Join Timo Seppa to talk turkey when it comes to action on the ice.
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Hello readers! Ready to take your questions while I tune into some early PM hockey. Looks like a good chance for the Isles to break that losing streak this afternoon...
Matthew Coller (Rochester): Who turns things around first: The Islanders or Devils?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Hi Matt! Assuming that you mean in the short term, the Devils have already been showing signs, and that's with Parise on LTIR and Brodeur out intermittently - though I'm not sure New Jersey is a great team this season.
That said, I've got a feeling the Islanders might just get their long awaited win this afternoon at NVMC against said Devils. Regardless of what Islanders ownership and management have said, this should always have been considered a rebuilding year, and definitely so after the preseason injuries to Streit and Okposo. As far as positives, Travis Hamonic (#37 on Top 50 NHL Prospects, per Corey Pronman in Hockey Prospectus 2010-11) had a very promising NHL debut on Wednesday night against Columbus. He's a keeper.
Jon (Pleasanton, CA): Should I think about trading high on Tim Thomas? Raask is still playing well and I've got to imagine it morphs into more of a 50-50 timeshare.
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Tim Thomas and Carey Price sure are having bounceback seasons! But you've got the right idea here, thinking of selling high. If you can get a very good return for Thomas, he is worth trading, but not for some mediocre forward, of course. I don't doubt that Thomas will continue to have a fine season, but I completely agree with you that the eventual timeshare is at best an unknown.
Nice passing play there and Jesse Joensuu, of all players, puts the Islanders ahead 1-0.
THW Rick Gethin (Nationwide...): Timo - As far as teams go, is Columbus the biggest surprise to you? If not, why not?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Columbus is definitely one of the biggest for me. After finishing near the bottom of the league last season, they're amazingly at the top of the Central Division--ahead of Detroit, Chicago, early season leader St. Louis, and perennial playoff contender Nashville--at a 14-6-0 record (.700).
I got a chance to see the Jackets grind out a win against the Islanders on Wednesday. Vermette-Umberger-Dorsett line was fantastic, although the Nash line was invisible. Filatov was a healthy scratch due to an unnamed off-ice issue, though he seemed in good spirits after the game. Hopefully, they get Filatov clicking. He's Hockey Prospectus' #1 NHL Prospect, so we expect a lot out of him!
Rick and Mike Colligan host a fine radio program on Sundays at 6pm if you have a chance to listen in.
YankeesSuck0213 (Dayton, Ohio): What's going on with the Blackhawks?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Consequences of the cap hell that a certain former GM got them into. The top half of their lineup is still among the best in the NHL: Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, Hossa and Sharp are top shelf talents and Brouwer and Bolland are fine contributors as well. In addition, Hjalmarsson should be a solid second pairing guy in theory and their goaltending is decent. But after that? All of a sudden, their bottom six forwards and third pairing defense have disappeared--talent like Byfuglien, Ladd, Eager, Fraser, Burish, Sopel. The Blackhawks have gone from handily outclassing their opposition on their third and fourth lines to being outclassed. Stan Bowman should piece it together better over time, but there's no doubt they've taken a step backwards for this year.
Colin White takes Bruno Gervais down with a right - two guys you don't normally see fighting. Gervais has been playing spirited defense for the Isles, so I'd hate to see him get hurt in that kind of fracas.
Matthew Coller (Rochester): Lindy Ruff seems to have finally caught on that Craig Rivet can't play NHL hockey anymore. Should he change captains? What about Miller becoming the captain?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): There are a bunch of teams in this kind of situation. The Devils, with Jamie Langenbrunner, come to mind as well. At worst, these teams will likely watch their aging captains walk away via free agency at the end of the year, though I'm sure they'd jump at a chance to jettison them earlier.
I guess this begs the question of why Rivet is captain in the first place. It's probably because players like Roy and Connolly aren't considered captain material, right? So who's the choice? You probably know as well as me. The Luongo experiment was ended in Vancouver, so I don't see another team naming a goaltender as captain.
And among Sabres defensemen, don't just look at Craig Rivet as a disappointment. Have you noticed Shaone Morrisonn's -12 rating in 17 games? Yikes. That's the price of signing toughness.
Sasha (Las Vegas): Is there such a thing as an "elite" goaltender anymore? If so, who are they?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): In my mind, yes. You need to see elite performance for a number of seasons to put a netminder in that category - think Tomas Vokoun. But it's true that goaltending performance tends to vary greatly from year to year, at least much more so than offensive performance. Check out Ilya Bryzgalov's last four seasons as a prime example of that: .907, .920, .906, .920.
Roberto Luongo (Vancouver): Do I have the most untradeable contract in the NHL?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): I was going to say "Heck, no" but I'm not sure you'd find a ton of teams taking on a contract through 2022, even for a top netminder, especially with how little goalies were being signed for this past offseason. But there are worse contracts out there--DiPietro and Horcoff, for instance. Campbell's is similar to Luongo's in that it's a bad contract, but at least the player is performing well.
Hockey Fan (Hockey Land): Timo, why do some GMs (you can probably guess which ones) seem to get inordinately long leashes, with which to screw up their teams for year after year? Without counting GMs in their first two years of work, who would you say are the best two and worst two currently employed in the role at the NHL level?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): That's a big question. I guess I'd like to ask who you had in mind!
