Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rangers Sue NHL Over Marketing

In the first major break between individual franchise owners and the Gary Bettman NHL since the lockout, the New York Rangers are suing the NHL. They claim the NHL is acting like an illegal cartel.

The dispute is related to marketing. The NHL feels it should have control over the promotions held by Madison Square Gardens relating to the New York Rangers. Specifically, the NHL says they should have control over the New York Rangers website and other promotions.

The NHL has insisted that they should have control over the Rangers independently run website and turn it into the "cookie-cutter" websites of the other NHL teams that can be linked to from When the 2007 playoffs began, the Rangers began making New York Rangers merchandise available through the website instead of through a catalogue.

As punishment for their non-compliance, the NHL fined Madison Square Gardens $100,000 a day. When they refused to pay, the league withheld $200,000 from third-party (escrow? merchandise sales?) funds. Madison Square Gardens temporarily submitted to the NHL demands because they did not want this issue to detract from the playoffs and hoped (apparently incorrectly) that a solution could be negotiated later.

The problem is a symptom of the NHL CBA. If big markets grow their revenues, they lose a significant chunk of the extra money they produced to revenue sharing payments to keep the smaller market teams alive. Naturally, they are looking to find new revenue streams that are outside this restriction.

When big markets do grow their revenues, it increases the salary costs for the smaller markets, who may have problems paying them, since player salaries and NHL revenues are linked. Thus some of the small markets would be happy to see the biggest NHL markets revenues fall flat or even drop.

This is the fundamental reason that will limit the success of the current NHL CVBA from a business point of view. If strong financial teams are limited in what they can do because they have to support the weak teams and if weak teams are forced to spend beyond their capability to receive this support, a schism is inevitable. This is a problem of big versus small market. A problem that cannot be fully solved without killing off the small markets that cannot keep up (they can still have hockey but not in the top league in the world since it has shown they cannot support it financially). I think this will lead to more labor issues in the future. The Gary Bettman NHL will try to force further changes through to try to patch up these problems and probably cast it as a problem brought on by greedy players (when it is actually a problem brought on by greedy owners).

From a fan's point of view, independent NHL websites is a good thing. The more independent views at the NHL available the better. Some might provide some intelligent incite that is not available elsewhere. The NHL wants to shut that up and have complete control over their marketing. The silenced voices might be interesting voices to the fans.

Here is a Larry Brooks article on the lawsuit. It touches on many other NHL marketing issues that Madison Square Garden CEO Jim Dolan is unhappy about. He claims the NHL is not maximizing their marketing potential in many areas outside this lawsuit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rewarded For A Dirty Hit

Under the current CBA, it is very hard for a rookie to crack the lineup of an NHL team out of training camp. It is harder under this CBA than under previous ones because of re-entry waivers. Any player who is not on a two way contract who gets sent to the minors out of training camp likely cannot be recalled because they have to clear waivers to get called up. Any claimed player on re-entry waivers will have only half his salary charged to the claiming team, thus making him very cheap to the claiming team. Thus, lineups are largely set by contract status before camp opens and deviation from this lineup will likely cause a player to be lost for the entire season.

This means that a young player must do something extraordinary to win a roster spot in training camp. In a perfect world, the extraordinary achievement would be a pre-season hat trick or some other similar achievement, but that is not the only way for a young player to get noticed.

Steve Downie of the Philadelphia Flyers got himself noticed for a dirty hit in Tuesday's pre-season game with the Ottawa Senators (a game which Ottawa won 4-2). With his 1 goal in four pre-season games, Downie likely was not looking at making an NHL roster until he hit Dean McAmmond during the game. Downie left the point to charge at McAmmond (about 40 feet) and left his feet for a hit on McAmmond's head. McAmmond left the game injured. This play showed Philadelphia management that Downie could deliver a brutal hit and may have won him a roster spot.

For his effort, Downie received a match penalty for intent to injure and an automatic suspension. He probably also won a spot on the Philadelphia Flyers roster when the suspension ends.

If this kind of a feedback cycle exists, there is plenty of reason to believe we will see other dirty hits from rookies trying to make an impression to secure NHL jobs. It is bad for everyone if a player injuring another can give him a leg up to start his career, but in the rough and tumble world of the NHL, that is the way it is.

NOTE: Steve Downie has been suspended for 20 games. TSN's story on the suspension is here. This 20 game suspension will be served only when Downie is a member of the Flyers 23 man roster. This makes for an interesting problem for the Flyers. Do they get the suspension overwith by leaving him on their roster - and thus leaving them a man short on their roster or do they keep the roster space and send Downie to the AHL where he will still have to serve the suspension when he gets called up?

NOTE2: Downie has been sent to the minors. Any player suspended in the NHL is automatically suspended in the AHL, until the AHL commissioner can review the case. I imagine that sinced the NHL suspension is only for games when Downie is on an NHL roster that it will be ruled that he can play in the AHL. Otherwise, he has an indefinite AHL suspension and it makes no sense to not call him up to the NHL so he can play eventually (after 20 games). Philadelphia starts their season with a western road trip with games in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Maybe they feel they need all their roster spots for a trip like that in event of injury. Maybe Downie will come up after that trip is over because for their next 20 games they do not leave the eastern time zone and it would be easier to bring in players if they need a full roster on short notice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bill Wirtz Dies

For the NHL to grow, they need some forward thinking owners who will have good ideas on how to position the game to maximize its potential into the future. One problem is that some of the more longstanding powerful owners are not looking forward. They are looking at trying to re-capture their successes of 30 and even 40 years ago when player salaries were much smaller than they are now and the cost of icing a good team was not as big. These owners have found that in solid markets they do not need to win. They can make a solid profit without winning. Having one of the more highly paid teams can interfere with this money making because if the team fails to win this higher payroll can cut into profits.

The owner who most stood in the way of NHL progress recently was probably Bill Wirtz in Chicago. Wirtz has made a huge profit over the years owning the Blackhawks. However, his profit seeking was killing the Chicago market. They do not broadcast any home games in the Chicago area. They average about 12,700 fans a game in the 20,500 United Center.

