Oct 172012
 

Scott Reynolds over at NHLNumbers.com has written a series of articles on individual point percentage (IPP).  Individual point percentage is defined as the number of points an individual has collected divided by the number of goals scored while the player was on the ice.  In other words, it is the percentage of goals scored while the player was on the ice that the player either had a goal or an assist on.  Scott’s articles are on individual point percentages for 2011-12, individual point percentages for the last 5 seasons and individual point percentages on the power play.  Definitely go give them a read, as well as the comments, where some interesting discussions ensued.

At first I was skeptical of the value of IPP because essentially it only tells you how important the player is to the teams offense when the player is on the ice, and not really anything about the actual skill level of the player.  A good player with really weak line mates can put up a pretty good IPP even if he isn’t a great offensive player.  Or, a good third liner could have a similar IPP as a good first liner, but not be anywhere close to each other in terms of overall talent level.  But, upon further thought I figured there would be some value in determining who is leading the offense and who might be deserving of a line promotion (i.e. might be too good for his current line mates) or a demotion (might be holding their line mates back).  So, I decided I would look into IPP a bit further.  I have calculated IPP for the past 5 years for 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time and only considered forwards with >2500 minutes of ice time over those 5 seasons.  The top 30 players in terms of IPP are the following.

Player IPP
SIDNEY CROSBY 87.2%
JAMIE BENN 84.9%
MARIAN GABORIK 83.6%
EVGENI MALKIN 83.1%
DANIEL SEDIN 82.0%
MIKE RIBEIRO 81.9%
HENRIK SEDIN 81.6%
ILYA KOVALCHUK 81.3%
RICK NASH 81.3%
ZACH PARISE 81.0%
MARC SAVARD 81.0%
NIKOLAI ZHERDEV 80.7%
JORDIN TOOTOO 80.6%
WOJTEK WOLSKI 80.3%
ALES HEMSKY 80.1%
JASON POMINVILLE 79.8%
ALEX OVECHKIN 79.8%
PATRIK ELIAS 79.7%
SCOTTIE UPSHALL 79.5%
ALEXANDER SEMIN 79.5%
PETER MUELLER 79.1%
DAVID KREJCI 79.0%
LOUI ERIKSSON 78.8%
CURTIS GLENCROSS 78.7%
CLAUDE GIROUX 78.7%
JAMAL MAYERS 78.5%
KRISTIAN HUSELIUS 78.5%
TRENT HUNTER 78.3%
RAY WHITNEY 78.2%
MIKKO KOIVU 78.0%

The above table is fairly similar to the top players that Scott identified so I won’t go into too much detail.  Some guys that Scott identified, such as Jordan Eberle, didn’t make my list because he didn’t make my 2500 minute ice time restriction and because I am using faceoff adjusted ice time (eliminating 10 seconds after a zone face off) the numbers for others are slightly different.  But more or less the lists are comparable.

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Oct 032012
 

At this time eight years ago the NHL had locked out the players and the NHL was on the verge of cancelling regular season NHL games, and eventually went on to cancel the whole 2004-05 NHL season.  Back then the issue was related to controlling player salaries so more teams can compete on the ice and more importantly be able to compete, and survive, financially.  Eventually the NHL and NHLPA came to a resolution, after the NHLPA all but imploded, which saw the players salaries rolled back 24%, a salary cap system would be instituted, and the players salaries as a whole would be capped at 57% of all hockey related revenue.  Essentially the players folded and the owners got pretty much what they wanted and Gary Bettman touted the deal as the start of a new era for the league where all teams would be financially stable and we would see greater parity on the ice.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way with respect to the financially stable part.  The Atlanta Thrashers failed to survive in Atlanta and eventually relocated to Winnipeg and we all know about the Phoenix Coyotes fiasco.  Additionally there are a number of other franchises that are in weak, if not perilous, financial situations. The 2005 CBA did not fix the financial problems of the NHL.

Back in October 2004 I wrote about the most important financial problem with the NHL on a now non-existent previous incarnation of this website:

Yesterday Gary Bettman was in Raleigh, North Carolina with Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. telling the world and most importantly reassuring Carolina Hurricane fans that contraction is not an option and he is committed to keeping all 30 teams in the league. But honestly, shouldn’t contraction be an option with Carolina at the top of the list?

