Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I NOW consider Joe Nieuwendyk a Hall of Famer

Earlier this season, I added Peter Forsberg to my list of players who are currently active in the NHL and deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens for the rest of their careers. Today, I think it is time to add Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk broke into the NHL as a star in the 1987/88 season when he won the Calder trophy and became only the second rookie (Mike Bossy is the other) to score 50 goals in his rookie season. He remained a very good goal scorer for a long period of time, but never made the jump to a perennial 100 point scorer or first team all star type of player. However, he was an integral part of three Stanley Cup champions (the 1989 Calgary Flames, the 1999 Dallas Stars and the 2003 New Jersey Devils). In fact, he won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in 1999, when he led the NHL in playoff goals. He was chosen to represent Team Canada in the Olympics in both 1998 and 2002. He has had a long good career.

It is this season where he cemented his spot as a Hall of Famer. He came back from the lockout as a valuable player even as a 39 year old. Despite missing 16 games to back problems, he is currently the third highest scorer on the Florida Panthers with 28 points in 36 games. He is still a valuable player to his team. Even after missing a season to lockout, Nieuwendyk has been a good scorer. Nieuwendyk is continuing to move up the all time goals list. He is currently the 23rd highest goal scorer of all time with 546 career goals. This season, he has passed Stan Mikita and Maurice Richard. Those are some elite players to have outscored. Had there been no lockout, Nieuwendyk would likely have moved another couple positions beyond that up the all time goal scoring list

Here is my new list of current NHL players who should make the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers base upon my Hall of Fame standards:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Joe Nieuwendyk
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

As more hockey is played this season, more players may make this list. There are also players on this list who might be close to retirement including Dave Andreychuk and Steve Yzerman. Joe Nieuwendyk probably doesn't have much of a career left either.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hurricanes In First Place

One of the biggest suprises this season is how well the Carolina Hurricanes. If we rank the stadings in terms of points, the Hurricanes lead the league with 76 points in their 51 games played. Of course, there are other ways to rank the teams which do not put Carolina on top (for example Ottawa has the best wins percentage in the NHL).

While I do not think Carolina is the best team in the NHL (thats the Ottawa Senators), they are playing very well and are one of the better NHL teams. I completely messed up my prediction of them. I thought that Carolina lacked any big strengths that would make them successful.

One major reason for Carolina's success is the play of their top two centermen. Eric Staal who has jumped from a 31 point rookie season to be one of the best players in the NHL and Rod Brind'Amour who at age 35 has shown he still has a lot to offer with his Selke trophy worthy play and point per game scoring. They have a top two centermen group that have been better than any other team's two top centermen. This strength goes a long way toward NHL success. Of course the uneven schedule also helps as Carolina plays in the still weak Southeast Division and gets a lot of games against the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers while not having any division rivals who have played particularly well this year.

The Carolina Hurricanes have suprised me to be one of the better NHL teams this year. They currently stand in first place in the NHL. Things may finally be looking up for Carolina hockey fans.

NOTE: Not too long after I posted this, Carolina announced a move that shows they are going to try to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this year. They acquired Doug Weight (who will be a UFA this summer) and Erkki Rajamaki (who is playing in Finland) from St Louis for Carolina's first round pick in 2006, Toronto's fourth round pick in 2006 (which Carolina previously acquired), Chicago's fourth round pick in 2007 (which Carolina previously acquired), Jesse Boulerice (a goon), Mike Zigomanis (a one-time prospect who is now 25 and in the AHL) and Magnus Kahnberg (who is playing in Sweden). For the most part it is Weight for a first rounder with spare parts on both sides. However, this is the kind of deal where possibly one of those spare parts could turn out to be very important in the future. TSN's story on the trade is here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tyler Arnason And The Mess In Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks are not a very good team. Currently, they are 14th in the West Conference. There is not much to be hopeful about for Chicago fans. Their top scorer is Tyler Arnason. Arnason has 34 points in his 49 games so far. His +1 +/- rating is quite solid for a losing team such as the Hawks.

Arnason is a talented offensive player. He plays a finesse game. He is a streaky scorer. At age 26, he is young enough that he is likely still improving. His offensive totals have increased each year in his career and he is on pace to increase them again this year. He was my choice for a Blackhawk player in my hypothetical NHL all star game.

The problem with Arnason is that he is not a good enough player to build a team around. Yet, he has been thrust into that position as the number one center and top scorer on a weak team. He is a streaky finesse scorer who often shuns physical play. When he is scoring he looks great. As a streaky player, there are periods of time where he isn't scoring and he doesn't look so great. When he is not scoring and he is not contributing physically, he looks like he is not involved in the games. This is a common problem for people who play Arnason's style. It is especially common when he has the unrealistic expectations to lead a team as a number one centerman (Arnason for example has never scored more that 55 points in an NHL season. Thats not very good for a number one centerman). He is an easy whipping boy when things get tough. In Chicago right now, things are very tough. They have no realistic chance at making the playoffs this year. This will be the seventh season out of the last eight that Chicago will miss the playoffs.

It may get even worse in Chicago. Tyler Arnason was a healthy scratch for the Chicago Blackhawks in their January 22nd 3-2 loss against the Minnesota Wild. It is quite possible that this was done to "light a fire" under the Hawks team. Arnason had been in a cold streak and benching him showed that anyone was not safe from being scratched in Chicago if they were not playing well and it might have Arnason playing at a higher level after he returns. This is a tactic that has been used successfully in years past by other teams to motivate young stars such as Vincent LeCavalier and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Bob Foltman of the Chicago Tribune believes there is much more to this story. Arnason has been an obvious whipping boy with the Hawks for a few years. Previous Chicago coach Brian Sutter fought with Arnason. He believes that Arnason's benching may foreshadow his trading. If Chicago decided that Arnason is not in their future, now might be a time to move him. He is a restricted free agent this upcoming summer. Now might be a good time to trade Arnason.

However, it is hard to build a competitive team by trading away your top scorer. It is hard to build a competitive team by trading away a player who has improved his offensive numbers every year of his career. Barring an unlikely huge return, an Arnason trade would be an example of how Chicago is a team spinning its wheels but not running in any direction. Its a symptom of the problems that keep Chicago at the bottom of the NHL standings.

Of course, things may not be quite as bad as the Chicago Tribune reports. Len Ziehm of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Arnason has learned his lesson from the benching and hopes to play better in future games.

The real problem with Tyler Arnason is his situation in Chicago. He is not a good enough player to be the top star on their forward line. He could be a solid offensive player if he was surrounded by other good offensive players. The problem is Chicago lacks them. If Chicago and Tyler Arnason are beginning a "divorce", the problems in Chicago may get worse before they begin to get better.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Lockout Cost His Hall Of Fame Slot

One of the more interesting things that Bill James shows in the Historical Baseball Abstract is that around a dozen players less than the "normal" amount were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame from those players who would have played their careers during World War II. He does this by comparing hall of fame players by year of birth. Those who would have been in mid-career during the war (born between about 1910 and 1925) are clearly under-represented. He goes further to speculate as to who those players may have been - he mostly selects players who had close to hall of fame career numbers but lost a few years while they were at war and players who were never able to play at previously established high levels after they returned from war. Of course there may have been players who never played a major league baseball game who went to war and died or were wounded who might have been hall of famers - but are almost impossible to identify.

Hockey had an interruption recently. A year was lost to the lockout. Thats one year out of the prime of some careers. That's one year that may have caused some players who were aging but still valuable NHL players to either retire or never return to their previous levels. Likely, that will show up in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a decrease in the number of inductees from the current generation. Will it be a significant decrease? The perspective to answer that question is not available yet. It is clear that no NHL hockey was played in 2004/05. In the average season, about three players earn their induction into the hall of fame. The lack of NHL hockey slowed the player's ability to reach hall of fame credentials. Some players in mid-career lost a year at their highest levels of productivity. Other players further along in their career not only lost a season but may not have been at the same level they would have been when they returned to play.

