Some Numbers

Back when the Zednik incident occurred, there was a lot of commentary about how dangerous the NHL game could be and some lobbying for steps that should be taken to make it safer. Out of curiosity, I did a little math and did a little googling.

There have been ~35,500 games played in the post-expansion NHL. Figuring 40 participants per game, that is 1.4 million man-hours of hockey. In that sample, we've seen one accidental death: Bill Masterton way back in 1968. The death rate is 0.7 per million hours of NHL hockey. He is the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result of an on-ice incident, and he'd probably still be alive today if he had been wearing a helmet.

Here are some other rates for the general public, taken from this article:

Bicycling: 0.26 deaths per million hours
Driving: 0.47
Motorcycling: 8.8

Motorcycling is at least 12.5 times deadlier than post-expansion NHL hockey.

Over its entire history, NHL hockey has been about as dangerous as driving a car in this crude measure of deaths per hour. When you consider how many more hours a player spends travelling than playing, it would make a lot of sense to invest in greater transportation safety than on-ice safety. I don't think I need to type out a list of deaths in motor vehicle accidents to make that clear.

And this probably doesn't need to be said: you and I spend far more time travelling in motor vehicles than we do playing NHL hockey. There are bigger issues out there than mandatory neck guards.

What is the number needed to treat for neck guards? For the cost of equipping every hockey player in the country with one, how many motorcycles could we throw into compactors?


Playoff Numbers

Discovered via Mirtle, the playoff stats are up at Behindthenet.

Only ten games are listed for the Habs. I'm not sure which two are missing.

Quality of Opposition

In such a small sample, the QUALCOMP measure can be misleading. The Bruins' 4th line blew away the Lapierre line. That means the QUALCOMP algorithm thinks Shawn Thornton, Vlad Sobotka and Jeremy Reich are Boston's best players and the Lapierre line had the tough assignments in round 1.

For that reason, this table is sorted by TOICOMP - the mean EV icetime of the players' opposition. You assume the best players get the most EV icetime (not necessarily true if the coach thinks the player's icetime is best spent on special teams - see Markov and Hamrlik).

At any rate, this order looks OK and contains no surprises. From top to bottom you can see the 1st through 4th lines and 1st through 3rd D pairs (Bouillon is a blip due to fewer GP).

Shots For/Against

Plekanec/AKost destroyed their opposition, outshooting them 2:1. Wow. The huge gap is partly due to them getting to play against 2nd calibre opposition when Koivu and Kovalev were together. This is the duo to watch next year.

At the other end of the scale, Streit/Lapierre were a horror show on the 4th line. Why did they continue to get icetime? It would have been soo easy to beef up the bottom three forwards at the trade deadline.

It's becoming evident that Koivu's role should be reduced. Bringing in a real top-notch centre who could bump everyone down a line would be the best move Gainey could make for next year.


Sergei continued to be a rabbit's foot in the postseason. This is beginning to look like a pattern. Maybe there is more to this kid than meets the eye.

Plekanec and Andrei continue to prove that they score in spite of Kovalev, not because of Kovalev. It's a travesty that Kovalev gets the most EV minutes among forwards.

Streit/Lapierre's production doesn't make up for their goals against.

What's up with Komi outscoring Markov 3-0 at EV?

Goal Differential

Though this is less telling than the shots for/against, it's still worth noting who outscored/got outscored.

Although Pleks/AKost outshot opponents 2:1, they were even in GF/GA. Goaltending was a factor.


Projecting Gorges

Josh Gorges is an interesting case. Passed over in his draft year of 2002, he attended the Sharks camp that fall and they signed him. Since then he's been on an above average track in his NHL career.

Gorges appears to be ahead of Rivet, Rivers, Dykhuis and Lukowich at 23.

A couple of Bruins - one past and one present - seem very similar to Gorges. Both Sweeney and Ference are undersized defensive guys, OK puck movers, and late round draft picks. They both logged reasonably big minutes, though Sweeney spent a lot of them next to that Bourque fella. Last year Ference signed a UFA deal for 3 years at $1.4M per.

Gorges looks a lot like Ference, but with less PIMs. Should be a solid #4-5 defenceman.


Projecting Komisarek

We're verging on blindfolded darts here - this one is even less exact than Chipchura.

Komisarek is quite clearly a defensive defenceman. I thought it would be hard to come up with similar players but I'm pleased with these lists of past and present defensive defencemen. Rather than points, I used games played and ATOI.

Regehr and Hannan are way ahead of Komi in terms of development. They're among the cream of the crop of shutdown defencemen. Hannan's cap hit is $4.5M. Next season Regehr starts a 5 year extension worth $4M per.

Mitchell and Schultz are a tier down, and still appear to have progressed more rapidly than Komisarek. How much of that can be credited to playing on top defensive teams? Mitchell signed for 4 years at $3.5M two years ago. Schultz just signed for 5 years, also at $3.5M.

Colin White cracked a deep New Jersey blueline at a younger age than Komisarek. Two seasons ago he signed for $3M over 6 years.

I think Volchenkov is the best comparison among Komi's contemporaries - a top pair, right-side hitter/shot blocker. Their development curves are pretty close too. He signed his final RFA contract last season, for $2.5M over 3 years.

Sarich is a RHS whose development might be a little behind Komi's. He got lots of minutes on the AHL-calibre defense in Tampa. Last summer he signed for $3.6M over 5 years as an UFA.

Commodore and Vishnevski are a rung or two below Komisarek. Vishnevski got $1.8M per as an UFA and we'll see how Commodore fares this summer.

These are some players whose early seasons were similar to Komisarek's, just to get a feel for how his career might play out. Jason Smith and Brendan Witt progressed at a rate similar to Komi.

