Oct 022010
 

As we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season, lets take a look at 9 teams who may struggle in goal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Leighton has been a waiver claim 4 times in the past 4 years and another time was traded straight up for a 7th round pick.  Despite playing well at times last year, he isn’t anyone I’d be comfortable depending on and he will be starting the season on IR with a bad back.  Brian Boucher has had moments of great play in his career too but has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a backup.  This is not the goaltending a supposed Stanley Cup contender should have.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators had the third worst save percentage in the NHL and they chose to come back with the same tandem and they haven’t looked any better in the pre-season.  Pascal Leclaire might be the worst goalie in the NHL over the past couple seasons (challenging Toskala for that title) though the Senators hope that is in part due to his injury issues.  Brian Elliot looked like he was in the process of transitioning from prospect to reliable NHL starter but he also struggled at times, and didn’t look good in the playoffs.  What Elliot’s NHL career looks like is still a big question mark.  Adding to the problem is the Senators lost a key defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and added an offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar so the team may choose to go with a more offensive style of play which would only expose their goaltending issues even more.

Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen isn’t a bad goalie, just an unhealthy one.  Only once in his 5 year career has he been able to start more than 45 games.  Behind Lehtonen you have Andrew Raycroft who probably has been one of the worst goalies post lockout.  If Lehtonen gets injured yet again, it could be trouble for the Stars.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs have had terrible goaltending the last several years.  The good news is there is no one on the Leaf roster named Toskala or Raycroft so that has to be a positive.  But, with that said young Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven anything and has looked iffy in the pre-season and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is past his prime.  That said, I think Giguere will have a more steady influence on the team even if he isn’t a great goalie anymore and at least there is hope that Gustavsson can provide some upside as he develops.

Montreal Canadiens – I don’t understand the logic of trading away Jaroslav Halak who in addition to being a playoff hero also posted a 26-13-5 record with a .924 save percentage in order to keep Carey Price and his 13-20-5 record and .912 save percentage.  Price has looked shakey in the pre-season and if he doesn’t turn it around it could be a long year in Montreal.  New backup Alex Auld can be a decent backup but not someone I’d want to have to depend on too much.

Washington Capitals – Like the Flyers, the Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders with big question marks in goal.  While the Flyers have a pair of goalies with more experience than the Capitals the Capitals have a pair of young goalies with potential to have very good careers.  Both Seymon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have been solid in goal at times but combined they have just 47 NHL regular season starts.  The good news is the Capitals have enough offense that they don’t need great goaltending but even so, that is a lot of pressure to put on a pair of youngsters with no veteran goalie around to support them.

Edmonton Oilers – Khabibulin is one of the most streaky goalies around.  When he is good, he can be really good, but when he is bad he can be awful, and there isn’t much behind him to support him during those bad streaks.  All that said, goaltending isn’t all the Oilers will have issues with.

NY Islanders – Rick DiPietro can’t seem to stay healthy and Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old.  The potential is there for the Islanders to have serious goaltending problems this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have shown potential to be decent NHL goalies but neither have played well enough to be called a reliable starter and neither are coming off good seasons.  Despite some good talent up front, it could be another long season for the Lightning if one of these guys can’t step up their games or the coaching can’t optimize the ‘go with the hot goalie’ strategy.

Honourable Mentions:  Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  I am not overly worried about Turco in Chicago, I think he can still be a reliable goalie for 50-60 games.  Can Crawford deliver in his 25-30 games though?  I am also not that worried about Niemi and Nittymaki in San Jose.  I think between them they will provide solid goaltending, but it probably won’t be as dependable as Nabokov’s.

Sep 292010
 

Ok, let me start by stating that Wade Redden is not worth $6.5M.  He may be never was and the contract (6 years, $39M) the Rangers gave Redden was one of the worst ever handed out in NHL history.  In part because he is not worth that and in part because there is no evidence that any other team had any interest in offering anything close to that amount so the Rangers were bidding against themselves and still paid well over market value.  But that isn’t the point of this article.  The point I want to make is that Redden was, and still is a good defenseman that should be in the NHL.

