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Hockey pundits and fans talk all they want and make bold predictions but once the puck drops the NHL really reminds us of how futile our efforts really are. Carolina, Toronto, and Dallas are all unbeaten. Pittsburgh is winless. Someone once said that sports is the most successful and best reality show in the world. I'd have to agree. Here are some storylines to keep watching for the rest of the year (or just to save myself some embarrassment, the next week). <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/af/fullj.babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4/babfaa6716e9bc1feb693b2ab5619ce4-getty-103114207_abe015_leafs_wings.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Leafs are 2-0 but don't get used to that 1.000 winning percentage too soon because they face off against the winless Penguins next and you know Sidney Crosby won't be letting the former Cup champs slide to 0-3. To the Leafs' credit they've looked incredible so far. Their fans needed this hot start and so did Ron Wilson, who is temporarily off the hot seat but if the Leafs hit the links soon again this year then he won't be back coming back. The looked good in their season opener but remember that the Habs were without two of their top four with Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik both sidelined with injuries. With a healthy Phil Kessel and the addition of the shifty Kris Versteeg the Leafs are noticeably faster this year and caused all kinds of havoc on a disorganized Senators team. But if the Pens' breakouts continue to look like this then the Leafs may go 3-0. I noted Brent Burns as the player to watch in Minnesota and even though they're still having a little trouble putting the puck in the net (only 4 goals in 2 games) in Burns' second game he played 30:57, over 23 minutes on even strength alone. That's Scott Niedermayer/Chris Pronger territory right there. Burns is averaging 28:25 per game, fourth in the league and also has 9 shots, good enough for 8th in the league. While his defensive play is still probably something to be desired if you haven't picked up Burns yet in your fantasy league now's a pretty good time to do so. At least for now all the stars are pointing in the right direction for Burns. Speaking of good starts how about those Oilers? Taylor Hall didn't bulge the twine but he didn't have to. He was probably Edmonton's best player even though Jordan Eberle did steal the show which prompted some good ol' Canadian tongue in cheek humour from the rest of the dressing room. It's a small sample but judging from the Oiler's dressing room atmosphere but it really looks like they've got a team. One of the reasons the Blackhawks were so successful was partly because a lot of their young players matured together. The Oilers could be next with their Big Three (Eberle, Hall, Magnus Paajarvi). It's too early to speak of playoffs but this team is playing with confidence and sometimes the most dangerous teams in the NHL are the ones that no one ever takes seriously, like Colorado and Phoenix last year. Nikolai Khabibulin is no Ilya Bryzgalov but he does have a Cup ring (2004 with Tampa). Consistency may be the Oilers' biggest enemy this year, however. At least Oiler games won't be boring to watch anymore with one of the Big Three expected to score each game. If the Flames keep playing like that, which I suspect they will, they're finishing last in the Northwest. They're slow and old and generally ineffective. That Dion Phaneuf trade looks terrible right now and I do agree with Mike Peca in that Jay Bouwmeester is really easy to play against. He wasn't in the spotlight in Florida because it was mostly on Olli Jokinen (who coincidentally is on the Flames. Again). He didn't want to play for a non-hockey market team but didn't step his game any when he was shipped to hockey-mad Calgary. Bouwmeester is a complimentary player who's earning franchise player money. That just won't work under the cap. Mark my words, Bouwmeester is going to be the next Wade Redden. Last night Eric Francis from the Calgary Sun was on CBC and noted the friction between Darryl and Brent Sutter. My guess is that by the end of the year Brent stays while Darryl gets the boot. It's not exactly Brent's fault he was little to work. Next in line for Calgary's GM position is probably going to be the architect of Tampa's Cup win over Calgary in 2004, Jay Feaster. You get the feeling Calgary's going to be swimming circles all season long. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/ap/e7/fullj.6ee4ff05d92c7d383433a7a4b7863c4a/4964e77c61e840e5a3dc94153a1c0003.