Oct 062010
 

The 2010-11 NHL season begins tomorrow so I should get my predictions out.  Today I’ll make my western conference predictions and tomorrow the eastern conference.

1. Detroit Red Wings, 109pts – Unlike last year, this year they are healthy.  Their third line consists of Jiri Hudler, Mike Modano and Daniel Cleary all of whom are capable of scoring 15-20 goals.  Not many teams can boast that kind of depth and their defense and goaltending isn’t too shabby either.

2. San Jose Sharks, 103 pts – Lost some depth when they lost Malholtra but their young players are another year more experienced which makes their top 2 lines as good as anyone’s.

3. Vancouver Canucks, 103pts – I am not sure the Sedin’s will repeat last years performances but as a team the Canucks are good from top to bottom.

4. Los Angeles Kings, 101pts – The Kings are the up and coming team.  They may not be quite true Stanley Cup contenders but they are getting awfully close and they will take another step in that direction this year.

5. Chicago Blackhawks, 98pts – They lost a lot of depth in the off season and a goalie tandem of Turco and Crawford isn’t without uncertainties so one has to assume they will take a big step back this season.  They will still be good though, but it will be a bit of a transition year until some of their young replacements get up to speed with the NHL game.  Long term I think they might regret not keeping Niemi though.

6. Phoenix Coyotes, 96pts – Hard to predict where the Coyotes will end up.  Two years ago they had 79 points, last year they had 107 points.  They won’t repeat last seasons success but how far will they fall?  I’ll say they will get 96 points, but I may be optimistic.

7. St. Louis Blues, 95pts – The Blues are the team in the west that I think will make big strides forward.  I like Halak in goal and I think Boyes will have a bit of a bounce back year.

8. Calgary Flames, 93pts – There always seems to be high hopes in Calary but it seems they also seem to fizzle those hopes away one way or another.  They still don’t have another high end forward to support Iginla nor a quality goalie to back up Kiprusoff.  The time is running out on the Iginla-Kiprusoff led Flames as they both are about to enter their post-prime years.

9. Colorado Avalanche, 92pts – After being a big surprise in the first half of last season the Avalanche almost fell out of a playoff spot struggling through much of the second half depending too much on a fatiguing Craig Anderson in goal.  Hard to see how they will be any better this season so will be in a dogfight with a handful of other teams for the final couple playoff spots.

10. Nashville Predators, 91pts - The Predators are neither a great team, not a bad team.  I think they will miss Jason Arnott and his 2-way play but they have enough good players to be competitive for a playoff spot, but not enough to be a great team, much like the past several seasons.

11. Anaheim Ducks, 89 pts – If they had a little more on defense I might have given them a playoff spot but there are enough issues with their defense and their overall depth that they will probably be on the outside looking in again this year.

12.  Minnesota Wild, 86pts – They have strengthened their team down the middle with the additions of Scott Cullen and John Madden but they lack the game breakers up front to make their transition from a defense first team to a more offensive style of play a successful one.

13 – Dallas Stars, 80pts – The franchise is going through a transition both on and off the ice.  Their goaltending is a huge question mark from the injury prone Lehtonen to the downright bad Raycroft.  They will be lucky if the floor doesn’t completely fall out and they end up merely a bad team.

14 Columbus Blue Jackets, 79 pts – Beyond Rick Nash they have some decent forwards but lack a lot of depth and their defense lacks a true top pairing guy and they have question marks in goal.  It will be yet another mediocre season for the Blue Jackets.

15 Edmonton Oilers, 76pts – The Oilers may not be good but they should be better than last season and there should be some reason for optimism about the future.  A healthy Hemsky along with some up and coming young talented forwards will help the Oilers win a few more games and as inconsistent as Khabibulin can be he would be an improvement over what Deslauriers and Dubnyk provided last year.

Oct 022010
 

As we head towards the start of the 2010-11 season, lets take a look at 9 teams who may struggle in goal.

Philadelphia Flyers – Michael Leighton has been a waiver claim 4 times in the past 4 years and another time was traded straight up for a 7th round pick.  Despite playing well at times last year, he isn’t anyone I’d be comfortable depending on and he will be starting the season on IR with a bad back.  Brian Boucher has had moments of great play in his career too but has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a backup.  This is not the goaltending a supposed Stanley Cup contender should have.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators had the third worst save percentage in the NHL and they chose to come back with the same tandem and they haven’t looked any better in the pre-season.  Pascal Leclaire might be the worst goalie in the NHL over the past couple seasons (challenging Toskala for that title) though the Senators hope that is in part due to his injury issues.  Brian Elliot looked like he was in the process of transitioning from prospect to reliable NHL starter but he also struggled at times, and didn’t look good in the playoffs.  What Elliot’s NHL career looks like is still a big question mark.  Adding to the problem is the Senators lost a key defensive defenseman in Anton Volchenkov and added an offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar so the team may choose to go with a more offensive style of play which would only expose their goaltending issues even more.