Ok, now for some straight forward stats:

Year Team GP G A PTS Pts/GM
2005-6 OTT 65 10 40 50 0.77
2006-7 OTT 64 7 29 36 0.56
2007-8 OTT 80 6 32 36 0.45
2008-9 NYR 81 3 23 26 0.32
2009-10 NYR 75 2 12 14 0.19

As you can see there is a clear drop off in his offensive production.  The question is, can Redden be fully blamed for that dropoff?  Here are his teams goals per game production during that time compared to Redden’s points per game production.

Year Redden Team
2005-6 0.77 3.76
2006-7 0.56 3.45
2007-8 0.45 3.11
2008-9 0.32 2.39
2009-10 0.19 2.64

Clearly Redden’s offensive production, up until last year, was in part due to the fact that his teams overall offensive production dropped.  In Ottawa it was due to losing some quality talent off the team as well as becoming a more defensive team than an offense first team.  Then he went to New York where the Rangers offense was awful because they played a defensive style and had no real elite offensive players.  Not all of Redden’s offensive production drop off can be explained by team influences but a good chunk of it can.

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Sep 242010
 

While I am not yet ready to make formal predictions on the upcoming season (that’ll come in a couple weeks) I believe that the Leafs have the potential to be a dramatically improved team and could/should contend for a playoff spot.  Last year was a disaster year for the Leafs and nothing went right for the team, at least until late in the season when the team seemed to come together a bit.  Here are the three keys to watch for during the Leafs upcoming season.

Giguere/Gustavsson – The Leafs have suffered through several seasons of inconsistent and troubled goaltending, and that is being generous.  For much of the past 4 seasons it has been downright awful.  Giguere is probably past his prime and no longer an elite goalie but he is a dependable presence in goal which they haven’t had.  Even with just dependable goaltending the team should be much improved.  In Gustavsson there is more upside potential than in Giguere and combined they should provide the Leafs with the best goaltending they have had since before the lockout.

Tyler Bozak – The Leafs have an abundance of decent wingers (Versteeg, Kulemin, Armstrong, etc.) and one very good one in Kessel but their center ice position is a bit uncertain.  Bozak is the key here.  He finished strong last season and ended up with 8g, 19a, 27 points in 37 games which is pretty solid performance for a rookie.  Had he scored at that pace for the full season he would have ended up with almost 60 points to lead all rookies.  If the Leafs are to become a middle of the pack offensive team the Leafs Bozak needs to repeat that performance, if not improve on it, for a full season.  I think he has the potential to score 20 goals and 70 points which would give the Leafs an unspectacular, but more than decent first line (with Kessel and Kulemin).  Bozak also represents the down low playmaking presence on the PP that the Leafs desperately lacked for much of last season.

Phaneuf/Versteeg/Armstrong – For much of the past 5 seasons the Leafs have lacked any true identity or personality.  They had a bunch of decent players but none of whom really could light a spark for their teammates.  Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong should all play with more passion and intensity than the guys they replaced and should give this team with an identity.  It isn’t just about the truculence and toughness that GM Brian Burke desires, but the energy and passion that they bring that can be contagious.  A healthy Komisarek will help as well as might Caputi or Kadri should they make the team, either right from camp or as a mid-season callup.  These guys are like the Tucker’s, McCabe’s, Robert’s and Domi’s of the past.  Energy players that define what it is to be a Maple Leaf and have a contagious passion for the game.

If Giguere/Gustavsson can provide dependable to good goaltending and Bozak can be a 65-70 point player and the contagious energy of Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong spread throughout the team, there is no reason to believe that the Leafs cannot be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Getting off to a good start to the season to build some confidence would be helpful but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs upcoming season.

