Aug 232006
 

This Eklund guy is quite amusing because he throws out all kinds of trade rumours but never considers whether they are at all feasable. The recent ones he is tossing about is a trade between New Jersey and Calgary with Gomez heading to Calgary and Lombardi and others, probably draft picks, heading back to New Jersey. Problem is, Calgary is also pretty close ($41.2 million) to the cap and would have a hard time taking on Gomez’s salary without dumping a couple more players in addition to Lombardi. What is even more absurd is that he was on the Team 1200 in Ottawa a day or two ago and discussed the possibility of Calgary also taking Malakhov’s salary in the deal. Well, that certainly won’t happen.

But then today things get even more amusing. Today he writes “I am hearing that Ottawa and Washington would have interest in Gionta.” Washington I can understand. They have a ton of cap room and would probably like to add some more top end talent to their roster. But Ottawa? Ottawa’s salary cap committment currently sits somewhere around $42 million give or take depending on how many players they carry on their active roster. Gionta is likely to command in the $4 million range, if not more. So, who is Ottawa going to trade to free up close to $4 million?

Redden? no.
Alfredsson? no.
Heatley? no.
Spezza? no.
Gerber? no
Corvo? no
Schaeffer? not likely

That is all their players making more than $2 million and I can’t see any one of them getting traded to clear up cap space for Gionta. In other words, Gionta to Ottawa makes little sense and even Muckler himself has pretty much said that he is done making moves.

In other rumours he has the Canadiens interested in Dumont but TSN.ca is reporting today that Montreal is not interested in Dumont.

“We’ve never had an offer from Montreal,” his agent Yves Archambault said Wednesday. “I’ve spoken to several teams. At this point we’re really looking at 3-4 teams.”

I don’t know where Eklund gets his rumours from but most of them don’t make much sense. It is unfortunate he is so clueless about each teams salary situation because with his contacts (and I don’t deny he has some contacts) he should be able to produce more reliable rumours.

Aug 182006
 

In the comment section of another post a reader going by the name of DB and I had a discussion about the importance of experience on a teams chances of winning, in particular in relation to San Jose who has a relatively inexperienced defense. In order to try to get an idea of how important experience was I took a look at the rosters of the last 4 Stanley Cup champions (Carolina, Tampa, New Jersey and Detroit). I then looked at every skater (goalies not included) on those teams that played 10 or more playoff games during their teams run to the Cup. For all those players I then looked at how many regular season games those players had played up until and including the regular season of their playoff run. Here is what I found:

-There are 75 players which qualified for consideration
-13 of those players had played 1000 or more games (17.3%)
-26 players played between 500 and 1000 games (34.7%)
-27 players played between 240 and 500 games (36%)
-Just 9 players played fewer than 240 games prior to their cup run

That means just 9 players (and only 2 defensemen) had played the equivalent of 3 full regular seasons or less in the NHL prior to winning their Stanley Cup. Those players are (with their games played) Jiri Fischer(187), Eric Staal(163), Mike Commodore(147), Brian Gionta(91), Dmitry Afanasenkov(85), Pavel Datsyuk(70), Chad LaRose(49), Andrew Ladd(29) and Eric Perrin(4). Only Carolina had more than 2 players with fewer than 240 games played (they had 4) but one of them is a superstar player (Staal) and another played in game 7 of the Cup finals the previous season.

So if not having rookies, second, or third year players in your lineup is important to winning the Stanley Cup, which teams have the best chance at winning this season? Well, Calgary looks to be in the best shape with only Dion Phaneuf qualifying as young and inexperienced but we all know how good he is. Pretty much every other team will have at least 4 or 5 youngsters in their lineups. Ottawa will have Meszaros, Preissing, Kelly, Vermette, Eaves, McGratton, and Schubert all with under 240 games at seasons end. Buffalo will have Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Gaustad, Peters, Paetsch and Paille, the Rangers will have Prucha, Hossa, Hollweg, Ortmeyer and Tyutin, while Philadelphia will have Carter, Richards, Meyer, Umberger, Baumgartner, Jones and Eager. Carolina will have Ladd, LaRose, Commodore, Hutchinson, and probably another forward but at least most of those guys have the playoff experience. New Jersey has lots of experience but a good chunk of it might have to be traded away to get under the cap which will open up spots to youngsters. Edmonton is currently depending on a lot of young defensemen, Vancouver will have a lot of youth in their lineup as well, as will Nashville, Anaheim and San Jose. Dallas doesn’t look too bad with Miettinen, Jokinen and Daley as the only main young players in their lineup.

