Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lidstrom Keeps On Rolling

Nicklas Lidstrom should win the Norris Trophy as best defenceman for the fifth time in his career. He should be an MVP candidate though I expect he will be overlooked. As the playoffs continue he continues to dominate. Lidstrom has been the best defenceman in the playoffs so far. He is tied for the scoring lead among defencemen with Brian Rafalski of New Jersey (with eight points each). He is leading the Red Wings in ice time with 28:59 per game (the only defenders with more ice time per game are Chris Pronger and Francis Beauchemin of Anaheim and Sergei Zubov of the eliminated Dallas Stars). Lidstrom has been a controlling force for the Red Wings. If they come back against San Jose, Lidstrom will play a huge role in it. Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the better defencemen of all time and many fans today do not realize that.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Premature Dismantling Of A Top Team

In 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. They were the best team in the NHL and had a good young roster that looked poised to contend for and possibly win more Stanley Cups. That didn't happen. It didn't happen in part because the system was set up to prevent it from happening. In 2005, it looked quite possible that small markets like Tampa Bay and Ottawa were well on their way to dominating the last half of the decade. This would be a ratings disaster for the NHL (as opposed to the current ratings disasters they have). One major thrust of the new CBA was to provide mechanisms to increase player movement (in part to break up the pending dynasties in small markets). No team has suffered more from this process than Tampa Bay. During the lockout I wrote a piece predicting this would happen. Though I was strongly disagreed with by the leading Tampa Bay Lightning blogger John Fontana things have come to pass roughly as I predicted.

Lowered free agency ages forced Tampa into signing stars Vincent LeCavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St Louis into big money longterm contracts much sooner than it otherwise would have. Under a salary cap, this forced them to let most of their other talented players go. Some of the players they lost are Nikolai Khabibulin, Daryl Sydor, Pavel Kubina, Jassen Cullimore, Cory Stillman and Fredrik Modin. That is a supporting cast that would make the difference between being a mid-level team and being a solid contender.

Tampa Bay suffered from the fact that the CBA made it hard to keep a successful team together and has enforced parity upon the league. The current Tampa Bay team is a shell of what they could have been.

In 2005/06, the first year the NHL played after Tampa's cup win, Tampa won the last playoff spot in the East Conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs. This season, things were a little bit better with the re-emergence of Martin St Louis and Vincent LeCavalier's jump to superstardom where he won the Rocket Richard Trophy. Tampa finished seventh in the east and again lost in the first round of the playoffs. They suffered from some poor goaltending which kept their improvement among the offensive stars from making a bigger impact upon the standings.

In part because of the lost revenue from the lost run of a Stanley Cup calibre team, it has been widely reported that Tampa will lower their payroll next season. This is in spite of the rising salary cap in the NHL. This salary cap was sold as being good for small markets, but small markets cannot afford to spend at that level. It is a firm advantage to the larger markets. With Tampa's payroll dropping while most payrolls climb, Tampa should be worse next year.

I imagine that the easiest way to lower payroll is to trade one of the big three players. Will Tampa do this? If not, what else can they do? Jettison everybody else with any talent (Dan Boyle, Vaclav Prospal, Filip Kuba...)? It doesn't look like they will be able to add anyone significant and lower their payroll. This is a shame, because Tampa is one good goaltender away from being a solid contender. We likely will not be able to see this happen. We will likely see a weakened Tampa team next year that couldn't afford the addition of a truly dominant goalie.

Tampa Bay fans should be furious. They had a really good team and changes to the NHL's rules have led to its premature dismantling.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More On Anaheim's Goaltending

The Anaheim Ducks have the best two goalie system in the NHL. Despite the fact Jean Sebastien Giguere deserved a spot in this season's All Star Game and has a Conn Smythe victory in 2003, the Ducks went with the hot goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at the beginning of their Minnesota series. Bryzgalov played very well and has a history of good playoff goaltending. As soon as Bryzgalov got into trouble, allowing four goals in the game three loss to Minnesota, Giguere got put back into the Anaheim goal. Since then, Giguere has manned the Anaheim goal and played very well. He has a 0.93 GAA and a .966 saves percentage in the playoffs so far. Both of those numbers lead the league among goalies with any significant time played (ie not including Jocelyn Thibault of Pittsburgh who only faced one shot).

Giguere is a very good goalie who can steal a game or two for Anaheim in any series. He is not as good as his opponent Roberto Luongo of Vancouver over the longterm, but a best of seven series is not longterm. As long as he keeps the goaltending difference close, Anaheim will likely have an advantage due to their better offence and their two Norris calibre defencemen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Second Round Playoff Predictions

My first round predictions went pretty well this year. I was correct in seven of eight series. I am now guaranteed to do no worse than I did last year when I only made seven correct calls in the entire playoff.

Detroit Red Wings defeat San Jose Sharks My lone incorrect first round prediction was that Detroit would lose to Calgary and that prediction was made in part due to the questionable health of several wings stars including Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek. Each played consistently enough in the first round and are likely as healthy as anybody in the playoffs (ie hurt but capable of playing hurt). Detroit will have to stop some high powered players in Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau, but I think they have the defence to do that well enough. Meanwhile the San Jose defence is not as deep and relies on rookies Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matthew Carle along with mid-level talents in Scott Hannan and Craig Rivet. I think Detroit has enough offensive stars in Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Pavel Datsyuk to exploit this.

Anaheim Ducks defeat Vancouver Canucks Vancouver defeated Dallas is the longest battle of the first round series and it took a lot out of them. If Vancouver had trouble scoring against Dallas, how will they do when they are facing Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on every shift? Anaheim has a deeper offence than Dallas had and although they shouldn't beat Roberto Luongo often, they should beat him enough to win the series.

Buffalo Sabres defeat New York Rangers Buffalo is the deepest team in the NHL right now (though they lack a Hall of Fame calibre talent and should be able to shut down the Rangers who are too dependant upon one line (Jaromir Jagr's line) offensively and lack any game breakers on defence (Paul Mara, Marek Malik, Fedor Tyutin etc could all be exploited by Buffalo).