This loss of future hall of famers is not playing out right now. Many future hall of famers who established their credentials well before the lockout are now retiring. Over the last little while, the NHL has seen the retirements of Brett Hull, Ron Francis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens. The NHL has also lost current hall of famer Mario Lemieux in recent days. Some of these players would likely have retired lockout or no lockout, but most likely some (for example Scott Stevens and Brett Hull) had their retirements sped up.

I keep a list of players who are currently active in the NHL who belong in the hall of fame when they retire regardless of what happens for the rest of their careers. Here is the list:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

Some of these players are clearly nearing retirement. Steve Yzerman and Dave Andreychuk are the two most obvious examples of that group (although one could argue that Andreychuk's retirement would be sped up by the lockout).

The loss of hall of famers due to the lockout will not be seen immediately. In fact it increases the number of viable hall of fame in the short term, but in a few years after this glut passes, there will be less qualified candidates than normal because of the time lost in the lockout. How many less candidates will be around is unclear. Given that there are about 3 viable candidates to induct per years (on average), its likely that there will be two or three less from the 2004/05 season. Hockey was still played (just not in the NHL) in the season and this affects their hall of fame chances. There may also be players who lost time in their primes of their careers who are not the same after the lockout and will not gain induction (Martin St. Louis might be one such candidate). It may turn out that the loss of one season reduces the number of hall of famers by as many as five or six players.

I am willing to speculate that one player who likely lost out on his spot in the hall of fame is Jeremy Roenick. Roenick has 1133 career points which is a respectable total for a hall of famer, but may not measure up because he played in an extremely high scoring era. In 2003/04, Roenick was one of the better players on the Philadelphia Flyers, but he lost a year due to the lockout. When he came back, he seems to have lost a step. He seems to have lost his desire to work hard enough to succeed in the NHL. This is shown by his pre-season concussion where he criticized the man who hit him Denis Gauthier of Phoenix for hitting hard in a hockey game. It showed he wasn't in the right mindset to play if he was not expecting the possibility of being hit. Roenick's 2005/06 season has been largely a write-off. He has not played well enough to earn a spot on the US Olympic team. The lockout cost Roenick a season where he would likely have been a good player and when he came back he no longer appears to have the desire to play at a high enough level to be a star.

The lockout will reduce the number of hall of famers in the current group of NHL players. The most likely candidate who lost his hall of fame spot due to the lockout is Jeremy Roenick. Likely there will be more, although identifying them all is not an easy task.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ovechkin and Crosby. The Future Is Now.

This year, the NHL has a large talented rookie crop led by Calder trophy leader Alexander Ovechkin, Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Penguin star Sidney Crosby. This is not mere hype, it is shown in statistics. In fact, since Christmas, the top two scorers in the NHL have been rookies. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 25 points in that time. Crosby is next with 23 points. The first non-rookies are Ilya Kovalchuk, Scott Gomez and Alex Tanguay at 22 points. Is this the future of the NHL? Ovechkin and Crosby leading the NHL in scoring?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

NHL All Star Game

There is no NHL all star game this season because they chose to not hold it in an Olympic year (the NHL bigwigs didn't want two breaks in the season). Nevertheless, I can still pick teams as I would have them if there had been a game.

First lets set the rules. Each team (west and east conference) has 12 forwards, 6 defencemen and 3 goalies. Each NHL team must have at least one player in the all star game. The starting line-up is picked by a simulated vote (I pick the people that I think would have been voted to be starters - 1 centreman, 2 wingers, 2 defencemen and 1 goalie per conference). In even of injuries to selected players (I am assuming that any player on the TSN NHL Injury list is unavailable to play and will need replacement) players are replaced but we still must have at least one player per NHL team.

Here are my picks for the all star teams:

East Conference

Daniel Alfredsson Ottawa Senators
Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Peter Forsberg Philadelphia Flyers (starter - injured)
Simon Gagne Philadelphia Flyers
Dany Heatley Ottawa Senators (replaces Forsberg on roster)
Marian Hossa Atlanta Thrashers
Jaromir Jagr New York Rangers (starter)
Ilya Kovalchuk Atlanta Thrashers (starter)
Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Vaclav Prospal Tampa Bay Lightning
Eric Staal Carolina Hurricanes (replaces Forsberg as a starter)
Alexei Yashin New York Islanders

Dan Boyle Tampa Bay Lightning (replaces McCabe on roster)
Zdeno Chara Ottawa Senators (starter)
Tomas Kaberle Toronto Maple Leafs
Andrei Markov Montreal Canadiens (injured)
Bryan McCabe Toronto Maple Leafs (injured)
Teppo Numminen Buffalo Sabres
Wade Redden Ottawa Senators (starter)
Craig Rivet Montreal Canadiens (replaces Markov on roster)

Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils (starter)
Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers
Roberto Luongo Florida Panthers

West Conference

Tyler Arnason Chicago Blackhawks
Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings
Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames (starter)
Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks
Mike Modano Dallas Stars
Ladoslav Nagy Phoenix Coyotes
Markus Naslund Vancouver Canucks (starter)
Joe Sakic Colorado Avalanche (starter)
Alex Tanguay Colorado Avalanche
Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks
David Vyborny Columbus Blue Jackets
Doug Weight St Louis Blues

Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings (starter)
Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Chris Pronger Edmonton Oilers (starter)
Kimmo Timonen Nashville Predators
Lubomir Visnovsky Los Angeles Kings
Sergei Zubov Dallas Stars

Manny Fernandez Minnesota Wild
Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames (starter)
Tomas Vokoun Nashville Predators

If you are interested in a real all star game you will have to watch the AHL.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Elias Hot In His Comeback

Patrik Elias missed the beginning of the season due to a case of hepatitis he contracted during the lockout season. He has been back playing with New Jersey for 10 games played so far. In order to make salary cap room for Elias, New Jersey has had to jettison several of their off-season free agent signings including Vladimir Malakhov, Dan McGillis and Alexander Mogilny.

Patrik Elias's return has been good for the New Jersey Devils. They have gone 9-1 in their ten games with him in the line-up. This has resurrected the Devils season and put them back into the playoff hunt (currently the Devils are in 6th place in the east).

Elias has been a big part of their rise. In his ten games, he has 16 points. In fact his 1.6 points per game scoring rate is the highest in the NHL so far this year.

While New Jersey stumbled out of the block without Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens or Patrik Elias (putting a lot of pressure on Martin Brodeur), the return of Elias has been enough to fix the problems and make them a solid playoff team again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux Retires

Today, hall of famer Mario Lemieux announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the second retirement during the 2005/06 season of a Hall of Fame worthy player (the other is Brett Hull). Mario Lemieux was born in Montreal, Quebec on October 5th, 1965. He grew up playing hockey in the Montreal minor hockey program. In 1981, he entered the QMJHL with the Laval Voisons. He was an immediate scoring star in the league with 96 points in 64 games in his rookie year. The next year, he upped his totals to 184 points in 66 games and made the QMJHL second all star team. In his final junior year, Lemieux scored a QMJHL record 282 points (133 goals and 149 assists) in 70 games. He also led the league in playoff scoring with 29 goals, 23 assists and 52 points in only 14 games. He made the QMJHL first all star team, was named the QMJHL MVP and the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year. He was one of the highest rated draft prospects ever. He was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1984 entry draft.

In his rookie year, Lemieux was immediately a franchise player in Pittsburgh. He made his first of ten NHL all star games as a rookie. He is one of only a handful of players to have 100 point rookie seasons and won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. The following year (1985/86) was a 141 point year where Lemieux made the second team all star and won the Lester B Pearson award as the NHL MVP as voted by the players of the NHL. He followed it up with 107 points in only 63 games and another second team all star berth.

