This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Teams:

  • there would be three eastern conference teams in playoff position who did not make the playoffs last year: Ottawa, Toronto, New Jersey
  • only two teams would be in position to make the playoffs in the west who did not make it last year: St Louis and Minnesota
  • on today’s date the New York Islanders 5.4% would statistically have a better chance at the playoffs than the Buffalo Sabres 3.2%
  • the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres would be the two northeast teams most likely to be in the NHL entry draft lottery
  • the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks would all have records no better than .500 over their last ten and still hold their division lead
  • three of the top ten powerplays by percent in the NHL would belong to non playoff teams: #2 Edmonton Oilers, #7 New York Islanders, #9 Colorado Avalanche
  • the team that had allowed the most shorthanded goals 13, and 5 more than the next nearest team the New Jersey Devils would be in playoff position
  • Of the top five teams in blocked shots, only one would also be among the five that allowed the least goals, the New York Rangers

Players:

  • Sam Gagner would enter play today with more goals than Patrick Kane
  • Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals would be trailing Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets in goals, assists, points, hits and PIMS
  • 39 year old Ray Whitney would be the highest scoring player in the entire Pacific division and twentieth in the NHL
  • of the top five goal scorers in the NHL the oldest would be the creaky and distinguished 25 year old Evgeni Malkin
  • three of the four top shorthanded goal scorers would all play for the same team: Adam Henrique, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk
  • the three defensemen facing the toughest competition by Corsi would be: Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Butler, Sheldon Souray
  • four members; Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, Mike Ribeiro, of the Dallas Stars would have as many or more points as departed “star” Brad Richards
  • of the five goalies with the most wins, two would be Americans and only one Canadian

… which if any would you have believed?

The NHL entry draft always has a ton of drama surrounding it. Most of it centers on the first selection and teams that may or may not be dealing from the bottom of the deck to improve their lottery odds. In some cases it is a team that trades away its known talent around the deadline for high picks, or a bushel of middle picks they hope to use to move up at the draft. Often the chase for high picks in the draft begins two or three seasons out with projections of a draft class that might or might not be stronger than the ones on either side of it.

This year despite a lackluster twenty five points in his seven games is Nail Yakupov is the consensus number one pick. Comparisons by scouts already have him as the same level of player as Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin.

@ @ @ and he will be only the third Russian to go no 1 (Kovalchuk/Ovechkin) That's pretty good company
@dominictiano
Dominic Tiano
@ @ @ barring injury, yakupov will make it impossible to not go no 1. No chl plyr has his impact this year
@BryanThiel_88
Bryan Thiel

Of the bottom seven teams from last year, only three of those teams are in the same zone now. The Senators, the Jets, the Blue Jackets are all performing poorly thus far. While it is only a few games into the season history tells ups the NHL’s standings at any point in October are less important than any other month. Most would say these three teams are performing at about the projected level.

Of the team that were in the playoffs or that no mans land between the top eight in each conference and the draft lottery some have had significant talent leave without a compensating inflow of talent. Highest on that list is the lost of Ilya Bryzgalov by the Phoenix Coyotes. The Dallas Stars also hold a prominent place on the list as well with the loss of Brad Richards. With the post-Iginla era cresting the horizon the Flames who missed the playoffs last year might not have to do much hit the lottery.

Already playing the western conferences toughest division, they lost a goalie who has been nominated for the Vezina in 2010 and played 202 of their previous 246 regular season games. The Coyotes have also had a very long running set of negotiations with Kyle Turris over his contract. The combination of the loss of a center on a team without much depth their to a labor dispute, and a world class goalie has the potential to be huge.

The Dallas Stars, one of the NHL teams going through ownership drama, did bring in two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder the talent shipped out is not balanced. With James Neal sent to the Penguins at the deadline, and Richards lost to free agency there is still a big gap between what the team was and where it is now. Michael Ryder turned in a playoff performance that made it possible for him to get an NHL contract this year, and has looked solid thus far how long will it last? Ryder has a well documented history of highly irregular production. If he’s producing regularly at the end of January might he get traded to a team needing to get better for a playoff push? Picking up a second round pick (or potentially more) for the second year of his contract would have to be tempting.

