The WC Stretch Run

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The All Star break provides us with the unofficial half waypoint of the season although some teams have already played 50 or more games.

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Common sense and Sports Club Stats tell us that some teams have already secured a playoff berth.

Dallas – 99.8%

Chicago – 99.8%

Los Angeles – 99.6%

San Jose – 94.2%

St. Louis – 89.5%

That leaves just 3 open spots and, realistically, only 6 teams with any chance of grabbing a spot.

Minnesota – 75.9%

Colorado – 61.4%

Nashville – 49.4%

Anaheim – 48.9%

Arizona – 39.1%

Vancouver – 24.7%

The 3 Canadian Prairie teams are D.O.A. and will be dead men skating for the next 2 months barring an act of God.

Calgary – 9%

Winnipeg – 5.8%

Edmonton – 0.9%

So, what’s likely to happen here?

One way we can asses things is to look at home/road, interdivisional schedules and recent momentum.


 

First, let’s take a look at the difficulty of schedule facing WC teams:

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What stands out here is that the Coyotes, Predators and Wild face tougher schedules than some of the other hopefuls, while the Avalanche and Canucks have relatively easy schedules down the stretch.


 

Minnesota, on the surface, would appear to have the best odds here but they have been very poor of late (2-6-2) and have an equal number of home and road games remaining.

The Wild have been fine defensively but can’t put the puck in the ocean.

This team has been the best defensive team in the NHL since early December, yet it finds itself in this position because again it cannot score easily. There are so many passengers on this team right now, it’s really unbelievable.

The amount of what coach Mike Yeo called, “major, major slumps,” has to be remedied.

We’re talking Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba. All these guys are relied upon to score and none of them are.

Source

You can bet GM Chuck Fletcher is working the phones to add some scoring to his lineup and he does have an excess of defensemen to dangle (Jonas Brodin anyone?) but his team has precious little time to reverse course, especially with a tough remaining schedule.


 

If momentum (and confidence) count for anything, and I think they do, Colorado at      (6-4-0) is trending up.

They have played 2 more road games than home although their home record (12-10-3) is nothing to write “home” about.

Clouding things in Denver is a civil suit filed against goaltender Semyon Varlamov with a trial currently underway.

After his then-girlfriend accused him of beating her, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov told the team’s managers that she hit him, and he moved her aside and locked himself in a bedroom, Avs head coach Patrick Roy testified Thursday.

The story Varlamov told Roy and other team managers differed from the account of Evgeniya Vavrinyuk.

Vavrinyuk, whose civil suit against Varlamov is being heard in Denver District Court, has testified that Varlamov beat her.

The suit, filed in October 2014, claims Varlamov had beaten her for years before his  arrest in October 2013 on suspicion of felony kidnapping and assault.

Who knows how that might affect the team but it surely has to be some kind of distraction.


 

The Nashville Predators, much like the Wild, lack the high end scoring prowess to keep up with the big boys in the Central Division.

Despite adding a #1C in Ryan Johansen, the Preds still need a high scoring winger.

They likely won’t move another D to get one so I’m not sure where they go from here.

Had Pekka Rinne kept up his all world goaltending performances of the past few seasons, they might be competitive but Rinne has been pedestrian (.906) and, at 32 may be fading.

The Predators have a tough schedule going home but have only played 23 games at home where they are very good (13-7-3) and and 27 on the road.


 

To me, the team to watch is the Anaheim Ducks.

They’ve been a top 3 team in possession stats all season and their scoring is coming around.

This is my choice to grab a spot in the Pacific Division which I, and many others, thought would win the division crown.


 

The Arizona Coyotes has been living large all season but the clock is about to strike midnight for Cinderella.

The Dogs are the second worst team in the league in terms of possession but have a very difficult schedule down the stretch.

Can’t say I’m disappointed in their performance but with the plethora of talent coming in next season they WILL be a much improved team next season.


 

The real underdog here is the Vancouver Canucks.

They’ve endured a host of injuries but will be getting Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter and Dan Hamhuis back after the all star break.

While those returnees may not be earth shattering, it’s worth noting that Vancouver has had a brutal schedule thus far with multiple long road trips and a huge imbalance in home/road games.

Vancouver has only played 22 games at home and 28 on the road so, if they can create some momentum at home, they have a chance to stay in the race.

The Canucks easily have the softest schedule in the back half so, if they can take advantage, they should have good shot at a wildcard spot.

 

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Snapshots

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Best of the Best

TSN released their Top 50 players in the NHL earlier today.

There weren’t a lot of surprises except for Sidney Crosby (#14) dropping from #1 but Sid has been on a tear lately and will surface in the top 10 in NHL scoring very soon.