Dallas Stars – Kari Lehtonen isn’t a bad goalie, just an unhealthy one.  Only once in his 5 year career has he been able to start more than 45 games.  Behind Lehtonen you have Andrew Raycroft who probably has been one of the worst goalies post lockout.  If Lehtonen gets injured yet again, it could be trouble for the Stars.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs have had terrible goaltending the last several years.  The good news is there is no one on the Leaf roster named Toskala or Raycroft so that has to be a positive.  But, with that said young Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven anything and has looked iffy in the pre-season and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere is past his prime.  That said, I think Giguere will have a more steady influence on the team even if he isn’t a great goalie anymore and at least there is hope that Gustavsson can provide some upside as he develops.

Montreal Canadiens – I don’t understand the logic of trading away Jaroslav Halak who in addition to being a playoff hero also posted a 26-13-5 record with a .924 save percentage in order to keep Carey Price and his 13-20-5 record and .912 save percentage.  Price has looked shakey in the pre-season and if he doesn’t turn it around it could be a long year in Montreal.  New backup Alex Auld can be a decent backup but not someone I’d want to have to depend on too much.

Washington Capitals – Like the Flyers, the Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders with big question marks in goal.  While the Flyers have a pair of goalies with more experience than the Capitals the Capitals have a pair of young goalies with potential to have very good careers.  Both Seymon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth have been solid in goal at times but combined they have just 47 NHL regular season starts.  The good news is the Capitals have enough offense that they don’t need great goaltending but even so, that is a lot of pressure to put on a pair of youngsters with no veteran goalie around to support them.

Edmonton Oilers – Khabibulin is one of the most streaky goalies around.  When he is good, he can be really good, but when he is bad he can be awful, and there isn’t much behind him to support him during those bad streaks.  All that said, goaltending isn’t all the Oilers will have issues with.

NY Islanders – Rick DiPietro can’t seem to stay healthy and Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old.  The potential is there for the Islanders to have serious goaltending problems this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have shown potential to be decent NHL goalies but neither have played well enough to be called a reliable starter and neither are coming off good seasons.  Despite some good talent up front, it could be another long season for the Lightning if one of these guys can’t step up their games or the coaching can’t optimize the ‘go with the hot goalie’ strategy.

Honourable Mentions:  Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.  I am not overly worried about Turco in Chicago, I think he can still be a reliable goalie for 50-60 games.  Can Crawford deliver in his 25-30 games though?  I am also not that worried about Niemi and Nittymaki in San Jose.  I think between them they will provide solid goaltending, but it probably won’t be as dependable as Nabokov’s.

Sep 242010
 

While I am not yet ready to make formal predictions on the upcoming season (that’ll come in a couple weeks) I believe that the Leafs have the potential to be a dramatically improved team and could/should contend for a playoff spot.  Last year was a disaster year for the Leafs and nothing went right for the team, at least until late in the season when the team seemed to come together a bit.  Here are the three keys to watch for during the Leafs upcoming season.

Giguere/Gustavsson – The Leafs have suffered through several seasons of inconsistent and troubled goaltending, and that is being generous.  For much of the past 4 seasons it has been downright awful.  Giguere is probably past his prime and no longer an elite goalie but he is a dependable presence in goal which they haven’t had.  Even with just dependable goaltending the team should be much improved.  In Gustavsson there is more upside potential than in Giguere and combined they should provide the Leafs with the best goaltending they have had since before the lockout.

Tyler Bozak – The Leafs have an abundance of decent wingers (Versteeg, Kulemin, Armstrong, etc.) and one very good one in Kessel but their center ice position is a bit uncertain.  Bozak is the key here.  He finished strong last season and ended up with 8g, 19a, 27 points in 37 games which is pretty solid performance for a rookie.  Had he scored at that pace for the full season he would have ended up with almost 60 points to lead all rookies.  If the Leafs are to become a middle of the pack offensive team the Leafs Bozak needs to repeat that performance, if not improve on it, for a full season.  I think he has the potential to score 20 goals and 70 points which would give the Leafs an unspectacular, but more than decent first line (with Kessel and Kulemin).  Bozak also represents the down low playmaking presence on the PP that the Leafs desperately lacked for much of last season.

