Jun 052010
 

This past season the Boston Bruins were the lowest scoring team in the NHL with just 196 goals for (the only team not to reach 200 goals) or about 2.34 goals per game and in the playoffs they were only slightly better scoring at a 2.58 goals per game pace.  So the question that needs to be answered is how will they go about improving their offensive output?  To answer that, lets start off by looking at their salary cap situation.  The Bruins have the following players under contract:

  • Forwards: Bergeron, Savard, Lucic, Ryder, Krejci, Sturm, Thornton
  • Defesnse: Chara, Wideman, Ference, Hunwick, Seidenberg
  • Goalies: Thomas, Rask

Total salary cap hit for those 14 players is approximately $50.5M including todays signing of Dennis Seidenberg at $3.5M a season for 4 years.  The best case scenario is that the salary cap rises about $2M so let’s assume the salary cap gets set at $58.5M.  That leaves $8M for 5-6 forwards and a couple defensemen.

The Bruins key restricted free agents include forwards Blake Wheeler, Daniel Paille, Vladimir Sobotka along with defenseman Mark Stuart.  On the unrestricted free agent front there is Mark Recchi, Miroslav Satan, Steve Begin, and Johnny Boychuk.

The Bruins could probably get Wheeler, Paille and Sabotka signed for $4M combined and there may be interest in bringing Recchi (who scored 18g, 43pts) back on a cheap contract and I expect they will try to sign one of Stuart or Boychuk for under $1.5M if possible but they will barely have $2M in salary cap room remaining and they have only rebuilt last year’s team.  They might like to bring Satan back who had an decent season since being signed (9g in 38 games) and an excellent playoff (5g, 10pts and team best +4) but his good play may have improved his market value beyond what the Bruins might be able to pay.

The Bruins do have the second overall pick which will likely be Tyler Seguin (assuming the Oilers take Taylor Hall) and I am sure they envision him being in their lineup next season to help their woeful offense.  The thing is, the cap hit, including bonuses, for Seguin will total approximately $3.75M and with the CBA ending after the 2010-11 season (unless the players choose to extend it for one additional season) there will be no bonus cushion so the full $3.75M will count against the cap, regardless of whether he is able to reach those bonuses or not.  There will be no carryover option.  The end result is the Bruins will have some real tough choices to make this off season.  Here are some options:

  1. Don’t sign Seguin and let him play another year of junior.  This is an extremely unlikely scenario since the Bruins desperately need Seguin’s offense and they wouldn’t want to give Seguin a bad view of the organization.
  2. Trade a high priced player.  There probably isn’t much of a market for Ryder or Sturm with their salaries unless the Bruins are willing to include their own first round pick or a top prospect.  There would be a market for Lucic or Krejci but those guys, particularly Lucic, would be very difficult for the Bruins to part with.  I am sure they would love to trade Tim Thomas but the success of cheap goalies this playoff season the market for older goalies with big contracts like Thomas is probably as low as it has ever been if it exists at all.  Thomas is still likely a capable goalie It is tough to imagine anyone wanting him at his salary though we should never underestimate an NHL GM’s ability to make stupid moves.  I don’t see them moving core players like Savard, Bergeron, Chara or Wideman so simply trading away a big contract is an unlikely scenario.
  3. Buy out the contracts of Michael Ryder and/or Marco Sturm.  Buying out Ryders contract would save them $2.66M in cap space and buying out Sturm would save them $2.33M in cap space.  Either or both are highly possible scenarios but they would lose Sturm’s 22 goals and Ryder’s 18 so it wouldn’t do anything to improve their offense.

Under any of the above scenarios it is difficult to believe that the Bruins offense will be significantly improved through player movement.  For the Bruins to improve their offense it will come down to keeping both Bergeron and Savard healthy and having guys like Krejci, Wheeler and Lucic improve their player closer to their 2008-09 levels.  That said, the Bruins will likely be a team relying on great defense and goaltending once again in 2010-11.

Jun 032010
 

I am planning that over the course of the summer and into next season I will get back into analyzing hockey statistics more in depth again.  Over the past couple of seasons Corsi numbers have become much more prevalent so I thought I would start off by discussing what they are and my thoughts on them.

Corsi numbers were originally created by former NHL goalie and now Buffalo Sabre goalie coach Jim Corsi.  David Staples recently had a good interview with Corsi which goes into his thought process behind developing Corsi numbers.  The interview is definitely worth a read but let me summarize.

