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

Teams:

  • that the Vegas Golden Knights would lead their division with games in hand after Thanksgiving…
  • the Detroit Red Wings would hold a playoff spot and the Montreal Canadien’s who won the division last year would not…
  • at the quarter pole the best record in the NHL would belong to a healthy Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the NHL in points, wins, home wins, and goal differential…
  • the Pittsburgh Penguins would have the fifth lowest goals per game in the NHL..
  • the New York Islander’s would have the 2nd highest goals for per game and be barely 8th in the overall NHL standings after all their off season forward turnover.
  • the Saint Louis Blues would have lost the third most man games to injury and still be the best team in the west after Thanksgiving
  • after going to the second round in the spring the Edmonton Oilers would be back to their seemingly traditional position in the bottom five in the NHL.

Players:

  • the goalie controversy in Boston wouldn’t be who was going to be backing up Tuukka Rask this year, but when he would be allowed to take the net again
  • we would have two players over 1.5 goals per game (Steven Stamkos & Nikita Kucherov) who are not named Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, or even McDavid.
  • none of the last five Norris Trophy awardees (Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban) would be in the top 3 in scoring among defensemen.
  • that Mike Green who has only passed the 40 point mark once since the 2009-10  season would be among the top 10 defensemen in scoring.
  • the NHL’s highest scoring rookie would be Brock Boeser of Vancouver Canucks and he’d have a line of 11-10-21 through 19 games with three game winning goals
  • at the quarter point of the season 553 players would have scored at least one goal versus 774 total last year to do the same

The Western Conference has run over the east so far this year. The odd thing is how concentrated the losses are, so many of the east’s teams are in complete disarray while most of the weakest of the western teams are either over performing or have finally started to turn the corner on rebuilds that their is an imbalance.

Anaheim Ducks: We know that despite injuries to Sheldon Souray, Matt Beleskey, Viktor Fasth, Jakob Silfverberg, Saku Koivu, and Sami Vatanen, no team has wracked up more points or an equal amount of wins in the six week old season.

Colorado Avalanche: We know the Avs may be led by Matt Duchene, but they are getting contributions deep into the forward pool. In 14 games (or less for some) seven forwards have at least 9 points. Matt Duchene’s 10 goals are complimented nicely by five each from Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, PA Parenteau, and Ryan O’Reilly. We know the goalies are beating the competition with silly ease in wins, neither Giguere nor Semyon Varlemov have allowed more than 2 goals in a win.

San Jose Sharks: We know that two regulation losses in sixteen games is pretty damn spiffy. We know that a certain player might be tempted to celebrate this with his rooster out. We know the Sharks defense is going to be overlooked when people point out why the team is succeeding this season. We know not to get our hopes to high about this team and the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks: We know that even with Toews and Kane at just under a point per game this team has another gear.  We know it is nice not to be talking about the team’s powerplay. We know they team would rather not talk about their rather dismal penalty kill.

Phoenix Coyotes: We know the media stopped paying attention to this team when the arena deal went through. We know they have as many regulation or over time wins as the San Jose Sharks. We know that their powerplay is just .4 behind their Pacific division rival Sharks. We know that this team won’t get any real attention until the second round of the playoffs, and then only reluctantly from certain media outlets.

Vancouver Canucks: With 18 games played and 11 ROW’s the team is currently in the first wild card spot in the west. We know they have either played well after their adjustment to a new coach or that they are getting good puck luck with four of their last ten games going more than sixty minutes and victories in three of those.

Saint Louis Blues: We know the off season moves, and maturity (and health) are playing a big part in this teams success. We know that this should be the season Alex Pietrangelo becomes a household name. We know Vladimir Sobotka is on pace for a career season. We know Alex Steen will remember every moment of this season.

Minnesota Wild: We know that if this team were allowed just a little more offensive freedom they might just move into one of the divisional playoff spots and avoid the wild card chase. We know that Nino Niederreiter must be enjoying his escape from New York given that he’s played all 17 of the Wild’s games this year. We know being 16th in goals for and 3rd in goals against is very traditional Wild hockey and makes for a lot over very tight games.

