Monday, June 05, 2006

The Fresh Faced NHL

In retrospect of the 2005/06 season, I'm looking over a lot of the pool numbers from last season and in comparison to seasons past, we've found ourselves with a huge overhaul of the Top 10 players, in regards to pool points.

If I was to use my system of points, there were 9 new faces in the Top 10 from the 2003/04 season, Ilya Kovalchuk (#6 in 'o4, #9 in '06) is the only one who remains. Kovalchuk's emergence in '04 was forecasting big things for the 23 year-old Russian and he didn't disappoint... except in the pre-season when no one knew if he was going to play for the Thrashers or not. He did... and oh boy, did he play. His 52 goals last season was almost the best in the league only bested by a few. His stock will be pretty high during the off-season and come the September drafting time, he'll be a definite first-rounder.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe top scorer of 2005/06, Joe Thornton, made his mark in San Jose after his mid-season trade from Boston. Thornton teamed up with Jonathon Cheechoo (#11 in '06) to capture both the Art Ross Trophy and Rocket Richard trophy, respectively. It was a devastating duo in San Jose and Thornton finally emerged as the superstar he was touted as back in 1997. He has been a Top 10 performer before, mind you... he finished 5th in '03, but slipped down to 29th in '04 due to some injuries and a lacklustre Bruin team. Make no mistake though, Thornton will be a force to be reckoned with in '07, thanks to the new rules.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNumber two on the list from '06 is Jaromir Jagr. The guy finally came to play this past season, unfortunately for him, he let the scoring lead and goal scoring lead slip from underneath him by the end of the year... but it was still an impressive run, nonetheless. Jagr's 54 goals in Ranger blue was the club's highest in history and so was his 123 points in total. Jagr hasn't always been a stranger from the upper eschelon of scoring, winning the Art Ross trophy a couple times in his career, but it's been a long time since that has actually happened. Still, despite his grand totals of accolades he'll receive in the off-season, as a poolie, I still have trouble trusting the guy... his tempermental approach to the game could be swayed fairly easy, which doesn't attract him to my pool team by any stretch of the imagination.

The debate that raged rather heavily at the start of the season was, "Who is better: Ovechkin or Crosby?" Well, in pool standards last season, Alexander Ovechkin finished #3 in '06 to Sidney Crosby's #7... which is unbelievable numbers for the two young rookies. Ovechkin finished with 106 points and Crosby finished with an admirable 102. With these two players making such a big splash in the league last season, it gives a couple more options as to who you'd feel more comfortable taking first overall in your pool. Both players were sort of mid-draft picks in both pools I was in last season, but look to be easy first rounders. How's that for being fresh-faced in the new NHL?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere was no real surprise to know who the best goalie in the pool was... because there was only one in the Top 10 in pool scoring last year. Miikka Kiprusoff dominated in the net for the Calgary Flames, registering a league-high 10 shutouts. Kiprusoff finished #4 in '06 with his 42 wins, a league-best save percentage and quite possibly a Vezina Trophy to cap off a stellar season. This is his first season finishing in the Top 10 of pool scoring, as he didn't get a full season in '04, yet still finishing #15. He may now be proving that he is the best goalie in the league and should be a popular pick again in '07... a definite first-rounder.

It was only a matter of time before Daniel Alfredsson hit the Top 10 in pool scoring and he finally did it in '06, reaching #5. He finished #15 in '04, #26 in '03 and #38 in '02... and now he's made into the elite company of the Top 10 in scoring. It certainly helped that his linemate, Dany Heatley finished #6 in scoring as well. The dynamic duo, centred by Jason Spezza (#15 in '06), were mighty dominant all year, when they were healthy, of course. If the line remains the same in '07, all three will look for Top 10 spots again in the pool. Spezza, however, is a Restricted Free Agent and may feel the pinch due to the large contracts for Redden & Chara that may need to be signed as well. That's a whole lot of money to dole out in the summer. Nevertheless, both Alfie and Heatley are looking to be perennial visitors of the Top 10 list.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe only way to make the season better for 100 point getter, Eric Staal, will be to beat the Oilers in the Cup Finals over the next week or so. The 2nd overall pick in 2003 came up trumps after a huge year in the AHL in '05 to score 45 goals in the NHL, to lead the Hurricanes into 2nd place in the East and now the birth in the Stanley Cup Finals starting tonight. He was an absolute force, with his 81 PIM in 81 games and also ranking in the Top 20 in shots on goal. Staal is quite possibly one of the better cornerstone players to build a franchise around, if not a dynasty in the salary capped NHL. His stock will soar... especially if there's a little more help to come for him in the next season or two.

Finally, the Top 10 is rounded out by Marc Savard with his 97 points to slot him into #10 for '06. The main benefactor of Kovalchuk's 98 point season, Savard will command some serious dough as the Unrestricted Free Agent he is. Savard sure knows how to ride some coattails of his more efficient teammates, but he does the trick, making him somewhat of a hot commodity, as much as some hockey people I know hate to admit it. It was a career year for Savard, eclipsing his previous best in points of 65 for Calgary in '01. It was career highs in almost every category for Savard, but the real question is can he do it again? Watch the contract negotiations this year... where will he end up?

The 2003/'04 Top 10 and where they finished:
Martin Brodeur NJD #1 in '04 & #11 in '06
Marty Turco DAL #2 in '04 & #19 in '06
Martin St. Louis TAM #3 in '04 & #77 in '06
Ed Belfour TOR #4 in '04 & below #100 in '06
Evgeni Nabokov SAN #5 in '04 & below #100 in '06
Joe Sakic COL #7 in '04 & #21 in '06
Markus Naslund VAN #8 in '04 & #30 in '06
Tomas Vokoun NAS #9 in '04 & #27 in '06
Jose Theodore COL #10 in '04 & below #100 in '06

The goalies didn't fare so well in '06, losing jobs, injuries, getting traded... and the new points system also took away possible points for ties, as Shootout & Overtime losses didn't count in my pool this year. It was good to see a lot more forwards jumping up into the Top 10... it made scoring a lot more important than the win column for goalies. Look for that same trend in '07.

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