Jun 072011
 

As it stands right now the Leafs have six NHL experienced defensemen under contract and another three who are restricted free agents.  Assuming all three of the RFA’s get re-signed it leaves the Leafs with 7 defensemen, five of which will be regulars (Phaneuf, Schenn, Gunnarsson, Aulie and Komisarek) and two that are more along the lines of depth defensemen (Lebda and Lashoff).  Phaneuf and Schenn are the top two guys (though they may not end up playing together) and depending on where you see Gunnarsson and Aulie fitting into the mix the Leafs will be looking for a #3, #4 or #5 type guy.  Depending on how much they end up spending on a first line center, it is probably safe to assume they could allocate anywhere between $2-4M and there are enough UFA defensemen available that they can probably acquire what they want via free agency rather than have to resort to a trade.  Let’s take a look at some of the potential UFA defensemen the Leafs could have interest in.

Definitely Too Expensive

Christian Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff is definitely the top potential UFA defenseman.  The Canucks will definitely want to bring him back and if he ever made it to UFA status I am certain the Red Wings will throw some or all of just-retired Rafalski’s money at him.  Ehrhoff is in line for a $6M paycheck and as much as I would like to see him in a Leaf uniform, he is probably out of the Leafs budget so lets take a look at some of the other free agent defensemen.

Probably too Expensive

Kevin Bieksa – Bieksa really had a breakthrough season this year, particularly in his own zone and he ended the season at +32, tops on the Canucks, and is a +9 in the playoffs, again tops on the Canucks.  His +32 in the regular season trailed only Chara’s +33 among defensemen but Bieksa was +32 in just 66 games.  Bieksa is probably a good 2-way second pairing defenseman but his excellent season might push his salary demands beyond what he deserves (unless this past season is the new norm for him which is unlikely) and out of the Leafs budget.

James Wisniewski – Wisniewski started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks and he just seemed like he was that typical #5/6 guy.  He was a decent enough player who did a number of things well but not necessarily a core guy, but when he was given an opportunity to play a more prominent role with the Ducks, and then with Islanders and Montreal his offensive numbers really jumped and he was a strong PP performer.  He’d probably really help the Leafs PP but there will be enough demand for his services that he’ll probably cost more than the Leafs can afford.

Joni Pitkanen – Pitkanen is one of those guys who had #1 potential but never really took the next step and instead has had a career that some might consider a disappointment because he never really reached his full potential.  Pitkanen is a better offensive guy than a defensive guy and would be a nice fit on the Leafs PP unit.  He earned $4M last season and is probably in line to earn about the same on his next contract which makes him probably out of the Leafs budget and I think he’ll be happier staying in a non-hockey market like Carolina.

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Jun 012011
 

There seems to be some confusion, or lack of clarity, about my post on corsi vs shooting percentage vs shooting rate the other day so let me clear it up in as straight forward a way as I can.

“Hawerchuk” over at BehindTheNetHockey.com writes the following:

“I’m not totally sure what he’s getting at. People use Fenwick because it’s persistent, and PDO because it’s not. Over the course of a single season, observed shooting and save percentage drive results, but they are not persistent.”

Dirk Hoag over at OnTheForecheck.com writes:

“Here’s an example of when NOT to use correlation as a tool in statistical analysis (when the variables in question are linked by definition). David makes a bad blunder here, by looking at scoring leaders, seeing a bunch of high shooting percentages, and concluding that shooting percentage is the true “talent”. The problem is that shooting percentage swings wildly from season to season, whereas shooting rates are much more consistent.”

The great advantage of corsi/fenwick has over goals as an evaluator of talent is the greater sample size associated with it.  The greater the sample size the more confidence we can have in any results we conclude from it and the less chance that ‘luck’ messes things up.  Year over year shooting percentage fluctuates a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t a talent or doesn’t have persistence, it could mean that the sample size of one year is too small.  The four year shooting percentage leader board seems to identify all the top offensive players so it can’t be completely random.  So what happens if we increase the sample size?  Here are correlations of fenwick shooting percentages while on ice in 5v5 even strength situations for forwards:

Year(s) vs Year(s) Corrolation
200708 vs 200809 0.249
200809 vs 200910 0.268
200910 vs 201011 0.281
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.497

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of persistence year over year but for 2 years over 2 years we are starting to see some persistence.  Still not to the level of corsi/fenwick, but certainly not non-existant either, and the greater correlation with scoring goals makes fenwick shooting percentage on par with fenwick as a predictor of future goal scoring performance when we have 2 seasons of data as I pointed out in my last post.

