Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why I Don't Think Pittsburgh Will Make Playoffs

When I posted my predictions for the Atlantic Division, Jes Golbez commented that he was suprised at how low I rated the Penguins. I pick them to finish 4th in the Atlantic Division and tenth in the East Conference, thus I pick them to miss the playoffs.

How can anyone pick a team with Mario Lemieux, John LeClair, Zigmund Palffy, Mark Recchi, Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Dick Tarnstrom and Jocelyn Thibault to miss the playoffs? For the most part, Pittsburgh's offence is old and injury prone. An offence built around Lemieux, LeClair, Recchi and Palffy would be great in 1995, but its not 1995 anymore (its 2005). I expect these guys will be slowed with a year off of hockey (for most of these players) and to futher decline and be more injury prone. You cannot build a good team through free agency - at least not when the age for unrestricted free agency is 31 (under this new CBA that will quickly change when the UFA age drops). Pittsburgh is trying to build through free agency. It is the same thing the New York Rangers tried for years and failed with.

Of course, Pittsburgh drafted Sidney Crosby. How good will Crosby be? He may be a great player someday, but we must remember he is a rookie. He has never even played an NHL game yet. If Crosby has a 60 point rookie season it will be a big success. He's not ready to lead a team yet. Someday it may happen. Pittsburgh has a very god crop of recent draft picks. People like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Johannes Salmonsson likely will someday lead a resurgent Penguins team that competes - if several of these players develop as projected. At that time, the free agent signings will have likely retired.

Pittsburgh has a potential problem keeping the puck out of their own net. Jocelyn Thibault is not a Vezina Trophy level goalie. He is a decent starter who has had injury problems recently. If he is healthy, he will likely be solid but unspectacular. The two stars on their defence are Sergei Gonchar (who by his age may start to decline) and Dick Tarnstrom. Neither are known for solid defensive play. Maybe their best stay at home defender will be Lyle Odelein (and that should raise alarm bells).

All told, Pittsburgh will live and die based on the strength of their offence. Their offence is old, injury prone and in decline. It consists of several players who were once good - who probably will look good at times - but cannot last the whole season. They will have problems keeping the puck out of their net. When the offence fails Pittsburgh will lose. I think Pittsburgh will likely be one of the most improved teams in the NHL, they have a lot of room for improvement. I don't think they did enough to make the playoffs. I don't know that you can accomplish that by signing 31 plus year olds. You need to build your team with younger players who are improving or at least not declining.

Interesting article. Sorry for all the stats in my rant, though you may find it interesting...

Generally speaking, a team needs to score at least as many goals as it allows in order to qualify for the playoffs. Last year, Pittsburgh scored 190 goals and allowed 303. So, if Pittsburgh wants to make the playoffs, they'll need to get 113 more goals for and/or fewer goals against.

If Pittsburgh has the best offense in the league (and it very well may), they'll probably score around 260 goals, which is 70 more than last year. This means they need to allow around 45 fewer goals in order to have a good chance of making it.

Has Pittsburgh's defense improved by 45 goals? I think they have a very good chance at that. First, due to a run-and-gun offense, I expect them to spend a lot of time in the other team's zone, so they should allow fewer shots. Second, Thibault may not be a Vezina-calbire goalie, but he should put up a better save percentage than Caron's horrific .883. If Pittsburgh cuts down on shots allowed by 10% (falling from 33.2 to 30.2 per game), and Thibault puts up a .905 save percentage (which is 5 points below the league average), Pittsburgh will allow only 235 goals, which is 68 fewer than the year before.

So, if Pittsburgh scores 70 more and allows 68 fewer goals than the year before, they'll have a goal differential of +25, which will easily put them in the playoffs. Of course, these are pretty liberal estimates, and a lot of things can go wrong. Still, I think this shows that Pittsburgh has a reasonable chance at making the playoffs.

Again, sorry for all the stats. Let me know what you think.
My short answer is that I think it is highly unlikely that Pittsburgh will have the best offence in the NHL (or even close to the best offence). Pittsburgh does not have a top offence in 2005 (although they would have had one in 1995 with the same players).

Look for teams with young stars who are entering the primes of their careers to have the best offences (teams like Ottawa, Vancouver, Tampa Bay and Atlanta might be candidates).
Well Recchi has been incredibly consistant over his career and I think he'll be just ducky in Pburgh. The only player I'd worry much about is Leclair, given his back problems and his age. I know Pittsburgh has a weak defense, but their offense and PP should help offset that a great deal. The Penguins are a risky team, for revised pre-season predictions lowered them just a tad.

Hockey Outsider - It's not just a simple case of addition and subtraction. The new rules may just throw a completely new twist to the equation. While it will help the Pens score more goals, it might hurt them as well.

I'd think a full year of Thibault will help them greatly.

50+ games of Lemieux, 50+ games of Leclair, Recchi, Palffy, GONCHAR, and Crosby should equal a major increase in offense. They also have good offensive depth with guys like Surovy and Malone.

Do these revised pre-season predictions exist anywhere online?
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