"We didn't blow it. Nobody blew it."
- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff following a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston in which Buffalo had a two-goal lead. The Bruins now lead the series 3-1.
"We didn't blow it. Nobody blew it."
- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff following a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston in which Buffalo had a two-goal lead. The Bruins now lead the series 3-1.
They sure teased us there during the first two weeks of the season. But we should have known all along that the NHL would go back to its defensive ways.
Boy, the NHL sure had us there for a while. During the first two weeks of the season, players were filling the nets like it was the Bill Clinton administration. The first three nights of this season, there was an 11-goal game, a 10-goal game, three nine-goal games and two eight-goal games. Rookie Auston Matthews turned in a record on the first night of the season by scoring four goals in his NHL debut and his team still lost the game.
Good times. Yup, good times. And like all good times, it inevitably had to come to an end. Because NHL. The orgy of scoring we saw early in the season has been replaced with what seems like a record number of loop passes from the defensive zone. And why are defensemen doing this at such a regular pace? Because trying to get the puck through the neutral zone along the ice is almost impossible.
Through the first 356 games of this season, NHL teams have scored a total of 1,880 goals. Those are real goals. The phony ones teams are awarded for winning the NHL’s skills competition are not included. That means teams are scoring at an average of 5.28 goals per game this season, which if it sticks, will mean scoring is at its lowest in the NHL since The Dead Puck Era™.
To put that into perspective, consider this: the Edmonton Oilers scored a total of 2,114 goals in the five seasons that spanned from 1981-82 through 1985-86. Even if they had recorded a shutout in every one of those 400 regular-season games, they’d still have averaged more goals per game (5.285) all by themselves than what both teams are scoring this season. Think about that for a minute.
Whatever the effect there was on goal scoring early in the season has clearly dissipated. After the first two weeks of the season, teams were scoring at a clip of 5.92 non-shootout goals per game. Since then, teams are scoring at just 5.04. As Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter recently put it, “Then NHL is a 3-2 league.” Unless it’s 2-1 in a shootout.
There were a number of theories as to why scoring was so high early in the season. Some thought it was because the 168 NHL players who played in the World Cup were in mid-season form and therefore, so much further ahead of their teammates. Another theory held that there were so many young players in the league who were not only dazzling fans with their scoring, but making the kinds of mistakes that result in goals going in on their own net. The third was that some early-season injuries to goalies were forcing a number of teams to use backups.
Whatever the case, the NHL has adapted the way it always does. Of course it doesn’t help that the NHL allows the Minnesota Wild to hack away at Johnny Gaudreau’s hand, with Eric Staal finally dealing the killing blow and breaking it with a third try, with impunity. Then you have Gaudreau’s own teammate Troy Brouwer basically saying he does that kind of stuff a lot, so all’s fair, then goes out and proves it by going after leading Calder Trophy candidate Mitch Marner’s hand with a two-hander a couple of weeks later. When these things go unpenalized, few in the hockey community point out that, you know, you’re not supposed to do that and it’s not such a good idea to target the best young players in the league. And those who do get shouted down by hockey people who claim these kids should be wearing more protective gloves to guard themselves from something that happens a hundred times a game. Well, if that’s the case and it does actually happen a hundred times a game, that tells us something about why scoring is so low in the first place.
While other leagues try to encourage offense, the NHL does almost nothing. Certainly nothing radical. It’s been more than a decade since the league reinvented itself after the 2004-05 lockout, but much of what the league has eliminated has crept back in. The league and NHL Players’ Association continue to work toward streamlining goalie equipment at what seems like a sloth’s pace. Ideas to limit shot blocking or reconfigure the goal posts so more pucks will go off the post and into the net are seen as far too radical.
Meanwhile, the goals continue to dry up. According to the Elias Sports Bureau at this point last season scoring was slightly lower than it is this season, but rallied to end up at 5.34 goals per game. Each of the past five years, goal scoring totals have been essentially identical, never going below 5.31 or above 5.34. That could very well be where we end up this season. The biggest difference between this season and last, said Bob Waterman of Elias, is that scoring didn't vary that much from Day 1 to the end of the season in 2015-16, but there was a glut of goals early this season.
