A few years ago, I was chatting with a GM about a team that started the NHL season very nicely.
"I believe in the 10-game rule," he snorted. "You don't get a true sense of a team in the first 10 games. I don't put too much into a hot or cold start."
Well, he's modified that stance -- slightly.
"With the three-point games, teams can't win the Stanley Cup in the first 10 games of the season," he said. "But they sure can lose it that quickly."
Spent a few hours on Sunday looking up the post-lockout standings, picking the date of Nov. 1 for each year. During those six seasons, the difference between eighth place and last place in each conference ranged from four to eight points. That early, it's difficult to create an incredible amount of separation.
Twenty teams who were not in the top eight on Nov. 1 recovered to make the playoffs. That's an average of almost 3.5 per season. (Just to clarify, the "Top 8" includes any team with the same point total as the eighth-place team. I wasn't going into tiebreakers so early in the season.)
Doesn't seem so bad, right? Depends. The safety net shreds for anyone falling too far behind. Of those 20 teams, guess how many of them were more than three points out?
Two. That's it.
The Buffalo Sabres were four points in arrears on Nov. 1, 2011. But that's absolutely cozy compared to the Calgary Flames, who were seven back on Nov. 1, 2007. Those recoveries are impressive, considering 27 other clubs failed to make the playoffs in the past six seasons when falling four points behind by that date.
So, that's something to keep an eye on. If your team is two wins out of the playoffs at the beginning of November, the three-point games give it a seven per cent chance of recovery.
That's pretty tough. You've got a better shot at the Caribbean Stud table.
1. Okay, here's the deal with Shane Doan and the horse, from Inside Hockey. Jeans are not really something you wear on an HNIC shoot. But, when he asks if I'm going to ride, well, you do what's best for the story. Besides, I wanted to do it. Haven't been on a horse since 1979, and, clearly, it showed. Forgot: if you don't let the horse know who's boss, it's going to own you. Great experience, and, apparently, I'm only a marginally worse rider than Martin Hanzal. As mentioned at the end of Saturday's show, the horse gives far more intelligent hockey commentary than PJ Stock.
2. Doan runs the ranch with the Coyotes' head equipment manager, Stan Wilson, and Wilson's wife, Shelly. Dave Tippett was there once and saw Doan ride one of the horses bareback, repeatedly flipping from side-to-side, heels hitting the ground each time. When he finished, Tippett said, "Don't ever do that again."
3. Doan is a UFA after this season and GM Don Maloney is on record as saying the captain will not be traded. Doan could have left a few years ago, but his family loves it there and he's loyal to the organization. The ownership situation looms large this time. If it doesn't get solved, this might be it.
4. Joffrey Lupul on playing with the scorching-hot Phil Kessel: "The moment we get the puck in our own zone, we're looking for him...You have to give him the puck when he gets speed." Kessel may not need a set-up man in the strictest sense of the term, because he prefers to get the puck long before he's in true "scoring" position.
5. There were 25 scouts at a Columbus game last week. What are you up to, Mr. Howson? Could be looking to move a centre. Columbus has such an excess, a few are playing the wing.
6. Most players and GMs seemed satisfied with Arron Asham's apology following the fight with Jay Beagle last week. "Clearly, Pittsburgh had someone waiting for him when he got off the ice, a pr person or maybe even Ray Shero," one manager said. "That's what you're supposed to do."
7. What interested me most was the reaction to Beagle's injury. "It made me sick to my stomach," one GM said. But he and a couple of compatriots who aren't crazy about fighting say a variation of the same thing: "I'm worried about what our game will look like if we get rid of it ... I'd rather see it phase out on its own than be legislated out." I think that's the majority opinion.
8. Another GM made an interesting point. How you set up your roster probably depends on what division you're in. You don't really need to carry a heavyweight in the Southeast Division because those teams don't follow that philosophy. But, in the Atlantic (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Islanders), you need to.
9. One scout on Jaromir Jagr: "I don't know how long he'll keep it up, but he looks great."
10. That Kings/Flyers game Saturday night was terrific hockey. Hard, intense and nasty. Watched Mike Richards twitter feed (@MRichie18) to see what he's say after such an eventful night -- an ovation, then regular booing, followed by an assist on the OT winner. Richards was clearly hurt by some of the things said about him after the trade and fired back via social media. This time, he said nothing. Good on him. Let your play do the talking.
11. Here's the important thing to remember about Brayden Schenn and the Flyers, as it was explained to me: Because Philadelphia is in "Long-Term Injury Status" with Ian Laperriere, all cap amounts are measured as full face value, and not by the daily number. Schenn's current cap amount is $1.69 million US. The team is $1,166,667 under the ceiling (the value of Laperriere's contract). There will have to be another move to get him to the NHL.