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Joe Thornton was named San Jose's captain after training camp ended and I have to say he's the most logical choice. Dan Boyle is relatively new to San Jose and doesn't come with Rob Blake's pedigree and Patrick Marleau had his chance. Joe Pavelski will be wearing an 'A' soon enough but he's a couple seasons away from captain material. Don't make any mistake though, this isn't the same Joe Thornton that briefly captained the Bruins. But like Shea Weber with Nashville and previously Roberto Luongo with Vancouver, I wonder if handing Thornton the captaincy is a goodwill gesture ultimately geared towards coming to a long-term extension. The whole situation blew up in Atlanta's face with Ilya Kovalchuk (more on him later) when they made him captain but San Jose is a contender with plenty of options for Thornton to pass to. Henrik Sedin was also the logical choice to be captain although I have to admit I had Ryan Kesler pegged as wearing the 'C'. Hank was management's choice all along because they felt Kesler's not quite ready yet. At least this time the logic behind this one seems sound, unlike when they made Luongo captain (not that he was a bad one but there's a reason why goalies can't/don't wear the 'C'). The assistants were hand-picked by Henrik himself and unsurprisingly includes brother Daniel, Kesler, and newcomer Manny Malhotra. It may have surprised some that Kevin Bieksa was named the fourth assistant over the steady Dan Hamhuis or high-scoring Christian Ehrhoff or Alex Edler, but I think this is Henrik's first leadership move. By giving Bieksa the 'A' Henrik's publicly (but quietly) challenging Bieksa to assume a leadership role and play better. There's still a chance that Bieksa will remain a Canuck beyond the trade deadline and this season but of course that will depend on how well Bieksa plays and so far it's only been so-so. The NHL opened their season with games abroad, the fourth consecutive year they've done so. Minnesota and Carolina opened in Helsinki, Phoenix and Boston in Prague, and Columbus and San Jose in Stockholm. I think it's absolutely great that the NHL is playing meaningful games overseas, especially in Europe (forget anywhere else), although the selection of teams does leave my head scratching. If anyone had been watching those early games you might have noticed that most of the games, especially Columbus-San Jose, played to quiet and mostly empty arenas. If Gary Bettman wants to maximize these opportunities, which he should, his selection of the teams has to be better. San Jose and Columbus don't have any significant Swedes to speak of and that means less vested interest for Swedish fans. Instead, pick teams with enough significant local flavour to play games. Could you imagine how crazy a Detroit-Vancouver match-up would be in Stockholm? Why aren't national heroes Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne playing in Helsinki when this may be their last swan song together? Why aren't Ales Hemsky or Patrik Elias in Prague? Why not bring Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara to Bratislava? And KHL willing, why not have the Pens and Capitals face-off in Moscow? (My guess is that a Pens-Caps 2-game series in Moscow will just about trounce anything the KHL has to offer and president Alexander Medvedev doesn't want that). Europe's a hockey market. Let's showcase the best of the best. Unlike Bob McKenzie, I didn't have a problem with the that left Ivanans concussed. I agree that the fight really didn't solve anything but the Oilers were completely dominating and it doesn't take much to tick off hockey players sometimes and God knows what it could've escalated to. I bet you that McKenzie would change his tune had Ivanans made a run at Eberle or Hall because MacIntyre refused to fight. Could Ivanans have saved himself from a concussion? Maybe. The truth is, once you lace up those skates you play knowing that there's the possibility of getting hurt. If you drop the gloves you expect to be punched. Ivanans' an enforcer who's job is to hit, fight, and spark his team. MacIntyre didn't want to fight but he knew he had to. Fights happen. Concussions happen. Live with it. McKenzie says there was no point. I say it's just two guys trying to keep their NHL careers afloat and it's just unfortunate one had to leave the game. I think fighting does belong in the game but heavyweights are a dying breed. There's no use keeping a player on the roster for his fists if he can't skate. Speaking of heavyweights as a dying breed, one of the reasons is because stars (some, at least) aren't afraid to drop the gloves anymore. while Henrik Zetterberg tussled with Ryan Getzlaf behind the play. The Ducks were taking runs at the Wings' skill players all game and when you don't have a heavyweight (and given Detroit's success, another reason why you don't necessarily need one) these players have to fend for themselves. This is the way hockey should be. Stand up for yourself and fight. Big props to David Booth for dropping the gloves with Mike Richards upon his return instead of having a plug like Andrew Peters (now a Canuck) doing it for him. And who says you need a good fight to spark a team? Kovalchuk's tilt against Mike Green wasn't spectacular but for a guy who earns $10 million a season and scores 40+ goals to willingly drop the gloves like that and try and generate something speaks a lot about his character. And let's face it, an ugly Kovalchuk-Green tilt is more interesting than some unknown fourth liners in a fight. I'm not sure if anyone's kept track but I thought it was interesting that while
