I just realized it was the two year anniversary of the blog going live. Thanks to everyone who has read, tweeted, G+, liked, tweeted and talked about the blog. For the newest people here’s a few posts that I think are worth a look even if a few months old.

Why the CBA floor needs to be lowered.

NHL Stats That Should Exist.

Interview with hockey super agent Scott Norton.

A look at last years Bruins issues.

A tribute to Alex Burrows.

Chara Paccioretty hit.

That Kaberle trade.

A guest column from LeftWingLock.

The very first PuckSage.com post on the Olympic Coverage.

No movement and no trade clauses.

Why do you boo Subban?

And two posts over at Hockey This Week where I have a weekly feature.

 

 

 

Detroit Red Wings:

Good News: The asterisk continues!

Bad News: Still no sign of normal or near normal production from Zetterberg or Holmstrom.

New York Rangers:

Good News: With the stretch run coming the whole team is healthy.

Bad News: Post season production has not been a hallmark of more than a few key players on the team.

Vancouver Canucks:

Good News: A legitimate shot at another Presidents Trophy.

Bad News: Still in a weak division that does nothing to prepare the team for playoff intensity.

St Louis Blues

Good News: A virtual lock to return to the playoffs.

Bad News: No signs of management bringing in enough enough offense to give the team a legitimate shot at competing with the top teams.

Boston Bruins:

Good News:  All slumps end.

Bad News: You have to try to get them to end.

Nashville Predators:

Good News: Veteran cup winning leadership has been added in the form of Hal Gill.

Bad News: Neither key blueliner has been signed yet.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Good News: When healthy, Nicklas Grossman is a shotblocking, hitting defensive defensenman.

Bad News: Your goaltending is still at about the same level as Chicago’s.

New Jersey Devils

Good News: Ilya Kovalchuk should win the Hart Trophy, Adam Henrique should win the Calder.

Bad News: Neither of them plays goal.

San Jose Sharks

Good News: Another division title is within reach.

Bad News: You have the fourth or fifth best goaltending in a not very strong division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Good News: With the trade deadline hear Sidney Crosby questions have fallen off a bit.

Bad News: With the deadline soon to pass Sidney Crosby questions will peak again.

Ottawa Senators:

Good News: A pretty healthy team heading into the playoffs where health is wealth.

Bad News: The backend of the team could use a tweak or two.

Chicago Blackhawks

Good News: Rumors of Patrick Kane being available probably took the heat off Quenville for a few days.

Bad News: The problems with the team are neither Kane or Quenville.

Florida Panthers

Good News: The sellers on the market have finally admitted it.

Bad News: The teams strength, its defense has been mauled.

Phoenix Coyotes

Good News: Mike Smith is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season.

Bad News: Sticking to the on ice issues, still the NHL’s 19th best offense.

Los Angeles Kings

Good News: Jonathan Quick is the best player on the team and probably in the division.

Bad News: Jonathan Quick is the best player on the team and probably in the division and no one else on the team makes the division’s top 30 this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Good News:  6th best offense in the NHL.

Bad News: 25th in goals allowed.

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.

The Bruins have a six game road trip on which they can hope to correct the course. They’ve been playing .500 hockey for weeks. In the locker room they have two new faces. The first being small defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk who the Bruins drafted in 2006. The same draft gave them Milan Lucic and Bodnarchuk’s roommate and friend Brad Marchand. The other is another member of the 2003 draft class, drafted by the Senators, Josh Hennessy. Hennessyis a Brockton, Massachusetts native who has been toiling in the AHL for most of the years since he was drafted. He was picked two slots above Patrice Bergeron, he played 20 NHL games with the Senators and 39 games in the Swiss A league Luguno. Realistically the Bruins need to win four of the six games, but all of them are winnable games if they play well.

Game 1: Montreal Canadiens

On paper the Bruins should win this game handily. Unfortunately for the Bruins the team has piled up most of its losses this season to teams under .500. On top of that between the Candiens and Bruins the standings and records are almost always meaningless anyway. Big body and possible trade piece Travis Moen is questionable for the game.

