Nov 292008
 

So Brian Burke is set to officially, and finally, take over the Leafs general manager position this afternoon. So, what does that mean in the short, medium and long term? Let’s take a look at what Brian Burke might do.

When Brian Burke took over the GM position of the Anaheim Ducks in 2005 he inherited a relatively bad team, not unlike the Leafs. But, unlike the Leafs, there was a lot of high end talent in the system like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Penner, etc. and he also had an elite level goalie which went a long way to allowing him to quickly build the Ducks into a Stanley Cup winner.

In 1998 he took over the GM position of a Vancouver team which ended the 1997-98 team near the bottom of the standings which was not completely unlike the situation the Leafs currently find themselves in. Back then the Canucks had some talented players up front including Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Mark Messier, and Markus Naslund and had a 20 year old rookie defenseman in Mattias Ohlund. Also on that team were recently acquired but not yet developed into top level players Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi. While that Canucks team had more pure talent up front than the current Leafs squad, the current Leafs squad probably has more talent on the back end than the 1997-98 Canucks squad. What the Canucks had and the Leafs have is questionable goaltending.

Burke began rebuilding the Canucks by trading Bure to the Panthers for Jovanovski, Dave Gagner, Kevin Weekes and Mke Brown. He then made several trades (including sending McCabe to the Blackhawks) which ended up with the Canucks landing the second overall pick to go along with their own third overall pick and Burke drafted the Sedin twins. Then in 1999-2000 he traded Mogilny to the Devils for Brendan Morrison and the Canucks started to see success in their rebuilding process.

What was left after those moves became the core of the Canucks team which saw significant regular season success in the early 2000’s but not as much post season success. The one problem that Burke never successfully addresses was in goal and that really held them back from being a dominant team able to win a Stanley Cup.

In the case of the Anaheim Ducks they had the goaltender and the core of young forwards. What Burke did was brought in three big time defensemen (Niedermayer, Pronger, and Beauchemin), a top flight veteran scoring forward in Selanne and changed the team into a big, physical team.

So what might all this mean for the Leafs? First off, I think it is safe to assume that Burke will at some point between now and next summer make one or more significant bold moves. He has shown that he is not afraid to make the big trade or free agent signing and for the most part he has been successful. But with that said, I do not believe, like some seem to, that he will hold a massive fire sale stockpiling draft picks, largely in the second, third or fourth rounds. That doesn’t seem to be his style. In reality, most of Burke’s moves have him targeting NHL ready players, not picks. When he traded away Bure and Mogilny from Vancouver, he traded for players (Jovanovski and Morrison in particular). When he traded for the second overall pick in 1999, he wasn’t trading for the pick as much as he was trading for one of the Sedin’s. He sets his sight on a target and goes after it.

In terms of trades between now and the trade deadline, there are not many players that Burke needs to make an immediate decision on as only Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore are set to be UFA’s. Nik Antropov is an interesting case to see how Burke deals with him. Antropov has the size and strength that Burke likes and is willing to muck it up in the corners, but doesn’t utilize his size quite as much as he could. My guess is that there will be enough teams interested in Antropov that Burke will get more than enough in return for him to decide to trade Antropov rather than attempt re-sign him.

Other than Antropov, I really don’t think anyone is a sure bet to be traded. I don’t think Burke will come in and say ‘I have to trade players X, Y and Z for whatever draft picks I can get for them’ as many believe he should. His style is to be more pro-active in acquiring assets he wants, rather than get rid of assets he doesn’t want. If he wants an asset and it is going to require trading Van Ryn to acquire that asset, Van Ryn will be traded. If he wants an asset and it is going to require trading Lee Stempniak to acquire that asset, he’ll look at trading Stempniak. But I just don’t think he is going to put himself in a position of actively selling a player for whatever he can get for him. That is probably smart because when you don’t value your assets and get set in your mind that you want to get rid of them, you’ll more often than not trade them to one of the first bidders rather than wait for the fairest and best bid.
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Nov 282008
 

Just want to let everyone know that I will be doing a radio segment on The Bill Watters Show today at 5:10 eastern on AM640 in Toronto, Home of the Leafs, to discuss HockeyAnalysis.com and maybe some other hockey related stuff. Bill Watters is off on vacation this week so I will be chatting with guest host Bill Hayes, who apparently is a fan of the site. For those in Toronto you can tune in at AM 640, those elsewhere should be able to get a live feed at http://640toronto.com.

