October 21 News and Notes

               

 

Another week has passed in the season, and with that, it’s time for another review of matters around the league. In this installment, the Canucks make the first significant move of the year, two first rounders appear on divergent paths, and the Leafs face life without Optimus Reim.

Canucks:

Vancouver has been so-so thus far, as a missing body of note and maybe a bit of a hangover from last spring have left them looking like a very average team throught the first two weeks of the season. Ryan Kesler’s return, although not laden with success in the inital outing versus the Rangers, likely portends better things down the line, since there aren’t many teams that wouldn’t improve with by adding that sort of fellow. They could use a bit of what Mason Raymond provides as well, but his return is still out there a ways.

Mike Gillis isn’t one to wait for things to just settle out, though. He cast aside two dead weights for a potentially useful player last night, as the Canucks acquired David Booth from the Panthers. The 26 year old wasn’t getting much traction in Florida, with no goals thus far, and there have been hints that he wasn’t really one of Tallon’s favourites.

It’s also fair to suspect that the Panthers were quite willing to unload a long-term deal for reasons not entirely related to events on the ice, irrespective of the pleadings of Panther ownership. Samuelsson and Sturm are UFA after this season, while Booth had this year plus three more on his deal, which does make me believe that dispensing with that committment and flushing Steve Reinprecht drove matters as much as the work of any particular player.

My take is that the Canucks have made a decent gamble. Brian Skrudland, in his airborne chat with our esteemed leader this past June (scroll to the end), advised Kent that Booth had fully recovered from the concussion he suffered two seasons ago. If that’s so, a change of scenery that will include riding shotgun with Kesler should lead to Booth scoring a goal or two.

That arrangement might also might permit the Canucks to pair Malhotra and Higgins on a hard minutes line that would have a good chance of holding its own against good players. Employing those two against top-six comp would leave the Canucks in the enviable position of continuing to send the Sedins out versus third liners, but with two lines behind them that could do the heavy lifting. NIce problem to have, I guess.

Flames:

At the other end of the spectrum, the Flames played decently enough yesterday, but Pekka Rinne’s good work and their own prolifigacy in the Predator end left Calgary frustrated and scoreless, just like most of my trips to the Palamino Club. Ah, shouldn’t have typed that in my outside voice. At any rate, the listless start for the Flames has Rene Bourque’s name in circulation, as rumours abound that he’s been asked about by teams. 

I get why teams would ask, since he’s been pretty good for most of his time as a Flame, but he might be the one asset that the club would consider trading in the near term with any market value. Guys like Sarich or Hagman or Stajan would likely need a pick going along in the bargain before a team would take them on, so RB could be the guy heading out. He’s struggling to keep his head above water even with some pretty cushy ZS percentages, and there’s a chance that absent a strong 2-way C like Langkow to partner Bourque, this is as good as it gets.  If that’s the case, there’s no harm in checking the market.

Oilers:

Edmonton’s going along pretty decently to start the year, albeit by playing some pretty low-event hockey 5v5. Still, it’s been a while since the Oilers were on the good side of shot differential numbers, and given the flimsy appearance of the defence starting the year, that’s all to the good.

There’s been quite a bit of attention to Edmonton’s fresh faces through the first couple of weeks, with the Nuge at the center of much of that good press. Whether he should stay in the NHL this year is more a matter of how the team chooses to run their franchise than if he’s good enough to stick around, in my view, because he does appear to be in the team’s top group of forwards on merit so far. One thing I did notice as I perused the underlying numbers, however, is that something might be getting lost in the wash.

Amid all the compliments that everyone has been paying to the Oiler youth, those youngsters are getting a nice boost due to the choices Tom Renney has made regarding their ice time. While the kids have been getting the juicy bits, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones and Ryan Smyth have gotten the lousy end of the stick, and they’ve been good at surviving the onslaught.

As we’ve seen with Alain Vigneault’s utilization of the Sedins, if a coach has a line he can throw in front of the other team’s heavyweights, he can use his other skill players in really advantageous situations. In other words, the kids are going to be good, but they’re absolutely getting a leg up from the boss. That doesn’t mean the young gents are bad at hockey, because they’ve been making good use of their situation to this point, but simply that some old pros have done a bit of dirty work to smooth the path.

 

               

 

Jets:

The club called time on Mark Scheifele’s NHL season this afternoon, sending their top pick back to junior. As Gabe has pointed out this evening, the numbers were unkind to Scheifele, even as Claude Noel gave him every conceivable advantage, which really left the club nothing to do but send him on his way. 

One thing that struck me as I watched the club last week was that they were starting to generate shots, but pucks weren’t going in, especially for several of their best players. Heading into Saturday night’s 5-3 win over Carolina, Kane, Ladd and Wheeler had roughly 60 shots on net with one goal to show for their efforts. Kane and Ladd did tally last night, and those three have been shooting at a good pace, which does make me think that if they can continue pounding rubber on net, the goals should come soon enough. 

