Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Buffalo Sabres
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.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 17, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 2:49 pm
 

Sabres' Miller gets upset at idea of trade talks

By Brian Stubits

My how fast this season has sailed south for the Buffalo Sabres.

They can't win on the road (their 5-0 pounding from Detroit on Monday night was their ninth consecutive loss away from Buffalo), are average at home, are struggling to do much offensively and their owner has said they don't plan on doing much, instead they have been snake-bitten by injuries.

Ryan Miller has been as much a culprit to their lack of success as anybody. And now it's starting to bubble over.

The Sabres goaltender was beat for five goals in less than two periods on Monday night, eventually being yanked in favor of backup Jhonas Enroth. It came in his home of Detroit against his brother Drew Miller and the Red Wings.

"It's embarrassing," Miller said after the loss. "I got family and friends here. Everybody came to watch Drew and I play. At least they got to watch Drew perform."

(Side note: Here's a good read from The Goalie Guild on Miller's struggles)

But Miller's most intriguing comments came regarding the trade speculation and the Sabres. Everybody outside of the organization seems to be at a consensus that the Sabres need to do something, anything to shake up this roster. It's obviously not working well right now.

From within the organization, the vibe is a bit different, as Miller pointed out on Monday (from the Buffalo News).

"If you guys really think there's going to be any kind of trade made anywhere that's going to affect this team anymore than we can affect it in this locker room, you guys are just ... I don't know," said an emotional Miller, his jaw clenched and his lip quivering. "I don't know what to think because there's no such trade.

"There's not ever going to be a trade in the history of the NHL that's going to affect anything like that. There's no chance anybody comes into this team and just shakes it up or we can even move multiple players and get any kind of return.

"If you want to just destroy a team and go out and be reckless and do something, yeah. Then there's going to be new guys in here. But other than that, this locker room is going to be pretty much the same, if not completely the same and we gotta find it from in here [points to chest]. You can't sit and wait for somebody else to [bleeping] do it."

Normally I'd be on Miller's side of the argument here. It's up to the players to perform, it's why it bothers me how much credit/blame coaches receive for their team's performance. It's the players who play and who should feel the heat and burden to do better.

However this mix just doesn't seem to be working in Buffalo, and it's been a pretty solid core for some time. They haven't won a playoff series in four seasons. With a couple of injuries, the weaknesses are showing -- that would be a lack of forward strength, defensemen turning the puck over and, of course, goaltending.

There is at least one person from outside of the organization who thinks things aren't that bad in Buffalo right now. Patrick Kane, whose grew up in Buffalo as a big Sabres fan but will play them Wednesday night as a member of the Blackhawks, told Kevin Harrington of the Buffalo News that Miller gets too much heat.

"I still think the fans get on Miller a little bit too much back in Buffalo. He's definitely the guy there," Kane said. "He's not having the kind of season he wanted to and maybe things are getting caught up in everything back there.

"I think they can be a good team. They've got everything in place to do well. You want them to do well, especially being from there.  Not better than you're doing but at the same time, growing up there I know a lot of people who root for the Sabres. It's a city that deserves the team to do well."

More to the point, compare the Sabres to last season and things don't seem so bad. At this time a year ago, the Sabres had almost the exact same record (19-21-5 this season vs. 20-21-5) with the same number of goals against and only nine fewer goals for. They rebounded and made the playoffs. So it isn't that the season is gone, although it it slipping away.

But the feeling is just different. Perhaps it's because of the raised expectations or what, however this doesn't have a stay-the-course feel to it being the answer.

I'd be surprised if the Sabres didn't make some roster shifts at or before the trade deadline. It will still be mostly up to the guys currently in the locker room as Miller points out, however that doesn't mean the franchise doesn't need to do what it can to expedite the process (or in this case help it out for the long-run).