While it is a sad thing when people die, as Bill Wirtz has, it is a renewal process. It allows new young blood into the ranks of the NHL owners. With that young blood comes new ideas. With the loss of Wirtz, there is some loss of the desire to return the game to a past that no longer exists.

Bill Wirtz became Chicago team president in 1966. During his over 40 years running the Blackhawks, the team has never own the cup. He oversaw the departure of Bobby Hull, Chris Chelios, Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick and other stars from the Chicago market during the primes of their careers. His team is now one of the weaker teams in the NHL. Most pundits pick them to miss the playoffs by a large margin. Their inept finishes have allowed the Hawks to draft young talent in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Now is a good opportunity for the Chicago market to turn itself around.

At this point, it is not clear if the Wirtz family will keep the ownership of the Hawks. Bill's son Peter Wirtz was the vice president of the Hawks under Bill and would be his natural successor. It's not clear how different his ownership would be from that of his father's but it is an opportunity for the team to turn over a new leaf. It is also a possibility for the Hawks to be sold to new owners. This could also lead to drastic change.

Chicago is an original six market. It is a potentially very strong hockey market. It has been a strong hockey market in the past. It would be very good for the NHL if Chicago became hockey mad again. The change in ownership may be a catalyst for this.

Chicago needs to get rid of its current management who were very good at making Bill Wirtz money at the expense of the product on the ice. Bob Pulford and Dale Tallon will have to go. A new talented hockey man will have to be brought in as general manager to lead this team to a resurgence. I hope it happens.

Here is TSN's story on Bill Wirtz's death.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Predictions: East Conference

I finish up my pre-season predictions with East Conference rankings. Here are West Conference predictions and my blurbs about the Northeast Division, Atlantic Division and Southeast Division.

Here are the East Conference rankings:

1. Ottawa Senators
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Carolina Hurricanes
4. New York Rangers
5. New Jersey Devils
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Montreal Canadiens
8. Atlanta Thrashers
9. Tampa Bay Lightning
10. Toronto Maple Leafs
11. Florida Panthers
12. Philadelphia Flyers
13. Boston Bruins
14. New York Islanders
15. Washington Capitals

Predictions: Southeast Division

My pre-season predictions move on today. I have already posted predictions for the West Conference, Northeast Division and Atlantic Division. Today, I move on into the Southeast Division.

1. Carolina Hurricanes They were the 2006 Stanley Cup champs but experienced a bit of a hangover last year and missed the playoffs. They will likley make somewhat of a bounce back and that should be enough to win. Stanley Cup heroes Cam Ward and Eric Staal should bounce back from disappointing 2006/07 seasons. Their defence is not a strong one. Frantisek Kaberle, Mike Commodore and Glen Wesley and nothing special but they were not much stronger on the cup winners and in this weak division it could be enough. At forward, Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman, Eric Cole and Justin Williams make a good bunch with Staal. I don't imagine this team coming close to another cup, but they can win a weak division.

2. Atlanta Thrashers Atlanta took their first ever trip to the playoffs last year. They did it in a year where Ilya Kovalchuk underachieved. He should be one of the top goalscorers in the NHL and rivalling Marian Hossa for the team lead in points. There is little depth beyond that, but Bobby Holik and Pascal Dupuis help. Their defence is built around Alexei Zhitnik, Steve McCarthy and Niclas Havelid. It isn't very strong or deep, but in this division no team is complete. Kari Lethonen is a good young goalie who could make a big step forward. When you make playoffs in a lacklustre year for Ilya Kovalchuk and with a still improving Lehtonen, it's reasonable to believe you could do it again when those situations improve.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning This team could easily win this division if they only had goaltending. With Marc Denis, Johan Holmqvist and Karri Ramo sharing the job this year, they likely will not have strong goaltending again. However, they do have three outstanding forwards in Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St Louis and Brad Richards. Beyond them, there is little depth Vaclav Prospal and Chris Gratton are some key veterans who hope to provide it. On defence, Dan Boyle is very good, though he will miss the start of the year with injury. Beyond him Filip Kuba, Paul Ranger and Brad Lukowich are solid but unspectacular. If they had a really good goaltender without damaging the core, this team could make some noise. However, their goaltending could be in the running for the league's worst.

4. Florida Panthers It is a not uncommon opinion that now that they have a good goalie in Tomas Vokoun, this team will possibly win the division. I disagree. Vokoun is a good goalie, but Ed Belfour was pretty good last year also. There is room for improvement in goal (but hardly on the level of Tampa). They have a pretty good defence with Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Van Ryn and Bryan Allen. They lack the game breaking forwards of Tampa or Atlanta but Olli Jokinen is pretty good. Depth is provided by Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Josef Stumpel. Florida would have a big boost if Horton or Weiss took a big step forward offensively, but I am not sure either have the talent. Florida has a solid goalie and the best defence of a bad division, but should not have the offence to win.

5. Washington Capitals This is Alexander Ovechkin's team. He hasn't had much depth to work with in his young career. The Caps are trying to find him some offensive talent. Alex Semin is pretty good and they added Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov. That is a good group of supporting players but likely no gamebreakers. Their defence is not very good. The addition of Tom Poti gives them a moderate offensive weapon with defensive weakness. Beyond that Ben Clymer, Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn will be outclassed by most good offences. This team has been kept in the game by the goaltending of Olaf Kolzig throughout the years. He is now 37 years old and may be due for a let down or an injury. If that happens they could lead the NHL in goals against.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Predictions: Atlantic Division

The pre-season predictions continue. Already posted are my West Conference predictions and my Northeast Division predictions. Here are my Atlantic Division predictions:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins This team has a great young core with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Ryan Whitney and Marc-Andre Fleury as bounty from several years of early draft picks (and poor finishes). This core is ready to emerge together as a very good young bunch. Add in some veterans such as Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi and Petr Sykora and this is a team on the rise ready to make a run at the top of the league. The only question is will they arrive there before free agency and a salary cap break them up?

2. New York Rangers This team has a good young goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. That is what they lacked through the end of their free spending, playoff missing days at the end of the last CBA. They have a good group of forwards, who were mostly acquired with their financial clout, including Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brendan Shanahan and 2007 free agent signings Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Their defence is a weakness with Paul Mara, Michal Roszival and Marek Malik leading the way. This team was built largely the same way as the failed Ranger teams from before the lockout, but the difference in Lundqvist. He will keep them a winner and a playoff team.

