Enter November

turning-calendar-page

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.

10 TO WATCH

detective with magnifying glass

With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.

Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.

  1. Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

3. Jamie Benn

Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.

4. Tyler Seguin

The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.

6. Bo Horvat

Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space. 

9. The Detroit Red Wings

This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.

10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.

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.

Trade Winds

8034290

 

With the Christmas roster freeze now in the rearview mirror, we’re starting to see some activity as General Managers tweak their lineups for the playoff run.

****UPDATE***

The Edmonton Oilers made a baffling trade today…sending Mark Arcobello to the Nashville Predators for Derek Roy.

On the surface it seems like a slight upgrade at centre but, if you look a little deeper, it’s just squandering another asset.

Roy was PPG+ player with the Buffalo Sabres 7 seasons ago but his best season in the last 5 was in 2011/12 when he scored 17 goals and 44 points. It’s been all downhill since then.

Roy spent the following 3 seasons bouncing around from the Dallas Stars to the Vancouver Canucks (where he was invisible) to the St. Louis Blues and now to the Predators. In 26 games this season he has scored ONE goal and 10 points.

Arcobello has scored SEVEN goals and 12 points this season so there is very little reason to believe Roy will do much of anything to kick start the Oilers moribund offence.

Roy is UFA at the end of the season and I highly doubt he’ll re-sign with the Oilers so MacTavish is basically sending away an asset for 3 months of blah.

Now, some are arguing that the Oilers did the right thing to get a contract off their 50 man list but that’s only a factor if the team is expecting to add a few more bodies during this season.

This pretty is much the definition of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and is likely meant to indicate the Oilers are “doing something” to appease the fan base.

But it does nothing to improve the hockey team.

The Edmonton Oilers also picked Matt Fraser off the waiver wire this morning after the Boston Bruins waived him to make room for the callup of Jordan Caron.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues have given up trying to find an NHL player in Magnus Paajarvi after the former Oilers’ 10th overall pick was a healthy scratch in 25 games this season and managed to score only 1 point in the 10 games he did play.

The Anaheim Ducks also placed Dany Heatley on waivers which likely spells the end of his NHL career. Heatley only played 6 games for the Ducks and it’s apparent that the speed of the game has passed him by.

The big news of the days however is reports from multiple sources that Colorado Avalanche centre Ryan O’Reilly is being shopped.

The split between center Ryan O’Reilly and theColorado Avalanche is inevitable. Too much vitriol under the bridge in previous contract squabbles.He’s signed through 2016 at a pretty good clip; after that, it’s UFA status and Denver in the rearview mirror.

So with the Avs nine points out of a playoff spot and desperately needing a blueline upgrade (seriously, their firmware is like two years out of date), perhaps the Ryan O’Reilly trade window is opening for the rest of the NHL.

At least that’s what former Denver Post writer Adrian Dater is reporting:

O’Reilly being offered around the league for a good D-man. Florida and Winnipeg. Pondering, Toronto and Montreal too

— Adrian Dater (@adater) December 28, 2014

People might publicly deny it, but O’Reilly is definitely in play again on the market

— Adrian Dater (@adater) December 28, 2014

Thinking about possible destinations for O’Reilly, I believe that Toronto might be a good fit.

There are persistent rumours that the Leafs are thinking about trading Jake Gardiner or Cody Franson and that James Reimer could also be on the move.

O’Reilly is an Ontario native and is precisely what the Leafs need and, if acquired, the Leafs would be in a position to trade Nazem Kadri for additional help.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, add a defenseman, a reliable backup goaltender and free themselves from O’Reilly’s $6 million cap hit.

More later in the day…..

Top 3

top3

 

When you spend a lot of cash and cap space on the best 3 players on your team, you had better be getting a massive return on your investment or you’re not likely to be very successful.

I thought we would look at the top 3 players (by cap hit) on all the WC teams to see which teams are getting an adequate return on their investment.

