The NHL Elite

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For many years, I have considered an elite offensive players as one who could post more than a point per game played. But, as score g has declined since the last lockout, there are fewer and fewer players who are able to hit that mark causing me to reassess what we should expect from an elite player in the NHL.

As recently as the 2013/14 season there were 13 players who finished above the 1.00 mark.

In 2014/15, that number has dropped to 8 and this season is much the same although there are another 4 players within the range.

TOP P/PG Players 2015/16

  • Patrick Kane – 1.29
  • Jamie Benn – 1.10
  • Connor McDavid – 1.03 (small sample size)
  • Tyler Seguin – 1.03
  • Evgeni Malkin – 1.02
  • Sidney Crosby – 1.02
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov – 1.01
  • Erik Karlsson – 1.00

  • Johnny Gaudreau  – .99
  • Joe Thornton – .97
  • Joe Pavelski – .97
  • Niklas Backstrom – .97

At, .94, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t make the grade but with 41 goals on the season I think we can give him a pass and declare him an elite player.

Moving the Goalposts

Obviously, 1.00 P/GP in the current NHL is too high a bar since you will note, of the 12 players listed above. 3 play for the Washington Capitals, 2 for the Dallas Stars, 2 for the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2 for the San Jose Sharks leaving only 3 players on other teams in the league.

It appears that, if we move the goalposts to .80 PPG in the modern NHL, we may have the issue surrounded.

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And?

There are really no glaring omissions from this ranking but there are a few noteworthy items.

A very slow start to the season has impacted Jakub Voracek in very dramatic fashion. Last season, Voracek scored .99 P/GP but it should also be noted that he has been climbing higher in the scoring rate for the past couple of months.

Two seasons ago, Taylor Hall posted 1.07 P/PG but since then is .72 and .80. Has the league figured him out and knows he will just rush up the left side and fire a generally harmless low percentage shot on goal?

Seeing Johnny Gaudreau at .99 P/GP  after a .80 in his stellar rookie season is a revelation. Despite playing on a team that is near the bottom of the standings, Gaudreau has emerged as the premiere LW in the WC outside of the dominant force that is Jamie Benn.

Patrice Bergeron is quietly having an exceptional season. After posting .68 P/GP last season and winning the Selke Trophy, he’s kept up his defensive dominance and his scoring has jumped to .90 and he looks like a sure bet to score 30 goals and 70 points this season.

And finally, I can’t say enough about what Jaromir Jagr is accomplishing in Florida and his golden years.

His .82 P/GP on a low scoring Panthers team is remarkable at his age and it appears he has the ability to play a few more seasons at a very high level.

All hockey fans should hope so.

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Snap Shots

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It’s a quiet day in the NHL with only one game on the schedule but, man, I’ve watched a lot of hockey already.

It’s very early days but some observations…

  1. OT 3 on 3 is a hoot and a far better way to decide a hockey game than the shootout. That it also rewards skill players with points that count on the resume is an added bonus which is some compensation for the ways officiating is allowing the best of the best to be stifled again.

2. Way too much attention has been focused on Connor McDavid early in the season…you have to hope that the TV commentators lose some interest in the topic as the season progresses. McDavid has shown some speed but, so far, has been pretty ordinary.

3. Speaking of rookies…Artemi Panarinin (Hawks) and Oscar Lindberg (Rangers) have excelled in their first 3 games, each scoring 4 points. As I told you earlier, Vancouver Canucks rookie defenseman Ben Hutton has been an early season revelation…not only picking up 2 assists in his first 2 games but has also been the Canucks best defenseman through those two contests. The big smooth skating D is exactly the prototype of a puck moving defenseman who clears his own zone easily and makes a tremendous first pass to a streaking winger.

4. The Canucks youth movement is already paying dividends with Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Sven Baertschi all playing exceptionally well. They’re all great skaters and have added speed and youthful enthusiasm to a “stale” Canucks lineup. Jake Virtanen is still on the roster but has yet to play a game although I think the Canucks will insert him in an upcoming road trip against the big teams in California.