In 1987, he was named to the all star team of the Canada Cup when he scored 11 goals and 18 points in the nine games he played in the tournament. He combined with Wayne Gretzky to score the tournament winning goal. Lemieux carried this level of success into his NHL season where he scored a league leading 70 goals and 168 points. He made the NHL first team all star and won the Pearson, Art Ross and Hart trophies. In 1988/89 he followed that up with an even better year. He scored 85 goals, 114 assists and 199 points. All of those were league leading totals. He made first all star team and again won the Art Ross trophy. Back injuries limited him to 59 games in 1989/90 and 123 points. His back limited him to only 26 games in 1990/91 where he scored 45 points. Lemieux managed to stay healthy for the playoffs where he led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup and led the league with 28 assists and 44 points and won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. He managed to play 64 regular season games in 1991/92, but that was enough to scored 131 points which was good enough to lead the league. He made second team all star and won the Art Ross trophy. In the playoffs, Mario scored a league leading 16 goals and 34 points leading Pittsburgh to another Stanley Cup and winning another Conn Smythe trophy.

1992/93 was a trying season for Mario Lemieux. He was diagnosed with cancer on January 12th, 1993 (Hodgkins disease). Nevertheless, Lemieux played 60 games and lead the league in scoring with 160 points and also led the league with his +55 +/- rating. He made first team all star, won the Pearson, Ross, Hart and Bill Masterton trophy (for perseverance and dedication to hockey). A back injury limited Lemieux to 22 games (and 37 points) in 1993/94. Lemieux missed the entire 1994/95 season recovering from the lingering effects of cancer treatment and his back problems.

He came back in 1995/96 and again led the NHL in goals (69) assists (92) and points (161). He made first team all star and won Pearson, Ross and Hart trophies. The next year, he again led the league in assists (72) and points (122) his next season. He made first team all star and won the Art Ross trophy.

In need of a break, Mario Lemieux announced retirement in 1997. Lemieux was soon inducted into the hockey hall of fame. During his time away from NHL play, Mario Lemieux was part of a group that purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2000, he won the Lester Patrick trophy for service to hockey in the United States.

Mario Lemieux made a comeback in the 2000/01 season. Despite only playing in 43 games, Lemieux made second team all star and was a Hart trophy nominee. Lemieux played through an injury plagued 2001/02 season limited to 24 NHL games, but was an important part of Canada's Olympic hockey gold medal victory in Salt Lake City. Lemieux managed his last nearly complete season in 2002/03 with 67 games and 91 points. He played only 10 games in the 2003/04 season due to further injury. During the lockout season, Mario Lemieux played for the winning Canada team in the World Cup. This year, Mario played in only 26 games before injuries and heart problems forced him into retirement.

Mario Lemieux remains a Pittsburgh Penguin owner. The Penguins are in a position of uncertainty due to the need for a new rink and the possibility they may be sold and moved.

Lemieux is one of hockey's greatest players of all time. Although some argue he is the best player ever, most consider him the third or fourth best ever. With the cancer and injuries he played through, there will always be the question of how good he could have been if he had been healthy.

Mario Lemieux's retirement shortens the list of NHL players that are still active hockey player and are worthy of the hall of fame regardless of what they accomplish (or do not accomplish) for the rest of their careers. This list grew recently with the addition of Peter Forsberg. The players currently on the list are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

As hockey is played this season, this list is likely to grow. At the same time, players such as Dave Andreychuk and Steve Yzerman are on their last legs, so this list may also shrink.

Monday, January 23, 2006


The National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), a group of small cable companies and cable providers, had been suing Comcast for violating their longterm agreement as Comcast had demanded that cable providers distribute their OLN channel to at least 40% of their subscribers or they would block out NHL hockey games. Basically, this forces OLN onto a basic cable package instead of a premium one. Both sides have settled out of court for undisclosed financial considerations.

Here is an article on the subject from Multichannel News, found with an assist from Kukla's Korner.

Labor Relations Board Dismisses Dissidents

A major setback occurred today for Trent Klatt and his band of NHLPA dissidents. They were challenging the way the NHLPA acted against their own constitution to remove Bob Goodenow as its head and end the lockout. They had gone to the US Labor Relations Board to state their case. Today, the Labor Relations Board dismissed their case stating that it is not under their jurisdiction. They rule that they do not have power over the Toronto based NHLPA.

Where does this leave Trent Klatt and the other players who are upset that due process was not followed when Bob Goodenow was replaced by Ted Saskin as NHLPA head? They may try to pursue this further in Canadian court, but it is unlikely to be fruitful. Since Ted Saskin held a (somewhat questionable) vote to show he has NHLPA confidence, he is clearly in charge right now.

Historically, players who are upset with the labor process get old and forgotten as they leave the NHL. Most likely, this may happen and the NHL will go on with the NHLPA leadership propped up by NHL ownership. It is possible that a challenge to the NHLPA may occur if Klatt et al can present a good candidate for Ted Saskin's job with grassroots support or if they push for NHLPA decertification.

This is another chapter in the history of the NHLPA. The union remains divided, but play is moving on. As long as the salary cap continues to increase and escrow is small, the NHLPA will remain mostly happy. If either of those do not occur, these problems will be pushed to the surface.

Here is the TSN story on the Labor Relations Board dismissal.

New Norris Trophy Leader

Earlier this season, I picked Wade Redden as the best defenceman so far this season in the NHL. When he missed a few games due to injury, he was overtaken by Bryan McCabe. Now that McCabe has missed some games with injury, Redden is again my pick as the Norris trophy leader.

Wade Redden is scoring at point per game rate (36 points in 36 games) for the Ottawa Senators. His +30 +/- rating is second highest in the NHL. Redden has come into his own as one of the best defenders in the NHL and is very deserving of his spot on Canadian Olympic team.

Other top defencemen so far this year include Redden's teammate Zdeno Chara, suprising Lubomir Visnovsky, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This Year's Bumper Rookie Crop

This season has a particularly good group of rookies that have hit the NHL. So far. I think Alexander Ovechkin has been the best of a very good bunch than includes Henrik Lundqvist, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Marek Svatos, Petr Prucha, Antero Niittymaki, Andrej Meszaros, Tomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Duncan Keith, Jeff Carter, Jussi Jokinen etc. Its the best bunch of rookies the NHL has seen in many years. This is largely because it is two groups of rookies put together. It is the 2004/05 rookie crop that didn't get to play because of the lockout and the 2005/06 rookie crop. The 2004/05 crop is one more year more mature than they would otherwise have been and thus are better players when they first hit the NHL.

I have long believed that the NHL "rookie of the year" is most often a player who could have played and contributed well the season before he was a rookie, but for whatever reason was not in the NHL. This year is a good example of that. Is there much doubt that had Alexander Ovechkin come to the NHL last season (if there was a last season) that he would have been a very good player?

In a typical season, three players who are rookies go on to have Hall of Fame careers. Since this year has a double rookie crop, it is more likely there will be closer to six Hall of Famers in the bunch. It is fun to look at the rookies and try to project who they might be, but the future always brings suprises. I bet that some of the more likely candidates right now fall short and some people who are not really on our radar yet wind up putting up a Hall of Fame career.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Berard Tests Positive (But Not In The NHL)

The NHL drug testing has recently started. While it is uncertain if steroids are a problem in the NHL, there is one positive case for the NHL to deal with (or more likely not deal with) today. It is reported that Bryan Berard of the Columbus Blue Jackets tested positive for 19-norandrosterone, an anabolic steroid agent, as part of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's out-of-competition testing program.

