Monday, January 07, 2008

Midseason report

Sometime on Saturday night, the NHL season hit the unofficial midway point of the season, somewhere between Game No. 615 and 616 of 2007-08.

(It may have even been during the ConkBlock.)

Here are a few midseason musings:

Top Team
The Detroit Red Wings remain the class of hockey, a perch they've taken on quite a bit during the regular season in recent years. The Wings are on pace for an 128-point campaign this season, with 61 wins and just 15 losses, both marks that would be just shy of the greatest NHL seasons on record. (And they've done so with little help from the shootout.)

Honourable mention:
After the Senators in second spot, there are 20 teams separated by 10 points, so pick as you please.

Hart Trophy
First thing's first: With his team in last place in the Eastern Conference, the scoring leader, Vinny Lecavalier, isn't eligible for this one.

Roberto Luongo's my pick at this point, as despite coming within two votes of the Vezina Trophy last season, he has improved his goals against average by more than 0.30 and his save percentage by .009. He's also on pace for 12 shutouts and has his team on pace to win its division.

It seems absurd that Luongo's going to be 29 years old before the season's over and has yet to win an individual award.

Honourable mention: Jarome Iginla, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sidney Crosby

Norris Trophy
Barring a 15-20 game injury, Lidstrom deservedly wins again. He's on pace to finish the season at +65; his career high is +43 — 14 years ago.

Honourable mention: Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger, Sergei Zubov

Calder Trophy
At midseason, it's Patrick Kane, but after another five or 10 games, this spot could easily be occupied by Nicklas Backstrom, who has caught fire lately. Backstrom has 16 points in his last 15 games, while Kane has slowed down a little and has just two goals in his last 24 games.

Honourable mention: Tobias Enstrom, Tom Gilbert, Alex Edler

Vezina Trophy
Luongo's my Hart pick, so he gets the nod here, but that doesn't mean there aren't other candidates. Evgeni Nabokov has started 41 games in a row and has terrific numbers, while Martin Brodeur's on pace for yet another 40-win campaign.

And even Chris Osgood is 19-2-1 right now and deserves more of the share of playing time in the Detroit net.

Selke Trophy
Another Red Wing, which probably isn't a surprise given this is the best defensive team in hockey. Henrik Zetterberg has put up incredible numbers at both ends of the rink this season, but defensively has squared off against opposing team's top lines and had 19 fewer goals scored against than for at 5-on-5. Teammate Pavel Datsyuk deserves a mention here, too.

Honourable mention: Sami Pahlsson, Brian Rolston, Mike Grier

Jack Adams Trophy
Mike Babcock never gets a mention for this one, but with his team well out in front of the huddled pack, he certainly deserves it.

The Red Wings have been dynamite on special teams, No. 2 on the power play and fifth when down a man, and he's coaxed terrific performances from some of the supporting cast here and kept the team on top despite a few injuries and inconsistent goaltending from Dom Hasek.

Honourable mention: Alain Vigneault, Brent Sutter, Andy Murray, Ted Nolan, Dave Tippett, Wayne Gretzky

Unsung Hero
Normally I'd find some unheralded defensive blueliner to stick in here, but how about Radim Vrbata in Phoenix? He's on pace for almost 40 goals this season, and his team is in the playoff hunt despite an almost complete lack of proven talent.

Vrbata rates in the top 40 or so with some of the league's top talent at even strength, and when he's on the ice the team's goal-scoring rate goes from 1.72 to 3.09 at 5-on-5.

There are better examples of players giving their club a boost, but has anyone at all talked about Vrbata's play this season? Or any of the other Coyotes, for that matter?

Honourable mention: Shawn Horcoff, Derek Morris, Anton Volchenkov, Paul Martin

Best Power Player
The Canadiens have been dominant on the power play again this season, proving Sheldon Souray wasn't quite the only weapon in the arsenal there, and Alex Kovalev has been right at the front of their attack. He leads the NHL in points per minute played at 5-on-4 (10.30/60) and is having a terrific season with 18 goals and 38 points at the halfway point.

Honourable mention: Andrei Markov, Zetterberg, Iginla, Daniel Briere

Best Penalty Killer
Patrick Sharp's had an incredible season in a lot of ways, but in addition to being on pace for 44 goals, he's also been on the ice for nine 4-on-5 goals for and only three against while picking up not insignificant ice time on the penalty kill.

Only Dallas's Zubov has played more minutes and seen fewer pucks go in his net, and he plays second-pair minutes on the Stars' top-ranked PK unit.