Ottawa Senators defeat New Jersey Devils Ottawa has more offensive game breakers (Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson) and has a solid defence led by Wade Redden and Chris Phillips. New Jersey's biggest strength is goaltender Martin Brodeur, who did not have a particularly strong first round. If Brodeur significantly outplays Ray Emery in Ottawa, New Jersey can win this, but I think the difference in goal will not be so huge.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Skirting The Salary Cap

I am against the NHL salary cap, but if they are going to have one, it should be fair. There are a few "loopholes" built into the system. It appears some are by design. For example, since a team's payroll over an entire season is capped. This means that a team can add players at trade deadline time so that in playoff time they can have a team that has a payroll that would well exceed the cap (although they paid under the cap earlier in the year). This rule was used in trade deadline deals such as Todd Bertuzzi to Detroit and Peter Forsberg to Nashville. This allows the possibility of a Stanley Cup winner that only exists from the trade deadline until the free agency period begins in July. This prevents the formation of memorable teams. These teams are only together for a period of weeks and thus have no chance of defending their Stanley Cup victory. This increases the possibility of Stanley Cup finalists missing the playoffs the next season.

This rule, though undesirable to the fan, is fair to all teams. There is a rule which is more unfair. It is the problem of regular season longterm injury exemptions suddenly becoming healthy at playoff time. If a player is hurt longterm, his replacement can have a salary that allows his team to go over the cap by the amount paid to the injured player. As soon as the injured player gets to be back in the lineup, some roster move must be made to bring the payroll back inline with the cap. The problem is that players are paid for the regular season, but not the playoffs (they may earn some bonuses for the playoffs but no regular salary). Thus a player who was out on a longterm injury exemption can be added back into the lineup with no salary cap problem. Thus, a team that had a longterm injury that ends around the end of the season can fudge the date of return for the player (so that he comes back during the playoffs) and exceed the salary cap in the playoffs.

Two teams played this game. The least successful in this game was the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Kesler had been on a longterm injury exemption since his January hip surgery. The portion of his $1.9 million salary (made larger by an RFA offer sheet from Philadelphia) came back for the first game of the playoffs. His injury exemption had allowed Vancouver to acquire Bryan Smolinski from Chicago at the trade deadline. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Kesler broke his finger in his first game back and is likely out for the rest of the playoffs.

The team that has been more successful with this loophole has been New Jersey. New Jersey has been in salary cap trouble all season. In order to get under the cap, they made several moves at the beginning of the year. One was making Richard Matvichuk a longterm injury exemption with back problems. His return would have created new cap problems when Matvichuk was likely ready to return in December or so. It turns out that the Devils did not play Matvichuk until the final game of the season when they sent Andy Greene and Cam Janssen to the minors to make cap room. Since Lowell missed the playoffs in the AHL, they could immediately call them back up for the NHL playoffs (neither needed to clear waivers). Matvichuk has played well in the playoffs. He has averaged over 22 minutes a game in four games played and has been a tower of strength for the Devils. Andy Greene has also played in all six games so far scoring 2 points and averaging better than 15 minutes of ice time per game. New Jersey has benefited from the longterm injury exemption in the salary cap and by holding a healthy Matvichuk out for several months; they are able to ice a team that would violate the salary cap in the playoffs.

In an ideal world, there would be no salary cap. Its main purpose is to raise owner profits (which leads to the breakup of good teams and thus a lowering of the calibre of the best matchups to the detriment of the fan). If the NHL insists on a salary cap, it should be fair. Teams should not be able to skirt the cap by keeping longterm injured players out of the lineup until playoff time to allow them to ice a playoff team that would violate the cap.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Some MPs Make Doan An Issue

Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes is on the Team Canada roster for the upcoming World Championships. He is one of the better forwards on the roster. This is a problem for Canadian Liberal MPs Denis Coderre of Bourassa (Northern Montreal) and Marcel Proulx of Hull-Aylmer (Ottawa suburbs that are in Quebec). In 2005 in a game where Phoenix played in Montreal, Doan (in what was likely an off-color joke) referred to linesman Michel Cormier as "fucking French". Here is the story. Coderre had unsuccessfully tried to get Doan off of the 2006 Canadian Olympic Team over this remark which has lead to lawsuits.

Shouldn't members of parliament have better things to worry about than who plays on Canadian hockey teams? What Doan said was ill-advised, but it's not worthy of a federal case. It's an overblown statement to claim that it is racism. It makes these MPs look stupid and petty.

Hockey teams should be selected by hockey people for hockey reasons and not political people for political reasons. Doan was given a gross misconduct by the officials in the game in question. That seems like more than sufficient punishment. It's become an immature personal battle between Coderre and Doan in which Coderre is trying to exert undue political influence to further punish Doan. These people would do best to grow up and forget about it. Something said in a hockey game in 2005 is hardly the most pressing issue for the Canadian parliament.

Here is the Ottawa Citizen story on the fight which is now about Doan's spot on the 2007 World Championships Team.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

NHL Substance Abuse Policy Catches Somebody

The second season of the NHL's testing for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is almost over and, until yesterday, it had never caught anyone. This is despite the fact that the 2006 pre-Olympic drug testing caught two NHLers. It caught Bryan Berard with a steroid violation and Jose Theodore tested positive for a steroid masking agent (that he was taking for other reasons). Since they were caught outside the NHL system, they were not subject to any disciplinary action. This creates a potential problem where law enforcement officials could catch a player importing steroids and the NHL could not suspend him.

The NHL had claimed that the lack of any positive tests proved that there was no steroid problem in the NHL. This claim is unbelievable based on the Olympic drug tests and admissions by some NHL players.

The first person to fail a drug test administered by the NHL is Sean Hill of the New York Islanders. He is a 37 year old defenceman who has never been an NHL star. He played a regular role on the Islander defence, but was only one game from playoff elimination when the positive test was announced. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his 20 game suspension (game one was last night's playoff game - 19 games remain) may be enough to end his career.

The truly cynical side of me says that the way to "prove" the NHL drug testing works is to sacrifice one or two bit players at the end of their careers to positive tests. Sean Hill would definitely fit this description.

Information on the details of this positive test is not available right now. It's not known exactly what Hill tested positive for. It's unlikely that a 37 year old defenceman would suddenly decide to take steroids after having been clean his whole career, so its a reasonable assumption that if this is a steroid violation, then he has not using them for a significant portion (if not all) of his NHL career. Its also clear that he successfully passed other drug tests over the past two years. How did this happen? It is also possible that this is an unintentional positive test. Hill may have been taking a nutrition supplement that contained steroids (unknown to him). Hill is a mid-sized defenceman who is a solid hitter and at his age is probably fighting some minor injury problems to stay in the lineup. I suppose he fits the description of a player who might benefit from steroids (but so would a couple hundred other NHLers).