3. New Jersey Devils This team took one of the biggest hits from free agency losing both Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski. Of course, they still have Martin Brodeur in goal and he will win them games singlehandedly. Their defence, traditionally a New Jersey strength, is in its weakest state in years with Paul Martin and Vitaly Vishnevski likely leading the way. They do have a group of forwards that are quite defensively oriented lead by Jay Pandolfo and John Madden, so the defence will still be solid. Offensively, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and Brian Gionta should carry the load. This team has had salary cap problems in the last couple years that have lost them some talent, but as long as Brodeur remains a top goalie, they will be a solid team.

4. Philadelphia Flyers 2006/07 was an awful year for the Flyers. Most likely, they will be the most improved team in the NHL in terms of raw point totals and this was likely without any major roster changes. Simon Gagne is a good sniper and several young players look ready to take the next step including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and RJ Umberger. Free agency added to this Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. Their main weakness last year was defence, and despite adding Kimmo Timonen it still will be. Jason Smith, Randy Jones and Alexandre Picard do not make up a formidable bunch. In goal, Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki should be solid, though unspectacular. It is a long way back from last year's 22 win season, but Philadelphia is on their way.

5. New York Islanders The list of players who are gone from last year is long. Ryan Smyth, Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake, Richard Zednik, Tom Poti, Sean Hill. The stability in this franchise is not there. Head coach, Ted Nolan will have to have another wonderful year to compete again. Rick DiPietro has developed into one of the better goalies in the NHL. This is despite his lack of a defence in front of him. Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek and Marc-Andre Bergeron are some of the key defenders. At forward, Miroslav Satan and Mike Sillinger remain and Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin have been added. This is a team without a direction that overachieved to make the playoffs last year and then lost much of their core. They will be very hard pressed to do that again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Predictions: Northeast Division

After a two day hiatus, I am back with my regular season predictions. Since I had the best record among several bloggers and mainstream media outlets last year there is a bit of pressure on me to get this right. Here are my West Conference predictions.

Today, I will look at the Northeast Division:

1. Ottawa Senators This team went to the Stanley Cup finals with this core last year. They have a potent offence built around Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, however after those three there are few likely big scorers. Their defence is very good with Wade Redden, Anton Volchenkov, Joe Corvo, Chris Phillips and Andrej Meszaros. It is likely the deepest defence in the NHL today. Ray Emery is a solid, but unspectacular goalie and Martin Gerber may bounce back with a solid season too. This team is very good. They may not have what it takes to make the next jump to the Stanley Cup without a personnel change or two, but they should win this division.

2. Buffalo Sabres This team took quite a hit in free agency losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, who were probably their two best forwards. This team has a deep forward unit so they won't be horrible, but they will take a step back. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Maxim Afinogenov, Jason Pominville and hopefully Tim Connolly are a solid group. On defence, they have Brian Campbell, Nathan Paetsch and Toni Lydman. They will likely have to make due without Teppo Numminen, who just had heart surgery. Ryan Miller is a good goalie and Jocelyn Thibault a capable backup. This team will be a very solid team, but they will be well back of their finish last year when they competed for first overall.

3. Montreal Canadiens There are a lot of good young players available on this team as the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Habs AHL affiliate won the Calder Cup. This goes with a pretty solid core of players that barely missed the playoffs last year. In goal, Cristobal Huet, when healthy, has been very good the last couple years. Carey Price is the best goalie prospect in hockey and Jaroslav Halak is not bad either. This team has several good goaltending options. Aside from Andrei Markov, there are few defencemen with game breaking potential, but Mark Streit and Mike Komisarek are solid. On forward, Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev and Michael Ryder are joined by youngsters Guilaume Latendresse, Andrei Kastsitsyn and Kyle Chipchura. If the right young forwards work out, this could be a formidable unit. Montreal should be a solid third in the Northeast.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs My main concern in Toronto is that their offence may decline. Mats Sundin is 36 and has a bad hip. If his offence begins to decline is there somebody ready to be the top man in Toronto? Jason Blake is a solid free agent signing, but at age 34 he likely will not continue to increase his offensive output. Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Tucker, Alexander Steen and Alexei Ponikarovsky are solid, but don't look capable of carrying the load. They do have three very good puckmoving defencemen in Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina and Ian White looks like he is ready to join that list. In net, they have a solid twosome in Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft. The main problem is if Mats Sundin can no longer be the go to man (and that may be the case) then who is?

5. Boston Bruins This team is still reeling from the Joe Thornton trade. They have some decent offence in Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Glen Murray and Phil Kessel, which should keep them a solid team, but there is no true gamebreaker in the bunch. On defence, Zdeno Chara is very good, but the rest of the defence is a bunch of journeymen NHLers like Andrew Ference, Dennis Wideman and Aaron Ward. In goal, they are hoping Manny Fernandez will be the answer. He leaves a Minnesota defence that allowed few quality shots to come to a Boston defence that allows a lot of them. It will be an interesting experiment, but I think it will show that Fernandez's past success was partly due to low shot quality and he is not going to be an all star behind a weak defence.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pre-Season Scoring

I have noticed several people have come to this blog in the last couple days looking for pre-season scoring stats. These are hard to find on the internet, as many major sports sites do not bother tabulating them. The best source for pre-season scoring stats that I know of is CBS sportsline.

Here are the current top pre-season scorers:

Pre-Season NHL Scoring (as of end of Sept 20th Games)
PlayerTeam GPGoalsAssistsPoints
Paul StastnyColorado2426
TJ HensickColorado3336
Kyle Calder Los Angeles2325
Derek Armstrong Los Angeles3235
Nick Foligno Ottawa2235
Brian Willsie Los Angeles3235
Paul Kariya St Louis2145
Jaroslav Hlinka Colorado3055

Pre-season scoring really doesn't prove much. It shows which players are getting quality playing time in pre-season and making the most of their chance. These players are mostly newcomers to their teams and bit players getting a chance in new roles. Due to the limited number of pre-season games so far, a couple teams that have been high scoring (Colorado and Los Angeles) have several top scorers.

