Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NHL Notes

A few of the stats that jump out as we reach the quarter pole of the NHL season.

  • With 20 assists in 23 games, Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson is currently on pace for 71 assists. Only nine other defenders have collected that many helpers in an NHL season. Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey 6 times each. Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch 3 times each. Denis Potvin, Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, Sergei Zubov and Phil Housley once each. Leetch was the last to do it in 1995/96.

  • New Washington Capital coach Dale Hunter is also the franchise's all-time leader with 72 Playoff points. Perhas surprisingly Mike Ridley sits second with 60 ahead of Peter Bondra's 56 points. Alex Ovechkin sits 7th with 50 points in 37 career playoff games. Not surprising is the fact that Hunter also leads the Caps in career playoff PIM's with 372 in 100 games.

  • After four games this season, Sidney Crosby was only only 3 points behind Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla who have each played over 20 games.

  • Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have the same amount of points in November.

  • St.Louis goalie Brian Elliott has a 10-1 record, 1.31 GAA and .951 Save Pct....nothing more to say about that one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ryan Hugent-Hopkins, The Real Deal

As of November 27, 2001, rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tied for 10th in NHL scoring as an 18 year-old. Is this a rarity? Umm...yes, the only other teenage rookies to finish in the NHL top ten scoring was Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby (yes, I consider Gretzky's 79/80 NHL season as a rookie year). Two guys did it. Not Mario Lemieux, not Dale Hawerchuk, not Bryan Trottier. Gretzky of course tied Marcel Dionne for first in scoring as an 18 year old and Crosby was 6th in his 18 year old rookie year.

In his rookie year of 84/85, Lemieux (at 19 years old) amassed 100 points good for 16th place in the high-flying 1980's. Similarly, in Hawerchuk's rookie year of 81/82 his 103 points was good for "only" 12th spot in scoring. Not bad for an 18 year old. In 1975/76, 19 year old Bryan Trottier scored 95 points and finished 12th as well.

Other teenage rookies who've placed fairly well in the scoring race were:

Gaye Stewart, 1942/43, 19 years old, 47 pts finished in 16th place.
Ted Kennedy, 1943/44, 18 years old, 49 pts finished 21st place.
Henri Richard, 1955/56, 19 years old, 40 pts finished 21st place.
Bobby Hull, 1957/58, 19 years old, 47 pts finished 19th place.
Bobby Orr, 1966/67, 18 years old, 41 pts finished 28th place but 3rd among D-men.
Jimmy Carson, 198/87, 18 years old, 79 pts finished 26th place.

And just last season, 18 year old Jeff Skinner notched 63 points to finish 38th overall. If Nugent-Hopkins continues as he's going he is bound to better Skinner's season and will likely nab the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Maple Leafs Dress 11 Skaters, Tie the Habs

"Toronto Maple Leafs will be shorthanded for their game here at the Forum tonight against the Canadiens, bringing only 11 players instead of the customary 14. 'If Tommy Gorman has any players available around Montreal for use tomorrow night on a lend-lease basis we'll take 'em', Frank Selke was quoted."

Dec 14, 1944 was the night and the Leafs would play with less skaters than my beer-league team usually does. Sure times were different back in the wartime era NHL as teams usually only dressed 14 skaters, far less than today...but 11 skaters, that's a tough one.

Leaf coach Hap Day would have two forward lines to work with, one of Ted Kennedy, Bob Davidson and Tom O'Neill and the other of Mel Hill, Nick Metz and Lorne Carr. Absent for the Montreal game were 19 year-old scoring star Gus Bodnar who was ill, Sweeney Schriner who was out with long-term injury, and Wally Stanowski who was in the process of returning from military duty. Youngsters, Ross Johnstone and Bill McCreedy were unavailable as they only played home games due to schooling commitments. I wonder if 43 year-old Hap Day had thoughts of suiting up, having last played a game over 6 years previous.

The following day the Canadian Press headline proclaimed, "Leafs surprise! Canadiens held to 2-2 draw". The Leafs were described as "playing for the breaks throughout, apparently well content with the tie they gained. They checked persistently at every turn, and rarely did the Canucks get a chance to really hit their top pace." I find it interesting that the CP writer refers to the Canadiens as 'the Canucks'. Obviously merely an anglacized version of 'les Canadiens' but something I don't believe I have seen before.

