Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Trouble in Hockeytown

A friend-of-the-blogger attended Game 1 of the Red Wings - Sharks series and reported that roughly half the lower bowl was empty. Tickets were available at the start of the game. I find this pretty shocking because for years it was very difficult to land tickets for even regular season games in the Motor City. The US auto manufacturers are in the midst of another terrible downturn so I'm guessing that large numbers of people don't have available cash. Just this week the Detroit News ran a story about people selling their beautifully restored trophy cars to raise money because of hard times.

Over the last two decades the metro Detroit area has been the hottest NHL market in the USA. The Red Wings have been able to charge high prices and still sell out the 2nd oldest arena in the league most nights. That era seems to be coming to a close and the Wings might actually have to develop a marketing strategy to move their product.

If these tough times continue up there I wonder what will happen to their season tickets. This same friend-of-the-blogger received a phone call some months back about season tickets after sitting on their waiting list for many years.

Hossa McFarlane Shipping

The Series 14 NHL McFarlane Figures are hitting the shelves. I saw the Zetterberg yesterday but not the Hossa. At least another Thrasher to join my Kovalchuk. I'm a little bit surprised that when they released the Heatley recently they didn't ship a variant of him in Thrasher colors, but then again I'd be tempted to buy one so perhaps it is just as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Summer Shopping List

I have no idea who DW is targeting this summer or how much money the ownership is going to allow him to spend. But if I were GM for a day I know the player I'd target: Scott Hannan.

Hannan has a been a top defensive defensemen in the Western Conference since he came up with the Sharks. He's not flashy and he will not score much but he will greatly assist in keeping the puck out of your net.

If the Thrashers added Hannan that would give them Zhitnik, Havelid, Hannan and Exelby as their top four defensemen. Then I figure you would have have McCarthy (RFA this year) and a rookie or two from the prospect list (Enstrom/Zubarev/Oystrick) fill out the third pairing and bench slots.

I honestly believe that if the Thrashers had four solid defensemen in front of Lehtonen and Hedberg all next year, our goals against would drop considerably. The Forechecker has shared some of his shot quality data with me and the Thrashers continue to give up a ton of shots from in tight. A better set of defensemen would greatly assist our netminders in keeping that red light off at our own end.

Look at it this way. The Thrashers could spend $5-6 million per year and sign Briere or Drury to essentially replace Savard. The Thrashers offense declined by roughly 30 goals when Savard left. Or the Thrasher could probably pay Hannan $3-4 million per year and have a shot at reducing their goals against by 20-30 next year with improved defensive play in front of the goaltenders. In the sports market offense usually gets paid more than defense does (except in the case of Holik). A goal prevented is worth the same as a goal scored, but defensive defensemen tend to make less despite that fact.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Puzzle of Jim Slater

So I'm starting to think about the off-season and give some thought as to what the 2007 Thrashers team might look like. I'm plugging some salary numbers into my handy Excel spreadsheet and making estimates about how much money certain players will receive and I get to Jim Slater.

Slater was a very late 1st round pick and signed an entry level contract that pays him close to the maximum allowed for an entry level contract. This summer Slater will be a restricted free agent which essentially means that as long as the Thrashers make him a qualifying offer he is extremely likely to sign a deal with Atlanta.

Slater currently makes $900,000 a year according to Irish Blues exhaustive salary website. The Thrashers qualifying offer has to include a 5% raise. The team must send Slater a written offer for a contract with a salary of 945,000 in order to qualify him. Slater can decline the offer or sign it (If he declines it the Thrashers retain their right to match any offers made to him by another team.) But the problem is that he will be way overpaid at $945,000 a year.

Using Irish Blues NHL salary data I collected together a list of all NHL forwards making between 1 million and 800,000--players who make about the same amount of money as Slater (and were regular NHLers--minor league prospects were excluded). I came up with 39 players in Slater's salary neighborhood and then looked at their points-per-game. Jim Slater is right down the bottom of the list of comparables. I have him ranked 33 out of 39 just behind Patrik Stefan's .268 PPG and just above Brian Sutherby's .246 PPG. To be perfectly honest Slater is getting paid nearly $1 million a year because of where he was selected in the draft rather than his NHL performance.

So if you're the Thrashers is it worth it? Do you make him a qualifying offer that pays him double what he is worth or do you let him walk? Slater was in effect a checking line player most of the year making twice as much money as most checkers (who often make around the NHL minimum of $450,000). Is Slater really equal to Vigier and Larsen combined?

Slater has great speed but very poor balance. I can't think of a NHL player who falls over every single game like Jim does. He is fast but lacks lateral quickness because of his balance issues and thus he is not used as penalty killer. He doesn't score all that much. In the playoffs he centered our 4th line. Can this team afford a $1 million 4th line guy?

Now you might say that Slater was poorly used and he has the potential to do more, and I would probably agree with that statement. But Bob Hartley is coming back as coach I have no reason to think he will used in a significantly different fashion in the coming season. After all the Thrashers had a gaping hole at center all year and Hartley never gave him more than occasional chances to show what he could do. If DW signs some more centers I can see Slater being buried on the 4th line all next season.

