Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Players Preview 2010-11

Last night, for lack of real hockey to watch, I tuned into the TSN panel's night of previews and fantasy draft. Thankfully for my sanity, my good sense made me turn off the TV before too much of the four panel fantasy draft had taken place.

The player preview for the upcoming season was interesting. As you'd expect, the panel was still all googly eyed for Chicago and it showed. The panel discussing the choices weren't the only ones to vote, they were four from a larger group of "experts", but they did vote. Frequently they made mistakes.

As a Habs fan, I can be hard on the team sometimes, but despite my gruff veneer I do have deep respect for certain parts of the team that has been assembled. So, it was quite a surprise to watch the hour-long discussion take place without a single nod to a Montreal Canadiens player.

In a normal year, we could pass this off for Toronto sour grapes, but coming off a conference final with several excellent performances along the way. I know there's a leeway to prediction that allows one to say pretty much whatever pops into one's little skull. But the players that didn't make the grade vs. some of the ones that did. It didn't add up.

My question to all of you then. Does Montreal really lack a player who ranks among the top 50 in the NHL? According to TSN, they do:

Montreal's possible candidacy

When I took to answer this question, I had to think about the realistic candidates for this list. No Josh Gorges, no matter how beloved of Mike Boone.

In my estimation, three players present realistic cases based on the players that currently sit in that TSN list: Andrei Markov, Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec.

Andrei Markov

The experts polled for TSN ended up identifying 10 defensemen to rank among the top 50 players for the upcoming season.

Top candidates and Norris contenders like Lidtsrom, Green, Keith, Pronger and Chara were all there. They were joined by Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Dan Boyle, Tyler Myers and Brent Seabrook.

At a glance, I can tell you as a fan, I wouldn't trade Markov straight up for half of these guys. I'm not certain there's a GM in the league who wouldn't put Markov ahead of at least 2 or 3.

Simply put, Andrei Markov has earned the right to be called a top tier defenceman in the NHL by now. He was second in scoring among defensemen a year ago and was in the upper group in PPG last season. He is probably the best PP point-man in the league, as he has been on the top or near-top PP in recent seasons. Subtractions of Kovalev, Koivu, Streit and Souray have proven that he's the lynch pin. On top of all this, he is good a defending.

I understand momentum in these predictions. How else to explain Tyler Myers as the 37th best player in the NHL, or Doughty as the 8th, or Seabrook on the list at all? The strange thing in all this is Markov has momentum. His return to the Habs coincided with a run to the playoffs and a run on the top PP in the league again. His play after returning from injury set a staggering point accumulation (again). And, he was pivotal in the Canadiens post-season success, and his injury there proved to be a major obstacle to the Habs further progression.

Markov is definitely a top 50 player in the NHL. And he is most definitely more deserving than Myers and Seabrook of being recognised as such. TSN made an oversight on his part. If it is injury that led to his omission, I'd wonder if TSN is privy to any of the information that has been around since August indicating he's way ahead of his May prognosis.

Mike Cammalleri

Last season, Mike Cammalleri scored 39 goals in 84 games. Several of the goals were scored without the benefit of surprise and smothering coverage. He had 40 the year before that in 87 games. Over 2 seasons, not many have scored more. None that aren't on the list.

When it comes to predicting how he'll do, things are a little easier than they've been in a long time for Mike. For the first time in ages, he's coming into a season with the same center he had the year before. He enjoys the service he gets from Plekanec and the PP help he gets from Pleks and Markov, so it'd be surprising to see him fall off a cliff in numbers and play.

However, as the list goes, Mike isn't beating any of those ranked at his position of LW. Ovechkin, Semin, Nash, Parise, Sedin and Marleau represent a select group.

In reality, I think Cammalleri isn't quite a Top 50 NHLer. If the list were Top 60, he might get a sniff. Top 75, he'd be in like Flynn. Despite all the positives, in his case, I think TSN probably got it right.

Tomas Plekanec

TSN and its panel identified 19 centres in all on its list. There were established veterans, Conn Smythe winners and flashy youngsters in the mix. No Plekanec though, and it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't garner even a a single vote.

In Montreal, the media loves to lament the serial underrating of 5th defenseman and current soundbyte darling, Josh Gorges. The player who really needs to question his out-of-town rating is Plekanec.

If I'd never have Seabrook over Markov, then it must be said if I ever got control of the team, I'd never release Plekanec for some of the serially overrated players on this list. Honestly, you'd think Brian Burke votes counted for 10 times as much on this panel.

Tomas Plekanec doesn't often storm the headlines, but he has quietly become a top centre in this league. Last season, Tomas scored 25 goals (that makes more than 20 for every NHL campaign but his rookie year) and he posted 70 points. 70 points may not be 108, but it's still more than Getzlaf's 69, Richards' 62 and Carter's 61. It's also the same as Lecavalier's 70 points, though Tomas was a respectable +5 on a conference finalist, as opposed to the Lightning man's horrific -16 on a repeat non-playoff team.

Part of the reason Tomas will have been overlooked is because he does do things rather quietly. He is constantly accused of underperforming in the playoffs, but that must be from those who forget he shadowed Backstrom and Crosby while putting up his 4 goals and 11 points en route to the conference finals. Nor does his defensive skill and penalty killing get the recognition it deserves from scoring leader gazers. He's an all-rounder with growing offensive influence, but you wouldn't know it from reading his press.

If I was to make a list of the top 50 players in the NHL for this upcoming season based on all-around play and impact to their team (I presume that's why Johnathan Toews is third and Doughty could be 8th) then Plekanec would be soundly in the mix. Players who might have to cede their current place to him might include Ryan Kesler, Mikko Koivu, Vincent Lecavalier and Jeff Carter. That may be a Habs fan's skew, but someone had to offer one.

Players by regular season rank

Players by playoff success

As you can see, Montreal isn't the only that was shunned. Caught up in all the Chicagolove, Myers mania and Tampa ogling were three playoff teams: Montreal, Phoenix and Colorado.

I've already made cases for Markov and Plekanec being overlooked. Certainly there must be players on Phoenix (107 points and 4th in the league) and Colorado with more to them than Brent Seabrook. Paul Stastny is an obvious omission. Basically a lock for 75+ points and leading his team by now, he had more assists than fabled playmaker Sidney Crosby last season. Phoenix may have been a flash in the pan, but they didn't beat Rick Nash's Blue Jackets by 28 points without some stars. Bryzgalov fits the underrated bill, and it will be interesting to watch Wolski after his mini break-out following his trade last season.

With the season only hours away now, I am very much looking forward to watching the Habs again. I'd recommend the TSN panel take in a few Canadiens games this season too. It might do their case of cockeye some good.

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