Sep 162010
 

On Monday I outlined an all-encompassing player evaluation model that allows us to evaluate every forward, defenseman and goalie under the same methodology.  In short, the system compares how many goals are scored for and against while a player is on the ice and compares it to how many goals scored for/against one should expect based on the quality of his line mates and opposition.  That model, I believe, makes a reasonable attempt at evaluating a players performance, but it can be improved.

The first method of improvement is to utilize the additional information we have about the quality of a players line mates and opposition once we have run the model.  Initially I use the goals for and against performance of his line mates and opposition when the player being evaluated is not on the ice at the same time as his line mates and opposition.  But now that we have run the model we, at least theoretically, have a better understanding of the quality of his team mates and opposition.  I can then take the output of the first model run and use it as the input of the second model run to get new and better results.  I can then continue doing this iteratively and the good news is that after every iteration the difference between the player rating from that iteration and the previous iteration trends towards zero which is a very nice result.

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Sep 132010
 

One of my goals has always been to create a fair and true player evaluation model.  Myself and many others have attempted to do this to varying degrees of success.  The recent trend is to stray away from goals for and against type methodologies towards shot attempts for or against methodologies (i.e. corsi analysis).  One of the key reasons for doing so is to increase sample size to reduce errors in the evaluation including errors that might be associated with nothing more than pure luck.  There is merit to wanting to achieve this goal and to some extent looking at shots attempts for/against achieve this goal but you will also find the method fail in many situations due to the fact that it treats all shots equal, which we know is not true.  Some shots are simply better than others and more likely to produce goals.  A prime example of where corsi analysis fails is with the Toronto Maple Leafs of recent years.  Recently the Leafs have produced a ton of shots but relatively few goals in large part because while they have had quality players to move the puck up the ice and get opportunities they haven’t had the elite level offensive players to convert those opportunities into great scoring opportunities.  Corsi Analysis can make many Leaf players appear like top level players and make the team itself appear to be an average or even better than average team but in the standings this clearly hasn’t been the case.

Because of this I still prefer to consider a goal based approach because really, goals are what matter in hockey.  If you are on the ice for more goals for than goals against, that is a good thing.  The stat that measures this that everyone knows and understands best is plus/minus but it has major drawbacks.  A below average player that plays on a great team with great teammates can have a very good plus/minus while a great player that plays on a bad team with below average teammates can have a poor plus/minus.  Furthermore, a defensive specialist that goes head to head with the oppositions best offensive players may also have a poor plus/minus but still be getting the job done for the most part.  The standard plus/minus stat is, in general, a very poor stat for evaluating players.

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Aug 132010
 

Who is the best Shooter in the NHL?

If you were asked, who is the best shooter in the NHL you might answer Alexander Ovechkin since he has been the most prolific goal scorer since the lockout.  What Ovechkin also always does though is take far more shots than anyone else resulting in a shooting percentage that is for more ordinary.  This past season he was 50th in overall shooting percentage and in 2007-08 he was 46th and those are the only two times he cracked the top 50.  So is Ovechkin a great shooter, or simply great at finding opportunities to shoot?  And if Ovechkin isn’t the best shooter, who is?

Shooting percentage is a very common statistic which essentially is just goals scored divided by shots taken.  We all know and understand that.  Corsi numbers were initially conceived by former NHL goalie and current Buffalo Sabre goalie coach Jim Corsi as a method of evaluating goalie fatigue and has since become a frequently discussed statistic among hockey stat nuts, particularly those at Behind the Net.  Essentially what Corsi takes into account is shots directed at the net, not just shots on the net.  So, Corsi also takes into account missed shots (i.e. shots that go wide) and blocked shots (i.e. shots blocked by a defender).  Corsi numbers are often considered a good indicator of which team controls the play more (if you control the play you will get more shots and shot attempts than your opponent).  Corsi numbers were then revised by Matt Fenwick from the Battle of Alberta blog to not include blocked shots as it was found that including blocked shots in Corsi numbers correlation with winning percentage.  So it came to be that shots plus missed shots are generally referred to as Fenwick numbers and shots plus missed shots plus blocked shots are generally referred to as Corsi numbers.  That is the terminology I will use here.

