Oct 062005
 

I watched all of the Leafs-Sens game last night as well as some portions of several other games. Here are my random thoughts from what I saw.

Leafs
Overall they looked very good and only some weak defensive play resulting in Alfredsson’s second goal put a damper on an otherwise good night. If they can play like that every game they will have a very good season. They looked big, strong on the puck, and their average speed didn’t appear to be major liability. Losing Sundin to injury in the first period seemed to hurt the Leafs a lot, especially on the power play.. It has been a common problem for the Leafs the last several years but I really think they need to shoot more often while on the power play. For the most part while on the man advantage they controlled play in Ottawa’s zone but just didn’t generate the number of scoring chances they should have from 11 power plays. The new guys did their part though as Jeff O’Neill had eight shots on net and Lindros had five while the rest of the team only recorded 12. There is no reason why Kaberle should only have 1 shot from all that power play time.

Senators
Although they got the win, any realistic Senator fan has to be somewhat concerned by last nights game. The Senators took way too many penalties and the Leafs managed to keep the Senators offence under control for most of the game. The other thing that might concern Senators fans is that Brian Murray’s plan to distribute the offence over three lines appears to have failed so far. Although Alfredsson played well most of the game, he simply couldn’t generate much offence playing with Fisher and Neil. And maybe more concerning is that the second line of Schaeffer, Smolinski and Havlat haven’t been producing much offence through the pre-season and now into the regular season. In 21 combined games so far they produced just 4 goals and 9 points. If the Senators are going to have a successful season they need that line to contribute more goals.

The Shoot-Out
Ummm, maybe I would have a different opinion had the Leafs won the shoot-out, but I doubt it. People talk about how interesting the shoot-out is, but to be honest it wasn’t one tenth as interesting as the actual hockey game. It just seemed that going from a fast paced, hard hitting, nail biting regular game and overtime to a slow paced shoot-out was a bit of a let down. The shoot-out takes about 10 minutes to take place but most of that is just watching players stand around waiting for one of them to take 5 seconds skating down the ice on a breakaway. And when you think about it, all it proved was that the Senators have more pure talent than the Sundin-less Leafs, but didn’t we already know that?

Other Notes
In other games, I think last night showed that despite the new rules and smaller pads, good goaltending is still a key component of the game. Hasek and Belfour played great, and Theodore saved 29 of 30 shots to get Montreal the win. Luongo once again over came a sub-par defence and stopped 34 shots to give the Panthers a 2-0 shutout win. And Martin Brodeur looked nothing short of awesome in stopping 17 first period shots from the Pittsburgh Penguins and 36 of 37 overall in a 5-1 Devils win. Conversely, in Philadelphia, Robert Esche struggled at times giving up 5 goals on 27 shots allowing the Rangers to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3. Nikolai Khabibulin’s carrer in Chicago didn’t get off to a great start as he gave up 5 goals on just 24 shots to the Ducks from Anaheim.

I was watching bits of the first period of the Buffalo-New York Islanders game (not sure why, just was), and some guy names Chris Campoli really caught my eye. He is a rookie defenseman for the Islanders and he completely dominated while quarterbacking one Islander power play and scored his first career goal in his first NHL game shortly after. I am not sure he will have any kind of long-term success but for those couple minutes he was excellent.

And finally, so far things look positive in the NHL’s desire for more goals. As you may have noticed from the table in the top-right corner of this page goals per game after 15 games is up to 6.33 from 5.00 in 2003-04. Of course it is still way too early to say whether it will continue but so far so good.

 Posted by at 4:21 pm
Oct 062005
 

The “New” NHL is less than 2 hours away and it is time to really see what effect the new rules will have on the game. To do this I have created a tracking table to track this years goals per game average vs that of 2003-04. I hope to keep it updated frequently, especially early in the season, and will make the first update tomorrow.

If you are interested in using the goals per game 2003-04 vs 2005-06 comparision image as shown below on your website you may but you must link back to http://www.hockeyanalysis.com should you do so. You can grab the image from http://www.hockeyanalysis.com/images/goalspergameaverage.jpg. I hope to update it every few days throughout the season.

