Monday, February 15, 2010

Week Twenty Newsletter

We've made it to the Olympic Break... 20 weeks in the books and we now get a couple of weeks off from NHL action to concentrate on the Olympics in Vancouver.

The leads in both pools have been shrinking going into the break, both Leon in the Draft and John P. in the Sheet pool, have been watching their competition catch up to them in their rear view mirrors, but it will almost be like hitting the reset button when all of the Olympians head back to their NHL clubs and vacations end for those who didn't travel to Vancouver show off their tans at practice.

Another thing to remember during the break is that NHL general managers will be chatting during the break, making sure that they have all of their deals ready to go when the roster freezes open up and I'll be chatting about some of the potential moves on the Rumour Mill blog, which I hope will be kept busy during the next couple week.

Well, let's see how the last week of pre-Olympic action went down, I can assure you, it looks really interesting.

Poll Question
I thought I posted quite the insightful question last week and I think it did okay. The first poll in a few weeks did okay, garnering 13 votes. I asked you which move made recently was the most important to the respective team and you thought that the Devils picking up Ilya Kovalchuk was the most important. It's hard not to agree, but at the beginning of the week, I thought the Flames moving Dion Phaneuf was the most important move, which was agreed upon, but I may have wanted to change my mind by the end of the week, since the Flames really didn't change after the move.

So, during the Olympic Break, I'm going to avoid the Olympics altogether with the new question. I'm going to tickle the trade deadline a bit, since we should be preparing for quite the gong show. I want to know who you covet the most for your favourite team. I have chosen some of the most likely players to move before the deadline passes, so have at it!

A new weekly record! I can't say I was expecting to see any astronomical numbers this week, but we had four teams eclipse the 40-point barrier and Larry almost hit the 50-point mark with his 49 points in Week Twenty. That tops Leon's 48 points that he had in Week Five. It was a high scoring week overall, as the pool saw 535 points between all 17 teams, only the pool's third 500+ point week, so I suppose a record was going to be challenged this week, eh?

So, thanks to this big week, Larry has put his firm bid in on chasing down Leon in first place, as he has now jumped into second in the standings from fourth and has taken the lead down to 22 points heading into the post-Olympic stretch of the season, which is only six weeks long. That's going to be one hell of a chase.

Larry has had the hottest team for the last five weeks, leading the whole pool with 179 points in that stretch, 113 in the last three weeks, also a pool high.

Catapulting Larry to the top again this week (his second time in the last three weeks) was Martin St. Louis (8 points), Alex Semin (7), Mike Green (6), Filip Kuba (6) and Ray Whitney (5). Surprisingly, Larry only picked up two points from his goaltending tandem, which makes this accomplishment a little more spectacular. Having 47 points away from your goaltending is astounding... to say the least.

Larry now ranks second in the pool in points per game from his skaters, .716 points-per-game from 701 games played, which ranks third. His goaltending team this year, which has seen two changes, ranks 13th this season in points per 60 minutes and 10th in minutes with 4,307.

Jersey PrizeWell, the third jersey race, which has a nice new standings box on the actual standing page gives you an up-to-date total for the race, which keeps everyone in the know. Ending the week, Larry does take the lead from Wes and holds a 4-point lead, but there's lots of hockey left to be played there... a solid four weeks left in the race. I do think we can count Trevor out of the race here, he's now 60 points back at the end of this week... can't see him coming back from that deficit to win the jersey.

Some weeks, it still surprises me when the numbers become so polarized. When Larry is setting a record with 49 points in a week and the average week is 31.5 points. But here's Peter finishing Week Twenty with only 12 points, it's really amazing. I don't know if its really a plus, but Peter didn't manage to fall down any positions with his low week, probably because the gap between his 13th spot and 14th was so large to start, but now he only holds a 2-point lead for the position over Stacey and opened up a 33-point gap to 12th spot. That's hard to recover from, but I would also say that any team is going to be open to harsh weeks. I suppose the only thing a team can hope for in this position is a healthy start to the post-Olympic stretch and maybe hope that other teams around them find their way down.

For how great of a season Steven Stamkos is having with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I'm surprised that this is his first Player of the Week nod. I could honestly say that I wasn't expecting such a good season, but I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing I had this kid on my pool team. Allan snuck him through the Draft in the fourth round this year, 57th overall and he goes into the break in 17th in pool scoring. That's a great pick.

Anyways, Stamkos actually managed to be the better Draft player in the week by a couple points, as he finished Week Twenty with 9 points.

On Tuesday, Stamkos had a goal and an assist in Tampa's 3-1 win over the Canucks. Thursday, it was a 3-assist effort in a 5-4 near-comeback loss to the Bruins. Saturday on Long Island, he has a goal and an assist in another 5-4 loss to the Islanders. Finally, on Sunday, it was yet another goal and assist in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers in Madison Square Gardens. That's 3 goals and 6 assists in 4 games... that's a pretty good click.