12. That move could be Blair Betts. Montreal wanted him, but not with a knee injury and Gary Bettman was correct in sending him back. Betts wasn't thrilled about the possibility of an AHL stint, and it looks like Philly will go the IR route instead. Paul Holmgren really likes Betts and it sounds like the player would be incredibly appreciative of that.
13. Sean Avery, by the way, has yet to play for the Connecticut Whale. He has a shoulder injury.
14. One person asked how Bettman could rule on Betts so quickly while the disagreement over the injured Colin Fraser continues. In the Betts case, there needed to be a quick decision on a player's future. In the other spat, that's not the case. If there is to be any compensation between the Kings and Oilers, it will likely be a draft pick. So, the two teams can wait a little, especially with LA starting the season overseas.
15. Two underrated things people have noticed about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: he has very strong defensive awareness and he can stop/start very quickly. During Saturday's game against Vancouver, there were a couple of times he lost the puck, stopped, and immediately got back into the play to battle for it. Those are important traits.
16. Oilers owner Daryl Katz and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel deserve a lot of credit for their actions last week. One source said they arrived in New York determined to make a deal, did so and kept it quiet for three days. Both made concessions. Now, let's see what happens with the province.
17. Sounded like Brent Sutter's plan was to play Henrik Karlsson a little more this season. He lost his first start 5-2 to St. Louis, which happens, but one goalie coach saw some flaws in his butterfly. It's wide, which prevents him from recovering to the next position. It's a work in progress.
18. One Flame, the morning after the victory in Montreal, "It's amazing how much everything changes after a win." Hope he didn't sit near the coach after the game in Toronto. Sutter and Columbus coach Scott Arniel look like they've already been in 75 games this season.
19. One veteran player on Ottawa's biggest challenge: "Teaching those young players that losing is not acceptable."
20. The only knock I ever heard on Paul MacLean's chances at being a good NHL coach: "He might be too nice." (Imagine that being the worst thing anyone could say about you.) Didn't waste time taking a hard line with Nikita Filatov.
21. Scouting report on Devils rookie Adam Larsson: "He's already their best defenceman."
22. Keith Ballard took a penalty in Detroit for hip-checking Henrik Zetterberg. It led to some confusion (looked like a good hit to me), so I made a few calls. Here's what I was told: Now that players are being prevented from hitting high, referees were also instructed to make certain there was no overcompensation -- hits going too low. I think that's the only one to be called so far and Ballard was not penalized for a similar check in Edmonton.
23. Referees were also told to look for "headsnaps" -- basically, players faking head contact to draw a penalty.
24. Can see how much the Jets rely on Andrew Ladd. There was one day during camp where the players came off the ice following a hard skate, and only cold sandwiches were available. Ladd said hot food was essential and the team made it happen. If you want to be a winner, you've got to listen to winners.
25. Ladd is living in Jonathan Toews' condo and jokingly threatened to smoke Toews's commemorative Stanley Cup cigars. (They were a gift from Joel Quenneville.) If I was the Blackhawk captain, I'd be more worried Ladd tells everyone about the Peter Puck throw pillow Toews keeps on the couch.
26. Toronto teammates nicknamed Mike Komisarek "The Building" last year because he was so massive. The defenceman thought he was too big, and decided to change both his diet and workout routine. Like Novak Djokovic, he's dropped glutens, along with red meat and dairy. "I'm working towards being a vegan," he said. Komisarek cut down on weightlifting, working on foot-speed. (He played a lot of soccer.) He's definitely thinner.
27. Thought a lot about Bob Nicholson's NHL Draft proposal that Eric Francis brought up on Hotstove. Nicholson, Hockey Canada's President & CEO, would like the draft age raised to 19, with exceptions for high-end players. Maybe a better idea is changing the 10-game tryout draftees get at the start of their careers. Right now, teams must make a choice before their prospect plays for the 10th time. But, he can sit out games to extend the look-see. End the loophole, so the team must make the decision sooner.
28, We should know during the next week or two if the NHL/NHLPA can settle their dispute over Hockey Related Revenue without going to arbitration. (They haven't needed to go through the process since the new CBA's arrival.) As tough as it is for players not to get their escrow refunds, it's got to be more aggravating for teams who qualify for revenue sharing. They can't cash those cheques until this is over.
29, The Stars had 15,285 for their home opener, then averaged 7,520 for their next three dates at American Airlines Arena. It should be pointed out that all of those games went head-to-head with the American League champion Rangers. Let's see where things stand after Texas wins the World Series. (LaRussa, ugh.)
30. A lot of great efforts around the NHL to raise money for the families of the Lokomotiv plane crash. (LoveforLokomotiv.com is a prime example.) Ilya Kovalchuk is autographing photographs to those who make donations. Email email@example.com for details.
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