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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Korn's Toys

Everyone is rightfully excited about the addition of Mitch Korn, a goaltending magician type coach that uses odd tactics to get the best out of his proteges.  Comcast Sportsnets Jill Sorenson recently ran an article chronicling his thoughts and behaviors.
Mitch Korn

He’s obviously worked with fantastic goaltenders throughout his career.  Dominik Hasek, Marty Biron, Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne.  And his influence has spread all throughout the NHL.  Braden Holtby has quickly taken a liking to him, and they will get to be weird together, as all goaltenders are.  So it’s easy to say that Korn is immediately going to help out Caps goaltenders Holtby, Justin Peters, and, even to some extent, Philipp Grubauer this year.  But, how is he going to help them out?  Or, a better question, what really needs to be improved with those three goaltenders?

Let’s take a look first at Braden Holtby.  There were bits and stretches last season where Holtby never really looked all that comfortable.  He ranked just 23rd in save percentage last season, rocking a weak .915, the worst of his career.  His 2.85 goals against average was also his career worst, and he gave up four or more goals a shocking 15 times last season.  That goals against average was also 41st in the NHL.  But keep in mind, the Capitals gave up 33.5 shots per game, fourth worst in the league.  That’s a lot.  And if we look at how many shots Holtby took per game (1,475 in 48 games), Holtby actually faced 30.7 shots per game, according to math.  That’s actually lower than the team average over the course of the season.  But 30.7 shots per game is still a lot.  Let’s also take a look at Holtby’s shots against per goal.  He let in 126 goals last season, and as stated earlier, faced 1,475 shots.  That means that Holtby let in a goal every 11.71 shots he faced, again according to math.  That ranks him....41st in the NHL.

Ok, well obviously that’s not good.  Is all hope lost?  Should we call for his head?  Is he done?  Should he sacrifice a chicken before the season to please the hockey gods?  Should he cut his hair?

No.  No.  No.  Maybe.  And no.  

Here’s why.

If we break down how Holtby did over the course of the season, there is actually quite a few spots where he did absolutely excellent, and other spots where he did extremely poorly. Let’s first take a look at the different game situations, power play, even strength and penalty kill, and how Holtby responds to each of them.  Even strength is obviously the most important one, as players, especially goaltenders, spend the vast majority of their time at even strength five on five.  Take a look here.   This is a table that sorts through each type of game situation for goaltenders.  The first section of that table shows even strength shots agains, goals against average at even strength, total saves and save percentages.  Let’s first take a look at save percentage at even strength.  You have to kind of sort through the list a little, because you have guys like Andrew Hammond and Magnus Helberg, who each played two games and just happened to let in zero goals at even strength in their one start.  What we’re interested in his guys who played in 40 plus games last season, or roughly half a regular season.  When we do so, we find a lot of the usual suspects at the top of the list.  Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask is at the top with a stunning .941 save percentage, Olympic gold medal winner Carey Price is second with a .934 save percentage, second in Vezina Trophy voing Semyon Varlamov with a .933.  You get the point.  Good goaltenders obviously have a high save percentage at even strength.  But if you continue on, you will quickly find Holtby’s name.  He finished with a .928 save percentage at even strength, good for 8th in the league among goaltenders with at least 40 games last season.  That’s right behind Jonathan Quick at .929 and ahead of Henrik Lundqvist at .926.  That’s a pretty good grouping of guys.  You have Conn Smythe winner and large shouldered Jonathan Quick on one side, and a guy who is referred to as a king on the other.  

That would be fantastic if the Caps never gave up a penalty, but sadly they do.  They do give up lots of penalties.  In fact, the Capitals give up 11.7 minutes of penalty time per game.  That’s a little off, considering that includes fighting majors, and that generally means they still play at five on five.  But it’s a pretty close representation of how often the Caps take minor penalties.  Anyways, Holtby ended up facing 248 shots against him on the penalty kill, which is a lot.  That’s one more shot than what Lundqvist had to face, and Lundqvist played in 15 more games than Holtby.  In fact, among the top ten goalies at even strength save percentage with at least 40 games played, Holtby averaged the second most shorthanded shots against per game with 5.17, closely behind Sergei Bobrovsky’s 5.19.  So it’s fair to say that Holtby is facing a ridiculous amount of shorthanded shots.  On top of that, his save percentage wasn’t all that great when he was shorthanded.  In fact, among goaltenders who played at least 40 games, Holtby was just the 19th best in the league with a .867, ranking him behind Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo.  And he ranked 9th among the top ten goaltenders in even strength save percentage.

But there’s another scary number.  Holtby ranked 5th in the league in shots against when his team was on the power play with 51.  That means when the Caps are on the power play, Holtby faces at least one shot per game!  Why is that?  Because the Capitals are incredibly aggressive on the power play in their 1-3-1 system.  It allows Alex Ovechkin to slide into his secret spot to fire one timers, but it also leaves the man at the point, normally John Carlson or Mike Green, hanging out by themselves.  If one shot is blocked, or a puck is stolen, it almost guarantees an odd man rush against Holtby.  Holtby let in eight shorthanded shots last season, giving him a .843 save percentage.  That ranks him 26th in the league among goaltenders with at least 40 games played last season!  

That means Holtby does poor against breakaways right?  Maybe.  But according to this siteHoltby has a .923 save percentage against breakaways, good for 19th in the league among goaltenders who faced 1000 shots last season. According to the same Progressive Hockey site, Holtby’s rebound save percentage is .794, good for 19th in the league among goaltenders who faced over 1000 shots last year.  Rebound control is another critical point in a goaltenders game.  The key is to direct shots away from pressure, and it is incredibly hard when you have guys firing shots at you at 100 miles per hour.  And Holtby appears to do just o.k. at that.

So what should Holtby work on?  Well, he should first take his hockey stick and beat his teammates among the head with it.  It appears that he is having issue on the special teams, or at least his teammates are having issues on special teams.  Facing that many shots, both on the kill and power play, is unacceptable.  But the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik at the very least provide more stability for Holtby, and his team just needs to be a bit more disciplined in front of him.  His rebound control could improve, but what he showed last season on five on five is nothing short of excellent.  

Peters only played in 21 games last year, but like Holtby, he found success at even strength, securing a .921 save percentage on 518 even strength shots.  He had a .898 save percentage on the penalty kill on 98 shots, and never surrendered a shorthanded goal.  His save percentage off of rebounds was .870, and he was just .905 on rushes.  His numbers are good for a backup, but his sample size just isn’t large enough to compare to other NHLers.  His numbers were similar to Anaheim’s Frederik Anderson, who played in 28 games, recorded a .928 save percentage on even strength, .907 on the penalty kill, .857 on the power play, .963 on rush shots and .796 on rebounds.  So it appears that Peters needs to work on rush shots.  Grubauer played just 17 games for Washington last season, but had a strong showing in every aspect of his limited time, recording a .927 even strength percentage (.001 off of Holtby), .922 on the penalty kill, gave up one shorthanded goal on nine shots, stopped .955 on rush shots and .848 on rebound shots.

Holtby is not far off from being a superstar goaltender.  His even strength percentage proves that he is among the leagues elite.  But his penalty kill percentage needs to improve.  And that doesn’t fall completely on his shoulders.  His teammates in front of him need to force low percentage shots, or simply block them away.  And the Caps need to work on maintaining the puck better on the power play.  Obviously, their aggressive play allows them to maintain the top extra man unit in the league, but if you are giving up over a shot per game on the power play, that is generally a high percentage shot, you are going to lose.  

Korn will be firing pucks, balls, bricks, or whatever he can get his hands on at his goaltenders.  And though it appears he walked into a goaltending mess, if you look more closely, he really didn’t.  Korn, his white pucks and big screen, can immediately turn the Caps goaltenders into a top unit quicker than you’d think.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Look At The Atlantic Division: The Toronto Maple Leafs



Toronto Maple Leafs, 2013-2014: 6th in the Atlantic Division with 84 points.  Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Team Departures: Forwards Dave Bolland (FL), Nikolai Kulemin (NYI), Jay McClement (CAR), Mason Raymond (CGY)and Jerry D'Amingo (CLB).  Defensemen Carl Gunnarsson (STL) and T.J. Brennan (NYI).  Goaltender Drew MacIntyre.

