Tag:Jeff Carter
Posted on: February 23, 2012 8:38 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 9:06 pm
 

Jeff Carter traded to Los Angeles Kings

CarterBy: Adam Gretz

The Jeff Carter era in Columbus has come to an end almost as quickly as it began.

The Blue Jackets traded the veteran forward to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round draft pick in either 2012 or 2013. The deal comes just eight months after the team acquired him in a trade from Philadelphia as one of the focal points of their offseason re-tooling.

The deal is contingent on Carter passing a physical on Friday.

“Jeff is a proven goal scorer in our league," said Kings general manager Dean Lombardi in a team statement. "He brings goal-scoring abilities, speed and at his age he is entering the prime of his career.  We also like his versatility as he can play both center and wing. We also want to wish Jack Johnson the best going forward.”

Columbus initially gave up a package of players and picks that turned out to be Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier (the player the Flyers selected with No. 7 overall pick the Jackets sent to the Flyers), as well as a third-round pick. Turning around and trading him this quickly, at what might be his lowest possible value, for a package that on the surface doesn't appear to be as good as the one they gave up for him initially is certainly eye opening.

Prior to this season Carter had scored at least 30 goals in each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 46 during the 2008-09 season. He appeared in just 39 games for the Blue Jackets this year, scoring 15 goals to go with 10 assists. He still has 10 years remaining on his contract that carries a yearly salary cap hit of $5.2 million.

And with that, the firesale is underway in Columbus.

For the Kings, the deal helps to fix their primary area of weakness -- a complete lack of goal-scoring -- as the team is currently the worst offensive team in the league and one of the worst the NHL has seen in recent years. It also reunites Carter and his former teammate in Philadelphia, center Mike Richards, as both players were traded by the Flyers over the summer preceding the addition of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and forwards Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr.

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Even though he's appeared in just 39 games this season, Carter would still be tied for second on the Kings in goals (15) as of Thursday night, only two behind  Anze Kopitar.

The biggest piece going back to Columbus in this deal is Johnson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 draft. He signed a seven-year, $30.5 million contract prior to start of this season, and while he provides a solid amount of offense from the blue line he has had his share of struggles defensively.

This is already the second trade for the Blue Jackets this week, having also sent center Antoine Vermette to Phoenix for goaltender Curtis McElhinney and a pair of draft picks on Wednesday.

Rick Nash's name continues to be the biggest one floating around the rumor mill, and he had been connected to the Kings. At this point it seems that it would be down to either the New York Rangers or San Jose Sharks for his services. Center Samuel Pahlsson is another player on the Columbus Roster that figures to draw a lot of interest before Monday's deadline.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 11:52 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:55 am
 

Winners & Losers: Coyotes, Jackets, Flames

By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

1. Phoenix Coyotes: A 3-0 deficit against Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings seems like like it might be impossible to overcome with the way this season has progressed. Not the case for the Coyotes on Tuesday night as they continued their winning ways with a come-from-behind, 5-4 shootout win. It was their eighth win in the past nine games, and their ninth straight game with at least a point in the standings. It also moves them into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks, a team that had their lunches handed to them by our next winner, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: In what has become a lost, disappointing season, the Blue Jackets had their most complete and impressive performance of the year on Tuesday night with a 6-3 win over the Sharks. R.J. Umberger completed his first career Gordie Howe Trick scoring a goal, assisting on another and dropping the gloves … all in the first period. And it took him just 4:11 of ice-time to accomplish it. Talk about efficiency.

3. Another high-scoring Jets-Flyers game: Somehow, the Winnipeg Jets had a chance to move into the top spot in the Southeast Division (and the third spot in the Eastern Conference) with a regulation win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

They didn't win, but they still managed to gain a point with a 5-4 overtime loss and move into a tie with the Panthers, which is still pretty amazing. Are the Jets buyers? Sellers? A team that does nothing? Who knows at this point, but they're still in it thanks to the collective mediocrity that is the Southeast Division. But the most entertaining thing here is the Jets and Flyers played another high-scoring, back-and-forth game. In their four-game season series this year the two teams combined for 38 goals. That's an average of 9.5 goals per game in a league where the average game features just 5.46.

It's like 1985 all over again when these two teams get together, and as of now, a first-round playoff matchup isn't entirely out of the question.

We can only hope.

