Monday, March 27, 2006

Congratulations Golden Bears

The University of Alberta Golden Bears successfully defended their CIS men's hockey championship last night. The championship was held at their home in Edmonton. They defeated Lakehead University (from Thunder Bay, Ontario) in the final 3-2. Tournament MVP Harlan Anderson, Richard Hamula and Dylan Stanley scored for Alberta. The Lakehead goals were scored by Tobias Whelan and Jeff Richards.

NOTE: This will be my final post for a week or so. I will be travelling. Congrats again to the Golden Bears (one of my alma maters)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bruins Fire Mike O'Connell

Yesterday, the Boston Bruins fired general manager Mike O'Connell. Was Mike O'Connell a bad GM? I'm not sure her was. I think most people believe he is a bad GM because they do not understand what his mandate from Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs is. When salaries increased in the 1990's, Jacobs decided that there may not be any purpose trying to build a Stanley Cup winning team. What was important was setting up a system that guaranteed him a maximum profit. There was no reason to gamble upon a higher priced team that may be a Stanley cup contender, since the possibility exists that the team would fail and possibly lead to losses (or reduced profits).

In Boston, Jeremy Jacobs is a very involved owner, who makes sure that his profits are maximized, even at expense of having a winning team. Team president Harry Sinden is also very active trying to keep Jacobs profits as high as possible. It is unclear how much reign Mike O'Connell actually had to be a general manager who institutes a plan to try to build a winning hockey team. I do not think he ever had the chance to try it.

This situation has alienated most of the Boston diehard fans. Boston has been a historically strong hockey market. Killing that market has been no easy task. It took years of Jeremy Jacobs neglecting the fans. The fans have caught on. Attendance in Boston is down.

To make matters worse, Boston made a trade designed to save money that is awful from a hockey standpoint. They traded Joe Thornton to San Jose. Thornton is having a very good season. He is the second highest scorer in the NHL and a serious MVP candidate. Somebody needs to fall for that move in order to try to save face with the fans. You cannot fire the owner. So you blame the general manager.

Mike O'Connell did a good job maximizing Jeremy Jacobs profits at the expense of building a good hockey team. This was the job he was hired to do. He is being made the fall guy because he made an awful hockey move in the process.

Has Boston turned over a new leaf? Probably not. Why did they fire their GM now with 11 games left in the season? They replaced him with Jeff Gorton, who had been the team's assistant GM. If the plan is to let Gorton be GM for an extended period of time, then the plan is to hire another puppet GM for Jacobs and Sinden's cost cutting. If the plan is to find a new GM who might have the power to actually make a change, wouldn't that have been better done in the summertime when more quality GMs are available?

Here is the TSN article on the issue.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

An Unsung Hero

When people look at the New York Rangers success this season, two names come to mind. They are MVP race leader Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist, who has been one of the top goalies in the NHL this season. One key reason for their success that has received little fanfare is defenceman Michal Rozsival. Rozsival's +36 +/- rating is the third highest in the NHL. It is the highest among non-Ottawa Senator players (in fact, he is the only non-Senator in the top 6 in +/- this season). Rozsival leads his Ranger team in ice time and shifts. He has developed into one of the best stay at home defencemen in hockey - arguable the best one this season. This is a suprise. For the past several seasons before the Rangers acquired him, Rozsival had been an extra defenceman who typically played on the second or third line in Pittsburgh who didn't appear to have much of an upside. He has even been somewhat successful offensively. His 26 points lead all Ranger defencemen. Rozsival is having a very good season and is one of the key reasons the New York Rangers have significantly improved.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Checketts Agrees To Buy The Blues Again

The St Louis Blues have been sold to Dave Checketts, the former president of Madison Square Gardens for an undisclosed amount of money. This is the second time this was announced - in late September it was announced that he bought the team for $150 million. That fell apart a couple months later. Presumably, the new sale price is less than $150 million.

Here is TSN's story on the sale.

The NHL And The Next Group Of Young Stars

One of the biggest stories repeated in the media this year is how great the class of rookies are. How the future is now and how the future is bright. While there are some good rookies in Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist and Sidney Crosby, this story is overblown.

One look at the potential award winners this year shows this. If the season ended now, I would give the Hart trophy (as well as the Art Ross and Richard) to Jaromir Jagr. I would give the Norris trophy to Nicklas Lidstrom. Both of these guys have won these trophies in the past. Even the awards likely to get new winners are looking at veteran winners. I think 29 year old Tomas Vokoun is the Vezina trophy leader. I think 35 year old Rod Brind'Amour is the Selke trophy leader. The only major award likely to go to a hot young player is the rookie of the year - an award which by definition must go to a rookie.

Is this the final year that the "old guard" will win their awards? I wouldn't count on that either. I see no good reason why Jaromir Jagr or Joe Thornton or Peter Forsberg or Roberto Luongo or other well established NHL players cannot win major awards in the future. I imagine that other younger players who were well established before the lockout like Ilya Kovalchuk or Marian Hossa could win some awards. Likely some of the rookies (and other young guns - Eric Staal, Jason Spezza etc) could win some awards - and maybe as soon as next season, but there is no changing of the guard underway right now. There is a good (double) rookie class, but in the "historic rebirth of the NHL" story that the NHL wants written, this class is getting overhyped. They will be good. They will likely win some individual awards. Likely they will not dominate the league for years to come.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

MVP Race

Several bloggers are posting their MVP picks over the last day or two. One good example is from James Mirtle. I will step into the fray and explain how I see the MVP race right now.

First, lets attempt to define MVP. If it were possible to define a full hockey sabermetric system, then the MVP would be the player who had the highest sabermetric value that season. Arguments about how some player is more valuable because another player has a good teammate miss the point. The argument should be about who is the best player this season and not about which team stinks the most were it not for some player who allegedly saved them.

Among the forwards in the NHL, there are two who are far out ahead of the pack. Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. I have been picking Jagr as MVP for most of the season. Jagr is the top scorer in the NHL. He leads the NHL in goals. He has been an important part of a resurgent team in New York that was expected to miss the playoffs, but have done well instead. Thornton came to a San Jose team that was expected to do well, but didn't at the beginning of the year and now they look like a playoff team. Of course neither player is soley responsible for the team's "turnaround" and it is nearly meaningless to try to argue one is more important than the other. Jagr is extremely dominant. Thornton is dominant too. The simplest statistical argument to separate them is Jagr has significantly more goals - and there is no individual player's statistic that correlates better with winning then scoring goals. There are other forwards having good years who may see some MVP votes, but they are also rans. They include Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Alfredsson and Eric Staal. Ovechkin gets the most support from this group because he is the only significant player on an awful Washington team, but he has clearly not had as good a season as Jagr or Thornton.

Among defencemen, there are several candidates for the best defenceman in the NHL. I pick Nicklas Lidstrom as the best of them, but he isn't as dominant as Jagr or Thornton. Lidstrom could be a solid third nominee for the Hart trophy. Other top defencemen include Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and Sergei Zubov. While it is true that defencemen don't win enough MVPs historically, I wouldn't argue one is deserving this year.

Goaltenders are in a position to dominate a game merely by their position. They can easily have a huge positive or negative effect in any game. The goalies cited as MVP candidates are Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff. They have played most of the games for their teams and put up very good numbers. There have been two other very good goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and Dominik Hasek who have slightly better saves percentages, but in about ten less games played. I don't think any one goalie stands out far in front of the other candidates, though I pick Vokoun as the current Vezina leader.

