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.

Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

The Edmonton Oilers were a very interesting team to watch last season. Many of the younger players have a low enough NHL game total they could, and did play in the AHL during the lockout. This made them one of the more cohesive teams when the season started. Over the course of a year that ended with a lot of changes in the front office, they improved from 23r to 19th in goals against year over year. Their goal differential was just a couple short of Minnesota and San Jose who both made the playoffs. They took a step forward, a small one and it remains to be seen if all or even most of the changes work out favorably.

The Oilers schedule to start the year is a bit odd, they open the season October 1st at home against the Winnipeg Jets then have four days off before going to Vancouver who will also be under a new head coach. They then head back to Edmonton to defend their ice against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Last of their opening fistful of games is trip east to throwdown with the new look Toronto Maple Leafs.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4+

With a new coaching staff, a new general manager, and new editions to the roster, there will be a longer than normal shakedown cruise at the beginning of the season. Dallas Eakins will certainly want to get to know all his players and how the work best under his system. Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov will certainly have a word or two to drop into the ears of their teammates. David Perron will be adjusting not just to a new coach, but an entirely new city, and team as well. The younge players will be adjusting to the trade of Shawn Horcoff.

With the experience and quality added to the blueline, the biggest factor in where this team is on April 13th will be who, if anyone steps up and claims the team as their own. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner led the team in scoring last year and are by almost any measure the best players on the team if the or others can get the team all pulling in the same direction before Thanksgiving, the team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the career of all to many of this teams young players. Two, or even three of the teams players emerging not just as stars but as superstars is will put this team in the post season and on the right path for years to come, if not, it will be same old same old.

The NHL Owners are set to end the greatest financial era of the NHL as a whole has seen in the modern era. They are doing that despite knowing the consequences. They earned money hand over fist despite an world wide economic recession. There are no grounds, other than greed, on which to base this lockout. Money is important, teams need it not just for day to day maintenance, or for covering the costs of new or upgraded practice facilities, and to compensate the owners for their work and investment, but to take care of the future.

Closing the door to players, denying millions of fans across the globe their addiction, that’s not taking care of the future. The owners claim, the NHL doesn’t need and shouldn’t have contracts longer than five years. Yet 9 of the last 150 contracts on CapGeek.com are for six years or longer. Among those signing long deals are Tyler Seguin in Boston, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall in Edmonton, Shea Weber in Nashville, John Carlson in Washington, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell in Phily, and one or two others. Of them all, Simmonds is the least well known, and even he’s gotten some traction. How in the world do these deals, combined with the ownership statements convince anyone the NHL Owners are negotiating in good faith?

Just a few short years ago the owners were in a different position, teams like the Penguins were failing. Chicago hadn’t been good in years, the Kings were laughable, the Bruins were just bad, no big involved. League revenue was low because the teams in big markets were at the low ebb. Today that’s not true. The Penguins continue to draw at home and away. Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles have all won Stanley Cups in recent years and the fan bases are well engaged.

That won’t last through a lockout. No one in the world believes that if the NHL loses a season we’re going to get anything close to the quality product we’ve seen in the last season and two post seasons. The Coyotes and Kings leading up to the Stanley Cup final was tense, physical, emotional hockey, The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers having a series long shooting gallery was thrilling to watch. The reason it won’t be as good is players will get out of sync with their teammates. Some players will opt to stay in the KHL or SEL, still more will retire.

Are their some bad deals handed out to NHL players? Absolutely. But the people authorizing those deals have no one to blame but themselves. Some of the NHL’s worst contracts amount to just short of stealing by the players. On the other hand, the simple truth is that those contracts amount to taking some extra pennies from the tray at the store, in comparison locking out for a season is lighting your own wallet on fire.

