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.

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Making sense of the Anderson/Elliott trade

In an odd move earlier today, the Colorado Avalanche traded goaltender Craig Anderson for Ottawa Senators goalie Brian Elliott. Being the nerd I am with goalie stats, I get excited when a straight up goalie-for-goalie swap happens. This one was definitely really confusing when first looking at it, we’ve got two goalies who are UFA’s at the end of the year and are having bad seasons. The way I see it is that it works as a salary dump for the Avs while the Sens improve their goaltending. The more I think about it, the more I think that both teams did this trade just for the sake of doing one.

This is really the only “bad” season Anderson has had in his career so far.

2008 FLA 17 13 408 19 389 0.953 13.8 40.6 0.71
2010 COL 71 71 1755 130 1625 0.926 11.7 8.0 0.16
2009 FLA 31 27 753 54 699 0.928 7.0 11.2 0.23
2011 COL 33 31 763 70 693 0.908 -8.9 -14.0 -0.44

Definitely the worst season Anderson’s had in his career but his other numbers aren’t bad at all, especially last year. He was only making $2.125 mil this year, too and his cap hit was less than $2 mil. The downside to him is that he’s 29 and this rough season could be the sign that he’s on the downturn of his career and the Avs would rather not re-sign him since he’s a free agent this off-season. What about Brian Elliott, though?

Brian Elliott 2009 OTT 31 30 628 50 578 0.920 0.9 1.7 0.03
Brian Elliott 2010 OTT 55 48 1089 101 988 0.907 -13.1 -14.4 -0.28
Brian Elliott 2011 OTT 43 39 906 94 812 0.896 -21.4 -28.6 -0.91

It seems he’s getting worse with each season and he’s been getting a lot of time as the #1 goaltender in Ottawa with Pascal Leclaire being injured and struggling. It’s clear the Sens don’t think he’s the one and with Robin Lehner waiting in the wings, they can start to look forward to the future with their goaltending. Leclaire’s contract expires after this season so if Anderson plays well enough for Ottawa down the stretch, they can re-sign him. They know what they have in Elliott and they probably weren’t going to re-sign him so it’s better to see what they have with someone like Anderson instead since he’s had a history of playing well on bad teams.

The Avs meanwhile, clear up some cap room but are now stuck with a goaltending tandem of Elliott and Peter Budaj (who is really only useful as a back-up). I’m not liking how that sounds for the Avs even if they were out of the playoff chase anyway. I know the goalie market is rough but you would think they could get more from the Sens, for Anderson. Then again, with the year Andy is having, it’s probably best to sell low.

I think it’s clear that Ottawa got the best end of this deal since Anderson’s upside is much higher and assuming they let Leclaire walk, it looks better for the future. I think the chances of Anderson re-signing are low, though since he’s a UFA and there will be some other teams looking to sign him. This will probably be Elliott’s last chance to prove himself since he’s a free agent after this season, too. He’s had good performances but is widely inconsistent. If he has a good showing with the Avs, it will make his value increase just a little.

Hottest teams in the NHL no one is talking about

December’s usually not the best time to go on a hot streak for an NHL team but winning a stretch of games at any time of the year can be beneficial to a team making the playoffs or not. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche last year. Anyway, there’s definitely a lot of teams playing great hockey right now so I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at these teams to see what’s leading to their success. We all know the Pens and Flyers are killing it right now but what about some other teams who are playing well but flying a bit under the radar? Let’s look at them.

Atlanta Thrashers 6-2-2 in December

Atlanta’s one team who is getting hot at the right time because while they are streaking in the right direction, their divisional foes, the Washington Capitals are going in the opposite direction. It’s gotten so drastic that the Thrashers were in first place for a day, which was the first time a team other than Washington was in 1st place in the Southeast in quite some time. Atlanta and Tampa bay are now only within a few points of Washington and if the Thrashers can keep this up, that division will be closer than it usually is. It also helps that Atlanta has beaten Washington three times this year and has earned points in four of their games against the Caps? How in the world are the Thrashers doing this? Great goaltending, scoring by committee and a more defensive approach has gotten the Thrashers back to prominence and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the playoffs this Spring.

The standout among this team is goaltender Ondrej Pavelec who is one of the biggest surprises in the league for me. Going into this season, I saw Chris Mason being the number 1 goalie for Atlanta with Pavelec possibly getting 75/25 of the starts but that hasn’t been the case lately. Pavelec stole the starting job from Mason and he’s been absolutely phenomenal with a .944 save percentage. He’s also dealing with a heavy workload every night since Atlanta has been surrendering about 35 shots per night (4th most in the NHL). Hard to believe a goalie who started the season by fainting in his own crease would become a front-runner for the Veznia Trophy. Yes, I said that out loud.

