This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

One of the more interesting teams to watch since their ignoble fall from the post season to date has been none other than The Great Eight’s supporting cast. Well, they do support him during the regular season. One hopes that at some point they will remember they are supposed to be productive in the off season as well. While letting go of Scott Hannan was one of the more curious moves for a team not overly experienced in playing viable defense, overall you can’t help but call the off season successful. Given that they are still over the salary cap it is likely there will be one or two moves will be made before the curtain goes up in October.

High card:

It is an absolute no brainer to put Alex Ovechkin in this spot. However, after last season he could just as easily be put into the wild card role. With a bad-by-his-standards 32 goals last season, one could wonder if he’s lost his edge, been figured out by goaltenders and defense, or simply was too injured to compete at his normal level. Whichever of those or other reason it might have been, it just doesn’t matter. Anything less than a forty goal regular season that leads to at least the conference finals will be seen as a failure.

Wild card:

There are at least half a dozen players who could be put into this slot, certainly Semin, Backstrom, and the recently acquired Vokoun head the list of other important variables and none can be underrated in their post season level of success being a contributing factor in either direction they aren’t quite at the top. I almost listed both Alzner and Carlson as well who were so important last year.  However the player who needs to be healthy, and contribute at his highest level for the Capitals to succeed is Mike Green. Without his skating, and scoring proficiency from roughly the direction of the blueline, the Capitals are doomed. Having had an injury riddled regular season he recovered enough to turn in a solid second season. How he follows last seasons playoffs up, and how much he can improve his defensive play will likely be the difference between playing in April and playing in June.

Sean Avery who over the last season and a half has been major league sports best behaved bad boy had or at least is alleged to have deviated from the straight and narrow. Of course those doing the alleging, and arresting eventually commencing the evasive maneuvers were non other than the world renowned LAPD. While there may be a police department in the country with a worse local reputation, none is as notorious nationally and probably internationally for the type of shenanigans that really shouldn’t exist outside really bad tv movies.

Originally the New York Rangers budding fashion mogul was alleged to have shoved a police officer upon their second visit to where he was hosting a party. On the first visit he was cooperative, and the police left. On the second he was alleged to have shoved an officer on his porch. He was arrested without further incident. Later multiple sources reported he would not be prosecuted for this. At the time the responses were pretty well divided among those who generally append unpleasant descriptors to Avery’s name as a matter of course, and those who were already planning the end of his career. Very few paid attention to the fact that of Sean Avery and the Los Angeles Police Department, Avery’s the least likely to be involved in the illicit end of a physical crime.

Capgeek.com estimates that the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, Presidents Cup winning Vancouver Canucks and the radically remade Philadelphia Flyers along with half a dozen other NHL teams ran up $4,179,500 in cap penalties last season. That is roughly $800,000 less than the Kings have in cap space with superstar defenseman Drew Doughty still unsigned.  The 21 year old blueliner is often compared to the just signed Shea Weber for best talents in their generation, Weber the elder by five years just came off a $4.5million three year deal, which would be a passable deal for the younger Olympic gold medalist, and allow the Kings the luxury of keeping their current roster intact.

 

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.
With the move from Atlanta, the team members not only have to get used to a new arena, new city and new climate, they also face the daunting challenge of living up to the expectations of a hockey mad city. Last season this team was in playoff position for much of the year, and then faded. This year they to be consistent all season to get to the playoffs.

High card:

Ondrej Pavelec split the crease time with two other goalies last season. This year he needs to seize the pilots seat and fly the team to new heights. With save percentages as high as .924 and .936 in his best months last season, he’s got the goods to get the job done. Without him playing at or near his best the Jets will be landing early in April and spend another long summer refueling.

Wild card:

Former Chicago Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien was almost two different players last season. In the first three months of the season he scored twelve goals, in the last four, just eight. Maybe it was fatigue as part of the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the team faltered around him and he couldn’t keep the team going, it doesn’t matter either way. If you had asked anyone on December fifth who their top five picks for Norris Trophy nominees were Big Buff would have been on 9 out of 10 lists, but March 5 he’d have been lucky to make half. If he can play consistently in the second half this year the Jets have a chance at playing in May.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

The Ducks had a great offensive team last year and (like all four other teams in the Pacific Division) spent part of the season in the drivers seat. In the post season they went up against their mirror image, a team with a great defense but that was offensively lacking. With star forward Bobby “still there at 2″ Ryan injured, they fell to the Nashville Predators.  This season it’s with some of the youngsters a season more experienced going another round or two is likely if people play to their potential, and stay healthy.