If the season ended right now, my Hart trophy votes would be 1) Jaromir Jagr 2) Joe Thornton 3) Nicklas Lidstrom. There is still plenty of time for things to change.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Los Angeles Kings Desperation

The Los Angeles Kings are in a tight playoff race, but they look to be one of the teams that will likely barely miss out of the playoffs. Currently, Los Angeles is tied for the eighth and final playoff berth with the Edmonton Oilers, except Edmonton has a game in hand - which would leave them in nineth. Only one point back of this is the San Jose Sharks who are one point back of the kings but have three points in hand. Most likely, it looks like Los Angeles will finish 10th (that is where Mudcrutch Hockey predicts their finish).

Los Angeles would desperately like to make the playoffs. They made a move to try to accomplish this. Last night, they fired coach Andy Murray. Murray is a pretty good coach. he has proven that over a few years of NHL employment and Canadian National Team coaching. They hired as an interim coach John Torchetti. Torchetti is a minor league coach, who was a failed interim coach for the Florida Panthers at the conclusion of the 2003/04 season. He had a losing record there and has done little to make one believe he is a good coach at the NHL level. Why was he hired? Torchetti was hired because he was available (read unemployed) and had credentials that made it possible to pass him off as an NHL coach. Nobody would claim that Torchetti is a better coach than Murray. I think most would claim Murray is a far better coach.

So why would Los Angeles make this move? Why would they think it might work? A major shake-up on any team often leads to a short term unsustainable improvement on the ice. Firing the coach and bringing in somebody from outside the organization to coach is as big a shake-up as can be made after the trade deadline. It is very poosible that Torchetti could lead Los Angeles to a short term improvement that might push them into the playoffs.

I would bet against Torchetti succeeding, but it is not too improbable a scenario. What is the cost to the Kigns for this move? They lose Andy Murray as a coach. Likely, some competitor in the NHL will grab him in the off season. Los Angeles will be stuck with Torchetti as coach, unless they fire him and hire another coach. In the off season, there is a good chance that Los Angeles will be able to find a coach with ability similar to Andy Murray. Its much harder to find a coach during the season. Most (if not all) good candidates to coach a team have found some other employment for the season and are not available. Is Los Angeles in worse shape going into next season coach by Torchetti? Probably. But they won't do this unless he succeeds. Unless the Kings make the playoffs under Torchetti, he won't be back next year.

Los Angeles is desperate to make the playoffs. Their firing of coach Andy Murray and hiring of John Torchetti as an interim coach is really a high stakes equivalent of pulling the goalie. Most of the time, that risk fails, however, the odds of success while taking that risk are higher than if they do not take that risk.

Here is TSN's article on this story.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How Did Anaheim Become A Playoff Team?

In 2003/04, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks finished in 12th place in the West Conference and missed the playoffs. Since that time, the team has lost or traded Sergei Fedorov, Petr Sykora, Steve Rucchin and Vaclav Prospal. They were their four highest scorers in the 03/04 season. They have also lost Niclas Havelid and Martin Skoula. They were their two highest scoring defencemen in 03/04. They have also traded Sandis Ozolinsh and Keith Carney. They were two other significant defencemen in the 03/04 season. That sounds like the recipe for a failed rebuilding season in 05/06.

Anaheim has had a very good season in 05/06. They look likely to make the playoffs in a very tight West Conference race. How is this possible? What happened?

In goal, Anaheim has kept Jean-Sebastien Giguere. He has had a string of good seasons in Anaheim. This season Giguere has a 2.53 GAA and a .914 saves percentage. This is almost as good a performance as in 03/04 when he had a 2.62 GAA and a .914 saves percentage. These numbers have stayed roughly the same despite an increase in goals scored in the NHL.

The team's defence has improved. This improvement is lost largely in the increase in scoring leaguewide. Anaheim's defensive improvement is due in a large part to the signing of defending Norris trophy winner Scott Niedermayer, who is having a very good season. They have also had a strong season from rookie Francois Beauchemin who was acquired in the Sergei Fedorov trade. Amazingly, Beauchemin (who was basically a throw in in this deal) has played better than former Hart trophy winner Sergei Fedorov. Other defensive contributors are stay-at-homer Ruslan Salei and newly acquired Sean O'Donnell.

Statistically, the biggest improvement Anaheim made was offensive. They did this while shipping out their top four scorers in 03/04. This improvement is partly explained by the leaguewide increase in scoring. For the most part, their offensive success has come from the emergence of homegrown talent. Brian Burke was quite lucky to take over a team that had this depth of young offensive talent. Their offence is built around emerging Andy McDonald and has important roles for youngsters Joffrey Lupul, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Their top scorer is Teemu Selanne who was added as a free agent.

For the most part, Anaheim's season is due to a good emerging young core of forwards and a couple good free agent signings. Niedermayer was too good to be passed up and he filled a large whole on defence. Selanne was very underpriced, after a poor 03/04 season which was not typical for him. Jean-Sebastien Giguere was identified as a key piece around which the team could be built, while the remaining older core players who were declining in value were traded or let go. It has been a very successful year for Brian Burke's vision in Anaheim. How well will they stand up in the playoffs or in future seasons? That is still to be determined.

Monday, March 20, 2006

NHL And On-Ice Officials Reach CBA

Today it was announced that the on-ice officials have reached a CBA agreement with the NHL. It is a four year labour deal. After the lockout season where many officials were left unemployed for a year, nobody was willing to have much of a labour fight.

TSN's article on the agreement is here.

Blackout In Pittsburgh

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs played in Pittsburgh against the Pittsburgh Penguins. While it is well publicized that the Pittsburgh Penguins want a new arena and may be willing to move if they cannot get one, their argument is that it is their old stadium that does not have the revenue possibilities of modern NHL stadiums. Their argument is not that they cannot keep power on in Pittsburgh. Despite this, there were two blackouts during the Toronto game last night. The second more lengthy blackout was caused by a small fire in an electrical panel. Many fans left during the second blackout and did not return for the remainder of the game.

I think that everyone recognized that the Penguins will not be in the Mellon Arena much longer and has held off putting capital into necessary improvements in the building. That is what let the electrical system get to the point where they had these problems.

There is an offer to the Pittsburgh ownership to build a new arena which is dependant upon a casino licence going to the Penguins ownership.

For the record, Toronto won the game 1-0.

Here is TSN's story on the game.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vezina Trophy Leader

For most of the season I have been picking Dominik Hasek as the leader in the Vezina race. However, he suffered injury during the olympics and has not played since. This opens the possibility for other goalies to pass him. I think the current leader is Tomas Vokoun of the Nashville Predators. He has a 2.52 GAA and a .922 saves percentage playing almost every game behind the rising Nashville Predator team. He is playing extremely well and is one of the big reasons that Nashville has made such a big leap in the standings this season. Other top candidates are Henrik Lundqvist, Miikka Kiprusoff and of course Hasek (especially if he returns from injury). One other player who may get some consideration based largely on reputation and not on what he has accomplished this year is Martin Brodeur. I would disagree with this pick. Brodeur may be having a good season, but he is hardly the best goalie in the NHL this season.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Suprising Top Scorer

No realistic predictions at the beginning of this season had Jonathan Cheechoo breaking out as well as he was this season. His 41 goals so far make him the fourth highest goal scorer in the NHL. He has meshed very well with Joe Thornton who was acquired from Boston via trade this season. Thornton leads the NHL in points right now. He leads the NHL in assists as well. Many of these assists have been Cheechoo goals. Cheechoo caught fire after the trade and has remained hot (for example since February 1st he leads the NHL with his 13 goals).

