Apr 012014
 

Last week Tyler Dellow had a post titled “Two Graphs and 480 Words That Will Convince You On Corsi%” in which, you can say, I was less than convinced (read the comments). This post is my rebuttal that will attempt to convince you on the importance of Sh% in player evaluation.

The problem with shooting percentage is that it suffers from small sample size issues. Over small sample sizes it often gets dominated by randomness (I prefer the term randomness to luck) but the question I have always had is, if we remove randomness from the equation, how important of a skill is shooting percentage? To attempt to answer this I will look at the variance in on-ice shooting percentages among forwards as we increase the sample size from a single season (minimum 500 minutes ice time) to 6 seasons (minimum 3000 minutes ice time). As the sample size increases we would expect the variance due to randomness to decrease. This means, when the observed variance stops decreasing (or significantly slows the rate of decrease) as sample size increases we know we are approaching the point where any variance is actually variance in true talent and not small sample size randomness. So, without going on any further I present you my first chart of on-ice shooting percentages for forwards in 5v5 situations.

 

ShPctVarianceBySampleSize

Variance decline pretty much stops by the time you reach 5 years/2500+ minutes worth of data but after 3 years (1500+ minutes) the drop off rate falls off significantly. It is also worth noting that some of the drop off over longer periods of time is due to age progression/regression and not due to reduction in randomness.

What is the significance of all of this?  Well, at 5 years a 90th percentile player would have 45% more goals given an equal number of shots as a 10th percentile player. A player one standard deviation above average will have 33% more goals for given an equal number of shots as a player one standard deviation below average.

Now, let’s compare this to the same chart for CF/20 to get an idea of how shot generation varies across players.

CF20VarianceBySampleSize

It’s a little interesting that the top players show no regression over time but the bottom line players do. This may be because terrible shot generating players don’t stick around long enough. More importantly though is the magnitude of the difference between the top players and the bottom players.  Well, a 90th percentile CF20 player produces about 25% more shots attempts than a 10th percentile player and a one standard deviation above average CF20 player produces about 18.5% more than a one standard deviation below average CF20 player (over 5 years). Both of these are well below (almost half of) the 45% and 33% we saw for shooting percentage.

I hear a lot of ‘I told you so’ from the pro-corsi crowd in regards to the Leafs and their losing streak and yes, their percentages have regress this season but I think it is worth noting that the Leafs are still an example of a team where CF% is not a good indicator of performance. The Leafs 5v5close CF% is 42.5% but their 5v5close GF% is 47.6%. The idea that CF% and GF% are “tightly intertwined” as Tyler Dellow wrote is not supported by the Maple Leafs this season despite the fact that the Maple Leafs are the latest “pro-Corsi” crowds favourite “I told you so” team.

There is also some evidence that the Leafs have been “unlucky” this year. Their 5v5close shooting percentages over the past 3 seasons have been 8.82 (2nd), 8.59(4th), 10.54(1st) while this year it has dropped to 8.17 (8th). Now the question is how much of that is luck and how much is the loss of Grabovski and MacArthur and the addition of Clarkson (who is a generally poor on-ice Sh% player) but the Leafs Sh% is well below the past few seasons and some of that may be bad luck (and notably, not “regression” from years of “good luck”).

In summary, generating shots matter, but capitalizing on them matters as much or more.

 

May 152013
 

After last weeks untimely pinch by Dion Phaneuf in game 4 that led to an overtime goal and the Bruins taking a 3-1 lead in the first round series there was a lot of evaluation of Phaneuf as a defenseman both good and bad. I was intending to write an article to discuss the relative merits of Dion Phaneuf and attempt to get an idea of where he stands among NHL defensemen but in the process of researching that I came across some interesting Phaneuf stats that I think deserve their own post so here it is.

My observation was with respect to Phaneuf’s usage and performance when the Leafs are leading and when they are trailing over the previous 3 seasons. Let’s start of by looking at Phaneuf’s situational statistics over the past 3 seasons.

5v5 5v5close 5v5tied Leading Trailing
G/60 0.222 0.175 0.101 0.156 0.408
Pts/60 0.700 0.670 0.660 0.420 1.020
IPP 30.1% 31.1% 34.2% 20.0% 34.5%
GF20 0.773 0.721 0.640 0.692 0.986
GA20 0.841 0.760 0.943 0.865 0.714
GF% 47.9% 48.7% 40.4% 44.4% 58.0%
CF20 18.316 18.113 18.159 15.195 21.542
CA20 20.686 21.418 21.880 22.982 17.223
CF% 47.0% 45.8% 45.4% 39.8% 55.6%
OZ% 28.0% 26.7% 25.2% 24.2% 34.5%
DZ% 31.8% 30.3% 29.7% 37.5% 28.5%
NZ% 40.3% 43.0% 45.0% 38.3% 37.0%
DZBias 103.9 103.6 104.4 113.3 94.0
TeamDZBias 108.9 109 107 115.2 100.8
DZBiasDiff -5 -5.4 -2.6 -1.9 -6.8