5. Johnny Hockey has picked up right where he left off last season with 1G 3A 4PTS in his first 2 games. I expect he, and his line mates Jiri Hudler (3PTS) and Sean Monahan (2PTS) will flirt with 1PPG this season. Yes, they ARE that good.

6. Speaking of scoring…Patrick Kane appears to have been shot out of a cannon this season with 3G and 3A in his first 3 games. He appears to be motivated by his offseason difficulties.

7. Another players to keep an eye on is Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog who appears he may have taken his game to a new level. He’s always been a great 2 way forward but is now riding some ridiculous percentages to 3 goals and 5 points in his first 2 games. No doubt he will drop off somewhat but that kind of boring has a way of boosting a players confidence and leads to a great season.

8. The lack of any scoring at all is the story for the Edmonton Oilers. All they have to show for their efforts thus far is a goal credited to Ryan Nugent Hopkins on a play where he didn’t tough the puck. I watched Taylor Hall very closely in last night’s game against the Predators and, while Hall was credited with 8 SOG, 7 of them were from the outside and had virtually no chance of going in…seems he might still be trying to game his Corsi while avoiding the tough areas of the ice.

9) Speaking of Corsi…or SAT as the NHL likes to call it…here are your easy season Top 10.

Leo Komarov TOR +28

JVR TOR +26

Eric Staal CAR +25

Travis Harmonic NYI +25

Jake Gardiner TOR +23

John-Michael Liles CAR +23

Calvin De Haan NYI +22

Elias Lindholm CAR +22

Brett Kulak CAL +21

Brandon Dubinsky CLB + 21

Hmmmmm.

10. Watch out for the Florida Panthers…seriously.

Dum Luck

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The Edmonton Oilers are likely a much better hockey team today than they were yesterday but they are also a team that is being rewarded, handsomely, for a decade of incompetence.

It is true that the NHL draft lottery exists to give a leg up to teams that have fallen on hard times but the Oilers will now have FOUR 1st overall picks in their lineup and unless their management can deliver a winner in short order, they will deserve every bit of scorn from hockey fans all over the world will heap on them.

With Connor McDavid in the fold, Kevin Lowe and Co. have likely bought themselves more time with fans and, most importantly, owner Daryl Katz but unless they can surround all that young talent with the right veterans (something they have shown little aptitude for), the stakes will be very high.

I would say they have the length of Connor McDavid’s entry level contract to win a Stanley Cup and, if they haven’t, it will be time to blow it all up again.

There are a few reasons for that.

The most important of those is that the Oilers will be in a very tenuous cap position with all of Hall, Eberle, Hopkins and, perhaps, Yakupov earning big dollars and, one would imagine if McDavid lives up to his draft billing, a second contract that far eclipses the $6 million now being paid to Hall, Eberle and Hopkins.

When you consider they have to acquire (and pay) TWO top pairing defensemen and a legitimate starting goaltender, they are likely to have very little remaining cap space to fill out a team with good complimentary players.

Of course, they will likely rely on some of their prospect depth to fill out the bottom of the order but, bear in mind, in 3 years time some of the players will also be needing second (more expensive) contracts as well.

Prudent management I think should already be looking 3-4 years down the road and realize that they need to make some moves now to prevent that situation from developing.

If we assume that two top pairing D are likely going to cost north of $5 million each, you could see a situation in Connor McDavid’s 4th season where the Oilers are paying him $8M, Hall, Hopkins and Eberle $6M each and Yakupov perhaps $5M.

That would be a minimum of $41M to pay 7 players and, depending on where the cap is at, could make it exceedingly difficult to round out a winning roster.

The Oilers can, of course, move any one of those highly paid pieces at any time but, considering they desperately need to fill out they D corp and get solid goaltending, it make a whole lot of sense to start that process right away and get on with trying to win.

Tomorrow just arrived.

Epic Tank Battle II

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The Toronto Maple have finally achieved a weeks long descent into the depths of the National Hockey League standings.

