The NHL trade deadline is less than three weeks away, some players may or may not be healthy by then, but should still be shuffled of onto the roster of someone else either for a strong return, a change of scenery for them or the potential return and or cap space.

Thomas Vanek:

It is as plain as the snow on Buffalo streets that the team is in need of rebuild. Vanek has shown this season he can contribute big time but at 29, it is unlikely he’ll be as powerful offensively in 3-5 years when the team might be ready to contend. For Deroit, Nashville, or Los Angeles who have cap space and might want to add scoring, he’s the number one option who might be available.

Mike Green:

The Washington Capitals are retooling on the fly, and trying to develop a new system of play. You can’t do that if you aren’t in the lineup. Last season Green played just 32 games, a total he may have trouble matching this year, the year before just 49. Since breaking into the league he’s had just one year where he played all 82 games. With cap contraction a reality, his six million dollars would look mighty fine if it belonged to someone else. If anyone is willing to take him for more than a 2nd round pick and a solid prospect, the return is worth it.

Jarome Iginla:

One of the great ambassadors for the sport deserves a chance to win a cup.  Of the top contenders, all of them have cap space and can likely be parted from two or three prospects and or picks. Better still, all three of the four are American teams so there’s less likelihood fans see it as a betrayal. Far be it for me to suggest that waiving a no movement clause doesn’t burn bridges or imply collusion between players being traded and management, but one could take a look at Keith Tkachuk’s career and draw their own conclusions.

Andrei Markov:

While as constituted the Montreal Canadiens are a likely contender, swapping the injury prone Markov out for a first or second line center who can actually win faceoffs would shore up their penalty kill, give them more puck possession, and likely improve their goal scored. With a full year left on his contract, a few teams ought to be interested just to see how much he can help groom their young blueliners.

Jake Gardinier:

Why in the world he’s in the Leafs dog house is anyones guess. His fall from grace has happened faster and just as inexplicably as Keith Aulies, and the time he’s spending in the AHL is as wasteful as Nazim Kadri’s, maybe worse since the big team has a coach who is getting results. If the Leafs don’t want him, there’s a good 20 teams who will be happy to exchange “AHL prospects” with the Leafs to relieve them of their burden. With his agent getting in on the inquiry via social media, it is only a matter of time before the situation becomes a distraction to the team.

Johnny Boychuk:

The former AHL defenseman of the year has stagnated badly. It began almost as soon as he got to the NHL, clearly a change of scenery is in order. While his $3.3million cap his isn’t by itself that bad, hes the Bruins second highest paid defenseman, and currently has as many points as Shawn Thornton and has seen his powerplay time on ice go from  1:01 per game in 2010-11 to 0:09 per game this year.

Jay Bouwmeester:

Until the team finds a goaltender who can stop a beach ball, it doesn’t matter who is on the blueline. Bouwmeester is contributing at half a point per game, his highest level since arriving in Calgary. His contract is up after next season, and I can’t see him wanting to resign in Calgary, so the sooner he waives his no trade clause and get’s moving the sooner he can rebuild his market value an maybe not have to take an enormous pay cut in 2012-15, with luck he might win a cup a long the way.

Sam Gagner:

While he’s the surprise leader of the Oilers scoring race, he’s also due a new contract July 1. With the wealth of forward talent the team has and no chance of making the playoffs, Gagner might be the best trade piece the team has to acquire a solid, defensive minded top pairing defenseman or at least a couple very strong prospects.

Marc Staal:

When it comes to luck, if Marc didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. Both his brothers have won a Stanley Cup and he hasn’t, one of them concussed him, and now he’s caught a puck with his brow. From the team standpoint, his time downchecked due to injury has left a great deal of space for other players to mature into. The Rangers have just 17 players signed for next season and only nine million to sign the six other roster spots something has to give, of the players who need a contract come July the first are Michael Sauer, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonaugh, and Derek Stepan, moving out Staal’s four million for a rasher of picks or prospects before the deadline or at the draft makes a lot of sense.