Cheechoo came into the season as a rising young talent. He was fresh off a San Jose run to the semi-finals in 2004 where he was one of the team's better players. He was a very good later round sleeper pick in hockey pool drafts, but nobody realistically expected as many goals as he has scored.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Best Team Defence

Ever since the early days of the season, the Ottawa Senators have had the best goals against average in the NHL. Their start of the season was especially dominant. They currently have a 2.35 GAA which is slowly creeping upward as the season progresses (it was 2.14 in mid-November).

Several things have happened to change this. The scouts around the NHL have had a chance to see the Senators and find some chinks in their armour. The best goalie in the NHL so far this season Dominik Hasek got injured during the Olympics. Wade Redden who was at one point the Norris trophy leader has fallen off the pace. Ottawa got off to such a fast start that they have little to play for. It is clear that they will have a top record in the NHL this season and a top seed in the playoffs. This has probably led to a reduction in the intensity of the Senators play.

By season's end, likely Ottawa will not have the best goals against average in the NHL. The Calgary Flames have been consistently gaining upon them. They currently have a 2.37 GAA (which is in striking distance of Ottawa). Their goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has come on very strong after a slow October. Their young defence is maturing. Key players Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf have both improved over the course of the season. Calgary is in a much tighter race for a good playoff seeding, giving them more to play for.

When the season is complete, I expect that Calgary will likely have a better goals against average than Ottawa does. Both teams have very defences. It wouldn't suprise me to see them compete against one another in the Stanley Cup finals (this follows from the old adage that defence wins championships). Since Ottawa has the better offence, I expect they would be the favorite in an Ottawa vs. Calgary match-up.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tim Thomas: Another Unheralded Goalie

This season has had several goalies who were previously unproven in the NHL who stepped forward and played very well. this group includes Calder trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal Canadien Cristobal Huet. It has also included for shorter periods of time players who could not keep up their high level of play like Mike Morrison and Curtis Sanford.

Another previopusly unheralded goalie playing very well this season is Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. Thomas is a 31 year old who looked as though he would be a career minor leaguer. In 2002/03 he played 4 NHL games. Before this season, that was his entire NHL experience. He was chosen to the US team in the 2005 World Championships of hockey. He was one of the few non-NHL players on the US team. This season he has played very well in Boston. He got a chance to play when defending rookie of the year Andrew Raycroft played poorly and rookie Hannu Toivonen could not carry the load by himself. Toivonen hurt his ankle and has been out since early January. Raycroft has also had a couple minor injuries. Thomas has filled in very well. He has a .927 saves percentage and a 2.29 GAA on a Boston team that has not played well and looks to miss the playoffs.

Why are there so many unheralded goalies who are playing well this year? in part it is due to the lockout, goalies had the chance to improve in the 2004/05 season outside of the NHL and thus do so under the radar of most fans. They might be more well known had they had the chance to play in the NHL last season. Then their current success would seem like less of a suprise.

Another big part of the reason comes from the nature of goaltending. Goaltenders (good or bad) are significant players in any game they appear in. They have the ability to significantly influence any game. Moreso than an unheralded player in another position, who likely will not get frontline ice time. Goaltending is a position of confidence. If a goalie gets "in a groove" and gets confident, he can play very well for a short period of time. Goaltending is also a position that scouts spend a lot of time analyzing. Once a goalie has a chance to play a few games and gets noticed by scouts, it is quite common for his tendencies to be analyzed and his weaknesses to be discovered and then exploited by opposing teams. The really good goalies can adjust to this and adapt their game. The flash in the pan goalies do not and often disappear from the NHL scene.

Is Tim Thomas going to be a flash in the pan and disappear? We can only guess on that. Given his age (31) he is not likely in the longterm plans of any team. However, if he continues to play well, he can have a good career for several years in his 30's (much like Dwayne Roloson who is now with the Edmonton Oilers).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another Example Of The NHL's Disorganization

I have documented a few examples of odd situations that exist in the NHL that highlight some of its snafus. For example the $75,000 re-entry waivers have kept some of the better minor leaguers in the minors while worse players are called up and are often sent down one day and called up the next to save a few thousand dollars.

There is another example that limits teams abilities to plan for the future. The NHL salary cap is going to go up. This is because the initial revenue estimates were a lowball figure that has been easily surpassed and because the CBA is written to assume an annual increase in revenue each year. This makes Ted Saskin and the impotent NHLPA unhappy. They want salary cap reduced. This is because it is highly unlikely that the NHL will exceed its revenue estimates next season and as a result the players will have large escrow payments to make that will likely sour them toward NHLPA head Ted Saskin.

Next season, the salary cap is expected to be $46 million with a salary floor of $29 million. In an effort to try to keep his job Ted Saskin is asking to have the cap reduced to $43 million or so. Crazy as it sounds, the players union wants the salary cap lowered.

This leads to serious problems planning as a GM. A good GM knows approximately what his team can afford to pay in salaries next season. However, this GM has a reasonably large range of figures for the potential salary cap. It makes longterm planning hard. One place where this is a signficant issue is Colorado. They will likely spend near the salary cap figure. They have added another salary in Jose Theodore. Many other teams are in similar situations where they want to resign current players, but have no idea how much money the NHL and NHLPA will allow them to spend on salaries next season, so their hands are partially tied.

This new CBA is needlessly difficult. It removes the ability of fans to understand the situation their current team is in (salary expenditures and the CBA itself are unavailable). It even removes the ability of GMs to fully plan for the future because CBA details are still being hammered out.

NOTE: This TSN article came out this evening where Ted Saskin reports that the final decisions about the salary cap figure for 2006 will not be made until the NHLPA meeting in the first week of July. In order to facillitate this the free agency period will be delayed. And GMs will have very little notice of the final salary cap number before they have to start singing free agents. They have essentially no time to plan (or more likely will be forced to make plans for the contingency of more than one different salary cap figure).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Joe Thornton Playing Extremely Well

Joe Thornton has fit into the San Jose Sharks roster very well since his trade from Boston. Since February first, he is the top scorer in the NHL by a large margin. In that time, Thornton has 27 points. Second highest scorers in that time are his teammate Jonathan Cheechoo and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. They have 19 points. Thornton has outscored anyone else in the league since Feb 1st by nearly 50%. Joe Thornton has taken over the NHL scoring lead as well. He has passed Jaromir Jagr who held the NHL scoring lead for most of the season. Jagr would still be my pick for the Hart Trophy, although Thornton is closing fast.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Norris Trophy Race

During the course of this season, at various time I have picked Wade Redden of the Ottawa Senators and Bryan McCabe of the Toronto Maple Leafs as the leading candidate for the Norris trophy. Both of those choices have fallen off the pace a bit lately. My new choice as the Norris trophy leader is Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. Lidstrom has already won three Norris trophies in his career. Currently, Lidstrom is the highest scoring defender in the NHL. He has 64 points in 63 games. He currently leads the NHL in shifts per game. Other candidates in the Norris trophy race are Lubomir Visnovsky, Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger and Sergei Zubov.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Andy McDonald: Unsung Star

Just before the trade deadline, I listed the top scorers since January first. One player on the list who has had little fanfare is Andy McDonald of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He is second in Anaheim's scoring race (behind Teemu Selanne) with 57 points in 62 games. This is a breakthrough season for McDonald. Previously, his career best had been 30 points. In fact, he had three straight seasons from 2001 through 2004 where he scored 20 to 30 points, so he looked to be established as a mid-level talent role player. This year shows he has much more of an upside. As a smallish finesse player, maybe he has benefitted from the extra room he has been given on the ice due to the obstruction crackdown. Maybe at age 28, he is hitting his prime as an NHL player. One thing is clear, when you play Anaheim, McDonald is one of the most dangerous players you will have to play against.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why Edmonton Had A Bad Trade Deadline

One of the most active teams at the NHL trade deadline was the Edmonton Oilers. They acquired goaltender Dwayne Roloson for a first round draft pick (and a conditional third pick if they resign him). They also acquired Sergei Samsonov for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second round draft pick. The big problem is that both Roloson and Samsonov are unrestricted free agents this summer.

