What are three important NHL questions heading into the summer?

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

If you think Washington’s front office is terrible, take a look at Carolina’s and Vancouver’s!!!

While Capitals fans have been bringing the proverbial pitch forks towards George McPhee for the last five years or so, it is looking like they may have their wish. A report from puck daddy came out and mentioned that Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson spurned the Capitals to talk to Vancouver for the position of team President. Sure, Nicholson is not the biggest name you would expect for a front office hire, the job was for President and not General Manager and there is a solid chance that this was more of a rumor than a fact after the Canucks hired Trevor Linden. The fact that this story came out from a usually credible source, however, should at least indicate that there are signs of movement going on in Washington’s front office. This is the same front office that is owned by a man who wrote about the Business of Happiness years before he saw the end product of what his sports teams have become after thinking that he had this sports ownership thing figured out. When you mess something like that up, that happiness sure does seem phony and anyone in Ted Leonsis’ shoes would at least wonder how to wipe off so much egg on one’s face.

But if Washington were to seriously alter who runs the team’s hockey operations, they will have to do so while competing against the Carolina Hurricanes and Vancouver Canucks. Those two teams also can not wait to remove themselves from years of underachievement, poor drafting and bad decision making. Vancouver’s situation has been talked about ad nauseum throughout North America, but Carolina’s has been almost like a major secret. For the first time since the franchise moved to Raleigh, the Hurricanes will have to find a new General Manager. Unlike the previous one, the new man will have significantly less power in the front office considering that Jim Rutherford is a part-time owner.

Honestly, that is a good thing. If you look at Carolina’s drafting history, only their key 2010 draft picks (Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk) and Eric Staal look like pieces that have or will stick around for the long haul. Also, good luck finding any non-first rounders that lasted more than a 200 games in the NHL from Carolina. You really are going to need it. It was quite shocking to find out that the Hurricanes drafted Andrew Ladd and Jack Johnson within the last decade. Ladd was eventually traded to Chicago straight up for Tuomo Ruutu in 2008 (we all know how he turned out for them) before he turned 23. Since then, Ladd has scored 135 of his 161 career goals with Chicago and Atlanta/Winnipeg in 473 games and has produced like an above average top six forward (6.1 point shares/82). Jack Johnson was eventually traded before he ever had a chance to play for Carolina for 71 games of Eric Belanger and Josef Vasicek, plus Tim Gleason. Brandon Sutter did not amount to the top tier player the Hurricanes were hoping for, but Jim Rutherford had to trade him, another former draft pick in Bryan Dumoulin and a 2011 1st round pick (Derrick Pouliot) for something substantial in Jordan Staal and even he hasn’t been as productive as they hoped.

This leads us to their horrible job at signing and trading for good players in recent years. To find anybody good in the history of the Hurricanes franchise, the vast majority of them came before the 2006 lockout. Since then, it has been Cam Ward, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Eric Staal and past their prime versions of Glen Wesley and Rob Brind’Amour. That’s not a delectable list of players to chose from if you want to buy a Hurricanes jersey anytime soon. The franchise has gone stale ever since having two of the flukiest playoff runs in recent NHL history, their 2006 Stanley Cup Championship and their run to the 2009 conference finals. It is time for them to actually be memorable for once in their history and having a new General Manager that knows what he is doing will get them on the right track.

So, how about those defensemen that Washington should have gotten?

For all my fellow Caps fans, let’s recap which defensemen moved around during last month’s trade deadline:

Joe Corvo, Mike Weaver, Stephane Robidas, Andrew MacDonald, Rostislav Klesla, Corey Potter, Brayden McNabb, Nick Schultz, Raphael Diaz, Andrej Meszaros

Of all those nine names, certainly none of them are considered to be sexy pickings. Even if you include Andrew MacDonald on the list, there is enough evidence that he is not good enough to make a team better. Joe Corvo is Japer’s Rink’s voldemort. Mike Weaver and Stephane Robidas are simply way too old to make the Capitals better in defense for the long term. Brayden McNabb may not be able to be an NHL mainstay. We all know what happened to good ol’ Rusty and Nick Schultz, Corey Potter and Raphael Diaz are their new team’s respective #7 d-men.