Honourable mention: Trent Hunter, Brendan Witt, Grier, Adam Foote, Mattias Ohlund

Shot Blocker Award
Here's another area where the Canadiens are excelling this season, and defender Mike Komisarek gets a lot of the credit. At the halfway point, he's blocked 25 more shots than any other player in the NHL, and teammate Roman Hamrlik ranks fourth overall.

Those two would have some serious competition had Ottawa's Volchenkov not broken a finger blocking a shot and missed 15 games.

Honourable mention: Jason Smith, Brendan Shanahan, Ryan Johnson, Grier

Can't Hit The Net Award
Not much of a trophy to take home.

Alex Ovechkin is miles ahead of the NHL leaders here, putting up 100 missed shots in a half season, which is 32 more than second spot (Brad Richards).

Dion Phaneuf, Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Dennis Wideman and Lidstrom miss the most from the blueliners.

Gold Star For Drawing Penalties
Here's one for Crosby, who according to Behind The Net leads the league in drawing penalties per minute (which is quite a feat given all of the time he logs out here) at even strength.

Following Sid the Kid are: Erik Cole, Kovalev, Ryan Kesler, Rick Nash, Dustin Brown, Eric Staal, Petr Prucha, Chad LaRose, Ovechkin, Nikolai Zherdev, Daniel Paille, Ryan Malone, Mike Richards, Dan Carcillo, Tuomo Ruutu, Ales Hemsky and David Clarkson.

There's a lot of speed there.

Defencemen don't draw nearly as many penalties, but the leaders there are Phaneuf, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Barret Jackman, Michal Rozsival, Dennis Seidenberg, Mike Green, Dan Girardi and John-Michael Liles.



At 2:59 a.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

here's a better link for penalties drawn:

Penalties Drawn

At 3:38 a.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Keegan said...

How about disapointments so far through the season? Is Marleau the main one their? Cheechoo? Is anyone even close?
Is there a team that should be better that isnt? (Tampa Bay?)

At 8:31 a.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:20 a.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Ben W said...

Are the Thrashers even in the playoff hunt without Ilya Kovalchuk? How does he not get an honorable mention for Hart? Even Barry Melrose is talking about him.

And I realize nobody outside Atlanta is paying attention to him, but you might want to add Eric Perrin to your PK list. He doesn't have all those sexy short-handed goals like Sharp, but he leads the league with 7 short-handed assists. Only one other player has more than 3. Atlanta's PK might be one of the worst in the league, but it's not because of Eric Perrin.

At 9:24 a.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

I have been saying for the past few weeks that whoever draws the most penalties on the Habs must be their MVP, while whoever takes the most minor penalties is their least valuable player, such is the descrepency between their two special teams units. Kovalev's season has been remarkable from that stand point, particularily because at 34 and after several injuries he's not exactly in his prime anymore.

But the Habs are playing with fire with those two blueliners blocking that many shots. An injury to either Komisarek or Hamrlik could easily kill the Habs' season.

At 9:42 a.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Loser Chris said...

No Vezina consideration for Leclaire?

At 11:19 a.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

With his team in last place in the Eastern Conference, the scoring leader, Vinny Lecavalier, isn't eligible for this one.
So, you are taking the MSM attitude on this one?

Why shouldn't Lecavalier be eligible? SHouldn't the MVP be for the best player? Lecavalier has been pretty damn fine. Why punish him for playing on a crappy team?

At 11:26 a.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Ben W said...

The MVP should be the player who makes the biggest difference to his team's win/loss record. Without Lecavalier the Lightning would still be in last. The gap would be bigger, but the result would be the same in the standings.

A most Valuable Player can't play for a last-place team. If the thrashers somehow drop to last I'd say the same thing about Kovalchuk.

I'd rule Lidstrom ineligible though. Detroit is too deep to have an MVP. take Lidstrom away and they're still great.

At 12:27 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

I'd rule Lidstrom ineligible though. Detroit is too deep to have an MVP. take Lidstrom away and they're still great.

There's no proof of this. They've taken away so many great players over the years (Yzerman, Fedorov, Shanahan), but kept Lidstrom, and maintained a #1 standing.

I think you drop Lidstrom and they drop back to the pack. Maybe they still win their division, but they don't dominate the league night in, night out. He's ridiculously valuable in every situation of the game.

At 12:41 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

No Vezina consideration for Leclaire?

