Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thornton to San Jose

A big trade in the NHL today. Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. This adds further fuel to my argument that San Jose will have a good second half. Few players in the NHL as as talented as Joe Thornton. He should be a big addition to the Sharks. Boston must be pretty certain that Thornton would not resign when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. They get to keep Brad Stuart (who is a very good defenceman and getting better with age) for a few years after Thronton would leave. They also add a pretty talented Marco Sturm and a useful Wayne Primeau. Things are not working out in Boston, so this will be a big shakeup - but I do not see how things improve because of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Suprising Unknown Goalies

For the last two weeks, the NHL's Defensive Player of the Week has been a goalie who started out the season in the minors. Two weeks ago, Curtis Sanford of the St Louis Blues was the defensive player of the week. This past week, Mike Morrison of the Edmonton Oilers was the defensive player of the week.

Sanford has been an AHL goalie since 2000, he played eight games in 2002/03. On the strength of his excellent week, he has won an NHL job with St Louis, with Reinhard Divis sent to the minors.

Mike Morrison was playing in the ECHL until he was called up when Ty Conklin was sent to the minors for a conditioning stint and then got hurt. Its not clear how the Oilers will juggle their roster when Conklin returns.

Its suprising that two unheralded goalies would come along in back to back weeks and play as well as they did. This is a rare occurance. Despite these strong weeks, I still consider Dominik Hasek the best goalie so far this season.

These suprising minor call-up goalies have had an impact on my fantasy hockey league. We have a deep league with thirty teams that each have rosters of 25-26 men. Nevertheless, these two future NHL players of the week have been available as free agent signings (not on any roster). Amazingly, the same team signed both of them. However, it is not that simple. The team first signed Curtis Sanford and *during* his "player of the week" week, they chose to release him to sign Mike Morrison. The GM of this team argues that because Morrison is playing well he made a good move even though it is the first time in our league's history (we go back to 1999) that the player of the week was released during his week (a bit of a dishonor). I would argue that they would have been better off keeping both players of the week and releasing somebody else (Derek Boogaard the Minnesota Wild goon might be an option). They could later make a trade to offload one of their goalies (in fact the team that had waiver priority to claim Sanford has already traded him).

Its extremely rare for NHL Players of the Week to be unheralded players like Curtis Sanford or Mike Morrison - especially in back to back weeks.

If you would like to join my fantasy hockey league (we have an opening), drop an email to y2kfhl at hotmail dot com.

Re-Entry Waivers

General managers are finding that the new CBA brings with it new rules and new strategies to deal with those rules. One of the dumber ones is the $75,000 waiver rule where any player getting paid more than $75,000 in the minors (effectively this is everyone who is not on a two way contract) needs to clear waivers to re-enter the NHL.

Effectively this means that any player who will not be in the NHL who is subject to re-entry waivers who is to be sent to the minors is lost for the season. There is no good way to bring the player back to the NHL. If you try to bring the player back you will lose that player and be stuck with half his salary on your books and on your salary cap. The only way the player will clear waivers is if no other team thinks he is good enough to play for them at half price. If he is good enough for your team, then he is most likely good enough for some other team also. A player subject to re-entry waivers who is in the minors must stay in the minors even if you have significant injury at his position or if he is having an MVP year in the AHL. You will lose him if you try to bring him back up. The only player that might make any sense to attempt to pass through re-entry waivers is a player who has a big contract that you want to get rid of and you have the salary cap room for it. This is the Todd Marchant case in Columbus, although it may not turn out well for Columbus since their salary cap will be dinged for Marchant's salary for the next few years and that may become significant.

Montreal tested re-entry waivers today with Ron Hainsey. A young player like Hainsey who is still considered a prospect by some has no chance of clearing re-entry waivers. So why did Bob Gainey even try to bring him up? I guess Gainey hoped it might work. He made a desperation move and it failed as most desperate moves do.

Ron Hainsey was Montreal's 2000 first round pick. Its very poor asset management to lose first round picks on waivers. Montreal has suffered injuries to Sheldon Souray and Mike Komisarek and has Andrei Markov suspended so the desperately needed a new defenceman who would play significant minutes. Now they don't have Ron Hainsey either. They have been forced to call up Jean-Philippe Cote for the empty roster spot. Cote is a poor AHL player who has 18 AHL points in 140 games played over three years.

Its a bad CBA that forces Montreal to play Cote when Ron Hainsey is available, but that would have been the best move. Montreal is in a worse position when they have to play Cote anyway and do not have Hainsey in their system any more. This is a stupid situation caused by a bad clause in the CBA.

NOTE: Mikhail Yakubov of the Chicago Blackhawks just cleared re-entry waivers. He began the season playing in Russia. This is a slightly different situation in that other teams would not get Yakubov at half price (thats only for people sent to the minors - does that create a small loophole if you find a European team will to warehouse your would be minor leaguers?). Nevertheless, I am a bit suprised somebody did not claim him.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ted Saskin Trying To Keep Job

On Friday, Ted Saskin and the NHLPA executive released a press release to announce that the majority of their members back Saskin as NHLPA head. In fact, this was not even news at all. This was something well known to the NHLPA and Trent Klatt and the players who are rebelling against the non-democratic way Saskin was brought in and the NHLPA accepted defeat in the lockout.

In fact, this was not even news to TSN. Bob McKenzie reported this as far back as November 1st. So why then does the the November 24th TSN article not even mention that this was not a new development? It was a press release designed to sway uninformed players who are on the fence about the current NHLPA problems and influence the media and the general public's opinion.

Klatt et al are complaining about the process where the NHLPA removed Bob Goodenow as their leader and installed Ted Saskin as the new NHLPA head under the understanding that he would give into the owners demands to end the lockout. This was all done by various NHLPA executive members (who likely believed that they were acting in the best interest of the players and did win support of the CBA in a vote) in violation of the NHLPA's own rules.

Since then, Ted Saskin has "circled the wagons" trying to maintain his leadership. Another vote was called to confirm him as NHLPA head - hopefully this time following NHLPA rules. Some teams quickly returned their votes for Saskin. Other teams refused to even consider these votes. The majority of votes returned by the 37 member executive committee (which has one player from each team plus seven executive members) confirm Saskin. The remainder of the votes may never be returned at all.

Trent Klatt claims that votes were to be returned by December 16th to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper and the release of partial results before that date calls the whole process into question.

This voting process to confirm Saskin never really addressed Klatt et als complaints. Their complaints are about the process that brought in the new CBA and the new NHLPA head. They wont be satisfied until a new NHLPA head democratically elected from a group of a few candidates.

These are further problems in the history of the NHLPA.

