Brendan Shanahan explains the reasoning behind Patrick Kaleta's four-game suspension for a head-butt on Jakub Voracek.
Brendan Shanahan explains the reasoning behind Patrick Kaleta's four-game suspension for a head-butt on Jakub Voracek.
The Blue Jackets celebrate a goal in their 10-0 win over the Canadiens.
After 20 or so games, the playoff hunt is starting to get much clearer and as surprising as it sounds, expect the Blue Jackets to be in the post-season.
Each month is an end and a beginning for NHL teams. String a few good months together and it probably means a playoff berth. A couple bad months though and it'll cost you.
Every month we like to highlight three teams that are trending up and three teams that are trending down to get a better sense of the landscape of the league. These aren’t your typical trends citing best and worst records in the league because those things can be fickle over a single month of hockey.
Instead we’ll dig a bit deeper toward each team’s underlying numbers. We've got a projection model that assesses each player’s value that’s updated daily throughout the season that can estimate point projections and playoff chances. It’s based on the past three seasons of a player’s Game Score and it’s what we used for season previews for each team. These posts are a way to check in with how teams have progressed, comparing how good they were projected to be at the start of November and how that’s changed since.
Here’s which teams are playing better and worse over the last month, as well as a look at the current projected playoff picture.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs aren’t exactly tearing up the league right now, but they’re definitely not the bottom-feeder many expected. They’re currently playing at an 86 point pace – a huge improvement from last season – but may be even better than that with a projected point total of almost 92 points. That probably seems far-fetched to a lot of you, but they’ve got decent shot rates, their goaltending is trending up, and they’ve got one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Last year’s team was a mess that couldn’t score, but when you add a full season of James van Riemsdyk plus three of the league’s best rookies, you get an offensive powerhouse. Defense is still a big concern and that’s why their expected win percentage is around .500 and not higher. Still, that’s likely much higher than most would expect and I doubt many see them just above 40 percent to make the playoffs, which they just might be.
Remember just a couple weeks ago when everyone was worried about the Predators? They’re now playing how we thought they would. They had the biggest Corsi jump this month going from a 26th ranked 47.2 percent in October to a third best 54.3 percent in November. To go along with that, they also had the third highest points percentage behind only Chicago and the next team on this list. By my model, the Predators are a top five team, an almost lock for the playoffs and a legit Stanley Cup threat this season. That’s pretty much what most of us expected from them before a slow start soured some opinions. While that’s understandable, this team should continue rolling along now that they’ve ironed out whatever issues plagued them in October.
Columbus Blue Jackets
A team that many thought would be competing with the Canucks and Coyotes for last place is somehow a top 10 team this year in points. Go figure. Not only that, they’re absolutely destroying some very good teams in the process. No one saw them being this good (and they won’t continue being this good), but I was cautiously optimistic about their chances before the season started, pegging them as a bubble team. They’ve surpassed that so far and have seen the biggest playoff chance increase this month going from 41.5 percent to 73.3 percent. What’s most important though, is that it isn’t all a transparent PDO mirage, the Blue Jackets are playing really good hockey lately. They controlled 52.3 percent of the shot share in November, a modest jump from their 48.9 in October, plus they’ve got some talented scorers and great goaltending that can out-score their possession rate, too. Columbus isn’t a great team, not unless they keep their possession rates up a bit longer, but it’s safe to say they’re at least an above average one right now.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After talking about one team lighting up better teams, we now arrive at one of those very teams. Columbus trounced Tampa Bay 5-1 on Tuesday and there was never really a point where the Lightning were really in it, getting dominated 27-13 in shots through the first two periods. The team has now lost three straight and face St. Louis and Washington next, so things might get uglier before they get better. By their expected win percentage, the Lightning dropped from an elite powerhouse at .551 to an okay playoff team at .526. Part of that is losing Stamkos, but they also just haven’t played really well either. SB Nation’s Lightning blog Raw Charge goes into this deeper here, but the basic gist is that the team isn’t dominating play like you’d expect a team with this much talent to. They were a bottom 10 Corsi team in November. That’s not a good sign, but with their roster, and Anton Stralman coming back soon, they should be able to bounce back.
I was much higher on Philadelphia than most before the season started, and that’s been somewhat justified by their consistent top 10 shot rate this season, yet the team continues to flounder with an 11-10-3 record. All of it comes down to goaltending as Steve Mason looks more like the Columbus version of himself than the one who’s given Philadelphia respectable goaltending during his tenure there. This year, Mason ranks 42nd among goalies with seven or more starts with a .898 save percentage. In the three seasons prior (this time looking at goalies with 50 or more games) he’s 11th with a .921. Up until this season, Mason has been a borderline top 10 goalie for the Flyers, but he’s looked like a sieve on numerous occasions this year. With the Blue Jackets surging, the playoffs are looking more and more unlikely for the Flyers with each passing game. Mason looked terrific in a win against the Bruins Tuesday, so all hope is not lost, but he needs to start doing that on a consistent basis for the Flyers to reach the post-season.