Note: This is a slighty older entry from my blog, but I was invited to come here and contribute in the Fan Zone, so I'd figure I'd go the lazy route for my debut and go with reruns. The stats are a little off because I had written this prior to the Dallas game. That said, enjoy! So we're officially at the midway point of the season. We have a relatively solid understanding on how things look right now in the NHL. For the Canucks, things are looking good, as they're starting to carve out a playoff berth and are playing some great hockey. It's a good time to do some evaluating of talent, which is what this post is about. Today marked the announcement of America's men's hockey roster and as expected, Ryan Kesler was named to the squad, making it the first time he'll be representing his nation at the Olympic level. That by itself is a major accomplishment and is something Ryan Kesler can take pride in. I would suggest, though, that Kesler's Olympic nomination provides a great opportunity for the 25 year old. Namely, that he has a great chance to capture the attention of the collective hockey media, a group that rarely has all of its attention focused on the west coast, nevermind Vancouver proper. This isn't meant to be a 'TSN = Toronto Sports Network' jab. I understand that the majority of the larger markets are out east (Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, etc.) so it's understandable that most writers will be paying attention to teams that they cover. Given the fast turnaround you have to have with being a journalist, most publications don't have the luxury of staying up until midnight to cover west coast games. Fortunately, they won't have much of a choice in the matter when the Olympics roll around, as the NHL shuts down to let their top players participate. Why would this be important? Well, aside from having a shot at winning some hardware at the Olympics, Kesler also has a chance to gain some fans in the press that may not otherwise have watched him. This would have implications for winning the Selke trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward. The winner is selected by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Yeah, I think you can see where I'm going with this. While the Olympics won't have a direct impact on earning Selke votes, they're a good way to showcase oneself and get your name out there because everyone will be watching. Fans of the Canucks know that Kesler is a great two way player and we also know that Kesler has really come on in recent memory. Prior to last season, he was typically tasked with shutting down the top forwards on opposing teams and has been a key component in the Canucks penalty killing unit pretty much since his arrival with the club. He was seen as a good defensive forward, but questions about his offensive capabilities abounded.Last season, most critics were silenced, as he went on an offensive tear, setting a career high in points. This season, he is well on his way to his third straight 20 goal season and is on pace to surpass 60 points, which would be a new career high for him. We, the fans, know that Kesler is a great player. The problem is getting the message out there to the rest of the hockey world. Kesler's got some brand recognition right now, thanks to the votes he received last season as he was the second runner-up for Selke voting. The Olympic nomination puts his stock at an all-time high and thanks to issues plaguing the other Selke finalists from last year (Detroit's injury woes and Philly just sucking in general), Kesler stands poised to earn his first piece of NHL hardware. It's not all about making friends with the media, though I'd argue that it helps significantly. Kesler also has the stats to back up both a Selke nomination and a Selke win. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to compare Kesler against Datsyuk and Richards, as well as Patrick Marleau, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Zajac, all players who have been getting some consideration for a Selke nod this season as well. I'll be looking primarily at their stats from this season and last to try and explain why Kesler has a great chance at winning the Selke. Short Handed Kesler logs a lot of time on the penalty kill. Last season, he spent more time on the PK than the other six players listed. His numbers are slightly lower this season, but that's because the Canucks have been taking less penalties and are on pace to actually take less minors than they did last season. In addition to playing slightly less, Kesler has also not been on the ice for as many goals against, on pace for 20 compared to 28 shorthanded GA last season. Datsyuk, thanks to Detroit being such a disciplined team, doesn't log a ton of minutes on the PK, but when he is out there he is quite good as he only allowed 15 goals against on the PK last season and has only been around for 3 this season. At first glance, Plekanec seems to compare well to Datsyuk on the penalty kill: the Hab was on