Maybe just as interesting to watch is wondering if this will finally be the season where Lindy Ruff loses his job. He is the NHL's longest-tenured head coach, going on 14 seasons behind the bench.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 14, 2012 11:54 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 12:15 am
 

Islanders overcome controversial 3rd period call

By: Adam Gretz

Over the past seven years the number of penalty shots we see in the NHL has been on the rise. We've already seen 41 this season, and that includes the one that went Buffalo's Thomas Vanek late in the third period of the Sabres' 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night. At the time of the shot the Islanders were holding a slim one-goal lead, and Vanek had an opportunity to score a potentially game-changing goal with a little over a minute to play in regulation.

The only reason he was given the shot was because of what appeared to be terrible call by the on-ice officials that awarded Buffalo a penalty shot after it was determined that Islanders defenseman Mark Streit intentionally dislodged the net. After watching the replay it looks as if Streit did nothing other than lose his balance and run into the net, causing it to become dislodged. If he did it on purpose, it was a darn fine acting job.

Fortunately for the Islanders, Vanek's shot hit the post and they were able to add another goal and hold on for the win.

Here's a look at the play so you can decide for yourself if Streit's actions were intentional, or if it was simply an accident that was followed by a brutal call that could have cost the Islanders the game.



The bigger issue here, for me, is that the NHL has become way too penalty shot happy in recent years. Here's a quick look at the number of shots that have been issued dating back to 1997:

2011-12 (half season): 41
2010-11: 78
2009-10: 55
2008-09: 64
2007-08: 59
2006-07: 70
2005-06: 103
2003-04: 57
2002-03: 39
2001-02: 46
2000-01: 32
1999-00: 40
1998-99: 27
1997-98: 34

That's quite a spike over the past seven years.

Now, one of the biggest factors in that increase has been the elimination of the red line and the two-line pass, which took place prior to the 2005-06 season. But it also seems that the NHL is more willing to hand one out than it used to be. Ten years ago if you had anything that even resembled a shot on goal, or an attempted shot, on a breakaway while being hauled down you didn't have a chance of being awaraded a shot. That no longer seems to be the case.

You also have calls like the one featured above.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 13, 2012 1:15 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Brothers Sutter meet in Calgary

By Brian Stubits

One of the many things I love about hockey is that it doesn't revolve around the coaches, they are hardly ever the stories. You can't say the same about other sports, particularly college athletics where the coach is sometimes the only constant there is. In the NHL, a lot of coaches are so quiet I'm not even sure half of the hockey fans out there could name all 30 bench bosses.

But this weekend in Calgary? It's about the coaches. Well it's now partly about a certain player's Flames debut too, but first to the coaches.

The Los Angeles Kings will be traveling to the Saddledome for a slightly awkward reunion. It's the first time that Darryl Sutter has been involved in a game in Calgary since he resigned -- all but forced -- as general manager for the Flames a little more than a year ago, leaving his younger brother Brent behind to continue to coach the Flames.

For those who suggest you shouldn't mix business with family, this is a good example why. During the time they were together working with the Flames, they had some problems with each other to the point that they stopped talking after Darryl was ousted. Imagine that, two brothers getting to the point of not talking based largely on their working relationship.

They were giving each other the silent treatment until Darryl reached out this week and at least reopened the lines of communications. Probably a good idea on many fronts, particularly about the one of avoiding the awkward moment at the game.

“We had a good chit-chat -- it was good,” said Brent, whose brother initiated the call, to the Calgary Sun.

“We talked about their team, about our team ... never once did we talk about anything personally. We talked about the kids. We were all over the map with it. That was the first time I talked to him. It was nice.”

Saturday won't just be the first time these two have been back together at a Flames game since Darryl left, but now it's also about the first time that Mike Cammalleri returns to the Saddledome in a Flames jersey since he left. That's thanks to the Thursday night trade of Cammy to Calgary in exchange for Rene Bourque going to Montreal.

The Flames could use the fire under their behind that perhaps current GM Jay Feaster is trying to send. His team hasn't been playing particularly well and a jolt to the roster might help recharge their playoff push. They aren't dead and buries in that race, especially considering the season is only half over, but they could use a run to help set them up for the finish.