Team Additions: Forwards Mike Santorelli, David Booth, Matt Frattin, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola and Daniel Winnik.  Defensemen Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak.

2014 NHL Draft: Forward William Nylander (8th overall), Defenseman Rinat Valiev (68th overall), Forward J.J. Piccinich (103rd overall), Forward Dakota Joshua (128th overall), Forward Nolan Vesey (158th overall), Forward Pierre Engvall (188th overall).

Coaching and Front Office Changes: Brendan Shanahan, President.  Kyle Dubas, Assistant GM.

Caps Play The Maple Leafs Three Times

Midway through the regular season last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs were sitting pretty in an NHL playoff spot.  Hockey traditionalists laughed as Toronto won while making a mockery of advanced hockey metrics.  They were one of the worst possession teams in the league, with an unsustainable shooting percentage and save percentage chugging them along the way.  But a collapse of epic proportions, 12 losses in 14 games in March, saw the Maple Leafs come crashing down, ultimately falling very short of a playoff spot.  But few changes were made, both to the front office personnel and the players themselves.  Is it going to be deja vu in Toronto all over again?

Forwards

The hockey world got an interesting take on the Toronto Maple Leafs last December in the HBO series 24/7 - The Road To The NHL Series Classic.  One of the more memorable relationships....actually it was more like an intense bromance, was between center Tyler Bozak and winger Phil Kessel.  Bozak and Kessel are in charge of generating the offense for the Leafs, and they do a respectable job with it.  Kessel led the team with 37 goals, 27 of them coming off of 5 on 5 situations.  And 20 of those goals came with Bozak on his line.  That's decent chemistry, considering Bozak missed 24 of the first 40 games last season due to a few injuries, including an oblique strain.  Bozak and Kessel generally lineup alongside James Van Riemsdyk, a tough winger that plays great in front of the net, finding the garbage goals.  Now, while the bromance works out, one thing completely stands out:  Bozak wouldn't be a first line center for any other team in the NHL.  Does he play great with his buddy?  Yes.  But does he play great without him?  No.  Take a look at this.  Find Kessel's name on there.  You can see in 5 on 5, even strength competition, Bozak is a 42.9 percent corsi player.  That is awful, but, then again, ALL of the Leafs possession numbers are awful.  But look at how he does with Kessel.  It bumps up to a 44.6 percent corsi.  Now, let's take a look at how they do without each other.  Kessel played 502:40 even strength 5 on 5 minutes without Bozak, and finished with a 43.6 percent corsi, a slight hit on his number with Bozak.  Bozak played 89:49 minutes of even strength 5 on 5 minutes without Kessel, and recorded an astounding 28.5 percent corsi.  Now, I just said that a 44.6 corsi is pretty bad, soooo.....go ahead and guess just how bad a 28.5 percent corsi is.  Bozak desperately needs Kessel in order to succeed on the ice, but Kessel doesn't necessarily need him.  This is most likely the reason Bozak stays on the first line over Nazem Kadri, a 23 year old who is slowly, but surely, molding into a respectable scoring center.  Bozak doesn't drop down to the second because if he leaves Kessel, he will ultimately end up hurting his team.  Kadri, on the other hand, is able to maintain a consistent 45-ish corsi percentage with virtually everyone on the team.

Nazem Kadri
Kadri will most likely play on the second line, where he will continue to produce.  He finished last season with 20 goals and 30 assists, which was a little off of where he should be.  In the lockout shortened year, Kadri finished with 18 goals and 26 assists in 48 games, and Leaf Nation proclaimed the long awaited arrival of Kadri had finally come.  Kadri, who was selected 7th in the 2009 draft behind John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn and Oliver Ekman-Larsson had been bouncing around the AHL Toronto Marlies and the Maple Leafs constantly, growing more and more frustrated.  He has officially made it full time in the NHL.  But he can easily improve on his game.  Now, like I hinted earlier, Kadri would be better off alongside Kessel and Van Riemsdyk, but that is most likely not going to happen.  So the Leafs are taking a player that could be producing 60-70 points, and knocking him down line where he's more likely to snag 50 points.  If Kadri can show his ability playing on the second line, and he continues to produce points, he will find himself a lot more ice time, and a big pay raise during this upcoming offseason, where he becomes a restricted free agent.  Joining Kadri as a second line scoring threat is Joffrey Lupul, the vocal veteran winger.  Lupul has been pretty consistent all throughout his career.  He's always good for 20 goals, and can add just as many assists.  He is a great leader on the team, shown in the locker room and with his passionate play on the ice.  Lupul could easily slide into Van Riemsdyk or Kessel's position if there is any sort of injury with little issue.  But, then again, health has always been a pretty serious issue for Lupul himself.  His 69 games last season were the most he's played since 2008-2009.

The rest of the forward unit gets very dicey, especially David Clarkson.  Clarkson was the offseason prize in 2013, and was hailed as the Toronto boy coming home.  Before he signed with the Leafs, Clarkson was coming off two of his best seasons ever with the New Jersey Devils.  In the 2011-2012 season, Clarkson had 30 goals and 16 assists.  And in the lockout season, he finished with 15 goals and nine assists.  Those are seemingly good years.  But, the vast majority of those points came on power play opportunities.  In fact, in 2011-2012, Clarkson averaged 1.53 points per 60 minutes of play on 5 on 5 situations.  That is awful.  That ranks him 143rd in the NHL.  On top of that, his shooting percentage was far too high at 13.2 percent.  But, the Leafs felt that earned the 30 year old a seven year, $36.75 million contract.  What did he do in his first year as a Maple Leaf?  He scored five goals and six assists in 60 games.  If the Leafs want to see any sort of production from Clarkson, their only prayer is that he can perform if he's given more ice time.  Clarkson was eighth among Toronto forwards in time on ice per game, averaging just 15:06 per game, and was 11th on the team in power play time, seeing just 60:43 minutes total.  If he's given more time, we might see more out of him.  But, I'd really, really, really have my doubts.  And this guy will be a Leaf with a cap hit of $5.25 million until 2020.

The Leafs are going to really miss some of the guys they lost this offseason.  Mason Raymond recorded 19 goals and 26 assists last season, good for fifth on the team in points.  Nikolai Kulemin fled Toronto to pair up with his buddy Mikhail Grabovski in New York with the Islanders.  Dave Bolland's time in Toronto was a bit disappointing, and Jay McClement isn't too severe of a loss, but at least they gave Toronto a sense of identity as third and fourth line players.  The bottom half of the Maple Leafs forwards consist of quite a few new guys.  Toronto will most likely end up being happy with David Booth.  Booth is a relatively decent possession player, something the Maple Leafs clearly need.  His days of 40 point seasons are long gone.  But if he's given a respectable amount of time, he could surprise everyone.  Matt Frattin returns to Toronto after being packaged alongside Ben Scrivens and a conditional second round pick for goaltender Jonathan Bernier.  Frattin has the potential to step in and perform at a decent level for the Leafs.  Toronto also has Leo Komarov and Mike Santorelli filling in for the missing spots.  Komarov returns to the Leafs after spending last year in the KHL with Dynamo Moscow.  He scored 12 goals and 22 assists in 52 games.  Santorelli was only signed for $1.5 million for one year, and that has the potential to be a really high value signing.  Santorelli was once a 40 point guy for the Florida Panthers in the 2010-2011 season.  He hadn't come close to that number after bouncing around between the AHL and the Winnipeg Jets, but last year with the Vancouver Canucks, Santorelli was able to score 10 goals and 18 assists in just  49 games.  He probably won't be a huge factor for the Leafs, but he does have the potential to make a little bit of noise.

This forward unit is just awful when it comes to possessing the puck, rating second to last in fenwick close at just 41.5 percent.  The puck is in their own end far more than in the offensive end, and that's just not how you win games.  There needs to be a vast improvement on virtually every aspect of their game if they want to improve off of last season.

Defensemen

There may be more pressure on Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf than anyone else in the league.  When the defense broke down, which happened a lot, the veteran defenseman was always the first to blame.  He is one of the highest paid defensemen in the league, and his unit gave up 35.9 shots per game, a league worst.  His 40.8 corsi percentage on all 5 on 5 situations begs the question....is he a top defenseman in the league?

