Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Christmas in July

Christmas Eve.

You’d think, anyway. It is the day before the unrestricted free agency signing period begins, and all across North America hockey fans will go to sleep to dream of sugar daddy GM’s stuffing their approved NHL-logo stockings with free agent goodies.

You’d be better off wishing for coal.

Below we show you a table of all the NHL players who earned at least $6,000,000 last year (salary, not cap hit, according to the NHL Players Association):

46 players earning an average of $7.1 million last year. Quite a collection of talent. A lot of them earned that money as a product of signing a contract as a free agent with a new team, lured away by the promise of riches and offering the promise of success for their new teams and their fans. That list of big-money players who were signed away by another team to get that paycheck looks like this:

We interpret this pretty narrowly. These aren’t “trade and sign” guys, these are guys who were signed away to big contracts without intervening personnel actions. We've tried to weed those guys out. We're looking at the straight-up, sign the player away from another team sort of player. We are left with 17 players making an average of $7.0 million. Still a formidable lineup. But the object of the exercise is to win a Stanley Cup, and the object of the July exercise is to sign talent that will get a team to that goal. So, of this group, who has hoisted a Cup since signing their big deal?

Now we’re left with a very short list. Three players who earned an average of $6.3 million last year. But it gets better. Consider Sergei Gonchar and Brian Rafalski. Both are defensemen, both signed big contracts with new teams (Gonchar having been signed away from Boston in 2005, Rafalski from New Jersey in 2007). But both did so with teams -- the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings – that signed home-grown talent to larger deals before they won a Cup. Pittsburgh signed Sidney Crosby to a five-year, $43.5 million deal in 2007 (before winning a Cup in 2009), while Detroit signed Nicklas Lidstrom a two-year, $15.2 million deal in 2006 (before winning a Cup in 2008).

That leaves us with one big bucks free agent – Scott Niedermayer – who stands as the centerpiece of a Stanley Cup champion, the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. But even here, the conclusion isn’t all together cut and dried. Jean-Sebastien Giguere was signed to a big deal (at the time) after the 2002-2003 season (Giguere isn’t “home grown, either, having been drafted by Hartford in 1995, but he had been with the Ducks for three years before his big payday).

Here is the point. Unrestricted free agent – at least at the top end of the pay scale – is the single most overrated aspect of personnel management and talent acquisition. The Stanley Cup being a rare commodity – there is only one champion crowned a year – we would expect that there would be a lot of failure if winning the Cup is the criterion for free agent signing success. But to have this many players – 17 – signed away to big contracts and one Cup to show for it (unless you count teams that also signed home-grown talent) begs the question, is all this hype over the next big signing worth it?

But hey, what other entertainment will a hockey fan have in the first week of July?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bedtime Snacks... And the Dreams They Beget


Really, no more anchovy and pineapple pizzas before bed, especially after looking up and down the draft results...

But then again, I had slept in just a little while longer, I might have had this one dreaming about recent Capitals drafts...

Looking Back at a Six Pack of Drafts...To Look Forward

So… the Caps have added seven players to their stable in the 2009 draft, and for a team that relies as heavily on the draft as the Caps purport to do, it’s time to take a moment and look at what this draft -- and those preceding it -- will yield.

We use the future tense there, because we’re thinking about five years from now, when the kids selected yesterday will be the men making contributions. Five years from now, we will be looking forward to the 2014-2015 season, and we could be looking at a Caps team that employs a lot of draftees. That would be the hope, anyway. So, if we look at the past half-dozen drafts, starting with the haul of talent picked in 2004, we would have the following first and second round picks (with a couple of lower picks sprinkled in) playing regularly (or occasionally) for the Caps…

You could add to this a number of players who would be no older than their early 30’s…

Eric Fehr (29 when the 2014-2015 season ends, 2003 draftee)
Tomas Fleischmann (31)
Boyd Gordon (31, 2002 draftee)
Brooks Laich (32)
Alexander Semin (31, 2002 draftee)
David Steckel (33)
Milan Jurcina (32)
Shaone Morrisonn (32)

Yes, that makes 30 players. But then again, not all will be here – some could leave hockey (or the NHL), others might be traded, some might be stuck (so to speak) in the minors, and there are those who could leave for free agency. The point is that the Caps have embarked on a path, and they have walked it resolutely. But there are holes, too. Even adding Fehr, Fleischmann, Laich, and Semin to the list, it seems light (or at least uncertain in depth) in skill wingers. There are considerable question marks at center, despite Anton Gustafsson’s pedigree and Capitals management’s ebullient commentary on Marcus Johansson.

The Caps have a core – winger (Ovechkin), center (Backstrom), defenseman (Green), and – we hope – goaltender (Varlamov/Neuvirth). The draft can fill in around that; it is the conveyor that will keep feeding talent (if the scouting department does its job) for years to come. But like George McPhee said with respect to the other legs of the player personnel triad…

"There wasn't a lot of [trade talk] that went on here. There may be more of that next week and closer to camp. We're not going to force anything. The season doesn't start until October… We've got guys internally who can do it. We'll just see what's out there. If there's a player out there that can help our club, we'll be interested. Just don't expect us to go out and commit to a big or long-term deal in free agency. We've seen that movie before."

The trick -- when you depend on the draft for skill -- is using trades and free agency to fill in the holes, to find the role players, to find those spark plugs that can ignite a long Stanley Cup run.

The draft part looks – on paper – pretty strong, and that will feed the core as time goes by (again, we hope). But it seems there is work to be done over the next 15 weeks or so until that opening night in October. The fun is just beginning.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mr. Looking Up At Everyone Else

In the National Football League, he is called, Mr. Irrelevant. He is the last player taken in the draft. On the rare occasion, Mr. Irrelevant has his place in the sun. Marty Moore (New England Patriots) and Jim Finn (New York Giants) have played in a Super Bowl.

In the NHL, the odds are long on the last pick taken to make it in the show. Since the entry draft was established in 1979, only eight players taken last have played in an NHL game, and only three of them have played in more than 100 NHL games (Kim Johnsson leading the pack with 679 NHL games played). Paul Maurice, taken last in 1985, did not make it as a player, but he's had a productive career as an NHL bench boss.

This year, it is Petteri Simila, a goaltender from Karpat-Jr. out of the Finnish junior league, taken by Montreal. Like a lot of goalies taken in this draft (six of them are 6'4" or taller), he's got some size -- 6'6", 189. He'll need to have the sturdiness such size suggests, because he's looking up at everyone else. Good luck to him and to all the draftees.

So...How'd We do?

Well, really good for the first five picks...

After that, not so good. But we did have 25 of our 30 picks actually taken by someone in the first round. We suspect that's a pretty good batting average.

Day One

Well, It’s the day after Christmas for draft geeks, and it’s time to survey the damage as the suits proceed to the second round. What happened?

We were not surprised that when the suspected Dany Heatley and Phil Kessel deals failed to materialize, the media in attendance jumped on the oldie-but-goodie, “Chris Pronger to somewhere (in this case, Philly)” possibility. The trade that was consummated will be hailed as a “blockbuster,” we suppose (actually, a "mega deal" in Montreal). It’s not, although it does address needs for both teams. In that respect, it could be “win-win”… to a point. Pronger fills an immediate need (although the way a Jay Bouwmeester deal might have…now that would have been a blockbuster), but not the need for the Flyers. That would be an NHL goaltender, seeing as how Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki are free agents (and probably not the goaltending the Flyers would need to be a Cup contender anyway). Anaheim jettisons a big contract and gets younger.

Gary Bettman came to the podium and stood as a long introduction in French was given. Rough translation…”Welcome, hockey fans. Behind me is the Commissioner – feel free to boo (they boo). Yes, yes, boo your lungs out. And you, Mr. Commissioner… on behalf of all hockey fans, let me just say… you suck! (crowd erupts in applause, Bettman beams, not having a clue).” Upon which, the Commissioner, in perfect unaccented French oozes to the podium and says, “Muhr-see bow-coo…bone swahr.” I felt as if I was at a Truffaut film festival.