What can we learn from the current pre-season scoring leaders? Colorado has given Paul Stastny some quality playing time in two games so far. He is one of the few proven NHL players to get this chance. Perhaps, they have been trying to find legitimate linemates for him (and thus give them two legit scoring lines - Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth being the keys on the other). TJ Hensick and Jaroslav Hlinka are making the most of their chance with this icetime. Los Angeles has had some success from expected depth players Derek Armstrong, Kyle Calder and Brian Willsie. Ottawa rookie Nick Foligno has also played well. St Louis has been giving free agent signee Paul Kariya some playing time also. Likely when the season begins, many of these players will see their ice time drop, but their pre-season success might have secured them NHL jobs. After a long summer with no new NHL results to look over, stats junkies are anxious to see some new games, but these games have little correlation with success in the regular season. At best, they are a chance to see what happens if some of the lesser players get frontline roles.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jerseys: If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It

The NHL has made a lot of changes as they have tried to build a new image for themselves since the lockout. There is a new CBA, new rules, shootouts, a new US TV deal. Many of these changes were by necessity, but some were not. One change that is unnecessary is the new jerseys debuted this season.

The new Reebok form-fitting jerseys are marketed as being more aerodynamic and better able to wick away perspiration than the old jerseys. This it is claimed that the NHL players wearing them are faster (this claim is at best dubious). Many of the new jersey designs have had poor reception due to ugly designs. The cynically (and most probable) reason for the new jerseys is that they will provide additional revenue for the NHL as fans go out and buy them.

However, the problem when one makes an unnecessary change is that they may break something that was working well in the past. This appears to be the case with the new jerseys. It is still pre-season, but there are already reports of jerseys breaking away during fights and potentially leading to injury.

In Monday's pre-season game between New Jersey and Philadelphia (which the Flyers won 3-2), there were a few incidents. New Jersey tough guy Cam Janssen had his jersey tear easily and get lifted over his head in a fight with Jesse Boulerice of Philadelphia. Though it is likely unrelated to the jersey, Janssen is now out with a dislocated shoulder. Arron Asham or New Jersey had a jersey split down the back in another fight.

Asham is probably significantly overstating the situation when he says that this may be intentionally done to limit fighting. More than likely it is a mistake in testing these new jerseys.

The NHL finds itself with equipment it issued that is likely unsafe for some subset of players in its normal expected use. What do they do? Do they recall the equipment (and thus lose a potential revenue stream) or do they turn a blind eye and open themselves up to lawsuits should a player suffer a serious injury due to his jersey? Most likely, the marketing arm wins and the players lose. NHL hockey is an inherently rough game and players get hurt frequently, but it should not be due to faulty NHL issued equipment.

Here is James Mirtle on the subject.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Predictions: West Conference

I have already posted my predicitons for the Northwest Division, Pacific Division and Central Division. They have blurbs for each of the teams. Here is my predicted order of finish for the West Conference:

1. Calgary Flames
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Anaheim Ducks
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Dallas Stars
8. Minnesota Wild
9. Los Angeles Kings
10. Nashville Predators
11. St Louis Blues
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
13. Chicago Blackhawks
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Phoenix Coyotes

Predictions: Central Division

My pre-season NHL predictions are underway. I have already posted my predictions for the Northwest Division and the Pacific Division.

Here is the Central Division:

1. Detroit Red Wings This team is almost a lock to win this division. Not because they are the most dominant team in the NHL, but because they have no talented rivals. Detroit has the best defenceman in the NHL in Nicklas Lidstrom, who along with Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Chris Chelios and Brent Sopel will make a talented defence core. They have a good set of forwards too led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. Dominik Hasek is a top goalie, even at age 42, but he is a serious injury risk given his history of groin problems. Should Hasek stay healthy, Detroit could win the West Conference. If they are stuck with Chris Osgood or Jim Howard in goal for long periods of time, it will be much less likely.

2. Nashville Predators They patiently built a very good team, but then quickly dismantled a good portion of it to reduce payroll to be sold. Gone are Kimmo Timonen, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell, Tomas Vokoun and Peter Forsberg. Left behind is an unspectacular, but not awful team. Chris Mason is a good goalie, but it is unclear how he will handle the workload of a bonafide number one goalie. Marek Zidlicky, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis anchor a still solid defence. Their offence is weakened but still has Jason Arnott, JP Dumont and David Legwand. This team could take the biggest drop (in terms of points) from last season and worse for Nashville fans is likely on its way out of town.

3. St Louis Blues Of the three weak teams last year in this division, this team has the most positive to offer. Paul Kariya, Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk are a talented, although aging, group of talented scorers. Their defence is not bad either with Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman and rookie Erik Johnson. Likely one of Manny Legace or Hannu Toivonen will offer solid, though unspectacular, goaltending. This team is a great example of a team that lacks both weakness and strength.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets Doug MacLean led this team nowhere. They are no closer to the playoffs now than they were when they expanded. Now that he is gone, they might have a chance to grow. Rick Nash is a very talented young player, but is yet to have that huge point scoring season. He is surrounded by David Vyborny, Nikolai Zherdev and Frederik Modin who are solid but unspectacular. Their defence led by Ron Hainsey, Rotislav Klesla and Adam Foote is also unspectacular. The goaltenders Frederik Norrena and Pascal Leclaire have never proven to be great goalies either. Perhaps their biggest strength is coach Ken Hitchcock, who is one of the best in the NHL and will get the most possible from this mediocre crew.

5. Chicago Blackhawks They have been poorly run through the Bill Wirtz years. They lack the top coach of Columbus (Denis Savard has not proven to be anything special as a coach). Their offence is waiting for rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to develop. Until then, they make due with talented but frequently injured Martin Havlat, even more frequently injured Tuomo Ruuttu and aging faceoff man Yanic Perreault. On defence they have a good group of young talents in Duncan Keith, Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook, but no proven gamebreakers. Nikolai Khabibulin has had some good seasons, but not since coming to Chicago (which may be due in part to high shot quality that he faces), but he should be reliable. Chicago should move in the right direction when their young talent is ready, but that may not be this season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Predictions: Pacific Division

My pre-season NHL predictions continue. Yesterday, I posted my Northwest Division predictions. Today, I will continue into the Pacific Division.