Here is Al Strachan's view on the Saskin press release.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

San Jose Will Have A Good Second Half

Before this season, I predicted the San Jose Sharks would win the West Conference. So far this season, that prediction has been a poor one. San Jose is currently 8-15 (with four of their losses coming in overtime) for twenty points. This puts them in 12th place in the West Conference well out of the playoffs. So far, things have not gone well.

Taking a closer look, it is clear that San Jose has had a very good defence. They have allowed the least shots per game so far this season (24.9) but that has not translated to a low goals against. Their 3.30 goals against average is 19th in the NHL. This is largely because of poor goaltending. Both of their goalies Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala (who have proven themselves to be very reliable goalies in the past) have struggled through injury problems. They have some of the worst save percentages in the NHL. Nabokov has a .865 save percentage and Toskala a .815 one. There is no doubt that if these goalies get healthy, their play will significantly improve. When this happens, San Jose will have one of the best goals against records in the league. The San Jose offence, though not league leading, has enough firepower in Patrik Marleau, Marco Sturm and Jonathan Cheechoo to be a very hard to beat team if they are not allowing goals. This got them to the 2004 semifinals. This will make them a very dangerous team in the second half of this NHL season when their goaltending returns.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Best Player Who Doesn't Show Up In The Statistics

In the past, I have written a bunch of posts about sabermetrics and hockey. One of the biggest problems is that there are some players who are clearly very good, but it is hard to make a statistical argument for it. Often, this type of argument is used as a poor justification for why the role player on my team is better than the role player on your team, but in some cases it has merit.

There are some players who are always involved in the play when you watch the game, but do not wind up on the scoresheet nearly as often as it seems they should.

I think the best example of one such player in the NHL today is Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes. He hasn't scored at point per game rate since 1995/96 when he scored 87 points in 82 games. In 2003/04, he scored 38 points in 78 games. So far this year, with the leaguewide increase in scoring, he has scored 16 times in 18 games.

Brind'Amour leads all forwards in shifts per game and time on ice per game (usually defenders play more than forwards as teams usually dress 3 lines of defenders and 4 lines of forwards). In terms of shifts per game, Brind'Amour is fourth in the NHL with 31.4 per game. The next forward on the list is Jeff Halpern of Washington (and he is 29th overall). In terms of time on ice per game, Brind'Amour is 26th in the league with 24.0 minutes played per game (it is normal for forward shifts to be shorter than defence shifts as it is easier to change forward lines then defence lines). This leads all forwards in the NHL in time on ice per game. Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta is 37th overall in minutes played per game and is second among forwards.

The fact that Carolina's coach Peter Laviolette sees fit to play Brind'Amour more than any other coach plays any other forward is strong evidence for his value. Brind'Amour is a valuable player to the Hurricanes in essentially all circumstances (even strength, power play, shorthanded, leading, trailing, tied ...).

Brind'Amour is also second in the NHL in faceoff percentage with a 62.2% winning rate (he is behind only Jarett Stoll of Edmonton).

Brind'Amour would be my pick for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward at this early point in the season as he does all the little things that help keep the puck out of the net well. I think he would be a good choice for a spot on Team Canada in the Olympics, but he did not make the long list of eligible players.

There are players who are significantly underrated by the NHL statistics. Rod Brind'Amour of Carolina is the best example of one such player in the NHL today.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Another Look At The Calder Race

Last week, I wrote that Henrik Lundqvist should be considered a Calder favorite. This opinion of mine has been cited a few times in other blogs. At the time I wrote the post, Lundqvist led the NHL in goals against average and was second in saves percentage. Since then he has slipped to third in both of those categories. Thus his clear lead in the Calder race (in my opinion) is slipping.

There have been many other solid rookies this year in the NHL. Among goalies, Jason LaBarbera of Los Angeles and Alex Auld of Vancouver have both played very well. Neither have played as well as Lundqvist and neither have clearly won their team's starting goalie jobs (as Lundqvist has), so neither are serious Calder contenders.

On defence, Dion Phaneuf of Calgary has been very good as have Brent Seabrook of Chicago and Andrej Meszaros of Ottawa, but none can legitimately claim they have been among the best players in their position so far this season.

At forward, the candidates who have had the most media attention are Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh and Alexander Ovechkin of Washington. Crosby has been better than Ovechkin and is well ahead in terms of points and gaining ground in goals scored. At this point, Crosby is clearly ahead of Ovechkin in the Calder race, but both are serious contenders. Marek Svatos of Colorado and Mike Richards of Philadelphia are some of the better other forwards, but they are not serious Calder contenders at this point.

I think that at this point in the season, there are three Calder candidates who are well ahead of the rest of the pack. Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Alexander Ovechkin of Washington. I think that the most serious race right now is between Crosby and Lundqvist. I still argue that Lundqvist is in the lead, largely because he has been more important to the Rangers success than Crosby has been to the penguins success. Its always tough to compare between different positions like this and the race is close.

Henrik Lundqvist is not getting the media attention he deserves as a Calder candidate. He was not even a choice in the Slam Sports rookie of the year poll. I think he has a small lead over Sidney Crosby at this point. Before the season began, the NHL was writing stories about the league's successful comeback as a higher scoring league led by the two rookie first overall picks in Crosby and Ovechkin. They are largely sticking to that script (as both Crosby and Ovechkin are playing well) and ignoring the fact that there is a third rookie who is a goalie (and thus is not increasing scoring in the league) who has outplayed both of them.

NOTE: Thanks to Matt at Battle of Alberta for pointing out the Alex Auld is not quite a rookie. A rookie cannot have played 6 or more games in any two preceeding seasons. Auld played 7 games in 2002-03 and 6 in 2003-04 so he is not quite a rookie.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Is Pavol Demitra's Prime Going Unnoticed?

A few days ago, Jes Golbez commented that Pavol Demitra is not getting his "props" as the NHL star that he is. I will go on record in agreement with this idea.

Demitra was a star with the St Louis Blues for several years before the lockout. In 1999/2000, he won the Lady Byng Trophy as the player who best combines sportsmanship and playing ability in the NHL. From 1999 to 2003 he scored at or above point per game rate for the Blues (although never having an MVP type season). His 2003/04 season saw a bit of a slip offensively, (he only scored 58 points in 68 games) which was largely due to concussion and injury. In the lockout season, he was arguably the best player in the world. Demitra led the Slovakian league in scoring last season. Demitra was one of the best players in the 2005 World Hockey Championships. For the most part, this season will be lost and forgotten since it was not an NHL season. This season, Demitra leads the West Conference in scoring. This is the lower scoring conference this season and since Demitra has yet to play a game outside of this conference, it is reasonable to consider him the top scorer in a lower scoring league. Since there are people who are outscoring Demitra in the "East League", this acheivement is unnoticed by most fans.