The Edmonton Oilers have just inked Taylor Hall to a new contract. Despite the ownership demand in CBA negotiations, that contracts not exceed five years, Taylor Hall got seven. He also got six million a year. At six million, he’ll be making more than Selke Winner Patrice Bergeron, former scoring champ Martin St Louis, four time 30 goal man Phil Kessel, Calder winner Jeff Skinner, more than Ryan Kesler who is another Selke winner, and more than a few other names you might just recognize: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown, all of whom have their names on the Stanley Cup.

Aside from being first overall pick, what has Taylor Hall done? Yeah, I can’t think of anything either. Yes, he’s played in two NHL seasons producing forty-nine goals which isn’t anything to sneeze at. However, on a team that isn’t that deep andhas to rely on its forwards producing oodles of goals to have a chance to win he’s also gotten a lot more ice time than other players his age. More importantly, he’s only managed to be on the ice for three quarters of each season. In two seasons he’s missed time for shoulder and ankle injuries and a concussion. That’s Simon Gagne or Martin Havlat level fragility.

What are the Oilers suits thinking? If they’ve signed him that long for that much, what is Jordan Eberle going to command? Eberle is hands down the most game impacting young forward they have, based on the last two seasons the race isn’t even close. Eberle produced more points in less time on ice while playing the penalty kill two seasons ago in a close race, and last year was a walk off winner of the points chase. Based on production and good sense, Eberle who smacked aside the thirty goal mark in his second season should be worth at least another million a year.

Except this is the Edmonton Oilers we are talking about, good sense is not only not required it will likely be used against you. This team has a drafted, developed and retained one defenseman worth naming in the last decade and a quarter; Theo Peckham. That’s it, he’s the best they’ve done since Taylor Hall was 8 years old. They let Matt Greene of the Kings escape, and therein lies the total of their claims to drafting and developing the players you need most in the current NHL. Out of more than thirty tries, they’ve produced two viable NHL defensemen.

If the Oilers compensate Eberle around what Hall has gotten, they will still need to find a way to retain Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, a viable defense, and of course figure out what to do with Yakupov, Schultz, Paajarvi, and others in the not to distant future. Anyone predicting the Oilers will either have to sacrifice talent to get people under the cap, or spend years icing a very unbalanced team is clearly more qualified to run a hockey team than anyone of the current Edmonton suits.

 

While there are numerous stars not going to the All Star game because like Kris Letang or Jordan Eberle they are injured or like Lidstrom or Selanne they declined, there are some players who didn’t make it simply because they were deemed less entertaining than players who are better than them this year. I know most people who follow the NHL closely think (not without justification) that the All Star Game is indeed a farce, and I’m among them, but the skills competition and other events are a lot of fun and that’s why I’d like to see some of them go. Some as participants on the ice, and well, a few others just because.

Radim Vrbata has 21 goals for the Coyotes, which puts him ahead of Daniel Sedin, he’s also got five powerplay goals, and has actually scored shorthanded, something  Sedin has yet to do in his eleven seasons.

Patrice Bergeron, more points than Alex Ovechkin, has won in the playoffs, plays in all situations and owns a cup clinching goal.

James Neal, burst on to the scene this year with Crosby out of action and carried the team through the first third of the season, with 21 goals only five players have scored more.

Scott Hartnell, love him or hate him he’s having a great season. With 19 goals he’s got more than Ovechkin, Seguin, and Alfredsson who will all be there.

Kris Versteeg, the now well traveled winger has taken his talents to southbeach Sunrise and parlayed them into more points than at least half a dozen of the names on the roster, and he’s a great rapper.

Loui Eriksson see all the reasons above for any of these forwards. He’s kinda a big deal.

John Carlson is hands down the most well rounded defenseman on the Washington Capitals, his numbers are as good as Lidstroms and he’s got a much less defensively sound team around him.

Jared Cowen, despite the hectare of guys playing in Ontario already should be there, either as a Young Star, or full fledged All Star. The latter is a stretch, but no more than some of the players actually named.