Most of the stats above the regular readers should be familiar with but if you are not you can reference my glossary here. The one stat that I have not used before is DZBias. DZBias is defined as 2*DZ% + NZ% and thus anything over 100 indicates the player has a bias towards starting shifts in the defensive zone and anything under 100 the player has a bias towards starting in the offensive zone. I prefer this to OZone% which is OZStarts/(OZStarts+DZStarts) because it takes into account neutral zone starts as well. TeamDZBias is the zone start bias of the Leafs over the past 3 seasons and DZBiasDiff is Phaneuf’s DZBias minus the teams DZBias and provides a zone start bias relative to the team. Anything less than 0 indicates usage is more in the offensive zone relative to his teammates.

So, what does this tell us about Phaneuf.  Well, there isn’t a huge variation in either the zone start usage or the results during 5v5, 5v5close and 5v5tied situations so the focus should be on the differences between 5v5leading and 5v5trailing which are significant.

Typical score effects are when leading a team gives up more shots but of lower quality (defensive shells protect the danger zone in front of the net but allow more shots from the perimeter) and takes fewer shots but of higher quality (probably a result of more odd-man rushes due to pinching defensemen of the trailing team).  Phaneuf seems to take this concept to the extreme but more importantly Phaneuf seems to excel best in an offensive role and struggles in a defensive role. When the Leafs are trailing Phaneuf has  0.408G/60 (10th of 180 defensemen) and 1.02 points/60 (36th of 180 defensemen) but when leading Phaneuf falls to 0.156 G/50 (64th of 177 defensemen) and 0.42 points/60 (137th of 177 defensemen). Furthermore, Phaneuf’s involvement in the offensive zone drops off significantly when leading (IPP drops from 34.5% when trailing to 20.0% when leading).

In terms of on-ice stats, Phaneuf’s CF% drops from 55.6% when trailing (79th of 180 defensemen) to a very poor 39.8% when leading (164th of 177 defensemen).  Some may be thinking this is due to zone starts but Phaneuf is getting above average offensive zone starts both when trailing (ranks 100th of 180 defensemen) and when leading (ranks 154th of 177) and using even the most aggressive zone start adjustments in no way will account for the difference. Similar observations can be made with on-ice goal stats as well. Let’s look at how Phaneuf ranks among defensemen over the past 3 seasons.

Leading (of177) Trailing ( of 180)
GF20 109 25
GA20 125 71
GF% 126 36
CF20 128 31
CA20 174 154
CF% 164 79

That is a pretty significant improvement in rankings when trailing over when leading, especially in the offensive statistics (GF20, CF20). If zone starts aren’t a factor, might line mates be? He are Phaneuf’s most frequent defense partners:

Trailing:  Gunnarsson (364:33, 31.0%), Beauchemin(212:07, 18,0%), Aulie(162:09, 13.8%)

Leading: Gunnarsson (376:16, 32.5%), Aulie(234:17, 20.3%), Beauchemin(166:30, 14.4%)

Playing more with Beauchemin and less with Aulie when trailing ought to help, particularly ones offensive stats, but I doubt that is going to account for that much of a difference. Also, when leading Phaneuf has a 41.2CF% with Gunnarsson and when trailing that spikes to 54.6%. When leading Phaneuf and Beauchemin have a CF% of 37.3% and when trailing that spikes to 57.7%. With Aulie the difference is 36.6% vs 49.3%. Regardless of which defense partner Phaneuf is with, their stats dramatically improve when playing in catch up situation than when in trailing situations.

The same is true for forwards. When protecting a lead Phaneuf plays more with Grabovski and Kulemin but when playing catch up he plays a bit more with Kessel and Bozak but for all of those forwards Phaneuf’s numbers with them are hugely better when playing catch up than when protecting a lead and playing with Grabovski and Kulemin more when playing with a lead should only help his statistics as they are generally considered the Leafs better corsi players.

Let’s take a look at a chart of Phaneuf’s corsi WOWY’s when leading and when trailing.

Leading:

PhaneufLeadingCorsiWOWY201013

As you can see, when leading the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are to the left of the diagonal line which means they have a better corsi% without Phaneuf than with.

Trailing:

PhaneufTrailingCorsiWOWY201013

When trailing the majority of Phaneuf’s team mates are near or to the right of the diagonal line which means they generally have better corsi% statistics when with Phaneuf than when apart.

So the question arises, why is this? It doesn’t seem to be zone starts. It doesn’t seem to be changes in line mates and it isn’t that the team as a whole automatically becomes a great corsi% team when trailing which Phaneuf could benefit from. When leading Phaneuf’s corsi% is 39.8% which is worse than the teams 41.2% and when trailing Phaneuf’s corsi% is 55.6% which is better than the teams 54.4%. It seems to me that the conclusion we must draw from this is that Phaneuf has been poor at protecting a lead relative to his team mates and we know his team mates have been poor at protecting a lead. Where Phaneuf excels is when he is asked to engage offensively be that when playing catch up hockey or when playing on the PP (Phaneuf’s PP statistics are pretty solid). From the first chart we know that Phaneuf has a slight bias towards more offensive zone starts (relative to his team mates) and when we dig into the numbers further it probably shows that he should be given even more offensive opportunities and given fewer defensive ones because he seems like a much better player when asked to be engaged offensively than when he is asked to be a shut down defenseman.

