Jan 152012
 

Not sure what led me to look into this but I took a look at poor defensive teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference.  Over the past 3 seasons there have been just 6 teams to make the playoffs in the eastern conference with goals against averages greater than 2.80.  They are:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11):  2.80
  • Ottawa Senators (2009-10): 2.80
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009-10):  2.82
  • Montreal Canadiens (2008-09): 2.88
  • Washington Capitals (2008-09):  2.89
  • Ottawa Senators (2007-08): 2.92

Over the past 4 seasons there have been a total of 26 teams with gaa’s above 2.80 and just 6 of those made the playoffs (37.5%).  There have been 18 teams with gaa’s above 2.90 and only one team (the 2007-08 Senators) made the playoffs (5.6%).

What is interesting is that right now there are currently 4 teams in eastern conference playoff spots with goals against averages above 2.80.

  • Washington Capitals: 2.85
  • Philadelphia Flyers:  2.90
  • Toronto Maple Leafs:  3.03
  • Ottawa Senators:  3.07

There are actually only 6 teams in the eastern conference with GAA’s under 2.80 so at least 2 of them over 2.80 would have to be in the playoffs.  Those under 2.80 are the Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens , Panthers and Devils.  If history is any indication that means Pittsburgh should be able to climb back into the playoff picture and who knows, maybe there is hope for the Canadiens (wouldn’t bet on it though).  But regardless, it appears there will be a few teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference with gaa’s above 2.80, and maybe even one or two above 3.00.  The only eastern teams to make the playoffs with a gaa above 3.00 post lockout are the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006-07 (3.11 gaa) and 2005-06 (3.07), Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (3.11) and Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 (3.04) but offense was significantly higher in those seasons.  Particularly in 2005-06 when only 5 teams had sub 3.00 gaa’s in the east, all making the playoffs.

I should also point out that of the teams that made the playoffs with a GAA above 2.80 in the past 4 seasons, both Ottawa teams missed the playoffs the following season, Tampa is certain to do so this season and Montreal squeeked into the playoffs in 2009-10 with just 88 points, the lowest point total for a playoff team post lockout.  Bad defensive teams don’t generally see much success and should they achieve some it is seemingly not a positive predictor of future success.

 

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.

Jun 252009
 

The 2009 NHL entry draft takes place tomorrow evening so lets talk draft and trade rumours. The first thing that everyone needs to know is that not all players drafted tomorrow night in the first round will become NHL star players, or even good NHL players. The truth is the majority of those drafted in the first round tomorrow will go down in history as ‘draft flops’. That is unfortunate because most of them aren’t flops, they are just subject to the laws of reality and the reality is that it is simply not possible for every top 18 year old hockey player to make the NHL and excel. There just aren’t enough NHL roster spots for that to occur.

Toronto media and fans love to talk trash about the Leafs drafting ability over the past decade or two but it is really unfounded. Many call Nik Antropov a bit of a failure because while he is a good player, he didn’t turn out to be a star as one would expect from a 10th overall pick. Let me toss out 10 names for you: Jocelyn Thibault, Nolan Baumgartner, Radek Dvorak, Lance Ward, Brad Ference, Bransilav Menzei, Mikhail Yakubov, Dan Blackburn, Eric Nystrom, and Andrei Kostitsyn. Those names represent the 10th overall draft picks in the five years before Nik Antropov was drafted in 1998 and the five years after. Dvorak has had a pretty decent career as a second line player. He’s played 976 games, scored 194 goals and racked up 502 points. Kostitsyn is a skilled player that looks to have a promising career probably not unlike Dvorak’s though possibly a bit better. He currently has 52 goals and 108 points in 186 games played. Jocelyn Thibault had a pretty decent career has a second tier starter or solid backup. The rest didn’t really turn out to be much of anything. So is Antropov, who currently sits at 527 games played with 132 goals and 304 points, a bust. Not even close. Rather, he seems more like the upper end of the scale of what you can expect with the #10 pick. Yes, there will be the odd truly star player taken 10th overall like Teemu Selanne in 1988 but they are rare.

For more discussion on draft picks and the likelihood that they will become NHL regulars you can take a look at my Draft Schmaft post from a few years ago. Scott Cullen over at TSN.ca has a similar analysis and you can also find an interesting draft analysis over at Pension Plan Puppets.