Anaheim – Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler:

$23 million cap hit – 35 G 84P

Arizona – OEL, Doan, Yandle:

$16 million cap hit – 17G 51P

Calgary – Hudler, Wideman, Giordano

$13.2 million cap hit – 31G 80P

Chicago – Kane, Toews, Sharp

$18.5 million cap hit – 31G  81P

Colorado – Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog

$17.5 million cap hit – 22G 54P

Dallas – Spezza, Seguin, Benn (note Horcoff actually has a slightly higher cap hit than Benn but is only getting paid $3 million this season)

$18. 2 million cap hit – 37G 88P

Edmonton – Eberle, Hall, Hopkins

$18 million cap hit – 22G 56P

Los Angeles – Doughty, Kopitar, Brown

$22.6 million cap hit – 15G 42P

Minnesota – Parise, Suter, Koivu

$21.7 million cap hit – 18G 56P

Nashville – Weber, Neal, Fisher

$17 million cap hit – 19G 42P

San Jose – Thornton, Marleau, Couture

$19.3 million cap hit – 35G 82P

St. Louis – Statsny, Pietrangelo, Steen

Cap hit $19.0 million – 18G  40P

Vancouver – Sedin, Sedin, Vrbata

Cap hit $19 million – 25G 75P

Winnipeg – Enstrom, Wheeler, Kane

Cap hit $16.5 – 15G 44P

Some observations:

  • Anaheim is forking out the most dough but they’re getting full value for it.
  • Calgary is getting HUGE value from their best paid players.
  • The Kane and Toews contract extensions next season are going to whack the Blackhawks.
  • The best “top 3” in this study is Spezza, Seguin, Benn and, if Dallas gets its D together, watch out.
  • Edmonton’s “top 3” are very disappointing.
  • The Kings 3 highest paid players are severely under performing and the standings show it.
  • Nashville’s highest scoring players, Forsberg and Ribiero have a combined cap hit of less than $2 million.
  • Likewise, the Blues’ top 3 scoring forwards, Tarasenko, Schwartz and Lehtera have a combined cap hit of $5 million.

Now a list like this doesn’t indicate which team will have the most success but teams that aren’t getting good value from their best paid players are likely not to have any long-term success.

What Now?

road-ahead

 

We’re getting very close to the point that we can see which teams will have the best odds of winning the draft lottery and there are indications surfacing that give some idea how those  teams are going to proceed for the rest of the season.

There are 8 teams  which, in my opinion, are pretty much out of the playoff race and we can list them but their chances of making the post season courtesy of Sports Club Stats.

Edmonton 0.05

Buffalo 0.1

Columbus 0.7

Arizona 1.1

Dallas 2.2

Colorado 2.2

Carolina 5.7

Philadelphia 8.7

So, now, let’s take look at what we might expect those teams do between now and the end of the regular season.

Edmonton Oilers:

Craig MacTavish, without saying it directly yesterday, has essentially thrown in the towel this season and appears ready to do nothing to improve his hockey team as least until the trade deadline…expecting the “progression of accountability” he sees in the Oilers to pull his team out of last place. That message was reinforced this morning when a very serviceable veteran centre, Kyle Chipchura wasn’t claimed on waivers by the Oilers. In the wake of McTavish’s moaning that he didn’t want to give up any assets to acquire a NHL centre, you’d be right in questioning his veracity.

What I expect will happen is that the Oilers will bumble along until the trade deadline and will trade UFA defenseman Jeff Petry and winger David Perron for the best futures he can get. Unfortunately, both those moves will make the team weaker in the present and Groundhog Day will continue.

Blogging icon Tom Benjamin dropped into Lowetide today to echo what I’ve been saying about the Oilers chances of winning the lottery and rafting MacDavid:

TOM BENJAMINsays:

I don’t see how tanking gets the Oilers anything.

Isn’t it a lottery? Isn’t Bettman still in charge? I’m betting that the Oilers fall as many places as they can possibly fall in the “lottery”. Will the real powers that be in the league let the Oilers claim yet another first overall – and a franchise player to boot? I think the fix will be in and the result will please most hockey fans outside Edmonton. The Oiler brass will know they are getting stuck, but what can they say?