It also has to be said that it doesn't happen often, if at all before, that a Player of the Week nod goes to a player that was on a team that had a losing record in the week. With the Lightning going 1-3-0, this scoring feat seems to be a massive bright spot, one that stokes the debate on whether or not the Team Canada officials really gaffed by leaving him off the team.

It's been a while since I did a cold player note, but I think going into the break, we might just have to take note of how cold the Oilers have been. One 20-goal scorer, Dustin Penner, only five more that have cracked 10 goals. Penner, their top scorer, ranks 65th in pool scoring... he's their only top-100 player in the rankings. Sam Gagner & Lubomir Visnovsky, both of whom missed out on some time this year, rank 2nd & 3rd on the team, while makeshift starting goalie, Jeff Deslauriers, ranks 189th in pool rankings. This has not been a great year in Oilers scoring, to say the least.

Stat Pack

The lead has been cut down some more! John P.'s lead is now down to 24 points after losing more ground to the other nine teams in the top ten in the standings. Everyone made a move on John, which really has to have John worried at this point in the season. The season only has six more weeks to it and he's come down from over 50 points a month ago, I believe. 2nd to 4th is only 14 points difference, which has easily been lost & made up this season, especially in the last few weeks, so that race isn't over yet. The gap from 4th to 5th is now 37 points, not impossible by any means, but it'll need some work. 5th to 10th is only 24 points, which is also quite make able, in the last six weeks, so there is plenty of room to move in the money.

It's the same old story when it comes to the top points in the week... I'll just say that 89 points was good enough for tops. It makes a big difference to have sort out your trades and get most of them done!

Movement was kept to a minimum in the week, as 18 teams didn't make any change in the standings in the week, while the top movers up in the standings only moved three spots. Both Dieter G. & Jamie C. moved up a threesome of spots, although Jamie's was a little more substantial, as he climbed back into the top ten, hitting 9th place, which ties his previous peak position in the pool. Hopefully, he can keep that climb going, as the top ten is still rather close with six weeks to go.

I'm hoping to draw up some statistical blogs while the Olympic Break is on... gonna have to keep these fingers busy somehow, while the NHL is on vacation.

Other News and Notes

With both Nigel Dawes and David Moss entering the line-up again, a player had to be scratched and that turned out to be Dustin Boyd, the Box 8 forward. The Flames ended their pre-Olympic break schedule with a 3-1 win against the Ducks and it looks like the roster moves were helpful. After the Olympic Break, I'm sure the one team with Boyd in the Sheet pool will be pulling for his return.

Mikael Backlund, the Flames' Box 9 player, is one of many to take advantage of the Olympic Break by heading back to the AHL for two weeks and keeping his legs going and continuing to learn the game. It sounds like Backlund has earned a regular spot on the team for the time being, so I'm expecting him back up with the club when the break ends.

Much like Backlund above him, Zach Boychuk was also sent down to the AHL for the Olympic Break. Although, in Boychuk's case, the Hurricanes might not need to call him back up to the bigs when the break is over, since they are still dealing with an injury to Erik Cole, which might see him back in the line-up instead. If Boychuk comes back up, it's likely because the Hurricanes are going to make a trade that sees a forward out of town and Boychuk will get minutes to learn from down the stretch.

Some general bumps & bruises for Brent Sopel kept the Box 14 defender out of the Blackhawks line-up on Sunday. Sopel has had some difficulties with injuries & consistency earlier on in the year, but after blocking some shots the night before, he was decidedly held out of the line-up for safe keeping. The break should do him a lot of good.

Finnish forward, Jere Lehtinen, suffered a laceration to his knee on Thursday night after he blocked a shot. The Stars decided to rest the veteran forward on Saturday night, just as a precaution. This injury shouldn't affect his participation in the Olympics and barring any other injury at that tournament, he should be good to go once play resumes.

A re-aggravation of a former knee injury will now keep Tomas Holmstrom out of the Olympics over the next couple weeks. Holmstrom left Saturday's game with the same injury which kept the Swedish winger out of the line-up for quite a while already this year. His status for the restart to the NHL season will remain up in the air.

Joining the parade to the AHL was Phoenix's Box 6 forward, Mikkel Boedker, who was expected to head back down to the AHL for the break. Boedker has been the first one up or down when the Coyotes needed bodies in the New Year, and it will be a question of team health that will determine whether or not Boedker will be back up with the team or not.

The Penguins were also not going to take many risks with their back-up goalie, Brent Johnson, as he didn't dress on Sunday afternoon, because of a groin injury. The Penguins managed to call-up John Curry on an emergency basis to back-up Marc-Andre Fleury against the Predators. The injury to Johnson does not sound terribly serious and he is expected to be okay when play resumes in the NHL season.

Click here to see an updated injury page.

This is where I'd usually put the Hockey Night In Canada preview, but since that's two weeks away, I think I'll put together a Week Twenty-One Preview post, just so it all stays a little more fresh in our minds. Have a good Olympic Break... and if you've made it this far in the newsletter, I might have a special Olympic Pool for you to join, but you have to drop me an e-mail.

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