The latest standings in the Epic Tank Battle:

Buffalo – 43

Edmonton – 46

Arizona – 47

Toronto – 55

Carolina – 55

I’d wager Carolina will slowly pull away from this group since they are playing pretty well in their last 10GP (6-4-0)

I would also wager Arizona (1-9-0) will drop below the Oilers (4-5-1) by the end of the regular season.

I guess it’s possible the Oilers will also pass the Leafs but 9 points is a huge gap with only 19 games left in the season.

The question then becomes, who wins the lottery and why?

If ever there was a draft that the league will keep a close eye on where 2 generational players end up, I think it’s this one.

The Coyotes desperately need a marketable player and I would think nothing would make Gary Bettman happier than to reward Andrew Barroway for riding in and rescuing the Coyotes in the latest bailout in the desert.

On the other hand, Bettman might be cognizant of the fact that Rogers Communications (part owner of the Leafs) stepped up big time when it spent billions of the new Canadian TV contract.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Toronto “won” the lottery and drafted Connor McDavid while Arizona, if they continue to lose every game, selects American wundkind Jack Eichel while Buffalo has to make do with the #3 overall pick.

As noted before, McDavid is a GTA boy and has stated he would be thrilled to play for the Leafs.

American Jack Eichel would be a great fit in Arizona and Buffalo would still be rewarded by a very skilled pick in any of Hanifan, Strome or Marner.

It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Don’t Look Now…

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As of this writing…the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the Montreal Canadiens.

If they lose, as expected, they’ll be a scant 3 points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes (pending the Coyotes home game against the Rangers).

Carolina is 5 points back of the Leafs but have 3 games in hand so it’s entirely reasonable to assume the Leafs will be in 3rd spot in the draft lottery a week from now.

The Sabres and Oilers are so bad it’s highly unlikely the Leafs can out suck them but I would imagine a team like the the Leafs that is about to blow things up could start a “down to the wood” rebuild with the 3rd overall pick with a decent shot of getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Worth mentioning that McDavid, a Toronto boy, has expressed a great deal of interest in being drafted by the Leafs.

The most highly touted hockey prospect since Sidney Crosby delivered music to the ears of Leafs Nation this weekend.

“That would be an absolute dream come true,” Connor McDovaid told Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun when asked about the possibility of becoming a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It’s pretty crazy to even think about.”

“I’m from Toronto. You have to be a Leafs fan,” McDavid said in the article. “So, of course, I was. Of course. My dad was a Leafs fan. Every Saturday night watching Hockey Night in Canada would be my favourite time.”

Toronto is the most important franchise in the National Hockey League. It leads the league in revenue generated, in appreciating franchise values and I would wager that Gary Bettman is tuned into what’s transpiring in Toronto in a major way.
Don’t be surprised if the Leafs officially start their rebuild by drafting the best player since Sidney Crosby.

Speaking of the Oilers, there’s lots of blather on Lowetide and other Oiler fanboy sites about how the team has “turned north” under Todd Nelson.
Nonsense, of course.
The Oilers are 9-10-2 under Nelson with their 6 remaining games in February against Winnipeg, Boston, Minnesota (twice), Anaheim and St. Louis.
I would be surprised if the Oilers win 2 of those games.
Also worth noting is that, if the Oilers played at a season long pace of 9-10-2 over 82 games, they would still finish in 13th place in the WC.
You can’t see north from here.

Tough break for Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars after the Star’s centre will be out for 3-6 weeks with a knee injury after being low bridged by Dmitri Kulikov.

That ends any thoughts of Seguin winning a scoring title and likely is also the end of the Stars’ playoff hopes since Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves were also injured in the same game

Beyond BeLeaf

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Obviously lots of speculation about who will win the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, mainly centered on Buffalo, Edmonton, Arizona and Carolina but there’s a new entrant in the race and their chances are improving with every passing game.