Jarome Iginla is 34 years old.  Jarome Iginla is playing on the team with the second highest average age in the NHL. Jarome Iginla is playing on a team that hands out no movement clauses like Halloween candy. Jarome Iginla is awesome, no really. Awesome. He’s never had a center who could stay within shouting distance of him and has still put up huge numbers. Unfortunately for the man with the longest name in NHL history, he’s also on a team with minimal hope of winning the Stanley Cup before his current contract expires after next season. For him a move to a strong team he could put over the top might become appealing, especially if he leaves on good enough terms to return in two years (see Keith Tkachuk) to the city he’s spent his career in. For the team, getting back prospects or picks and moving closer to this seasons holy grail might be irresistible. Done right it can be as well received as Ray Bourque’s departure from Boston.

While the Edmonton Oilers have a rather Penguins like string of high draft picks already and are off to a start that has them tied for sixth in points it is unlikely they stay there. After tie breakers they are in 9th in the west.  Worse, through four games they have nine goals, five of them credited to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  While there’s no doubt adding Yakupov to the lineup could take a young offensive unit to the heights it hasn’t seen since a certain trade with Los Angeles before most of their roster started playing hockey, the NHL isn’t the same animal it was then.  So if they somehow managed to get the first pick in the draft, again, and decided to build their blueline up instead, Mathew Dumba, Nick Ebert, Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba are just a few of the high end defensemen who could be picked up with an extra pick or two in the top forty-five picks.

The fun quest all season will be to see who can get publicly hammered with the least attention for it.

The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.

Southeast division:

Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team.  If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.

Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything.  Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.

Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.

Atlantic division

This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.

The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.

The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.

New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.

Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.

Northeast division

If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.

Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland.  Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.

Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.

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 New York Rangers went big game hunting this summer. They managed to take down the biggest game on the free agency market. Even with Brad Richards ( @BRichards_1991) in the fold the offense is still a question mark because there are several players who haven’t even looked like they knew it was their job to score pulling down big checks the last couple seasons.

 

High Card:

Henrik Lundqvist is the kingpin and you just can’t argue how strong he is in net. He’s had a sv% over .920 the last two seasons and played almost 150 regular season games off in that time. He’s had a total 17 nights off in two years. Marion Gaborik missed more games than that last season.

Wild Card:

Perhaps the Rangers should see if one of their players will change their name to Robin Hood. If they can swing it, perhaps they can also get Maid Marion to show up. Twenty games missed last season, twenty less goals than the season before. This from the highest paid forward on the team. Forty goal scorer or twenty? Marion Gaborik needs to be the former if this team is going to make a deep playoff run with or without Richards, Staal or anyone else Gaborik needs to man up and chase down some goals.

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.

Another city, another ownership question. This particular question may have cost them their best player in the off season as Brad Richards departed the Lone Star state for the Big Apple. Also gone living legend Mike Modono (@9Modono), in Michael Ryder, Sheldon Souray, and seemingly high expectations.

 

High Card:

Alex Goligoski is if not the best player, one of those who has recent cup winning experience and a healthy dose of talent. The blueliner came over from the Penguins and is a late deal that sent James Neal the other way. While I’m sure no one would complain if he went with his post trade point production, it is probably a little much to expect him to duplicate the 15 points in 24 games pace he was on after landing in Dallas.

 

Wild Card:

Another recent Stanley Cup champion could play a large part in returning this franchise to the post season. The former thirty goal scorer saw his role reduced as time elapsed in Boston. Last year however towards the end of the year, and through the playoffs he showed the polish and animation that lets the world know even more than the stat sheet Michael Ryder’s feeling the mojo.  With Richards gone someone is going to need to replace the goals he scored and as long as he stays confident Ryder is capable.