Which leaves us with Andrej Meszaros; a 28-year old that was initially considered temporary cover for the injuries to Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg. So far he has been that as he has only played 13 of Boston’s 21 games since the deadline, but you can also look at the fact that he has played nineteen and a half minutes a game, and scored 2 goals and 5 points while putting up 7.6 point shares/82 during those 13 games. If he continued this for all 82 games this season, Meszaros would be considered a better defenseman than Alex Goligoski, Roman Josi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Instead, this has to be interpreted as a player that has taken advantage of playing for a Bruins team that will have all but five of their regulars hitting 5 point shares or better this season. You know a team’s stats look inflated when Carl Soderberg is statistically looking like a $5-$6 million player.

Meszaros has also went from having a offensive-defensive zone ratio of 54.7% as a Flyer to 59.7% with Boston. However, his career high 56.2% offensive zone start percentage plummets to a 47.9% offensive zone finish percentage. Meszaros is also having the highest PDO and second highest on-ice shooting percentage of his career. This explains why he is putting up his highest scoring rate (0.44 points per game) while producing one of his lowest shooting rates (1.64 shots per game).

So with all that in mind, let’s see what kind of players Washington either should have traded for or should look after for free agency. Let’s assume that if Washington trades for someone, it will be just like all their previous trades during the Ovechkin era (2008 onwards) and all the trades other NHL franchises have done in recent trade deadlines: they were deals involving players with two years or less left on their current contract. As a result, here is the list of notable blueliners that have a contract that lasts for less than two years.

2014 UFA: Andrei Markov(35), Matt Niskanen(27), Andrew MacDonald(27), Chris Butler(27), Kyle Quincey(28), Anton Stralman(27), Ron Hainsey(33), Marek Zidlicky(37), Tom Gilbert(31), Andre Benoit(30), Kimmo Timmonen(39), Willie Mitchell(36), Dan Boyle(37), Brooks Orpik(33), Sami Salo(39), Mike Weaver(35), Nick Schultz(31), Nikita Nikitin(27), Mark Fayne(26), Clayton Stoner(29), Henrik Tallinder(35), Derek Morris(35), Raphael Diaz(28), Andrej Meszaros(28), Stephane Robidas(37)

2014 RFA: Eric Gryba(25), Brett Bellemore(25), Mark Barbiero(24), Matt Bartkowski(25), Dalton Prout(24), Simon Despres(22), Eric Gelinas(22), Matt Donovan(23), Tyson Barrie(22), Brenden Dillon(23), Adam Larsson(21), John Moore(23), Justin Falk(25), Erik Gustafsson(25), Mattias Ekholm(23), Jake Gardiner(23), Sami Vatanen(22), Danny DeKeyser(24), Andrej Sustr(23), Ryan Ellis(23), Calvin de Haan(22), Chris Tanev(24), Jason Demers(25), Torey Krug(22), Jeff Petry(26), Jamie McBain(26), Cody Franson(26), Dmitry Kulikov(23), Michael Del Zotto(23), P.K. Subban(24), Erik Gudbranson(22), Justin Schultz(23)

2015 UFA: Sergei Gonchar(39), Paul Martin(33), Lubomir Visnovsky(37), Zbynek Michalek(31), Marc Staal(27), Eric Brewer(34), Sheldon Souray(37), Brad Stuart(34), Francois Beauchemin(33), Bryan Allen(33), Johny Oduya(32), Johnny Boychuk(30), Jan Hejda(35), Bryce Salvador(38), Barret Jackman(33), Andy Greene(31), Marc Methot(28), Andrej Sekera(27), Shane O’Brien(30), Keith Ballard(31), Justin Braun(27), Adam McQuaid(27), Matt Irwin(26), Nick Holden(26)

2015 RFA: Ryan Stanton(24), Robert Bortuzzo(25), Mark Pysyk(22), Jake Muzzin(25), Marco Scandella(24), Brendan Smith(25), Jonas Brodin(20), Dougie Hamilton(20), Christian Folin(23)#, T.J. Brodie(23), Luca Sbisa(24), Nick Leddy(23)

#= Folin was the biggest named college free agent of 2014. However, time will tell if he amounts to anything.

