It seems every other blog post at the start of the season, the run up to the trade deadline, and again around free agency is deploring the plight of some franchise who is being strangled by the cap ceiling. Without even looking you can imagine all the articles on who the Chicago Blackhawks could have gotten if only they didn’t have “cap trouble”. You could probably while a away the entire off-season reading the articles decrying how cap trouble is depriving the Pittsburgh Penguins of the ability to (finally) find the right wingers to propel Sidney Crosby to his clearly fated 250 point season. You have a better chance of driving four consecutive Boston rush hours without seeing a moving violation than you do of not finding on average one post per site detailing how awful it is that the Bruins are being handcuffed by this contract or that and it being the cause of all their cap trouble.

You could rinse and repeat for all the other top ten teams to the salary cap. And that’s exactly what you should do. Wash your mouth out with soap and keep doing so every time you use the cop out of cap trouble to describe where a team stands or its current woes. Cap Trouble doesn’t exist. Management trouble is what you are talking about. Every front office in the league is working under the same ceiling.

How do teams get into this mythical place? Poor decisions by its leadership. In some cases players selected by a previous regime are still in place and those contracts are an anchor. The current CBA addresses that as well, in addition to the traditional buyouts teams were granted two get out of jail free cards handily labelled compliance buyouts that are perfect for jettisoning dead weight. Barring ownership interference, there’s not really any excuse for any General Manager or President to have a single contract they don’t want on their roster if they’ve been in their position more than four years.

Some of the sub-prime choices come as part and parcel of an inability to draft and develop talent. Here’s a hint; if your fanbase can’t identify three players drafted, developed and promoted to a spot in the roster where they succeed for each five years you’re in office, you probably are doing a poor job with at least one of the drafting or developing. Three should be regarded as minimum figure, especially if your team was bad in the early years of your tenure.

If you’re drafting and or developing poorly, you’re paying for it elsewhere. You’re either holding on to players past their usefulness, overpaying pending free agents to retain them or throwing cash at the free agent market like Mardi Gras beads. One of the cash equivalents that most just don’t pay enough attention to is the quantity of no trade and no movement clauses. If cash, readily replaceable is the equivalent of Mardi Gras beads, NTC’s and NMC’s are like diamond engagement rings, or maybe having a kid together. When more than a quarter of your roster has them you’re probably doing something wrong. If you get to one third or one half your roster, dust off an update your resume and remember where the file is, you’re gonna need it.

Another management failure that leads to misspending is undervaluing a player who fits right and then having to replace them because they refused to play at a Wal-Mart wage. Are some of those players overvaluing themselves? Absolutely, and those should be parted with, via trade if possible. But most, can be gotten back into the fold for about the fair market value for their talent. Free agents that you have to bid against the free market on the other hand almost always cost more than whoever they are replacing. Likewise, when you have to trade from a position of weakness to address a hole in your roster you will overpay unless you’re dealing with someone completely unimpeded by clue.

One last time: There is no such thing as cap trouble, there is only management trouble which influences the whole organization and how it spends money. If you think this post was written specifically about your own team, well, they probably were considered. But no, this is one of those trends in the NHL that reminds me of cars sliding uncontrollably across an icy surface at each other, it rarely ends pretty or with lots of smiles.

With the time without hockey drawing to a close, this is the perfect time for perhaps the most radical change to increase scoring. In the past each NHL rink was unique, different sizes, different angles, and board heights that varied widely. Unfortunately those days are no more, and you an hardly tell where a game is being played unless you can see the log at center ice. While I would be the first to cheer the return to unique arenas like the Old Boston Garden, the Aud, and the Montreal Forum, it just isn’t practical.

Instead, I propose moving all faceoffs not following a penalty to the home team in the third period be moved to the offensive blueline of the home team. When it comes to driving ticket sales, and viewership in each city, nothing works like winning. Supercharging the ability of the home team to score goals by giving them sixty feet of  ice will make teams that struggle to draw a bit more attractive to casual fans

There are two types of teams that struggle to score goals. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers have been in recent years that have a great deal of difficulty getting the puck out of their own defensive zone, and teams like the Saint Louis Blues or Nashville Predators who either aren’t in the top half of the league in offensive depth, or  who play a system that doesn’t lend itself to aggressive offensive pushes.

You can also read parts one two and three.