According to Karmanos the Hurricanes lost $22 million last year on a $38 million payroll. So, for them to break even they would have had to have a payroll of $16 million. Is that a formula for a successful franchise? This is a team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals a couple years ago and couldn’t capitalize on that success by expanding it’s fan base. Even if a $30-35 million salary cap was put in place like the owners want the Hurricanes will still lose money. How can the Caroline Hurricanes compete with the likes of the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, and others when Carolina would break even with a $16 million payroll and the Leafs and Red Wings make oodles of money with $62 and $78 million payrolls respectively. They can’t and that is the problem with the NHL. The disparity between the rich teams and the poor teams is so huge that only a rediculously low (for the rich teams) salary cap can help many teams survive.

A salary cap does not address the key problem in the NHL. A salary cap will not fix revenue disparity between the rich and poor teams. Only a massive revenue sharing program or contraction of the 4-6 poorest teams will address that problem. But the NHL isn’t talking about revenue sharing to any great extent or it being a key component of a multi-pronged solution.

In February 2005, as we were approaching the drop dead date for saving the 2004-05 season I wrote the following:

According to the NHL’s latest ‘take it or leave it’ offer, the proposed deal will have a $42.5 million salary cap with a $0.50 on the dollar tax starting at $34 million. Under this agreement a team like the Maple Leafs with a $42.5 million payroll would be spending $46.75 million in payroll after taxes. Last year their payroll was closer to $70 million. The players are not going to accept any deal that will see the Maple Leafs, and other big revenue clubs who are already making money, making upwards of $20 million more in profit while they are taking a 24% paycut. The reason the players are accepting a paycut in the first place is to help the small market teams survive, not to line the pockets of the big market owners.

So, the key to any new deal is going to be revenue sharing. If the NHL wants a $42.5 million salary cap the NHL will probably have to be willing to accept significant revenue sharing, possibly seeing the Maple Leafs and other big market teams sharing upwards of $10 million, possibly more, each with the smaller market teams. Should the league be unwilling to accept revenue sharing don’t expect the players to negotiate down their salary cap significantly, if at all.

What the NHLPA is really saying is, we aren’t going to bail out the small market teams if the big market teams aren’t willing to help out as well. The fix to the economical mess has to be a multi-party solution, not a players only bailout and if you ask me, that makes a lot of sense.

In the end, the NHL got it’s salary cap, but the players forced the NHL to commit to a significant revenue sharing program. Problem was, the revenue sharing program was not significant enough simply because the revenue disparity across the NHL is so great, and got even greater over the past 7 years of the CBA.  Once again revenue sharing is an issue for the players and they aren’t willing to take a pay cut without increased revenue sharing.  Here is a quote by Don Fehr after the NHLPA submitted their initial CBA proposal to the NHL.

“In essence, when you boil it all down, what were suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups” -Don Fehr

From all reports, there is a gap in the revenue sharing that the owners have proposed ($180-190M) and the revenue sharing that the players have proposed ( approximately $240-250M) and this is the core of the problem.  The owners want to solve the weaker teams financial problems largely on the backs of the players, while the players want the big market owners to share in the small market assistance plan.  This was the core of the problem in 2005 and is the core of the problem now.

There are solutions to the problem of the financial security of all 30 NHL franchises but the unfortunate problem is the NHL owners can’t agree on the real solution. They can only agree on finding a solution on the backs of the players. The big market owners aren’t reluctant to give up their large profits to assist their fellow owners (who are both partners and competitors) and the small market owners aren’t willing to accept a CBA without seeing their financial situation improved significantly, either through large player salary reductions or significantly increased revenue sharing.

The truth is, the NHL can’t resolve the financial woes of its small market franchises through cuts to players salaries alone. Even if the NHL successfully cuts the salary cap/floor by $10M, that only reduces the small market franchises expenses by $10M. All indications are that the Phoenix Coyotes have been losing upwards of $25-30M per season, even after existing revenue sharing programs.  Reducing player expenses by $10M does not make them a profitable or financially stable franchise, it only cuts their losses to $15-20M. Only when the NHL gets serious about revenue sharing will financial stability exist within the NHL.  So despite what the NHL wants you to believe, this lock out, like the last one, is more about generating more profits for the league as a whole, not about improving the financial situation of the small market teams.  Until they start proposing massive increases to revenue sharing all indications are that this lockout is just an attempt to milk the players for everything they can, and are willing to sacrifice the game we love to do so.