High card:

Corey Perry. With fifty goals he was the undisputed offensive leader for the team last year. With a +9, 11 game winners, 4 short handed goals, a solid faceoff percentage, and leading his teams forwards in short handed time on ice he was hands down the most potent player for the team. This year he’s likely to need to match that level of contribution, particularly in the post season for the team to make it to the next level.

Wild card:

With his rookie season under his belt and even a playoff appearance, it’s time to see if the Ducks most highly touted recent draft pick can address the weaknesses in his game.  Heading into the 2010 draft Cam Fowler was talked about in the same breath as eventual number one and two picks Hall and Seguin. On draft day with questions as to his commitment and ability in his own zone swirling, he fell not just from the top five where he was a consensus selection but all the way out of the top ten to twelfth.  If Fowler can keep his offensive game, and sacrifice less defensive positioning, he might just be the catalyst to propel the team higher and deeper. With a -25 last season he’s got plenty of room to improve.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

With such a vast gulf between their existing team and even the salary floor, it is hardly surprising the Florida Panthers are one of the most changed teams of the off season. Gone is Tomas Vokoun, in are handful of former champions, vagabonds and one presumes training camp will see one or more prospects make the team. The new comers are going to not only have to help win, but teach their new team how to win. Mike Santorelli and Dmitry Kulikov who were key to what success the Sunrise gang had last season will be looking forward to the next level play.

High card:

For Brian Campbell, it’s time to put up or shutup. He got one of the richest contracts in the NHL a couple years back and has continually been over shadowed. While no one who’s seen him healthy and engaged can doubt he’s got the goods to be a high end defenseman, it has been a bit since that was a reality. Last year in sixty five games he scored just eight more points than he did during his twenty game stint with the Sharks before signing with the Blackhawks.

Wild card:

Kris Versteeg. While undeniably talented and a solid top six forward on twenty teams in the league recent history doesn’t provide much clue as to what we should expect from him. In Toronto he was a top 3 forward, by the time the Flyers crapped out in the second round against the Boston Bruins, the NHL’s most famous white rapper was producing like a thirteenth forward. He turned in the worst playoff performance of his career. Then too is his traveling routine. The Panthers became his fifth team since being drafted.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

The Calgary Flames are a team that can be charitably called in transition. It might be more accurate to call them quietly chaotic. Previous management left the larder bare of high end prospects and sprayed success retardant contracts that have threatened to snuff the spark. Last year they missed the playoffs by three points and spent a good amount of time spinning their wheels.

High card:

Jarome Iginla, I can’t think of any scenario for the Flames making the playoffs that doesn’t involve the Calgary captain having (another) exceptional season. In the past ten season he’s scored at least thirty goals.  Two of those seasons were forty goal seasons, two more were fifty goal seasons. Mr. Not-In-October may not have the luxury the slow starts he’s credited with this year. Without at least 35 goals, and probably closer to fifty its likely that ice quality in May won’t be anything in Calgary is worried about.

Wild card:

George R.R. Martin couldn’t write a more epic collapse than what Jay Bouwmeester has experienced in Calagary, when his contract was expiring he was exchanged for Jordan Leopold when the Panthers knew they couldn’t keep him. Since the trade it’s been dismal. Two years and just seven goals without even the sniff of the playoffs that were instantly expected when he was acquired. In his last year in Sunrise he potted fifteen goals. If the Flames are going to burn bright into the spring, Jay-Bo needs to return to form. In the season after the trade the frequently injured Leopold scored 13 goals in just 61 games playing on Florida’s defense while the NHL’s current iron man  netted just three.

 

While we all know hockey is played on ice and not the statistics sheet, sometimes being able to validate or invalidate a player vs player comparison is important. Sometimes it just allows you to shut someone up who just doesn’t know better. For players on the fringe, or almost any player who gets drawn into arbitration advanced stats are going to be key. Also, one can’t forget the use for fantasy players and leagues which whatever certain pundits and casual fans may think do help keep more focus on the sport.

Unassisted goals. While we all know hockey is the ultimate team sport, having this stat to help break down the important individual efforts that can sometimes turn a game or playoff series is important.

Points  off turnover.  This would be a measure of the points (goals and assists, and possibly broken down into both player and team categories) scored within 30 seconds of forced turnover/strip of the puck.

Zone starts.  Where players start their shifts says a lot about what their team expects of them.

Quality of shots.  Much is made of the number of shots teams give up, and there is the “scoring opportunities” number thrown around, but that’s largely a meaningless number since no one knows how it’s measured. Ideally, shots would be broken down into three areas 1: Below and between the faceoff dots and about five or six feet outside the crease 2: Within six feet of the crease and forward of the goal line. 3: All shots from other places.