So, all in all, if I had to pick a Stanley Cup favourite for next season it would be the Calgary Flames. But then, that is who I would have picked even before going through this exercise.

Aug 112006
 

Leafs media and fans always seem to find (at least) one whipping boy to single out and lay blame for the Leafs not winning the Stanley Cup. More often than not it is a defenseman (Todd Gill, Larry Murphy, Aki Berg to name a few) but the forwards sometimes get singled out as well. A favourite whipping boy of the past few years has been Nik Antropov. Nik Antropov was a surprise pick with the Leafs first round (10th overall) pick in the 1998 entry draft. Many people had hardly heard of the big kid from Kazakhstan let lone thought he’d be a first round pick. He has now played 6 injury riddled seasons in the NHL so lets take a look and see if he is a well deserved whipping boy or not.

Antropov broke into the Leafs lineup in 1999-2000 scoring 12 goals and 30 points in 66 games which was a more than respectable rookie campaign for a young player new to the NHL and new to North America. In 2000-01 his production dropped off a bit playin 52 games and 6 goals and 17 points before a season ending knee injury. The following year was an almost complete washout as he played just 11 games and getting 1 goal and 2 points. In 2002-03 he had his best year playin 72 games scoring 16 goals and 45 points. In 2003-04 he played 62 games scorign 13 goals and 31 points and last year he had almost identical numbers, 12 goals and 31 points, in 57 games.

Clearly from his production so far he hasn’t really lived up to the expectations one might have from a 10th overall pick but has his he been a complete flop? No. In fact despite a lot of serious injuries, including 3 knee operations, he has been a more than respectable player. Antropov gets criticised for being slow and poor defensively and although he isn’t swift afoot he certainly isn’t a poor defensive player. In 2005-06 he was a more than competent penalty killer and finished the year second on the team in +/- at +13. In 2003-04 he finished the year +7 and was tied for 3rd on the team in +/- in the playoffs. In 2002-03 he was a +11 which was good for third on the team. Over his career he is a +49 in 320 games and the only year he wasn’t a ‘plus’ player was when he played just 11 games and was a -1.

A comparable player to Antropov might be fellow 1998 first round draft pick Mark Bell. Bell was drafted 2 spots ahead of Antropov by the Chicago Blackhawks and like Antropov has good size and can play a solid defensive game. Bell’s NHL numbers so far are 151 points in 339 games. Antropov: 156 points in 320 games. Bell is a bit more of a goal scorer but Antropov is more versatile being able to play center or either wing.

There are rumours going around that the Leafs are looking to trade Antropov. As a Leaf fan I would be quite dissapointed to see this happen as I feel a solid defensive player who can kill penalties and who can score you 30-40 points and makes just $1 million is a bargain in this new salary cap era and a line of Peca, Antropov and Ponikarovsky could be the best checking line in the NHL.

Aug 092006
 

Some people credit the NY Rangers resurgence in the NHL last year to the dominating play of Jaromir Jagr or the stellar goaltending by rookie Henruk Lundqvist and while both of those players were significant factors I think they are over looking another key player. Marek Malik.

Most people don’t really know much about Malik other than that amazing goal he scored last year in the longest shootout of the year. But he provided the Rangers much more than that. Malik is very underrated defenseman because shootout goals aside he is predominantly a defensive defenseman. He has developed into one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL but doesn’t get recognized as such.

The +/- statistic isn’t the best statistic in the world because it is very dependent on ones teammates but it can be helpful in getting an idea of how good a player is defensively. This is especially true if trends can be seen from year to year. In the case of Malik this is true. Last year Malik posted a very respectable +28 good for 15th in the NHL while his defense partner Michal Roszival let the league with a +35. In 2003-04 with Vancouver Malik led the entire NHL with a +35 and in 2002-03, also with Vancouver, he was a more than respectable +20 which was good for 29th in the NHL.

Last year Malik was the Rangers top penalty killer in terms of ice time as he played 3:38 short handed per game and Malik was a big reason the Rangers PK improved from 29th in the NHL in 2003-04 to 11th in 2005-06. It is also probably no coincidence that the Rangers improved from 22nd in shots allowed in 2003-04 to 8th last year while Vancouver dropped from 12th to 16th.

All these statistics point to one thing: Malik is one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL and was a vital component of the NY Rangers turnaround season last year.