The Western Conference has already kicked off it’s final round, and done so in style. The East has its time in the limelight now.

The Rangers and Devils will at least from the perspective of travel both get to play as many home games as it takes to finish the series. That rest could come into play for both teams. The Rangers while a much younger team overall, have had several overtime games including that triple overtime game against the large and physical Capitals. The Devils.

The Devils have the advantages of two less games, notably less overtime, and more rest since the end of a not very taxing series with the Flyers. They may need it. They have a much higher average age, but also have their own rookies in the lineup. In addition to a legend in goal who is playing some of his best hockey in a decade, they have the most skilled player left in the playoffs Ilya Kovalchuk.

The breakdown:

Goaltending:

  • Lundqvist is having hands-down the best post season of his career, one concern might be that the Devils take more shots per game than anyone the Rangers have faced, and part of his success is that the Rangers typically allow very few shots.
  • Brodeur looks more like the legend than we’ve seen in recent years. This could be a tipping point either way. If he reverts to the player of the last two or three post seasons that will be the death-knell for the team. If however he has two strong games to start the series he will be in the head of a team who mostly grew up watching him.

Forwards:

  • The Rangers forwards have been enough to get the job done, but not spectacular. How well they do will be determined by how well Gaborik and Hagelin use their speed, and players like Callahan and Stepan distribute the puck in a timely manner.
  • Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac need to push through a much better defense than they have seen this post season. I expect the adjustment to be harder for Clarkson and Henrique, which means it’s just about time for Ponikarovsky to come out of his coma and contribute.

Defense:

  • The Rangers defense is the most reliable component of the team. McDonagh and Girardi have been huge, Staal has rounded back into Norris-like form, and Del Zotto has been key figure, as a six man unit a defense doesn’t play much better. The question will be how well they handle some of the big, skilled, bodies of the Devils in a seven game series after all the hard play of the Caps, and extra time.
  • The Devils defense has seen its defensive defensemen earning the most ice time. It’s a formula that’s worked thus far. The Devils will need timely contributions from the more offensive minded defensemen in order to advance.

Intangibles:

Neither team has had to come back from being down 0-3 or run into a game they had to come back from four goal down to win or golf. But neither has had an easy post season, the Devils went the distance with the scrappy Panthers in the opening round, the Rangers will play their fifteenth game of the second season against the Devils. After health which becomes a huge drain this late, depth is going to be huge in deciding the series. Both teams have five players who have scored three or more goals in the post season. The Devils however who have played less games have gotten at least one goal from 15 players, while the the Rangers have had only 11 light the lamp.

These division rivals could also see the return of good scraps to the playoffs. 22 Fighting majors in six regular season games isn’t the type of emotion you can smother in the playoffs.

“Lazy Russian Count”*

  • Rangers: 1
  • Devils: 2

“Good Canadian Boy Count”*

  • Rangers: 10
  • Devils: 7

*Both counts taken from current rosters as displayed on team websites.

The last several weeks have seen quite an improvement in the hundred million dollar man, and his team. They are the hottest team in hockey right now and he’s having a respectable season all of a sudden.  Kovalchuck enters the day with a line of 21-21-41 -20. The last the biggest area of improvement.

On the blueline we find Kevin Shattenkirk with a new zip code and tied for points with Cam Fowler. Just behind the two in points andahead of them in +/- is das wundermouth PK Subban. Not to be overlooked is the Washington Capitals John Carlson. The  breakdown:

  • Shattenkirk, is playing as much as 2:30 minutes less a night than the three guys immediately behind him in scoring, has also played five less games than Fowler who has the same number of points, and seven less than Subban.
  • Fowler, while his -22 is startling, it should be noted over 55% of his points have come on the powerplay. May or may not be living up to his reputation for softeness with just 16 penalty minutes. A lot of people would call that disciplined.
  • Subban, with more than 50 more shots on goal than the second active shooter among rookie defensemen it appears Subban swings his stick almost as often as his jaw. Unlike Fowler and Shattenkirk, Subban also sees significant penalty kill time with over 2 minutes a night on average.
  • Carlson is clearly the most complete player of all the rookie defensemen. He plays in all situations, has a team leading +/- and is second to only the Bruins defensive stalwart Adam McQuaid in +/- for rookie blueliners. Useless fact: While he’s got less points on the road, his +/- is better away from home.