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Jul 022010
 

When Brian Burke makes a trade more often than not he does it by targeting players and going hard after them until he gets them.  He did this with both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.  He identified them as players he needs to fill a hole on the roster and went hard after them.  If Brian Burke is to trade Kaberle he will probably do the same.  He isn’t going to trade Kaberle for the sake of trading Kaberle, but rather for the sake of filling a hole on his roster.  He has on numerous occasions identified the need for a scoring winger, preferably one with size and although he has added Versteeg and Armstrong in the past 2 days he may still be seeking that kind of player, especially if he can’t get Kulemin signed to a contract.  So, we need to ask, who fits that profile and might be available?  To answer that question, lets take a look at all the wingers who scored more than 25 goals this past season.

Ovechkin, Marleau, Kovalchuk, Semin, Heatley, Parise, Burrows, Ryan, Nash, Iginla, Penner, Kane, Jokinen, Samuelsson, Hornqvist, Moulson, St. Louis, D. Sedin, L. Eriksson, Knuble, C. Stewart, Vanek, Stempniak, Gionta, Perry, Bourque, Neal, Selanne, Latendresse, Briere, Cammalleri, Sharp, Brunette, Raymond, Holmstrom, Hagman.

The majority of those players you can immediately scratch off the available list because their teams just won’t trade them (i.e. Ovechkin, Marleau, Heatley, etc.).  Others are probably too old (Knuble, Holmstrom) or not established enough (Jokinen, Moulson) for Burke to be interested in.  There are some interesting names though that might be available.

Certainly Kovalchuk is available as an unrestricted free agent but as I recently wrote, I think he will cost more and demand a longer term contract than Brian Burke is willing to give.  Teemu Selanne is an unrestricted free agent as well and has a history with Burke, but I suspect he ends up in Anaheim or retires and he is outside of Burke’s ideal age range.

The interesting players on the list are Alexander Semin, Bobby Ryan, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and maybe even Tomas Vanek.  Alexander Semin is probably the most skilled forward in that list and for salary reasons it seems almost certain that the capitals will have to part ways with him at some point but they are probably looking more for a physical defensive defenseman on defense than another offensive one like Kaberle.

There has been a ton of speculation revolving around Bobby Ryan.  We can be sure that Ryan is the exact kind of player that Burke would love to acquire.  He is young, he can score, and he plays a physical game.  On top of that, with Scott Niedermayer retiring the Ducks could use another defenseman but Kaberle might be just too much like Lubomir Visnovsky to be an ideal fit.  It would also cost more than just Kaberle to pry Ryan away from the Ducks and the Ducks may in fact be more interested in a young defenseman like Luke Schenn than in Kaberle.

James Neal and Loui Eriksson, both of the Dallas Stars, are intriguing possibilities.  Eriksson is coming off back to back seasons with 36 and 29 goals and 63 and 71 points and is just coming into his prime.  Eriksson is signed long term and has a no trade clause so it is uncertain if the Stars would, or can, trade him.  James Neal, on the other hand, is an unsigned restricted free agent and in his 2 NHL seasons he has scored 24 and 27 goals and should only get better.  The Stars have some depth on the wing with Morrow, Ott, Eriksson, Benn, and others so they may be willing to trade Neal in the right deal.  I also believe that the Stars could use another defenseman because after Robidas there isn’t really much there.  Trading for Neal will probably cost more than just Kaberle but would probably cost less than trading for Ryan, especially if the Leafs were willing to take some salary in return.  I personally think Neal would be a nice addition to the Leafs and would fit in perfectly with their young core.