ice for only 9 goals against shorthanded last season while getting a comparable amount of icetime to Datsyuk. This season, however, his minutes have more than doubled and he's on pace for 18 goals against. Marleau tends to be rather consistent, year over year his penalty killing numbers are looking to be more or less on pace, although he has logged more time on the PK this season (due to the Sharks taking more trips to the sin bin.) Richards and Zajac are two interesting players to compare, as Richards was a Selke nominee last year while Zajac is getting some praise this season. However, Zajac doesn't seem to be an effective penalty killer: despite seeing the 4th least amount of playing time last season and the 5th least of PK time this season, he was 2nd overall in shorthanded goals against in 08/09 and tied for third this season. For Kesler, we see that he's a horse on the penalty kill and that his short handed goals against have been improving, as he was on the ice for 32 GA in 07/08, 28 last season and on pace for 20 this season (which would put him one better than his short handed GA in 06/07 of 21. Remember, Kesler was serving primarily in a shutdown role that season and was on our third line.) Marleau is arguably his biggest competitor here as he's been seeing more icetime without a noticeable increase in goals against. Richards, who was 2nd in icetime last season, has seen a greatly reduced profile on the PK but is having a terrible season as a penalty killer. Plekanec and Zajac don't look that great when compared to Kesler, while Datsyuk remains quietly efficient. Selke Nominees based on penalty kill: Datsyuk, Kesler and Marleau 5 on 5 Play Note: Keep in mind that I'm referring to 5 on 5 play here, not +/-. Plus/Minus considers short handed goals scored, which is what I'm not really looking at here. So if you see discrepancies when I'm talking about players being plus or minus, that's why. Kesler struggles a bit here, based on Goals For and Against. His differential is the smallest out of all the players being compared here as last season his differential was +6. It's better than Plekanec's -7. But when compared to everyone else, it gets pretty ugly. Richards and Marleau were both +13, Zajac was +24 and Datsyuk +36. Things are a little better this season, as Richards and Datsyuk have both struggled and are both a +4. Zajac leads the way, as he's +17 5 on 5. Marleau is also looking good as he's a +15 this season. However, Kesler is a -1 5 on 5 and Plekanec is a +2. Not good company to be keeping. A possible explanation for this would be that Kesler typically draws up against opposing team's top lines, while guys like Marleau, Datsyuk and Zajac are on teams that are stacked up front and are playing against lesser lines…but I'm not familiar with how players on these other teams are utilized by their coaches and in some instances there have been situations where the coaching staff has changed (notably with Jersey and Montreal, who both switched to more defensive minded coaches this season.) That said, Kesler isn't that great 5 on 5, while other players are, whatever the reason may be. Icetime doesn't really explain it, either, as Kesler averages the least amount of even strength time per game and is middle of the pack for total icetime. Zajac and Marleau are the clear winners here, as they have a great 5 on 5 differential and they eat up a lot of even strength minutes. Richards as well, especially when you factor in how horrible Philly has been all season. Five on five play is certainly Kesler's weakest area when thinking about Selke aspirations although he is no slouch. Selke Nominees based on 5 on 5 play: Marleau, Richards, Zajac Overall 'Defensive' Statistics This is where things get interesting. Looking at some other stats, like blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways and faceoff percentage, we begin to see some players really start to assert themselves, both for bad and for worse. Plekanec would be the worst of the lot. Looking at him year over year, an increased role seems to have hurt him, as he's coughing up the puck with more regularity and his faceoff stats have dropped below 50%, the only player in this group that has done so for this season. He has become far more adept at blocking shots, though, but when you factor in his PK and 5 on 5 performance, an increase in blocked shots is hardly cause for celebration, as he's regressed more overall, which has to hurt his chances. Richards isn't the greatest faceoff guy (49% last season, 51.6% this season) and he is a turnover machine, but he is a great shot blocker, having led all forwards (alongside Chris Drury) in blocked shots last season. Richards is like Plekanec in that he is okay in some areas but excels in others (and is also vastly more talented than him!) Marleau, on the other hand, has actually gotten better at hanging onto the puck, as he has slightly more takeaways than giveaways at the midway mark, a vast improvement compared to last season where he has 46 takeaways and 61 giveaways. He's also managed to slightly improve his shot block and faceoff