Forwards are an increasingly more interesting story. Some guys have bounced in and out of the statistical leaders, some have fought their way in, and one or two have been at or near the top all season. Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes look to take the race for the top of the heap from coast to coast. Michael Grabner, Brad Marchand, and Taylor Hall have worked their way to the top of the pile, while Derek Stepen and Tyler Ennis have bounced in and out of the top tier.

  • Ennis has earned his minutes on a weak Sabres squad with lots of speed and a willingness to shoot the puck.
  • Stepan is very, very quietly third in scoring on his team. That might be a more impressive stat if his team, the New York Rangers wasn’t 22nd in goals for. Their 25th ranked powerplay isn’t helping his stats either.
  • Hall hit the middle of the season and hit his stride, while third in scoring he is also playing more minutes than any other rookie forward.
  • Grabner is the sleeper for post season recognition. His speed is absurd, and the All Star weekend was something of a coming out party for him. On a team with a collective -32 his +9 is eye opening. Of his 25 goals, 17 have come since 1/1. Is second to Marchand in rookie shorthanded goals.
  • Couture, lots of goals from lots of shots on goals, with lots of time on ice would be less impressive if he weren’t maintaining a high +/- on a team in the bottom half of the NHL for goal differential.
  • Marchand, leads all rookies in shorthanded goals and points, leads all rookies in +/-, leads all the scoring leaders in short handed time on ice, has more hits than any of the top scorers is the most complete player of all the rookie forwards.
  • Skinner. Mr Consistent, has been the scoring leader for most of the season, is producing more points per minute than other top rookies. Has an impressive take away to turnover ratio.

Once clear as day, the rookie goalie landscape has been turned over several times.  Injuries, trades, the retrn of other goalies and cold spells have made this an interesting position to watch, but assured us the Calder Trophy winner won’t be coming from the crease unless something extraordinary happens over the next twenty games.

  • James Riemer hasn’t been in the NHL long, but he’s making it damned hard to ignore him. In just 17 games played he’s 1 win short of  team leader J.S. Giguere’s win total, and has a 2.24 GAA and .931 Sv% on a team that’s not worth much.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky, is still hanging around the top of the pack despite being shuffled into the background in Flyer country.  With more wins than any other rookie a 2.46 GAA and a .918 Sv% you can’t complain about much of his game and not sound like a moron.
  • Corey Crawford is the show stopper though, he’s just a couple wins behind Bobrovsky, with a slightly better Sv% at .923 and a much better GAA at 2.11, he leads rookies in both and does it behind a much weaker defense than Bobrovsky. He might just manage to drag his team into the playoffs too.

In no particular order the five best rookies are:

Crawford, Skinner, Marchand, Carlson, and Subban.

In the case of the Mob vs Reality docket number PS/12282101RIDIC-CJ we have the case of the “embattled” Bruins head coach Claude Julien. The charges are listed with all evidence included. Decide for yourself.

He’s been here three years and hasn’t won in the playoffs.

This is only partly true, the first year they lost in the first round, going to six with a loaded Montreal team. In that campaign, Bergeron was lost early on leaving Glen Metropolit, Peter Schaefer, Jeremy Reich with rookies David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Petteri Nokelainen, and to provide breaks for Marc Savard (who had a vertebrae broken in his back just before the series), Glen Murray, and P.J. Axellson. On defense were Bobby Allen, Matt Lashoff, and Andrew Alberts.  Clearly that was a roster with Stanley Cup written all over it.