For the record, year over year correlation for fenwick for rate is approximately 0.60 depending on years used  and 2 year vs 2 year correlation is 0.66.

But as I pointed out in my previous post, you would probably never use shooting percentage as a predictor because you may as well use goal rate instead which has the same sample size limitations as shooting percentage but also factors in fenwick rate.  Year over year correlation of GF20 (goals for per 20 minutes) is approximately 0.45 depending on years used and the 2 year vs 2 year correlation is 0.619 so GF20 has persistence and has a 100% correlation with itself making it as reliable (or more) a predictor of future goal scoring rates as fenwick rate with just one year of data and a better predictor when using 2 years of data.  Let me repost the pertinent table of correlations:

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenF20 to GF20 GF20 to GF20
200708 vs 200809 0.396 0.386
200809 vs 200910 0.434 0.468
200910 vs 201011 0.516 0.491
Average 0.449 0.448
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.498 0.619
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.479 0.527

The conclusion is, when dealing with less than a years worth of data, fenwick/corsi is probably the better metric to identify talent and predict future performance, but anything greater than a year goals for rate is the better metric and for one years worth of data they are about on par with each other.

Note:  This is only true for forwards.  The same observations are not true about defensemen where we see very little persistence or predictability in any of these metricts, I presume because the majority of them don’t drive offense to any significant degree.

May 302011
 

The general consensus among advanced hockey statistic analyzers and is that corsi/fenwick stats are the best statistic for measuring player and team talent levels.  For those of you who are not aware of corsi and fenwick let me give you a quick definition.  Corsi numbers are the number of shots directed at the goal and include shots, missed shots and blocked shots.  Fenwick numbers are the same except it does not included blocked shots (just shots and missed shots).  I generally look at fenwick and will do that here but fenwick and corsi are very highly correlated to the results would be similar if I used corsi.

The belief by many that support corsi and fenwick is that by looking at fenwick +/- or fenwick ratio (i.e. fenwick for /(fenwick for + fenwick against)) is an indication of which team is controlling the play and the team that controls the play more will, over time, score the most goals and thus win the most games.  There is some good evidence to support this, and controlling the play does go a long way to controlling the score board.  The problem I have with many corsi/fenwick enthusiasts is that they often dismiss the influence that ability to drive or suppress shooting percentage plays in the equation.  Many dismiss it outright, others feel it has so little impact it isn’t worth considering except when considering outliers or special cases.  In this article I am going to take an in depth look at the two and their influence on scoring goals on an individual level.

I have taken that last 4 seasons of 5v5 even strength data and pulled out all the forwards that have played at minimum 2000 minutes of 5v5 ice time over the past 4 seasons.  There were a total 310 forwards matching that criteria and for those players I calculated the fenwick shooting percentage (goals / fenwick for), fenwick for rate (FenF20 – fenwick for per 20 minutes of ice time) and goal scoring rate (gf20 – goal for per 20 minutes ice time) while the player was on the ice. What we find is shooting percentage is more correlated with goal production than fenwick rate.

Shooting % vs GF20 R^2 = 0.8272
FenF20 vs GF20 R^2 = 0.4657
Shooting % vs FenF20 R^2 = 0.1049

As you can see, shooting percentage is much more highly correlated with goal scoring rate than fenwick rate is which would seem to indicate that being able to drive shooting percentage is more important for scoring goals than taking a lot of shots.

Here is a list of the top 20 and bottom 10 players in fenwick shooting percentage and fenwick rate.