Update: You can hear the AM640 interview here.

Nov 262008
 

There were no Sidney Crosby’s or Alex Ovechkin’s in last years rookie class but there were several who had very good seasons with Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom leading the pack with 72 and 69 points while Jonathan Toews led all rookies with 24 goals (in just 64 games).  So how are last years rookies faring this season?

2007-08 2008-09
Player Team Pos GP G A Pts GP G A Pts
Patrick Kane CHI R 82 21 51 72 19 11 14 25
Nicklas Backstrom WSH C 82 14 55 69 21 5 15 20
Jonathan Toews CHI C 64 24 30 54 19 2 12 14
Peter Mueller PHX C 81 22 32 54 20 5 7 12
Sam Gagner EDM C 79 13 36 49 19 1 4 5
Andrew Cogliano EDM C 82 18 27 45 20 5 4 9
Brandon Dubinsky NYR C 82 14 26 40 24 5 11 16
Tobias Enstrom ATL D 82 5 33 38 20 1 6 7
Martin Hanzal PHX C 72 8 27 35 20 2 9 11
Tom Gilbert EDM D 82 13 20 33 20 2 9 11
Erik Johnson STL D 69 5 28 33 0 0 0 0
Nigel Dawes NYR L 61 14 15 29 19 2 3 5
David Perron STL L 62 13 14 27 18 2 11 13
Sergei Kostitsyn MTL L 52 9 18 27 20 3 6 9
Milan Lucic BOS L 77 8 19 27 21 6 7 13
David Krejci BOS C 56 6 21 27 21 5 9 14
Daniel Winnik PHX C 79 11 15 26 15 0 1 1
Matt Niskanen DAL D 78 7 19 26 18 1 1 2
Curtis Glencross EDM L 62 15 10 25 22 4 9 13
Kamil Kreps FLA C 76 8 17 25 14 0 2 2
Daniel Carcillo PHX L 57 13 11 24 16 1 0 1
David Clarkson NJD R 81 9 13 22 20 5 3 8
Mason Raymond VAN L 49 9 12 21 22 5 6 11
Torrey Mitchell SJS C 82 10 10 20 0 0 0 0
Alexander Edler VAN D 75 8 12 20 20 1 5 6

The above table shows the top 25 point getters from last year with last years and this years stats.  Leading the way again this year is Patrick Kane with an impressive 25 points in 19 games with Backstrom in second spot again with 20 points in 21 games.  While those two are bettering last years performance several others have taken a step back with Sam Gagner struggling the most having just 5 points in 19 games after a very successful rookie campaign.  Toews, Dawes, WInnick, Niskanen, Kreps and Carcillo have also seen a drop in production.

Other players who have improved their offensive production include Brandon Dubinsky, Tom Gilbert, David Perron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Curtis Glencross.  Erik Johnson (out for the season) and Torrey Mitchell have been injured so far this year.

Of the group, clearly Patrick Kane is showing himself to be a level above the rest of his rookie class but I am also very impressed with Milan Lucic who brings such a dominating physical presence to the game that most of the others on the list above do not.

Nov 262008
 

For those that have been reading this blog for the past couple years know that I have been one of the harshest critics of the Leafs goaltending for a long time..

When Andrew Raycroft was setting records for wins by a Maple Leaf, I was contending that he was a bad goalie and benefited from a good team in front of him but far too many in the media and the Leaf fan base blamed the Leafs woes on their defense and lack of scoring punch (which was largely a myth). In the seasons since, Raycroft has proven to be a bad goalie at best.

Last year there were many calling Vesa Toskala very good goalie and the lone bright spot on the Leafs. Some were even calling him an elite level goalie. I on the other hand believed otherwise.

Most hockey analysts seem to believe that Vesa Toskala is a top tier goalie and that goaltending will be the least of the Leafs problems. I am not so sure. While Toskala looked good last year his numbers were still fairly unspectacular. His .904 save percentage was only good for 32nd in the league just behind Cam Ward and just ahead of Peter Budaj. Neither of those two goalies are anything to get excited about either.

The past two seasons have seen the Leafs have finished 4th last and second last in team save percentage and this season they sit in second last with a downright dismal 86.9% save percentage. That is measurably worse than last year. Toskala has been extremely bad, and Joseph has been worse.

