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.

This feature will run approximately every two weeks each season comparing a well known player to leagues newest crop of rising stars.

NHL rookies are making the biggest adjustment to their play, and their awareness of the game since they got their first stick and puck. Making the jump sometimes takes more than one try. While the Calder is almost exclusively an award that goes to forwards, this years crop of talent is intriguing, and blessed with American, Czech, Canadian and other candidates that should make every voter take until the very last moment to set their ballot.  This year a once remarkable rookie who has turned in a hall of fame career was chosen to be the measuring stick. Teemu Selanne stated before the season began that this would be his NHL farewell tour.

Through 11 games Teemu Selanne has a line of 3-4-7 and is a -1, and is averaging 14:34 a night. One of his goals is a powerplay marker. He’s currently on the injured reserve.

 

Forwards:

  • Sean Monahan is making a name for himself in a Calgary Flames uniform. Them 19 year old is one of the bright lights in a season that has the Flames low in the standings but still without a regulation loss at home. His 11gp 6-4-10 line is impressive not just for the pace, but the consistency. Some of the other top scorers for forward had a couple huge games and several very quiet nights. Monahan has just steadily produced.
  • Alexsander Barkov who was taken four spots before Monahan in the draft sits behind him in the points race, but the Florida Panthers player is one of the youngest players in the NHL. His 12gp 3-4-7 points total includes two powerplay goals, and one game winner gives him the team lead or a share of it in both categories.
  • Alex Chaisson is a right wing for the Dallas Stars who has served notice that his patient waiting for NHL ice time is over. He trails only All Star Jamie Benn and trade center piece Tyler Seguin for goals in the lonestar state, and is tied with Seguin for goals with totals of 5-4-9 through 12 games. At over 17 minutes of ice time a night he’s playing a big part for Lindy Ruff and company and doing it in all situations, he averages 1:23 a night shorthanded.
  • Tomas Hertl has had the best single night of any of this years freshman class. His four goal night ignited controversy among the segment who think no one should show signs of enjoying their job. The San Jose Shark leads all rookies in scoring with 8-3-11 +8 in 12 games for the NHL’s points leading team.

Goalies:

  • Frederick Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks has edged his way into an already crowded crease. His three appearances have all been wins. He’s one of a handful of Denmark natives in the NHL, and his .944 sv% is enough to make people sit up and take notice.

Defensemen:

  • Torey Krug leads all rookies and all NHL defensemen in powerplay goals. His 4-2-6 line is complimented by a +3 that his him shouldering aside his larger teammates for ice time. Averaging just under 18 minutes a night the Boston Bruin leads all rookie defensemen in scoring.
  • Seth Jones who was inexplicably passed over three times at the NHL draft is doing a remarkable job for the Nashville Predators. At 24:42 a night in TOI he’s playing more minutes than well known workhorses Zdeno Chara, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, P.K. Subban and Mike Green. His 2:55 of shorthanded TIO a night tell us he’s certainly not being playing sheltered minutes. His 2-3-5 have him second in scoring from the blueline among the rookies.
  • Jacob Trouba’s averaging over 4:08 a night in short handed time on ice. That staggering number has the Winnipeg Jets defenseman 3rd in that category behind only Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators and Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings, both of whom broke in to the NHL last century. He owns a 1-12 line with 11 hits and 12 blocked shots in 8 games played. The 9th pick in the 2012 draft is currently on the shelf after being injured sliding into the boards.

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

 

Teams:

  • The Philadelphia Flyers would be the first team to fire their head coach promoting Peter Laviolette to customer and banishing him from the land of misfit toys.
  • The Colorado Avalanche would not only have the first head coach (Patrick Roy) fined in the regular season, but lead the Central division with almost three weeks gone and less game than three of their rivals.
  • Despite the addition of not one, but two former 30 (or more) goal scorers the Boston Bruins would be 18th in scoring.
  • Almost three weeks into the season four teams would have a goals against average under 2.0 per game; the San Jose Sharks, The Colorado Avalanche, The Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens and yet only two would lead their divisions.
  • The Ken Hitchcock led Saint Louis Blues would have outscored everyone in their division and be third in the league in scoring ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • While nestled at the bottom of the standings with the Philadelphia Flyers the Buffalo Sabres would have a top 5 penalty kill?
  • The most penalized team in the NHL would be the Saint Louis Blues, and they’d be the only team over 20 PIMs per game, and lead the Montreal Canadiens who were second by over four minutes.
  • To date, the Montreal Canadiens would have the most major penalties at 9, followed by Toronto, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay.