He can be.  He just has an immense amount of pressure, and the Maple Leafs defensive unit just wasn't very good this year.  Fortunately for them, they got a little bit tougher and more experience when they acquired both Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak.  Robidas played in just 38 games last year between the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks, but before that season he was generally healthy throughout the year.  He will never score a ton of goals, but he brings lots of experience and grit.  But at 37, you have to wonder how much he really has left in the tank.  He won't be logging top line minutes, but if he can give the Maple Leafs 15 to 16 good minutes of ice time, he can't make the Maple Leafs any worse than they were last year.  Polak is a big bodied defenseman at 6'0", 236 pounds.  He's coming from one of the best defenses in the league in the St. Louis Blues, so he has a lot on his plate if he wants to reflect that unit for Toronto.

Jake Gardiner
When acquiring Polak, the Leafs had to give up Carl Gunnarsson, who was Phaneuf's primary defensive partner.  Ideally, Toronto would want a more offensive minded player alongside Phaneuf, and really any of the remaining Leafs defensemen (Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Cody Franson) could be partners.  Gardiner had the most time with Phaneuf last year, playing 98:47 total minutes of 5 on 5 even strength time together.  Gardiner is 6'1, 184 pounds and recorded 10 goals and 21 assists.  In his 98:47 minutes with Phaneuf, he actually improved his corsi by two percent.  Rielly is considered the main guy for the future.  He's just 20 years old, and is a tremendous offensive minded blue liner.  He doesn't have much experience, and has played primarily as the third pair.  Rielly had two goals and 25 assists last season, but this is a guy who had 54 points for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL, and has always been considered an offensive minded defenseman.  Franson is gigantic at 6'5" and 214 pounds.  He led all Leaf defensemen last season with 33 points.  In 66:13 minutes with Phaneuf last season on 5 on 5 even strength situations, Franson improved Phaneuf's corsi by 7.8 percent.  Now, none of these guys have a very big sample size when it comes to total time of 5 on 5 even strength and corsi with Phaneuf, but the fact that there is a noticeable improvement in Phaneuf's possession numbers is at the very least a good sign.  But who partners with him?  Franson can give the top line the best sense of offensive ability while incorporating his size.  But, that condenses too much of the defensive talent on one line.  If he drops to the second, it just spreads the defense a little better.  Allowing Rielly to pair with Phaneuf gives Rielly the experience he needs, but giving a 20 year old first line responsibility is a lot to ask of anyone.  I think the safest option is Gardiner.  He will maintain that offensive flow on the top line, and he's a little more responsible defensively, giving the Maple Leafs a better option for a shutdown pair.  But the Leafs can really go with any of the three.

Goaltending

Being a goaltender in Toronto is just brutal.  As stated earlier, no team allowed more shots per game than Toronto.  That's why it's important to have not one, but two reliable goaltenders between the pipes.  And Toronto has that in Bernier and James Reimer.  Last season, Bernier was given the reins for Toronto for 55 games, something he's been waiting for for a while.  Bernier could have been a consistent starter for a lot of teams a few years ago, but he was stuck behind another pretty stellar goaltender in L.A., Jonathan Quick.  Bernier gave the Leafs the best chance to win.  He ended his season with a .923 save percentage, ranking him 8th in the league.  But he also gave up 2.68 goals per game, ranking him 34th in the league.  That just goes to show you how many shot stye Leafs are actually giving up.  It's making Bernier work way too hard to earn his wins.  If the Leafs can show any amount of improvement defensively, no one would appreciate it more than Bernier.  He is a good goaltender, but if he's given any sort of help, he will easily become a great goaltender for Toronto.

Reimer didn't have a very fun offseason.  He was obviously frustrated when the Leafs traded for Bernier, as he felt he earned the premier goaltender role when he recorded a .924 save percentage, a 2.46 goals against average and 19 wins in the lockout shortened season.  Those are, in fact, great numbers.  But when given the chance this past season, Reimer couldn't maintain those numbers.  Reimer finished the year with a losing record, a .911 save percentage (ranking him 31st) and a 3.29 goals against average (ranking him 41st).  The season of frustration caused Reimer to request a trade. Leafs general manager Dave Nonis stated that if a trade was right, they would do it.  But they also felt that Reimer is a good goaltender, and that they would be happy to keep him if the right offer just wasn't there.  Reimer ultimately decided to sign a two year contract extension.

Reimer is not a bad goalie.  He is a good goaltender in a very, very poor situation, both in a sense that he's the backup and that his team let up roughly 4 billion shots last season.  If he gets any sort of defense in front of him, both he and Bernier will benefit, and they quite possibly could be the best goaltending tandem in the league.

Prospects

William Nylander
The Leafs prospect pool isn't particularly strong, but they do have three players in waiting that really stand out, including this years first round draft pick William Nylander.  Nylander, the son of NHLer Michael Nylander, is a speedy creative center.  Leading up to the draft, he was playing with full grown men, including his father, and he was hanging in there.  His quick hands allow him to beat anybody anywhere on the ice.  And when he was playing against guys his age, for the Sweden U-18 team at the World Junior Championships, he finished with six goals and 10 assists in just seven games.  He will most likely start off the year with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, but if Head Coach Randy Carlyle feels like his NHL squad is lacking offensive talent (and they very well might), Nylander would seriously be considered for the Leafs.

The 2013 first round pick for the Maple Leafs, Frederik Gauthier, is starting to worry Toronto faithful.  He really isn't showing offensive improvement like he should in the OHL for Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL.  His 18 goals and 34 assists in 54 games was right on pace with his previous OHL season.  He's a big guy 6'4", 210 lbs., and plays a really strong two way game.  He won't be a superstar for Toronto, but he could be a very productive third line center one day.

One player that is improving quickly for the Leafs is defenseman Matthew Finn.  Finn is the Guelph Storm's captain, and he is a tremendous offensive minded defenseman.  His 14 goals and 47 assists in 66 games ranked him second in points for defensemen last season in the OHL.  He will most likely play this season with the Toronto Marlies, but if he can continue to translate his game in the AHL, he will make it on the Maple Leafs in no time.

Player To Watch

All eyes should be on Nazem Kadri this year.  I don't think he ends up on the first line.  But if he can develop into a strong second line center and give Toronto a legitimate scoring threat on the second line, he will help out the Maple Leafs a ton.  That being said, if he's given more ice time, I think he can develop into one of the top point scorers, if not the top point scorers, on this team.

Offseason News

You know how I've kind of bashed numerous times into your head that the Maple Leafs are a really bad possession team?  Yeah?  Well they've taken notice too, and they are trying to do something about it.  The Maple Leafs made a big splash in the advanced hockey statistics world when they hired Kyle Dubas as their assistant general manager.  Dubas is just 28 years old, and he came from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, where he was the general manager since he was 25 years old.  Dubas is also very proponent advanced statistics supporter, and it may not have been a coincidence that David Booth, who is a decent possession forward available at a cheap price, was signed almost immediately after the announcement.  But the Leafs went a step further.  The advanced hockey community went into a mini panic when the advanced hockey statistics website Extra Skater went offline.  This was due to the Leafs scooping up Darryl Metclaf, the founder of the website.  The Leafs also hired Cam Charron, an advanced statistics blogger with Yahoo! Sports Canada and Rob Pettapiece, who worked with Yahoo! Sports Buzzing The Net junior hockey blog.  The new age of statistics is upon us, and the Maple Leafs are running hard with it.

Final Evaluation

I see this team being a complete disaster again.  They may have in fact gotten worse than they were last year.  Their forward unit is just far too weak to compete in the NHL, and they really won't see much improvement on their possession numbers.  Keeping Carlyle was a mistake, who will utilize the same strategies with the same guys as last season, expecting a different result.  Kessel will continue to score a ton of goals, Kadri and Van Riemsdyk will stand out, and Bozak likely will too.  But they really don't have talent anywhere else in their forward unit.  Clarkson will more than likely be laughably bad once again, as he was predicted to do so the day he signed the contract.  I don't think they will be as bad defensively as they were last year, but it won't be that much improved.  Will we see an epic collapse like we did last year?  Nope.  Because the Leafs will never be in the hunt.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Look At The Atlantic Division: The Tampa Bay Lightning



Tampa Bay Lightning, 2013-2014: Second in Atlantic Division with 101 points.  Eliminated in the Conference Quarterfinals by the Montreal Canadiens in a 4-0 series.