Toronto scored first on a goal from Mel Hill, before Maurice Richard tied it four minutes later. Elmer Lach and Bob Davidson traded goals in the second and their was no scoring in the third, "thanks largely to some great goal-tending in the clutches by Frankie McCool."

The tie left Toronto in second place, three points behind Montreal and one up on Detroit. Leafs would finish 1944/45 with a 24-22-4 record in third place, 15 points back of Detroit and 28 behind Montreal. However, they upset the Habs 4 games to 2 in the Semis before besting Detroit in 7 for the Cup.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Goalies

Vancouver Canuck goalie Cory Schneider has had some tough luck so far this season. Despite a 2.24 GAA and a Save Pct of .920 he only has a won/loss record of 4-4. The main reason for this is the almost criminal lack of support by his offense. In games started by Schneider the Canucks have scored an average of only 1.63 goals per game. Two of his losses have been by shutout.

On the other end of the spectrum is Maple Leafs tender, Jonas Gustavsson. In games which he was the goalie of record he has a GAA of 3.14 and Save Pct. of .896. His record by the way is 6 wins, 4 losses. The Leafs have scored an average of 4.11 goals per game in his starts. This is almost two and a half times the support that the Canucks have given Schneider.

The contrast in the support of each goalie's teammate is also amazing. Roberto Luongo has a GAA almost a full goal higher than Schneider yet his record is 7-5-1 because Vancouver scores 3.96 goals per game for him. On the other hand, Toronto's Ben Scrivens receives a full 2 goals per game less in support than Gustavsson and his record of 2-4-1 reflects that.

It really is impressive that Schneider has even a .500 record. He certainly has earned a larger share of the work load than many thought he'd receive. If his teammates would only help, his win total would be significantly better.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Phil Kessel, meet Frank Mahovlich

Feb. 16, 1961-The Canadian Press
"The league's two top scorers - Frank Mahovlich of the Leafs and Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffirion of the Canadiens - failed to get any points. Mahovlich, leading the race with 69 points, was well shadowed by Dickie Moore and had only a couple of good scoring chances. Geoffrion, who has 68 points, was in close several times but couldn't get a clear shot on goal."

This day would be the last time for over 50 years that a Toronto Maple Leaf led the NHL in scoring more than 20 games into a season, until today.

After 20 games of the current campaign, Leaf Phil Kessel has 27 points, one more than Flyer Claude Giroux. Granted, it's only a quarter of the way through the season, but that is as late as a Leaf has led the league in half a century.

On that same day in 1961, Feb 16, Bernie Geoffrion would explode for 5 points in a 9-1 win over Boston. The Big 'M' responded with 4 points in two games that weekend but 'Boom-Boom' kept him at bay with 3 more of his own.

Mahovlich would finish with 84 points, 11 behind leader Geoffrion and in third place behind Jean Beliveau's 90.

Below are the NHL scoring leaders on the morning of Feb. 16, 1961.
50 years later there is a Maple Leaf back on top, but for how long?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Typical Hall of Famer

With Hall of Fame week just finishing, talk turns to the next batch of Hockey Hall of Famers and to what makes a Hall of Famer? I had an idea to simply figure out what constituted a member of the Hall, statistically speaking.

For now I only looked at players who were Forwards, and only at guys who played at least 400 career games. I figured if only looking at stats, it's not fair to include the early NHLer's who's careers often amounted to only 200 or so games. There are still 94 NHL Hall members that were mainly forwards who played at least 400 games. It's a nice wide array of eras from Joliat, Morenz, Nels Stewart and Syl Apps to all the stars of recent decades.

These 94 players average careers work out to 946 Games and 883 points.

Remember there's many different eras of hockey included in there, as well as a number of more defensively oriented forwards but I think it gives us a fair starting point for the average Hall of Famer. I then looked at all NHL players through history to find four players that generally match these average Hall of Famer's numbers. The results are interesting:

Peter Bondra 1081 GP-892 Pts
Bill Barber 903 GP-883 Pts
Dennis Maruk 888 GP-878 Pts
Yvan Cournoyer 968 GP-863 Pts

These four average out to 960 GP and 879 Points each, and obviously only Barber and Cournoyer are actually in the Hall. What seperates them from Bondra and Maruk?
In simple terms, it's hardware that each player won during his career that pushes one over the Hall of Fame threshold. Barber won 2 Stanley Cups, was a First Team All-Star once and Second Teamer twice. Cournoyer won eight Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and was Second Team All-Star four times. On the other hand, neither Bondra or Maruk won a Cup, a Trophy or was a year end All-Star selection.