Here is Bob McKenzie summarizing the few facts that we have in this case so far.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Parise Becoming A Star

One player who has been very dominant in the playoffs so far is Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils. He has been the Devils best player in the playoffs so far. He leads the league with six playoff goals. Parise is beginning to show that he is a star in the NHL.

For Parise it has been a slow climb to stardom, but not an improbable one. He has been on track to be a star in the NHL for a few years and has made admirable progress. Parise was drafted 17th overall in the 2003 draft by New Jersey. Most experts expected that he would go much earlier in the draft and were surprised by his slip down to 17th place (possibly because some scouts thought he was too small to play his physical game in the NHL). Parise was named the MVP of the 2004 World Junior Championships, as part of the gold medal winning American team. In 2005/06, Parise first made the NHL. As a rookie (often in limited ice time) he put up 32 points in 81 games. In his sophomore season (this season) he progressed to a 31 goal, 62 point season, which made him the second highest scorer on his team. In the playoffs, he is making the step to the next level.

Parise will have a very good NHL career. He looks like his career will be better than that of his father J.P. Parise who played 14 NHL seasons (including a role on the 1972 Team Canada in the famous Canada-Russia Summit Series).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blue Jackets Fire MacLean

The Columbus Blue Jackets have made a long needed change. They have fired Doug MacLean. He is the only GM in the history of the franchise and this is the only franchise in the NHL that has never made the playoffs. In fact, they do not seem any closer to their first playoff berth than they did when they first expanded in 2000.

I think the Blue Jackets owner, John McConnell is a good owner who has what it takes to have his team built into a winner. He was willing to hire a general manager and stay out of the way and let him run the show for several years. The problem was that he didn't know how to find a good general manager. McConnell, like most NHL owners, doesn't know anyone who is a good hockey man. He knew how to find a man with a good coaching resume who talked a good game and sounded like he knew how to be a GM, but apparently cannot actually handle the job at the NHL level. McConnell has a bit more experience as an NHL owner and he has some hockey people (most respectably coach Ken Hitchcock) with whom he can discuss this problem.

MacLean's problem was that he never really had a plan. He kept signing over the hill free agents who might have been able to help a solid team, but Columbus had too many holes for it to matter. He did not draft particularly well, given how many high first round picks Columbus had. The solid players that Columbus has drafted (Rick Nash and Nik Zherdev) have had stunted development (particularly Zherdev). He is criticized for his trade for an overpriced, over-the-hill Sergei Fedorov and for his cycling through a few coaches of mediocre talent. The hiring of Ken Hitchcock is the first solid proven coach Columbus has had.

This is an opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to right their ship. They need to find and hire a good general manager now. I wish them well in their search for a new GM.

I am more optimistic with the Columbus situation than with the other team that has fired their GM since the regular season ended. Phoenix has fired GM Mike Barnett. I don't think he was the problem in Phoenix, he was a symptom of the problem. Phoenix's front office and player roster is full of people who are friends of coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky. Former GM Mike Barnett had been Gretzky's agent. Phoenix needs to stop hiring people because they were Gretzky's friends. The GM needs to be a strong enough person to get out of Gretzky's shadow. That doesn't necessarily mean the next Coyote GM cannot be a friend of Gretzky (for example, if Phoenix hired Pat Quinn that would likely be a good hire - although I think Quinn would rather coach than GM). The next GM must be a good independent GM and not a good Gretzky puppet GM. Phoenix is less likely to hire the best possible hockey man and let him run the show without interference from management than Columbus.

Both Columbus and Phoenix have been on the fast track to nowhere. A new GM is a chance to turn things around. I hope both of them use this opportunity to their benefit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Early Playoff MVP

I think that we are far enough into the playoffs that it is meaningful to start picking playoff MVPs who have excelled for a few post-season games. So far in the playoffs, I think the MVP has been Roberto Luongo of Vancouver. He is the one player who is most responsible for his team's success to date. He has a spectacular .950 saves percentage and a 1.49 GAA. Without Luongo in goal, Vancouver would likely be losing their first round series against Dallas (they are up 3-1). To show this point, Dallas's goalie Marty Turco has played very well (though not as well as Luongo) and Dallas finds themselves losing the series. Had Luongo not been that much better than Turco where would things be?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Anaheim Goaltenders

When one of your goalies has a Conn Smythe trophy to his credit and played well enough this season that he deserved a spot in the All Star Game but was injured at the time, it should be obvious who you play as your number one goalie come playoff time. However, in Anaheim it's not that simple. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has the Conn Smythe and All Star credentials and was the Anaheim number one goalie most of the season, but he is not being used as the number one goalie come playoff time. Ilya Bryzgalov is. Bryzgalov is no slouch in net either, but he did not have as good a season as Giguere. To his credit, Bryzgalov had a great playoff last year and actually posted a better goals against average (and roughly the same saves percentage) in the 2006 playoff than Giguere did in his 2003 Conn Smythe win. Anaheim has two solid goalies and cannot go wrong with either in net at playoff time.

Nevertheless, most fans were surprised to see Bryzgalov as the number one goalie this year. It appears that Anaheim coach, Randy Carlyle, chose to ride the hot hand. At the end of the season, Giguere had been away attending to the birth of his son, so Bryzgalov played the final three games of the year. He played well in those games posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.90 GAA in them. So, Randy Carlyle decided to stick with the hot hand in the playoffs. So far it has worked. Anaheim is the first team that has a chance to eliminate their opponents from the post season.

This isn't the first time that Carlyle has chosen to use his nominally backup goalie in playoff time when he is hot. In the 2005 AHL playoffs while coaching the Manitoba Moose, Carlyle used backup goalie Wade Flaherty instead of starter Alex Auld and the team went to the semi-finals.

Anaheim has the best two goalie system in the NHL right now. They are doing very well with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal, but I am surprised that they have not used Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Calgary's Coaching

Calgary's coach Jim Playfair was hired this summer after a successful three year run as Calgary's assistant coach. Darryl Sutter had been working as both general manager and coach in the previous couple seasons. While Playfair hasn't done much to show he is an elite NHL coach, he has been competent.