Losers

1. The Anaheim Ducks playoff chances: Much had been made of the fact the Anaheim Ducks were only five points out of a playoff spot entering Tuesday night, but here is why it's going to be next to impossible for them to catch up: Even with one of the best stretches in the NHL they're still back to being six points out and are still in 13th after Tuesday. Their best two-month stretch of the season has seen them gain four points and move up one spot in the standings since early December. Those points are just too hard to make up, and a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay doesn't help.  They have no margin for error, and losing to a team that's in selling off players every other team and makes the hole they're in even deeper.

2. Calgary Flames: There was one team on the ice on Tuesday night that looked like it was fighting for its playoff lives, and it wasn't the Calgary Flames in a 6-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. These are the points that the Flames need if they're going to earn one of the top eight spots in the West, and this one was a clunker.

3. The New Islanders slow starts: Scoring first is a big deal in the NHL, and no team seems to get off to slower starts on a nightly basis than the New York Islanders. They were down 2-0 just three minutes into Monday's game, and then on Tuesday against Buffalo they fell behind just 1:12 into the first period of their 2-1 loss to the Sabres. It's tough to win games when you're spotting the other team a one-goal lead almost right off the opening faceoff every night.

Goal of the Night: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins.

New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella said this goal by Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, his 33rd of the season, was the result of "a dumb play by Michael Del Zotto." His turnover may have led to it, but it's still a big-time move on a play that involved two of the NHL's MVP favorites going one-on-one.



For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: February 21, 2012 11:06 am
 

Latest on Rick Nash, other trade deadline rumors

Is Columbus closer to a Nash deal? (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

We've not come down to the final week of the NHL's trading season and we've had so little action so far that you'd be forgiven if you mistook the deadline for a Kings game.

The only thing keeping this trade deadline interesting with all the non-action has been the discussion of Rick Nash's future in Columbus, which doesn't seem to be much anymore. That's because this season the Blue Jackets are the only real seller. Every other team is close enough to the playoffs to convince themselves they might still have a shot except for the Oilers, who don't really have many more players they would trade.

That's the price of parity in the NHL. At this point no team in the Eastern Conference is more than seven points out of the playoffs. That's pretty crazy.

So the only real blockbusters waiting to happen out there -- that we know of -- involved Nash or his teammate Jeff Carter.

It's just a matter of time before the Jackets swing a deal or deals. GM Scott Howson says he is getting closer but nothing is pending or anything right now. Here's what he told the Columbus Dispatch.

"We're waiting for the right deals," Howson said. "We're getting closer. But we're not there yet."

According to Bob McKenzie of TSN and the NHL Network, that "right deal" for Nash would involve a high-end player, two elite prospects and a draft pick. No word if the kitchen sink is part of the asking price as well or not.

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Whether or not it happens this week or this summer, it certainly seems like the Nash and Columbus marriage has hit an end.

The trade deadline is also massively important for Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who could see his marriage with Los Angeles end with this trade deadline, too. The Kings need so badly to make a deal for an elite scorer and only Nash and Carter seem to fit that bill right now of available players. The fan base has reached the point of expectation to deliver with high hopes all around entering this season.

It's really not an exaggeration to say that Lombardi's job is on the line with this trade deadline. That's what Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times believes.

I'm of the belief that the Kings should take to upgrading the offense this offseason. I don't foresee any addition this season that's going to do any more for the Kings than get them to the playoffs, perhaps. It's not like they will transform into a true contender this season with Nash.

But if Lombardi isn't guaranteed a job, then I get the urgency to do a deal now from his standpoint. Desperate men will do desperate things.

With all of that said, don't expect the trade deadline to remain dull. There will be some deals and McKenzie has the latest on the buzz, including a few teams who are slipping into selling mode and the other hot names of the season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 14, 2012 10:24 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 3:11 pm
 

Reports: Nash not untouchable for Columbus

Nash's numbers are slightly down with 18 goals this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Is Rick Nash on the block or not in Columbus? That is the question this morning.

Well it appears we have a case of semantics being played. Whatever verbiage you want to use, Nash sure as heck sounds available and that's all that matters.

His name has been lobbed around just a little with Blue Jackets teammate Jeff Carter being mentioned a lot. But the conversation erupted again on Monday night when Renaud P. Lavoie of RDS in Canada tweeted "2 NHL sources told me that #bluejackets Rick Nash is on the market. Nash have a no-movement clause and will controle his destiny."