The harsh reality is that in a salary cap league every dollar you overpay for a player is a dollar wasted and the Thrasher wasted their money on Slater last year. He gave them nothing that a 500,000 checker couldn't have provided. Two years ago the Thrashers faced a similar problem when Stefan's contract expired. Stefan ended up taking a slight pay cut in exchange for a two-year deal. To put it nicely, that didn't work out very well. The team would have been better off to let him walk and spend that money on a cheaper more effective guy.

Personally I'm much rather see those dollars go towards resigning Pascal Dupuis who was a solid PK guy, crash line member and even got some PP time late in the playoffs. I'd rather see those dollars go towards bringing Jon Sim back for another season. But the team found it hard to give up on a former 1st rounder last time and I doubt we will see them let Slater depart for nothing either. Slater probably has more upside than Stefan did, but it still requires a bit of "wish-casting" (as opposed to "forecasting") to justify his salary requirements.

A Post for a Good Man

I'm slowly getting over my end-of-season blues and I'll put up some hockey commentary soon.

But I wanted to post about a phenomenal film I watched last night. I have to say that it is probably the best movie I've seen so far this year (and I've already watched 20 so far in 2007). It is a German film called "The Lives of Others" and is set in East Germany at the end of the Cold War. A Stasi (secret police) officer listens to a German playwright and his girlfriend. Will he betray their secrets as they become a target of the state security apparatus? The movie tells the story of three main characters who each face great pressure and difficult situations. The tension builds as the film moves along and I had no idea how the story would resolve until it finally did. Great filmaking. It's only showing at two places in town.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thank You Readers!

Now that the season is finished I wanted to say thanks for all of you who come by and visit this blog. The readership has really taken off this season as more of you discovered this place and I became more regular in my posts. Back in October I had 300 unique readers that month and the last two months the site has exceeded 3,000 unique readers a month (including over 600 in one single day woo-hoo)--so thanks for stopping by and spreading the word around. There are times when I don't always fell like posting, but knowing that some of you click on this site on a daily basis gives me a reason to keep writing.

I started out writing this blog because I felt that Thrasher fans could use additional hockey commentary since the local media gives them little attention. In particular I was unhappy with the coverage in AJC, but the new beat writer Craig Custance has done a bang up job since taking over mid-season and their coverage has certainly improved. Still the local TV and sports radio often give minimal attention to the team so I still have niche to fill I guess.

Again, I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the team-even if you don't always agree with them. Thanks for putting up with my stats fetish! I'll keep posting over the summer but cut back to about once a week probably as things quiet down.

Game 4: Elimination

Game 4 was very much like Games 1 and 2. It was there for the taking but the Thrashers didn't make the key plays while the Rangers did. It was a game where a Thrashers goaltenders made some great saves, but again allowed a goal that a NHL playoff goalie can't let in. Once again the power play failed at crucial moments when one more goal might have made a critical difference in the outcome of the contest. Once again the top regular season line with Hossa and Kovlov was not relevant to the outcome of the game.

I've seen some people comment on the boards about how great the Rangers played. I strongly disagree. I've watched a lot of playoff hockey over the last 17 years and this Rangers squad did not dominate the Thrashers. The series was there for the taking. The Rangers played well, but not great. That fact makes the loss hurt that much more.

Lundqvist in particular looks very vulnerable to me. He gave up juicy rebounds on roughly half of the shots on goal during this series. If the next team watches the tape and has a smart coach they will throw every puck on net and crash for rebound chances--and likely beat the Rangers. Were I a betting man I would put no money on New York in their next series.

All in all it was a tremendous missed opportunity for the players, fans and the franchise. Right now this organization should be thinking about scheduling for 2nd round playoff dates instead of their off season moves. The Thrashers badly needed to create some buzz and excitement among causal sports fans in Atlanta to generate more season tickets or single game tickets next year. The team expended a fair amount of draft picks and prospects in pursuit of this goal. But the players and coaches fell flat on their face against a beatable opponent.

While the Thrashers have finally shaken free of the "never-made-the-playoffs" label, all that they have done is replace it with "never-won-a-playoff-game" moniker. The team has done little to dispel the casual perception that they are not winners. And in this market people want winners not losers. Now I'm not saying that they needed to win the Stanley Cup, but advancing to the 2nd round and winning several home games would have been a major step toward altering their image in the metro area. People would leave thinking that the Thrashers are just a step away from being contenders--I need to watch this team next season.

Now a team that was at the bottom in ticket revenue faces another year of low revenues and large monetary losses. Will the owner of the team continue to spend up to the cap when they know the franchise will lose large sums of money if they do that? The salary cap goes up to $44-45 million next year will the owners be willing to donate millions to their hockey franchise business? There has already been talk that if Belkin wins control of the team he's not interested in the NHL and will sell the team. If Belkin tells the GM to break even next year, I can almost guarantee this team will be playing a lot of kids and will miss the playoffs. (Personally, I think the team has to see what some their prospects can do--put they have the wrong coach if they want to find that out. You can't win the salary cap era without some productive (read: cheap) young players on your roster.)