I would argue that Pavol Demitra's current prime years could be good enough for the Hall of Fame one day, depending on how well he carries his career for the next few years. Its a shame that his acheivements are going unnoticed by many of the fans.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Leading Scorers In The West League

As Tom Benjamin pointed out yesterday, the east and west conferences have not played against each other. In fact the only east vs. west game so far this year was a Washington vs. Columbus game on opening day. Since then west teams and east teams have not played against each other at all.

We can look at the NHL as two separate leagues. The east league and the west league. The east league is higher scoring by close to 0.7 goals per game. this shows up in the top scorers in the NHL. Most of them play in the east league. Whenever I have gushed about a player scoring well (such as Simon Gagne, Bryan McCabe and Eric Staal) they have all been east players.

What about the west players? Why are they not top scorers? Its not as though the West Conference lacks scoring ability. Maybe its because there are better defendences in the west. If both divisions were equivalent, one would expect equal numbers of west and east players scrambled throughout the scoring leaders. I submit that the main differences in the number of points the top scorers in each division has are due mainly to the differences within their division.

Here are the top ten scorers so far in the western conference.
Name Team Games Played Goals Assists Points Standing in NHL
Pavol DemitraLA221122336
Alexander FrolovLA2212162814
Markus NaslundVan2213142715
Craig ConroyLA2211142518
Lubomir VisnovskyLA228162425
Pavel DatsyukDet229142326
Alex TanguayCol218152327
Shawn HorcoffEdm214192329
Jarome IginlaCgy2311112232
Pierre TurgeonCol208142233

So there are only ten western players in the top 33 scorers in the league. I believe this group of players are playing roughly as good as the top ten eastern scorers so far this year. They are just playing in a different league where scoring is not as easy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My Brief History Of The NHLPA

With all NHLPA turmoil, I thought it would be a good time to give a brief history of the NHLPA. A far more detailed history that goes to the early 1990's is the book Net Worth by David Cruise.

Throughout most of the NHL's history there has been no player's union. There have been a few failed attempts to organize. In general, the players involved in attempts to organize a union were blackballed or otherwise punished by management of the league.

In the 1960's a brash young lawyer who was at first quite popular with the players came onto the scene. He was Alan Eagleson. He first gained notice in an AHL dispute with Eddie Shore (the Hall of Fame defender) who owned the Springfield Indians. shore was known as a brutal taskmaster who, among other things, made injured and healthy scratch players park cars and sell consessions at hockey games. The players revolted in 1966 and Eagleson convinced Shore that his team would quit on him and not continue the rest of the season unless he let up on them. Possibly because Shore was an old man who was ready to get out of owning and managing and coaching an AHL franchise he agreed to see the team. The previously independant Springfield Indians were sold to the expansion Los Angeles Kings to be their farm club. Thus, the myth of Alan Eagleson was born.

Alan Eagleson was recruited to head up the first NHLPA in 1967 (a position he held until he was forced to resign in 1992). Eagleson quickly realized what the NHL owners had long known. NHL players in general are not too savvy when it comes to business or legal questions and they are easy to take advantage of. Eagleson was a corrupt union head. His downfall came charged with fraud, embezzlement and racketeering. He stole money from the NHL pension fund. He served as a player agent for several NHL players and stole money from them. Her stole money from TV broadcasting of international hockey (such as Canada Cups and the 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series). He was close friends with NHL President John Ziegler and Chicago Blackhawk owner Bill Wirtz and under the pretense of negotiation often agreed to deals that benefitted the NHL or the Chicago Blackhawks. For example, he had Bobby Orr (a player for whom he served as an agent and from who he stole) leave Boston to sign as a free agent with Chicago. He agreed to NHL CBAs that benefitted the NHL owners often claiming the NHL players had won a great pension plan (he claimed it was the best pension in pro sports). This pension plan in the late 1980's paid Gordie Howe (the man who had the most games and seasons played in NHL history) on the order of $800 a month. Eagleson was found guilty and served time in jail after being removed as NHLPA head. More information on him can be found in the book Game Misconduct by Russ Conway.

The NHLPA then held a search for a new head. They eventually settled upon Bob Goodenow and ratified his appointment with a vote in 1992. Goodenow for the first time ever in the NHLPA actually negotiated in the player's best interest. He negotiated the 1994/95 lockout settlement which gave us the old NHL CBA (which in my opinion is the fairest deal the NHL has ever had) by taking a hardline stance with the owners.

In the 2004/05 lockout, after the owners cancelled the season, many members of the NHLPA executive became concerned that the owners might be willing to keep hockey out long enough to kill the rest of their careers. This group (including NHLPA President Trevor Linden) made an end run around Bob Goodenow and let his number two Ted Saskin negotiate on their behalf. They were confident that the players would pass any CBA they were gtiven to get back to playing hockey. This was a breach of NHLPA rules. If the players wanted to stop the hardline negotiation of Goodenow and replace him with Saskin they had to have an open vote to do this. They could vote to fire Goodenow and hire Saskin. They skipped this.

Saskin negotiated the pro-owner current CBA. A group of dissident players led by Trent Klatt are challenging this process. On Monday, they met with the US Labor Relations Board to state their case. The timeframe for a decision is unclear. Exactly what the decision might be is unclear.

They could call for an open vote between Saskin and other candidates found by a search. They could even void the current CBA (although this is unlikely) pending another vote on it. If this is a long drawn out process, it could be springtime when this is happening. This could put players in a good bargaining position where they have been paid most of their contracts and the playoffs (when the owners make the most money) would be in jeopardy. It would be a strategic time for a player strike. Players might be more likely to want to void the CBA in that they would likely be given back the money they lost to escrow over the season. It could get very ugly and very complicated.

Most likely, a candidate who would challenge Ted Saskin for NHLPA head would take a hardline stance against the owners (afterall he cannot really take a softer stance can he?). If this candidate is backed by Trent Klatt or Steve Larmer, this candidate would have a very good chance of beating Saskin. At this point, there is likely no way to mend the damage done to the NHLPA with Saskin involved. The NHLPA is better off if he steps aside instead of continuing his current plan of circling the wagons and trying to hold onto power at all costs.

Another good read on the current NHLPA situation is from Tom Benjamin.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Russia Strikes Back: Dynamo Moscow Wants Ovechkin

One ongoing battle in international hockey is the lack of an NHL-IIHF agreement involving the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. As a result, player transfers between these leagues are not agreed upon and are leading to legal battles.

The NHL fired first with the first legal battle over the status of Alexander Semin who has signed an NHL contract with Washington but is playing in Russia.

Russia is striking back today. Dynamo Moscow is suing the NHL over the rights to Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

Over the summer, Ovechkin's Russian playing status was in contreversy when he signed a three year contract with Avongard Omsk that had an out clause if he played in the NHL. He exercized this clause. His previous club Dynamo Moscow claims they matched that deal without the NHL out clause. As a result, he was under contract and should not have been able to join the NHL.