The acquisitions Atlanta made in the off-season weren’t seen as much by the media other than minor upgrades to a sub-par team but they’ve been much more than that. Dustin Byfuglien leads the team with 33 points and is literally the team’s fourth forward. Moving him back to the blue-line was a questionable move by Ramsay since his system places heavy emphasis on blocking shots. Byfuglien doesn’t block shots or kill penalties that well but Ramsay decided to make him a defenseman because he is very big and has a heavy shot from the point, both of which have come in use this year. Ramsay has utilized Big Buff mainly on powerplays and has allowed him to cheat up on plays to create scoring chances, which he’s been doing a great job at. He is rarely used in key defensive situations and isn’t up against the best competition but Byfuglien has been great at doing his job as an offensive defensemen. Oh, and remember how everyone thought his production would go down because he’s not playing with Toews and Kane anymore? His production’s gone up from being on the Thrashers first powerplay unit and it also helps that he’s not facing the opposing team’s “shut down” pair.

Who is tied with Byfuglien for the team lead in goals? Other off-season acquisition Andrew Ladd. Recently named captain, Ladd’s been contributing a lot to the Thrashers team, both on and off the ice. There isn’t a real star on this team but guys like Ladd, Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Rich Peverely have each been making their contributions to the team and are a big reason why the Thrashers are going to be the same pushovers most of the league knows them to be. Getting production from every line is a good thing and when Eric Boulton records a hat trick, you know that you’re getting that. That along with an improved defensive corps and a new system has helped Atlanta a lot. Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay should be definitely be praised for the job they’ve done with this team so far.

Colorado Avalanche 6-1-2 in December

Currently on a 6-game winning streak, the Avs are straight up killing it. They’re the best offensive team in the league right now with the most goals scored per game (3.61 per game) and are getting offense from well…pretty much everyone. It looked like they were going to go on a slide after their top goal scorer, Chris Stewart broke his hand earlier in the month but the Avs made trades to address these holes and they’ve all worked out pretty well. It’s funny that their winning streak began after they traded defenseman Scott Hannan to Washington for Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann has 11 points in 10 games since joining the Avs and recently recorded a hat trick against Chicago. Hannan meanwhile has been brutal in Washington. Trading for Ryan O’Byrne was also a good move since he’s been solid ever since joining the team and seems to be getting put up against tough competition nightly.

Another newcomer who has been contributing is defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk who has 19 points in 22 games and is always eager to jump into the play to make an impact no matter where. It’s hard to tell that he’s a rookie when you watch him play. David Jones is another lesser-known guy who is contributing well with 11 goals this year. The two guys who have really stepped it up are Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, both of whom lead the team in points. Duchene had a solid rookie season and is continuing to improve on it this year and he’s been on a tear lately with 12 points in 9 games.

John Michael Liles is another good story for this team as he’s quietly becoming one of the league’s top defenseman. He’s been getting top 2 minutes and is contributing both offensive and defensively. Liles is usually paired against the opposing team’s top line and also quarterback’s the Avs powerplay, which has been doing very well as of late. He didn’t have the best season last year but he’s bouncing back nicely and could see himself in Norris Trophy discussion if he keeps this up.

Nashville Predators 8-1-1 in December

Usually whenever the Preds are doing well, it’s because they’re not allowing a lot of goals, which is the case here. 29 goals scored compared to only 19 allowed during December, which is really good considering starter Pekka Rinne has missed a few games and could be out for another couple weeks. Anders Lindback is another one of my surprises this year since I didn’t know a lot about him and thought he would only get a few starts while Rinne handled the bulk of the duty. Lindback has a .924 save percentage and an impressive 9-2-2 record this season, which I didn’t see coming at all.

The Preds blue line is arguably one of the best in the league and is known to be anchored by Team Canada gold medalist Shea Weber. However, he did struggle when his usual partner Ryan Suter was out with an injury. Suter’s usually known for his work on the powerplay rather than his shutdown ability, which is somewhat of the opposite this season. Suter’s been seeing more time on the penalty kill lately and has done a solid job at it and still manages to work the powerplay well. When he’s paired with Weber, the two of them are one of the best defensive tandems in the NHL, no question. I do think that Suter has outplayed Weber a bit this year, though in terms of defensive play and is showing how much value he has to this team. Cody Franson is also building off a strong rookie season and is playing the point very well on the second powerplay unit.

In terms of scoring, the Preds have finally been getting more production from Colin Wilson who had a slow start to the year. The two players who have been surprising me the most on Nashville are Cal O’Riley and Sergei Kostitsyn. This year was supposed to be O’Riley’s last shot on the Preds and he’s responded well with scoring 6 goals and recording 12 assists, as well earning him a spot on the first line. Kostitsyn has always been an enigmatic player being very streaky and going through slumps but lately, he’s been great with 5 goals and 8 assists this year. Martin Erat hasn’t shown his goal scoring abilities lately but he has 8 assists this month and it’s good to see him contributing one way or another.

If the Preds are going to hang around for much longer, they’ll need their bigger names to produce. Steve Sullivan is doing well but eventually JP Dumont, Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat need to start scoring more because Kostitsyn, O’Riley and Goc can only do so much. It’s good that their defense and goaltending has made up for the offensive slumps but that can only take them so far. I have to think getting Matthew Lombardi back will help a lot, whenever that may be.


