It’s Christmas time in the NHL. All the data for this season is starting to mellow out and players, coaches, training and equipment staff, figureheads, media members and fanboys like me get to take a temporary break from professional hockey for the rest of the week. But before you know it, the World Junior Championships will be upon us and the Winter Classic will be played, over-hyped and over-scrutinized in the next week. Either way, it is a time of year to start reflecting on what happened in the past. One thing that is for sure is that
Phoenix Arizona is a mess and they are the next team eliminated on the latest edition of the Nerdy 30. 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 68 points, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton (Pace: 49 pts, LW: 29)
28. Arizona (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 26)
27. Columbus (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 28)
26. Carolina (Pace: 58 pts, LW: 27)
- 25. New Jersey (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 24)
- 24. Colorado (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 25)
Since November 22nd, Arizona has gone 4-9-3. That might not be so bad for one of the worst teams in the league, but consider that three of those wins are against Edmonton. That’s right, that gives us a 1-9-3 record for a solid month’s worth of hockey against teams not named the Oilers! Great work guys.
It all starts at goal for the ‘yotes as Mike Smith is certainly among the worst starters in the league. Since that November 22nd stretch, Smith and ex-Oiler Devan Dubnyk have been sharing the starting duties and Dubnyk has played much better in every facet. It was just three years ago that Smith was arguably the best goaltender in the league. That year, the then 29-year old was saving a league-leading 93.6% of his even strength shots and was averaging a whopping .257 point shares per 60 minutes. He also would finish fourth among starters (goalies with 41 or more games played) with a 62.7% quality start percentage. Since then, that save percentage has dwindled to a league-worst 88.9% at even strength and is only on year two of a six-year, $34 million contract.
For skaters, Keith Yandle is leading the team in scoring while always being given sheltered minutes. Zbynek Michalek and Antoine Vermette are looking like enticing trade candidates considering their age and their roles on the team. However, Michalek is the teams best shot suppressor and is such a valuable partner to Oliver Ekman-Larsson than anyone else on the team that it might make the Coyotes worse in the long run too. Either way, GM Don Maloney has to get the Michalek situation right or it may cost his job. Or it may not be because the ownership situation in Glendale is in dire straits all over again. It’s up their with how many times the sun rises and sun sets for how many times this issue keeps popping up, but hey we have a commissioner that can solve this pretty easily, right? Okay, maybe not.
Other things to make you cringe are the fact that Arizona’s top line doesn’t shoot, let alone score and that Joe Vitale keeps being his usual, terrible, Joe Vitale self. Take note: DON’T EVER SIGN PITTSBURGH PENGUINS FOURTH LINE FORWARDS TO MULTI-YEAR DEALS, EVER!!!
- 23. Florida (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 23)
- 22. Dallas (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 21)
- 21. Calgary (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20)
- 20. Ottawa (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 19)
- 19. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 22)
- 18. Toronto (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 14)
- 17. Vancouver (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 18)
After a very poor start to the season, the Flyers are starting to get back on track with a 6-1-2 record since December 6th. During that stretch, they have beaten three potential playoff teams in Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Toronto while their only regulation loss was to Tampa Bay. Their puck possession has gotten better but not to a level that it can be considered elite again just yet. If anything, Philadelphia’s season, let alone their turnaround has been guided by the top line of Michael Raffl, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. With Voracek being the leading scorer in the NHL, the only thing I have to say to his newest fans is “where have you been the last two and a half years”? That being said, the rest of the forward lines are in shambles. Once again, nothing is going right on the fourth line with Vincent Lecavlier not even close to being an offensive playmaker anymore. Is their any way General Manager Ron Hextall can “legally” remove his contract from the salary cap just like Chris Pronger? Also, while the trade made sense financially, getting R.J. Umberger for Scott Hartnell could be up their among the worst transactions Philadelphia has pulled off in the last five years. While Umberger has sucked the life out of the fun Sean Couturier-Matt Read combination and forced an inexperienced Scott Laughton to struggle at second line center, Scott Hartnell (granted; by default) could be one of Columbus’ best forwards.