Players:

  • Alexander Steen would lead not just the St Louis Blues in scoring, with 11 points in 7 games, but be in second place in the NHL race.
  • Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes would have identical stat lines of 8gp 2 goals 6assists, while their team were each second in their division’s.
  • Of the seven rookies from the 2013 entry draft, two would be on point per game paces Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche
  • Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators would lead all rookies in time on ice per game with 23:46 a night through seven games and 2:37 a night short handed.
  • Radko Gudas would lead the NHL’s rookies in hits and blocked shots as a member of the Tamp Bay Lightning.
  • Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, and four other San Jose Sharks would be on a point per game pace or higher.
  • that a goalie with a .935 s% through 6 games, Ryan Miller and only have one win.
  • that Martin Biron, Braydon Hotlby, and Martin Brodeur would all have worse sv%’s than Ondrej Pavelec
  • Tyler Seguin would win just 25 of 78 faceoffs in six games, and no one would be talking about it.

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

Three years ago the first chapter of the Taylor Hall vs Tyler Seguin saga came to a close as the NHL entry draft closed. Both gentlemen went home with a team, they were in fact drafted one and two. In the steeplechase that is an NHL career, each has had his own obstacles to deal with. Hall has had to play on a team that has a lot of talent at forward but has proven enormously bad as a collective. Worse, Hall has battled injuries that have caused him to miss 41 games. Tyler Seguin’s career has seen him win the Stanley Cup, and be exiled not much later.

This season a new chapter begins. Both Taylor and Tyler will be playing center. And for the first time in three years they will be playing the came competition on a regular basis. With the injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the trade from Boston to the Dallas Stars the two will faceoff three times this season. Both will have training camp and the early part of the season to adjust to the new role as Seguin slides in from the right, and Hall moves in from the left.

November 13th when the Dallas Stars visit the Edmonton Oilers will be the first time these two faceoff in the NHL playing the same position. To date, the comparisons are stark. Taylor Hall has been the better offensive power plant. Despite the lost games, Hall eclipses Seguin in all offensive categories. Seguin has had far better health, and more career accomplishments. At 21 he’s already been part of a Stanley Cup win, and collected 42 games of playoff experience.

This season represents the best head to head comparisons fans have gotten since they joined the NHL. Their teams are about equal in quality, each will be learning the center position at the NHL level. Both have new coaches as well.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Chicago Blackhawks Captain, keystone, and bubbly play maker*, is slightly dinged up with the highly contagious “lower body injury“. Please remember to wash your hands after interviewing.

 

One of the Dallas Stars summer reinforcements is going to be down-checked for almost a month. Rich Peverley, former Boston Bruin, Atlanta Thrasher, and Nashville Predator had surgery to repair a heart condition. The former St. Lawrence Saint came over with Tyler Seguin as part of the effort to establish depth at center.

 

The war is over now, and Alex Pietrangelo is signed to a new seven year deal with the Saint Louis Blues. Capgeek lists his hit at $6.5m per year, and that gives the Blues the 9th highest payroll in the NHL, with six teams still having to make moves to bring them under the cap by opening night.

 

Darryl Sutter was understood to utter the word “awesome” at the Los Angeles Kings training camp. He says this years camp has guys playing for jobs. With at least four forwards, and two defensemen who saw light if any use during the post season last year, we expect the competition to be awesome.

 

Also caught by the dastardly “lower body injury” is Nashville Predators goaltender prospect Magnus Hellberg. Viktor Stalberg is said to being fitting in great after one training camp practice by Barry Trotz who will no doubt be shamed into upping the superlative compete level when he hears what Darryl Sutter said.

 

*One or more of these may require additional verification.

Since arriving in Boston Peter Chiarelli has made moves that rewrote the franchises future history, and others that merely changed the roster. Today the Boston Bruins extended their general manager for another four years. With seven seasons behind him, there is more than enough to look at to evaluate him as general manager and hockey mind.

Coaches:

The Bad:

Upon landing in Boston Chiarelli’s first verifiable move was to pill the bench bosses job. For that position he picked arguably the worst coach in Boston Bruins history. Dave Lewis came in, glued the gloves on Zdeno Chara, left him on the ice too long, and designed a defensive scheme that led to the worst GAA in the Tim Thomas era. Fortunately for Bruins fans, and likely several players this would prove to be a mistake that lasted just one season.

