Apr 042012
 

With 98% of the NHL season behind us, it’s time to fill in an imaginary awards ballot.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to consider two more dead teams:

Calgary Flames

What went wrong: No team had an easier stretch drive schedule among teams fighting for the last Western Conference playoff spots than the Flames did. They failed to reach the post season because they couldn’t score. The Flames as a team are currently 25th in shots on goal per game. They’re 3-9 in shootouts, rivalling Montreal (5-11) and Carolina (0-6) for the league’s worst record in the skills competition. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross will finish the year as the team’s lone 20-goal scorers. None of them are consistent (Iginla’s slow starts have become legendary). Calgary sits last in the league in faceoff performance.

What went right: Mikka Kiprusoff carried the team all season with stellar play between the pipes. When finally healthy for the second-half Mark Giordano played well. He has 16 points after the All-Star break and has helped Calgary reach 11th in the NHL on the powerplay. Mike Cammalleri has struggled to stay healthy with the Flames but when dressed has scored at a 30-goal pace.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s been said in this space more than once, but this aging Calgary team desperately needs a rebuild. After three years of missing the playoffs there’s clearly not enough talent in the lineup to reach the post-season. There isn’t enough organizational depth right now either to create hope for better days in the future. This may the last chance Calgary gets to shop Jarome Iginla before seeing his value depreciate completely on the marketplace.

Winnipeg Jets

What went wrong: There was lots of talk pre-season about what the travel schedule would do to not only the Jets, but other teams in the Southeast Division. Clearly it was a factor for the Manitoba team, as Winnipeg has put together a terrible road record (13-21-5). The penalty kill is below 80%, which hurts a team that’s short-handed a lot (25th worst). As well as Ondrej Pavelec has been at times this season, he tired down the stretch (3.13 goals against in March) and currently ranks 57th in the league in save percentage (.906). Alex Burmistrov was improved this season, but his offensive progression has been slow (just 28 points in year two). Eric Fehr (3 points, 35 games) was a bust, while Tanner Glass (-12) was asked to do too much.

What went right: Blake Wheeler (61 points) and Evander Kane (29 goals) have taken steps forward as top-six, even top-line players. Dustin Byfuglien has had a strong second-half. Off the scrap-heap, Kyle Wellwood has been an effective offensive player (47 points despite just 14:57 per game in ice-time). The MTS Centre has proven to be one of the few home-ice advantages left in the NHL.

Off-Season Gameplan: Continue to build around a very solid core. Veteran depth, particularly the type that could improve the defensive side of Winnipeg’s game, would be helpful. Mark Scheifele will get the Burmistrov treatment next year. If Scheifele’s ready, he could supply enough offense to bring the playoffs back to Manitoba.

***

Now with that little bit of ugly business out of the way, let’s take a quick look at who deserves award recognition for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Hart Trophy – Evgeni Malkin

Runners-up: Jason Spezza; Henrik Lundqvist

Malkin has been arguably the league’s best player this year. Lundqvist is probably the most valuable, but goalies rarely win this award. A Hart nomination is the feather-in-the-cap to a marvellous season from Jason Spezza.

Norris Trophy – Zdeno Chara

Runners-up: Alex Pieterangelo; Erik Karlsson

Chara wins because he’s put forth his strongest offensive season while retaining defensive dominance (+33 leads all d-men). Karlsson’s had a magical season but his defensive play remains average. Under Ken Hitchcock, Alex Pieterangelo has arrived, breaking the 50-point barrier but more importantly playing extremely well defensively night in, night out.

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist

Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Mike Smith

The Rangers success gives Lundqvist the nod over Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings team have been in a playoff dogfight all season. Mike Smith’s career rejuvenation in Phoenix gives him a slight edge over the two St. Louis Blues goalies (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) who’ve split too much playing time to be considered.

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron

Runners-up: David Backes; Anze Kopitar

Bergeron wins almost 60% of his draws and is one of the league’s premiere penalty killers. Backes has flourished under Ken Hitchcock, leading Blues forwards in goals, points, hits and blocked shots. Kopitar deserves greater recognition, is leading the Kings in points once again but, more importantly to this category, has been Los Angeles best defensive player as well.

Calder Trophy – Gabriel Landeskog

Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Matt Read

Not only is Landeskog tied for the rookie points lead, but he’s an incredible +23 and has played in all situations for the Avs down the stretch. He’s a future captain. Nugent-Hopkins is the most offensively-gifted rookie, but injuries have prevented him from running away with the freshman scoring crown. Matt Read leads all rookies in goals and has become an important player in the Flyers lineup.

