It’s Moving Day!

Hey everyone,

My blog has been inactive for the past week because I’ve been working on moving over to Bloguin where I will be writing about the Carolina Hurricanes for the foreseeable future. I will try to make a few posts here regarding the Caps and the NHL but for the most part, everything will be posted on my new blog, Shutdown Line which can be found by clicking the link above or by going to www.shutdownline.com

Hope you all enjoy the new site.

 

Ottawa is the NHL’s third “least improved team?”

I’m a frequent reader at SBNation’s Ottawa Senators blog, Silver Seven Sens and they posted an article which really caught my attention this morning which was a link to The Hockey News’ feature on “The NHL’s Five Least Improved Teams” this off-season and how #3 on the writer’s were the Ottawa Senators. This was the explanation for it:

Speaking of total disasters, have you seen what currently projects to be Ottawa’s second forward line? Its 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad centering Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler. I’m surprised schlock movie director Michael Bay isn’t lobbying to film that trio.

Then there’s the Senators’ defense, which is comprised of two slightly mobile turnstiles (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba), a 21-year-old up-and-comer in Erik Karlsson, and a depreciating asset named Chris Phillips.

Given that information, it is nothing short of baffling to think of what GM Bryan Murray did this summer. He signed Zenon Konopka to toughen up Ottawa’s fourth line when the team already had a tough guy in Chris Neil. And he signed Alex Auld to back up Craig Anderson in net. This is akin to someone who is burdened with a Jimmy Durante schnozz opting for laser eye surgery and a pedicure. See you at the draft lottery, Sens fans.

Seeing how the only notable free agent signings Bryan Murray made this off-season were Zenon Konopka and Alex Auld to cheap contracts, I can see why one would say the Sense aren’t much improved compared to last season. The problem I have with this article is that the writer feels it’s “baffling” that Murray didn’t go out and spend a lot of money this summer to “improve” his team. When you’re a team in rebuild mode like Ottawa is, spending money on players who aren’t going to help your team that much (especially with this year’s UFA class) isn’t what you want to do. Trading away under-performing players for draft picks and letting your young talent play instead is the way to go and that’s what Murray is doing. Look at the trades he made over the last several months; He got picks in return for Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Chris Campoli Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev along with another first rounder from Detroit in exchange for two of their second round picks (they had three in that round anyway). Not to mention he also traded away goalie Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson who proved to be a huge upgrade in net for the Sens.

It should also be noted that the Sens were 11-9-1 after the trade deadline last year after they shipped away most of their players and some of their younger players like Bobby Butler and Erik Condra performed really well during that time. The better idea would be to let them play more and see how they develop instead of throwing money at someone like Tomas Fleischmann, Raffi Torres or Marco Sturm. Yes, their defense is a concern but with prospects like David Rundblad and Jared Cowen in the system, it’s better to call them up when their ready instead of overpaying for someone like Ed Jovanovski, especially when they already have too much money tied up in Sergei Gonchar. I also have a problem with how he refers to Konopka as a “tough guy” in the way that Chris Neil is. Konopka is a tough, gritty player but he’s also an excellent face-off man and can actually be a useful player with fourth line minutes unlike most enforcers.

This team isn’t going to compete next year and Bryan Murray knew that so he is electing to rebuild through the draft and let the younger talent on his team grow (especially if Zibanejad starts the year with the team) instead of wasting money on players who likely won’t make the team much better than they are now (i.e. what he had last year in Kovalev, Ruutu, etc.). Ottawa is rebuilding and Murray’s doing it the right way, unlike Dale Tallon in Florida. It wouldn’t shocked me that Florida is referred to as “the most improved team” because they look better on paper but they won’t even sniff the playoffs.

Why is Scott Hannan still a free agent?

In my post about defensive errors, I made a statement saying that he was the Caps second best defensive defenseman last year. He had only 17 goal causing errors in a Caps uniform and saw the most defensive zone draws out of any regular defenseman on the team. He also was one of the best defensemen on the team when it came to shots allowed per game at even strength and their distance. Hannan also proved to be a good influence to the younger defensemen on the team and was a solid partner newcomer Dennis Wideman. However, I made the case that defensive defensemen like Hannan can be signed for a lot cheaper than the $4.5 mil he made last season. The Caps elected to let Hannan walk and signed Roman Hamrlik instead (for $1 mil less than Hannan) to take his place. Here’s a question for you, since Hannan had a good season last year and proved that he can play top-4 minutes on a contending team, why hasn’t anyone else signed him yet?

I’m not sure how much he was asking for but the Caps decision to sign someone who is six years older than Hannan tells me that either Hannan wanted to test the market, he didn’t want to stay in Washington or he wanted too much money. When taking a look at Hannan’s stats on the season, it does reveal why some teams would be leery or signing him but these numbers are not bad at all.