There is no denying that Sergei Samsonov is a talented hockey player. He won the 1998 Calder trophy and looked to be well on the way to a great career when injuries have seemingly derailed him. His 2002/03 season was lost when he played only eight games due to a serious wrist injury that required surgery. He hasn't been the same player since. He's no longer a point per game scorer. At the rate he has scored in his last two NHL seasons, if he can stay healthy he looks like a 50-60 point scorer at best. This makes him a solid talent who will make a significant impact on one of the top two lines on a team, but he has a lesser upside then he once did as a player who had two 70 or better point seasons before his 24th birthday (and projected to even better when he hit has later twenties). Samsonov will be a good player for the Oilers for the remainder of this season.

Dwayne Roloson is a 36 year old goalie who was unable to stick in the NHL until he joined the Minnesota Wild at age 32. He had a few trials in Calgary and Buffalo before that but always wound up back in the minors. In Minnesota he fit in well behind a well coached team. The Minnesota Wild trap has always done a very good job of preventing high percentage shots. They have always been a disciplined team that took few penalties, which has again reduced the high percentage shots. Minnesota goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson have put up some very good saves percentages behind these defences, but I think these numbers are more a product to their team's defensive schemes then they are evidence that either are elite goalies. Nevertheless, Roloson has shown that he is a solid NHL goalie, who may be in the decline phase of his career (due to his age). He probably was unlucky to have not stuck with an NHL team until he was in his thirties. He is a better goalie than the three Oiler goalies used before the trade deadline. Edmonton had a very low saves percentage (despite a low number of shots allowed) with Jussi Markkanen, Ty Conklin and Mike Morrison in goal. Roloson is not a star goalie, by any stretch of the imagination, but he should be an improvement.

Adding these two players has made some people very exicited (see for example the Sergei Samsonov and the Dwayne Roloson posts and comments at the Battle of Alberta.

There is no question that Edmonton made the biggest improvement this season among teams at the trade deadline. But what did this cost?

The Oilers basically give up on the 2006 draft. They will not have a pick until the third round. By then any legitimate prospects will likely be gone. Even if the Oilers have not had the best drafting record in the past, they lose a big shot at building a future by not even stepping up to the draft table and taking a shot at finding a good player.

The also gave up Marty Reasoner. Reasoner is a solid unspectacular role player who fits well on a team's thrid or fourth lines. He isn't a scoring star (31 points is his career best - though he is on pace to beat that mark this season) but he is a very good checker. He is 29 years old and most importantly signed beyond this season.

They also gave up Yan Stastny, who is most famous for being hall of famer Peter Stastny's son. Stastny is a solid prospect. He played so well in Germany in the 2004/05 lockout that he got added to the US team in the 2005 World Championships of Hockey. He was one of the few non-NHL players on the team. He has had a season of ups and downs in the AHL (and the NHL), but seems to be adjusting well to North American play. He is a decent prospect, who might have an NHL career where he makes an impact on his team.

Edmonton gave up a lot of their future. In fact, Edmonton gave up more of their future on the trade deadline than any other team.

In principle, it can make sense to give up a bit of your future to win now if you have a top team that is on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup. But for the most part, this idea is wrongheaded. Hockey is a complex team game. When you add a new player (like Samsonov) you disrupt the existing chemistry. Samsonov will have to fit into a new role in a quick period of time. The player who filled that role in the past will have to fit himself into a new role as well. It can disrupt the team. It can take a while to gel again after the moves.

This idea is based on the incorrect idea that there is a missing piece of the puzzle. If we add that piece then the team will be able to win the Stanley Cup. In reality, this "missing piece" never really exists. In a given season, there are a few really good teams that have a serious shot at the Stanley Cup. One of them will win. Its a crapshoot to determine that team - no one team has overwhelming odds of victory. No "missing piece" will significantly change things. All a GM can do is set his team up to be one of the teams with a cserious shot at the cup for as many years as possible. If this is done, more than likely the team will win one or more Stanley Cups.

Has Edmonton done this? Is Edmonton one of the teams that has a serious shot at the Stanley Cup? I would say no. Most Stanley Cup teams have an elite goalie. Though he is an improvement, Roloson is not an elite goalie. Most Stanley Cup teams have a few very good forwards who are on or near hall of fame tracks. Edmonton has none. Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Sergei Samsonov, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Peca, Jarrett Stoll all may be decent forwards but none look like potential hall of famers. Most would be stretches to appear in an all star game. Most Stanley Cup teams have one or two defenceman who are on hall of fame tracks. Edmonton does have this. They do have Chris Pronger. He is a very good defenceman. But he alone is not enough. Quite simply, the Edmonton Oilers do not have enough elite players to be a serious Stanley Cup contender. If the season ended right now, the Oilers would have 8th seed and meet the Detroit Red Wings. In all likelihood, they would lose in the first round.

What is the point to mortgaging the future in order to likely lose in the first round of the playoffs? Its a completely wrong approach to building a Stanley Cup winning hockey team. Next year, likely Edmonton will have had no playoff run. They will likely have no Samsonov. They will likely have no Roloson. They will have less of a future. What was the point?

Is it that Kevin Lowe is a bad GM who has no idea how to build a Stanley Cup winner? Is he shortsighted enough to mortgage the future in order to make a minor run at the Stanley Cup playoffs? Does he actually believe that the lockout was set up in order to let small market teams like his own compete - and he is going to bring in all the big money players he can to do so? This looks very much like the New York Rangers failed strategy under the old CBA done in a smaller market. It hasn't worked there and it won't work here either.

A final interesting point comes from the comments on Tom Benjamin's blog.

The worst part of the trade deadline for me was TSN's hyping of the "new NHL". Toronto didn't make a big trade! Edmonton did! That would have never happened in the old NHL! The Oilers got SAMSONOV!!! NEW NHL!!! Nevermind the Oilers picked up Nedved last year and Dvorak the year before.

There is some truth to that comment.

NOTE: Mudcrutch hockey has an interesting theory to explain the Oilers moves (I think it might be overstating the intelligence of Kevin Lowe - though it is plasuable). It is well known that Edmonton is sniffing around for government money to build a new arena. Canadian teams have not (in the past) had success getting government money the way American ones have. However, it the surplus heavy province of Alberta - where the Conservative government seems unwilling to start any new social programs - it may be a possibility. If the Edmonton Oilers can cast themselves as a highly competitive team that has a real shot at the Stanley Cup (and presumably always would have been such a team had it not been for the old CBA), then people will be more willing to pay for a new Oiler arena. Now Edmonton is more than willing to mortgage their future to maintain the appearance of a good team. The gamble is that the arena deal can be put into place before it is clear that they built themselves to have a short term shot (and not a particularly great shot) at the Stanley Cup at the expense of their future and that the new CBA in no way helps Edmonton preferentially (or even makes their current moves good ones).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Theodore For Aebischer

One of the more important trade deadline deals was the Montreal Canadiens trading Jose Theodore to the Colorado Avalanche for David Aebischer. This has been one of the most discussed trades so far (with most blogosphere opinion being that Montreal won the deal - for example this is James Mirtle's opinion). I disagree with that analysis. I think Colorado got the better of the deal.

