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
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
My, what a difference one year and a massive TV contract can make.
In 2013, when American business magazine Forbes released their NHL franchise valuations, only one team was said to be a billion dollar organization: the Toronto Maple Leafs ($1.15 billion). That the Leafs were – and still are – the most valued team in the NHL comes to little surprise what with a fan base that continually shells out top dollar regardless of the outcome. It is hockey mecca, like it or not.
But Tuesday, when Forbes released its rankings for 2014, two franchises, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, found themselves in the billion dollar club thanks in large part to a friendly bump from the NHL’s league-wide television deals plus some added money from local television contracts. Read more
There are always early season surprises. That’s just the nature of hockey. A lucky bounce here and there, and you have Jon Sim fighting for the lead in preseason scoring, which is something that has actually happened in the past.
Over the course of the year, however, these things tend to even out. At the quarter mark of the season, trends are starting to develop. Of those trends, you’ll notice some are related, while others, not so much. These are the ten most unexpected stats at the quarter-pole. Read more
The New York Islanders are not in first place in the NHL today. They’re not even in the top five of the NHL standings. But is there a team in the league any team would like to meet less than the Islanders at the moment?
We doubt it. The Islanders have won eight of their past nine, including back-to-back wins over the team most consider to be the best in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ve scored at least four goals in each of their past five victories and are playing with a swagger we haven’t seen from this team in years.
And that’s why they’re on top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. N.Y. ISLANDERS (9): “This is a new hockey club with a new attitude,” said coach Jack Capuano after a home-and-home sweep of Pittsburgh. Coming up: Four Metro division games.
2. ST. LOUIS (1): Jay Bouwmeester’s Ironman streak ends at 737, Ryan Reaves’ consecutive goals streak starts at one. Coming up: Three winnable games at home to Ottawa and Edmonton, on the road to Minnesota.
3. ANAHEIM (5): Rene Bourque played 9:54 and had three shots and three hits in his Ducks debut against Arizona Sunday night. Coming up: Two more at home and a trip to San Jose Saturday night.
4. MONTREAL (3): In the seven games Montreal has lost this season, they’ve been outscored by a margin of 33-5. Coming up: Home-and-home against suddenly hot Buffalo, then a four-game western road trip. Read more
It was a glorious weekend of Michigan hockey for me, as I took a road trip to Ann Arbor to take in games featuring the National Team Development Program (NTDP) and University of Michigan. The NTDP got two wins over United States League opponents while the Wolverines capped off a weekend sweep of American International on Saturday. All three games gave me a great look at some top prospects and here are a few of them below, plus more kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL some day.
There’s a lot of ways to break up a 2-on-1, like sliding to block a pass or an aggressive poke check. When it comes to a 2-on-0, it gets a little bit more difficult, but veteran American League netminder David Leggio has a few ideas.
Leggio, who is playing his first season with Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, had to think quickly as Springfield Falcons forwards Dana Tyrell and Lukas Sedlak came barreling down on him on a shorthanded 2-on-0: Read more
It began in late July, when Minnesota Wild left winger Thomas Vanek made a surprising appearance at a federal government building in Rochester, N.Y., where the Austrian national had once played for the American League’s Americans. Vanek was co-operating with investigators in a gambling probe and no charges were laid against the hockey player.
But with one of the men charged in the case pleading guilty to money laundering on Thursday, Vanek’s name is back in the news.