Is that too cynical? I think not.

As I’ve said previously, I doubt the league will “allow” the Oilers to pick in the top 2 no matter what so, if McTavish plans to sit on his thumb for the rest of the season, he may be in for a rude awakening at the draft.

Buffalo Sabres:

The Sabres are a bad hockey team…sporting the worst goal differential in the league at -37. They are also 6-4-0 in the their last 10 games so it’s pretty obvious they haven’t given up and are trying to win despite being so close to the 1st overall pick. At some point though, I think their lack of talent will prevail and both Columbus and Carolina will pass them in the EC standings. The big question here is whether or not any of Edmonton, Arizona, Dallas or Colorado can finish worse than the Sabres. I expect not and the Sabres will have a the best shot at the #1 pick.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

This is really a sad story for this franchise and its fans. When healthy, they have a playoff calibre roster but have lost hundreds of man games to injury. As those players return slowly, I expect they’ll climb the standings somewhat and could conceivably finish ahead of Carolina and Philly in the EC standings. I  any event, they’ll get a very nice player from the draft and, if healthy next season should be right back in the mix.

Arizona Coyotes:

The Coyotes have already started making moves designed to be better in the future and I expect there will be a lot more in the next couple of months. Don Maloney has already traded Rob Klinkhammer to Pittsburgh for a young, inexpensive defenseman in Phillip Samuelson. The 23 year Swedish defenseman is the brother of Henrik who was drafted in the 1st round by Arizona. The Coyotes have also started calling up young players to get them some experience and, as mentioned earlier, waived Chipchura and sent David Schlemko to the minors. There is rampant speculation that Maloney will trade UFA veterans Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat as well as defenseman Keith Yandle in the near future not only to save money in a lost season but to stockpile more 2015 draft picks and/or younger players. Worth keeping an eye on.

More on the Coyotes from Larry Brooks:

Remember how a few short weeks ago Andrew Barroway was on the verge of gaining majority control of the Coyotes, the news first reported by The Post?

Not so fast, for now comes word from a plugged-in source that the deal appears to be falling apart, with Barroway seemingly on the verge of backing out.

Slap Shots has been told the current ownership has directed GM Don Maloney to shed payroll … which would mean stripping the club with the league’s third-lowest payroll into a bare-bones operation.

Who could be going in addition to Keith Yandle (at $5.2 million per season through next year)? Not Shane Doan? Not Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

The equally pertinent question, though, is which will come first: the end of the NHL’s financial problems in the desert or the end of Coyotes?

Actually, it’s not so much a pertinent question as a rhetorical one.

Dallas Stars:

The Stars should be much better than their record but shoddy defensive play and sub par goaltending ( a league worst 96 GA) has deep sixed their season. It’s not inconceivable the Stars could go on a run and finish considerably higher in the standings but the hole is already so deep it would take a miracle for them to reach the playoffs. The Stars will have just a ton of cap space next season to address those issue with Horcoff ($5.5M), Erik Cole ($4.5M) and Rich Peverley ($3.25M) coming off their payroll so I think Jim Nill’s play is likely to ride this out until the offseason.

Colorado Avalanche:

Colorado has been playing a bit better of late but they have been subject to late game collapses that remind me a lot of  last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Going into the season, the weakness they have on the blue line was no secret and it appears the addition of veterans Brad Stuart, Jerome Iginla and Daniel Briere has been a disaster that won’t be easy to recover from. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a blockbuster deal involving one of their young centres to try and fix their blueline but that likely won’t occur until the offseason.

Carolina Hurricanes:

This is a team to keep a very close eye on. As the season winds down, I expect the Hurricanes will conduct a fire sale.I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the Canes convinced the Staal brothers to waive the no trade clauses to move to a contender and may be able to move Cam Ward’s awful contract as part of that deal if the other team is prepared to buy him out. The Hurricanes would then be in full tank mode to try to land MCDavid or Eichel…and I expect they will.