Over the years media and fans seemingly often defended the Leafs goaltending by saying ‘but look at how bad that defense is, no goalie would be very good in the Leafs net.’ But the team in front of the Leafs has changed dramatically from last season, including bginging in new defensemen Van Ryn, Finger, Schenn, and Frogren as well as bringing in a more defensive minded coach. But the only thing that seemingly happened was that goaltending got worse. The Leafs defense actually gives up relatively few shots on goal, as it has the past several seasons. They were probably an average defensive team and yet they gave up a lot of goals.

As we approach the quarter pole of the 2008-09 season people are starting to take note of how sub-par the Leafs goaltending is. James Mirtle has written a couple of stories on it (here and here) and there have been several other stories (i.e. Leafs Toskala continues to Struggle, Toskala an early season Disappointment, etc.) and Coach Ron Wilson has publicly stated that Toskala needs to be better. I am fairly certain that he can be better, but can he be good enough to be worthy of a starting role on a playoff contender? That I am not so sure about and will be one of the key questions Burke needs to answer when he takes over as General Manager. As a Leaf fan I can only hope he sees Toskala as inadequite and puts finding a prime time goalie as his top priority.

Nov 252008
 

We are just about at the quarter pole of the NHL season with 305 of the 1230 games having been played. Some teams such as the Sharks, Red Wings, Bruins, Rangers, etc. have gotten off to very good starts which has put them in a solid position to make the playoffs. Other teams such as Dallas, Tampa, Ottawa, have gotten off to very disappointing starts and if they are to make the playoffs they will need to significantly improve their games. But, how much of a comfort zone have the good teams build for themselves and how much of a hole has the struggling teams dug for themselves?

To answer this question I assumed that a team will need 94 points to make the playoffs which in most years post lock out has been enough though in any given season and conference it may not. But, it should be a good target for teams to aim for if they want a really good chance to make the playoffs.

Team GP Pts Pts/Gm GR RPts RPts/GR %Pace
Boston 21 32 1.52 61 62 1.02 66.7
Pittsburgh 20 27 1.35 62 67 1.08 80.0
NY Rangers 24 32 1.33 58 62 1.07 80.2
Montreal 20 26 1.30 62 68 1.10 84.4
New Jersey 20 24 1.20 62 70 1.13 94.1
Philadelphia 20 24 1.20 62 70 1.13 94.1
Washington 21 25 1.19 61 69 1.13 95.0
Carolina 22 24 1.09 60 70 1.17 106.9
Buffalo 20 21 1.05 62 73 1.18 112.1
Toronto 20 19 0.95 62 75 1.21 127.3
NY Islanders 21 20 0.95 61 74 1.21 127.4
Ottawa 20 18 0.90 62 76 1.23 136.2
Tampa Bay 20 18 0.90 62 76 1.23 136.2
Florida 20 17 0.85 62 77 1.24 146.1
Atlanta 19 16 0.84 63 78 1.24 147.0

In the above table you will find how many games played (GP) and points (Pts) the team currently has and their points per game pace (Pts/Gm). Next you will see the number of games remaining (GR) and how many points they require (RPts) to reach 94 points total and their required points per game pace (RPts/GR) to reach 94 points. In the last column you will find the percentage of their current pace they must maintain over their remaining schedule to make the playoffs (%Pace = (RPts/GP) / (Pts/Gm) ).

So, in the case of Boston, they have racked up 32 points meaning they only need 62 points over the remainder of the season to reach the magic 94 points. This means they only need 1.02 points per game over the course of the remainder of the season which is a pace just two thirds (66.7%) as good as they have now.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Florida Panthers will need to achieve points at a pace nearly 50% better than they have picked up points so far. It is still fairly early in the season and they are a lot of games still to be played but it is still a tall order to expect a team to play 50% better than they have so far.

The Ottawa Senators are one of the teams who really viewed themselves as a playoff team but in the early going of the season they have struggled significantly which has put themselves in a bit of a hole. To get out of that hole they will have to play at a pace where they get 1.23 points per game over the remainder of the season, which is about 36% better than they have picked up points so far. A pace of 1.23 points per game equates to 101 points over an 82 game season. Can Ottawa play the equivalent of a 101 point team? Only time will tell, but last year only 5 teams managed to get 101 points.
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Nov 242008
 

It is no surprise that the Leafs have trade a defenseman since they had an abundance of them. What might be a surprise is they did so when they are suffer from several injuries on defense (Van Ryn, Frogren and Colaiacovo himself) and possibly just days before Brian Burke takes over as GM.