Acquiring a quality shut down defenseman (ideally two) this off season must be the #1 priority of Maple Leaf management and Phaneuf’s usage must shift further away from multi-purpose heavy work load defenseman to primarily an offensive usage defenseman.

 

Apr 232013
 

With the win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night the Leafs have made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season and they are doing it largely on the backs of an elevated shooting percentage which currently sits at a lofty 10.52% (5v5 only). Here are all the teams with a 5v5 shooting percentage above 9.00% since 2007-08 season and how they have done in the playoffs.

Season Team 5v5 Sh% Playoff Result
2012-13 Maple Leafs 10.52 Made playoffs
2012-13 Stars 10.04 Fighting for playoff spot (10th)
2011-12 Lightning 9.73 Missed Playoffs
2009-10 Capitals 10.39 Lost in first round
2009-10 Canucks 9.14 Lost in second round
2008-09 Penguins 9.76 Won Stanley Cup
2008-09 Canucks 9.23 Lost in second round
2008-09 Bruins 9.15 Lost in second round
2008-09 Thrashers 9.02 Missed Playoffs
2007-08 Senators 9.03 Lost in first round

Prior to this season there have been 8 teams with a shooting percentage above 9.00%, 2 missed the playoffs, 2 lost in the first round, 3 lost in the second round and one team won the Stanley Cup. That isn’t very much success at all which is not a good sign for Leaf fans (myself included) hoping their team can go on a playoff run.

 

Mar 112013
 

There has been a fair bit of talk recently about Tyler Bozak and what the Leafs should do with him as he is clearly not suited for his #1C role but is set to be a UFA this summer and if the Leafs intend to keep him he’ll need a new contract.  To get an idea of his worth, I decided to see if I could identify a few comparable players.

Let’s start off offensively. The first thing I looked at was primary points per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time (primary points = goals + first assists). From last year through this past weekend’s games Bozak had a PrPts/60of 1.085 so as an initial cut off I pared down the list of comparable players to forwards a PrPts/60 of between 1.00 and 1.20 and who have had at least 1000 minutes of ice time. There are some pretty good players in this list such as Ryan Getzlaf, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Plekanec and Daniel Breiere but there are some less talented players like Eric Nystrom and Marcel Goc.

The next thing I considered is Primary Points Percentage (PrPts%), or the percentage of goals scored while the player was on the ice. Tyler Bozak’s PrPts% is a relatively weak 41.24% (Getzlaf, for example, is 52.38% and Plekanec’s is 56.22%). I then pared down the list to just include centers and this is what I came up with as comparable offensive centers, sorted by PrPts%.

Player Team PPts/60 PrPts%
NIELSEN, FRANS NY Islanders 1.091 47.98%
SMITH, ZACK Ottawa 1.008 46.67%
VERMETTE, ANTOINE Phoenix 1.173 46.55%
LETESTU, MARK Columbus 1.138 46.32%
NUGENT-HOPKINS, RYAN Edmonton 1.182 46.14%
ZUBRUS, DAINIUS New Jersey 1.12 45.31%
KRUGER, MARCUS Chicago 1.115 43.78%
HANZAL, MARTIN Phoenix 1.078 42.27%
STAJAN, MATT Calgary 1.064 41.87%
BOZAK, TYLER Toronto 1.085 41.24%
KOIVU, SAKU Anaheim 1.15 38.49%

That is a list of mostly 2nd and 3rd line centers along with not yet fully developed Nugent-Hopkins. So, what about Bozak defensively? To evaluate defensive play I looked at the players 5v5 corsi events against per 20 minutes (CA20) and the ratio of the players CA20 vs his team mates CA20 when they are not playing with him (TMCA20). This gives us an indication of whether their team mates are improving their defensive stats while on the the ice with the player.

Player Name Team CA20 CA20/TMCA20
ZUBRUS, DAINIUS New Jersey 14.309 0.77
LETESTU, MARK Columbus 17.034 0.90
STAJAN, MATT Calgary 17.312 0.91
HANZAL, MARTIN Phoenix 18.122 0.93
VERMETTE, ANTOINE Phoenix 17.762 0.97
NIELSEN, FRANS NY Islanders 18.307 1.01
KOIVU, SAKU Anaheim 17.114 1.02
SMITH, ZACK Ottawa 18.771 1.04
KRUGER, MARCUS Chicago 15.940 1.05
BOZAK, TYLER Toronto 21.155 1.08

For CA20/TMCA20, the lower the number the better as this indicates their line mates CA20 is better with the player than not with the player. Bozak ranks dead last in this category and also ranks dead last (by a significant margin) in CA20.