If Dynamo's case is shown to have merit, likely Ovechkin would be forced to honor his contract with Dynamo Moscow should he ever chose to play in Russia again. Similarly, it looks likely that Semin will be forced to honor his NHL contract with Washington should he ever play in the NHL again. However, if either player decides not to return to their previous league, they will be able to stay in their current league and play out their career as normal.

Likely, this is all needless legal fighting because neither side is willing to come to any agreement under amicable negotiation. However, with any legal battles, you never know exactly how they will be ruled and their results could be quite interesting.

TSN's story on the Ovechkin case is here.

NHLPA In Bad Shape

Ever since their collapse in the lockout and the players accepted defeat, the NHLPA's future has been in jeopardy. Longterm NHLPA head Bob Goodenow was forced out as NHLPA head and replaced by Ted Saskin who had lead the players to their defeat. Saskin's installation as the new leader was not done according to the NHLPA's own bylaws and this has upset a faction of players. Trent Klatt is leading a player rebellion that is challenging this move. The NHLPA is a group that is on the verge of collapse.

More bad news was released yesterday. Longtime NHLPA player relations director Steve Larmer has resigned his post. In his resignation letter, he writes:

What has happened over the last nine months and more so in the last 90 days has led me to make a tough decision. I am resigning because this organization has taken a giant step backwards, back to the days of (Alan) Eagleson where a select few made decisions for the group.

Larmer had been a very respected NHLPA executive among the players. His departure further shows the disarray in the NHLPA leadership.

Alan Eagleson was a corrupt NHLPA leader who went to jail for fraud and racketeering after stealing from the NHL players. The NHLPA only gained power after he left them. A return to the Eagleson days would be a nightmare fore the players.

Saskin responds to Larmer's criticism:

I find this very unfortunate since he has not received accurate information on recent events and has never discussed any of his concerns with me. Steve is obviously entitled to his own opinions and while I don't agree with his stated reasons for his resignation, I certainly respect his right to do so.

This actually confirms Larmer's point. As an NHLPA executive, he still was not able to get "accurate information on recent events" that is limited to the select few who make NHLPA decisions on behalf of all the players.

Should the NHLPA wish to remain with any power, they need more openness in their decision making. They need an open vote on a new leader. Saskin would be one candidate, but there would be other candidates who are likely more hardline and more willing to fight the owners on a new deal for the players. The players would need to unite behind their new leader.

On the other hand, it is a legitimate idea that maybe the NHLPA should disband. If all they are doing is giving back to the owners and not protecting the players, the players would likely be better off without them and subject to the same employment laws the rest of the world are. This may happen not as a tactic to help their position in future CBA negotiation but due to the failure of current NHLPA leadership.

Here is the Toronto Star article on the Larmer resignation.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Rookie Of The Year Poll

I have argued in the past that Henrik Lundqvist is a legit rookie of the year candidate. It seems he isn't getting much notice. Slam sports has a poll about who has been the top rookie so far this year. It has five candidates: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards and Marek Svatos. What must Lundqvist do to even make the poll? Is he not at least a better candidate than Svatos?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Best Goaltender So Far This Year

Yesterday, I picked Henrik Lundqvist as the early leader for rookie of the year. That night, he went out and played arguably the worst game of his short NHL career so far losing 5-1 to Carolina. This just tightens the race some more.

One of the reasons I argued Lundqvist should be a Calder Trophy favorite is that one could make a respectable case for his being the best goalie in the league so far this year (although I would disagree with this claim) and one could not make the case nearly as well that either of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin have been the best player in their respective positions.

This begs the question, who do I think is the best goaltender so far this year?

I pick Dominik Hasek of the Ottawa Senators. He is yet another reason why the Senators have been so dominant this year so far.

Hasek is currently leading the NHL in goals against average with a 1.83 GAA and saves percentage with .937. Although Ottawa has a solid defence, they are allowing him quite a few shots. In fact, Ottawa is currently 16th in shots allowed per game, having allowed 29.6 shots per game. Ottawa's system relies on goaltending to come up big and Hasek has. Thats one reason Ottawa is doing so well. And that is why I consider Hasek the best goalie so far this season.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why Isn't He Considered A Rookie Of The Year Favorite?

Most reports about rookies this year tell us that the Calder Trophy race is between two people. 2004 first pick in the draft Alexander Ovechkin of Washington and 2005 first pick in the draft Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh.

Both are having very good seasons. Both are leading their teams in points. Crosby is has nine goals and 24 points in 20 games. This is good for 12th place in the NHL in scoring. Ovechkin plays with far less talented linemates and has 14 goals and 19 points in 18 games. This is good for a tie at 34th place in the NHL. Crosby has more points. Ovechkin has more goals in less games with lesser teammates.

So how come I don't think either of them have been the best rookie so far this year - although it is very close?

The reason is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Of the rookies in the NHL this year, this rookie goaltender has been the most important rookie to his team. He is one of the reasons the Rangers goals against is down this year despite scoring being up in the league. Among goalies who have had a few games playing time this year, Lundqvist's 1.88 goals against average leads the NHL. His .935 saves percentage is second in the league (to Manny Fernandez of Minnesota). The argument can be made that Lundqvist has been the best goalie in the NHL so far (although I would disagree with it). I could not imagine a serious argument that Crosby has been the best center in the NHL so far this year (that's Peter Forsberg) or that Ovechkin has been the best left winger in the NHL so far this year (that's Simon Gagne).

Its possible that things will change between now and the end of the year, but if the season ended right now, I would vote for Lundqvist as rookie of the year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Stat Showing Ottawa's Dominance

I have written before about how I think the 2005/06 Ottawa Senators are the most dominant team in the NHL in a few years. I believe that the obstruction crackdown is not lasting the whole season, therefore I think the most telling statistics to forecast results for the rest of the season are even strength statistics.

Playing 5 on 5 so far this year, Ottawa leads the NHL with 46 goals so far this year. They also lead the NHL with only 15 goals allowed so far this year. That gives them a ratio of 3.07 goals scored at even strength per goal allowed. That is an incredible number.

The second best 5 on 5 scoring ratio is the New York Rangers. They have 35 goals for and 23 against at even strength. This gives them a ratio of 1.52 goals for per goal against at even strength. This is less than half of the Senators ratio.

To compare with the worst teams in the league, at even strength, Columbus has the worst record. They have only 21 five on five goals scored (league worst) and 35 goals allowed. This is 0.6 goals scored per goal allowed at even strength (or 1.67 goals allowed 5 on 5 per goal scored). This ratio is nowhere near as extreme as Ottawa's. Ottawa's dominance at 5 on 5 is incredible so far this year and will likely put them in a great situation if penalty calls decrease.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fedorov To Columbus

The biggest trade so far this season occurred today. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks traded Sergei Fedorov and a fifth round pick in the 2006 draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin. TSN's story is here.