There has been a lot of talk about Brian Burke’s public statements that he would love to trade up in the draft and select John Tavares. This task just became more difficult when it seems that Oren Koules has won the power struggle over Len Barrie. Koules it seems is more interested in cutting salary to levels very close to the salary cap floor ($40 million). If this is ones goal it probably means that you want young players on your roster so they are more likely to keep the pick and are less likely to be interested in someone like Kaberle who, outside of Luke Schenn (who is unlikely to be traded), is their most valued asset. It seems more likely that Burke could trade up with Atlanta to get the #4 pick where he could select Evander Kane or Luke’s Schenn’s brother Brayden. My gut tells me that if Burke can’t trade up to get into the top 5 and one of the top 5 for some reason doesn’t fall to #7 he’ll seriously consider looking at trading down and picking up an extra pick or two in the process, not unlike what the Islanders did last year when they traded the 5th overall pick to Toronto for Toronto’s 7th overall pick and a 3rd round pick and a 2nd round pick in this years draft and then flipped the 7th overall pick to Nashville for the 9th overall pick and a second round pick. So the Islanders dropped from 5th to 9th and picked up two second round picks and a third round pick in the process. Burke may try to do something along those lines to help fill out the Leafs prospect pool.

Another Leaf rumour going around is that the Leafs are interested in Wade Redden. This has shocked many because most people see Redden as a flop and at his salary and contract length is a waste of time. There is some truth to this. His game has fallen off a bit the last couple of seasons and he is over paid at $6.5 million but he is still a good player capable of playing big minutes (he was 23 in time on ice per game for defensemen at 23:24) and in the right trade, it could make sense. First off, acquiring Redden would make it easier to trade one or both of Kaberle and Kubina which should land Burke with more prospects or draft picks which would amount to cheap players being on the team to offset Redden’s expensive contract. Second, it may be possible for the Leafs to rid themselves of a big contract in the process by, for example, including Jason Blake in the deal. It may also be the case that the Rangers, who have cap issues, may be looking to get rid of Redden at any cost and may be willing to include a draft pick and/or a prospect in the deal just to make it happen. Burke is looking long term and he desperately wants to stock up on prospects to make that happen and if he can flip Kaberle and Kubina (and their $9.25 million in contracts for the upcoming season) for prospects and pick up Redden to offset that loss and maybe pick up a draft pick or prospect or dump a big salary of his own as well it may very well make sense to make that move and it should not be dismissed as a mistake in the process.
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Feb 192009
 

The NHL trade deadline is less than 2 weeks away so it is time that we take a look at what trades might or might not happen between now and then. Here are some of the selling teams to watch as we approach the deadline.

New York Islanders

The Islanders are clearly the worst team in the NHL this season and they also have several players that they will likely trade. The two soon to be unrestricted free agent veterans that will likely draw the most attention are center Doug Weight and winger Bill Guerin. Despite the Islanders problems both are having decent seasons and will be able to provide some solid secondary scoring for any team looking to make a playoff run. Mike Comrie is another forward that is available but I am not sure there will be much interest. Andy Hilbert is also a pending UFA and could be a useful and cheap addition for some teams who don’t want to spend too much at the deadline.

Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers are likely the unanimous choice as the league’s second worst team and they have already made a couple moves, first by moving Jason Williams to Columbus a while back and more recently by sending Mathieu Schneider to the Canadiens. The next obvious candidate to be traded is pending UFA Niclas Havelid who could be a nice pickup for a team looking to add some depth on defense. There has been some talk that either Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg could be traded but more likely a Lehtonen trade will occur in the off season.

Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the more interesting teams to watch will be the Maple Leafs because everyone is wondering what new GM Brian Burke will do. Many are expecting Burke to make a number of significant moves to turn over his lineup, but the reality is Burke is under no pressure (except fan and media pressure which he doesn’t care about) to do very much at all. The reason is, most of the Leaf roster is signed for next season. The only unrestricted free agents on the team are Nik Antropov , Dominic Moore and Brad May and all indications are that Burke would like to sign Moore to a contract extension if the dollars make sense. That means Antropov is the only player that Burke is almost 100% certain to trade and if he doesn’t get the right offers there is certainly a chance that that is all he will do. But if the right offers come along you can expect Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, and Mike Van Ryn to all be available. The public word from Burke is that he does not expect Tomas Kaberle to be traded as he is reluctant to give up someone of Kaberle’s skill set who is signed long term at a very reasonable contract. While this makes perfect sense one also has to wonder if he is attempting to push the price of Kaberle up. Before the season began many thought that goalie Vesa Toskala would be one of the Leafs most sought after players at the trade deadline but that seems unlikely due to Toskala’s poor play. Finally, do not be surprised if the Leafs become buyers of contracts at the deadline. By that I mean the Leafs have the cap space to take on contracts that other teams are looking to dump in order to free up cap space to make another trade and in doing so add a draft pick. For example, if the Penguins needed to free some salary cap space to make another trade, Burke may be willing to take on Miroslav Satan and the remainder of his $3.5 million salary if the Penguins also sent the Leafs a third round pick.

Tampa Bay Lightning

There has been a lot of talk about the Lightning considering trading Vincent Lecavalier but I doubt this happens at the trade deadline. This is more of an off season move if it were to happen. But the Lightning have a couple veterans that might interest contending teams that likely won’t cost too much. Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts. Marek Malik may also draw some attention as a depth defenseman.