The Boston Bruins have the very unique opportunity to stay largely intact after a Stanley Cup Win, and potentially repeat. This hasn’t been done in years. Given that they finished their historic run just days before the NHL Entry Draft no one should be shocked they made no moves during the pause for breath between the two.  Since then they have made two moves. They signed a forward who is twice discarded. They traded a fourth round pick (the round both Marc Savard and Mark Recchi were drafted in) for a defenseman with a spotty off ice past who has been a minus player two of the last three seasons.

While I don’t think anyone could rightly complain about their two first round picks, neither will impact the line up this year or next. At six five and well under 200lbs Hamilton will need at least a year to bulk up enough to play at the NHL level, and likely a year in the AHL first as well.  Khokhlachev is a late 93 birthday with just one year of playing in North America under his belt. He’s likely as much as three years away unless he blows everyone’s doors off between now and the opening of the regular season. Neither of these guys, nor Corvo are likely to improve the powerplay this season.

Verdict: Loser short term.

The New York Rangers went big game hunting and pulled in the biggest name on the market in free agency. Brad Richards signed a long term deal for what is at least currently a pretty good cap hit for his talent level. The theory is clearly that he can make Gaborik and whoever ends up on his other wing more effective. The only other free agent signing was the aging Mike Rupp who will provide some physicality.  As for the draft, not much was done to correct their scoring woes. They left quite a few big names on the board in the first round, and their later picks are all likely long term prospects.

The Rangers off season is heavily marred by their having more players file for arbitration than any other team. Four players filing by itself would be bad enough. That last years two most effective forwards head the list, and that the defenseman number three in ice time joins them is potentially disastrous.  With sixteen player signed and less than sixteen million to fill the roster you have to wonder how they intend to do so. Montreal’s Plekanek, Boston’s Bergeron, and Minnesota’s Koivu are all reasonable comparisons for Dubinsky and each has a cap hit around five million.  When you add Brian Boyle who had more than twenty goals last season to the list of those filing arbitration, you have to wonder if they players themselves will need name tags when camp opens.

Verdict: Losers.

The Maple Leafs General Manager was roundly criticized for being Afghanistan rather than at the Brad Richards soiree or otherwise preparing to throw gobs of cash at one of the worst free agent markets in recent memory. Still once you roll in the premium bad team have to pay for free agent talent, and the markets paucity of it signing Tim Connolly away from a division rival works on a couple levels. First, it gets him a center with talent they should allow him to leave Kadri and Colborne in the AHL to develop another year. It adds recent playoff experience and  someone who is familiar with the system at least from the outside, while making your division rival replace someone.

At the draft, they picked up some solid prospects who mostly appear to be works in progress and don’t project towards hitting the NHL in the next year or two. In trades they jettisoned Brett Lebda while picking up another NHL experienced center, and defenseman in exchange. Given the injury history of Connolly and Lombardi it is something of a risk, but when you come right down to it all players are. Cody Franson is probably the best of the additions so far this off season.

Verdict: Winners. It’s clear that Burke is retooling slowly and he’s been pretty consistent in that, but in picking up some Franson, Connolly, and Lombardi all of whom have that recent playoff experience he doesn’t want his dressing room going into the playoffs blind if they should sneak in this year or next.

The five most interesting stories to watch from now until the the trade deadline.