Team Departures: Forwards Teddy Purcell (EDM), Nate Thompson (ANA), B.J. Crombeen (ARZ)Pierre-Cedric Labrie (CHI), technically Sam Gagner (He was a Lightning for maybe 20 minutes, now is a part of ARZ) and Ryan Malone (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign).  Defensemen Keith Aulie (EDM) and Mike Kostka (NYR).  Goaltenders Anders Lindback (DAL) and Cedric Desjardins (NYR).

Team Additions: Forwards Brian Boyle, Brenden Morrow, Jerome Sampson and Mike Blunden.  Defensemen Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison and Matthew Corrente.  Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov

2014 NHL Draft: Defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (19th overall), Defenseman Dominik Masin (35th overall), Defenseman Johnathan MacLeod (57th overall), Forward Brayden Point (79th overall), Defenseman Ben Thomas (119th overall), Forward Cristiano Digiacinto (170th overall), Forward Cameron Darcy (185th overall).

Coaching and Front Office Changes: No significant changes.

Caps Play The Lightning Three Times

Late Sunday night on June 29th, just two days before the start of the NHL free agency signing period, Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman conducted a flurry of trades, moving four players out of his organization and bringing in...none.  He was brewing something big, and by the time July first rolled around, it was quite clear that Yzerman and his Bolts were going all in this season.

Forwards

When Steven Stamkos went down with a brutal leg injury on Nov. 11th, all appeared to be lost for the Lightning.  The consistent 50-60 goal scorer is among the best, if not the best, goal scorers in the league.  He would only end up playing 37 total games, and still scored 25 goals.  If he stays healthy this year, he could easily win his third Rocket Richard Trophy as the leagues top goal scorer.

But Stamkos has lost a little bit of familiarity.  Last season to start off the year, Stamkos didn't have Vincent Lecavalier to work with.  Then prolific playmaker Martin St. Louis fled the south for New York.  Will Stamkos have difficulty finding a playmaking partner?

No.

Stamkos is certainly not alone.  Tampa Bay had two young guns emerge as elite NHL forwards last season in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.  Each made a strong case for the Calder Trophy as the leagues top rookie, and probably would have won it any other year if it wasn't for the freakish talent of Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon.  Palat ended his year as the Lightnings leading scorer with 23 goals and 36 assists, and Johnson followed close behind at with 24 goals and 26 assists.  Palat is a fluent winger who is capable of setting up a guy like Stamkos.  Johnson is like the Lightnings modern day St. Louis' replacement.  Johnson went undrafted, and has emerged as an NHL regular.  I would imagine that Palat would play alongside Stamkos, constantly feeding him pucks, while Johnson drops down to the second or third line as the center.

Ryan Callahan
Now, the joining winger on the first line gets a little interesting, as it could really go two different obvious ways.  They could go with a guy like Ryan Callahan, a two way forward that is capable of playing a tough, grinding game that gets the ugly goals, or Jonathan Drouin, the YouTube sensation rookie that is projected as the next big thing in hockey.  I would lean more towards Callahan for a few reasons.  Callahan is a bonafide leader, the former captain of the New York Rangers.  The more ice time this guy gets, the more momentum he builds.  His ability to block shots is matched by few, and he plays very passionately.  With the talented forwards Tampa Bay has up top in Palat and Stamkos, and grinding power forward like Callahan could match up perfectly.  But, having another playmaker in Drouin could also prove to be very beneficial, and having the first year playmaker playing alongside a guy like Stamkos could really help the growth of his game.  However, Drouin has always played on the left side as opposed to the right.  And if he sees time on the second line, he may have control of the puck far more.  Plus, he would give Tampa Bay a serious scoring threat on the second line.

With the departure of Teddy Purcell and Nate Thompson, someone is bound to see more ice time in the top nine.  The top candidates are Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov and Brett Connolly.  Killorn had a very good year last year, finishing with 17 goals and 24 assists in 82 games.  He's only 24 years old, and was relied on as a third liner last year.  With Teddy Purcell gone, who ended last season as the Lightnings fourth highest scorer, Killorn could emerge as the winger to replace him.  But so could Kucherov.  Kucherov is an offensive minded player who scored nine goals and nine assists in 52 games for Tampa last season. But Kucherov also added 13 goals and 11 assists in 17 games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.  Connolly only played in 11 games for the Lightning last season.  But he stood out in Syracuse, scoring 21 goals and 36 assists in 66 games.  Having already played 84 NHL games over three seasons, he has proven that he can stay in the NHL.  Tampa Bay can't go wrong with any of these players.  They just have to determine which one is the most talented/offensive minded, and which one can emerge as a two way forward on the third line.

Another guy that has to find his place is Valtteri Filppula, the former playmaking Detroit Red Wing.  In his first season with the Lightning, Filppula added 25 goals, a career high, and 33 assists in 75 games.  He could play on either the second or third line.  He obviously provides a lot of scoring on the second line, but if Tampa sees him as a third line center, just imagine the scoring punch he could provide if he wasn't facing off against the oppositions better defensive players.

The additions of Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle provide Tampa Bay with a steady amount of leadership and defensive power.  Morrow is a former captain who was once capable of scoring 30 goals in a season.  Those days are long gone for the 35 year old, but he was able to transform his game wonderfully in his time with St. Louis.  Boyle is among the leagues top penalty killing forwards, and will be deployed heavily on defensive situations against the leagues top forwards.  At 6'7", Boyle provides gargantuan size for a team that lacks it.

This forward unit is young and loaded with talent.  While most teams struggle to maintain two lines that are consistent scoring threats, the Lightning can easily maintain three.  Tampa Bay was also a strong position team, finishing in the top ten in fenwick close at 51.7 percent.  If these young playmakers hold on to the puck, they will wear out the opposition, while putting many, many pucks in the net.

Defensemen

Yzerman was aggressive when it came to improving his defensive unit this offseason.  It is known that Yzerman went all out to acquire Matt Niskanen, but instead settled for Anton Stralman, the former New York Ranger's defenseman.  Stralman was one of the most sought after defensemen in the free agency period following a strong post season performance.  He can really find himself on the top, second, or third pairing, but would most comfortably play on the second line.

But Stralman wasn't the only addition to the Lightning blue line, which was in desperate need of upgrades after a poor offseason showing.  Yzerman sent the Vancouver Canucks Tampa Bay's 50th overall pick in exchange for Jason Garrison.  Garrison is a proven 29 year old defenseman that can move the puck.  His 26 assists last season were among his career best.  He's consistently played for bottom dwelling teams.  It is reasonable to suspect that Garrison could have his best season yet playing alongside so many offensive weapons in Tampa Bay.  He has good size at 6'2" and 220 pounds.

Victor Hedman
The top pairing for Tampa Bay last season was big Victor Hedman and Matt Carle.  At 6'6" and 233 pounds, Hedman emerged as a premier scoring threat, finishing with 55 points, a career best.  Hedman had never really lived up to his big expectations that were set upon him when he was drafted number two overall in the 2009 NHL draft.  But, the guy is only 23 years old.  He hasn't even come close to entering his prime yet, and he already has five NHL seasons under his belt.  But, even still, Hedman only recorded 86 hits on the year, good for 99th among NHL defensemen.  That is not good. He is already entrusted as the teams' top defenseman, but he needs to begin using his size as an advantage.  That being said, it was great for Tampa to see him develop a more offensive style game.  But with the addition of Garrison, and what should be a full season from Stamkos, Hedman may not need to produce nearly as many points as he did this past season.  Carle has always been considered an overpaid, underperforming defenseman.  But if he is given top line minutes, and a little bit more pressure is relieved off of his shoulders with the additions of Garrison and Stralman, we may see a more comfortable Carle.  And his best year just may be ahead of him.

The third pairing isn't necessarily strong, but both Radko Gudas and Eric Brewer bring positive attributes in different ways.  Gudas ranked third in the entire league last season in hits with 273, and Brewer provides veteran leadership for the entire team.  Gudas is just 24, and while he is extremely aggressive on the ice, he is prone to mistakes.  Brewer relies heavily on his instincts, and should be able to correct Gudas' occasional mistake.