For example, the following HTML code could be used on your website:

<a href=”http://www.hockeyanalysis.com”><img src=”http://www.hockeyanalysis.com/images/goalspergameaverage.jpg” / ></a>

The above will give the following:

Goals per game average comparison

 Posted by at 2:55 am
Oct 052005
 

There seems to be a common thread when discussing the Leafs chances this upcoming season. That thread is that the Leafs will struggle to make the playoffs. I seriously disagree with that claim. The basis for that claim is that they lost way too much talent and the guys they brought in are just way too injury prone. But let’s look at each player that has left and gone and see where things stand.

Gone is Gary Roberts who had 28 goals, 48 points in 72 games in 2003-04. Now, in my mind, it is not a stretch of anyone’s imagination to believe that Jeff O’Neill can equal or match what Gary Roberts provided the Leafs in 2003-04. O’Neill is coming of a substandard season in 2003-04 in which he suffered from some nagging injuries but the four seasons before that he played in 82, 76, 82, and 80 games scoring 30, 31, 41, and 25 goals. There is no reason to believe that O’Neill can’t score 30 goals this year and be a more than adequate replacement for Gary Roberts.

Gone is Alexander Mogilny who had 8 goals, 30 points in 37 games. Ok, this is an easy one. There is every reason to expect that Mariusz Czerkawski will exceed what Mogilny provided the Leafs offensively. Czerkawski is coming off a 25 goal, 49 point season with the Islanders and 20 goals is certainly an easily attainable goal, even 30 goals isn’t out of the question. While not a great defensive player Czerkawski could actually benefit from the new rules and I think Czerkawski can be a nice replacement for Mogilny. At least for the contribution to the Leafs that Mogilny made in 2003-04.

Gone is Joe Nieuwendyk who had 22 goals, 50 points in 64 games. It also wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that Eric Lindros can match those numbers, or at least come reasonably close to them. If Lindros was able to play 64 games 15-20 goals and 40-50 points is certainly not a stretch of the imagination.

Gone is Owen Nolan who scored 19 goals, 48 points in 65 games. This is where Jason Allison comes in. Although they are different types of players, if Jason Allison is healthy it is easy to assume that he match Nolans numbers and quite possibly surpass them, although the distribution between goals and assists might differ since Allison is a center and Nolan is a winger. But it certainly wouldn’t surprise me that if Allison can play 65 games that he would get 50+ points.

I know everyone is going to say, but what if Lindros and Allison do get injured. Well, if you read my above analysis, I am already factoring in that they will miss 17 or 18 games. Could the miss more? Yeah, sure, but they could miss fewer too and neither you, I, nor anyone else can predict which it will be, but predicting 17-18 games missed seems like being reasonably cautious without being overly pessimistic.

There is also no reason to believe that young guys like Antropov and Ponikarovsky will not improve or that Tucker can’t produce more offensively when placed in a more offensive role.

And what about Belfour? What if he gets injured. Well, sure, if Hasek gets injured in Ottawa, or Kipprusoff gets injured in Calgary, or Brodeur in New Jersey, or Turco in Dallas, those teams will all struggle to make the playoffs too. But what I do know is that over the past 7 seasons that Ed Belfour has played he has played in 61, 61, 62, 63, 60, 62 and 59 games plus another 17, 23, 23, 10, 0, 7, and 13 playoff games. To me that is a model of consistency so predicting Belfour might miss a significant portion of the season seems a bit pessimistic. Now, I do realize that he did have back surgery after the 2004 playoffs but that was 15 months ago, has been cleared to play for almost a year, has shown no ill-effects so far, and by all reports is in excellent condition.

The core of the Leaf defence is the same as 2003-04 led by McCabe, Kaberle, Klee and Berg. Added is Alexander Khavanov who should prove to be a good #4/5 defenseman as well as another guy who can play the point on the PP. The sixth defenseman duties will be spread around between the best of Wozniewski, Kronvall, Colaiacovo, Wade Belak, Brad Brown and Karel Pilar if he can ever overcome his health issues. I know you are going to ask, what about Leetch? Well, Leetch only played a handful of regular season games with the Leafs and so was only a limited factor in the Leafs very successful 103 point season. They were a very good team before he arrived.

So, when all is taken into account, predicting the Leafs will get 95 points in the upcoming regular season is not that crazy and if Allison can produce anywhere near the level he did prior to his injuries, reaching 100 points is certainly not out of the question.

