Welcome to the first week of the NHL season for 2018. The New Year was introduced with joyous hockey being played at Citi Field for the NHL Winter Classic and even if enough people think the gimmick is getting stale, I still find a way to enjoy it. My issue with outdoor hockey games is more to do with the fact that such events are spread out way too much over the entirety of an NHL season. Within a handful of months, we’ll have more outdoor games. In March. When the weather across North America should be warmer. Why?
Personally, I’ve gotten a kick out of the NFL owning Thanksgiving and the NBA owning Christmas. Why can’t the NHL do the same during New Year’s day? Yes, you do have the second most important college football day of the year with the Rose Bowl and other bowl games on the schedule, but that’s not until the evening. Why don’t you have the Northern cities wake the whole continent up by hosting a hockey game at an outdoor area near you? Want to get the south involved because that’s how Gary Bettman works? Why not have that be the evening game? Worried that it interferes with the College Football Playoff? Why not play it on New Year’s eve and own two days of the sporting calendar? Or, you’re the NHL, why are you JUST starting to care about other sports competing with you?
My point is the NHL can do such a better job marketing their outdoor games and still make it appealing to fans of all interest levels. Logistics will certainly be a factor and that is understood. I’m just here performing an exercise that proves that the league, as usual, can do such a better job with what they have to offer.
In the meantime, another team now needs to be knocked out of these power rankings! Sadly, it can’t be another Atlantic division team as we already matched their quota. Fortunately, it was not hard to figure out who’s next on the chopping block as the Vancouver Canucks are next to be eliminated from the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.
31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 49 points, Last Week: 31)
30. Buffalo (Pace: 58 pts, LW: 30)
29. Ottawa (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 29)
28. Vancouver (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 24)
27. Florida (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 27) 26. Detroit (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 28) 25. Montreal (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 26)
- 24. Anaheim (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 25)
Just when you thought things might get rosy, the bottom has fallen out from beneath them. Since Bo Horvat has been placed on injured reserve due to a fractured ankle, the Canucks have gone 2-9-1 with four of those defeats by four goals or more margins. We all knew Vancouver was going to struggle to score goals. It has been their M.O. since the 2012-13 season. 2014-15 was the last time they were in the top ten on offense, but that was all due to their ability to destroy the opposition on special teams. This time, however, their defense is crumbling and it is difficult for them to find any solutions.
Before Horvat’s injury, Vancouver was able to give up two goals or less in 14 of their first 28 games. Since then, they have only been able to do that twice. Horvat is never going to be known as a two-way forward unless something dramatically changes to his game. But his presence in the lineup means that Sam Gagner, an even worse option as a two-way force, has to be moved up in the lineup. It means that Michael Chaput, owner of a career 43.5% puck possession, has to play meaningful NHL regular season games. And Horvat hasn’t been the only injury casualty.
Sven Baertschi has also been out since December 10th due to a fractured jaw. Beyond that, the rest of those that have been hurt shouldn’t be such a hindrance to Vancouver’s performances if they were genuinely shooting for a shot at a Championship. Instead, Vancouver has played worse because of said injuries because their depth continues to be that bad. Centerman Elias Petterson and defenseman Olli Juolevi will be brilliant for the Canucks once they join the team next season, but they will need a whole lot more than them to make this team competitive again.
For the second straight season, Vancouver can claim that every roster spot can be up for grabs within the next couple of years. Beyond Horvat, Brock Boeser if he can ever improve his two-way play and the Sedin Twins, there really isn’t anyone you can completely count on for the long term. Again, this is not new news. We’ve known that this was going to be a drawn-out rebuild. The real question was if there were ever going to be signs that it was starting to come to an end. Sadly, the answer is now a definite no.