And then there was Bettman at the podium flanked by Henri Richard and Yvon Cournoyer. You remember the end of the movie Caddyshack? When Al Czervik is flanked by his henchmen? I half expected Bettman to say, “Moose, Rooco…help the judge find his checkbook.” But seriously, Richard looked as if he still could play (or at least was looking for someone to check), while Cournoyer looked sort of like the great character actor Cecil Kellaway...

Then it was time for the show… Garth Snow, his face a mask of emotionless plaster slow walked to the podium, giving nary a hint of who he would pick – John Tavares? Victor Hedman? Matt Duchene? Charles Wang? Then scout Mario Saraceno provided the required French introduction and noted that 10,000 fans were at Nassau Colisseum…no doubt the biggest crowd of the year there. And the winner of three fun filled years as a New York Islander is (drum roll please)….

John Tavares!

As the arena welcomed the latest player of the century to the podium, we were left to wonder… was Garth Snow wearing inflated shoulder pads under his suit coat?

After that, the needle on the suspense meter fell precipitously, despite the intrepid efforts of the folks doing the pick-by-pick play-by-play on television. There’s a trade! Wooooo! Pronger to Philly! It’s official! President Obama will comment on the deal at nine o’clock! But we were wondering about something else…

“snack buckets?”

What was up with the buckets on the team tables stuffed with Frito-Lay products? Why not just have buckets of peanuts and have the team personnel hurl the shells to the floor? Or maybe have Brian Burke and Bryan Murray hurl them at each other.

The rest of the evening had a rather dull patina of sameness to it… make a pick, wait for the hugs, follow the victim – uh, draft pick – to the podium, get the handshake (why was Bettman saying, “great job” to all the picks? Congratulating them on not tripping on their way to the stage?), put on the jersey and hat, pose for pics…NEXT!

Versus could have shown a documentary on putting side view mirrors on Ford’s at the assembly plant.

We’ll have more to say about the Caps’ pick/picks later, but we do want to ask… did someone kill George McPhee’s goldfish just before he went to the stage? I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an angrier looking McPhee. Maybe he had a deal that went south at the last moment, but that was not a happy camper stomping to the stage. The pick – Marcus Johansson – seemed an afterthought, and it broke the land speed record for shortest time spent on stage making a pick. No French intro, no thanking the Canadiens and their fans, no – ugh – congratulations to the – ugh – Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Just, “the Capitals pick Marcus Johansson, now let me get the hell outta here.”

As these things go, it wasn’t bad. It was rather quaint, in fact. None of the over-the-top production that is the NFL draft with Breathless Berman and Kinetic Kiper. None of the Roman Coliseum look of Emperor Stern and the NBA draft (cue the trumpets!). None of the strutting and preening among the draftees that those drafts seem to have developed. Just a bunch of well-scrubbed kids and their folks thrilled to be there and a gaggle of suits standing on the stage with jerseys and hats, scared out of their wits that they’ve just placed their livelihoods at the mercy of a bunch of 18-year olds.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Trade the Pick, George!

Since the Caps are drafting in the 24 slot this evening, we thought we would take a look back down the road at what the 24th pick has yielded over the past 30 years. Well…here it is (click on the image for a larger version):

Not a hall-of-famer in the bunch, although one might argue to keep and eye on Daniel Briere and Mike Richards. We also looked at NHLers of note picked within five slots after the 24th pick. Frankly, that looks like a better pool of players, although yes…we are looking at up to 150 picks that came later – bigger pool, better chance of finding someone who actually contributed. But it is a more impressive pool, nonetheless. You could cobble together a decent team with the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Mellanby, Martin Havlat, Zigmund Palffy, Brenden Morrow, Teppo Numminen, Steve Staios, Mike Richter, and the like.

But there are three players in the first 21 of these 24th-overall picks who did not play a game in the NHL. Five more played fewer than 50 games.

As for performance, if you look at the 20 forwards selected at 24th-overall, their careers average slightly more than 200 games with 100 points. The six defensemen average about 230 games over their respective careers with about 50 points. The goalies are decidedly mediocre overall -- .500 win-loss percentage, GAA around three, save percentage around 90 percent. Decent, on average, but there haven’t been many “stars” selected in this slot.

We keep looking at those players selected shortly thereafter, though, and wonder whether it would be better for the Caps to move the pick.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Which species has the shortest memory of any primate?

The media!

OK, it's a trick question. The media aren't primates.

But here's the point. We have been perusing the hockey blogs, columns, news reports, and such over the past few days, and there is, well..."buzz."

"What sort of buzz," you ask? Well, there is the matter of whether the Islanders will really take John Tavares with the first pick, or if Garth Snow will listen to his inner muse and take Matt Duchene.

Then there is the usual chatter about how there will be this, that, or the other "BLOCKBUSTER" trade made at this draft (it's a hardy perennial).

Or the one where so-and-so is desperately working the lines to move up two... five... ten spots up the draft order and will offer up his entire bucket of selections through the 2014 draft if only he can have the number one overall pick.

We just have one question for the folks who perpetrate and perpetuate these sorts of story lines...


Every year we go through this, and every year the media forgets what they should have learned the previous year -- general managers of major professional team sports franchises are among the most risk-averse creatures on the planet. Big moves mean big risks, and how often are they made? You remember them because they are so rare and stand out so starkly against a backdrop of dull gray sameness.

Garth Snow is going to be called up to the podium to recite the name he's been practicing in front of his bedroom mirror for a month -- "John Tavares." Islander fans will cheer, Snow will sigh the sigh of relief that he didn't screw up (until and unless, of course, Tavares turns out to be a dog...then Islander fans will rise as one and shout, "ya shoulda took Duchene, we knew it all along!").

The only "blockbuster" in evidence this weekend will be the store selling videos (are they still around?). They might even have copies of the Penguins' march to the Stanley Cup.

And no one is leaping from 21st to 1st by moving a fist full of picks, prospects, and other prizes to pick Tavares (or Duchene, or that Hedman kid). We're not going to see the NHL equivalent of Mike Ditka trading his whole draft -- plus picks in the following draft -- for Ricky Williams (now there's a cautionary tale).

It'll be a nice, quiet draft, just like it is most every year...

...except for that buzzing.

It's all in the name...

Drafts in any sport have many entertainments. There is the suspense in seeing who will be drafted, which young prospect your favorite team will pick, the wheeling, the dealing, the squealing when the picks are made. But there are often a number of young men at these events whose names just conjure a whole other set of mental images. And at the NHL draft, which is as global an event as such things get, there are some names that fairly leap off the page. For instance...

Brayden McNabb, D (Kootenay/WHL) . A perfect fit for Philly. They’d have another McNabb to boo. If the Phillies could find a “McNabb,” they could have 365 days of McN-abbuse to heap upon their sports teams. Philly heaven.

Linden Vey, RW (Medicine Hat/WHL). Wonder how early in life he picked up the nickname, “Oy?”

Matthew Tipoff, RW (Bellville/OHL). Wrong sport, son. Shouldn’t you be in the gym for the opening, well...tip off?

Andrej Nestrasil, RW/C (Victoriaville, QMJHL). Sounds like a nasal decongestant. When tree pollen has you stuffed up…”Nestrasil.”

Max Tardy, C (Duluth East (HS-MN). Better send a driver for him so he’s on time.

Evan Bloodoff, LW (Kelowna/WHL). Sounds vaguely like a spot-remover, doesn’t it?

Ondrej Havlicek, C (Czech-JR). Meet Matthew Tipoff.

Joonas Hurri, D (Pelicans Jr./Finland-JR). Now, if he could be paired with Uppan Slowdown.