Mike Smith is 8th in overall sv%, only two of the guys ahead of him have played nearly as many games as his 33, and Carey Price is 24th on that list.

One of the things that could liven up the event would be having a few players take the place of officials, and do the judging, interviews and commentary on the game and skills.

Shawn Thornton and Paul Bissonnette spring to mind as the perfect garrulous guys to cover the skills competitions and provide color commentary during the game.

Despite some dippy coach who taints things with his mouth wanting him anywhere but in his locker room, Sean Avery would be an unparallelled choice to interview arriving players, coaches and officials on the runway. He can talk the game, the players and the fashion and do all three naturally.

As the ultimate on ice officials; Brad Marchand and Ryan Miller. Neither is a bit shy about sharing their opinion, and (assuming any) the calls they made could be quite engaging. As an added bonus of Marchand being in the building him and Versteeg could have a free style battle.

Official Astrologer: None other than Ilya Bryzgalov.

Breaking into the NHL is tough enough. Some players have false starts, some never make it at all. But once you’re in the big show getting to center stage can be even harder. Media outlets have a tendency to run to the same well over and over, sometimes even after it has gone dry. Securing the limelight for yourself may require a guy to break the mold, land on a new team or in some cases just stay healthy. Here are some of the guys who have earned center stage through the first half of the season.

At left wing you can’t find a bigger swing from the end of last season through the beginning of this season than James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last season he was brought in as the hired gun to push Pittsburgh over the top riding shotgun on Crosby’s wing. In the score of games after the trade deadline, scoring is something that was quite the rarity.

While there’s  a certain guy (currently injured) on the Edmonton Oilers who has certainly gotten lots of attention this season, and deservedly so, another young center gets the nod. Having been called up from the minors after the season started, the season in the AHL, his call up has proved to be the best thing to happen to the New Jersey Devils this season bar none. Adam Henrique is Mr Everything for the Devils. It’s tough to argue that the Devils would be within striking distance of home ice in the opening round without Henrique who plays in all situations. A fair comparison of the two is to put Henrique in the same category of player as Toews, and Nugent-Hopkins in a similar mold to Henrik Sedin.

The elephant in the room of emerging stars at right wing does reside in Edmonton. His name is Jordan Eberle. He’s the only member of the Oilers on a point per game pace. He’s done it while lines have been shuffled and other players have gone in and out of the lineup he’s already tied last years 69 game point total, and is just one goal short of his goal total for last year as well. He’s on pace for over thirty goals.

The first defenseman is a no-brainer. If you haven’t heard his name, haven’t read anything on him, let me welcome you to the 2011-2012 season and wish you a speedy recovery from the coma you’ve clearly been in. Erik Karlsson is leading all defensemen in scoring, has a relative Corsi number that places him next to the only defensemen I’ve ever heard of Ray Bourque saying is better than he was (Chara), and he leads all defensemen in takeaways.

The other defenseman worth naming is a little better known but has had a couple down years having been injured and over shadowed in his last stop. Now on his fourth team it looks like the son of Strathroy Ontario has found his spiritual home. Having been part of a Cup win in Chicago, Brian Campbell has taken that experience and helped mold a fiercely competitive Florida Panthers team into a powerful force this season. His career average points per game is .516 PPG, this season he’s screaming along at .767 PPG.

In goal there’s just once choice. Brian Elliot. He’s had solid stretches of games along the way in his career, but this season he’s treading upon hallowed ground and no one is complaining. his .940 sv% is staggering, and his 1.62 GAA is nothing to sneeze at either. While it’s just a hunch at this point, the suspicion that the UFA to be will get a more generous contract next year is pretty tough to ignore.

Coaching them all is Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen. He came into the season with a mishmash of rookies, discards, veterans in their prime, guys with injury histories, veterans edging into the twilight of their careers and not one but two question marks in goal. His team has led the Southeast division for most of the season. Not bad for a first year head coach.