1. San Jose Sharks This is a very good team led offensively by Joe Thornton (who is most likely to lead the NHL in scoring should Sidney Crosby fail), Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo. They have some other young players who make take a big step forward this year including Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier. They have some very good young defenders in Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to go with veterans Craig Rivet and Kyle McLaren. They have a very good goalie in Evgeni Nabokov. Some have even picked this team to win the Stanley Cup. I won't go that far, but I think they can win their division.

2. Anaheim Ducks The defending champions are probably the best team in the league if they have Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne on their roster playing as well as they did last year. Neither is at training camp and Selanne is not even signed. Niedermayer (and possibly Selanne too) will likely join the team in mid-season, but will they be in top form with their extra time off? This team still has lots of talent including Jean Sebastien Giguere, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf and the newly signed Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider. This team may also suffer a "Stanley Cup hangover" which is the effects of a shortened summer and a desire to save themselves for this year's playoffs. That would be enough to keep them from winning the division, despite their great group of players (if all of them get onto the ice).

3. Dallas Stars This team has a top goalie in Marty Turco and a very good (if aging) defence led by Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher and Mattias Norstom. Their offence is not nearly as strong. It still has Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow, Mike Ribiero and Jere Lehtonen, but should be relatively low scoring. This team has many aging components but should still be able to put in a solid performance.

4. Los Angeles Kings This team has several young talented forwards ready to emerge including Mike Cammaleri, Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown. Lubomir Visnovsky is a very good defender and Brad Stuart and Rob Blake make a very formidable group. Their weakness may be in goal. Jason LaBarbera has been a very good AHL goalie, but how will he do in the NHL? Dan Cloutier had an awful 2006/07 season. Can he bounce back? This team may rise in the next few years, but they are likely not yet ready for playoffs.

5. Phoenix Coyotes This team is a mess. Aside from Sane Doan, they have no proven forwards. They have some defencemen with talent in Ed Jovanovski, Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard. This is the closest they have to a strength. In goal they have several NHL backups in Alex Auld, David Aebischer, Mikael Tellqvist and David LeNeveu, but none that look capable of being starters. This team is unlikely to go anywhere unless they have clear management and coach/owner Wayne Gretzky has not provided that (and has likely prevented others from providing it).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Predictions: Northwest Division

Since the 2007/08 season is almost upon us, it is time to begin making my regular season predictions. Last season, my predictions came the closest to reality among several bloggers and mainstream media members. Can I be as successful again? Only time will tell.

Here are my Northwest Division predictions:

1. Calgary Flames I think this is the most talented team in the division. They have first class goaltending in Miikka Kiprusoff, a very good (although rebuilt) defence core led by Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and newcomer Adrian Aucoin and some talented offensive players including Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius. Of course, I thought they were the most talented team in the Northwest Division last year when they finished third. The main difference this year is coaching. Jim Playfair was often outcoached by his opposition. This year, they have Mike Keenan as a coach. Keenan is a very good tactician who will not be outcoached and has a long track record of getting the most out of his teams (until they rebel against him and everything falls apart). Usually, he is able to get at least one year of exceeding expectation out of his team before the inevitable rebellion and this should be his year of pushing the Flames to success.

2. Vancouver Canucks This team had a great finish to last season with a 16-7-3 record from the beginning of February to the end of the season. They benefited from great goaltending of Roberto Luongo and a strong defence including Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell. Their offence did not measure up to their defence, but once they made Daniel and Henrik Sedin the go to guys (in place of Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison) the teams surge in the standings began. They still do not have a powerhouse offence (though it is quite likely Naslund and Morrison will have better seasons than they did in 06/079, but they will be one of the toughest teams to score against in the NHL.

3. Colorado Avalanche This is the western team that made the biggest free agent signings adding Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. They will join Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and youngsters Paul Stastny and Wojteck Wolski. This team should be back in the playoffs. Their main weakness is goaltending. Starter Peter Budaj is not a proven star and it has been many years since Jose Theodore put up a good season.

4. Minnesota Wild Jacques Lemaire has done wonders with this team keeping them competitive when Marian Gaborik has suffered injury, even in years where they had little else to depend upon. Over the last couple years they have added Pavol Demitra and Kim Johnsson and seen the development of Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, to make them a deeper, more complete team. Their weakness may be in goaltending. Though they always play a very good team defence and allow less quality shots than most teams, they will play the relatively unproved duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding (who have a career total of 51 NHL games played combined). I think the loss of Manny Fernandez will be a bigger one than most expect and will slow the climb of this team.

5. Edmonton Oilers It's amazing that as recently as 2006 this team made it to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. Everything has fallen apart since then. Their best two players at the time Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth are gone and not replaced. While they do have a good group of young forward prospects including Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, likely none are ready for a big jump to stardom yet. Their defence should be better at moving the puck with the additions of Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Dick Tarnstrom and their goaltending should be solid (though unspectacular) with Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon in goal, but they lack depth at forward. Ales Hemsky is probably the only possible game breaking scorer on their roster this year. To make matters worse, their first round pick is property of the Anaheim Ducks thanks to the ill-advised signing of Dustin Penner.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

CBA Costs NHL Jobs

One trend which is largely overlooked in analysis of hockey is since the new CBA has been in place in the NHL, there have been less players playing in the NHL each season. This is easily shown by the chart below (which goes back to the 2000/01 season - going back before that time adds the complexity of expansion and adds little to the story).

Number of NHL Players By Season
Season Number of Players
2002/03 1001
2003/04 1028
2005/06 961
2006/07 942

There was a trend of slowly increasing number of NHL players each season until the lockout hit. Teams found it in their best interest to give a few more players NHL auditions each year than they had in the past. After the lockout hit and the new CBA was agreed upon with a salary cap, one way teams reacted was by keeping roster sizes small. They kept as many players as possible in the minor leagues to save money. The problem is once in a while that guy who didn't get the NHL shot due to these decisions could have made an impact. At any rate, a more rested new player might have given a spark to the team in question. In 2006/07 each team used slightly more than two less players than they would have in 2003/04.

