Tuesday, December 6, 2016

NHL stock watch: December

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.

Really, the only deals in the top ten that aren't paying off this year are probably Ryan Miller and Ben Bishop, and both of those expire after 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.)

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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