Los Angeles Kings: We know this is one of just three teams without an overtime loss. We know that Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas present a pretty good case for a curse of the Conn-Smythe, at least for American goaltenders. We know that hovering low in the playoff picture has been just about perfected by this team. We know Anze Kopitar’s point per game pace is pretty surprising for this team and will be ignored, again.

Nashville Predators: We know 14 points in their last 10 games should tell us a lot about how bad the Preds first few games were. We know the team is a very uncharacteristic 19th in goals against. We know that having done nothing to improve their forward pool in the off season that no one is surprised they are 21st in goals for. We know that the forward group’s lack of offensive zest will likely cost Shea Weber another Norris and could cost Seth Jones the Calder.

Dallas Stars: We know that despite adding Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin in the off season the team is still being outscored by their opponents. We know that Valeri Nichushkin is the only draft pick from the last four drafts on the roster. We know a Lindy Ruff coached team is never going to be more than mediocre offensively so the rest of the team has to be high end and that this roster doesn’t qualify.

Calgary Flames: We know that a 6-8-2 is about where most people expected this team to be. We know Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler are doing what heavy lifting is getting done in Calgary. We know those same two players are probably preventing the team from locking up the first overall pick that has to be the aim of the front office. We know that as bad as other teams are playing the return of Mark Giordano means management will have to come up with a better plan for tanking.

Winnipeg Jets: We know that this teams lack of a number on center and arguably of a number two center are making the shortcomings on the back end even more apparent. We know the time to burn this roster to the ground and spare no one over the age of 25 is coming real soon.

Edmonton Oilers: We know there’s just no excuse for this team to be this bad. We know they’ve had all sorts of high draft picks. We know Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner are legitimate NHL talents. We know goaltending is a big, big issue. We know that the defense as a whole can’t get out of its own way much less get the goaltender a clear view or move the puck out of their own end. We know that unless they overpay one or three of the pending UFA defensive defensemen in July, hopes should not be high for improvement any time soon. We know that less than twenty games into the season injuries have played a big part with only seven skaters playing all 17 games.

The NHL has surprises here and there, injuries unexpected firings, and ridiculous hirings. But the for the most part, NHL observers can expect exactly the train-wrecks and triumphs that are written in the stars just waiting to be read.

7:  Jarome Iginla & Brendan Morrow

Both Morrow and Iginla ended up as part of the augmentation of talent for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they made a run towards the Cup. The team fell short, and what came next, should surprise 0.0% of hockey fans. Brendan Morrow who’s offense has fallen off the cliff since the 2010-11 season is without a contract. He performed like a third line rookie in the playoffs, and his skating was not impressive. Iginla on the other hand is signed to a contender having put up nearly a point per game despite the Pittsburgh Penguins season ending a lot like David Carradine, only without the consent or fun.

6: Nathan Horton Bolting Boston

When players who spend a lot of their career in very laid back markets without a strong (and occasionally vicious) media presence suddenly get dropped into the crucible of a major hockey market, the result is often less than pretty. Players have flamed out in Toronto, Montreal, New York and Boston. For Horton who spent most of his career in Florida where on an average day the training staff outnumber the media contingent Boston was destined to be uncomfortable. Add in six seasons of never getting to the playoffs and then suddenly winning the Cup, and he literally had no reason to stay. Columbus is about as close to southern Ontario as Boston, a quieter town, and as much as the team has improved, it will be a playoff team most of the next seven years so he wasn’t giving up much.

5: Bryzgalov goes Bye-Bye

Speaking of guys going from small markets to major hockey markets, witness the rise and fall of one Ilya Bryzgalov. Was all of his disastrous stay in Philadelphia his fault? No. Are the Philadelphia Flyers the kiss of death for goalie talent? Yes. Did everyone outside the Philadelphia Flyers front office see this coming? All the way across the humongous big universe. The buyout of Bryzgalov was both needed and inevitable. Sadly, he and his contract were not the biggest issues with Flyers, otherwise know as the home of things that make you go hmmm.