Power play coaching. The Boston Bruins powerplay has been a disaster for years. Not since before Matt Cooke nearly killed Marc Savard has the team had a viable powerplay. The team has shuffled several (recent) 30 goal scorers through the power play including Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton to little or no effect. It has used guys with enormous slap shots like Chara and Boychuk, and guys who zip around the offensive zone like Marchand, Kessel and Seguin. There hasn’t been any change in this area, and it reflects one of the fundamental components of Peter Chiarelli’s personality.

The Good:

Claude Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for the last several seasons. He’s rehabilitated guys like Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille. He’s taken rookies like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci and given them a chance to play up to their full potential while bringing them along slowly. He’s also recognized who the teams core guys are and used them to the teams best advantage. His campaigning for Patrice Bergeron’s inclusion on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team was notable, his support of Zdeno Chara for Norris candidacy and wins likewise. Further he’s show the ability to adapt as needed and make the right calls in the playoffs.

Drafting:

The Bad:

There hasn’t been much good to come out of the 2007-present drafts. Tyler Seguin failed to live up to the hype, and is now gone. While Tommy Cross’s injuries were not something anyone could predict, the rest of the 2007 draft was horribly unimpressive. Zach Hamill has all of the NHL games to date for the Bruins that year. Denis Reul played just five AHL games, Alain Goulet hasn’t escaped the ECHL for the past two years, Radim Ostrcil hasn’t played a minute in the Boston system at any level, and lastly Jordan Knackstedt departed the system almost before anyone learned who he was. Most subsequent drafts have been little better. The 2008 draft saw two NHL games in return for more than a years labor, one to Jamie Arniel and the other to Max Sauve, no one from that draft is in the system any longer.

The Good:

Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. That’s pretty much it. Yes, I and others hold out hope that Jared Knight, Zane Gothberg, Colton Hargrove, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner, Rob O’Gara, Malcolm Subban and the several others will turn into legitimate NHL players, but that’s all we can do at this point. O’Gara, Hargrove, Grzelcyk, and countless others are college kids who will be a long time getting to the NHL, if ever. If you’re feeling optimistic you can count Jordan Caron in the “win” column, if not ad the 25th overall pick in the 2009 column to the other end of the ledger.

Free Agents:

The Bad:

Derek Morris counts as possibly the biggest miss of the Chiarelli era for free agents. He wasn’t a horrible Bruin, but he was not what was needed. From the same year if one must nitpick there is Drew Larman. While Josh Hennessy and Steve Begin weren’t unmitigated successes, they hardly grew legions of fans. The second tenure of Shane Hnidy.

The Good:

Torey Krug is the most recent player who has worked out, at least short term in the system. Remaining open to Jarome Iginla is another one that has to count as a win. Shawn Thornton is one the very quiet successes that no one ever talks about as a good free agent signing. The late season signing of Miroslav Satan was a master stroke. He didn’t have to be great, but he made people feel he was in being pretty good.

Trades:

The Bad:

Manny Fernandez wasn’t picked up for a bad price, but between his various injuries and Tim Thomas solidifying his hold on the starting goalies job, he was paid about $290,000 per game. Brandon Bochenski was brought in for Kris Versteeg. Versteeg would go on to be a contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup win and remain a valued NHL commodity, Bochenski would have trouble sticking to the NHL and end up in Europe. Vladimir Sobotka for David Warsofky, the Saint Louis Blues got the guy who led them in playoff scoring and hits last spring, and Warsofsky has yet to see a single NHL game.  Traded Petteri Nokelainen for Steve Montador who along with Wideman would eventually help cost the Bruins a playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Good:

Moving good guy with bad luck Chuck Kobasew for Alexander Fallstrom, Alexander Khokhlachev and Craig Weller. Kobasew was on the roster as part of a sluggish team and the Bruins would then flip Weller along with Bitz for Seidenberg and Bartkowski. Dennis Wideman and a 1st round pick were traded for immediate help, and possibly attitude in exchange for Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton, Florida would jettison Wideman for glass trinkets, the Bruins would win the Cup with their new boys. Picking up Danile Paille for essentially nothing was one of the sneakier good moves in his tenure. Adam Mcquaid and Johnny Boychuk were picked up in similar trades.