Being paired with the team's best defenceman gives his numbers a boost, so the potential is there for an overpayment on the UFA market next summer.


Projecting Perezhogin

He's still technically Montreal property.

His NHL numbers say '3rd liner,' which is about as much as you can expect from a #25 draft pick. His RSL numbers say 'sniper.' Last season at 24 he was the top scorer for Ufa. And get this: during the lockout year he put up 0.77ppg in Omsk as a 21 year old - compare that to 26yo Pavel Datsyuk's 0.74 with Moscow Dynamo in the same season.

A good chunk of the stats discrepancy is the quality minutes he gets in Russia - top line and PP time. That still doesn't explain how he can outscore Datsyuk. It's disturbing for sure. I suppose you have to take his NHL/AHL numbers at face value and assume he'd be a bottom six forward here. It's hard to argue with his decision - he gets triple the money and star status in his homeland.

Interesting that the Russian National team included Perezhogin's Ufa teammate Alexei Tereshenko but not Perogie.

Projecting Grabovski

Grabovski scored in his limited icetime to the tune of a respectable 1.94 EVPTS/60. He also gave up lots of scoring chances against.

In his defense, Grabovski is a Jan 31 birthday, making him as young as possible and still qualify as 23/24 in his NHL seasons on hockey-referece. Why are so many Habs clustered right around Feb 1? It's a nuisance. Nevertheless, he's still older than the players he's competing with for icetime.

At 23/24, tiny Oleg Petrov was dominant in the AHL but not quite good enough to permanently crack a pretty good lineup in Montreal. In his second stint he was in his prime (28 to 31) and made a bad team slightly better.

The story appears to be the same for Grabovski. He's not going to crack the lineup of a contender. Most pundits say he's bound for a European league next season. It sucks to lose a good depth player but that's the way the league works these days.


Projecting Chipchura

With a skater like Kyle Chipchura, point totals aren't going to tell us a whole lot. He wasn't drafted to score. That forced me to dig a little deeper into Chipchura's record, so this might be a more indepth look than previous posts.

A severed achilles tendon that cost him half a season in Prince Albert has to be considered a major setback in his development. Prior to the injury he was producing at over a point per game (1.14). The following season he produced 0.93ppg as a 19yo on a bad Raiders team, and his AHL production has been a little underwhelming.

Generally speaking, players who are defensive forwards in junior and the minor leagues don't become defensive forwards in the NHL. They remain minor leaguers. Players who become defensive forwards in the NHL are usually those who were dominant in junior and the minors but aren't quite good enough to be scorers in the NHL. As a 20 year old, Chipchura posted 0.51ppg in 102 AHL games. At 21 he posted 0.54ppg in 39 games.

The route taken to the NHL by some other successful defensive forwards:

- Gainey played junior in Peterborough and was an exception to the rule. His scoring numbers were less than half that of his contemporaries (Lanny, Middleton). He was a defensive winger through and through.

- Carbonneau put up 2.5ppg in his final year in the QMJHL, and 1.17ppg in 155 AHL games before his callup. He did alright when it came to scoring in the NHL, for that matter.

- Madden took an unconventional path, playing Jr B, Jr A, then four years in college before taking a leap in his second pro year, leading his AHL team in scoring at 25. Made his NHL debut at 26 and hasn't looked back.

- Dirk Graham put up gaudy scoring numbers in the IHL, if you can believe it.

- Joel Otto learned to play ice hockey in some faraway land of giants called Bemidji State. He scored a little bit in the AHL too.

By and large, famous defensive forwards put up solid scoring numbers at the level just beneath the NHL. Even if you look at a guy like Steve Rice who was expected to become a solid checker (and, like Chipchura, has WJC cred), he scored in junior and the AHL and still wasn't an NHL success. Chipchura's AHL production looks modest, though he played behind some good talent in 06-07 and on a below average Bulldogs team in 07-08.

On to some numbers...

As mentioned earlier, points aren't going to tell us which of these guys are better than others or which comes the closest to Chipchura.

On the whole it seems like a lot of players slapped with the defensive label took the college route. When looking for WHL examples, it was tempting to toss a handful of Sutters onto the list just to bulk it up, but Chipchura doesn't really look like a Sutter.

Craig Ramsay was drafted 19th overall. Chipchura went 18th. He was a plus player for 14 straight seasons.

Brian Skrudland is an obvious choice and a good one, I think. He went undrafted and was signed as a FA. The fact that he was halfway down the depth chart on a stacked Saskatoon team in junior may have something to do with this. His pro numbers are very close to Chipchura's, they're very similar players, they're LH centres, they both have some size, and they're from out West. What more could you want?

Lapierre is Chipchura's biggest obstacle to a pivot role on the 08-09 Habs. Lapierre's advantages are an extra year of experience and he's right handed.

Draper had modest minor league production for awhile before earning a permanent spot in Detroit.

As Topham has noted, Chipchura probably has his sights set higher than 'career plugger,' though a career like Skrudland's would be nothing to sneeze at.

Give 'til it Hurts

After a bit of back & forth, the chaps over at PPP have donated $120 to the Saku Koivu Foundation.

I'm impressed.

In response, I'd like to see if readers here can match that in donarions to the Geneva Centre for Autism. It's a charity supported by the Leafs Fund.

If you can swing it please chip in to help make a difference in the lives of a growing number of kids with autism. Post your donation in the comments.

Donate here.


Latendresse II

There is a post by MC79 from back in December, and it is an interesting one. It looks at recent players' 20/21yo seasons and where they stand in a percentile ranking of their EV points. Go read it then come back. I'll wait.