As what should be expected for a lack of individual talent on the backend, everything is jumbled up, but now the results might be coming up positive. Andrew MacDonald is finally sheltered when paired with Luke Schenn while Brayden Coburn and Nick Schultz are becoming a solid shut down pairing. However, that puts the immensely overpaid Nicklas Grossman on the top pair, but at least that could give the Edmonton Oilers incentive to trade for him, right?
- 16. Montreal (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 17)
- 15. Anaheim (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 13)
- 14. Boston (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 16)
- 13. Washington (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 15)
- 12. San Jose (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 11)
- 11. Minnesota (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 7)
- 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 10)
- 9. Winnipeg (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 12)
I know I have been writing about them immensely and you could argue that I have grossly overrated the Wild all season, but I trust what puck possession and goal differential tell me and they have played like one of the ten best teams in hockey all season in that regard. That is until this week, and that officially puts Minnesota in crisis mode. It has already been discussed at length that their collection of goaltending is, by far, the worst out of any of the playoff contending teams in the league, but now head coach Mike Yeo is trying to come up with gimmick systems to get out of their losing streak (46.4% score adjusted puck possession since December 6th) instead of trusting their original system (54.5% score adjusted puck possession beforehand). Via the eye test, it seems like a trend NHL coaches do all the time. Take it from me who’s witnessed Barry Trotz doing the same thing since last November and Bruce Boudreau installing the trap in December 2010 that would eventually cost his job a full year later. That’s not good for a hockey team that has seen Yeo under fire multiple times throughout his tenure. Yes, Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu have been a disaster playing together all season, but the first and third lines have been excellent. Also, fourth liners Ryan Carter and Justin Fontaine have been excellent shot suppressors given how much time they have spent on the defensive zone.
A 2-4-2 stretch may not look like bad news, but this is the Central Division the Wild are in. Along with Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis, Winnipeg is for real and looks like they could stay there for the long haul once Nic Petan, Nicholaj Ehlers and Josh Morrisey get called up. Plus, Colorado and Dallas are a brand new bottom six forward group and two or three defensemen away from being a consistent playoff team again. General Manager Chuck Fletcher got himself in this mess when he constantly paid boat loads for veterans to become the cornerstones of the franchise, but not being active when, at minimum, warm bodies were out there in the goaltending market while finally having comfortable cap space is inexcusable at best. Personally, I would stop at nothing to make sure either Michal Neuvirth, Eddie Lack or Jonas Enroth becomes my starting goaltender the first minute after the roster freeze is over. If the Wild don’t become the most active team at the trade deadline, heads will be rolling and I don’t know if that is good for Minnesota either.
- 8. New York Rangers (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 9)
- 7. St. Louis (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 4)
- 6. Detroit (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 8)
- 5. New York Islanders (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 6)
- 4. Tampa Bay (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 5)
- 3. Pittsburgh (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. Nashville (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Chicago (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 1)
Even after stating how well Peter Laviolette has done at implementing the 2011 Vancouver Canucks game plan better than any coach in the league this year, I had to give pause as to whether or not the Nashville Predators were for real. Fast forward eight weeks into a time where the Nerdy 30 seems to have stable correlation between goal differental, puck possession and winning and you now have Laviolette’s men proving that they are now a Cup contender. Now they do have a ridiculously unstable PDO, but that is more to do with the great goaltending of Pekka Rinne than anything else. He basically has to suffer a season ending injury or have one of the Monstars steal his powers for him not to win the Vezina trophy this year now. Also, Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm have really blossomed together to possibly become the best shutdown blue line pairing in the NHL.
Things to watch out for the Preds up front are recent injuries to Paul Gaustad and Anton Volchenkov (again) and Viktor Stalberg trying to come back from a knee injury he suffered in November. Also, the top line of James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and
my worst nightmare Filip Forsberg each have an unstable on-ice shooting percentage over 11%. However, Craig Smith is officially in the discussion as one of the better second line forwards in the league and with Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen coming back into the lineup, the forward lines are as deep as any in the Western Conference and are producing as well as it has ever been in franchise history.