If you subscribe to the theory that the team who gets the best player wins the trade, you have to give the edge to the Leafs. But I am not convinced that the Blues didn’t do very well in this trade. Yes Colaiacovo had his health issues and it seemed apparent than new coach Ron Wilson wasn’t enamored with his conditioning but Colaiacovo is still highly talented and can play a physical brand of hockey. If the Blues can get him on the right track they could have a very good top 4 defenseman on their hands.

Also, Alex Steen is a very useful player. His offense hasn’t developed as many would have liked, and this year was definitely a step back when he had the opportunity to do so much more, but even if he only gets you 30-40 points he can still be a solid defensive player and penalty killer.

In Stempniak the Leafs get another skilled forward and although scoring hasn’t been a problem so far this year they do have a lack of (perceived or otherwise) young skilled top 6 level forwards. Stempniak is should fit that role and he has the speed and skill that Fletcher has been adding to this team ever since he took over from John Ferguson Jr.

Interestingly enough, likely incoming GM Brian Burke is more known for wanting to play a big physical game so who knows what he is going to think of guys like Grabovsky, Stempniak, etc.

Nov 202008
 

James Mirtle from From the Rink and the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples are questioning the usefulness of the +/- stat and maybe abandoning it altogether. I have wrote about this here before and I have to agree, it is the most useless stat in the NHL. The big flaw in it is that a player gets penalized if he plays with a group of bad players or gets a big benefit if he is playing with a group of really good players, regardless of how good or bad the individualy player is.

James Mirtle goes on to refer to sites such as Behind the Net which has better stats such as on ice vs off ice comparisons. But these stats, while significantly better than +/-, are still flawed. The idea is that by comparing a players +/- (or goals for or goals against individually) when he is on the ice to his teams +/- when the player is off the ice you will factor out some of the unfair benefits or penalties a player receives in his +/- stat based on who the player plays against. But even this doesn’t really solve the problem.

The problem still exists because Chris Draper is having his on ice stats compared to off ice stats that are racked up by guys like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, etc. why a guy like the Islanders Trent Hunter has his on ice stats compared to Mike Comrie and Mike Sillinger. Chris Draper might be a very good defensive player, but when you compare his +/- to the rest of his all-star stacked team mates, most of whom he doens’t get the benefit of playing with, his on-ice to off-ice ratio stats become misleading. The goal of Behind the Net’s ratio numbers is to eliminate the unfair benefit of playing on a great team. The problem is, if a player who plays on a great team, such as Draper, never gets to play with his great team mates, like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Franzen, Cleary, etc. and instead plays with pretty ordinary players, such Maltby and Drake, then you end up factoring out a benefit that never existed in the first place.

When considering all players who have played 60 games with at least 10 minutes of even strength ice time per game last season, David Perron, Viktor Kozlov, Dany Heatley, Michel Ouellet, and Pavel Datsyuk came out as the top 5 rated forward in Behind the Nets ‘Rating’ statistic which is the players +/- rating compared to the team. The bottom 5 were Radek Bonk, Alexander Semin, Kris Draper, Jarret Stoll and Mike Fisher.

Now, can you honestly believe that Kris Draper, who had the most short handed minutes of any Red Wing player is the second third worst defensive player in the NHL, especially considering that the Red Wings had an 84% penalty kill success rate? Would the Ottawa Senators use Mike Fisher, supposedly the 5th worst rated player in the NHL, for nearly 3 minutes a game on the PK? Would the Edmonton Oilers have used Jarret Stoll, the 4th worst rated player according to Behind the net Rating, for the same amount of time on their PK unit? Conversely, if Ouellet is such a good player, why did he get zero PK time last year? Same with Perron on the Blues and Kozlov on the Capitals.

Clearly Behind the Net’s on ice/off ice +/- ratio ratings system is still failing to really tell us the whole story even if it is probably a bit better than straight +/-.

A year or so ago I worked on developing my own ratings system which admitidly is far more complicated than +/- or Behind the Net’s ratio system and while still far from perfect I am confident is much more revealing. What I have done is taken into account who a player has played with and against and tried to factor out any benefits they might have by playing with better than average players or against worst than average players or penalties they may get by playing with worse than average players or against better than average players. Instead of looking at how his team plays when he is off the ice vs when he is on the ice, I look at how his teammates play when they are playing with him vs how they play without him. The result is a player will get a good rating when he consistently makes his team mates better when they play with him vs when they aren’t playing with him. I also take into account PP and PK time which I think is important when evaluating a players value.