At the least they got a player who's excited to be in Calgary -- again, in the case of Cammalleri.

"I am extremely excited, I was told I was traded and I wasn't sure where. I hoped it was Calgary," he said on Thursday after the trade.

"It's a place that I have such fond memories, I really have strong relationships with some of the players. I really appreciated playing there."

So that will bear watching, no doubt. But it's going to be tough to overcome the drama of the bench bosses.

And I just love it when things come together like this. It means absolutely nothing and has no bearing on anything that will happen on the ice, just little coincidences that are fun to mark. Darryl coached 210 games for the Flames. On Saturday night Brent will coach his, you guessed it, 210th game with the Flames. Not that that will steer the spotlight away from Darryl vs. Brent and the Sutter family equation.

“We’ve now had communication since then, and it has been good,” Brent said.

“Any way you want to look at it, we’re still brothers. I care deeply about what happens with him and how he does.”

Well the family feud will live on for 60 more minutes on Saturday.

Oh, Ottawa

I still haven't decided if the Ottawa Senators are as good as they have shown, but it's getting really tough to deny them based on a small sample size.

Now they have played at least two more games than every other team in the East except for Carolina, but that excuse isn't flying any more either. They are comfortably in the top eight in the East as it stands right now, right on the heels of the Flyers for the fourth seed. When you start beating the Rangers at Madison Square Garden with a shutout no less, then yea, it might be time to believe.

But we're going to find out a lot in the upcoming weeks, starting Saturday. OK, it actually started on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. That was when the Senators played their first of nine road games in a 10-game span. The only interruption in that road show comes on Monday with the Jets coming to Ottawa. After that, they go into their weekend as host for the All-Star Game with a trip that takes them out West.

But they can't play those before the play this weekend's game against the Canadiens first. They seem to be getting Montreal at the perfect time. They have all sorts of struggles and strife to deal with at the moment and could possibly be without P.K. Subban after his hit on David Krejci on Thursday night.

If the Sens can do what most everybody else is doing right now and beat the Habs, they will finish with six points in the three-game road trip.

It sure makes those four All-Star selections a lot easier to swallow, too.

Taking a Flyer

In all honesty, this isn't the best slate of games the NHL has seen this year for the weekend. There aren't a whole lot of really intriguing matchups pitting two elite teams.

But one of the better ones will be in Nashville, a cross-conference battle to boot. The Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Predators in Smashville. Adding a little more intrigue to the good matchup? The in-person scouting that the Flyers might or might not be doing on the opposition.

You are going to hear a lot about the status of Ryan Suter in the coming weeks, his name will surely be at the fore of all the trade speculation unless he signs a contract extension before then. Among the top contenders for his services will be the Flyers, already mentioned in the speculation.

That just adds a little underlying story to what should be a very good game.

Speaking of good games ...

The Blackhawks and Red Wings clash again. They went a long time this season without renewing acquaintances, but now they are meeting seemingly every week.

The next round in their Central Division battle comes on Saturday at the ripe ol' hour of 12:30 from the Joe in St. Louis. I wonder if the Blackhawks will even be functioning at that hour.

Joking aside, hopefully the start time doesn't take away from the quality of games these two put on. The first two meetings this season came in Chicago and each was a 3-2 game (Blackhawks won the first, Wings the second in OT). You can always count on great hockey when these two get together.

Now that realignment has been halted, hopefully the next proposal doesn't split these teams up.

Pesky Stars

That's the nickname that has caught on in Dallas regarding their Stars. Pesky. I guess it's because they won't go away.

Dallas isn't as big of a surprise as a couple of other teams this season, including the above-mentioned Senators, but that doesn't mean they aren't a surprise. Here it is mid-January and they continue to hang around in the Pacific Division race as well as the Western Conference.