Phaneuf/Versteeg/Armstrong – For much of the past 5 seasons the Leafs have lacked any true identity or personality.  They had a bunch of decent players but none of whom really could light a spark for their teammates.  Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong should all play with more passion and intensity than the guys they replaced and should give this team with an identity.  It isn’t just about the truculence and toughness that GM Brian Burke desires, but the energy and passion that they bring that can be contagious.  A healthy Komisarek will help as well as might Caputi or Kadri should they make the team, either right from camp or as a mid-season callup.  These guys are like the Tucker’s, McCabe’s, Robert’s and Domi’s of the past.  Energy players that define what it is to be a Maple Leaf and have a contagious passion for the game.

If Giguere/Gustavsson can provide dependable to good goaltending and Bozak can be a 65-70 point player and the contagious energy of Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong spread throughout the team, there is no reason to believe that the Leafs cannot be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Getting off to a good start to the season to build some confidence would be helpful but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs upcoming season.

Jul 022010
 

When Brian Burke makes a trade more often than not he does it by targeting players and going hard after them until he gets them.  He did this with both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.  He identified them as players he needs to fill a hole on the roster and went hard after them.  If Brian Burke is to trade Kaberle he will probably do the same.  He isn’t going to trade Kaberle for the sake of trading Kaberle, but rather for the sake of filling a hole on his roster.  He has on numerous occasions identified the need for a scoring winger, preferably one with size and although he has added Versteeg and Armstrong in the past 2 days he may still be seeking that kind of player, especially if he can’t get Kulemin signed to a contract.  So, we need to ask, who fits that profile and might be available?  To answer that question, lets take a look at all the wingers who scored more than 25 goals this past season.

Ovechkin, Marleau, Kovalchuk, Semin, Heatley, Parise, Burrows, Ryan, Nash, Iginla, Penner, Kane, Jokinen, Samuelsson, Hornqvist, Moulson, St. Louis, D. Sedin, L. Eriksson, Knuble, C. Stewart, Vanek, Stempniak, Gionta, Perry, Bourque, Neal, Selanne, Latendresse, Briere, Cammalleri, Sharp, Brunette, Raymond, Holmstrom, Hagman.

The majority of those players you can immediately scratch off the available list because their teams just won’t trade them (i.e. Ovechkin, Marleau, Heatley, etc.).  Others are probably too old (Knuble, Holmstrom) or not established enough (Jokinen, Moulson) for Burke to be interested in.  There are some interesting names though that might be available.

Certainly Kovalchuk is available as an unrestricted free agent but as I recently wrote, I think he will cost more and demand a longer term contract than Brian Burke is willing to give.  Teemu Selanne is an unrestricted free agent as well and has a history with Burke, but I suspect he ends up in Anaheim or retires and he is outside of Burke’s ideal age range.

The interesting players on the list are Alexander Semin, Bobby Ryan, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and maybe even Tomas Vanek.  Alexander Semin is probably the most skilled forward in that list and for salary reasons it seems almost certain that the capitals will have to part ways with him at some point but they are probably looking more for a physical defensive defenseman on defense than another offensive one like Kaberle.

There has been a ton of speculation revolving around Bobby Ryan.  We can be sure that Ryan is the exact kind of player that Burke would love to acquire.  He is young, he can score, and he plays a physical game.  On top of that, with Scott Niedermayer retiring the Ducks could use another defenseman but Kaberle might be just too much like Lubomir Visnovsky to be an ideal fit.  It would also cost more than just Kaberle to pry Ryan away from the Ducks and the Ducks may in fact be more interested in a young defenseman like Luke Schenn than in Kaberle.

James Neal and Loui Eriksson, both of the Dallas Stars, are intriguing possibilities.  Eriksson is coming off back to back seasons with 36 and 29 goals and 63 and 71 points and is just coming into his prime.  Eriksson is signed long term and has a no trade clause so it is uncertain if the Stars would, or can, trade him.  James Neal, on the other hand, is an unsigned restricted free agent and in his 2 NHL seasons he has scored 24 and 27 goals and should only get better.  The Stars have some depth on the wing with Morrow, Ott, Eriksson, Benn, and others so they may be willing to trade Neal in the right deal.  I also believe that the Stars could use another defenseman because after Robidas there isn’t really much there.  Trading for Neal will probably cost more than just Kaberle but would probably cost less than trading for Ryan, especially if the Leafs were willing to take some salary in return.  I personally think Neal would be a nice addition to the Leafs and would fit in perfectly with their young core.