 

One of the numerous ways casual observers and mental lightweights have decided is the perfect way to make the scoring easier in the NHL is to reduce the size and protectiveness of goalie equipment. Given all the safety concerns in professional sports, this just seems like a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Today’s idea is a slightly different application of physics. From the NHL rulebook:

The puck shall be made of vulcanized rubber, or other approved material, one inch (1”) thick and three inches (3”) in diameter and shall weigh between five and one-half ounces (51/2” oz.) and six ounces (6 oz.). All pucks used in competition must be approved by the League.

This is the puck size used up and down the hockey ranks in North America. Kids use it, and your favorite NHL star probably has a couple hundred at home for shooting at their favorite wall, net or old dryer. As athletic as today’s goaltenders are, I suspect changing pad sizes and thickness would do little to increase goal scoring and might even decrease it as net minders would have greater freedom of movement.

But what if the NHL went with a puck that wasn’t the size we’re all used to? With all the technological changes to equipment in the last century of play, why are they still using the same old puck? Making the puck smaller and heavier would likely produce more goals than making changes to pads.

If the size of the puck is dropped from three inches around to 2.75 inches it will fit through more gaps in pads. The positioning of goaltenders to cover the post, close their five hole and maintain a snappy glove will become paramount. Yes the surface area of the puck does help it stay flat, but that’s why the change in weight would be the second element.

By inserting a small weight at the center of the puck you can counteract the lost mass, and increase it. Rubber isn’t the densest material in the world, and it fairly easy to mold around other materials. How far up you want to go with the puck weight will tell you what material to use. Bronze, ceramic, or nickel are all dense materials and a small disc or ball shape in the the middle of the puck would add the mass handily, but other materials are options.

With the loss of surface area, and the increase in weight pucks will have greater inertia. This means goalies with leaky pads will have to work harder. Pucks that hit the crossbar are a bit more likely to land in the net or even bounce off the goaltender and drop. There will probably be a slight drop in pucks that go just over the net as well. The lowered surface area would mean it had less ability to keep air under it, and longer shots from the tops of the circles out to the points would be more likely to stay at or below crossbar height.

Click here and here for parts one and two in the series.

Despite my frequently disparaging remarks about cerntain other major sports, hockey isn’t the only sport I like. Football (the real stuff, not the hands free nonsense) has major appeal for me. The water polo is actually pretty interestin when the Olympic roll around, and rugby either in seven man or larger teams is always worth putting on. None of those however are really comparable to hockey, and none are set up for comparisons and cross-pollination as much as lacrosse.

One of the things that struck me as I watched some college and professional lacrosse was the difference in stick sizes. Defenders have longer sticks than attackers allowing them to do their job better. Then there is the width of the stickhead, that’s the interesting part. They tend to vary. One of the most frustrating things when watching NHL hockey is how often pucks bounce over the stick of defenseman at the point. During even strenth play this is annoying, during the powerplay it is maddening.

Why not allow NHL defenseman to play with sticks with a taller blade? An two or even three inches higher blade should increase offensive zone time, and reduce the dangerous nuetral zone play.  With bad ice in numerous buildings especially late in the season pucks traveling to or near the blueline as pucks are cycled from hih to low anything that allows teams to keep the action going in the offensive zone is a plus for the team and the league as a whole. Another aspect of containing those bouncing pucks is the difference between where the blueline is now and where it traditionally had been. The extra distance means that players deep in the offensive zone have to apply more force to the the puck to get it all the way out to the defensemen. The extra force makes the puck more likely to bounce or simply travel above the ice the entire distance.

Not only will taller blades help keep pucks in, they will allow defenseman to take better shots on those bouncing pucks. As perhaps the greatest coach in hockey history discovered, some times those shots on a puck that isn’t sitting perfectly flat can have a great impact.

Back in October I highlighted three players, all aging, all right wings, all stand up guys as players to watch. Of the three, two are still playing. Jarome Iginla, perhaps the best known of the three has been deprived of the post season again.

If Daniel Alfredsson plays his last game in the NHL in game seven of his Ottawa Senators series with eastern conference champions the New York Rangers, he’ll have to say it was a pretty good year. Not many picked the team to even make the playoffs. The Senators not only made the playoffs, they menaced the defending, and mostly intact, Stanley Cup champions throughout the year for the division lead.