They will look to continue their pesky ways against the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. The Avs are as up and down as any team in the league this season. There seems to be no happy medium with them. After their most recent run they are no slipping back down the slope, going into Dallas with a three-game losing streak.

It's a battle of a pair of mild surprises in the West. These all count when it comes down to season's end and each of these hopefuls is trying to sneak into the postseason. The schneid list is getting long.

We're going streaking!

Here are the hot and cold streaks going into the weekend's action.

Senators: Talked about above, they have won three straight and only visit Montreal.

Toronto Maple Leafs: How 'bout them Leafs, huh? They take a four-game win streak into Buffalo on Friday night and if it holds will take a five-gamer into Saturday night's home game against the Rangers.

Predators: Three games and counting heading into the Philly matchup.

Flames: Lost in all the other talk surrounding Calgary, they have actually rattled off three straight wins since returning home from an unfruitful road trip.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are entering unchartered territory here. They bring a six-game losing streak with them to Florida for the Sunshine State saunter, at the Panthers on Friday, Lightning on Sunday.

Buffalo Sabres: While the Leafs have won four in a row going into Friday's game, the Sabres have lost three straight. They also visit the Islanders on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The postseason run followup isn't going as planned. Five straight losses going into Friday at the Capitals, Sunday vs. the Penguins.

Avalanche: How long will this skid go? Right now it's at three games.

Edmonton Oilers: My how long ago that season start seems. They have fallen 23 points behind the Canucks in the Northwest and have lost four in a row. Their one chance to snap that comes against the Kings on Sunday night.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 13, 2012 12:04 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 12:06 pm
 

Sabres owner points to injuries

MllerBy: Adam Gretz

A lot of fans in Buffalo might have lost a lot of hope in the Sabres this season, but not their biggest fan, the one who became the owner.

It's no exaggeration to say the Sabres have been one of the worst teams in the league since the opening month concluded. They enter the weekend with a record of 18-19-5, good enough for 11th place in the Eastern Conference. That's not really helping Terry Pegula reach his goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, no matter the cost.

But as far as Pegula is concerned, the roster that GM Darcy Regier has put together is still capable of doing big things. It's just that it needs to be healthy.

Here's what Pegula told Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News in a recent phone interview:

"What everybody is missing is that I've been carrying around 167 man games," he said by telephone Thursday evening. "Forget about the season. I'm talking about the last 25 games. We've had 18 players go down. It's like a merry-go-round every night. You look on the ice and what are your defensive pairs tonight? Hell, who knows? Who's healthy?

"I think what's important is the number of guys. You can have 167 man games with four, five, six guys out for a long period. Eighteen? Cut me a break. I told Darcy Regier one time, 'If I was you, I would be afraid to get on the plane.' "

There is no doubt the Sabres have been hit by the injury bug this season, losing several key players at one time or another, including Tyler Myers, Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis, Jochen Hecht and Ville Leino, just to name a few. And while that's true, there's probably not many teams in the NHL that are going to feel any sympathy for the Sabres (just take a look at the injury lists for teams like Pittsburgh and Florida, for example).

Of course, injuries aren't the only thing working against the Sabres this year. The early returns on their summer-long free agent frenzy that included the signings of Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, as well as the addition of Robyn Regehr via trade with Calgary, have failed to produce much bang for their buck. And while Leino and Ehrhoff have had some injuries of their own, they haven't exactly produced when they've been healthy. Ehrhoff's offense from the blue line has taken a noticeable drop now that he's no longer getting significant power play time with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, with the Canucks, and Leino has really only produced for one full season in the NHL.

And then there is goaltender Ryan Miller. Suddenly the target of some criticism from the local press, Miller hasn't been able to recapture the magic from his 2009-10 season when he was one of the best goaltenders in the world, not only as the netminder for the Sabres, but also for team USA in the Vancouver Olympics. This season his save percentage has dropped all the way down to .902, which is 36th in the NHL.