There is a movement for Calgary to make a desperate move since they are down 2 games to none against Detroit (imagine that an 8th seed - albeit a stronger than usual 8th seed loses two straight games on the road to the number one seed) and fire Playfair before game three to let Sutter coach. Even "TSN Insider" Bob McKenzie abandons his usual job of floating NHL trial balloons and reporting insider NHL leaks to report on this possibility.

New Jersey fired their coach Claude Julien just before the playoffs began. It was a desperate move which has so far paid no clear dividends for the Devils. Currently, The Devils are tied 1-1 in their first round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I imagine that most likely, that would be their situation with Julien coaching or with Lamoreillo. It's a desperate move that likely will wind up making them look stupid.

Calgary needs to win four out of their next five games against Detroit to not be eliminated. Likely, they won't do it, but it is possible. It is possible with coach Jim Playfair. Right now, the situation is one of desperation. Calgary sees their post season slipping away and they suggestion is that they do something - anything - even something stupid. The fact that doing something stupid won't likely change anything doesn't matter. It's an oversimplification of the situation. It's as though people believe that the Calgary Flames don't know that these games are important and they need a move to shake them up. Of course they know the Stanley Cup playoffs are important. Of course they are giving it all they have got and so far they haven't won.

Any manager of anything (not only hockey) who hires somebody and then fires them at the most important point in their job is an awful manager. They are an egomaniac who cannot stay out of the limelight and give their underlings a chance to succeed. This hurts their chances of bringing in a top coach in the future. If you are a coach with a choice of where to work would you go to the place where they have a history of firing coaches whenever games get important?

I hope Darryl Sutter lets Jim Playfair have his chance with the Flames for the rest of the playoffs. It is very possible that Calgary comes home and wins a game or two and this series looks much more winnable and the desperation is gone.

NOTE: Tampa Bay is now leading New Jersey 2 games to one. That alone should be enough to show any crazy Flames fans who support the desperate idea of firing Playfair now that its hardly a cureall for their team's problems.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Early Goal Leader In The Playoffs

It's still very early in the playoffs and there is still plenty of time for players to show themselves to be stars in the 2007 playoffs, but there are a few players who are beginning to standout from the crowd. One is Jean Pierre Dumont of the Nashville Predators. He has a playoff leading four goals so far in his two playoff games. Four of Nashville's nine goals so far have been scored by Dumont. While it is unlikely that Dumont keeps up this level of scoring, Dumont is a solid player who can score while during his hot streaks.

This summer, the Buffalo Sabres walked away from his arbitration award. While Buffalo could have afforded Dumont and stayed under the salary cap, they chose not to. Because he was a free agent, Dumont signed with Nashville. It would be very interesting if Buffalo is one big scorer away from a Stanley Cup run, while Dumont is a big scorer during Nashville's run. Will the mainstream media make this connection?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

NHL Turns Its Back On Canadian TV Audience

The most lucrative national TV deal for the NHL is the CBC's Hockey Night In Canada deal. The national TV deal the NHL makes the least money from the NHL on NBC where NBC pays nothing up front and shares profits (if any) with the NHL. Given a conflict between the interests of the two, obviously the NHL should go with that of CBC. They paid more money for the rights and the higher money represents a higher viewership. That's not how things are done in the NHL.

CBC shows its Hockey Night In Canada games on Saturday night. Among the games scheduled for Saturday (today), CBC imagines that that Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh game will score the highest ratings. Ottawa is the remaining playoff team from Ontario, Canada's most populous province.

NHL on NBC shows a game on Saturday afternoon. They imagine that showcasing young superstar Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the best way to maximize viewership.

Both broadcasters want the same game, but they want it at different times of day. So who wins? In the NHL, it is NBC that wins.

The main thrust of Gary Bettman's reign as commissioner of the NHL has been a fruitless search for a lucrative US national TV deal. Decisions are still made in search of the elusive deal, even if they go against the desires of the Canadian TV deals that they do have. Hockey is a great game, but it seems it will not play nationally in the US. It has strong regional support, but it also has regions that are completely apathetic to it.

My grandmother used to say that A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, this wisdom is something that Gary Bettman should learn. You don't chase a non-existent national TV audience in the US if it means acting against the very existent national Canadian TV audience.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Long Overtimes

One of the best things that happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs is the excitement of games that go to multiple overtimes. This happened in game one of the Vancouver- Dallas series. Vancouver won 5-4 when Henrik Sedin scored near the end of the fourth overtime. This was the sixth longest game in NHL history.

Unfortunately, this didn't work out well in all of their TV coverage. In some markets, Versus (the US national broadcaster of NHL games) went to an infomercial instead of showing the fourth overtime. The official position of Versus is that they are looking into how that happened - apparently they do not know how they put shows on their channel. To their credit Versus (the former OLN) has done a pretty good job improving their show, but mistakes like these are unforgivable. If you stay up to watch six periods of hockey, then you want to see the end of the game and not a thigh master commercial.

Even worse, Darren Dreger is slowly taking over Bob McKenzie's job of floating awful trial balloons for the NHL when he asks if long overtimes should be a thing of the past. For broadcasters, this would be a preferable move. The game would end on time and not pre-empt hours of coverage that was scheduled after it. At this point, Dreger is only talking about 4-on-4 overtime and not shootouts to decide playoff games, but that would be the ultimate way to make sure NHL games finish on time for their TV schedule.

Long overtime games are one of my favorite things. I can vividly tell you where I was for every long game of my lifetime. Do NOT take them away.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Look At Regular Season Predictions

At the beginning of the season, Jes Golbez tabulated the predictions from several sources in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media. He has predictions for the regular season standings from himself and Greg (who also writes on his blog), myself ( East Conference and West Conference), James Mirtle, Sisu Hockey and mainstream media in The Hockey News, McKeens, The Score Forecaster and John Buccigross of ESPN. It is time to look at the predictions.

In this figure (click on it to make it bigger), the teams are listed in their order of finish with the number of positions each individual prediction missed that prediction. As we can see the person who made the best prediction was a tie between me and John Buiccigross of ESPN. In general, the best results came from independent bloggers and not the mainstream media (which gives us a bit of a licence to bash them). The exceptions are John Buccigross who tied for the best set of predictions and James Mirtle who started out as a blogger but has been moving into the mainstream media with his job at the Globe and Mail who finished with the second worst record (only McKeen's was worse).

Lots of other gems can be mined from this data, for example, Chicago was the team that people had the easiest time predicting (we all knew they would be bad) and Philadelphia was the hardest (we didn't think they would be bad).

