Oct 292010
 

Attendance across much of the NHL appears to be trending downward this season which may create new trouble spots for the NHL and with the Canadian dollar unlikely to rise as significantly this year as the previous couple years, we could, for the first time, see the salary cap fall.

Last year there were 19 games with fewer than 10,000 fans, 13 of them in Phoenix and one of them being a snow storm related issue in New Jersey. So outside of Phoenix there were only 5 games where fewer than 10,000 fans showed up. This included one game in Atlanta, one game in Carolina, and three New York Islander home games. Not including the San Jose-Columbus game played overseas there have already been six NHL games with fewer than 10,000 fans, two in Columbus, two in Atlanta and two in Phoenix.

The table below shows each teams average attendance in their games following their home openers (since most teams sell out their home openers, games played in Europe not included) along with their 2009-10 Attendance.

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Oct 212010
 

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray spoke to the media about his teams poor start to the season and during the discussion he mentioned he was talking with other general managers to see if there was anything he can do to improve his team via trade. In particular he was looking to add a rugged defensemen to his team. The question I have though is, does Bryan Murray have anyone on his team that he would be willing to trade that any other team would have an interest in? I am sure other teams would have an interest in Daniel Alfredsson, but Alfredsson isn’t going to be traded. So is there anyone that another team might be interested in that Murray would consider trading?

The difficulty for Ottawa, in my opinion, is they view themselves as a playoff team, and maybe even a long shot contending team for the Stanley Cup. So long as they view themselves as this they won’t go into a full rebuild mode that might see them trade core players like Chris Phillips, Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, Milan Michalek, etc. You might get some interest from other general managers in the Senators third liners Jarko Ruttu, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly but those three have been three of the better players for the Senators this season and I don’t think trading them would fill any holes bigger than the hole you created by trading them.

You might think the Senators would love to trade Alexei Kovalev but they would probably prefer he just decided to put in an honest work ethic each and every day because when he does he can be a decent enough player. Besides, you probably would only get an equally overpriced malcontent in return (Rangers would be willing to send Redden your way).

They wouldn’t consider trading Sergei Gonchar but he wouldn’t have much value if they tried. Ottawa was one of the few, if not only, team willing to give Gonchar a 3 year deal and he is still on that 3 year deal and while he hasn’t played poorly, he hasn’t been great either.

Many Senators fans talk about trading former first round pick Brian Lee and hoping to get something in return for him, but lets be honest, no one really wants Brian Lee. He hasn’t shown he can be a reliable NHL regular and yet he earns $875,000 this year and next on a one-way deal. Murray has had Lee on the trading block for a while now and there just isn’t much interest in him.

Matt Carkner is their sole rugged defenseman so he won’t be traded. Jesse Winchester is a serviceable fourth line player and could be used as a component in a larger trade but really doesn’t add much value on his own.
Chris Campoli is nothing special but does have some offensive skill as a #5/6 defenseman. Maybe you could trade him for a more physical physical #5/6 defenseman but that isn’t really a trade that would shake up the team any. You’d just be shuffling bit parts.

Two players that would have some value are Nick Foligno and Peter Regin. Neither have shown that they can be top line players but they both have second line upside and at the very least could be solid performing third line players. They won’t net the Senators a top pairing defenseman but they might land them a similarly underachieving young physical defenseman. But the problem is, the Senators are severely lacking in depth up front. If they traded Foligno or Regin they don’t really have anyone ready to step into the spots they filled (maybe Bobby Butler will be ready in the not too distant future but who really knows). Maybe someone could be found cheaply or on the daily waiver wire but it would have to be addressed if one of them were to be traded.

The Senators are actually deep on defense prospects with Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch and others in the system a year or two away. Would the Senators be willing to trade a defense prospect for help now? Alternatively, would they be willing to trade young offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson for a more reliable and physical defenseman now? I suspect not but if they get desperate, you never know.