Colorado Avalanche

Probably the only team that is a sure bet to be sellers in the western conference at the trade deadline are the Colorado Avalanche and they will have several players available for trade. Pending UFA’s that they are likely to trade are Ian Laperriere and Jordan Leopold. The other big name that is rumoured to be up for grabs is Ryan Smyth but with his contract for 3 more years for a total of $16.5 million that might be a tough sell. Only teams with ample salary cap room in the upcoming years will likely consider him.
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Feb 092009
 

The possibility certainly exists that 5 of the 6 post-lockout Stanley Cup finalists won’t make the playoffs this year.  Ottawa has all but been eliminated while Pittsburgh, Carolina, Edmonton and Anaheim all remain on the bubble.  Detroit is the only post-lockout conference winner to be securely in a playoff spot.  Is that a result of parity or mass mediocrity?

Brian Burke has a history of reacquiring players he knows well.  This is why he went after Brad May in a minor move and this is why I believe that there is a more than good chance that he’ll try to bring in the Sedin twins this summer if Vancouver fails to re-sign them.  But another player to look at is JS Giguere in Anaheim who has all but lost his job, at least in the short term, to Jonas Hiller, and the Ducks might be interested in shedding salary so they can fill in holes elsewhere in their lineup.  The only caveat is Giguere’s no trade clause but if he’ll likely waive it instead of being a backup.

Speaking of Leafs goaltending, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson put out the challenge to Vesa Toskala to improve his practice habits and in turn improve his game which has been mediocre at best this season.  How much has goaltending hurt the Leafs?  Well, they have the worst team save percentage this year at 87.5%.  If they could improve that to a measly 10th worst in the league, or 90.1%, the Leafs would have allowed 149 goals instead of 188 goals.  Combine that with their 155 goals for and they would have the same number of goals for and against as the Montreal Canadiens, who are sitting in 5th spot in the conference 15 points ahead of the Leafs.

Tampa couldn’t do it, Ottawa is failing at it, and Pittsburgh is on the verge of missing the playoffs because of it.  I am talking about spending a boat load of money on two or three mostly offensive oriented forwards.  Tampa spent a lot of money on Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis and failed to obtain much success.  Ottawa has seen their defense decimated and goaltending faulter because they have spent too much on Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson (and to a lesser extent Fisher).  In Pittsburgh they have spent some money on defense and goaltending in addition to their big two of Crosby and Malking, but that meant that Crosby and Malkin are pretty much playing on their own.

I have said this before but it deserves mentioning again, I think Dave Tippett of the Dallas Stars is one of the most under rated coaches in the NHL.  This team not that long ago was the worst team in the NHL but post Sean Avery they have an outstanding 18-8-3 record which has propelled them into 5th spot in the western conference.

One of the most under rated defenseman in the NHL has to be Dennis Wideman who is having an outstanding season in Boston.  He ranks 6th in points and tied for 5th in goals by defensemen adn his +31 ranking is second in the league for any player.  If he continues to play like this into next season he’ll deserve some consideration for the Canadian Olympic team.

When I scan down the list of top point producers in the NHL this year I see a lot of familiar names but no on ever mentions the outstanding year that David Krejci is having with 56 points and sitting 12th in league scoring.  He is a big reason for the Bruin’s success and ability to survive injuries to Bergeron and Sturm.

Has Jason Blake played well enough to make him tradeable, or has he played so well the Leafs won’t want to trade him.  He is on pace for 30 goals, 65 points and for a guy who kills penalties as well he is more than earning his $4 million salary cap hit this year.

It is hard to be optimistic about the New York Islanders future when their leading point producers up front are Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Trent Hunter, Richard Park and Mike Comrie.  That is not a group of players to build a future around.

Oct 172008
 

Bruce Garrioch, Tim Baines, Don Brennan and Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun wrote a ‘discussion style’ article today that brings up an interesting point about the importance of offense from the defensemen.

Don Brennan: Waiting for you guys to say something smart is like waiting for snow to melt … The Senators’ defence last season was a collection of Orrs, Harveys and Coffeys compared to this group. Each year, the Stanley Cup champions get 200-plus points from their blueline. The Senators will be lucky to get 130 from theirs this season. Case closed.

I decided to look into this a little more. Last years Stanley Cup winner, the Detroit Red Wings, had 204 points from their defensemen in the regular season. That was good for best in the NHL. Here are how the rest of the teams defenses stacked up last year including whether they made the playoffs or not.