So Guillaume Latendresse just completed his 20yo season, posting 1.07 ESG/60 and 1.75 ESP/60 in 788 ES minutes. Judging from seasons by other players in the post (which, it must be noted, is restricted to players who landed between 20th and 60th percentiles), his goal rank would be at least 80th percentile and his points would be close to 60th (these are guesses because MC79's post on percentile rankings doesn't include 07-08).

Lats would be near the top of the 20yo list in the post, alongside Devereaux, Fisher, Morrow, Perry and Antropov. He's well above a lot of impressive names, like Hartnell, Erat, Roy, Sedins and M. Richards.

It will be interesting to see if Latendresse finishes next season over the magical 60th percentile marker as a 21yo. Looking at his season in this light makes me want to reconsider the Pyatt Plus label I stuck on him below. Maybe we should upgrade him to Antropov-ish.

Addendum: In Andrei Kostitsyn's 21yo season (06-07) he posted about 2.3 ESP/60, albeit in limited icetime. He would have close to 85th percentile. AKost looks like a player.

Projecting Latendresse

Early this year Latendresse was tried on the 3rd line ahead of Begin/Kostopoulos but couldn't stick. When Ryder was demoted Gui was surpassed by Sergei (who is actually older by two months) for a job on the top 6. His chances have been scarce but he's still showing some progress.

On the surface it might look discouraging. He followed a rookie season of 29 points (.36ppg) with a sophmore effort of 27 (.37ppg). In year two his PP icetime was diminished which accounts for the flat totals. If you look at EV points per 60, he had 1.33 at 19 and 1.75 this year. That's solid progress.

Cam Neely's 19 and 20yo seasons came at a time when there were 7.8 goals scored per game. In Gui's first two seasons the number was 5.6. Scaled to the scoring rate, Gui's numbers are pretty much identical to Neely's. Seriously.

Corson was more physical but had less skill.

Pyatt might be the best comp. I tried to choose guys with size but so many of them play a much more physical game than Latendresse. Pyatt is close to Gui in style and numbers. Interesting that he's playing on his 3rd team.

Brown and Frolov, being in LA, are two guys I can't say much about. The lockout year is listed for both: Brown was in the AHL at 20 and Frolov was in Russia at 22. Frolov's numbers at 20 are a little better than Gui's, but he had more icetime.

Brent Ashton is another Pyatt-like comp in that he was big but had few PIMs. He was a useful player and had a long career. Gui's numbers are better.

Kvasha is an interesting comparison because he's both bigger and softer than Lats and has better puck skill. Sanipass is listed just because it's so rare that I have an opportunity to mention a player from NB.

Graves and Doan were far behind Latendresse at the same age. Both took a long time incubating.

Most guys that look like Gui have big PIMs, that's what makes Pyatt such a good comp. Looking a little closer, Pyatt's OHL numbers were .53, 1.10 and 1.31 ppg at 16, 17 and 18. Latendresse had .92, 1.20 and 1.63 in the higher scoring Q. Gui also played on the U-18 team and the U-20 team as an 18yo.

As you can see from the list, the error bars are huge when trying to predict the future for guys like Latendresse. For now I'll go with 'Taylor Pyatt but a little bit better.'


Projecting Lapierre

In his 21yo season Lapierre was .26ppg in the NHL and .29ppg NHLE in the AHL. At 22, he was .34ppg in the show and .32ppg NHLE in Hamilton. Pretty consistent. We should have a bead on his abilities at this stage in his career.

Vermette was in the AHL at 22 due to the lockout. At 23 he was a little ahead of Lapierre at 22 with less icetime but also shooting 17%. It's tempting to call him a good comp but I think Vermette shows more offensive potential. We'll see.

Stajan's .34 is really similar to Vermette's 23yo season - it came with less icetime than Lapierre but with a sky-high shooting% of 18%.

Cooke is probably the best comp, minus the debilitating cheap shots. Lapierre's dirty, just not put-you-in-the-hospital dirty. His production and role at this stage are very similar.

Yelle's numbers are from a higher scoring time. Lapierre is doing better than him.

Devereaux, being an early pick, got chances to play at 19 and 20. His drop at 22 coincides with a move to Detroit and the consequent drop in icetime. He might be a good comp, although his good sportsmanship doesn't match Lapierre at all.

On the whole, Lapierre seems like a mix of Vermette and Cooke, only not as good as Vermette and not as vicious as Cooke. Less optimistically, he might be Yelle or Shantz or Bassen. To be frank, guys like those three just aren't worth developing. They can be bought dirt cheap and fully developed - no growing pains.


I'm watching the CBC rerun of game 5 of the '86 final. The '89 final game was on a few weeks ago and I think the '89 team would have demolished these guys (though Richer is out with an injury tonight).

It's remarkable how similar the hockey is to today's game. The players are smaller (esp. the goalies) and the shots are weaker. The speed doesn't seem to be too far off 2008 levels, but that's not easy to pick up on a TV broadcast.

The Habs #1 PP was Smith-Naslund-Lemieux-Robinson-Gingras. Gainey-Carbo-McPhee were a helluva checking line. There's a dead man skating in Kordic. Chelios credits the Moose Jaw Canucks with giving him the career start he needed. Rick Green was a fine defenseman.


Projecting Sergei Kostitsyn

There is far less of a track record here, so anything said should be taken with a grain or two of salt. Also, Sergei shot an unrealistic 18.4% so we should dock him about three goals when looking for comparisons. Doing so would put his ppg at .46 rather than .52. Lastly, like Anrdei, he is an 'old' 20 in the chart because he's a March 20 birthday. I compensated a little for this by including some young 21yo seasons in the 20yo column below.

Sorted by their ppg at 20, italics are NHLE.

