By Adam Davis
Hart – League MVP – This one is a toss up – I’m making it a tie right now between Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Both have been playing incredible hockey both by scoring and with solid plus/minus totals. Kane’s Blackhawks are playing some of the best hockey ever right now, but it’s tough to argue with Crosby’s 40 points.
Art Ross – Highest Point Total – this one is purely a prediction, but I think that Sidney Crosby will continue to remain on top of the league’s point race. The Penguins have a very solid team that has been playing together for quite some time, and when Crosby is on fire there’s really no stopping him.
Adams – Coach of the Year – Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens. This choice is a no brainer considering how Montreal finished dead last in the conference last season and is currently 1 point out of first. Not only that but they’re winning tons of games without any superstars. The Canadiens don’t have a single player in the top 30 in scoring in the NHL (their highest is 40th overall) but are one of the best teams in the league right now. Thanks to solid goaltending, a good work ethic and the ability to win games no matter what is why the Canadiens are rolling. All that should be attributed to Therrien’s coaching.
Norris – Top Defenseman – This one is also a tie for me – between Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Toronto’s Cody Franson. The Norris trophy shouldn’t be about points scored because it’s for defense and should focus on plus/minus much more strongly. That’s why Franson should be recognized. The young Leafs’ player has 16 points and a +11 rating – not the highest in the league but it puts him second among the top-20 defenders in scoring. Letang has helped the Penguins achieve a very solid record and is leading all defenders with 25 points. We’ll see how both these players’ totals vary as the second half of the season plays out.
Vezina – Top Goaltender – Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. Rask has shown spots of brilliance in his short career, but has always been a backup to the solid Tim Thomas in Boston. This year, with Thomas’ retirement (?) Rask was thrust into the starting role and has excelled. Rask has won of his 17 starts, two of which were shutouts, all while maintaining a goals-against-average of under 2.
Calder – Rookie of the Year – Brendan Gallagher, Montral Canadiens. As I said above the Canadiens are playing great hockey without any true star, but Gallagher has emerged as an excellent prospect for Montreal. He is one of two Montreal rookies in the top 10 in scoring, but he was drafted four rounds after his teammate Alex Galchenyuk (and is out-scoring him too). Having a 5th rounder produce 13 points in 20 games and at the same time record a +10 rating, is something that GMs dream of in the NHL. This kid could really be something.
By Adam Davis
1) Not to detract from any of the skilled skaters who are scoring at a torrid pace this year, I believe that the key to success so far in 2013 has been goaltending. The Chicago Blackhawks are making history with their streak of not losing in regulation – thanks largely to the skills of their netminders. Starting goalie Corey Crawford was off to a solid start and when he went down with injury, backup Ray Emery has been stellar winning eight of nine and posting a shutout last night. Over in Boston, youngster Tuukka Rask was promoted once the Bruins’ brass found out their starter Tim Thomas was sitting out the season and the young Finnish goalie is leading the league in wins. Not too shabby.
2) Another huge aspect of teams’ success is secondary scoring. Sure the usual suspects are atop the rankings in the statistics department, but there are a few second tier names scatter there too. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek are tied with 24 points, Nazem Kadri has 21 for Toronto and Teddy Purcell has 19 for Tampa Bay. In such a short season with players prone to injury and a situation where every team needs all the help it can get, these guys stepping up is the difference maker between being in the playoff hunt in a month from now or booking tee times for after the season ends.
3) One idea that the NHL teams could have stumbled upon this year is how coaching changes really can work if done at the right time and for the right person. Look at a few teams who have made changes and are reaping the benefits – Anaheim, who hired the former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is second in the West; Buffalo – fired long-time coach Lindy Ruff and has won two in a row to move out of last place in the East; Toronto – hired former Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle and they are playing playoff-caliber hockey for the first time in a decade. What might not work? Firing your GM – Columbus is still terrible sitting dead last in the Western Conference. They need more than just a personnel change; they need an overhaul.
NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
Rick DiPietro was quoted today as saying the Islanders “ripped my heart out, stabbed it, set it on fire and flushed it down the toilet.”
I’d believe that DiPietro was joking about committing suicide, only because he once kiddingly said that his way of dealing with a loss is going home and beating his wife. True story.
Maybe he’s not suicidal, but there’s no question he’s depressed. Went from hero to zero in the blink of an eye; could’ve been one of the best goalies in the game today and, instead, nosedived spectacularly.
I do feel bad for the guy, he is a human being.