The poll of  NHL head coaches did, however, get it right when they picked the best LW’s in the league other than indicating that Patrick Kane is a LW when he is, in fact, a RW.

While Kane is having a memorable season, Jamie Benn is the dominant LW in the league and it isn’t even close.

Second best LW?  Alex Ovechkin…no argument from me.

3rd?…Johnny Gaudreau.

If you’ve been following along…I said this a year ago and Taylor Hall is 4th although I expect Panarin will eat his lunch shortly.

Eye of the Hurricane

I’m sure you want to know which team will be the “Next Big Thing” in the NHL.

It’s the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here is why.

The Hurricanes currently have $22 million in free cap space and are in the conversation for a playoff spot based on top 5 possession metrics mostly due to their elite D and coaching.

The Canes will be adding Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeon to that D corp next season and, with the expiration of the contracts of Eric Staal and Cam Ward, will have about $30 million in free cap space with which they can pick the bones of cap strapped teams.

Oh, the humanity.

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are on course for their worst season in team history and have two high profile pending UFA players in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

Ladd will end up in Florida while Buff will soon be a Star.

Book it.

Woe Canada

The Vancouver Canucks, based on the difficulty of schedule, are the only Canadian team with a reasonable shot at making the playoffs.

Anaheim is finally starting to show their power so the Canucks only hope is to track down Nashville or Colorado for a wild card spot.

50-50….at best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really?

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Here’s a provocative quote from over at Lowetide this morning:

sliderule:
So we have two games in a row were the forwards with worst Corsi scored the goals.

Hall to my eyes played a great game against a very good team.

Corsi says otherwise.

Taylor Hall scored a goal in last night’s game against the Dallas Stars and sliderules’ comment about Halls’ Corsi is, of course, much more accurate than his lionization of a player who was absolutely overwhelmed against a team with actual elite players.

At evens last night, Hall was 10-21 in Corsi events but, as I promised in an earlier comment, I finally had the chance to sit down and track every “touch” Hall had in the game and the results are far from pretty.

Now understand, that my tracking will be somewhat subjective but I attempted to be as fair as possible.

First Period:

  1. missed pass
  2. giveaway in the NZ
  3. tip at blue line – turnover
  4. turnover in the D zone
  5. PP turnover (recovered)
  6. PP poor pass – zone lost
  7. good O zone entry – turnover
  8. one touch GOAL
  9. zone entry – turnover
  10. zone entry – fell down -turnover

Second Period

  1. nice outlet pass
  2. pass batted down -turnover
  3. PP good pass
  4. PP pushed off puck – cleared
  5. PP shot blocked
  6. pushed off puck – turnover
  7. knocked down in the ozone – turnover

Third Period

  1. Nice pass in the O zone
  2. Missed receiving pass – turnover
  3. turnover in the D zone
  4. shoot in – turnover

Overtime

  1. Nice pass to Draisaitl

Hall got credit for 3 SOG last night but I think that was very generous and it’s worth noting that Tyler Seguin was credited with 7.

If we assign a +- value to the events listed above, I think we can see how dominant the Stars were and how ineffective Hall really was when playing against elite players.

There is this persistent myth that Hall is the best LW in hockey which to anyone who sees Jamie Benn play on a regular basses is just horsefeathers.

Consider this:

LW -PPG

  1. Jamie Benn – 1.29
  2. Mike Hoffman – 1.19
  3. Artemi Panarin – 1.12
  4. Mike Camilleri – 1.08
  5. Daniel Sedin – 1.07
  6. Johnny Gaudreau – 1.00
  7. Alex Ovechkin – 1.00
  8. Taylor Hall – .963
  9. Max Pacioretty – .926
  10. Max Domi -.885

In response to a reader’s question, I had suggested that Hall’s production would soon suffer as Leon Draisaitl’s 33% shooting percentage crashed to earth and, of course, that’s exactly what has happened.

Even with last night’s goal, Hall has only 2 points in his last 7 games which coincides exactly with Draisaitl’s plummet to 21.1%.

So, while Hall is clearly a top 10 LW in the league, he is nowhere near the best and I expect him to fall further off the pace as the regression of Draisaitl wends its merry way to average.

I’ll track another game in a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Quarter Pole

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Most NHL teams have now played a quarter of their season and the cream has risen to the top and the dregs are being separated.

RISING STARS

No surprise to me but almost unnoticed by the national media is just how absolutely dominant the Dallas Stars have been this season.

The Stars are sporting a record of 17-4 with no loser points and despite not showing up for 2 losses against the Leafs.

The Stars have a 6 point lead over the Blues who have the second best record in the West and they’ve scored 12 more goals (74) than the second place Canucks (62).