So, what does this tell us about Tyler Bozak?  Well, it probably means he has 3rd line offensive ability but it is very questionable whether he is good enough defensively be a useful 3rd liner. As for the best comparable to Tyler Bozak, I’d have to say either Marcus Kruger or Matt Stajan or maybe Frans Nielsen but Bozak is probably somewhat below all of them in terms of value due to his poor defensive play.

 

Jan 202013
 

The Leafs announced today that they have re-signed Joffrey Lupul to a 5 year contract extension at an average salary and cap hit of $5.25M/yr.  Some Leaf fans are a little dismayed at both the value and the term of the deal as many people seem to view Lupul as a second line winger with a defensive liability that should have been traded, not re-signed.  I won’t deny that Lupul is a defensive liability (though wingers generally have less impact on defense than centers or defensemen), but I will dispute the claim that he is a second line winger.

Last season I wrote an article pointing out that Lupul’s production was not an anomaly and that he has always been that good of a player. In it I showed that he made almost all of his line mates more productive offensively when they were skating with him than when they were not.  I also showed that Lupul’s even strength goal production had not increased dramatically last year.  I won’t reiterate that here as you can go read it if you want, but I just wanted to post one more chart.  This chart shows the top 20 players in terms of goal scoring rates (individual goals per 20 minutes of ice time) during 5v5 zone start adjusted play over the last 5 years (minimum 3000 minutes of ice time).

Rank Player G/20
1 SIDNEY CROSBY 0.272
2 ALEXANDER SEMIN 0.259
3 STEVEN STAMKOS 0.240
4 MARIAN GABORIK 0.234
5 ALEX OVECHKIN 0.234
6 BOBBY RYAN 0.210
7 RICK NASH 0.209
8 ILYA KOVALCHUK 0.207
9 JEFF CARTER 0.201
10 PATRICK SHARP 0.200
11 ALEX BURROWS 0.197
12 PHIL KESSEL 0.196
13 JOFFREY LUPUL 0.196
14 JONATHAN TOEWS 0.196
15 DANIEL SEDIN 0.196
16 JAROME IGINLA 0.195
17 JAMES NEAL 0.195
18 MATT MOULSON 0.195
19 MARIAN HOSSA 0.193
20 EVGENI MALKIN 0.191

Lupul sits right there in 13th spot right behind Kessel and just ahead of guys like Toews, D. Sedin, Neal, Hossa and Malkin. That’s not too shabby if you ask me and certainly worthy of a $5.25M/yr deal if you ask me. The reason for Lupul’s perceived performance increase last year is largely due to more ice time, and more PP ice time in particular, and not because of luck or a one year wonder type thing.

Update: Edited to indicate the chart uses 5 years of data, not just last season.

 

 

Jan 172013
 

Earlier today I wrote a post about Tim Connolly and his offensive production at even strength. Shortly after posting that I thought a similar article comparing the performances of Bozak, Kadri and Conolly would be an interesting piece since they are sort of competing for roster spots (more so Kadri and Connolly than Bozak though). Of course, in the mean time Connolly has been put on waivers so to some extent he isn’t relevant anymore but I am including him for interest sake.

Here is a look at their individual offensive performances for the last 2 seasons for Bozak and Kadri and last year for Connolly (since he wasn’t with the Leafs in 2010-11).

Bozak:

Season ESTOI Goals Assists Points TOI/Pt
2011-12 1121:53 14 20 34 33:00
2010-11 1190:08 8 12 20 59:30
Combined 2311:01 22 32 54 42:48

Kadri:

Season ESTOI Goals Assists Points TOI/Pt
2011-12 263:24 4 2 6 44:04
2010-11 382:22 3 7 10 38:14
Combined 645:46 7 9 16 40:22

Connolly:

Season ESTOI Goals Assists Points TOI/Pt
2011-12 940:12 11 20 31 30:20

What is interesting is of the three, Connolly had the best TOI/Pt last year, even better than Bozak who benefited from playing primarily with Kessel and Lupul. Kadri’s most frequent line mates were Lombardi, MacArthur and Connolly while Connolly’s played with almost everyone but had the most minutes with Crabb, Kessel, Lupul, Lombardi and MacArthur (between 180 and 260 with all of them). It seems Connolly was far from the least productive Leaf forward at even strength.

That said, it seems irrelevant now what Connolly has done so more important is to look at Bozak vs Kadri. Overall they have had similar point rates over past 2 seasons but Bozak was much better last year. If all that came from playing with Kessel and Lupul then maybe Kadri is at least equally good.  And when you factor in that Bozak is a downright terrible defensive player I’d almost certainly give Kadri ice time over Bozak.

To put the above stats into perspective, here are Grabovski’s over the past 2 seasons.

