It always happens around this time of year, and it truly is one of the first signs that we're just weeks away from training camps. The Hockey News publishes its annual yearbook, and the this year's features Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames on the edition I receive. I would have preferred Manitoba's James Reimer on the front for autograph purposes, but whatever. I always look forward to seeing how the analysts at The Hockey News rank the teams in terms of who they think has the best chance at capturing the Stanley Cup, and the stories they file for the annual yearbook are interesting reads. Needless to say, I look forward to THN's annual publication that is essentially a measuring stick from one of hockey's most trusted sources.
The very first article is an interesting one where they compare Sidney Crosby's point production from last season to Ovechkin's decreased point total last season. The premise is that both players saw significant reductions in their point totals last season despite the reasons being vastly different. The examination is a very rudimentary, but writer Adam Proteau does a good job in asking if both of the NHL's most marketable players can bounce back after a decline.
What I found interesting, however, were the statistical analyses of both players. Crosby averages more points-per-game in his NHL career and has more points than Ovechkin when playing head-to-head, but Ovechkin has a huge advantage in goals-scored over the same time. That may not be surprising, but were you aware that Ovechkin has nine major awards to his name already? I thought it was close to that, but I truly didn't think it was that high already.
Ryan Kennedy picks a few Ottawa Senators rookies to make impacts this season. Defencemen David Rundblad looks like a lock for the Senators in my view, but I think that Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog could upstage his Swedish counterpart. Landeskog looks like he could get a lot of minutes much like Tyler Myers did a couple of years ago, and that should pay off for Landeskog and the Avalanche.
There are a couple of pages with some interesting stats. Do you know which team logged the most fights last year? I would have guessed the New York Islanders, but another team actually out-fought everyone else. Details at the bottom of this article on which team was the most pugilistic.
For those of you who like the extracurricular portions of hockey, nearly one-quarter (24%) of all NHL games went to the extra frame last season. Of those games, almost half reached the shootout (12%). Home teams fared extremely bad in shootouts with a record of 58-91! That seems odd when the crowd is pulling for you, right? Teams that shot first were also below .500 as they went 67-82 in the shootout. So you should choose to shoot second while on the road for an almost-guaranteed extra point! The player with most shootout goals last season? Calgary's Alex Tanguay who was successful on ten of sixteen attempts. However, Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll was the most efficient shooter, scoring on nine of his ten attempts.
There are also some good player interviews and examinations in this article, with stories written about Corey Perry, Zdeno Chara, Marc Staal, Hal Gill and PK Subban, Kevin Bieksa, Douglas Murray, Bruce Boudreau, James Reimer, and Jay Feaster. There's a quick examination of the new Winnipeg Jets and their progress, a good story on concussions, and there's some CBA chatter as well. All in all, the stories are pretty solid in this year's version of The Hockey News Yearbook.
All of this, of course, leads to The Hockey News' previews and predictions of each team, the conferences, and the league. While it may be starting to sound like a broken record, THN has once again selected the Washington Capitals as their Stanley Cup winners based on a few factors such as better goaltending, a more rounded defence corps, and the offensive punch they have always had. I have to agree with their factors, but THN points out that the Capitals have a winning percentage in the playoffs of .459 over the last four years. Could this finally be the year that Washington celebrates its biggest hockey achievement?
- The division winners should be easy to guess in the Eastern Conference, and THN likes three Atlantic teams, three Northeast teams, and two Southeast teams in the playoffs.
- If you're a Jets fan, you're probably looking at a lottery pick again this season. THN has them finishing ahead of two teams, but I think that might be overly generous. Winnipeg has little to boast about in the way of scoring threats - something the two teams below them have.
- If you're a Maple Leafs fan, you're moving up the standings, but you're still out of the playoffs. I don't disagree with THN's assessment of the Leafs, but I think there's a very real chance they could end up lower than the predicted 10th spot in the East.
- The Western Conference's division winners for the Pacific and Northwest Divisions should be easy to call, but the prediction for the Central Division will anger a lot of fans in one city.
- The Chicago Blackhawks will rebound from a loss to their playoff arch-rivals in the Canucks to be the Stanley Cup Finalist from the West. Personally, I don't see this happening.
- The biggest surprise might be a return to the playoffs for the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis has the talent needed to compete in the youthful Western Conference, but injuries always seem to hamper this squad. If they do make the playoffs, who did they bump out?
And the team with the most fights last season? The St. Louis Blues.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!