The US tested 100 prospective Olympians and Berard was apparently the only one to fail. Berard is now banned from international competition for two years. This won't make any significant difference in the short term since Berard was not chosen for the US Olympic team.

Berard claims that this positive test occurred because of the nandrolone was in a nutritional suppliment he was taking, but has since discontinued taking. This argument is plausable because International Olympic Committee tests have found nandrolone in 14% of over the counter muscle-building suppliments that are maketed as "natural", "safe" or "steroid-free". Of course, this is a convenient cover for anybody who tests positive.

Since Berard's positive test was not administered by the NHL and the NHLPA, under the CBA he is not supposed to be punished. Which is a somewhat hypocritical position for the NHL to take.

Berard's claims lead to an interesting question. What percentage of the positive drug tests will be completely unintentional (such as taking a supposedly steroid-free nutritional suppliment)? Can this percentage be clearly identified? Is it fair to treat them the same as people who were intentionally on steroids? And in a slightly different vein, since players can only be disciplined if they are caught by an NHL/NHLPA test, is it fair that players caught with steroids in their possession or players who fail other tests (such as Berard's test) get no punishment at all?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

AHL All Star Game

The AHL all star game will be played February 1st in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is always interesting to see who the AHL all stars are, since many will one day become NHLers. The game is the Canadian All Stars (Team Canada) playing against the rest of the world (Planet USA).

Here are the all star teams:


Eric Fehr, Hershey (starter)
Ryan Getzlaf, Portland
Mike Glumac, Peoria
Denis Hamel, Binghamton
Mark Hartigan, Syracuse
Kirby Law, Houston (starter)
Corey Locke, Hamilton
Michel Ouellet, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Dustin Penner, Portland
Corey Perry, Portland (starter)
Jimmy Roy, Manitoba (captain)
Martin St. Pierre, Norfolk
Jeff Tambellini, Manchester

Braydon Coburn, Chicago
Andy Delmore, Syracuse
Bruno Gervais, Bridgeport
Mark Giordano, Omaha
Curtis Murphy, Houston
Lawrence Nycholat, Hershey
Nathan Paetsch, Rochester (starter)
John Slaney, Philadelphia (starter)

Wade Flaherty, Manitoba (starter)
Josh Harding, Houston
Dany Sabourin, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

Planet USA

Keith Aucoin, Lowell
Valtteri Filppula, Grand Rapids
Eric Healey, Providence (captain)
Jiri Hudler, Grand Rapids (starter)
Patrick O’Sullivan, Houston
Libor Pivko, Milwaukee
John Pohl, Toronto (starter)
Patrick Rissmiller, Cleveland
Peter Sejna, Peoria
Ryan Shannon, Portland
Tomas Surovy, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Ryan Vesce, Springfield
Erik Westrum, Houston (starter)

Sven Butenschon, Manitoba (starter)
Denis Grebeshkov, Manchester
Matt Greene, Iowa
David Hale, Albany
Matt Jones, San Antonio
Thomas Pock, Hartford
Danny Richmond, Lowell
Noah Welch, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (starter)

Al Montoya, Hartford
Pekka Rinne, Milwaukee (starter)
Tim Thomas, Providence

It is interesting to see who played in last year's game as many of those players are now making an impact in the NHL.

There will be no NHL all star game this year, instead there is a break for the Olympics.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ovechkin Case Dismissed

Today, I picked Alexander Ovechkin as the leader in the Calder trophy race. This is not the only Ovechkin news today.

The was a court case pending where Moscow Dynamo claim they hold Ovechkin's rights and want him back in the Russian League. This case was thrown out today because of the tenuous claim Dynamo had to Ovechkin.

This summer, Ovechkin signed a three year contract with Avongard Omsk in the Russian League with an out clause should Ovechkin sign in the NHL. His previous Russian team, Dynamo Moscow, claimed to have matched the Omsk contract thus retaining Ovechkin's rights but without the NHL out clause. The paper trail supporting the Dynamo claim was found to be lacking.

Most likely, this case was filed (at least partially) to respond to the Alexander Semin case. Semin is a Washington Capital draftee who returned home to play in Russia during the lockout. Washington assigned him to play with their AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, since he was on a two-way contract. Semin claimed he was locked out and could play wherever he wanted. Washington has been fining Semin for every day he is away. Washington is suing to have Semin returned (since he is signed to an NHL contract) and have the fines upheld.

This problem exists because there is no IIHF-NHL player transfer deal with Russia.

Likely, the courts have no right to force Semin to play in a league that he does not want to play in, with no player transfer deal. Also, likely the fines Washington wants to collect from Semin are not going to hold up in court. I think that they will rule that if Semin ever wishes to play in the NHL he will be held to the remainder of his current contract with the Washington Capitals, but if he choses to never play NHL again then Washington is out of luck.

Even countries that signed an NHL player transfer deal are not happy. The Czech's signed the deal but are unhappy that the New York Rangers are late making transfer payments for Petr Prucha.

Here is the TSN story on the Ovechkin case getting thrown out.

Calder Trophy Leader

In the past, I have endorsed Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers as the leading candidate for the Calder trophy. While Lundqvist continues to play well, it is time to re-assess that endorsement. One other rookie is playing so well that he has moved into the Calder lead. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals is the second highest goal scorer in the NHL with 32 (behind only Ilya Kovalchuk). Ovechkin's 58 points places him in the top ten scorers in the NHL and he is doing this on a weak Washington team with little help (in fact the second highest scorer on the team Dainius Zubrus has a mere 24 points).

Lundqvist has a .924 saves percentage and a 2.19 goals against average which are very good numbers. He is my pick for Calder runner up.

Sidney Crosby with his 51 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins is currently in a strong third position.

Other strong rookies exist this year including Dion Phaneuf, Marek Svatos and Andrej Meszaros.

Generally, I think the rookie of the year is a player who could have played well in the NHL the season before his rookie season , but for some reason was not in the league. With the lockout there is a two year backlog of such players. I think a strong argument could be made that Ovechkin or Lundqvist or Crosby could have been strong NHLers last year and maybe even before that, had they been given the chance to play in the league.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shane Doan Sues Liberal MP

When Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes made the Canadian Olympic team, Canadian member of parliament Denis Coderre (Liberal for the riding of Bourassa in northern Montreal) complained. Coderre claims that Doan made a racial slur against referee Stephane Auger in a December 13th game between Phoenix and the Montreal Canadiens. Auger is a French Canadian.

Coderre wrote a letter to Hockey Canada asking for Doan to be expelled from the team unless Doan made a public apology. Doan denies making such a remark.

Doan is now suing Coderre for his "false and defamatory" remarks. Doan is asking for $200,000 in moral damages and $50,000 in punative damages, which he claims he will donate to charity.

I am tolerant towards all forms of trash talk in hockey and do not see the big deal about racial slurs. Presumably, it is alleged that Doan called Auger a "frog" and somehow this is worth this whole circus that would not exist if he merely swore at him.

An even bigger problem is a politician who thinks it is his job to fight this battle. He seem to think that a politican should have any say as to which players are put on the Canadian Olympic Hockey team. It is a waste of time for a politican who should be running the country (maybe this is a good reason to no re-elect Coderre?). I don't know what Shane Doan said to Stephane Auger. Frankly, I do not care. I would not have picked Doan on my team, but if he is chosen I defend his right to be there regardless of anything any politician thinks.

Here is the TSN story about this issue.

Why Scoring Is Up This Year

Scoring in the NHL is up this year by roughly a goal per game. Here are some numbers from the Battle of Alberta that show that 6.17 goals are scored per game this year in comparison to 5.14 in 2003/04 (the post is a few days old so the numbers may have changed slightly). The extra goal per game has a few sources.

The obvious source of the scoring increase is the obstruction crackdown has led to more time in the game with one team on the power play. The Battle of Alberta stats give 19:09 of a game with one team on the power play this year and 13:38 in 2003/04, For simplicity, we will assume that the rate of goal scoring in special team play (power play plus shorthanded goals) to be the same. In fact this is not quite true, Battle of Alberta shows 1 goal per 8:01 of special team play this season and 1 goal per 8:42 of special team play in 2003/04, but this difference is small enough that to first order it can be ignored. Thus, we expect 2.39 special teams goals per game this year and 1.57 in 2003/04.

In even strength play, there is a more noticable difference in the scoring rate from year to year. This year there is 1 goal per 11:14 of even strength play. In 2003/04, there was 1 goal per 13:32 of play. This leads to 3.61 even strength goals per game this year compared to 3.40 in 2003/04. So even strength scoring is up DESPITE the drop in even strength playing time. In fact, if power play time was the same over the two seasons, there would still be a roughly 1/2 goal per game difference between them.

So we have tracked down the source of about half a goal per game scoring increase. It comes from increased power play time. There is still the other half goal per game to account for.

Tom Benjamin argues that one reason for this is the reduced number of whistles. Changine the icing rule has reduced the number of whistles (at even strength). Legalizing two line passes has also reduced the amount of whistles. He argues that fewer whistles keep tired players, who are more likely to make mistakes, on the ice longer. He argues that fewer whistles force coaches to make line changes at worse times to get these tired players off the ice. This is likely a factor in the extra half goal per game, but I doubt it is the only factor.

To show that this theory has validity, Benjamin also shows that in the second period scoring is highest. When you remove empty net goals at the end of the third period, there are 32.08% of the regulation goals in the first period, 36.28% in the second period and 31.65% in the third period. In the second period, teams have longer to go to get from their defensive zone to the bench. This long change leads to more tired players and more bad line changes.

I think that it is far too simple to credit the extra half goal per game at even strength to only the reduction in whistles, although it is one factor. The fear of getting penalized has led to more offensive players gaining position in front of the net with a defenceman obstructing their ability to score. This leads to more goals per game as well - intuitively I think it may be a bigger factor than as reduction in whistles - although I am not certain how to attempt to show this statistically.

There are other factors as well, reduction in goalie equipment size, rules reducing goaltender puck handling and teams that may have otherwise trapped adapting to a more offensive style of game because they are better suited to it.

Scoring is up. Scoring is up at even strength by a big enough margin to show an increase despite the reduction in even strength play. The even strength scoring increase of about half a goal per game likely has many causes, one of them is the reduction in the number of play stoppages.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Petr Prucha's Transfer Fee

This season there has been a bumper crop of rookies. One rookie who is playing quite well, although not a serious player in the Calder trophy race is Petr Prucha of the New York Rangers. Prucha came to the Rangers from HC Moeller Pardubice of the Czech League. According to the transfer deal between the NHL and the IIHF the New York Rangers are required to pay $200,000 to the Pardubice club for taking Prucha away from them. This is really a pittance given the value a player like Prucha would add to the Czech League and given the costs sunk into him by the Czechs for his development. The Rangers are late on their payments. They have only paid $80,000 for Prucha. This is angering the Czech League officials.

The NHL has maintained a very hardline stance in their negotiations with international leagues (one could argue it was the same hardline stance that won them the lockout). As a result the Russian Ice Hockey Federation did not agree to any transfer deal despite some significant power plays by the NHL.

There are two cases before the courts involving the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL. One is the case of Alexander Semin a Washington Capital draftee who returned to play in Russia during the lockout while the Capitals assigned him to the AHL. Washington wants to fine Semin for being away and have him honor the remainder of his contract. Semin claims he was locked out so he had every right to play in Russia if he chose and due to the lack of a transfer deal has every right to continue to play there. The other is the case of Alexander Ovechkin the Capitals rookie sensation. Dynamo Moscow claims they should still have his rights and he should be returned to them instead of playing in the NHL. The Ovechkin case is probably legal nuisance filed to make life difficult for the Washington Capitals to try and make the Semin case go away.

The fact that even with a player transfer deal, NHL teams are not paying the transfer fees (or at least not paying them on time) shows signs that the NHL bargained in bad faith with the European leagues. This cold war between the NHL and Europe is likely to make significant impact on the hockey game we see as fans, but is being significantly under-reported in North America.

Here is the Czech Business Weekly story on Petr Prucha which I found with an assist to Kukla's Korner.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

MLB Statistics Ownership And Fantasy Baseball

Last year, major league baseball decided to play hardball with internet fantasy baseball. They are forcing any internet fantasy baseball providers to pay MLB for the right to use player names and statistics. Effectively, there are no online fantasy baseball services that have not bought a licence from MLB. This killed Swirve baseball.

This position is now being challenged. CBC Marketing and Distribution of St Louis is taking MLB to court. They run CDM fantasy baseball games.

Before last year, an internet company like CBC Marketing paid 9% of their gross to the Major League Baseball Player's Association. MLB bought these rights from the MLBPA for $50 million. MLB now holds exclusive rights to license all leagues and can raise their costs to force the small players from the marketplace. Despite not having a licence, CBC continued to run their leagues.

The courts will decide if intellectual property rights give MLB the rights to do this or if baseball statistics are history and thus a piece of the public record instead of intellectual property.

A ruling against CBC Marketing is bad news for fantasy hockey players since it will serve to limit access to the number of fantasy hockey games. This is bad for fantasy players.

Here is a CNN story on this topic.

Oiler Goalie Woes

The team that could most benefit so far this year with better goaltending is the Edmonton Oilers. Right now, the Oilers have 53 points which would give them eighth place and the final playoff berth in the west. Their defence has done a very good job of preventing the opposition from taking too many shots (in fact Edmonton's 26 shots allowed per game places them second in the league behind on Dallas). This has not translated into a good goals against. Edmonton's 3.09 goals gainst average is a lacklustre eighteenth overall - which is awful given the lack of shots allowed. Their regular goalies Jussi Markkanen (.883 saves percentage) and Ty Conklin (.872 saves percentage) have been among the worst regualr goalies in the NHL so far this year. In fact the strongest string of good games has come from one-time NHL player of the week Mike Morrison who is currently in the minors. If Edmonton could add a legitimate starting goalie without damaging the rest of their core, the team could be dangerous. Until then, they are likely an also ran.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Explanation of My Hall of Fame Standards

I have written several posts about sabermetrics and hockey in the past. Mostly, this is a summer hobby because during the regular season there is so much going on in the NHL that I do not have to delve into the past to find an interesting topic for a post. However, a lively discussion in my recent I NOW consider Peter Forsberg a Hall of Famer post has led me to try to write something about when and why I consider a player a hall of famer.

The least satisfying explanation of when I consider a player a hall of famer (but the one that is closest to the truth) is that I consider a player a hall of famer as soon as it becomes more logical to do that then to explain why he is not a hall of famer.

One illuminating set of questions that is first written in a baseball context by Bill James. I cannot say that I exactly follow this list of questions, but it is close to my mindset.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

2. Was he the best player on his team?

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Of course these questions are somewhat baseball specific, but they give a rough idea of what one should consider about a potential hall of famer.

Another test is the calibration between different positions. Usually, a team dresses 12 forwards, 6 defencemen and 2 goalies. I see no reason not to imagine that in a perfect world, the number of Hall of Fame players should be in approximately that ratio. That means that we should have 60% forwards, 30% defencemen and 10% goaltenders. If we look at my list of currently active NHL players who belong in the Hall of Fame of fourteen players here:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

We see 8 forwards, 3 defencemen and 3 goalies. If we want to pick 14 players in as close as possible to the 60-30-10% ratios, we would have 8 forwards, 4 defencemen and 2 goalies. This is pretty close to ideal.