Koivu's .89 in the SM-Liiga was way back in 94-95. He was only 4 months older than Sergei in 95-96, when he put up .55ppg over a whole season. I think Kostitsyn is short of Koivu.

Weight began in a high scoring era, making his .57 pretty close to a modern .45.

Comrie's numbers are a little better and include more goals. Time will tell whether the problems afflicting Comrie are present in SKost.

Druken had a nice 20yo season and might be retired at 29. There is a sign in Shea Heights, Newfoundland saying "Home of Harold Druken."

Hemsky's ahead of Kostitsyn. He had a better 19yo season (a young 19, mind you, with less icetime) than Sergei did at 20. No real comparison here.

Mike Richards had a better 18yo OHL season than Kostitsyn (1.24 to 1.53), but Kostitsyn blew him away (1.35 to 2.22) at 19 when he played with Kane and Gagner. Their NHL starts were comparable.

Derek Roy is probably the closest comp statistically. At 20 he had similar NHL icetime, and .39ppg in 49 games. In the AHL at 20, both had 1.00ppg.

Nilsson also put similar NHL numbers in a partial season and 1.00ppg in the AHL at 20. Henrik Sedin's numbers look to be behind Kostitsyn's.

So where big brother looks like a poor man's Hossa, little bro uses an interesting blend of skill and chippiness that reminds me of Mike Richards. His scoring numbers look closer to Roy's for now. Being such a late draft pick, he'll need to put up more solid numbers before he's accepted as the real deal.


Hard Luck & Horseshoes

Here is a list of players whose opponents shot at least 4% better than his team did while he was on the ice:

I pulled out anyone who played less than 40 games, anyone who played under 8 minutes and anyone whose name I'd never seen before.

Some of these guys just aren't very good and contribute to the shooting% imbalance. Others spent many minutes in front of terrible goaltending. Others just had cold streaks. There are a lot of players who kept shots flowing in the right direction but didn't get the results to prove it. It might be a good place to start if you're looking for good value next year.

If I was Bob Gainey, I'd be discteetly inquiring about Goc and Carle. Our old friend Radek Bonk makes an appearance. He was outshot 26.6 - 23.3, but was outscored by more than 2 to 1. Ellis led the league in sv% but somehow didn't do Bonkers any favours.

The Horseshoe club:

These guys out-percentaged their opponents by more than 3.6 % or something. Again, removed are the players who were in fewer than 40 games, limited minute guys (oops, I missed Cote).

I also removed the players who are obvious drivers of big % differences (Crosby, Malkin, Lidstrom, Getzlaf, Iginla etc). No point in including them - I'm looking for the guys who are due for a fall, guys you might want to avoid trading for.

There are four Habs: the top line plus Sergei. Hmmm.

This list also explains the mystery of Doug Murray. I've also just noticed that there are several players who reaped the benefit of playing with star players - Conroy, Malone, Setoguchi etc.

The Sean Avery of the Blogosphere

I read a lot of hockey blogs. If you do the same, you'll eventually become familiar with some of the commenters who frequent multiple blogs. One regular commenter at the Battle of Ontario was the most negative Sens fan I'd ever seen. There would be post after post after post, all berating his team.

So I was quite surprised to find out yesterday that this guy, PPP, is not a Senators fan at all. Despite only ever talking about the Senators, he is actually a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Of course, once Ottawa was eliminated from the playoffs his sights were set on your Montreal Canadiens. There are few things that are a sadder commentary on our culture than the negative ad campaign.

This behaviour reminds me of Chris Cooper's character Frank Fitts in American Beauty (a fantastic film, btw). I'll try to explain without spoilers: Fitts is a man who demonstrates a consuming hatred for the Ottawa Senators. Only after this hatred destroys his family is it revealed that Fitts is a little bit of an Ottawa Senators fan himself. His past is a painful one, and his repressed desire is the source of his rage.


Schadenfreude: The most overused word in hockeyblogtopia. Being a Habs fan means never having to cope with the guilt associated with hoping to witness the misfortune of another. You never need to get your schadenfreude jollies from watching rivals lose. Just by winning - against anyone - the Canadiens unleash across the nation a tidal wave of agony that miraculously only affects jerks. It's a nice feeling to simply watch your own team and enjoy their successes, even when they are of a limited variety.

When you've got a solid lead and are cruising to an easy victory, you can always count on some pre-splenectomy Sean Avery type on the other side to start yapping. The best only response is, "Take a look at the scoreboard," because the only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.


1st 3rd vs. last 2 3rds

A few things happened with the Canadiens about 1/3 of the way through the season. The biggest thing was a changing of the guard on the top line - it was early December when Koivu/Higgins/Ryder gave way to Plekanec/AKostitsyn/Kovalev for the top role. This is also when Ryder first became familiar with the 3rd/4th lines and the press box. Lapierre and S. Kostitsyn were called up from Hamilton, while Grabovski was sent down and Chipchura soon followed.

So it's interesting to look at what happened to players' stats before and after this point. I regularly saved copies of the behindthenet stats throughout the season just for this purpose. Here are the EV numbers:

Click for an image you can actually see, and my apologies for the lack of logical sorting.

From these tables, we can spot some team wide trends:

The shooting% started out ridiculously low, then changed to ridiculously high. Part of that is the switch to the Plekanec line which definitely produces higher shot quality, but I think a lot of it is just dumb luck.

Getting outshot at EV by 4 shots per game is bad. The Habs made up for that with shot quality this season. A 12.5 team-wide shooting% is probably not sustainable. Bump it down to 10.5% and we're looking at an EV goal differential of 0. That won't win them the Conference next year, and thet's why Gainey needs to look at solid EV free agents.

Now onto some individual players.