I think the story is that Brian Burke never liked Sergei Fedorov. He never wanted him. He had a bad time with his younger brother Fedor Fedorov in Vancouver and quickly saw Sergei as more of the same. Fedorov has accomplished nothing at all this year to change Burke's opinion of him (he has only 1 point so far this year in five games). So Burke wanted to get rid of Fedorov. He's 35 and wouldn't come back when his contract ends (2008). With all the free agents in the new CBA, an unwanted player can be replaced easily as long as salary cap room exists. So Burke wante to dump him.

Now its hard to dump a high priced underacheiving player in this salary cap system. Few teams have the cap room and willingness to take on a big contract like Fedorov's. The only teams with cap room are likely teams that have no shot at competing this year and have the least use for an underacheiving 35 year old who expects first line ice time. They certainly cannot get anything in return.

Up steps the GM who least understands how to build a good team that has the cap room in Doug MacLean of Columbus. He trades some spare parts and brings in Fedorov. With any luck, his team will now improve and become the second or third lowest scoring team in the NHL instead of the lowest scoring team.

NOTE: We learn today that Columbus has place Todd Marchant on waivers to make some space for Fedorov. Marchant is a useful 32 year old centerman with a ridiculous contract paying him $2.47 million this year, $2.47 million next year and $2.66 million the year afterwards (all numbers before escrow - they wont actually pay him that much). A quick look at the TSN player pages says Marchant is hot right now with four points in his last four games. Although a healthy Fedorov would most likely be better than Marchant, it certainly sends the wrong message to dump onto waivers one of the few Blue Jacket players who was actually playing well. TSN's story is here.

Fighting May Be Down But...

Fighting in the NHL is down this season by 42% (vs. 2003/04). Those are the numbers being trumpeted in the media (for example TSN). Gary Bettman makes public speeches showing how this is an example of how the NHL is new and improved.

The question to ask is why is fighting down? Is this a good thing?

It seems the reason that fighting is down is the obstruction crackdown has taken a large part of the hitting and scrambles in the slot and along the boards out of the game. It has taken the physical play out of the game. With no physical play in close quarters, there are many few spontaneous fights. I see this as a symptom of the less physical NHL. I see it as a problem.

Now I do not think that fighting needs to remain in hockey. In fact, I would like to see no talent goons who play only a few minutes a game, rarely score or provide any other value then fighting. Why are people like Wade Belak in the NHL anyway? However, I do like to see a good spontaneous fight in a physical battle between two talented hockey players. This seems to be the fighting that is being removed from the game first.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Kansas City Wants The Penguins?

The new CBA was supposed to make it so that all teams in all markets could compete with no more talk over moving anymore right? Wasn't that one of the NHL's talking points in the lockout?

Of course that was a lie. We are a little over a month into the first season of the new CBA and that has already been shown to be incorrect. The Kansas City Star is reporting that Tim Leiwike, who is the president and CEO of the Anshutz Entertainment Group that manages the Sprint Center, an 18,500 seat hockey arena that will be completed in 2007, is wooing the Pittsburgh Penguins to move to the new stadium. Pittsburgh plays in the Mellon Arena, which is among the oldest arenas in the NHL and is actively trying to secure government funding for a new arena (because why on earth should the owners have to build their new stadiums with their own money?) and has its current lease ending at the end of the 2006/07 season. The Penguins are trying to obtain a casino licence and use the proceeds to partially fund their new arena. If that falls through, it is widely believed that the Penguins may move out of Pittsburgh.

Leiwike has a bit of a conflict of interest in that he is the current president of the Los Angeles Kings (and he likely will be fined by the NHL for making these pronouncements).

Of all the teams possibly available to come to Kansas City, the Penguins would be the best possible choice for the new market, due to rookie star Sidney Crosby. No other possibly available team has as marketable a young player (possibly no ther team in the league has as marketable a young player).

Pittsburgh is a fine NHL market, that lacks a good arena. It would be a mistake to abandon it. Much more likely, is that one of the newer market NHL teams (for example Florida or Carolina or Columbus) will see that they are not drawing enough fans and want to move to greener pastures. Maybe, St Louis could be relocated.

Despite the nice new arena, I don't think Kansas City is the best available market for a new NHL franchise. Winnipeg, Houston, Portland and a second southern Ontario team (either in Hamilton or in Toronto or a Toronto suburb) would likely do better. Nevertheless, this pronouncement makes it clear to anyone interested that Kansas City is in the market for an NHL team.

Wouldn't it have been nice if a new CBA actually meant that all the teams could compete without us having to hear about teams moving? That fantasy (and several others) were sold to the public by Gary Bettman to win public support for the deal we now have. When these problems persist under the new deal, I wonder who there is to blame? Realistically, there will always be threats of teams moving as long as there remain markets that look like they might be able to support NHL franchises, and no CBA can stop that.

Here is Eric Duhatschek's take on possible relocation of current NHL franchises.

NOTE: The Kansas City Star link requires registration. Try to solve this problem.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Travel In The West

There has been a good series of posts in the Battle of Alberta. Originally, the discussion was about coaching in the NHL and trying to quantify good coaching. They started with the hypothesis that:

Success on the road comes from playing a tight system, minimizing chances against, and not making mistakes; success at home comes from high energy, creating lots of chances, and talent riding the home crowd.

Thus, well coached teams would show up as having good road records relative to their home record.

The problem with this theory is that instead of treating each game as equally important, (and a good coach should have his team play their best each game) it claims that teams that play better on the road relative to at home are well coached. This theory is discussed here.

To this discussion, I add my where opponent's scoring is down this year post. When I wrote it, there were four teams that had allowed less goals per game this season then they did in 2003/04 despite the leaguewide rise in scoring. These teams are Detroit, New York Rangers, Ottawa and Phoenix. One common thread that unites these teams is new coaching that has brought in a successful defensive scheme. Their new coaches Mike Babcock, Tom Renney, Bryan Murray and Wayne Gretzky are doing a good job so far. This method is definitely imprecise. It shows defensive improvement from one year to the next (which I argue is due in a large part to a new coach bringing in a new defensive scheme), so it will not show teams that have the same coach with the same defensive scheme or teams that have had significant decrease in their defensive talent from one year to the next.