Jose Theodore is one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. He won the 2002 Hart and Vezina trophies. He is 29 years old (still likely has many big seasons ahead of him). He does not have any recurring injury problems that one might think would prevent him from playing at a top level. However, this season has been a disaster for him. He only has a 3.46 GAA and a .881 saves percentage. These are the worst numbers of the three Montreal goaltenders used this season. In fact, I suggested that Cristobal Huet's good play might lead to Theodore getting traded (there is a short interesting discussion about Theodore's tradeability with Lyle Richardson claiming that he didn't think Theodore is very tradeable). Of course, I never foresaw this trade as a realistic possibility. I expected that if Theodore was to be traded it would be in the years to come - possibly after Huet took his job. To add insult to injury, Theodore suffered the embarrassment of testing positive for Propecia (which can be used to mask the presence of steroids in your system) in pre-Olympic tests as he was considered for (but did not make) the Canadian Olympic team. Even worse, he fell and broke his heel and is expected to be out until late March.

David Aebischer is a solid but unspectacular starting goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche. He is currently having a solid but unspectacular season. He has a 2.98 GAA and a .900 saves percentage.

Major trades should be analayzed in relation to the GMs goals (which should be winning a Stanley Cup). One of the best ways to have a good run in the Stanley Cup playoffs is to ride along with a hot goaltender. Over the course of his career, Jose Theodore has shown a better ability to have one of these hot streaks then David Aebischer. As long as the future is well predicted by the past, then Theodore is the better choice.

How likely is Theodore to bounce back to his all star ways? He isn't too old. He isn't suffering from any longterm injuries. Most good goalies are capable of playing at a high level well into their 30's or even 40's. Its a good bet that Theodore will; be able to do this as well. Its a very good bet that Theodore has several more all star seasons left in him.

How likely is Aebischer to play several all star seasons? Given that he has never had one in the past it is less likely. He may be able to do it once or twice in a best case scenario, but the odds are significantly less then for Theodore.

What about winning the Stanley Cup this season? Theodore is listed as out until late March on TSN's injury list. Since the playoffs do not begin until mid-April this gives him time to be ready for a playoff run. Even if Theodore is not back, is Colorado really in much worse shape with Peter Budaj as a starter then they would have been with David Aebischer? Afterall, Budaj has put up slightly better numbers then Aebischer has so far this year. I do not think that they are.

Jose Theodore brings with him a significant cost, he will make $11.5 million in total over the next two years. In a salary capped NHL this is significant. With the upcoming increase in the salary cap Colorado should be able to absorb this (at least partially). Of course if Theodore doesn't play well, his salary will make him an albatross for Colorado. This is true of any player with a big salary (essentially any established top player will have a big salary). That shouldn't deter one from having good players on their team. You are unlikely to win without them.

I think a team with Jose Theodore in goal is far more likely to make a significant Stanley Cup run then a team with David Aebischer is. That is in spite of Theodore's injury and lack of results this season. If you have the opportunity to add a 29 year old ex-Hart trophy winner (who doesn't have any long term injuries) without subtracting any all star players, its a good gamble. I think Pierre Lacroix got the best of this deal. I think Bob Gainey will live to regret it. It is always good to "buy low, sell high" when making trades. Recent circumstances have made Jose Theodore's price much lower than it has been in the past. It is smart to step in at that point to acquire him. That is when he is most affordable. He still likely has a great future in front of him, but his price is at a minimum. This gamble Lacroix made is a good one. Likely it will pay big dividends.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Quick Overview of Deadline Deals

After today's trade deadline, here is a quick attempt to put things into perspective.

Team that made the biggest improvement for this season: Edmonton Oilers They added Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov losing only Marty Reasoner off their roster.

Team that weakened itself the most for this season: Pittsburgh Penguins Obviously, the Penguins are rebuilding. They gave up Mark Recchi and Ric Jackman, adding nobody who can fill a frontline role this year.

Team that made the biggest improvement long term: Minnesota Wild They added talented (but sometimes defensively suspect) Martin Skoula. They added a very good prospect defenceman in Shawn Belle. They picked up a first round draft pick. They do give up Willie Mitchell and free agent to be Dwayne Roloson, but this will likely pay big dividends in the future when their additions mature.

Team that weakened itself the most long term: Edmonton Oilers Gone are Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and their first and second draft picks. All for a couple rentals.

Trade Deadline Deals

A big flurry of deals occurred at the NHL trade deadline. As is usually the case, the biggest sellers are often the biggest winners at trade deadline time as teams want to add that final piece and willingly overpay for it. The salary cap will go up next year, so teams should be able to handle adding a contract (within reason). Here are the trades are along with my opinions of them:

To Edmonton: Dwayne Roloson To Minnesota: 1st round draft pick and conditional third round pick This is a high price to pay for a goalie for the Oilers. Roloson is a UFA at season's end. He is 36 years old. His statistics looked better than he actually is when he played behind Minnesota's defensive scheme which allowed few quality shots. This is not worth a first round pick. Advantage: Minnesota

To Toronto: Luke Richardson To Columbus: 5th round draft pick in 2006 or 4th round pick in 2007 Richardson may retire at season's end. A mid-round draft pick is of little value. If Richardson can play a regular shift, its likely more than the draft pick ever will. Maybe the Leafs will convince Richardson to stay on for another year. Advantage: Toronto

To San Jose: Ville Nieminen To NY Rangers: 3rd round draft pick Nieminen is a useful player who will play a regular shift in San Jose. Most third rounders never do that. Advantage: San Jose

To Los Angeles: Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel To NY Islanders: Denis Grebeshkov, Jeff Tambellini and a conditional third round pick Parrish is a UFA this summer. Sopel has one more year left on his contract after this one. Grebeshkov and Tambellini are both usable prospects who will likely have NHL careers. They will likely contribute more than a Parrish rental or a year and a bit of Sopel. Advantage: NY Islanders

To Colorado: Jose Theodore To Montreal: David Aebischer Although I could not forecast this deal, I recently suggested Theodore may get traded. Theodore is having a bad year and currently hurt. Theodore is also a former Hart trophy winner who should have many good years left. He has far more upside then Aebischer, but also carries more risk. I am a bit of a gambler, but if I can acquire a 29 year old who has won a Hart trophy without giving up a perennial all star in the process, I would do it. Advantage: Colorado

To New Jersey: Ken Klee To Toronto: Alexander Suglobov Klee is a usable defenceman who can play a regular shift, but he is beginning to show his age. Suglobov is a very good AHL player with clear NHL talents. He will likely still be making an impact after Klee is gone. Advantage: Toronto

To Montreal: Todd Simpson To Chicago: 6th round draft pick Simpson is a solid player as an extra defenceman. He hits hard, but takes too many penalties. He is more likely to hold a roster spot longer than a 6th round pick. Advantage: Montreal

To New Jersey: Brad Lukowich To NY Islanders: 3rd round draft pick Lukowich is a solid stay at home defenceman who has good playoff experience. He's worth a third rounder. Advantage: New Jersey