Hannan/Fleischmann trade thoughts

As most Caps fan probably know by now, Washington traded 26-year old forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for 31 year old defenseman Scott Hannan. I saw a move like this in the works for awhile since Fleishcmann is expandable right now and has played some very bad hockey these past few months. Moving him to address another need was a smart move, and the Caps have needed more defensive depth all year. If you don’t know Scott Hannan, he was billed as a “physical shutdown defenseman” by the Avs after they signed him to a 4 year $18 mil contract a few seasons ago. He never really lived up to that hype but he is a good defensive player and had a good season last year.

What I Like About This Trade

Like I said earlier, the Caps are moving a player who isn’t performing and doesn’t seem to have a place on a team. Fleischmann played well at the beginning of last season but only had 8 points in 18 games after the Olympic break last year and was brutal in the playoffs. He only has 10 points in 22 games this year despite getting top 6 minutes and being on the powerplay unit. The transition to center may have thrown off his game and I suppose he could turn things around in Colorado if he’s moved back to right wing.

I also like this move because it gives us more depth defensively and likely means that Tyler Sloan or Brandon Fahey will not play that many games for the rest of the year. With Hannan, we have 7 NHL caliber defenseman and one fringe player. Another move could be on the way or we might just waive Sloan now. I don’t see Hannan being more than a 3rd pairing defenseman but hopefully this will take the burden off Mike Green a little bit so he wont be playing near a half-hour a night. A defense corps of Green/Schultz, Alzner/Carlson, Poti/Hannan definitely looks like an improvement. Hannan can handle big minutes and kill penalties so that will be a huge help. Hopefully it will get Poti off the PK, at least.

What I Don’t Like About This Trade

Hannan’s cap hit is $4.5 mil but he only has a year left on his contract and it’s not that bad of a hit when taking away Flash’s $2.6 mil. You can definitely say that there were better options out there but McPhee didn’t want to give any free agent a multi-year contract, which is understandable. I am hoping people have realistic expectations about Hannan because his recent numbers don’t exactly say “big shutdown defenseman” like most are suggesting. If we’re just going to use him as a depth defenseman that can play big minutes, then I’m fine with it.

Another thing is that people say we could have gotten more for Fleischmann but I have to think his trade value is low right now and the only other rumor I heard was him going to Vancouver for Kevin Bieksa, which I didn’t want. Hannan is a better option than that but I think we till could have gotten a cheaper option via free agency.

Also, with Flash gone there’s still the hole at 2nd line center which isn’t filled. As of right now, rookie Marcus Johansson has that position and he’s been playing very well since coming back from injury. Still have to remember that he’s only 20 and a rookie but he’s outperformed some expectations I’ve had for him. Johansson and possibly Mathieu Perrault will get chances at centering the 2nd line before McPhee decides if he’s going to make a move for someone to fill that hole. I can definitely see another trade coming very soon.

Overall, I think it makes sense for both teams. Caps get rid of an unnecessary piece to fix another area, while the Avs move a big contract and get someone up front to help with the scoring now that Chris Stewart is out. Flash performs well with good linemates when he’s playing RW and I could see him with Paul Stastny in Colorado.

NHL Opening Night Thoughts

  • The new Pens arena looks amazing. Unfortunately, the ice looked a lot like Verizon’s does during the warmer months….a lot of bouncing pucks which was frustrating for the Pens on the powerplay. They couldn’t get the loose pucks around the net to go in.
  • Impressive win for the Flyers considering they did it with a rookie goalie and no Chris Pronger. Sergei Bobrovsky was pretty damn solid all game and I couldn’t even tell he was a rookie. No wonder they gave him the nod over Boucher. It was a solid from the whole Flyers team, actually. Danny Briere’s goal was really nice. Braydon Coburn looked good. Andrej Meszaros still sucks.
  • Nikolay Zherdev and Jeff Carter hardly made much of an impact other than Carter getting robbed by Fleury towards the end of the game.
  • Liked what I saw from Mike Comrie and Zbyneck Michalek from the Pens. Comrie looked very effective offensively and I think he could have a 20+ goal season on that team. Marc-Andre Fleury had to stand on his head a lot because the defensive pairing of Paul Martin and Kris Letang was absolutely brutal. Definitely need to see better things out of those two if the Pens want their money’s worth.
  • Branden Sutter was on fire in the early game for the Canes
  • JS Giguere made a lot of nice saves tonight while Carey Price is carrying over his poor pre-season play into the regular season which isn’t a good sign for the Habs.
  • The Avalanche looked great tonight. Both of Stastny’s goals were money and he could definitely have a huge comeback year. Adam Foote also kind of surprised me tonight. Made a great pass to set up the Duchene goal.
  • Wonder how long it will take for the Blackhawks bottom-six players to come together because they looked kind of dysfunctional. Sharp, Hossa and Kopecky were all great, though. Their defense outside of Keith and Seabrook played pretty bad, though. Hjalmarsson and Leddy were especially bad.
  • Wonder how many rants Hawks fans will have about Turco this year. He got completely faked out by Chris Stewart on the first goal and the game winner bounced right off his glove. It was a hell of a shot by Stastny but that’s pretty bad to watch.
  • It’s good to have hockey back