Jun 292012
 

I generally have had little expectations/hope that Burke can dramatically rebuild this team into a serious playoff contender this season because of the large contracts that nobody wants on the roster, but after some thinking, I think there is way he can do it.  This is all pure speculation and hope, but don’t we all like to do that from time to time?  And as Maple Leaf fans, hope is pretty much all we have right now.

When Burke traded for James van Riemsdyk a week ago he indicated that he expects to see him playing the wing, and in particular Mikael Grabovski’s wing.  This is interesting because JVR is a left winger and the left winger for Grabovski the past couple of seasons has been Clarke MacArthur and they have seen substantial success together with Nikolai Kulemin on the right side.  I figured it meant that either MacArthur or JVR would move to the right side, but the optimist in me is hoping that Burke actually has another plan.

That plan, I hope, is signing Alexander Semin as an unrestricted free agent.  Semin is a true right wing with elite level offensive talent and as good as MacArthur has been for the Leafs, would be a significant upgrade.  As good as the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line has been at times over the past couple of seasons, a JVR-Grabovski-Semin line has the potential to be a true #1 line with 80 goal potential.

Signing Semin will not come cheap even though he is coming off a down year (in large part because he played with lower tier line mates like Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perrault and Jason Chimera) because I think there will always be teams looking to add high end talent and there is always the KHL option for Semin.  But what it does mean is that Semin likely won’t command the mega long-term deals that Brian Burke refuses to hand out.  It is quite possible, maybe quite likely, that you could get Semin on a 4 year deal at $6M per year.  That is an increase of $2.75M over MacArthur’s salary but the benefits far out weigh the extra cost.  Not only is Semin is significantly better than MacArthur it will mean not having to play someone (MacArthur or JVR) on the wrong wing and it also means that it makes MacArthur available to trade for other assets.  In particular, a center for Kessel and Lupul.

I am not a fan of Bozak between Lupul and Kessel because he has no defensive abilities, just like Lupul and Kessel don’t.  It’s a bad combination.  I wish we had seen more of Connolly there last year.  He isn’t an ideal option either but at least has some defensive capabilities, but he is undersized too so still isn’t a great option.  So with that said, I think Burke needs to look elsewhere for the center for those two.

As far as pieces we could trade to acquire that center, well, they are actually quite abundant.  MacArthur would definitely be available after a Semin signing.  Kulemin could be traded as well and would be an attractive player to many teams.  Kadri is a trade possibility as there won’t be an immediate opening on the top 2 lines.  Franson is too but with Schenn traded would mean having to acquire another defenseman to replace him.  A package of MacArthur, Kadri and maybe a prospect or draft pick should be able to land at least a second tier first line center, or maybe even a guy like Paul Stastny.  With Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly in the mix at center for the Avalanche I can’t imagine why the Avalanche would want to keep Stastny and his $6.6M salary.  Stastny wouldn’t be ideal because he isn’t great defensively but would definitely be an upgrade on Bozak.  So, now let’s take a look at the top 2 lines if all this unfolded as I laid out.

Lupul – Stastny – Kessel

JVR – Grabovski – Semin

Ok, just reading that has me a little excited.  Both those lines are capable of producing 80+ goals and the Grabovski line in particular is a defensively capable line as well.  I have plugged some numbers into cap geek and came up with the following fictional lineup.

FORWARDS
Joffrey Lupul ($4.250m) / Paul Stastny ($6.600m) / Phil Kessel ($5.400m)
James Van Riemsdyk ($4.250m) / Mikhail Grabovski ($5.500m) / Alexander Semin ($6.000m)
Matt Frattin ($1.200m) / Tyler Bozak ($1.500m) / Nikolai Kulemin ($2.750m)
Colby Armstrong ($3.000m) / David Steckel ($1.100m) / Mike Brown ($0.737m)
Matthew Lombardi ($3.500m) /
DEFENSEMEN
Dion Phaneuf ($6.500m) / Carl Gunnarsson ($1.325m)
Jake Gardiner ($1.117m) / Cody Franson ($2.000m)
John-Michael Liles ($3.875m) / Korbinian Holzer ($0.700m)
Mike Komisarek ($4.500m) /
GOALTENDERS
James Reimer ($1.800m)
Ben Scrivens ($0.700m)
BUYOUTS
Darcy Tucker ($1.000m)
——
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $70,200,000; CAP PAYROLL: $69,303,333; BONUSES: $212,500
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $896,667

You will notice no MacArthur, Kadri (both hypothetically traded to Colorado for Stastny) or Connolly.  I think Burke should be able to find a taker for Connolly as he is on just a 1 year contract with no long term salary cap ramifications (which some teams might find important with the uncertainty surrounding a new CBA) but will not get much in return.  Dallas (to replace Ribiero), Calgary (to replace Jokinen) and Pheonix (to replace Langkow) seem like possibly destinations to me.  For now I have also left Armstrong, Lombardi and Komisarek in the line  and gone with Reimer/Scrivens in goal but some moves could be made with those guys to improve the defense or goaltending situation or improve on Bozak in the #3C position.  With the moves up front, it does make trading for Luongo more unlikely, but if he gets traded to Florida, I’d be ok with acquiring Theodore to backup/mentor/support Reimer.