Philadelphia Flyers:

I doubt reality has set in Philly yet (when does it?) that the season is lost and they are likely to make some ridiculous moves to try to save it The biggest problem for the Flyers is that they have virtually no cap space so any move they might want to make will be very difficult to pull off. For a smart GM, there may be an opportunity here to bend the Flyers over if Philly panics.

If I was a betting man, I would wager that the draft order following the lottery will look like this:

Buffalo

Carolina

Arizona

Edmonton

Columbus

Colorado

Dallas

Philadelphia

By the way, there is a HUGE game tonight in Calgary between the San Jose Sharks and the Flames. With a win, the Flames could pull 8 points ahead of the Sharks and the final wild card spot. The Flames are starting to get their injured centres back (Matt Stajan is playing tonight) so Bob Hartley is going to have more weapons to try to keep their winning ways going. Should be a great game to watch.

Go Flames?

Desperation Alley

stick-puck-slide-text

 

Had to postpone the Storm Watching trip to Tofino…because of the storm 🙂

So I thought I would step back in with some observations on the corner Craig McTavish has painted himself into.

Anyone with a clue knew MacT couldn’t go into an NHL season with only 2 NHL centres, no top pairing D and 2 unproven goaltenders…except MacT himself and his fanboys.

Well, here we are.

1/4 of the way into the season the MacT Oilers (and, yes, he built this roster) are battling the Buffalo Sabres for the Miss Congeniality Award.

I’ve always thought MacTavish loves himself some MacTavish (way beyond the evidence) and is now reaping what he has sown.

Looks good on him.

So, what now?

There are some outlandish trade proposals out there….the venerable, though somewhat addled, Lowetide is suggesting the Oilers reset their roster in a trade that involves Tyler Seguin.

No. I’m talking about a massive deal, where Edmonton and Dallas get together and Edmonton walks away with Tyler Seguin and another significant asset. A massive, game changing deal that alters Edmonton’s strength up the middle. Or Colorado, maybe they have the assets.

I’m not saying he has to make that big of a deal, but open up the possibilities. Make this trade the massive roster correction required.

A team like Dallas, or Colorado for that matter, has no incentive to help the Oilers recover from the mistakes they’ve made in drafting and development over the past 8 seasons.

Tyler Seguin may be the second best C in the league and Colorado’s MacKinnon, Duchene and O’Reilly aren’t all that far behind.

So what would it take for either team to part with one of them?

Both the Stars and Avalanche could use a legit #1D….guess what…the Oilers don’t have one…never mind one that they can spare.

Both teams could use a solid backup goaltender…guess what…the Oilers don’t have one.

The Oilers best trading chips at this point are likely Eberle (14 PTS) and Perron (10 PTS) and neither one of those two will get you a centre of note so I’m thinking they need to target a team with unusual needs.

The Arizona Coyotes desperately need a player that they can market and that player could be Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Perhaps the Oilers could trade their 2015 1st round pick and David Perron for Vermette (UFA at the end of the season) and Keith Yandle. That trade works for both teams.

The other target I would look at is the Florida Panthers who are awash in young centres. Tallon might consider Perron or Eberle for Brandon Pirri.

If you can’t pull off one of those trades I have to think Taylor Hall will have to hit the market which IMO is not the worst idea in the world but more about that next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 100 NHL Forwards

take-notes

ESPN has published it’s list of the top 100 forwards in the NHL.

Now, there are those who will deride the ability of ESPN, the American sports network to gauge, the quality of NHL players considering they give short shrift to the league on air.

So, before we get started, let’s get the “shooting the messenger” nonsense out of the way right off the bat.