Jakub Ciger, C. (Martin Jr./Slovak-JR). So, he shoots just wide, and the play-by-play guy goes, “close, but no…”

We mean no disrespect to these young men, they just happen to have names we'd like to hear called this weekend. For these young men (and we kid because we love) and all those who are a part of this weekend’s festivities, may it be the times of their lives.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For Your Mockification -- The Peerless' 3rd Annual Draft Mocknostications

And now, we bring you what all of you have been waiting for…

The 3rd Annual Peerless Draft Mocknostications

While we are a practicing member of the Bloggerhood of Hockey Bloggers, we cannot claim to have seen any of the fine young men who might be selected in this draft in actual hockey action. We are hard pressed to spell their names correctly (yeah… spell “Paajarvi-Svensson” without looking it up). But this will not keep us from sounding authoritative and certain in our conclusions, no matter how batty they might be… sort of like Don Cherry, without the weird suit coats. So, without further introduction…

Once more, in a tradition carried down from the ages, the clock strikes 7:00 pm on Friday. Gary Bettman will be greeted by throngs of adoring fans adept at masking their cheers as boos. The Commissioner will slither to the podium, clear his throat, flick his forked tongue once… twice… and announce… “with the first overall pick in the 2009 National Hockey League entry draft, the New York Islanders select…

1. New York Islanders -- John Tavares, C. Oshawa Generals/London Knights, OHL (60 games, 58-46-104, 54 PIMs)

Former picks at (1): Rick DiPietro (2000), Denis Potvin (1973), Billy Harris (1972)

What do the Islanders need?... Divine intervention. That’s not far from the truth. In terms of immediate needs, the Islanders have some talent on the blue line (Mark Streit and…) and at right wing (Kyle Okoposo and…). Everywhere else, it looks really grim. For the Islanders, there is no “draft for need,” since they need everything. Tavares will step right into the lineup, probably as their top line center, on opening night. He can’t help but be a shot in the arm. The Islanders did not have a center with as many as 40 points last year. Shoot, they didn’t have a forward with 40 points.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning – Victor Hedman, D. Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik, SEL (43 games, 7-14-21, 52 PIMs)

Former picks at (2): none

What do the Lightning need?... A brain. Last year, the Lightning made a lot of noise by ordering up a bunch of checkbooks and almost going through the whole lot of them. And that makes one wonder if, having lost the lottery to pick first, they would trade this pick (we did say they needed a brain?). If you’re a Caps fan, you hope they do, because they almost certainly won’t get value comparable to what Hedman offers down the road. Hedman isn’t likely to have quite the immediate impact Tavares has (will the Lightning front office have enough brains to recognize they need to be patient?), but he might be the more valuable player in the long run.

3. Colorado Avalanche – Matt Duchene, C. Brampton Battalion, OHL (57 games, 31-48-79, 42 PIMs)

Former picks at (3): Curtis Leschyshyn (1988,Quebec Nordiques)

What do the Avalanche need?... a fuller cupboard. What happened to this franchise? So good for more than a decade, the fall was hard and fast, and it isn’t as if there is a deep prospect pool waiting to step up. For the Avalanche, it’s back to basics – building strength down the middle. And this is a team that did not have a 60-points scorer last year. Duchene might not step in right away, but he won’t be long in moving up the ladder.

4. Atlanta Thrashers – Evander Kane, C. Vancouver Giants, WHL (61 games, 48-48-96, 89 PIMs)

Former picks at (4): none

What do the Thrashers need?... Better luck. This will be, if they don’t trade it, the sixth top-five pick in the Thrashers’ history. The others were Patrik Stefan, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen, and Zach Bogosian. Of that group, only Kovalchuk and Heatley could be said to have fulfilled any significant portion of the potential such a top pick suggests, and Heatley achieved his in another city (we’ll wait on the matter of Bogosian). In any case, the Thrashers have had a poor batting average with high picks. And now, Evander Kane. Kane might not step in right away, either, but his jump to the Thrashers might be faster than Duchene’s. Atlanta had four players with 50-plus points last year. Two of them – Slava Kozlov and Todd White – will be at least 35 at season’s end next year, and Ilya Kovalchuk might not even be a Thrasher at the end of the year. Kane could be on the fast track to the big time.

5. Los Angeles Kings – Brayden Schenn, C. Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL (70 games, 32-56-88, 82 PIMs)

Former picks at (5): none

What do the Kings need?... Time. More than any team in the top five, the Kings can keep one eye on need while looking for the best player available. They had eight players 25 or younger who skated at least 40 games last year. Jonathan Quick tended goal in 44 games and won’t be 24 until January. The Kings look to be pretty deep in prospects at lower levels. This pick might have gone to the Scrabble triple word score from Sweden, and the Kings having selected fellow Swede Oscar Moller in 2007 might have lent weight to that view. But Moller had experience in North American hockey before the draft, having skated with Chilliwack in the WHL in the season leading up to the draft. The Kings will look west again, not east.

6. Phoenix Coyotes – Jared Cowen, D. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (48 games, 7-14-21, 45 PIMs)

Former picks at (6): none)

What do the Coyotes need?... Stability. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a story concerning the Coyotes and their ownership situation or potential relocation or financial woes. This was a team that was five games over .500 as late as January 20th (and they pancaked the Red Wings, 6-3, to get there). They finished the season 12-20-2 and have spent the off-season wondering where they’ll be this time next year. And into this maelstrom will be deposited young Mr. Cowen, who represents the real wild card of the top 20 or so picks. He had a serious knee injury in January, and that could be what makes him a wild card here. Otherwise, he seems to have the physical tools -- 6’5” and 220 or so pounds. Even with the injury, he seems to be the highest rated defenseman in this draft not named “Hedman,” and the Coyotes could probably use some beefing up on defense among their prospects.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs – Zack Kassian, RW. Peterborough Petes, OHL (61 games, 24-39-63, 136 PIMs)

Former picks at (7): Luke Richardson (1987), Russ Courtnall (1983)

What do the Leafs need?... A couch. Yeah, a couch… In places other than Toronto, there seems to be a perception that Maple Leaf fans have a sense of entitlement – deluded at that – that they are the Yankees of the north, the gold standard of hockey (in Toronto there seems to be a morbid, “what other ways can we find to suck” attitude). When did they win a Stanley Cup last, again? That speaks to a lack of patience, that somehow, if they just add a part or two, they’ll be right back in contention. Well, they drafted fifth overall last year, and now they go seventh. The Leafs need lots of parts. Kassian is a stretch here, seeing as how the consensus seems to think he’s a 10-20 pick. But we suppose one has to remember who is doing the picking here, too. Kassian seems like a player Brian Burke would like, more so than the smaller, if more skilled forwards who would be available here.

8. Dallas Stars – Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D. Leksand-IF, Swe II (39 games, 3-14-17, 32 PIMs)

Former picks at (8): Richard Matvichuk (1991, Minnesota North Stars), Derian Hatcher (1990)

What do the Stars need?... More than you might think. The Stars haven’t drafted in the top ten since 1996 (Richard Jackman, for those keeping score). It speaks to the strength of the organization over the last decade-plus. But that era seems to have come to an end. What’s worse, the team – reflecting its consistently low draft position – doesn’t seem to have a lot of high-end prospects in the pipeline, especially on defense. And that’s where Ekman-Larsson comes in. OEL was a plus-44 in 39 games. Sure, this was done at the second level of hockey in Sweden, but he also won’t be 18 years old for another month.

9. Ottawa Senators – Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW. Timra IK, SweJE (50 games, 7-10-17, 4 PIMs)

Former picks at (9): Brian Lee (2005)

What do the Senators need?... Juice. Last year, the Senators finished 23rd in the NHL in scoring. An odd thing, given that the Senators employed Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley. But there it is. The Senators don’t have any scoring depth, and they might be losing Heatley – who has requested a trade – before too long (perhaps at this draft). And it isn’t as if there is much by way of scoring forwards in the prospect pool. Picking Magnus Triple Word Score could help the Senators start stocking up some offense-oriented forwards for the day (soon) when Heatley might be gone and the day (maybe not long after) when Alfredsson will be gone.