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Oct 052005
 

(Also posted on The Devil’s Advocate)

Offense
Subtractions: So far, the only forwards to leave the swamp are Jan Hrdina and Jeff Friesen. Hrdina never seemed to fit in too well in New Jersey, and Friesen suffered from chronic underachieving. Friesen was a terrific playoff performer, however, and in that regard he will be sorely missed. Expect more forwards to leave in the next month to clear space in the cap-cramped Meadowlands. Patrik Elias signed a 1-year deal with the team, but will miss at least one month due to hepatitis recovery.

Additions: Alexander Mogilny is back in a Devils sweater. Last time he put one on, Larry Robinson was coach and he paired up with Scott Gomez… the end result was a 43 goal season for Almo. Well guess what… Robinson is behind the bench again and he’s back on a line with Gomez. His hip is an issue of concern, but everyone around him is confident that he will hold up. The only other forwards the Devils inked are tough-guys Darren Langdon and Krzysztof Oliwa.

Overall: This squad is very similar to the one that played last season. Madden, Brylin, Pandolfo, Gionta, and Gomez are still there. Langenbrunner continues to play like a grinder stuck in a scorer’s body, which fits perfectly in Jersey. Kozlov adds size up front to an otherwise small offense. Rasmussen and Marshall the other big forwards who are guaranteed regular ice time. One player to watch out for is Zach Parise, who may finally be ready to make his NHL debut. Veteran Pascal Rheaume and rookies Aleksander Suglobov and Adrian Foster will be ready to go from Albany if the Devs ever call upon them. This is among the deepest offensive units the Devils have had in recent years.

Defense
Subtractions: Almost too monsterous to mention. Scott Niedermayer packed his bags and took a pay cut to play with his brother in Anaheim. Scott Stevens, the team’s leader in every sense of the word, has hung up his skates after a masterful career. Both of these guys played on all three Stanley Cup teams in New Jersey, and with them a ton of skill, heart, and experience has left.

Additions: Lou wasted no time filling in the holes, er, craters on D. Before the lockout started, Richard Matvichuk was signed. Within hours of Niedermayer’s departure, Brian Rafalski was re-signed and Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis were brought in.
Overall: This ain’t your daddy’s Devils defense. But that’s not to say they aren’t good. This crew is still among the most solid in the East. The top six guys have a nice balance of size and puck-moving ability. Colin White, Dan McGillis, and Richard Matvichuk will provide the muscle, while Rafalski, Malakhov, and Martin will bring the skill. Martin’s game advanced very quickly in his rookie year, and he is expected to be even better this season. David Hale and Sean Brown are two solid D-men waiting in the wings if their services are needed.

Goaltending:
Martin Brodeur is still a Devil. ‘Nuff said.

The Big Picture:
The Devils not only lost their captain when Stevens retired, but a large piece of their identity. If this team can resolve its identity crisis quickly, they’ll be very good. The ’95 Cup team rallied around the team’s lifers… guys like John MacLean, Bruce Driver, and Ken Daneyko. The ’05 version has it’s own ensemble of lifers… guys like Colin White, Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias, Sergei Brylin, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Brian Gionta, and of course Marty Brodeur. Lamoriello has done a fine job of assembling a solid core of guys who know no way other than the Devil way, and this group is as solid as any. Even the guys he brought in – Vladimir Malakhov and Alex Mogilny – have won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey before. Unfamiliarity shouldn’t be an issue here.

Back behind the bench is Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson. Last time he was here, he had a two year stint that featured two trips to the Cup Finals, and in his second season his team led the league in scoring. Vladimir Malakhov has said that he wouldn’t have returned to the NHL unless he could play for Robinson. The players love this guy, and a better man couldn’t have been picked to step up in the wake of Pat Burns’ battle with cancer.

On paper, the Devils have the makings of a top team. Their first line alone (as soon as Elias gets healthy) has the potential to put up monster numbers. Zach Parise has been dominant in the World Juniors, AHL, and pre-season… look for this kid to make a bid for the Calder in this, the year of Sid. Jamie Langenbrunner would be a second line scoring threat for a lot of teams, and even a first liner for some, but he will likely be a third liner for New Jersey… a testament to their depth at forward. Brian Gionta had a strong finish last season on the Deviled EGG line, look for him to pick up where he left off. Madden, Brylin, and Pandolfo are all best-known for their defensive abilities, but all of them have a scoring touch as well. Madden’s breakaway speed could help him have an offensive breakout year.