Rank Player FenSh% Player FenF20
1 MARIAN GABORIK 8.07 HENRIK ZETTERBERG 16.7
2 SIDNEY CROSBY 7.83 ALEX OVECHKIN 16.3
3 ALEX TANGUAY 7.64 PAVEL DATSYUK 16.15
4 HENRIK SEDIN 7.63 TOMAS HOLMSTROM 16.05
5 BOBBY RYAN 7.60 NICKLAS BACKSTROM 16.05
6 STEVE DOWNIE 7.58 ERIC STAAL 16.04
7 EVGENI MALKIN 7.57 RYANE CLOWE 15.91
8 DANIEL SEDIN 7.55 ALEXANDER SEMIN 15.85
9 ILYA KOVALCHUK 7.49 SCOTT GOMEZ 15.8
10 NATHAN HORTON 7.44 ZACH PARISE 15.8
11 J.P. DUMONT 7.43 ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY 15.79
12 JASON SPEZZA 7.39 JOHAN FRANZEN 15.78
13 PAUL STASTNY 7.36 JIRI HUDLER 15.74
14 PAVOL DEMITRA 7.33 DAN CLEARY 15.71
15 DANY HEATLEY 7.30 SIDNEY CROSBY 15.71
16 RYAN MALONE 7.29 JUSTIN WILLIAMS 15.68
17 JONATHAN TOEWS 7.28 CHRIS KUNITZ 15.61
18 THOMAS VANEK 7.24 MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI 15.56
19 SERGEI KOSTITSYN 7.24 JOE PAVELSKI 15.43
20 DREW STAFFORD 7.24 MIKAEL SAMUELSSON 15.39
301 BLAIR BETTS 4.20 CHUCK KOBASEW 11.34
302 ERIC NYSTROM 4.12 TRAVIS MOEN 11.31
303 SAMUEL PAHLSSON 4.10 IAN LAPERRIERE 11.23
304 SHAWN THORNTON 3.99 ERIC NYSTROM 11.21
305 TRAVIS MOEN 3.89 ROB NIEDERMAYER 10.94
306 TODD MARCHANT 3.88 TODD MARCHANT 10.91
307 NATE THOMPSON 3.75 SAMUEL PAHLSSON 10.87
308 FREDRIK SJOSTROM 3.70 JERRED SMITHSON 10.76
309 CRAIG ADAMS 3.52 JAY PANDOLFO 10.74
310 STEPHANE VEILLEUX 3.49 BLAIR BETTS 10.67

For both lists, the players are the top of the list are for the most part considered top offensive players and the players at the bottom of the list are not even close to being considered quality offensive players.  So, it seems that both shooting percentage and fenwick do a reasonable job at identifying offensively talented players.  That said, the FenF20 list includes 7 players (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Franzen, Hudler, Cleary and Samuelsson) who have played mostly or fully with the Detroit Red Wings and it seems unlikely to me that 7 of the top 20 offensive players are Red Wing players.  Furthermore, the fenwick list also includes guys like Ponikarovsky, Samuelsson, Hudler, Cleary, Williams, etc. who would probably be considered secondary offensive players at best.  From just this cursory overview it seems to confirm what we saw with the correlations – Shooting Percentage is a better indicator of offensive talent than Fenwick For rates.

It is actually no surprise that the Red Wings dominate the fenwick rate leader board because the Red Wings organizational philosophy is all about puck control.

“It’s funny because our game looks at numbers just like other games,” says Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, “but as much value as we assign to puck possession and how essential it is to winning, we really don’t have a numerical value for it that everyone can agree on. Remember when [A’s general manager] Billy Beane started emphasizing on-base percentage in baseball? It wasn’t just a curious number; it changed the game. It redefined the type of player you wanted on your team. It’s coming in hockey; we just have to figure out how.”

This got the pro-corsi crowd riled up a bit as they said “Umm, yeah, we have that stat and it is called corsi” and were a bit bewildered at why NHL GMs didn’t make that recognition.  But anyway, what the above shows is that an organization that focuses on puck control dominates the corsi for statistic so I guess what that shows is that corsi/fenwick probably is a good measure of puck control.  But, as we have seen, fenwick (i.e. puck control) doesn’t automatically translate into goals scored.  There are no Red Wing players among the top 20 in fenwick shooting percentage and Datsyuk is the only Red Wing player in the top 20 in goals for per 20 minutes so while they take a lot of shots (or at least shot attempts), they aren’t the best at converting them into goals.