These predictions are all for fun and despite my regular season success, I do not claim my playoff predictions will work out nearly as well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First Round Playoff Predictions

The playoffs are here, so its time to make my first round selections. Hopefully, I will do better this year than I did last year (7-8).

Calgary Flames defeat Detroit Red Wings Detroit wins the West Conference and they have to face Calgary in the first round - that's not much of a reward for winning the conference. Both of these teams are good ones that could go to the finals. Detroit's stats made them look better than they are due to having three weak sister teams in their division (St Louis, Columbus and Chicago). Calgary is a much better team than their record due to a tough division. Detroit comes in with some important players with injury problems including Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Chelios. This sets up a situation where the eighth seed should be the stronger team.

Anaheim Ducks defeat Minnesota Wild Minnesota is a tough team to play against. They play a very disciplined defensive system, but Anaheim should be able to handle it. They are the team that is closest to elite level this season. Playing against them will be no picnic either as one of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger should be on the ice at all times. Minnesota will have to play without number one goalie Manny Fernandez, which will handicap them. Anaheim is one of the few teams that has a better group of defensive forwards (Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Todd Marchant) then Minnesota and could beat the Wild at their own game, but will likely open things up a bit more at times. Look for Anaheim to win a tightly checked series.

Vancouver Canucks defeat Dallas Stars These are two more teams that will likely be low scoring. Both rely on top goalies, though Vancouver's Roberto Luongo is better than Dallas's Marty Turco. Vancouver also has more dangerous offensive players. For example, Markus Naslund had a disappointing 60 point year in Vancouver finishing third in team scoring. He would have led Dallas in scoring with that record. Vancouver should prevail.

San Jose Sharks defeat Nashville Predators Nashville (like Detroit) benefit in the standings from several weak teams in their division. San Jose has the hottest player in the NHL in Joe Thornton, who along with Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek give the Sharks more dangerous offensive players than Nashville offers. Look for the Sharks to outscore the Preds.

Buffalo Sabres defeat New York Islanders The Islanders are the team that least looks like a playoff calibre club that actually made playoffs. They slipped in winning a shootout on the final day of the season. By many more logical point schemes than that of the NHL, they don't make playoffs. Buffalo meanwhile is the President's Trophy winner and some argue the best team in last year's playoffs who suffered several defensive injuries and thus fell to Carolina in the semis. This should be the biggest mismatch of round one.

New Jersey Devils defeat Tampa Bay Lighting New Jersey comes in with a new coach and the best goalie in the game in Martin Brodeur. Although Tampa has three top forwards in Martin St Louis, Vincent LeCavalier and Brad Richards, they also have very weak goaltending and are the only playoff team this year who allowed more goals than they scored. Look for the Devils to get past Tampa.

New York Rangers defeat Atlanta Thrashers Atlanta made a desperate play for playoffs trading for Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik, but it's not enough. The Rangers come in with a hot Henrik Lundqvist in goal and an offense built around Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, which should be too much for Atlanta (who won the weakest division in the NHL to get their third seed). The Rangers should win this one.

Ottawa Senators defeat Pittsburgh Penguins Both of these teams have been very good down the stretch, but Ottawa has too many weapons in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson etc. for Sidney Crosby and the young Pens to handle. Ottawa has been to the playoffs and seen the intensity it takes to play these games. For too many key Penguins this is a first time around and will be a learning experience.

Monday, April 09, 2007

If I Had An Award Ballot

The NHL regular season is over. It is time for award voting to occur. Last year, I listed who I would vote for if I had a ballot. This is not a list of who I think will win, it is who I think should win.

Selke Trophy- 1. Rod Brind'Amour Carolina Hurricanes 2. Sami Pahlsson Anaheim Ducks 3. Jay Pandolfo New Jersey Devils

The Selke winner is usually an unsung hero. It's a forward whose game is defensive. It shouldn't be (but often is) given to the defensively minded forward who has the best offensive season. Here is why I support Brind'Amour.

Lady Byng Trophy- 1. Martin St Louis Tampa Bay Lightning 2. Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings 3. Tomas Kaberle Toronto Maple Leafs

The Byng goes to the player who best combines sportsmanship and talent. St Louis put up 102 points with only 28 PIMs. Here is why I support him.

Adams Trophy- 1. Jacques Lemaire Minnesota Wild 2. Ted Nolan New York Islanders 3. Barry Trotz Nashville Predators

The best coach in the NHL is rarely the coach of the most improved team (which is often how it gets selected). Here is why I support Lemaire.

Calder Trophy- 1. Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins 2. Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche 3. Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings

There are several interesting rookies who did not have as good years as these players (Staal, Vlasic, Carle), but these were the guys with the best rookie season. Here is why I support Malkin.

Norris Trophy- 1. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings 2. Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Ducks 3. Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks

These three defencemen were far ahead of the rest of the pack in the NHL. Here is why I support Lidstrom as well as why he is an MVP candidate.

Vezina Trophy- 1. Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils 2. Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks 3. Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames

There has been a movement to nominate Brodeur and Luongo for the Hart Trophy. I disagree. Although they were very good this season, they did not have the dominant saves percentage in the neighborhood of .930 required to be as dominant as the top position players this season. Here is why I support Brodeur.

Hart Trophy- 1. Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins 2. Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks 3. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings

It's a much closer race than many Crosby fans acknowledge, here is why I support Crosby.

All Star Teams- First Team Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Dany Heatley Ottawa Senators Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Ducks Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils
Second Team Thomas Vanek Buffalo Sabres Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks Sergei Gonchar Pittsburgh Penguins Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks
Third Team Daniel Sedin Vancouver Canucks Vincent LeCavalier Tampa Bay Lightning Marian Hossa Atlanta Thrashers Kimmo Timonen Nashville Predators Jay Bouwmeester Florida Panthers Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Who Is Hot Down The Stretch?

With only one day left in the regular season, many fans turn their attention to playoff hockey pools. One thing to look for is players who are hot at the end of the season. So, here are the top 15 scorers in the NHL since the beginning of March:

Top 15 Scorers Since March 1st
Name Team Games Played Goals Assists Points
Joe ThorntonSJ1862733
Olli JokinenFla18111627
Vincent LeCavalierTB17111324
Marian GaborikMin18101424
Jonathan CheechooSJ1815823
Dany HeatleyOtt18121123
Sidney CrosbyPit20101323
Daniel SedinVan1891423
Milan MichalekSJ1891322
Jarome IginlaCgy1791322
Joe SakicCol1781422
Pavel DatsyukDet1881422
Daniel AlfredssonOtt1871522
Jason SpezzaOtt1771522
Henrik SedinVan1822022

There are probably some solid playoff pool picks in there. Only two of those fifteen players will not be playing in the playoffs, Olli Jokinen of Florida and Joe Sakic of Colorado are the only ones on teams that have not qualified.

