Western What Ifs: Pacific Edition
I had so much fun doing the “what if?” scenarios for the Central teams, that I decided to do them for the teams in the Pacific as well.
What if Mario goes down?
The Oilers are one of the best offensive teams in the VHL this season. Right now if you look at the stats, it would appear that JR is driving the bus. Appearances can be deceiving though. Make no mistake, Lemieux is the engine driving this offensive machine. If he goes down with an injury it could put a big roadblock in Edmonton’s plans for the season. Making this a big possibility is the big man’s durability, or rather his lack thereof. Lemieux has become fragile of late. No Lemieux would put the Oilers at a big disadvantage against Winnipeg, San Jose, or the surging Canucks. This is totally not an attempt to jinx the Oilers and Lemieux.
What if the Canucks hadn’t played like dog shit at the start of the season?
Vancouver started the season with aspirations of making the Finals again. The roster remained much the same and the stellar young goalie that got them there could only get better, right? Then the games started and something was wrong. The offense was still there, not dominant but still good enough. Yet Vancouver looked up in the standings and saw Saskatoon and Calgary above them. WTF? The reason for this absurdity was goals against. The Canucks were letting guys score like they were sailors on shore leave in Thailand. Now was it the defense doing its best impression of Swiss cheese or Toskala trying to be Ken Wregget? Probably a little bit of both. Well it seems the coaching staff has done its homework and made the needed adjustments. The Canucks are tearing up the standings and could easily have been at the top if they hadn’t shit the bed at season’s start.
Where would the Flames be without Andrew Cassels?
In last place in the Western Conference of course. Cassels came out swinging and had the Flames ahead of the Kings and Canucks. Then reality decided to pull the rug out from under Calgary. They have struggled recently but the rebuilding team should expect that. Datsyuk has looked good and Miller has been having his ups and downs but remains a promising prospect. The real cloud on the horizon is the inability to get Datsyuk to extend. Now they will have to pay the arbitration piper and hope they aren’t going to copy what the Sens went through with Joe “first chance I get I’m outta Ottawa” Thornton.
What if Craig Anderson was playing like a rookie?
The Jets believed enough in Anderson that they let long time Jet Bob Essensa walk. Anderson didn’t receive the attention of Luongo, Aebischer, or Miller but he is just as good. Now the Jets were banking on him not struggling like many of the goalies do when they are rookies (I’m looking your way Holmqvist you bastard). So far that gamble has paid off. Anderson is enjoying a solid, bordering on excellent season. The insurance plan, Vincent Riendeau, has been disappointing so it’s fortunate that Anderson has played well enough to keep Winnipeg in the divisional hunt.
What if the Kings sneak into the Playoffs?
I’m far from ready to write off the struggling Kings. They always seem to start off slow and then catch up and make the playoffs. If the season ended now, they would be the 8 seed. Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago are all in a position to overtake them though. If I were the #1 seed and got my choice of whom I didn’t want to face, guess who’s #1 on that list? Yep, the Kings. They are still a very dangerous team fully capable of beating anyone. The biggest wrinkle looks to be Keith Tkachuk. He is an elite forward who isn’t producing at his usual level and has still to sign an extension. If LA keeps him and he comes around, the Kings are even scarier. If they move him, they will probably get enough help to become a thorn in someone’s side.
What if the League allowed the Wolves to break their lease?
When the Nordiques closed up shop and declared bankruptcy, the league offices put down strict measures to discourage other teams from deciding to copy them. Then Kelly for some reason decided he wanted Lindros and company to call Saskatoon home. Fine, his decision, he has to live with it. Then he didn’t. Instead he decided fishing with his dog and bitching about the Leafs on the Slack for his sim league (has anything further been done on that BTW?) should take up what little spare time from McDonalds he had. Well now we have a GM that has to deal with all the toon town derision. So if in the offseason he was given a choice where would the team end up? Would we have a reborn Mighty Ducks? (No Nate, you aren’t allowed to ghost GM them). Would the Thrashers or Panthers be born? Maybe a move to Denver to become the Avs or Rockies? If he wanted to keep the colours, the Golden Seals would be an option. Myself? I’d go to Toronto and give that city a real team.
What if the Sharks had completed their “What am I thinking?” trade?
Shortly after Mark Wharton took over as GM of the Sharks, he wrote an article about possibly trading two of his best players and why on Earth would he even consider it. Well, I’m here to peel back the curtain a little bit for you fine folks. The Sharks were negotiating a deal sending Pronger and Lemieux to the Bruins for MacInnis and Capuano. The primary parts were agreed upon. It was just the secondary stuff that needed to be decided. This blockbuster would have had far reaching consequences. The Sharks would have had an old but unbelievable defense and a cheaper scoring option. Boston would have Pronger and Lemieux bolstering them and may have pulled out of the tail spin of a season they were having. Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened.
Twelve seasons ago, the VHL was formed out of the ashes of the crumbled and fallen National Hockey League. Rising like the phoenix from those ashes, the VHL would take on many of the same rules as it’s NHL counterpart. From players’ salaries to a rating system used to grade players, the VHL would look to create a successful environment to grow the league into a successful sustainable organization.
Flash forward 12 seasons and it’s amazing to see how the league has grown. From expansion, to bulging salaries, the VHL has never felt stronger. In our first installment, here’s a look back at the cost of players from the league’s infancy a dozen seasons ago:
Cheap, Cheap, Cheap …
It’s unbelievable to think how inexpensive players’ salaries were when the league started. Listed below are each of the 21 teams’ highest and lowest salaried players in season #1. In (parenthesis) is what they currently make or what they made in their final season in the league.