I hate to be such a downer but this is the way I look at the situation. I'm pretty depressed at the moment. I'll probably post a season wrap up in the next couple of days with some comments about who should go and who should stay and some thoughts about what needs to be done with the roster.

Later this summer when I recover my enthusiasm for the Thrashers I hope to do something where I try and predict how much money the free agents will get this summer. I also plan a mega-review thing on NHL drafts leading up the 2007 NHL Draft this summer. But for right now the rest of my life needs back the time and energy I've been focusing on this team.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Game 3: All The Wrong Moves

I have nothing positive to say about last night's game other than Exelby should be signed to 7 year extension and I'm counting down the days until Sutton leaves Atlanta. Hartley's attempt to shake up the defensive pairings didn't work. Nor did Hartley's goaltending moves. Nor did Hartley's "tweaks" to the power play produce any discernible improvement in a moribund man advantage.

This team is certainly not the 1975 Islanders and I don't think they can rally and win four in a row--so this series is over. The only question left is whether the Thrashers will get their first post-season win tonight before they start their summer goal season or if they will suffer the indignity of getting swept out of the playoffs.

Personally I think Hartley should not be back next year. Coaching is about adjustments and he simply is not been making enough of them. Hartley was very late to adjust to the new rules last year. He still hasn't adjusted to not having Patrick Roy as his goaltender. He can't adjust our powerplay. He couldn't adjust our PK so we had to find new people. Frankly I think the GM assembled sufficient talent for this team to advance to the 2nd round and that is not going to happen. Hartley's moves to "shake up the team" did not work and now he needs to go elsewhere.

Then begins a summer of uncertainty:
Who will fired and who will be retained?
Who will own the team after the court rules?
If Belkin wins will he keep the team?
If the Atlanta Spirit wins will they spend up to the new cap level?
Who will fill all those holes in the roster left by free agency?
Will Hossa be extended after not showing up in the playoffs?
Do we want to resign Kozlov (who will be 34) after his invisible man show?
Will we get a coach who can work with kids (Sterling, Oystrick, Enstrom) next year?
Will we cease being the oldest team in hockey?

If nothing else it should be an interesting off season for this club. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Game 2 Review: Unleash the Puck!

I was pretty down after the Thrashers loss and I didn't want to post until I had a chance to watch the game again on my DVR at home. While I was writing this post, the news of the shootings at Virginia Tech came out which puts everything into a much different perspective. As a teacher I can't imagine how terrible it would be to have some bring a gun into my classroom with evil intent. Is there a good way to segue into talking about a hockey game? Not really. If you need a diversion from today's tragedy keep on reading.

  • Kovalchuk was much better this game (and I'm not just saying that because he scored a goal). I watched the game tape very carefully and counted scoring chances for both teams (see list below) and at the end of the game I had Ilya with 5 scoring chances which is more than any other player. That give and go with Tkachuk is something I would love to see more of.
  • The checking line was strong again creating 5 of the team's 17 scoring chances. In fact Dupuis finished 2nd on the team with 3 scoring chances in the game.
  • The Rangers are not dominating this team. Go take a look at the DET-CAL series if you want to see a one-sided affair (I think DET is outshooting something like them 90-33...ouch!). The difference was a bad goal in game one and a bad luck goal in Game 2. I still believe this series is there for the taking, but the Thrashers must bring their A game because they now will have to win 4 out of 5 games to advance.
  • Hedberg played fantastic. I don't blame him at all for the 1st goal. I have been watching NHL hockey for over 18 years and I've never seen a puck take that kind of a bounce in a playoff game. To his credit Moose didn't let it bother him at all and was stellar the rest of the way.
  • Zhitnik/Holik/Hedberg shut down Jagr which is pretty impressive. Unfortunately Shanahanhad three very good chances and Avery had great games.
Heard on NBC
Some people on the boards claimed that the NBC broadcast was pro-NY and I have to disagree. They said many glowing things about the Thrasher players and their fans. The negative things they said where just good analysis in my view. "There is confusion on the Atlanta powerplay--they need to get the puck into the middle of the ice. Guys are getting in front of the Rangers net, but pucks are not finding them." Is it just me or did Ray Ferraro get an eyebrow reduction?