The final player in the 25+ goal category that might be available is Tomas Vanek.  Vanek if you recall was signed to a big offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers which the Buffalo Sabres matched but Vanek has not really lived up to his $7 million per year contract.  He has been good but I am sure the Sabres hoped for more.  The Sabres have said goodbye to long time defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman and are in the market for some new talent on the back end.  They have signed Milan Jurcina, but still need a defenseman or two.  Buffalo is also a small market team that probably won’t spend to the salary cap and might be willing to part ways with Tomas Vanek if the return fit their needs but it will take some kind of replacement forward along with Kaberle for them to make that trade (Kulemin?).  Vanek has good size and 40 goal potential and I am sure would be of interest to Burke but a deal like this with a division rival would be a tough one to make.

Wingers with 20-25 goals that might interest the Leafs and might be available are the Blue Jackets RJ Umberger, the Stars Jamie Benn, the Sharks Setogutchi or the Lightning’s Ryan Malone.  RJ Umberger is interesting as it was Burke who drafted him in 2001 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.   Jamie Benn is on a cheap entry level contract which likley means Dallas has no interest in trading him so scratch him from the list.  With Tampa signing Pavel Kubina today it seems less likely they would be interested in another defenseman and will probably keep Malone.  Setogutchi doesn’t have the size that Brian Burke is seeking but he had 31 goals in 2008-09 and has more pure scoring ability than any current Leaf forward outside of Kessel.  The Sharks are also likely looking for a defenseman to replace the retired Rob Blake and may have interest in Kaberle.  Another Shark forward that may interest Brian Burke is Ryane Clowe.  Though Clowe may not have the goal scoring ability of Setogutchi he has good size and can play a tough physical game.

If I had my wish, I would love to see either Bobby Ryan or James Neal in a Leaf uniform.  Both have good size and have 30+ goal potential (maybe 40+ for Ryan).  Failing that, one of the Shark wingers would be interesting pickups.

Jun 302010
 

As always, there is a lot of speculation as to what the Maple Leafs will do on July 1st when the NHL free agent season begins.  Some are suggesting they should go big or go home and do whatever it takes to sign Ilya Kovalchuk as the answer to their offensive woes while others believe Kovalchuk is going for the big long term contract to which Burke has said on numerous occasions he isn’t interested in doing.  After Kovalchuk though there aren’t any top tier forward free agents available to help solve the Leafs lack of scoring problems.

I am in the camp that I don’t believe that Kovalchuk will be a Maple Leaf.  He’ll end up signing a long term big dollar contract somewhere else.   Whether the Leafs will, or should, go after Kovalchuk depends a lot on what Burke believes he can acquire in a Tomas Kaberle trade.  If Burke believes he can land a scoring winger with size in a Kaberle trade then the need to go after a guy like Kovalchuk is minimized.

Historically teams that win the Stanley Cup have excellent defenses, solid goaltending and are strong down the middle.  Teams that have had elite level wingers but have lacked at center have generally not done well.  What has Kovalchuk won?  What about Jarome Iginla?  What about Rick Nash?  These are three of the best wingers in the game but haven’t achieved much, if any, playoff success.  Feel free to toss Ovechkin into the mix (for now anyway). The Leafs already have an offensive minded winger in Phil Kessel and I don’t believe they necessarily need another offense-first winger like Kovalchuk, at least not if the price tag is $9 million.

As it stands right now, the Leafs forward lines might look like this:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Mikhail Grabovski
Fredrik Sjostrom
Mike Brown Colton Orr

I have intentionally left a lot of blanks in there and have only listed the players I believe are fairly certain to fill those positions.  That leaves the two left wing slots on the first two lines open, the second and third line right wing positions and the third and fourth line center positions as well as a reserve position or two which Brown may get bumped to depending on how the roster unfolds.  Should Kulemin get re-signed he will fill in one of those open winger slots, probably either on the second or third line.  The Leafs also have Luca Caputi, Viktor Stalberg and Christain Hanson in the fold but while all have showed flashes of potential, I don’t believe any of them showed enough last year to make me believe they should be written in as a sure bet to make the club.  The same goes for John Mitchell who is set to become a UFA but who the Leafs have said they would like to bring back at the right price (read: close to league minimum or even a 2-way deal).  Caputi probably has the best opportunity to make the club because he plays a physical game and is probably more suited to a third line role than Stalberg though Stalberg showed he might be ready for a top 6 role late last season.  I haven’t mentioned Nazem Kadri yet but I should as it is likely he will fill one of the top six positions, possibly as a winger or as the second line center pushing Grabovski to wing where he may be better suited anyway (or he could be used as trade bait).  So as it stands now there are five or six forward slots up for grabs and I am certain that Brian Burke wants to bring in at least two, if not three additional forwards to really create battles for those open slots.