In his role as the Sabre’s goalie coach, Corsi was attempting to evaluate the work load his goalies had in a game of play and found that simply shots against were not sufficient.  The goalie can relax whenever the puck is in the oppositions end, but whenever the play is in his own end he can’t relax, regardless of whether a shot was taken or not.  To get a better idea of his goalies workload he summed up shots, missed shots and blocked shots which should give a much better indication of a goalies overall work load.  A goalie needs a certain skill level to successfully save the majority of shots on goal, but a goalie also needs a certain fitness level (both mental and physical) to be able to play under a certain workload level within a single game and over the course of an 82 game season and this is why Corsi invented the Corsi numbers.

More recently others in the hockey community have extended Corsi numbers to evaluate a teams ability to control the play of a game (i.e. does a team play more in the oppositions zone vs their own) and evaluate individual players by looking at their Corsi numbers for and against while they are on the ice and comparing that to their teammates Corsi numbers.  Most notable are Gabe Desjardins of behindthenet.ca and Gabe and everyone else at the Behind the Net blog but there are others too.  Some people, most notably Matt Fenwick of the Battle of Alberta blog only use shots and missed shots and do not include blocked shots as Jim Corsi does resulting in what is typically called Fenwick numbers.  When used in this context Corsi and Fenwick numbers are calculated just as +/- is calculated which is to take the shots+missed shots+ blocked shots for his team and subtracting the shots+missed shots+ blocked shots numbers by the opposition while he is on the ice.

One of the benefits that many people believe that Corsi numbers provide is that since Corsi numbers include more events (i.e. shots+missed shots+blocked shots vs just shots or even just goals as in +/-) the statistical analysis will be far more accurate due to the larger ‘sample size.’

So what do I think of all this?  I do agree with Jim Corsi that using Corsi numbers as a way to evaluate a goalies workload is probably far more valuable than just using shots on goal.  Beyond that, I am pretty sure that Corsi numbers will give a pretty solid indication of a teams control of the play, for whatever that is worth.  I say for whatever that is worth because some teams, when they have the lead, will choose to play in a defensive shell allowing a lot of shots from the point, but not giving up all that many high quality, in close, shots or worse yet, shots on rebounds. Corsi numbers when the game is close (tied, or within one goal with significant time to play such that the team with the lead has not yet gone into ‘protect the lead’ mode) may give us a better indication of a teams capability to control the play, when they want to but even that may be flawed.  Also, a team with a strong set of forwards but a weak defense and goalie may control the play more than a team with a strong defense and top tier goalie but is that team really any better at winning games?

Much of the same arguments can be made when evaluating players.  Defensive minded players are not necessarily on the ice to control the play, they are on the ice to not allow goals against most typically by the oppositions top offensive forwards.  As mentioned above, one way to accomplish this is to go into a defensive shell and just not give up any quality scoring chances against.  A player can have a sub-par Corsi number, but be doing his job perfectly well.

I do believe that Corsi numbers have a use in evaluating a goalies work load and even in showing which teams are controlling the play, but in my opinion using it anywhere beyond that we are making too many assumptions about how important Corsi numbers are with respect to winning games.  Just ask the Washington Capitals how almost completely controlling the play worked for them against Montreal in round two of the playoffs. In the past I have used mostly goals for/against and shot quality (using shot type and distance as a proxy for quality) to evaluate players and while that has its own inherent flaws as well I will most likely continue to do so in the future.

May 272010
 

Welcome to the new HockeyAnalysis.com, now operating through the Puckosphere.com blogging platform.  This is where I’ll post my more in depth statistical analysis stuff and my less in depth commentary type stuff will get posted at DavidsHockeyThoughts.com.  At some point over the summer I’ll set up a new stats site like what was at stats.hockeyanalysis.com on the old site and there I hope to bring you a lot of interesting and hopefully useful statistics and graphics that you won’t be able to fine anywhere else.

Apr 292010
 

If you have not yet read Part I and Part II of this series, you should probably do that now so you will better understand Part III.

In this part I wanted to take a look at individual goalies and see how they compare to the average. The following is a list of the 19 goalies I used to create the goalie performance by age average chart that you see in Part II and if you click on their names you will be shown a chart of their performance compared to the average performance.