Tough minutes
First 1/3rd
QUALCOMP for D, toughest to easiest: Komisarek, Markov, Hamrlik, Streit, Brisebois, Bouillon, Gorges.
QUALCOMP for F, toughest to easiest: Smolinski, Koivu, Dandenault, Higgins, Ryder, Begin, Plekanec, Latendresse, A. Kostitsyn, Kovalev, Chipchura, Kostopoulos.

Last 2/3rds
QUALCOMP for D, toughest to easiest: Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Gorges, Bouillon, O'Byrne, Brisebois.
QUALCOMP for F, toughest to easiest: Begin, Kostopoulos, Plekanec, Kovalev, A. Kostitsyn, Higgins, Koivu, Ryder, Smolinski, Streit, S. Kostitsyn, Lapierre, Latendresse, Dandenault.

On D, the only major change was the leap in minutes and quality by Josh Gorges.

Among forwards, the Plekanec line started to face good opponents and shutdown defensemen. Dandenault went from toughest to easiest minutes, and rightly so. Begin and Kostopoulos gained responibility. Smolinski lost the #1 checking role for awhile, I think due to some hard luck. He had the 2nd worst save% behind him, giving him more minuses than he deserved.

Shooting and Scoring
First 1/3rd
Dandenault was being eaten alive. The Plekanec line was doing well against weak opposition, and the Koivu line was holding it's own against tough opp. The goals for/against numbers were ugly due to a team-wide scoring slump. Hamrlik quickly made us forget 'ol whatsisname.

Plekanec was clearly the teams top EV forward.

Last 2/3rds
Dandenault was still losing the battle against 4th line opposition. Facing tougher opposition after game #26, the Plekanec line was outshot but definitely not outchanced. Koivu and Higgins were outshot despite playing softer opposition, partly due to their ever changing parade of weaker linemates. Looking at the numbers this way is not kind to Ryder, who was outshot by 11 per 60 minutes. Ouch. He was still facing moderate opposition, so I still think he would have been a better option than Dandenault, Latendresse and maybe even Sergei in the playoffs. Later in the season Kostopoulos earned Guy's trust and performed well.

The team's best EV forward was either Plekanec or A. Kostitsyn. I lean toward the latter. He got better upon the arrival of his little bro and continued to improve as the season progressed. His 2.6 EVP/60 would place him in the top 40 in the league, amid the likes of Lecavalier, Horcoff, Havlat and Arnott. Plekanec put up 2.4 EVP/60 and Kovalev 2.0. We should scale back our expectations for next year because of the unsustainable 15.5 shooting%.

In his 52 games played, Sergei enjoyed a team shooting% of 14% while he was on. He's not really a 2.0 EVP/60 player - yet. Ryder made a pretty good comeback from his early slump, putting up a team high 1.3 goals/60 and 1.9 EVP/60. I must admit I'm surprised by Streit's 2.2 EVP/60. Most of that was done whle playing forward, I'm sure.


Since I worked out the EV shooting% for and against for everyone in the league, I reviewed the players in the UFA list. If players are awarded contracts based on their 2007-08 numbers, the following players look like potential good values:


And these guys look like potential poor values:


UFA Cup Half Empty

Gainey says:

"I think that we want to play a fast game. We don't want to be vulnerable to (tough play). We have big guys. Perhaps we can be bigger and more rugged, but I think our philosophy is: We're quick, we're exciting, we're on the attack, we play to score, we're going to play to beat you within the rules. We just need to do it a little better."

Tom Benjamin wrote something a while ago (can't find the post now) stating something to the effect of this: Teams that win by playing tough don't get better by adding speed. They get better by getting tougher. Teams with speed don't get better by adding size, they get better by adding more speed. I think that's true. Play to your strengths and don't try to be everything to everyone.

Gainey also said:

"We'll be open to trying to find another forward. Our defence, we have some long-term sustainability."

Taking his comments as a whole, they suggest he might try to add a forward of a type we already have on the team. Beyond that, I have no idea what he's scheming. Could be a centre, left wing, right wing, could be a top liner, secondary scorer, checker or depth player. Any move that bumps a current 3rd liner down to the 4th would be an improvement.

A blockbuster long term signing is unlikely. With Plekanec, Higgins, Komisarek all expiring in 2009, a big ticket UFA might make for a tight squeeze to get under the cap. Koivu and Kovalev are expiring too, but even if they re-signed neither would take up any more proportional cap space than they do now. Anyway, this is a weak UFA year and it would make sense to save 2010-2015 cap space for a better player down the road.

I like the idea of going out West for a FA. The better conference translates to better value when contracts are based on counting numbers. Also, this is certain: he should be seeking a solid EV player, not a PP specialist.

TSN's Scott Cullen put together this list of impending FAs. I don't trust his judgement - an awful lot of the "next best" group of players appear to be better than a lot of the "top" group.

Below, I've picked all the players from Cullen's list that might just be pursued by Gainey, even if the chance is extremely remote.

Marian Hossa, RW, Pittsburgh
2.07 EVP/60, top line competition
Depending on what the Rangers do with Jagr, he may be a possibility. He's going to get big bucks despite his off year. The upside of the limited number of UFAs this summer is that a lot of the usual suspects have funds tied up in other players. Still, Hossa should have a few offers to juggle. I think the 'winning' contract will be a cripplingly long one. If Sather throws his hat into the ring, MTL will probably have to outbid them by a substantial margin.

Mats Sundin, C, Toronto
2.74 EVP/60, top line comp.

Daymond Langkow, C, Calgary
2.08 EVP/60, #2 line comp.
Solid player with numbers bolstered by Iggy. He won't be a bargain.

Kristian Huselius, LW, Calgary
2.11 EVP/60, #2/3 line comp.
Numbers took a jump, making him risky.

