Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some thoughts so far


How about an actual blog post with content from me instead of just the daily recap? Now that we're about a week and a half into the season, let's take a look at some surprises, some not so surprises, some good starts, and some not so good starts.

**First, where are the elite goaltenders? It's gotten better for some in the last several games, but top-tier goalies like Evgeni Nabokov, Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas and Miikka Kiprusoff have not fared all that well in the early going. The first three on that list have been shelled heavily, but Nabokov and Luongo are beginning to show signs of getting back to form. Kiprusoff has won each of his four starts but allowed three goals in each of them. Chris Osgood is another who struggled early but played well in his last two games, Marc-Andre Fleury is 4-0 but has given up 11 goals, Nikolai Khabibulin is on the second page of's goalie's been ugly for most fantasy No. 1 netminders.

Henrik Lundqvist seems to be the only top-10 goalie who's playing like a top 10 goalie. Cam Ward and Niklas Backstrom could join him on that list but both have had starts they'd like a do-over on.

Instead, it's goalies like Dan Ellis, Craig Anderson and Ilya Bryzgalov who are making names for themselves. Pascal Leclaire has taken steps to having a nice bounceback season after a dreadful 2008-09 season. Ryan Miller is also having a strong early season start in Buffalo, but it's not entirely unexpected like with Anderson and Bryzgalov.

This is unlikely to continue to play out over a full season, but I think it's been one of the more intriguing subplots going on.

**I'm late on the analysis of Milan Lucic's contract extension so I'll make it brief. As a refresher, Lucic signed a three-year extension worth $4.083 million annually. At first glance, that's an awful lot of money for Lucic, 21. At second glance, it's still a lot of money. It's also just the latest in a contract that skips the "second contract" for an entry-level player and goes straight to the big money. It's a contract that pays as much for potential as well as current production. Or maybe a little more weighted on the "potential" part.

If Lucic expands his offensive game to start putting in 25 goals a season, it'll be a very good contract. If he stays in the 15-17 range - he scored 17 last year, his second season in the league - then he'll be overpaid. Lucic provides a lot of intangibles, among them fierce hitting and fighting, and he has Boston fans remembering the days of Cam Neely. But he'll need to reach at least that 25-goal mark for that contract to be reasonable.

Here's my big issue with the signing: Boston will pay over $4 million for Lucic and his intangibles, but they wouldn't pay $5 million for Phil Kessel and his 40-50 goal potential? I'd much rather have Kessel over Lucic. Many teams have a Lucic-type player. Not so much with a Kessel type.

**How many general managers do you think are sitting in their offices, looking at what's playing out in San Jose, and thinking, "Gah. If only..."

One of the hottest players in the league so far is Dany Heatley. Fans may want to call him whatever names they want to, but face facts: He's tied for the league lead with 10 points and he's scored five goals on 16 shots - two game-winners - in five games. He had a hat trick in his home debut, the first San Jose player to pull off that feat. No one outside Washington is hotter, except for maybe linemate Joe Thornton, who has nine assists and 10 points.

Is Heatley going to carry that performance into the playoffs and get the Sharks past the first round? That remains to be seen. But if he plays at even an inkling of the level he's playing at now, San Jose's journey to get to the playoffs will be relatively easy.

How are the two players traded for Heatley faring? Well, not so good. Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek have combined for just one point - an assist by Cheechoo - and are a collective minus-2. They have fired just 16 shots between them through Ottawa's first four games.

Heatley is still only 28, by the way. He'll turn 29 in January but it's not like he's 33 and about to be over the hill. He's still in his prime.

**Some teams have still played just three games through Saturday, so it's tough to begin pointing fingers at disappointments on either an individual or collective basis, but here are some names anyway: the Florida Panthers and specifically David Booth; Eric Staal; Bobby Ryan; Jonathan Toews; Michael Cammalleri; Jason Spezza; Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay; and Washington's Mike Knuble.

**Conversely, some pleasant surprises. On a team level, Los Angeles, Columbus, Colorado and Atlanta. Individually, the Kings' top line of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth, who have 20 points among them; Washington's Brooks Laich; Calgary's Rene Bourque; Phoenix's Radim Vrbata; Colorado's Wojtek Wolski and Craig Anderson; and both Nashville goalies, Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. That's not all, certainly, just a few.

**Some might want to label Ottawa a pleasant surprise, especially with Spezza's lack of production and Heatley's absence. I'm not surprised the Senators are winning - they were much better last year after the coaching change - but maybe there's some surprise given the two factors I mentioned in the first sentence.

**We'll give John Tavares special mention for posting five points (two goals) in his first three NHL games. Islanders fans have someone exciting to watch each night. Here's hoping they stay on Long Island.

That's all for now. Until next time.

No comments: