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.

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“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?

An in-depth look at the season of Michal Neuvirth

During every month of the 2009-10 season, the people over at Habs Eye On The Prize took a very detailed look at the performances of the two Montreal Canadiens goaltenders at the time; Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. It was a really good way to look at which goalie had been performing better within a certain month and since we had our own goaltending controversy of our own in Washington this season, I thought it would be a good idea to do the same with Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Since I’m compiling and displaying data over a full-season, I can only do one goalie at a time other wise this post would be very overwhelming but having a detailed look at a goaltenders season is never a bad thing. Let’s start with Neuvirth since he had more playing time.

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Tomas Vokoun, steal of the summer

Remember what I posted yesterday in my Free Agent Frenzy article? If not, let me refresh your memory:

HOWEVER…..Tomas Vokoun is unsigned and the goalie market stinks right now so maybe we can get him to sign with us on a cheap contract to mentor our young Czech netminder. Wishful thinking but it’s worth a shot.

Sometimes wishes come true.

In what’s been an already great off-season for the Washington Capitals and GM George McPhee, things were only made better today after he signed goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Yes, you read that correctly. A goalie who has consistently been one of the best in the league since the lockout has signed with the Caps for what is essentially back-up money. It is honestly hard for me to comprehend how Vokoun was unable to get more than this from another team when looking at what some other goalies went for this off-season. I understand that the goalie market is very thin every year because only so few teams need one, most would think that Vokoun would be on the front of people’s wish lists when it comes to signing one in the off-season. Just look at his stats with Florida:

Year Team GP GS ES SA ES GA ES SV Sv % SAA
2006 NSH 61 60 1380 82 1298 0.941 35.6
2007 NSH 44 44 1008 70 938 0.931 13.9
2008 FLA 69 69 1728 127 1601 0.927 11.9
2009 FLA 59 55 1514 98 1416 0.935 24.7
2010 FLA 63 62 1681 106 1575 0.937 29.7
2011 FLA 57 57 1411 144 1297 0.919 9.8

Yes, last season was a down year for him but his numbers aside from that are simply outstanding. It says a lot about how bad those Panthers teams are that they weren’t able to get into the playoffs backed by the seasons he had from 2008-10. These are nearly Veznia-quality numbers by most metrics. This is why I do not understand how the Caps were able to snag Vokoun for so cheap. I know he’s 35 and had a down year by his standards but look at some other moves teams made over the last couple of days;

The Phoenix Coytoes let Ilya Bryzgalov walk because he wanted too much money, leaving Jason LaBarbera the only goalie on the roster so they clearly needed someone who could at least be a 1 a/b goaltender. They signed Mike Smith, one of the worst goalies NHL last year (.900 save %, -5.5 SAA, was put on waivers by the Lightning mid-season) to a 2-year $4 million contract, meaning that he makes MORE than Vokoun now. That to me is just crazy. Smith is younger but he has only had one good season in the NHL as a starter and is one of the worst puck-handlers I have ever seen. I know Phoenix isn’t in the best shape financially but they are a team who have made the playoffs the last two seasons and it was backed by strong goaltending with Bryzgalov. They had a chance to grab a goalie of Bryz’s caliber with Vokoun for a somewhat low price and they sign Mike Smith instead. I don’t get it.

Then there’s Colorado who would rather trade away their first and second rounders next year for an unproven goalie with a nagging groin problem instead of signing Vokoun. Hell, they gave JS Giguere a two-year contract to be put in a similar role that Vokoun might have in Washington. Even Florida electing to give Jose Theodore nearly the same contract as Vokoun got in Washington was surprising to me but I think that’s just me being shocked that Jose Theodore makes the same amount of money as Tomas Vokoun.

In the end, you have to give a TON of credit to McPhee here. He managed to get a lot of value out of Varlamov but stayed patient on signing a back-up goalie to let the dust clear a bit and was able to snag Vokoun for a lot less than he should have paid for him. Everyone knows that Michal Neuvirth is good but he is still very young and giving him a goalie like Vokoun to learn from can be very valuable in years to come. It also allows the Caps to have a strong goaltending tandem like they did last year and it will be a lot better. It’s going to be exciting to see what Vokoun can do for a winning team now.