Some of the reason for this drop in players used may have also been a lack of availabilitily of good options. More and more potential NHL players are choosing to play in Europe instead and some NHL capable talents get stuck in the AHL due to re-entry waivers. All in all, this is another reduction in the overall talent level in the NHL on any given night. It's a minor reduction that most fans won't pick up on, but it makes a difference to the owner's pocketbooks at the expense of the quality of the NHL game of hockey.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Numminen Suspended

An example of why a strong NHLPA is needed by the players (as opposed to the current one trying to rebuild from serious problems) hit the news today. Teppo Numminen of the Buffalo Sabres needs heart surgery. This is his third heart surgery. He has had earlier surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat, that at one time looked like it would end his career. This surgery is apparently to fix a different problem.

Naturally, the Buffalo Sabres suspended him. The logical thing to do when your player needs heart surgery is to suspend him right? The official line is that Teppo Numminen failed to report to training camp in the proper physical condition.

The real problem is that because Numminen has had previous heart surgery, the Sabres could not insure his contract (at least not at a reasonable rate). Buffalo is already at or above their expected salary budget (in part due to Thomas Vanek's huge offer sheet), so instead of having to pay Numminen's salary and that of the defenceman that fills his roster spot, the Sabres have suspended him.

This makes the NHL look bad. This makes the Buffalo Sabres look bad. This is an extremely ridiculous situation that the NHLPA should be preventing.

I would normally link to the TSN story on this issue, but there isn't one (yet?). This shows that embarrassing NHL news does not get covered properly by TSN as the NHL and TSN are too closely tied to give us unbiased coverage. Here is the TSN story about the heart surgery with no mention of a suspension.

NOTE: There is another unrelated case where the NHLPA should be involved. The NHL's decision to suspend Mark Bell of the Toronto Maple Leafs for his drunk driving and hit and run conviction. Suspending players for off-ice crimes like this is a new NHL policy and the NHLPA should be involved in any new policy decisions like that affecting their players Tom Benjamin blogs about this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Canada Wins Junior Super Series

Canada has won the Junior Super Series by defeating the Russian juniors by a record of 7-0-1. This series was an ill-advised attempt to relive the 1972 Summit Series, but since the NHL was not interested in sending its stars, it was done with junior players. Its main legacy may be overplaying juniors before they have even hit the NHL.

Canada won decisively, but this showed the disrepair in the Russian hockey system more than it showed Canada's dominance. I believe there would have been a much more competitive series had Canada played Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic or USA.

I think the tied game was a good thing. I am glad they did not decide it with a shootout. The tie kept Russia from being swept and they did not play enough to deserve a victory. Sometimes the best result in a game is a tie, but sadly with the NHL shootouts they are so rarely seen anymore.

Canada was led by Sam Gagner (Edmonton prospect) who scored 15 points in only 8 games. They had a strong showing from John Tavares who looks to be as good as any 2007 draftee (let alone the class of 2008). It might have been a closer series if Alexei Cherepanov was healthy.

This blowout series likely will keep us from regularly seeing junior series like this in pre-season. It was not the success that had been hoped for and there is little demand for another.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sabbatical From The NHL

The NHL season is long and hard, particularly if a player is on a team that has a good run into the playoffs. Doing this year after year is quite taxing physically and emotionally. This is particularly true when a player has a family and may be forced to move to a new city as they have hit unrestricted free agency. This is also particularly true when some players have been playing long and taxing seasons since their junior days.

In baseball, Roger Clemens has found a solution. If a player is good enough that he doesn't have to worry about not finding a team to play with, he can wait until a month or two into the season to sign and get a longer off season to spend with his family and not have to go through the rigors of training camp.

This idea appears to be spreading into the NHL. Three different future Hall of Fame players are not going to be attending training camp for any team, yet all might wind up playing sometime this season.

Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks held a press conference yesterday to announce that he is uncertain if he wants to retire, but he will not be at Anaheim training camp (basically it was a press conference to announce nothing that we didn't already know).

Teemu Selanne, Niedermayer's teammate last year on the Stanley Cup winning Anaheim Ducks, is an unrestricted free agent who is unwilling to announce retirement and may wind up signing eventually to play this season (likely in Anaheim). He won't be in any NHL training camp.

Peter Forsberg ended an injury filled 2006/07 season with the Nashville Predators and is also an unrestricted free agent. He will likely sign a contract with somebody eventually, but he too will not be attending any NHL> training camp.

This creates a situation where the early season NHL games are even less meaningful than usual as several top players, who will eventually return, are not there. From a fan's point of view, it is not as good to have an NHL where a handful of stars are missing because they think the season is too long and taxing.

The season is too long and taxing. This is a problem the NHL faces. In order to make money, the NHL wants as many game dates as possible (and thus as long a season as possible), but the players would rather see the season shortened. Only a handful of stars can do anything to reduce their workload because any more borderline NHL player who chooses to not sign a contract until the season is underway may be left without a job all season long.

If we have hockey, I would like to see it be as meaningful as possible. I would like the biggest stars in the game to be there. Is there a point where reducing the length of the season makes it more likely to keep players in the lineup the entire season? If so, I would like to see that option explored.

This situation is made worse by the NHL CBA. Any player over 35 years old (usually only stars play long enough to be in this group) who signs a multi-year contract will have his salary count against the salary cap for the duration of his contract even if he does not play for the full length of the deal. As a result, some star players are forced to sign one year deal after one year deal and thus be more likely to wait until after the season begins to commit to another season. This likely also NHL legends retiring earlier than they otherwise would have. It is hard to be raising a young family (as many players in the 35 and older group are) and have to move to a new city annually (or possibly more frequently than that if a one year deal makes you a potential rental come trade deadline time). This pushes these star players toward retirement (or at least toward signing after training camp ends).

The solution is to ease up restrictions on older players (restrictions only necessary because the CBA insists on counting the average value of a player during his entire contract against the salary cap) and to reduce the length of the NHL season. I don't think my enjoyment of NHL hockey would be reduced with a 60 game regular season (and thus a Stanley Cup winner determined in early May) and it would be increased if the star players are around for the entire season. Financially, this is not in the NHL's interests, which is a much greater problem. The good of hockey in general is a ready sacrifice for the NHL if it conflicts ┬┤with their finances.