Three teams that are seen as serious Stanley Cup contenders (Anaheim, Buffalo and Nashville) lack any offensive players on this list. Is that a sign of troubles for these teams?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Goalie Wins Records

In 1973/74 Bernie Parent set the NHL record by recording 47 goaltender wins for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. He did so in a 78 games season where games that were tied after regulation were ended as ties (Philadephia had 12 of them that season). Philadelphia had a 50 win season that year, leaving only three wins for backup goaltender Bobby Taylor.

There is a new set of rules governing goaltender wins that makes them far more plentiful today. Not surprisingly, this leads to a new goaltender wins record. In today's NHL, teams play 82 games a season and no games end in ties. Games that are tied after regulation go to overtime and then to a shootout and every game produces a win for some goaltender.

Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils "broke " Parent's with his April 5th victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. It was Brodeur's 48th win of the season. He has one more game to play and therefore might wind up with 49 wins. Fourteen of Brodeur's wins came after regulation time expired. Those would have been ties in Parent's day. Parent recorded 47 regulation wins in 73/74 and Brodeur has so far recorded 34 regulation wins in "breaking" the record.

Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks also has the potential to "break" this record. So far, he has 46 wins and he has two games remaining, which could allow him 48 wins. He has 13 of his wins in overtime and shootouts, thus leaving 33 regulation wins.

Neither Brodeur nor Luongo has come close to the achievement Parent had when he set this record. Nevertheless, Brodeur (and possibly Luongo) will go down in the record books with this record. With the increase in wins available per season, the potential does increase for an elite goalie on an elite team (a la Parent in 73/74) to compleletly destroy the old mark, instead of increase it by a small amount (as we are seeing this year).

It is not only single season wins records that are getting beaten because of the increase of goalie wins available. The all time wins list is dominated by modern goalies. Here it is:

Top 10 Winningest Goalie Careers as of April 6th, 2007 Games
Name Teams Seasons Played Wins
Patrick RoyMon Col1984-2003551
Martin BrodeurNJ1991-Present494
Ed BelfourChi SJ Dal Tor Fla1988-Present484
Terry SawchukDet Bos Tor LA NYR1949-1970447
Curtis JosephStL Edm Tor Det Pho1989-Present445
Jacques PlanteMon NYR StL Tor Bos1951-1973437
Tony EspositoMon Chi1968-1984423
Glenn HallDet Chi StL1951-1971407
Grant FuhrEdm Tor Buf LA StL Cgy1981-2000403
Mike VernonCgy Det SJ Fla1982-2002385

Here we see that everyone of the top ten goalies in terms of career wins played from 1949 onwards (this was the season that the games played in a season shot up from 60 to 70). More games played is more chances to win. In the 1983/84 season, a five minute overtime was brought in at the conclusion of tied games. Six of the top 10 goalies played the bulk of their careers after that point (a seventh, Tony Esposito played the final season of his career after regular season overtime was brought back). Three of the top 10 have played in the shootout era where there are no more ties anymore (thus producing more wins). They are three of the top five all time in wins.

Wins are a team stat, but any goaltender who has a long enough career to get to the top of this list must have been a good goaltender. Except, that wins have become more and more plentiful in recent history, thus making it easier for modern goalies to get to a higher position then deserved on this list. Two of the top 10 goalies in wins are not goalies I consider Hall of Famers. One is Mike Vernon (who I once wrote a post about why he is not a Hall of Famer and one is currently active Curtis Joseph who is quickly moving up the all time wins list. If Joseph does continue to climb (and especially if he looks like a dominant goalie who is not merely hanging onto a career and puffing up his career totals) eventually the point will come where he would have to be considered a Hall of Famer. That point has not come yet, but it might be on the horizon if CuJo can manage one or two more good seasons.

It probably would be meaningful to present an adjusted goalie wins leader table now - except I do not have one (one day maybe). I suppose one would correct for length of season, rules regarding what is a win etc. In order for that to be meaningful, one would have to not normalize away the ability of the team the goalie played for. Otherwise you would get a list like this which attempts to rank the 10 best goalies of all time - which is valuable but misses the point of a discussion on goalie wins.

Since the definition and frequency of wins has changed over time to make them more common today, the raw win totals are flawed to attempt to evaluate the winningest goalies of all time. They are showing their biggest weakness in the single season statistics where Bernie Parent's single season wins record is falling to goalies who clearly have not had a dominant a year (in terms of wins). Evaluating all of this in a meaningful way is a sabermetrics and hockey project. The modern day goalies would find their win totals downgraded by a dignificant margin.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Squeegee Girls

NHL team's marketing departments are constantly looking out for things to add to the experience of coming to an NHL hockey game to make it seem more attractive to fans, as its cost constantly rises. One trend that has developed in the last few years is that of "ice girls" being used to come out to pick up "snow" on the ice surface during TV timeouts. This does very little to improve the quality of the ice on which the game is played, but it gives the fans a t 'n a show during the stoppage in play. Some teams do this and many other do not. The problem is that it can disrupt the players on the ice. It particularly disrupts goaltenders who have to abandon their crease so that a girl in tight clothing can clear a bit of snow from the goal.

It was just a matter of time before some players would take offense to this practice. It happened during the April 3rd game where the New York Rangers visited the New York Islanders. This game is of particular importance to both teams because they are both fighting for final playoff spots in the East Conference. It is also a game between two of the NHL's most heated rivals. It is fully understandable that the players want to concentrate on the game and not have to abandon concentration for a pointless t 'n a show that moves them from their positions.

During the first TV timeout, New York Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist refused to move from the crease and when the ice girl proceeded into the crease anyway, he hit her squeegee with his stick. During the second timeout, while another ice girl was leaving the ice, she was squirted with a water bottle by a Ranger player on the bench (or possibly spit upon). During the third timeout, it took three of the on ice officials to make Lundqvist move from the crease to let the ice girls in. It is also alleged that both Lundqvist and teammate Sean Avery swore at the squeegee girls.