10. Edmonton Oilers – Ryan Ellis, D. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (57 games, 22-67-89, 57 PIMs)

Former picks at (10): none

What to the Oilers need?... A quarterback. The Oilers got respectable offensive production from its blue line last year – four defensemen had at least 30 points, and all of them were “plus” players. But Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky will be 33 at the end of next year. Denis Grebeshkov is an arbitration eligible free agent. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot in the system as far as offensive defensemen go. Ellis was the OHL defenseman of the year in the OHL this past season and led all defensemen in assists and total scoring (with a plus-52 to go along with it).

11. Nashville Predators -- Jordan Schroeder, C/RW. University of Minnesota, NCAA (35 games, 13-32-45, 29 PIMs)

Former picks at (11): none

What do the Predators need?... great balls o’ fire. Nashville has something of a reputation that followed the Caps around in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s…defense-first, scoring where they can get it, competent goaltending. What might surprise some folks is that since the lockout, the Predators were in the top half of the league in scoring for three years running (5th in 2006-2007) before tumbling to 24th last year. And looking at the forwards, there is potential there down the road, but there would seem to be room for a kid who comes out of a big-time program with as much skill as Schroeder seems to have displayed.

12. Minnesota Wild – Nazem Kadri, C. London Knights, OHL (56 games, 25-53-78, 31 PIMs)

What to the Wild need?... A new attitude. The Wild play before sellouts every night. What they haven’t done is play an especially high-energy style of hockey. That might change now, with Todd Richards taking over behind the Wild bench. Since the lockout, the Wild have seen their offensive production slip slightly, but consistently, from an average of 2.76 goals per game in 2005-2006 to 2.61 goals per game last year. In that time, they have not been ranked higher than 18th in scoring. And this is a team that employed Marian Gaborik (occasionally) over that time. Unfortunately, the prospect pool for the Wild does not seem conducive to a more offensive style of play. The Wild could use more depth in skill. Kadri would appear to provide that.

13. Buffalo Sabres – Scott Glennie, RW. Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL (55 games, 28-42-70, 25 PIMs)

Former picks at (13): Marek Zagrapan (2005), Drew Stafford (2004), Philippe Boucher (1991), Joel Savage (19988), Larry Playfair (1978)

What do the Sabres need… XXL. What do the following prospect forwards have in common – Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy? All are 5’9” or shorter, and none weigh more than 170 pounds. The new NHL is more accommodating than its predecessor in tolerating players lacking size, but Buffalo could use more of it up front. Glennie will bring more size, and without sacrificing a solid two-way game, if his press is to be believed.

14. Florida Panthers – John Moore, D. Chicago Steel, USHL (57 games, 14-25-39, 50 PIMs)

Former picks at (14): none

What do the Panthers need?... That Ponce de Leon guy to show up again. The Panthers had seven defensemen last year who played in at least 68 games. Four of them are 30 or older. Three of them – Nick Boynton, Karlis Skrastins, and Jassen Cullimore are unrestricted free agents. And then there is the big free agent prize – Jay Bouwmeester – who looks to be moving somewhere. There is some talent in the pipeline, but there are holes that will need to be filled.

15. Anaheim Ducks – Louis Leblanc, C. Omaha Lancers, USHL (60 games, 28-31-59, 59 PIMs)

Former picks at (15): none

What do the Ducks need… OH-fense. Ryan Getzlaf will play another dozen years and probably have a Hall of Fame worthy career. But last year the Ducks didn’t get much out of the center position after Getzlaf, and it appears to be a shortcoming in the prospect pool, too. Leblanc could fill a need and be the best player here. Besides, for a guy who sounds like he might have written the great Western novel, he has to go west, right?

16. Columbus Blue Jackets – Drew Shore, C. USA-U18, USDP (62 games, 17-32-49)

Former picks at (16): none

What do the Jackets need?... “C” doesn’t just stand for Columbus. No center with the parent club had as many as 50 points last year. Derick Brassard will be such a player at some point, but for the time being he has to come back from a shoulder injury. In the system, Columbus seems thin in this area. Drew Shore is not thin – at least he won’t be when his frame fills out.

17. St. Louis Blues – Jeremy Morin, LW. USA-U18, USDP (46 games, 26-22-48, 99 PIMs)

Former picks at (17): Marek Schwarz (2004), Barrett Jackman (1999)

What do the Blues need?... Not much. Prospect-wise, that is. The Blues are fairly well off at most positions in terms of prospect depth. A winger wouldn’t hurt, especially on the left side. The Blues can afford to look at needs in terms of 3-5 years down the road as much as “best player available.” Morin would get to measure himself against his favorite player (Patrick Kane, according to the NHL.com scouting report) who has Morin’s favorite goal celebration.

18. Montreal Canadiens – Dmitry Kulikov, D. Drummondville, QMJHL (62 games, 12-50-62)

Former picks at (18): Kyle Chipchura (2004), Matt Higgins (1996), Brad Brown (1994), Gilbert Delorme (1981), Norm Dupont (1977), Bruce Baker (1976), Paul Reid (1964)

What do the Canadiens need?... “D…D-D-D-D.” The Canadiens have five, count ‘em, five unrestricted free agent defensemen (Schneider, Bouillion, Dandenault, Komisarek, and Brisebois). Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik have two years left on their respective deals, but Markov will be 31 at the end of next season, and Hamrlik will be 36. Their prospect system seems short on that specie of player, at least in terms of filling all those potential holes down the road.

19. New York Rangers – David Rundblad, D. Skelleftea HC, SEL (45 games, 0-10-10, 8 PIMs)

Former picks at (19): Lauri Korpikoski (2004), Stefan Cherneski (1997), Bruce Buchanan (1968)

What do the Rangers need?... A good slap. That not generally being the object of the draft (although a lot of Ranger fans might line up for the opportunity to bestow one upon the genius who hung $11.5 million in cap hit for two defensemen – Wade Redden and Michal Roszival – of dubious value around the team’s neck), the Rangers might have to settle for a defenseman who might provide some blue line pop down the road. Despite his numbers, Rundblad is said (at least in the scouting report quoted at NHL.com) that “he has a very good…right-handed shot.”

20. Calgary Flames – Landon Ferarro, RW. Red Deer Rebels, WHL (68 games, 37-18-55, 99 PIMs)

Former picks at (20): Denis Gauthier (1995), Miles Zaharko (1977, w/ Atlanta Flames)

What do the Flames need?... Some polish. Calgary has something of a reputation for hard-nosed play, and there appear to be a number of prospects at forward who can fill that role. What the Flames seem to lack in the longer term is higher-end skill. That’s might be difficult to get as the draft moves into the lower half of the round, but Ferarro reads like a guy who can fit in the Calgary mold, yet still provide a bit of a skill upgrade.

21. Philadelphia Flyers – Robin Lehner, G. Frolunda, SWE-JR (22 games, 3.05, .916)

It doesn’t seem to be a big draft for goaltenders, but there has been only one year in this decade when a goalie wasn’t selected in the first round (2007). Philadelphia, which seems to have a long history of treating goaltenders as if they were a big pile of steaming Cechmanek, needs to address a real shortcoming in their organization. The Flyers do not have a certain NHLer in their system.

22. Vancouver Canucks – Stefan Elliott, D. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (71 games, 16-39-55, 76 PIMs)

Former picks at (22): Curt Fraser (1978), Jeff Bandura (1977)

What do the Canucks need?... It’s the letter that comes between the “C” and the “E,” as in “defence.” Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell will be 35 and 33, respectively, at the end of next season. Mattias Ohlund is an unrestricted free agent. The prospect pool looks deep at forward; at defense, not so much. A lot of mock drafts have Elliott going here. Hey, why not?