Goaltending

After finally being trusted as a premier NHL goaltender, Ben Bishop rewarded Tampa Bay with his best season ever.  The 27 year old, 6'7" goaltender posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average.  His 37 wins added to his resume made Bishop a Vezina Trophy finalist as the leagues top goaltender, where he ultimately lost out to both Semyon Varlamov of Colorado and winner Tuukka Rask of Boston.  Bishop could have easily lead Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup if it wasn't for a late season injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Bishop dislocated his elbow and tore ligaments when he landed awkwardly on it after catching a puck.  The injury ultimately led to a Montreal Canadiens sweep of the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.

Bishop is expected to be back, but his fellow backup in Anders Lindback will not.  Instead, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who finished last year with the New York Islanders.  Nabovkov is coming off of one of his weakest years of his career, where he recorded a .905 save percentage and a 2.74 goals against average.  But the 39 year old goaltender played in 40 games last season for a weak Islanders team.  Bishop is capable of playing over 60 games.  If Nabokov can come in relief efforts for Bishop, the Lightning will be just happy with him.  Plus, the Lightning have had pretty good luck when it comes to veteran goaltenders.  Does Dwayne Roloson ring a bell?

Prospects

A large majority of Tampa Bay's prospects will be included on the roster this season to start off the year.  The one that everyone has been waiting for is Drouin.  Many were surprised that Drouin didn't make the team last year.  He was instead sent back to Halifax in the QMJHL, where he predictably dominated.  In 46 games, Drouin finished with 29 goals and 79 assists.  THIS IS IN 46 GAMES.  In his World Junior Championship appearance, Drouin scored three goals and six assists in seven games.    He just has bizarrely quick hands and is a magician with the puck.  He will one day be a top NHL playmaker.  Just YouTube him.  I really can't do him justice.

Jonathan Drouin
But Drouin isn't the only big name that will come out of Tampa Bay's prospect pool.  Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is among the leagues top goaltending prospects.  At just 20 years of age, he is just dominating the KHL.  In 28 games, Vasilevskiy has a .928 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average.  And in his World Junior Championship showing for Russia, Vasilevskiy was even better.  In his two games, he let in just one goal and recorded a .985 save percentage.  He signed an entry level contract in May, and is expected to start off with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.  If he dominates there, he could see some time in the NHL, but at the very least, Vasilevskiy provides Tampa Bay with a very, very strong trade chip.

Two offensive minded defensemen in waiting for Tampa Bay is Slater Koekkoek and Anthony DeAngelo.  Koekkoek, who was drafted number 10 overall in the 2012 draft, finished with 15 goals and 38 assists in 62 games with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.  The 53 points ranked him sixth among defensemen in the entire OHL.  The 6'2" blue liner will play with Syracuse this year.  He may be a ways away from consistent NHL play, but if he can translate his offensive game to the NHL, he will be extremely valuable.  DeAngelo was taken 19th overall in this years draft.  At just 5'10 and 174 pounds, size will always be an issue for DeAngelo.   But his offensive awareness is off the charts, and he can be highly effective on the power play.  Many NHL scouts considered DeAngelo a premier talent, but many feared that he would drop due to his character issues.  DeAngelo was suspended twice this past season for violating the OHL's harassment and diversity policy, and apparently was suspended the second time for a racial slur directed at a teammate.  Tampa Bay was obviously willing to take the risk, and it may pay off for them.

Adam Erne is also waiting for his turn.  Erne will play with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL.  The wingers scored 21 goals and 41 assists in 48 games last season.  He may be quite a few seasons away from making an impact, but his trajectory has gone up since he was drafted in 2012.  Erne will return to the QMJHL, as he's ineligible to play full time for Syracuse this season in the AHL.

Player to Watch

Picking Drouin is just too easy.  You're obviously going to keep an eye on him.  But you should also keep your eye on Brett Connolly.  Connolly was once believed to be Tampa Bay's next big thing.  He was the sixth overall draft pick in 2010, and even played nearly a full season in the 2011-2012 campaign.  But since then, Connolly has never been able to secure a full time NHL spot.  But this past year, Connolly dominated in the AHL with 57 points in 66 games.  He's going to be gunning for a top six spot alongside Killorn and Kucherov.  And with the embarrassment of riches Tampa Bay has up the middle, Connolly will more than likely play with a skilled playmaking pivot.  If he gets stuck on a line with Drouin and Filppula, we may see a gigantic increase in Connolly's production.  He has just six goals and 11 assists in 84 career NHL games.  I almost guarantee wee see a huge increase in those numbers.

Offseason News

In one day, it was quite clear that Steve Yzerman was working on some sort of plan.  On June 29th, Yzerman sent Teddy Purcell to Edmonton for Sam Gagner.  This looked like a fantastic trade for Tampa Bay.  But then, almost immediately, Yzerman sent Gagner and B.J. Crombeen to the Arizona Coyotes for a 2015 sixth round pick.  That was a little odd.  Then, Yzerman sent Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th and 7th round pick in 2015.  That was also a little odd.  By the end of the night, Yzerman cleared $7.125 million in cap space, and it became quite clear that he was ready to add someone big.  Or, at the very least, a few new players.  That ended up being Stralman, Boyle, Morrow and Nabokov.  Not bad.

Final Evaluation

This is quite easily a playoff team.  They are incredibly young up top, but also incredibly talented.  Yzerman's patience with his young forward prospects has paid off immensely, and it's time for Tampa Bay to make a serious playoff run.  As long as the team stays healthy, nothing could stop them.  They have a beautiful mix of skill, scoring and leadership.  Their defense is much improved.  They will possess the puck consistently more than the opposition, and most likely always outwork them.  The only concern with Tampa Bay is the goaltending, that is, if Bishop was to get hurt again.  But, in waiting is Vasilevskiy, who will one day be capable of leading a team to victory.  It's extremely difficult to predict the Stanley Cup winning team before the year starts, but Tampa Bay is an awfully sexy pick this year.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Look At The Atlantic Division: The Ottawa Senators



Ottawa Senators, 2013-2014: Fifth in Atlantic Division with 88 points.  Did not qualify for playoffs.

Team Departures: Forwards Jason Spezza (DAL), Ales Hemsky (DAL) and Ludwig Karlsson (DAL).

Team Additions: Forwards David Legwand, Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill and Carter Camper.  Defenseman Aaron Johnson.

2014 NHL Draft: Defenseman Andreas Englund (40th overall), Defenseman Miles Gendron (70th overall), Forward Shane Eiserman (100th overall), Defenseman Kelly Summers (189th overall), Forward Francis Perron (190th overall).

Coaching and Front Office Changes: No significant changes.

Caps Play The Senators Three Times

In the lockout-shortened campaign, the Ottawa Senators enjoyed an improbable run during the regular season.  Despite numerous injuries to critical players, Head Coach Paul MacLean willed his team to the playoffs, earning himself the Jack Adams Trophy as the coach of the year.  But a lackluster performance saw the Senators on the outside looking in this past season, and after a trade that saw the Senators captain walk away, MacLean may be on the hot seat.

Forwards

The top point scorer, by a long shot, was a defenseman (more on him later).  That's not a good sign.  Their second highest point scorer, Jason Spezza, is gone.  That is also not a good sign.

Clarke MacArthur
This season, the Ottawa Senators are going to have to rely heavily on three guys:  Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur.  Turris is the one guy that is most likely to lead the team offensively this year.  In his first real full season with Ottawa, Turris recorded 26 goals and 32 assists.  At 25, he is just entering the prime years of his career.  Previously, on an 82 game pace, he was averaging around 55-60 points.  He will continue seeing top line minutes, and lots of power play time.  The question is, can he up his game to a point where we see either 30 plus goals, or 40 to 50 assists?  That may never happen.  But, to point him in the right direction, Turris needs to see more offensive time.  He actually started his shifts in the offensive zone 48.1 percent of the time he hit the ice.  If he's deployed in more offensive situations, he could easily see more points come his way.  He was also scoring on 12.1 percent of his shots this past season, the most of his career.  Is that sustainable?  Certainly.  But it's also two percentage points above his previous best.  Ryan is one of the more skilled players in the league, and always has a chance to make a big play.  But in his first year with the Senators, he posted only 23 goals, the first time he hasn't scored at least 30 since his rookie year.  His 48 point this year was only 18 more than his lockout shortened season with the Anaheim Ducks.  The Senators need to see more production from him if they want to be a successful team.  He's entering the final year of his contract, and if he wants a boost to his $5.1 million per year contract, then he must reach the 30 goal plateau again.  MacArthur is truly one of the more underrated players in the NHL.  He was given a little bit more offensive freedom with Ottawa in comparison to his time in Toronto, and it showed.  His 24 goals were the most in a season for him personally, and his 159 shots were also a career best.  MacArthur signed a five year extension on August 19th, which will kick in in 2015 and run through 2020, earning him $23.25 million, which will no doubt be a great price for his production.