Teams were ranked from 1 to 30 in their home records and their road records from the years 2001 to 2004. They were ranked based on the difference between these records. Teams that had relative success on the road ranked highest. This is done here. The results:

1. New York Rangers East
2. Philadelphia Flyers East
3. Carolina Hurricanes East
4. Colorado Avalanche West
5. Florida Panthers East
6. Los Angeles Kings West
7. Toronto Maple Leafs East
8. Pittsburgh Penguins East
9. Vancouver Canucks West
10. New Jersey Devils East
11. Atlanta Thrashers East
12. New York Islanders East
13. Boston Bruins East
14. Calgary Flames West
15. Ottawa Senators East
16. Edmonton Oliers West
17. Montreal Canadiens East
18. Minnesota Wild West
19. Phoenix Coyotes West
20. Tampa Bay Lightning East
21. Dallas Stars West
22. Anaheim Mighty Ducks West
23. Washington Capitals East
24. Buffalo Sabres East
25. Detroit Red Wings West
26. St Louis Blues West
27. Chicago Blackhawks West
28. San Jose Sharks West
29. Columbus Blue Jackets West
30. Nashville Predators West

The average ranking of an east team is 11.4. The average ranking of a west team is 19.6. That difference is not just a fluke. Eastern teams have easier travel then western teams. All East Conference teams are in the east time zone. The West Conference teams are scattered throughout the Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern time zones. West teams have to travel a lot further then east teams. Because of travel, east teams will have better road records relative to home records. This has nothing to do with coaching. This is a theory that has long be supported by Tom Benjamin.

This method will not elucidate all travel problems. There are some home games where a team comes home after a long road trip and plays a rested team that has been waiting for them in their home city. This happens most often to west coast teams that are further from the rest of the league. There are teams in the east that play "road games" that are so close to home that they do not have to travel for them. When the New York teams, New Jersey and Philadelphia play road games against each other, the players sleep at home, drive to the game and then return home that night. Teams in more isolated regions like Vancouver do not have that option. Likely, this is part of the reason the Rangers and Flyers have the best road record relative to their home record.

The change to increased deivisional play will help many teams reduce their travel disparity, but not all of them. The Northwest Division is still very bad travel. Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota still span three time zones. These teams will suffer relative to their other conference rivals the most due to travel.

Travel is another inequity in the NHL that punishes the western teams the most. It is interesting how a study which was intended to show something unrelated to travel showed these effects.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Checketts Not Buying St Louis

The St Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that Dave Checketts has withdrawn his bid to buy the St Lous Blues. He was to pay $150 Million for the Blues. Checketts appears to be pulling out because he thinks that price is too high for the last place Blues. Now the St Louis Blues will twist in the wind without an owner for even longer. That will only make things worse for them.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ottawa Senators Most Dominant Team Since ...

The Ottawa Senators have been a very good team so far this year. Currently, they have both the best goals per game (4.79) in the league and the best goals against per game (2.14) in the league. They have an elite offence led by Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Martin Havlat. They have a very good defence led by Wade Redden ( who I called the best defender so far this year earlier this season - I am uncertain if I still stand by that claim - but nevertheless, Redden is one of the best defenders in hockey) and Zdeno Chara. Dominik Hasek has provided some very good goaltending. They are one of the few teams that have allowed less goals per game this year than they did in 2003/04.

At this point, I think Ottawa is the most dominant team the NHL has seen since the Hall of Famer filled Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2001/02. Ottawa may prove to be even more dominant then this given more time.

I have argued in the past that salary caps punish the good teams preventing dominance and it would be specifically bad for Ottawa. so was I wrong?

No. Ottawa built their team under the old CBA. The only major move mad under this CBA is the Heatley/Hossa trade which although Heatley has been the higher scorer so far is likely a draw at best. The question is can this team be kept together under the new CBA? Under the old one, the biggest question in this upcoming season would likely be whether or not Hasek wants to retire and if he does who will be their goaltender. As big a question as that is, it is better to have to deal only with that then the unrestricted free agency of Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara and the possible trade of a player like Martin Havlat to try to make salary cap room to try to resign them as well as Hasek.

Ottawa built a dominant team under the old CBA. Their dominance was ensured by their deep group of talented players. The question the new CBA leaves us with is will we see a team that is nearly as good next year? Probably not. Ottawa is a team that has the potential (with a little luck) to be a dynasty. This wont happen thanks to the CBA. As a fan, I want to see how good they can get. That would be much more satisfying then seeing them take one shot at the Stanley Cup this year and then get forced to be dismantled.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Peter Forsberg: Best Player In The NHL When Healthy

Earlier this season, I picked Roberto Luongo as the best player in the NHL. I stand by that claim, although I believe that when he is healthy, Peter Forsberg of the Philadelphia Flyers is the best player in the NHL.

Forsberg is a good player with a proven track record. He led the NHL in scoring in 2002/03 and won the Hart Trophy. So far this year, he is leading the NHL in scoring and would have to be considered an early Hart candidate. He has had instant chemistry with new linemate Simon Gagne, who is the leading goal scorer in the league, thanks largely to Forsberg setting him up.

Peter Forsberg has had several injuries throughout the last few years missing significant time in the 2001/02, 2003/04 and lockout 2004/05 seasons. There is a good chance that Forsberg will suffer an injury before the season is out and miss some time. If he doesn't, Forsberg will have a very good chance at winning the scoring title and/or the MVP.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Where Opponent's Scoring Is Down This Year

Last week, I wrote about the teams that are scoring less this year then last year despite the increase in scoring leaguewide. There are also four teams that are allowing less goals under the new rules in 2005/06 then they allowed in 2003/04. These teams are Detroit (2.06 goals per game this year, 2.30 in 2003/04), Ottawa (2.15 vs. 2.30), New York Rangers (2.44 vs. 3.05) and Phoenix (2.56 vs. 2.99).

Ottawa has had the league's best offence this year. That has been a big part of their improvement defensively. They are such a good run and gun team, that their best defence is keeping the puck on their offensive players. It doesn't hurt that they added Dominik Hasek in net to replace Patrick Lalime either.

Detroit is another team that is finding defensive success from playing a more offensive style. They also have a very good penalty kill (which is extremely important with the obstruction crackdown) which is 87.8% successful in killing penalties. It doesn't hurt that Manny Legace has been one of the better goaltenders in the NHL so far this year.

Phoenix has had strong goaltending from Curtis Joseph. Ironically, all three of the number one goalies on these three teams were members of the Detroit Red Wings in 2003/04, but were unable to have the same level of success with the goalie contreversy that developed. Paul Mara is also developing into a very good defender who is quite dominant in many Phoenix games.

The New York Rangers have also had a very good new goaltender in rookie Henrik Lundqvist. They also have a very good penalty kill success rate of 87.8%.