Chris Osgood
Chris Tererri
Craig Billington
Curtis Joseph
Dominik Hasek
Ed Belfour
Glenn Healy
Jeff Hackett
Jocelyn Thibault
John Vanbiesbrouk
Kirk McLean
Martin Brodeur
Mike Richter
Mike Vernon
Olaf Kolzig
Patrick Roy
Ron Tugnutt
Sean Burke
Tom Barasso

I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to go through each of the charts and draw whatever conclusions you can but there appear to be two different charts. The first is a typical curved chart where a goalie improves early in his career and tails off later in his career. There are of course varying degrees of this curve from the extreme like Jeff Hackett to a more moderate curve like Ron Tugnutt. The other type of chart which is quite common is the one where the goalie enters the league at quite a high level and then tails off over time. Again there are varying degrees as to which this tail off occurs from the extreme in Jocelyn Thibault or Kirk McLean to a more casual drop of as with Mike Vernon.

It is generally believed that the two best goalies of the past 20-25 years are Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. Not as often mentioned is Dominik Hasek and I can only assume that is because he doens’t have the win totals or Stanley Cups of the other two partly because of the teams he played for and partly because he started his career late compared to Roy and Brodeur. But, in the prime of his career he was truly dominating and in my opinion was by far the best goalie in the NHL through the late 1990′s and into the current decade. So, lets take a look at how these three stack up against each other.

Clearly all three have been better than the average of the other 19 goalies, but I was actually a little surprised to see how little better Brodeur has been for much of his career. Four times in Brodeur’s career has he performed below the average of the other 19 goalies at the same age where neither Roy or Hasek ever performed below the group average at any age. The other conclusion one must draw from this chart is simply how good Hasek was, particularly late in his career. Roy had dominating years in his early to mid 20′s but from age 29 on clearly Hasek was the more dominant goalie. As for Brodeur, he has had a few excellent seasons but generally speaking has been a step below the Roy and Hasek at all ages. The only other goalie who could possibly be considered as a similar talent to these three goalies is Ed Belfour who you could argue had a career quite similar to that of Brodeur.

In part IV, which I’ll either post tomorrow or early next week, I’ll take a look at a few current goalies in the middle of their careers to see if we can gain any insight into what phase of their career they are in and what the future might hold for them.

Apr 282010
 

Earlier today I posted an article showing how a goalies save percentage varies by age. It was pointed out that one of the flaws in that analysis is that I didn’t account for the fact that over time the average NHL save percentage has varied, and has generally increased over time. In fact, the change from the 1980′s to the 1990′s is quite significant. As a result I decided it was important enough to take the next step and account for variations in league wide save percentages.

To accomplish this I took each goalies save percentage and divided it by the league wide save percentage for that year which essentially tells us how much a goalie was better or worse than his peers in that given year. Anything greater than 1 meant the goalie was better than the average goalie and anything less than 1 meant the goalie was not as good as the average goalie that year. I then performed the same analysis using this ratio number instead of straight save percentage.

How do Goalie Age

The end result is that a goalies peak years generally start sooner than seen under the straight save percentage analysis and the drop off in a goalies latter years is more pronounced as well. Generally speaking a goalie will have his best years between ages 22 and 34 after which the drop off is fairly pronounced. This isn’t true for all goalies though as the truly elite goalies such as Roy, Belfour, Hasek and Brodeur played above their peers well beyond age 34 but for the majority of goalies it is downhill once you get past your early 30′s.

Note: In the above chart I only included ages for which data was available for at least 3 goalies and I only included years where a goalie played at least 5 games. This was done so as to not skew the chart at the edges and the result is only ages 19-41 are shown though Barasso played at age 18 and Hasek played until age 43.

Apr 282010
 

I was inspired to write this article by a post over at Behind the Net where they discussed goalie even strength save percentage by age. In that article they came away with the conclusion:

Analyzing the data every way I can think up, there is no evidence whatsoever of any relationship between goalie age and even strength save percentage.

But, as I pointed out in the comments there are two serious flaws with their analysis. The first is that they do a linear regression analysis which is probably not the best tool to use as one can reasonably assume that a goalies skills do not progress linearly as he ages. One would expect a goalie would improve early in his career, plateau for a few years, and then regress in the latter years of his career. A hypothetical example might see a goalie have the following save percentages for his 10 year career: .900, .905, .910, .915, .920, .920, .915, .910, .905, .900. Fitting that data to a linear equation would net a slope of zero indicating no relationship between age and save percentage. Clearly from the data though there is probably a connection between age and save percentage.