Most of the players that have been suggested as additions to the list of current players who should make the Hall of Fame regardless of what they do (or do not do) in the rest of their careers in the Peter Forsberg comments are forwards. This is not suprising because the highest scoring era in NHL history was the later 80's and first half of the 90's. Many of the older current NHL players had their primes occur during this era and thus managed to pad their career totals. This is shown if we look at the top NHL scorers of all time (select NHL and points - I could not get a working link of the results). We can correlate the top 50 scorers of all time and their birth years:

1928 (Howe)
1931 (Beliveau, Delvecchio)
1935 (Bucyk, Ullman)
1938 (Mahovlich)
1939 (Bobby Hull)
1940 (Mikita, Ratelle)
1942 (Esposito)
1949 (Clarke)
1950 (Perreault, Sittler)
1951 (Dionne, Lafleur)
1956 (Federko, Stastny, Trottier)
1957 (Bossy)
1959 (Gartner)
1960 (Bourque, Ciccarelli, Goulet, Kurri)
1961 (Coffey, Gretzky, Messier, Murphy, Nicholls, Savard)
1962 (Oates)
1963 (Andreychuk, Francis, Gilmour, Hawerchuk, MacInnis)
1964 (Housley, Brett Hull)
1965 (Lemieux, Yzerman)
1966 (Robitaille)
1967 (Damphousse)
1968 (Recchi)
1969 (Sakic, Shanahan, Turgeon)
1970 (Modano, Roenick)
1971 (Sundin)
1972 (Jagr)

So if we break this down into five year periods, we find this:

1926-1930 - One player
1931-1935 - Four players
1936-1940 - Four players
1941-1945 - One player
1946-1950 - Three players
1951-1955 - Two players
1956-1960 - Nine Players
1961-1965 - Sixteen players
1966-1970 - Eight players
1971-1975 - Two players

The NHL has existed since 1917. In its early days, some of its players were born in the 19th century. These players cannot make the top scorers of all time list because they did not player enough games in the season. It was only after the season length become closer to what it is now that players started to emerge who make the current top 50 all time scorers list. Currently, there are NHL players who were born well into the 1980's, but they haven't had enough time to score enough points to make an all time scoring list. The most obvious thing we see is that the majority of the players on the list were born between 1956 and 1970 (and there may be a few players in the later part of this time period who will one day make this list but are not yet there). These are the players who played in the highest scoring era of all time. This shows the need for adjusted scoring stats when comparing players of different eras. The more recent players dominate the raw numbers, but after adjustment this is not neccessarily true. Most of the argument for the extra forwards hall of fame inductions come from looking at their raw numbers. Often, there is no question that if a player from the 1960's put up the career numbers of a Pierre Turgeon, Mark Recchi or Mats Sundin he would be a clear Hall of Famer, but in the era these more modern players it is not so clear. I wouldn't induct any of those players if their careers ended right now.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Tomorrow (Saturday the 14th of January) will be the first NHL game broadcast on network television this year. The NHL will be on NBC. They will show one game per week for four Saturdays during the season (and 2 more Saturday games in April plus a few more during the playoffs). They have a cast of familiar names to lead the broadcast including Mike Emrick, John Davidson, Pierre Maguire, Bill Clement and Ray Ferraro. Its always good to have more NHL games on TV and hopefully these games wont have the problems of OLN, but the way they are handled highlights the problems the NHL has trying to get into the mainstream US market. No games whatsoever are broadcast until the halfway point in the NHL season (because of conflicts with the NFL). They will only broadcast one game per week, which isn't enough considering the number of quality games we see each night in the NHL. Even in the playoffs, many games won't be broadcast at all because they are not on weekends, which prevents fans from watching an entire playoff series. NHL on NBC is a bare minimum commitment from network television to show NHL hockey - and to the NHL this is a wonderful thing.

The NHL is probably better off recognizing they are very strong in several niche markets in the US (Michigan, Minnesota, New England) and have negligible interest in others (Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico) and have the strong markets broadcast games almost every night on local cable channels (such as Fox SportsNet) and leave the lesser markets with less coverage. There is no need for the NHL to be a national presence in the United States. It has never been a national presence in the United States and it has made large amounts of money for lots of people. In fact, the lockout occurred in part because of the NHL's failed attempts to be a national US presence.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CBA Clause May Cause Legends To Retire Early

Its often sad to watch an NHL legend who is no longer a very good player hanging onto an NHL job at the end of his career. I think it is even sadder when an NHL legend retires young and it is clear that their body has a lot more hockey left in it, but we fans will never get a chance to see it. I think the second situation could become much more common as an unintended consequence of a clause in the new NHL CBA that has received some recent media attention.

The CBA uses the average salary over the course of a contract as the salary cap hit for a given player. This is different from using the amount that a player is paid that season as his cost to the salary cap. I'm not sure that this is a benefit to the CBA. I think it serves to complicate things forcing some extra complexities into it to make sure that the spirit of the CBA rules are not violated.

The specific clause required to address this problem is one that says that any player who is 35 years or older who is signed to a multi-year deal and retires before the last year of the contract will continue to have his average salary of the contract used against the team's salary cap in subsequent years of the contract, until the contract runs out. Jes Golbez does a good job of explaining the intent of this clause.

Say I signed Kirk Muller to a 2-year deal (If I ever did, I'd expect you to commit me to the finest mental institution in Canada). The first year pays him $1,000,000 and the second pays him $350,000. The average would be counted in the cap for year 1 @ $675,000, Kirk would be paid $1,000,000 (enticing him to sign for my club), and then when he retires before the second season, we'd be off the hook for the second $675,000 against our cap and Kirk can retire with bags of cash in his hands. Great, but the NHL closed that loophole and saw that players who are 35 and over might pull a fast one like this.

What would be so wrong with charging $1,000,000 to the team's salary cap for the first year of the Kirk Muller deal and $350,000 (which in this hypothetical example is below the NHL's minimum wage) for the second year? Afterall that is in fact what Kirk Muller is paid.

I supposed the problem comes if a team with lots of salary cap room decides to sign away free agents from other teams with heavily front loaded deals that cannot be matched due to salary cap limitations on the previous teams. This problem is magnified if one (unfulfilled) NHL owner agenda is to get rid of guaranteed NHL contracts. However, this problem is partially solved by limiting the percentage that a player salary can change in subsequent years under the same contract.

This clause is in the news recently because there have been several moves that have recently been made that may lead to teams being caught with salary cap hits for players who are no longer playing with them. New Jersey has the case of Vladimir Malakhov who may or may not have retired and is over 35 and signed for next season. New Jersey also has the case of recently waived Alexander Mogilny who is signed for next season, but may retire first if he will be stuck in the minors. Tampa Bay has the case of Dave Andreychuk who was recently waived and is also signed for next year, but may also be forced into retirement. Thus Tampa Bay and New Jersey may take salary cap hits next year for players who are no longer playing with them.

As Bob McKenzie points out, the upshot of this is that when a player reaches age 35, his options may be limited to only signing one year contracts. One case who will likely be affected by this is Joe Sakic (there are many other possible examples but I will use him as a case in point). Sakic turns 37 this summer. He is a still quite a valuable player who was named captain of the Canadian Olympic team. Thus far he has played his career with one franchise - the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche (who moved during his career). Annually, he will have to sign a new contract. his options on this contract may be limited to signing one year deals. If at any point, Colorado has a problem with obtaining salary cap room to resign Sakic, he may be forced to look elsewhere for employment (which may lead to him deciding to retire instead). It may force a player like Joe Sakic to become a mercenary accepting one year contracts with whichever team offers in order to complete his career. The grind of being in a new city each year will likely prompt him to consider retirment at an earlier age than he otherwise would have. If you are a fan of players spending their whole careers with one team, this CBA has likely put an end to this practise. It seems clear that a player who remains a valuable NHL contributor but is older than 35 years will likely be forced to a nomadic existance living out a string of one year contracts in different cities. This will likely lead some of these players to retire instead of continue to contribute at the NHL level. That is a shame.