Season ESTOI Goals Assists Points TOI/Pt
2011-12 1126:42 18 23 41 27:29
2010-11 1232:33 19 24 43 28:40
Combined 2359:15 37 47 84 28:05

Clearly Grabovski has produced much more at even strength than any of the other three and pretty consistent too. To put Grabovski into perspective though, Malkin had an even strength point every 16:37 last season. That’s domination.

 

Jan 102013
 

The news that shocked the hockey world yesterday had nothing to do with the CBA or Bettman or Fehr but rather that the Maple Leafs ownership group decided to make a strangely timed move to remove Brian Burke from his President and General Manager position of the Maple Leafs.  I think it is only fair to take a look back at the Burke years and evaluate where the Leafs are after his 4 years at the helm.  Let’s look at the Leafs position by position starting with the good and heading downhill from there.

Defense

Burke made some mistakes on defense (Komisarek, maybe Liles contract and to a lesser extent Beauchemin) but generally speaking defense is the Leafs strong point.  Phaneuf and Gunnarsson really developed into a quality top pairing last year capable of playing big minutes in any situation.  Jake Gardiner still has lots to learn but has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly as a puck moving offensive defenseman.  Cody Franson hasn’t been given much of an opportunity in Toronto but there is certainly a decent amount of potential there and at the very least trade value.  Morgan Rielly is the Leafs best prospect and has a chance to be a quality NHL defenseman in the not to distant future.  Beyond those guys there are some decent depth prospects close to ready like Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker and second tier prospects a year or two away like Stuart Percey and Matt Finn.  Even more veteran players like Mike Kostka and reclamation project Paul Ranger provide some nice depth.  There is certainly a need for the organization to add another quality shut down defenseman but overall there are a number of quality defensemen on the active roster with good depth in the organization and a number of quality prospects on the way.

Wingers

At the NHL level Burke has left a nice stable of quality wingers with guys Kessel, Lupul, van Riemsdyk, MacArthur, Kulemin and an emerging player like Matt Frattin.  Generally speaking that is a pretty good set of wingers for your top 3 lines and there is also a decent group of role players to fill out the fourth line and depth winger positions.  Unlike the defense position, there are not an abundance of quality winger prospects that project to top 2 line duty.  There are some prospects like Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Jerry D’Amigo, Carter Ashton, etc. but they all have significant question marks and in the cases of D’Amigo, Ashton and McKegg poor seasons with the Marlies this year have dropped their status from maybe prospects to not players we can seriously count on.  Luckily Burke has done a decent job at putting together some quality wingers who are mostly young or in their NHL primes because there isn’t a lot of top talent in the pipe line.

Centers

Now we get to Burke’s failures.  Although not someone Burke brought in, Grabovski has really grown during Burke’s tenure and has proven himself to be at least a very good second line center if not a second tier first line guy.  But beyond Grabovski the center position is somewhat of a disaster.  There are some decent bottom of the line up guys like Steckel and McClement but Burke has failed miserably in finding a center to complement Grabovski on the top 2 lines.  Bozak has some skills but is not the guy for the job, maybe in part because he was never properly developed for the job but rather was just thrown to the wolves.  Tim Connolly was expected to be a short term fix but so far that has failed miserably.  Long term there was hope for Nazem Kadri and while there is still reason for some hope (he is having a decent year with the Marlies) management seemed to have more interest in publicly criticizing Kadri (from everything from his fitness level, to his attitude, to his defensive ability) than properly developing him.  The other great hope at center was Joe Colborne who was picked up from Boston in the Kaberle trade.  At the time I didn’t know much about Colborne but when I looked at his numbers I was underwhelmed but lots of people thought he had a ton of potential so I kept an optimistic view of him.  But two years later and he is struggling big time with the Marlies and his status as a prospect center for the top 2 lines is all but gone.  The only hope for Colborne now is he can learn to play defense and become a big, strong, defensive third line center not unlike what Manny Malhotra has done with his career but that is probably being too optimistic.  And beyond Kadri and Colborne there is very little in terms of center prospects.  This is an area that desperately needs attention at both the NHL and at the prospect level.

Goaltending

So the score card so far is the defense situation is good all round, the winger situation is good at the NHL level, a little weak at the prospect level and the center situation needs a fair bit of work at both the NHL level and especially at the prospect level.  That leaves the goaltending situation which is a complete and utter mess.  The current Leaf goaltending situation has the Leafs with James Reimer as their starter who is really only on anyone’s radar because he had a stellar second half of a season with the Leafs in 2010-11.  If it weren’t for that stretch nobody would have any hope for him because for the several years prior to that he wasn’t even a full time starting goalie at either the AHL or ECHL (hadn’t played more than 30 games in a year since 2006-07 in WHL).  After Reimer there are second (or third) tier prospects like Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas, Mark Owuya and Garret Sparks.  Scrivens is having another solid year (not quite as good as last year though) with the Marlies and might be close to at least being a back up at the NHL level but predicting goalies development at the NHL level is extremely difficult.  In the end the Maple Leaf goalie situation can best be described as one big question mark with a grand total of 81 NHL games started experience in the entire organization.  The goaltending situation was a disaster before Burke got here, was a disaster when he was here, and is still a disaster.  Easily the absolute worst and uncertain goalie situation of any NHL franchise.