The final player in the 25+ goal category that might be available is Tomas Vanek.  Vanek if you recall was signed to a big offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers which the Buffalo Sabres matched but Vanek has not really lived up to his $7 million per year contract.  He has been good but I am sure the Sabres hoped for more.  The Sabres have said goodbye to long time defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman and are in the market for some new talent on the back end.  They have signed Milan Jurcina, but still need a defenseman or two.  Buffalo is also a small market team that probably won’t spend to the salary cap and might be willing to part ways with Tomas Vanek if the return fit their needs but it will take some kind of replacement forward along with Kaberle for them to make that trade (Kulemin?).  Vanek has good size and 40 goal potential and I am sure would be of interest to Burke but a deal like this with a division rival would be a tough one to make.

Wingers with 20-25 goals that might interest the Leafs and might be available are the Blue Jackets RJ Umberger, the Stars Jamie Benn, the Sharks Setogutchi or the Lightning’s Ryan Malone.  RJ Umberger is interesting as it was Burke who drafted him in 2001 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.   Jamie Benn is on a cheap entry level contract which likley means Dallas has no interest in trading him so scratch him from the list.  With Tampa signing Pavel Kubina today it seems less likely they would be interested in another defenseman and will probably keep Malone.  Setogutchi doesn’t have the size that Brian Burke is seeking but he had 31 goals in 2008-09 and has more pure scoring ability than any current Leaf forward outside of Kessel.  The Sharks are also likely looking for a defenseman to replace the retired Rob Blake and may have interest in Kaberle.  Another Shark forward that may interest Brian Burke is Ryane Clowe.  Though Clowe may not have the goal scoring ability of Setogutchi he has good size and can play a tough physical game.

If I had my wish, I would love to see either Bobby Ryan or James Neal in a Leaf uniform.  Both have good size and have 30+ goal potential (maybe 40+ for Ryan).  Failing that, one of the Shark wingers would be interesting pickups.

Jul 012010
 

So it seems that Leaf fans are extremely excited about the acquisition of Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks and to some extent they should be excited.  He is a solid player that will help the Leafs.  But, I think Leaf fans need to keep their hopes for Versteeg in check.  He is a good all-round player, but he is not an significant offensive force or a first line player.

Let me do a quick comparison of Versteeg vs Ponikarovsky over the past two seasons.

Stat Ponikarovsky Versteeg
ES TOI 2078:01 1995:46
ES G 34 25
ES Pts 96 69
PP TOI 390:30 340:13
PP G 10 10
PP Pts 15 17
SH TOI 94:30 235:12
SH G 0 7
SH Pts 0 11

I am pretty sure that Versteeg played with a group of players that were at least as good as Ponikarovsky and probably significantly better though Versteeg did play in a more defensive minded conference.  That said, Leaf fans should not expect any more offensive production from Versteeg than they got from Ponikarovsky.  What Leaf fans can probably expect though is more energy and aggression and hopefully consistency from Versteeg than they got from Ponikarovsky and hopefully Versteeg can help the Leafs PK too which desperately needs help.  In short, Versteeg will look nice in a Leaf uniform, probably playing a second line role and with ample time on the PP and PK units.

Jun 302010
 

As always, there is a lot of speculation as to what the Maple Leafs will do on July 1st when the NHL free agent season begins.  Some are suggesting they should go big or go home and do whatever it takes to sign Ilya Kovalchuk as the answer to their offensive woes while others believe Kovalchuk is going for the big long term contract to which Burke has said on numerous occasions he isn’t interested in doing.  After Kovalchuk though there aren’t any top tier forward free agents available to help solve the Leafs lack of scoring problems.

I am in the camp that I don’t believe that Kovalchuk will be a Maple Leaf.  He’ll end up signing a long term big dollar contract somewhere else.   Whether the Leafs will, or should, go after Kovalchuk depends a lot on what Burke believes he can acquire in a Tomas Kaberle trade.  If Burke believes he can land a scoring winger with size in a Kaberle trade then the need to go after a guy like Kovalchuk is minimized.