At thirty and a lot the Senators Captain put up his best goal total since the 2007-2008 season. He was selected as All Star captain. In that All Star weekend he got to play with a number of his regular season teammates, countrymen Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and do so in his own barn. If he and his squad can clinch a second round berth there’s no reason he can’t hit the fifty post season goal total he stands just four away from. For that matter the eleven points to get him to one hundred career post season points isn’t out of reach,

When the original Winnipeg Jets uprooted and absconded to the infernal regions of the desert southwest they took with them a future icon. It’s doubtful many people tabbed the then sophomore Shane Doan to be the teams captain in years to come. It’s also doubtful that even the harshest critics of sunbelt expansion expected there to be anywhere near the angst, drama, confusion and financial turmoil that would haunt the team seemingly from day one.

Through ownership problems that span a decade (and counting) one thing has remained constant for the desert dogs and their fans. Shane Doan. Captain, consistently the hardest working man on the team and a leader in all ways. No one has been more dedicated to the Phoenix Coyotes or their fans. Free agents didn’t sign there because of the drama that contributes to historical low attendance, some players even refused to sign there after being drafted. Year after year when speculation turned to someone wanting to bring the Halkirk native to another city he quietly demurred and went back to community work between workouts and games.

Today, one of these three captains is assured of seeing the second round for the first time in his career. One of these icons has to win one more to join them, The third is likely weighing if he stays in the only city he’s ever known another year with a team that has more questions than answers.

Tim Thomas has had an interesting season. He opened the season playing behind a team with five players who were showing up skating in front of him. He played well through that. In October he had a less than modest .929 sv%, and then he got better. In November and December his numbers were off the charts, even by his standards. Since he was part of the backslide that will end up costing the team the nearly meaningless President’s Trophy. Faced criticism for how he chose to spend a day off, and had his popularity on Facebook go from modest to major. He’ll probably eclipse 20,000 likes before the playoffs start.

While whispers have floated that he would retire at the end of the season have surfaced, I’m not entirely certain I believe them. Looking at his last three or four games played he looks to be back to something like the form he was in last season. While it’s hard to imagine him simply seeking more material for his hagiography,  it is worth noting that he is six wins from his 200th career regular season win. He’d have to play and win all six of the remaining regular season games to do that. With Marty Turco having played well on the west coast there may not be a need for that. Given how many games he’s already played this season it might even be counter productive.

As of today he sits 4th all time in wins for the Boston Bruins, not a bad accomplishment for a perennially discarded goalie derided as a flopper right up until he won his first Vezina. With 37 wins he would leapfrog the legendary Gerry Cheevers and Frank Brimsek to take sole possession of second all time in wins for the oldest American franchise in the NHL. If healthy there is no reason he couldn’t do that before the end of next season. His best season to date was 36 wins in 54 games. Should he be extended beyond the one season remaining on his contract, the all time wins lead is 59 games away. If he goes through next season as the number one goaltender, and hits the 37 between now and the end of next season needed to move into #2 all time, even taking a fifty fifty split of games the following season that all time wins total would only be 21 wins away.

Going forward the rest of the season, and post season it is unlikely he plays more than four of the remaining six even with only one back to back. Tuukka Rask has yet to resume skating, and even the lower end of the 4-6 week range puts him as back April 5th, the date of the second to last Bruins game of the season. With Turco unable to play in the post season, it will be up to Thomas, and possibly Khudobin and Hutchinson. It would be dismaying to see either of the latter two in a game, barring the ridiculous it’s unlikely even Rask plays this post season. Tim Thomas fearless rider of Boston cabs, will one way or another be among the most talked about players from April 11th until at least the draft.

This is the fourth installment of the dive for the first overall pick. Earlier editions can be found at three, two and one.

Ain’t no dive like a Montreal dive

’cause a Montreal dive don’t stop

The Montreal Canadiens were perhaps the most successful divers around the deadline. They kicked the party off weeks early by dropping Mike Cammalleri (@MCammalleri13) for Rene Bourque (@RBourque17). The first has had seasons of 39 and 34 goals as well as being a point per game player in the playoffs over 32 games. Rene Bourque has never topped 27 goals, and his playoff performance is something like one half the quality of his regular season norm over his career. Next out the door was locker room leader, Stanley Cup champion, shutdown defensive defenseman Hal Gill. He too was shipped out in advance of the deadline. Last was a blow to local nightclubs as Andrei Kostitsyn, In both the Gill and Kostitsyn trades the Habs didn’t take back a single NHL player. They did however go with one of their traditional “heritage picks” by grabbing Blake Geoffrion, who wasn’t offensively gifted enough to stay in the Predators lineup.