If the owners view the players as nothing more than cattle, they view the fans as nothing more than cattle feed.  Fans are here so they can feed the cattle so they can then milk the cattle for everything they can. What the fans think or what is best for the game of hockey is pretty much irrelevant. It is all about profits.

For more insight on the revenue disparity in the NHL have a read of Kent Wilson’s excellent piece on the topic.

 

Sep 272012
 

It looks like the NHL and the NHLPA are in a stale mate in terms of the CBA negotiations.  As of right now the NHL is holding firm on its stand of limiting players to 47% of revenue and the players are holding firm on its stand of not wanting to see any roll back of salaries either through a negotiated roll back or through escrow though the players are willing to scale back the growth of player salaries.

When the CBA negotiations started outside observers believed a final resolution to the CBA would see the owners and the players split revenues more or less along the 50% line, not unlike the NBA.  The question is when and how long it will take for both sides to capitulate to those numbers.  While driving around in my car yesterday I thought up a more innovative solution that might appease both the owners and the players and it has aspects within the system that both the owners and the players could view as a “win”.

Under the old CBA players got a fixed 57% of revenue.  It really didn’t matter what was written on their contracts because their salaries fluctuated depending on revenues.  A portion of the players salaries as written on their contracts were withheld every year (the dreaded “escrow”) by the NHL and once final revenue numbers were calculated the NHL would distribute from escrow whatever money the players still deserved to collect according to the 57% revenue rule.  Players hated this, even if there was potential to earn more than what was written on their contracts in the event of significant revenue growth.

Under the old CBA the salary cap and floor was calculated as being $8M above and $8M below the “midpoint” which was calculated as 57% of the average team revenues.  So, if the league had a projected revenue of $3B for 30 teams (I am using $3B to make calculations easy, actual projected revenue for next year was closer to $3.3B), it would be an average of $100M per team and the players share, or midpoint, would be 57% of that or $57M.  This would make the salary cap $65M and the salary floor $49M.

The system I am proposing is quite simple and revolves around adjusting how the salary cap and floor are calculated.  Instead of having the midpoint at 57% of average team revenue we set the salary cap at 57% and the salary floor at 43% (as an example I’ll use the owners initial offer).  This would make the salary cap $57M and the salary floor $43M.  Teams sign players according to those constraints and the numbers written on the players contracts are their actual cap hits.  If every team spends to the cap, which they won’t, the players could theoretically earn a 57% share of the revenue.  If teams individually choose to spend less, they can.  The more teams that choose to spend below the cap, or even right down to the floor, the players share of revenue will drop accordingly.  If every team chose to spend only to the floor, the players would earn just a 43% share of revenue.   In reality the players share will probably end up somewhere in the middle, in the 50% range, sometimes more, which the players might see as a “win” and sometimes less, which the owners might see as a “win”.

Under this system, escrow is not needed as players salaries aren’t explicitly tied to revenues, only the salary cap and floor are.  A player with a contract that will pay him $6M will have a salary cap hit of $6M and will get paid $6M, no more, no less.  Eliminating escrow is a win for the players.  Linking the players actual salary, and not their cap hit manipulated front loaded contracts, to their salary cap hit improves competitive balance which is a win for the owners, and the fans.

Under this system there will be no more long term front loaded contracts because the players actual salary in a given year is what is used as the cap hit, not the average salary over the term of the contract.  There would be no benefit to tacking on several years of $1M salaries as it won’t reduce the players cap hit in the early years.  This is a win for the owners, particularly the small market owners who couldn’t play that game.

I’ll also propose that every player earning an NHL salary (i.e. playing in the NHL or are on NHL one-way contracts) will count against the salary cap.  This includes players that have been demoted to the AHL like Wade Redden.  This also eliminates some of the big market advantage which improves competitive balance.

I’ll also propose significantly more revenue sharing, more along the lines of the players proposal.  If the owners are serious about competitive balance and 30 financially viable franchises significantly increased revenue sharing is the only solution to that.

There are a number of transition issues that will need to be resolved like how to transition from a $70.7M cap system to a 62.7M cap system and what to do with existing players on heavily front loaded contracts who will now see their salary cap hits rise dramatically as their front loaded salaries will now become their salary cap hits.  These can be negotiated and can probably be achieved through a 2-year transition period where escrow still exists but there is enhanced flexibility with regards to the salary cap.  Some of the teams that have significant numbers of front loaded contracts (i.e. the Flyers) may still have long term cap issues (that they will be forced to resolve) but too bad for them.  It’s their own fault for manipulating the system like they did.