Steve Larmer - $700,000 ($7,179,000)
Don Sweeney - $150,000 ($3,986,000)
Denis Savard - $1,084,625 ($4,141,000)
Mathieu Schneider - $104,124 ($2,993,000)
John Vanbiesbrouck - $375,000 ($3,168,000)
Valeri Kamensky - $80,000 ($550,000)
Chris Chelios - $1,100,000 ($8,023,000)
Bob Janecyk - $80,000 ($875,000)
Peter Sidorkiewicz - $272,895 ($2,368,000)
Adam Burt - $100,000 ($1,445,000)
Kevin Hatcher - $700,000 ($8,313,000)
Reggie Savage - $100,000 ($1,075,000)
::New Jersey Devils::
Tim Kerr - $500,000 ($400,000)
Eric Weinrich - $110,000 ($3,043,000)
Rick Tocchet - $782,500 ($972,000)
Darren Rumble - $116,955 ($1,070,000)
::New York Islanders::
Peter Stastny - $560,000 ($894,000)
Andrew Cassels - $125,000 ($2,581,000)
Paul Coffey - $1,100,000 ($4,915,000)
Paul Stanton - $110,000 ($1,263,000)
::New York Rangers::
Mike Gartner - $680,000 ($6,962,000)
Jody Hull - $135,000 ($550,000)
Jimmy Carson - $575,000 ($2,997,000)
Martin Gelinas - $86,770 ($1,764,000)
Al MacInnis - $694,160 ($8,346,000)
Stephane Matteau - $95,000 ($1,118,000)
Fredrik Olausson - $315,000 ($5,052,000)
Teemu Selanne - $100,000 ($4,397,000)
::Los Angeles Kings::
Wayne Gretzky - $3,000,000 ($8,993,000)
Tom Fitzgerald - $120,000 ($845,000)
Steve Yzerman - $1,400,000 ($7,807,000)
Geoff Smith - $95,447 ($2,089,000)
Mark Messier - $950,000 ($9,065,000)
Warren Rychel - $95,000 ($550,000)
Brett Hull - $1,400,000 ($7,358,000)
Michal Pivonka - $150,000 ($3,569,000)
::Toronto Maple Leafs::
Miloslav Horava - $500,000 ($422,000)
Mike Donnelly - $100,000 ($1,174,000)
::Minnesota North Stars::
Brian Bellows - $700,000 ($3,056,000)
Mike Modano - $150,000 ($6,362,000)
::Detroit Red Wings::
John Ogrodnick - $461,000 ($765,000)
Dave Hannan - $151,500 ($550,000)
Deep Dive: Defenders
Defenders have the primary job of keeping opponents from scoring goals. Well, sorta. The league has a ton of very skilled offensive defensemen though. Teams are getting more and more prone to rely on offensive help from the backend to get the job done. It was fully evident in the Senator run to the VHL Cup last season, where ZZ Top led all Senators in scoring throughout the playoffs. Not by a small margin, but by 6 points. He won the Conn Smyth trophy based on what he can do in the opponents end, not his own. We are going to do a brief look at the offensive prowess of blue-lines in the North-East division. The Eastern Conference at this point (GD 99) is having 29.6% of goals, 48.7% of assists and 41.9% of points scored by defense.
Boston Bruins 27% of Goals, 43% of Assists and 38% of Points
The Bruins are the only team in the East that has only had to play 6 defensemen this year. Their defense is right about even with the rest of the East with 27% of goals are scored by defense. They are getting more assists than the average. They are lead by Sergei Gonchar and Al MacInnis. Gonchar with 36 assists and Mac is filling the back of the net with 12 goals.
Buffalo Sabres 24% of Goals, 55% of Assists and 44% of Points
The Sabres defenders are not filling the net with the same pace as the rest of the Conference but are showing up on the scoresheet often by adding helpers. Stevens is the only blueliner with over 5 goals and is leading the team by over 10 points. The rest of the crew is adding assists at a very high pace.
Hartford Whalers 27% of Goals, 48% of Assists and 40% of Points
They boast the league’s highest scoring defender in Lumme, and 3 of their top 5 scorers are defense. So, it is funny to see them below Conference average for defensive scoring. It is a real testament to the about of points as a team that they put up, which is not only in the standing but also on the scoresheet.
Montreal Canadiens 33% of Goals, 39% of Assists and 37% of Points
Les Canadiens have a couple defenders that have already eclipsed the 10 goal mark in Carney and Ohlund. This is the main reason that the team is above average in goal scoring by d-men. They lag behind in assists due to the fact that they do fact that they don’t have any true offensive defense outside of Steve Smith.
Ottawa Senators 33% of Goals, 52% of Assists and 46% of Points
The Senator’s offence runs through the back-end. Their top 3 were the Sens top scorers at the time. Strbak, Zalapski, and Duchesne have put up huge numbers, and is one of the reasons that the Sens are pushing the Whalers for the division.
Toronto Maple Leafs 57% of Goals, 68% of Assists and 64% of Points
Those numbers are huge but slightly misleading. In last week’s VHL Weekly I talked about the strength of the Maple Leafs D and how they are lagging a bit on forward. It doesn’t help that Alexei Yashin broke his foot blocking a shot against the Canucks, sorry Ian. They have just 73 goals on the season and an over half are by defenders. So the defenders are there just waiting on the scoring punch that the Leafs youngsters will provide.
Stay tuned next week when we look at the Atlantic Division’s defenders...