Montreal is pacing the Stars with 74 goals as well but they’re playing in the weaker conference while Dallas has run up a 6-1 record against the tougher West. The Stars will be playing more games against the West as the season progresses but there is absolutely no reason to think they can’t keep up the pace.

The most remarkable thing about the Stars is not the all world performances from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (which I expected) but the emergence into an elite defenseman of 23 year old John Klingberg. 

Klingberg is tied for the league lead in assists with Patrick Kane and Seguin at 19 apiece and has hit 3 goal posts in his last 2 games.

Worth noting…the last defenseman to lead the league in assists was some guy named Bobby Orr.…Klingberg might soon make history.

BLACK FRIDAY

We’re only a few days away from the defacto playoff doomsday for teams that are at least 10 points out of a playoff berth. It is almost impossible for those teams to make up enough ground to grab a spot so let’s take a look at which teams could see their seasons effectively over by Black Friday.

The Pacific Triangle

In reality, there is very little chance that the Central Division won’t send 5 teams to the playoffs so that leaves the last 3 spots for the Pacific Division.

 

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Edmonton has a  7-12-1 record heading into the week and have only 4 wins in their past 10 games.

The Oilers face Washington, Carolina and Detroit in the next week and would need to win at least 2 of those games to stay in the hunt. Even then, they would need just the right combination of losses from other Pacific Division teams to remain viable.

What is germaine here for the Oilers is the schedule for the teams that are ahead of them this week.

As of this writing, the LA Kings are losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and both San Jose (vs. Columbus) and Vancouver (vs. New Jersey) play later today and both could enhance their chances substantially with a win and an Oilers’ loss to red hot Washington (6-3-1 in their last 10) would leave them 9 points out.

It also doesn’t help that two teams the Oilers are chasing, Anaheim and Calgary, play each other Tuesday or that Anaheim also plays Arizona on Wednesday and Calgary plays Arizona on Friday.

If there are any 3 point games among that group and the Oilers don’t win at least 2 of 3, their season is pretty much done.

Vancouver also has a couple of tough games this week against the Wild and Stars but have shown an ability to keep games close and pick up points.

If the Canucks can build on last night’s 6-3 hammering of the Blackhawks and pick up at least 3-4 points this week they should hang around but anything less and they may be in trouble.

The Calgary Flames, of course, are also in a very precarious spot but have been playing much better (6-4-0 in their last 10) since TJ Brodie returned to the lineup.They can pretty much write their own story if they can win against Anaheim and Arizona but that’s certainly not a given although I like their chances.

Things will be much clearer by Black Friday.

Sedinery

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We would be remiss to not mention a superb performance by the Sedin twins last night.

Daniel scored 3 and added an assist while brother Henrik had a 5 point night including a goal.

Both have now moved into the top 15 in league scoring (Daniel tied for 6th…Henrik only 2 points back.)

Watch out Pacific Division if the Sedins catch fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots

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  1. Anyone who didn’t take my advice almost a year ago and keep a close eye on John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars should certainly be paying attention now. Klingberg scored the game winning goal and added 2 assists last night as the Stars beat the very strong Minnesota Wild.

Klingberg is now 6th in league scoring with 20 points and is on pace for a 91 point season and he’s a DEFENSEMAN. If Klingberg were playing in one of the big media markets like New York, Toronto Montreal the league would be abuzz about what’s going on in Big D but there’s is little chatter outside Dallas.

The 6’3″ 180 lb. defenseman just turned 23 so who knows what his upside is but if you take some time to watch him play you will see a fast, skilled smart defenseman who can transition the puck as well as Drew Doughty but has better offensive skills than the LA rearguard.

As his experience grows and he gets a little better in his own zone, I think we’re looking at a multiple Norris Trophy winner here.

And he was FIFTH round pick in 2010.

2. As I expected, the Oilers return from a 3 game Pacific Division road trip in last place in the NHL…up next are Chicago and the surging New Jersey Devils followed by a 5 game eastern road trip. That should put the final nails in the coffin by American Thanksgiving on November 26th.

3. Leon Draisaitl has a 33.3% shooting percentage. He’s generating fewer than 2 shots per game. It’s amusing that Oiler fans only mention regression when it applies to players on other teams.

4. Speaking of shooting percentage, I’ve had a long running discussion (and a bet) with GMoney from Oilers Nerd Alert regarding the shooting percentage of Sean Monohan:

Recorded for posterity … a couple of bets I’ve made:

1. On the reversion of Sean Monahan’s shooting percentage, with dashingsilverfox:

DSF wins if Monahans sh% is > 12% next year (2015-2016 season), minimum 40 games played (DSF to verify this last point in case he remembers different).