4: Russians Mute On Anti-Gay Laws

Whatever they think, Russian players in North America aren’t going to speak up about their government’s further encoding homophobia into the nations culture. If they agree with their home nations laws, they risk ostracizing here.  If they publicly disagree with the laws, the risk legal censure at home and possibly even being barred from the Sochi Olympic and other international competition. Here groups like You Can Play would keep them busy defending themselves, and well, National Geographic has convinced me I don’t ever want to see a Russian prison.

 3: RFA Contract Disputes Dragging On

The swallows return to Capistrano, and NHL teams drag their heels and try and sweat young players. Both happen with enough regularity that they cease to be amazing. Last year P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations dragged into camp, the year before it was Drew Doughty, this year it is Alex Pietrangelo. All of them are great young defenseman who any team should be happy to have and want to keep happy. But, these are NHL teams we’re dealing with.

2: Unsupportable Ranking of Sidney Crosby in NHL Fantasy Column
The NHL marketing department, which seems to have a super majority of the brain trust in league HQ, simply can not help itself, or the league. No matter what happens they keep beating the same drum over, and over in the same pattern. In the last three season Sidney Crosby has missed (113) more games than he’s played (99). His injury history should lead no one to think he’ll be healthy the majority of the season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic who was taken 34 picks after Crosby and started his NHL career a year later has played 49 more NHL games, Patrick Kane who was drafted two full years later and has suffered his own injuries has played just 36 games less. Alex Ovechkin, Andrej Meszaros, Andrew Ladd, Johan Franzen, Mark Streit and Travis Zajac several of whom have had serious injuries entered the league the same year or later have all played more games as well. Yes that includes 9th round pick Mark Streit, who missed an entire season.  So why is Sidney Crosby the #1 ranked Fantasy Hockey property? Because it sells jerseys.

1: Big, Dumb Contracts

Leaves fall from trees, cats chase mice, Matt Cooke is surprised when he is sent to the penalty box, all are slightly less predictable than a general manager in the NHL handing out incredibly dumb contracts sometime in the first two weeks of July. This year immediately after he was bought out Vincent Lecavalier was able to make it big (again) thanks to the generosity of Paul Holmgren Philadelphia Flyers General Manager. But Holmgren couldn’t help himself, he also made sure Mark Streit didn’t starve in the streets. Between the two he tied up $10,000,000.00 in cap space, Streit’s is a +35 contract and Lecavalier has a full no movement clause.

But Holmgren is hardly alone there. The Boston Bruins joined in by signing a goaltender who has never one a championship, not in World Juniors, World Championship, Olympics, AHL, ECHL, CHL or any place else to a contract they gave him $8,000,000.00 a year despite the lack of success and injury trouble. Tuukka Rask can thank Peter Chiarelli and Can Neely for buying a nice bill of goods.

Not to be outdone, Ray Shero’s golden handshake with Kris Letang was arguably the worst contract given to a defenseman since Dennis Wideman signed in Calgary. Letang’s playoff performance this year makes it doubtful to many people that he’s a $5m defenseman. Shero clearly believes that Letang is a $7,250,000.00 defenseman.

Looking back at the last several weeks of Bruins play there are some things that are readily apparent, like:

  • injuries
  • less capable replacements
  • mid season boredom
  • some atrocious calls by on ice officials and the office of Player Safety

What’s less apparent is that up until his injury, the Bruins were sliding Tuukka Rask into just about every other game. It started in late December, and continued on from there. Unlike years past where Thomas would get six or seven games then Rask one or two, Thomas for five or six, then Rask in one half of a back to back, then Thomas again for several games. The rinse and repeat continued unless one of the two had a much better record against a given opponent.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Jack Adams winner to notice Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas have different playings styles. Rask is a methodical butterfly goalie. He very rarely goes even one step outside the crease and the number of times he’s gone two steps outside the crease while play is below the dots can probably be counted on one hand. He plays upright, and in a very similar manner to goalies like Lundqvist. He’s also played well so far playing just the few games at a time and seems to wear down after five or six. In comparison to his crease crony he’s pretty passive in game play. Sure milk crates fear his very shadow, but other players?

Tim Thomas on the other hand uses what some have called the “battlefly” style. He’s aggressive. He’s athletic. He’s rarely still. He’ll come three or four steps outside the crease if he feels more confident about making the save half a dozen times a game and not consider it worth noticing. He’ll initiate contact with opponents. If he figured out how to do it and thought it would help he’d split himself in three to make saves.