  • The excessive passing killed this team in the first two periods. They repeated failed to take available shots in an effort to find a perfect or at least better option. That simply doesn't work in the playoffs. The real crying shame of it is that Lundqvist was struggling with his rebounds. By my count 5 of the Thrashers scoring chances came off of rebounds. I honestly believe that if they would have throw the puck on net all game--like they did in the 3rd period--they probably would have won the contest. You are not going to win many games with a roster of 3 shooters and 15 passers.
  • I was prepared to say some rather harsh things about Hossa but after watching the game tape I do see him working to try and make something happen. But nearly every shot he took either was wide of the mark or was blocked, tipped or deflected by someone else. I still think he needs to be more aggressive in driving the net on the powerplay.
  • Kozlov was invisible again. Hartley took him off the powerplay unit and put Dupuis in his place. I like Slava as a player but this team needs more than what he is providing right now. Kozlov has 42 career playoff goals but you'd never know it the way he is playing right now.
  • Exelby played a great game, but he never saw Shanahan slip in behind him on the game winner. I'm not going to put it all on him, if Hedberg handles that puck behind the net who knows how things would have turned out.

Scoring Chances Tally (17)
5 Kovalchuk
3 Mellanby
1 Tkachuk
3 Dupuis
1 Holik
1 Larsen
1 Belanger
1 Hossa
1 Zhitnik

Rangers Scoring Chances Tally (18)
3 Jagr
4 Avery
4 Shanahan
1 Cullen
1 Rozival
1 Giardi
1 Ortmeyer
1 Callahan
1 Prucha

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shocker Switcheroo: Moose in and Kari out!

In a move that left me temporarily slack jawed Coach Hartley has decided to go with Hedberg over Lehtonen in Game 2. Wow. Is this over reacting or pushing the right buttons? Did Hartley just go double of nothing with his own job? Let's discuss.

A few years ago the Red Wings had two goalies, a young Chris Osgood and a veteran Mike Vernon and Coach Bowman surprised many by starting the veteran Vernon who backstopped them all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship. Also the Minnesota Wild rotated two goalies in their only prior playoff appearance and it worked pretty well for them as they advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Then last year the Carolina Hurricanes tossed their presumed #1 guy Gerber to the curb and rode Cam Ward to the Cup.

Now I've listed three examples were it worked out well, but generally in the history of the NHL playoffs switching goalies is regarded as a sign of desperation--and it is usually associated with losing teams. As someone once said about quarterback controversies in football "If there's a controversy it means neither is good enough."

Hedberg has played extremely well in his last three starts. He is also very popular in the locker room and his teammates voted him the Players Player Award thing. They will work hard for him next game I'm sure.

Here's what I don't like about it. If Hartley thinks so highly of Hedberg why didn't he give him more starts in the regular season? Back when Scotty Bowman went with Mike Vernon he gave him key regular season starts against Colorado to give him work versus top teams so he would be ready come playoff time. Also in the case of the Minnesota Wild Roloson and Fernandez had spit the starts almost evenly the entire year so it they simply carried that over to the post-season.

Why only give Lehtonen only one game when Sutton has received a free pass all year? Now it may be that Coach hopes that if he goes back to Kari he will be all mad and play great, but if Moose wins on Saturday, I doubt he goes back to Lehtonen. So in other words Kari only gets a start if Moose loses Game 2. Then you'll be down 0-2 on the road and THEN you're going to stick a rookie back into the nets? Seems like a potential disaster to me.

I will say this about Hartley, he actually scratched one of his favorites for Game 1 when he benched Vigier. Personally I'm all for holding the players more accountable, but why did he wait all season? The Kovalchuk benching versus Washington was very late in the season. Why do De Vries and Sutton get free passes after stinker games when there sits McCarthy who needed to get some game action?

Bottom line--I think Hartley's job depends on how this turns out. By suddenly changing up the goalies after just one game, Hartley has put the focus on the coach and not on the player's performance. If it doesn't work and the team losses in the first round I wouldn't be surprised in the least of he is fired/not renewed for next season.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

ATL-NYR Game 1 Reaction


The Belanger goal was a very heady play at both ends. Havelid’s pass was just wide enough that Lundqvist probably thought it was a bad shot and by the time it reached Belanger—who tipped it perfectly—it was too late for Lundqvist to react to the play. Congrats to Havelid and Belanger for making the first goal in Thrasher history such a beautiful goal.

While we are on the topic of firsts I have a couple of my own to hand out. No, not the usual 1st assist, 1st penalty sort of thing but rather things that matter but don’t always show up in the box score or game story.

1st game where almost every fan was in their seat when the puck dropped. It was amazing to see a full building chanting “Let’s Go Thrashers” at full throat volume BEFORE the national anthem had been sung. I’ve never seen it that full even that early even on a weekend game. The crowd enthusiasm and noise was fantastic and better than I was expecting.

Most physical game in Thrashers in team history. I’ve NEVER seen this club throw their body around with such abandon. I had to say the team’s commitment to playing the body was a very welcome surprise. I certainly didn’t expect this right off the bat in Game 1, it was like everyone was trying to out do Exebly.

Third line played like Stanley Cup Champions (too bad the first two lines played like a team that is swept out of the playoffs). Holik-Dupuis-Larsen gave the Rangers fits with their forecheck. If I’m coach I don't even talk to those guys. The only thing I’d like to see is the defense jump into the high slot when one of them gains control of the puck and is looking to pass the puck for a scoring opportunity. I was a bit skeptical when Kincaide was touting Holik, but if this line performs like that every game I’ll be thrilled.