ESPN polled an impressive panel of knowledgeable  hockey observers for their list:

Martin Biron, TSN/RDS/NHL Network

Scott Burnside, ESPN.com

Mike Brophy, NHL.com

Craig Custance, ESPN The Magazine

Sarah Goldstein, ESPN.com

Paul Grant, ESPN.com

Tim Kavanagh, ESPN Insider

Chris Kuc, Chicago Tribune

Pierre LeBrun, ESPN.com/TSN

Dave Lozo, Bleacher Report

Vince Masi, ESPN

Victoria Matiash, ESPN Fantasy

Sean McIndoe, Grantland

Barry Melrose, ESPN

Risto Pakarinen, Co-author “This is Russia: Life in the KHL”

Scott Powers, ESPN Chicago

Corey Pronman, ESPN Insider

Michael Russo, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Timo Seppa, Hockey Prospectus/ESPN Insider

Frank Seravalli, Philadelphia Daily News

Katie Strang, ESPN.com

Rob Vollman, ESPN Insider

Ryan Wagman, Hockey Prospectus/ESPN Insider

Aaron Ward, TSN

Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Those folks know a thing or two about hockey, if ever there was a concern. Fair?

So, in looking at the list, I don’t see a lot of surprises but I thought it interesting that the best players are not always 1st overall draft picks when many draft junkies always tout taking the “Beat Player Available” when drafting. (which of course is nothing more than opinion and, often, bending to conventional wisdom.

What I find interesting is which of these players were selected #1 overall and how they stack up.

1) Crosby (1st)

2) Stamkos (2nd)

3) Tavares (4th)

3) Kane (6th)

3) Ovechkin (9th)

4) Nathan MacKinnon (17th)

5) Joe Thornton (21st)

6) Taylor Hall (24th)

7) Rick Nash (35th)

8) Ryan Nugent Hopkins (61st)

There are only 8 #1 overall picks on the list and 92 who were picked later. So much for BPA.

Of the remaining 92, there are many picked later in the 1st round and even more who were selected after the 1st.

Also striking is that the Oilers’ much ballyhooed 1st overall picks are ranked 24th and 61st while the 3rd member of the Oilers 3 1st overall picks, Nail Yakupov, likely would not make a list of the top 500 forwards in the NHL based on his performance.

Of note as well is that Colorado has 4 players on the list in MacKinnon (17th), Duchene (25th), O’Reilly (38th) and Landeskog (42nd) while the St. Louis Blues have 5 despite drafting much lower than most teams.

BPA…baah!

 

 

 

Top Guns

QAix3k0

 

 

Time for a look at who is delivering the mail (and who isn’t) so far this season.

There have been some remarkable early season performances by some of the top guns in the league and by some young players who are tearing up the league thus far.

Here’s a look at the top 30 scorers (minimum 10 games played) in the WC 5V5 P/60 thanks to Behind the Net.

WC

Tyler Toffoli – 4.57

Jeff Carter – 4.27

Nick Bonino – 3.89

Chris Higgins – 3.75

Tyler Seguin – 3.74

Jamie Benn – 3.70

Vladimir Tarasenko – 3.62

Tanner Pearson – 3.62

Filip Forsberg – 3.46

Joe Colborne 3.43

Ryan Carter – 3.36

Zach Parise 3.12

Corey Perry – 3.12

Ryan Getzlaf – 3.11

Martin Hanzal – 2.98

Blake Wheeler – 2.98

Jason Pominville – 2.95

Brandon Saad – 3.91

Thomas Vanek – 2.87

Mike Ribiero – 2.83

Jiri Hudler – 2.75

Justin Abdelkader – 2.73

Brian Bickell – 2.72

Joe Thornton – 2.69

James Neal – 2.61

Mason Raymond – 2.61

Taylor Hall – 2.59

Alex Burrows – 2.51

Joe Pavelski – 2.46

Jaden Schwartz – 2.46

A few observations.

There are some interesting names who didn’t make this list…Henrik (2.24) and Daniel (2.27) Sedin are absent although they are reasonably close. But what is striking is how much the Canucks second line has been contributing. Nick Bonino , Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows are all on this list supporting the notion that Willie Desjardins has the Canucks playing an effective 4 line game and silencing critics who thought the Canucks were a one line team without secondary scoring.

