The only remaining playoff race is in the East Conference. The Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins are competing for the final two playoff spots. Detroit and Boston are competing for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The loser in that race and Philadelphia are competing for the final wild card spot. Detroit and Boston have two games remaining and Philadelphia has three. Detroit has 93 points while the other two teams have 91.
When we look ahead at the predicted outcomes in this race we see that all three of these teams will likely make playoffs. Sports club stats has Detroit at 85.1% likely to make the playoffs, Philadelphia at 60.1% and Boston at 54.8%. One of these teams will miss out on a playoff berth. At this point it isn't clear which one it will be. Tonight Detroit meets Boston. That game will go a long way toward determining how this may finish.
Yesterday I looked at the underrated stat of ice time. Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators leads the league. Because teams tend to dress three lines of defencemen and four lines of forwards, all of the ice time leaders are defencemen. The ice time leader among forwards is Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres. He has played 21:47 per game. This is 45 seconds more than linemate Evander Kane and almost a minute more than Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
O'Reilly is a valuable player. He plays on a team that makes an effort to get their number one line on the ice as much as possible. His value is shown by his ice time. O'Reilly plays a solid two-way game. He is the top scorer on the Buffalo Sabres. He is used in all situations including power play and penalty kill. I think he is a strong candidate to be named to the Team Canada roster as they fill out the World Cup team.
One of the simplest stats to look at to determine how valuable a player is to his team is ice time. A player who has a lot of ice time is more important than one who plays less. Since teams typically dress three lines of defencemen and four lines of forwards, the ice time leaders are always defencemen. Ice time is most meaningfully measured on a per game basis so that a player with a few more games played does not have a minutes played lead despite having less ice time when both players are in the line-up.
The ice time leader this year is Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. He has played 29:02 per game. This is almost half a minute more than second place Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild. This is a strong piece of evidence that Erik Karlsson is a very valuable player. That comes on top of his fourth place position in the overall scoring race as a defenceman. This is why I pick Karlsson as the Norris Trophy leader.
Karlsson is in a race with Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty is better defensively. That does not mean that Karlsson is weak defensively. For example he is much stronger in his own zone than Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks who is the second highest scoring defenceman this year. The problem with picking Doughty for the Norris is that he is almost 30 points behind Karlsson. It is hard to see how their defensive differences can account for 30 points.
I like to try to gage the point when a current hockey player reaches the point in their career that they have earned a Hall of Fame berth regardless of what happens in the rest of their career. Today I think that Patrick Kane has made it to that level.
Kane has been a star since he made it to the NHL. He was a first pick overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in his first NHL season. He won the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in one of his three Stanley Cup victories with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has scored at point per game rate or better in six seasons in his NHL career but this one is the crowning glory that cements his Hall of Fame case. He has 100 points so far this season and is almost certain to win the Art Ross Trophy. He is 12 points ahead of second place Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars who has two games left. Kane is the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy as MVP this year. There is a good case that Kane has been the best player in the NHL this season and also with his Conn Smythe Trophy victory.
A problem with Kane's case has been his behaviour off the ice. This is something that the Hall mandates should be taken into account when a player is to be inducted. It isn't the only factor in an induction but it matters. Kane was arrested when he and his cousin assaulted a Buffalo cab driver in 2009 when he was unable to make proper change for a fare. He was also investigated for a sexual assault in the summer of 2015 but no charges came from it. This has hurt Kane's reputation.
In mid-February I picked Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars as the Lady Byng Trophy leader. Until he went down with an Achilles injury it seemed like he might win the award. However since he has been injured, he has been passed in the Lady Byng race. Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames has become the new leader. Gaudreau has passed Seguin in the scoring race (75 points to 73) and they have an equal number of penalty minutes.
Gaudreau is a talented young player. In his second year in the NHL he is the sixth highest scorer in the NHL. If his career keeps going on this path he will be a Hall of Fame player before he is done. It is rare that a player this early in his career makes the impact that Gaudreau has. He may win the Lady Byng Trophy as an early reward in his career.
In the West Conference the eighth place team is the Minnesota Wild who are five points up on the ninth place Colorado Avalanche. With four and five games left for most teams this is probably an insurmountable lead. Thus the eight playoff teams in the West Conference are essentially determined. The only playoff race is left in the East Conference. There are three teams fighting for two playoff berths.
The Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings are in this race. Right now Philadelphia is in the last wild card spot with 89 points. Boston holds down the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with 88 points. Detroit is in ninth place trying to chase the other two teams with 87 points. As an Atlantic Division team Detroit could catch either of the two teams directly ahead of them to grab a playoff berth. Philadelphia is only in the wild card race since they are a Metropolitan Division team.
Philadelphia has six remaining games. Boston and Detroit have four games each. Thus Philadelphia is in a position that they can runaway with their playoff berth if they win their remaining games.
As the regular season is winding up and the playoffs are soon going to be underway it is important that teams peak right now. The Pittsburgh Penguins are hot now. They won their last four games and ten of their last 11 games. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin are all scoring at as good rates as they have at any point this season. The only problem is that Evgeni Malkin is out with an injury.
Pittsburgh is a hot team right now. I wouldn't want to be the team that meets them in the first round of the playoffs. Right now it is looking like the New York Islanders will be that team. They cannot be too happy about how their first round playoff match-up is looking.
Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as last year's playoff MVP. He may be suspended for the beginning of the 2016 playoffs. On Tuesday night in a game versus the Minnesota Wild he was given a match penalty fo a stick swinging incident with Charlie Cole of the Wild. Minnesota won the game 4-1. Keith is automatically suspended following a match penalty. He has been offered an in person hearing by the NHL to determine the suspension length. This indicates that it may be more than five games in length. Chicago only has five games left in the regular season. Thus the indication is that the suspension may run into the playoffs.
Typically the NHL has been lenient about suspending key players during the playoffs. They don't want to be seen as the reason that a playoff series was decided. Perhaps in an early series the loss of a key player like Keith can be overcome so this is less of an issue.
Suspensions longer than five games can be appealed. Based on the Dennis Wideman precident do we expect an appeal to say he should have played in the playoffs to come right after Chicago is eliminated?
The season will soon be coming to a close. One trophy that I think is still undecided is the Vezina Trophy. I am currently picking Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks as the leader. Given that he is injured right now he isn't doing anything to further his case right now. The West Conference has been higher scoring than the East Conference this year so a West Conference goalie with top stats is having a very good year. Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning is posting slightly better numbers but with a few less shots faced and in an easier conference. Other goalies such as Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, Petr Mrazek and Roberto Luongo are also having some very good years and deserve some mention but their numbers are behind the leaders. However when we look at the overall league leaders we see Brian Elliott of the St Louis Blues is the overall leader.
Elliott has the best saves percentage in the league at .935 and the best goals against average at 1.92. The problem in his Vezina case is that he is about 20-25 games played below the other Vezina candidates. He hasn't played enough games to be the top goalie this year but his numbers are hard to ignore. Had Elliott played a full season with these numbers he would be the runaway Vezina favorite. The question is should Elliott appear on a Vezina ballot this year? I think it is hard to give him a first place vote without more games played but in a third place position he may be a sensible choice. If we imagine that in the few games he has left his numbers improve even more he will be hard to ignore.
Brian Elliott is a interesting case as a top goalie. He completely failed in Ottawa. When he got to St Louis he resurrected his career. He has been posting top numbers in St Louis. However he has been doing it largely as a backup goalie and as part of a goalie tandem. He hasn't been given a run as a number one goalie. He deserves it and will be given a run. it may not be in St Louis where Jake Allen is around. He will be a free agent next summer (2017) and I expect that he becomes a clear number one goalie at that point. Perhaps it will happen sooner. He is posting numbers that could win a Vezina Trophy if he got in a few more games.
It is quite a significant story that Jimmy Vesey is choosing to be a free agent this summer. Vesey was the Nashville Predators third round draft choice in 2012. He was selected 66th overall. He played college hockey at Harvard University. Last year in his junior year of college he was a nominee for the Hobey Baker Trophy as NCAA MVP which Jack Eichel who is currently a Buffalo Sabre won. This year he is a Hobey Baker candidate again.
This situation shows the problems that the NHL has with its Entry Draft. The draft was brought in before there was a strong NHLPA in order to achieve parity. It is legally problematic. Players entering the NHL do not have the right to select where they want to work. The NHL selects it for them. This doesn't happen in other lines of work. Eventually a player can play long enough to attain free agency and be able to chose where he works. Legally this framework is likely to fall apart at some point in the future.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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