Columbus GM Scott Howson, who was reportedly in Philadelphia over the weekend for the Rangers and Flyers Saturday matinee, declined to comment on the report to the Columbus Dispatch. The Dispatch continued:

NHL sources -- from Columbus and beyond -- took issue with the suggestion that Nash is "on the block", but only the terminology. He is not being shopped by the Blue Jackets, they insist, and the club is not intent on moving him, as it is with Jeff Carter and perhaps others.

But the Blue Jackets, by far the worst club in the NHL this season and resigned to missing the playoffs for the third straight season, have reached a point where every player on the roster could be had if the price is right, and that includes Nash.

Again, semantics.

And a swirling rumor mill. The New York Rangers keep being mentioned with every Nash discussion out there, including from the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard.

Nash is in just the second season of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract carrying a $7.8 million annual cap hit. The Rangers only have $6.95 million left under the cap, so they would need to make room.

Nash (18 goals this season) would give the Rangers (36-13-5) -- who have struggled at times to score -- an established threat who could take pressure off Marion Gaborik and Ryan Callahan.

Huh. Here I thought that's what Brad Richards was supposed to do.

What would it take for the Rangers to get Nash? The flavor of the day seems to be a package of Brandon Dubinsky, super prospect Chris Kreider and the Rangers' No. 1 pick, which at this rate will barely be better than Columbus' second-round pick. Clearly that's a high price.

The part that seems to be the toughest for New York and its fans to swallow is parting with Kreider, currently playing with the Beanpot champion Boston College Eagles.

More on the Rangers, this comes from the New York Post's Larry Brooks, who confirms that the Rangers have talked to the Blue Jackets regarding Nash. But he also puts the brakes on a little.

The Rangers have had preliminary discussions with the Blue Jackets regarding the availability of Rick Nash, The Post has learned, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the 27-year-old power winger is en route to Broadway.

Indeed, an individual familiar with the situation told The Post that the chance of completing a trade before the Feb. 27 deadline is “a longshot.”

But the Rangers would hardly be the only suitor. The Los Angeles Kings would be interested in scoring help and the Washington Capitals will be mentioned, too. Over the weekend there were two Capitals scouts in attendance for a game in Columbus and the Jackets returned the favor with two on hand for Monday's Caps-Sharks tilt in D.C. They have some defensemen they could ship Columbus' way and you know that's a position of interest for the Jackets.

It's all a bit unbelievable it's come to this. Nash is the face of an otherwise faceless franchise. From all reports, he really does love playing in Columbus. Sometimes that makes a guy that much more valuable, a skilled player who wants to be in an otherwise undesirable market (sorry Columbus, lack of winning will do that). Right now the assumption is that Nash will be the player the All-Star Game is built around next season in Columbus. Who else will be the local hero?

“I love Columbus. I love being here. I love being a Blue Jacket," Nash said earlier this season. "The city of Columbus deserves a winner and deserves a good product on the ice. If it comes to that – like you said, all speculation – but if they don’t want me here, they want to move me? I’m not going to do something where it’s going to hurt the franchise just because I have that in my contract.”

The question is how much would it hurt the Jackets franchise if Nash were to leave. We might find out now.

More from Eye on Hockey

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For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 6, 2012 7:09 pm
 

Report: Rick Nash would consider being traded

Nash has 17 goals and 17 assists this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Columbus Blue Jackets have made it pretty clear at this point that they will be sellers when the trade deadline comes around Feb. 27. What else would you expect from a team that's so far in the basement they can't see the closest team in the standings even with their high-beams on.

Jeff Carter has been seen as a clear trade target, assuming they can find a taker for him. But what about their captain, the true face of the franchise Rick Nash? They wouldn't trade him, a very talented player in his prime who really does enjoy being in Columbus.

The prevailing wisdom was no. But the thoughts, they are a changin'.

Here is some new gossip from John Shannon of Sportsnet.

I have received a couple of calls from friends of Nash, who claim that Rick is very unhappy with the way the franchise is going and realizes it will take five more years to rebuild, again. Nash is now telling people close to him that he would entertain being moved, but still will not be the one who asks for a trade.

Well isn't that interesting? For a player that is 27 now, the prospect of a Five-Year Plan (non-commie version, of course) wouldn't be that appealing.

While I'm skeptical Jackets GM Scott Howson will find it easy to get suitors for Carter, I doubt there would be any such issues regarding Nash. He's still signed for another six years, but that's easier to stomach than Carter's 10 years. The cap hit is very high at $7.8 million and that would cut down a lot of the contenders who are closer to the cap.

