Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.

While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.

A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.

Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.

Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.

The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.

While McAvoy is undeniably talented,  even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.

The Olympics are growing closer and closer as the NHL season is finally escaping the early season mire. Some teams are still playing at a level that no one predicted, others are about where the consensus pegged them. At this time of year it is easier to get a handle on where players will be in the rankings when it comes time for the NHL to dim the lights and the spotlight turns to a Russian city just north of Georgia on the Black Sea.

Alex Steen

While the Canadian team’s wealth at center is deep enough that they could fill all 12 forward positions with worthy centers, they likely to go for a more balanced approach. This is too bad because it means that Alex Steen who is tied for the NHL goal lead with that other Alex might be left off the final roster. 10 goals in 9 games is a tiny bit of a hot streak. Last year in 40 games he had just 8 goals, in a season that was anything but normal. Don’t be too surprised if the Winnipeg Alex is skating against the Moscow Alex in Sochi.

Ryan Miller

If dictionaries were updated on a weekly basis Websters would have a picture of Ryan Miller, his stats and the Buffalo Sabres record. The American goaltending picture for this year was supposed to be some combination of Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators. The third goalie might as well be an inflatable sheep since it was as likely to see action as whoever was behind those two. In the cold light of reality, Miller is outplaying Quick by such a wide margin it isn’t fair to Miller to compare them.

Let’s take a look:

American born NHL goaltender stats October 27 2013

American born NHL goaltender stats October 27 2013

 

 

And when considering the USA crease, while Quick has won a Stanley Cup, Miller has played in the pressure cooker that is the Olympic tournament and done very, very well.

Mark Giordano

Of the top six Canadian NHL defensemen in scoring which one plays more than 25 minutes a night, has played a season (plus playoffs) for Dynamo Moscow, and also has World Championship experience? If you guessed the Calgary Flames blueliner named Mark Giordano, you’re pretty good at this. Add in 18 blocked shots, and the fact that he plays over three minutes a night short handed and on the powerplay and you’ve got a compelling package. When you consider he’s in the upper echelon of scoring while on a poor team he’s taken over as captain of, you have to work hard to leave him off the roster.

Tomas Hertl

The soon to be 20 year old Czech made the jump from Europe to the NHL on his first attempt, is playing just below a point per game pace. Not may people outside his home nation and the Sharks offices had him on their radar coming into the year. He got off to a phenomenal start, caught some (worthless) criticism for showboating, and has leveled off since. There is still time to pull himself back on track, if he does, there’s a chance he’s sharing the ice with a lot of guys who grew up watching.

Torey Krug

The second year defenseman out of Michigan State is currently leading all American defensemen in goals scored. Three of his four have come on the powerplay helping his Boston Bruins improve enormously in that regard. With six points in ten games, the points pace he’s on is every bit as good as Ryan Suter, particularly when minutes played are factored in. Anyone who’s watched three minutes of Krug’s play should have no concerns about his ability to handle any sized ice sheet.

According to NHLNumbers.com the NHL is made up of players with eighteen different nations of origin. Slovenia, Norway, and Lithuania sitting at the bottom of the representation chart, and Canada resting at the top with more than half of the National Hockey League’s players. Of the sixty three goalies to enter a game this season eleven of those men are Americans. In the post lockout era, four of the six times the award has been handed out have gone to Americans. Tim Thomas has twice won the award and made Flint Michigan, the University of Vermont and Boston Bruins fans proud. Ryan Miller of East Lansing Michigan, Michigan State and the Buffalo Sabres is the other American to lift the Vezina.

But they are hardly alone among the elite level goalies hailing from the US of A. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings has hovered in the Vezina picture over the last few years as well. Hobbled by being on a west coast team that until very recently was only so-so he’s still managed to pile up some highly creditable numbers. Last season, he put up numbers comparable to the last non-American to win the Vezina (Martin Brodeur, 2008) and did it in a system less favorable to goaltenders. This year he’s setting a ridiculous early pace with three consecutive shutouts in his first seven games. At twenty five the pride of Milford Connecticut is likely to keep improving for several more years, and is probably the favorite to win the Vezina at this point in the season.

Tim Thomas the reigning Vezina trophy winner is at 37 years old today, but only like most goalies his age has not logged the huge minutes at the NHL level that might be expected. He’s logged just 7000 more minutes than Quick who is 12 year younger, and 5000 less than Miller who is six years younger. Given the ages we’ve seen goalies such as Hasek and Brodeur play to while playing enormous amounts of games, its entirely possible that the man who last year set a regular season save percentage record, and followed it up by bettering that number and setting a record for number of saves in the Stanley Cup playoffs could be around for several more years.  He’s won the Vezina twice now a third is entirely possible.

Ryan Miller is considered by many to be the best goalie in the world, and even the people who believe he’s overrated don’t list him outside the NHL’s top five. He’s won the award in the past, has a much better team in front of him now and right of the gate he’s putting up numbers that are better than the season he won the Vezina. With a new owner who has thrown the purse wide open enabling better players around him, and potentially a better level of backup that will let him play 55-60 games a year instead of the 65-74 he has played in years past the sky is the limit.

Arguably the best backup goaltender in the NHL is another American. Tucked away behind Roberto Luongo’s lifetime contract in Vancouver is Marlbehead Massachusetts native son Cory Schneider. Although, given recent events and the comparative numbers of the two goaltenders this season, it is arguable which of the two is the number one goaltender. Schneider who is listed behind Luongo on the depth chart has started four games to the “number one goaltenders” seven, come in to relieve the other guy once, and not given up a single special teams goal in five appearances. He also boasts far better numbers, with a Sv% .058 better and a goals against average 1.57 lower. The ousting of Luongo has been called for numerous times in British Columbia, with numbers like that it’s not hard to see why that is.

Nor is the pipeline exactly bare.  Jack Campbell of Michigan and John Gibson of Pennsylvania were both high draft picks in recent drafts. Jeff Zatkoff is another American goaltender in the Kings system currently working the crease in the AHL. Also filling the crease in the AHL is Nashville Predators prospect Jeremy Smith (yet another) Michigan native who is among the league leaders in Sv%.

As players like Thomas, and Miller continue to win Vezinas or guys like Schneider and Quick emerge from the shadows of in widely spread parts of the continent you can expect to see more and more great athletes taking to the highest pressure position in team sports. As the west coast is exposed to Quick and Schneider, the east coast to Miller and Thomas, and the heartland gets to know Campbell and Smith in the near future don’t be surprised if the next generations NHL creases are predominantly patrolled by men with the stars and stripes on their shoulder.