The Colorado Avalanche are being touted as the latest example
of a poor possession team that rode unsustainable percentages to success in a fluke season and
are now regressing, but is that fair?
In the summer the Avalanche had one of the worst offseasons in
the league. They lost Paul Stastny, traded P.A. Parenteau for Daniel Briere,
signed Brad Stuart to play in the top four of their defense, Jarome Iginla to
play in their top six, banked on the return of Alex Tanguay and lost Andre
Benoit and Cory Sarich (who was surprisingly effective for them).
All of those moves turned them from a 47.6 Corsi For
percentage team into a 45.7 Corsi For percentage team this year, which is a material drop for a young team with talent that should be maturing.
Their biggest miscalculation has been losing Stastny. Iginla
has been a fine addition statistically, in that he already has 21 goals and should surpass
50 points, but he has been a poor possession player and his lack of speed has
hurt him when it comes to playing with Duchene, or really any of the Avs
skilled young centremen.
The season prior P.A. Parenteau got injured, but he
played to the same point production pace over the course of the season the year before, and in the shortened season had .9 points per game. He was
traded for Briere, a player that has been a regular healthy scratch and won’t
even hit 20 points this season.
So, in effect, the Avalanche swapped out Stastny and Parenteau for Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere. Ten years ago that would have been an excellent
trade, but not in 2014.
Stastny was the matchup centre on the Avalanche, and it
freed up not just Duchene to team up with Ryan O’Reilly, but Nathan
MacKinnon to get third line matchups and run wild. To compound
matters, Stastny had a 56.7 goals for percentage in that role and came out even
in possession. The Avalanche have a collection of flashy young players that get
all the attention, including a team Canada Olympian and a recent No. 1 overall
pick, but other than Semyon Varlamov, Paul Stastny was arguably the most
important player on the team last season. He would play against the
other team’s top line, come out even in possession, ahead in goals, and overall
contributed 25 goals and 60 points.
When the Avalanche lost Stastny they struggled to adjust
this year. They moved MacKinnon to the second line and he hasn’t handled that increased level of responsibility with ease. He essentially went from an elite 3C and occasional winger to a decent 2C that was slightly over-matched on the whole. His shooting percentage and
overall PDO (which was high last year) is down, but a player of his caliber should not be shooting around
7 percent over the course of a season. He’ll be a superstar long term, but he had an
unexpectedly poor sophomore season.
Colorado this season also opted to keep O’Reilly on the wing with Duchene and moved
Iginla to the top line to start the campaign. What’s strange is that the Avalanche made a
bunch of moves in the summer, and then when the season started they didn’t seem to know how to line match or who should be playing what role (or even what position). This confusion is part of what doomed them, as
the Avalanche started 9-10-5 this season.
As good as Varlamov was last year with a .927 save
percentage, he has still been excellent this year at .921. What its really come down to with this team is that the moves they made in the summer took them from being a mediocre possession team that had some bona fide top of the lineup pieces capable of matching up with the best in the world, to an even worse possession that is now waiting on all their young talent
Even with losing Stastny, a team that can run Duchene-O’Reilly-MacKinnon-John Mitchell down the middle and combine that centre depth with elite goaltending should not be this bad. Colorado struggled to adjust to life
without Stastny though, and bafflingly decided to go out and get older and slower in the summer. They replaced their most complete centre with wingers, and feuded with their other high end two-way centre all summer.
Brutal moves took the Avalanche from a strong candidate to regress, to a bottom feeder. I doubt that, even if the Avalanche had returned Stastny and some of the other players they lost, that they would be 112 point team again, but I bet they would be a playoff team.
On February 26th Steve Mason sat on
the Flyers bench injured in case of emergency, and after Rob Zepp let in two
quick goals against the Leafs, Craig Berube decided to put him in. Earlier that
day Mason told the media that he’d be able to go in there and do the job, but
that he hoped it didn’t come to that as
he had not yet had a good practice. But Berube decided he needed to give Zepp the hook and he put Mason in a potentially
dangerous position for further injury saying in the post game “I just went
with my gut.” That incident appears to have ruined the relationship between Flyers goaltending
coach of the last six years Jeff Reese and the organization, and he quit last week (or, as the team put it officially: he’s no longer with the team as a result of a “a mutual agreement between both parties.”)