Capitals Free Agent Frenzy Thoughts

I definitely was not expecting the Caps to be this active today but they really made quiet a splash on July 1st and did a few things I didn’t see coming at all. The best thing about it is most of the moves made make us a better team for next year and in future seasons. I’ve said it numerous times but this is a free agency pool that is flooded with mostly mediocre players and they were all going for way more than what they were worth (see James Wisniewski making almost as much money as Mike Green now) so I wanted the Caps to stay put on this day but they elected to make some noise and well, they were all pretty decent-great moves. Here’s a quick rundown for those who missed the action:

Signed C Jeff Halpern to a one-year $825 k deal

Traded G Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first rounder in 2012 and 2nd rounder in 2013

Signed RW Joel Ward to a four-year $12 mil contract

Signed D Roman Hamrlik to a two-year $7 mil contract

The best move out of all of these is the Varlamov trade. It took me by surprise because I thought he was destined for Russia yesterday but McPhee was able to trade him away and get something in return for him, which was a lot more than I (or anyone else) would thought he would get for him. Varlamov wanted to be the guaranteed starter and we simply couldn’t promise him that so he traded him to a team like Colorado who had no goalie options at the time and they gave up their first round pick next year (which has a very good chance of being a lottery pick) and 2nd rounder. This is a no-lose trade for the Caps in my eyes. Varlamov was not going to re-sign and the Avalanche have a good chance of delivering us a high pick in next year’s draft and it’s kind of mind-boggling that they would give up a first rounder for a goalie who has only played in 59 career NHL games. Then they follow it by signing JS Giguere, who I don’t think will be the back-up there, to a two-year contract so Varlamov may not be the guaranteed #1 starter there either. Either way, best of luck to Varly in Colorado. I hope the best for him but I hope the worst for Colorado for selfish reasons.

As for the other moves, I think getting Halpern for $825k was a great pickup. I said in my free agency post that he would make a great replacement for Boyd Gordon (who signed with Phoenix for $1.1 mil a year!). He was one of the Habs best face-off men (56.8 FO%), does a lot of heavy lifting against tough competition, kills penalties and can take a bunch of defensive zone starts to help take some pressure off Nicklas Backstrom. He is also coming off one of his strongest offensive seasons in recent memory with a 2.05 P/60 scoring rate. Penalty killing is a little worse than Gordon, but they are both above average with the man down so I love the signing.

The signing of Joel Ward also took me by surprise because I didn’t know we were even trying to sign him but he gives our forward corps a significant upgrade. There were a lot of team who were looking to sign this guy and if you saw him in the playoffs for the Nashville Predators you know why. However, his ability to provide secondary scoring is what teams are after. It’s his defensive capabilities, physical play and his ability to take a lot of tough draws and ability to get the puck moving in the right direction. He is almost an idea third line winger that almost every GM would love to have on their team. George McPhee wanted him so much that he was willing to pay a little more than what others were ($3 mil a year is a little steep) but I think Ward will be worth it in Washington. Pair him with Halpern and Hendricks and we’ve got ourselves an excellent shutdown line.

Today was full of overpayments and Ward’s contract was one of them and you could certainly make a case that the Caps overpaid 38-year old defenseman Roman Hamrlik with a 2-year $7 mil contract. I also looked at Hamrlik as one of the players the Caps could sign to replace Scott Hannan and said that I would be “okay but not thrilled” if we did sign him. Hamrlik may have ranked fourth among Habs defensemen in quality of competition but the fact that PK Subban, Hal Gill, James Wisniewski, Paul Mara and Jaro Spacek were trusted with more defensive zone draws tells me the Habs doubt his defensive ability somewhat. He is getting up there in age is definitely a lot slower so I’m a bit leery about us giving him a two-year deal (not the worst but still not a huge fan of it). That said, Hamrlik as a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman should work out pretty well for the Caps. Allows them to give Erskine a few nights off and more depth on the back-end is always good. However, we are paying $3.5 mil a year for someone who might be our 3rd pairing defenseman and I can’t help but shudder at that. Here’s hoping he exceeds my expectations.