No. Leclaire is on pace for just 25 wins this season, and is seeing the lowest quality shots in the league.

He's not even in the ballpark of the four I mentioned.

At 12:46 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Are the Thrashers even in the playoff hunt without Ilya Kovalchuk? How does he not get an honorable mention for Hart? Even Barry Melrose is talking about him.

Kovalchuk: Last place in the entire NHL in goals against per minute at 5-on-5

Perrin: Not even close to Sharp this season at preventing power-play goals

At 2:03 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...


That old MSM argument is definitely flawed. In your scenario, the MVP award is more of a team award than an individual award. The MVP doesn't mean "The team's won-loss record without the player on the roster"

Let's face it, the best player in the league is ALWAYS the most valuable player to have.

So, back to my old analogy

Say you have two piles.
Pile 1: a bunch of slate pebbles, and a 12-karat diamond.

Pile 2: A bunch of 4-karat diamonds, and a 10-karat diamond.

Obviously, Pile 2 will be more valuable in total, but the 12-karat diamond is still the most valuable diamond of them all, no matter which pile it is in.

At 2:17 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Whichever way you want to go with MVP, Lecavalier still has a better supporting cast than Mats Sundin. There is no good reason why Tampa Bay should be expected to be this bad. It's hard to say that Lecavalier is the absolute best player in the league if he can't make his team win at least a few games.

Remember that, as with Kovalchuk, if you want to win the Hart you have to go up against an entire league that includes Iginla, Lidstrom and Luongo.

At 2:17 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous vadim sharifijanov said...

okay james. if lecaire isn't in the discussion for the hart (and i agree with you about the low quality of his shots against), then surely hitchcock is in the discussion for the adams.

At 2:22 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

If he can get them in the playoffs. Right now they're on pace to finish, what, 20th?

The Coyotes have a better record and far less talent.

At 2:38 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Whichever way you want to go with MVP, Lecavalier still has a better supporting cast than Mats Sundin.
Lecavalier definitely has better linemates, and a better PP group, than Sundin has. But when Vinny isn't on the ice, Tampa's icing a ton of players that are AHL worthy, not NHL worthy.

If Boyle had been healthy, I'm sure Tampa would've been a lot more competitive this year. All this proves is that one player can't do it all.

It's a tough debate. But I like Jes' analogy.

At 3:12 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous treved said...

Not sure how you gave so much recognition to the Canucks and missed Kesler for Selke consideration. The guy is playing every shift against the other team's top line, has shut down every top player he's faced, and is breaking personal bests for offense.

At 3:20 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Kesler's been awful on the penalty kill this season.

At 4:23 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Saskhab: I do like Jes's analogy.

But the Leafs' secondary players aren't much better than Tampa's, especially with McCabe out. I think the difference between Lapointe and Antropov by itself is enough to give the Lightning the edge in terms of ability.

It's tough, like you said. But it's not that important; I also don't think Sundin should be a Hart candidate, so I'm personally quite happy to disqualify Lecavalier at this point in time.

At 5:50 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous billbob said...

i dont think vinny should be the MVP either. the MVP shouldn't be judged on points scored alone. last year, crosby won and even though he had the most points he still should've gotten it because he strong-armed the pens into the playoffs. forget supporting cast or points scored, the most VALUABLE player should be the player who helps his team, and makes his team better most. if vinny racked up 200 points this season, the lightning will still be terrible. at this point, i'm thinking kovalchuk is the leading candidate.

At 5:56 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe you need to review your calder picks, james

it is not a coincidence that since jonathan toews has been out of the line-up, the blackhawks have not won a game

it is also not a coincidence that after he spoke up about the effort(or lack thereof) his teammates were putting out, they won four straight

he is the best and most complete rookie in the league, and is the heart and soul of his team

At 6:08 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Toews unfortunately will miss too many games to win the Calder, but you're right, he should be among the midseason picks.

At 4:06 a.m., January 09, 2008, Anonymous Manjay said...

one thing that amazed me here was not seeing Joe Thornton on the list of players who draw the most penalties. I guess this means he leads the league in drawing the most penalties that do not actually get called, which certainly seems to be the case in games i've seen him play. basically the only way most defenders can take him off the puck is though some kind of illegal means. the refs do seem to let a lot go with him. I wonder if he has a reputation from earlier in his career as taking dives?

a separate comment is i think Chris Pronger must win the opposite award here, which would be taking the most penalties which don't actually get called. if an average d-man used their stick like he does, they'd end up with at least 200 PIM.


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