Sean Avery, LW, N.Y. Rangers
2.25 EVP/60, top line comp.
Not on my team.

Ryan Malone, LW, Pittsburgh
1.94 EVP/60, top line comp.
Not many players like him available this year, he'll get a whopper of a contract. Stay away Bob.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Phoenix
2.06 EVP/60, 3rd line comp.
Had ok scoring numbers against weak opp. in the PHX shooting gallery.

Brian Rolston, LW, Minnesota
1.42 EVP/60, #2 line comp.
Hard to imagine him leaving Min. If he does, he'll be in such demand that a good value deal is unlikely.

Jason Williams, RW, Chicago
2.06 EVP/60, top competition
Limited track record, but good production this year when he played. The most often mentioned UFA in the blogs this year? Is there too much buzz to get a good deal?

Vaclav Prospal, LW, Philadelphia
2.36 EVP/60, top line comp in Tampa
OK looking numbers, but was more of a passenger on the lines he was on in TB and Phi.

Michael Ryder, RW, Montreal
1.35 EVP/60, #1/#2 line comp.
He will be a good bargain somewhere, if someone can find a good home for him (secondary scoring line with a good centre).

Markus Naslund, RW, Vancouver
1.79 EVP/60, #3 line comp.
Old, but there is a good opportunity for value here. His stock is low, partly due to the defensive style of the Canucks. He would be moving into a higher scoring situation here. If he finds his way to Montreal I'm afraid Gorges will have to give up his sweater number.

Andrew Brunette, LW, Colorado
2.56 EVP/60, #2 line comp.

Pavol Demitra, LW, Minnesota
2.34 EVP/60, #3 line comp.

Cory Stillman, LW, Ottawa
1.93 EVP/60, #2 line comp.

Martin Straka, LW, N.Y. Rangers
2.17 EVP/60, #2 line comp.

Miroslav Satan, LW, N.Y. Islanders
1.65 EVP/60, #2/3 line comp.
Skated with the likes of Vasicek and Bergenheim. His dip in production might mean good value, but some nutty GM will probably be willing to overpay.

Niklas Hagman, LW, Dallas
1.91 EVP/60, #2 line comp
He had an unfortunate (for us) production spike in a contract year, which will raise his price. He played top 6 difficulty minutes for DAL, looks like good 3rd liner.

Jay Pandolfo, LW, New Jersey
1.99 EVP/60, #1 line comp

Chris Kelly, C, Ottawa
1.68 EVP/60, #2/3 line comp
Didn't look quite as good this year with less depth in OTT. Possible 3rd line C.

Bryan Smolinski, C, Montreal
1.54 EVP/60, top line comp
Did an adequate job for his role. Had a bad sv% behind him, making his +/- uglier than it should have been.

Antti Miettinen, RW, Dallas
1.94 EVP/60, #3 line comp
Not quite as good as Hagman. There are better bottom 6 options out there.

Jaroslav Hlinka, C, Colorado
2.28 EVP/60, #2 line comp.

David Vyborny, RW, Columbus
1.1 EVP/60, #2 line comp
His numbers took a nose dive on Hitchcock's Bluejackets. Could be a bottom 6 steal.

Ladislav Nagy, LW, Los Angeles
1.95 EVP/60, #3/4 line comp
Had some decent linemates, faced weak opp and had poor production. Like Vyborny, he is a gamble.

Pascal Dupuis, LW, Pittsburgh
1.46 EVP/60, #2/3 line comp
OK 3rd/4th liner inexplicably playing on Crosby's wing this Spring. He's the kind of guy the Habs should have picked up in February.

Ruslan Fedotenko, LW, N.Y. Islanders
1.5 EVP/60, #1/2 line comp
Not much in the way of counting numbers. Played pretty tough opp. Could be a bargain and produce with better players.

Matt Cooke, LW, Washington
1.17 EVP/60, #3 line comp

Randy Robitaille, C, Ottawa
1.83 EVP/60, #3 line comp

Niko Kapanen, C, Phoenix
0.91 EVP/60, #3 line comp
Weak opp in the desert and did nothing.

Chris Gratton, C, Tampa Bay
1.54 EVP/60, #3 line comp
Bottom 6 in Tampa, did little at EV, takes penalties.

Matt Bradley, RW, Washington
1.36 EVP/60, #4 line comp
4th liner on a team without a lot of depth.

Patrick Rissmiller, LW, San Jose
1.2 EVP/60, #2 line comp
With Grier/Mitchell, he played some tough mins in a tough division. He would cost peanuts and is a prime candidate to do a good job in a bottom 6 role. This year's Kostopoulos?

Georges Laraque, RW, Pittsburgh
1.35 EVP/60, 4th line comp

Josef Vasicek, C, N.Y. Islanders
1.57 EVP/60, #2 line comp
Not bad EV shot numbers, and only 27.

Mark Streit, D/W, Montreal
1.57 EVP/60, #3 line comp
PP numbers inflate his value. If he's paid market value for his counting numbers, it's bad value.

That's it?? So this is why Brunnstrom is such a hot commodity.


"Junior hockey phenom John Tavares has fired his agent and will now be represented by his mother, the Toronto Star reported in Tuesday's editions"

Remember the last Next One?
The Oshawa Generals phenom?
Who was ready to play in the NHL at 17, draft be damned?
Who was represented by a family member?

Yeah, that worked out well.


Projecting Higgins

Chris Higgins got off to a relatively slow start. Not many guys that produced at his level at 22-24 scored as little as he did in the AHL at 20 (.72ppg, or .32ppg NHLE). His 21 y.o. AHL season was even worse (.67ppg, .29ppg NHLE), but that happened in the 2004-05 lockout year when the AHL was stacked.