Now it is time for some speculation.  If Kovalchuk is out of the picture, as I believe he is, who will Burke go after.  There are three things that we know that can guide us into figuring out what Burke might do.  First, Burke has stated he wants to find a winger that can score, preferably one with some size.  Second he wants to add more toughness throughout the lineup.  Third, historically he has shown that he really likes to bring back players who have played for him before.  So where does that leave us.

There are no first line or even true second line wingers who can score and have size on the open market.  It seems to me that this is what he intends to acquire via a Tomas Kaberle trade.  That trade probably won’t happen for at least a few days after the early free agent frenzy settles so I won’t speculate on that here right now.

There are players that will address toughness further down the lineup though and who are young enough who can contribute to the Leafs for the next several years.  Two names that have been speculated upon are Colby Armstrong and Raffi Torres and both of these guys can fill that toughness role and they are both capable of scoring 15+ goals so in a pinch are capable of playing a second line role or second PP unit role.  I fully expect that Brian Burke to go after and sign one of these guys so long as the price tag is around $2.5-3M per year on a 3 or 4 year deal.

In my mind the Leafs can desperately use a veteran centerman, if not two, as Bozak and Kadri would form a pretty inexperienced top two.  If Burke is looking for a center under the age of 30 who can produce offensively you are pretty much limited to Matthew Lombardi, but I don’t see that as the route Burke will go because I don’t see Lombardi as the kind of ‘role player’ Burke wants on the third line.  That means you may have to go a little older and so I think he might consider going after a guy like Matt Cullen who is 32 years of age and a pretty good 2-way player versatile in that he can play a second or third line role and play at center or on the wing.  His price tag might get a little high for what Burke wants to spend on a third line player but he would be a nice veteran addition.

A similar player to Cullen who will cost somewhat less is Eric Belanger.  Belanger isn’t big, but he plays a gritty physical game and would look good in a third line role and has consistently gotten around 35 points throughout his career.

We know Brian Burke has liked Brendan Morrison in the past.  He had Morrison in Vancouver and signed him as a free agent in Anaheim.  The Anaheim experiment was a bit of a flop mostly because he paid him too much money for what he could contribute but last year in Washington he showed he could be a serviceable role player as a third or fourth line center.  I don’t know if Burke intends to go after Morrison but it wouldn’t surprise me if Burke signed Morrison so long as his contract short term (1 or 2 seasons) and no more than the $1.5M he made last year.

If Brian Burke is set on trading Kaberle for help up front he’ll probably want to pick up another defenseman but not one with a big salary.  There are a lot of defensemen to choose from in this UFA class so it is difficult to speculate who he might go after but I suspect he’ll wait until the first rush on defensemen passes and he’ll try to pick up someone at a bargain price a week or two down the road as players start to see job openings dwindling away and get concerned about if and where they might play come September more than they are about holding out for maximum dollars.

Update:  The Leafs have acquired Kris Versteeg from the Chicago Blackhawks for Stalberg and prospects DiDominico and Paradis.  Versteeg will likely fill one of those second line winger roles.

Jun 032010
 

I am planning that over the course of the summer and into next season I will get back into analyzing hockey statistics more in depth again.  Over the past couple of seasons Corsi numbers have become much more prevalent so I thought I would start off by discussing what they are and my thoughts on them.

Corsi numbers were originally created by former NHL goalie and now Buffalo Sabre goalie coach Jim Corsi.  David Staples recently had a good interview with Corsi which goes into his thought process behind developing Corsi numbers.  The interview is definitely worth a read but let me summarize.

In his role as the Sabre’s goalie coach, Corsi was attempting to evaluate the work load his goalies had in a game of play and found that simply shots against were not sufficient.  The goalie can relax whenever the puck is in the oppositions end, but whenever the play is in his own end he can’t relax, regardless of whether a shot was taken or not.  To get a better idea of his goalies workload he summed up shots, missed shots and blocked shots which should give a much better indication of a goalies overall work load.  A goalie needs a certain skill level to successfully save the majority of shots on goal, but a goalie also needs a certain fitness level (both mental and physical) to be able to play under a certain workload level within a single game and over the course of an 82 game season and this is why Corsi invented the Corsi numbers.