So Leaf fans, what do you think?  Are you hopeful something like this could happen this off season, or pessimistic that Burke can’t/won’t be able to make any significant moves to improve the team?

 

Jun 152012
 

One of the top NHL unrestricted free agents this summer is the Washington Capitals Alexander Semin.  Semin  has seen his goal production drop from 40 goals in 2009-10 to 28 in 2010-11 to post-lockout low of 21 this past season and as a result peoples general view of Semin’s value has dropped significantly.  The question is, what was the reason for his drop off in offensive stats.  Is it Semin alone, or is there some other underlying reason.

Let’s take a closer look at Semin’s point totals over the past 5 seasons.

Season GP G Pts PP Pts SH Pts ES Pts ES TOI ES TOI/Pt
2011-12 77 21 54 11 0 43 1097:23 25.5 min.
2010-11 65 28 64 18 1 45 904:38 20.1 min.
2009-10 73 40 84 27 2 55 1077:22 19.6 min.
2008-09 62 34 79 30 2 47 850:02 18.1 min.
2007-08 63 26 42 20 0 22 780:48 35.5 min.

When you strip out Semin’s even strength performance you begin to realize that his point total drop off is not near as significant.  The past 4 seasons he has had 47, 55, 45 and 43 even strength points.  Now his time on ice between points increased dramatically this season but a significant part of that is likely due to his line mates.  Three seasons ago Semin’s most frequent line mates were Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin and Tomas Fleishmann ordered by time on ice together.  Two seasons ago they were Laich, Backstrom, Ovechkin and Johansson.  This past season they were Johansson, Perreault, Chimera and Ovechkin.  No offense to Johansson, Perreault and Chimera, but they have combined for just one 40 point season in their careers, and that was Johansson this past season playing with Semin.  That certainly has a little to do with Semin’s drop off.

Another way to look at Semin is to take a look at how his team mates perform when they are on the ice with Semin and when they are on the ice without Semin.  We can do this by looking at some nice bubble charts.

The above chart has GF20 without Semin across the horizontal axis and GF20 with Semin across the vertical axis.  For those new readers, GF20 is goals for (i.e. scored by team) per 20 minutes of ice time.  The color of the circle identifies the year and the size of the circle indicates relative ice time played with Semin.  The larger the circle, the more minutes they played with Semin, the smaller the circle the fewer.  Each forward who played at least 150 minutes with Semin are shown above.

In this chart circles in the upper left indicate that Semin had the greatest impact on his team mates offensive performance as upper-left circles indicate they performed relatively poorly without Semin and relative well with Semin.  Anyone above the 1:1 diagonal line (not shown) means that they had a better GF20 with Semin than without.  As you can see, over the past 3 seasons there is significant evidence that Semin has made his line mates better.  That changed slightly this past season though.  While Chimera and Perreault had better GF20′s with Semin, Johansson and Ovechkin did not.

Now lets take a look at the same chart but for GA20 (goals against per 20 minutes of ice time.

In this table bubbles in the lower right or below the 1:1 line are good as this indicates the player had a lower GA20 with Semin than without.  Except for Ovechkin in 2010-11 the majority of the bubbles are pretty close to the  1:1 line or slightly below.  This would seem to indicate that Semin is not a defensive liability which is relatively rate for quality offensive players.  Frequently producing big offensive numbers comes at a cost of defensive performance but this does not seem to be true for Semin.

The final bubble chart I will look at is goals for percentage (GF%) which is simply goals for divided by goals for plus goals against.

GF% is like GF20, the higher the number the better, so like the GF20 bubble chart, bubbles in the upper left above the 1:1 line are better, especially if they are above 50% (i.e. more goals for than against).  Except for Ovechkin and Johansson this past season and Morrison in 2009-10, all players had a better GF% with Semin than without.  This clearly points to Semin having a significant positive impact on his teams performance.

Maybe the most impressive thing I can point out about Semin is his overall 2-way performance relative to the rest of the league.  Of 125 players with 2500 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes of ice time over the past 3 season, Semin ranks 5th in GF20 (trailing only D. Sedin, H. Sedin, Toews, and Stamkos) and he ranks 13th in GA20.  It truly is a rare combination (for example, the Sedin’s rank 28 and 38 in GA20, Toews 60th and Stamkos 105th).

All that said, it does appear that Semin had a slight drop off in 5v5 offensive performance this past season but without further evidence it would probably be fair to presume that that was a somewhat minor drop off from an otherwise exceptional 4 years and certainly wouldn’t be enough to scare me away from making a significant offer to him as an unrestricted free agent.  He’d be a worthy addition to any NHL team.