The NHL’s biggest pleasant surprises and letdowns after one-quarter of the season

Boychuk, Okposo and Tavares

With December closing in, the NHL has completed one-quarter of its regular season. (And as my colleague Ken Campbell points out, do not call this the quarter pole.) These points in the campaign always provide an opportunity to take stock of what we’ve seen so far and identify the teams that have stood out for the right and wrong reasons. With that in mind, here are the league’s three biggest pleasant surprises and bitter letdowns to this point:

Biggest pleasant surprises

NEW YORK ISLANDERS. When the Islanders started the season 6-4-0 in the month of October, fans and media were intrigued, if not bowled over; they’d seen the franchise do well in short bursts before, but it never lasted during the reign of GM Garth Snow. But in November, the Isles have been an orange-and-blue steamroller, losing only twice in 12 games since Oct. 30 and beating quality opponents – including Anaheim, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh (in both games of a home-and-home series last week). They’re currently riding a five-game win streak, and although there’s a chance they could fall back, as long as their key players can stay healthy, the Islanders should contend for a top-four seed in the playoffs. A big reason for that is Snow’s off-season acquisitions of Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, who couldn’t have worked out better thus far.

CALGARY FLAMES. Expectations for the Flames were about as low as could be entering the season, but under coach Bob Hartley, this young team has drastically exceeded them thanks to an impressive work ethic and some good fortune in the shooting percentage department. Many continue to expect Calgary will at some point take a step backward, but even if it all falls apart from here, what they’ve shown so far – thanks in large part to brilliant young talents such as rookie Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and the veteran calm of captain Mark Giordano – has earned them a special spot in the hearts of Flames fans. Read more

The ascent of Filip Forsberg continues, as blossoming Predators rookie scores another game-winnner

Filip Forsberg (Getty Images)

Since the Nashville Predators’ first season in 1998-99, they’ve lacked the type of elite young player capable of coming up big at key moments on a regular basis. But with every game rookie left winger Filip Forsberg plays – including the one the 20-year-old Swede played Thursday night against Edmonton – those days appear to be at an end.

Acquired in a trade with Washington for veteran Martin Erat that grows more infamous by the hour, Forsberg did what he had to do in a low-scoring game against the visiting Oilers, scoring the only goal in overtime to give Nashville its third straight win and an impressive 15-5-2 record:
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THN Analytics: comparing NHL greats with new historical data

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

For many decades, the comparison of great NHLers has primarily been in the hands of storytellers, a case of trophies, or a rudimentary set of statistics. The concerted efforts of a community of researchers, The Hockey Summary Project, has helped open us up to much finer details of these players’ careers, and granted us the opportunity to create new points of comparison.

One big area of comparison, that transcends things like era scoring effects and rink counting bias, is looking at the proportions of shots and assists taken in the games the player participated (% of Team Shots and % of Team Assists – or %TSh and %TA, respectively). Quantifying contribution this way gets us a lot closer to how important a player can be to a team’s possession performance. Why shots and assists rather than goals? For one, the idea is to better capture how a player contributed to possessing the puck; going beyond goals (which are still counted as shots) gives us more evidence the player was an important part of the team’s puck movement. Read more

Rumor Roundup: To make room for young guns, Panthers veterans could be up for grabs

Fleischmann Kopecky featured

NHL teams shopping around for veteran depth should get in touch with Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon. According Sun-Sentinel.com’s Harvey Fialkov, a team source claims the Panthers want to ship out some “unnamed veterans” to make room for youngsters Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden.

Fialkov believes forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky and Sean Bergenheim are the likely trade candidates. The trio were part of Tallon’s mass acquisition of veteran talent during the summer of 2011. They become eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. Fleischmann could interest clubs seeking a skilled scorer while Kopecky and Bergenheim could prove worthwhile additions for those seeking checking-line help. Read more

White-hot Stars rookie John Klingberg scores a long-distance goal

Adam Proteau
John Klingberg (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dallas Stars rookie defenseman John Klingberg is just 22 years old, but he may never score a goal further away from the net than the one he did Tuesday night against the Oilers.

The Swedish blueliner, who was selected 131st overall by Dallas in 2010, grabbed the puck between center ice and Edmonton’s blueline and fired a slapshot from there – well, something that started out as a slapshot, anyway – at Oilers goalie Viktor Fasth, who had a clear look at it, but whiffed on it completely:
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Detroit Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin heads up The Hot List

Dylan Larkin (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The big stories in the prospect world lately have been college related. Specifically, players changing their minds about where they want to go. Brock Boeser was headed to Wisconsin, but the 2015 prospect has re-opened matters. And Notre Dame has been bit twice in the past couple days, first by Matthew Tkachuk (2016) and now by Brent Gates (2015). Will these talented players end up in major junior, or just elsewhere on the college scene? We’ll keep you posted, but for now let’s look at some of the other kids making noise in the hockey world right now.

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Rumor Roundup: Post-Thanksgiving shakeups could come for struggling franchises

Lecavalier

As the American Thanksgiving weekend approaches, the NHL trade market has slowly returned to life. The past two weeks saw the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens swing a couple of deals, including one in which the Stars shipped defensemen Sergei Gonchar to the Canadiens for forward Travis Moen. Factor in last week’s meeting of NHL GMs in Toronto and there’s growing speculation more deals are on the horizon.

A recent six-game losing skid has the Edmonton Oilers the hot topic of trade chatter. Pascal Dupuis’ blood-clot diagnosis could add urgency to the Pittsburgh Penguins search for a scoring winger, while the San Jose Sharks recent slump has generated talk of a possible roster shakeup. Read more