Aug 082006
 

Howard Berger, who writes for that Eklund guys website, has decided that it is already time to make predictions on the 2006-07 season. While I still think it is early to make predictions because I feel a few teams still have some moves to make (particularly Buffalo and New Jersey) lets take a gander at what he thinks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1)Ottawa
2)Buffalo
3)Carolina
4)New York Rangers
5)Montreal
6)Boston
7)Tampa Bay
8)Toronto
9)Florida
10)Philadelphia
11)New Jersey
12)Atlanta
13)Washington
14)Pittsburgh
15)New York Islanders

Pretty safe picks really although there are a few surprises in there for me. First, I really don’t see Tampa making the playoffs this season. They barely made it last year they have lost their #2 defenseman in Pavel Kubina and 31 goal scorer Fredrik Modin. They also traded vetern defenseman Daryl Sydor. They replaced the two defensemen with Filip Kuba and aging Luke Richardson. Kuba is a nice defenseman but he’s not Kubina and Richardson is no better than a #6/7 guy at this point in his career. The Lighning also picked up Marc Denis to shore up their goaltending but Denis and his 3.25 goals against average and .900 save % aren’t dramatically better than what they had last year and still probably not good enough, especially behind a weaker team in front of them.

It is also interesting that he has all northeastern division teams making the playoffs. While this is possible as all of these teams are playoff capable teams it is highly unlikely. These teams will play so many games against each other it will be difficult for all of them to gain points on teams in the other divisions. For this reason (and others) I don’t think Ottawa wins top seed in the conference.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1)Anaheim
2)Calgary
3)Nashville
4)San Jose
5)Phoenix
6)Dallas
7)Detroit
8)Colorado
9)St. Louis
10)Vancouver
11)Chicago
12)Minnesota
13)Edmonton
14)Los Angeles
15)Columbus.

For the most part I think Berger’s western conference predictions are on track. I think Calgary is the best team in the west but I could see them not making top spot because they play in such a tough division and will have a far tougher schedule than Anaheim. I like that he has St. Louis moving dramatically up in the standings as I do think if things come together for them they will be back in the playoff hunt. I like Phoenix as a team except in goal and for that reason I think they miss the playoffs once again though they should stick around in the playoff hunt longer than last year. I think Minnesota probably takes a playoff spot this season so give them Phoenix’s spot.

Berger is predicting Ottawa to defeat Toronto in round one of the playoffs (considering history that is a bold prediction) and Anaheim to beat Buffalo in the Stanley Cup finals. Not sure I agree with these but you’ll have to wait for my official predictions coming some time in September.

Aug 072006
 

I have just decided that it is time I start something new here. Who knows if I’ll continue with it but I am starting it and that is, well, a start. I am going to begin writing ‘Behind the Numbers’ articles in which I will analyse a player based on that players statistics. I am going to try to focus on players whose statistics might not back up common perception of that player or whose statistics might not warrant the salary that player just received or something along those lines. The first of hopefully many Behind the Numbers articles will focus on Sergei Samsonov.

I’ve debated the merits of the Sergei Samsonov signing by the Montreal Canadiens in the comments section of this website as well as elsewhere and I still believe that signing Samsonov for $3.5 million per year was a bad move. Common perception of Samsonov is that he is a highly skilled, goal scoring forward who will bring some much needed offense to the Canadiens. Unfortunately for the Canadiens the numbers don’t back that up. The numbers show him to be just an average, second line kind of winger.

Samsonov has played 8 seasons in the NHL. His first 3 years of his career he averaged 22 goals and 48 points. His next 2 seasons he averaged 29 goals and 73 points. Then in 2002-03 he missed most of the season due to injury and played just 8 games. In 2003-04 he scored 17 goals, 40 points in 58 games and last year he scored 23 goals and 53 points for Boston and Edmonton. In 533 career games he has scored 169 goals and 392 points. Prorate that to and 82 game schedule and you get 26 goals and 60 points. To put that into perspective Ray Whitney’s career 82 game average is 24 goals and 63 points. Ray Whitney is actually a pretty good comparison for Samsonov. Both are small left wingers with good speed and puck handling skills but not quite so adept defensively. But even that 24 goal, 60 point average that Samsonov has put up so far in his career might be a bit misleading considering he has only twice scored more than 53 points.

Is a 25 goal, 55 point guy who isn’t great defensively worth $3.5 million per season? Is Samsonov going to solve the woes of the Montreal offense which was the 11th worst in the NHL? In my mind the answer to both those questions is ‘No!’

(BTW, the same story can be written about last years signing of Kovalev who got a $4.5 million per year contract and who has never scored more than 26 goals and 66 points when not playing with Mario Lemieux.)

Aug 022006
 

I have just posted a poll about what you all think is the best off season move made so far. Go ahead and submit your vote by making your selection from the right side menu bar (scroll down a bit if you don’t see it). If you think of a good move that I haven’t listed feel free to post a comment here and let me know what you think is the best off season move.