Are injuries hurting the Sabres? Sure, but they're not the only thing that has the team with the largest payroll in the league five points out of a potential playoff spot. There are a lot of players that are underperforming, or perhaps just aren't as good as the Sabres originally thought.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 12:40 pm
 

Buffalo cartoonist shares thoughts on Ryan Miller

By Brian Stubits

In the Eye on Hockey midseason awards posted on Tuesday (Look, right here!), I picked the Buffalo Sabres as the season's most disappointing team so far. They haven't been the worst, but based on their expectations, they have been thoroughly underwhelming.

One reason I cited for that was their lack of scoring. But their lack of stopping the other team from scoring -- a.k.a. Ryan Miller's job as the starting goaltender -- has been as much of a culprit. Like the Sabres as a team, he has high expectations and he's not meeting them.

And the people of Buffalo are letting him know it, if he reads the newspaper, that is.

Check out the latest comic from Buffalo News artist Adam Zyglis.

It's like whatever got to that goalie in that stupid McDonald's hockey ad has hit Miller or something. Staying on the advertisement train of though, I wonder how those ad gurus with the "be manly, drink Miller Lite" commercials feel about this.

I love the detail of putting Miller in the old slug sweater. Obviously that's his job to pay attention to detail, but still, it's great go get a visual reminder of how bad those jerseys were. Then again, if Miller were putting up the same numbers, I bet Buffalo would be more than happy to go back to the slug.

Entering the season, Miller seemed like a prime candidate for a bounceback season. The team in front of him was expected to be improved and he was mediocre -- by his standards -- last season for the Sabres by posting a 2.59 goals against and .916 save percentage.

This season he's on pace for his worst numbers since he played four games back in 2003-04. In 24 starts he is just 10-11-2 while sporting a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage.

My how long ago the Vancouver Olympics seem.

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

Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:43 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 2:25 pm
 

Midseason Awards: Breaking up the Hart

By Brian Stubits

On Monday night, the NHL season went over the hump and the second half officially began.

The league has been a Wild ride through only half a season as the Maple Leafs fell from the trees and onto your lawn. Stars have been dropping all over the place, too. Some teams have been singing the Blues as they’ve gone down in Flames while others have been surprising high Flyers as if they were in Jets. You'd almost think they made deals with the Devils or something.

OK, enough with the ambiguous team-name puns, time to get our Ducks in a row here.

In the first half of the season alone the NHL has seen seven head coaches fired, plenty of surprises, has memorized the introduction to a Brandon Shanahan video and had a memorable Winter Classic (we can thank NBC for that, right Torts?).

Now comes the fun part where everybody and their brother has their own candidate for each award, but here are the Eye on Hockey midseason awards as handed out by myself, Brian Stubits and my colleague Adam Gretz.

See that commentary space at the bottom? That's for your write-in candidates. Don't be shy (as if you needed the encouragement).

Hart (Given to the Most Valuable Player)

Stubits: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux has had absolutely no problem filling the scoring void left by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia. His 48 points are 11 better than the next highest on his team (Scott Hartnell) despite missing four games with a concussion and he has the Flyers in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

Gretz: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

I know the history. I know that goaltenders don't generally win this award, and that you can probably count on one hand the number of times it's happened, at least over the past 30-40 years. But we're talking about MVP's of the first half of the season, and I'm not sure where the Rangers would be without him at this point. He faces a heavy workload and he's their best player every night.

Vezina (Given to the most outstanding goalie)

Stubits: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

I had a tough time here with him and Henrik Lundqvist. Considering Quick has carried more of his team's load and has twice as many shutouts clinches it for me. As for Tim Thomas? Hard when Tuukka Rask's numbers are even better. Brian Elliott has been splitting too much. Jimmy Howard another close call. Hard to make a bad pick for Vezina this year.

Gretz: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

The last four goalies to win the MVP (Jose Theodore, Dominik Hasek -- twice -- Jacques Plante) also won the Vezina Trophy that same season, so if I have Lundqvist as my mid-season MVP, it only seems fair to give him the Vezina as well. Boston's Tuukka Rask has better numbers at this point, but he's also only appeared in 14 games.