To Vancouver: Sean Brown To New Jersey: 4th round draft pick Brown probably lost his job in New Jersey with the addition of Klee and Lukowich. With Vancouver's defensive injuries, they can use him. He's worth a 4th rounder. Advantage: Vancouver

To Philadelphia: Denis Gauthier To Phoenix: Two first round draft picks (Florida and Tampa Bay's) and Josh Gratton Gauthier is a UFA this summer. This is too big a price to pay for a rental defenceman given the other defencemen who can play a regular shift moving around for less. Likely, one of the two second rounders will be more valuable then a Gauthier rental. Advantage: Phoenix

To Anaheim: Sean O'Donnell To Phoenix: Joel Perreault O'Donnell is not a rental. He is signed until 2007. Perreault is not a first class prospect. He is poor defensively and needs to bulk up badly. Advantage: Anaheim

To Vancouver: Mika Noronen To Buffalo: 2nd round draft pick Buffalo has needed to move a goalie all season given their threesome in goal. Vancouver needs another goalie as long as Dan Cloutier is hurt. Noronen still has some upside. Advantage: Vancouver

To Anaheim: Jeff Friesen To Washington: 2nd round pick Friesen returns to Anaheim. He never fit in with the rebuilding Caps who needed him to be above the salary floor. There is a legitimate chance that Friense resigns in Anaheim. Advantage: Anaheim

To Carolina: Mark Recchi To Pittsburgh: Krys Kolanos, Niklas Nordgren, 2nd round draft pick Recchi is one of the hottest scorers in 2006. He will take injured Eric Cole's roster spot. Kolanos nearly played himself out of the NHL this season. Nordgren doesn't have much upside either. Advantage: Carolina

To Vancouver: Keith Carney and Juha Alen To Anaheim: Brent Skinner and 2006 NYI 2nd Round Pick Carney is a very good defensive player. He is signed through 2007. I wouldn't hold out much hope for Alen or Skinner making an NHL impact. Advantage: Vancouver

To Phoenix: Jamie Rivers To Detroit: 7th round draft pick Rivers will be an extra defenceman in Phoenix. That is always worth a 7th round pick. Advantage: Phoenix

To NY Rangers: Sandis Ozolinsh To Anaheim: 2006 SJ 3rd round pick Ozolinsh has had a hard year with a trip to the NHL substance abuse program. He played a very good Olympics. He has more than enough upside to make this deal worthwhile. Advantage: NY Rangers

To Nashville: Brendan Witt To Washington: Kris Beech and 1st round draft pick Witt wanted a trade all season. Washington held off, in part, to stay above the salary floor. Washington did well. A first rounder and Beech, who is still young enough to be useful. Advantage: Washington

To Detroit: Cory Cross To Pittsburgh: 4th round pick Cross is a useful defenceman who will play some minutes in Detroit. He's worth a 4th rounder. Advantage: Detroit

To Atlanta: Steve McCarthy To Vancouver: 4th round pick McCarthy is a useable defenceman who may still mature. He's worth a 4th rounder. Advantage: Atlanta

To Edmonton: Sergei Samsonov To Boston: Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second round pick Samsonov is a talented guy, but he is a rental. Yan Stastny is a prospect with some potential. Reasoner is a useful role player. Edmonton again paid too much for a rental. Advantage: Boston

To Ottawa: Tyler Arnason To Chicago: Brandon Bochenski and a 2nd round pick Chicago has had problems with Tyler Arnason. Bochenski has looked like a good prospect this season, but was unable to get a shot on the deep Sens. He will get to play regularly in Chicago. Arnason is an RFA this year and a potential UFA the next. I bet Bochenski is a useful Hawk after Arnason is gone from Ottawa. Advantage: Chicago

To Colorado: Jim Dowd To Chicago: 4th round pick Dowd is a useful role player who is worth a 4th rounder. Advantage: Colorado

To Philadelphia: Niko Dimitrakos To San Jose: 3rd round pick Dimitrakos is a useful role player in the middle of his career. He's worth a 3rd rounder. Advantage: Philadelphia

To Dallas: Willie Mitchell and a second round pick To Minnesota: Martin Skoula and Shawn Belle Mitchell is a good unsung stay at home defenceman. Skoula is a puck moving defenceman who has defensive lapses he must get over to stay in a Jacques Lemaire system Belle is a prospect with significant upside. Advantage: Minnesota

To Phoenix: Oleg Kvasha and a conditional draft pick NY Islanders: 3rd and 5th round picks Kvasha is a rental. He may resign in Phoenix after an unhappy stay on Long Island. I think that's worth a 3rd round pick. Advantage: Phoenix

To Vancouver: Eric Weinrich To St Louis: Tomas Mojzis and a third round pick Weinrich is 39 and may be on the verge of retirement. Mojzis has enough upside that St Louis should win out over time. Advantage: St Louis

To Calgary: Jamie Lundmark To Phoenix: 4th round draft pick Lundmark is still young enough to have some upside and should be a good extra forward at worst case. Worth a 4th rounder. Advantage: Calgary

To Phoenix: Yanick Lehoux To Los Angeles: Tim Jackman Both Jackman and Lehoux are 20-somethings who have not really caught on as NHLers. Lehouxplayed a few games in the Phoenix organization before leaving on waivers. He returns to the Coyotes. Lehoux is younger and has more upside. Advantage: Phoenix

To Florida: Ric Jackman To Pittsburgh: Petr Taticek Jackman is an offensively talented, but defensively lacking defender. He will not last long in a Mike Keenan GMed team unless his defence improves. Taticek is a prospect with some upside. Since Jackman is signed up beyond this year, he is worth it. Advantage: Florida

To New Jersey: Jason Weimer To Calgary: 4th round draft pick Weimer is a solid role player. He's worth a fourth rounder. Advantage: New Jersey

In the next few days, I will look in more detail at the bigger of these deals.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Who Is Hot For The Stretch?

The NHL trade deadline is tomorrow. So far, this has not led to any trades. I expect there will be some, but it may not be as busy as fans have become used to in years past. A salary cap is one more constraint that makes trades harder to make.

Instead of jumping into speculation about which players might get moved (why discuss what probably won't happen - when I can discuss what is happening? - if you really need this speculation look at Lyle Richardson (the March 8th trade bait article)), I will take another view. The NHL trade deadline often corresponds with trade deadlines in fantasy hockey leagues. In the NHL or in a fantasy league, ideally one wants to obtain players who are going to play very well in the remainder of the season. The best way to look for these players is to look for players who are hot right now in the NHL.

Here are the top scorers in the NHL since January first of this year. If you can acquire any of these players, likely you are doing very well.

Top NHL scorers in 2006 so far.
Name Team Games Played Goals Assists Points
Joe ThorntonSJ23102434
Alexander OvechkinWas23181432
Eric StaalCar23131831
Jaromir JagrNYR22171330
Jonathan CheechooSJ23161430
Sergei ZubovDal2552530
Andy McDonaldAna23101929
Ilya KovalchukAtl23161228
Marian HossaAtl23131528
Erik ColeCar22171027
Mark RecchiPit25131427
Henrik ZetterbergDet20121527
Alex TanguayCol23111627
Teemu SelanneAna2391827
Pavel DatsyukDet2372027
Henrik SedinVan2562127

Are any of these players available in the NHL or in your fantasy league? Are their prices reasonable? Will any be traded? We will know in a short period of time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Even More Moore

It is the day before the second anniversary of Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Steve Moore. There is a two year statute of limitations for filing a civil suit in British Columbia. So Steve Moore has filed a writ against Bertuzzi seeking general, special and punative damages. No dollar amount is known yet. This case is "just in case" his other cases are not fruitful.

