Blue Line Bill’s NHL Midseason Update

Bill Stoklosa

As you all no doubt know, the NHL All-Star Game was actually several weeks ago, so this report is a little late. However, since it’s always better late than never, here is my belated midseason report about the best and worst from around the league.

The MVP for the first half of the season has to be Alexander Ovechkin. The Russian sensation has a whopping 48 goals and 78 total points. No player is as vital to his team’s success as Ovechkin is. Ovechkin is often overshadowed by Sidney Crosby who entered the league the same year as he did, but Ovechkin has actually been the more prolific goal scorer over his career. Ovechkin has the Capitals just two points behind first place Carolina in the Southeast division. It is safe to say that Washington would not even be within 100 miles of the playoffs without him. Aside from Ovechkin the Caps have zilch, with no one within 32 goals of Ovechkin’s total. Honorable mention for MVP goes to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin whose 77 points put him just behind Ovechkin on the leaderboard. He’s been carrying the load for Pittsburgh in the absence of Crosby, who’s been out with an injury and has kept the Penguins near the top of the East. However he only has 34 goals to Ovechkin’s 48, which gives Ovechkin the slight edge in my book.

The best defensemen this year has been an oldie but a goody, Nicklas Lidstrom. He leads the league in plus/minus with a whopping +39. A good plus/minus means he’s doing his job by keeping the puck out of his zone and getting it into the attacking zone. Lidstrom has also been proficient at passing the puck, with 21 assists. He is a big reason why Detroit currently holds the best record in the NHL.

I feel the best goalie in the NHL this season has been Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. Thomas isn’t as well known as goalies like Roberto Luongo and Dominik Hasek, but he’s been lights out this year with a .924 save percentage (second in the league) and 1,173 saves. He’s the reason that the Bruins have yielded the second fewest goals in the league and are currently tied for the final playoff spot in the East.

The most disappointing player this year has been Jaromir Jagr, who has mustered just 15 goals this year for the New York Rangers. He’s getting paid like he is an elite player, but he hasn’t been playing like one. Teammate Chris Drury is a close second. He got a huge contract from the Rangers this offseason and was supposed to lead a phenomenal Rangers offense. Instead his plus/minus is -8. Drury and Jagr were supposed to key a stellar offense in New York. The Rangers have currently scored the fewest goals in the conference.

The most disappointing team this year has to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are a perennial playoff team. But this year they just aren’t getting it done. The main culprit is their defense and goaltending. No defensemen has a positive plus/minus and no goalie on the roster has a save percentage over .900. They are getting the usual production from Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier on offense, but they just can’t score enough to make up for the poor play from the blue line and between the pipes.

The best coach so far this season has been Montreal’s Guy Carbonneau. Montreal was expected to take a nose dive after losing Sheldon Souray in the off-season, but they have actually fared better this year. They are currently tied for first in the East and their power play, which was led by Souray last year, is by far the best in league this year with a whopping 24.1% success rate. Carbonneau has the team playing exceptional on the road with a 19-9-4 record. He’s gotten Alexi Kovalev to play up to his potential and has done a good job melding veterans like Saku Koivu with rising stars like Tomas Plekanec. You probably have not heard of Plekanec but he has 21 goals, 33 assists and a plus 8 rating. Cabonneau has also been exceptional at getting blueliners like Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik to make up for Souray’s defection. Don’t be surprised to see this team, which also sports great goaltending from Cristobal Huet and Carey Price, hoist the Cup. Right now they are my favorite to do so, even though I thought they’d be last in their division at the beginning of the year.

The rookie of the year thus far is the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane. The Buffalo native was supposed to be great and he has lived up to the hype. He leads all rookies with 50 points on 13 goals and 37 assists. Honorable mention goes to teammate Jonathan Toews, who actually has more goals than Kane (17) but only 20 assists. Phoenix’s Peter Mueller has also been solid with 19 goals and 21 assists.

The most surprising player this season has to be goaltender Ty Conklin. He was cast off from Buffalo and went to Pittsburgh in the off-season. He started the season in the minors, but was called up on December 8th when Marc-André Fluery was injured. Since then he has been nothing short of extraordinary with a league leading .932 save percentage, a 2.19 goals against average and a 15-4-3 record. If he had played the whole year he would have been my pick for best goalie.

As the trade deadline approaches and the number of games dwindle things are getting interesting in the NHL. So tune in and watch some hockey; I’ll probably be watching too.