For me, and I am sure many others, the above is enough to conclude that shooting percentage matters a lot in scoring goals, but for the staunch corsi supporters they will argue that corsi is more persistent from season to season and thus is a better predictor of future performance.  So which is the better predictor of future performance?  The following table shows the correlation between shooting percentage and fenwick rate with the following seasons goal scoring rate.

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenSh% to GF20 FenF20 to GF20
200708 vs 200809 0.253 0.396
200809 vs 200910 0.327 0.434
200910 vs 201011 0.317 0.516
Average 0.299 0.449
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.479 0.498
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.375 0.479

Note:  For the above season(s) vs season(s) correlation calculations, only players with at least 500 5v5 even strength minutes in each of the four seasons are included.  This way the same players are included in all season(s) vs season(s) correlation calculations.

As you can see, when dealing with a single season of data the correlation with GF20 is much better for fenwick rate than for fenwick shooting percentage.  The gap closes when using 2 seasons as the predictor of a single season and is almost gone when using 2 seasons to predict the following 2 seasons.  It seems that the benefit of using corsi over shooting percentage diminishes to near zero when we have multiple seasons of data and though I haven’t tested it shooting percentage probably has an edge in player evaluation with 3 years of data.

Of course, you would never want to use shooting percentage as a predictor of future goal scoring rate when you could simply use past goal scoring rate as the predictor.  Past goal scoring rate has the same ‘small sample size’ limitations as shooting percentage (both use goals scored as it sample size limitation) but scoring rate combines the prediction benefits of shooting percentage and fenwick rate.  The table below is the same as above but I have added in GF20 as a predictor.

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenSh% to GF20 FenF20 to GF20 GF20 to GF20
200708 vs 200809 0.253 0.396 0.386
200809 vs 200910 0.327 0.434 0.468
200910 vs 201011 0.317 0.516 0.491
Average 0.299 0.449 0.448
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.479 0.498 0.619
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.375 0.479 0.527

The above table tells you everything you need to know.  When looking at single seasons both GF20 and FenF20 perform similarly at predicting next seasons GF20 with fenwick shooting percentage well behind but when we have 2 years of data as the starting point, GF20 is the clear leader.  This means, when we have at least a full seasons worth of data (or approximately 500 minutes ice time), goal scoring rates are as good or better than corsi rates as a predictor of future performance and beyond a years worth of data the benefits increase.  When dealing with less than a full season of data, corsi/fenwick may still be the preferred stat when evaluating offensive performance.

So what about the defensive side of things?

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenA20 to GA20 GA20 to GA20
200708 vs 200809 0.265 0.557
200809 vs 200910 0.030 0.360
200910 vs 201011 0.120 0.470
Average 0.138 0.462
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) -0.037 0.371
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.000 0.316

Defensively, fenwick against rate is very poorly correlated with future goals against rate and it gets worse, to the point of complete uselessness, when we consider more seasons.  Past goals against rate is a far better predictor of future goals against rate.

Where it gets interest is unlike offense correlation drops when you consider more seasons which seems a bit strange.  My guess is the reason we are seeing this is because I am just looking at forwards and defense is more driven by goaltending and defensemen and as more time passes the greater the difference are in goalie and defensemen teammates.  Furthermore, forward ice time is largely driven by offensive ability (and not defensive ability) so many of the quality defensive forwards may be removed from the study because of the 500 minute per season minimum I am using (i.e. the group of players used in this study are biased towards those that aren’t focusing on defense).  Further analysis is necessary to show either of these as true though but the conclusion to draw from the above table that, for forwards at least, goals against rates are by far the better indicator of defensive ability.

In summary, it should be clear that we cannot simply ignore the impact of a players ability to drive or suppress shooting percentage in the individual player performance evaluation and so long as you have a full year of data (or > 500 or more minutes ice time) the preferred stat for individual player performance evaluation should be goal scoring rate.  Corsi/fenwick likely only provide a benefit to individual performance evaluation when dealing with less than a full year of data.

Dec 082008
 

There is a good chance that Mats Sundin will make an announcement on his future within the next week or so so lets check out some earlier chatter from the internets most notorious (and hugely inaccurate) rumour monger Eklund.