I am not too impressed to see three star players who will sit out the beginning of the 2007/08 season. I think this is the beginning of a trend where this situation becomes more and more common. It makes the beginning of the season less important to not have the star players around. If this situation is reversed it would be a good thing. However, I see little reason that reversing this situation is on the NHL's agenda.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Terry Sawchuk From A Goals Saved Perspective

Terry Sawchuk is a Hall of Famer who is often listed among the greatest hockey players all time, however, when one looks at his career from a sabermetrics perspective this dominance is not so obvious. Sawchuk had a long career where he won three Vezina Trophies (at the time this award was for best GAA in the NHL) and played in eleven all star games. He retired from the NHL the career leader in wins and shutouts (he still holds the career shutout lead). That success in counting stats may have led some to overrate his career. He is second in career games played for a goalie (behind Patrick Roy) and his counting stats reflect his longevity.

It is hard to rate goaltenders sabermetrically, but for this analysis I will use the goals saved method developed by Peter Albert (the hockey outsider). This method attempts to calculate the number of extra goals a goaltender saves relative to the average goalie in a season if he played on the average NHL team. It is very successful picking winners of the Vezina Trophy, but not so good comparing different seasons (due to different performances of "average" goaltenders over time). Nevertheless, if Sawchuk is indeed on of the all time greats, one would expect he should be one of the leaders in goals saved over the seasons of his career and due to the length of his career one of the all time leaders.

Here is Terry Sawchuk's career in terms of goals saved:

Terry Sawchuk's Career in terms of Goals Saved
Season Sawchuk's Goals Saved Goals Saved League Leader League Leader's Total
1949/50Sufficent Stats Not Kept
1950/51 Sufficient Stats Not Kept
1951/52 38.4 Terry Sawchuk 38.4
1952/53 29.6 Terry Sawchuk 29.6
1953/54 22.2 Harry Lumley 34.6
1954/55 31.8 Harry Lumley 40.0
1955/56 -11.4 Jacques Plante 32.4
1956/57 11.2 Glenn Hall 45.8
1957/58 -9.3 Jacques Plante 29.3
1958/59 -18.0 Jacques Plante 53.8
1959/60 1.5 Johnny Bower 32.3
1960/61 -13.0 Glenn Hall 36.6
1961/62 -31.9 Jacques Plante 53.1
1962/63 9.6 Glenn Hall 21.1
1963/64 0.8 Glenn Hall 38.2
1964/65 8.4 Glenn Hall 22.4
1965/66 6.3 Johnny Bower 34.2
1966/67 11.7 Ed Giacomin 29.8
1967/68 -7.1 Gump Worsley 23.5
1968/69 3.5 Glenn Hall 18.4
1969/70-2.0 Tony Esposito 32.5

We note that sufficient statistics were not kept in the first two years of his career to calculate Sawchuk's goals saved. There are insufficient records to calculate saves percentages from that time. These records exist from 1951/52 onwards. These statistics were not properly kept by the NHL. From 1955-67, these statistics were calculated by Edward Yuen, who went through thousands of newspapers and calculated these stats by hand. He was very careful to maintain their accuracy. The remaining years of Sawchuk's career were calculated by Thomas Awad of the hockey analysis group. There may be a few errors in Awad's calculations at times, but they are a very good reference. The NHL did not officially keep records of saves percentage until the 1982/83 season.

Goals saved is not a statistic that most of us are used to seeing, so it takes some thought to make sense of the table. It is intended to be the number of goals this goalie would have prevented if he played on the average team that season in relations to the average goalie that season. Since shot quality data does not exist this far back, it is another unknown. A goalie facing low quality shots (due to a good defence) will tend to have a higher goals saved value than he deserves (and vice versa if he faces high quality shots due to a poor defence). Since each year is adjusted relative to the averages of that season, the reference of the league leader is goals saved is useful to be aware of.

The most obvious problem is that there exists no data for Terry Sawchuk's first two seasons. His 1949/50 season was short. He only played seven NHL games after being called up from the AHL. Likely, he did not record any great goals saved totals on such limited work. However, his 1950/51 season was a very good one. He led the NHL in wins and shutouts and made the first team all star (which is the closest equivalent to winning the Vezina Trophy today) and won the Calder Trophy as top rookie. This season is lost in the analysis.

In the seasons for which we have data, Sawchuk twice led the NHL in goals saved. These were the first two years where data exists. Very possibly, he would have led the season before the data exists, be we cannot be certain. After the 1954/55 season, Sawchuk stopped recording top values in goals saved. He became a much more average goaltender instead of being the best (or at least arguably the best). There is still a great deal of value in being an average goalie for a long period of time. This is especially true in a six team NHL that made little use of backup goalies. The average NHL goalie is the third or fourth best in the world most years.

During Sawchuk's career, Glenn Hall led the NHL in goals saved six times and Jacques Plante led four times. These are larger totals than Terry Sawchuk could have had even if we assume that he likely led the league in 1950/51 (the year before stats exist). This is certainly evidence that Sawchuk was not as good as those two rivals.

Over his career, Terry Sawchuk recorded 82.3 goals saved in the years for which we can verify stats. By way of comparison, Jacques Plante had 350.8 goals saved, Glenn Hall had 296.2 goals saved and Johnny Bower (who twice led the league) had 222.6 goals saved. These are all values significantly higher than Sawchuk (no matter what reasonable assumption we give him for his one and a bit seasons before stats exist). It is reasonable to conclude from this analysis that Sawchuk was the fourth best NHL goalie throughout much of his career (behind Plante, Hall and Bower). He was likely the best goalie until those three established themselves (though rivalled by Harry Lumley). From that point on, Sawchuk was roughly an average NHL goalie (which in a league with only six regular goalie jobs is still quite a mark of success).

However, a strong argument can be made that Sawchuk faced tougher shot quality than any of those three. Sawchuk's drop in his goals saved corresponded with his trade to Boston. Boston in the 50's was not a particularly good team and likely allowed high quality shots. By the time Sawchuk returned to Detroit, their defence was not as good as it had been. Red Kelly (their top defenceman in the past) was traded to Toronto in 1960 and was being developed from a defenceman into a centreman.