In a bid to avoid having any sort of quality depth Scott Howson General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets set the asking price for Rick Nash at roughly a Dr Evil like figure. Apparently neither Glen Sather or Pierre Gauthier had working phones the last two weeks. He did also add a defenseman who according to fans of his first team was utterly useless, and lose a former first round pick in the fabled 2003 draft. In order to make sure accountability didn’t creep into the team mentality they gave the aging Vaclav Prospal a hefty raise for turning in a -17 and 8.3% shooting accuracy.  They carefully avoided trading for any quality players in the future as well. As compensation for moving Pahlsson, Smithson, and Vermette they picked up two fourth round picks, a 2nd round pick, a fifth round pick, and UFA journeyman goalie Curtis McElhinney. I’m reasonably certain the entire central division and likely the whole league was put on notice by these shrewd moves.

The Edmonton Oilers are smack dab in the middle of the fourth five year plan to rebuild. In mid February they traded guys none of the beat writers could pick out in a broom closet with the Anaheim Ducks. On deadline day they swapped blueliners with the Minnesota Wild. The trade was greeted with a heaping helping of meh with a generous side of wtf by fans and observers. The team is in danger of not having the most balls in the lottery machine for the first time a while if they don’t somehow find a way to get 11 less points than Columbus the rest of the season. Unfortunately for their quest it appears Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be playing a couple more games as he’s patently refused to stay out of a lineup he lacked the muscle to stay in and stay healthy having recovered from two shoulder injuries already.

The tailgating fans in Raleigh have had little to celebrate this season. Sadly the brain trust of the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t even raise their hopes on deadline day. None of that reason to celebrate came in the days leading up to the deadline. Nor did they happen on the deadline itself. While shedding Alexi Ponikarovsky for  a minor league defenseman and a fourth round pick probably seemed like a great way to make sure the Devils didn’t make the playoffs either, it hasn’t worked out that way. As the deadline drew nearer and nearer Jim Rutherford locked up more and more of the players who have helped the team to a tie for 27th place in the NHL. Showing all the savvy that saw him sign Kaberle to a bloated deal he handed out a number of surprising contracts. Showing none of the savvy that saw him trade Kaberle he didn’t trade any of his players for picks while telling them it was for the good of the team and that things might change in the future.

The good news for New York Islanders fans this season is that people now with an All Star appearance behind him know who John Taveres is. The bad news is pretty much everything else. Rick Dipietro is still healthy as a middle ages town in the grip of the black plague, his contract still expires roughly two years past forever. There is no deal for an arena, and on deadline day they biggest asset they picked up is Marc Cantin. None of the unsigned players like Parenteau or Nabokov who they probably want to keep were locked up, and none of the aging stiffs were shuffled off free tattoo gift certificates or second round picks.

Given the quality of the teams its likely that Yakupov or whoever might go first overall if someone has a stroke on their way to the podium will toil in obscurity for several years possibly as the only player keeping the franchise afloat. Eventually he’ll either leave as a free agent or get sold up the river to another franchise desperate for success but with little else to build with.  Hopefully for his sake he’ll be able to justify the hundred thousand year contract someone will try signing him to.

Last time we checked in on the Carolina Hurricanes captain he was a very mediocre 11-25-36. As one of the highest plaid players in  the NHL, that’s not what the team or his fans are expecting of him. Since then he’s had 6 games with a 5-3-8 line. He’s also rocketed from a league worst -23 to a staggering -18 that has him 6th from the bottom of the entire NHL.

What looked like a run away scoring winner among rookies in November and December has tightened up considerably. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has suffered two shoulder injuries from legal hits, and Adam Henrique has had a couple issues keep him out of games as well. The two injuries to Nugent-Hopkins give a lot of credence to the early and preseason arguments that perhaps another year in juniors putting on some muscle might be in his best interest. With or without him the Oilers are a lottery team, and now if that shoulder fails to heal it could have repercussions that span his entire career. One wonders if the close scoring race among the forwards will lend itself to a defensemen or goalie picking up the award in Vegas.