I think the biggest reason the goals against are down on these teams is a better team defensive system. This is a success of coaching. Each of these teams has a good new coach. Ottawa has Bryan Murray, Detroit has Mike Babcock, Phoenix has Wayne Gretzky and the New York Rangers have Tom Renney. All four of these coaches are doing quite well this year so far. It is interesting the Gretzky is on this list because he is in his first job coaching at any level and it was reasonable to be quite skeptical that he would succeed.

A very good goaltender who has is doing better than the team's previous goalie and a strong team defence brought in by a new coach has been the reason that these four teams are holding their opponents to less goals per game despite the goal scoring levels in the NHL increasing this year.

NOTE: Since I have concluded that reducing goals against this season - when goals are up leaguewide is a sign of good coaching, I thought I would link to a recent Battle of Alberta article where they try to quantify good coaching from an entirely different perspective.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Yet More OLN Problems

The OLN NHL deal has so far been problematic. There is yet another problem. The National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) which is an alliance of many different small cable companies and cable providers is suing Comcast for the way they they have handled their hockey broadcasts on OLN.

Comcast is demanding that cable providers have their OLN channel distributed to at least 40% of their subscribers. Basically, this forces them to put OLN in a basic package (such as the one with ESPN) and not a premium package. If cable companies do not provide this, OLN has blocked hockey games.

The NCTC claims this violates the longterm agreement their members have with OLN that set rates and carriage requirements for the channel.

So far, the OLN broadcast problems have been bad for the NHL. I believe that even if ESPN did not promote hockey games much and relegated them to ESPN2, there would be higher quality broadcasts and less problems with them. This would have been better for the NHL.

Thanks to Kukla's Korner for the pointer.

Monday, November 07, 2005

New Pick For Worst NHL Regular

Earlier this season I picked Shawn McEachern as the worst NHL regular so far this year. I think he is improving his game and that pick is no longer true.

My new pick is Wade Belak of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Belak is a utility man on the Leafs roster. Because of the salary cap, teams have tried to keep their roster size small. Many teams keep a player who can play both forward and defence so he can fill in at whichever they need in their next game. Belak is both a right winger and a defenceman. He is a physical player who could be characterized in the past as a b-level goon. By b-level goon, I mean he was in the NHL for his fighting ability, but was never one of the better fighters in the league. With the reduction in physical play (and the associated reduction in fighting that goes with it), there is probably no spot for many players like Belak.

Belak has not been an asset to the Leafs. He is yet to score any points. So far his +/- is a -10. In thirteen games played, he has only taken seven shots on goal. The only place he has "contributed" is in getting penalties. His 33 penalty minutes lead the team. Is that really much of an acheivement? He doesn't do much for the Leafs except leave them shorthanded. In the current NHL, there isn't much room for players like Wade Belak.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

CBA Not Done Yet

I have wondered a couple times why the NHL has not released the CBA yet. It turns out the reason is that it is not complete yet. The News Observer from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina is reporting this.

So it is now over three months since the CBA has been agreed upon and there is no final CBA. Players and owners have agreed in principle to the ideas, but their lawyers are still fighting out about how exactly to dot the i's and cross the t's. This is one problem that comes from trying to completely reset the rules of the NHL. It takes a long time to do it. In fact, it takes so long that they have played games for about a month and they still do not have a final CBA.

They haven't finished the document and we see some serious problems already. Problems like $75,000 waiver problem and players being sent to the minors on offdays to save their salaries versus the salary cap.

This makes the NHL look even more poorly run then I had previously thought.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Send You Down Today. Call You Back Up Tommorow

The new NHL CBA completely resets the rules that govern the NHL installing a salary cap. One ridiculous situation that has developed is that of teams sending players to the minors on offdays only to call them back up on game days. As the CBA is written, this is a sensible thing to do. Teams get charged the player's salary against the salary cap only on days when the player in called up in the NHL. As a result, if a player is on a two-way contract (where they get paid at a lower rate in the minors) abd does not require waivers to be sent up or down it makes sense to not have these players on the roster unless they are playing in a game that day. This money saved might be useful down the road for a player who may be acquired for the stretch run in a trade. Since we have yet to have a season under this CBA, we are yet to see if this works. Will there be any such players available in trade deadline deals or not?

Tom Benjamin writes about one of the more ridiculous examples of this where the Vancouver Canucks are shuttling Josh Green and Rob McVicar back and forth between their AHL affiliate in Winnipeg (the Manitoba Moose) and Vancouver. Because of the lack of west coast teams, Vancouver has one of the larger separations between themselves and their affiliate so their players must spend more time travelling in these pointless trips. Most other teams have their farm teams closer. For example, the Philadelphia Flyers and their AHL affiliate Philadelphia Phantoms share a practise facility, but nevertheless are shuttling R J Umberger between the two teams for salary purposes. Here is the Philadelphia Inquirer story on this.

This is all really stupid. Its one of those unitended consequences that come with making too many changes at once. What can be done to fix this? The ideal situation is to go back to the old pre-salary cap NHL. Barring that, the problem can be solved by fixing aroster size.

The salary cap sets the limit that a team can play their players, but does not set how many players will be on their roster. As a result, teams try to have as few players as possible even if it is to the decrement of their on ice product. Under the salary cap, there is no point having a healthy scratch ever, if the player can be sent to the minors. Of course, in reality, there is benefit to practising with the team and having freedom of a few extra players to modify your roster to better suit the game that you expect to play.

Why not have a team salary assume 23 non-injured reserve players - even if a team does not have that many on their roster? Empty roster spots would be changed at the NHL minimum wage. Then there is no benefit to having less than a full roster. Of course, this is a slightly larger hit in the money that can be paid to the players. So again, I would prefer no salary cap.

Another solution would be to charge a salary on game days only. In an 82 game season, players on the roster get 1/82 nd of their salary each game day. So there is no benefit to sending players to the minors on offdays. This wont limit sending healthy scratches to the minors however. Once again I suggest no salary cap.

There are many reasons I oppose a salary cap. Here is something I wrote in March about why a salary cap is bad for the NHL. The reasons are far deeper than today's loophole.

NOTE: I just noticed this Ken Wiebe article on this topic.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Where Scoring Is Down This Year

Yesterday, I wrote about the Ottawa Senator offence, which I believe is the best offence in the NHL. As I was writing the post, The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Washington Capitals 8-1. With that victory, Philadelphia now has the best offence so far thiws season (measured in terms of goals per game). Nevertheless, I predict that when the season is over Ottawa will have the best offence this year. They have more talented offensive players then any other team in the NHL.

As scoring is up in the NHL by a little over a goal a game, there are three teams that so far have not been able to score as many goals per game as they did in 2003/04. These teams that are scoring at a slower rate, despite the rule changes, are the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames.

