Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, you’ve gotta stay positive.
In the spirit of the season, I’m going to avoid negativity in this week’s Bottoms Up. Instead, I want to look at the worst teams in the NHL in a positive light. What has gone right for the league’s basement dwellers this season?
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nikita Nikitin is more than just an awesome name
When the Blue Jackets acquired Nikitin in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, no one paid much attention other than to note that Nikita Nikitin is quite possibly the best name currently in the NHL. The big Russian blueliner had no points in 7 games for the Blues this season and was in and out of the lineup. The player going the other way, Kris Russell, was a spare part in Columbus.
Nikitin, however, didn’t get the memo that his acquisition was a minor deal. He has been stupendous for Columbus, scoring 13 points in 19 games while averaging almost 24 minutes per game. His success isn’t just an illusion based on good luck either: Nikitin is tied for the team lead in Relative Corsi amongst defencemen, indicating that the Blue Jackets are significantly better at moving possession into the offensive zone when he is on the ice than they are when he is on the bench.
What’s most impressive to me is that he’s scoring at this rate and pushing puck possession for the Blue Jackets while starting in the offensive zone the least among their defencemen.
Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne is unaware that he is 41 years old
Selanne has been considering retirement for years, but has instead continued to sign short-term contracts with the Ducks, for which the Ducks should be very, very thankful. Selanne is in his 19th season in the NHL; while it would be his 20th season if it wasn’t for the 2004-05 lockout, Selanne’s career might have ended without that lockout, when he underwent reconstructive knee surgery.
The surgery apparently worked very well. Since the lockout, Selanne has scored 424 points in 414 games for the Ducks and shows no signs of slowing down. He currently leads the Ducks in scoring with 35 points in 34 games and got the chance to return to where it all began, Winnipeg.
This may very well be Selanne’s final season in the NHL, but whenever he does decide to retire it seems certain that he will do so as still one of the best players in the league.
New York Islanders: Matt Moulson is on pace for 40 goals
Moulson, like the Vancouver Canucks’ Jannik Hansen, is an argument for bringing back the nine round entry draft. The 28-year-old was picked 263rd overall in the 9th round by Pittsburgh in 2003. After four years in the NCAA, Moulson ended up signing with the Kings but seemed doomed to be stuck in the AHL for most of his career.
He signed with the Islanders in 2009, made the team out of training camp, and proceeded to score 30 goals on John Tavares’s wing. Many people assumed that this season was a fluke and couldn’t possibly be repeated. Instead, Moulson did one better, scoring 31 goals in the 2010-11 season.
Despite the Islanders’ struggles, Moulson is tied for 10th in the NHL in goals and is on pace for 40 goals. On December 3rd, he had his first four-goal game, lighting up the Dallas Stars for 4 goals in just two periods. The guy who was written off as a career AHLer might crack 40 goals in the NHL this season.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner is not experiencing a sophomore slump
The closest thing to a feel-good story is that Jeff “Hockey Bieber” Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie last season, hasn’t experienced the dreaded sophomore slump in his second year in the league. In fact, he’s scoring at a slightly better rate than last season.
Or rather, he was. Skinner is currently out indefinitely with a concussion. Come on, Hurricanes, you’ve got to work with me here.
Merry Christmas, everyone.