Finally, let’s not forget who’s in net here. Brodeur is arguably the best goaltender in the world right now. Any team with him in net has a chance to go the distance. There are only four goaltenders in the NHL right now whose names appear on the Cup. Unless you have a world-class netminder, consider your season done. The Devils will never have that problem with #30 between the pipes.

That said, the Devils will finish second in the Atlantic. Their blend of size, speed, youth, and veteran presence on D will be a nice fit in the new NHL. Their offense will surprise a lot of people this year, as it is loaded with speed and talent. When playoff time comes around, we’ll see if they can overcome their two big losses, but as far as the regular season goes, they should be fine.

 Posted by at 4:30 am
Oct 042005
 

I have started a free fantasyhockey league for all HockeyAnalysis.com readers. To join, go to CDM Sports Free Hockey Pool, create a team and join KrushersGroup using the Access word “hockeyanalysis” (without the quotes). Hope to see you all there. It should be fun. Must be entered before games start tomorrow.

 Posted by at 4:55 pm
Oct 042005
 

The following are my predictions for the eastern and western conference final standings. Note that teams are ordered in terms of points and not playoff seeding where division winners get seeded 1, 2 and 3 no matter what their records are. The western conference was quite tough to pick because there are so many teams who I think could make the playoffs and fewer really bad teams like the east. Feel free to add your season predictions in the comments.

Eastern Conference

1. Ottawa Senators – Lots of talent. A bit short of experienced depth, particularly on defence. Hasek must play well or else they won’t finish in top spot.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – Made a ton of changes, but I am not sure they are any better. But they are still good.
3. Boston Bruins – Have a good mix of talent, size, speed, toughness and goaltending.
4. Atlanta Thrashers – Most improved team in the NHL, but only if Kovalchuk signs. If not, they will have to battle for a playoff spot.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Lost a lot in goal and on defence, plus other teams in division will be better.
6. New Jersey Devils – They lost Niedermayer but filled out their defence nicely, and they still have Brodeur.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs – Will be higher if they can avoid injuries and Allison can reach 70+ points which isn’t out of the question.
8. Montreal Canadiens – Borderline playoff team since they play in the toughest division in the NHL.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins – Will score goals, but can they keep them out of their own net. I am not convinced they are a playoff team.
10. New York Islanders – Yashin is their captain. Need I say more?
11. Florida Panthers – Have improved if Roberts and Nieuwendyk can play 70 games each, but their defence still looks pretty bad. Luongo is going to face a lot of shots again.
12. Buffalo Sabres – Have some really nice young talent but will rely on youth too much to make a playoff push this year.
13. Carolina Hurricanes – Does anyone really care about this team?
14. Washington Capitals – Aside from Ovechkin there isn’t much in Washington worth watching. He and Kolzig will keep them ahead of the Rangers.
15. New York Rangers – Once again they are horrible, but being horrible will only cost them half as much under the new CBA.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks – Lost some depth on defence but still a very good team.
2. Calgary Flames – Kipprusoff and Iginla will lead this team just like they did in the 2004 playoffs.
3. San Jose Sharks – Not spectacular at anything but do everything well. Offence, defence and goaltending.
4. Nashville Predators – Will be improved if Kariya returns to form. Also in a weak division.
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Good defence, inexperienced up font, Giguere will suffer from smaller goaltending equipment.
6. Colorado Avalanche – Lost some top tier talent but still in good shape if Aebischer can repeat his good 2003-04 season.
7. Dallas Stars – Turco will get them into the playoffs.
8. Detroit Red Wings – Will finish ahead of Colorado and Dallas if they get good goaltending, but I am not convinced they will.
9. Edmonton Oilers – Questionable goaltending and weak at center ice position makes them a playoff bubble team.
10. Chicago Blackhawks – Have improved dramatically but still a year or two away from being a top-tier team.
11. Los Angeles Kings – I like them except for in goal. If Garon has a good year they could be a playoff team.
12. Phoenix Coyotes – They have some good players up front, defence is alright but goaltending is a huge question mark. CuJo has been horrible so far.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets – Made some improvements but they aren’t great in goal and are still lacking in talent after Nash and Zherdev.
14. Minnesota Wild – They are filled with second/third line type players but no one to really lead their team to success.
15. St. Louis Blues – Lost a lot of talent and depth and goaltending is a question mark. This is a transition year.

