Bob Hartley is the reigning Jack Adams Award winner. He won it as coach of the year in the 2014/15 season. Today he has been fired by the Calgary Flames. This story helps to show how poorly the coach of the year is determined.
Often coach of the year is chosen as coach of the most improved team. Teams improved for many reasons. Often teams improve for a combination of reasons. Common reasons for improvement are better performances from the players on the team or merely good luck. Sometimes it is because of coaching. We have tended to give the credit to coaching without exploring other options. This leads to some poor coach of the year choices.
The first round of the Calder Cup playoffs finished last night in the AHL. The first round is a best of five series. Here is a summary of the results:
Hershey Bears defeat Portland Pirates three games to two. Hershey is the Washington Capitals farm affiliate and Portland belongs to the Florida Panthers. This was a close series. Hershey's offence was led by Jakub Vrana and Ryan Stanton. Aaron Ness led their defence and Justin Peters had a strong series in goal posting a .966 saves percentage and a 0.85 GAA. Rocco Grimaldi and Rob Schremp led the Portland offence with Brent Regner leading their defence. Mike McKenna was their goaltender/
I am not happy with the way the draft lottery has become an event on the hockey calendar. Last night Puck Daddy had a live draft lottery chat as though that was the main event last night and Stanley Cup playoff second round games were not. Hockey should always be the main event.
Toronto wins the draft lottery. Thus Toronto will pick Auston Matthews in the draft. Some Toronto fans are ridiculously predicting which year they will win the Stanley Cup now. I suppose they didn't realise Toronto was the last place team in the NHL. A first pick overall is no guarantee of success. Ask the Edmonton Oilers if you do not believe me.
Auston Matthews is one of the few players who might be able at age 18 to step into the NHL and make an impact. Toronto needs several players capable of making an impact to step into their line-up before they make any significant runs. By pushing the draft lottery as an event, the NHL is pushing hope for otherwise hopeless franchises.
It is always a bad idea to fire a coach if that coach suddenly becomes the best available unemployed coach and other teams with coaching vacancies are immediately interested in hiring him. Nevertheless Anaheim followed that path and fired coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau is the coach with 500 or more games coached with the highest winning percentage ever. Granted he coached in an era where you can get a point for losing as long as you do it in overtime. He has a very good record as a coach. He won the 2008 Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He has a good chance of being nominated for this year's award. I would have put him on my ballot.
The alleged problem with Boudreau was a lack of playoff success. Specifically he had a lack of success in game sevens in the playoffs. Bruce Boudreau teams had appeared in eight game sevens in the playoffs and lost seven of them. Most recently Anaheim lost to Nashville in game seven. They were leading three games to two before losing the series. It is disappointing but it is hard to blame coaching.
One way to get a quick idea how popular NHL teams are is to look at their attendance during road games. This shows how many people care enough about a given team to go see them when they come to town. This season the top three teams in terms of road attendance were Montreal, Chicago and Detroit. None of these teams remain active in the playoffs. The top team by road attendance that is still active in the playoffs is Pittsburgh who sit at number six. The Penguins are the only team in the top ten by road attendance who remains in the playoffs. Tampa Bay is the worst remaining playoff team with the 27th worst road attendance.
All of this means that this is a playoff of teams that do not excite many hockey fans. Fans may support their home team but the remaining teams have limited support way from home. This will hurt NHL TV ratings during the playoffs. Fewer fans will watch the playoffs. This is in addition to the fact that no Canadian team made the playoffs and this has hurt Hockey Night in Canada ratings. Declining rating will lead to declining revenue for the NHL. Since the salary cap is linked to NHL revenue this could be significant. It could lead to reduced salary caps in the future.
Today I am continuing with my playoff predictions. My first round predictions did not wind up with impressive results. I went four and four. That is as good as would be expected from using a fair coin to make predictions. I was correct in my picks of Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington and Dallas. I incorrectly picked Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim. I am a bit surprised that both of the recent multi-cup winning teams in Chicago and Los Angeles have been eliminated.
These second round predictions are a bit imperfect because one second round game was played before the first round ended. Thus the prediction for the New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning series comes down to picking whether Tampa can win four of the upcoming six games or if the Islanders can win three of them. It gives the Islanders a handicap since they have already won game one.
Here are my predictions:
The first round of the playoffs is nearly over. Anaheim and Nashville have a game seven left to play tonight but it is unlikely to change the top Corsi players. The top three players by Corsi in the first round are all Florida Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau has a +65 Corsi, Jaromir Jagr a +55 and Aleksander Barkov a +52. There is no other player within ten points of any player on this forward line. Despite this success the Florida Panthers were eliminated in the first round by the New York Islanders.