Moore already has a lawsuit pending in Ontario court for the same issue. He has already had a lawsuit in Colorado thrown out due to lack of jurisdiction over the Canadian Todd Bertuzzi or the Canadian team the Vancouver Canucks.

It looks like this will be the end of Moore's jurisdiction shopping. I don't think there is anywhere else he can file suit. Likely, the Ontario case will get thrown out due to lack of jurisdiction (especially given a potential BC case).

While Moore does deserve some compensation for the way his career was ended, he will not likely be close to the multimillion dollar amount that he is asking for.

Here is the TSN story on this issue.

Huet Developing Into Top Goalie

Conventional wisdom was that Montreal's goaltending would be successful if and only if former Hart trophy winner Jose Theodore had a good season. Theodore has not had a good year. He has been embarrassed by testing positive for propecia in pre-Olympic tests, for an Olympic team he did not make. He has not had a very good season. His save percentage is a dissapointing .881. Worse still, he fell at home and broke his heel and is expected to be out until late March. So logically, Montreal must be in bad shape in terms of their goaltending.

Not so fast. His backup Cristobal Huet is playing extremely well. He has a 2.34 GAA and a .926 saves percentage (which is second only to Henrik Lundqvist among goalies with 20 or more games played). This week, he was named the NHL defensive player of the week. In fact, there have been several unheralded goalies winning player of the week this year.

Cristobal Huet has a pretty good track record. He put up good numbers in Los Angeles in the past. I think he will be a very useful goalie for Montreal in the future. He may even lead to Jose Theodore being traded from the Habs. Huet might make Theodore unnecessary.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tkachuk Hot For The Stretch

Th St Louis Blues have had an awful season. Their string of playoff berths that runs back to 1979/80 is going to end this season. Their ownership has given up on them. They currently sit in last place in the West Conference. Their most talented player is clearly Keith Tkachuk. He had an awful start to the season. He was publically berated by St Louis management when he came to training camp overweight. This lead to a few jokes at his expense in the blogosphere, such as this one. When his season began, he had some injury problems. He has missed 40 games so far this year with a groin strain, broken ribs and a broken right hand. He has been back in the lineup and healthy and playing well since the beginning of February.

So far, Keith Tkachuk has the fourth best points per game in the NHL this season. He has 27 points in 19 games played. Only Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton and Peter Forsberg have a better points per game.

A player who is playing as well as Tkachuk could be a huge addition for a contending team in the stretch run. If he is traded at the trade deadline, it could be a move that significantly affects the playoffs. It might make sense for the St Louis Blues as they try to rebuild to trade him. It might be hard to complete this trade because Tkachuk has a no trade clause in his contract that he must waive in order to be moved.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

NHL on NBC: Midterm Report Card

NHL on NBC is a failure. I don't think that NBC ever seriously wanted it to succeed. It was cheap filler sports duirng the downtime between NFL season and baseball season. They don't even give it a chance to succeed in that short time period. NHL on NBC appeared to have promise when it started, but it was such a small selection of NHL games it had no chance to gather a following. They presented four games on Saturdays on Jan 14th, 21st, 28th and Feb 4th. The games were well produced and showed respect to the game of hockey. When one game ended early, they went to other games to show their finish. That was very nice for hockey fans. Then the NHL on NBC show went on hiatus for the Olympics. During the Olympics, NBC made no attempt to showcase the program. Given the poor coverage the show was going to have, maybe that made sense for NBC. They only have two more broadcasts left this season. They will show early playoff games and end of season games on April 8th and 15th. That is it. The entire NHL on NBC run is 6 regular season games. They won't show one entire playoff series. They haven't shown enough hockey to build an audience. They haven't shown enough hockey to satisfy the existing hockey audience.

So what do they show instead of hockey on the Saturdays between February 4th and April 8th? This week, they broadcast a gynmastics competition and an arena football game. That is programming that NBC thinks is preferable to NHL hockey? So far NHL on NBC has been a failure. It was designed to be a failure. If you only show 6 regular season games with a more than two month break in the middle it is bound to fail. Good hockey broadcasting cannot change this.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Most Underrated Player

Usually, the most underrated player in the NHL is a player who does not score well but is an outstanding defensive player, who plays in a small market and thus has not been noticed by the mainstream press. However, thats not true right now. The most underrated player in the NHL plays in one of its largest markets (Los Angeles). He is the highest scoring defender in the NHL this season. He is Lubomir Visnovsky.

I am at a loss to try to explain the lack of recognition Visnovsky has recieved for his current season. His 57 points in 59 games makes him the top scoring defender in the NHL. He is also a more than respectable defensive player. His +12 rating is one of the better +/- ratings on the Los Angeles Kings.

Visnovsky is 29 years old and probably in his prime right now. He has been a consistent solid offensive defenceman, though has never had his current level of success in the past. In fact, his previous best season was 39 points in his 2000/01 rookie year.

While Visnovsky has little chance at the Norris trophy at this point (I would give it to Wade Redden right now), I think he would likely be worthy of a second team all star spot on defence.

Visnovsky is a very good skater, who is very good at carrying the puck up the ice and playing as a power play point man. He has come into his own as an NHL star. So far nobody has noticed. He has been the most underrated player in the NHL so far this year ... and that is suprising since he plays in Los Angeles.

Friday, March 03, 2006

NHLPA Adds A Couple Deck Chairs

The NHLPA has a long history. Throughout most of existance it has been ineffective in helping out the players. For example, right now one issure being worked on is how to lower the salary cap. This leads many to wonder why the NHLPA exists.

Right now, the biggest NHLPA task appears to be keeping Ted Saskin's job. The strategy appears to be pre-emptively removing reasons that players will get unhappy with leadership (which sounds good in theory - but actually leads to trying to reduce the salary cap since the higher escrow that comes with a higher cap will make for unhappy players) and carrying on with business as usual. Carrying on with business as usual is an important part of the plan. Very few NHL players are politically active. Most will support almost anything the NHLPA puts in front of them - often without fully understanding it. This is understandable because they are hockey players and have little or no business or legal backgrounds. When a player or group of players is unhappy with the NHLPA (such as Trent Klatt) all they have to do is carry on with business as usual until the player(s) retire. Then the problem is gone (at least for the most part).

The NHLPA appears to be in the business of perpetuating itself. They give up whatever the owners want them to give up so that they can maintain and even expand their jobs and their bureaucracy. Yesterday they announced the addition of two new employees. Both are popular ex-players. Vincent Damphousse is the director of business relations. Stu Grimson is working in the labour department dealing with issues like grievences, suspensions and arbitration. This is an important part of carrying on with business as usual. Add popular ex-players to your ranks.

I cannot blame the players for taking these jobs. They are good jobs and they allow them to be involved in the game of hockey, which has dominated their entire lives. I can blame the NHLPA as an organization. It is not doing anything for the players. This move is essentially adding a couple more deck chairs to the deck on the Titanic as the boat iis sinking.

The NHLPA should be dealing with issues like the threats to fine players for attending Olympic gold medal celebrations, instead they are acting more employees to perpetuate themselves without actually carrying out their mandate of representing the players.

