We’re nearing the two-month mark of the NHL regular season, which means it’s a good time to once again check in on trends around the league.
Some stocks are rising, some are plummeting, and some are holding steady — and we’re going to take a crack at figuring out which are which.
When we did this last month, the big stories through the first month were the rise of the next generation of young stars, struggling goaltenders, and the lack of firings.
The Florida Panthers were kind enough to take care of that last one for us, leaving room for some other stories to bubble up to take its place.
But we’ll start this month’s roundup with a story that seems like it may have some staying power.
Stock holding steady: Youth
October was all about the kids.
After stealing the headlines at the World Cup of Hockey, the league’s kiddie corps hit the ground running once the NHL season started. Auston Matthews had his record-breaking debut, Patrik Laine was scoring in bunches, and Connor McDavid was unstoppable.
It was all sorts of fun — even if it couldn’t last.
Eventually, you had to figure, conservative head coaches and the grind of a long season would bring these young punks back to earth.
Another month later, and we’re still waiting. McDavid is running away with the scoring title, although a healthy Sidney Crosby should eventually give him a run for his money.
Maybe more impressively, Laine is sitting in second place on the goal-scoring list.
Even Matthews, who suffered through a 13-game goal-scoring slump, is still on pace for nearly 40 markers.
Mix in the performances of players like Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner, and even the technically-still-a-rookie Matt Murray, and we’re still seeing a league dominated by players without so much as a full season of NHL action under their belts.
History tells us that the kids will slow down eventually. Then again, we said that last month, and here we are.
Stock rising: Paying for goaltending
For years, conventional wisdom had been pushing towards what seemed like a counter-intuitive recommendation: Don’t spend big money on goaltending.
While it may be the sport’s most important position, it was simply too unpredictable to make a long-term commitment to.
If you locked in a goalie based on one or two strong seasons, there was a good chance you were buying fool’s gold. Far better to gamble on cheaper short-term deals and spend the big bucks on positions that were easier to forecast.
And all of that still makes sense. But so far this year, the big-money goalies have been dominating. Take a look at the position’s highest cap hits; which one of those guys would you really say is overpaid right now?
Sure, Henrik Lundqvist isn’t having his best season, but he’s been fine and should improve as the season goes on.
Braden Holtby and Cory Schneider have both been good. Tuukka Rask has been excellent, and Carey Price may be one of the most underpaid stars in the league (at least until he’s eligible for an extension in the off-season).
Meanwhile, three players who had previously been held up as examples of the “don’t go long on goaltenders” rule are all having Vezina-quality seasons. Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne and Sergei Bobrovsky have all been up-and-down over the years, but all three have been worth every penny so far this season.
There’s really not a bad deal to be found at the top of the list. (At least until you get down to No. 11, which is a name we’ll run into in the next section.)
Stock falling: Being patient with goaltending
So if you paid big bucks for your goaltending this year, you’re probably pretty happy so far. But not every team has been enjoying success at the position, and for those that aren’t, time may be running out.
We can start where we always seem to start when it comes to goaltending questions: Dallas.
There are 39 goaltenders who’ve appeared in at least ten games this year; the Stars’ tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen rank 35th and 38th, respectively, in save percentage. Not surprisingly, a Stars team that was pegged as a Cup favourite is sitting outside of the playoffs entirely.
Sure, they’ve dealt with several high-profile injuries, but you wonder how long Jim Nill can keep the faith in his struggling goalie duo.
One name that’s been linked with the Stars in trade speculation is Bishop. But he’s been struggling too, outplayed by backup Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Bishop is still getting most of the work, but with his contract expiring at the end of the year and a looming cap crunch, the writing is on the wall. At some point, you’d imagine that the Lightning will want to start seeing more of Vasilevskiy, which could open the door to a Bishop trade.
There are plenty of other goaltending question marks around the league. Surely the New York Islanders need to make a move on Jaroslav Halak at some point soon.
The Pittsburgh Penguins still need to figure out the Marc-Andre Fleury/Matt Murray expansion draft impasse.
Enroth got just four starts in Toronto, which doesn’t seem like much. But as other teams are realizing, if you get too patient with shaky goaltending, you can see your season slip away from you.
One other team seems to have figured that out too, and it involves a player who probably deserves his own section…
Stock rising: Chad Johnson
The Flames went into the season expecting Brian Elliott to handle the starter’s job, with occasional assistance from capable backup Chad Johnson.
That seemed like a good plan. Elliott was coming off a season in which he’d posted the league’s best save percentage, and Johnson had never started the majority of his team’s games over the course of a six-year NHL career.