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating…the Kings “That 70’s Line” has been a dominant force thus far. They’ve slowed down recently so it will be interesting to see how they’re performing after another month but I think it’s fair to say that Tyler Toffoli has to represent one of the biggest 2nd round draft steals in recent memory.

The Dallas Stars appear to be on the verge of wasting a spectacular season from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Going into the season, we all knew the Stars had issues on D but to add to their woes, their goaltending has been pretty bad too. Kari Lehtonen has been below par at .904 while Anders Lindback has been nothing short of horrible at .852. You have to wonder how long Jim Nill will let that situation fester?

Likely the biggest surprise here is the absence of Jonathan Toews (1.43) and Patrick Kane (1.05)! Since the Hawks are leading the league is shots/game, I wouldn’t read too much into this right now but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Watch out for the Wild. The Wild have 3 players on this list and have the best team shot differential in the league. Despite that, they remain 10th in the WC and. at some point, that dam is going to be breached.

Some interesting numbers and trends emerge when you look at how teams are performing by this metric.

If we use 2.00 P/60 as a demarcation point for players who are performing adequately offensively and then see how many players teams have who are at or above that mark, we see the following:

Anaheim – 3 (Perry, Getzlaf, Silfverberg) Obviously the Ducks are relying on one line to do almost all their scoring)

Arizona – 4 (Hanzal, Boedker, Doan, Erat) Not bad but, when Martin Hanzal is your scoring leader, you’re likely in a spot of trouble)

Calgary – 5 (Colborne, Hudler, Raymond, Gaudreau, Giordano). Gaudreau and Giordano are pleasant surprises for Flames fans here. I wonder though how Colborne and Raymond will fare when they return from injury.

Chicago – 3 (Saad, Bickell, Versteeg) I don’t think it will be long before Toews and Kane join this party.

Colorado – 3 (Iginla, Tanguay, Duchene) What’s remarkable here is who is missing. Top guns Nathan MacKinnon (1.77), Ryan O’Reilly (1.14) and Gabriel Landeskog (0.84!) are having miserable seasons. No wonder the Avalanche are struggling.

Dallas – 6 (Seguin, Benn, Roussel, Spezza, Garbutt, Eaves) The Stars are having a superior offensive season but if you can’t keep the puck out of your own net, it doesn’t matter much.

Edmonton – 4 (Hall, Eberle,Hopkins, Pouliot) the Oilers “superstars” are all at the low end of the range and their performance has come against a steady diet of EC teams. Once their schedule balances out and they play the big boys in the WC, I think it’s possible they won’t have anyone in the top 30 and may have only 1 or 2 above the 2.00 marker. Also notable here is that former 1st round pick Nail Yakupov is at a dreadful 1.66 (134th in the league) substantially behind Flames 4th round pick Johnny Gaudreau (2.12) who is the same age.

Los Angeles – 3 (Toffoli, Carter, Pearson) It’s a good thing for the Kings that trio is shooting out the lights because no one else on the team is scoring much at all. Kopitar (1.68), Richards (1.48) and Justin Williams (0.68) have been dreadful thus far.

Minnesota – 6 (Carter, Parise, Pominville, Vanek, Zucker, Fontaine) The Wild have been killing it at even strength this season but their PP has only recently shown some signs of life.  At a staggering 5%, you just know that won’t last and the Wild will shoot up the standings.

Nashville – 4 (Forsberg, Ribiero, Neal, Roy) The 4 offensive players acquired by Nashville are doing what is required of them and considering the Predators are giving up fewer than 2 GPG, that should easily be enough to win them a playoff spot.

San Jose – 3 (Thornton, Pavelski, Couture) There is a huge drop off behind these 3 which would seem disappointing for the Sharks.

St. Louis – 3 (Tarasenko, Schwartz, Lehtera) Like Anaheim, the Blues have been relying on 1 line to carry the mail. Steen, Berglund and Backes have almost dropped off the face of the earth.

