Jun 232012
 

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the biggest noise at the NHL entry draft yesterday trading Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, the 8th overall pick which they used to draft defenseman Derrick Pouliot and defense prospect Brian Dumoulin.

Essentially this trade comes down to the Penguins trading their 3rd line center Jordan Staal, who wants to be a first or second line center and would leave as a UFA next summer to do so, for Carolina’s 3rd line center Brandon Sutter and a pair of promising defense prospects.  So, how do Jordan Staal and Brandon Sutter compare as 3rd line centers?

Offense

Sutter Staal
GF20 0.703 0.900
TMGF20 0.772 0.857
OPPGA20 0.799 0.802
HARO+ 0.876 1.081

In the above table GF20 stands for goals for per 20 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 3 seasons, TMGF20 is the GF20 of the players team/line mates, OPPGA20 is the oppositions goals against per 20 minutes of ice time and HARO+ is my offensive rating which takes into account GF20, TMGF20 and OPPGA20.

So, even though Staal plays with better offensive teammates than Sutter does, he still manages to make them even better offensive players when they are playing with him.  Brandon Sutter on the other hand plays with significantly weaker offensive players and they become even weaker when playing with Sutter.  The end result is Staal comes out looking like a good, above average offensive player while Brandon Sutter is a fairly weak offensive player.

Defense

Sutter Staal
GA20 0.644 0.692
TMGA20 0.898 0.803
OPPGF20 0.814 0.802
HARD+ 1.223 1.120

The above table is similar to the one in under offense except it measures defensive ability by looking at the players GA20, the players teammates GA20 and the opposition players GF20 and HARD+ is my all inclusive defensive rating.

Both players come out looking like good defensive players, but the edge clearly goes to Sutter.  He plays with weaker defensive teammates, against stronger offensive competition and despite that produces a lower GA20.  In fact, evidence suggest that Brandon Sutter is one of the best defensvie forwards in the NHL.  Over the past 3 seasons he ranks 7th in GA20 and 6th in HARD+ among the 221 forwards with with 2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time. This compares to Staal who ranks 91st and 86th in GA20 and HARD+.

Overall

Sutter Staal
GF% 52.2% 55.2%
TMGF% 46.2% 52.0%
OPPGF% 50.5% 50.3%
HART+ 1.050 1.074

The above table is similar to the previous two but is an overall look at the players performance.  This is done by looking at the goals for percentage (GF% = GF / [GF + GA]) for the player, his teammates, and his opponents.  Overall, Sutter has moderately worse results, but plays with significant weaker teammates and against marginally superior opponents.  In the end Jordan Staal is the better player due to his offensive abilities but Brandon Sutter might be the better fit for the Penguins since with Crosby and Malkin already centering the top 2 lines the Penguins couldn’t fully utilize Staal’s offensive abilities.  Pittsburgh’s projected line of Brandon Sutter, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke may well be the best defensive line in the NHL and the 3 of them will have a combined cap hit about the same as the $6M/yr that the Penguins were prepared to give to Staal on a long term 10 year contract.  The money they save with Staal (and the trade of Zbynek Michalek) will allow them to address other more important needs such as improving on the wing (Parise?) or adding another top flight defensvie defenseman (Suter?).

From the Hurricanes point of view, the combination of Eric Staal and Jordan Staal now give them a very strong #1/#2 tandem down the middle which is one of the keys to being a successful team.  They will need to find themselves a defensive third line center now, but those guys are far easier to find than 2-way second line centers.  This is one of those deals that worked out really well for both sides, but on the whole, I think Pittsburgh did really resolving a difficult situation in a quick and efficient way.

 

Jan 282010
 

The Leafs, Hurricanes and Oilers are the only teams in definitive selling mode as we approach the Olympic break and subsequent trade deadline and with the way things are going there may not be all that many other sellers out there. So for now, let’s stick with these three teams and Ilya Kovalchuk and make some predictions on whether the following players will be traded and what kind of return they could garner. My predictions will be in the comments.

Atlanta Thrashers
Ilya Kovalchuk

Toronto Maple Leafs
Tomas Kaberle – one more year at $4.25M cap hit and salary
Alexei Ponikarovsky
Matt Stajan
Niklas Hagman – 2 more years at $3M cap hit and salary
Lee Stempniak
Jamal Mayers
Garnett Exelby
Wayne Primeau
Vesa Toskala
Jason Blake – 2 more years at $4M cap hit, $3M actual salary
Jeff Finger – 2 more years at $3.5M cap hit and salary

Carolina Hurricanes
Ray Whitney
Matt Cullen
Stephane Yelle
Joe Corbo
Aaron Ward
Niclas Wallin
Manny Legace

Edmonton Oilers
Sheldon Souray – 2 more years at $5.4M cap hit, $4.5M actual salary
Steve Staios – 1 more year at $2.7M cap hit, $2.2M actual salary
Shawn Horcoff – 5 more years at $5.5M cap hit, 6.5M,6.5M,6.0M,4.0M,3.0M actual salary
Ethan Moreau – 1 more year at $2.0M cap hit, 1.75M actual salary
Fernando Pisani
Robert Nilsson – Another year at $2M cap hit, $2.5M actual salary.
Lubomir Visnovsky – Three more years at $5.6M cap hit, $6.0M, $5.0M, $3.0M actual salary.

