Random Thoughts on the NHL – December 11, 2011.

Thoughts on the impact of the sale of MLSE on the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens acquisition of Tomas Kaberle, the performance of the Coyotes and Wild, Claude Giroux steady rise to superstardom, Brian Elliott’s impressive play with the Blues, and the NHL’s current active Ironman.

Toronto Maple Leafs believing their club’s new majority owners (Bell Media and Rogers Communications) will invest more in turning their club into a Stanley Cup champion are ignoring the fact the Leafs always spend generously in their roster, salary cap or not. That’s something which won’t change under the new ownership.

As always, it’s not how much the Leafs will spend, as that’s never been an issue, but whether or not the dollars are well-spent.

 

The Canadiens recent acquisition of the (so far) overpaid, underachieving Tomas Kaberle from Carolina raised eyebrows as well as questions over the sanity of Habs GM Pierre Gauthier, as well as Kaberle’s ability to regain the form which once made him the mainstay of the Toronto Maple Leafs defense corps.

Kaberle played well in his first game with the Canadiens, setting up both goals in their 2-1 win over New Jersey, but it’ll take more than that to convince those who are panning this deal that it was a shrewd move by Gauthier.

This is either gonna go one of two ways: Kaberle rebounds and Gauthier ends up looking like a genius, or the blueliner’s decline continues, potentially putting Gauthier in danger of losing his job.

 

The continued media obsession (in Canada, at least) over the ongoing ownership woes of the Phoenix Coyotes and their uncertain future obscures the fact the Coyotes have been a pretty good team so far this season.

Entering this weekend, they were atop the Pacific Division, thanks to strong goaltending from Mike Smith (who replaced the departed Ilya Bryzgalov) , the offense of forward Radim Vrbata (on pace for a career-best 73 point season), the ageless Ray Whitney (on pace for his first 30-goal season since ’06-’07), another strong performance by top defenseman Keith Yandle, a bounce-back effort by center Daymond Langkow, the continued leadership of captain Shane Doan, and the effective coaching of Dave Tippett.

That this team continues to maintain its focus on their game rather than the uncertainty over their future in Arizona is admirable, and could be a contributing factor to their solid play. Adversity can help bind a team together.

 

Recently read  this question: “Is it time to take the Minnesota Wild seriously?”

Considering they entered this weekend tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for fewest regulation losses, were perched atop the Western Conference, lead all NHL teams in points with 43, winning eight of their last ten games as they approached the 30-game mark, the answer should be “yes”.

I’m impressed with the Wild’s performance so far, but there’s still over 50 games remaining to be played this season. If they’re still battling with the Blackhawks for first overall by the end of January, then it’s certainly time to take them seriously as one of the top teams in the league.

 

Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux is becoming a superstar in his own right.

Since his debut in 2008-09, Giroux has steadily improved, going from 27 points in his rookie season, to 47 as a sophomore to 76 last season.

Twenty-eight games into this season, Giroux’s 39 points not only led the Flyers, but also make put him atop the NHL points race. He’s on pace for a phenomenal 111- point season.

The last Flyer to reach that mark? Eric Lindros, in 1995-96, with 115 points.

If Giroux keeps up this pace, he’ll have a great shot at not only winning the scoring title and possibly the goal-scoring race, but also league MVP honors. Hopefully, he wasn’t seriously injured after being accidentally kneed in the head by a teammate in Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay. The Flyers can ill-afford to lose their best player.

 

Elliott currently the league's top goalie.

The St. Louis Blues last summer decided to take a chance on Brian Elliott, a one-time starter with the Ottawa Senators who’d been cut loose by the Colorado Avalanche, signing him as a backup for Jaroslav Halak.

Two months into this season, Elliott has played as many games as Halak (15), leads the league in goals-against average (1.46), save percentage, (.947) and is tied with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick for most shutouts with 4.

It remains to be seen how long he can maintain this pace. Halak is still considered the Blues starter, but Elliott has been out-playing him, and appears to have the confidence of head coach Ken Hitchcock.

If he keeps this up, Elliott could not only supplant Halak for this season as the Blues starting goalie, but also put himself in line for a lucrative contract next summer as an unrestricted free agent, earning the opportunity to be a starting goaltender elsewhere next season.

 

Here’s a stat which might surprise: the NHL’s current active “Ironman” leader (most consecutive regular season games-played) is Calgary Flames blueliner Jay Bouwmeester, who currently has played 521 straight games since 2005-06.

Bouwmeester is also the NHL Ironman leader for defensemen,  breaking the record of 495 last March, which was held by the late Karlis Skrastins, who perished in September in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash.

The Flames blueliner has a long way to go to break the league record of 964, set by Doug Jarvis, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals and Hartford Whalers in the 1970s and 80s.

2 Comments

  1. 2nd place in the Ironman, about 15 games behind: noted “softie” Hank Sedin.

  2. Kaberle has the ability to bring it alright, but often it seems that unless he has a bone to pick with the team he’s playing against that night, he just tends to float around and do the minimum to get by which likely is the reason he got traded out of Carolina so quickly after signing that UFA contract of his.