EV

TOI/60 QUALCOMP Corsi Rel QoC CORSI REL GAON/60 SAON/60 Ozone% Fin Ozone%
16.42 -0.014 0.285 -0.9 2.25 26.5 48.8 44.6

PK (4vs5)

TOI/60 SAON/60
2.62 45.5

Hannan put up about average numbers last season at even strength and on the penalty kill and you could clearly do a lot worse than signing him to a multi-year contract, especially if you’re a team with holes on the blue line. He isn’t the shutdown guy that Colorado thought he was but he is definitely serviceable and could really be of use to any team looking for a stay-at-home defenseman. If Andreas Lilja, Mike Commodore, Randy Jones, Kent Huskins and Radek Martinek can be signed to new contracts then I see no reason why at least one team wouldn’t take a chance on Hannan.

The Error Stat: Washington Capitals Defensemen

This is something that I have been wanting to experiment with for awhile but the only thing getting in the way was that it’s a very time consuming project because it requires me watching every goal the Capitals gave up this season. However, since I was doing that for the goalies, I figured that I would track the defensive errors on the goals as well. What is an error you ask? It’s what it sounds like. A defensive error that ends up being a goal for the opposing team. Oiler blogger, David Staples came up with this statistic as a way of tracking which player was the most responsible for a goal surrendered. It’s a better way of giving a negative attribute to a player who was on ice for a goal instead of charging every player with a minus. Unfortunately, his blog isn’t available right now but the people at Copper and Blue did this project with the Oilers players and have him quoted on what his definition of an error is.

The general rule is that goal-causing errors are assigned to all the players who have made a defensive mistake in a scoring sequence, or “the sequence of pain” as I like to call it. Typical errors include a player who misses an assignment, fails to backcheck properly, loses a battle in the corner, coughs up the puck, loses a faceoff, or makes a terrible line change.

If you had make no mistake, or if you have been playing well that shift on defence only to be let down by a stumbling teammate, you are not penalized with an error, a demerit point, when a goal against is scored your team.

It’s crucial to note that errors are often very small mistakes. The rule is: When in doubt, assign an error.

This applies to both forwards and defenseman because obviously, a forward can be responsible for a goal due to a turn over or lazy back-checking (I am looking right at you Alex Semin) but I only did defenseman for this project but I may expand on it later. This is also a way to see if the underlying stats really do show what happened on the ice or if a player is getting assigned against tougher competition than he should. Gabe from Arctic Ice Hockey did something similar with the Sharks defense in 08-09. I already analyzed the team’s defense and how they were used throughout the season but I figured this would be a good idea to expand on that and judge performance. In other words, I watched every goal the Caps surrendered this season and looked over the highlights closely to see which player(s) was/were at fault for the goal. Here’s how the results panned out:

Thoughts/Impressions:

