Last week, I mentioned that it was amazing that no one seemed to be on the head coaching hot seat as we got closer to Thanksgiving. This week, we are at a different point in the NHL sack race, as Dallas Eakins and Randy Carlyle now seem to be going neck and neck. It got to levels and where a press conference was supposed to take place in Edmonton, supposedly to announce the firing of Eakins, but it never happened. Justice was demanded by Maple Leafs fans immediately after an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Buffalo and then another embarrassing 9-2 loss to Nashville, yet forgetting that Toronto is on pace for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In the next game, the Leafs won 5-2 over Tampa Bay, but then Stick-Salute-Gate happened because Don Cherry clones are the worst. In other words, it’s another Tuesday in Canada. In the United States, everyone has hit 17 games, which means another team is banished from the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.
30. Buffalo (82-game point standings points pace: 55 points, last week: 30) 29. Edmonton (Pace: 55 pts, LW: 26) 28. Carolina (Pace: 62 pts, LW: 29)
- 27. Columbus (Pace: 57 pts, LW: 28)
- 26. Colorado (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 27)
- 25. Arizona (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 25)
- 24. Florida (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 24)
One thing that has intrigued me these past couple of weeks has been how teams have been trying to copycat the 2011 Vancouver Canucks. During that season, Alain Vigneault decided to shove the top line of Alex Burrows and Henrik and Daniel Sedin into as many offensive zone starts as possible and then send the likes of Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen into some of the worst deployments in the league to free up not just the top line, but the rest of the forwards on the team. So far, Nashville have been the masters at that this season and have the players to do it.
This is also what head coach Dallas Eakins is trying to do with his Edmonton Oilers by sending Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Jesse Joensuu into the abyss and hoping that will free up the rest of this team. It has worked for the top like of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but it hasn’t worked for everyone else. Specifically, even the analytics state that Nail Yakupov has been a disgrace and Mark Arcobello never has or will be an offensive wizard. Take note that the 2011 Canucks only had one line having abnormally favorable deployments. The Oilers have all of their forwards outside of their fourth getting redonculous zone starts. That just can’t work and someone like a Teddy Purcell or even David Perron has to play more of a checking role. What if someone like Eberle turns out to be more of a Zach Parise, Patrice Bergeron kind of player?
Defensively, they already have used ten defenseman, which is never a good thing since we haven’t even hit Christmas. It also doesn’t help that the Andrew Ference-Jeff Petry combo seems to be the only pairing that has stayed together and worked well and Mark Fayne needs to have another partner that help him suppress shots while facing the team’s toughest opponents. That being said, this team is better. They are about to hit league average in shot possession, generation and suppression, but now their goaltending and special teams aren’t there when it is needed most. Sadly, you can just count on Edmonton not doing anything right and making irrational moves, so they are the next team knocked out of the rankings.
- 23. Philadelphia (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 22)
- 22. New Jersey (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 17)
- 21. Toronto (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 23)
- 20. Calgary (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 20)
- 19. San Jose (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 12)
- 18. Dallas (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. Ottawa (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19)
- 16. Vancouver (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 21)
With such a great start to the season, you would think Vancouver would be higher in the Nerdy 30 rankings. Their defense is solidified now that Jason Garrison is no longer giving up shots for them and Jannik Hansen has been great so far as a filler for the injured Alex Burrows. However, this team hasn’t played a super challenging schedule. So far, Tampa Bay and Washington are the only analytically challenging opponents the Canucks have played from the Eastern Conference and they have already played Edmonton four times (four times!!!!). Even if they beat Chicago recently, I would like to see the rest of their schedule play out until we can claim that the Sedin twins and Co. are back. Their puck possession is still average at best and to see Brad Richardson play third line center on this team gives me the creeps. One thing to also watch is that Dan Hamhuis has not been off to a great start before injuring his right leg in last Thursday’s game against Anaheim. Even if it is more in his nature to be a shot suppressor, he is now generating shots below league average despite having the easiest deployment of his career. Some will argue that Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino have been performing well on the second line while I argue that their on-ice shooting percentages are the highest on the team. Some will say that Ryan Miller has been awful while I argue he should be fine considering how traditionally good the Canucks have been at suppressing shots. I don’t know what to make of them yet, and until proven otherwise with the rest of their season, I would say they are a borderline playoff team.
- 15. Montreal (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 13)
- 14. New York Rangers (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 15)
- 13. Washington (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 8)
- 12. Winnipeg (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 16)
- 11. Boston (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 14)
- 10. Anaheim (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 10)
- 9. Los Angeles (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 11)
The good news is that Winnipeg are turning things around and finally becoming an above league-average shot suppression team. The bad news is that they are in the Central Division and who on Earth knows how they are going to find a way to get above that magical 92-93 point mark (usually the point total needed to make the playoffs) this season. Their PDO is pretty terrible, but that is all down to the worst on-ice shooting percentage in the league. Some will say that the Jets did not do all that much to improve their team last Summer because “Kevin Cheveldayoff” and “among the worst General Managers in the League” always have to go in the same sentence. However, you could argue that getting rid of old guys like Olli Jokinen and stone-handed players like Anthony Peluso and Patrice Cormier and replacing them with Matthieu Perreault and rookie Adam Lowry have really helped their forward depth. Lowry seems like a potential shutdown player once he gets tougher minutes, Dustin Byfuglien is a better defender when he plays as a checking forward instead of an offensive defenseman and Evander Kane is performing his usual self while facing some of the toughest competition of his career with Mark Scheifele. In defense, Mark Stuart is continuing to do Mark Stuart things while playing top pairing minutes because … Cheveldayoff. On the other hand, Zach Bogosian has been off to a great start partnering with Tobias Enstrom and seeing the best zone starts since his rookie season. Their fourth line is still horribly out of sorts and the Bryan Little-Andrew Ladd combination is in deep trouble if it doesn’t score goals like it did two years ago.
- 8. Detroit (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)
- 7. New York Islanders (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 9)
- 6. Minnesota (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 5)
- 5. St. Louis (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 3)
- 4. Tampa Bay (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 4)
- 3. Nashville (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 6)
- 2. Pittsburgh (Pace: 121 pts, LW: 1)
- 1. Chicago (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 2)
As I mentioned in my preseason preview, the Islanders should be a playoff team. What people haven’t noticed is the ridiculous depth they have at both offense and defense are spring-boarding them to be the best team in the Eastern Conference outside of Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. That was confirmed by having their most important week in recent Islanders history by beating the same Pittsburgh (twice) and Tampa Bay teams and collect six points out of six in the standings. The team essentially needed players like Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan to stay healthy for more than 70 games and immediately the blue line would have better, but Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have organized the defensive depth and have suppressed shots at such an elite level that I can play goalie and find a way to save at a league-average rate. Up front, Nikolai Kulemin has always been a great shot generator when he’s on the ice, but like his BFF Mikhail Grabovski, they needed to get the heck out of Toronto and just keep shooting the puck and scoring goals. Now Kulemin is on the top like with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo and Grabovski is on a checking line with Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey. To have additional scorers like Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome on the third line is nothing short of a blessing and is proving to the be the difference of where the Islanders are to some other potential Cup Contenders. With all the pieces in place and healthy, anything short of at least a playoff series win would be a major disappointment for this franchise.