That leaves us with Jason Spezza. Jason Spezza you say? Yes, Jason Spezza. It was reported this past summer that Spezza was at least a little bit unhappy about playing in Ottawa and that he would be willing to waive his no trade clause if Bryan Murray felt he could improve his team. It is pretty difficult to trade a $7M a season player early in the season but if he was put up on the trading block there would probably be some interest even though he generally hasn’t played up to his salary. Two teams that would almost certainly be interested are the Rangers and the Leafs. Would the Rangers do a deal of Rozsival and Dubinsky for Spezza and Campoli? Would the Leafs do Bozak and Komisarek for Spezza? Bryan Murray said he spoke to Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher. Would a trade built around Jason Spezza for Brent Burns or Nick Shultz work? If Bryan Murray gets to the point he really feels he needs to shake up his roster, Jason Spezza might be his only viable trading card as trading Campoli, Lee, Regin or Foligno isn’t going to shake up much of anything.

Oct 202010
 

Gus Kastaros this morning posted some NHL overtime statistics on his twitter account this morning which got me digging into the stats a little more.

KatsHockey > Overtime on the other hand is at #NHL record setting pace of 208 games .. in past week (7 days) have been 8 OT games

KatsHockey > Only six shootouts in #NHL thus far & only two shootout games in past 42 games one week ago .. pace has dipped to post-lockout low of 96

If that wasn’t interesting itself, there have been 20 overtimes this year.  In the first 11 overtimes there were 3 power plays awarded and no overtime game winning power play goals were recorded.  One of those three power plays were given with just 7 seconds left in the OT so really there were only 2 full power plays in the first 11 over times.  Contrast that to the past 9 over times in which 6 power plays were awarded and 5 over time power play game winning goals were scored.  The power play that did not result in a goal was awarded with just 16 seconds left.
It is probably just a coincidence that 3 of the first 11 overtime games had an overtime powerplay and 6 of the next 9 did but it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that the NHL, in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, issued a notice to the referees not let up in calling penalties in the overtime.  Four of the first 11 overtime games went to a shootout while 2 of the following 9 did.  If I get an opportunity I’ll dig a little deeper and compare what we have seen so far this season with past years data.
The other I pondered was related to penalties taken late in the overtime.  As it is right now there really isn’t much to dissuade players from taking penalties very late in the overtime, especially if they are facing any kind of pressure in the defensive zone from the opposition.  If there is only 10 seconds left in overtime the risk/reward equation of taking a penalty to take away even a mediocre chance to score by the opposition probably leans towards taking the penalty.  There have been two such cases where penalties have been called with 16 or fewer seconds left in overtime this year.  I generally don’t like it when it is actually beneficial for a team to take a penalty (one of the reasons I don’t particularly like basketball) so a minor rule tweak that might be worth considering is that all overtime power plays must be served for at least one minute unless the power play gets cancelled out by an offsetting penalty against the team with the man advantage.  So, for example, if someone takes a hooking penalty late in the overtime, the overtime period will be extended until that player has served 1 minute of his penalty.  So if a penalty was called at 4:45 of the overtime, the overtime would extend until 5:45 have been played or a goal was scored or the team with the man advantage took an offsetting penalty, whichever occurs first.  This would also reduce the number of games that go to a shootout.  I don’t necessarily see this as being inplemented, but it is an interesting concept nonetheless (and I suppose something similar could be implemented for the end of regulation time in one goal games).
Oct 152010
 

Yesterday David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail wrote a story that the potential sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer has stalled in part because the reportedly Hulsizer wanted a discount to the $165M the NHL is asking for to cover all their costs in purchasing and operating the team out of bankruptcy court.  Later last night Darren Dreger of tsn reported that although nothing had been signed indications of a deal to purchase the team was close and that for the most part an agreement in principle had been agreed to.  Obviously this conflicts somewhat with what David Shoalts wrote.

Today NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said

“We’re moving toward an agreement, which we’re hopeful can be concluded relatively quickly.  The next step will be proceeding to the NHL ownership approval process.  We are hopeful this represents the beginning of the end of this long process, which if successfully completed, will ensure the long-term future of the Coyotes in Glendale.”

So the question is, who are we to believe?  I know for a fact that I have to question anything that comes out from the NHL.  Remember, it was the NHL that stated that they were about to present former owner Jerry Moyes with a purchase agreement from Jerry Reinsdorf way back in May 2009 when Moyes first took the team into bankruptcy but we now know that at best that offer would be full of conditions relating to concessions Reinsdorf must get from the City of Glendale with respect to the lease agreement.  Bill Daly also stated last December that he was confident that an Ice Edge purchase of the Coyotes would occur though clearly that didn’t happen either so forgive me if I don’t put too much stock in what he is saying.