The case in 08-09 is actually slightly better, except they won a round. They went into the playoffs and embarrassed the Canadiens, and going to the mat with the Hurricanes. The goaltending and defense were solid, any case that can me made against a 1.85 and .935 isn’t worth writing down, listening to or responding too. The two issues were goal scoring, and what I can only hope was a communication break down that led to Wideman and Montador being on the ice, together, in the defensive zone, in overtime. Add in Recchi having a kidney stone removed between games six and seven, Kessels shoulder injury, Krejci’s hip injury, and Chuck Kobasew having as many goals as the entire defense. On top of this, Bitz and Yelle, were getting ice time because there was no once else.

Then there is last year. The previous years Vezina winner is quietly on the shelf with a hip injury that no one was talking about.  Savard had his brains scrambled then lied his way back into the line up, half of the top four defensemen entering the post season were on the shelf, the previous seasons top goal scorer was on the shelf with a knee injury. During the brutally physical Buffalo series Vladimir Sobotka has his shoulder separated. Mike Richards tosses a sixth roster player on the scrap heap with an open ice hit that cracks Krejci’s wrist.  Mean while, back on the ice, Trent Whitfield, is playing big time NHL minutes, Milan Lucic is nearly recovered from a high ankle sprain that limits the mobility of someone who’s never been a great skater and is one of the best two physical presences left on the ice. Zdeno Chara has finally removed a cast he’d worn since October. Behind Chara are, Hunwick, rookie Boychuck, and the ever reliable Denis Wideman. Adding depth to the addled Savard and the singled out by survival Bergeron are Steve Begin, Miroslav Satan, and the NHL’s elder statesman Mark Recchi who led all Bruins in goals in the playoffs last year.

He plays veterans too much and doesn’t give young players enough time.

Not really an operative complaint on a team that’s not failed to reach the playoffs and have a winning record in his tenure. Are other rookies getting more time than Seguin, yes absolutely.  Among rookie forwards, Seguin is ranked 13th with none of the twelve players ahead of him having played less games. Of the players ahead of him, Logan Coture, Mark Letestu, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, Mikael Backlund and Tyler Ennis all played in the NHL before this season. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Magnus Paajarvi represent an unfortunate percent of their talent given that two of them are one and two in goal scoring for their team.

Of the other true rookies there is David Stepan, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Burmistrov and at the start of the season, none of their three teams were expected to make the playoffs back in September except possibly as bubble teams.  The Rangers have had a lot of injuries up front with Drury, Gaborik, Frolov and others spending time on the shelf, giving more ice time to a player two years older. Jeff Skinner looks like the steal of the draft, but let’s face it, on his team anyone who could skate, and show up who ended up playing part of the season with Eric Staal was going to look pretty damned good. Skinner has worked hard to be second in scoring on his team no doubt, but how much of an accomplishment is that on a team that’s 16th in goals for, one point out of last in their division, and two points out of the lottery?

But he skated Wideman, and Ryder when they #$%&\@!.

Yes, as the coach he did. Look at the AHL stats for the Providence Bruins last season, hint hint, they did not qualify for the playoffs. Look now, Wideman is gone, Ryder is third in scoring and has gotten much less time and far more linemates than the two men ahead of him.

He doesn’t develop young players!

You mean like David Krejci, Johnny Boychuck, Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand who have all stuck with the club in his tenure? Or do you mean guys like Matt Lashoff, Byron Bitz, Vladimir Sobotka, Phil Kessel who were all traded away for building blocks? Yes, I can see your concern, I have a great microscope.

But Chicago fired their coach last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup!

The Chicago BlackHawks were incredibly loaded, with the exception of their goaltending there wasn’t a single position on that team that didn’t make other clubs drool with envy. The cap sodomization they inflicted on themselves ensures they will be lucky to even make the playoffs this year as half their roster turned over. They were also lucky enough to have all their key components reasonably healthy all at once.  More importantly as this years New York Islanders amply demonstrate, just dumping a coach doesn’t always improve things, not that it saved Macleans job.