I win if Monahans sh% is 12% or less.

Terms: One bottle of 10 y.o. Talisker vs two bottles of Osoyoos Larose, shipped or ready for pickup to the others locale.

Monahan has now played 174 games for the Flames over 2 and a bit seasons. His shooting percentage in this 3 seasons:

15.7

16.2

16.7

How do you like my chances? 🙂

5. Would you be surprised to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the top 15 possession teams in the league as measured by Corsi close?

Well, they are and are also only 2 points ahead of the woeful Blue Jackets and Oilers in the standings. It would appear that scoring skill and goaltending are more important than possession.

Turning South

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It was widely expected that the Edmonton Oilers would and should make a turn north this season after 9 years as the worst team in the NHL.

The “expert panel” assembled by the fine folks at Oilers Nation were all optimistic, even delusional in some cases.

  • Lowetide 93
  • Jeanshorts 90
  • Henderson 90
  • Gregor 86
  • Willis 85
  • Baggedmilk 82
  • Brownlee 82

You may recall that I had predicted before the season began that the Oilers would finish 13th in the conference ahead only of the Arizona Coyotes which, as things are shaking out, may prove me to be slightly optimistic as well.

Old friend Darcy McLeod of Woodblog took the time over at Lowetide this morning to assess how the Oilers are actually performing:

Some comparisons of key stats from this year and last Nov 11.

First number will be this year, 2nd number is last year at this time. (running WOI Oct1/14-Nov11/14)

5v5 GF/60
2.00/60 (tied 17th in NHL)
2.10/60 (tied 18th in NHL)

5v5 GA/60
2.90 (28th in NHL)
3.10 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH%
7.4% (tied 16th)
7.3% (tied 21st)

5v5 SV%
.904 (27th in NHL)
.900 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH/60
26.8 (27th in NHL)
29.2 (tied 16th in NHL)

5v5 SF/60
29.9 (22nd in NHL)
30.6 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 CF%
48.4 (24th in NHL)
50.6 (15th in NHL)

5v5 SCF/60
24.6 (tied 21st in NHL)
25.1 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 SCA/60
24.8 (11th in NHL)
26.2 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCF/60
9.3 (26th in NHL)
10.9 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCA/60
11.2 (tied 23rd in NHL)
12.0 (22nd in NHL)

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Oilers slightly better defensively than last year via SA, SCA and HDSA

Oilers slight worse offensively (despite McEverything playing 12 games) via SF, SCF and HDSCF.

No surprise to me as you may know…the Oilers still don’t even have ONE passable top pairing D and don’t even get me started on the over payments for Sekera and Reinhart.

I had also warned about once again going into another season without having a bonafide #1 goaltender a move which, if you consider the buyers market in goaltending, is inexcusable.

The Oilers next 3 games are against Pacific Division opponents…Anaheim tonight followed by Arizona (second games in 2 on the road) and then a third game in four nights against the Kings in LA.

The Oilers would need to get at least 3 points out of those games to even remain in the Pacific Division conversation but it’s much more likely they come away with 1or 0.

That they get to follow up that 3 game death march with a match at home against the Blackhawks likely means the Oilers season will be effectively over a week from today.

Perhaps that will spur Peter Chiarelli to start making some moves to shore up the dreadful D and I would suggest the first place he should look is in Dallas where the Stars are carrying 8 defensemen because they don’t want to expose any of their young “NHL ready” youngsters to waivers:

  1. Alex Goligoski
  2. John Klingberg (untouchable)
  3. Johnny Oduya
  4. Jordie Benn
  5. Jason Demers
  6. Jyrki Jokipakka
  7. Jamie Oleksiak
  8. Patrick Nemeth
  9. Julius Honka*
  10. Stephen Johns*
  11. Esa Lindell*
  12. Ludwig Bystrom*        *in the AHL

Jim Nill might well be reluctant to part with any of those players unless the return was very significant but Goligoski is UFA at the end of the season and if he feels one of his other young players is ready to pair with phenom Klingberg, perhaps Chiarelli could get his attention.

Goligoski, while not an elite pairing D, would certainly be the Oilers #1D right out of the box and would allow the other Oilers D to slot lower in the batting order which is exactly what is needed.

Of course, the Stars have very little need to do anything at this point but Nill has proven to be a GM not afraid to make big moves if he can improve his team in the future.

On the other hand, Chiarelli, a week from now, may realize that with the season already over from a competitive point of view he’ll just sit on his hands for the final few months of the 10th annual death march and try to offload some junk at the deadline.

Going to be a fascinating week ahead.

Enter November

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October is in the books and some definite storylines for the season are beginning to emerge.