The reality is, the Coyotes will only remain in Phoenix if one of the following things occur:

1.  A deep pocketed owner steps up who really wants to keep the team in Phoenix and is willing to lose $15-25 million per year.

2.  The City of Glendale steps up and is willing to significantly renegotiate the Coyotes lease agreement or provide significant concessions so that a new owner won’t be in a position to lose $15-25 million per year.

3.  Or some combination of #1 and #2.

The reason for this is that the Coyotes cannot survive under the current lease agreement.  That’s a fact.  There just has not been enough of a fan base and corporate support to sustain the team.  So, if the Coyotes are to stay in Phoenix, someone has to be willing to eat those losses.  As of yet no deep pocketed owner has stepped up to the plate willing to take on those substantial losses and while the City of Glendale has discussed a variety of options to help out a new owner, none of the concessions they have discussed in the past year and a half have resulted in a new owner stepping up.

Could the Coyotes remain in Phoenix?  Sure, but until someone (the city or a potential new owner) steps up and states that they are willing to fund the teams significant losses for the forseeable future I won’t be betting on that to occur.

Oct 072010
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions.  Basically there are 6 teams that I think should make the playoffs followed by another 6 teams that will battle it out for the final two playoff spots followed by 3 pretty bad teams.

1. Washington Capitals, 116pts – Washington is far and away the best team in the eastern conference.  They had 121 points last year and will come close to that again.  Playing in the worst division in hockey helps too.

2. New Jersey Devils, 105pts – A first line of Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk has the potential to be as good as any in hockey.  Offensively at least.  I like the addition of Jason Arnott as well making the Devils strong down the middle.  They need an offensive defenseman but otherwise they are a solid all-round team.

3. Boston Bruins, 97pts – They will get to 97 points if they maximize the usage of their two goalies, Rask and Thomas, because they are probably going to struggle offensively again, especially if Savard doesn’t get healthy.  Gets third seed as top northeast team.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99pts – I am not certain the defense shuffle in Pittsburgh made them a better team, but probably not a worse team either.  They will come close to their 101 points from a season ago.  If Fleury plays better in goal they might challenge the Devils.

5. Philadelphia Flyers, 95pts – The Flyers could be a great team if only they had a good goalie.  Instead they have chosen to go with a pair of backups in Boucher and Leighton in hopes they can maximize the ‘ride the hot goalie’ theory.  Unfortunately that doesn’t often work and a potentially great team will be merely good.

6. Buffalo Sabres, 94pts – Ryan Miller had an exceptional year last year pushing the Sabres to 100 points.  Miller will still be good, but can he repeat that?  Probably not so expect a small fall back in the standings.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs, 89pts – This is predicated on Giguere/Gustavsson providing reliable, if unspectacular, goaltending resulting in a team save% above 0.900 which still isn’t great but a significant improvement from the .892 save percentage from a year ago.

8. Ottawa Senators, 88pts – Last season the Senators rode an 11 game winning streak to 94 points and the fifth seed in the eastern conference.  Make that an 8-3 stretch and they end up with 88 points which is what I am predicting this year.  Their PP might improve with Gonchar but their PK might fall back without Volchenkov and goaltending has to be the big concern.  Might have one of the worst goalie tandems in NHL.

9. Tampa Bay Lighting, 87pts – There will be improvement in Tampa this year.  They are certainly going to score goals but defense and goaltending could be issues yet again.  They will be in the playoff hunt though.

10. New York Rangers, 87pts –Unlike many, I think they will miss Redden.  Not having him on the team makes them a worse team though they now have cap space to add another forward if one comes along which could help them score more goals which has been their main problem the past few years.  They are a playoff bubble team.  Might sneak in, might just miss.

11. Montreal Canadiens, 85pts – If Carey Price can have a break through season Montreal should end up higher in the standings but from pre-season there is little evidence that will happen based on his pre-season performance.  The potential is there to be a playoff team, but I’m not predicting it. Getting and keeping Markov healthy is key too.

12. Carolina Hurricanes, 85pts – They have one star forward in Eric Staal and then a bunch of hope for the bests.  Mark Cullen is gone, Ray Whitney is gone, and I am not sure we can expect Jussi Jokinen to repeat as a 30 goal scorer.  Truth is, they might struggle to get to 85 points.