Looking for comparisons, I focused on Higgins' 22, 23, and 24 year old seasons.

Points don't tell the whole story with any player, even less so with a guy like Higgins. For that reason I tried to pick some guys whose contributions go beyond scoring: Peca, York and Sturm. Like Higgins, responsible players and fine skaters. He's behind Peca but a fair bit ahead of Sturm's ppg.

Higgins has been used in more of a scoring role for the last couple of seasons (including some good PP time) so we might as well throw in Deadmarsh, Parrish and Dumont. Stylistically there aren't a whole lot of similarities there but goals are goals, right?

Dawe is a warning.

Lehtinen makes the other comparisons obsolete. His numbers are spot on, and then there is Gainey's famous endorsement:

"[Higgins] has talent on top of having discipline. He has a good sense of the game. He can play in all the major situations and in that sense, he reminds me of Lehtinen."

He's never going to line up next to a player like Modano so Higgins' numbers may never have quite the Selke trophy glint of Lehtinen's. But he looks like he has the tools to be that kind of player.

Dallas won the Cup in Lehtinen's 25 y.o. season.


Projecting A. Kostitsyn

An ideal comparison would be a recent Eurpoean (preferably Eastern) top 10 pick who started out in the NHL at 21/22 and there just aren't many guys like that. The lockout year further muddied waters.

Kostitsyn was in the AHL for his 20 y.o. season, AHL/NHL at 21 (I averaged his NHL ppg and AHL equiv. ppg) and had a full NHL season this past year at 22.

It is important to note that the hockey-reference.com age numbers are "player age on February 1 of the given season." Kostitsyn is a Feb. 3 birthday, meaning he's as old as a player can be and still qualify as 20/21/22 in the three seasons listed.

Finally, his production this year was inflated a bit by a remarkably high shooting percentage by his line. His 0.68ppg might be overstated slightly.

The numbers are from hockey-reference.com. Italics mean NHL Equivalent ppg.

Hossa's development appears to have happened a full year earlier than Kostitsyn. But guess what? He's a Jan 12 birth, meaning it actually occurred two full years earlier. You could move his ppg numbers one column to the left. Hossa is not a fair comparison for Kostitsyn - he's listed just to demonstrate what Kostitsyn is not.

On the other hand, Andrei is ahead of Bondra's NHL numbers by a year and Bondra started out in a much higher scoring era. There is a lot if similarity with Elias at 21/22, but Kostitsyn got more PP time. Langenbrunner is very similar too.

Looks like Kostitsyn may be ahead of Dumont, Satan, Straka (who was injured a lot, I think), Cammalleri, Nagy and Audette.

Niklas Sundstrom is a cautionary tale of a player whose early numbers were propped up with high shot% and good linemates. I don't think Andrei is Sundstrom, because I think he drove results as much as anyone on his line at EV.

Naslund isn't a fair comp at all because he played behind Mogilny and Bure in Van, and behind an entire wing of the Hall of Fame in Pit. It's still nice to see Andrei's numbers look good in comparison.

Higgins makes a nice touchstone that we all know pretty well. Kostitsyn is ahead of him by a fair bit.

With his limited body of work, it's not easy picking one player as a good comparison. Looking at some other recent products of the Russian system, he's ahead of Afinogenov, Fedotenko and Ponikarovsky but behind Frolov.

At the absolute top end if-he-sells-his-soul-to-Miro-Satan, Kostitsyn may turn out to be Elias. We can be pretty sure he'll pan out better than Dumont. I'm not confident enough to project anything more specific than that.


Projecting Plekanec

We're looking at a relatively young team. It looks like there are more names trending up (Price, Plekanec, Kostitsyns, Higgins, Komisarek, Gorges, Latendresse) than trending down (Koivu, Kovalev, Dandenault, Hamrlik). I'm going to do a series of posts in an effort to project the talent level for the near to slightly less near future.

At hockey-reference.com, the Player Season Finder is a fantastic tool. I used it to find past player seasons that are comparable to the early years of the Canadiens' youngsters. This should give us a ballpark idea of the career potential of each. I tried to restrict comparisons to the last dozen years or so for a few reasons (dead puck era, European invasion, clearer memory of players etc). I also tried to compare somewhat similar players. And obviously it would be preferable to see everything broken down into PP and EV situations, but that's just not possible.

The franchise's cautiousness with prospects and the lockout season make it difficult to find perfect matches, so sometimes we'll have to settle for pretty good matches.

First off, Tomas Plekanec.

The names following Plekanec are sorted by their cumulative ppg in the first three columns. The italicized cells are NHLE.

Pleks is clearly behind where Sykora, Koivu and Tanguay (not listed) were at this point in their careers.

The most tempting comparison is Datsyuk, a late bloomer whose numbers grew at a rate similar to Pleks' (albeit a little earlier). That has to be considered a far upper boundary. Or a pipe dream. Pleks hasn't exhibited anything like Datsyuk's flashes of brilliance early in his career.

The Sullivan/Briere numbers look similar to Pleks' on the surface, but remember those guys had unconventional development curves. For whatever reason (usually attributed to size/softness) they didn't get the chances they should have early on. These guys are probably at or above the absolute ceiling of Plekanec's potential.

Brendan Morrison - now this guy looks like a good comparison. His style, strengths, numbers are all similar to Pleks. Morrison has never been considered a true #1 centre, but he didn't exactly hinder that dynamite Naslund-Bertuzzi line.

Plekanec is definitely ahead of the rest - Stillman, Arnason, Cullen, Prospal, McDonald and Horcoff - making them look like lower-end projections (although there seem to be a disproportionate number of late bloomers in there - if an under contract Pleks morphs into Horcoff in his late 20s I'll be durn pleased).