May 25: I am told very clearly that Mats looks like he wants to play again. And he should. He looked very good last year and the heart he showed down the stretch was phenomenal. The stuff of movies. Although several sources are saying Mats wants to stay in Canada, he may opt for the Border cities of Buffalo and Detroit. If not toronto I am told that Mats first choices are local. Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo….if Mats is to move, Vancouver, Calgary, Detroit are possibilities.

June 4: “Mats Sundin WILL return to the NHL and not to the Maple Leafs, However he wants to stay in Canada and in the East. The Canadiens are preparing a major offer, although Dan Alfredsson is making a big pitch as well. Look for Sundin to see who is taking over in Ottawa as coach before making his decision. I do expect one more minor pitch from Toronto, but nothing to come of it.”

June 20: Sundin… Source tells me that the negotiations between Sundin and Montreal are going very well. Could be announced tonight or in the morning. Don’t expect a big return. Sundin only has a very few teams he is willing to go to. Montreal is the number 1 and number 2 choice. I will stay on this throughout the night..Of course..

June 28: Talking to a Swedish friend of Mats he is starting to get excited about the possibility of playing in Montreal. His talks with Gainey have left him ‘Blown away’ by the man’s professionalism and integrity. And Mats has even said he thinks Montreal would be a wonderful city to play in. Mats friend really believes that it is Montreal or retirement. And that the second Mats decides to make a go of it a 2-year deal will get done.

June 28 #2: A fellow Swedish Hockey Star/Legend just told me that he firmly believes that Mats will indeed announce his decision about Montreal and he believes that he will indeed be signing with the Canadiens. I also just talked to another source tonight who feels that Mats will be giving an answer tomorrow to Montreal… “Mats is still deciding if he wants to play another year or two” I was told.

July 2: I have heard from three sources that Mats may wait and visit Vancouver this week. If he does that he may narrow his choices since the Rangers and Canadiens may no risk getting shutout of signing other players and the money may not be there for Mats. UPDATE**A SOURCE JUST INFORMED ME THAT MATS WILL RETURN BUT NO DECISION AS TO WHERE…Of course, this is just source and as we have learned with Mats no one really knows what Mats is thinking except Mats…and things can change.

July 8: There are some reports tha Mats is in Vancouver. I believe this to be the case based on my best guess, but I have yet to confirm this. However, a source in Sweden who has been pretty good so far when it comes to Sundin and Foppa news tells me that Mats will NOT wait long to decide and that he does feel a sense of duty to the Canadiens, Canucks, and Leafs. Another source told me that he had heard that Mats is leaning heavily towards a decision this weekend and that from all he has heard Mats may ask for a one year deal in Montreal.

July 14: Meanwhile, the Sundin situation is getting more and more complex with sources telling me that Montreal stills has the inner track but ANOTHER team that we have yet to talk about may indeed be getting into the game today or tomorrow.

July 15: “Many people now feel that Sundin is waiting on the NY Rangers. That is the holdup” one source told me. Obviously the Rangers would have to move mountains to bring in Mats cap-wise…Just remember: The only team that Mats approached himself to play for was the NY Rangers.

July 21: “It’s not true at all that I’m definitely going to Vancouver. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to continue to play hockey,” Sundin says to Sportbladet.

July 28: On Sundin…Another source at this hour has informed me that he is hearing Montreal is NOT just competing against Vancouver, but also “a team that is NOT in the news currently regarding Mats.”

August 6: Meanwhile sources on Montreal are still telling me that the team is acting very much like Mats will be a Canadien…the source told me that a promotional video to celebrate the centennial year is “on hold until further notice.”

August 7: The source, who has MANY years experience in the NHL, told me this…”I just heard that Toronto wants Sundin back and Sundin wants back in Toronto. Toronto will sign him today as long as Mats is willing to NOT include a NO TRADE CLAUSE in the contract.. That is the hold up currently and ONLY that.”

August 11: An agent dealing with some of the teams involved but not linked directly tells me that he believes the teams involved have been told something as to a timeline adding “All is not as quiet as it appears, and a major announcement WILL take place in the next 7-10 days that will define Sundin’s future.” He also added, “However I dont think the teams have the slightest idea what team he will pick.”

