33 NHL thoughts

One of my favourite columns each week is written by CBC’s Elliotte Friedman.

By Canada Hky, via Wikimedia Commons

Did Brayden Schenn inadvertently give Team Russia extra motivation?

Besides a main column, he also has something called 30 NHL thoughts, which are pretty insightful and fun to read.

So I figured I would borrow the idea, without the insightfulness. I would also make it 33 thoughts, for obvious reasons.

1. I loved watching Kings prospect Brayden Schenn play for Canada at the World Juniors this year, but after his goal that made it 3-0 for Canada against Russia in the gold medal game, Schenn celebrated by tugging at his jersey. It was his way of saying Canada is tops, I guess. But it’s no coincidence that Russia started coming back after that goal. And if you watch the Russian players and the bench after each third-period goal, they tugged at their jerseys. Rubbing it back in Schenn’s face? Did Schenn unwillingly give the Russians some motivation?

2: An underrated part of Sidney Crosby’s game is his faceoff record. So far this year, he’s winning 55.6% of the draws, which is amazing considering how many defensive specialists he faces off against. He also takes more than 40% of his team’s draws, tops in the league. He’s been getting steadily better. Two years ago, his winning percentage was 51.3%. In 2006-07, he was under 50%.

3: Has there been a bigger fantasy bust than Patrice Bergeron? I’m not talking about high drafts picks that never played, but more so guys who showed promise and teased fantasy owners with some good seasons. Bergeron showed so much promise early in his career with back-to-back 70-point seasons, but now is good for about 50 points a year. He’s still a good player and is strong defensively, but hockey poolies should stay away from him.

4: The Oilers shootouts look very disappointing. They have only one shooutout win in seven tries. Shouldn’t they be better with all their young talent?

By Bridget Samules (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bridgetds/5088655878/), via Wikimedia Commons

Wouldn't Sheldon Souray help the Oilers powerplay with his booming shot from the point?

5: And the Oilers powerplay doesn’t look good. Wouldn’t Sheldon Souray, who they are paying anyways, help them out with that big shot from the point?

6: For all the pomp and circumstance, the Winter Classic is actually dull to watch. The passes aren’t crisp. There’s not many goals. Hardly any scoring chances. It may be great to watch in person, but I usually tune out after the first period.

7: Former Barenaked Ladies singer Stephen Page sang the Canadian national anthem before the Winter Classic. But why have the Canadian anthem when it was Washington at Pittsburgh, with no Canadian teams involved? Does that mean the American national anthem will be sung before the Heritage Classic next month between Calgary and Montreal?

8: No major changes needed in New Jersey. Sometimes teams have a bad year. But they still have Kovalchuk (a two-time 50-goal scorer), 45-goal scorer Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and others. Just like some teams can have a season where everyone sets career highs, the opposite is also true, and that’s happening this season.

9: However, New Jersey needs to start grooming a backup to replace Martin Brodeur. If he doesn’t retire this summer, he only has another season or two left.

10. All that said, Lou Lammarello should be the next GM fired. He has trouble managing the salary cap since it came into being after the lockout. The Devils have only $9.6 million in cap space for next season, and they still need to re-sign Zach Parise.

11: Another fun thing to do is visit HFBoards, and read trade proposals by different fans. About 99% of them are laughable, and would never actually happen. Case in point? This one, which suggests Eric Staal straight up for Evgeni Malkin. Or this one, where Calgary trades Jarome Iginla and Anton Babchuk to Washington for Alex Semin, Karl Alzner and a 1st round. Doesn’t make sense for Calgary to trade their top player for an unrestricted free agent and a late first rounder.

12: The Chicago Blackhawks could be having another fire sale this summer. They have only $17 million in cap space, but still need to re-sign  a bunch of players. In fact, they only have 10 players signed for next season, and no goalies. Once players like Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and others re-sign, that doesn’t give them a lot of room to go after anyone. It could be time to trade another couple of guys.

By Dan4th Nicholas, via Wikimedia Commons

Is Evgeni Malkin a top 10 player?

13: There used to be a time when Evgeni Malkin was considered one of the top three players in the league. Now, he may not even crack the top five, once you take into account Crosby, Steven Stamkos, the Sedins, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Nick Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, etc. And that doesn’t include goalies or defencemen. In fact, Malkin may not even crack the top 10.

14: Overlooked player of the year so far: Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. As a sophomore, he has 40 points in 40 games, and is leading the Avalanche to a great season so far. Which is important, considering Avs goalie Craig Anderson has taken a step back this season.

15: With so many shootouts this year (62 in total so far), it’s amazing the Canadiens haven’t had one yet. In fact, they’ve only gone into overtime on five occassions this year, and are 2-3 in those games.

16: One reason why Brad Richards will be sought after at the trade deadline and this season that no one talks about: His shootout record. Richards is tied for third all time in shootout goals, with 24. That’s important extra points for teams looking to make the playoffs. Add that to a potential 90-point guy, and Richards should be able to get about $7 million a season.