  1. As I predicted before the season started…the Dallas Stars are the best team in the NHL. They’re off to their best start (9-2-0) in team history and seem to be able to outscore any lingering issues they have on the defensive side of the game.

Jamie Benn leads the league in scoring at a torrid 1.54 PPG and lineman Tyler Seguin is right behind him at 1.45 PPG. Benn’s pro-rated points total for a full season is an eye popping 126 points and Seguin projects at 119 points.

Flying somewhat under the radar for the Stars is sophomore defenseman John Klingberg with 11 points in 11 games. And now that Patrick Sharp is finding the range (4G 4A) the high octane offence should perform at an even higher level.

2. Some would argue the Canadiens should be deemed the best team in hockey but once again the Habs have been riding Carey Price goaltending so far this season so their record masks a few issues with the team. And now, there is this:

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told reporters that Price suffered the injury in Montreal’s 4-3 loss in Edmonton on Thursday.

Rookie Mike Condon will make a second consecutive start in the Canadiens’ home game tonight against Winnipeg.

The Habs have three more home games coming up. Ottawa is at Montreal Tuesday, followed by the New York Rangers on Thursday and archrival Boston on Saturday.

Price is 7-2 with a 2.01 goals-against average this season for Montreal.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Habs fare without their best player.

3. Of course the biggest surprise of the season’s first month is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are amongst the most talented and deepest teams in the league so it’s not inconceivable they could soon go on winning streak but some are already questions why GM Bob Murray made so many changes to last season’s powerful roster.

from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun,

… The Ducks made six or seven significant changes to the roster, they fired assistant coach Brad Lauer and brought in former Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, presumeably to take over from Boudreau if the club didn’t get off to the kind of start Murray expected this season.

If Boudreau voiced concerns about the roster changes, and nobody is sure how much say he has, then it must have fallen on deaf ears. Remember, it took awhile before Murray even confirmed that Boudreau was going to be back behind the bench in the first place. Not all is well there.

The word is Murray is trying desperately to make a roster move before somebody gets fired. We’ve been told he’s listening to offers for defenceman Cam Fowler but will only consider a move to an Eastern Conference team and will want a boatload in return to make that deal happen.

4. As bad as the Ducks have been, a couple of wins would get them right back into the Pacific Division race since both Calgary and Edmonton are pretty mediocre and I doubt Arizona can hang out in the top 3 for much longer. They will, however have to leapfrog San Jose if they want a chance at a playoff berth.

5. Speaking of Calgary and Edmonton, the Oilers should be thoroughly embarrassed by losing to the Flames last night. The Flames were playing their 5th game in 7 nights but out hustled and outplayed the Oilers for much of the game.

The song remains the same for the Oilers…an over rated offence, putrid defense and spotty goaltending. The Oilers once again went to war with two goaltenders who had not established themselves as NHL starters and the results have been predictable with Cam Talbot (.897) and Anders Nilsson (.902) finding out what it’s like to play behind such and atrocious defence.

Once again were getting affirmation that the Oilers don’t have even one passable top pairing D and until they realize they’re going to have to move at least one of their prized top draft picks to get one, they will remain in the crapper.

6. The Flames have also been abysmal this season for many of the same reasons the Oilers have done a faceplant. Shoddy defensive play and spotty goaltending have sunk the Flames so far, but the return of their best defenseman, TJ Brodie, from injury should help immensely with the former but all 3 of their goaltenders have a save percentage under .870 so, unless that changes, the Flames are sunk.

Amid all the doom and gloom in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau is still scoring at a PPG pace and I expect he’ll exceed that this season as he is riding a 4.3 shooting percentage so far. You know that won’t last.

7. The rookie scoring race isn’t too surprising with Connor McDavid leading the way (but not by much).

What is interesting, though, is some of the underlying numbers since not all teams have their rookies playing as much or given as much rope as the Oilers always do with their youngsters.

P/60 5V5

Artemi Panarinin – Chicago 4.07

Oscar Lindberg – NYR  3.77

Jared McCann – Vancouver 3.24

Connor McDavid – Edmonton 3.07

Max Domi – Arizona 2.56

Anthony Duclair – Arizona 2.55

Dylan Larkin – Detroit 2.35

Nikolaj Ehlers – Winnipeg 1.99

Jack Eichel – Buffalo 0.73

It must also be noted that McDavid is running a shooting percentage of 22.7% and that isn’t going to last so the Calder Trophy race is much closer than it appears.

Also of note, Jack Eichel has generated the most shots by any rookie (40) but they just haven’t been going in. By way of contrast, McDavid has generated only 22 shots.