August 11: “Sundin is playing this year in the NHL, however we have yet to see the scope of the bidding at this point. Since Sundin’s statement in early July, many more teams are in the game. He is a high powered addition and certain teams do believe he is the missing piece.”
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Dec 032008
 

Just wanted to make a few comments on several recent happenings in the NHL and here at HockeyAnalysis.com.

Sean Avery: It is time that someone really put this guy in his place and I think it is really going to happen. Everyone is getting tired of his act and most importantly his teammates and his teams owner is getting tired of his act. His main ally within the Stars organization was Brett Hull and Hull is now saying his antics of yesterday stepped over the line and goes beyond hockey. I am not sure what the Stars franchise will do but if I were owner Tom Hicks I would first put Avery on waivers. If someone claims him then you just got rid of a headache but I doubt anyone will claim him. Next I would sit Avery down and tell him this is his last chance and that he should focus on playing hockey and quit all the other nonsense and tell him that the next outburst will see him being sent to the AHL where he can play out the rest of his four year contract.

Laviolette/Maurice: Today we have learned that the Carolina Hurricanes have fired coach Peter Laviolette and re-hired former coach Paul Maurice to take over at least until the end of the season. I am not convinced that Laviolette is a great coach, but I don’t think he is a bad coach either. This is an unfortunate situation where I think Laviolette is getting fired for being a coach of an average team made worse by a number of significant injuries. I don’t see how this will make the Hurricanes better. Having watched Maurice in Toronto the past couple seasons, I do not think that Maurice is a good coach. His teams have missed the playoffs 7 of 10 times and outside of the surprise cup run in 2002 he has won zero playoff series.

Burke/Toskala: I am a little dismayed at what Steve Buffery has written in a column today. In particular I am dismayed at the idea that maybe Toskala is one of the untouchables on the Leafs.

Nobody on the current roster is said to be untouchable, with the possible exception of 19-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn, and perhaps Mike Van Ryn, Niklas Hagman and Vesa Toskala. Toskala has been red-hot of late and it seems Burke won’t be in any hurry to ship him out, and not just because he’s finally coming around after an inconsistent start.

“I believe in him, in fact, we tried to get him early in his career,” Burke said of the Finnish netminder.

Luke Schenn is probably untouchable. That makes sense. Niklas Hagman is a relatively young guy that can do a lot of things well so I can see wanting him around (though I wouldn’t necessarily say he is untouchable). The same sort of think can be said for Van Ryn. He is probably a Burke kind of player and doesn’t make too much money. But Toskala? I’ll forgive Buffery for the Toskala red-hot comment since he probably wrote it before Toskala gave up a stinker of a goal 1:15 into the game and then three more goals in the first period and 5 on 30 shots in total, but is Toskala really untouchable? And I hope Burke is really just trying to say nice things about Toskala in order to keep his trade value up because I absolutely don’t believe he is a #1 goalie on any team looking to make a lengthy run in the playoffs.

Finally, I want to formally welcome our new Flames blogger Matt to HockeyAnalysis.com. Matt will be writing at Flames.HockeyAnalysis.com and already has a couple of posts up on the Sean Avery situation.

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.

Oct 292008
 

On Monday NHL Players Associations Executive Director Paul Kelly was on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown discussing several topics but of particular interest was the light he shed on NHL revenues, the contribution of Canadian teams to those revenues, and the impact of the Canadian dollar on those revenues. You can listen to the complete interview but let me summarize.

He stated that 27% of all league revenues are generated by the 6 Canadian NHL franchises and that of the 12% revenue growth the league saw last season, one quarter, or approximately 3% growth, was attributed to the rise in the Canadian dollar. This to me was the clearest statement I have heard from anyone in regards to the percentage of league revenues generated by Canadian teams and the extent of impact it had on the league wide revenue. He went on to say that the rise in the Canadian dollar contributed approximately $75 million to league revenue increase in 2007-08 over 2006-07.

From these numbers, which I believe are pretty accurate, and with the salary cap numbers, which we know exactly, we can estimate what actual league revenues over the past two seasons.

