NHL: MAR 28 Sabres at Avalanche

A lot has happened since my last segment. Patrick Kane racked up a whole bunch of points and I got married. I've also had plenty of time to think about hockey in the lead-up to this return column.

Here's what's on my mind: 

1. THE NHL'S SUPPOSED GOAL SCORING PROBLEM ISN'T ACTUALLY A PROBLEM

Three players are on-pace to break the 100-point player, despite the greatly exaggerated news of the 100-point player's demise. One is currently on pace for 90, but that could change tomorrow (there were three a week ago). Eight are on pace for 80-89 points. Twenty players are on-pace for 70-79 points. If anything, this demonstrates a more even distribution of wealth. 

The other factor here is that, as much as we tout the improved quality of play (which is absolutely the case), the stars of today aren't necessarily better than the stars of yesterday. Sidney Crosby is not Wayne Gretzky. Ryan Getzlaf isn't Mario Lemieux. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane aren't Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov. It's just the reality of the situation. 

Goaltending is better than it used to be. Defense is better than it used to be. Are those bad things? Of course not. Why would they be? It's not like we're seeing soccer-esque scores in the majority of hockey games. And besides, shouldn't the NHL be happy to showcase different aspects of the sport? It's not all about goals. I think the balance is perfect right now, and nothing needs to be changed. 

2. JOHNNY GAUDREAU IS THE BEST OF THE 2011 DRAFT CLASS

For fun, I decided to revisit the 2011 Entry Draft and determine where players should've been picked in hindsight. It's clear to me that Gaudreau is the best in his class. Gabriel Landeskog makes a good case, as does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Gaudreau's the more dynamic player of the three. He took longer to develop, which could've hurt his draft value, but there's no reason he shouldn't have at least been selected in the first round. The Flames plucked a gem. 

3. PLETHORA OF SLUMPING STARS AN ANOMALY, CAUSED BY VARIOUS COINCIDENTAL CIRCUMSTANCES 

It seems like just about every star player is having a down year, and you might be quick to point to that as proof that the NHL really does have a scoring problem. But if you look closer at each player's situation, you can see the reasons behind their respective slumps.

The Penguins were struggling as a team, which has brought everyone's numbers down -- including Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. John Tavares has tried to do too much at times and hasn't been himself, which is why his numbers are down. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have had trouble because the Ducks are struggling. Steven Stamkos is weighed down by his contract situation, whether he'll admit that or not. 

There's no league-wide pandemic, no goal shortage. Players struggle all the time and for a multitude of reasons. This year, it happens to be the case for several stars. 

4. WHY ROOKIE GOALIES OFTEN START OFF WELL, BUT CAN'T KEEP IT UP

How many times have we seen a young goalie come into the NHL red-hot over the past few years? John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, Andrew Hammond, Michael Hutchinson, Garret Sparks, Mike Condon. The Maple Leafs seem to have a new one every other week. 

So, why do they start off so hot and then suddenly turn freezing cold? Two words: Scouting Report. 

Until shooters know the book on a goalie, it's hard for them to pick their targets. You know you have a good NHL netminder when he's played long enough for opponents to gain a better understanding of his tendencies and has remained effective. When this doesn't happen, it doesn't necessarily mean he's not cut out to be an NHL goaltender; it means he might not be ready to handle that role just yet. It could also mean he'll never be able to, but that's not the only possible outcome. 

NHL: MAR 28 Sabres at Avalanche5. WE'RE NOT TALKING ENOUGH ABOUT RASMUS RISTOLAINEN

I know the tendency these days is to just pick whichever defenseman amasses the most points, and though Ristolainen doesn't have that under his belt, he does have 24 points this season. He's also been exceptionally sound away from the puck, and has shown he can be physical as well. He's on my Norris ballot right now (just in case anyone wants my vote).

 

Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter @bardownhowitzer

 

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