Eastern Conference

Rank Team DefPts Playoffs
1 Montreal 198 Y
2 Pittsburgh 160 Y
3 Toronto 160 N
4 Buffalo 154 N
5 Washington 148 Y
6 Florida 146 N
7 Ottawa 146 Y
8 Philadelphia 143 Y
9 Boston 136 Y
10 NY Rangers 134 Y
11 Tampa 131 N
12 Carolina 128 N
13 New Jersey 123 Y
14 NY Islanders 120 N
15 Atlanta 91 N

Western Conference

Rank Team DefPts Playoffs
1 Detroit 204 Y
2 Anaheim 165 Y
3 Nashville 160 Y
4 Chicago 151 N
5 Dallas 150 Y
6 Calgary 148 Y
7 Los Angeles 146 N
8 San Jose 146 Y
9 Minnesota 144 Y
10 Phoenix 140 N
11 Colorado 129 Y
12 St. Louis 120 N
13 Vancouver 116 N
14 Edmonton 114 N
15 Columbus 109 N

In the eastern conference, if offense from the defense was the sole factor in making the playoffs Toronto, Buffalo and Florida would have made it and in the west Chicago and Los Angeles would have. But clearly there is some kind of correlation (direct or indirect) between offense from the defense and a teams success. The bottom four teams in the west and four of the bottom 5 in the east missed the playoffs. Simply put, if your defense aren’t producing much offense you will struggle to make the playoffs.

Going a step further, if we look at each playoff matchup we will find the majority of the matchups had the team with the most regular season points from defensemen winning the playoff series. The only exceptions to this are Dallas (150 points) defeating Anaheim (165 points), Colorado (129) defeating Minnesota (144), San Jose (146) defeating Calgary (148) and Philadelphia (143) defeating Washington (148) in the first round and Philadelphia (143) defeating Montreal (198) in the second round.

Of those 5 exceptions, the San Jose-Calgary and Philadelphia-Washington series very similar point production from their defense (within 5 points of each other) so really they aren’t exceptions. They were also both 7 game series so the closeness of the series matched the closeness of their offense from defensemen totals. Plus San Jose added Brian Campbell to their defense which probably gave them the edge over Calgary in regards to offense from their defense.

That really just leaved three series where the team with the lower scoring defensemen defeated teams with higher scoring defensemen and in the case of Dallas, it isn’t like that are lacking in the offense from defense department anyway. Going back one season we saw two teams with high scoring defenses play in the Stanley Cup finals as the Anaheim Ducks (209) defeat the Ottawa Senators (191).

There are certainly a lot of other factors that go into what makes a successful team but based on the past couple seasons, being able to produce offense from your defense seems to be a fairly important factor. Some highly offensive defensemen switched teams this past summer (Boyle to San Jose, Campbell to Chicago, Visnovsky to Edmonton, Redden to NY Rangers, Streit to NY Islanders, McCabe to Florida, etc) so lets see if this really makes an impact on the success of those teams. So far it is a mixed bag with San Jose (4-0-0), the Rangers (5-1-0) and Edmonton (2-0-0) looking like winners while Chicago (1-2-1) and the Islanders (2-2-0) having mixed results.

As for the Senators, they sit at 1-1-1 with 6 points (on 8 goals) from defensemen with newcomer Filip Kuba leading the team with 4 assists.

Aug 172008
 

1 Montreal Canadiens
2 Pittsburgh Penguins
3 Washington Capitals
4 Philadelphia Flyers
5 Ottawa Senators
6 NY Rangers
7 New Jersey Devils
8 Carolina Hurricanes
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
10 Boston Bruins
11 Buffalo Sabres
12 Florida Panthers
13 Atlanta Thrashers
14 Toronto Maple Leafs
15 NY Islanders

Again, I’m going to have to disagree with THN over this. If the Pens had managed to keep Ryan Malone and/or Marian Hossa I’d be inclined to agree that they would finish atop their division, but they won’t. When you potentially have Miroslav Satan as your top scoring winger you’re not going to go anywhere fast. The rest of the team remains largely the same.

I have a hard time believing the Sens will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Despite the fact that Wade Redden‘s game is in decline, losing him will hurt because they didn’t replace him. The Sens are still looking for ways to fill out the rest of their roster, but like so many other teams in the East, goaltending is their primary concern. If Martin Gerber doesn’t hold up, they’re slightly above average at best by virtue of their incredible top line.

The Bruins are going to make some noise this year, especially with a completely healed Patrice Bergeron. Michael Ryder will head into camp as the favourite to land the first line right winger slot, and considering the success Claude Julien had with Ryder, along with an elite playmaking centre in Marc Savard, he could be a very nice surprise. Once again, however, they head into training camp with a 1A-1B tandem of fan favourite Tim Thomas and the disgruntled Manny Fernandez.

The East is much more clear cut than the West because so many teams have holes. The Habs, arguably the best team in the East, also has a shaky goaltending situation considering how Carey Price fell apart last year. These goaltending problems also plague at least 3 of the playoff teams listed. It’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out – a lot of teams have areas to improve, and considering the mass exodus of players from the East heading West, this year could be rather different.