Leafs:

Last night’s win in Montreal was tempered by the loss of James Reimer. It doesn’t sound like Toronto will have to use Gustavsson for more than a few games as the starter based on Mirtle’s report, and from what I’ve seen of the Monster, that’s nothing but good news.

He and the Flames’ Henrik Karlsson do seem to share a predilection for staying back in the blue paint more than they should and dropping to the butterfly a bit too quickly. It makes me wonder if the two of them, being of roughly equal stature, are learning that the habits they had in Sweden might not work in the NHL. Being big and covering the bottom of the net is nice and all, but NHL forwards can pick a top corner on occasion. 

Oh, and I know most sensible Leaf fans have factored this in, but Phil Kessel isn’t going to shoot 32% for the year. He really needs a center that can play, because after a nice start, his advanced numbers are starting to take a slide, and David Steckel isn’t that guy. The good news from the injury ward is that Tim Connolly might be back in the next couple of weeks if he doesn’t have any setbacks, and he’ll be an improvement from Steckel or Bozak when he joins the roster.

Elsewhere:

Columbus, fresh off a summer where they opened the wallet in the hopes of making the playoffs, is snorkeling in a major way. Injuries, mediocre goaltending and James Wisniewski’s suspension have left them in the ditch. Aaron Portzline lays out the dire situation on ice, as the Jackets face a difficult schedule this week that might leave their season done before Hallowe’en.

It’s no hell in the stands, either, as the Blue Jackets are drawing just over 11,000 a night. That’s down roughly 2,000 a night from last year, and absent a run starting ASAP, it might be friends and family in the building by January. A casino deal that diverts revenue to cover the costs of the building might keep them afloat in theory, but no NHL team can stand that sort of attendance in the long run. The team might lose 25 million this year, and that’s real money, even for rich dudes.

Dallas isn’t drawing flies either, with the worst attendance numbers in the league, but at least they’re winning games. Like last season, however, the Stars are on the wrong side of the shot clock, and that caught up with them in a big way in the second half of last year. Maybe they’ll continue to get .944 goaltending 5v5 all season, but as much as I might think of Kari Lehtonen, I wouldn’t bet on that occurring. 

 

               

(I know he’s been appropriated by the evil-doers, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to show him in a Habs jersey.)

 

Exhibit A in that regard are the defending champs. The B’s are 3-5 on the merits, and when they get average goaltending, as they have to this juncture of the season, the results aren’t there. Stunning, I know. That slump might meet its end this week, as Boston plays the Habs. Montreal and Phoenix swapped a few spare parts on Sunday morning, but I can’t really see where the Canadiens get much better than a team that finishes in 8th or 9th, and that’s presuming Andrei Markov can come back and stay healthy. 

An honest look at that roster, especially at forward, leads me to think that the faithful in Montreal might have finally to face what fans in places like Edmonton and Toronto have confronted since the lockout, a tear down and lengthy rebuilding process. I’d suspect that Jacques Martin gets the boot before they start trading away their few solid players, but that team’s ceiling is really low under ideal circumstances. As someone who’s cheered for that team precisely once in my lifetime, I can’t I’m broken up over that prospect, but I do wonder how a notoriously twitchy fan base would deal with an open scuttling of a season. 

That’s all for this week. If there’s anything that you’ve seen of interest, feel free to link to it in comments.

  • Aitch

    You made your point about the Oilers top kids going up against some weaker opposition thus far and even explained it off as coaching. But isn’t that the point? Good coaching will put your players and your team in the best place to succeed? As the kids get used to beating on the also-rans of the league, they too can gradually move up the pecking order until they are taking on the defensive heavyweights of the league without too much trouble.

    • T&A4Flames

      Yup, take note Sutter, that’s how it’s done.

      Well, at least the Flames should be able to beat Columbus and Colorado this year. We deserved to beat Nashville, but I guess that evens it up with beating Edmonton when we didn’t.

      I think the Cancuks made a prerry good move on the Booth trade too.

  • OilFan

    Calgary was a lotteyr pick before the season started. Suprised that Montreal is this bad I had them as the final playoff team in the east still early. I don’t care if Winnipeg wins any games just glad they are back oh yeah they suck

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I was perusing the standings the other day and saw Columbus’ line. Really shocked me. It’s not like I had them pegged to win their division but definitely not this bad.

    On the Oil:

    “the Oilers were on the good side of shot differential numbers, and given the flimsy appearance of the defence starting the year, that’s all to the good.”

    I’d like to hear the case for this in full. My impression is that the defence has been stellar, beyond expectations. I think the stats bear this out as well.