Mason appeared shocked and almost hurt by the departure. Years ago I spoke with
his first goalie coach in Columbus. He was a hybrid goalie coach, but Mason switched
off him after his Calder winning year to a more blocking style of goaltending
(Francois Allaire and the blocking style was huge back then). You always take
what a coach with an agenda is telling you with a grain of salt, but Mason’s
play did go down the tubes after that and he rebounded only once he was traded
to the Flyers. How he responds to his new goalie coach will be fascinating;
goaltenders are strange, strange creatures.
Around the NHL the trade of Filip Forsberg gets
a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but there is another trade of a
good young Capitals pick that doesn’t get much play—Cody Eakin and a 2nd
(Mike Winther) for Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro played one season in Washington and
had 49 points in 48 games, but the Capitals couldn’t afford to keep him and he
walked for free. Eakin has not become a superstar in Dallas by any means, but he is a
cost controlled 24-year-old who plays a premium position and is capable of chipping in 15-20 goals while managing relatively solid underlying numbers. The Capitals have been centre needy
for a long time now beyond Nik Backstrom and Forsberg is an excellent young, cheap star.
Washington gave both away for essentially free at this point, but imagine if they
had them both right now?
One absence that has gone under-the-radar is Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He had hip surgery in November, although
he was battling the issue in training camp. Had they either known about the
injury or had surgery then, he could have been back by now instead of just beginning to skate.
Scoring hasn’t been Dallas’ problem this year – they are second in the league in
goals per game—but Nichushkin was penciled into their top 6 this year and is a
guy Jaromir Jagr was calling the next superstar in the league last season.
Dallas had high expectations going into the year and they won’t make the
playoffs, it would be foolish to say Nichushkin was the difference, but that
was a big loss for the team and it hardly gets any play.
4- What has gotten a lot of attention lately is this graphic from TSN because it really is mind-boggling what Connor McDavid is doing.
John Tavares and Steve Stamkos are the elite of the elite in the NHL, and
McDavid’s point totals just crush them, not by a little, but by a lot. In his rookie season Sidney Crosby had 102
points (which is crazy, by the way; nobody in the league is even going to hit
100 this year), what kind of expectation should McDavid have?
The issue of tanking has been discussed at length all year, but McDavid is a once in a generation type player, and what Jack Eichel is
doing in college hockey at his age is also jaw dropping. Teams don’t go gaga
over the draft in a regular year, but this is a special class.
One interesting player on that list is Nail
Yakupov, by the way. Tied with Nathan MacKinnon, ahead of Steven Stamkos, just
below Taylor Hall and John Tavares. That’s elite company, and it’s easy to
forget how good Yakupov was in the OHL because of how poor he and the Oilers
have been overall. Since entering the league these have been the centres Yakupov has played with the most each season: Sam Gagner, Sam Gagner, Derek
Roy. Before Derek Roy came to the team, Yakupov was really struggling with 8
points in 36 games on 72 SOG, since Roy has come he has 15 points in 30 games
on 75 SOG. Don’t know if it will happen for him in Edmonton, but it would be
interesting to see him play with a good center on a structured team, seems like
there is a lot more for Yakupov to give.
As everyone watches the races to make the
playoffs, the most common thing people usually look at is games remaining and
regulation wins. That is reasonable, but what I recommend is home
and away splits, and the team’s record home/away, particularly on the road. The
Kings, for example, are three games below 500 on the road and have ten road
games left. The Sharks also have 10 road games remaining, but are six games
over 500. Home ice advantage isn’t what it is in the NFL or NBA, but you do get
last change and can influence line-matching, and some teams really struggle
with that. Just something to look for.
Will Andrew Hammond’s play change how Ottawa handles the goaltending position over the summer, and should it? Hammond is a restricted free agent this
summer while Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson are under contract for at least
the next two seasons. Hammond has 10 NHL appearances to his name and a .910
save percentage in 48 AHL games at 27-years-old. Lehner was supposed to be
Ottawa’s goalie of the future but he has been decidedly average since
2012-2013. That said, he is still only 24 and he’s 6’4.
Anderson has been a reliable
veteran goalie and is turning 34 this year, which in goalie years suggests he
has at least a few more years left, especially considering he entered the NHL so
late in his career. You always follow contract situations and roster squeezes
to see what players are available or potentially on the move, especially when
it comes to goaltending.