Milan Michalek provides solid second line support.  However, his 17 goals and 39 point were a far cry from what he's produced in the past.  This is a guy who once led the league in goals for a brief period of time, before suffering a concussion in the 2011-2012 season, and still finished with 35 goals.  But, during the lockout season, Michalek missed a chunk of games due to a nagging knee injury.  Even though he played a full season last year, you can't help but wonder if his game has just slowed down due to the knee injury.  21-year-old Mika Zibanejad lived up to his expectations in his first full season, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists.  The Senators envision him as a solid second line center behind Turris.

Acquisitions David Legwand and Alex Chiasson will be expected to fill in and produce.  Legwand provides a little bit of veteran leadership in a team that suddenly lost it in Spezza.  He plays a nice two way game, and can provide a defensive kick if necessary.  Chiasson quietly put together 13 goals and 22 assists with Dallas last season.  At 6'4", he could provide a solid power forward game for the Senators alongside a guy like Zibanejad.

The losses of both Spezza and Hemsky will cause the Senators to take a significant blow offensively this season, though they were a respectable possession team, finishing in the top half in the NHL in fenwick close with defined roles at each line.  Guys like Turris, Ryan and MacArthur will provide the offense.  Legwand, Colin Greening and Zack Smith will provide the defense.  And Chris Neil will be mean to everyone.

Defensemen

Remember that top point getter I was talking about earlier, and I said I would mention him later.  That's Erik Karlsson.  His astounding 74 points led not only his entire team, but also the entire league at the blue line position.  In fact, forget just the defensemen.  Karlsson's 74 points were good for 14th in the entire league.  In fact, he was seventh in the league in assists with 54.  Pretty outstanding.

Erik Karlsson
When you have a guy like Karlsson to rely on, you can forgive your forwards a little bit.  This guy is just 24 years old, and has cemented himself as a consistent 70 point man in this league.  If you watch him, he just takes complete command over the game in the offensive zone.  He doesn't have a blistering shot, as he's just 180 pounds soaking wet.  But, he plays so intelligently.  If you look back on his goals, he finds open space constantly, and picks the corners of the net.  That being said, the two goals that come to mind from him last season came from a long give and go, where Karlsson finished off of a Spezza slap pass, and another on a one timer after a full ice spin-o-rams pass from...you guessed it....Spezza.

Am I hinting that Karlsson is going to have an off year because he doesn't have his offensive buddy Spezza?  Maybe a little, but if he does, you'll still see 60-70 points from him.

But, a guy like Karlsson, who plays primarily in the offensive zone, needs a stay at home defensive partner.  And that man last year was Marc Methot.  Methot has good size at 6'3", and has always been a stay at home defenseman, even in his days in Columbus.  He plays a pretty physical game, but he may need to tone that back if he continues playing with Karlsson.

Another potential match for Karlsson is Jared Cowen.  At 6'5", he's also a force out on the ice.  He's just 23, and he may be more prone to mental mistakes than Methot.  He also had a relatively disappointing year in Ottawa, as he had consistently improved throughout his years.  This upcoming season may be different.

Another consistent defenseman for the Senators is Chris Phillips.  Phillips will provide leadership for this relatively young defensive corps.  He's 36, and he's never relied on his offensive abilities.  He has two years left on his contract, and he absolutely needs to continue to perform at a successful level if he wants to continue seeing playing time.

On the flip side, Cody Ceci is the youngster on the squad.  Ceci saw 41 games for the Senators last season, scoring three goals and six assists.  In his junior years, he was considered an offensive-minded defenseman.  He's only 20, and should expect to see full time in Ottawa this upcoming season.  He projects as a future top option that will provide another scoring punch to accompany Karlsson.

Goaltending

Craig Anderson came off of his lockout shortened season with a .941 save percentage, a 1.69 goals against average and was a strong Vezina Trophy candidate.  Alongside the decisive MacLean, it was Anderson who carried the Senators to the playoffs.

But this past season was a little bit different.  Anderson regressed to his .911 save percentage, good for 31st in the league, and a 3.00 goals against average, good for 44th.  Was this a fluke year?  His numbers say it wasn't.  Anderson has in fact seen another successful save percentage with the Senators.  Back in the 2010-2011 season, Anderson had a .939 save percentage....in just 18 games.  His .941 save percentage?  He played in 24 games.  In fact, when Anderson plays more than 30 games, his save percentage shoots down to the low .91's.  That's not good.

Robin Lehner could end up being the goaltender of the future for the Senators.  He's 23, and was given a little bit more games last season.  Lehner turned in a .913 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average in 36 games.

Does Lehner take away the starting position from Anderson this upcoming season?  It's definitely a possibility.  But Anderson is going to be at the top of his game; he becomes a free agent after this year.

Prospects

Curtis Lazar
The Senators don't have too many guys that could potentially make waves within the organization one day, but they do have Curtis Lazar.  He's seen great success recently with the Edmonton Oil Kings, leading the team to a Memorial Cup Championship.  He scored 41 goals and 35 assists last season in 58 games.  He was also one of the few bright spots for Canada's World Junior Championship team at the forward position, scoring three goals and adding four assists in seven games.  Lazar has a legitimate chance to make the Senators team this season, but he projects as a passionate playmaker in the NHL.

Mark Stone is also eager to crack the Senators lineup for the first time.  The 22 year old scored 15 goals and 25 assists for the AHL's Binghamton Senators.  But the oft-injured forward just can't consistently stay on the ice.  But if he can stay healthy, he has the ability to use his 6'2" frame to drive pucks to the net.

The Senators didn't have a first round draft pick this year due to the trade with the Anaheim Ducks when they acquired Ryan.  But they did have the 40th pick, and they used it to draft the 6'3" Swedish Defenseman Andreas Englund.  He's going to be a long term project, and will continue playing in Sweden this upcoming season.  He is projected as a shutdown defenseman, and one that doesn't use his physicality, but his hockey senses and positioning.  He's only 189 pounds, and will have to bulk up to become serious threat one day in the NHL.  But what the Senators like is that he focuses primarily on defense, and will provide no offense whatsoever, which is helpful for a team that is led by a guy like Karlsson with a guy like Ceci waiting in the wing.

Player to Watch

The obvious answer is Karlsson, but that's too boring.  I'm instead going to go with Ceci.  Ceci was used far too often in offensive situations.  Now, he is young, and will one day be heavily relied on, but he could use a little bit more practice in defensive situations.  Ceci needs to be given that level of trust, and he will more than likely run with it.  All it takes is one injury in front of him, and Ceci will see his minutes jump to much higher levels.  And if that does happen, he will be the Senator to watch on this team this season.

Offseason News

When Jason Spezza requested out of Ottawa, it left a bad taste in Sens Nations mouth that reminded them far too much of the Daniel Alfredsson.  With those guys gone, a new era is beginning in Canada's capital.  But the trade and the departure of Ales Hemsky signified something more, in my opinion.  Ottawa is not a destination that players want to go to.  With Bobby Ryan becoming a free agent, is he the next to flee?  And, *gasp*, could Karlsson one day request a trade?

Final Evaluation

This isn't a playoff team.  In fact, I think this team struggles mightily throughout the season.  Their offense is just weak without a guy like Spezza leading the way.  Their defense is fine, but their goaltending has a significant chance of being atrocious.  If Ryan can't find his scoring touch like he had in Anaheim, it won't be a successful team.  If Zibanejad doesn't continue his upward trend, the Senators will be hurting.  If Cowen doesn't improve, the defense will be weak.  And if Karlsson misses significant time, the team will struggle offensively.  I don't think it's a playoff team, I think MacLean is in the hot seat, and I think this team has the potential of drafting a top five pick this upcoming season.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Look At The Atlantic Division: The Montreal Canadiens



Montreal Canadiens, 2013-2014: Third in Atlantic Division with 100 points.  Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New York Rangers in a 4-2 series.