Game 2: Winnipeg Jets

Evander Kane has emerged as a force this season. Blake Wheeler broke out of his early season slump. Dustin Byfugelin is back and healthy. Add in Ondrej Pavelec you have a goalie that can steal games single handedly. A team that’s fast and capable of the rough stuff. They are seven points out of the Southeast division lead, and the coach has publicly asked for help. They are also four points out of fifth.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild

The Wild have played less games than a lot of the teams ahead of them but are likely to be sellers at the deadline. Marek Zidlicky was heavily rumored to be on the market and having waived his NTC to go to New Jersey, but his friend Patrick Elias denied this around mid day. Expect to see a watered down version of this team on the 19th. It’s highly doubtful there defense or goaltending will be weak, and Clutterbuck and Koivu are almost certain to be on the ice and that means this is not going to be a gimmie.

Game 4: St Louis Blues

This will almost certainly be a goaltenders duel. The Bruins and Blues both have aggressive forechecks and solid defense. David Perron and Andy McDonald are each at different stages of recovery in their return from concussions, both can be potent offensive forces when they can keep an upbeat tempo. Today finds them five points out of the first in the Central division, with two games in hand.

Game 5: Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are playing well (finally) and this is the second revenge game of the season. The first one was after the Lucic-Miller collision. This one follows the debacle that ended in a six nothing beat down by the Sabres. Patrice Bergeron was one ticked off Bruin, I doubt anyone will have forgotten this one. The Sabres are one point off the basement of the conference, but several have jobs to play for and some pride.

Game 6: Ottawa Senators

Today the Senators are in seventh, with four points on eighth and five on ninth. Unfortunately for the faithful in the Canadian Capital the Senators played more games than anyone in the east. Anderson is playing more consistently and the team is pretty healthy. What the Senators will look like on the 25th when they meet in Ottawa is a good question, if they will look the same three days later when the two meet in Boston is another good question.

If one didn’t know better they’d think Rick Nash was the only player available at this deadline.  Hence this extra special edition of Rattling The Boards

To no ones surprise the New York Rangers are among the (29) teams reported to be pursuing Rick Nash. North Jersey

Die By The Blade thinks that Nash might not be the perfect fit in Buffalo.

Apparently the Rick Nash talk is over the top. Who knew? Apparently  Silver Seven.

It must be nice to be Leafs GM Brian Burke and have several million personal assistants:

@ just letting you know Rick Nash is available

There are reasons (even good ones) for the Dallas Stars to get Rick Nash. The Hockey Writers

Unless of course the Dallas Stars decide to go after Jeff Carter instead. Defending Big D

You’d never know it to ask around, but apparently one or possibly two people are of the opinion that the sticker price on Rick Nash is a little bit high.  Blue Shirt Banter

Lyle Richardson offers of a hot plate of who’s in and out of the race over on THN.

Someone dared suggest that there might be downsides to acquiring Nash. Go scold him here. Elliott Friedman

You can’t fight city hall, other players potentially in play at the deadline and what they think of the Nashstakes 2012. Mayor’s Manor

From Columbus fan, the only Rick Nash trade they could handle. Jackets Cannon

Gasp! More folks who don’t want Rick Nash. Shocking!! Infamy! Canucks Army

The Rick Nash saga is heating up, and will likely not die out completely if he remains in Columbus until mid August with a slight lull during the playoffs, and a sharp spike after the Cup is raised.

But what is he worth? When Ilya Kovalchuk was traded he had one year left on his contract, had hit fifty goals twice, had three other 40 goal season, and was either the best or second best left wing in the NHL.  Rick Nash was the first overall pick in the draft a year after Kovalchuk, and has put up very good numbers playing at one time or another both center and wing, but not quite on Kovalchuk’s level. When the Thrashers traded Kovalchuk to the Devils, he went with Anssi Salmela, who can probably be described as a AAAA defenseman, and a second round pick. The Devils sent back, a 1st round pick a 2nd rounder, NHL defenseman Johnny Odouya, and some peripheral prospects.  Kovalchuk had one year left on his deal

Nash, has six full season left on his contract. This is both a gift and a curse. Teams wanting to mind their budget and long term projections on who they can afford to retain have cost certainty with the deal. What can’t be guaranteed is performance in relation to contract. He could play at or above the .81 points per game he’s maintained in his career if he’s healthy, and in a compatible system. Equally an injury, incompatible system or a coach with a bias could squash his productivity and leave a team with a Reddenesque deal on their hands.