But it's more of the intangibles that make him perhaps more tantalizing. Nash has played fewer than 74 games in only one NHL season and that was in the first year post lockout. More importantly, he's a classic "character guy," one of those players that isn't carrying that stigmatizing baggage with him like a rain cloud in an Acme cartoon.

He's a guy that I can't help but like and feel for. He's been loyal to the Jackets (granted, that kind of cash thrown his way probably helps a bit), is a very good player and seems to be a quality guy. You wish he had experienced more than four playoff games at this point in his career.

If you are the Jackets, it's a tough call and clearly the return has to be right (see: incredibly high). Trading away Nash would be a tough one to sell to the fanbase that is growing ever more frustrated, especially if it's right for the rebuild.

What do you think, should the Blue Jackets even think about trading Nash away?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 2, 2012 12:48 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 3:30 pm
 

Trade deadline primer: Will Jackets move Carter?

The Jackets might move Carter, but can they? (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

There's no time quite like the present. Isn't that what they say?

The present now just happens to be trade deadline month in the NHL. The actual day isn't for another few weeks, Feb. 27, but the whole month will be full of he said/she said, rumors that make you say hmm and others that make you say huh?

It seems like it's been a while since there were some real blockbuster deals looming in the NHL. It's not often there are teams willing to move the big names, the star players. That doesn't mean there weren't some key trades made, evident after the fact. In all, there were four players traded last February that were in the All-Star Game this season -- Joffrey Lupul to the Maple Leafs, Brian Elliott to the Avalanche, James Neal to the Penguins and Dennis Wideman to the Capitals.

There were certainly other moves that were crucial too. Just look at what the Bruins did, acquiring Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley last February, all important to their run to the Stanley Cup last season and in the case of Kelly and Peverley, the Bruins' push this season.

But none of those really stole the show. Not the way this year has the potential to. Or at least had until recently.

A little more than a week ago it looked like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Tim Gleason and maybe even Shane Doan were possible targets to move. Circumstances have changed or the teams have reaffirmed those guys aren't on the move.

Because of parity across the league partly as a byproduct of the points system in place today, there are a lot less sellers. Despite the odds of teams being five or more points back making the playoffs being long, clubs often times refuse to give in and admit they should reshuffle their organization.

It ends up with teams that should be looking to add, teams that shouldn't be looking to do anything and some teams that should probably be looking to sell all thinking the same: Let's add.

"Right now there are different teams trying to make a trade, but the problem is there are only two or three teams that are even willing to make a trade for a draft choice or prospect, meaning they don't think they are going to make the playoffs," Nashville GM David Poile told NHL.com. "What I want now versus what I can later are two different things because of the parity you have in the NHL.

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One team that is painfully aware it doesn't stand a shot this season is the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are 11 points out ... of 29th place in the league. It's 23 points to the eighth seed in the West. After an offseason that saw them acquire Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, that's a horrible disappointment. You know what that means ...

Yes, the Jackets will be sellers. And, even though they acquired him just seven months ago, all indications are that they would like to part ways with Carter. It's really been a wash of a season for him, fighting through injuries but still only scoring 10 goals with seven assists in 30 games.

“There’s talk about a lot of guys [in here] right now. Our team, with the way the season has gone -- the injuries, the standings, and stuff -- I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anybody on our team if they end up [in rumors],” Carter told the Columbus Dispatch.

The massive hurdle with Carter is figuring out how movable he is. His contract runs through the 2021-22 season with an annual cap hit of $5,272,727 (courtesy of Cap Geek). For a player that's been snake-bitten by injuries this season and hasn't seemed to want to be where he is at all this season, that becomes a tough sell, especially when you consider what the Jackets will want in return. They need everything, but primary concerns are in net and getting better on the blue line.

Still, he's only 27 and has shown with his time in Philadelphia that he can contribute a lot offensively. This will be the first season since 06-07 he didn't score at least 29 goals and more than 50 points. There could be some GMs out there willing to take the risks for the potential, which is still high.

If it does happen, it will be a not-so classic case of buy high, sell low for Columbus -- granted, low with Carter is probably still kind of high. That's not the best way to move on up in the world.

A good chunk of the rest of the Columbus roster will be available if anybody wants to take a shot, too. They'd probably love to move Steve Mason, but it's tough to envision anybody wanting him at this point. Rick Nash and Wisniewski are probably untouchables, Nash being the heart and soul of the otherwise faceless franchise and Wisniewski being the biggest player at their position of need. But the other guys like Antoine Vermette, Vaclav Prospal and more? Take your best shot.