This Corsi success for the Panthers line means that they drove puck possession when they were on the ice. Florida beat the Islanders in team Corsi as well and their margin of victory is largely due to this line. It is a good sign that this line had such puck possession success but of course hockey is a team game. The other lines did not have the same success. This forward line may have had great puck possession but they didn't score a lot of goals. Barkov had two goals in the series, Huberdeau had one and Jagr did not score. Credit goes to Thomas Greiss who had a very strong playoff series and outplayed the Panther goalie Roberto Luongo.
Corsi is the difference in shot attempts by a team and their opponents. It is a strong predictor of puck possession and a strong predictor of future success. In the short term it is not uncommon that teams with weaker puck possession win games. Often goaltending is a big factor in these results. In longer terms with bigger sample size it is likely that the better puck possession team will succeed. I think this series is consistent with that idea. I think it is a good prediction to say that Florida will do better than the New York Islanders next year even though the Isles won the playoff series this year. That assumes that rosters stay relatively similar.
Corsi is a good predictor of future success but a single first round playoff series is not a large sample size. It is interesting to see how much the Panthers line dominated in terms of puck possession despite not winning the series with the Isles.
The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season. They were an elite team. They were the first elite team the NHL has seen since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. This year they had a good chance to repeat their playoff success but they haven't. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the St Louis Blues. It was a seven game series where Chicago almost fought their way back from a 3-1 deficit. Largely it is a result of a small sample size. An elite team probably should have won the series.
Chicago has some Hall of Fame talent. Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane are all players that I think will make the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers. Jonathan Toews is well on his way to joining them. Corey Crawford has provided top goaltending. Brent Seabrook and Niclas Hjalmarsson provide strong defensive depth. Since last year's cup win, Chicago lost some key players in Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. They added Artemi Panarin. Hossa is starting to age and his numbers are showing signs of decline. In this particular playoff year, Duncan Keith was suspended for game one. Corey Crawford was returning from injury and did not play a particularly strong series. It was enough that Chicago was beaten.
After game three in most playoff series I picked Reilly Smith of the Florida Panthers as the early playoff MVP. He held the playoff scoring lead until yesterday when his Florida Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs yesterday despite his failing to score any points from game three onward. I am picking a new playoff MVP today and it is the same player suggested by commenter EthrDemon in the comments of the above thread in Washington goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby wasn't overly tested in some of his games when his team beat the Philadelphia Flyers. When he was tested he played very well. In the first round he has posted a .968 saves percentage and a 0.84 GAA. Those are numbers that are too good to last for long but they are very impressive.
Holtby is the probable Vezina Trophy winner this year. He tied Martin Brodeur's wins record this year but was not the league leader in saves percentage or goals against average. I am not sure that is the best reason to win a Vezina Trophy but it is likely that Holtby will win it. If we imagine a season where Holtby wins both the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies he will have established himself as a top flight Hall of Fame track goalie. I am not certain that he is the best goalie in the NHL but a strong argument can definitely be made. Before this season began it was hard to make such an argument for Braden Holtby. He has made a huge step forward this season. It isn't clear if he will manage to hold on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy but it is a possibility. At this point he is the leader.
Over the past generation the best hockey in the world has been played in the Olympics. The problem with that is the NHL has always had a tenuous relationship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The NHL has forced the IOC to pay for transportation and insurance costs for players. They don't do this for other sports. They have decided not to do it for the NHL in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC is afraid that the precedent with hockey will force them to pay transportation and insurance costs for basketball or soccer or other sports. This makes the NHL's participation in the Olympics less likely. This would be a shame because we would lose the best hockey we are offered.
In its place the NHL is offering us the World Cup of Hockey. This will be played in September in Toronto. This is largely an NHL tournament. European leagues will not stop in order to send their players to the World Cup. In order to get enough teams they have had to create a Team North America which is 23 year old and under Canadians and Americans. These players are thus not eligible for Team Canada and Team USA. They are creating a Team Europe which consists of players from any country that is not sending a team. This isn't a best on best tournament because the best players who play in Europe will not participate.
The World Cup could be a fine tournament. It is being advertised regularly during Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. The NHL hopes it does very well. It likely will be a good tournament. However it isn't a replacement for the Olympics. The Olympics are a better tournament with all of the best players in the world. An Olympic gold medal is a reward that dates back to ancient Greek times. It is a storied goal. The World Cup is an NHL tournament that doesn't have the same history. Perhaps it can claim to be the same tournament as was run in 1996 when the US won but it was a different format. The World Cup is not an adequate replacement for a lack of NHL players in the Olympics.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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