Historically teams that win the Stanley Cup have excellent defenses, solid goaltending and are strong down the middle.  Teams that have had elite level wingers but have lacked at center have generally not done well.  What has Kovalchuk won?  What about Jarome Iginla?  What about Rick Nash?  These are three of the best wingers in the game but haven’t achieved much, if any, playoff success.  Feel free to toss Ovechkin into the mix (for now anyway). The Leafs already have an offensive minded winger in Phil Kessel and I don’t believe they necessarily need another offense-first winger like Kovalchuk, at least not if the price tag is $9 million.

As it stands right now, the Leafs forward lines might look like this:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Mikhail Grabovski
Fredrik Sjostrom
Mike Brown Colton Orr

I have intentionally left a lot of blanks in there and have only listed the players I believe are fairly certain to fill those positions.  That leaves the two left wing slots on the first two lines open, the second and third line right wing positions and the third and fourth line center positions as well as a reserve position or two which Brown may get bumped to depending on how the roster unfolds.  Should Kulemin get re-signed he will fill in one of those open winger slots, probably either on the second or third line.  The Leafs also have Luca Caputi, Viktor Stalberg and Christain Hanson in the fold but while all have showed flashes of potential, I don’t believe any of them showed enough last year to make me believe they should be written in as a sure bet to make the club.  The same goes for John Mitchell who is set to become a UFA but who the Leafs have said they would like to bring back at the right price (read: close to league minimum or even a 2-way deal).  Caputi probably has the best opportunity to make the club because he plays a physical game and is probably more suited to a third line role than Stalberg though Stalberg showed he might be ready for a top 6 role late last season.  I haven’t mentioned Nazem Kadri yet but I should as it is likely he will fill one of the top six positions, possibly as a winger or as the second line center pushing Grabovski to wing where he may be better suited anyway (or he could be used as trade bait).  So as it stands now there are five or six forward slots up for grabs and I am certain that Brian Burke wants to bring in at least two, if not three additional forwards to really create battles for those open slots.

Now it is time for some speculation.  If Kovalchuk is out of the picture, as I believe he is, who will Burke go after.  There are three things that we know that can guide us into figuring out what Burke might do.  First, Burke has stated he wants to find a winger that can score, preferably one with some size.  Second he wants to add more toughness throughout the lineup.  Third, historically he has shown that he really likes to bring back players who have played for him before.  So where does that leave us.

There are no first line or even true second line wingers who can score and have size on the open market.  It seems to me that this is what he intends to acquire via a Tomas Kaberle trade.  That trade probably won’t happen for at least a few days after the early free agent frenzy settles so I won’t speculate on that here right now.

There are players that will address toughness further down the lineup though and who are young enough who can contribute to the Leafs for the next several years.  Two names that have been speculated upon are Colby Armstrong and Raffi Torres and both of these guys can fill that toughness role and they are both capable of scoring 15+ goals so in a pinch are capable of playing a second line role or second PP unit role.  I fully expect that Brian Burke to go after and sign one of these guys so long as the price tag is around $2.5-3M per year on a 3 or 4 year deal.

In my mind the Leafs can desperately use a veteran centerman, if not two, as Bozak and Kadri would form a pretty inexperienced top two.  If Burke is looking for a center under the age of 30 who can produce offensively you are pretty much limited to Matthew Lombardi, but I don’t see that as the route Burke will go because I don’t see Lombardi as the kind of ‘role player’ Burke wants on the third line.  That means you may have to go a little older and so I think he might consider going after a guy like Matt Cullen who is 32 years of age and a pretty good 2-way player versatile in that he can play a second or third line role and play at center or on the wing.  His price tag might get a little high for what Burke wants to spend on a third line player but he would be a nice veteran addition.

A similar player to Cullen who will cost somewhat less is Eric Belanger.  Belanger isn’t big, but he plays a gritty physical game and would look good in a third line role and has consistently gotten around 35 points throughout his career.