Norris (Given to the top defenseman)

Stubits: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Offensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. Defensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. What else could you want in a defenseman? Zdeno Chara comes in a close second for me with Brian Campbell a surprising third.

Gretz: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

He's one of the leading scorers among defensemen in the NHL and one of the guys Nashville leans on to play heavy minutes (among the toughest in the league), which makes his ability to put up points even more impressive.

Calder (Given to the top rookie)

Stubits: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

As of now, that's not a terribly tough call, I don't think. Nugent-Hopkins has been great for the Oilers this season, particularly on the power play. He's on pace for around 75 points if he were to play 82 games (which he won't). It will get more interesting as the season wears on and Nugent-Hopkins remains sidelined. Watch for Adam Henrique in New Jersey.

Gretz: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

Offensively, his numbers are nearly identical to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton with seemingly far less fanfare. I give the edge to Henrique because he's played in tougher situations and is a regular on New Jersey's penalty kill, which happens to be the best in the NHL. He's tied for the league lead (among all players, not just rookies) in shorthanded points.

Jack Adams (Given to the best coach)

Stubits: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues

How can your choice be anybody else? The Blues were 6-7-0 before he was hired, 18-5-5 since. St. Louis has allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL behind the Rangers and Bruins. Paul MacLean is my second choice. Kevin Dineen and Mike Yeo slipped with sluggish Decembers.

Gretz: Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators

Nobody had any preseason expectations for the Ottawa Senators other than that they would be competing for the No. 1 overall pick. Did anybody have them competing for a playoff spot at the halfway point? Or at any point? He also wins the Lanny MacDonald award for best mustache in the NHL.

Selke (Given to the best defensive forward)

Stubits: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

There are some great choices, but you can't go wrong with Bergeron. The Bruins defense is outstanding and he's part of that. Guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews have arguments here too but the best defense should be rewarded in some fashion.

Gretz: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Bergeron has been climbing up the Selke voting in recent years, slowly but surely, and he's the best defensive player on one of the best defensive team in the league. Even though he plays some of the toughest minutes on the team, he's only been on the ice for 10 goals against at even strength. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs ... he does it all. One of the best two-way players in the league.

Best surprise

Stubits: Florida Panthers

The Panthers have been in first place of the Southeast Division for almost two months running. Let those words soak in. Sure, the division hasn't been very good as a whole, but this team was ripped pretty mercilessly for the offseason overhaul and here they are. Other good choices: Jets, Senators, Wild.

Gretz: Ottawa Senators

For the same reasons I have Paul MacLean as mid-season coach of the year. Nobody expected anything from the Senators this season other than for them to be terrible.

Biggest disappointment

Stubits: Buffalo Sabres

They aren't the worst of the candidates -- Ducks, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Lightning -- but they had some very high expectations and have been incredibly pedestrian. They just aren't scoring much, their 107 goals the second fewest in the East. Very big things were expected of them, a point-per-game pace doesn't fit the bill.

Gretz: Columbus Blue Jackets

Well, this seems easy. Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski were supposed to be difference makers at two spots they needed the most help at, and while I didn't think they would be any sort of contender, I at least thought they would have a shot at the playoffs. At the halfway point, they're the worst team in the league.

Best offseason acquisition

Stubits: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

It was very close for me between him and another Brian, Campbell down in Florida. But Elliott, an afterthought on the goalie market this offseason, has been sensational in St. Louis, even before Hitchcock came aboard. He'd be my favorite for the Vezina if he weren't splitting so much with Jaroslav Halak.

Gretz: Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

There were questions as to how the Red Wings would replace Brian Rafalski on the blue line, and Ian White at an average annual salary of $2.75 million over two years has been a bargain for the production and quality of play he's provided.

