They set records in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago. In Canada, Hockey Night in Canada set records with its "prime east" game between Toronto and Montreal and its afternoon game between Winnipeg and Ottawa. The fans are clearly back - at least in the television audience.
If the fans are back, long-term revenue has not been jeopardized by the recent lockout. If lockouts do not hurt the NHL long-term, it is time to plan for the next one. It is in the NHL's financial interest to have one.
The AHL All Star Game takes place on January 28th in Providence, Rhode Island. The league was put in a tough place in naming their rosters because of the start of the NHL season. The best players in the first half of the AHL season are called up to their NHL teams and unavailable for an All Star Game. For example, the top scoring forward so far this season Jordan Eberle and the top scoring defenceman Justin Schultz find themselves playing significant roles with the Edmonton Oilers and not in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons. The AHL All Star Game will be the best players so far this season who were not good enough to get called up to the NHL. In fact, I think a few more players on the initial roster won't make next week's game because of early season injuries from NHL players who are not in shape and as a result suffer injury. These players would be called up to fill in as injury replacements.
The AHL All Star Game this season will be West Conference against East Conference. Unlike the NHL, they have expanded the rosters to have 24 players per team. This allows one extra goalie, two extra defencemen and one extra forward per team. This better allows each team to be represented, while still allowing room for multiple all-stars from teams with several worthy players.
Here are the AHL All Star Game rosters:
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