So what type of return should the Blue Jackets get if they do indeed trade him? If they go just for picks and try and restock and build through the draft, it should be two first round picks for teams expected to finish in the bottom 15 or so, and probably at least one second round pick. If they want to build depth, and get useful special teams and leave offensive production primarily to Jeff Carter and whoever they draft in the lottery this year, they could pick up two or three players who could help their 21st ranked powerplay and their 30th ranked penalty kill. Arguably getting one first round pick and those three or four role players with a couple years left on the deals will make the team more competitive than one or two second tier stars would. If in the, highly unlikely, situation they opt for a simple superstar for superstar trade arguably Eric Staal is the perfect candidate. He was drafted 2nd in 2003, and was part of a cup run. While neither is exactly a raging extrovert, Staal has a bit more force to his play, and may just need a change of scenery.

Going purely off number Staal for Nash isn’t great upgrade, and Staal is justifiably paid more, but Staal has spent most of his time at center, and putting Yakupov or Forsberg on his line, while Carter, Umberger and Johansen form another line has certain appeals. Whatever they decide to do with if they do trade Nash, and can get what they are looking for, it has to help the team form an identity. I haven’t seen the team play with one in the past two seasons and it can’t stay in business without something to help build success and draw crowds. Additionally it’d be nice for someone outside the franchise to know who their All Stars are next season since they are hosting the event.

The Boston Bruins need a tweak or two. That’s undeniable what they don’t need is a large scale or large salary swap out. Injecting the wrong player, or removing one who is a key contributor is counter productive. It amounts to pouring sugar in the gas tank in the final smoke test before a race.

So who are the key components? In any order you care to put them the core of personality, ability and on ice impact are: Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, and Tim Thomas. Each of these four is a huge part of the teams identity.

Bergeron is the every thing man on the team. He hits, he blocks shots, he scores he makes passes and plays in all three zones and all situations. Zdeno Chara is the Zeus upon Olympus tossing down titans and defending what’s his in a way no one else can. Tim Thomas is an emotional catalyst, an elite goaltender and capable of stealing games and series. Milan Lucic is a monster, when he’s got his legs he’s the heartbeat of the team. His physicality spreads up and down the line up.

Each of these guys would be very difficult to replace with any other single player. Bergeron for Toews is passable, but the Blackhawks wouldn’t part with their captain, and the trade improves neither team significantly. A Lucic for Perry trade would be a similar level of physicality, and an offensive upgrade but complicates the already neck deep center position and greatly weakens the Bruins left wing.

Rick Nash is a goal scoring forward who’s having a down year, and also has a huge contract. He’s not especially physical, so flipping him for Lucic means a loss in one category for a noticeable but not really needed upgrade in another. Swapping him for Krejci probably means you end up with a line with not enough pucks to go around unless you’re looking at Lucic left with Nash sliding to center and a role player at right wing, much as say Byron Bitz is filling with the Sedins.

When a team has an identity, and success changing it’s core or threatening it’s identity is not how you make it better. The teams in the NHL that don’t have an identity aren’t very successful. The Montreal Canadiens this year are to put it kindly, in flux and need to figure out a recipe for success and hold on to it. Similarly the Washington Capitals have no unified identity and most of the best known players play like individuals. Trades for a team that has held the first spot in their division for most of the season, have some good prospects in juniors college should be players that compliment or enhance who the team already is, not radically change it.

Assuming the Bruins are adding a forward, it should be someone with a bit of snarl to their game, reasonably similar ability to Horton and good size. Ideally they would develop similar chemistry to Lucic and Horton, but other pairings are possible. In the unlikely event they developed a bromance that rivaled Jared Knight (@JKnight97) and Ryan Spooner (@RSpooner2376) so much the better, having more than one player you sync with on the ice never hurt a team. A defenseman is probably needed as much as a forward for depth. Since a certain Bean Pot champions captain is unlikely to be available, they need someone who can come in like Adam McQuaid and push other players to be better. For my money guys on expiring deals, or reasonable deals with one year remaining make a whole not more sense than big name guys.