Worst offseason acquisition

Stubits: Tomas Kaberle, Carolina Hurricanes

To be honest, I was looking for somebody other than Ville Leino, who is likely the runaway choice for this. But Kaberle was almost as bad, the only difference was that his contract isn't the long-term commitment that Leino's is. That didn't stop 'Canes GM Jim Rutherford from fixing his mistake before the All-Star break by trading Kaberle to Montreal. Under the radar pick: Re-signing Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay.

Gretz: Ville Leino, Buffao Sabres

This seemed like a dubious signing from the start. Buffalo gave Ville Leino six-years and $27 million based on one full season of production in the NHL. In 30 games this season he has 10 points.

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

Posted on: January 8, 2012 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 3:32 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: This one's for the good guys

By Brian Stubits

While you were busy worrying about the upcoming summer of labor after the NHLPA declined the realignment plan ...

With all due respect to the guys of Green Day, nice guys really can finish first. Or at least succeed.

Saturday was a milestone day for two of the classiest and most loyal players in the NHL. One milestone awesome, the other simply dumbfounding, on a couple of levels.

First, the awesome: Jarome Iginla's 500th goal in Saturday night's win against the Minnesota Wild. Nobody is surprised that Iginla hit the 500-goal mark in his career. I've seen it argued that he would have passed that milestone a while ago if he had played with some better centers in his time with the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't matter how ugly it might have been. Iginla's had enough beauties in his career, I don't think for one second he was worried about it coming on a pass from the boards that bounced off skates and into the net.

I could go on about with platitudes about the class of guy that Iginla is. People already know that and my personal experience with the guy did nothing at all to change that impression for me. I like to point to this somewhat infamous and incredibly cringe-worthy exchange with Iginla and a reporter earlier this season that Iginla dealt with as patiently as any player could, even though nobody knew what exactly was being asked.

Iginla became only the 42nd player in NHL history to hit the plateau. So we're talking about a pretty exclusive club. Iginla's case is even more unique when one realizes that he became only the ninth player ever to score his first 500 goals with one team.

Every franchise usually has a designated Mr. (fill in the team name). Iginla no doubt is Mr. Flame.

The second milestone also came from a Mr. Franchise type and it was a bit more amazing.

Unless you work for the Elias Sports Bureau or are the biggest Phoenix Coyotes fan out there, it probably caught you by surprise that Shane Doan's hat trick on Saturday night was the first of his career.

It took him 1,161 games to get there, but Doan finally put three in in one game. And it's not like we're talking about a guy who doesn't score. He joins Scott Mellenby as the only other player in NHL history to score 300 goals before his first hat trick.

The most amazing part of all? It took Doan 59 minutes, 59 and 9/10 of a second to get that third goal.

Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

Like Iginla, Doan has been a consummate professional, a player with the loyalty to a franchise that fans love to see in sports these days. This is a guy who has stuck with a franchise that has been surrounded in questions for a couple of years but has stuck with the only team he has ever known.

A little bit of irony in Doan's goal coming with only 0.1 second left, the Coyotes fell victim to a similar situation earlier this season. The Rangers potted a goal with the same exact amount of time on the clock. The only difference between those two last-second tallies? The Rangers' was for a win, Doan's for the hat trick in an already-decided game.

And all those hats he collected? They are reportedly being donated to the Phoenix Children's Hospital.

It was almost as if Saturday was a night for the good guys in the NHL. Two great honors for two great players. Certainly beats more concussions.

Blue moon

The St. Louis Blues are no fluke, people. This sample size with Ken Hitchcock at the helm is big enough to draw that conclusion.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

The Blues are in the Central Division. They compete with the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators. Yet, after Saturday's games, it's the Blues that are sitting in first place of the monster division, for my money the best in the NHL.

St. Louis dominated the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, pitching a 4-0 shutout. The Avs had been maybe the hottest team in the NHL, bringing a four-game win streak into the Lou. Instead they were just another victim for St. Louis.