The modern-day low for scoring is 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04, the season before the NHL unshackled its star players. If it breaches that number, it would hit a 61-year low (5.07 was recorded in 1955-56). Perhaps that might be enough to push the NHL to do something about it. Or not.
A tumbling Canadian dollar hits north of the 49th parallel, while a reworked lease in South Florida gives the Panthers a new lease on life.
A depressed Canadian dollar is obviously not good business for anyone in the NHL. With Canadian teams driving a good portion of the league’s revenues and the $5.2 billion television deal begin paid to the league in Canadian funds, every drop in the dollar represents revenue lost for the league.
And that is no more evident than it is in Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of NHL franchise values for 2016. Of the 30 NHL teams, only eight of them saw their franchise value decrease over the past year – the New Jersey Devils and all seven Canadian franchises. The Vancouver Canucks saw the most precipitous drop league-wide, with its value going down 6.1 percent to $700 million. Among Canadian teams, the Edmonton Oilers experienced the lowest drop, by 2.3 percent to $445 million, a loss that was mitigated largely due to the fact they moved into Rogers Place this season.
To the surprise of no one, the New York Rangers are the most valuable franchise in the league, with an overall value of $1.25 billion, up 4.2 percent from last year. They’re followed by two Canadian teams – the Montreal Canadiens at $1.12 billion (down 4.7 percent) and the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1.1 billion (down 4.4 percent).
“The (Canadian) dollar has had a huge impact on that for sure,” said Forbes executive editor Mike Ozanian, who compiles the list. “Over the past four years we’ve done this, it has gone from parity to 90 cents on the dollar to 83 to 75.”
The Canadian dollar is currently trading in the 75-cent range and most forecasters don’t expect that to change drastically over the next year or so, which means Canadian franchises, while still very valuable in the grand scheme of things, might not see any rise in their value in the next little while. The Canucks are the seventh most valuable franchise, with the Oilers checking in at No. 14, the Calgary Flames at 16, the Ottawa Senators at 20 and Winnipeg Jets at 21.
There were some interesting teams on the list, notably the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders. The Panthers are No. 29 on the list, ahead of only the Carolina Hurricanes, but saw their value rise a league-high 26 percent to $235 million this year. That’s in large part due to a deal that the team cut with Broward County last year which will see it receive $86 million in tourist taxes over the next 13 years as well as getting almost all the revenue created by the BB&T Center in exchange for the development rights to 140 acres around the arena that Panthers owner Vinnie Viola transferred back to the county. It also helped that the Panthers made the playoffs for just the second time in 15 years and their local television numbers were better. (The latter doesn’t help much now because the Panthers’ local TV deal still has five years go and much of that money was paid up front to previous owners.)
Even though the deal with Broward County runs through 2028, the Panthers have an out-clause that would allow them to relocate after the 2022-23 season if they lose more than $100 million between last season and 2021-22 and give one year's notice. “They basically monetized the land and they’re more portable now,” Ozanian said. “I’m not saying they are going to leave, but it is a plus.”
Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko said he disagrees with Forbes numbers, but did acknowledge that the Panthers have increased in their value due to more stable ownership, a better product on the ice and the deal with Broward County. What the deal with the county does, Luukko said, was give the Panthers, “a lease that’s more commensurate with the times.” As far as the effect it has had on the bottom line, Luukko said the Panthers are still losing money, “we’re definitely cutting into those.” The Panthers said they lost $36 million in 2014-15.
The Islanders were another team that saw its franchise value spike upward, despite the fact that it ranks second-last in NHL attendance and its valuation by Forbes is $385 million, which is $100 million lower than the announced selling price when Charles Wang sold the team two years ago. Ozanian said the Islanders revenues from the Barclays Center are only in the $50 million range and the owners are carrying a considerable amount of debt, playing at Barclays has mitigated some of the team’s losses. “It’s a weird situation,” Ozanian said.