23. New Jersey Devils – Calvin DeHaan, D. Oshawa Generals, OHL (68 games, 8-55-63, 40 PIMs)

Former picks at (23): Nicklas Bergfors (2005), Jeff Christian (1988), Ricard Persson, Craig Billington (1984)

What do the Devils need?... Some “O” for the “D.” No Devil defenseman not named “Niedermayer” has scored as many as ten goals in a season since 1994. Yeah, in New Jersey, defensemen play defense. They got a grand total of one goal out of their defensemen in the first round series of the playoffs. Of course, a player picked here isn’t going to solve that problem next year (or the year after that, or the year after that), but the Devils don’t have anyone who would seem to address that issue anywhere in their system, either.

24. Washington Capitals – Jacob Josefson, C. Djurgartens IF Stockholm, SEL (50 games, 5-11-16, 14 PIMs)

Former picks at (24): Errol Rausse (1979)

What do the Caps need?... Something to fill those donut holes. After Nicklas Backstrom, name a center – on the parent roster or a prospect – who immediately comes to mind as a top-two line sort of player three or four years down the road. The candidates are of the “well, maybe” sort, if that (that includes last year’s edition of Swedish center – Anton Gustafsson). Reading a scouting report on Josefson… “He is a very good two-way player. He has a very good responsibility for his defensive duties. He's more a playmaker, a guy who sees the ice really well, creates a lot of scoring chances with his passing skills. He's very good with the stick and very good in traffic because he is an excellent stickhandler. He's a smooth passer with very soft hands”… he sounds like another Swede picked three years ago.

25. Boston Bruins – Chris Kreider. C. Andover, HS-MA (26 games, 33-23-56)

Former picks at (25): Kevyn Adams (1993), Mark Howe (1974)

What do the Bruins need?... “D”…for “depth.” Kreider is almost too good a pick here. A native of Massachusetts, attends Andover, will matriculate to Boston College. And that last part suggests this as something of a high-risk/high-reward pick. Kreider isn’t heading off to BU until the fall of 2010. Is his performance at this level a bit of a mirage? Reading the scouting reports, it seems to be a concern, but not enough of one to suggest that he has anything but a lot of talent that is just undeveloped.

26. New York Islanders – Peter Holland, C. Guelph Storm, OHL (68 games, 28-39-67, 42 PIMs)

Former picks at (26): Zigmund Palffy (1991)

What do the Islanders need?... everything…well, except for a number one center. They just drafted one in John Tavares. Doesn’t mean they still don’t need help at the position.

27. Carolina Hurricanes -- Simon Despres, D. St. John Sea Dogs, QMJHL (66 games, 2-30-32, 74 PIMs)

Former picks at (27): none

What do the Hurricanes need?... binoculars. They need to look a fair way down the road and think about what their blue line might look like 3-5 years from now. Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin, and Joe Corvo are UFAs after next season (all will at least 33). Dennis Seidenberg is a UFA now. So, after Joni Pitkanen and Anton Babchuk (who they have to re-sign as an RFA), who is in the wings, so to speak? It doesn’t seem a deep prospect pool.

28. Chicago Blackhawks – Carter Ashton, RW. Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL (70 games, 30-20-50, 93 PIMs)

Former picks at (28): Rene Badeau (1982), Steve Ludzik (1980), Tim Trimper (1979), Michael Archambault (1970)

What do the Blackhawks need?... patience. Last year, the Blackhawks picked Kyle Beach, a winger who might have been the biggest of the high-risk/high-reward picks in that draft, given his reputation for volatility. A player like Ashton brings similar size, if not the potential problems. This would be the counterpoint to the longer odds (with potential for bigger payoff) that Beach was last year.

29. Detroit Red Wings – Carl Klingberg, LW. Boras HC/Vastra Frolunda HC (18 games, 6-3-9, 2 PIMs)

Former picks at (29): Niklas Kronwall (2000), Jeff Sharples (1985)

What do the Red Wings need?... not to upset the apple cart. They’ve been a well-oiled machine for a decade or more, so why do anything different? In this case, they’ve done well employing Swedes, and they’ve done well (some might say surprisingly well) employing Swedes who can hold their own physically (Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen).

30. Pittsburgh Penguins – Jordan Caron, RW. Rimouski, QMJHL (56 games, 36-31-67, 66 PIMs)

Former picks at (30): Jim Hamilton (1977), Bernie Luckowich (1972)

What do the Penguins need?... a good swift kick in the… OK, that’s the Caps fan in us talking. The Penguins have lived off the product of epic suckitude in the early part of the decade, the sort of which saw them pick fifth, first, second, first, and second over a five year period ending in 2006. Now, they have to keep it going with picks at the other end of the round. Two years ago, the picked Angelo Esposito at 20, sent him to Atlanta as part of the Marian Hossa deal, then watched Hossa head to Detroit. Last year, they didn’t have a first round pick (again, a product of the Hossa deal). Now, they draft 30th. And they still could use wingers.

And there you have it, the last mocknostication you'll ever need. And, as always, don't use these picks for cash wagering... unless you plan to share the winnings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Applied Science

Definition: the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems.

The Washington Capitals announced this morning that Bob Woods, head coach of the Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears, has been hired as an assistant coach with the Caps.

This, of course, qualifies as "promoting from within," but there is an "applied science" aspect to this, too. Since the beginning of the relationship between the Capitals and the Bears, much has been made of the "one philosophy" approach, the "brand" of hockey reflected in this philosophy.

Well, now we get to see this theory applied. If you're going to play one way, whether in Hershey or in Washington, then it makes sense to employ coaches who embody that style, who have successfully employed the brand. Woods has been successful -- an 83-46-16 regular season record over almost two years and a 17-10 playoff record, including a 16-6 mark this year culminating in a Calder Cup is evidence of that.

But there is the danger, too, of inbreeding. The danger of too much of one school of thought. The Capitals are not entirely without a history with respect to the matter. Recall that Terry Murray once played with the Caps for his brother, Bryan (1981-1982), then succeeded him as Capitals coach after serving as head coach of the Capitals' affiliate in Baltimore and as an assistant with the Caps. In the five years that Terry served as Bryan's assistant, the Caps went 220-140-40, and in the first of those years, Bryan won a Jack Adams Award.

Woods is likely to be called upon to conjure up some improvements from the blue line, he having been a defenseman and his being called upon to replace Jay Leach, who had that responsibility.

We're going to find out if practice proves the theory in the applied science of building a Stanley Cup champion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

And now...one last word on the hardware

How the Caps fared in the race for gaudy display cabinet items…

Hart Trophy:

Alex Ovechkin (1st – 115 of 133 first place votes, 1,264 points)
Mike Green (13th -- 13 points)

Norris Trophy:

Mike Green (2nd – 50 of 133 first place votes, 982 points)

Jack Adams Award:

Bruce Boudreau (11th – 6 points)

Selke Trophy:

Nicklas Backstrom (T-28th – one first place vote, 10 points)
Alexander Semin (T-36th – 7 points)
Alex Ovechkin (T-50th – 3 points)
David Steckel (T-50th – 3 points)

Lady Byng Trophy:

Nicklas Backstrom (T-28th, 10 points)
Viktor Kozlov (T-64th, 1 point)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

...but the window isn't open long

Blogger Ted L. started something. Ted asked how many players who have won multiple Hart Trophies have not been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. We noted that of the 16 players with at least two Hart Trophies -- not including Alex Ovechkin -- only Dominik Hasek is not (yet) enshrined.

Over at Japers' Rink, J.P. noted that of the 16 players we identified, none are without their name on the Stanley Cup.

True, but the window for ordering up the services of an engraver is historically small. Consider the table below...

A few things to note about that table...

- Dominik Hasek did not win a Cup with his original team. He won his first Cup with Detroit in what would be his third city (Chicago and Buffalo being the first two), then won his second Cup after leaving for Ottawa and returning to Detroit. His experience is instructive, and we'll get to that.

- Eddie Shore won his last Cup at the age of 36 in what would be his last year with the Boston Bruins. He was not in the prime of his career by this time, and this Cup win came ten years after his previous success.