Certainly Jacques Plante played behind a better defence in Montreal (Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Jean-Guy Talbot), Johnny Bower played behind a better defence in Toronto (Carl Brewer, Tim Horton, Bob Baun) and Glenn Hall played behind a better defence in Chicago as well (Pierre Pilotte, Elmer Vasko). All three were Stanley Cup winners, while Detroit no longer made the playoffs every season. When Sawchuk moved on to Toronto in 1964/65 his goals saved recovers (though at this point he was no longer as good as Johnny Bower and became Bower's backup).

It is clear that Terry Sawchuk was a good goalie to last as long as he did and be at worst an average goalie on a weaker team throughout the majority of his career, after a several year run as an elite goalie. In a six team NHL being an average goalie is likely being the fourth best goalie in the world most seasons and that is an impressive record. There is reason to believe that were shot quality data available, it would benefit Sawchuk's standing in the league throughout much of his career. His goals saved ranking tends to track with the expected shot quality that he faced. I think it is clear from this analysis that Terry Sawchuk is not the best goalie ever. There are contemporaries (and people in later time periods) who consistently rank above him and it is hard to imagine that further data would change this, but Sawchuk is a top goalie. He was one of the three or four best in the NHL (and the world) for a long time. He was the best for a while. His placing in a list of the all time greats in hockey is not unreasonable. There is reason to argue if he should be top 20 or top 40 or top 60, and the data available does not answer this well. Those who saw Sawchuk's full career consider him one of the all time greats (almost unanimously) and it is hard to argue with that.

Because goals saved are referenced to average in a league, it is much easier for a goalie in a large NHL (say 30 teams) to be above average than it was to be in a six team NHL. In a 30 team NHL, a goalie might have a year where he is very good, but not not a serious Vezina candidate (such as Rick DiPietro or Marty Turco) this past season and rank well above average. In a six team NHL, with little to no backup goaltending, this would rank them below average. Sawchuk is a victim of this comparison to average since he played in a small league and he played much of his career behind a weaker than average (for a six team league) defence. How much of Plante, Hall or Bower's superiority is due to better defences may never be possible to tell, but I think the reality is closer than these numbers show.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Review: Russia to NHL Class of 2006

The Junior Super Series is quite clearly showing the hockey world the recent decline in the Russian hockey system. When a reduction in NHL calibre players from Russia is coupled with the lack of a Russia - NHL player transfer agreement, the salary restrictions to players under the NHL salary cap and the increasing size of contracts in the Russian Elite League, there is a significant drop in NHL players coming from Russia. In fact, some NHL players are leaving the NHL for Russia. This hurts the NHL as it reduces its talent pool.

It is informative to look at the five players who left Russia to play in the NHL for the start of the 2006/07 NHL season. Due to the lack of a player transfer agreement, there was considerable effort spent to make these players available including defections and lawsuits. Did teams fin this effort worthwhile?

If the team in question is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the answer is clearly yes. Evgeni Malkin joined the Pens and scored 85 points and won the Calder Trophy. Players who are ready to jump into the NHL as stars will always make it. They are rare cases. Most NHL players are not stars the second they arrive in the league. Even in the case of those who eventually develop into stars, many are not stars at first.

The other four players who came from Russia for the beginning of the 2006/07 season were not stars. They are Enver Lisin (who scored 2 points in 17 games before returning to Russia), Alexei Kaigorodov (who scored 1 point in 6 games before returning to Russia), Alexei Mikhnov (who scored no points in two games before returning to Russia) and Andrei Taratukhin (who spent the entire season in the AHL but is now reported to be on his way back to Russia). All told, the four non-Malkin Russians produced a total of 3 points 25 games.

The problem is that players who are not immediate stars in the NHL likely face salary cuts to come to the NHL. This is especially true for those who wind up in the AHL. They must learn to live in a new culture and are likely homesick. It is a hard barrier to climb. Given the pretty good conditions at home in Russia, why should they bother? These players were considered top prospects in the world before their short NHL stints. Likely many could have solid NHL careers, but may never have the chance.

Sometimes these players get second chances at the NHL. It appears that Enver Lisin will attend Phoenix Coyote training camp this year (though that is uncertain at this point). Were he able to stick with the Coyotes he might have a good NHL career. Often a second chance is all a player needs (for example Alexander Semin has proven to be a good NHL player on his second chance).

The pipeline of Russian players to the NHL is drying up. In part this is because Russia is not producing as many NHL quality hockey players as they used to and in part this is because there is less incentive for players to leave Russia for the NHL. Last year, five players came from Russia to the NHL for the first time. Only one had any success at the NHL level. With poor success rates like that, should any NHL team bother with Russian players unless they are the rare player ready to jump into the NHL as a star?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Canada Leads 4-0 In Super Series

So far, there has been little notice of the Junior Summit Series played between the junior aged players from Canada and Russia. The first four games have already been played in Russia and Canada won all four by a combined score of 17-6. This week, they return to Canada for the final four games in what looks like a blowout. This series is helping to overplay and possibly burnout junior aged players before they have even entered the NHL and very little interest is paid on it. It appears to be a foregone conclusion who will win before the first game in Canada is played.

The Russian hockey system is currently in disrepair. The somewhat unstable political system has let it fall apart. The Russian system still produces some incredibly talented kids in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, but most of the rest of the talent is getting lost in a leaky pipeline. They have not been much of a match for the Canadian kids. It has been made worse due to Russian injuries to top prospects Alexei Cherepanov and Artem Anisomov (both NY Rangers prospects), who are some of the more talented scorers on the Russian roster.

Likely, Canada could have a better challenge from the other major hockey powers (Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland and USA) than Russia is capable of giving in this series.

So far, Canada has been led offensively by Brad Marchand (Boston prospect), Sam Gagner (Edmonton prospect) and Stefen Legein (Columbus prospect). They have rolled all four lines and played all three goalies. The Russian lineup is led offensively by Alexander Ryabev (undrafted). It has not been a competitive series so far. As a result, this may be the last Junior Summit Series in this format.

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