Adams Trophy – Ken Hitchcock

Runners-up: Paul Maclean; John Tortorella

Hitchcock’s turned a middle-of-the-pack team into arguably the best team in the Western Conference. Paul Maclean has done wonders in Ottawa, taking a Sens team destined for a lottery pick into the playoffs. Tortorella’s nomination is a reward for guiding a team that’s out-performed its roster’s talent level all season.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Another take on possible NHL awards, this one from ESPN.
  • Let’s just get this out of the way: Mike Milbury was a joke as a general manager and he’s a joke as a commentator. His take on league affairs is almost always neanderthal and ultra-traditionalist. Attacking Sidney Crosby gets your name in the paper though.
  • This definitely should be on any list of craziest goals of the year. It also epitomizes the difference in heart between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • At this point, wouldn’t it be for the best for everyone if the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and re-built their approach around Ovechkin’s offense than see the gutsy Sabres (one of the best teams in the NHL since the All-Star Game) come up short?
  • Quietly, Willie Mitchell’s having one of the best defensive defenseman seasons in the NHL this year. Granted, the ultra-conservative Kings gameplay helps in that regard.
  • Still without a contract, you have to expect the Edmonton Oilers are ready to walk away from Tom Renney. The talk is Todd Nelson, coach of Edmonton’s AHL farm team, will get a long look. Hard to believe he’s the guy who can take this young team to the next level.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators are 4-3 in Alex Radulov’s seven games. The big Russian has 3 goals, 6 points in that span and has fit extremely well into the lineup.
  • For all of those people ready to anoint the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Penguins are actually 25th in the NHL in team save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, will have the biggest say in how far the Penguins go in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of which, the Chicago Blackhawks, for what it’s worth, are 27th in the NHL in team save percentage. Numbers-wise, Chicago’s entering the post-season with the worst goaltending amongst remaining teams.
  • Some other interesting Pre/Post-All-Star Game numbers: Winnipeg was 22nd in league scoring during the first half; 3rd so far in the second half. Buffalo was 25th in the first-half; 5th in the second half. Going the other way, Vancouver was 3rd in the first half scoring-wise; 15th in the second half. Washington was 9th in the first half; 26th in the second half.
  • Defensively, the Bruins have gone from 4th in the first half to 22nd in the second half. Minnesota from 8th in the first half to 25th and Pittsburgh from 10th to 23rd. Improving their defensive play in the second half were teams like Buffalo (26th to 7th), Anaheim (23rd to 8th), Colorado (21st to 5th) and Ottawa (27th to 13th).
Mar 152012
 

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

I’m back from a week in Ottawa; a week that saw the Canucks lose games to Dallas and Montreal but win against Winnipeg.   It was tough to stomach two out of three losses, especially when staying up until 12:30am or so just to finish the games.  Unfortunately, me being back in Vancouver didn’t change anything as the Canucks continued their slumping ways with a 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes…and there were a couple of Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  Outfought and Out-willed. Shane Doan’s goal with just under four minutes left in the first period concerned me.  I tweeted at the time “That 2nd goal was disturbing to me: it wasn’t so much about patience as it was Doan out-willing and outfighting the #Canucks to score.”  The scoring chance started as the Sedins and Zack Kassian (who was hit by an undetected high stick) were caught behind the Coyotes net leaving Phoenix to break out three-on-one.  Antoine Vermette passed the puck to Doan who proceeded to cut across the slot past a sliding Kevin Bieksa.  Doan then deked out Roberto Luongo but couldn’t shoot it because Vermette was blocking his shot path.  So Doan charged towards the side of the net and tried to jam in it while Bieksa, Henrik and Luongo tried to stop him.  As this was going on, Hamhuis tried to join the fray but was accidently clipped with a high stick courtesy of Vermette.  After almost a full four seconds of chaos, Doan was able to muscle it in.

This play concerned me because it was indicative of the Canucks’ half-hearted play of late.  Much like the Canucks are cruising towards a second-place finish (the Blues are six points ahead and Dallas is nine points behind), they certainly “cruised” toward the end of that play and didn’t show enough will, determination or strength to keep the puck out of their net.  Granted, it was only one goal, but it was one that shouldn’t have gone in.  Let’s hope the Canucks regain some of their will and determination before the playoffs begin; they have exactly a month to figure it out.

2.  Mayday for MayRay. There are enough jokes going around regarding Mason Raymond’s inability to stay on his skates during a game.  I think an even more disturbing trend is how many times I hear John Shorthouse say something like “Raymond is checked off the puck” or “Raymond turns the puck over”.  Raymond simply isn’t effective right now as he’s pointless in his last seven games and has just three points in his last 22 games.  Whether it’s giving the puck away or having the puck stolen, Raymond won’t get any points without the puck.  He seems mismatched with the Sedins who are puck-possession type players.  Case in point: Raymond did not factor in either of the goals that the Sedins got points on (one was a powerplay goal).

3.  Jason Spezza owes me a burger. As mentioned up above, I was in Ottawa last week.  While there I was able to watch the Ottawa Senators defeat the New York Rangers 4-1.  I detailed my experience in my blog here, including the male helmet-wearing ice cleaners and one of the most confusing mascots I’ve ever seen.  Most importantly, I detailed just how Jason Spezza deprived me and 18,000 fans out of a hamburger.

With just a few minutes left to play, the PA announcer told us that if the Senators scored in the final minute of regulation, then every one of the 18,854 people in attendance would receive a free Wendy’s Baconator.  With the score at 3-1 for Ottawa at the time of the announcements, we began licking our chops literally and figuratively.

Then, it happened.  On an icing call against the Senators, Rangers coach John Tortorella pulled goalie Martin Biron out of the net with a full 2:37 left on the clock.  Our anticipation turned into fear as we realized that our only hope of winning the burger would be if New York scored to pull within one or if Ottawa somehow missed the empty net for a minute and a half.

Alas, our fears were confirmed with Jason Spezza put the puck in the empty net with 1:27 remaining making the score 4-1 Senators.  Biron came out to finish off the game and the rest was history, despite our desperate chants of “Burger! Burger!”

We were only 27 seconds away from a free burger.  At an annual salary of $8,000,000, Jason Spezza can have a Baconator whenever he pleases.  In fact, he could have bought everyone in the arena the burger and it would have cost him only 0.943% of his annual salary.  That’s right: not even 1%!  But no.  He chose to do the selfish thing and score too early, depriving his faithful fans of a delicious and unexpected meal.

Thanks again for reading.  I’ll be away on vacation for next week, so my next Things That Make You Go Hmmm column will be on March 29.  The Canucks play seven times during the next two weeks so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about.  In the meantime… I’m going to Disneyland!

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