2016 UFA: Brian Campbell(34), Brent Seabrook(28), Keith Yandle(27), Dustin Byfuglien(29)*, Alex Goligoski(28), Kevin Bieksa(32), Dan Hamhuis(31), Braydon Coburn(29), Anton Volchenkov(32), Mark Giordano(30), Tim Gleason(31), John-Michael Liles(33), Erik Johnson(26), Luke Schenn(24), Nicklas Grossman(29), Carl Gunnarsson(27), Kris Russell(27), Chris Phillips(36), Grant Clitsome(28), Mike Weber(26), Jay Harrison(31), Ben Lovejoy(30), Kevan Miller(26), Brian Strait(26), Jordie Benn(26)

*= is Byfuglien really a defenseman?

2016 RFA: Brian Lashoff(23), Jon Merrill(22), Olli Maata(19), Radko Gudas(23), Michael Stone(23), Ryan Murphy(21), Cody Ceci(20), Morgan Reilly(20), Hampus Lindholm(20), Jacob Trouba(20), Patrick Wiercioch(23), Jared Spurgeon(24), Seth Jones(19), Ryan Murray(20)

From 132 defensemen that will be a free agent of some sort, let’s keep all the players that are able to do the following: 1. Play more than 19.5 minutes per game for unrestricted free agents and 17 minutes per game for restricted free agents (for the most part, restricted free agents are much younger and haven’t had the chance to move into a top four role in the NHL). 2. Consistently play more than three quarters of a season. 3. Play more than one minute per game of penalty killing situations. If you take Karl Alzner and John Carlson out of the equation, you have to look at Mike Green’s 29 seconds per game on the Capitals penalty kill time of ice leaderboard who has played 60 games or more. 4. Be under the age of 35. 5. Have a realistic shot of being traded or signed to Washington.

Afterwards, let’s break it down to the group of defenseman that shoot left and right just in case next year’s head coach is a stickler (no pun intended) on that.

Shoots left

Screen shot 2014-04-13 at 3.11.41 PM

Shoots right

(Right handed defenseman have their own usage chart for unrestricted and restricted free agents because it sucks to see 33 names squished together in one chart!!!)

Screen shot 2014-04-13 at 11.33.28 PM

 

Screen shot 2014-04-13 at 11.45.02 PM

Those requirements dwindle the list from 132 to 52 free agent defensemen. If you keep all the players with positive corsi and quality of competition, you finish with the following players.

Shoots left: Johnny Oduya(32), Dan Hamhuis(31), Brendan Dillon(23), Calvin deHaan(22), Andrej Sekera(27), Grant Clitsome(28), Kyle Quincey(28), Marc Methot(28), Ron Hainsey(33), Dmitry Kulikov(23), Brad Stuart(34)

Shoots Right: Justin Braun(27), Mark Fayne(26), Kevin Bieksa(32), Anton Stralman(27), Barrett Jackman(33), Eric Brewer(34), Eric Gryba(25), Andrej Sustr(23), Mattias Ekholm(23), Jason Demers(25), Jared Spurgeon(24)

Alright, now we have 22 names now with 11 each that shoot left or right. Of all those players, Anton Stralman, Jared Spurgeon, Calvin deHaan and Grant Clitsome are certainly names that are very underrated, have very small cap hits and are pieces that smart teams look at and consider trading for next to nothing to make their team better. As much as any other franchise would keep Dmitry Kulikov, he was being swirled around in trade rumors during the trade deadline and Florida might be so feeble and dumb to move him for prospects, just like they always do. Otherwise, everyone else on that list are good second line defensemen that come from good puck possession NHL teams and are possibly too young or too important to be shipped that easily. But no matter how you look at this project, you can see that it is not that hard for someone like George McPhee to find someone better. The pieces are there waiting to be snatched for the right asking price, but it takes creativity and gumption to make transactions like these happen and that is where George McPhee is simply lacking. When moments like these happen, rather than see how to fix weaknesses, McPhee shies away and uses his salary cap management as an excuse. If he sticks around, he has to stop this and realize what teams like Boston and Los Angeles to see how a championship club is made for the short term and long term. Oh, and he better not treat it like it’s a new age concept just like he did when he picked Tom Wilson in the 2012 draft.

Who has the upper hand now coming into the playoffs?