More recently others in the hockey community have extended Corsi numbers to evaluate a teams ability to control the play of a game (i.e. does a team play more in the oppositions zone vs their own) and evaluate individual players by looking at their Corsi numbers for and against while they are on the ice and comparing that to their teammates Corsi numbers.  Most notable are Gabe Desjardins of behindthenet.ca and Gabe and everyone else at the Behind the Net blog but there are others too.  Some people, most notably Matt Fenwick of the Battle of Alberta blog only use shots and missed shots and do not include blocked shots as Jim Corsi does resulting in what is typically called Fenwick numbers.  When used in this context Corsi and Fenwick numbers are calculated just as +/- is calculated which is to take the shots+missed shots+ blocked shots for his team and subtracting the shots+missed shots+ blocked shots numbers by the opposition while he is on the ice.

One of the benefits that many people believe that Corsi numbers provide is that since Corsi numbers include more events (i.e. shots+missed shots+blocked shots vs just shots or even just goals as in +/-) the statistical analysis will be far more accurate due to the larger ‘sample size.’

So what do I think of all this?  I do agree with Jim Corsi that using Corsi numbers as a way to evaluate a goalies workload is probably far more valuable than just using shots on goal.  Beyond that, I am pretty sure that Corsi numbers will give a pretty solid indication of a teams control of the play, for whatever that is worth.  I say for whatever that is worth because some teams, when they have the lead, will choose to play in a defensive shell allowing a lot of shots from the point, but not giving up all that many high quality, in close, shots or worse yet, shots on rebounds. Corsi numbers when the game is close (tied, or within one goal with significant time to play such that the team with the lead has not yet gone into ‘protect the lead’ mode) may give us a better indication of a teams capability to control the play, when they want to but even that may be flawed.  Also, a team with a strong set of forwards but a weak defense and goalie may control the play more than a team with a strong defense and top tier goalie but is that team really any better at winning games?

Much of the same arguments can be made when evaluating players.  Defensive minded players are not necessarily on the ice to control the play, they are on the ice to not allow goals against most typically by the oppositions top offensive forwards.  As mentioned above, one way to accomplish this is to go into a defensive shell and just not give up any quality scoring chances against.  A player can have a sub-par Corsi number, but be doing his job perfectly well.

I do believe that Corsi numbers have a use in evaluating a goalies work load and even in showing which teams are controlling the play, but in my opinion using it anywhere beyond that we are making too many assumptions about how important Corsi numbers are with respect to winning games.  Just ask the Washington Capitals how almost completely controlling the play worked for them against Montreal in round two of the playoffs. In the past I have used mostly goals for/against and shot quality (using shot type and distance as a proxy for quality) to evaluate players and while that has its own inherent flaws as well I will most likely continue to do so in the future.

Apr 132010
 

Washington vs Montreal

Washington was the run away leader in the eastern conference finishing 18 points ahead of second place New Jersey and 33 points ahead of 8th place Montreal. Washington was a middle of the road defensive team but was a truly dominant offensive team scoring on average 3.75 goals per game, more than a half a goal per game more than the Canucks who were the second most offensive team and 1.24 goals per game more than the Canadiens who ranked 26th in the league. Montreal has next to no chance of winning this series unless Jaroslav Halak can outright steal it for them. As good as Halak is, that is not likely to happen and Montreal should just hope they can steal a game or two. Washington in 5.

New Jersey vs Philadelphia

Philadephia is one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, largely due to their suspect goaltending but Brian Boucher has in the past shown he can get real hot for short stretches (he had 5 straight shutouts a couple years back) and the Flyers offense is pretty good so it isn’t inconceivable that the Flyers could upset the Devils. Brodeur is still a very good goalie but has from time to time over the past couple seasons show that he can be beaten and the Devils defense isn’t quite as reliable as it was a few years back. All that said, Parise and Kovalchuk give the Devils two elite level offensive stars and they have an underrated complimentary group surrounding them so I think this series will go to the Devils. New Jersey in 6.

Buffalo vs Boston

The easy prediction is that there probably won’t be many goals scored in this series, especially on the Bruins side of the ledger. Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL and the Sabres were the fourth best defensive team in the NHL and the Bruins were second best. Buffalo clearly has an edge having a much better offensive production but the games should all be very close meaning anyone could win with a few lucky bounces. I’ll stick with the Sabres and their better offense though it will be a long series. Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

For the third time in four years Pittsburgh and Ottawa will meet in the playoffs with Ottawa winning the first series and Pittsburgh the second so this is a rubber match of sorts. Neither Ottawa or Pittsburgh are all that great defensively as these two teams ranked 19th and 20th in the NHL in goals against average and have the lowest goals against average of any of the playoff teams. In Pittsburgh’s case they have just been consistently mediocre defensively for much of the season and in Ottawa’s case it has been result of extreme inconsistency of their goaltenders. Pascal Leclaire has had a dismal season and while Brian Elliot has looked excellent for stretches he still has too many weak games to be considered a relaible goalie. If Pittsburgh gets on Elliot early this could be a short series, but if they let Elliot and the Senators gain confidence they could be a tough opponent for the Penguins and could very well take the series. I personally am not confident in Elliot and I think the good Penguin offense will get the better of him. Pengiuns in 5.