17: In case you’re wondering, Petteri Nummelin has the best shooting percentage of all-time in the shootout (minimum 10 shots). He’s scored on eight of them, for a percentage of 80%. Outside of the shootout, In 139 regular season games, he has nine goals.

18: Some of the all-time worst shooting percentages in the shootout belong to Bobby Ryan, Marian Gaborik, Tomas Plekanec and Eric Staal. Dany Heatley ranks up there as well, with only four goals in 25 tries. So why does he keep getting opportunities if he’s not good at the shootout?

19: This past summer, the Minnesota Wild gave Mikko Koivu a $7 million a season deal for five years. This year, Koivu has only nine goals in 39 games (along with 25 assists), and the Wild are out of the playoffs. If this were happening in a place like Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto, people would be screaming that he’s overpaid.

Oiler cheerleaders aren't necessarily a bad thing.

20. The Edmonton Oilers debuted their cheerleaders a couple of weeks ago, called the Octane. There were some who think this was a bad idea, but I don’t see it that way. Cheerleaders are used in almost every sport, and some groups, such as the Laker girls and Dallas Cowgirls, bring more to the team, especially when it comes to extra revenue. Plus, the list of people who have been cheerleaders at some point is long. It includes names such as Sandra Bullock, Katie Couric, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Steve Martin. If the Octane take off, the Oilers could make extra money with calendars, merchandise and promotions, and that’s never a bad thing.

21: Every team in the NHL has scored at least one shorthanded goal except for one: The Tampa Bay Lightning. That surprises me, considering the speed of the team (which generally leads to short handed breakaways).

22: Can’t see anyone willing to take a chance on Alexei Kovalev and trying to trade for him. Even though he’s a free agent this summer, he’s a distraction, and most playoff teams would be better off without him. People can dream about him playing on Crosby’s wing, but you have to remember this is 2010 Kovalev, not 2001.

23: Yes, the future looks bright in Edmonton, but there’s a lot of work to do there. The team is in the bottom five in powerplay, faceoff percentage, overtime losses and last in penalty killing and goals against.

24: A lot is being made of Vancouver’s great record so far this season. But could they be peaking too early? The regular season looks awesome, but the team has had trouble in the playoffs, especially Roberto Luongo. If they lose in the first or second round again, would anyone actually care if they came first?

25: Everyone thinks the Penguins get the benefit of calls from the referees, but the team is actually the most penalized in the league. No team has been shorthanded more times (172) than the Pens.

26: It’s important for the Canadiens to get off to a quick start. Their record when trailing after the first period is 0-11. They’re the only team in the league to not get a single point if trailing after one.

By Bridget Samuels, via Wikimedia Commons

Atlanta is winning because of contributions from all their defencemen, not just Dustin Byfuglien.

27: While everyone talks about Dustin Byfuglien as being a Norris trophy candidate, the other Atlanta defencemen deserve a lot of praise as well. Three of the defencemen (Brent Sopel, Tobias Enstrom and Ron Hainsey) are in the top seven in the league in blocked shots, with Johnny Oduya being 14th. That’s a lot of shots that never make it to the goaltender.

28: One of the problems with the Toronto Maple Leafs is the giveaways by their defencemen. Francois Beauchemin leads the league in this category, Luke Schenn is third and Tomas Kaberle is eighth. When your defencemen are giving up the puck that much, that leads to a lot of odd-man rushes and scoring chances against your team.

29: For my money, the most overpaid player has to be Thomas Vanek. More than $7 million a year for a 30-goal scorer. Edmonton should be grateful that Buffalo matched that contract.

30: Things don’t look good for most of the free agents this summer. Out of the 26 UFAs currently making more than $3.5 million, I think only two of them get a pay raise (if they don’t take hometown discounts): Joni Pitkanen and Ilya Bryzgalov. The rest of the names, such as Michael Ryder, Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Markov, Tomas Vokoun, Pascal Leclaire, J.S. Giguere, etc. will probably have to take pay cuts.

31: That’s especially true with so many young restricted free agent studs needing to be locked up. Some of the RFAs this summer include Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Dustin Byfuglien, Keith Yandle, Brent Seabrook and more. If teams spend money on their youth, that takes up a lot of the salary cap, and doesn’t leave much for the guys who are becoming restricted free agents.

32: It’s amazing Detroit Red Wings keeps rolling along. Despite their age, and now injuries (Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Modano are all out), the Wings keep finding ways to win. Sitting second in the West, you have to wonder if it will ever catch up to the Wings.

33: Even if the Toronto Maple Leafs miss the playoffs, would it be considered a successful season in some fans’ eyes if they don’t finish in the bottom five of the league. Especially if one of those teams are the Ottawa Senators. It could happen. The Leafs are only five points back with five games in hand.

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