What is the solution to this mess? I think the best solution would have been no salary cap. I don't see how it has improved the NHL. I think the complicated CBA leads to a game that is further removed from the fans where more deals are made for business reasons (without the business details being available to the fans) then for hockey reasons. That strains the relationship with diehard fans. I stand by the statement that a salary cap is bad for the NHL. Of course if we must have a salary cap, I would rather it not be one that is excessively complicated and might lead to NHL legends retiring before they are ready to because they find it too hard to deal with negotiating a new one year contract in a new city each season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I NOW consider Peter Forsberg a Hall of Famer

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows I keep a list of players who are active who I think belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what happens to them for the rest of their careers. The last player I thought had reached that threshold was Brendan Shanahan. Today, I am ready to admit Peter Forsberg to that level.

Forsberg has long been a highly talented player who looked as though he was likely on a Hall of Fame track unless injuries (which he has suffered a few) derail him. The question was would he make it to Hall of Fame standards and longevity before injuries sidelined him or he returned to Sweden (and possibly semi-retirement).

I thought about the five year period in NHL history from 2001-2005 and decided that Peter Forsberg had been the best NHL player in that time and anyone who is the best player in a natural five year run should find themselves in the Hall. Forsberg was the 2003 Hart trophy and Art Ross trophy winner and also tied for the league lead in plus/minus rating. When he is healthy, he is the best player in the league. Forsberg has three times made the NHL first all star team at center. He has been named the best forward at the 1998 World Cup. He won the Calder trophy as a rookie. He has a long string of awards to his name. He is in the running to add to his list of awards this year with his 56 points so far in 36 games for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Forsberg has been the best NHL player in the last five years and was clearly a dominant player before that period and looks to remain dominant after that period. Anyone who can do that should be in the Hall of Fame.

Here is my list of current NHL players who I think belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what they do (or do not do) for the rest of their careers:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

Some of these players may be getting toward the end of their career. Specifically, Dave Andreychuk who was recently waived by the Tampa Bay Lightning, which may prompt his retirement. Others such as Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman may be on their last legs as well. However, as hockey gets played this year, it is only a matter of time before others qualify for the list.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rolston Having A Good Season

When most pundits looked at the Minnesota Wild this summer, they found an aggresive bunch of forecheckers with little offensive ability (except for Marian Gaborik). One player who has shown a suprising level of offensive success while maintaining the strong defence that would be expected on a Jacques Lemaire coached team is Brian Rolston.

Rolston has earned a spot on the US Olympic team. He leads Minnesota with 43 points in 43 games played. He leads their forwards with a +12 +/- rating (he falls second to defenceman Willie Mitchell on the team as a whole). Rolston has really come into his own lately. Since December 1st, he is fourth in the NHL in scoring with 25 points (falling behind Ilya Kovalchuk, Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton - an exceptional group of players with whom to be compared).

Rolston has been his team's best most consistent offensive player so far this year as well as a serious candidate for the Frank J. Selke trophy (though I would pick Rod Brind'Amour for that honor). Should Minnesota capture a playoff spot (they are currently not too far back) it will likely be due, in a large part, to Rolston's play.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cheechoo Is Hot

The San Jose Sharks have been a pretty good team in the NHL lately. This is something I predicted. After the Joe Thornton trade, this become even more likely. One of the beneficiaries of San Jose's resurgence and Joe Thornton's acquisition is Jonathan Cheechoo. In fact, Cheechoo has the most goals in the league sin the December 1st Joe Thornton trade. Cheechoo has 16 goals in this time. In October and November combined, before Thornton was acquired, he only managed seven goals. Jonathan Cheechoo is a great pool pick up for the remainder of the season.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ducks Rebuilding

When Brian Burke took over the Vancouver Canucks he claimed that the team could compete right now and the would not rebuild. Then he went out and rebuilt, getting rid of Mark Messier, Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny and brought in a very successful Canucks team that has been one of the better teams in the NHL.

Now that Burke is in Anaheim, he appears to be following the same process with the Ducks. He has traded Sergei Fedorov to Columbus. Today, it was announced that Petr Sykora and a 2007 fourth round draft pick to the New York Rangers for Maxim Kondratiev. In all likelihood, Sykora will be the best player involved in that trade but with the prospect of free agency, he may not play these years as a Mighty Duck. Kondratiev is a useable defenceman who is young enough that he may mature into a very good player in the next few years.

Most important to the Mighty Ducks, Anaheim has opened up a roster spot that can be won by a young player with the potential for a big future. If Joffrey Lupul or Ryan Getzlaf get the playing time that Petr Sykora abandoned this will help them improve as players for future Duck teams. As long as the Mighty Ducks manage to keep these guys for their prime (which is not a given under the CBA) the Ducks could become a legitimate power in the future.

It appears that this plan was made after the beginning of the 2005/06 season, because the signings of Scott and Rob Niedermayer are contradictory to the plan. It looks like Burke made the decision he needed to rebuild after seeing his team play for a month or two.

If things work out, the Ducks could become a very competitive team in a year or two.

Here is TSN's story on the Sykora trade.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Marc Savard Overlooked Star?

It suprises most people when they notice Marc Savard of the Atlanta Thrashers is the third highest scorer in the NHL so far this season. He has 58 points and is only behind Jaromir Jagr and teammate Ilya Kovalchuk. Savard has been a very good playmaker this year setting up for Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. Maybe he is finally getting his game together to fulfill the promise that once made him a top rated New York Ranger prospect. As third highest scorer in the league he was omitted from the Canadian Olympic team and probably not even considered too seriously for one of the final spots. Given the depth that Canada has at center and Savard's lack of an elite track record and suspect defensive play, I think this was a correct call. However, if Savard can keep this level of play up he will become a selection on future teams for Canada.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Mid-Season NHL Awards

There was a poll for mid-season NHL awards held by hockey dirt. Many bloggers were asked to vote on the awards. I don't think I was asked but that may be related to the fact I don't have any easily available email address on this website - either that or I got asked and was too dumb to notice.

Several of my posts over the season so far have included picks for some of these awards so many of my choices are already "out in cyberspace".

Rookie of the Half Season - I pick Henrik Lundqvist. Alexander Ovechkin won the hockey dirt poll.

Defenceman of the Half Season - I pick Bryan McCabe. Wade Redden won the hockey dirt poll. I was picking him until he missed some games due to injury.

MVP of the Half Season - I pick Jaromir Jagr. Jagr also won the hockey dirt poll.

Goalie of the Half Season - I pick Dominik Hasek. Hasek also won the hockey dirt poll.

Lady Byng of the Half Season - I had picked Jason Spezza the only time I discussed this topic. Since then, Spezza instigated a fight and fell out of the lead. I guess I would pick Pavel Datsyuk now. Brad Richards won the hockey dirt poll.

Selke of the Half Season - I pick Rod Brind'Amour. Brind'Amour also won the hockey dirt poll.

Coach of the Half Season - I have never directly answered this question, but I would pick Tom Renney. Lindy Ruff won the hockey dirt poll.

Comeback Player of the Half Season - I haven't directly addressed this question either. I pick Dominik Hasek. He wonm the hockey dirt poll as well.

Jerk of the Half Season - Sean Avery wins this in a landslide. I would pick him too.

Tough Guy of the Half Season - I pick Brian McGratton. So did the hockey dirt poll.