Draws:

Phil Kessel for the picks that turned into Seguin, Knight and Hamilton. Seguin was on a cup winning squad but hardly a huge factor, Hamilton was displaced for AHL callups, Knight has yet to have a healthy season. It is hard to say Chiarelli had a choice in trading Kessel, but the direct return has yet to be better. The Tomas Kaberle trade might count as win, but the Bruins gave up a 1st round draft selection, Joe Colborne, and a pick they would eventually trade. Kaberle failed to distinguish in his tenure, was not extended, and actually hurt the already woeful Bruins powerplay arguably making their path to the Cup harder than it would have been without him.

The two biggest hallmarks of the Chiarelli era to date have been his loyalty to the people he picks, and being more comfortable with low and midlevel deals than the franchise shaking ones. Those less charitable than myself would count conducting media availability as if each word he spoke cost him a $5 deduction from his salary as one of those hallmarks, but given the mental perambulations of certain elements of the local media, it is hard to be surprised this happens. With a Cup win, and a second team that took a juggernaut to six games despite being hobbled by injuries it is hard to call his tenure anything but a success.

The 2010 draft class was universally viewed to possess two elite forwards, and numerous quality NHL players. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were talked about all year long, and at the draft the pair were selected first and second. Both launched their careers the autumn of their draft year, and both had international celebrity status before they ever took a shift. The other 208 men taken in that draft are determined not to be afterthoughts.

Jeff Skinner vs Tyler Seguin

Entering the year Skinner leads Seguin in goals, assists and points with a line of 188gp 64g 67a 131p to Seguin’s 203gp 56g 64a 121p. Over the course of the season, assuming both play a roughly equal number of games: Expect Skinner to increase his goal lead.

To date, 40 players drafted in 2010 have played at least 1 game in the NHL.

This season: 15 more players drafted in 2010 will play in the NHL.

Quinton Howard of the Florida Panthers: Scores 5+NHL goals.

Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets doubles his career point total with 33 or more points this season.

Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild has as many goals this season, as he had points (14) last season.

Carolina Hurricanes defensmen Justin Faulk scores 10 goals.

Anaheim Ducks forwards Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly combine for 25 goals.

Taylor Hall gets his first NHL 30 goal season.

The lockout shortened season was another year of almost realized playoff hopes. Another year of almost succeeding, another year almost being memorable. February 17th with fifteen games in the record books saw the team glowing atop 7th place. By March 2nd they’d slide beneath the horizon into 10th place. Jamie Benn forced to center, a position he hadn’t played in the NHL struggled and missed 7 games. Ray Whitney missed 16, and the two still led the team in points. Jaromir Jagr would be gone at the trade deadline. Derek Roy was gone on April 2 despite piling up 22 points in 30 games. Michael Ryder who had 35 goals the year before was traded before the season was half over. Brendan Morrow, and Joe Morrow would both exit as well.

Overall, the confusion on ice would spell an 11th place finish for the team. Was it a “bridge year”? Was it a “rebuild on the fly”? Was it just someone wanting to be seen doing something? We may never know. What we do know is that two of the teams that finished ahead of them last year won’t be vying for any of the eight playoff billets in the west this year. In the off season the front office continued to spin the personnel kaleidoscope. They sent Loui Eriksson shooting off to Boston, and in return brought back Rich Peverley an experienced NHL center good in all three zones, and a demon in the faceoff circle, and Tyler Seguin a highly regarded talent who’s off ice life and maturity came into question in a system he never fit into. Shawn Horcoff was brought in from Edmonton as well.  The first five games feature an interesting mix with the Panthers and Avalanche book-ending games against the Capitals, Jets and Wild.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Washington Capitals

Weakest Opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With the turnover in roster talent the team could either come out of the gate energized and ready to fight or tentative and feeling themselves out. Lindy Ruff will still be getting to know most of the players and the questions about if he can coach a team with high end talent is still unanswered. Kari Lehtonen’s health will be forever in question, multiple back and groin injuries make it difficult for him to get and stay in any sort of groove. On the plus side, youth has arrived. Tyler Seguin has speed, a fantastic shot release, and Valeri Nichushkin, and Alex Chiasson. The team isn’t remarkably better or worse than it was last season, it is just different. How well all the moving parts pull together will be the difference between this being a playoff team, an afterthought or a basement dweller.