    See, Jonathan’s post:

    http://oilersnation.com/2011/10/24/oilers-underlying-numbers-show-major-improvements

    Shots against 5×5 are way down this year, same with 4×5. Granted this is a team effort, I suspect the defence has a lot to do with this.

    Can you explain how the Oil defence has looked “flimsy” so far?

    [EDIT] I read Robert’s post wrong. See my correction/explanation below.

      • OilLeak

        Some of our defense stinks, but we have had strong performances from our defensive centers such as Horcoff and Belanger. That being said, Barker stinks, Peckham stinks(could be used in an enforcer), and Sutton should probably be the 7th man.

        The Oilers D would look decent with another top 2 guy.

        Whitney – (Top 2 Defense-man)

        Gilbert – Smid

        Potter – Petry

        Peckham/Sutton

        I could live with the above scenario, Peckham and Sutton can serve as depth guys or if a little more toughness is needed in the lineup. We don’t need Hordichuk.

    • Robert Cleave

      Romulus, would you have predicted that the Oiler defence would have been as effective as they’ve been before the season started? A defence that began without Whitney and with guys like Barker and Potter playing regular minutes? That was what I was driving at, because I’d bet that virtually everyone would have pegged that group as the weak link going in.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        and @Kent

        Ohh… I see. Reading Comprehension Fail!

        “t’s been a while since the Oilers were on the good side of shot differential numbers, and given the flimsy appearance of the defence starting the year, that’s all to the good.”

        That sentence can be read two ways.

        1) (how I read it) “It is surprising that the Oilers shot differential through 7 games is so good considering how flimsy their defence has looked during those games”

        2) (how you meant it) “It is surprising that the Oilers shot differential through 7 games is so good considering how flimsy their defence looked before the season began”

        I get it now. Sorry, honest mistake.

        Indeed, everyone is surprised (pleasantly… well if you are an Oil fan). Can it last? who knows. Potter seems like the real deal. Barker is average and a potential liability, but I don’t think he’s been horrible. I suspect Whitney will get better. Smid has looked great and Gilbert looks like the (modestly) above average d that he always was. Sutton is a skull-crusher (which may or may not be an illegal move)

  • I looked at the Jets shooting stats while tied recently and they were actually north of 50% which is good news for WPG fans. If they keep that up, the tide will turn eventually.

    For the Flames fans, they were right at 50% despite a pretty soft opening schedule. Ruh-roh.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Off Topic:

    Why does the Nation not boast a Habs site? (is it a language thing?)

    It would be nice to have a general NHL site that could post semi-regular NHL news and notes posts. A lot of us here I suspect wouldn’t mind staying in touch with the broader world of hockey and commenting on it as well.

    I know there are other websites out there to cater to my needs. but i like it here and I’m a’fear’d of change

  • T&A4Flames

    With regards to the Van trade, at first I was very disturbed that the Canucks got a whole lot better and added a 3rd rounder to boot. However, the more I think about it, does Booth really make them better. I think he should be an upgrade in the goal scoring dept. for the regular season, but he is more of a soft, perimeter player isn’t he? Van’s problem isn’t the regular season, it’s the playoffs where they need to add more grit to their top 6.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I think Montreal will be fine. Every team is 2-3 wins from being in contention right now (except CBJ), and Montreal has a good team when healthy. Price will pick it up, and steal some wins, their defence will get better and healthy. Hopefully at some point they are going to eat Gomez`s contract and sit him in the minors. If the team would just eat that contract, and signed useful players this off season they would of been in better place. The management decision this off season is to simply eat the Gomez contract or rebuild. I don`t buy there is an appetite for sucking in Montreal.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Vancouver please, gimme a break they are on the downspiral desperate move picking up Booth who is a hit away from Marc Savard. LA will mopp those slunks up all over the ice.

  • Remember at the Draft when we all collectively thought, “Holy Sh*t, the Jets are going to get Couturier! That’s amazing, I bet those guys are…WTF…Scheifewho?”

    I’m still thinking that, and I dont even cheer for the Jets even a little bit.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Yea, that pick raised a lot of eyebrows. Even in the midst of the thrush of Jets-Love and fanfare at the draft, people were scratching their heads.

      But who knows… maybe in a few years he’ll be amazing and Couturier will fizzle out. Seems unlikely though.

  • everton fc

    So, with franchises barely drawing fans (as pointed out above w/Columbus and Dallas, and I’ll assume the Panthers are not filling the building, as well) in concert with the disaster that is the Phoenix Coyotes… Topped with a globally recessed economic conditions… Where do you move these franchises?