Likely, Lundqvist likes to built up some snowpiles in strategic places in front of the net to help keep the puck out and the ice girls were removing them, although they were also disrupting his concentration and possibly removing any grooves he had worked to carve into the ice to help him keep on his feet when necessary and get into a butterfly position. It is also possible that the ice girls disrupt the visiting crease more than they do that of the home goaltender.

The most important rule of any "value addition" to a home game that a marketing department dreams up should not interfere with the players who are playing the hockey game. The hockey game is what is most important and not the ice girls. If there is a problem with a goalie accumulating too much snow in front of his goal, this should be dealt with by a referee or a linesman and not a 20-something girl who's only qualifications are an ability to skate while holding a squeegee and look nice in tight clothing.

The ice girls are not necessary to a hockey game. Many cities (some with very good ice quality) do not have them. The fact that they disrupt players is an issue that the NHL should look into. Although Lundqvist and Avery (and any other Rangers players) may not have been on their best behaviour they did bring this issue into the public and I hope it gets looked at. If ice repair is necessary it should be done by those who are qualified and not a t 'n a show. That is the only way to ensure that it is done in an even handed way and is not used to try to gain a bigger home ice advantage. Most importantly, a hockey game should be about hockey first and foremost. Anything added to the game to make it a better experience for the fan should not get in the way of the players who play the game.

Here is the TSN story on these incidents.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Nuisance Lawsuit Won't Go Away

Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes is in a stupid legal fight with Canadian Member of Parliament Denis Coderre (Liberal from Bourassa - a northern Montreal riding). Here is the story. It goes back to a game in 2005 when Phoenix played at Montreal. Coderre wrote a letter to Hockey Canada complaining about Doan's selection to the 2006 Canadian Olympic Team because Coderre claimed that Doan made a racial slur in that game in Montreal. Why Coderre would think his opinion should matter when it comes to picking Olympic hockey teams and why this was the issue that Coderre took up and not for example Todd Bertuzzi are questions I cannot begin to answer. Anyway, Doan was upset and instead of letting this story go away, Doan sued Coderre for these "false and defamatory" remarks. Coderre has since filed a $45,000 countersuit against Doan.

The post-game report submitted to the league by linesman Michel Cormier has been admitted as evidence. It claims that in the second period Cormier complained to the Phoenix bench about "racial" comments like "You fucking French" from Ladoslav Nagy (who has since been traded to Dallas). At the end of the game, Doan skated by Cormier and said "Fucking French did a good job". Doan received a 10 minute misconduct penalty for the remark.

This is all really stupid and it happened well over a year ago. We would all be better off if these people would just grow up and stop acting like babies about it. I have no idea why Denis Coderre is involved in this petty squabble in the first place.

My politically incorrect opinion is that trash talk is OK in hockey games be it "racial slurs" or otherwise. If it generates a misconduct penalty that is fine, but it should not generate lawsuits over a year after the fact. It has always been an effective hockey strategy to get your opponent to want to kill you because if that is the first thing on his mind, then beating you in the hockey game is not the first thing on his mind. Players will say and do a lot of things to get into the heads of their opponents.

That isn't exactly what happened in this case. The official was the one to whom the remarks were made. It's not exactly a smart thing to say derogatory things to the official in the game, but it shouldn't (literally) have a federal case made out of it.

In this case there wasn't even a racial slur. It is a point of fact that Cormier is French (and that French is not a race). It is not the nicest way to point it out by saying "fucking French". From the context, it looks like Doan made an off-color joke. Something like that should in no way affect his position on an Olympic team. No politician should waste his time grandstanding over such an issue. This is political correctness gone too far.

Here is the Globe and Mail article on this story, found thanks to James Mirtle.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Both Stanley Cup Finalists Miss Playoffs

Something has happened this season that has never occurred since the NHL gained control of the Stanley Cup. Both of last season's Stanley Cup finalists have missed the playoffs. Sure in some years, one of the two teams misses the playoffs the next season (this last happened when the 2004 Anaheim Mighty Ducks missed the playoffs after making it to the 2003 finals). Sometimes even the defending cup champs miss the playoffs (this last happened when the 1996 New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs after winning the cup in 1995). However, it has never happened that both miss the playoffs the next season ... until now.

This result is consistent with my claim last season that there were no elite teams in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, but it is still a surprise. If we truly have a CBA designed to create parity then it was bound to happen someday, but it is still a shock to see it happen to the first Stanley Cup finalists of the new CBA.

Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers in an exciting seven game series. The finals were exciting, but they did not bring us any elite teams that have a chance to go down in history as all time great teams. In fact, they gave us the most mediocre level teams to meet in the Stanley Cup finals in recent history.

Sure neither of these teams was much better than any of another dozen or so Stanley Cup contenders, but this does not explain why they both missed the playoffs the next year. There are two other contributing factors to this, bad luck (Carolina is not too far out of the playoffs and Edmonton wasn't either until the trade deadline) and the fact that it is hard to keep successful teams together under this CBA.

In November, I wrote about how good the Carolina Hurricanes had been during their cup run. For a Stanley Cup winner, they had an awful defence. Although Cam Ward had a very good playoff, he hasn't shown signs of being an elite level goalie. Their forward unit was the only part of the team that was Stanley Cup worthy, but they were unable to keep many parts of it together (Mark Recchi, Doug Weight and Matt Cullen left to free agency, injuries kept Cory Stillman to only half a season and Eric Staal was unable to follow up his breakthrough 100 point season). This year's Hurricanes are significantly worse than the 2006 cup winner and the 2006 cup winner is far from the traditional powerhouse level one would expect from a cup winner.

Edmonton was hit with even bigger problems keeping their team together. Their defence took a huge hit when they were forced to trade Chris Pronger and lost Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom. Other forwards, who had played large roles in the cup run, Mike Peca and Sergei Samsonov left as free agents. The team did add one valuable piece in Petr Sykora to free agency, but the remaining team was clearly not as good as the cup finalist. The team was in the running for a playoff berth (though they likely would have missed) when they traded Ryan Smyth. While I think the trade will pay dividends in the future, it lead to a historic collapse. The Edmonton Oilers post trade have played like one of the worst teams in the history of the NHL.

