Should Leafs give up on Armstrong?

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May 182012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s take a look at GA20.

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 262011

The biggest hole in the Leafs lineup that GM Brian Burke has been trying to fill for a couple of summers now is the first line center role and that hole in the lineup still exists and needs to be addressed before the Leafs can be serious playoff contenders.  Tyler Bozak was given a chance and failed (though it was probably overly optimistic to expect him to be that level of player) and the hopes of getting a top center in a Kaberle trade also did not pan out (though Colborne is a fine center prospect and may be a quality center a few years from now).  High first round draft pick Nazem Kadri is another option but as of yet hasn’t developed into that level of player.  That said, if nothing changes Kadri is the guy penciled into that role but that wouldn’t be an ideal situation entering the 2011-12 season.  Not only is that putting a lot of pressure on Kadri (who has enough on his shoulders already)  but some within the organization have suggested Kadri might be better suited as a winger than a center.  Regardless of the reason, Burke is desperately in search of a true, established first line center.  Let me take a look at a few of the options.

The only real first line center option in the unrestricted free agent market is Brad Richards.  At 31 years of age he probably has at least 4 or 5 really good seasons left in him and he is a very good playmaker and overall offensive player and likely be a significant boost to the woeful Leafs power play but he is a liability defensively which is a concern for me.  The question is, what are you willing to pay for him as there will be ample competition for his services from Dallas, the NY Rangers and probably others.  Since Burke is against handing out long term deals more than 5 years it may cost Burke 5 years at $8-8.5M per season to get Richards signed.  The Leafs have the cap space to do it, but should they commit that much to Richards?  Would you? Personally, I think if you can get him for $8M or less you do it.  Anything more is getting a bit rich.

The other option for filling the first line center hole is through trade.  Two teams that I can think of that are deep at center and may be (or need to be) looking to make changes are the Flyers and the Sharks.  The Flyers have depth at center, very little cap space, would like to re-sign Ville Leino (but would be at a significant increase in salary) and need to spend some money improving their goalie situation as well (Vokoun?).  They have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who have or can play center.  I’d love to see a Jeff Carter or James van Riemsdyk in a Leaf uniform but van Riemsdyk is still on a cheap rookie contract so doesn’t really solve the Flyers money issues and Carter has one of those long term deals that Burke doesn’t like to hand out.  Briere would probably be available and not cost much but his cap hit is $6.5M for four more seasons and he’ll be turning 34 around the time the 2011-12 season starts so he isn’t really someone I see Burke being interested in.

San Jose just suffered another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks so one has to wonder if they finally bite the bullet and make a significant change to their core group of forwards.  They have Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and my rookie of the year pick Logan Couture as players able to play the center position and all are capable of being first or second line centers.  Of the four, Pavelski might be the most ‘available’ but he is also probably the least suitable as a first line center so I am not sure the Sharks are an ideal trading partner for a center.

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May 242011

This is the first of several posts I will dedicate to what I expect the Leafs will do this upcoming off season.  In this post I outline where the Leafs are at now and what holes need to be addressed over the summer months.

The Leafs ended the 2010-11 season on a high note being backstopped by solid goaltending from James Reimer and an improved offense including significant offensive contributions from Dion Phaneuf for the first time in a Leaf uniform and Nazem Kadri among others.  This late season surge has given Leaf fans renewed optimism entering the 2011-12 season but before we get to the 2011-12 season we need to take a look at what the Leafs might do during the summer and before we get to that lets take a look at the team that finished the season.  After all the trades made at the trade deadline, this is the lineup that finished the 2010-11 season.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Joffrey Lupul Nazem Kadri Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur* Mikhail Grabovski Nikolai Kulemin
Fredrik Sjostrom** Tyler Bozak* Colby Armstrong
Colton Orr Tim Brent** Mike Brown
Jay Rosehill** Darryl Boyce** Joey Crabb**
Defense Defense
Dion Phaneuf Luke Schenn*
Keith Aulie Carl Gunnarsson*
Mike Komisarek Matt Lashoff*
Brett Lebda
James Reimer*
JS Giguere**
Jonas Gustavsson

*Restricted Free Agent

**Unrestricted Free Agent

There are essentially 6 restricted free agents that need to be re-signed and an additional 5 unrestricted free agents that decisions need to be made on.

Restricted Free Agents

James Reimer – Maybe the most important RFA to be re-signed is James Reimer.  In Reimer the Leafs hope to have finally found a true #1 goalie but as of yet Reimer can’t claim to be that having only started 35 NHL games.  I expect Reimer to get a similar deal to the one Gustavsson signed (2 years at 1.35M/year) after his first season in the NHL in which he started 39 games.  Now Reimer performed better so might deserve a little more but I think 2 years at $1.5M/year is reasonable.