  • How far will the dismantlement of the Colorado Avalanche go? I was shocked to see Calder Trophy candidate Kevin Shattenkirk shipped out.  Stuffed into the wagon along with him was 23 year old power-forward Chris Stewart, and a conditional pick. Going the other was was Erik Johnson a defensemen with a great pedigree, who has lost his luster.  Paul Statsny is rumored to be available,
  • What will the NHL’s newest owner do with his team? He stated on NHLLive today he was more likely to make future moves than put band-aids on this season, but with players like Statsny, Brad Richards, and who knows who else coming or potentially coming on the market, will he say I want that one! Brad Richards, Ed Jovonovski, and others could contribute to the team for a while.
  • Who blinks first? The Western conference is so tight you can probably get almost anything from those who are determined to succeed now. We’ve see the Avalanche run up the white flag while the Kings have been really quiet. With Carolina having played two more games than the Sabres they have to be looking over their shoulders. If they decide to keep restocking via the draft Cole, Samsanov, Pitkanen, and Jokienen could fetch some decent picks or prospects.
  • What Will Lou Do? The New Jersey Devils general manager has perhaps the hardest calls to make this silly season. He’s got a team that’s playing world beating hockey and is following teams down dark alleys and going through their pockets for loose points, but the odds of getting to the playoffs are really stacked against them. Purely from the cap management point of view, shaking the team loose of Rolston’s contract or one of the other larger contracts on the books for next year could keep them from being an embarrassment to the NHL again next year as they were when they were icing understrength rosters thanks to injuries and cap issues.
  • Hands down the most interesting issue of the off season is what happens to the big name UFAs. As we saw with Bouwmesster recently they are the players that will have reverberations on and off the ice for years to come no matter what call is made. Brad Richards, Shea Weber, Ilya Bryzgalov, Simon Gagne, are all the type of player that when healthy can push an organization from bubble to playoff team and playoff team to contender or cup favorite. If not signed, all four of these guys will be free to sign anywhere they please July 1st. There are lost of people who think Richards would look great in a Sabre’s uniform so would Weber for that matter either of the two when added to Miller, Vanek and Myers gives you a hell of core. The Predators and Lightning are pretty firmly in the playoffs, but an offer too good to refuse is always possible.

Bonus story: How many more times will someone at Versus make the histerical statement that the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have the hottest rivalry in the NHL?

Like most legitimate sports fans, All Star events at most inspire tepid interest and usually only to give me something to focus my scorn on while waiting for real games to be played again.  When the player draft was announced my lack of whelm for even the skills completion was dulled seriously.  Add in several of the leagues top players either not being able to be there, having bad seasons, or otherwise unable to participate and you had a recipe for blah that hindsight tells us almost had to be exceeded.

The fantasy draft was done live and having nothing better to do and the state of tv being what it is, there wasn’t even anything better to watch. Besides, like most people I wanted to see who would go last, which teammates would be split up and who if anyone would have a personality I hadn’t suspected revealed.  With twenty two first timers at the weekend, and guys like Brad Richards and the rookies there were a lot of faces even hardcore NHL fans had trouble placing.

Eric Staal, captain of the host cities team was given huge cheers at every opportunity. Nicklas Lidstrom, six time winner of the Norris Trophy was his opposite number and received a lot of respect. The rising star of the weekend, and almost certainly the prize pick of the last draft was Jeff Skinner.

The draft was at least as interesting for watching the guys in the audience as it was for figuring out which team to cheer for, especially after teammates were split up. While the splitting of the Sedin twins was given the most attention, the other dynamic duo to go to different teams was Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, each of whom has won the top award for their position.  Seeing how many teammates and former teammates were taken by each captain was not in any way surprising.

While I’m hardly Phil Kessel’s biggest fan, I’m kinda shocked he wasn’t picked higher and used in the fastest skater competition.  Speaking of the fulcrum of the most spectacular trade within the Northeast/Adams Division in recent memory am I the only surprised that Kessel was chosen as the Maple Leaf’s All Star? He’s not leading the team in points, Clarke Macarthur holds that position. He’s also not leading the team in goals, that’s Mikhail Grabovski. He’s not leading the NHL in any stat, and in fact had the worst +/- of any participant I can think of. Even Elias who was his teams token representative has more points, and a +/- that betters Kessel’s by 13. Is this perhaps an indication by Brian Burke that Grabovski and Macarthur can count their stay in Toronto as winding down? Or is it just an attempt to deflect attention from Kessel’s cap glutting salary, limited utility, and what was given up (Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and a first in 2011) to acquire him? Who knows.

After watching the draft, and seeing the goalies, defense, and BlackHawks past and present assembled, it was to many a foregone conclusion that team Lidstrom was a better structured team. With the collection of talent there it wasn’t possible to have a bad team but one was clearly better. Yet when the skills competition was over Team Staal stood tall with a very respectable win. I wonder how many people adjusted their position on the teams at this point? The early first period of the actual game probably had more adjusting and even some complete reversals going on. In a real game a four goal lead early in the first would probably get ugly. In an All Star game…well, there’s no need or ability to get where you already are.  Team Lidstrom eventually won, and Tim Thomas continued his string of All Star game decisions by winning number three, the longest in NHL All Star history.