 

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?

 

May 182012
 

Over at LeafNation.com, Cam Charron did a corsi-based analysis of Colby Armstrong and came up with mixed conclusions regarding his performance over the past several seasons.

So, causes? What caused a player with pretty good possession statistics in Atlanta to completely fall off the map in the last two seasons? System? Trust? Role? A flaw in advanced statistics when players move teams? Or was it just all the injuries that made it a lot tougher on Colby than we think?

I don’t know what the answers to those questions are, but instead of trying to answer then I thought I would take a look at Armstrongs underlying goal numbers look like.  Let’s first start off with a high level view by looking at his HARO+, HARD+ and HART+ ratings.

Season Team TOI HARO+ HARD+ HART+
2011-12 Toronto 235:24 0.449 0.784 0.616
2010-11 Toronto 588:54 1.274 0.823 1.048
2009-10 Atlanta 837:31 1.118 0.948 1.033
2008-09 Atlanta 900:34 1.214 1.016 1.115
2007-08 Pit/Atl 766:46 1.160 0.812 0.986

Save for this past season, where he simply didn’t play enough to get a reliable rating, his HARO+ rating is awfully consistent and remarkably good.  Defensively he had one good season in Atlanta but generally speaking has been extremely sub-par.  The end result is his HART+ numbers are fairly solid and a net positive player overall.  Now lets look at his WOWY stats for players he has played 150 minutes with during a single season.  We’ll start with GF20 data.

Player Year w/ Armstrong wo/ Armstrong Diff
Boyce 2010-11 1.561 1.100 0.461
Versteeg 2010-11 1.148 0.537 0.611
Kane 2009-10 0.931 1.266 -0.335
Slater 2009-10 1.051 0.815 0.236
Peverley 2009-10 0.980 0.826 0.154
Reasoner 2009-10 0.628 0.656 -0.028
White 2009-10 1.049 0.782 0.267
Reasoner 2008-09 0.850 0.719 0.131
Peverley 2008-09 1.469 0.663 0.806
Christensen 2008-09 0.266 1.067 -0.801
Kozlov 2008-09 1.399 0.702 0.697
Perrin 2008-09 0.914 0.648 0.266
Kovalchuk 2008-09 1.390 0.953 0.437
Crosby 2007-08 1.699 1.125 0.574
Malkin 2007-08 1.474 1.147 0.327
Perrin 2007-08 0.944 0.634 0.310
Average 1.110 0.853 0.257

Of the 16 player seasons, there were only 3 where the player had a worse GF20 with Armstrong than without.  That’s pretty good and on average the improvement was 0.256, or about 30%.  He even seemed to make elite offensive players such as Croby, Malkin and Kovalchuk better.  It makes me wonder if Armstrong is contributing in the same way that the players I identified in my “Mixing Toughness with Skill” article did.  Armstrong himself is not an elite offensive player, but the things he does on the ice (retrieving pucks, causing distractions on the ice, drawing attention to himself, etc.) allow the skilled players to do more.

Now let’s take a look at GA20.

Player Year w/ Armstrong wo/ Armstrong Diff
Boyce 2010-11 0.739 0.880 -0.141
Versteeg 2010-11 1.059 0.832 0.227
Kane 2009-10 1.008 1.266 -0.258
Slater 2009-10 0.901 0.815 0.086
Peverley 2009-10 1.224 1.071 0.153
Reasoner 2009-10 0.733 1.006 -0.273
White 2009-10 0.525 0.956 -0.431
Reasoner 2008-09 0.464 0.790 -0.326
Peverley 2008-09 0.851 0.900 -0.049
Christensen 2008-09 0.888 1.115 -0.227
Kozlov 2008-09 0.600 1.130 -0.530
Perrin 2008-09 0.686 1.105 -0.419
Kovalchuk 2008-09 1.137 1.139 -0.002
Crosby 2007-08 0.809 0.783 0.026
Malkin 2007-08 1.053 0.918 0.135
Perrin 2007-08 0.944 0.965 -0.021
Average 0.851 0.979 -0.128

For GA20, negative numbers are good as they indicate fewer goals against.  Interestingly, in 11 of the 16 players seasons the players saw their GA20 drop when playing with Armstrong, though six of them occurred during his previously identified good defensive season of 2008-09 (he didn’t have any consistent line mates that year).  As an average, Armstrong’s teammates saw an a 0.128 drop in GA20, or about 13% which isn’t too shabby.

Now lets take a look at how this pans out in GF%.