My nominee for unsung hero of the playoffs was Pascal Dupuis and he made me proud tonight. He hit relentlessly, he skated hard and ended up with two points on the night. Way to go Du-Pweeeeeee!

Hnidy just continues to be a pleasant surprise. That shot he scored on was great.

Quotes from the Stands
The guys behind me kept up a commentary in a languid southern drawl all game. They seemed to be more worried about the lack of hits on Jagr than the lack of goals by the Thrashers. At one point Jagr has the puck in the corner and Guy #1 says: "You don't have to be so pooolite and ginnnntle, it's not teeeennis" and I cracked up.

Later when Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was put on the jumbotron to a mixture of cheers and boos Guy #1 comments "I think this is the first time she's been to a hockey game" to which Guy #2 replied "I'm not even sure she's really here."

At another point in the game they showed the Atlanta Hawks team watching the game and the crowd started to boo them. I commented that "It would help if they looked like they were the slightest bit excited about being here."


The Hossa-Belanger-Kozlov line didn’t do much of anything. If you missed the game here is what they did: gain the blueline pass to Kozlov, Kozlov curls to the outside to avoid pressure and just throws the puck into the middle of the ice. Rangers clear. It was shameful how little pressure this line generated. This is one reason why the Rangers got so many shots at the other end, our top offensive lines were not applying much pressure in the Ranger end.

Kari was unfocused at times and it cost the team when he gave up that forth goal. He should have had it plain and simple. The first two goals against were just great plays by the Rangers: they moved the puck quickly from one side of the zone to the other and put a shot just under the crossbar. Lehtonen is a butterfly goaltender and you can always score it that area just under the bar—but very few players can hit that spot with much consistency.

Kovalchuk was involved in far too many dead plays. I’ll cut him a little slack because it was his first every playoff game and he did dish out some nice hits. Honestly, though Kovalchuk reminds me of a Jaguar—a beautiful car when it is working, but a car that just doesn’t work well often enough to own. Kovalchuk is a great player with a great shot, its just that he doesn’t adjust very well. If the pass isn’t perfect he’s not going to shot. If the lane isn’t open he’ll try to dance around with his check with the puck on his backhand and lose it into the corner.

At the end of the game when the team badly needed to tie the game and had a 6-on-4 advantage the old power play bad habits reappeared. Excessive passing, reluctance to shoot. They just passed it around as the seconds ticked off the clock until finally Kovalchuk got the puck and just shot it wide or into the pads of shotblocker. It was all far too predictable and frustrating because it is the same thing they have done all season--but now it is costing them when it really counts.


The bad news is that our star players didn't play like star players--it is very hard to win playoff games when that happens. The good news is that our star players can all play better this and they must if the team is going to win the series.

Why the Thrashers Can Win

This spring Baseball Prospectus (one of my favorite websites) did a series they called "Hope and Faith" in which they previewed every single major league baseball team and listed reasons for their fans to have hope. They were inspired by the dramatic turnaround of the once doormat Detroit Tigers who went all the way to the World Series. Today's post will be in a similar vein, I'm not making any predictions today, but I am listing some reasons to be optomistic.

The Stanley Cup playoffs frequently host great cinderella stories as low seeded teams make their charge. In recent years we have seen unhearled teams like Edmonton, Calgary, Carolina (2002 version), and Washington make it to the Finals. I put together a list of the last 10 Finals teams below and you can see that in the last four SC Finals a team that finished outside of the top 10 in the league advanced to the championship round.

Stanley Cup Finals and Regular Season Ranking
2006 Carolina 4th, Edmonton 14th
2004 Tampa Bay 2nd, Calgary 12th
2003 New Jersey 4th, Anaheim 11th
2002 Detroit 1st, Carolina 16th
2001 Colorado 1st, New Jersey3rd
2000 New Jersey 4th, Dallas 6th
1999 Dallas 1st,Buffalo 9th
1998 Detroit 3rd,Washington 8th
1997 Detroit 5th,Philadelphia 3rd
1996 Colorado 2nd, Florida 7th

On the surface the Thrashers do not seem like good candidates to make a run for the Finals. They finished 12th in the overall standings and if you take away the shootout goals, they were actually outscored by their opponents during the regular season.

So why should Thrasher fans have hope?

The playoff Thrashers are better than the regular season Thrashers. No club made more dramatic personnel additions than Atlanta did as they added Tkachuk, Zhitnik, Belanger and Dupuis in exchange for Metropolit, McCarthy (scratched), Rucchin (IR) and Vishnevski. This team is significantly better and it shows. Before the trading deadline the Thrashers were outscored by their opponents -13 and after the trading deadline they were a +11. If you project those numbers out to a full 82 game season the pre-trade Thrashers would have ranked just 21st in the NHL in goal differential while the post-trade Thrasher would have ranked 7th in the NHL.