When all is said and done, I think this system is a good one for both the players and the owners and the fans.  The players still definitely see a hit to their share of the revenues (they certainly won’t be earning 57% any more) but they get rid of escrow and there is still some upside potential to earn more than a 50% share if the league is able to develop 30 financially viable franchises.  The owners see the players share of revenue fall (if they so choose) possibly even down to the levels they have asked from the players.  With greater revenue sharing and eliminating the benefits front loaded long term contracts the small market owners will be the big winners which improves competitive balance which is something the league has identified as being good for the game.  The fans win because of the greater competitive balance, but also because I think the system is something that could work long term for the league and the players and hopefully eliminate the need for any future work stoppages.

It sounds like a win-win-win to me.  Now lets get it done and lets get back to hockey.

 

Sep 212012
 

There is an article in the Globe and Mail today discussing the possibility of the NHL expanding to 32 teams, and more specifically Seattle being one expansion possibility.  To many expansion seems counter intuitive considering there are a lot of teams that are already in financial distress that can hardly keep their heads above water as it is.  Some people are actually suggesting contraction is the much better option and on the surface that makes sense.  At least to us the fan.  Drop off the weak teams that can’t support a strong fan base and in the process improve the average talent level among the remaining teams and presumably make the product more enjoyable to watch.  The thing is, from the owners perspective that is the completely wrong way to solve the problem of weak teams.  The solution is rather, bring in more weak teams and collect a hefty fee while doing so.

Let’s put aside the fact that the owners will probably collect $300-400M, possibly more, from expansion fees to say Seattle and Quebec City and lets take a look at the impact such an expansion will have on the financial viability of the other weak teams in the league.

The 2012-13 league wide revenue is/was projected to be $3.3B, or about $110M per team.  But, a sizable portion of that revenue (National TV contracts, league licencing, etc.) is not team generated but league generated.  Let’s suggest that that amount is a mere $300M to make some numbers easy (it is probably significantly higher).  This would make team generated revenue $3B or an average of $100M per team.  Some teams most certainly bring in closer to $150M in revenue and maybe more, the weak teams probably bring in closer to $50M, maybe less.  Lets, for argument sake, suggest the NHL expands by 2 teams that are in markets that will generate slightly below average revenue.  Say $75M/yr.  Now, let’s crunch some salary cap numbers using the old CBA where the players get 57%.

At $3.3B in league revenue, the revenue per team average is $110M and the players allocation is 57%, or 62.7M which makes the salary cap $70.7M and the salary floor 54.7M.

Now, if we add in to $75M revenue generating teams the league-wide revenue rises to $3.45M but the team average revenue falls to 107.8M.  57% of that comes to $61.45M making the salary cap 69.45M and the salary floor 53.45M.

Expanding to 2 smaller markets just caused the salary cap and salary floor to drop $1.25M which essentially cuts the expenses of weaker teams such Coyotes by $1.25M per year.  That is not insignificant to a team losing money.  If you were a salary floor team you can cut your player expenses from $54.7M to 53.45M, about 2.3%, all while collecting $10-15M (per existing team) in expansion fees.  On top of that, you can do it without making the NHLPA mad because the NHLPA will be all for expansion because it means more jobs for them.  The only complaint the NHLPA may have is, why not expand to a big market like a second team in Toronto.

Now, the only loser in all of this is us, the fans.  We get a more diluted product and potentially more diluted rivalries (likely fewer games and less chance of playoff meetings against true rivals) but since when did the NHL ever care about the fans more than the dollars.

 

Sep 042012
 

Last week the NHL CBA negotations too a turn for the worse as both sides basically agreed to disagree and have temporarily walked away from negotiations.  Despite that I am still reasonable optimistic that there will not be a lock out or work stoppage anywhere close to as long as the 2004-05 lost season and I believe that any lockout will be measured in weeks and not months.  The reason is, the NHL is not losing money this time around as they were in 2004-05 and if there was a lost NHL season there would most certainly be significant lost profits at the hands of the owners.