The Blue Jackets aren't the only team known to be exploring the market. Tuomo Ruutu is a hot candidate to be moved from Carolina with the Hurricanes last in the East.

"I've heard rumors I'm going to every team in the NHL," Ruutu told Chip Patterson of the News & Observer this week. "I must be really playing well."

Obviously Ruutu isn't going to get people's gears going, but he could be a good addition for somebody, assuming the price is right. It's unlikely he's going to give any team top-six production, but he's not worthless either. One of the concerns is that he becomes a UFA this offseason, so it could be a rental situation.

The potential is endless, though. The Canucks have some expendables in their quest to bolster the roster for this year's push. Mason Raymond is a target of many. Some still think they should move Cory Schneider, perhaps the hottest backup goalie in the league. The Stars have to decide what side they're on, and if it's the seller side, Brenden Morrow could be up for grabs. The Canadiens have Travis Moen, Hal Gill and Chris Campoli. The Oilers could move Ryan Smyth again. It goes on and on.

Of course we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brian Burke always seems to find a way to get in the big trade action.

But it will probably all come back to the biggest, most obvious seller of them all in Columbus.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 27, 2012 10:47 am
 

Jackets owner in email: Action will be taken

McConnell talks to Chris Clark in 2010. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Talk about being reactionary.

A couple of days after it was announced that fans of the Blue Jackets were going to rally this Saturday outside of the arena in downtown Columbus for the firing of general manager Scott Howson and team president Mike Preist, the owner of the franchise decided to send out an email.

Majority owner John P. McConnell sent out the message to season-ticket holders, talking them through the tough time, more or less. Matt Wagner of Blue Jackets blog The Cannon just so happens to be a season-ticket holder and was kind enough to share the letter he received.

It has the usual stuff about how important the franchise is to the city, they are just as unhappy as the fans about the lack of success, yadda yadda yadda. But here is the most interesting excerpt for me; if you want to read the whole thing visit the link above.

I understand you want to know what we're going to do to fix this, but it is important for us to maintain a degree of discretion to prevent putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage. I can tell you action will be taken in the coming weeks and months, be it around the trade deadline, the entry draft and/or free agency that will be indicative of our direction.

Our goal as an organization is to build a team that wins consistently and competes for the Stanley Cup. Anything less is unacceptable! Everything we do in the coming weeks, months and years will be done to that end and everyone in our organization -- myself, management, staff, coaches and players -- will be held to that standard.

I am very thankful and appreciative of the dedication and passion you have shown as a Blue Jackets fan and I am committed to giving you a team of which you can be proud.

I will say this, I'm glad that he clarified action will be taken via trades, free agency or the draft. That's comforting. I was worried they might try and do something through less conventional channels like telepathy or voodoo.

But truth be told, what makes that interesting is that it reiterates that the Jackets will no doubt be a willing seller in the coming weeks. Rumors are still flying that Jeff Carter, acquired just this summer, could be on the move. That's great and all, but it's going to be very difficult to move his 10-year contract. However if they can find a taker, then he might already be gone.

Besides the canned statement in the email, McConnell also talked to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch with some more colorful and descriptive quotes.

“Every option you can think of is being considered,” McConnell said. “When the ‘nuclear’ option is mentioned, I cringe less now than I did two months ago. That doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do, but it certainly becomes a more realistic choice.

“It has to be pretty clear (by the deadline) which way we’re going to go. But one way or another, we are committed to improving. We thought we did this last summer; we didn’t, for whatever reason. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but we’re going to keep searching for the right answers.”

He also stated that neither Priest nor Howson are in trouble of losing their jobs, as far as he is aware (considering he's the majority owner, I hope he'd be aware of such a thing).

At this point the writing is on the wall, ceiling and floor that the Blue Jackets are going to be completely unrecognizable by the time next season starts.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 18, 2012 4:11 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 4:43 pm
 

Rookies facing the toughest assignments

CouturierBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at which top rookies are playing some of the toughest (and easiest) assignments in the NHL.

Most NHL teams are going to put their rookies into favorable situations on the ice.

They are usually not going to be asked to play the toughest minutes on their team, against the best opponents and in defensive situations, and instead are going to be put into low pressure situations where they have the best opportunity to succeed. There are, of course, always exceptions, and some youngsters are asked to take on larger (and more important) roles, whether it be out of necessity, or because the player has shown that he's capable of taking on such an assignment at a young age. 