Luke Schenn –  If Reimer isn’t the most important RFA to be re-signed, Luke Schenn is.  The question is, what is he worth?  The New York Rangers re-signed Marc Staal to a 5 year deal at an average salary of $3.975M per season last summer.  It could be argued that Staal is a better defenseman than Schenn but the difference would not be great so I’ll suggest that $4M/year is an upper limit on Schenn at this point in time.  I think Schenn’s contract will probably come in around $3.5M/year on a three year deal or a more Staal-like $4M/year deal if the contract length was 5 years.

Carl Gunnarsson – I like Gunnarsson as a defenseman and he has done some really good things in his brief NHL career.  He has good long term upside but as of right now is still not yet proven.  I think a fair price for him is a 2 year deal at $1.25M/year and lets see what he can do in a full time, possibly top four, role.

Clarke MacArthur – I wrote an article a month or so ago on the progression of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line in which I suggested that MacArthur might not have as much value as we think.  Brian burke was listening to trade offers on MacArthur at the trade deadline and I think he will continue to do the same, especially if MacArthur is asking for $3M/year type money.  I personally don’t think he is worth that.  He isn’t that great defensively and while he was important as a playmaker for Grabovski and Kulemin, I don’t consider him someone that isn’t easily replaced and I think Kadri might be good replacing MacArthur on the wing if the Leafs manage to find a proven #1 center.  If he is asking for much more than $2.0M/year I’d seriously consider trading him.

Tyler Bozak – I am not quite sure what to make of Bozak yet.  He has some offensive skill, but not good enough to be a first line center.  He has shown some ability defensively and on the PK but his defensive ratings are still quite poor (HARD+ of 0.816 over past 2 seasons is actually pretty bad) but he is the Leafs best faceoff guy (54.6%) and I think the potential is there that he can be a solid 2-way third line center.  As such I would like to see him re-signed and see if he can excel in that role.  A fair value might be a 2 year deal at somewhere around $1-1.25M/yr, certainly no more.

Matt Lashoff – I liked what I saw from Lashoff in his short time with the Leafs at the end of last season.  In limited ice time over the past 4 seasons he has a weak 0.611 HARO+ rating but a very solid 1.288 HARD+ rating.  I’d like to see him as the #6/7 defenseman and see what he can do.   He has good size and skates well and as a former first round pick was once highly thought of.  He might be one of those guys that just needs to be given a chance and he’ll be cheap so why not.

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Kaberle and Building through the Draft

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Feb 182011

First off, it should be a sad day in Leaf land as we all say good bye to Tomas Kaberle.  It seems many people are unaware of just how good Kaberle was and still is.  Here are some facts about Tomas Kaberle:

  1. Since Kaberle entered the NHL in 2008-09 the only defenseman with more assists than Kaberle is Niklas Lidstrom and only Lidstrom, Gonchar and Pronger have more points.
  2. Since the lockout only Lidstrom has more assists among defensemen and only Lidstrom and Rafalski have more points.
  3. Among all skaters, not just defensemen, Kaberle ranks 20th in assists since the lockout and has more assists than Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Staal.
  4. His point production has not tailed off significantly the past several seasons despite many people seemingly believing otherwise.  He had 49 points last season and is on pace for about 52 this season.
  5. Only 2 defensemen (Keith, Enstrom) have more combined assists this season and last and only 8 defensemen (Green, Keith, Boyle, Lidstrom, Enstrom, Visnovsky, Doughty and Yandle).

That is pretty good if you ask me and while he had his flaws he truly was an elite puck moving and passing defenseman.  He’ll be missed in Toronto.

Now, it is time to take a look at the Leafs future.  What Burke has done the past couple years has actually been pretty extraordinary and for all those who have begged for the Leafs to go with the build through the draft method of team building here is some of the assets currently in the Maple Leaf organization.

  • 2011 Boston 1st round pick
  • 2011 Philadelphia 1st round pick
  • Nazem Kadri – 7th overall 2009
  • Luke Schenn – 5th overall 2008
  • Joe Colborne – 16th overall, 2008
  • Jake Gardiner – 17th overall, 2008
  • Phil Kessel – 5th overall, 2006
  • Dion Phaneuf – 9th overall 2003
  • Joffrey Lupul – 7th overall 2002
  • Mike Komisarek – 7th overall, 2001
  • Fredrik Sjostrom – 11th overall 2001
  • Colby Armstrong – 21st overall, 2001

Now we don’t know what Kadri, Colborne, Gardiner and the two 2011 draft picks will turn out to be, but that is what rebuilding through the draft is all about (and isn’t that what Leaf fans have been demanding).  So while it may not be the traditional build through the draft, what Burke has done to the depth of young talent on these Leafs has been amazing, even if we haven’t seen the results on the ice yet.  On top of that, the Leafs should have about $25M in cap space available for next season (though MacArthur, Bozak, Schenn and Gunnarsson need to be re-signed). Fear not Leaf fans, I believe good times are ahead, and not too far away.

Nine Teams with Goaltending Questions

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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.