If you recall back in 2004 the NHL hired Arthur Levitt to take an independent look at the financial state of the NHL.  You can read the report here but basically Levitt concluded that the NHL lost $273M on $1.996B in revenues during the 2002-03 season.  He also concluded that the players salaries worked out to 75% of total revenues during the 2002-03 season, or $1.494B.  With that knowledge, let’s crunch some numbers.

If total revenues were $1.996B and player salaries were $1.494B and total losses were $273M that would mean that non-player salary expenses totaled $775M.

The projection for the 2012-13 season was that revenue would be about $3.2B and under the old CBA agreement players were to be owed 57% of that, or about $1.824B.  The 43% that the owners get to keep would amount to $1.326B.

So, at this point we have the NHL owners share of league revenues totaling $1.326B and in 2002-03 non-player salary expenses totaled $775M.  Assuming no inflation in those non-player salary expenses and we have the NHL posting a league-wide profit of about $551M.  That is over a half a billion dollars in profit.  Of course, in the 10 years since 2002-03 non-player salary expenses have probably inflated as well.  I don’t know what the average inflation rate has been over the past 10 years but I suspect it is in the 2-2.5% per year range.  Now, for argument sake, lets assume non-player salary expenses inflated 1.035% per year.  This would equate to approximately a 41% increase in non-player salary expenses over the 10 year period which would estimate non-player salary expenses to be $1.093B for 2012-13.  Subtracting that from the $1.326B which is the owners share of the $3.2B in revenue and we could estimate owners profits next season to be a combined $283M, or close to $10M per team per year.  Now, not all owners will be posting a $10M profit next year, but as a whole the league will do quite well.  This is why I don’t believe the NHL owners will have the same resolve to sustain a lengthy lockout.

In the owners latest proposal they proposed the players get a 46% share of revenues while the owners themselves get to keep 54% of the revenue.  Plugging these numbers into the equations and we could forecast the NHL owners combined profit to be closer to $635M, or about $21M per team per year.  Think about that when the owners decide to lock out the players on September 15th.  They aren’t locking out the players to minimize league losses, they are locking out the players because they would rather pad their own pocket books to the tune of $20M/year instead of a mere $10M/yr.

 

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 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.

 

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.

 

Jun 122012
 

If you browse through the list of top NHL forwards you will find it consisting mostly of first round picks, and especially top 10 overall picks.  But when you browse through the list of top NHL defensemen far fewer of them were drafted in the first round and even fewer among the top 10.  Here is a list of all defensemen who gathered 40 points in the NHL last season.

Defenseman Points Round Position
 Erik Karlsson 78 1 15
 Brian Campbell 53 6 156
 Dustin Byfuglien 53 8 245
 Zdeno Chara 52 3 56
 Alex Pietrangelo 51 1 4
 Alexander Edler 49 3 91
 Shea Weber 49 2 49
 Dan Boyle 48 Undrafted
 Mark Streit 47 9 262
 Ryan Suter 46 1 7
 Dennis Wideman 46 8 241
 Dion Phaneuf 44 1 9
 Kevin Bieksa 44 5 151
 Kevin Shattenkirk 43 1 14
 Kimmo Timonen 43 10 250
 Keith Yandle 43 4 105
 Kris Letang 42 3 62
 Michael Del Zotto 41 1 20
 Duncan Keith 40 2 54

Of the 19 defensemen listed above, just 6 were first round picks and there were also 6 defensemen drafted in the 5th round or later as well as an undrafted defenseman.  Another method for identifying top defensemen is to look at their salary cap hits.  There are 20 NHL defensemen who have a salary cap hit of $5M or higher, only 7 of them were drafted in the first round and 4 of those were top 10 picks (including Redden who is no longer in the NHL) so pretty close to what we see above.

Comparing those numbers to NHL forwards, 14 of the top 20 point producing forwards this past season were first round picks, and 9 of them were top 3 picks.  Additionally the top 9 forwards in highest salary cap hits were all top 3 picks and all but Gaborik were top 2 picks.  Among the 23 forwards with salary cap hits above $6.5M only Pavel Datsyuk (round 6, 171st overall), Brad Richards (3, 64) and  Paul Stastny (2,44) were drafted outside the first round.  The elite forwards in the NHL are almost exclusively first round picks.