  • Carlson gave up a lot of goals and had the most mistakes on the team, which is expected when you have a rookie who led the team in ice-time. He also screwed up a few more times than I expected him to and a good chunk of his errors were from early in the season when Poti and Green were hurt. Ryan Shannon certainly made him look like a rookie on the goal he scored in this game. He did settle in after some time, though and had less screw-ups in his own zone. His biggest issue appears to be net coverage since that was the error I wrote down the most for him. He also had a couple ugly turnovers but not too many disgusting errors to my recollection.
  • Alzner is a machine. Toughest competition, second lowest zone start percentage and had the lowest error percentage on the team for regular defensemen. If that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is. Like Carlson, most of his errors came at the beginning of the season (about half of them actually) and he really settled in after that. I do remember that some of his screw ups came when he was paired with someone other than Carlson, which could be a problem later down the road but this year, he was the team’s best defensive defenseman.
  • Scott Hannan was the team’s second best defensive defenseman. He was great at shot-blocking and knowing when to get physical with forwards but not take a dumb penalty or take himself out of the play. He had the least amount of egregious errors to my recollection as most of his screw ups either came from not being able to tie up a forward in front of the net or his lack of speed causing him to lose an edge and give a forward more space.  It makes me a little surprised that no team has signed him yet considering he isn’t that old and can still be serviceable to a team who could be in playoff contention. Also makes me question the decision of the Caps electing to sign Roman Hamrlik (who is 38) to a 2-year contract instead of looking to re-sign Hannan at a lower cost.
  • Schultz screwed up a lot, and he was given a lot of responsibility this year after being signed to a new contract. Too many times in my notes did I write down “Schultz fails to pick up forward,” “Bad coverage by Schultz” and “Schultz looking lost on the play.” That isn’t good for someone whose job it is to be a top-4 “shutdown” defenseman and one of the reasons (along with lack of depth) that Hannan was acquired. I also think this is why McPhee elected to acquire Hamrlik, too. He put faith in Schultz last year to be the team’s “shutdown defenseman” (before Alzner stepped into that role) and he couldn’t do it. The emergence of Alzner and the acquisition of Hannan decreased his role a bit and his errors hurt the team less.
  • Mike Green didn’t have as many errors as I thought he would be man, he looked UGLY on a lot of the goals he gave up. There were a few times where he was literally gliding back into his own zone while a 2-on-1 was occurring or him completely forgetting to cover a player in front of the net and just stand there looking clueless. However, he didn’t have too many errors resulting from bad pinches and seemed to screw up less than others did so I will say that he has cleaned up his work in the defensive zone a bit. Not as much as the pundits make it seem but there was definitely some improvement there.
  • When healthy, Tom Poti was absolutely brutal. Over half of the goals he gave up were his fault and I did a double check on the ones I charged him with errors with and confirmed it. He had a few pathetic clearing attempts, was caught in the neutral and offensive zone numerous times and constantly forgot to wrap-up forwards in front of the net. It’s almost scary that this guy saw the toughest competition among Caps defensemen in 2009-10. Yikes.
  • I’m pretty sure at least four or five of the errors I charged Erskine with were because of him making terrible pinches that led to an odd-man rush for the opposing team. I know he had his best offensive year but he definitely made a lot of bad decisions and mistakes which ended up being goals for the opposing team. His ceiling isn’t that high so there’s a reason why he’s given less ice-time than other defensemen on the team and matched up against weaker competition.  He also got beaten along the boards a lot of times which also led to goals.
  • The jury is still out on Wideman for me since he only played in 13 games for the Capitals. He made a few pretty bad plays, though which is what I figured would happen since his best asset is his puck-moving skills. He had his share of blunders in his Boston days, too so I’m guessing  there will be more to come with the Caps but if he can produce at the other end of the ice, then I will take them. At least over Tom Poti that is.
  • Tyler Sloan is a disaster. It’s almost shocking that he got to play 33 games at the NHL level this season (and more the previous year) with how terrible he is in his own zone. He’s classified as “someone who can fill-in when another player is hurt” but you’d be better off just rolling five defensemen instead of playing him after watching some of the idiotic mistakes he made this season. He had four in one game alone (the 5-0 shellacking against Atlanta) and somehow managed to be responsible for 63% of the goals he gave up despite getting sheltered minutes. When a GM elects to buy a player out instead of burying him in the AHL despite being signed on a cheap contract, you know he’s bad.
  • Nothing much to say on Sean Collins or Brian Fahey given how few games they played in but it’s odd that Collins was given tougher draws seeing how he’s more of a puck-mover.

I think this is an interesting stat but it does seem to punish players who play a lot of minutes because they are bound to have more errors than other (see John Carlson). However, when taking percentages into account, I think it does do a decent job of rating each player’s defensive ability and does a better job at holding a player responsible for a goal rather than the plus/minus stat. Definitely interested to look back and see some little things I didn’t take note of during the season.

Goalie Analysis: Semyon Varlamov

I had already begun compiling data for this before he was traded so I figured I should just go through with it to get a better view on how Varlamov’s season went. It could also give some insight on some of the things that Varly was able to do when he was healthy as well as give Avs fans some insight on their new goalie. In other words, I did all the work already and want to do this so let’s roll along. I will have one for Tomas Vokoun next, though.

When the Caps coaching staff had to make a decision on which goalie to start for the playoffs, there were many fans divided on who they wanted to see in net. In one corner, there was Michal Neuvirth, who I looked at a few days ago, and he showed that he can be the goalie that can make all of the saves you need to but he hasn’t shown that he can be a top-tier goalie just yet. However, he had started most of the year and did a solid job at it so the job remained his. Then there’s the guy who sat out over 60% of the year but had a better save percentage and playoff experience in previous years. There were a strong group of people who wanted Varly to get the start at game 1 (or at some point) in the playoffs and when looking at his performance this year, you can see why. It really makes you wonder what his season could have been like had he been healthy for an entire year.

Read more of this post

Joe Corvo vs. Tomas Kaberle

The Carolina Hurricanes made their first significant splash in free agency a few days ago by signing long-time Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a three-year deal worth $12.75 mil. They followed this by trading Joe Corvo to the Boston Bruins for a fourth round pick in next year’s draft. This is the Canes attempt to juice up their sad powerplay a little bit by acquiring a guy who has a strong reputation as a great offensive defenseman and just helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup only last year. The question is just how much of an improvement is Kaberle over Corvo? Or is he that much of an upgrade at all? While it’s certain that Kaberle will provide improvement on the powerplay for the Canes, there’s a lot of things that Corvo did that make him slightly more valuable than Kaberle might be now, especially when the former’s contract is a lot cheaper.