That moved the Blues to 18-5-5 under Hitchcock. Their sole lead isn't going to last long. By the end of Sunday they will at least be in a tie with either the Blackhawks or Red Wings. But they are right there and will remain right there for the entire season.

The goaltending duo of Brian Elliott -- who had another shutout -- and Jaroslav Halak has rightfully received a lot of the attention for the Blues' success, but the guys in front of them deserve a lot. Just look at what the Avalanche were able to -- or unable to -- do: They only had 15 shots on goal for the entire game. That's why Elliott didn't even get one of the three Stars of the game. The most shots in one period that Colorado had? Seven. In the first they had just two.

I'll admit I'm happy for the fans of St. Louis. It's not a market that gets a lot of recognition as a big one like the cities in the Northeast or Canada, but it's been a strong market for hockey and remains that way. They haven't had a lot to cheer for in the past couple of years but they do now.

And of course the Western Conference has another team to be reckoned with.

Jerseylicious

The story out of Pittsburgh on Saturday was that the Penguins lost their fourth straight game, something they had not done in two years. On Sunday it was compounded by the announced injuries of James Neal (broken foot) and Jordan Staal (out 4-6 weeks).

But that's taking away from the success of the New Jersey Devils.

Their 3-1 win in Pittsburgh came a night after their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers at home on Friday. They have points in seven of their last 10 games. They have also hurdled the Penguins in the Atlantic Division and are creeping up on the Flyers, four points behind Philadelphia.

A common thread in those two weekend wins? Ilya Kovalchuk had the game-winner. He's up to 15 goals on the season now, tied with David Clarkson for the team lead. He has the penchant for turnovers -- that's nothing new -- but is still as electric as almost any player in the league with the puck on his stick. What Peter DeBoer wouldn't give to continue to get that kind of production from Kovalchuk.

Danny's dance

What a day it was Saturday for Danny Briere. The Philadelphia Flyers veteran had a double rarity in the Flyers' 3-2 win over the Senators: He finished off a hat trick with a goal in the final seconds of overtime and dropped the gloves with Kyle Turris (!).

First, here's the bout from HockeyFights.com.

Not terrible for a couple of guys who don't normally go a round. For Briere it was only his third career fight.

But in the end it was his fifth career hat trick that was the biggest moment of the night. Apparently content to take the game to the shootout, the Senators seemed to give up once the clock moved under 10 seconds. It was up to Craig Anderson to keep them alive. He made the first stop on Briere from point-blank range but couldn't prevent the second from slipping in and winning the game with 5.3 seconds left.

Buffalo bull

They're getting pretty desperate up there in Buffalo where the Sabres just can't seem to do anything right.

It's a solid cast of characters. There's a reason why people thought this would be a contender in the East this season. Add in the ownership takeover of Terry Pegula, and there was a lot of noise coming out of Buffalo. Now, not so much. Really.

"Married couples fighting upstairs, you can hear that on the ice," Ville Leino joked to John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

That'll happen when you're not scoring much. Like they didn't score in the 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Their lack of scoring is the biggest culprit for the following: Since Nov. 12 -- as in the day Ryan Miller met Milan Lucic -- the Sabres have the fourth-worst record in the NHL. The fans are beginning to beg GM Darcy Regier to do something. This isn't how it was supposed to go.

Quote of the weekend

"It got a little tight, so we're being careful with him. We took him and pulled him out." -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter on defenseman Mike Green and his hamstring.

The Caps just got Mike Green back from a hamstring-induced absence that stretched back to early November. Now it might cost him even more time now. If so, that will be the third time that Green has been out with injury. He also had an ankle issue cost him time earlier this season.

The Capitals saw their four-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday night in San Jose to the streaking Sharks. It was actually the first loss of the season for the Caps when Green played. They are now 9-1-0.

Looking beyond this season, Green will hit free agency this summer and here's one argument being laid out for why the Capitals shouldn't re-sign him. It will be worth a debate for GM George McPhee.

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

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com