He’s lost the lockerroom! They aren’t showing any emotion! Their powerplay sucks!

I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been moved on him. I’m also pretty sure that a team that goes out and beats down Atlanta, when the only guy on the on the ice who is a well respected fighter is the one who got the cheap shot in the first place, and the rest have combined for less NHL fights than Lucic has had in one season is “showing some emotion”. Also, I’d be hard pressed to explain a powerplay that has essentially the same personnel as last year jumping from 23rd to 13th in the NHL if the players have stopped listening to the coaches.

The defense rests.

Thanks to @ScottyHockey for the fact check.

Back on the 30th of November was the first look at where the NHL rookies stood. We also looked at how they compared to the one hundred million dollar man.

Leading the pack for forwards were Logan Coture of the San Jose Sharks, Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, and Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers. Tops in the crease were a pair of young Europeans, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Philadelphia Flyers, and backstopping the Washington Capitals Michael Neuvirth. Rounding out the conversation were blueliners John Carlson, another young gun for Washington, the mouth of Montreal PK Subban, and flying high enough to earn lots of minutes for the Avalanche, Kevin Shattenkirk.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s current stats are 8-10-18 -21.

Just moving up to the pack are Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle of Edmonton, and Brian Bickell, of the injury plagued BlackHawks. Eberle and Hall sit in third and fourth behind Coture and Skinner. Right now,  of the four only Coture has a positive +/- rating.  While Hall was the clear cut favorite before the season started, learning the game at the NHL level is not quite as easy as it sounds, even if you’re lucky enough to have an elite vetern player or two on your squad as Coture and Skinner do, and Hall and Eberle do not.

On the blueline, John Carlson continues to make a name for himself on the recently woeful Washington Capitals.  Racking up seventy blocked shots and thirty-two hits, would earn him a spot on just about any blueline, add in his TOI which hovers just under 22 minutes a game, and you’re making waves. He’s also tenth in rookie scoring. Cam Fowler was another of the last drafts crop of potential Calder winners, currently he leads all rookies in TOI, and is number eight for rookie scoring. With a -6 to Carlson’s +6, you might be tempted to simply focus in on a quick look at the quality of the two teams might say more. Kevin Shattenkirk has only played 22 games this season for the high flying Avalanche, and is still tied for fourth in points, everyone ahead of him has played at least 31.

Blissfully, the picture in goal has gotten murkier. Bobrovsky has gotten shuffled to the bench as Boucher has his yearly hot streak, but remains high in the rankings for goalies in major stats. New to the dance is Anders Lindback Nashvilles other goalie. Pekka Rinne is due back soon, but I can’t help but wonder if it might the coaches might want to let Rinne take his time coming back, like a month or two more. Today, Lindback leads all rookie goaltenders in GAA, Sv%, and shutouts. Lindback is also comfortably ahead of Rinne in those stats, with a similar number of games.

Once darkhorse worth mentioning is Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand. While some will only remember him for getting smoked on a clean PK Subban hit, he has been a big part of a very effective penalty kill. Marchand is also first in rookie shorthanded goals and tied for the NHL lead among all players in the least games in the same category. He’s second among forwards in SHTOI, and sits 15th in among rookies in scoring, and seventh in hits for rookies.

We are quarter of the way through the season, and it’s time to set your Calder watch. Synchronize now.

Some surprises in the top five goal scorers:

  1. Logan Coture of the San Jose Sharks just barely squeaks into the rookie count and leads all rookies with 8 goals.
  2. Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes is not only second in the NHL in rookie goal scoring, he’s second on his team to only Eric Staal in both goals and points.
  3. Derek Stepan’s squeaking into number three is the guy who most likely will not be in the top five at the end of the season as three of his six goals for the New York Rangers came in one game.
  4. Behind Stepan are three players tied with five, Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres who has played 25 games, Edmonton Oiler and first overall pick Taylor Hall has his five in 22, and Michael Grabner of the Islanders has potted 5 in 8 games. Of the three Ennis has the best */-.