The second problem I pointed out in the comments was in the second part of the analysis where they just looked at goalies with 3 years or more of data. The problem with this is that one can probably expect the difference in a goalies skill level at age 26 and at age 28 to be minimal, if anything at all. Skill level variation by age is likely to take a lot more than 3 years to identify. The reality is if a goalie only played in the NHL from age 26 to 28 that was probably the peak of his career and he simply wasn’t good enough to make the NHL to have a save percentage to use before and after that point, but since only NHL save percentage was used we can’t know how the goalies skill level might have improved before age 26 or tailed off after age 28.

To fix these issues one really should only look at goalies where you have a lot of data over many years and not look at it using linear regression which isn’t going to work. So what I have done is identify all of the goalies that have played in the NHL for at least 14 seasons and whose careers continued at least into the 2000-2001 season. The list of goalies that meet these qualifications are: Curtis Joseph, Tom Barasso, Sean Burke, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Olaf Kolzig, Jocelyn Thibault, Chris Osgood, Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, John Vanbiesbrouk, Mike Vernon, Ron Tugnutt, Jeff Hackett, Craig Billington, Glen Healey, Kirk McLean, Mike Richter and Chris Tererri. That list includes quite a variety of goaltenders including hall of famers and career backups and everything in between. I then took averaged their save percentages by age and came up with the following chart.

Save Percentage by Age

From that chart there appears to be a very strong relationship between age and save percentage. Before age 22 and after age 40 there are only a small number of data points so the chart goes a little wonky at the edges but from age 22 to age 30 there is a fairly steady improvement in a goalies save percentage. Between the ages of 30 and 34 a goalies save percentage plateaus before starting a steady decline until age 40. This is very much as one would expect and it only takes looking at the data in the proper way to confirm our expectations.

Apr 152010
 

I have always believed that goaltending is by far the most important position in hockey and have claimed it can make or break any teams season. I have claimed that the main reason that the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs post lockout is because of bad goaltending. Many others have scoffed at this claim blaming everything from bad defense to bad offense (which is mostly not factually true) to poor coaching, to a combination of all of the above. I have seen others claim that goaltending would account for at most four or five games a year. So, I have undertaken a bit of a study to attempt to figure out how important goaltending really is and how many points in the standings poor goaltending can cost you or great goaltending can gain you.

Most goaltending studies I have seen, and done myself, have to do with comparing goalies from one team to the next. The problem with this is people can easily choose to dismiss the study with claims like ‘but team x has such a bad defense you cannot blame the goalie for that’ and to some extent there is some validity in this claim (though I do not believe it to be as much as many do). There have been other studies that attempt to factor out the defense issue by coming up with some sort of shot difficulty rating based on shot type and defense. I believe that this has some merit and improves the validity of the study but people will simply jump in and claim that not all shots from the same distance are equal and teams with bad defense will inherently give up more difficult shots so the shot quality analysis is still far from perfect. Again, there is some merit to this.

So, with all that in mind I set out to study goaltending in a way that eliminates the quality of a team’s defense in a way that most sane people cannot dispute: compare goalies who play on the same team. If we are comparing two goalies who play on the same team we immediately eliminate the ‘but he plays on a bad team’ argument because they are playing behind the same players.

I collected all the goalie statistics from the 5 regular seasons since the NHL lockout of the 2004-05 season. For each team and season I identified each team’s starting goalie (the goalie with the most starts) and then grouped all other goalies who played for that team in that season and merged their statistics into a combined backup goalie statistic. For example, this past season Jonas Hiller was the starter for the Anaheim Ducks and JS Giguere and Curtis McElhinney also played for the Ducks so Giguere and McElhinney’s stats were combined into a single team backup stat. The statistics I am interested in are save percentage and points earned for their team and the number of games started from which we can calculate points earned per start stat for the starter and the combined backup. I next subtracted the backups points per start from the starters points per start and the backups save percentage from the starters save percentage. Here is an example for the Anaheim goalies.

Goalie Starts W L OTL PTS Pts/Start SV%
Jonas Hiller 58 30 23 4 64 1.103 0.9182
JS Giguere 17 4 8 5 11 0.9000
C. McElhinney 7 5 1 2 10 0.9167
Backups 24 9 9 3 25 1.042 0.9055
Starter-Backup 0.0618 0.0128

So, from that table we see that Jonas Hiller had a save percentage 0.0618 higher than his backups and produced more points for his team in the standings at a rate of 0.0128 per start. Now since that last stat is pretty meaningless I prorated it to 82 games and over the course of 82 games Hiller would produce 5.07 additional points in the standings over his backups.