GP G A P Rating PPG 5v5 TOI/G 5v4 TOI/G 4v5 TOI/G 5v5 OZ%
Kaberle 82 4 43 47 4 0 17.16 3.86 0.28 51.8
Corvo 82 11 29 40 -14 5 17.17 3.86 2.63 49
Zone ∆ 5v5 Corsi 5v5 CorsiRel Qualcomp CorsiQualcomp 5v4 SF/60 5v4 G/60 5v4 A1/60 5v4 A2/60
-2.2 -1.02 0 -0.031 0.234 48.3 0 1.33 2.27
0.3 -1.62 -2.31 0.025 0.646 43 0.95 2.09 1.14

Corvo killed penalties, played tougher minutes against better competition in addition to having better basic stats on the powerplay. Kaberle was better at generating chances on the powerplay but he definitely had problems at even strength and didn’t kill penalties that often. Kaberle was also given heavily sheltered minutes in the playoffs and only played 10-12 minutes a night in Boston as opposed top minutes like he did for most of his career. If that continues in Carolina then there could be problems because Corvo played top 2 minutes there and unless they expect Tim Gleason or Bryan Allen to play  more minutes, which is possible.

Something important to take note of here is that Kaberle seemed to fare better against weak competition than Corvo did against tougher competition but it’s very possible that Corvo might see softer competition in Boston with the depth they have on the blue-line and it might be the opposite with Kaberle in Carolina because the Canes just lost one of their heavy lifters and someone else is going to have to pick up the slack. That guy might have to be Kaberle. Just hope that Kaberle is able to kill penalties like he did two seasons ago and if not, at least the Canes get slightly better on the powerplay but Boston may have gotten a more versatile and slightly better player for half the cost.

“Let’s Make A Deal”

After the Caps signed Troy Brouwer to a tw0-year deal worth $2.35 mil per season, they find themselves over the salary cap limit by a little less than $2 mil. Thus, everyone knows that a trade or something is coming very soon and with 14 forwards 7 (soon to be 8 ) defensemen currently under contract, the Caps have a couple of spare parts that they can move to make cap space. We are going to need to move at least $4 mil to be able to re-sign Karl Alzner while staying under the salary cap so there’s definitely going to be some moves.

First, before we talk about trading players let’s go through two players who likely will not be healthy to start the season; Tom Poti and Eric Fehr. One option with them is putting them on LTIR (long term injured reserve) once the season starts thus, giving the Capitals a little more leeway with the cap limit and possibly allowing them enough room to keep Alzner for now. The way LTIR works is that Poti and Fehr’s salaries would not come off the books but the Caps would be allowed to exceed the cap limit by Fehr and Poti’s cap hits minus how much cap space they have left to start the season. Poti appears to have not recovered from his “career threatening” groin injury and Fehr had shoulder surgery after the season ended which means that these two are more than likely to miss more than 10 games to start next season, making them eligible to be put on the LTIR and possibly freeing up possibly $4 mil in cap space. That would work well as a temporary fix but the Caps might look to trade some players if they want to have enough space to re-sign Alzner. When looking at the roster, the odd man out could be Jason Chimera.

Chimera didn’t have a good season last year and the signings of Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer (who have a similar role to him, only they do it a lot better) tell me that Chimera might be moved in the upcoming weeks because I do not see where he fits on the roster. Also, his low cap hit of $1.875 mil is something that other teams would be willing to take if they are looking for a third line winger who isn’t depended on for secondary scoring. I’m sure the Caps would be willing to take whatever they can back to gain some salary so what we would get in return for him isn’t that big of an issue for him. I just don’t see where exactly he would fit in the lineup if things stay the way they are, but if Fehr is out for longer than intended then he could stay.

Other players names I’ve heard thrown around in trade rumors are Alex Semin and Mike Green but I think the two are too important for the Caps to trade now even though they take up a lot of cap space. One player who I’ve been thinking of being traded is blue-liner Jeff Schultz. I know he’s not as bad as his play indicated last season but with Hamrlik, Alzner, Carlson, Green, Wideman and Erskine on the blue-liner, where does that leave him? Yes, he’s better than Erskine and possibly Hamrlik but he was given less minutes in the playoffs and some teams looking to shore up their blue-line might be interested in him. Don’t get me wrong, I like Schultz and he has shown to be capable of playing top 2-4 minutes but so can five of the six defenseman I just mentioned and we are going to have 8 blue-liners under contract (counting Poti) at the beginning of the season so one of them has to be moved. If Poti is somehow moved then this becomes null and void but I just think the idea is worth throwing around. As I said earlier, he is pretty decent trade bait as a first round pick and his strong 2009-10 season might have gained him some recognition but he might end up being the odd-man out on defense. He’s due $2.75 mil over the next three seasons, so that might steer some teams away, though but it’s hard to predict anything with the way this off-season is going.

So who do you think might be traded?

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