Here is the TSN article which addresses the hirings. They try to keep business of hockey contreversies hidden from the public eye and thus have a very different perspective.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Canucks Defence Limps Out Of Olympic Break

In October, I noted that the Canucks defence will crumble this year because their big three defencemen Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo are some of the most overplayed defenders in hockey. I predicted they wouldn't be able to play at a high level all season with that kind of workload.

For Vancouver, the worst has happened. The players were overplayed and got hurt (Ohlund, Salo and Jovanovski are 5th, 6th and 7th respectively in shifts per game in the NHL). Ed Jovanovski had abdominal surgery before the Olympics. During the Olympic games, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo both suffered injuries on the same day. The Canucks are now stuck with a defence where Bryan Allen and Steve McCarthy have suddenly become front line defencemen. Its a bad situation.

With their depleted defence (and goaltending with Dan Cloutier hurt), the Canucks managed to win their first game 2-1 against Calgary, but they won't continue to be successful for long with as clear a weakness.

This is a consequence of the salary cap. In order to stay beneath it, Vancouver had to let Marek Malik and Brent Sopel leave. Vancouver may be able to rent a player for the stretch run to fill in for their injuries, but likely it wont be as good a player as they would have had with Sopel and Malik in the lineup.

Isn't this salary cap great? Big market Vancouver cannot keep their defence together because small market New York took some of their defensive depth.

It looks like Vancouver GM Dave Nonis made a mistake this year. He gambled that his frontline players would remain healthy because he had no salary cap room for any depth and it has turned out to be a bad gamble. But given the circumstances of the CBA its not clear how many better choices he had.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Buffalo Sabres Take A Step Forward This Season

In 2003-04, the Buffalo Sabres missed the playoffs with a record of 37-38-7 (four of their losses were in overtime). This season, the Sabres would be in fourth seed in the East Conference if the season ended today. They have a record of 36-20 (with 5 losses in overtime and shootouts). They are only one win short of their 2003/04 performance with 26 games yet to play. This improvement has happened and I haven't mentioned it much within this blog.

In the comments of my coach of the year thread, goal10der responds to my pick of Jacques Lemaire as the coach that I think should win coach of the year (as opposed to the coach I think will win it - Tom Renney of the New York Rangers) with this comment:

What? No props for Lindy Ruff?

I'm not saying I disagree with you for picking Lemaire, he has done a great job with limited talent. Tom Renney & the Rangers would be nowhere without Lundqvist, but he too has done a great job.

However, Ruff has not had a full lineup since the end of October; had to play his backup goalie, who took the lockout year off, for almost 8 weeks; had an unproven #1 NHL goalie, who should be leading the the USA to a medal, but won't be able to; and has had each of his 3 top scorers out of the lineup basically for the last 3 months (Dumont, Briere & Connolly), plus a host of other injuries to other regular starters.

At least a mention is all I'm askin' for!

I respond somewhat in the follow up post The Incorrect (But Common) Way To Determine If A Coach Is A Good One with some explanation of why I do not think Lindy Ruff should be the coach of the year favorite (a slightly different question from whether he is a candidate - I bet he gets a nomination):

In Buffalo, there is a huge group of young talented players who have taken a big leap this season. This group includes Ryan Miller, Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek. They have a hot young improving core. They also added very steady talented defenceman Teppo Numminen. Could their success be attributed to him and his steadying influence on defence? How much of the success of the developing young core on the Sabres is due to Lindy Ruff's coaching? How much of Teppo Numminen's comeback year in Buffalo is due to Lindy Ruff's coaching?

I think it is valuable to take a look at the Buffalo Sabres of this season and see why they have made their improvement.

In goal in 2003/04, Martin Biron was the clear number one goalie. He played 52 games and had a GAA of 2.52 and a .911 saves percentage. It was a good (though unspectacular) season. Mika Noronen was the backup. In 35 games he had a 2.57 GAA and a .907 saves percentage. Ryan Miller played three unspectacular games with a 5.06 GAA and a .795 saves percentage.

This season, Ryan Miller has emerged as one of the best goalies in the NHL. He has a 2.25 GAA and a .923 saves percentage. He is putting up better numbers this season then any Sabre goalie did in the previous season, despite the fact goal scoring has increased this season. Miller was injured for November and much of December, so he has not played the whole season. Martin Biron has been the goalie most of the rest of the time. His numbers are a little worse than in 2003/04 due in part due to the leaguewide scoring increase. His 2.98 GAA and .901 saves percentage are a bit down from previously, but it is roughly the same level of play he haqs displayed in the past. One reason for Buffalo's improvement is their improved goaltending with Ryan Miller in net.

On defence in 2003/04, their top two defencemen were Alexei Zhitnik (who left as a free agent to the New York Islanders in the off season) and Dmitri Kalinen (who remains with the team). Neither had spectacular seasons. Their defence was largely mediocre players.

This season, their defence is improved. They brought in Teppo Numminen as a free agent and he has played well (better than any 2003/04 Sabre defender). I picked his as the Sabre representative in a hypothetical all star game. Other good defencemen have emerged as well. Henrik Tallinder, Brian Campbell and Jay McKee are all playing better and more injury free then they did in the past. One reason for Buffalo's improvement is their improved defence with the addition of Teppo Numminen.

At forward in 2003/04, Buffalo had five players who scored as many as 50 points. They are Daniel Briere, Miroslav Satan (who left to the New York Islanders as a free agent), Chris Drury, Jean-Pierre Dumont and Jochen Hecht. None had really big seasons placing them among the NHL's top scorers. There was little depth beyond these guys, in fact Maxim Afinogenov was next with only 31 points.

This season, a new young core of forwards has emerged. This has given them far more offensive depth. Their top scorer is Ales Kotalik who has 44 points so far this year (with well over 20 games left this year, that is already his career best). Chris Drury is their next scorer, with approximately the same calibre season as in 2003/04. Maxim Afinogenov is next, like Kotalik he already has more points this year then he has ever had in any previous season. Tim Connolly is back after missing the 2003/04 season due to a concussion. He has played well but suffered a knee injury and will be out for a while. Rookie Tomas Vanek has also been a good addition to their forward unit. Derek Roy has also been a good addition to their forward unit, though he failed to make the team at the beginning of the season and was not around for the first few weeks of the year. Holdovers, Daniel Briere, Jean-Pierre Dumont and Jochen Hecht are all back, but each has suffered an injury at some point this year. In most games this season, the Sabres have had at least two of these players in their lineup. Buffalo has a deeper group of offensive players in their forward unit. One reason for Buffalo's improvement is their improved depth at forward.

Buffalo has improved due to improved goaltending, defence and forward. In short, they have improved because they have developed a core of good young players (and added Teppo Numminen) who are emerging as legitimate NHL players as a group.

Teams with a good improving group of young players often exceed their predicted finish. When one picks the coach of the year incorrectly, using the common method of picking the coach of the most improved team as the best coach, Lindy Ruff looks like a great coach of the year candidate.

This is not to call Lindy Ruff a bad coach. He is a better than average NHL coach. However, I don't think that he has nearly as much impact on his team as some other coaches. I think Jacques Lemaire is an example of one such coach. I think there are others this season such as Ken Hitchcock and Tom Renney as well.

Buffalo has improved this season. They have had several young players emerge as legitimate NHL players. They have added a good young core of improving players. They have also added a veteran defenceman in Teppo Numminen who has played extremely well. They have had some solid coaching from Lindy Ruff, but I don't think he should be considered coach of the year (nevertheless he has a good chance at a nomination due to how much his team has improved), I think the improving core of good young players is more of an explanation for their improvement then is coaching.

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