Going a little further back in time, some other comparables might be Nylander, Stumpel, Cassels, Craven, Pivonka, Ridley.

So there we have it. He may not be a dominant #1 guy, but as long as checking lines are the norm in Montreal he doesn't need to be. Plekanec should have a good career.


Season Ending Bullets

- Bloody goalposts. Three more last night. The series count was 7-1 (not counting the one by Prospal in g4 that landed on Upshall's stick for a goal). "In a playoff series between closely matched teams, the team that hits less iron usually wins."

- In 2006, "After two rounds of the playoffs the teams that had been helped out by the posts the most were EDM(12) and CAR(10) and BUF(9). If the nets were a couple of inches bigger each way ... none of these three teams would have still been alive by that point... In the four game winning streak vs the Habs, Ward got help from the posts and crossbar 5 times, Huet only once."

- RJ Umberger isn't a career 40% shooter. The Flyers weren't saved by 80+ more goalposts than they hit in the reg. season. Biron is not 70 sv% points better than Price. By the numbers, it looks like the Pens might devour these guys like they did the Senators.

- Did they outsource the Bell Centre music to Spectrum Audio Services Ltd., Philadelphia PA?? The song they played just before the puck drop in the 3rd was "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

- Unlike most of this series, Flyers came to play in game 5. When you outplay a team in three straight and lose them all, it's hard to expect a win when the play is even.

- A 30 year old Briere for a cap hit of $6.5M over the next 7 years?? The fans should have been cheering this guy for choosing Philly. He scores on the PP and against 3rd stringers at EV. Valuable contributions, no doubt, but not #1 centre material by a long shot.

- Would Huet have made a difference? Probably not in games 2, 3 and 4. The Canadiens scored two goals in each of those three losses. Huet wouldn't have helped in that department, as evidenced by his 0 goals in the regular season. I don't think it's fair to assume he would have stolen a game either.

- It is fair to second guess Gainey's deadline inactivity. I've been over this before. The 4th line was killed all through the playoffs. A solid, cheap vet or two could have remedied this, but Gainey chose to give the kids experience instead.

- On the upside, it's hard to be too disappointed with the season. They were 10 points better than I expected in the reg. season. They faced two weak teams in the playoffs and outplayed both. It bodes well for the future. These guys are built to compete for the title of Penguins' bridesmaids for the next 4-6 years.



Some Numbers

Even Strength (click for a clearer view):

- On the whole, these numbers look pretty damn fine for such a mediocre EV team in the regular season. A lot of that is because Boston and Philly are not exactly powerhouses.

- One of these days, everyone is going to realize that Kovalev just isn't a good EV player. It will never happen, but I wonder what he would fetch in a trade now that his stock is sky high.

- In a just and fair world, AKost would be eating into Kovy's EV minutes. I've got a post in the works looking at the career trajectories of him and Plekanec.

- The Streit/Lapierre/Dandenault line made a compelling case for dressing nine forwards in round one.

- SKost caught a lot of breaks in the reg. season. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but he just keeps drawing aces.

Power Play:

- He's been slowing down the last couple of seasons. What happens if Koivu falls off a cliff next year?

- Streit was on fire on the PP down the stretch but has had a rough playoff.

- Kovy still producing at half his reg. season rate on the PP. Maybe if he laid off the 90 second EV shifts he's have a little more oomph on the PP.

- Let's plant Gui in front of the net.


Seems Gainey is courting Brunnstrom. Anytime a guy is hyped this much, the 'winner' is going to overpay. We already had a good long look at Niklas Sundstrom, Bob. Just say no.

A quick look at the SEL on hockeydb turns up Per Svartvadet as a fair comparison. Svartvadet put up 9-23-32 in 50gp at age 23. Brunstrom: 9-28-37 in 54gp. The SEL is chock full of 23 year old 3rd/4th/5th round picks with numbers similar to Brunnstrom's but with far less hype.


Great Expectorations

If you can believe it, the Expected Goals in this series favour the Flyers 13.3 to 10.5. That just can't be right.

Not including the subjective but universal opinion that MTL has dominated on scoring chances, I believe there are two factors in play here that incorrectly tilt the EGF toward PHI.

1 - Leads. According to Javageek, shots while leading are higher probability chances. In a way that makes sense because the trailing team is more likely to take chances. However, breaking down shot probabilities by leading/trailing situations adds bias to the data. Good teams take leads more often than bad teams, and bad teams trail more often than good teams. When a bad team has a lead their EGF will receive an unfair boost on all shots, and vice versa for good teams that are trailing. Montreal has not had a shot on goal while leading for the entire series.

2 - Shot angle. This is not accounted for in the EGF calculation. Only distance matters, and that is a distance to the back boards - not the direct line distance to the net. Not only does the number of shots heavily favour Montreal, but I think the shot locations are on their side too.

Here are the shot charts from ESPN for all four games:

The Flyers are being rewarded in terms of EGF by taking bad angle shots from along the goal line.

Now, Gabriel Desjardins of Behindthenet fame actually plucks this shot information (see this post, which even mentions Ryder) and builds some outstanding goal probability charts. Here is the chart for 5 on 5 play.

The 5 on 4 situation chart can be found here.

Driven to the brink of insanity by the last three games, I actually went to the trouble of cutting a little pentagonal hole in a piece of paper and held it over the ESPN charts to count dangerous shots. The lines in the charts above are an approximation of my cutout.

Now for the totals.

7 - 6 in g1
14- 4 in g2
10- 5 in g3
11- 7 in g4
42-22 total.

Shots within the pentagon are 35-16 in the 3 losses. This would be a rout if it weren't for Biron. And his big fat goalposts.