Using goalies to estimate zone start impact on corsi

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Nov 082012

Eric T. over at NHL Numbers had a post last week summarizing the current state of our statistical knowledge with respect to accounting for zone start differences.  If you haven’t read it definitely go read it because it is not only a good read but because it concludes that how the majority of people have been doing is is wrong.

Overall, no two estimates are in direct agreement, but the analyses that are known to derive from looking directly at the outcomes immediately following a faceoff converge in the range of 0.25 to 0.4 Corsi shots per faceoff — one-third to one-half of the figure in widespread use. It is very likely that we have been overestimating the importance of faceoffs; they still represent a significant correction on shot differential, but perhaps not as large as has been previously assumed.

In the article Eric refers to my observation that eliminating the 10 seconds after a zone start effectively removes any effect that the zone start had on the game.  From there he combined my zone start adjusted data found at with zone start data from and came up with an estimate that a zone start is worth 0.35 corsi.  He did this by subtracting the 10 second zone start adjusted corsi from standard 5v5 corsi and then running a regression against the extra offensive zone starts the player had.  In the comments I discussed some further analysis I did on this using my own data (i.e. not the stuff on and came up with similar, though slightly different, numbers.  In any event I figured the content of that comment was worthy of its own post here.

So, when I did the correlation between extra offensive zone starts and difference between 5v5 and 5v5 10 second zone start adjusted corsi I got the following (using all players with >1000 minutes of ice time over last 5 seasons):

My calculations come up with a slope of 0.3043 which is a little below that of Eric’s calculations but since I don’t know the exact methodology he used that might explain the difference (i.e. not sure if Eric used complete 5 years of data, or individual seasons).

What is interesting is that when I explored things further, I noticed that the results varied across positions, but varied very little across talent levels.  Here are some more correlations for different positions and ice time restrictions.

Position Slope r^2
All Players >1000 min. 0.30 0.55
Skaters >1000 min. 0.28 0.52
Forwards >1000 min. 0.26 0.50
Defensemen >1000 min. 0.33 0.57
Goalies >1000 min. 0.44 0.73
Forwards >500 min. 0.26 0.50
Forwards >2500 min. 0.26 0.52
Forwards 500-2500 min. 0.26 0.39

Two observations:

1.  The slope for forwards is less than the slope for defensemen which is (quite a bit) less than the slope for goalies.

2.  There is no variation in slope no matter what restrictions we put on a forwards ice time.

There isn’t really much to say regarding the second observation except that it is nice to see consistency but the first observation is quite interesting.  Goalies, who have no impact on corsi, see the greatest zone start influences on corsi of any position.  It is a little odd but I think it addresses one of the concerns that Eric had pointed out in his article:

The next step would be to remove the last vestige of sampling bias from our analysis. The approaches that focus on the period immediately after the faceoff reduce the impact of teams’ tendency to use their best forwards in the offensive zone, but certainly do not remove it altogether.

I think that is exactly what we are witnessing here, but maybe more importantly teams put out their best defensive players and, maybe more importantly, their best face off guys for defensive zone face offs. If David Steckel, who is an excellent face off guy, is getting all the defensive zone face offs, it is naturally going to suppress the corsi events immediately after the defensive zone face off because he is going to win the draw more often than not.  There is probably more line matching done for the zone face offs than during regular play so the line matching suppresses some of the zone start impact.  It is more difficult to line match when changing lines on the fly so a good coach can more easily get favourable line matches. The result is normal 5v5 play offensive players might see a boost to their corsi (because they can exploit good matchups) and during offensive zone face offs they see their corsi suppressed because they will almost always be facing good defensive players and top face off guys.  Thus, the boost to corsi based on a zone start is not as extreme as should be for offensive players.  The opposite is true for defensive players.

Defensemen are less often line matched so we see their corsi boost due to an offensive zone face off a little higher than that of forwards, but it isn’t near as high as goalies because there are defensemen that are primarily used in offensive situations and others that are primarily used in defensive situations.

Goalies though, tell us the real effect because they are always on the ice and they are not subject to any line matching.  In the table above you will notice that goalies have a significantly higher slope and an impressively high r^2.  I feel I have to post the chart of the correlation because it really is a nice chart to look at.

I have looked at a lot of correlations and charts in hockey stats but very few of them are as nice with as high a correlation as the chart above.

I believe that this is telling us that an offensive zone start is worth 0.44 corsi, but only when a player is playing against similarly defensively capable players as he would during regular 5v5 play which I speculate above is not necessarily (or likely) the case.  The 0.44 adjustment really only applies to an idealistic situation that doesn’t normally occur for any players other than goalies.  So where does that leave us?  Should we use a zone start adjustment of 0.44 corsi for all players, or should we use something like 0.33 for defensemen and 0.26 for forwards?  The answer isn’t so simple.  One could argue that we should apply 0.44 to all players and then make some sort of QoC adjustment and that would make some sense.  But if we are not intending to apply a QoC adjustment, does that mean we should use 0.33 and 0.26?  Maybe, but that is a little inconsistent because it would mean you are using a QoC adjustment only for the zone start adjustment of a players stats, and not for all his stats.  The answer for me is what I have been doing the past little while and not even attempt to adjust a players stats based on zone starts differences and rather simply just ignore the the portion of play that is subject to being influenced by zone starts – the 10 seconds after a zone start face off.  To me it seems like the simplest and easiest thing to do.