Oct 162009
 

So the word out of Phoenix last night was that the announced attendance for the Coyotes game was 6,899 but that probably more like 5000 people actually showed up. Clearly attendance in Phoenix is going to be a major issue this year, but it won’t just be Phoenix if early attendance numbers are any indication. Here are attendance numbers for three other southern U.S. teams that have played at least 3 home games so far.

Carolina Hurricanes

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18680 18680 0
18680 16186 -2494
15016 13597 -1419
15635 14053 -1582

Nashville Predators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
17113 14797 -2316
13259 14209 950
12042 12179 137
14704 13103 -1601

Tampa Bay Lightning

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18552 17454 -1098
14420 14212 -208
15191 14126 -1065

It is still early but those are significant drops in attendance figures. Nashville is going to be particularly interesting to watch because they need to keep attendance above the 14,000 mark to maintain a full share of revenue sharing. Failure to achieve an average of 14,000 will cause them to lose 25% of their revenue sharing allotment which would equate to close to $4,000,000 which is significant to any team, particularly one that is struggling to break even. If Tampa struggles on the ice and fans become more disinterested because of it this could become a problem for them as well and we already know how unstable their ownership situation is. This despite a significant drop in average ticket price for Lightning games.

What is also interesting is that falling attendance may not be limited to non-traditional southern US hockey markets.

Ottawa Senators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20182 18075 -2107
20179 19360 -819
19318 17014 -2304
18952 17732 -1220

The rise in the Canadian dollar will help offset some of the drop in attendance revenue and if Ottawa can play well then I can see their attendance improving, but clearly some of the luster of high flying Senators teams of a few years ago when they sold out every game has faded away.

Detroit Red Wings

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20066 20066 0
19011 19122 111
20066 17782 -2284

We all know that Detroit is an extremely hard hit city economically and it may start reflecting in the Red Wings attendance this year. The 17,782 that showed up to watch the Red Wings last night is 1,080 fewer fans that last years lowest attendance level of 18,862.

I revisit these teams and also take a look at a few other franchises (Atlanta, Florida, Dallas, etc.) in a few weeks once each team has played a few more home games but early indications are not all that good for some franchises.

Nov 262007
 

The Leafs have lost 4 of their last 5 games, are 3-6-2 in November, and 8-11-5 on the season. At times they have showed some signs of life like their pair of shutout 3-0 wins over division rivals Buffalo and Ottawa where they played a smart team defensive game while at other times they look disinterested and a bunch of individuals playing for themselves and not the team. If there were signs of improving consistency you could probably argue that it is worth waiting a little longer to see of the current crew can work it out but they looked weak against Dallas and dreadful against Phoenix on the weekend. Improvement is not what we are seeing with this team and the inconsistency has been going on for 100+ games now dating to last season.

I still believe that this group of players is capable of much better things but it is also apparent that such better things aren’t going to happen without changes being made. The first change has to start with the coach. I have a real hard time identifying what positives coach Paul Maurice has brought to the Leafs. When you watch every other top tier team their players have well defined roles. You have defensive players whose role is to stop opposing forwards. You have offensive players whose main objective is to produce goals. You have penalty killing specialist and power play specialists. The Leafs do not have that. It seems that every game coach Paul Maurice is grabbing at straws by changing his line up and his lines all the time. How can a player learn a system or a role or learn the tendencies of a line mate if he has different line mates every game, if not every period. Paul Maurice has to go and a real systems coach needs to be brought in and the players need to be taught how to play as a team in a system.

But the coach cannot be blamed for everything. The players deserve some blame too and while I know some people will target the defence first, the first thing that needs fixing is the goaltending. This is the primary problem with the Leafs and the primary failure in my mind of GM John Ferguson Jr. While both Raycroft and Toskala have had a good game or two more often than not they have been mediocre to bad. The Leafs sit second last in the NHL (surprising the Flames are last but I can’t seem them staying there all season) in save % and there is no way you can be a competitive team with that kind of goaltending. It is time that the Andrew Raycroft experiment dies a quick and painless death by putting him on waivers in hopes of finding a taker or if not sent to the Toronto Marlies to backup Justin Pogge. Two years ago Raycroft had a .879 save percentage, last year he was at .894 and this year he is at .882. None of those are even mediocre save percentages and not even good enough to qualify as a backup on most teams. As far as I am concerned his NHL career should be done and the Leafs should bring up Clemensen to back up Toskala. As far as Toskala is concerned he hasn’t shown me that he deserved that 2 year $8 million extension but the Leafs have made the bet that he can be a solid starter and so the remainder of this season should be devoted to seeing if he can be that guy or whether goaltending needs to be addresses yet again next summer.