Overall, Ozanian said the league’s franchise values have been helped by the Rogers television deal, the league’s seven percent ownership in BamTech (which could increase to 12 percent) as part of its deal with MLB Advanced Media and an owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement. The Forbes numbers, it should be noted, are based on the revenues and expenses of all teams, including the arena’s economics as they pertain to the owner of the team. (Which explains why the Rangers come out on top.) Based on that formula, each team averages about $15 million in operating income, but almost half that total income of about $450 million ($219 million) is accounted for by the Rangers, Canadiens and Leafs.
The magazine, meanwhile, valued the Pittsburgh Penguins at $570 million, which is almost $200 million less than owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were seeking last season. And that’s with $26 million in operating income and a team that has strong revenue potential for the next couple of years. But generally, the future looks pretty favorable, the Canadian dollar notwithstanding.
“I think that even the lower revenue teams have benefitted,” Ozanian said. “Arguably, it has benefitted them the most because it’s more plausible for them to turn a profit.”
NHL FRANCHISE VALUES*
1. New York Rangers: $1.25 billion (+4.2%)
2. Montreal Canadiens: $1.12 billion (-4.7%)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: $1.1 billion (-4.4%)
4. Chicago Blackhawks: $985 million ( - )
5. Boston Bruins: $800 million (+6.6%)
6. Philadelphia Flyers: $720 million (+9.1%)
7. Vancouver Canucks: $700 million (-6.1%)
8. Detroit Red Wings: $625 million (+4.2%)
9. Los Angeles Kings: $600 million (+3.4%)
10. Pittsburgh Penguins: $570 million (+1.8%)
- Washington Capitals: $570 million (+0.8%)
12. Dallas Stars: $500 million (+11%)
13. San Jose Sharks: $470 million (+5.5%)
14. Edmonton Oilers: $445 million (-2.3%)
15. Anaheim Ducks: $415 million (+3.6%)
16. Calgary Flames: $410 million (-5.8%)
17. Minnesota Wild: $400 million (+5.3%)
18. New York Islanders: $385 million (+18%)
19. Colorado Avalanche: $360 million ( - )
20. Ottawa Senators: $355 million (-4%)
21. Winnipeg Jets: $340 million (-3%)
22. New Jersey Devils: $320 million (-3%)
23. St. Louis Blues: $310 million (+15%)
24. Tampa Bay Lightning: $305 million (+17%)
25. Buffalo Sabres: $300 million ( - )
26. Nashville Predators: $270 million (+5.9%)
27. Columbus Blue Jackets: $245 million (+8.4%)
28. Arizona Coyotes: $240 million (+9.1%)
29. Florida Panthers: $235 million (+26%)
30. Carolina Hurricanes: $230 million (+2.2%)
* Source: Forbes magazine
Patrick Sharp missed 14 games earlier this season after being concussed in a game against the Kings, and the Stars winger is back on injured reserve with concussion symptoms less than two weeks after returning to action.
The Stars have had to deal with a number of injuries this season, but there may not be another that has been quite as worrisome as the concussion issues plaguing Patrick Sharp.
For the second time this season, the 34-year-old has been forced onto the shelf due to a head injury. The announcement by the Stars came out of nowhere on Saturday, and the veteran winger has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 1. The worst of it all, though, is that this second stint on the sideline comes only seven games after he returned from a 14-game absence at the start of the campaign.The problems for Sharp started during an Oct. 20 outing against the Kings, only four games into the campaign.
During that contest, Sharp was entering into the Los Angeles zone on the power play, and as he looked down to settle the puck, Kings blueliner Brayden McNabb stepped up on Sharp, delivering a massive hit to the 34-year-old. Sharp remained down for a moment before getting back to his feet and finishing his shift.
Following the hit, Sharp headed to the dressing room and didn’t return, and he was out for nearly a month with a concussion. The Stars don’t know, however, if Sharp’s most recent bout of symptoms has anything to do with the past concussion.