The 2008-09 salary cap was set at $56.7 million which according to the CBA is $8 million above the ‘midpoint’ which is what is calculated from 2007-08 league revenues plus 5%. Crunching the numbers we get $56.7 million less $8 million less 5% multiplied by 30 teams gives us $1391 million, which is what the 2007-08 players share of revenue should have been. This would then put the total league revenues at approximately $2.62 billion. Doing the same calculations for the 2006-07 season I have calculated the 2006-07 total league revenue to be $2.32 billion.

From those numbers we can determine that league revenues rose $300 million from 2006-07 to 2007-08 which is a 12.9% increase in revenues which seems a bit higher than Paul Kelly’s statement of 12% revenue increase but the rise of $300 million matches exactly with his claim that the rise in the Canadian dollar accounted for 25% of the increase in revenue as 25% of $300 million is $75 million. I haven’t seen or heard any firm numbers but rumours were that last years revenue was in the $2.6 billion range so my numbers seem reasonable.

It should be noted that in calculating the salary cap the formula takes into account player benefit costs. I do not know what the player benefit costs are but I estimated them based on a sample formula found in the CBA and scaled it at the same rate of increase as player compensation which may or may not be correct and may lead to some of the disparity with the numbers.

So, what does all this mean looking forward and how much the salary cap be affected? Lets take a few scenarios while assuming that the Canadian-US dollar exchange rate for the 2007-08 season was parity (i.e. one Canadian dollar equals one U.S. dollar) and that the players choose to adjust upward the salary cap by 5% for the 2009-10 season.

Scenario: The Canadian dollar drops to an average of $0.80 US while there is an across the board revenue increase of 5% not accounting for the exchange rate. Based on this scenario, the Canadian portion of revenue would be cut by 20% from the dollar and then increased by 5% for estimated revenue growth while the U.S. revenues would simply increase by 5%. Under this scenario total league revenues would be $2.602 billion or a drop of about .67%. This would result in the salary cap dropping slightly to $56.5 million per team.

Here are some other scenarios.

Exchange
Rate
Revenue
Growth
Estimated
Revenue
Estimated
Salary Cap
0.75 3% 2.516 54.5
0.75 5% 2.565 55.6
0.75 7% 2.614 56.7
0.75 9% 2.663 57.9
0.80 3% 2.553 55.3
0.80 5% 2.602 56.5
0.80 7% 2.652 57.6
0.80 9% 2.702 58.7
0.85 3% 2.589 56.2
0.85 5% 2.64 57.3
0.85 7% 2.69 58.5
0.85 9% 2.74 59.5
0.90 3% 2.626 57
0.90 5% 2.676 58.2
0.90 7% 2.728 59.3
0.90 9% 2.779 60.3

Revenues are in Billions of dollars and salary cap is in Millions of dollars.

If my projections are accurate, so long as the league can increase revenues (not including currency factors) then the salary cap isn’t likely to be impacted negatively in any significant way and could increase by a couple million dollars if the Canadian dollar rebounds measurably (it has jumped a couple of cents today). But in a worst case scenario where the league cannot grow at the same pace as it has and the Canadian dollar remains where it is today the salary cap is likely to fall by up to a couple million dollars.

In the Paul Kelly interview there were a couple of other tidbits that I found interesting and might signal the direction the players want to go in future CBA negations. When asked if he thought the NHL-NHLPA is really in a partnership he responded “I think it is clear the answer to that is no.” He went on to say “It would be a fallacy to call it a partnership because we don’t have an equal voice on a number of issues.” He mentioned expansion and re-location of franchises as a couple of examples where the players have no input. Expect this to be a bargaining point or a bargaining chip during the next CBA negotiation.

When discussing expansion and relocation he praised RIM CEO Jim Balsillie and stated that having someone like him and his wealth in the NHL would be a positive but also mentioned that he believes that there are people within the NHL that do not want him to be a part of the league. Paul Kelly was also very positive and receptive to the idea of having another NHL team in Toronto or southern Ontario and eluded to the fact that he thinks the Toronto area could probably support 3 teams.

It’ll be interesting to see how the NHL-NHLPA relationship develops over the next year or two but it is becoming clear to me that the next great battle might the players to push for expanding the ‘partnership’ beyond just revenue sharing but into all areas of revenue development including franchise relocation and expansion.

