Top 10 Art Ross Trophy candidates for 2014-15

John Tavares (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

In the 21 seasons between 1980-81 and 2000-01, a total of three players won the NHL scoring championship. Perhaps you’ve heard of them – Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

In the 12 seasons since then, nine players have won it and nobody has taken home the Art Ross Trophy in successive seasons. We at thn.com predict that trend to continue. And if our crystal ball isn’t defective, there will be another first-time winner this season.

With that in mind, here are our top 10 choices for the Art Ross Trophy in 2014-15, in descending order. Read more

Claude Giroux leaves practice after 15 minutes with lower-body injury

Claude Giroux (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers enter training camp with a pile of questions about the team. Is the defense too slow and old? How will they fare without Kimmo Timonen, who is out for at least the first few months of the season, and possibly the entire year? Can Steve Mason put together another strong season, or was last year a one-off?

We’re skeptical of the Flyers this season and predicted them to finish fifth in the Metro Division and out of the playoffs. There are just too many concerns around the roster. And on the very first day of training camp, another uncertainty was added to the pile: Claude Giroux left the ice after 15 minutes with a “lower-body injury.”

It’s not yet clear exactly what the injury is, or how serious it is. But this is an awful way for the Flyers to start training camp.

Flyers fans: hold on to your butts.

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The top 10 goalies most likely to have a down year

Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

No one has ever understood goaltenders. From Hall of Fame puker Glenn Hall to wall-kicking Josh Harding, they’re a breed apart and considering the dangerous occupation they chose, perhaps they can be forgiven for their eccentricities. Recently, it’s been very difficult to figure out who will dominate the Vezina Trophy race. But with some help from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, here’s a look at 10 goalies who might have down years. Quality Starts percentage refers to games in which a goalie had a .917 save percentage when facing more than 20 shots (.885 when facing 20 shots or less). Vollman averaged out the past three seasons to get his results.

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The top 10 fighters to watch this season

Brian McGrattan and Patrick Bordeleau (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:

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THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

The Hockey News
Philadelphia Flyers.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 42-30-10

Acquisitions: Ryan White, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Zack Stortini, Andrew Gordon, Blair Jones, R.J. Umberger

Departures: Adam Hall, Ben Holmstrom, Kris Newbury, Steve Downie, The McGinn, Scott Hartnell

Top five fantasy players: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Mark Streit, Matt Read

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Once Claude Giroux got on track last season, the Flyers were mint. He had just seven points in the first 15 games – none of them goals – and the Flyers went 5-9-1. Beginning with his tally in a win over Edmonton, Giroux steered his troops to a 37-21-9 record the rest of the way. Read more

Jagr on verge of almost unheard of distinction this season

Jaromir Jagr (right). (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.

That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.

When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.

Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.

Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.

With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.

Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.

And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

Top 10 wacky NHL predictions

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pre-season predictions are a mug’s game at the best of times, because the truth is often far stranger than any fiction we could dream up. Well, we’re going to put that to the test, because today’s predictions are all of the…um, far-fetched variety. So sit back, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy THN’s Top 10 Wacky Predictions for the NHL’s 2014-15 campaign.

10. After hearing one too many questions about his future in Detroit, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock snaps and vows to only say, “I am Groot” in all media interviews for the rest of his career. Babcock’s inimitable speaking style translates so well into the single line of dialogue spoken by the Guardians of the Galaxy character, he replaces Vin Diesel in the sequel to the blockbuster movie.

9. In their ongoing attempt to employ every key member of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Lightning, Rangers acquire Vincent Lecavalier from Philly and Dave Andreychuk and Fredrik Modin from retirement. John Tortorella also hired as director of dressing room security.

8. Following years of speculation, NHL announces expansion to Long Island and Atlanta in 2016. “Don’t worry about it,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says in a news release welcoming expansion franchise owners Charles Wang and Atlanta Spirit, L.L.C. Jr. into the league. “Let’s just see what happens.” Read more

Why do ex-Flyers personnel succeed in L.A.? More freedom

Ron Hextall won a Cup with L.A., but will he succeed as Flyers GM with owner Ed Snider influencing him? (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The migration of on-and-off-ice talent from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Los Angeles Kings franchise that has won two of the past three Cups is not lost on observers. At various points in the past 15 years, the Flyers (a) employed L.A. GM Dean Lombardi as their western scout, and Kings assistant coach John Stevens as their coach; (b) centered their core of forwards around Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who each have two rings with the Kings; and (c) had Ron Hextall as their director of player personnel before he joined L.A. and was part of their Cup win in 2012.

Hextall returned to the Flyers last summer and will enter his rookie year as Philly’s GM. His best chance to deliver a Cup is if owner Ed Snider leaves him alone to work at it. That hasn’t always been true in the nearly five decades Snider has owned the team. And the success of the Kings – the success of components not good enough for the Flyers – should show Snider the best thing he can do to satisfy his competitive urges is to wall himself off from hockey decisions.

Because in the modern era, it’s a fact: Stanley Cups are won by teams whose owners stay out of the picture.

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