Player Year w/ Armstrong wo/ Armstrong Diff
Boyce 2010-11 67.9% 55.6% 12.3%
Versteeg 2010-11 52.0% 39.2% 12.8%
Kane 2009-10 48.0% 50.0% -2.0%
Slater 2009-10 53.8% 50.0% 3.8%
Peverley 2009-10 44.5% 43.5% 0.9%
Reasoner 2009-10 46.1% 39.5% 6.7%
White 2009-10 66.6% 45.0% 21.7%
Reasoner 2008-09 64.7% 47.6% 17.0%
Peverley 2008-09 63.3% 42.4% 20.9%
Christensen 2008-09 23.1% 48.9% -25.8%
Kozlov 2008-09 70.0% 38.3% 31.7%
Perrin 2008-09 57.1% 37.0% 20.2%
Kovalchuk 2008-09 55.0% 45.6% 9.5%
Crosby 2007-08 67.7% 59.0% 8.8%
Malkin 2007-08 58.3% 55.5% 2.8%
Perrin 2007-08 50.0% 39.6% 10.4%
Average 55.5% 46.0% 9.5%

Only 2 times did a player have a worse GF% with Armstrong than without.  Evander Kane saw a marginal drop in 2009-10 and Erik Christensen saw a significant drop in 2008-09.  Most other players saw significant improvements in their GF%, including Kovalchuk, Crosby and Malkin so it seems that Armstrong is a net positive player.

Looking at the above numbers, I think you can firmly put me in the lets not trade away Armstrong just to dump his salary camp.  It is quite possible that the proper thing to do with Armstrong is, if he can get healthy, promote him to the second line with Grabovski and MacArthur and he might make them even better.  Interesting concept.

 

Apr 172012
 

Last week I took a look at the Leafs forwards, today I’ll take a look at their defense and goaltending.  As with the forwards, I’ll evaluate the defensemen using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARO+, HARD+ and HART+ ratings but with goalies I will evaluate them using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARD+ rating and save percentage.  I have included the past 5 individual seasons as well as the most recent 3 year rating and 5 year rating.  Personally, I like to use 3 year ratings as the best guide for player value as it gives a large sample size but not too large that other factors come into play for most players (i.e. aging and natural career progression).

Dion Phaneuf

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.975 1.083 1.023 1.355 1.125 0.996 0.955
HARD+ 0.866 1.069 0.941 0.741 0.972 0.969 0.928
HART+ 0.920 1.076 0.982 1.048 1.049 0.983 0.942

Phaneuf had a bit of an off year this year, particularly in the second half.  Both his offensive HARO+ and defensive HARD+ ratings are down from previous seasons.  Generally speaking over the years Phaneuf has been a good offensive player and more of an average defensive player over the several years.  He does seem to contribute quite well on the powerplay so if I had to define his role, he’d be an ideal #2/#3 defenseman on a good team who is relied upon heavily on the powerplay.  It is my opinion, he is not a top #1 defenseman and most good teams in the NHL have at least one defenseman better than Phaneuf, often significantly better.  Unfortunately this means he is significantly over paid at $6.5M/yr and his actual worth is probably more in the $5M/yr range.

John-Michael Liles

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.884 1.035 1.011 0.909 1.145 0.957 0.848
HARD+ 0.848 0.860 1.090 0.847 0.952 0.909 0.916
HART+ 0.866 0.948 1.051 0.878 1.049 0.933 0.882

Liles offensive numbers really took a dip this year as he never really got his game back on track after returning from injury.  Before he suffered  his concussion he had 21 points in 34 games but after his return he had just 6 points in 32 games.  Taking that into account, Liles is an above average offensive player but an average to below average defensive player.  He is good on the powerplay but unlike Phaneuf not quite as reliable in defensive situations.  Liles is probably a #3/#4/#5 defenseman depending on the makeup of the team.

Luke Schenn

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.165 1.083 1.204 0.924 1.117 1.121 0.940
HARD+ 0.713 0.878 0.912 0.792 0.808 0.844 0.837
HART+ 0.939 0.981 1.058 0.858 0.963 0.982 0.888

I have been extremely critical of Schenn’s defensive game over the years, but surprisingly he has been very solid offensively in 5v5 situations.  If you compare Schenn’s 5v5 point totals to Phaneuf’s and adjust for ice time they are awfully close.  Unfortunately Schenn’s defensive game is dreadful and it took a step back this season.  Of the 161 defensemen with 2000 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes over the past 3 seasons, Schenn ranks 151st.  Schenn is a perfect example of a young defenseman who was rushed to the NHL and asked to play under a coach that isn’t known for defensive structure and his development suffered.  I really hope that Randy Carlyle who is much more of a defensive structured coach than Ron Wilson can turn Schenn’s defensive game around because if he can Schenn could provide the Leafs with a lot of value as a #3/#4 defenseman for many years to come.  If Schenn can’t improve his defensive game he offers very value going forward.