Pundits seem to be labeling the Caps as the “winners” of Free Agent Frenzy but it’s a little too early to say that because the season is still a few months away but McPhee definitely improved this team on paper and addressed needs but there’s a few things that still hang in the air.

1. With Ward signed this means that Laich will be forced into the 2nd line center role, which I am okay with for now given how crappy the market was.

2. Neuvirth is the only goalie on the roster but there’s still time to sign a cheap back-up even though people want Braden Holtby to have that role. I think he needs a starter workload in Hershey before he gets called up to the big club full time so a one-year deal for someone like Ty Conklin would work best here. HOWEVER…..Tomas Vokoun is unsigned and the goalie market stinks right now so maybe we can get him to sign with us on a cheap contract to mentor our young Czech netminder. Wishful thinking but it’s worth a shot.

3. The Caps have a little over in $2 million in cap space left and still need to re-sign Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer and possibly sign a back-up goalie. What we have left is nowhere near enough to re-sign Alzner or Brouwer so a trade has to be in the works. Whether it’s shipping off Alex Semin for draft picks, sending Tom Poti, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera or someone else away, someone has to be on his way out if we want to keep either Alzner or Brouwer. It’s going to be important to get this done because Alzner’s pretty vulnerable to be offer sheeted right now unless he goes into arbitration. McPhee isn’t a moron and knows how important Alzner I believe that the team will get something worked out. This active summer in Washington is far from over.

Varlamov is gone, now what?

Not anymore, Varly

The writing has been on the wall for awhile now but Semyon Varlamov has reportedly signed a contract with SKA of the KHL. Varly will apparently make $4 mil per season on this contract. This is pretty bad news for the Caps in general because Varlamov is very important to this team moving forwards. I said this in his player report card, but he had what was probably his best season in the NHL last year but he wasn’t the starter because he was hurt all the time and Michal Neuvirth played well enough to keep the job. This isn’t a knock on Neuvirth at all because he is a very good goaltender but one of the Capitals strengths was having two very talented goalies on the roster and they made a very reliable tandem. Now one half of that tandem is gone and the Caps are going to have to decide if they have complete confidence in Neuvirth as the starter (and judging from their decision to start him throughout the playoffs they do) or look to find a back-up or a #2 goalie.

Money and playing time appear to be the main reasons why Varlamov left. Varly wanted to be a #1 goalie and injuries prevented him from being one and the Caps can’t give $4 mil a year to a goalie who has yet to start more than 30 games in an NHL season so letting him go appeared to be the only option. The fact that the Caps let him go with nothing in return demonstrates poor asset management but their hands were tied by this situation. Varlamov will be missed, but it’s time to move on. What do we do with our goaltending next year? Sign a free agent to back-up or compete with Neuvirth or call up Braden Holtby full-time to be the back-up.

Some possible free agents we could sign if we’re looking for a true back-up are Alex Auld, Mathieu Garon, Peter Budaj or Ty Conklin. All four will not ask for much money and they are not bad goalies when you know that you have a #1 in front of them. Whether or not Neuvirth is a true #1 is up in the air to me, though. He could be Steve Mason or he could be Ryan Miller for all I know but if he is the former then finding another cheap young goalie to compete with him would be an option. Josh Harding is the name that keeps popping up in my head when I think of who we could target there. The thing is, if we’re going to go that route then we might as well just call-up Braden Holtby but I’d like to see him have another full-season in Hershey.

This is a situation I hoped we wouldn’t have to be in this season but as I said earlier, many saw this coming for a long time. Hopefully for the Caps, Neuvy can play as well as he did in the playoffs and the first month of the season on a more consistent basis.