“We don’t know whether it’s related to the previous one,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, according to NHL.com’s Sean Shapiro. “But he’s going to be evaluated and obviously he’s going to be out. It’s something we want to be real careful with.”
The concern has to be that if Sharp missed 14 games the first time around, a similar absence could be in the cards this time around, and there’s certainly the potential for him to be sidelined even longer. The nature of the injury doesn’t allow for any concrete timeline for return, though.
Sharp being out only adds to the injury woes for the Stars, too. Along with Sharp, Dallas is missing Ales Hemsky, Mattias Janmark, Jiri Hudler and Johnny Oduya.
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Giving props to the Flyers surprise leading scorer, the Maple Leafs' all-star snubs, and other stray thoughts from the first quarter of the season.
If Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Austin Matthews is to play in the NHL All-Star Game this season, he will have to make it as a write-in candidate, even though he was the top pick in the 2016 draft. That’s right, Matthews didn’t make the cut amongst players chosen by the league to be on the ballot. Interestingly enough, Patrick Laine, who was chosen second overall by the Winnipeg Jets, is on the ballot. Fans can choose between 32 players to represent the Atlantic Division including Maple Leafs teammates Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Rielly. There are 120 names on the ballot.
Speaking of Maple Leafs rookies, Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are among the team’s most productive players, but all are minus-3. Toronto has a very impressive rookie corps which includes Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov. But only Brown is a plus player at plus-3.
Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has never produced a 40-goal season, dipped to just 26 goals last season. He salvaged his year with 10 goals in 24 playoff games while helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. This season Kessel had six goal in Pittsburgh’s first 24 games and was on pace for a 21-goal season. To his credit, Kessel was leading the Penguins with 16 assists. Even when he was lighting the lamp, Kessel was always an underrated passer.
Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers has taken his game to the next level. He has always been a solid contributor, but now he is tied for the lead in Flyers scoring with 11 goals and 22 points in 25 games. Simmonds, who is 28 and in his ninth NHL season, scored a career-best 31 goals in 2013-14. He is on pace for 36 goals this season. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, the lanky right winger is one of those players that could have played in any era of the NHL.
Things were looking up in Arizona last season when rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair burst on the scene with impressive seasons. Domi had 18 goals and 52 points in 81 games while Duclair had 20 goals and 44 points in 80 games. For the Coyotes to continue to make progress they need both Domi and Duclair to take their games to the next level. It hasn’t happened thus far and Arizona is tied with the Colorado Avalance for last place. Domi has four goals and 15 points while Duclair has just one goal and four points. Speaking about his own sophomore, Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings GM said once young players gain a measure of success in the NHL, they attract the attention of the opposition who studies their game and comes up with a plan to stop them. It is up to the player, Holland said, to make adjustments in his game to get back to being productive.
Joe Colborne of the Avalanche opened the season scoring a hat trick in the first game of the season, a 6-5 win over the Dallas Stars, and hasn’t scored a goal since. Colborne is not the only underachiever on the struggling Avalanche. Leading scored Nathan MacKinnon has just five goals and 15 points while veteran Jarome Iginla has three goals and five points, each in 21 games. This helps to explain why the Avalanche sits at the bottom of the league. Three years ago Colorado finished third overall and appeared to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Then they slipped to 21st the past two seasons and look like a solid bet to finish 30th this season. Something’s gotta give soon.
Scotty Bowman is one of the most important figures in hockey history. Bowman, 83, has been a part of 14 Stanley Cup champions, has the most coaching victories in NHL history and was appropriately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991. Now Bowman’s son Stan is carving out a Hall of Fame career of his own. Having constructed three Stanley Cup champions in the past seven seasons as GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bowman keeps his team in contention mainly because he has masterfully stick-handled around the challenges of dealing with a salary cap. Time and time again Bowman has been forced to move players from a championship roster and replace them in cost-cutting measures. And yet his Blackhawks remain a Cup contender, challenging the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers for top spot through the first quarter of the season.