Oct 242008
 

I have written here several times before but I think it deserves repeating because this is could be a major issue in the months and possibly years to come and could have a significant negative impact on the smaller Canadian NHL franchises. The issue is the falling Canadian dollar. A season ago the dollar averaged fairly close to parity. Right now the Canadian dollar has dropped below 79 cents in US dollar terms. This is real bad news for teams like the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers, all of whom struggled for their survival in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the dollar ranged just 10 to 15 cents below where the dollar sits right now.

The reality is, the approximately 20 cent drop from a season ago essentially equates to a 25% rise in player salaries solely due to the drop in the Canadian dollar. Add to that the increase in the salary cap, which rose nearly 13%, and the Canadian franchises could see player costs rise as much as 45% this season in Canadian dollar terms.

Let’s use the Calgary Flames as an example. Last season they spent slightly below the cap at approximately $48.5 million and this season they are scheduled to spend about $57 million in salaries. In Canadian dollar terms, assuming a parity exchange rate a year ago and 80 cent exchange rate this season, last years payroll was $48.5 million CDN and this years payroll would equate to $71.25 million. In one year the Calgary Flames payroll increased $22.75 million, or 46.9%. Ouch. That has to hurt a businesses bottom line.

So far we haven’t seen much fall out from this but if the Canadian dollar remains this low next summer don’t be surprised if we see some Canadian franchises, particularly Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, look to shed salary. If the Canadian dollar drops to 70 cents or below we may once again hear talk of the small Canadian franchises struggling to be profitable and maybe even struggle to survive.

The CBC has an interesting article on this issue outlining how each of the Canadian teams payrolls will increase in Canadian dollar terms based on the exchange rate. Although the article is informative it should be noted that they calculated the exchange rates incorrectly and the actual values are higher than they present. For example, at the 80 cent mark they multiplied the teams payroll by 1.2 (increased it by 20%) but in fact they should have divided by 0.8 which in fact would increase it by 25%.

Aug 132008
 

Despite the fact that the Lightning defense still seems a little suspect, boasting little veteran presence or even a big name, Oren Koules maintains that he is satisfied with his current defensive corps. The Lightning still have to get under the cap enough to ensure that they can accommodate Steven Stamkos‘ cap hit, which would be 3.75 should he reach all performance bonuses. Remember that this upcoming season is the last year of the current CBA agreement, and that there will be no performance cushions. Nashville, as noted in the article, remains a very enticing trading partner, with 13 draft picks in 2009 and a plethora of young talent on their blueline. A trade makes sense for both teams, as JP Dumont has voiced his opinion that the Preds need more bite. Jussi Jokinen, who will be replaced by Vaclav Prospal on the top line, Michel Ouellet, and Jason Ward remain their biggest trading chips. The Lightning enter next season as a Southeast Division contender once again, although it remains to be seen if a young defensive corps and Mike Smith will hold up. David has a more in-depth look at the Lightning’s roster here.

Mark Parrish apparently is the Canucks’ answer should they fail to land Mats Sundin. Folks at TSN are calling it Mike Gillis‘ “Plan B,” although it should be more like “Plan D,” considering the discrepancy between Parrish and Sundin. As the Sundin saga dragged along (it’s now rumoured that he is leaning towards retirement, if only anyone knows what means nowadays), it was clear that the Canucks had no answer should Sundin not sign. Gillis maintains that he has been talking trade with several teams regarding one or two defenseman on his team, but I would think that he would like to keep his defense intact. When Parrish was bought out, he was immediately linked to Vancouver and Nashville, two western teams that have had plenty of looks at the big forward. Both teams were in similar situations and needed to get bigger and better offensively. A lot of fans in Vancouver aren’t very happy with how things have gone this summer, after all, Gillis had promised sweeping changes and a drastically different team with offense as its number one priority. So far, the only sweeping changes have come upstairs and the team remains arguably as potent offensively as it was last year, which is to say, still not very potent. Should Parrish find himself in Vancouver he will get looks on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, but for now Steve Bernier seems to be the favourite going into camp. It’s tough to gauge what sort of money Parrish will get, but I would be very surprised if it is anything over a year.