- Jean Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cups for a bona fide dynasty, winning his ten Cups in the space of 16 seasons. These days, winning four in 11 years is as close to a dynasty as we seem to be able to get.

Hasek, it is worth noting, won neither of his Hart Trophies with the team he backstopped to a Stanley Cup. He won both trophies with the Buffalo Sabres, and in neither year in which he won the Hart did his team win more than two rounds of the playoffs. In Detroit, a team was -- in fact had already been -- built around him. Caps front office, take note.

History seems to confirm what folks suspect -- hockey is a young man's game. There seems to be, even for the best of the best, a narrow window in which to win the biggest trophy of all (at least playing for the team with which they started their career). Of those multiple Hart Trophy winners, the last player to win a Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him was Mario Lemieux, in 1992 at the age of 26.

This isn't intended to be the voice of doom with respect to the Capitals' chances of ever winning a Cup. In fact, we like their chances to do it soon (as long as the front office does their job). But Ovechkin will be 25 at the end of next year -- approaching middle age on the table displayed above -- and there might be only so many "next years" in which to do it.

When Pepperoni and Anchovy Pizza Meets Winter Classic

June 20. New York (peerlesspress). The National Hockey League shocked the hockey world this morning with its announcement that the NHL will forego the New Year’s Day “Winter Classic” format in favor of a radical new format. The NHL announced that all 30 teams will be in action on New Year’s Day 2010, replacing the single-game format that was employed by the league in 2008 and 2009.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the change, telling reporters that, “if one game is good, 15 is 15 times better.” When asked if such a change would be too much of a good thing, Bettman scoffed at the notion, replying that with the change in format the league would realize new streams of revenue that would strengthen the NHL for years to come.

As part of the change in format, the NHL will sell naming rights to games. Already, the NHL has announced that the Phoenix Coyotes will host the Colorado Avalanche in the Tostitos Fiesta Winter Classic, and the Florida Panthers will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the FedEx Orange Winter Classic.

Talks are reportedly underway for the Minnesota Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks to meet in the Humanitarian Winter Classic in Boise, Idaho; for the Carolina Hurricanes to host the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Meineke Car Care Winter Classic; and for the Atlanta Thrashers to host the St. Louis Blues in the Chick-Fil-A Winter Classic. The Thrashers, however, are said to be lobbying the league to play the Panthers in what will be named “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Winter Classic.”

When news leaked of the revised format, reaction was swift in the hockey world. Larry Brooks of the New York Post penned a column decrying the move, stating that “the only classic games in the NHL are played in Manhattan.” Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported that Jim Balsillie was seeking to reverse the decision to award the Phoenix Coyotes a slot on New Year’s Day, arguing that the game should be moved to Ontario and rebranded the “BlackBerry Winter Classic.” Meanwhile, commentator and hockey icon Don Cherry exploded.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation plans to partner with the league in this endeavor and plans to broadcast all day on New Year’s Day from locations in Fahler, Alberta; Invermay, Saskatchewan; and Tignish, Prince Edward Island.

When asked to confirm rumors that the NHL would abandon its long history of a multi-round playoff format in favor of a “Cup Championship Series” that would pit the top two teams in the league, as determined through computer models, strength of schedule, and other criteria, in a single winner-take-all contest to be played in Louisiana Superdome, Bettman declined comment.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Veteran blogger Ted L. asks on his blog...

"He is a two-time MVP player now and the greatest player in our team history. As he said, 'What a life!' Can you name me one other two-time MVP player that isn’t in the Hall of Fame?"

Well, 17 players have won the Hart Memorial Trophy at least twice, including newly-minted two-time winner Alex Ovechkin. Of the other 16, how may have done so who are not in the Hall of Fame?

One... Dominik Hasek, and he's a lock to get in.

Alex Ovechkin would appear to have more to look forward to in his hockey life.

Ovie Dangerfield?

“Well, Geno, your English [is] better than Pavel Datsyuk’s English”

-- Giving the crowd his review of Evgeni Malkin’s speech accepting the Art Ross Trophy

“It’s too hot, actually.”

-- His reaction to winning the Hart Trophy... take that, Don Cherry

"Vegas is good. I played a couple of times in the casino [and] win $500. I have the chips in my room, in the safe. We in Vegas, so we have to live the Vegas life."

-- Offering his opinion of Las Vegas…maybe he’ll do two shows a night

“Next year, Stanley Cup will be ours.”

-- He wasn’t laughing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

OK, so we ran out of time...

...but there are a few other prognostos to go for the awards:

Calder Trophy

The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.


Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks

Who will win: Steve Mason
Who should win: Steve Mason

Pearson Trophy

The Lester B. Pearson Award is presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.


Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Who will win: Go read the Hart Trophy prognosto.
Who should win: Alex Ovechkin

Selke Trophy

The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.


Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers

Who will win: Pavel Datsyuk
Who should win: Ryan Kesler

Lady Byng Trophy

The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.

The Finalists:

Pael Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Who will win: We don't care
Who should win: We don't care

Awards -- The Hart Trophy

The Hart Trophy citation reads…

The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.

The Finalists…

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Tale o’ the Tape

We’ve said this before, the award is not for the “best” player – that’s the Pearson. This award is for the player who is “the most valuable to his team.” It is not even a league-wide MVP award, although it serves in that capacity. But back to the point. We’re here to consider who among these finalists (or other league players) was “most valuable to his team.”

The Case for Pavel Datsyuk…

Pavel Datsyuk is the most accomplished two-way player in the game. Fourth in scoring, third in plus-minus, fourth in the league among forwards (50 games, minimum) in Corsi rating, ninth in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, tops in the league in goals for/on ice per 60 minutes, best differential among the finalists in goals for/goals against per 60 minutes. He was second among the league’s forwards in takeaways and had by far the best ration of takeaways to giveaways among the three finalists for this award (1.78 to 1.16 for Evgeni Malkin and 0.56 for Alex Ovechkin). He – ugh… -- tied for second in game deciding goals in the Gimmick and was tied for eighth in total Gimmick goals. He was by far the top scorer for the Wings in victories (67 points in 50 wins in which he appeared, almost as many as the total points recorded by Henrik Zetterberg (73) and Marian Hossa (71)). Against the 17 teams in which he skated more than once, he was a “minus” player against only four of them. He was worse than minus-1 against only one team he played against (Pittsburgh, minus-2.). He recorded double-digits in points in every month of the season, except April, in which he had six points in six games. He led his team in points, assists, plus-minus, power play scoring, and tied for the team lead in shorthanded points. He is the most complete player among the three finalists.

The Case for Evgeni Malkin...

Malkin is the best all-around offensive talent in the game. First in assists, first in points, third among all forwards (50 games, minimum) in goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, first in primary assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (19 percent better than second place Marc Savard), tops among the finalists in penalties drawn per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. He led his team in goals, assists, points, power play goals, power play points, tied for first in shorthanded goals, and was second in plus-minus. He tallied points against every team he faced more than once. He had 32 multi-point games and had five games in which he had at least four points (Ovechkin had three and Datsyuk one). He had 79 points in Pittsburgh’s 45 wins; compare that to third leading total scorer Chris Kunitz, who had a total of 53 points in 82 games.

The Case for Alex Ovechkin...

Ovechkin is the most dynamic, game changing talent in the game. First in goals, first in even-strength goals, second in power play goals, third in game-winning goals, 22 percent more total goals than second place Jeff Carter, 27 percent more goals-per-game than Carter, fifth in power play assists (second among wingers), tops in power play scoring, second in first goals scored in games, eighth in hits among forwards (neither Malkin nor Datsyuk are among the top 150 forwards). After dealing with a family loss that likely contributed to a slow start (2-3-5 in his first nine games), he finished 54-51-105 in his last 70 games – a 123-point scoring pace. In those last 70 games, he went consecutive games without a point only once. He closed with a rush – his 7-13-20 in his last ten games equaled the combined scoring of the other finalists, Malkin (3-8-11) and Datsyk (3-6-9).