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Apr 082010
 

If you polled hockey fans who the top contenders are for the Stanley Cup, four of the most frequent answers you will get will be Washington and Pittsburgh from the eastern conference and San Jose and Chicago from the western conference. What these teams have in common are very good groups of offensive forwards with multiple star players and some pretty good defensemen to go with them. But what they also have in common are question marks in goal that they will have to overcome if they are to go deep into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
We all know about the Sharks playoff failures of recent years and much of the blame has been placed on forwards like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been an excellent regular season goalie and been OK in the playoffs but he hasn’t stolen a series for the Sharks and his post Olympic play has to be a concern for Sharks fans. As you are all probably aware, Nabokov had a poor Olympics, and in particular, a really bad game against the Canadian team that cost the Russians a shot at a medal. Since the Olympics he hasn’t been any better having posted an 8-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a very mediocre .897 save percentage and in 16 post Olympic games he has given up 4 or more goals 7 times (including 5 goals Sunday against possible first round opponent Colorado). That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. We know Nabokov can play better, but will he turn his game around come playoff time?

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks goaltending is an interesting case study into inconsistency. They lead the league in shutouts and are 6th in goals against average but are 7th worst in the league in save percentage. Cristobol Huet can go on stretches where he looks solid and reliable (in his first 21 starts this year he only gave up more than 3 goals once) but then for other stretches he can look downright awful. The end result though is that he is unreliable. Then you have youngster Anti Niemi who has been the better and more reliable goalie this year and has a respectable .913 save percentage but he too has been inconsistent. In 33 starts he has 7 shutouts which is pretty phenomenal (Brodeur leads the league with 9, but he started 73 games) but in those 33 starts he has also given up 4 or more goals 8 times which is not so good.

Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are not unlike the Chicago Blackhawks as they too have a somewhat unreliable veteren (Theodore) and a quality young goalie (Varlamov) that may or may not be ready to carry the load. I have a little more confidence in the Capitals goaltending though as they have been a little more consistent. As a group they only have 3 shutouts, but they have fewer disaster games too and with the Capitals offensive capabilities that might be good enough but it still has to be a concern for Capitals fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be some that are surprised to see the Penguins make this list but lets look at the facts. As a team the Penguins have the worst goals against average of any playoff bound team and have the fourth worst save percentage in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very mediocre .904 save percentage over the course of the season and a pretty bad .892 save percentage since the Olympics. Since February 1st he has started 20 games and given up at least three goals in 14 of them and four or more goals 6 times. We know Fleury can play well enough to win a Stanley Cup, but his performance this season, and over the past couple months in particular, has not been good enough. To make matters worst for Penguins fans, yesterday on TSN it was pointed out in 17 games against division leaders the Penguins have just 3 wins. Of the top four teams in the east, I think the Penguins are the one team most likely to face a first round playoff exit.

(cross posted at HockeyAnalysis.com)

Oct 012009
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions:

1. Washington, 109pts – This is a bit of a gamble that the Capitals are going to get good enough goaltending from Theodore and Varlamov, but if they do, 109 points is easily within their reach. They had the pure offensive stars last season and I think that the singing of veteren and more physical winger Knuble will be one of the best free agents signings of this past summer.

2. Philadelphia, 104pts – They lost a bit of scoring up front with Knuble signing in Washington and Lupul traded to Anaheim but a healthy Briere and the progression of youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk and Pronger gives them a true stud on defense. Like Washington they are going to need better than average goaltending to obtain these lofty point totals but if they get it reaching 104pts shouldn’t be a problem.

3. Pittsburgh, 99pts (fourth seed) – They won the Stanley Cup and they are a great team, but even as a great team they have been streaky from time to time over the past couple seasons and that will probably continue and will stop them from reaching 100+ points. But they will still be a tough team to beat come playoff time.