13. New York Islanders, 77pts –This is probably a bit optimistic considering Mark Streit is out for most or all of the season but their goaltending might be OK and Tavares and the other young forwards should take another step forward in their development.

14. Florida Panthers, 76 pts – They are not a great team despite having a very good goalie.  They just lack a go to guy up front to be a leader for the younger forwards coming along.  That makes it difficult develop young talent.

15. Atlanta Thrashers, 73 pts – Lets see, they lost Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Armstrong, White, Kozlov, and Kubina and didn’t adequately replace any of them.  I do like Chris Mason in goal but my fear is they are going to have him split duty with Pavelec who isn’t very good.  This could be a disaster year in Atlanta which doesn’t bode well for the health of the franchise in Atlanta either.

More Predictions

League MVP: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Vezina Trophy – Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Norris Trophy Winner – Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Rookie of the Year – Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres

Stanley Cup Finals – Detroit Red Wings over New Jersey Devils

Other Predictions – Sheldon Souray will eventually find an NHL team, Wade Redden won’t (this year anyway), Tomas Kaberle ends the year as a Devil or a Bruin, Mike Comrie scores 30 goals again playing with Malkin, Washington and San Jose both fail in the playoffs again and Gary Bettman is finally forced to pull the plug on NHL hockey in Phoenix.

Oct 062010
 

The 2010-11 NHL season begins tomorrow so I should get my predictions out.  Today I’ll make my western conference predictions and tomorrow the eastern conference.

1. Detroit Red Wings, 109pts – Unlike last year, this year they are healthy.  Their third line consists of Jiri Hudler, Mike Modano and Daniel Cleary all of whom are capable of scoring 15-20 goals.  Not many teams can boast that kind of depth and their defense and goaltending isn’t too shabby either.

2. San Jose Sharks, 103 pts – Lost some depth when they lost Malholtra but their young players are another year more experienced which makes their top 2 lines as good as anyone’s.

3. Vancouver Canucks, 103pts – I am not sure the Sedin’s will repeat last years performances but as a team the Canucks are good from top to bottom.

4. Los Angeles Kings, 101pts – The Kings are the up and coming team.  They may not be quite true Stanley Cup contenders but they are getting awfully close and they will take another step in that direction this year.

5. Chicago Blackhawks, 98pts – They lost a lot of depth in the off season and a goalie tandem of Turco and Crawford isn’t without uncertainties so one has to assume they will take a big step back this season.  They will still be good though, but it will be a bit of a transition year until some of their young replacements get up to speed with the NHL game.  Long term I think they might regret not keeping Niemi though.

6. Phoenix Coyotes, 96pts – Hard to predict where the Coyotes will end up.  Two years ago they had 79 points, last year they had 107 points.  They won’t repeat last seasons success but how far will they fall?  I’ll say they will get 96 points, but I may be optimistic.

7. St. Louis Blues, 95pts – The Blues are the team in the west that I think will make big strides forward.  I like Halak in goal and I think Boyes will have a bit of a bounce back year.

8. Calgary Flames, 93pts – There always seems to be high hopes in Calary but it seems they also seem to fizzle those hopes away one way or another.  They still don’t have another high end forward to support Iginla nor a quality goalie to back up Kiprusoff.  The time is running out on the Iginla-Kiprusoff led Flames as they both are about to enter their post-prime years.

9. Colorado Avalanche, 92pts – After being a big surprise in the first half of last season the Avalanche almost fell out of a playoff spot struggling through much of the second half depending too much on a fatiguing Craig Anderson in goal.  Hard to see how they will be any better this season so will be in a dogfight with a handful of other teams for the final couple playoff spots.

10. Nashville Predators, 91pts - The Predators are neither a great team, not a bad team.  I think they will miss Jason Arnott and his 2-way play but they have enough good players to be competitive for a playoff spot, but not enough to be a great team, much like the past several seasons.

11. Anaheim Ducks, 89 pts – If they had a little more on defense I might have given them a playoff spot but there are enough issues with their defense and their overall depth that they will probably be on the outside looking in again this year.

12.  Minnesota Wild, 86pts – They have strengthened their team down the middle with the additions of Scott Cullen and John Madden but they lack the game breakers up front to make their transition from a defense first team to a more offensive style of play a successful one.