Overall their were only two big disappointments on the weekend; the game not counting as one since no one expects them to be good. The first was the lack of push given to some of the stars who are not named Crosby or Ovechkin. Stamkos is young, hugely talented, and I’ve not yet heard anyone cry at having to look at him. Jeff Skinner has a teen heart throb glow in public that probably gives security fits, not to mention he’s a dynamic talent himself. Both of them are in non-traditional hockey markets, and anything that can be done to boost their local and national exposure can’t hurt the game. Loui Eriksson is rising over the lonestar state, while Boston born Keith Yandle is the leader of the pack out in Phoenix. Both teams have experienced ownership questions and a fitting salute to those fan bases would have been reassuring and growth inducing.

The other disappointment was of course the National Anthem singing. The Canadian anthem is heard infrequently by most Americans and seems to have a vastly different flavor each time. For those of us who have a team from north of the border in their division, we’ve come to expect a certain level of verve and energy, I failed to find it. Worse was the American Anthem, far, far worse. Clay Aiken was truly, unbelievably bad. I’m not sure if he’s never actually heard The Star Spangled Banner sung, or if the person who did sing it for him was utterly tone deaf and had a range of three notes, none of them consecutive. Steven Tyler recently sang the anthem here in Boston and was lucky to avoid being booed. This performance was irretrievably worse, it was the national showcase for a league that has trouble getting respect from the media, and attention from fans of other sports.  By allowing someone so utterly unfit for the privilege granted them, the league signaled their lack of serious pursuit of creditability. Any number of singers, male or female could have turned in a better performance. Unquestionably there are at least a dozen American Idol participants who made it to Hollywood that could have done better. Here’s a tip; pick someone with an album that has songs with a lot of vocal range on it. They will probably do a great job. Alicia Keys, Faith Hill or Toni Braxton would have brought down the house, and their male counterparts like Toby Keith, Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, or Enrique Iglesias would have done the song justice.

As for the Guardian Project, great drawing.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
If I told you in September…

  • in All Star week, that Evgani Malkin would not only be not in the top ten league scorers, or on the All Star team, but behind Patrice Bergeron, rookie sensation Jeff Skinner, Dustin Byfugelien, Brandon Dubinski and Mikko Koivu… while sitting at #50
  • the Boston Bruins would have a rookie with a shot at catching Taylor Hall who’s name was not Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron, Jared Knight, Tyler Seguin, or Ryan Spooner, but Brad Marchand…
  • that the same rookie would lead the entire NHL in shorthanded goals ahead of players like Mike Richards, Pavel Datsyuk, and and other well known penalty kill game breakers.
  • the Boston Bruins would be #5 in goals for, with little help from Marc Savard.
  • the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres would all have better powerplay percentages on 1/24 than the Washington Capitals.
  • that Michael Ryder (7) and Mark Recchi (6) would combine for as many powerplay goals as Alexander Semin (6), Mike Green (5), and Alexander Ovechkin (2) at the end of January.
  • Kari Lehtonen and UFA to be Brad Richards would be leading their team to the second largest division lead in the NHL (5 points)…
  • the LA Kings would be staring down the barrel of the trade deadline with the third stingiest defense in the Western Conference, a goal differential of +13, and still sit four points out of the playoffs and nineteen points out of the division lead to a team with a goal differential of -7
  • that Ilya Kovalchuk would have the most goals on the New Jersey Devils, and the worst plus minus with 14 and -27.
  • that Peter Budja, Johan Hedberg, and Maple Leafs rookie James Riemer would have more wins than Tukka Rask
  • the Dallas Stars division lead, and +14 goal differential would be in spite of having the lowest ranked penalty kill of any playoff team.

If I told you all these things in September, how many would you believe?