Yes, folks, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here is how the Lottery Standings stack up today:

Buffalo: 33

Edmonton: 37

Carolina: 43

Arizona: 45

Columbus: 45

Toronto: 48

It’s likely not possible for Toronto to lose enough to catch Buffalo but, given how Edmonton (4-6-0), Carolina (5-2-3), Columbus (3-7-0), Arizona (3-403) and Toronto (0-9-1) have played in their last 10 games, I think it’s highly likely that Toronto leapfrogs Columbus, Arizona and Carolina with an outside chance of catching the Oilers.

Columbus has 3 games in hand on the Leafs and Carolina 1, while the others have the same number of games played.

I’d wager the Leafs will finish in the #3 hole, greatly enhancing their chances of picking McDavid.

McDavid would be a perfect fit with the Leafs who have been looking for a #1C since Christ was a cowboy and a line of JVR-McDavid-Kessel could be a lot of fun to watch.

McDavid is a GTA boy, having grown up in Newmarket and playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League before moving on to play with the Erie Otters.

Here’s how the lottery odds looked earlier this weeK:

The top contenders to win the 2015 NHL draft lottery (as compiled by nhllotterysimulator.com)

Team Points Odds

Buffalo Sabres 33 20.0%

Edmonton Oilers 37 13.5%

Carolina Hurricanes 41 11.5%

Arizona Coyotes 44 9.5%

Columbus Blue Jackets 45 9.5%

Toronto Maple Leafs 48 7.5%

New Jersey Devils 49 6.5%

Ottawa Senators 49 6%

*Based on standings prior to Wednesday’s action.

As you can see, the difference between #2 and #3 is a mere 2 percentage points so finishing 3rd gives you a pretty good shot.

That the Leafs are expected to hold a fire sale at the trade deadline, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that they can bring a Buffalo kind of putrid to the final month of the regular season striking terror into the hearts of hockey fans across the rest of the country.

Tanking

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All sorts of speculation early this NHL season about which teams might tank for a chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

In years past, there might have been 2 or 3 teams who were so bad that they might want to give up on the season and do everything they can to get the 1st overall pick but this season I think it’s fair to say there might be 8.

But I think, in reality the list is likely a bit shorter.

Let’s start at the bottom.

As of this writing, the team with the worst win percentage is the Edmonton Oilers (.328)

Oilers’ GM Craig (It’s Not My Fault) McTavish has already indicated he won’t be making any moves to improve his team so it’s likely they’ll limp along pretty much where they are for the rest of the season at least until the trade deadline when I expect they’ll move Jeff Petry and David Perron for “futures”. The loss of those two might cause a slight downturn in the teams  performance but not to the degree that it should have any signifcant impact on the final standings.

Staying in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes have been bad and they’re getting worse. They’ve just dropped their 8th straight game at home and have only won twice in their last 11 games. GM Don Maloney has already indicated he’s getting ready to blow things up and move out sone expensive veterans and I expect he’ll soon follow through on that threat not only to start a rebuild but to save money for the cash strapped team. I would wager all of Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat will all have new addresses early in the new year and the Coyotes will go from bad to worse and then worser. This is the team I think will finish 30th in the NHL and draft McDavid. The team desperately needs a marquee name to market and I expect the NHL will do everything in its “power” to ensure that happens.

Another teams that is poised to go into sell mode soon is the Carolina Hurricanes. Jiri Tlusty and Andrej Sekera are both UFA at the end of the season and I expect both will be dealt. I also believe the Hurricanes will try to convince Eric Staal to waive his NMC so they can turn him into a first round pick and other assets. Say hello to Jack Eichel!

The Buffalo Sabres are not a very good team but they have stellar goaltending, a great coach and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games played and look like they’ll be moving out of the sub basement.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are beginning to get their injured players back and are on a 5 game winning streak. I think they’ll easily play themselves out of the chance to draft the wonder kids.

Which leaves us with 3 big question marks…The Philadelphia Flyers, The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.

Now, the odds of any of these 3 teams winning the lottery are pretty low but an extended losing streak by any of them could increase those odds significantly and I can see Ed Snider in Philly, with a wink and a nod from his buddy Gary, going into full tank mode in the very near future.

Stranger things have happened.