Team Departures: Forwards Thomas Vanek (MIN), Brian Gionta (BUF), Daniel Briere (COL), Louis Leblanc (ANA), Ryan White (PHI), Nick Tarnasky (NYR), Mike Blunden (TB) and George Parros (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign).  Defenseman Josh Gorges (BUF), Francis Bouillon (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign) and Douglas Murray (Currently UFA, not expected to re-sign).  Goaltender Devan Dubnyk (ARZ).

Team Additions: Forwards P.A. Parenteau and Manny Malhotra.  Defenseman Tom Gilbert.  Goaltender Joey MacDonald.

2014 Draft: Forward Nikita Scherbak (26th overall), Defenseman Brett Lernout (73rd overall), Defenseman Nikolas Koberstein (125th overall), Forward Daniel Audette (147th overall), Goaltender Hayden Hawkey (177th overall), Forward Jake Evans (207th overall).

Coaching and Front Office Changes: No significant changes.

Caps Play The Canadiens Three Times.

The Canadiens surprised everyone but themselves when they battered all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.  A goaltending crisis found themselves just short of the prize.  But after a tight salary cap situation, can the Habs find themselves right back where they left off?

Forwards

The Canadiens have respectable lines all up and down the team, and that was evident in their playoff run.  They were simply out skating and out working their opponent day in and day out, and it started with the forward unit.  None on the team are better at their craft than Max Pacioretty.  Pacioretty has quickly gone from "that guy who was almost paralyzed by Zdeno Chara" to a common household name in the hockey world.  Pacioretty finished fourth in the entire league with 39 goals, and led the league in game winning goals with 11.  His 60 points led the Canadiens on the season.  He has become a consistent 30 goal scorer in this league, and will shock no one if he puts up more than 40.  After all, he did miss nine games on the season.

David Desharnais
Joining Pacioretty is a bunch of really, really tiny players (after all, Montreal did make a conscious effort to get "bigger" this past offseason).  David Desharnais (5'7"), Tomas Plekanec (5'11") and Brendan Gallagher (5'9") all contributed much greater offensively than in stature.  Desharnais is the team's playmaker.  He finished the year with 36 assists, good for second on the team.  You can expect to see him centering the top line alongside Pacioretty, constantly feeding him pucks to fire on net.  Plekanec is a strong player for the Habs.  At 31, his seasons with 70 points are behind him, but what you do get is a guy that is capable of putting the puck in the net as often as he records an assist.  With former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta moving on to Buffalo, Plekanec is a strong candidate to take over the "C" in Montreal.  Gallagher is a quick, tough player.  He's a 22 year old former fifth round pick, and has stepped past Montreal's expectations well and beyond.  In his first full season, Gallagher scored 19 goals and 22 assists, ranking him sixth in points for Montreal.  He will only continue to see growth in his game as he gains more and more experience.

The trade Montreal made for P.A. Parenteau will turn out to work wonderfully for the Canadiens.  Daniel Briere is well past his prime.  Parenteau really isn't.  He was never really given a solid chance in his time in Colorado, where he played behind really young superstars.  He saw just the seventh highest time on ice with the Avalanche.  It can be a fair expectation to see Parenteau getting valuable minutes on the second line, and he will most likely see time with the young playmaker, Alex Galchenyuk.  Parenteau recorded just 33 points last season.  While he probably won't see to great of an increase, a reasonable expectation for Parenteau this season would be around the 45-50 point range.

Lars Eller had a relatively disappointing regular season, finishing with just 26 points this season, his lowest output since his rookie season (even less than the lockout-shortened year).  But during the Canadiens playoff run, both he and line mate Rene Bourque became the go to forward unit.  Eller was second on the Canadiens in points during the playoffs with 13, and Bourque trailed right behind him with 11.  Now, there is no reason to believe that these two will develop into an offensive powerhouse for Montreal this upcoming regular season.  In fact, Eller could benefit his team a ton if he's willing to play a defensive-minded pivot role for the Canadiens.  He's never wowed anyone offensively, even in his time as a teen in Denmark.  If he and Bourque can provide defensive stability with the looming threat of an offensive punch, they can be a highly effective third line.  Either Brandon Prust, whose always been defensive minded or Dale Weise, who emerged during the playoffs as a highly aggressive pest, can benefit the line.

This forward unit is a little bit more defensive in their approach to the game, where the majority of the team starts off their time in the defensive zone, and most are out possessed.  While he wasn't on the team for very long, a consistent scoring threat like Thomas Vanek will hurt the Canadiens.  They also don't have a true, pure playmaker that's good for setting guys up all over the place.  But what they do have is consistency, and that alone can carry them right back to the playoffs.

Defensemen

This group lives, breathes and dies through Pernell Karl Subban.  He has emerged as a top five defenseman in this league.  He has tremendous offensive ability, leading his team in assists this season with 43.  He is an incredibly powerful skater, with the ability to knock any guy off the puck with ease, and he has tremendous hockey senses.  This off season, he was paid accordingly, and is set to earn $72 million over the next eight seasons.

P.K. Subban
But, his monetary gain came at the Canadiens productivity cost.  While there's no doubt in anybody's mind that Subban is worth that much, it put General Manager Marc Bergevin in a tight spot.  Top defensive blue liner Andrei Markov was also set to become a free agent, and he needed to be paid handsomely.  Ultimately, he signed a three year, $17.25 million contract.  But he wasn't the only one. Veteran defenseman Mike Weaver also needed to be signed.  Though he didn't cost nearly as much as Subban and Markov, he still warranted a one year, $1.75 million contract.  This put an awful lot of money into the Canadiens blue line.  Alexei Emelin was entering his new contract, signed back in October of 2013, and he added a $4.1 million cap hit.  Josh Gorges added a $3.9 million cap hit as well.  Bergevin needed to clear some space, and chose to ship Gorges to Buffalo.  Gorges was a great contributor for the the Canadiens blue line, and had really developed into a leader for the team.  The Canadiens are worse off without him.

Subban and Markov will be the shutdown pairing for the team, and they are a near perfect pair.  Subban is a highly aggressive two way player, while Markov is more of a stay at home type player.  And now that Markov is 35 (he'll be 36 in December), he has to rely on his hockey senses more than anything.  He will be able to make up for the few mistakes Subban will make, whether it's because of Subban going to far up the ice offensively or going for the big hip check.

Emelin really showed this past year that he can be a reliable puck mover.  In just his third season NHL at 28, he recorded a career high 14 assists.  He will likely play on the second pairing alongside either Tom Gilbert or Mike Weaver.  Gilbert has always been a defensive minded player, and at just 31 he still has something left in the tank.  Weaver played very well for Montreal during their playoff run.  He can provide veteran leadership for the team alongside Markov.  The sixth defenseman for the Canadiens isn't as clear, as it could be a toss up between Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu.  Both saw time last year during the regular season, though Beaulieu did see time in the playoffs.

This unit will see a lot of time in their own zone.  They aren't particularly impressive all up and down, but they are capable of getting the job done.  But, ultimately, they are fortunate to have such a successful goaltender backing them up.

Goaltending

If Carey Price doesn't injure his knee in the Chris Kreider collision in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Montreal Canadiens would have battled it out in the Stanley Cup in a much closer final.  There, I said it.

There are very few that are better than Price.  He won gold in Sochi for Team Canada, and he easily could have carried his NHL team right to the top if he had stayed healthy.  Price had a .927 save percentage this past season, good for third in the league, a 2.32 goals against average, good for 14th, and had six shutouts, good for second.  His numbers weren't quite as good in the playoffs, but he is a strong, capable goaltender.  He started only 59 times last season, his lowest (excluding the lockout year) since 2009-2010.  But, Price may see his starts go right back up to what he's used to, because the second goaltender isn't quite as clear.

It's between Peter Budaj, whose drudged along as the Canadiens backup for the past three seasons, or Dustin Tokarski, who has 10 regular season games in his career, and just two with the Canadiens.  Tokarski was the one who stepped up in the Eastern Conference Final when Price got hurt, and, given the circumstances, he did quite well.  His .916 save percentage and his 2.60 goals against average gave the Canadiens a fighting chance in that final.  On the other side of the equation, Budaj has been pretty bad in virtually every start he's had for the Canadiens.  He had just a .909 save percentage last season, and that's just a touch over his career save percentage of .903.  These two will battle it out to become the second goaltender, but it just might be time for Montreal to give the job to the 24 year old Tokarski.