Carl Gunnarsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.967 1.004 1.221 1.007
HARD+ 0.989 0.856 0.969 0.952
HART+ 0.978 0.93 1.095 0.980

Gunnarsson is one of those defensemen who quietly goes about his business and gets the job done.  He is a perfect low maintenance top 4 defenseman who can generate offense when needed but can also be used in more shutdown situations when needed as well.  He and Phaneuf played quite well together for much of the season in both offensive and defensive roles.

Mike Komisarek

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.900 0.965 0.800 1.069 1.109 0.876 0.850
HARD+ 0.676 0.743 1.022 0.945 0.923 0.788 0.875
HART+ 0.788 0.854 0.911 1.007 1.016 0.832 0.862

A lot has been written about the fall off of Mike Komisarek’s game so there isn’t a whole lot more to add.  His defensive numbers over the past couple seasons have been dreadful.  Unlike Schenn, I am not even sure if we can hope he will turn his game around under a more defensive structured coach.

Cody Franson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.074 1.057 1.299 1.094
HARD+ 0.917 1.391 1.625 1.264
HART+ 0.996 1.224 1.462 1.179

It was a bit of an unfortunate season for Cody Franson as he went from a regular role in Nashville to bouncing in and out of the lineup with the Leafs.  In Nashville he was paired mostly with more defensive minded and physical Shane O’Brien and his defensive numbers were extremely good, albeit against somewhat weak competition.  When he came to Toronto I wanted to see what he could do if given a more significant role, particularly defensive role feeling he had been typecast as an offensive specialist.  Unfortunately he was never given that opportunity as when he was in the line up he was paired with Liles or Gardiner.  It should be noted though, that he did make them both better defensively.  When Liles was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.116 but with Franson it was 0.639.  When Gardiner was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.056, when with Franson it was 0.782.    His .917 HARD+ was second best on the Leafs (to Gunnarsson) and I think he deserves to considered an option in more defensive situations.

Jake Gardiner

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.277
HARD+ 0.809
HART+ 1.043

Jake Gardiner had an outstanding rookie season impressing everyone with his offensive skills anchored by strong skating and puck handling abilities.  As with most rookies his defensive game still needs growth, but if he continues to develop his offensive game he has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman.  On the season he had 30 points in 75 games but had 21 of those 30 points in the 40 games after January.  Although it is just half a season, those are impressive point totals for a rookie defenseman.  His future is extremely promising as an offensive defenseman.

On the whole, the Leafs have a pretty good set of defensemen and you can argue that Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Liles, Gardiner, and Franson can all be top 4 defensemen on good teams and Schenn has that potential if he can improve the defensive side of his game.  Unfortunately as a group the mix is all wrong.  There is no true #1 defenseman, there is no true defensive shut down pairing, and there are far too many one-dimensional offensive defenseman and a number of them are over paid for their contribution.  There is a lot of youth, but not a lot of veteran leadership (or coaching) to provide defensive guidance to these young players.  Furthermore Schenn was needlessly rushed to the NHL and not given proper instruction and I feel Franson has been unfairly typecast as a uni-dimensional player and thus have not gotten optimal return for his talents.  They need to jettison the contract of Komisarek one way or another (trade unlikely so buyout a possibility).  If they can’t develop Schenn into a shut down defenseman, they need to ship him out and find someone who can fill that role.  It would be nice if they could get better value out of the $6.5M they are paying Phaneuf but I don’t know how they accomplish that.  Related to Phaneuf, they really do need an elite #1 defenseman but with their salary cap restraints I don’t see how you do that this off season though I think there is reason to hope/believe that maybe Gardiner can (may) develop into that role (or at least into a poor mans Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski type) so maybe it is worth waiting and seeing.

Now on to the goaltending.

Jonas Gustavsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.808 0.803 0.903 0.850
Save% 89.2 89.7 90.4 89.8

Gustavsson wasn’t very good as a rookie, and has gotten worse since.  At this point there is very little reason to believe he will ever be a reliable starter in the NHL and you even have to question whether he can be a reliable backup except behind elite starters where he is only relied on to play in 20 games.  He won’t be back with the Leafs.

James Reimer

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.898 1.035 0.991
Save% 90.6 92.7 91.7

It was a bad season for Reimer, getting injured early and maybe never really fully getting back on track.  I don’t think this season is enough reason to give up hope on him becoming a quality starting NHL goalie but I am a long way from suggesting he is the “Real Deal” as Brian Burke did in his year end press conference.

The Leafs need to add a quality experienced and reliable veteran goalie to support Reimer in his development.  It’s unfortunate they didn’t figure this out last season because they could have signed a guy like Jose Theodore who had a very good season in Florida and would have been a perfect fit for the Leafs.  This off season Vokoun could be an option but he is getting up there in age and has shown signs of slowing down the past couple seasons.  Josh Harding is a little younger and has been a quality backup for several years in Minnesota but has not proven he can handle starters duties (never had more than 34 games played) if needed so there is a level of risk with him.  Otherwise you are looking at second tier starters aged 35 and up or career backups, none of which are very appealing to me so they may have to go the trade route but I have no clue who might be available.