So, by looking at it in this very simple manner the average Hall of Fame forward looks something this. 946GP, 883 Pts, 2 Cups and 3 or 4 All-Star selections. Of course this is very simplistic, and more than a few modern era players easily match the scoring numbers but I feel it gives a nice starting point for future debates. It really does come down to the accolades a player has won, this is why Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan are pretty much locks for entry next year while guys like Lindros, Bure, Sundin and Oates are on the bubble.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Aaron Rome, Watch Out Paul Coffey

OK, it's only been 4 games so far this season but Aaron Rome has 3 goals and 5 points. He had played 131 career games before this year and collected a grand total of 2 goals and 12 points. He set a career high last season with 5 points. Now, we obviously won't assume he continues at his new-found level of scoring, but even if he scores 25 or 30 points this year it will be a monumental turnaround in his point production. Just how rare would it be? Extremely.

I tried to find other examples throughout NHL history that matched these parameters:
First 130 games of their career with a point scoring rate of 0.10/Game or less, then they went on to have a season of at least 0.50 Pts/Game at some point in their career.
I could pinpoint only two other guys that fit this description.

Lyle Odelein began his lengthy career with Montreal in 1989/90 and in his first 2+ seasons he had 131 games with 1 goal and 12 points, very similar to Rome's numbers. In 1992/93 he 'exploded' for 2 goals and 16 points but the following year Odelein put up 11 goals and 40 points in 79 games. His point producing may not have been unexpected due to the fact that as a junior with Moose Jaw he had seasons of 46, 59 and 58 points. Even so, it didn't last. Odelein's next three highest point NHL years would be 31, 24 and 23.

Brett Clark was another Montreal Canadien defender who in his first 144 games over 4 seasons tallied 3 goals and 9 points. He spent the entire 2002/03 season in the AHL with Hershey and as a 26 year old put up a respectable 35 points. When he finally played a full season with the Avalanche he produced back-to-back seasons of 36 and 39 points. As with Odelein, Clark had showed a potential for points production before turning professional. In his only year at the University of Maine he had 38 points in 39 games.

Can we draw similarities between the beginning of Odelein and Clark's careers and that of Rome's? As with the other two, Rome was no stranger to putting up points as a junior. In his last two years in the WHL he had 56 and 52 points. Maybe this will be the new normal for Rome...not a point per game necessarily, but a 30-something points aint half bad.

Another guy having a Rome-like breakout this season is Florida's Jason Garrison. He has 7 goals and 9 points in 17 games this year after having 7 and 26 in his first 113 career games. The weird thing about Garrison is that even in US college with Minnesota-Duluth he topped out at only 5 goals one year and in the AHL at 8 goals over a full season. His season is perhaps even more un-expected than Rome's.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

World Hockey Association, The First Season

I was recently reading an old hockey magazine from the early 1970's and there was a nice article about Johnny 'Pieface' McKenzie. He had jumped to the new WHA as a 35 year old and in his opinion the league was not getting it's due respect.

In the article he states of the upstart league, "Certainly we're not equal to the NHL, but don't forget they've been around a hundred years. If we keep robbing their players and signing juniors we'll be equal in four or five years". He continued saying "The New England Whalers would have held their own in the NHBoldL over the whole year. I know they're better than four or five teams right now. In fact, our top four teams could have beaten the Flames or the Islanders." The question is, was he correct?

The 1972/73 New England Whalers finished with 94 points in 78 games and beat third overall Cleveland 4 games to 1 in the semi-finals before beating second overall Winnipeg in the Final, also 4 games to 1. The Whale was definitely the cream of the WHA crop that first year. They were led by Tom Webster who was only one year removed from a 30 goal, 67 point NHL rookie season. Webster tallied 103 points for the Whalers and would definitely have been a solid NHLer that year. Centre, Terry Caffery was a 3rd overall selection of Chicago Black Hawks in 1966, but had yet to make an impact in the NHL. He parlayed an 88 point year in the AHL into a 100 point season with New England.