Prospects

The Canadiens have really made size their top priority in the past few drafts.  It's quite evident with forward Michael McCarron, a forward who stands at 6'6".  But he's a while from the NHL.  But, the Canadiens do have three different players at three different positions that have the potential to be outstanding relatively soon: Forward Jacob de la Rose, defenseman  Jarred Tinordi and goaltender Zach Fucale.

Jacob de la Rose
de la Rose is a workaholic Swede that plays pretty well defensively.  During the World Junior Championship, he scored three goals and three assists in seven games.  That being said, de la Rose is not considered a scoring forward by any means.  In fact, in Sweden he doesn't score more than 13 points.  He needs a little bit more time to develop before he jumps right to the NHL, so he will be seeing some time in Hamilton with the Bulldogs.  de la Rose may only be a third line player for the Habs, but his penalty kill skills and defensive prowess will be critical for the Canadiens success.

Tinordi, who saw some time this past season, is a gigantic 6'6", 227 lbs.  He is known to use his size and strength to his advantage, something the Canadiens definitely need.  He's played professionally since 2011, but he just hasn't quite made the jump to the current Canadiens roster.  He won't score too many goals or record too many assists, but Tinordi has the potential to be a great player for the Canadiens someday.  (Side note, Tinordi is from Millersville, MD and played for the Washington Junior Nationals in 2007!)

Fucale was the highest rated goaltender in the 2013 draft, playing for a stacked Halifax Mooseheads team that included Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.  His junior level play has earned him over 100 wins.  He is very calm in the net, and finished with a .905 save percentage this past season.  He's got average size for a goaltender, but really needs to bulk up.  Fucale is tabbed as a franchise goaltender of the future, but he looked beatable in his five games at the World Junior Championship.  He will continue playing with Halifax, and he is far from NHL play, but there is no doubt within the Canadiens organization that he will one day be playing consistently in red, white and blue.

Player To Watch

Alex Galchenyuk is slowly, but surely tapping into his full potential.  The former third overall pick scored 13 goals and 18 assists in 65 games for the Habs last season.  If he's gradually given more and more time on the ice, with another skilled player, say, like, Pacioretty or Desharnais, we could see a ton of points from the 20 year old.  He consistently scored 30ish goals in Sarnia in his junior playing days, and put up 83 points in the 2010-2011 season.  His skill level is there, it's just a matter of time before he becomes comfortable on NHL ice, and we start to see his 60-70 point seasons.

Offseason News

No free agency story became larger than P.K. Subban's.  The saga had twists and turns with each growing day, and by the time it hit arbitration, it turned a little ugly.  Subban asked for $8.5 million, and Montreal said he should earn $5.25.  Subban obviously wasn't happy, and Subban's agent, Don Meehan, even stated that Subban wouldn't be willing to negotiate with Montreal after the hearing.  Ultimately, Montreal and Subban settled on the eight year, $72 million contract.  The $9 million against the salary cap is the third highest, behind only Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.

Final Evaluation

This is still a playoff team, but they no doubt have gotten worse since their playoff team.  Losing Vanek, Gionta and Gorges just hurts the Canadiens.  Sure, they saw success without Vanek, but his constant scoring threat alone helped out the Canadiens immensely.  Gionta was the bonafide leader of this team, and Gorges led the blue line.  Ultimately, young guys like Galchenyuk and Gallagher will have to step up and perform at a high level, and Pacioretty has to continue his upward trend.  The third line really needs to develop into a solid checking unit, which they are easily capable of doing.  Price needs to stay healthy, and if he does, he's capable of carrying Montreal through the playoffs with a little more ease than his New York counterpart.  But, possibly most importantly, Subban needs to prove he is in fact worth $72 million.

(Editors Note:  I apologize for the delay.  With the deletion of the web site Extra Skater, I was looking around to find a good website that recorded possession numbers, zone starts and quality of competition.  The stats used for this, as well as the upcoming previews, were used through Hockey Abstract, and basic stats from NHL.com.  As always, thanks for reading)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Growing Hockey Statistics

With the recent hiring of Darryl Metclaff of Extra Skater by the Toronto Maple Leafs, a new age of hockey is officially upon us.  It is officially clear that teams are going to use advanced statistics to better position themselves in the future.  And it's best if you get a clear understanding of how they work.

I actually wrote a column back in April for a sports writing class at the University of Maryland discussing the emergence of advanced statistics in hockey (I got an A on it), because it became quite clear that these statistics were growing in supporters in the hockey world.  Ironically, I lead the story with....the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Here it is, again, this was written back in April:

The Toronto Maple Leafs suffered a collapse of epic proportions.  At the beginning of March, Toronto sat comfortably in a playoff position, fighting for the Atlantic Division.  But, to close out the season, Toronto saw just six wins....and 15 losses.  The Maple Leafs went from a playoff spot to missing out of a spot by nine points.  Not many people were able to predict the Maple Leafs collapse, except for a small group of people, those who believe in “fancy stats.”

“Fancy stats” are advanced statistics that are mainly used to measure possession.  There are many different types of these advanced statistics.  They were developed by Jim Corsi, the former goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres, and California engineer Gabriel Desjardins, who now runs one of the more premier advanced statistics websites in Behind the Net.

Now, what exactly are these advanced statistics?  The main ones are corsi, fenwick and PDO.  Corsi measures the amount of shots that your team takes when you are on the ice, whether they are on net or not.  This is called Corsi For.  You can also measure that number for the opposition as well, called Corsi Against.  So, let’s look at Alexander Ovechkin’s Corsi numbers.  This season, Ovechkin had 1110 Corsi For in all 5 on 5 situations.  His Corsi Against was 1140.  So, Ovechkin had more shots against him than for him.  You can set this up as a ratio as well, called Corsi For Percentage.  It is just a simple ratio of your Corsi For up against the Corsi Against, meaning Ovechkin’s Corsi For Percentage was 49.3 percent.

But what does that mean?  It means that Ovechkin generally wasn’t a great possession player.  Anything over 50 percent means that player was generally good at possessing the puck, and anything under means that player wasn’t good at possessing the puck.

Fenwick is pretty similar to Corsi.  It is calculated the exact same way, except it doesn’t include blocked shots or shots that missed the net.  It is generally used to calculate full-season, while Corsi is generally used on a game by game basis.  PDO is used to measure “Puck luck.”  It is calculated by adding up your shooting percentage when you are on the ice, plus your teams save percentage.  Anything over 100 PDO is considered lucky, while anything under is considered unlucky.  All of these numbers can not only be used to calculate individual performance, but it can be used on a larger scale team performance as well.

So, back to the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Why was it so obvious that they were going to drop deep into the standings?  Because they were the second worst Fenwick For percentage team in the league, but the sixth highest PDO.  They were consistently getting lucky, having an unattainable shooting percentage and save percentage, while also having horrible possession numbers.

But, is this the only time this has worked?  Not even close.

Ryan Getzlaf
This year, Ryan Getzlaf finished his season with 31 goals and 56 assists, nearly 30 points more since the last time he played a full season.  Why does he have such a huge increase?  Because this year, he finally had a high PDO.  His Fenwick numbers have stayed pretty consistent throughout his career, hovering around 51 to 52 percent.  But, this season, his PDO was 104.9, which is an astounding seven points higher since his last full season.

And what do teams with high Fenwick numbers look like?  The LA Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins have the highest Fenwick percentages.  Point wise, they finished with 100, 107, 111 and 117 points respectably, all among the top in the league.  And the teams with the lowest Fenwick percentages?  The Buffalo Sabres had the lowest, and finished with the least amount of points in the league, Toronto, Edmonton Oilers, who had the third lowest point total, and the Colorado Avalanche, who, interestingly enough, made the playoffs.  Maybe that’s because they had the third highest PDO number with 102.2.  Are they pretenders?


These statistics are continuing to grow and grow in popularity and usage.  In a conversation with Neil Greenberg, who was just hired as the stat geek (his words, not mine) at the Washington Post, says NHL front offices in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, LA and Chicago already have individuals who understand these statistics working for them.  Conveniently, those teams are all in the playoffs.  And while you have hockey traditionalists, like Don Cherry, who call advanced statistics “a dumb-dumb stat,” the numbers really don’t lie.  And teams who develop an understanding for these statistics will see success.