Quite frankly, I am sick of watching Eastern Conference hockey. As great it is to see Boston losing only once in regulation since March 1st, I don’t know how good they would be if they were to play the same schedule that Los Angeles, Anaheim or San Jose would play. Also, Pittsburgh might be one of the worst 109-point teams of all time. Their corsi is flat out awful for a cup contender and they are in deep trouble if their top six forwards get shut down again. Lastly, Tampa Bay may have hit 100 points, but they pulled it off in the most sluggish way possible and advanced statisticians are salivating towards the New York Rangers but Alain Vigenault has to get Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Rick Nash to produce at an elite level come playoff time.

As for the west, it is pretty clear there are six fantastic teams that deserve to leave with an awkward team photo. If you base things off of pythagorean winning percentage, no one should touch Colorado with a ten-foot pole as they are a solid nine standings points better than their goal differential suggests. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings are once again lying underneath the weeds waiting to unleash their puck possession with fury towards any hockey team lying in their wake.

After many fascinating trades, fans and analysts always wonder how much these moves impact a team during the playoffs. Plenty of analysis has been done to determine if performance in the last handful of games into the regular season leads to Stanley Cup success with interesting results. So here is one of my own. All the data collected is from the last 30 games of every season in which the NHL has played with 30 teams back in the fall of 2000 (18 games for the 2012-2013 season because, you know, that stupid lockout).

blog

Dots and outliers galore!!! Yes, a scatter plot is clearly not the best way to determine such a question in a visual sense, but one can notice that teams that were eliminated from the first round up to the conference finals have a more consistent number than those winning or losing the Stanley Cup final. This is pretty straight forward observation because there have simply been more NHL teams in the last thirteen years that have experienced getting knocked out of those rounds, which means there is a better chance for an undiluted average or median to produce. This time, let’s find a conclusion by using a simple chart.

steps away from Stanley Cup number of teams min max avg median teams below 50%
4 96 0.394 0.773 0.550 0.540 27
3 48 0.444 0.710 0.575 0.579 5
2 24 0.424 0.737 0.580 0.586 3
1 12 0.458 0.698 0.581 0.577 2
0 12 0.493 0.672 0.574 0.555 1

This is where we can come up with better conclusions. The biggest fact that you will notice is that 27 out of the 38 playoff teams in the last thirteen years that played below average hockey were knocked out of the first round. But now with an average and median presented you can see that there is a consistent trend of teams having a better winning percentage perform better during the portion of the playoffs where they have to play teams within their own conference (all values are from hockey-reference.com’s team finder page. Their search engine treats standings points percentage as points awarded out of total points awarded to both teams in order to account for overtime and shootout wins differently than regulation wins. As a result, overtime and shootout wins are counted as 2/3 of a regulation win because there are two points gained out of a possible three standings points being awarded). To take into account all the maximum and minimum values, a playoff team doesn’t have to dominate the last 30 games of the season, they just don’t have to be really REALLY bad. So with that in mind, let’s look at all of this year’s playoff teams’ winning percentage from game 53 onwards.

Eastern Conference
BOS 0.676
NYR 0.600
MON 0.594
PHI 0.567
CBJ 0.561
DET 0.529
PIT 0.500
TB 0.500
Western Conference
COL 0.586
SJ 0.561
ANA 0.561
LAK 0.554
MIN 0.549
DAL 0.538
STL 0.507
CHI 0.477

Wow!!! Many things standout. First, Colorado just won’t die. Just don’t tell them that they will be without Matt Duchene, Alex Tanguay and maybe John Mitchell and Tyson Barrie during round one of the playoffs. Conversely, how horrible is St. Louis and Chicago right now? It’s quite fitting that these two teams need to face each other in round one. In the west, there haven’t been any teams that have stood out to make a jump from where they are expected to go by consensus. As for the East, RIP Pittsburgh and Tampa’s Stanley Cup chances while we all know Detroit is proverbial road kill with Gustav Nyquist’s puck luck preventing them from decomposing, but if you want more evidence to pick the Rangers out of the east (including Montreal for that matter), you have found it. So who do I think will win the Stanley Cup after this research? Like Ryan Seacrest always famously did after Americal Idol, you are going to have to find out right after the commercial break (or in this case, a day or so before the playoffs start).

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