Oct 302012

Offensive players generally get all of the attention but defensive players are often just as valuable to a team.  Ask any NHL fan who the top offensive centers in the league are and they will quickly ramble off a few names from Crosby to Stamkos to Getzlaf to Malkin, etc.  Ask a fan to list the top defensive centers and the task becomes a little more difficult.  So, I decided to look into defensive centers a little further.

What makes a valuable defensive center?  Well, they should play against tough competition, they should give up fewer goals than expected, and they should be trusted to play a lot on the penalty kill.  So, with that in mind, I decided to set the following parameters in my defensive center search.

1.  I limited myself to players who have played >2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past three seasons.

2.  I only considered players who had an average opposition goals for per 20 minutes of ice time above 0.800 (i.e. only consider players who played against tough offensive opponents, must have OppGF20>0.800).

3. I then eliminated all forwards with a goals against per 20 minutes of ice time >0.800 (i.e. eliminate players who didn’t get good defensive results, must have GA20<0.800).

4.  I then took each players on ice goals against rate and divided it by his line mates goals against rate to ensure that they are performing better than their line mates and make their line mates better defensively (GA20/TMGA20 < 1.00).

5.  I then eliminated any players who didn’t have >300 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time over the past 3 seasons.

After doing this I got the following list of players sorted by GA20/TMGA20, or in English  sorted by how much better defensively they were than their line mates.

  1. Brandon Sutter
  2. Samuel Pahlsson
  3. Mikko Koivu
  4. Frans Nielsen
  5. Travis Zajac
  6. Martin Hanzal
  7. Mike Richards
  8. Brooks Laich
  9. Jordan Staal
  10. Joe Pavelski

Honorable Mentions:  Logan Couture, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Steen missed the cut due to not having enough PK minutes.  Couture would have been slotted second behind Sutter, Datsyuk between Pahlsson and Koivu, and Grabovski and Steen immediately after Hanzal.  Plekanec, Kopitar, Bergeron and Legwand met the PK ice time criteria and would come in after Pavelski except that their line mates had a better GA20 when not playing with them so they were cut from the list.

All in all I am pretty happy with the defensive forward list above.  They all make sense and the only real surprise on the list might be Frans Nielsen but that is mostly because I don’t pay attention to he Islanders (who does really?) and this haven’t really paid much attention to him.  For a player on the lowly Islanders to meet these criteria it probably means he is a pretty good defensive player.

It is interesting to see Sutter and Jordan Staal both make this list as they were traded for each other this past summer.  When I compared these two players after the trade when down I suggested that Sutter is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and this certainly backs that up.

What do you think?  Am I missing someone from this list of elite defensive centers?


Where to go from here…

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Oct 192012

There seems to be a lot of pessimism after the NHL walked out on negotiations with the NHLPA yesterday but the reality is that the NHL and NHLPA have come a long way.  The initial NHL offer to the NHLPA was that the players would get a 43% share of revenue.  The initial offer from the NHLPA to the NHL was that the players would subsidize a larger revenue sharing pool for 3 seasons through a reduction in their share of revenue but then bounce back to a 57% share in year 4.  As of yesterday, both the owners and players now agree that in the long term they should split revenues 50/50.  The disagreement is that the owners want the 50/50 share immediately while the players want to phase it in part in order to ensure existing contracts are honored in full (which is a bit of a bargaining/propaganda ploy because contract values were never guaranteed and always tied to revenue and the CBA).

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail has a good run down on the difference between the first two player proposals relative to the owners proposal.  In essence, the players proposals nets the players an additional $500M (approximately) over the next several years before the 50/50 level is reached.  This is not insignificant but it only accounts for approximately 2.2% of the projected $22.5B in projected revenue over the term of the CBA assuming 5% projected revenue growth per year.

The owners had a “make whole” agreement in their proposal which was designed to appease the players by honoring existing contracts but it was a bit of a marketing/propaganda ploy as well because essentially what it did was taking salary from players a couple years from now to make up the short fall in the first two years of the CBA.  The owners proposal called this a “Deferred Compensation benefit” but in reality it was a “deferred claw back penalty.”

The solution to this mess, I believe  is for the owners to step up and volunteer to pay the make whole amount which they estimated as being up to $149M in 2012-13 and up to $62M in year 2013-14 for a total of up to $211M (nicely somewhat close to half of the extra money they players want).  As stated above, projected revenue over the 6 year term of the contract is $22.5B.  I propose the owners take responsibility for the make whole portion of their proposal and they can pay the deferred salary in the amount of 1% of overall revenue until the up to $211M is paid in full.  This will essentially peg the players share at 51% and the owners share at 49% until the $211M in deferred salary is paid in full at which time it drops to a 50/50 split.  This seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise to me.  Now lets get it done and get back to playing hockey.


Oct 172012

Scott Reynolds over at 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

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.

Continue reading »

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.


Why NHL expansion makes sense

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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.

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) /
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) /
James Reimer ($1.800m)
Ben Scrivens ($0.700m)
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?


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.


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+.


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.