This is not an inexperienced Thrasher team. I was going to list off the number of career playoff games the Thrashers have on their roster compared to other teams, but Ben at the Blueland Blog beat me to it (click over and check out the list if you haven't seen it already). The Thrashers are NOT inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs. The only playoff rookies on this roster are Kovalchuk, Sutton, Exelby, Vigier, Boulton and Lehtonen. If you think that sounds like a lot go look at Pittsburgh where a full 12 of their 20 players had never played a single playoff game until last night.

Kari Lehtonen is a proven playoff performer. OK not in the NHL playoffs, but I think that people forget about the fact that he was the 2001 Playoff MVP as a teenager playing against men in the Finnish Elite League. Then he came over to North American and reached the Finals with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. He had the best GAA in the AHL playoffs in 2005. The man has already faced numerous pressure packed games and played well.

Game breakers. The Thrashers have several of them now. With just one shot Kovalchuk could win an overtime game. Hossa can single handly beat defensemen to the net. Slave Kozlov scored many huge playoff games with the Red Wings in their two cup runs. Tkachuk in front of the net could get that crucial redirect goal. The Thrashers have impact players that other teams have to fear or at least respect.

So there you have it. No one knows what the playoffs will bring, but there are plenty of reasons to get excited if you're a fan of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Playoff Prediction Model

In a previous post I discussed how I gathered up data from 75 playoff series from the five previous playoff years. In that post I provided some basic descriptive statistics of which factors were the best predictors.

I've taken the next step and put all of those factors into a multi-variate regression model in order to assess the relative value of each of these factions. For the non-statistical readers. regression is a great tool because it allows us to see which factors are most important in relation to other factors in explaining something (in this case which teams won the playoff series).

My overall model has a R-squared of .31 and three variables are significant (Shot %, Power Play Opportunities and Goals Against Average). In plain English, the model indicates that a) there is a lot of random crazy unpredictable stuff that happens in the playoffs and b) but there is also a predictable element as well. Three things (ST%, GAA, and PP chances) are the core of that predictable element.

After running my model on recent playoff history I then used the coefficients to try and predict each playoff series. Keep in mind the model can only tell us about the predictable part of the playoffs--there will always be a significant random/chance/luck element. To the extend that regular season numbers can guide us, the model makes the following predictions.

Who Will Win Each Series?
Eastern Conference
ATL 95% NYR 5%
BUF 100% NYI 0%
NJD 51% TBL 49%
OTT 46% PIT 53%

Western Conference
DET 41% CGY 58%
ANA 100% MIN 0%
VAN 0% DAL 100%
NAS 31% SJS 69%

Quarter Finals
BUF 70% PIT 30%
NJD 37% ATL 63%
ANA 42% CAL 58%
SJS 73% DAL 27%

Conference Finals
BUF 91% ATL 9%
SJS 65% CAL 34%

Stanley Cup Finals
BUF 48% SJS 52%


Unfortunately the model is not much help in predicting how long each series will go. When I ran a regression on number of games in a series nothing came up significant and the model explained zero variance.

Edit: How well did it work in the past?
OK, I went back and ran the model to see how well it did in the past 5 playoff seasons. Of course, since I used these years to create the model it better do something. Even with the small R-squared.

What is a good point of comparision? Well if we picked playoff series by a coin toss we would expect be right just 50% of the time. If we went with the home team every time we would get 68% of the series right.

Total Playoff Series Correct Predictions
2001 11/15 series 73% Using Home Ice 10/15 66% Difference +7%
2002 13/15 series 87% Using Home Ice 13/15 87% Difference 0%
2003 09/15 series 60% Using Home Ice 09/15 60% Difference 0%
2004 11/15 series 73% Using Home Ice 11/15 73% Difference 0%
2006 11/15 series 73% Using Home Ice 08/15 53% Difference +20%
Total 55/75 series 73% Using Home Ice 48/75 64% Difference +7%

So the model is about the same as simply using home ice until last year's playoffs where it performed much better. Why? Perhaps, it is because the playoffs were called much more like the regular season, thus making regular season statistics more useful. I noticed that scoring declined from regular season levels by roughly -15% in previous years, but last year playoff scoring barely dropped at all (-3%).

Additional Edit:
The Dependent Variable is won/lost playoff series coded 1/0.
Dependent Variables are:
Which team has home ice?
Which team has better offense?
Which team has better defense?
Which team has better PP%
Which team has better PK%
Which team has better SV%
Which team has better Shot %
Which team has more PP Opportunities?
Which team has fewer Times Shorthanded?
Which team has better goal differential?
Which team has better special teams goal differential?

Western Conference Playoff Preview

Detroit Versus Calgary

Detroit has worked to become better defensively and the Wings actually have a lower GAA than Calgary. Meanwhile Calgary tried to improve their offense by trading for Alex Tanguay and the Flames scored more goals than the Red Wings. So both teams have improved in areas of weakness.