Diversions. This would be a measure of how often a skater forces an opponent to redirect away from the net when they possess the puck. It could be a lift of the stick, poking the puck away or a check that takes them off a line that allows a shot on net.

Aside from the fantasy and monetary reasons, statistics are useful for player development, and growing the game. Football seems to spawn a new statistic about every six weeks, baseball has more of them than there are seats at Yankee Stadium and neither sport is lacking for fans, discussion of statistics or the ability to produce and retain players from a young age up to the professional level. We often here players efforts compared in one zone or aspect, but aside from the points aspect there are few if any cross positional measuring sticks. If you watch Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Kesler play you can say “they are better defensively than…” and insert any number of names from Phil Kessel to Marion Gaborik or Alex Kovalev, but right now there is no simple metric for helping a player who defensively resembles one of the latter group improve to a level closer to the former.

One of the more interesting things the national broadcasts have gotten away from in the past two or three seasons is helping new fans get immersed in the game. We used to see explanations of various rules during broadcasts. At some point that ended. With ratings climbing in recent years, and the national deal moving to NBC and Versus which will soon be NBC Sports, it might be time to resurrect the explanations, and implement a few statistics to support why players like Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Andrew Ference or similar defensemen can be so valuable to a team and often get paid as much or more than players who score more than they do. Similarly it would make awards like the Norris or Selke more meaningful when you can have a reasonably reliable measure of “better” for non-scoring plays.

 

The Boston Bruins slayed the dragon on June 15th. They ended a Stanley Cup drought that stretched back longer than anyone on the team today has been alive. As a Stanley Cup champion they suffered injuries to the body of players that made up the winning legion. Some championship teams have been killed outright by massive loss of talent. For others, just as has been the case throughout the history of warfare disease has collected a far higher body count than enemy action. In the case of NHL teams, and certain nations throughout history victory disease is the quietest and most insidious killer.

Gone are leading powerplay producers of last season future hall of famer Mark Recchi and two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder.  Departed from the blueline is the man they paid a kings ransom for just prior to the trade deadline. In their place we have Benoit Pouliot, who’s extraordinary NHL exploits speak for themselves.  We have an empty roster spot that will possibly be filled with an AHL graduate or major junior prodigy. The blueline has actually been downgraded. As poorly as Tomas Kaberle performed he is still over the course of his the holder of greater efficacy than the Joe Corvo, and has avoided the off ice issues. Kaberle has been .13 points per game better than Corvo and even put up a better shooting percentage.

While it was nice to Adam Mcquaid extended it’s hard to say that the future of the club over the next four season would be radically degraded without him inked to an extension after his rookie season as an admirable third pairing defenseman. With Marc Savard unlikely to ever play again the same can not be said in regards to David Krejci who centered the top offensive line this season. His contract would have expired at the same time as McQuaid’s and unlike the brawny blueliner he’d have been eligible for arbitration. While he played behind the now two time Vezina Trophy winning, Jennings winning, Con Smyth winning 37 year old Tim Thomas Tuuka Rask is also probably a shade more important over the medium term than McQuaid, no rumor has reached me of an extension offer being dangled in front of him either.

The first elephant in the room is however the fact that training camp looms close ahead while the echos of celebration fade away and a forward who scored more playoff goals as a rookie than Mario Lemuix, who led the team in shorthanded goals in the regular season, and who clearly demonstrated his desire to improve year over year is still not re-signed. So far the lack of signing has been blamed on; illness, vacations, Stanley Cup days, El Nino, conflicting schedules, the hunt for the Amstel Light drinker and Brad’s ever absent shirts.  The second elephant is that several of the better teams in the eastern conference have been staging a noisy arms race since before the draft. The Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Buffalo Sabres have all been hugely active in trades and free agent signings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to get back not one, but two Hart Trophy winners. The Bruins who finished a slim seven points ahead of Buffalo, and behind the Flyers, Capitals, and Penguins have put pop guns into their lineup while the competition loads up with surface to air missiles.

Fans have to be wondering what the commitment of the Bruins front office is to being the first team in the post lockout era to repeat is. The Bruins powerplay still hasn’t been adequately addressed and fans across the globe still wince in memory of it. The team has downgraded the productivity of its on ice product as Corvo’s sole advantage over Kaberle is his willingness to shoot the puck, and Pouliot has yet to put together a season as good as even Recchi’s least productive. For Bruins fans, the summer of love looks to run directly into the winter of discontent.