This is an excellent piece on Mike Green and the sticks that he uses. We usually hear about goalies and how crazy they can be about their
equipment, but rarely players. Please mind my hastily drawn circle, but below
is a picture of James Wisniewski, who is famous for sticks. He uses a white
stick and white tape, so when he takes slap shots from the point, goalies are unable to identify when exactly he is hitting the puck because it blends in with the ice and all the chaos happening on the ice.
Couple that with his bomb of a slap shot and it helps him score a lot of goals
(he’s top 30 for goals by defensemen since 2011).
The Predators acquired Mike Santorelli and Cody
Franson 11 games ago, and are 3-7-1 since. The interesting thing is, I went
back and looked at other Cup Champions’ records after they made a big trade (LA
when they got Jeff Carter and later Marian Gaborik; Boston when they traded for Rich
Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle; when Tampa Bay got Darryl Sydor and a
few others). Almost all of them instantly won after upgrading the roster. That doesn’t
mean Nashville is doomed –they have the best goals for percentage in the
league, are a top 10 possession team and have an elite goalie—but the
adjustment has not been easy.
One thing to note is the Predators have had particular trouble finding a spot
for Franson in the line-up. He’s averaging just over 17 minutes a night in 10
games, and they have a collection of good right handed players they are
struggling to juggle. In the Western Conference Notebook I noted that Franson
was a bit of a weird acquisition for them considering their defensive group and
his handedness, and so far they are struggling to fit him in.
If anyone watched the Leafs-Sabres game this
week, they should have taken a second to consider “what if the NHL actually
added more teams to this league?” The majority of the players in that game were
not NHL caliber and those are hardly the only two teams to be dressing more
than a handful of non-NHL players. Tanking stuff aside, there just aren’t that
many NHL players to go around, potentially in part because teams in Europe and
KHL have been able to retain some of their own. So when you see that the potential team in Las Vegas team would be an expansion team, it really makes you wonder. You have to consider the fact that the league would probably add
another team on top of that to give them an even 32 teams too.
“I’ve been in professional hockey long enough to know that
people give these opportunities but there are always ifs and buts. There is
always an agenda and people are covering their own butts if it doesn’t work
out… When your role is defined and you know what is expected of you to help the
team, you become more efficient in doing the job… The biggest problem with
teams that cannot succeed is because they don’t identify players’ strengths
well. They don’t know what they have in a player and what type of person he is.
A scout recommends, ‘He’s got a good backhand shot,’ or whatever. They have no
idea what he’s like as a person or as a player when the going gets tough. It
happens over and over again.” – Bobby Holik, on building a team
This quote illustrates why when teams like the Oilers get rid of guys like Andrew
Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Kyle Brodziak, and so on, they get burned.
hardly the only team that has had this problem, but bad teams occasionally play players that
might develop into contributing NHLers ahead of schedule and put them in important roles on their club. When those players can’t handle it,
good teams swoop in and take them, slot them where they should be, then they are suddenly productive. Deployment is one of the most important things in hockey, and it is talked about a little more now with the push on analytics, but still I wonder if we don’t put enough emphasis on it.
“I didn’t like his play. In order to play at this level,
especially with that much skill, he has to bring a little bit more than what he
had. You never want to sit back and hope for things will work. You got to make
them work… I thought his play on certain pucks was really lackadaisical. He
didn’t have any energy or urgency in his game whatsoever. Hopefully, he’ll
catch that one day.” –Ted Nolan on Mikhail Grigorenko.
Maybe the Sabres hire a new coach and give the player
another chance. Maybe they just cut bait with the pending RFA. Or maybe it’s
“The next three
drafts, there’s six second- and third-round picks allotted and we traded four
of them… Since draft picks are unknown quantities at this point, we prefer to
trade the draft pick than a prospect that’s somewhat developed. It’s a constant
balance. We’re going to do whatever we can to compete in the present, but this
puts an awful lot of pressure on our scouts to deliver with the limited number
of picks we give them… Maybe that’s [trading down to add more picks] something
we consider in the first or second round this year.” – Chuck Fletcher, on the organization trading somany picks lately to improve the NHL roster.
Trading non-first round picks is an interesting debate. The
more picks you have, the better your chances of finding contributing NHL players with late-round picks, but after the first round the odds of getting a good NHLer, let alone an
NHLer at all, drops dramatically. So why not trade them for proven, productive