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique has wrested the scoring lead away from Nugent-Hopkins. In piling up the lead 19% of his points on the season have come shorthanded, 65% have come at even strength leaving the balance on the powerplay. He’s also got 30 takeaways to just 17 giveaways on the year.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins over 51% of his points have come on the powerplay this season. Despite all the time missed with injuries, he’s still on pace to break twenty goals on the year. While neither his home nor road number crosses 40%, it is interesting to note that his road faceoff percentage is higher than home.
  • Matt Read, the Philadelphia Flyers were probably expecting their other rookie forward to be at or near the top of the Calder discussion. But the small and undrafted Read has climbed the scoring ranks all season with other players out of the lineup. Like Henrique he gets a lot of short handed time, and a good amount of his points a man down.

Goalies:

 

  • Thomas Greiss of the San Jose Sharks has eight of his 12 games played, a .926sv% and 2.06GAA.
  • Jhonas Enroth of the Sabres has been on the crazy train with the rest of the team 8-9-3 in 23 appearances.
  • Richard Bachman has piled up a record of 6-3-1 .912sv% GAA 2.72.

Defensemen:

  • Jake Gardinier of the Leafs leads all rookie blueliners in points. 21:07 TOI/G
  • Raphael Diaz has climbed into second with 16 points, and has 91 blocked shots for the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Jared Cowen has 155 hits, 63 blocked shots 14 points and is loggging almost twenty minutes a night for the Senators while fourth in scoring for rookie defensemen.
  • Adam Larsson’s injury has allowed other defenders to catch up to him in scoring, but few are close to his 21:48.
  • Justin Faulk of the Hurricanes leads all the newbie defenders in average time on ice with 23:38. His 74 hits, 54 blocks and 24 takeaways to just 13 giveaways show he’s earning that time too.

Eric Staal has a current stat line of 11-25-36 with a league worst -23, his next nearest teammate Char Larose is a mere -16, probably not what ownership hoped to invest its money in for the season.

Forwards:

  • Even with time off due to injury, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still leads NHL rookies in scoring. The Oilers will probably consider keeping him around a couple more seasons.
  • Just one point behind “The Nuge” is Quebec Nordiques New Jersey Devils stud Adam Henrique who has to play the oppositions top defensive players on a nightly basis. what’s more interesting is that he plays two minutes less powerplay time and unlike Nugent-Hopkins Henrique plays over two minutes a night shorthanded where he’s picked up seven of his points.
  • Matt Read has burst to the top of the rookie scoring race int he last two or three weeks. The Flyers are quite grateful for this given how the injury bug seems to have taken up residence in their locker room. Over five minutes of any given night of special teams time are coming his way. Currently leads all rookies in goals with 15 through 45 games.

Defensemen:

  • Raphael Diaz is still tied atop the rookie defensemens scoring race, with a slightly better plus/minus on a notably worse team than Larsson. 3-12-15 -1 30 Hits 84 Blocks 10 Takeaways
  • Jared Cowen is a monster on the blueline, the Senators moving tower is one point behind the Habs Diaz and the Devils Larsson in points while playing three and a half minutes of shorthanded time a nite.  133 hits 59 blocks and 20 takeaways make it unlikely the other teams fails to notice he’s on the ice even if you could miss a 230lb 6 ft 5 inch defenseman sporting the Canadian capital teams logo.
  • Adam Larsson has led or shared the lead in scoring the whole season and there is a lot to be said for consistency, especially on a team that took quite some time to wind up this season. 64 hits 51 blocks and 9 takeaways. leading all rookie defensemen in average time on ice.

Goalie:

  • This week the San Jose Sharks put Antero Nittamaki on waivers, that should say something about how confident they are in Thomas Greiss. Confidence in the rookie goalie with the best GAA 1.98 and best Sv% .927 among rookies with 10 or more starts isn’t terribly shocking.
  • Richard Bachman also ousted a more senior backup for the second slot on a western team The Dallas Stars relegated Andrew Raycroft to the AHL in favor of Bachmans 6-2-1 record with a 2.50 GAA and .917 Sv%.
  • Despite transportation issues Jhonas Enroth has not so quietly been the better goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres this season. His Sv% at .919 is significantly higher than former Vezina winner Ryan Millers as is his GAA at 2.59, he’s got an 8-9-3 record giving him almost half the teams wins with slightly more than a third the losses.

Honorable mentions:

Justin Faulk: Carolina Hurricanes

Craig Smith: Nashville Predators

Carl Hagelin: New York Rangers

Gabriel Landeskog: Colorado Avalanche

Jake Gardinier: Toronto Maple Leafs

Alexei Emelin: Montreal Canadiens