But Elliott struggled badly, posting a save percentage well under the .900 mark through the season’s first two months. For a young team still finding its footing, that kind of goaltending can spell disaster, and the Flames quickly dropped to the bottom of the standings.
But then a funny thing happened. Johnson stepped up and played great, posting some of the best numbers of his career.
By November, he’d wrestled the starter’s job away from Elliott, and helped the Flames climb back into the playoff race.
Most NHL seasons, we see an unheralded backup or two emerge as a bona fide starter. This year, Johnson seems like he may be that guy. Whether he can become a true breakout star in the mold of a Devan Dubnyk remains to be seen, but right now he’s saving the Flames’ season.
Stock falling: The easy Weber/Subban narrative
One month into the season, the fallout from the biggest one-for-one trade in recent NHL history seemed so simple.
The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber blockbuster had transformed the Montreal Canadiens from an average team into an unbeatable juggernaut, while somehow downgrading the Nashville Predators from Cup contenders to a team that wouldn’t even make the playoffs. The only question left was whether Weber would thank Subban by name in his Norris acceptance speech.
In a stunning turn of events, the overly simplistic storyline hasn’t quite held up. The Canadiens look mortal again, losing six of their last ten, while the Predators have found enough consistency to claw their way back into the playoff race.
Meanwhile, Subban (6G, 10A) has nearly matched Weber (8G, 10A) in offensive production while posting better possession numbers.
It turns out they’re both still good players, and the deal may still be too close to call.
And sure, we all knew that was coming. Deals this big takes years to fully assess, and even then there’s often no clear winners or losers.
For a month, it looked like this one might be the exception. But no such luck.
Stock soaring: John Tortorella
Buy low, sell high. That’s the secret of stock market success, or so I’m told.
Well, you could have made a fortune buying stock in Tortorella’s reputation at the start of the regular season.
He was coming off a disastrous World Cup with Team USA, one in which he’d made a series of bizarre lineup decisions, picked fights with top players, and seemed more concerned with the national anthem than winning games, only to watch his team make an embarrassing early exit.
Then he headed home to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost four of their first six games to assume their usual spot near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings. He seemed like a coach on the hot seat — and, given his recent resume, you wondered if we may even be seeing the last of him behind an NHL bench.
But ever since, the Blue Jackets have been soaring. They’ve been one of the season’s most surprising success stories.
Tortorella has them solidly in the Metro playoff mix, and they’re making a habit of beating the league’s best teams. They’re doing it with dominant special teams and strong possession — factors that are often credited to the coaching staff.
Maybe even more surprisingly, Tortorella has recently been sounding downright progressive. He’s leading the charge to eliminate the morning skate, and he’s been mulling some fairly radical changes to standard hockey strategy.
All this while his team is going out there and occasionally beating Cup contenders 10-0.
So… John Tortorella, Jack Adams candidate? That may be getting ahead of ourselves. But it’s not out of the question, the way it would have been just two months ago when we were all getting our eulogies ready for his coaching career.
Stock dropping: Trade deadline rentals
Sure, it may be a little early to start looking ahead to the 2017 deadline.
But as we start to get some clarity around which teams are playoff locks and which ones are at risk of falling out of the race, we can at least get a sense of which players could become available as the season goes on.
The traditional deadline rental is a pending UFA on a team that’s likely to miss the playoffs. He’s a veteran, preferably a hard-nosed one with a track record of success – and a Cup ring or two doesn’t hurt.
But this year, the players who fit that description aren’t having the sort of success that could spark a bidding war.
There are certainly some pending UFAs who are having strong seasons. Kevin Shattenkirk, Joe Thornton and Alex Radulov would all fit that bit. But none are likely to be traded — at least not in the sort of future-based rental deal we’re used to seeing.
Meanwhile, bigger-name UFAs are struggling.
Shane Doan has never been traded and holds a no-movement clause, but even if he did decide to waive and finally chase his first Cup, his seven points through 24 games wouldn’t exactly have teams knocking down the Arizona Coyotes’ door.
There’s still plenty of time for any of those players to turn their seasons around. And there’s still time for a fidgety GM to decide to overpay for name value and experience anyway.
But right now, the 2017 deadline looks like it could be light on the fireworks.
(Then again, there is one other pending UFA on a non-playoff team who could spark some interest… But surely the Panthers wouldn’t trade the beloved Jaromir Jagr. I mean, what kind of heartless franchise would do something like that?)