Coming out of the NHL's All-Star break, our plan was to get our feet wet again by checking on the teams that basically locked in their playoff spot through the first half of the season. That was these guys:
Yesterday, we looked at the top four Western Conference teams - Minnesota, Chicago, San Jose, and Anaheim. Today, we will bring it back home and look at the three Metropolitan teams and the one Atlantic team who have all basically secured a spot in the postseason. We'll do it our usual way where we check the team's SB Nation site to see what's going on in their world, and then use HockeyViz to illustrate it more clearly.
Washington Capitals (Japers' Rink)
I was going to use their "Is Nate Schmidt better than a third-pair defenseman?" piece, but that relied almost exclusively on Corsi at the beginning and nobody cares about Nate Schmidt anyway.
Evgeny Kuznetsov Named NHL’s First Star for January by Becca H (link)
The NHL announced today that Evgeny Kuznetsov has been named the first star of the month for January, after picking up 20 points in his last 15 games (including a two-point effort last night, his seventh multi-point game of the month).His 20 points in 15 games during the month brought him up to 39 points in 50 games for the season, and he's as good a "second line" center as there is in the NHL. He's due a bump from his current $3 million contract this summer, and I imagine that the Caps are ready to commit a lot of money for a long time to the soon-to-be-25-year-old.
Let's start the visual portion of this exercise with HockeyViz's new and improved Season Summary Skater Card (TM).
The short version is the Caps are good in general, but they are both Good and Fun with Kuznetsov. It's certainly a luxury for Washington to have a second-line center that produces like a first-line one (both at even strength and on the power play), and that's part of the reason that they're atop the Metro.
Columbus Blue Jackets (The Cannon)
The Final Sprint: Predictions and Expectations for the Final 34 Games by Eric Seeds (link)
The Blue Jackets cooled off, but are still in good shape. So, what would we like to see from the Blue Jackets going forward?There are three predictions included that I think will translate well to HockeyViz graphics.
Secure one of the divisional spots in the playoffs: Securing a divisional spot would show that team played well for the entirety of the season, and were not just a flash in the pan because of the winning streak. It would also mark the best finish the team has ever had in the regular season.
Barring a heroic surge from the Rangers - which seems unlikely given that everyone on Twitter was mourning the death of Henrik Lundqvist last night. I'll go out on a limb here and say that the top three teams in the Metro have all created a big enough cushion to clinch the Metro's three playoff spots.
Cam Atkinson hits 70 points: Cam hitting 70 points would obviously be a career high for the first time All Star. He would need 24 points in the final 34 games.
Even though he was (deservedly) named an All-Star, I don't think people really realize how well Cam Atkinson has played this season. The BJ's take a TON of shots from high-danger areas with Atkinson on the ice, and Cam is ripping a lot of those shots himself.
Looking forward to the second half of the year, Columbus' top six of Wennberg-Atkinson-Foligno-Dubinsky-Saad-Jenner is going to be good enough to sustain their offensive pace. Throw in Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell (a pair of "should of kept" Former Flyers with offensive upside), and it almost seems like the Jackets have a pretty damn solid group of forwards.
Zach Werenski finishes in the top 3 of Calder voting: It is pretty clear that the Calder Trophy will be won by one of Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, who are both having fantastic seasons. However. Zach Werenski is having an excellent season in his own right.Seth Jones is the workhorse for the Blue Jackets. Jack Johnson, Werenski, and either David Savard or Ryan Murray usually round out their top four. Coming into the year, I think most of us thought it was going to Jones and a bunch of scrubs.
Well, one of those other scrubs turned out to be a pretty fucking sweet 19-year-old hockey player.
He hasn't quite adapted his near point-per-game pace at Michigan to even strength play in the NHL yet, but he's a strong power play pointman. Of his 31 points this season, 17 of them have been on the advantage. The only defensemen with more power play points are Shea Weber, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Victor Hedman.
And in terms of the overall scoring race, Werenski is similarly impressive:
But the biggest reason that I think Werenski has earned his Calder nomination (he'll lose to Matthews, but still) is the following portion of his Season Summary Skater Card (TM):
There is a mild amount of sheltering that happens here - Werenski isn't generally used as a shutdown defensemen against the opponents' elite players - but this is incredible. He makes an already-great Columbus team even better in terms of goal differential, and his underlying (or play-driving) metrics are almost unconscionably good.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Pensburgh)
NHL Trade Rumors: Report that Penguins want to trade Marc-Andre Fleury before deadline by Hooks Orpik (link)
Here are all of the hot quotes from Penguins GM Jim Rutherford:
"It’s been good to have those two goalies to get us to where we are," Rutherford said. "Are we going to be able to hold onto that? We’ll just have to see how that plays out. It becomes more difficult as the season goes along for the coach to keep both guys happy."
"If a team calls and something makes sense for us, whether it’s to open up cap space, or to make our team better presently or down the road, or to clean up the situation because one of the goalies wants to play more. Whatever that may be, I’ll deal with that at the time. But I don’t feel pressure to do that right today."
"There are a few variables. The expansion draft is one variable. Also, are both goalies going to be comfortable in that situation all the way through to the end? And finally, does somebody come along with an offer that makes sense?''
"And goalie, more than anything, is the position where it's hard to make two players happy. So that will probably end up being the most important thing in our situation."
I mean that sounds like Rutherford just walked out of a conversation with Fleury and Murray where they both complained about not playing enough. That's not a throwaway one-liner that found its way harmlessly into an interview. That is four different mentions of "keeping both guys happy" so I'm going to go out on a limb and say it is a real concern in the Penguins' locker room and front office.
Here's the dagger, from ESPN's Pierre Lebrun:
I think it's obvious that the Penguins would rather deal Fleury before March 1 than wait until the offseason, but that decision may be out of their hands.As far as destinations, I am not an insider so I don't know shit about dick. But here's how Fleury and Murray compare so far this season:
If I were a betting man, I would wager that the Penguins were hoping that Fleury would have been a more enticing piece of trade bait over the first half of this season. The team has played decently in front of him, but those big gaps of red on the Save Percentage section of the chart are stretches where Fleury was getting outplayed by opposing goaltenders. Murray, on the other hand, has been solid all year long.
Lots of teams could use a boost in goal this season. Philadelphia and Carolina are having two of the worst goaltending seasons since the lockout. St. Louis is having an even worse season, and they wouldn't be a division rival for the Penguins. Dallas is another Western Conference option, but they already have a ton of money committed to goalies.
I don't know where Fleury is going to go. But I do strongly believe that he's going to go somewhere.
Montreal Canadiens (Eyes On The Prize)
Mark Barberio placed on waivers by Mark Dumont (link)
Please allow me to step outside of my usual HockeyViz mold to include one of Domenic Galamini's HERO charts:
You're telling me that nobody was interesting in acquiring that guy for a mid-round pick or low-level prospect?
Nobody thought they could use a little extra juice in the defensive zone? I mean, I get that he has no goals and only two primary assists, but even in the new NHL there's still a role for a defender who suffocates everything in his own end and helps push play in the other direction.