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Apr 132010
 

Washington vs Montreal

Washington was the run away leader in the eastern conference finishing 18 points ahead of second place New Jersey and 33 points ahead of 8th place Montreal. Washington was a middle of the road defensive team but was a truly dominant offensive team scoring on average 3.75 goals per game, more than a half a goal per game more than the Canucks who were the second most offensive team and 1.24 goals per game more than the Canadiens who ranked 26th in the league. Montreal has next to no chance of winning this series unless Jaroslav Halak can outright steal it for them. As good as Halak is, that is not likely to happen and Montreal should just hope they can steal a game or two. Washington in 5.

New Jersey vs Philadelphia

Philadephia is one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, largely due to their suspect goaltending but Brian Boucher has in the past shown he can get real hot for short stretches (he had 5 straight shutouts a couple years back) and the Flyers offense is pretty good so it isn’t inconceivable that the Flyers could upset the Devils. Brodeur is still a very good goalie but has from time to time over the past couple seasons show that he can be beaten and the Devils defense isn’t quite as reliable as it was a few years back. All that said, Parise and Kovalchuk give the Devils two elite level offensive stars and they have an underrated complimentary group surrounding them so I think this series will go to the Devils. New Jersey in 6.

Buffalo vs Boston

The easy prediction is that there probably won’t be many goals scored in this series, especially on the Bruins side of the ledger. Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL and the Sabres were the fourth best defensive team in the NHL and the Bruins were second best. Buffalo clearly has an edge having a much better offensive production but the games should all be very close meaning anyone could win with a few lucky bounces. I’ll stick with the Sabres and their better offense though it will be a long series. Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

For the third time in four years Pittsburgh and Ottawa will meet in the playoffs with Ottawa winning the first series and Pittsburgh the second so this is a rubber match of sorts. Neither Ottawa or Pittsburgh are all that great defensively as these two teams ranked 19th and 20th in the NHL in goals against average and have the lowest goals against average of any of the playoff teams. In Pittsburgh’s case they have just been consistently mediocre defensively for much of the season and in Ottawa’s case it has been result of extreme inconsistency of their goaltenders. Pascal Leclaire has had a dismal season and while Brian Elliot has looked excellent for stretches he still has too many weak games to be considered a relaible goalie. If Pittsburgh gets on Elliot early this could be a short series, but if they let Elliot and the Senators gain confidence they could be a tough opponent for the Penguins and could very well take the series. I personally am not confident in Elliot and I think the good Penguin offense will get the better of him. Pengiuns in 5.

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Apr 082010
 

If you polled hockey fans who the top contenders are for the Stanley Cup, four of the most frequent answers you will get will be Washington and Pittsburgh from the eastern conference and San Jose and Chicago from the western conference. What these teams have in common are very good groups of offensive forwards with multiple star players and some pretty good defensemen to go with them. But what they also have in common are question marks in goal that they will have to overcome if they are to go deep into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
We all know about the Sharks playoff failures of recent years and much of the blame has been placed on forwards like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been an excellent regular season goalie and been OK in the playoffs but he hasn’t stolen a series for the Sharks and his post Olympic play has to be a concern for Sharks fans. As you are all probably aware, Nabokov had a poor Olympics, and in particular, a really bad game against the Canadian team that cost the Russians a shot at a medal. Since the Olympics he hasn’t been any better having posted an 8-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a very mediocre .897 save percentage and in 16 post Olympic games he has given up 4 or more goals 7 times (including 5 goals Sunday against possible first round opponent Colorado). That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. We know Nabokov can play better, but will he turn his game around come playoff time?

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks goaltending is an interesting case study into inconsistency. They lead the league in shutouts and are 6th in goals against average but are 7th worst in the league in save percentage. Cristobol Huet can go on stretches where he looks solid and reliable (in his first 21 starts this year he only gave up more than 3 goals once) but then for other stretches he can look downright awful. The end result though is that he is unreliable. Then you have youngster Anti Niemi who has been the better and more reliable goalie this year and has a respectable .913 save percentage but he too has been inconsistent. In 33 starts he has 7 shutouts which is pretty phenomenal (Brodeur leads the league with 9, but he started 73 games) but in those 33 starts he has also given up 4 or more goals 8 times which is not so good.

Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are not unlike the Chicago Blackhawks as they too have a somewhat unreliable veteren (Theodore) and a quality young goalie (Varlamov) that may or may not be ready to carry the load. I have a little more confidence in the Capitals goaltending though as they have been a little more consistent. As a group they only have 3 shutouts, but they have fewer disaster games too and with the Capitals offensive capabilities that might be good enough but it still has to be a concern for Capitals fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be some that are surprised to see the Penguins make this list but lets look at the facts. As a team the Penguins have the worst goals against average of any playoff bound team and have the fourth worst save percentage in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very mediocre .904 save percentage over the course of the season and a pretty bad .892 save percentage since the Olympics. Since February 1st he has started 20 games and given up at least three goals in 14 of them and four or more goals 6 times. We know Fleury can play well enough to win a Stanley Cup, but his performance this season, and over the past couple months in particular, has not been good enough. To make matters worst for Penguins fans, yesterday on TSN it was pointed out in 17 games against division leaders the Penguins have just 3 wins. Of the top four teams in the east, I think the Penguins are the one team most likely to face a first round playoff exit.

(cross posted at HockeyAnalysis.com)

Mar 052010
 

The Olympics are over and the trade deadline has come and gone without any hugely significant trades made on deadline day. With every teams rosters set I figured it was time to take a look at the remainder of the season and into the playoffs. Let’s start with the Eastern conference and next week I’ll tackle the west.

Washington Capitals – The Captials appear to be the class team in the east as they currently hold a 14 point edge on second place Penguins. They added some role playing depth up front and skilled Joe Corvo on defense. I thought they could have used more of a shut down defenseman but I guess that isn’t the style of game the Capitals play. They are definitely an offense first team and Corvo fits more into that role. The questions I have are, can that style of play win in the playoffs and can their goalies give them enough consistencty to win. The 2010 Capitals are much like the 1980’s Oilers.

Pittsburgh Penguins – I think the Penguins are clearly the second best team in the eastern conference and adding Ponikarovsky and Leopold only solidify that. They are probably a better defensive team than the Capitals and have more reliable goaltending but may not have the scoring from the wings that the Capitals have which is where Ponikarovsky should help.

New Jersey Devils – New Jersey made the big spash before the Olympics by adding superstar Ilya Kovalchuk which will give them a much needed boost in the offensive zone. He and Parise give opposing teams two extremely skilled players to worry about which should open up more room for the Devils second tier forward. For me, the Devils defense is just average but they play such a good team defense that maybe that is good enough. The key for the Devils come playoff time is Martin Brodeur who is still a great goalie but has shown a bit of his age recently. Does he have enough left in the tank?

Ottawa Senators – Coach Cory Clouston has the Senators playing pretty good team hockey this year and it shows in the standings. I honestly don’t think they are this good and am still a little skeptical at their success but they haven’t fallen apart yet. They came close in November/December when they went through a lengthy slump and fell back into the playoff bubble crowd of teams but a superb January and early February led by stellar goaltending and a hot Spezza gave them a comfortable lead on the chase pack of teams. But, I am still not sold on their goaltending and we have seen how fragile that can be as Elliot and Leclaire have each been pulled in the Senators past 2 games. In my mind the Senators are an average team which if some things go right could pull a first round playoff win, but aren’t a true contender.

Buffalo Sabres – When it comes to the Sabres, success or failure usually begins and ends with Ryan Miller. So long as Miller is playing at the top of his game, the Sabres will have a shot at winning any game. Their offense is adequate as is their defense but there isn’t too much special there.

Philadelphia Flyers – The above 5 teams barring a significant slump are likely to be playoff teams. Starting with Philadelphia I think we are getting into bubble team status. As far as the Flyers are concerned, I think they have to be the big losers of the trade deadline because they didn’t address their most glaring need, goaltending. Now they didn’t really have the cap space to do so nor was there necessarily any quality goalies available but I just don’t think you can be that confident in having Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher as your goalie tandem. Leighton has been great for the Flyers so far this year, but he is Michael Leighton. The Flyers should make the playoffs but I am not convinced they can be the serious contender they hoped they would be when they acquired Chris Pronger prior to the season.

Boston Bruins – I got a lot of flak before the season when I predicted the Bruins would take a significant step back from their 116 points and end up with just 98 this year. They are currently on pace for 88 so I may have underestimated their fall. Almost everything went right for them last season from stellar goaltending to far better than expected seasons from Krejci, Lucic and Wheeler. I figured that wouldn’t happen again and with the loss of Kessel it would hurt them significanty. All that and then some has come true and the Bruins have been downright dreadful offensively and Tim Thomas hasn’t been as good (though generally the Bruins have had very good goaltending). The Bruins are probably a playoff team, but that is far from a certainty with 20 games left.
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