This isn’t as cut-and-dried a race as last year, mainly because the finalists’ negatives complicate things. In the case of Datsyuk, he has a more varied game than either of the other two finalists (he is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy), but there is a certain “managed” element to his game. He finished 46th among forwards in average ice time, a product of the team around him being so talented and so deep. He didn’t have to log 20-plus minutes a night; he played more than 20 minutes 27 times in 81 games. In fact, no Detroit forward averaged 20 minutes (Henrik Zetterberg average 19:52 a game). The flip side of this, however, is that Datsyuk might be the most economical, most efficient player in the game with as much production he gets out of so little comparable time.

In Malkin’s case, he played – and perhaps always will play, whatever his own statistical results – in the shadow of Sidney Crosby. Crosby generally draws the best defensive opponents, which gives Malkin the opportunity to be more productive. One could argue that Malkin put up large numbers in Crosby’s absence in 2007-2008 when Crosby was injured. Well, this isn’t an award for 2007-2008. Then there is the matter of defense. The edge many give Malkin over, say, Ovechkin is that Malkin plays at both ends of the ice. Well, maybe, but the matter might be more complicated than that. Against teams in the East that made the playoffs, Malkin could score – in 34 games he was 12-22-34. But in those 34 games, he was -10 and had “plus” numbers against only Montreal and the Rangers. The flip side of that coin is that Malkin beat up on the bottom feeders. In 14 games against Buffalo, Atlanta, and the Islanders – all playoff watchers – Malkin was 10-25-35, +25. Against the rest of the league, he was 25-53-78, -8. Good, but Hart Trophy worthy?

We said in our look at the 2008-2009 season that Ovechkin “slipped a notch” this year, and it wasn’t because he ended with “only” 56 goals. There were clear flaws in his game, in both numbers and style. He was viewed by some as being a little too focused on the offensive end of the ice. There was the decrease in his plus-minus numbers. There was the fact that his differential of goals for/goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was worst among these finalists. And, if you look at the ranks of the finalists for this award in various statistical categories among NHL forwards, Ovechkin and Malkin are side by side…

These are immensely gifted players, and each has his own case to make that is quite different from the others. They also have their shortcomings, either in talent or in production. In the end, we think that the vote will come down to what the Hart really does reward – the most valuable player to his team. And if you were to take any of these players away from their teams, the most telling effect would probably be felt by Washington, as much for the energy Alex Ovechkin brings to the rest of the team as his numbers. We think that tonight’s winner of the Hart Trophy will be…

Alex Ovechkin

…but to tell the truth, if we had a vote? For the most valuable player to his team? We’d vote for Columbus' Steve Mason.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Awards -- The Norris Trophy

The Norris Trophy citation states…

"The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season."

The finalists…

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

It is possible that for only the second time since 2000, a defenseman other than Nicklas Lidstrom will win this award. There hasn’t been this sort of dominance in a performance award since Wayne Gretzky won eight Hart Trophies in succession, ending in 1987. It makes for an interesting race as Lidstrom goes for seven in the last eight years. Unlike the past few years, Lidstrom does not come into this competition as a prohibitive favorite. In fact, he is probably going to finish third in this race. It will not be for lack of performance. Lidstrom finished third among defensemen in scoring, was third in plus-minus, was third in power play scoring, tied for fourth in power play goals, tied for third in game-winning goals… and was tied for 168th in hits, proving that one need not be a big bopper to leave a mark. One might be tempted to say that even with these results that Lidstrom slipped a bit, and statistically that would be correct. He had more goals this year than last (16 to 10), but fewer assists (43/60), fewer point (59/70), a lower plus-minus (+31/+40). He did have more power play goals (10/5) and almost as many points (33/34), so any drop off, numerically speaking, was slight. Lidstrom’s problem, if he has one, is the lofty standard he has set for himself. The season he had – excellent by anyone’s standards – was “normal” for him. We’ve become spoiled.

For Mike Green, there is a paradox. On the one hand, he is now – at 23 – the premier offensive defenseman in the game, having posted 129 points in 150 games over the past two seasons, and he was the only defenseman to post more than a point per game this year. He had the highest points-per-game mark since Paul Coffey in the abbreviated 1995 season, and his points per game lead over the next best finisher among the top-20 defensemen in scoring (0.25 points per game over Andrei Markov) made Green’s as dominating an offensive performance by a defenseman in recent memory. And that’s Green’s problem, too. He is seen not only as an “offensive defenseman,” but as one who fills that role at the expense of defense. The numbers don’t bear this out, at least not as much as Caps fans have come to believe. Green finished second overall among defensemen playing at least 50 games in Corsi rating, and while he finished 52nd in goals-scored against per 60 minutes at even strength, that was only five spots behind Lidstrom and three spots ahead of the third finalist for this award, Zdeno Chara.

Zdeno Chara has knocked on this door before. Lidstrom has always been in the way. This year, the numbers argue that Chara might once more come up short. He had fewer points than Lidstrom (50 to 59), a lower plus-minus (+23/+31), fewer game-winning goals (3/4), more power play goals (11/10), but fewer power play points (28/33). He also had a worse goals scored-against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Lidstrom. But Chara’s problem might not be Lidstrom here. It might be teammate Dennis Wideman. The unsung Wideman had as many points as Chara (50), a better plus-minus (+32/+23), had nearly as many power play points (25/28), and more even-strength points (24/20). Chara did have a better Corsi rating and faced better competition at 5-on-5, but there really wasn’t that much difference between the two, statistically at least.

These are very different defensemen, style-wise. Lidstrom is the very embodiment of the elegant, yet effective defenseman. He performs his task with what looks like a minimum of energy expended. If the art of the position is in making it look easy, Lidstrom is an artist. Green is, in many respects, the new-age defenseman of the post lockout era. He is offense-oriented, one of the motors that makes the Capitals hum. But he has an old-school quality to his game too – the old time puck rushing defenseman who can carry the puck with momentum through the neutral zone. To a point, he is a faint echo of Bobby Orr, except that Orr could actually finish those 180-foot rushes. Green doesn’t often finish those plays. Chara is the most physically dominating, most intimidating defenseman in the league. But he has also made himself a competent skater, able to compete in this faster post-lockout version of the NHL.

Chara has a running mate in Dennis Wideman, who can take some of the heat off. Lidstrom has Brian Rafalski, who could pick up some of the marginal drop off in numbers that characterized Lidstrom’s game this year. Green does not have that sort of running mate on the Capitals, who still suffer from a lack of experience and talent on the blue line. That could make a difference in the end.

If we were prognosticating about this a month or two ago, we’d be thinking that the winner of this award will be…

Zdeno Chara

We still think he’ll be the winner. But if we had a vote…

Mike Green

…yeah, yeah…it sounds like a Caps fan.

Awards -- The Vezina Trophy

The Vezina Trophy citation reads…

"The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs."

The finalists...

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Easy, right? Best goalie. No “most valuable to his team;” no “adjudged to have contributed the most.” Just “best.”

Well, maybe it’s not so easy. Tim Thomas, Steve Mason, and Niklas Backstrom finished 1-2-3 (in that order) in goals against average. They finished 1-10-3 in save percentage (50 games played, minimum). They finished 6-5-9 in wins. They finished 10-3-1 in shutouts. Their switching their order among the statistical categories looks like three cars drafting one another at Daytona.

Thomas played the fewest games of the trio by far (54, compared to 61 for Mason and 71 for Backstrom). After a somewhat unlucky start to the season (1-1-2, despite a 2.67 GAA and .920 save percentage), Thomas would lose consecutive games in regulation only once, and that was in February, when the Bruins’ were well on their way to the playoffs with a 39-10-7 record. Boston was the only team that was close to having a +1.00 goal per game differential for the year (0.97), and 11 of Thomas’ 36 wins were by at least three goals. But he was also 15-5-7 in one goal games. Only nine times in 54 appearances did he surrender more than five goals. The argument against Thomas is that he played on a dominant team that made his job easier. And, he played in comparatively low number of games. If he wins, Thomas would do so with the fewest appearances since Patrick Roy appeared in 54 games in route to a Vezina Trophy in 1990.