A Deeper Look: Despite Detroit having the top seed there a ton of reasons for the Wings to be wary. Detroit's regular season numbers are greatly inflated because they destroyed non-playoff teams outscoring them (+58) but against West playoff teams they were actually outscored themselves (-1) by a goal--ouch! In almost every category the Wings have huge differences between the numbers they put up against non-playoff teams and West qualifiers, just look at these splits! GFA 3.43 vs 2.66; GAA 2.11 vs 2.69; PP% 18.9 vs 14.5; PK% 91.1 75.8; SV% .915 vs .895.

Calgary also has some big splits in certain areas (Goals For Average 3.52 vs 2.72) but for the most part they varied less with the quality of opponents than we saw with Detroit. In my study of past playoff series shooting percentage is the single best predictor and that goes to Calgary in this match up. Detroit does have experience in their favor but Calgary looks very good to me.

Games Played 82 82
Goals For Avg. 3.07
2.66 3.11
Goal Against Avg. 2.33 2.70
PP % 17.1
PK % 84.6
Shoot % 9.1
Team SV% .905 .912 CGY
.895 .909
Total Goal Differential +61
+56 DET
ST Goal Differential +28
+36 CGY

ES Goal Differential +33

Starter SV% .913

PP Opp Per Game 398

Times Shorthanded 408
414 DET

Playoff Experience 1204

Anaheim versus Minnesota
It is unfortunate that the Wild drew the Ducks because Anaheim is the class of the Western Conference. If you look at the table below Anaheim dominates--winning every regular season category except for team SV% and starter SV%.

A Deeper Look: Not only was Anaheim very good during the regular season, but they were awesome versus the other playoff teams out west. Anaheim is the ONLY team with a positive goal differential versus the other Western teams piling up a huge +30 figure. When playing other playoff teams the Ducks actually had a better SV% and a better GAA than they did versus non-playoff teams. Are there any bright spots for the Wild? Not many, other their goaltending.

Games Played 82 82
Goals For Avg. 3.10 2.93 ANA
Goal Against Avg. 2.41 2.87 ANA
PP % 22.4
18.1 ANA
PK % 85.1
81.8 ANA
Shoot % 9.8
9.3 ANA
Team SV% .912 .922 MIN
.923 .912
Total Goal Differential +56
+5 ANA
ST Goal Differential +36

ES Goal Differential +20 +5 ANA

Starter SV% .918
.929 MIN

PP Opp 398
348 ANA

Times Shorthanded 410
433 ANA

Playoff Experience 677

Vancouver and Dallas
If you're looking for another home ice team to be upset this is a series to consider. These two teams are very similar in that they rely upon a strong defense and good goaltending to win games. While the Canuks are the favorite and hold home ice, the Stars hold the advantage in nearly every regular season category except for goaltending and PK%.

A Deeper Look: The Dallas Stars ran wild against non-playoff teams scoring 3.15 goals per game but this fell way off to just 2.11 goals per game against West playoff teams. On the other hand Dallas was one of those rare teams that allowed more goals against (2.48) to weak teams than to quality opponents (2.17). So it appears that the Stars played more wide open hockey against weaker teams but played a more defensive style of game against good teams. Dallas also had the better special teams in games versus West playoff teams.

Looking for some good news for Vancouver? Well they do have the edge in shooting % versus West playoff qualifiers 8.7 to 7.9 over Dallas--oh and they have this guy named Luongo in net too. This is one series where I think a single player (Luongo) could do something special and negate all thoe other statistics.

Category VAN VS NHL
Games Played 82 82
Goals For Avg. 2.65 2.65 EVEN
Goal Against Avg. 2.40 2.35
2.78 2.17
PP % 17.2
PK % 86.9
84.4 VAN
Shoot % 9.0
8.7 7.9
Team SV% .918 .907
.908 .916
Total Goal Differential +20
ST Goal Differential +26
+29 DAL

ES Goal Differential -6
-5 DAL

Starter SV% .921 .910 VAN

PP Opp Per Game 407

Times Shorthanded 436
377 DAL

Playoff Experience 544

Nashville versus San Jose
I have to say that I've liked the Sharks from day one this season, but the numbers suggest that this could be a very competitive match up. Both teams have areas of strength, Nashville has the better offense, PK%, ST% and SV% while San Jose has the getter GAA, PP%, receives more power plays and avoids being shorthanded. Nashville has the best shot % of any team in the West which bodes well for them.

A Deeper Look: The Predator defense really shut down non-playoff teams (2.20 GAA, .929 SV%) but was significantly weaker against West playoff clubs (2.97 GAA, .906 SV%). A good portion of this difference in defense was driven by their PK which was great against bad teams (91.0%) but very porous against the West playoff squads (78.4). If Nashville can avoid penalties that will help their cause.

The Sharks also had a some big splits, as they torched non-playoff teams with a 25.2% Power Play only to see that fall to 19.1% against West playoff teams. Just like Nashville the Sharks looked great defensively against weak teams (2.25 GAA, .914 SV%) but not so hot against tougher competition (2.75 GAA, .897%).