If you're looking at a Garth Snow, consider that the Islanders can't spend above the cap floor based on the fact that they lose $15-$25 million per year as it is. You don't just want to look at what team is doing well and which one isn't, but how they're positioning themselves for the future. Teams that have been near the bottom of the league recently, like New York, Edmonton, and Tampa, should be judged on whether they're taking the right steps to compete within a few years. All of those teams have taken solid steps, but I'm not sure any of them have hit it out of the park...well, maybe with Stamkos!
You also need to look at teams like Calgary, who are decent but aging, who are much more likely to slide into the abyss rather than take a major step forward. As far as choosing the best and the worst, I'll defer for now. Maybe we can do a Prospectus Roundtable to get a bunch of our writers to weigh in on it.
MathMan (Ottawa): What do you think happened to the Habs? Why are they so much better than last year outside the crease, without much in the way of roster changes?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Les Habitants were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference over the second half of last season, along with Washington and Philadelphia. All three teams are near the top of the conference through a quarter of 2010-11.
Carey Price is doing his best Jaro Halak impression, and many of their players are better than most of the pundits give them credit for. It's not much of a sample to look at, but Montreal has been: even better at goal prevention, better at even strength, good again on the power play (after a slow start), unsustainably good on the PK, and staying even on shots this season. So expect them to come back to the pack again once Carey Price remembers that he's Carey Price, but overall, the Canadiens should be better than last season's regular season team.
Great wrister by Robbie Schremp, putting New York up by 2-0! Scoring slump might be ending. And the Devils have had just as much trouble as the Islanders in putting the puck in the net this season, maybe more.
Steve (Clearwater, FL): Is it time to elevate Steven Stamkos into Ovechkin/Crosby territory yet?
And should Guy Boucher start clearing room on his shelf for the Jack Adams Trophy?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): That was pretty much the question at the League of Extraordinary Statisticians this week: who would you start your franchise around today? My choice was Crosby over Ovechkin, but Stamkos is definitely the player to keep your eye on. I'm not sure he's got enough track record to warrant it quite yet. If you look closely, both Stamkos and the Bolts are scoring like crazy on the power play, but I'm not sure if you can consider someone the best player in the league when most of those stats are piled up on the man advantage. Incidentally, Drew Doughty got a bunch of votes from the experts, as well.
I got a chance to ask Boucher a couple of questions in a presser a week ago, and he strikes me as a really, really bright guy. I'm guessing he'll pick up a Jack Adams in the not too distant future.
THW Rick Gethin (Nationwide...): In your opinion, which Division is the toughest in the league? Why?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): If Columbus keeps playing like this, then it's the Central Division for sure. Along with the Pacific Division--really, the only other contender--it's the only division where every team is over .500 (yes, although in hockey, you should really look at .550 as being ".500"). The "worst" team in the Central is the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Every team in the division has made the playoffs over the last two seasons, and the division has two Stanley Cup winners and one runner-up over the last three seasons.
I'd expect Detroit and Chicago to rise back to the top, but you've got five very solid teams there. There's even an outside possibility for all five to make it to the postseason.
russadams (St. Paul): What is your reaction to the recent meetings between the NHL and college hockey coaches? Any way to improve the relationship?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Unlike a sport like basketball, the NHL gets very few of their players (especially top players) from the NCAA ranks. So is it a story? Probably more there in St. Paul than in many other parts of the US that are interested in hockey. Not sure what you'd like to see the NHL do, as far as not "raiding" the odd player here or there.
My understanding about Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh, who both left Wisconsin for the Rangers, was that they were leaving the program when the Badgers' prospects for a very competitive season were pretty low. So did it really matter in that case?
Jon Sullivan (Pleasanton, CA): If I was going to look at trading Patrick Sharp, what should I target as a return?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Sharp's putting up good Goals, Assists, Points and a ton of Power Play Points, if those count in your league. If you're looking to trade him, his -10 rating will hurt unless you're trading to someone like me, who's punting plus-minus in their league (Though I wouldn't trade him because of the plus-minus, because that's bound to bounce back some). If you're going to trade Sharp, you better be really solid at forward to begin with or else you'll likely regret it. You'd look to get a very good defenseman or goalie in return.
Matthew Coller (Rochester): What should the Buffalo Sabres do about their backup goaltending situation? Lalime is supposedly loved by the team, but Enroth seems to have much more promise. What should they do if Miller gets hurt again?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): All right, closing in on two hours, so this is the last one I'll take for today...
I just go back to thinking about that Anaheim game last season, where Lalime was pulled at the end of one period after letting in four goals. It was supposed to be a game for Miller to rest. Somehow, it seemed a turning point of the season. Yes, that's mostly emotion speaking. But Lalime is what he is, a career .905 save percentage goalie who's had one season over .900 since the Lockout. You know that Lalime's a backup for sure, so you need to figure out what the 22-year-old Jhonas Enroth is, over more than a handful of games.
Islanders lead the Devils 2-0 after two periods. We'll see if they can hang on to break that long drought. Now don't start saying I was bad luck, just because I'm not there today!
Timo Seppa (Hockey): That's it for today. Have a great rest of your Thanksgiving weekend, and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you've got any suggestions for us here at Hockey Prospectus.