13 – Dallas Stars, 80pts – The franchise is going through a transition both on and off the ice.  Their goaltending is a huge question mark from the injury prone Lehtonen to the downright bad Raycroft.  They will be lucky if the floor doesn’t completely fall out and they end up merely a bad team.

14 Columbus Blue Jackets, 79 pts – Beyond Rick Nash they have some decent forwards but lack a lot of depth and their defense lacks a true top pairing guy and they have question marks in goal.  It will be yet another mediocre season for the Blue Jackets.

15 Edmonton Oilers, 76pts – The Oilers may not be good but they should be better than last season and there should be some reason for optimism about the future.  A healthy Hemsky along with some up and coming young talented forwards will help the Oilers win a few more games and as inconsistent as Khabibulin can be he would be an improvement over what Deslauriers and Dubnyk provided last year.

Oct 022010
 

As we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season, lets take a look at 9 teams who may struggle in goal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Leighton has been a waiver claim 4 times in the past 4 years and another time was traded straight up for a 7th round pick.  Despite playing well at times last year, he isn’t anyone I’d be comfortable depending on and he will be starting the season on IR with a bad back.  Brian Boucher has had moments of great play in his career too but has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a backup.  This is not the goaltending a supposed Stanley Cup contender should have.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators had the third worst save percentage in the NHL and they chose to come back with the same tandem and they haven’t looked any better in the pre-season.  Pascal Leclaire might be the worst goalie in the NHL over the past couple seasons (challenging Toskala for that title) though the Senators hope that is in part due to his injury issues.  Brian Elliot looked like he was in the process of transitioning from prospect to reliable NHL starter but he also struggled at times, and didn’t look good in the playoffs.  What Elliot’s NHL career looks like is still a big question mark.  Adding to the problem is the Senators lost a key defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and added an offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar so the team may choose to go with a more offensive style of play which would only expose their goaltending issues even more.

Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen isn’t a bad goalie, just an unhealthy one.  Only once in his 5 year career has he been able to start more than 45 games.  Behind Lehtonen you have Andrew Raycroft who probably has been one of the worst goalies post lockout.  If Lehtonen gets injured yet again, it could be trouble for the Stars.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs have had terrible goaltending the last several years.  The good news is there is no one on the Leaf roster named Toskala or Raycroft so that has to be a positive.  But, with that said young Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven anything and has looked iffy in the pre-season and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is past his prime.  That said, I think Giguere will have a more steady influence on the team even if he isn’t a great goalie anymore and at least there is hope that Gustavsson can provide some upside as he develops.

Montreal Canadiens – I don’t understand the logic of trading away Jaroslav Halak who in addition to being a playoff hero also posted a 26-13-5 record with a .924 save percentage in order to keep Carey Price and his 13-20-5 record and .912 save percentage.  Price has looked shakey in the pre-season and if he doesn’t turn it around it could be a long year in Montreal.  New backup Alex Auld can be a decent backup but not someone I’d want to have to depend on too much.

Washington Capitals – Like the Flyers, the Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders with big question marks in goal.  While the Flyers have a pair of goalies with more experience than the Capitals the Capitals have a pair of young goalies with potential to have very good careers.  Both Seymon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have been solid in goal at times but combined they have just 47 NHL regular season starts.  The good news is the Capitals have enough offense that they don’t need great goaltending but even so, that is a lot of pressure to put on a pair of youngsters with no veteran goalie around to support them.

Edmonton Oilers – Khabibulin is one of the most streaky goalies around.  When he is good, he can be really good, but when he is bad he can be awful, and there isn’t much behind him to support him during those bad streaks.  All that said, goaltending isn’t all the Oilers will have issues with.

NY Islanders – Rick DiPietro can’t seem to stay healthy and Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old.  The potential is there for the Islanders to have serious goaltending problems this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have shown potential to be decent NHL goalies but neither have played well enough to be called a reliable starter and neither are coming off good seasons.  Despite some good talent up front, it could be another long season for the Lightning if one of these guys can’t step up their games or the coaching can’t optimize the ‘go with the hot goalie’ strategy.

Honourable Mentions:  Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  I am not overly worried about Turco in Chicago, I think he can still be a reliable goalie for 50-60 games.  Can Crawford deliver in his 25-30 games though?  I am also not that worried about Niemi and Nittymaki in San Jose.  I think between them they will provide solid goaltending, but it probably won’t be as dependable as Nabokov’s.