Quote:

“There is a place, both present and future, for true, clean sport. We do not rank it above business, the occupations of our lives, and we do not look with approval upon those who, not being concerned in its performance, spend all their thought, energy and time upon its observance. We recognize, however, that there is something more in life than the grinding routine of daily toil, that we can develop a better manhood and womanhood, a more mature youth and a wiser maturity by rounding out our existence with a wholesome interest in sport. To those who devote themselves to this enterprise in a professional way and, by throwing their whole being into it, raise it to the level of an art, the country owes a debt of gratitude. They furnish us with amusement, with an outside interest, oftentimes, in the open air that quickens the step, refreshes the mind, rejuvenates, and restores us.”
Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th President, Washington DC, October 12, 1924

The most valuable player award in any league is constantly debated, at any level of sports. In the NHL despite the paramount importance of the goaltender very few are ever cited as the largest contributor to the teams success. Almost as rarely is the award passed to a defenseman who doesn’t contribute an absurd amount of points. The Hart Trophy should have far less to do with points and much more to do with the difference in how a team would fair if a nominee was replaced with an average player at that position.

Last years winner Corey Perry was a truly worthy choice. He played in all situations. He played enormous ice time. He came back from a mediocre start to finish well over a point a game and punch his ticket into the exclusive 50 goal club. He was everything that embodies elite play. Some of the players who have been awarded the MVP have simply collected a lot of points.

This year it would be nice to see another winner who collect the award who exemplifies the best of NHL hockey. Another winner who is a one dimensional player or who is awarded it on the strength of the NHL’s own marketing is bad for the sport and tarnishes the award.  Here are a few players doing much without whom their teams wouldn’t have a shot at the playoffs.

Ilya Kovalchuk: No player has made a mid career transformation like this in recent years. Two seasons ago Ilya Kovalchuk was an elite goal scorer who could play physically. Today he’s a complete player every bit as powerful a contributor in all three zones as Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron or any other elite forward you care to name. With an average workload of 24:48 he’s spending more time on ice than Nik Lidstrom. That total puts him 16th overall in ice time per game, it isn’t until 51 positions later that you encounter the next forward in average ice time. He’s producing points as part of the NHL’s #2 penalty kill. On top of that he’s over a point per game player.

Ray Whitney: All he does is surprise. Coming into play on February 11 he’s tied for third in scoring among left wings. He’s behind, Daniel Sedin who has a stacked offensive team, Ilya Kovalchuk, and James Neal who is also on a powerhouse offense. So why Whitney? Well, he’s getting his points the hard way. Neal for example gets more than 40% of his points on the powerplay. Whitney less than 25%. The elder Coyote is more efficient than the other three as well, getting his points in less time on ice. The difference in surrounding talent is telling too. Whitney also leads not just his team in points but the entire Pacific Division. If you replace him with a left wing producing about the average for NHL left wings who have played 30 plus game you get someone with about 22 points to the 39 year olds 50. The Phoenix Coytoes can’t even see the playoffs from their house in that case.

Dan Girardi: It would be fitting if Girardi took home both the Hart and the Norris this summer. When defensive stud Marc Staal didn’t break camp on the ice most people severely downgraded the New York Rangers to even make the playoffs. Instead the undrafted defenseman played his game and a bit more. He earned an All Star appearance. He’s on pace for around 450 combined hits and blocked shots. Given the vagueness of those stats, it’s likely he’s already surpassed that mark. The cool headed defensemen is playing more minutes than anyone else in the league topping former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith is the nearest competitor by nearly a minute. His playing time has increased and thanks in large part to his steady play and example to the younger defensemen on the team the Rangers lead the eastern conference.

Jonathan Quick: This might just be the man to break the exclusion of goaltenders from this award. Jimmy Howard, Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Elliot are all having stellar years, but all of them have a better set of skaters in front of them. None of them has played as many games. Playing behind the leagues worst offense he faces the constant pressure knowing one goal could be too many. He sits 3rd among the 46 goalies on the save percentage board and goals against average chart. If you replace him with someone at 23 or 24 on either list, Dean Lombardi’s head is probably on the chopping block.