The Fermi Paradox

00FQBf-28448684

Where is everybody? That was the reaction of physicist Enrico Fermi after an afternoon drinking coffee with fellow scientists who were contemplating the Drake Equation which (simply) states, based on probability, that there must be numerous examples of intelligent life extant on other planets in the Milky Way:

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L

There are those who would argue that there is a ton of evidence that alien civilizations HAVE visited earth but for some reason have decided to keep their presence here a secret.

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Once you derive the value of pi from that photo, let’s turn our attention to the TOP PARADOXES  of the 2015/16 hockey season.

  1. Following are the top 10 teams in the league in Corsi For% thus far:

STL – 57.9

LAK 57.1

CAR 54.4

TOR 53.2

CLB 53.1

WSH 52.9

CHI 52.8

DAL 52.3

ANA 51.9

MIN 51.8

Fully 4 of those 10 teams are currently out of a playoff spot and a couple, Anaheim and Columbus have 2 wins combined this season.

Now, we should be able to test, going forward, whether or not actual results will flow from having a stellar Corsi record or whether it is Corsi itself that will regress. Go figure.

2. Woke up this morning to find Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin atop the NHL scoring race. While that is no surprise, what is shocking is that they haven’t played all that well to date. I’ve watched every Stars’ game this season and Seguin, in particular, while among the league’s leaders in SOG, has been missing the net a lot and his shooting percentage is a full 2 percentage points below last year. I have no doubt he will soon find the range and, when he does, stand back!

3. No surprise either that the Edmonton Oilers have a worse record than last year in these early days. It’s important to remember that, save for a one in a million miss by Daniel Sedin on a goal mouth tap in, the Oilers record would be 2-5 and likely 2-6 after tonight’s game against the Kings. Once again the Oilers are trying to play NHL hockey with 6 or 7 bottom 4 defensemen and the results, despite some decent goaltending, have been predictable.

4. Speaking of the Oilers, it’s also no surprise that C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has seen his offensive production drop now that Connor McDavid is getting the cherry minutes. Hopkins has only 4 points (on pace for a 40 point season) and his P/60 is a paltry 1.46. As a point of reference, the aforementioned Tyler Seguin is running a 4.48 P/60. Some Oiler apologists will try to tell themselves that’s because Hopkins is facing the “toughs” ands totally ignore that Seguin is too and getting much, much better results.

5.We would be remiss not to revisit the 2010 draft now that the requisite 5 seasons have passed and we a pretty good idea of what these players are now.

Here’s how the prominent forwards look this season after 1/10 of it has passed.

Seguin – 4G 8A 12P

Tarasenko – 5G 4A 9P

Bjugstad – 3G 3A 6P

Johansen – 1G 5A 6P

Hall – 2G 3A 5P

Niederreiter – 3G 1A 4P

Granlund – 1G 3A 4P

Connolly

Schwartz – 0G 4A 4P (injured)

Burmsitrov 1G 2A 3P

Skinner 1G 1A 2P

Any questions?

6. Down the QE II in Calgary, the Flames did a face plant out of the starting blocks this season. But, after a win over Detroit, there is some hope things will turn around.

Was that win a springboard?

Or just a one-off?

The 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings was a huge relief for the club. More important though was how the Flames won, and we’re not talking about third-period comebacks or overtime success.

They controlled the play for the bulk of the game notably after the first period. They won puck battles, created chances (dare we mention the Corsi word) and kept with the program even when behind.

In short, it was the kind of start-to-finish outing needed for success, especially from a team which had looked more fragile than a baby bird in most of the losses to start the season.

The trick will be to build off the game, show more of the same against some tough competition, and string a decent stretch together. Wins won’t come easily, but similar efforts in each outing will result in some form of success.

Source

The Flames now head out on a 5 games in 7 nights road trip and I expect their fate will be decided in less than 2 weeks.

7. Finally, who knows what to make of the Anaheim Ducks. They are, IMO, one of the most talented and deepest teams in the league and yet they are sporting a 1-5-1 record. Their next 3 games are on the road against Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis so it’s conceivable they could end up with only 1 win in their first 10 games. If anything near that catastrophe does happen, notably will Bruce Boudreaux be looking for work, but it will throw the Pacific Division race wide open. Since we have to pretty much cede 5 playoff spots to the Central Division, teams that can surge between now and Halloween can make a pretty strong bid to be above the cut off line by American Thanksgiving.

Should be a fascinating week ahead.

Ranking the Rebuilds #9…the Buffalo Sabres

Eichel_BU4_672x412

The Sabres rebuild hasn’t been all that long by normal standards.