Flop of the Half Season - I pick Sergei Fedorov. So did the hockey dirt poll.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

World Junior Hockey Medals

The finals in the World Junior Hockey championships occurred today. Here are my writeups on the round robin, quarterfinals and semifinals. Here were the results:

Bronze/ 4th Game Finland 4 USA 2 USA took an early lead in the first period when Bobby Ryan (an Anaheim Mighty Duck draft pick) scored. Jari Sailio, who is thus far undrafted, replied to tie up the game. Jesse Joensuu (who is 2006 draft eligible) gave Finland a 2-1 lead. USA tied it up on a Jack Johnson (a Carolina Hurricane draft pick) goal. Finland took the lead for good when Lauri Tukonen (an LA King draft pick) scored. Joensuu added an insurance goal. Finland won their fourth bronze in five years.

Gold/ Silver Game Canada 5 Russia 0 Justin Pogge (a Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick) made 35 saves for his second straight shutout. There was a disputed Russian goal scored in the second period when replays showed a puck across the Canadian goal line when the score was 2-0, but it was not allowed. Canada's goals were scored by Steve Downie (a Philadelphia Flyer draftee), Blake Comeau (a New York Islander draftee), two goals by Michael Blunden (a Chicago Blackhawk draftee) and Kyle Chipchura (a Montreal Canadien draftee).

Evgeni Malkin of Russia (who is a Pittsburgh Penguin draftee) was named tournament MVP and best forward. Canada's Mark Staal (a New York Ranger draftee) was named the best defenceman in the tournament, Finland's goalie Tuukka Rask (a Toronto Maple Leaf draftee) was named the tournament's best goalie. Rask's win suprises me given the tournament Pogge played. Given his two shutouts in the medal round, I thought Pogge would be named the best goalie in the tournament and possibly also its MVP (although Malkin was the other candidate).

Goalie Injuries

In October, I wrote about the rash of goalie injuries. Many of the goalie injuries at the beginning of the season were groin injuries, so at the time I attributed it to bad ice (especially in the still warm southern markets) as well as atrophy in the goalies who had in many cases been inactive during the lockout season. In the comments of that post, people pointed to another form of goalie injuries brought on by the obstruction crackdown. Since any attempt to obstruct offensive players in front of the net would lead to penalties, offensive players were able to run goaltenders with higher frequency and at higher speed. This leads to more injuries. These injuries are different from the early season groin injuries, as I do not imagine that goalies would hurt their groin by being repeatedly run by offensive players.

The list of recently and currently injured goalies include Dan Cloutier of Vancouver, Manne Legace of Detroit, Robert Esche of Philadelphia and Nikolai Khabibulin of Chicago. The team that is worst off currently is the New York Islanders. Both Rick DiPietro and Garth Snow are hurt. This forces them to play minor leaguers Wade Dubielewicz and Frederic Cloutier. The Islanders are likely to have a hard time with these goaltending injuries.

The problem of unfettered running of goaltenders is an issue that was created by the new CBA. It is one that needs addressing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

World Junior Hockey SemiFinals

Yesterday, the semi-finals were played at the World Junior Hockey Championships. This is hot on the heels of the round robin and the quarterfinals. Here are the results:

Canada 4 Finland 0 Toronto Maple Leaf prospect Justin Pogge made 19 saves for a shutout for Canada. Finland's goalie Tuukka Rask (also a Toronto prospect) had a solid game as well but was unable to handle the Canadian attack, nevertheless he stopped 43 of 47 shots and was one of the main reasons Finland kept the game as close as four goals. Canada's goals were scored by Kris Russell (a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect), Blake Comeau (a New York Islanders prospect), Kristopher Letang (a Pittsburgh Penguin prospect) and Andrew Cogliano (an Edmonton Oiler prospect).

Russia 5 USA 1 Russian goalie Anton Khodobin (a Minnesota Wild prospect) had a good game stopping 34 of 35 American shots. Russia jumped out to a 2-0 lead on two goals by Nikolai Kulemin who is undrafted so far. Jack Skille (a Chicago Blackhawk prospect) scored for USA. Russia added three more unanswered goals from Alexei Emelin (a Montreal Canadien prospect), Sergei Shirokov (who is undrafted) and Nikolai Lemtyugov (a St Louis Blue prospect).

The medal round games of USA vs. Finland for Bronze/ 4th place and Canada vs. Russia for gold and silver are tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

World Junior Hockey Quarterfinals

Yesterday, the quarterfinals were played in the World Junior Hockey Championships. After the round robin we were left with two semi-finals.

Finland 1 Sweden 0 (Overtime) This game was tied after regulation despite Sweden dominating most of the play. At 9:26 of overtime Teemo Laakso (a Nashville Predator draftee) scored for Finland to secure the win. Finland's goalie Tuukka Rask (a Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick) dominated the game with 53 saves. Sweden's goalie Daniel Larsson (who is undrafted) played a good game in the losing effort saving 24 of 25 shots. Finland will play Canada in a semi-final tonight.

USA 2 Czech Republic 1 USA took a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Phil Kessel (who will be in the 2006 draft) and Chris Bourque (a Washington Capital draftee). Ladislav Smid (an Anaheim Mighty Ducks draftee) quickly responded with the only Czech goal. American goalie Cory Schneider (a Vancouver Canuck draftee) almost had a shutout stopping 30 of 31 shots. USA will play Russia in a semi-final tonight.

Monday, January 02, 2006

World Junior Hockey Championship Update

The World Junior Hockey Championships are underway in British Columbia. They are always a fun tournament to watch. Its always interesting to see the potential stars of tomorrow, usually for the first time they get any TV exposure in their lives. This year's tournament is marred by poor refereeing. The NHL's obstruction crackdown has carried into the tournament, but since the world junior referees are in general worse than NHL referees, there have been some penalty filled games dominated by multiple questionable calls.

In group A that played in Vancouver, Canada went undefeated. Canada is a deep team lacking any big scoring stars. They have relied on strong goaltending from Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick Justin Pogge. Vancouver Canuck draft pick Luc Bourdon has delighted hometown fans with a strong performance on defence.

USA is second in this group. They are led by future NHL first overall pick Phil Kessel, Washington Capital draftee Chris Bourque and Edmonton Oiler draftee Robbie Schremp. This is probably the team with the best frontline talent of any team, but they have not had the depth of Canada. They tied against Switzerland and lost a close game with Canada.

Finland finished third in the group with a 2-2 record. Lauri Tukonen (a Los Angeles Kings pick) and Aki Seitsonen (a Calgary Flames pick) have been some of their leaders.

Switzerland and Norway finished fourth and fifth and are in the relegation group. Norway has been horribly outmatched outscored 26-3. Switzerland has been competitive. They tied USA 2-2 and have benefitted from the goaltending of Mathias Joggi, who is thus far undrafted.

In group B, which was played in Kelowna and Kamloops, BC, Russia went undefeated. Pittsburgh draftee Evgeni Malkin has been arguably the best player in the tournament so far. Anton Khudobin (a Minnesota Wild draftee) has provided strong goaltending.

Sweden finished second losing only to Russia in the round robin. Nicklas Backstrom and Sebastian Karlsson (both eligible for the 2006 draft) have been their leaders.

The Czech Republic finished 2-2 to get the final playoff berth. Boston Bruins draftee David Kredjci leads them.

Slovakia and Latvia finish fourth and fifth and play to avoid relegation. Slovakia lacks depth, but has the very talented Stanislav Lascek (a Tampa Bay draftee) and Marek Zagrapan (a Buffalo Sabre draftee) leading the way. Latvia has been outscored by a margin of 25-8, which is a respecatable showing for this outclassed small hockey nation.

The second and third placed finishers meet in the playoffs today (they are currently underway). The winners of those games play Canada and Russia tomorrow and the medal games are played on Thursday.

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