This year's rookie class has had some pretty impressive performances so far, including that of top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (currently the NHL's leading rookie scorer) in Edmonton, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson with the Devils and, of course, Philadelphia's young forwards Sean Couturier (pictured) and Matt Read, who have not only flashed some offensive ability, but have also proven themselves to be more than capabale penalty killers.

But which of the NHL's top rookies are being asked to play the toughest minutes this season?

Well, that's what the scatterplot picture below helps us figure out. We're using Relative Corsi Quality of Competition (the level of competition the player is playing against -- the higher the number, the tougher the opponent, and vice versa) and Offensive Zone starts (both via Behind The Net) during 5-on-5 play to determine which rookies are being asked to play in the toughest situations by their respective teams.

The closer a player is to the top left of the chart, the harder the assignments he's being given (playing against better players and starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone), while the closer a player is to the bottom right, the easier the assignment (playing against weaker competition and starting more shifts in the offensive zone).

The players included: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Adam Henrique (Devils), Nick Johnson (Wild), Luke Adam (Sabres), Cody Hodgson (Canucks), Jared Cowen (Senators), Adam Larsson (Devils), Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche), Sean Couturier (Flyers), Matt Read (Flyers), Ryan Johansen (Blue Jackets), Raphael Diaz (Canadiens), Craig Smith (Predators), Colin Greening (Senators) and Kaspars Daugavins (Senators).

Rookie Assignments

A few thoughts:

1) When it comes to the NHL's rookie of the year debate the two most common names are, naturally, Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique. They are, after all, the top two scoring rookies in the league, and before Nugent-Hopkins went out with his injury they were neck-and-neck in that scoring race. Now that Henrique is running unopposed for the foreseeable future, he's going to take over that scoring lead (barring an injury of his own, of course) and will probably become the front-runner for the award by seasons end.

Both players have arguments working in their favor.

When we did our mid-season award picks I went with Henrique based on the fact he and Nugent-Hopkins were nearly identical offensively, while Henrique was being asked to play in tougher situations (as the chart above illustrates). Along with that, he is also one of the top penalty killing forwards on the best penalty killing team in the league, and has proven himself to be a threat offensively even when his team is down shorthanded, currently tied for the league in shorthanded points. Conversely, Nugent-Hopkins is getting some of the easiest minutes in the league among the top rookies, and has played just a total of one minute and 16 seconds of shorthanded ice time this season.

That said, it can't be ignored that Henrique is already 21 years old while Nugent-Hopkins is one of the youngest players in the league at the age of 18. Actually, he's the second-youngest player to have skated in an NHL game this season, having been born just six days after Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad, who appeared in nine games for the Senators.

He may not be asked to play in tough situations, but his performance is still darn impressive given his age.

2) Don't overlook the rookie duo in Philadelphia. The Flyers completely re-tooled their roster over the summer, and halfway through the 2011-12 season they haven't missed a beat as far as being a contender in the Eastern Conference is concerned.

 Losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter looked like it was going to be a major blow to their forward depth, and while they are definitely a different team from a year ago, they're still boasting an impressive group of forwards, including their two prized rookies Couturier (selected with the draft pick that came from Columbus in exchange for Carter) and Read. Both are among the Flyers' top penalty killing forwards, and among Flyers forwards that have played at least 20 games this season Read is currently facing the fourth-toughest competition on the team.

3) Mike Yeo, head coach of the Minnesota Wild, appears to have a lot of faith in Nick Johnson, a player the team picked up on waivers before the season. Not only is he playing, by far, the toughest minutes of any of the top rookies in the NHL (he's currently 11th among rookie scorers) his Qual Comp is the highest of any forward on the Wild roster. Perhaps that faith shouldn't be much of a surprise given the connections both have to the Pittsburgh organization (Johnson was drafted by the Penguins, while Yeo was a former assistant).

Of course, age once again needs to be taken into account. While Johnson is playing tougher minutes than all of these other rookies, he's also by far the oldest player on the chart having already turned 26 back in December. A 26-year-old rookie and an 18-year-old rookie aren't exactly the same thing.

Taking into account performance, assignments and age I'd still choose Henrique as the top rookie in the NHL this season (so far), with Nugent-Hopkins, Read and Craig Smith coming in just behind.

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