I’d predict stanley cup champions but it is impossible to predict playoffs before the season, especially after so many teams made so many changes. That said, the favourites in my mind are Vancouver and Calgary in the west and Ottawa and Philadelphia in the east.

 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Oct 022005
 

After a year long shutdown the NHL is set to begin a new season and a new era of hockey. But without a year of hockey this years rookie class will be better than ever. Not only is it really a double entry year combining would-be rookies from last year with this years ‘usual’ rookie class, but last years rookies are more developed and more ready for NHL with an extra year of development time. Here are some of the top rookies to watch for this season:

Sidney Crosby – Everywhere you look there is an article on Sidney Crosby so I don’t need to go into too much detail about him. He’ll play on Pittsburgh’s top 2 lines with guys like Lemieux, Palffy, Recchi, and Leclair and he is very talented so he will rack up points. My predictions is he ends the year around 65-70 points. Preseason Stats: 4gp, 1g, 3 points

Kari Lehtonen – Lehtonen is Atlanta’s goalie of the future, and the present. To me he is the best goalie prospect around and his numbers in the AHL season back that up. For the Chicago Wolves he had a 38-17-2 record with a 2.27 goals against average and a .929 save %. In his brief stint with Atlanta at the end of 2003-04 he was 4-0-0, 1.25 goals against average and a .953 save % including one shut out. He’s real good. He’s my rookie of the year pick. He should get ~30 wins and post very good goals against average and save percentage. Preseason stats: 1gp, 2.00gaa, .946 save %.

Alexander Ovechkin – Ovechkin is pretty much the only reason you would ever consider watching a Washington Capitals game this year. They simply do not have a lot of talent there and that is too bad for Ovechkin. He’ll be the best player on a horrible team and that is not a good thing for a young players confidence. On the positive side he will get a ton of ice time which will help him learn to play all facets of the game, even strength, power play, and maybe even penalty kill. But the lack of skilled teammates will limit his offensive output. Consider 20-25 goals, 50-55 points as a good season for him. Preseason stats: 3gp, 3goals, 4 points

Mike Richards – The Philadelphia Flyers have let so many players go from when they last played and one of the guys they expect to step up and fill those holes is Mike Richards. Richards is very talented and will be given the opportunity to play with some very talented players on a very good team. That should benefit him in both his statistics and his personal confidence. Prediction: 20 goals, 60 points. Preseason statistics: 6gp, 4goals, 9 points.

Thomas Vanek – This goal scoring machine will be given every opportunity to play on Buffalo’s top line with center Daniel Briere. Vanek has scored goals at every level he has played and there is no reason not to expect he can do it at the NHL level as well. He is a finisher, not a playmaker so he’ll get as many goals as assists. Prediction: 20 goals, 40 points. Preseason stats: 6gp, 5goals, 8points

Corey Perry – The one thing Anaheim doesn’t have is an abundance of skilled, veteran forwards so they will depend on a couple of rookies to step up. The first is Corey Perry who led the London Knights to a Memorial Cup last year. Perry has a bright future but it is difficult for a player to jump from Junior to the NHL without a stop in the AHL. I expect him to play for the Ducks this year but his point totals will be affected. Prediction: 15 goals, 40 points. Preseason stats: 7gp, 3goals, 7 points.

Ryan Getzlaf – Getzlaf will also attempt to make the jump from Junior to the NHL. As a center he will be playing behind Fedorov and Joffrey Lupul so there won’t be a lot of pressure on him. That will give him a chance to develop should he stick with the Ducks for the whole season, but his point totals will be limited because of that. Prediction 12 goals, 30 points. Preseason stats: 7gp, 0goals, 7 points.

Brandon Bochenski – Few people really thought that Bochenski would make the Ottawa Senators team let alone play on their top line. But it appears he might just do that after an incredible pre-season. And it kind of makes sense. He had an incredible year in the AHL last season playing on a line with Jason Spezza. Jason Spezza will be the Senators top centerman this year and since the Spezza- Bochenski pair worked last year, why not try it again this year with Dany Heatley put on the other wing. So far in pre-season it has worked and it appears they will start off the season together. But Bochenski has to produce or he will be quickly bumped for Alfredsson or Havlat. Prediction: 15g, 40 points, eventually getting bumped off the first line. Preseason Stats: 5gp, 5 goals, 9 points.

 Posted by at 3:32 am