What does this mean for the future? Can we expect a string of Stanley Cup finalists that fail to make playoffs in the next season? If the model of a CBA designed to create parity where it is difficult to keep a successful team together holds, we can. However, I do not think that is a realistic model looking into the future. The salary cap is rising and it is rising to a level where the smaller market teams cannot afford to spend up to it. This will leave the larger market teams as the strong. With the liberalized free agency (27 year olds will be UFAs this year and some players as young as 25 could reach UFA level - as opposed to 31 year olds in the past CBA) this will make the best players in the NHL available to be purchased. The larger markets that can afford to spend to the cap and the desirable markets where players want to go (usually these are the same markets) will buy them. These teams will have the chance to be perennially strong (as long as they are well run). The best the other markets can hope to do is adopt a "moneyball" strategy where they hope that they can compete by better finding talented players that they can get into contracts for below market value (for a player of similar production). There may be a smaller market team able to succeed in this strategy, but it will be hard to compete with a well run bigger market. As a result, I think we will see more and more of the bigger markets begin to dominate. They will be much more likely to be Stanley Cup finalists and they will be much more capable of keeping their teams together in the following season. Likely, they will find it hard to assemble a dynasty level talent pool that can repeat as Stanley Cup champions, but they should be able to contend in the year following their victory.

The two teams that made the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, Carolina and Edmonton, have both missed the playoffs this season. This is a first in NHL history. Although this is a somewhat unlikely occurence this season, the CBA created the circumstances to make it much more likely than it had been in the past. The rising salary cap in the CBA will likely remove this likelihood in the future and begin to break the current parity in the NHL, so it is unlikely that we will see this happen again soon.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Devils Desperate Play For A Playoff Run

When a team fires their coach (even a good coach), they usually have a shortterm improvement in their results. This comes for two reasons: first, rarely is a coach fired in a winning streak and thus improvement is likely in the shortterm regardless of the firing and second, players are uncertain where they stand under the new coach and may lose playing time or a roster spot unless they prove themselves to the new coach. The second reason is strongest during the long NHL regular season where (despite NHL propaganda to the contrary) it is physically and mentally impossible to give your 100% game in and game out. Once the do or die games of the end of the season and the playoffs begin, the stakes are so big and the games are so important that there is little to be gained in effort from a team by a coaching change. They are playing the best they can and a failure at this point is likely due to talent, injuries, puck luck etc., but not due to motivation.

Despite this conventional wisdom, in the 1999-2000, during a late season losing streak, the New Jersey Devils fired coach Robbie Ftorek and replaced him with Larry Robinson and they won the Stanley Cup. This was a good Devils team that was coming off of their fourth straight 100 point season and finished 2nd in the East Conference. They were built Martin Brodeur in goal, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer anchored the defence and Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez lead them offensively. This was a team that was very capable of winning the Stanley Cup and quite possibly would have won it anyway under coach Robbie Ftorek.

From this, GM Lou Lamoreillo learned that a late season coach firing works. Thus, despite having 102 points and currently holding down second in the East Conference, the Devils fired head coach Claude Julien yesterday. Lamoreillo will take over as coach in addition to remaining on as GM (and President and CEO of the Devils). I think he hopes that this stunning move will motivate his Devils to play harder during the cup run. Since the GM will be on the bench it will be clear that players are playing for their roster spot next year and a new contract as well as the Stanley Cup (a point which should seem clear even if Lamoreillo is watching from a luxury box).

One possible motivation for this move might be that Pat Burns, the former Devils coach who left due to cancer, is expected to be healthy enough to coach the team next season and Lamoreillo would rather have Burns as coach than Julien. This is a way to remove Julien while possibly lighting a fire under his team when it counts.

Claude Julien was having a good season as coach and earlier this year, I wrote something where I praised Claude Julien and considered him a candidate for a coach of the year nomination. He will be picked up as a coach soon by an NHL club.

Often, a late season coaching change like this leaves the team looking stupid and desperate (see for example the LA Kings last year). Time will tell where it leaves the Devils. I bet they don't win the cup. I bet they do win a playoff round or two. I would have made the same prediction had Claude Julien been their coach for the playoffs.

Here is the TSN story on the Julien firing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Most Unique Rookie

There are several rookies of note in the NHL this season, lead by likely rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the one with the most unique skill set is Jordan Staal. Staal was the second pick in the 2006 entry draft and has been the most successful of the two players from that draft class who jumped to the NHL (Phil Kessel of Boston is the other player). Staal is not likely to receive a Calder nomination (they should go to Malkin, Paul Stastny of Colorado and Anze Kopitar of Los Angeles) but has accomplished something that no other 18 year old rookie forward has accomplished. He has been a more successful penalty killer than any 18 year old rookie forward ever. That is quite an achievement. Very few rookies are given significant time on the penalty kill - and that includes those who eventually become regulars on the penalty kill later in their careers. Those rookies that do have significant penalty kill time are usually older rookies who have had some time to learn their craft in the AHL or Europe and not an 18 year old fresh out of junior hockey. In fact, Staal leads the NHL with seven shorthanded goals this year.

Staal currently has 29 goals and 41 points. These are very good numbers for a rookie - though not for a rookie of the year. Most impressive is his poise in defensive and penalty kill situations. I could imagine Staal eventually becoming the best player in this year's rookie class. He is the youngest player in the NHL right now and playing very well. He is showing a unique skill set (short handed talent at age 18!). It will be fun to watch him develop

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Does The NHL Honor IIHF Suspensions?

Todd Simpson is a veteran NHL defenceman who spent this season playing for the Hannover Scorpions in the German Elite Hockey League. As the German season ended, the New York Islanders signed Simpson to be a depth defenceman for the stretch run of the season (Isles have injuries to Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais and Freddy Meyer). However, in the last playoff game in the German league, Simpson was suspended indefinitely for abuse of an official. Thus, he is suspended indefinitely in all IIHF leagues (this is something the NHL agreed to as part of the IIHF player transfer deal). Simpson cannot play in the NHL during this suspension.

A hearing will be held on Monday to determine Simpson's status. Until then he is not eligible for NHL play. I expect that the NHL will pressure the IIHF to allow Simpson to be declared eligible and thus ignore his suspension. How would the NHL react if things were going the other way and (for example) Chris Simon was trying to play in Germany?

The NHL follows the IIHF's lead when it is in their best interest, but tries to change directions in spite of existing agreements when it is not. This mistrust is one issue in why a Russian player transfer deal has been so hard to negotiate.

Here is the Associated Press story on this issue.

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