Vancouver – 5 (Bonino, Higgins, Burrows, Sedin, Sedin) and with Richardson at 1.99, The Canucks are battling the Wild for the most balanced attack in the league.

Winnipeg – 1 (Wheeler) This won’t end well.

 

 

 

Young Guns

Young-Guns-on-Improvateur

 

Increasingly, the NHL is a young man’s game.

Take a gander at the top 30 scorers in the NHL this season and you’ll notice a boat load of under 25 players producing at a high level.

So, who are the best Young Guns early in the 2014/15 season?

1) It’s pretty hard to argue against Tyler Seguin as being the best of the bunch considering he is leading the entire league in scoring and is on pace for a 60 goal 133 point season. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff has moved Jason Spezza to his first line with Seguin and Jamie Benn and the line has been all but unstoppable.

2) And then there is Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli was a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft and has been a revelation since joining the Kings last season. Toffoli blossomed during last season’s march to the cup by the Kings and he hasn’t looked back. Now on a line with Jeff Carter and our 3rd pick of the Young Guns rundown, Tanner Pearson, Toffoli is surging into the stratosphere as a scorer.

3) Tanner Pearson was drafted 30th overall in 2012 and is beginning to make the 29 teams that passed on him look pretty stupid. Pearson is on pace for a 70 goal season and, while he may not get there, I would’t bet a whole lot of money that he won’t score 50. Oh, and by the way, Pearson just turned 22 in August.

4) We tend to forget that John Tavares just turned 24. He may not be the consummate goal scorer that Steven Stamkos is but he’s pretty much a lock for 80+ points if he remains healthy.

5) Steven Stamkos is off to a relatively slow start by his standards but he’s on pace for 55 goals and I have little doubt he will get there if he remains healthy.

6) Ryan Johansen has picked up right where he left off last season despite an acrimonious off season where he didn’t get a contract until late and missed training camp. Johansen is 7th in league scoring at the moment and is on pace for 51 goals and 112 points. Boy, that next contract is going to be a doozy!

7) Watch out for Jonathan Drouin. The youngster suffered a broken thumb in training camp and missed the pre-season and the Lightning’s first 5 games of the season. He’s been moved to play on the 1st line with Stamkos and has produced 3 points in 4 games. I expect he’ll give Pearson a run for rookie of the year before all is said and done.

8) Taylor Hall has had a decent start to the season with 7 points in 8 games. He’s on pace for 41 goals and 71 points but that won’t cut it in this group. It’s also worth mentioning that the Oilers have been blessed with a schedule laced with EC opponents and the team is 0-4-1 against the WC. The sledding is about to get much tougher.

9) Tyler Johnson is quietly putting up a pretty nice season for the Bolts with 8 points in 9 games. Only 1 goal though so he’ll likely stay under the radar.

10) Alex Galchenyuk is starting to make the drafting of Nail Yakupov 1st overall look like a whiff. Galchenyuk has 3 goals and 7 points in 8 games played and I would imagine he’ll thrive in Montreal.

The Rest

The Colorado Avalanche quartet of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly has struggled to score so far this season but I don’t expect that to last very long. Just too much talent so we’ll have to revisit this half way through the season.

Nail Yakupov, the 1st overall pick in 2012, continues to struggle to find a place in the lineup and despite a severe zone start push and sheltering is not producing anywhere near someone with his draft pedigree. I expect he’ll be traded or return to the KHL before the Oilers have to sign him to his next contract.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is another player who is not meeting his draft pedigree. Although he has some nice 2 way skills, his scoring does not meet expectations.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who was selected 3rd in the same draft as Hopkins and Landeskog has also been very underwhelming.

The performance of Ryan Johansen over the past season and a bit shows that some players take a little longer for the light to go on but, increasingly, young players tend to bolt out of the gate and are up and running by at least their 3rd season.

Those that don’t can become suspects pretty quickly.