We know Brian Burke has liked Brendan Morrison in the past.  He had Morrison in Vancouver and signed him as a free agent in Anaheim.  The Anaheim experiment was a bit of a flop mostly because he paid him too much money for what he could contribute but last year in Washington he showed he could be a serviceable role player as a third or fourth line center.  I don’t know if Burke intends to go after Morrison but it wouldn’t surprise me if Burke signed Morrison so long as his contract short term (1 or 2 seasons) and no more than the $1.5M he made last year.

If Brian Burke is set on trading Kaberle for help up front he’ll probably want to pick up another defenseman but not one with a big salary.  There are a lot of defensemen to choose from in this UFA class so it is difficult to speculate who he might go after but I suspect he’ll wait until the first rush on defensemen passes and he’ll try to pick up someone at a bargain price a week or two down the road as players start to see job openings dwindling away and get concerned about if and where they might play come September more than they are about holding out for maximum dollars.

Update:  The Leafs have acquired Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks for Stalberg and prospects DiDominico and Paradis.  Versteeg will likely fill one of those second line winger roles.

Jun 092010
 

Behind the Net Blog recently used even strength when game is tied Corsi analysis to take a look at the divisional imbalance since the lockout and came up with an interesting conclusion.

The NW division is slightly better than the SE division against all shared opponents.  But SE division teams outshot NW teams in head-to-head games.  The difference between the two divisions is negligible, though the NW’s stronger showing against the pacific and central suggests that it’s just a little bit better than the SE.

What that essentially implies is that since the lockout the northwest division is only marginally better than the southeast division, which has generally been considered the worst division in hockey since the lockout.

This though is a perfect example of where Corsi analysis fails because that statement is proven downright untrue when you consider each divisions actual won-loss records.  Against the southeast division the northwest has combined for a dominating 64-31-12 and only twice has a northwest team had a losing record against the southeast (2009-10 Wild at 1-2-3 and 2008-09 Flames at 1-3-1).  The 64-31-12 record is the equivalent to a 107 point team over 82 games which is awfully good.  The southeasts record against the northwest is 43-49-15 which is equivalent to a 77 point team.  To put that in perspective, the NW is like Phoenix (107 points) and the SE is like Columbus (79 points) this past season.  That makes the northwest division more than ‘a little bit better’ than the southeast division.

In another analysis at Behind the Net blog they look at Corsi +/- for teams in games against teams in divisions other than their own.  For the northeast division they came up with:

Ottawa +200, Boston +134, Toronto +65, Buffalo -60, Montreal -266.

That would seem to indicate that Toronto has been a halfway decent team but they finished last in the northwest division in 3 of the 5 seasons and never finished better than 3rd.  Montreal finished ahead of the Leafs in 4 of the 5 seasons and accumulated 49 additional points in the standings despite having an outside division even strength when game is tied Corsi +/- a whopping 331 points below that of the Leafs.    The Minnesota Wild had a very dismal -419 Corsi +/- outside the division but had a respectable 134-106-26 record which is equivalent to a 91 point team.  Now a 91 point team is nothing special, but it is a far cry from what the 3rd worst outside division Corsi +/- would indicate their record ought to be.

In both of these posts the use of Corsi analysis has failed to accurately explain what really happened on the ice and it comes down to the fact that even strength when the game is tied Corsi numbers only tell a fraction of the story.  It doesn’t account for goaltending or power play or penalty kill or shooting ability or any number of other factors that influence who wins hockey games so using it as a tool for determining which teams or divisions are better is a pointless exercise because on the ice, all those other things matter.  The better tool to use in evaluating which teams or divisions are better is the much simpler and more universally understood statistic known as win-loss records.  Win-loss aren’t perfect, but they don’t try to tell me that the Leafs have been better than Montreal since the lockout or that the northwest division is only marginally better than the southeast division.