In the 14 years from 1996 through 2009 there were 420 first round draft picks with 61% of them being forwards, 32% of them being defensemen and 7% being goalies.  If you consider a standard 22 man NHL roster to have 13 forwards (59%), 7 defensemen (32%) and 2 goalies (9%), that ratio of forwards to defensemen to goalies in first round draft picks is almost exactly as expected so it isn’t like the absence of first round picks on defense leaderboards is due to a lack of defensemen being drafted in the first round.  It seems more likely that something else is going on here with the most likely explanation being that defensemen take longer to develop and thus drafting them is an even greater crap shoot than drafting forwards.

So, what do I take away from this?  Well, I think it probably means that teams should adjust their drafting strategy so that they have a bias towards drafting forwards in the first round and focus on drafting defensemen with your later round picks.

 

Jun 112012
 

Last week I took a look at the crop of 1012 NHL free agent forwards and today I will take a look at the group of free agent defensemen.  As I did with forwards, I will use my HARO+ (offensive), HARD+ (defensive) and HART+ (total/overall) rating system which takes into account on-ice performance, quality of teammates, and quality of opposition.  Generally speaking, a rating over 1.00 is an above average rating and a rating below 1.00 is a below average rating.  By that I mean, if a player had a HARO+ rating of 1.10 it would mean if he played with and against perfectly average players his team would score 10% more goals than the average team.  In this example the player would drive goal scoring to a level 10% above average.  A HARO+ rating of 0.90 would mean the player would drive (or hinder) goal scoring to a level 10% below average.  As usual, my preference is to use 3 year 5v5 zone start adjusted ratings and that is what I will do here.  Let’s first look at the group of defensemen under age 30.

HARO+, or offensive rating, is along horizontal axis and the vertical axis is HARD+, or defensive rating.  Players to the right are good offensive players and players towards the top are good defensive players.  The size of the circle is indicative of the players 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 3 teams relative to the other players in this table.  Matt Carle is the top offensive player available and is a solid defensive player as well and is quite likely the best defenseman available, though everyone believes he will re-sign in Philadelphia and may already have a deal agreed upon but can’t sign it until July 1st due to salary cap issues.  Ryan Suter doesn’t have the offense of Carle but is a better defensive player and can also play big minutes.  After those two top end big minute defensemen you get a group of lesser minute guys who seem to be quite capable defensively.  These include Lepisto, Garrison, Woywitka, Colaiacovo, O’Brien, and Gilroy.  If Garrison can repeat his offensive season of 2011-12 then he is probably the top defenseman after Suter and Carle and Colaiacovo would be right there as well.  Guys to avoid include Bruno Gervais,  Milan Jurcina, Aaron Johnson, Dylan Reese, and Dennis Wideman.  If you are looking for a guy who can play secondary offensive minutes maybe Shaone Morrisonn is your guy, but don’t expect him to contribute defensively.

Now, let’s take a look at the age 30-34 crowd.

There aren’t really any elite level offensive defensemen in this group but there are a few solid defensive and second tier defensemen.  The guy hidden at the far top right is Kent Huskins who always seems to have good offensive and excellent defensive ratings but never gets the recognition I feel he deserves.  He might be the best ‘unknown’ defenseman in the NHL.  Michal Roszival is a pretty solid 2-way defenseman as well and Sarich, Jackman, White and Zanon are solid defensive contributors.  Brad Stuart would be a decent addition as a 4-5-6 guy but I would probably avoid Hannan, Allen, Foster and Mottau.

Now for the older 35+ crowd.

There are some pretty decent veteran players here.  I have included Lidstrom for reference but as you know he has retired.  Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but has a lot of holes in his game defensively.  Spacek is probably nearing the end of his career but may still be a useful depth defenseman at the right price.  Kubina isn’t as good defensively but probably has a little more left in the tank.  Bryce Salvador, Willie Mitchell (both still playing in the Stanley Cup finals) and Adrian Aucoin are quality defensive defensemen who can still play a solid shut down role on any team.  Staios, Eaton, Commodore, Gill are definitely in the can no longer contribute category and probably should retire while everyone else might be able to contribute as depth defensemen on a team looking to add some veteran experience.

In the interest of comparing the age groups above, here is the somewhat cluttered chart showing all defensemen colored according to age group.

When all factors are considered, the top unrestricted free agent defensemen are Matt Carle, Ryan Suter, Michal Rozsival, Carlo Colaiacovo and Barrett Jackman while older players such as Willie Mitchell, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Bryce Salvador can contribute in defensive roles while Filip Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but a defensive liability.