They last made the playoffs in the 2010/11 season with a respectable 96 points but it was clear after early playoff exits and It’s plausible their rebuild began in February 2012 when they sent  long time Sabre Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a 1st round pick (which after a trade with Calgary would become Zemgus Gigensons)

That draft also produced Mikhail Grigorenko (since traded to Colorado) and Jake McCabe but it wasn’t enough to save the job of GM Darcy Regier after 16 years on the job.

He was replaced by longtime Assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators Tim Murray, who, since his hiring in January 2014, has been tasked with building a winner.

As anyone who pays attention knows, you build a winner from the back end out and down the middle and it would seem that’s exactly what Murray is doing.


The Sabres again had 2 1st round picks in the 2013 draft before Murray arrived and had selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov so Murray had two blue chip D prospects when he took over the reins as well as Mark Pysyk who was drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and, of course former rookie of the year Tyler Myers who was drafted in 2008

While those players were under development Murray wisely brought in some veteran support in Josh Gorges and Mike Weber. But he was hardly finished.

In a blockbuster deal, Murray sent Myers, veteran Drew Stafford and a 1st round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian and controversial winger Evander Kane.

Bogosian projects as a #1D as does Ristolainen so Murray felt comfortable trading from a position of strength to address the Sabres long time woes at C.

But even with a lot of promise on D, Murray today signed Cody Franson, easily a top 4 D on most any team to a bargain 2 year contract and I would imagine the Sabres are set at the position for at least the next several seasons.


With enough D in the pipeline, Murray set about fixing the Sabres long time woes at C.

First up was the 2014 draft where the Sabres took Sam Reinhart in the list round and then, after losing the draft lottery to the Oilers, got Jack Eichel as a consolation prize.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Murray then swung a trade with Colorado and got two way C phenom Ryan O’Reilly in return for  Zadorov and Grigorenko.

The results going into the season is that the Sabres have addressed their C depth in a big way for years to come.

Jack Eichel

Sam Reinhart

Ryan O’Reilly

Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons

David Legwand

Cody McCormick

Oh my.

The Sabres remain shy on scoring wingers with Kane and Matt Moulson providing most of the top 6 punch but Kane has the potential to score more than 30 goals and there is at least some secondary support coming up through the system. (source)

Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.

There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size.

The Sabres have also had a revolving door of goaltenders since Ryan Miller left but hope to have addressed that with Robin Lehner in the offseason. Lerner, with limited experience as a start is a gamble but one that could pay off.

Given the relative short time the Sabres have been rebuilding, I think it’s fair to assert that Murray is on the right track and has already addressed the most difficult tasks.

He’s going into the season with almost $9 million in free cap space and is imposition to take advantage of any cap strapped team now and in the future.

Considering the 2015 McDavid/Eichel draft, it’s going to be almost impossible not to compare the Sabres and Oilers rebuilds going forward.

To my eye, The Sabres are well ahead of schedule and, with the prudent use of all that cap space, the Sabres could blow by the “infinite-build” Oilers in very short order.

Ranking the Rebuilds #8…the Edmonton Oilers.

12v7_Sherman

Where to begin?

I guess we can say the Edmonton Oilers rebuild started in 2010 when the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall…although any astute observer would point out it should have (and probably did) start in 2006 when Chris Pronger led the exodus out of Kevin Lowe’s Egypt.

Lowe never was able to part the the Red Sea and employed a long list of toadies to insulate him from his failures as a general manager and, later, as a President of Hockey Operations.

No need to belabour his shortcomings as they are well documented so perhaps it will be more instructive to take the temperature of where the longest rebuild in NHL history stands now.

I’ve been saying for years that the Oilers rebuild was ass backwards from the start and that rings as true today as it did when it started.

In  2010, the Oilers drafted a winger, Taylor Hall, as the first piece of their future when a centre with at least as much potential was sitting right there.

Tyler Seguin has already gone supernova and may have won the Art Ross trophy last season had he not been a victim of a dirty hit while Taylor Hall remains an injury riddled gunslinger who gives up more than he creates.

While very far from a perfect stat, Hall’s career plus/minus is -23 while Seguin checks in at +68.

Nuff said.

A year later, the Oilers would start to address their needs down the middle when they selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins overall but they still remained inured to the notion that, since defensemen take longer to develop, it would be prudent to try and find a top pairing D or two to kick start the process and that decision would (and will) haunt them for several more years.

Adam Larsson, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin were all top 10 picks in 2011 and all of them are highly regarded top pairing D while Hopkins is likely a second line C.

Oops.

While still void at centre and, more importantly on D, the Oilers would totally lose the script and draft Nail Yakupov 1st overall in 2012.