While neither goalie is anyway an adept puck handler, where they leave the puck for their defenseman is often a little different. In addition to their playing style there’s a couple physical differences. Thomas looks like the “Tank” he is sometimes called. He’s shorter than Rask, barrel chested, and about thirty pounds heavier. Rask is whipcord over bone, tall, gangly and absolutely needs to make sure his shoulders are square on every shot to have a chance at saving it. He’s got much the same physical body type as David Krejci, but is even skinnier and several inches taller. The biggest similarity between the two is that both catch with their left hand.

All of these differences present adjustment difficulties for the skaters. Standing three strides out of the crease with Rask in net means you’re well clear of his comfort zone and likely have room to pivot and retrieve any pucks that leak through or hit him and fall straight in front of him. That same distance out is well within Thomas’s comfort zone. Then there’s the height difference. Neither is going to be able to see over Chara, McQuaid or Lucic, but if Ference, Bergeron, or one much of the team have their edges set for a puck battle either should be able to see over or around them depending on the angle, but Rask will have a slight advantage. Thomas has a better lateral range of the two by virtue of having a better glove, and rarely going down into a butterfly until a puck is inbound.

Most of the the time the two have shared the crease there has been a much wider split in games played, and barring injuries one subbed in for the other only intermittently. As different as their physical attribute are, and their playing styles making the adjustment two or three times a month at most may have kept players more aware of the difference and what they meant for their play. The constant back and forth in the weeks heading up to the Rask injury may have thrown all parties off.

The eastern conference Team Training Room looked pretty formidable, it’s almost possible to fill the west exclusively with players from the Minnesota Wild, anyone amazed at how bad they are should look at how much salary and skill is on the shelf and then wonder how they are still doing anything at all.

Forward Lines (LW, C, RW)

  • Mike Cammalleri (Calgary Flames) – Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) – Steve Downie (Colorado Avalanche)
  • Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers) – Mikko Koivu (Minnesota Wild) – Lee Stempniak – Calgary Flames
  • Brendan Morrow – (Dallas Stars) -Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings) – Martin Havlat (San Jose Sharks)
  • Alex Steen (St Louis Blues) – Kyle Chichura (Phoenix Coyotes) – Viktor Stalberg (Chicago BlackHawks)
  • Extra Forward: Blake Comeau (Calgary Flames)

Defense pairings:

  • Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) – Rostislav Klesla (Phoenix Coyotes)
  • Justin Falk (Minnesota Wild) – Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)
  • Keith Ballard (Vancouver Canucks) – Clayton Stoner (Minnesota Wild)
  • Extra Defenseman: Theo Peckham (Edmonton Oilers)

Goaltenders:

  • Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild)
  • Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings)

 

With some possible question among the defensive unit I don’t think there’s any question that given two weeks to practice I’d take this team over any team in the Western Conference in a seven game series.  For a few more thoughts on injuries look here.

 

(For the sake of consistency all players taken from the TSN.ca injury report. Also note anyone listed who has played 10+ games is eligible for this list regardless of the reason they will or have missed time. )


Despite what people say, injuries do affect your team, some more than others. Some of them affect your team out of all proportion to the score sheet impact of that player. Here’s a team composed of some of the players out of action right now.

Eastern Conference Injured All Stars

Forward Lines (LW, C, RW):

  • Kris Versteeg (Florida Panthers) – Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals) – Tuomo Ruutu (Carolina Hurricanes)
  • Alexi Ponikarovski (New Jersey Devils) – Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning) – Nathan Horton (Boston Bruins)
  • Rich Peverley (Boston Bruins) – Jochen Hecht (Buffalo Sabres) – Scottie Upshall (Florida Panthers)
  • James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers) – Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers) –  Michael Grabner (New York Islanders)
  • Extra Forward: Tyler Kennedy (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Defense:

  • Chris Pronger (Philadelphia Flyers) – Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins) – Andrew Ference (Boston Bruins)
  • Dimitry Kulikov (Florida Panthers)  – Andrej Meszaros (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Extra Defenseman: Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg Jet)