I think if you added the right coach who was able to get the team to play a smart defence-first system you will solve 80% of the Leafs problems because there is no way you can convince me that the group of defensemen and forwards that the Blue Jackets or Islanders or several other teams have are better than the Leafs but those teams have managed to be reasonably successful this season. But that doesn’t mean all the defensemen and forwards should be considered safe. Even with good coaching and goaltending they aren’t going to be serious Stanley Cup threats (just like the Islanders and Blue Jackets aren’t) so ultimately management needs to look to next season and beyond. While there can be no untouchables on this roster the players I would aim to build the team around are:

Tomas Kaberle: One of the best puckhandling defensemen in the league and isn’t making huge bucks.
Hal Gill: He has been the best Leaf defenseman since he got here and needs I would look to make him half of a shutdown tandem.
Mats Sundin: Still one of the best players in the game and he should remain a Leaf so long as he wants to be here.
Jason Blake: He hasn’t produced goals like the Leafs would have liked but he has still produced and is capable of being a front line winger.
Kyle Wellwood: Probably the most talented forward outside of Sundin and would be an ideal second line center.
Nik Antropov: Can score goals, kill penalties, is big and strong and doesn’t hurt you defensively.
Matt Stajan and Alex Steen: I would look to these two as being two-thirds of a defensive shutdown line and PK specialists. They both have good speed, defensively responsible, and can also chip in offensively too. These two could be a Leaf version of Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly in Ottawa. I’d even try to sign Kelly as a UFA next summer to join this duo. That could form a nice shutdown line capable of forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them.

Everyone else should be made available for trade between now and the trade deadline with the primary goal being adding youth and adding financial flexibility to sign a big name free agent or two next summer. Some names to consider trading include:

Bryan McCabe: He has a no movement clause in his contract but if he can be convinced to waive it he needs to be traded. Not because McCabe is a bad player, because he is not, but because he has become the scapegoat for the fans and media (not completely warranted either) and that Leafs would be better off without that negativity around the team.
Pavel Kubina: I like Kubina and think he was starting to really fit into this team before he got injured a couple weeks ago. If the Leafs could manage to trade McCabe I would consider keeping Kubina but I think the Leafs really need to free themselves of at least one of these two defensemen salaries so they can address other concerns.
Darcy Tucker: Under Paul Maurice Tucker has been given the lowly role of fourth liner and power play specialist. While he excels on the power play if that is his primary and only role I say look to find him a new home and use his $3 million per season elsewhere. Whether he should get moved or not should depend somewhat on how any new coach might use him.
Vesa Toskala: He has shown nothing to me that he is capable of being a #1 goalie or that he deserves his $4 million salary next season and the one after. I doubt you can find any takers but if you could get someone to take his salary off the books take the offer without even blinking.

So, assuming you can free up some salary cap space the primary targets for next summer should be:

1. A defensive defenseman capable of forming a shutdown tandem with Hal Gill. I’d love to see the Leafs sign Marek Malik from the Rangers.
2. A defensive forward to play with Stajan and Steen. I’d absolutely love to see Chris Kelly on that line to form a solid defensive line with some offensive punch and lots of speed and some feistiness as well.
3. Another reliable scoring winger. Marian Hossa is probably out of their budget (even if they rid themselves of McCabes and Tucker’s contracts) but Cory Stillman would be an awesome addition or Markus Naslund if the price was right.

So I have discussed the coach and the players and I am sure some of you may be wondering what I think about John Ferguson Jr. Well, it appears it really doesn’t matter because it seems almost certain that he won’t return. It is not a matter of if he will be fired but when. I’ll have mixed emotions when he gets fired because I think on many levels he has done some smart moves. Some haven’t worked out but he had the guts to make some bold moves and I think that is needed to be GM in Toronto. I also don’t think he has been given a fair shake by the owners, the media or the fans. He was brought into a tough situation replacing Pat Quinn as GM while Quinn remained on as coach and he was never given a chance by the media because he had no proven track record as a GM. So when JFJ gets fired I really hope that he finds another job as GM where he will be given a fair chance by those involved with the team.

Now there are a lot of rumours going around right now that they might replace JFJ by committee which may include former players Glenn Healey, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour and others. There are also rumours they will try to bring in a big name GM with a proven track record like Scotty Bowman, Ken Holland or even Brian Burke. Personally I think the committee solution is doomed to failure in Toronto despite it being somewhat successful with the Islanders who are led by former goalie Garth Snow. I just don’t think the media would give that kind of set up a fair chance and the negativity around the team would continue to be a distraction for everyone involved. One might hope that the Toronto media would give Mark Messier or Ron Francis a fair chance but I have little hope of that. Just look how they ripped the Brett Hull promotion to co-GM.

What I would really love to see happen is Brian Burke be given the job. Now I am not a huge fan of Brian Burke because I think he is opinionated, outspoken and maybe a bit stubborn (probably not unlike myself though) but I think that those are the perfect attributes for a GM of the Leafs. I would absolutely love to see Steve Simmons write some of his ridiculous anti-Leaf articles about Brian Burke because I can’t wait to see Brian Burke publicly rip Steve Simmons to shreds and put him and his nonsensical newspaper articles in their place (at the bottom of everyone’s bird cages hopefully). Brian Burke has the personality and credibility to defend his coach and players that JFJ doesn’t seem to have and that would allow the coach and players to do what they do best, coach and play.