4. Boston, 98pts (third seed) – The Bruins are going to drop off a fair bit from last season simply because I don’t really think they are really as good as they performed last year. A lot of things went really well for them and not many didn’t, plus they lost Phil Kessel and that will hurt their depth a little. But they are still a good team with Thomas in goal, Chara on defense and several very good forwards.

5. New Jersey, 97pts – New Jersey is no longer the elite team it one was largely due to a far more average defense group than they have in the past, but with some solid offensive players combined with a good team defensive system and elite level goaltending they will once again be middle of the pack of eastern conference playoff teams, right there between great and mediocre.

6. Toronto, 95pts – Now I know a lot of people will scream bias at this prediction but I truly believe that 95 points is relatively easily obtainable if they even get average goaltending. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that but with a healthy Toskala, a promising prospect in Gustavsson and a more than decent third option in Joey MacDonald not to mention one of the best goalie coaches in the game in Francois Allaire getting average goaltending is certainly within reach. They also have a good and deep defense and a significant number of forwards capable of scoring 20-30 goals so they should produce enough offensively. Goaltending is key.

7. NY Rangers, 93pts – The Rangers desperately need Gaborik to remain healthy if they want to make the playoffs. Furthermore, they could definitely use another experienced defenseman or two and I expect we’ll see them address that at some point. They have elite level goaltending and that should be good enough to get them in the playoffs so long as Gaborik can be mostly healthy.

8. Buffalo, 92pts – One could easily argue that if Ryan Miller didn’t get injured and miss several weeks last year they the Sabres would have made the playoffs. The reality is there is enough talent on this team that they could finish as high as 5th in the conference if not challenge Boston for the team lead. I am just not sure their defense is good enough right now so I’ll say they will finish in 8th spot.
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Aug 052009
 

Judge Redfield T. Baum has decided to allow all bidders into the September 10th auction, including Jim Balsillie against the pleading of the NHL. It was the most significant decision that Judge Baum has made so far in the bankruptcy case and in my opinion has clearly put Jim Balsillie’s offer for the Coyotes at the front of the line.

On June 15th, Judge Baum ruled against the Balsillie offer to purchase the team largely because Balsillie could not prove that the NHL was violating anti-trust laws mostly because they had not yet denied his request to move the team to Hamilton. This was a setback for the Balsillie camp, but only a setback. Today’s decision of Judge Baum’s to allow Balsillie to participate in the September 10th auction is an outright nightmare for the NHL. It really is a worst case scenario because unlike what was set to occur, a Glendale only auction followed by a relocation auction only if necessary, the new setup will see any bids to keep the team in Glendale directly compared to Jim Balsillie’s bid and that is bad news because it will likely now just come down to how much Jim Balsillie is willing to pay for the team. In essence the Phoenix Coyote’s are now Jim Balsillie’s team to lose. Yes, there will be appeals by the NHL and possibly by Glendale, but that probably won’t change the outcome.

I suspect that there are two key factors in Judge Baum’s decision today. The first is that he has no assurances that either the Reinsdorf or the Ice Edge bids can resolve all of their outstanding issues (and there are still a number of significant outstanding issues with both bids) prior to the September 10th auction meaning there might still be no bidders on September 10th just as there were no bidders for the auction that was supposed to be today. The second significant factor, and maybe the primary factor, is the statement from Michael Dell’s investment company SOF Investments Ltd. in which they supported the Jim Balsillie bid as it was the only bid that provided cash to fully repay the nearly $80 million in secured debt that SOF is owed and neither the Reinsdorf or the Ice Edge bids had come to any satisfactory arrangement with SOF (Reinsdorf has stated he wants to renegotiate the loan arrangement but hasn’t even talked to SOF yet). Furthermore, SOF and nearly every other creditor outside of the NHL spoke to the importance to have these bankruptcy proceedings resolved by the end of September at the latest and of course right now, keeping the Jim Balsillie bid alive is the only way to assure that of happening. These factors made the NHL Board of Governors vote against Balsillie look like a small issue in comparison.

With all the issues that still surround the Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Holdings bids and the fact that they are now going to be bidding against Balsillie, it would not surprise me if one or both of them drop out of the process. Jerry Reinsdorf has previously threatened to drop out and his attorney’s in court on Monday stated they they never expected to be bidding against relocation bids. With all the backlash that has come about regarding the $23 million subsidy request Reisndorf has made to the City of Glendale I might actually be surprised if Reinsdorf just says it is not worth it anymore and pull his offer.

I eagerly await the response from Gary Bettman and the NHL regarding this decision. I expect the response will be to fight the decision however it can, but the proper response should be, at least behind closed doors, is to start preparing for hockey in Hamilton this October.