Goaltenders:

  • Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)
  • Tomas Vokun (Washington Capitals)

Coming up this afternoon a look at the Western Conference Team Training Room

This team is kinda scary. Especially when you consider the cutoff for games. There is a book on both goalies, but with a defense like that it probably doesn’t matter. Between Pronger and Ference you might get broken orbital bone for getting to close to the net, or shooting to hard. With Letang and Kulikov, good luck keeping up with them and and trying to prevent them from scoring. Add in a roster where a good half the forwards like to throw the body, and all have some scoring ability… and this team could easily crush the Olympic team of any nation put against it.

 

 

(For the sake of consistency all players taken from the TSN.ca injury report. Also note anyone listed who has played 10+ games is eligible for this list regardless of the reason they will or have missed time. )

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.

With Mark Stuart on the shelf until as late as February recent Bruins acquisition Steve Kampfer is in. Mark Stuart blocked a shot early in the Bruins over time win against the Buffalo Sabres. While this is the second broken hand for Stuart in two years, entering last season Boston’s “Caveman” was the team ironman.  With the stats updated through last nights game, Stuart is just one blocked shot below Captain Zdeno Chara, and in third overall.

Kampfer is a Michigan native, and like Stuart came up through the college ranks instead of heading north to play major juniors. Listed at 197lbs, he’s larger than either Ference or McQuaid and gives the team three sub 200lb blueliners. With Boychuck and McQuaid totaling a spare 105 NHL games and now Kampfer added to the mix, one has to wonder how long the Bruins defense can remain the NHL’s stingiest.

On the plus side Kampfer was among the last cuts made from the NHL roster at the end of the preseason. More importantly he hasn’t spent any time sulking. Like Jamie Arniel who had a cameo earlier this season, Kampfer took the time in Providence to prove it wasn’t where he belongs. At the time of his recall Kamfer was second overall in team scoring, first in defensemen, and first in assists. His stat line of 3-13-16 +10 is good enough to be tied for sixth in AHL defensemen scoring.  The first year pro was also tied for 8th in rookie scoring in the AHL.

If Kampfer can achieve a similar level of performance in the NHL, he might just jump into the Calder Trophy race. Given the nature of the Bruins defense, more injuries are not a probability, but a certainty. Hell, if he plays well enough one or more of the current top six could find themselves sent packing. Despite his frequent pairings with Chara in the preseason, I’d expect that he probably won’t see more than 12-15 minutes a night over his first half dozen games if there are no other injuries.

With perhaps the most complete team in the NHL, and a team anyone who knows anything about the NHL, penciled inked into the top five teams in the league back in September, one must wonder how we all got it so, so wrong.

Is it Marty? Is Sean Avery’s favorite goalie melting down faster than Mel Gibson? While it’s true that his .901 SV% is not just the lowest of any full season in his career, but is well below his .914 average, and his 2.74 GAA is .40 higher than his career average, he’s not the only goalie who has flown high who is now looking up at the pack. Hiller, Khababulin, Kiprusoff and Anderson all have a worse GAA than Broduer. His SV% is exactly what Jeff Deslauriers finished last season with. True, we’re a mere seventeen games into Broduers season, and we don’t really expect the guy at the top of the goalie stats to stay there, so maybe, MB30 will climb back into familiar territory.

Is it Ilya Kovalchuk? The $100,000,000.00 man is also, hands down having the worst season of his career. In twenty five games this year, he’s got a line of 5-6-11 -15, after his arrival in New Jersey last year he played twenty seven games and had a line of 10-17-27 +9. In his career he’s averaged 3.65 shots on goal per game. This season, the Tver Russia native is down to 2.96 shots per game.

What about Langenbrunner? The 35 year old team Captain is on pace for just 11 goals, not surprisingly this would be the least goals he’s scored since the lockout. In fact to find a goal total lower than that you have to go back all the way to 2003-4 season where he scored just to in 53 games.  He’s also got the worst plus minus of his career a -12, of the teams forwards only Kovalchuck is worse. This is a shocking development in a guy who last year was a plus six, and the year before was a +25 to go along with a career +60.