Larry Pleau had played 55 games for the Montreal Canadiens in 1971/72 and contributed 87 points to the Whalers championship campaign. Brit Selby a veteran of 350 NHL games and former Calder Trophy winner, chipped in 42 points that year and Tom Williams had over 500 NHL games on his resume and the previous season scored 17 goals with the North Stars and Golden Seals. Other than Williams, all these guys were 27 years old or younger.

The real strength of the Whalers that year was their defense. Jim Dorey, Ted Green, Brad Selwood and Rick Ley. All had played regularly in the NHL the previous season, and very well could have again if not jumping to the WHA. In net the Whalers had Al Smith
who had played over 40 NHL games the last three years with Goals Against Averages of under 3.25 each season.

In summary, John McKenzie definitely had a point. New England would have certainly held their own in the NHL of 1972/73. That season, Montreal, Boston and New York Rangers were a cut above the rest of the NHL. I would guess New England would have had at least a .500 record and been in a fight with Detroit and Buffalo for a playoff spot.

As for McKenzie's estimation that in 4 or 5 years the WHA would be equal to the NHL, that one was a bit off.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Was Gretzky really a bad coach?

It came out recently that Georges Laraque says in his new book that Wayne Gretzky was the "worst coach he ever played for". The question is should we care what Laraque thinks and if so, is his criticism valid?

Gretzky's four year coaching record was 143-161-24 for a Winning Pct. of .473 and of course he never managed to get the Coyotes into the post season. In addition to Gretz, Laraque played for Ron Low, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Michael Therrien, Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin. Of these guys, only Ron Low had a lower Winning Pct. than Wayner, but he made the playoffs three of the seven years and won two different playoff rounds.

Gretzky ranks 91st in coaching victories and there have been exactly 100 coaches with at least 135 career wins. Out of these 100, Gretzky ranks 84th in Career Winning Pct. AND he is the only one of the 100 to have never made the playoffs. Even Doug Carpenter made the playoffs once (losing with Toronto 4 games to 1 in 1989/90).

So, if Gretzky isn't the worst coach ever, he is definitely a candidate. Others would be Carpenter with a .403 Winning Pct and his one playoff win, Tom Watt and his .422 Pct and one playoff win in ten games. Milt Schmidt would be another candidate with a .406 Pct but he did have two playoff round wins and a second overall league finish.

Maybe Laraque had a point.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leafs 7-3-1. Been there four times before.

A 7-3-1 record to begin a season is definitely nice for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it certainly is far too early to say that record guarantees an overall good season. Indeed, with 36 goals for and 35 allowed, the Leafs may very well come back to earth soon. Over their history, Toronto has in fact started with the exact same 7-3-1 record on four other occaisons. A look at how those seasons turned out:

Led by Curtis Joseph in net, this year's 7-3-1 start featured 32 goals for and only 22 allowed. They sat first in the NHL. They would continue the hot start ending the calendar year at 23-9-4 and finished the season with 100 points, first place in the Northeast Division. Toronto would lose 4 games to 2 in the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the playoffs.

This season's 7-3-1 start included 45 goals for and 32 against and placed them first overall in the NHL. They would win the 12th game before hitting the skids big time. From then until Boxing Day they sputtered along at 4-20-1 costing coach John Brophy his job. Toronto finished with 62 points, third last overall in the NHL.

This year's fast start of 33 goals and 24 against was parlayed into an overall fine season. 7-3-1 put them in second place on Nov.7, one point behind Montreal. They finished the season 37-22-11, solidly in second place and 13 behind the Habs. Leafs would beat the New York Rangers in the semis 4 games to 2 and Chicago in 6 games to win the Cup.

This season's 7-3-1 start was perhaps the most similar to the current season's. 59 years ago they had scored 37 goals and surrendered 35, very close to today's numbers. They were in a tie for first in the league. Within three weeks they had fallen to under .500 and finished 27-30-13, 2 points out of a playoff spot.

So, two of the four times that Toronto started a season with this record, they failed to make the playoffs.

Another interesting way to look at this year's start is looking at all the season's in which Toronto had at least 15 points over the first 11 games. 15 different times Toronto has done this, from the 7-3-1 starts up to the 10-1-0 start of 1993/94. The average final winning percentage of those 15 seasons was .573. If they do that this year, that's 94 points...maybe just enough to make the playoffs. Maybe.
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