- 23. Washington (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 23)
- 22. New York Islanders (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 16)
- 21. Pittsburgh (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 21)
- 20. Edmonton (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 18)
- 19. Colorado (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 22)
- 18. Chicago (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 20)
- 17. Nashville (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 13)
Meanwhile, after so many years of incompetence, Colorado might finally be turning a corner towards some form of relevance. That doesn’t mean that I think they’ll be good enough anytime soon to be a consistent playoff performer. The Avalanche have the 6th worst shot prevention defense in the NHL and almost all of their 9-3-1 stretch since December 9th has been due to their 104.5 PDO. What’s made Colorado different and more sustainable, however, has been their lethal attack.
This season, despite being sixth in the NHL in goals scored, Colorado’s 55.6 shot attempts per hour has only been good for 21st in the league. During their hot streak, that number has increased dramatically to the tune of 59.5 shot attempts per hour: good enough for ninth best in the NHL. So what’s made them so good over in that department?
The lazy way to look at it is that the stars have been the stars. Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie are finally putting up elite goal-scoring numbers while also generating over 50% puck possession. Again, that is the minimum of what the best players on any team should do every season. What also has changed is a few of the depth pieces at forward that have been solid upgrades.
Colin Wilson has been a great glue piece when it comes to propping up fellow linemates’ puck possession numbers. Tyson Jost has had his ups and downs, but at 19 and seeing good shot attempt numbers the last four games, he is another Avalanche player for the future. Sven Andrighetto continues where he left off from last season with his puck possession numbers with an underrated scoring touch to him. Lastly, Nikita Zadorov has stepped up his game to the point where he has a genuine shot of being an elite defenseman in the NHL. It’s as if Buffalo traded away the wrong defenseman in the Ryan O’Reilly trade.
That being said, Colorado is still a 48% puck possession team. Along with that, Andrighetto, Barrie, J.T. Compher and Semyon Varlamov are all out for an extended period of time due to injury. All of this good fortune could come to an end sooner rather than later. But for now, let’s enjoy Colorado being good for just a short bit. There’s actually a foundation in place and any free agent should see the team now as a place they would like to go to win a championship in the long run.
- 16. Columbus (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 11)
- 15. Philadelphia (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 19)
- 14. New Jersey (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 8)
- 13. Calgary (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 15)
- 12. Minnesota (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 17)
- 11. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 10)
- 10. Carolina (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 14)
- 9. San Jose (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 6)
Just when you thought Columbus will build off of everything from last season, Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Alexander Wennberg have been placed on injured reserve and probably won’t be back until after the All-Star break. Whether much of that has been due to the run of bad luck in the performance or injury front, the Blue Jackets have now gone only 7-9-1 since the beginning of December.
It’s not like Atkinson has been off to a good start since breaking a bone in his foot. The 28-year old has only racked up 13 points in 32 games and since he’s not known for being an elite driver of puck possession, this is the one skill he can not afford to falter on. With the trio of forwards out, Columbus has been able to quasi-weather the storm with their talented young prospects.
Former first round pick Pierre-Luc Dubois has been brilliant analytically and Oliver Bjorkstrand has continued to develop into the star top-six forward the Blue Jackets have been wanting. Josh Anderson has also moved up the lineup and has performed brilliantly in his own right. However, one has to wonder if this is a lot to do with playing with Dubois and leading scorer Artemi Panarin and nothing else. Along with that, it’s not like Dubois and Sonny Milano is putting up video game numbers that are compensating for the losses of Wennberg and Atkinson. To top it all off, Nick “Thoren Oakenshield” Foligno just isn’t producing the exact same way he has done in previous seasons.
Make no mistake. When everyone is healthy and on the same page, Columbus will be fine to the point where they are my pick to make it to the Eastern Conference finals out of the Metropolitan division. Foligno is the only Blue Jackets player that is in the top-ten in scoring and not 26-years old or younger. In fact, take away Panarin and you got eight of the top-ten being 23 or younger. To top it all off, Sergei Bobrovsky is not so far off of his career averages when it comes to save and quality start percentages. There’s a massive collection of talent that has come from years of drafting well. The one thing preventing them from being great is John Tortorella’s John Tortorellatude. So far, it hasn’t crept its ugly head that has always lead to his destructive demise…yet.