Backstrom suffers the same lament that has followed Martin Brodeur over his career – he plays in a defense-first system that is geared toward allowing few goals (while scoring few of them). The Minnesota Wild certainly did play on the margin (+0.21 goal-per-game differential this season). But there is always a chicken-and-egg notion about such things. Did Backstrom post such fine numbers because the Wild play defense first, or did the Wild have such a goals-against-per-game result because of Backstrom’s superior play? It’s something that will not help Backstrom, if you look at his backup – Josh Harding. Playing behind the same set of skaters, Harding had a much worse win-loss record (3-9-1), but he had a better GAA (2.21 to 2.33) and a better save percentage (.929 to .923).

Mason had a somewhat freakish season. He posted a shutout approximately once every six appearances, the most frequent whitewashing since Dominik Hasek had 13 in 71 appearances in 1998. He was 18-4-7 in one-goal games. From November 15th through January 2nd, he had a 17-game streak in which he did not allow more than three goals. Here is the amazing thing about that streak; he did not win a game in which he allowed more than two goals (he was 10-6-1 overall), while posting a 1.32 GAA and .950 save percentage in the 17-game run. He was not playing for a team that gave him much of a cushion. Then, he contracted mononucleosis and played through it before being finally diagnosed with the condition and placed on injured reserve in early February. But Mason faded late in the season. He was 2-3-3 in his last eight decisions, 3.02, .883, and he allowed fewer than three goals only once in those eight games.

All three goalies have arguments for and arguments against. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant goalie in this trio, but that might reflect a changing of the guard and the absence of a Martin Brodeur, a Henrik Lundqvist, or a Miikka Kiprusoff. We believe that the winner will be...

Tim Thomas

But if we had a vote…

Steve Mason

Awards -- The Jack Adams Award

Now that this Stanley Cup nonsense is over, it’s Awards Week. First up in our prognostos, the Jack Adams Award…

"An annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association at the end of the regular season."

The finalists:

Claude Julien, Boston Bruins

Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks

Andy Murray, St. Louis Blues

Well, we’re covered here. The three conventional categories of coaches who get nominated are represented. We have the coach of a team that was seen by many at the start of the year as a very talented club that could challenge for the President’s Cup and the Stanley Cup (McLellan). We have the coach of a team that didn’t get a lot of attention as a championship contender, but which leaped to the top of the heap early and stayed there all year, confounding critics with a mix of talent and devotion to hard work and discipline (Julien). And, we have the coach of the plucky, if talent-starved team that starts slowly (seven games under .500 as late as January 2nd), then catches fire and jumps into the playoff eight (Murray).

There isn’t the compelling story this year that there was last year, one that carried Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to this award. The picks this year are rather conventional and, to a degree, familiar. Murray has been a head coach for all or part of nine seasons in the NHL, Julien for six seasons, and while McLellan just completed his first season behind an NHL bench, he spent three years as an assistant with the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings.

The award citation states that the award is given to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. One might be impressed by Claude Julien’s success with a team that some didn’t think would make it to the playoffs this year, but while the Bruins did finish with a 24-point jump over their 2007-2008 finish, last year the Bruins finished the second half of the year 21-13-8 – a 100 point pace. And while this team had a bit of roster turnover, there wasn't a lot, and it was healthier, too (20 players played in at least half the games, 18 played more than 60).

McLellan had the hardest path to his nomination. He was new to a team that: a) had talent, and b) had been a chronic playoff disappointment. Even though this is an award for regular season accomplishment, there was a “so what” air hovering over any success the Sharks might have – it was expected. And in that sense, if the Sharks slipped a notch or two, it could have been seen as a product of McLellan’s talent, or in this case, lack of it. That San Jose shot out of the blocks ((8-2-0 after ten games, 16-3-1 after 20, 25-3-2 after 30) put to rest any notion that McLellan would somehow squander the Sharks’ talent or that he couldn’t cope with expectations.

For Murray, it was his highest win total of his career (41), and it was accomplished with a team that lost top defenseman Erik Johnson on the eve of the regular season and with a collection of players who might otherwise be thought of as being something less than star quality. It was a team that struggled at even strength (19 players finished on the minus side of the ledger, and the Blues were 21st in 5-on-5 play), but did finish in the top ten in power play (8th) and penalty killing (3rd), suggesting a strong work ethic and an ability by Murray to get the most out of this squad.

But for sheer contribution by a coach, there was a coach who engineered a remarkable turn around with a team under the spotlight. He took over a team in mid-season (actually, with 25 games to play) and at risk of missing the playoffs, despite being a pre-season Stanley Cup favorite. He took over a team lacking direction, looking like a team with mismatched style to talent, an also-ran with a 27-25-5 record, and led that team – largely with the same underachieving personnel – to an 18-3-4 finish and a playoff berth.

As for the award, we expect that the winner will be...

Claude Julien

Julien would certainly be a worthy recipient. But even though he’s not a finalist, if we had a vote…

Dan Bylsma

Hired Stick...er, Gun

Jack Morris was a pitcher who toiled for 18 seasons in major league baseball. The first 14 of them were spent in the employ of the Detroit Tigers, with whom he won a World Series title in 1984. His last four seasons, however, were spent as a “hurler-for-hire” who shopped his talents to contenders, settling in Minnesota, Toronto, and Cleveland, and winning titles with both Minnesota and Toronto.

Why are we thinking of Jack Morris this morning? Well, because we’re wondering, where is Marian Hossa going to end up next? Last summer he rolled the dice, concluded that the Detroit Red Wings had a better chance than did the Pittsburgh Penguins to win a Stanley Cup… and lost.

Where to now, Marian?

Detroit? He could re-sign with the Red Wings, but that whole “come back next year with steely determination to vanquish those who vanquished me” is so derivative. It’s so “Sidney.”

Pittsburgh? Yeah, right. We’re not seeing Hossa going all Brenda Lee… “I'm sorry, so sorry. Please accept my apology, but love is blind, and I was too blind to see…”

Washington? Hey, the Caps need a right winger… Hossa’s a right winger. The Caps could use a guy with some playoff experience… Hossa’s been in the last two Cup finals. The Caps have this “red” theme… Hossa’s looked good in Ottawa red and Red Wing red. Washington has no cap room… Hossa wants $6 million a year. OK, so much for that.

Chicago? Hmm… there’s that whole “slay the Red Wings dragon” angle they could play, with Hossa playing the St. George role.

San Jose? Well, if you want to get as far away as possible from Detroit and Pittsburgh, this is as good as place as any, and they play pretty good hockey there… at least until April. Hossa would fit right in.

Philly? Mmm…not unless he learns how to play goalie. But Philly shoves anybody back there.

The Rangers? Hey, they have cap room to burn. They also have 11 roster players who are restricted or unrestricted free agents, and another spot opened up when Markus Naslund retired, so they have a lot of hiring to do. We’re surprised Larry Brooks hasn’t yet penned a column on Hossa’s imminent arrival (he’s busy pining for another Marian at the moment). Besides, they probably still have some old “Hossa” jerseys around.

Montreal? Hey… they might have some old “Hossa” sweaters lying around, too.

Carolina? Nuthin’ could be finah than to get paid in Carolina playin’ ho-o-o-o-o-o-ckey. And it’s not like Hossa would be unfamiliar with the surroundings. He’s played hockey the Southeast before. Oh, my mistake, he played in Atlanta.

We’re just getting this odd lyric spinning through our head…

“A check in the hand may be quite Kontinental…but L.A. is a guy’s best friend.”