percentage. If he can keep it up, having a demonstratable area of improvement will help. Datsyuk is the model of consistency with these stats, as he continues to be very talented at stealing the puck, is on pace for the same amount of shots blocked (although he isn't a great shot blocker) and he remains at the head of the pack with a solid faceoff percentage (56% last season vs. 56.9% this season.) Zajac as well, although his faceoff percentage has slipped by about 3% this season (53.1% to 50.9%) Kesler has been a beast in ALL of these categories. He had the third most takeaways last season (behind Richards and Datsyuk) and the second best ratio behind only Datsyuk this season. He's also a shot blocking fiend (2nd last year and leading the way this season) and is second best at faceoffs with 54% effectiveness last season and 55.4% this season (again, behind only Datsyuk.) No other player is as good as Kesler in all categories and this is why he is such a great two way player. Selke nominations based on 'Overall Defensive Stats': Datsyuk, Marleau, Kesler Offensive Performance Like or not, offense is a factor when it comes to deciding who wins the Selke. The award is for the best 2 way forward, and the other end of the ice is where goals are scored, so, yeah. Unlike last year, where Richards and Datsyuk were offensive juggernauts (80 and 97 points respectively), both players have cooled down significantly when it comes to offensive production. This is no doubt because of the Flyers struggling this season and the glut of injuries the Red Wings have suffered. While unfortunate, having them fall off the map does open things up for other players, as the offense is, more or less, on a far more even playing field. Plekanec leads the way offensively, with 46 points. If there's one category that Plekanec has on lockdown it would be offense. That said, there are glaring problems in other areas, as discussed earlier, which really take the shine off of him being a great 2 way player and one worthy of Selke consideration. What is noteworthy here, though, is that Plekanec has had significantly less powerplay icetime than the rest of the players I'm looking at: most players are around the 125-130 mark for PP time, while Plekanec has only had 104. All but one of his points has come from 5 on 5 play. Marleau is on pace to slightly improve his numbers from last year, but looks to be doing it primarily through scoring goals, as he's on track for 50. His offensive stats, when combined with his performance in other areas and being more or less consistent year over year makes him very attractive for potential Selke voters. Zajac has also rbeen reliable with his offensive production, as he's on pace for more or less the same offensive totals as last season. Kesler is as well, but he has the added bonus of doing it essentially 'on his own', critics of Kesler would say that his going on a tear coincided with the arrival of Mats Sundin and that he rode both Sundin's and Demitra's coattails last season to career highs. Well, Sundin is retired and Demitra hasn't played all season, which means Kesler has been generating his offense with a combination of Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson and Michael Grabner. Grabner is a rookie and Kesler can't be 'leeching' off of him. Raymond's been the only one to have shown any consistency through the course of the season, as Samuelsson has been streaky. It's an important distinction that has to be considered when looking at Kesler's numbers. Selke nominees based on offense: Kesler, Marleau, Plekanec Conclusion I think that Kesler stands a very good chance of earning another Selke nomination if things continue along the pace that they're at for all players involved. He's great on the penalty kill, does all the 'little things' that defensive players do and is being consistent with his offense. The other two players I see making some Selke noise are Patrick Marleau and Travis Zajac, who garnered a number of votes last season. Plekanec I can't see getting too many (outside of the Quebec based writers), as he seems to be struggling defensively with an increased role. This becomes especially true if his team doesn't manage to make the playoffs. While things may be different if the Red Wings weren't the walking wounded or if Philly was playing better overall, Kesler is the only nominee from last year who is still looking dangerous. If he has a strong Olympics and is able to turn some heads and get his name out there by having a great tournament, he has an excellent chance at winning the Selke. Especially since it's entirely possible that Patrick Marleau may get lost in the shuffle amidst all the other great Team Canada players. He's got the resume, he just needs to be able to win the 'interview', so to speak. Trevor Presiloski is a Westerner stuck out East in Toronto. You can check out his website, which features more coverage on the Canucks, at http://www.trevorpresiloski.com. He can also be found over on Twitter at twitter.com/nettrashcan. He is also a fan of chinchillas and regularly partakes in Chinchilli Day.