What about the defense you say? Well, that’s just ugly. As if Broduer’s slippage wasn’t enough, bearing in mind that he’s played just half their games, and has more shutouts and a better GAA than either man to substitute for him, it isn’t terribly surprising to learn that the Devils have allowed a sixth worst 2.96 GAA on the season.  Even allowing for the turnover, and better goalie play in Boston this year as a team they went from 2.27 GAA defense to 2.96 seemingly overnight.

At least the offense is pitching in right? Um, if by pitching in you mean contributing to their chances of taking the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft, you’d be right. As of today, they have a 1.78 GF/G average, lower than 29th place by about a third of a goal per game.

Has anyone been injured? At this point it is probably just as sensible to ask who hasn’t been injured. Of the 29 skaters to suit up for the Devils this season, in just 27 games, only seven have played all 27 games. Among those to miss time are defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov, Langenbrunner, Parise, Fraser, Rolston. When you consider that Volchnkov was brought into be their defensive workhorse and is tied for the team lead +/- with a +2, you have to wonder how much less bad the team would be had he been on the ice all season. Not to be overlooked is that the Devils have played nine rookies to date this season.

If all those things are so bad sure it’s gotta be the coach! Ah, well maybe not. True John MacLean‘s a first year coach who’s only previous head coaching experience was as head coach of the New Jersey Devils AHL affiliate. It’s interesting to note that the then Lowell and now Albany Devils had both their longest losing streak, and their best points total in his season as head coach. One factor working against the coach is how different his style is from both the previous coach of the Devils, and that of the coaches of the off season and trade deadline acquisitions not to mention rookies making the double adjustment of new team and minor or amateur ranks to the NHL.

With all these factors playing a part of the huge equation that is the success, or lack their of, of a NHL team, there is one huge integer, or possibly exponent that I’ve not seen covered anywhere.  Buried under all these injuries, and worst seasons ever, and first seasons ever is the fact that there has been a lot of turnover not just on the roster, but in team philosophy.  Since the year started about half the roster has turned over, much of it on defense. On top of that there has been a redefining of roles among the forwards and team as a whole.

Prior to this season, when all else failed, when the opposition beat five skates dead to rights and came to the crease with blood in their eye, Martin Broduer could be counted on to stonewall them at a ridiculous rate. Before this spring Zach Parise as the guy who scored goals when you needed them. Langenbrunner was the leader. Zajac was the well rounded forward who did what was asked in all three zones. With the acquisition of Kovalchuk before the trade deadline, you get a guy who was team captain for years, has had a better goal scoring career than any of his new teammates, and who knew his job was to get open and bury the puck. That’s it, two jobs, no backchecking, no looking off the defense with a pass to someone else who owned a legitimate scoring shot, no plays drawn up on the board that didn’t feature use as the primary weapon in the powerplay.

As respected as Zajac, Parise, and Langenbrunner were, none of them has ever been a superstar. If they had been the face of the Atlanta Thrashers in Kovalchuks place, the team would have been packed off to Winnepeg, Quebec City, Ontario or parts unknown years ago (assuming the ownership group could agree on the color of money) and they’d probably have been scapegoated. MB30 has been the face of the New Jersey Devils, even he is overshadowed by Kovalchuk. Number 17 even has his own feud going with Elisha Cuthbert’s most pesky ex. When you look at the top performers in the NHL, every single one of them, regardless of their position knows the style of play expected of them, and where they are supposed to be on the ice and what they are supposed to be doing there. Draw up any play, in any situation you like, abduct Mike Babcock and staff from behind the Red Wings bench, and I’ll bet you Oprah-bucks that Lidstrom, Rafalski, Datsuyk, all know which X is them without anyone saying a word. Hop on I-94, rinse and repeat with Toews, and Keith and get the same result.

While it’s certainly not the only problem, I think giving the team time to settle into place after the roster and religious upheaval of the last season or so is only reasonable. Take a look at last seasons Montreal Canadiens, everyone laughed themselves sick at the assembly of Smurfs and the no-name defense lolling passively along behind them. Now (years too late for some) the entire NHL knows their names.