New York Islanders
Woof. Has there been a more disappointing team this season? Probably not, as many people had them in a playoff spot. Instead they’re challenging for worst in the league. The biggest problem here is that the losses of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have created some big holes that none of the young guys have been able to fill yet. John Tavares is practically on his own island as the lone good forward on the team. The Islanders rank second last in Corsi this season at 45.9 percent, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and have looked uninspired on most nights. It’s baffling that there hasn’t been a coaching change yet after their putrid start, especially considering some of the head-scratching decisions made by Jack Capuano. Among his most egregious decisions, he’s put Cal Clutterbuck on the first line, sent Ryan Strome to the press box, and placed Andrew Ladd on the fourth line. None of those moves make much sense, but the Islanders descent towards the bottom suddenly does.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
After 20 or so games, the playoff hunt is starting to get much clearer, but there’s still some teams that currently hold a spot that are likely to fall out, while the same is true for some of the teams on the outside looking in. Based on the games that have already been played, and what we think is likely to happen over the next 60 games, here’s how the playoff picture shakes out.
In the East, two teams currently in a spot – Ottawa and New Jersey – likely find themselves out of it by the time the season comes to a close in favour of two much stronger teams from the Atlantic: Boston and Florida. Yes, Florida has struggled, but they’ve had some big turnover and need some time to gel. They’ve also dealt with some big injuries early on. The next month or so will be critical in showing that the talent they’ve got on paper can translate onto the ice. In the West, everyone currently in a spot should stay that way, but there’s still a few teams that can make things interesting.
Virtual Locks (90 percent or more): Chicago, Pittsburgh, Montreal, San Jose, Los Angeles
Safe Bets (70-90 percent): Washington, Nashville, St. Louis, Rangers, Minnesota, Anaheim, Columbus, Boston
Squeaking In (50-70 percent): Florida, Edmonton, Tampa Bay
On The Bubble (30-50 percent): Winnipeg, Toronto, Philadelphia, Calgary
Fighting For Life (10-30 percent): Dallas, Ottawa, New Jersey, Detroit, Colorado, Islanders
Pretty Much Out (10 percent or less): Carolina, Arizona, Vancouver, Buffalo
Sergei Petrov swings stick at Nikita Tikhonov
After arguing a penalty call, a Russian amateur player swung his stick at the head of a referee and threatened to kill him in the locker room. The player has been banned for life and the team has been disbanded by the local hockey association.
A veteran player in a Russian amateur league has played his final game, and the last action of his career was a violent stick-swinging incident that saw him strike a referee in the head.
In a shocking video that surfaced earlier this week, a game between two Russian sides got ugly after an interference penalty was called during a contest in the Buryatia Hockey Championship, a league located in Siberia. The team in blue, referred to as “Armeec,” or Soldier, protested the call almost immediately, with the player called for the minor penalty initially refusing to take his seat in the penalty box.
As the conversation at the front of the penalty box progresses, No. 6 from Soldier, identified by Championat as Sergei Petrov, began to argue the call.
Referee Nikita Tikhonov explained the incident to Championat on Thursday, saying that it started as soon as the interference call was made. From there, Petrov approached Tikhonov, pushed the referee and asked the reason for the penalty. Tikhonov then handed Petrov a penalty for contact with an official. Petrov wouldn’t sit in the penalty box despite being told to do so, and, upset with the call, he struck Tikhonov:
“The blow was aimed at the neck and head, I (blocked it with my) hand,” Tikhonov said, according to Championat. “The stick broke on my arm. The second referee who tried to stop the blow, he broke his finger.”
Tikhonov said Petrov then threatened to kill him later in the locker room.
Unsurprisingly, the Buryatia Hockey Federation has come down hard on both Petrov and his club.
According to Championat, the league has handed Petrov a lifetime ban from the federation, forbidding him to play for any other team, and the club itself has been broken up. Several other players have been suspended — five, according to Championat — for their actions leading up to Petrov’s outburst, with the remaining players allowed to sign on elsewhere if they choose to continue playing this season.
Tikhonov told Championat that Petrov has reached out following the incident and he apologized for the incident.
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Craig Cunningham’s recovery is progressing but “there's a lot more progression and healing to be done,” according to friend and former teammate Milan Lucic, who visited Cunningham recently.
Tucson captain Craig Cunningham has remained in the thoughts of the hockey community since the moment he collapsed on the ice ahead of an AHL contest between the Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose on Nov. 19, but information regarding the health of the 26-year-old has been sparse.
The Arizona Coyotes, the parent club of the Roadrunners, have updated Cunningham’s status from time to time, often saying only that there has been little or no change, which is to say that Cunningham remains in critical but stable condition.
However, a promising update has come along regarding Cunningham from his friend and former teammate, Milan Lucic. The Oilers winger, who played with Cunningham with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and again as a member of the Boston Bruins, said he couldn’t get into too much detail, but offered some positive news.
"The good news is he's progressed a lot from the state he was in last weekend," Lucic said, according to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown. "He's heading in the right direction, but obviously there's a lot more progression and healing to be done.”
Even with the good news, though, Brown reported that Cunningham “has not regained consciousness since collapsing.”
No cause for the collapse has been given by either the Coyotes or Roadrunners, but Tucson GM Doug Soetaert told the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 21 that Cunningham was “critically ill.”
Cunningham was a fourth-round pick, 97th overall, of the Bruins in 2010, and has played 63 NHL games over the past several seasons. He was acquired by the Coyotes via waivers in 2014-15, finishing the season by playing 19 games with the Coyotes and recording one goal and four points. He skated in 10 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16, picking up an assist.
Cunningham was named the captain of the Springfield Falcons, then the Coyotes affiliate, in 2015-16 and had arguably the best AHL season of his career, posting 22 goals and 46 points in 61 games. He held on to the captaincy with the newly minted Roadrunners this season and had four goals and 13 points in 11 games.
The Roadrunners postponed two additional games following Cunningham’s hospitalization, but returned to action this past Saturday.
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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