- 8. New York Rangers (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 7)
- 7. Toronto (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 3)
- 6. St. Louis (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 5)
- 5. Winnipeg (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 9)
- 4. Dallas (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 12)
- 3. Boston (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 4)
- 2. Vegas (Pace: 119 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 125 pts, LW: 1)
By being the first team in the NHL to go over 60 points in the standings, Tampa Bay looks like a team that has no weaknesses. They are outscoring teams 147-95. The only injury they have to worry about is backup goaltender Peter Budaj’s. Only the always unlucky Carolina Hurricanes generate better puck possession than Tampa’s 53.9%. Tampa’s offense is so good that Alex Killorn is the 10th leading scorer on the team and he has 22 points in 40 games. What is not to love about Tampa Bay’s chances about their chance of claiming a second Stanley Cup? Welp, just asks a Washington Capitals fan, like, oh…I don’t know…me?
For starts, let’s talk about that NHL-leading 102.9 PDO, huh? It’s one thing to have great goaltending and Andrei Vasilevskiy has been everything and more to the Lightning since being the full-fledged starter after Ben Bishop left for Dallas. His relative goals against percentage of less than 100 three of the last four years suggest that him being a great goaltender is not a fluke, even if he is still 23 years old.
But let’s take a look at that 72.7% quality start percentage. Since the stat was implemented in the 2007-08 season, only four players have been able to have 70% of their starts be marked of quality distinction for an entire season while playing 41 games or more. Tim Thomas has performed such a feat twice, including his Stanley Cup-winning 2010-11 season.
Now let’s get to a stat called adjusted goals allowed: a stat that measures how many goals a goaltender is allowing relative to the rest of the league. The object is to get that number as far below the league average number of 100 to be considered among the best goaltenders. At 71, Vasilevskiy is pretty good, I guess. In fact, he is so good that if he were to play over 41 games and continue the same level of play, he would tie Thomas’ 2010-11 season as the fourth greatest season since the stat was kept track during the 1984-85 season.
There have been 37 seasons where a netminder has kept an adjusted goals against percentage of 80 or better. Dominik Hasek achieved this feat seven times because, yes my friends, he’s that great! Patrick Roy did it four times. Marty Brodeur did it once because he was only that good. With a larger sample size from this 33-year old statistic, we could draw conclusions as to how every goalie’s team performs in the playoffs while said goalie surpasses this mark. Of those 37 seasons, only 11 of them have had their teams make it past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with five of them not even making it to the dance at all (John Vanbiesbrouck’s 1993-94 season being the most egregious of them all)!
On that note, the playoff picture looks like Tampa will have to overcome either Boston or Toronto in the second round after surpassing a plethora of choices in the Metropolitan Division in the first round. New Jersey does have the athletes to go toe-to-toe with Tampa, but I just don’t see them being all that well rounded if the Devils fall to the second wild-card spot. Columbus could suffer from too many injuries, another Sergei Bobrovsky burnout and John Tortorellatude. The Rangers may not have much left in the tank if Chris Kreider is not going to be around at his optimum best or if Lundqvist turns out to be too old. Maybe Carolina if things finally break right for them after all these years, but who on Earth is going to be their starting goaltender. The Islanders might as well just LOL themselves out of the playoff picture, and I’m sure my Caps will just LOL themselves out of a Stanley Cup window somehow. That leaves us with OH….MY…..
…..I really hate life.
So there you have it. Stop paying attention to the Lightning because they’ll be cursed with the Presidents’ trophy and a goaltender that decided to be way too good way too early. Just call it a bad case of the Holtby’s and be done with them. All regular season hockey is meaningless because the world can’t afford to have nice things. Ever. But that’s not enough reason to have math and science determine that Tampa is the best team in the NHL. Somehow.