Apr 052013
 

Yesterday HabsEyesOnThePrize.com had a post on the importance of fenwick come playoff time over the past 5 seasons. It is definitely worth a look so go check it out. In the post they look at FF% in 5v5close situations and see how well it translates into post season success. I wanted to take this a step further and take a look at PDO and GF% in 5v5close situations to see of they translate into post season success as well.  Here is what I found:

Group N Avg Playoff Avg Cup Winners Lost Cup Finals Lost Third Round Lost Second Round Lost First Round Missed Playoffs
GF% > 55 19 2.68 2.83 5 1 2 6 4 1
GF% 50-55 59 1.22 1.64 0 2 6 10 26 15
GF% 45-50 52 0.62 1.78 0 2 2 4 10 34
GF% <45 20 0.00 - 0 0 0 0 0 20
FF% > 53 23 2.35 2.35 3 2 4 5 9 0
FF% 50-53 55 1.15 1.70 2 2 1 10 22 18
FF% 47-50 46 0.52 1.85 0 0 4 3 6 33
FF% <47 26 0.54 2.00 0 1 1 2 3 19
PDO >1010 27 1.63 2.20 2 2 2 6 8 7
PDO 1000-1010 42 1.17 1.75 1 0 5 7 15 14
PDO 990-1000 47 0.91 1.95 2 1 3 4 12 25
PDO <990 34 0.56 1.90 0 2 0 3 5 24

I have grouped GF%, FF% and PDO into four categories each, the very good, the good, the mediocre and the bad and I have looked at how many teams made it to each round of the playoffs from each group. If we say that winning the cup is worth 5 points, getting to the finals is worth 4, getting to the 3rd round is worth 3, getting to the second round is worth 2, and making the playoffs is worth 1, then the Avg column is the average point total for the teams in that grouping.  The Playoff Avg is the average point total for teams that made the playoffs.

As HabsEyesOnThePrize.com found, 5v5close FF% is definitely an important factor in making the playoffs and enjoying success in the playoffs. That said, GF% seems to be slightly more significant. All 5 Stanley Cup winners came from the GF%>55 group while only 3 cup winners came from the FF%>53 group and both Avg and PlayoffAvg are higher in the GF%>55 group than the FF%>53 group. PDO only seems marginally important, though teams that have a very good PDO do have a slightly better chance to go deeper into the playoffs. Generally speaking though, if you are trying to predict a Stanley Cup winner, looking at 5v5close GF% is probably a better metric than looking at 5v5close FF% and certainly better than PDO. Now, considering this is a significantly shorter season than usual, this may not be the case as luck may be a bit more of a factor in GF% than usual but historically this has been the case.

So, who should we look at for playoff success this season?  Well, there are currently 9 teams with a 5v5close GF% > 55.  Those are Anaheim, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto and Vancouver. No other teams are above 52.3% so that is a list unlikely to get any new additions to it before seasons end though some could certainly fall out of the above 55% list. Now if we also only consider teams that have a 5v5close FF% >50% then Toronto and Anaheim drop off the list leaving you with Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver as your Stanley Cup favourites, but we all pretty much knew that already didn’t we?

 

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)

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.