    Quebec City?
    Milwaukee??
    Seattle???
    Kansas City????
    Hamilton?????
    Halifax?????? (Yes, I’m serious…)

    QC has the population. Halifax could draw from an two-hour radius, perhaps.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Good question. But the NHL has made it clear that they will do just about anything to save a US team. Canadian teams are a matter of last resort.

      Kansas seems like a long shot, but Milwaukee or Seattle maybe… Portland? Hartford? There are definitely US markets that are more conducive to hockey, than say Dallas!

      But I expect Hamilton has a good shot as they already have people committed and working to get a team. Building that kind of an organization and getting city officials on side, etc. takes a lot of time. I haven’t heard anything about most of those cities you mention putting in the effort (am I missing something?)

  • everton fc

    @Romulus

    No word on Halifax. Obviously we all know about the goals in QC. They want a team. I think they should get one.

    Portland – forgot them. Hartford? Been there/done that, me thinks. Then again, the precedent is there… And the fan base, as well (possibly – though the Isles sure don’t fill the seats)

    Hamilton seems obvious, and in a division w/TO and Buffalo… Ottawa… Montreal… Boston… Would be interesting. Halifax has a population over 400K, I think. Not including the proximity of NB… You’d get fans from NB… Perhaps…

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      If Winnipeg was a stretch for a team, Halifax is the $2 longshot ticket that helps me dream of retiring at 25. At 400,000, Halifax won’t be able to provide the season ticketholder base that you’d need to get it off the ground. I think you’d probably have plenty of casual ticketholders from NB and the surrounding area, but that’s not what pays the bills, unfortunately.

  • xis10ce

    M&G (at least I think it was there) had a very interesting article about increasing the number of teams in Canada, and what seemed like one of the most reasonable locations for another team was a 2nd team in TO sharing the AC Center. Makes sense from a business standpoint given the major expense of venue cost, not to mention there’d be more than enough populus to support it.

      • MC Hockey

        Given the Toronto rights situation, I agree another Centre of Universe team is a no go. And now that most people know the “cannot go to Hamilton without Toronto and Buffalopermoission” is debunked, does Hamilton not come in a close second to Quebec City as most likely city in North America to get an NHL team. Maybe Mr. Ballsillie plays nice with Gary and gets his team after Quebec comes in. Actually don’t you think Phoenix moves to Kansas City and the 2 Canadian teams added in expansion to 32 teams is more likely? It would help scheduling!

  • RexLibris

    I don’t think there will be many more Canadian teams added unless they pay a massive amount to the other owners.

    Yes, Canada is a hockey hotbed and you could draw a full house to watch the Dallas Stars on a Monday night, but it is exactly that success that keeps the American owners from voting to move more franchises here.

    Everytime a Canadian franchise makes a tonne of money the salary-cap goes up, and with it the cap-floor. So the success of Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, etc only causes the owners in Florida and Nashville and Dallas to have to spend more money than they make just to reach the floor. It doesn’t seem logical because only a decade ago those were the markets driving up the prices for Canadian teams, but the economics have changed and so has the market landscape.

    For that reason I think the Quebecor franchise rumour is going to take more than just having an arena built. The owners are going to have to spread a lot of wealth around to other parties just to pry a team out.

  • RexLibris

    If your going to count being on the wrong side of the shot clock as a reason to be wary about some team’s starts you also have to consider Montreal a candidate to rebound strongly to the good.

    They’re strongly in the black for all shot metrics (52% or higher on shot%, fenwick, and corsi both overall and with the score tied and have a 52.5% edge on scoring chances at even strength. Similar to last season where they dominated the shot clock.

    If your going to consider shot metrics as valid then you pretty much have to consider them a good team, regardless of their start.

  • RexLibris

    An honest look at that roster, especially at forward, leads me to think that the faithful in Montreal might have finally to face what fans in places like Edmonton and Toronto have confronted since the lockout, a tear down and lengthy rebuilding process.

    That would, frankly, be stupid, and I sincerely hope the Montreal brass is smart enough to not even consider that.

    An honest look at the Habs’ season so far will reveal that they’ve got one of the best shot differentials in the game, have outchanced their opponents more often than not, and have lost no less than three games so far where they’ve outchanced the other team by 50% or more. And they were all one-goal losses, so that disparity was not the result of score effects.

    They’ve got exactly one 5-on-4 goal despite being top-3 in shot generation, they are top-3 in 4-on-5 shot prevention, and their 5-on-5 shot differential per 60 is top-5 in the league. The percentages are really crushing them.

    And all this is happening with about 15-20 million in salary cap on the IR since game 2 of the season, and suffering this very unamusing pattern that whenever one player comes back from injury another goes down that very game.

    In just about every way we know to be sustainable, Montreal is showing every indication of being a pretty strong hockey club. Scuttling the season, firing Martin, or indeed making any major panic moves at this juncture, would be a terribly foolish mistake.