There is substantial evidence that the Oilers scouting staff wanted to draft a defenseman in the 2012 draft but were overruled by owner Daryl Katz who opted instead to draft the shiniest prospect in a draft that was incredibly deep in D in the top 10.

I dare say you couldn’t trade near bust Yakupov straight up for any of the D taken in the top 10 of that draft.

Ryan Murray

Griffin Reinhart (more later)

Morgan Rielly

Hampus Lindholm

Mat Dumba

Derek Pouliot

Jacob Trouba

Old Oiler nemesis Brian Burke left the 2012 draft crowing he got the best player, Morgan Rielly, 5th overall and he was probably right.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are stuck with yet another disappointing winger and have had to overpay wildly to try and correct that mistake by trading for the most disappointing of that first round draft class, Griffin Reinhart.

Apparently two wrongs make a right 🙂

A year later, the Oilers would spend the 7th overall pick to draft Darnell Nurse who has progressed reasonably well but has already been passed by Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mirco Mueller and will soon feel some heat from Samuel Morin, Ryan Pulock and Josh Morrisey.

Nurse may well have a chance to become a top pairing D but, most often, those guys appear early and Nurse is almost 21 years of age with only 2 games of NHL experience to his credit.

I would wager he’ll be a very good #3 leaving the Oilers without a true #1D they should have in the stable after almost a decade drafting near the top of draft.

In 2014, it’s somewhat understandable the Oilers would address their dire need at C by taking one at #3 overall…the problem is, they took the wrong one.

Dynamic centre Sam Bennett was ranked ahead of Leon Draisaitl by virtually every scouting service including the “Oracle” Bob McKenzie.

Had Bennett not been injured in his draft year, he may have gone 1st overall but the Oilers opted to draft the next Joe Colborne when they had a shot at the next Doug Gilmour.

I expect Flames fans will be mocking that decision for the next decade.


Despite a decade  of gaffes, the Oilers defied the odds and won the 2015 draft lottery and that triggered a series of events that may give even the most jaded Oiler fan some realistic hope for the future.

I’m convinced the potential of drafting Connor McDavid resulted in a phone call from league offices and/or McDavid’s agent Bobby Orr that served as a wake up call to Oilers’ owner Katz that his old boys club gong show needed to come to a quick end.

And it did.

After conducting a “forensic audit” that, honestly, could have been conducted by a drunk chimpanzee, Bob Nicholson decided that Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish were not up to the task of building a winning hockey team.

That neither was fired outright remains a concern but at least someone else is now has the last word on team building.

Enter new GM Peter Chiarelli and new head coach Todd McLellan.

While these hirings represent a huge upgrade on the their predecessors, I believe a little critical thinking is needed here.

Chiarlelli did win a cup with the Bruins but his propensity to overpay bottom 6 role players and his decision to trade Tyler Seguin, combined with his mismanagement of the Bruins’ cap had him run out of Beantown on a rail.

The overpayments for Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart and Lauri Korpikoski suggest Chiarelli may not have learned his lesson.

That he did not exercise buyouts on Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin or Teddy Purcell also shows that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on value for dollars.

Certainly worth watching but, in the interim, he is carrying more than $10 million in cap space for players who are below replacement value and when you consider the $3.9 million accruing to AHL level defenseman Justin Schultz, it looks even worse.

Many Oiler fans are giddy that Todd McLellan is their new coaching messiah but they haven’t exercised critical thinking in assessing his body of work in San Jose.

He took over a team that Ron Wilson had taken to the next level and, despite a star studded lineup, was never able to get the team to reach expectations.

McClellan took over a team that finished with 108 points in Wilson’s final season in 2007/08.

Over his tenure in San Jose, his record was as following:

117

113

105

96

57 (lockout season)

111

89

In other words, the Sharks slowly declined in performance during his tenure and were never able to advance to the Stanley Cup finals despite an almost all star lineup.

Whether or not he can take a young team and move them up the standings against incredibly fierce competition is a question that has yet to be answered.


So, what can we foresee for the Oilers in a season that could see them miss the playoffs for a record 10th straight season?

Well, the playoffs aren’t anywhere near a possibility….the team still has too many question marks to challenge the Big Boys in the western conference.

Once again, the Oilers go into a season with questions marks in goal, and on D and while McDavid will certainly make a difference, unless he can influence the Oilers atrocious team D even with the addition of yet another second pairing D in Sekera, it would take a Vezina Trohpy season from unproven starter Cam Talbot to move up much at all in the standings.

Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and, especially, Dallas will all be better this season and let’s remember the Colorado Avalanche, despite having a very disappointing season, finished 28 points ahead of the Oilers.

I have no doubt the Oilers will be better but I expect only the Arizona Coyotes will care very much.

13th in the west…again.