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

Players:

  • the leading scorer in the NHL would be a guy with six or seven games less than the three men closest to him, and not named Sedin, Ovechkin, or Croby but Claude Giroux
  • the only Edmonton Oiler on a better than point per game pace would be Jordan Eberle
  • on January 6th Rick Dipietro and Sidney Crosby would have played the exact same number of games (8)
  • that Cal Clutterbuck (6) would have more special teams goals than Zach Parise (4)
  • that David Clarkson who’s career high is 17 would lead the New Jersey Devils in scoring, and the team would still be tied for a playoff spot
  • Alexandere Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks would  have more game winning goals than Phil Kessel, James Neal, Dany Heatley or Pavel Datsyuk
  • James Neal would be the first player to 10 powerplay goals
  • Zdeno Chara would have more powerplay goals than Chris Kunitz, Ilya Kovalchuk, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Jonathan Toews
  • Dan Girardi would lead the NHL in average time on ice at 27:17
  • Nik Lidstrom would be on pace for roughly 30% more penalties and 30% less points than last season

Teams:

  • the 26th place Edmonton Oilers would have the 2nd best powerplay
  • the New Jersey Devils would have a penalty kill clicking at 90.9% and still be the 19th placed team in the NHL
  • the Northeast division leading Boston Bruins would have a goal differential of +69 and the other five divisional leaders would have a combined +98
  • the Los Angeles Kings could have a negative goals differential, be dead last in goals per game, and still be in playoff position
  • two teams Vancouver, and Minnesota would have a winning percentage over fifty percent when trailing after one period.
  • the Anahiem Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens would share the distinction of having a losing record when scoring first
  • just two teams, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers would have a winning record when trailing first
  • the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils would each have as many wins in the overtime and the shootout as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks would total (10)
  • despite being in 30th place all season, the Columbus Blue Jackets would make it through the seasons first 31 games without being shutout
  • only two teams the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the only two teams to be neither shutout or have a shutout

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…

Teams:

  • only twelve teams would have a positive goals differential on December 22nd
  • the Toronto Maple Leafs would be among the 12 and the Washington Capitals would be among the 18
  • six teams would change coaches before the new year
  • only the St Louis Blues among the teams with a change would be improved by it
  • the 3rd place Boston Bruins and 29th place Anahiem Ducks would have a powerplay of identical efficiency at 18.5%
  • the 30th place Columbus Blue Jackets would have scored more goals than the Anahiem Ducks, Los Angeles Kings or New York Islanders
  • of the six division leaders on December 22nd (Boston, Florida, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minnesota, San Jose) none would possess a top 6 powerplay.
  • Calgary and Anahiem would be the only teams without a shorthanded goal
  • the Phoenix Coyotes who lost Ilya “Humongous Big” Bryzgalov to free agency would have a better GAA than the Philadelphia Flyers (2.56 vs 2.59 through 34 games each)

Players

  • of all the players with 15 or more games played and on a point per game pace, the highest plus minus would belong to Marian Hossa +21
  • Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be on an identical 1.03ppg pace
  • James Neal, Scott Hartnell, and Johan Franzen would be among the top five in powerplay goals scored when all three finished outside the top 20 last season
  • Benoit Pouliot would have more game winning goals than; Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Daniel Sedin
  • Erik Karlsson would lead all defensemen in scoring, and be 1st about defensemen and tied for 11th overall in takeaways
  • in 31 games each Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers and Mark Stuart of the Winnipeg Jets would be the only players over 80 hits and 80 blocked shots
  • two of the top five players in short handed time on ice, Josh Gorges and Jay Bouwmeester would be on teams not among the five leaders in penalty kill time
  • that while having the lowest ice time since the 2005-06 Chris Kelly would be on pace for career numbers
  • through 28 games on the leagues blackhat Boston Bruins Daniel Paille would have zero penalties and through 35 games Andrew Brunette of the Chicago BlackHawks would have zero PIM’s as well