Columbus has the worst offence in the NHL this year. They have only scored 1.71 goals per game so far this year (which is less than any team did in 2003-04). They scored 2.16 goals per game in 2003-04. Columbus has very few offensively talented players. Their leading goal scorers have only three goals so far this year. Their top scorer from 2003-04 Rick Nash has been hurt. He has only played three games so far this year and hasn't scored in any of them. His current knee injury should keep him out four to six weeks. Things are not looking up in Columbus.

Washington has 2.08 goals per game this year, which is down from 2.27 in 2003-04. They have only one offensively talented player in rookie Alexander Ovechkin. For the first two thirds (or so) of 2003-04, they had Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar and Peter Bondra. All are gone and none are properly replaced. Washington will have a poor year as well.

Calgary was a favorite with many pundits this season after their trip to the finals in 2003-04. So far it hasn't worked out. They have scored 2.27 goals per game so far this year, down from 2.44. So far this year, they have not had much offensive depth beyond Jarome Iginla (who has not had the fastest start). Gone are Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas and Dean McAmmond who were some of the Flames better scorers in 2003-04. Currently, Chuck Kobasew is their second highest goal scorer with four goals. I think that Calgary has enough offensive talent that things will turn around. People like Daymond Langkow, Tony Amonte, Stephane Yelle and Matthew Lombardi will start scoring. Mostly, I think their defense is full of very good puck moving defenders such as Roman Hamrlik and Robyn Regehr who will create more offensive opportunities for their forwards.

It is interesting that even when scoring has increased significantly league wide, some teams have shown declines. These teams are off to slow starts and unless things turn around, they will have poor seasons.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ottawa's Offence

One of the biggest goals the NHL has stated for this season is that of increasing the number of goals per game. This has been done with many rule changes including reducing the size of goalie equipment, reducing puck handling by goalies, increasing the size of the offensive zone, allowing two line passes and most importantly, the obstruction crackdown. This has catalzyed an increase in scoring in the NHL so far this year by over a goal per game.

I chose the word catalyzed for a reason. A catalyst is something that speeds up a chemical reaction. It doesn't do anything unless the reaction is already occurring. Over the history of the NHL scoring has been somewhat cyclical. Sometimes it is up and other times it is down. There are complicated reasons for the rises and drops, but for a large part it can be explained by teams having success and leading other teams to follow them. A team or two have success defensively and many of the remaining teams in the NHL will follow their model (this has happened recently). Eventually, a couple teams will come along who play an offensive game and they will succeed. Other teams will follow their lead. This cycle has repeated a few times over the years.

The Ottawa Senators have recently emerged as the best offensive team in the NHL (and probably its best team). In the past few days, they have defeated Toronto 8-0 and Buffalo 10-4. This cements Ottawa as the highest scoring team in the NHL. They have scored 4.73 goals per game so far this year. This success has shown up in the individual scoring leaders as well. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley of the Senators are three of the four highest scorers in the NHL right now (joining Eric Staal of Carolina). They have other offensive weapons as well. Martin Havlat scored four goals against Buffalo last night. Havlat missed time due to a suspension for kicking Hal Gill of Boston. If he had more games played, he might also be among the NHL's scoring leaders.

Ottawa has learned that when they run and gun this well they are very hard to beat. Their best opportunity to win is to play this style. If they play with a run and gun offensive style, they can get several goals ahead of their opponents. In a defensive game, the score may be close and a lucky bounce may cost them the win.

If Ottawa has considerable success with this method, other teams will follow. This will lead to scoring increases leaguewide.

Given Ottawa's talent levels, it seems quite likely they will succeed. The only question is how long can they keep that talent together given the increased free agency that this CBA brings.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Worst Free Agent Signing (At Least So Far)

Earlier this year, I picked Shawn McEachern as the worst regular in the NHL so far as of that point in the year. Since then he has been unimpressive missing some time with back spasms and then coming back and getting an assist. I am uncertain if I would still want to pick him as the worst regular in the NHL (probably I wouldn't but I have not put much thought into it).

Nevertheless, a player like McEachern would be a poor choice for the worst free agent signing in this off season. Even though McEachern has a two year contract, he does not cost a huge amount of money ($1 million a year is significant but not huge). The worst free agent signing would be a player who is signed up longterm for big bucks and is not producing. In today's salary capped NHL a player like that will do a lot to prevent his team from acheiving any success.

Based on what we have seen so far this year, I pick Nikolai Khabibulin as the worst free agent signing this summer. He is signed to a four year $27 million contract in Chicago. Any player making that much money must produce for his team to succeed.

So far this year, his .847 saves percentage is the worst among any goalie who has receievd regualr NHL play. Khabibulin has been bad.

I'm not sure what his problems are. Goaltending has changed somewhat. Pads are smaller. Puckhandling is reduced. I don't see any reason Khabibulin would be negatively affected more strongly than any other goalie by these changes. The biggest change for him is likely the quality of his defence in front of him (as well the rule changes preventing his defenders from physically clearling the front of the net). Chicago has a far worse defence then the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning have. Nevertheless, that is hardly enough to tell the whole story. Khabibulin is too good a goalie to play this poorly behind any defence.

Likely, given time Khabibulin will play himself out of this funk. Chicago really has no choice but to give him this time. His backup Craig Anderson is hardly a proven NHL goalie. The best chance to the Blackhawks to get good goaltending on any given night is to start Khabibulin - regarless of how poorly he played in his previous start - because he has in te past played some very good games. This is precisely why it can hurt the Hawks. If Khabibulin continues to play poorly but they continue to start him anyway, they will likely lose a lot of games.

So far this year, Chicago's signing of Nikolai Khabibulin has been the worst of the summer's free agent signings. He is a good enough goalie to turn things around, but if he doesn't his presence under a salary cap will likely prevent Chicago from ever contending.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Best Defenceman So Far This Season

Earlier this season, I picked Bryan McCabe as the best defenceman in the NHL so far this season as of that point. At that time, he was tied for the NHL scoring lead. In the meantime, McCabe has fallen back in the scoring race.

I was uncomfortable picking a player who is primarily valuable offensively as the best defender. Particularily, when his offensive value is mostly on power plays and not at even strength. The best defender in the NHL should have significant defensive value as well as offensive value.

Defensive play has changed under the obstruction crackdown. Physical play is discouraged significantly as it leads to countless penalties. Defensive play must be mostly positional play. There are players who succeed in this set of rules, but they are not necessarily the same group that excelled in 2003/04.

I think the player who best fits that description as the best defender so far this year is Wade Redden of the Ottawa Senators. He has always been a successful positional defender, although he was more physical in the more physical years past. Redden leads the Ottawa defence with nine points in ten games. He is also very valuable in his own zone. He has a league leading +9 +/- rating to show for his play.

Wade Redden is one of the biggest reasons that Ottawa has been a very good team so far this year.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?