The results can be seen at Stats.hockeyanalysis.com and select the links under ‘Player Rankings”. I calculate both an offensive and defensive rating plus an overall rating which is independent of ice time and then an overall value, which factors in ice time. A player with a high rating and plays lots of ice time will get a really good value. In the ratings, a rating of 1.00 is approximately average while anything above is above average and anything below is below average.
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Nov 192008
 

- No surprise from anyone that Dustin Penner got benched by Craig MacTavish. The $4.25m man never lived up to expectations and probably never well. Brian Burke felt that the massive overpayment would have ramifications on the free agent market, but it didn’t, but regardless Burke gets the last laugh because now the Oilers are stuck with Penner for a long time. Except the hockey gods are giving Penner another chance, now with Fernando Pisani is sidelined with a broken ankle.

Craig Hartsburg is once again going to re-unite the Pizza Line. I never understood the fascination with breaking them up in the first place, it never went anywhere and the only good thing that ever came out of it was the fact that now everyone knows the Big Three can’t be separated. The Sens have been plagued with a lack of secondary scoring, and they’ve failed every summer to bring in that player, but you have to wonder if spreading around the talent is even an answer to that. Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette need to step up their game for them to be competitive. However, the Sens will continue to have problems if 1) they don’t replace players lost and 2) the players refuse to listen.

– Speaking of linemates, a lot of fans in Vancouver have been frustrated by Steve Bernier‘s lack of production with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but is it really his fault? I think the problem with that line is that the Sedins refuse to play to Bernier’s strengths. That’s not to say they should change their puck-cycling game, but too often we hear “I’m still trying to figure out the twins’ tendencies” rather than “we’re still trying to figure out Bernier’s tendencies.” Canucks management, throughout the years of its revolving door of right wingers, have cemented in their heads that there is a player out there that can perfectly compliment their game. I say that will never happen unless the Sedins do something about it.

– There’s been a clear lack of respect on all fronts in the game, on and off the ice. Off the ice, we’re seeing insubordination and a lack of respect for coaches. Case in point, Barry Melrose. Players have complained about his lack of preparation, but I really feel the players weren’t ready to listen to him since day one, and the writing was on the wall for him. There are grumblings from Ottawa that the same thing is happening. When the players dictate how management and coaches handle their duties, that’s when you know you have a problem. On the ice, I don’t think there’s been more head shots, hits from behind, puck-chasing, and board-crashing related injuries in a span of a month.

Nov 142008
 

The Lightning are seemingly trying their best to become the laughing stock of the NHL taking the crown away from the New York “lets promote our backup goalie to General Manager” Islanders. Just 16 games into the season the Lightning have fired head coach Barry Melrose. This comes just a couple days after Melrose skipped out on practice and rumours of part owner Len Barrie stepping into the dressing room to draw up power play tactics earlier in the season.

It is becoming apparent that the Lightning’s new ownerships management style is better known as a revolving door. Matt Carle was acquired from the Sharks in the off season and has been traded. Barry Melrose was hired in the off season and has been fired. Rumours are off season free agent Radim Vrbata is on the trading block.

And maybe the icing on the laughing stock cake are the rumours that the current ownership group may be having a cash flow problem and may not be able to make payments to previous owner Bill Davidson and if they can’t Bill Davidson may once again take control of the team again. I have no idea if this is true or not but from revolving players to revolving coaches, why not revolving owners. Maybe then Jay Feaster and John Tortorella can be brought back. At least Tortorella was mildly entertaining with his vocal criticisms of his players, particularly goalies.

Nov 122008
 

It seems that in about 20 minutes or so that the Ducks will announce that Brian Burke is no longer GM of the Ducks and that Bob Murray will take over. This isn’t really all that surprising considering that it has been rumoured for a long time that Brian Burke has a desire to work on the east coast closer to his family in Boston. Additionally, it has been rumoured for some time that Ducks ownership has had a very lucrative contract extension on the table for months now and it is likely that if Burke really wanted to stay in Anaheim he’d have signed an extension long ago.

So where does Burk end up now? Well, Toronto seems to be the likely choice if you believe all the reports that the Leafs really are waiting for someone like Burke, if not Burke himself. Plus with his good friend Ron Wilson as coach it seems to be a perfect fit. But there will be others interested in him as well. Let the rumours begin.