For defensemen to keep an eye on:

  • John Carlson of Natick Ma and the Washington Capitals has a solid line of 3-8-11 +8 to go with his 58 blocked shots and 25 hits through 25 games. Most impressively he’s second on the team in TOI/G, trailing only Mike Green.
  • P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens is turning heads for more than the attitude some term cocky. He’s behind only Carlson in rookie defensemen TOI, and fourth in scoring for rookie defensemen.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk of Greenwich, CT, and Boston University has earned his way into the Colorado Avalanche lineup and is second to only John-Michael Liles in points from the blueline for Denver’s home squad.

In goal you’d be almost right in saying the conversation begins and ends with the man between the Philadelphia pipes.

  • Sergie Bobrovsky is the man making people reevaluate the Flyers chances this season, he’s played so much better than veteran Brian Boucher it almost doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s played 1/3 more games than his second nearest competitor for rookies. His 2.19 GAA and .926 S% have him at ten and eight in the league respectively.
  • Possibly more impressive, if for no reason other than the comparative defenses in front of them is Czech Michael Neuvirth. His 2.63 GAA and .912 Sv% are a better pair than any Capitals netminder has finished a season with since Cristibol Huet in 2007-8.

So far this season Ilya Kovalchuk has a line of 4-6-10 -11 and is fourth on his team in scoring. Here’s the current list of rookies with better stats than the $100 Million Man.

  • Jeff Skinner 7-12-19 -4
  • Jordan Eberle 4-11-15 -4
  • Derek Stepan 6-8-14 +1
  • Logan Coture 8-5-13 -5
  • Taylor Hall 6-6-12 -5
  • Tyler Ennis 5-6-11 +2
  • John Carlson 3-8-11 +8
  • Cam Fowler 1-10-11 -8
  • Kevin Shattenkirk 4-6-10 +2
  • Bryan Bickell 4-6-10 +2
  • Jake Dowell 4-6-10 +8
  • Mark Letestu 4-6-10 Even

All stats as of 10pm 11/29 via NHL.com

Ladies and gentleman, it’s the early season in the NHL. I can tell, you can tell because teams are winning and losing in ways improbable. Does anyone, anywhere ever expect Martin Brodeur to give up five goals in a game? Much less to give up all five of them on a paltry twenty shots and get yanked in just his second game? Much less to start the season 0-1-1? Not me, probably not you either.  And if the best goalie of the last decade, and arguably all time is having such a bad night, that the man who is currently the best goalie on the planet would also give up five goals on a hardly better 27 shots? Much less that Ryan Miller would give three of those goals up to the New York Ranger’s rookie center David Stepan and not to thirty and forty goal scoring Frolov and Gaborik?

To take a look at the southeast predictions for the year, how many of you predicted that Evander Kane would out score Alex Ovechkin in a head to head duel and have more hits? I didn’t even predict that and I spent a lot of time hoping the Bruins would trade up to draft Kane two years ago.  Kane had two goals,  and was a plus 2 with five hits to Ovechkin’s lone assist, and three hits with an even plus minus.  That season opener may not be indicative, of the whole season, but the Caps getting just two goals? That happened in less than ten percent of their games last season.

Anyone who told me on October first that the season would open with peach fuzz brigade that makes up the bulk of the Oilers talent snuffing the Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekule Tig Junior Elvis Iginla and Jay Bouwmesster led Calgary Flames? A 4-0 shellacking with no of the home fires burning in this Battle of Alberta or the Calgary contingent? When looking for things unusual in the National Hockey League this early in the year, one need look no further than Ilya Kovalchuk’s annual fight against the oh-so-deserving Norris Candidate Mike Green.