Having said that, his comments about the Islanders are childish and uncalled for. This organization gave him so many opportunities to regain his confidence and to once again be a franchise goaltender.
They gave him more chances than any other team would’ve, even though they knew it was unlikely and have prepared for the post-DiPietro era for about five years now.
He will forever be defined by an offer he couldn’t refuse.
There isn’t a hockey player out there who can live up to a 15-year contract but there isn’t a hockey player out there who wouldn’t take one, either.
I will say this: There wasn’t a guy out there who was happier to be a New York Islander than Rick DiPietro. He poured everything he had into this team and desperately wanted to get back to that All-Star level.
It just wasn’t to be.
Rick DiPietro will move on and so will the Islanders. Sometimes, that’s just the way life goes.
NEW YORK– By Joseph Wasserman
Despite bringing back many familiar faces, plus adding Rick Nash to the mix, New York finds itself at the lower end of the Atlantic Division, only one mere point above the Islanders.
When the Blueshirts led the Eastern Conference standings last season, thanks to the superb play of Henrik Lundqvist, fans were still complaining about the team’s offensive woes, specifically on the power play. The more the offense failed to produce, the more vociferous the trade-for-Rick Nash-advocates became.
Of course the Rangers refrained from trading for the big name and preserved the roster they had. That group took them on a deep playoff run, two wins shy of a Cup appearance.
Now Nash is a Ranger, “The King” is still in net, the same defense is in place, and the Rangers may soon find themselves in last place if they can’t get their act together.
Last year’s Rangers were a tough, hard-nosed team. They certainly were not as talented as other teams, but the willingness to dive in front of pucks, and do the dirty work is what set them above the rest. It was Players such as Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Prust, Artem Anisimov, and Ruslan Fedotenko that contributed to the scrappy effort, which is the crux of John Tortarella hockey.
None of those players are Rangers anymore, and although they aren’t the most talented, and are far from being big-name stars like Rick Nash, it is now apparent that they are sorely missed in “The Big Apple.”
What happened to the grit? If the Rangers plan on making this season as successful as last, it will not happen by pure ability. There have been injuries, but that is no excuse for playing this poorly. As the underachievement continues, it makes one wonder how good the team actually is. As big of a letdown as it is from a year ago, there isn’t much positive to be found beyond last season, only an eighth seed and first round exit in 2010-2011, and no playoff appearance in 2009-2010.
Perhaps the Rangers are not underachieving after all, as everyone seems to feel. It seems more like they overachieved for all of last year. No one expected the first-place finish, and that deep of a playoff run. It was also alarming as the playoff run almost came crashing down in the first-round vs. Ottawa, a sign that New York was not as good as everyone said.
At this point, it isn’t unrealistic for the Rangers to miss the playoffs. They are playing poor hockey, and aren’t that talented. The acquisition of Nash hasn’t helped the offense or the power play whatsoever. So while last year was an exceptional one, not much should be expected of the Rangers this time around.
But then again, maybe, just maybe they can sneak in and Lundqvist can be Lundqvist again, and the team can ride him the way L.A. did Jonathan Quick and catch lightening in a bottle. Just like the Kings of last season. Or is that wishful thinking?
NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
There were a pair of trades yesterday; the first being Michael Ryder from the Dallas Stars to the Montreal Canadiens for Erik Cole.
It was a smart move by Montreal to go out and get Ryder, who was drafted by the Habs in 1998 and recorded 144 points in 233 games there. He’s a lower salary cap-hit than Cole and has been more productive this season. He’s also a better fit for head coach Michel Therrien’s system.
As for why the Stars wanted Cole, they needed a little more size up front and he’ll give them that. They’ll also tout his value as a leader and veteran presence in the locker room, but when you already have Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Brendan Morrow, you’re not exactly lacking in that department.
Yesterday’s other deal involved Simon Gagne being traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Philadelphia Flyers for a conditional fourth-round pick (2013).
I think a return to Philly might just be what Gagne needs. Once a prime-time sniper, he’s been reduced to a “depth” player who adds “some” supplementary scoring. Gagne is 32-years-old and therefore, technically, still in his prime. He has the tools, just needs the right situation. I think it’ll work out for him.
No doubt, the injury-ravaged Flyers are desperate for some help and are banking on Gagne to be part of the solution. Meanwhile, the Kings unload his $3.5 million contract, which expires after this season. They’ll be fine without him; there’s more than enough depth and talent to offset his departure.
Gagne has five points (all assists) in 11 games this season.