These two teams have similar problems (defense versus quality opponents). They ended the season with the same goal differential, they also have the same goal differential in games versus West playoff teams. I smell a fantastic playoff series.

Games Played 82 82
Goals For Avg. 3.24
Goal Against Avg. 2.52 2.40 SJS
2.97 2.75
PP % 17.4
PK % 85.8
Shoot % 11.8
Team SV% .919 .908 NSH
.906 .897
Total Goal Differential +59
ST Goal Differential +26

ES Goal Differential +33 -11 NSH

Starter SV% .922 .914 NSH

PP Opp 408

Times Shorthanded 387 330

Playoff Experience 496

Next up: Why the Thrashers Can Win

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Atlanta Versus NY Rangers

In this match up the Rangers have the better defense, special teams, goal differential and team save percentage, while the Thrashers have the better offense, team shot percentage, more PP opportunities and fewer times shorthanded. Just looking at these numbers it would seem to be very even, perhaps even favor the Rangers. The Thrashers do have the edge in the team shooting percentage which turned out to be the best predictor of series winners in my study of the last five playoff seasons.

A Deeper Look: However if we break down the regular season statistics more some interesting things emerge. The Rangers absolutely feasted on non-playoff teams average outscoring them by a total of 35 goals, but the Rangers were outscored by the other Eastern playoff teams by -15 goals. The Thrashers also feasted on non-playoff teams (+22) but fared slightly better against the other East playoff teams (-12).

The Rangers goaltenders put up a .915 SV% against non-playoff teams but this fell to .903 against the East qualifiers (Thrashers numbers showed no difference .904 and .904 respectively). The Rangers forwards had a torrid 10.3% shot percentage against non-playoff teams but just a 7.5% against the East playoff squads, while the Thrashers showed less of a drop off 10.4% and 9.8% respectively.

My playoff study found that Shot% (ATL), PP Opportunities (ATL-but just by 1) and GAA (NYR) were the three most important predictors. I give the Thrashers the edge because of their steady play against quality East opponents (though to be fair the Thrashers were terrible versus West playoff teams). Despite never appearing in the playoffs as a team, the Thrashers have more career playoff games among their likely starters.

Games Played 82 82
32 40
Goals For Avg. 2.91 2.84 ATL 2.81 2.40
Goal Against Avg. 2.94 2.57 NYR 3.19 2.78
PP % 16.5 18.5 NYR 17.7 18.3
PK % 79.8 83.7 NYR 77.3 81.7
Shoot % 9.8 9.0 ATL 9.8 7.5
Team SV% .907 .909 NYR .904 .903
Total Goal Differential -2 +22 NYR -12 -15
ST Goal Differential +7 +27 NYR

ES Goal Differential -9 -5 NYR

Starter SV% .912 .917 NYR

PP Opp Per Game 407 406 ATL

Times Shorthanded 391 400 ATL

Playoff Experience 816 565 ATL

Buffalo versus NY Islanders
Buffalo is the huge favorite as the top team in the East. They outscored their opponents by 60 goals this season and even if you look at their games versus East playoff clubs they outscored those teams by +14. Having said that Islanders fans do have some reason to hope because they have the stronger special teams and that is part of the recipe for upset victories.

A Deeper Look: The other cause for concern among Sabres fans is that the team has a fairly high Goals Against Average and a fairly low team SV%--this is a franchise that won by scoring loads of goals, while giving up a significant number themselves.

On the plus side for the Sabres is that they had terrific team Shooting % (12.3) and it remained very high even against other East Playoff teams (11.8). The Sabres also drew many more PP and faced many fewer PK situations than NYI. The playoff experience is nearly even. The giant wildcard is the Islander goaltending, they have to get a great performance to have a shot of winning this series.

Games Played 82 82
32 40
Goals For Avg. 3.63 2.93 BUF 3.47 2.63
Goal Against Avg. 2.90 2.87 NYI 3.03 3.05
PP % 17.4 18.1 NYI 16.7 16.4
PK % 81.3 81.8 NYI 79.3 82.3
Shoot % 12.3 9.8 BUF 11.8 8.8
Team SV% .906 .912 NYI .904 .907
Total Goal Differential +60 +5 BUF +14 -17
ST Goal Differential +20 0 BUF

ES Goal Differential +40 +5 BUF

Starter SV% .911 .919 NYI

PP Opp 407 348 BUF

Times Shorthanded 386 433 BUF

Playoff Experience 470 496 NYI

New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning
I think this series has the potential to be closer than most people expect (and I'm not saying that to please Lightning fans on SeSo). These two teams are almost mirror opposites of one another. The Devils are better at defense, killing penalties, goaltending and staying out of the penalty box. The Lightning are better at offense, the power play, shooting, and drawing penalties. Something has to give here.

A Deeper Look: The Devils were very consistent defensively, they allowed very few goals regardless of the quality of the team they were playing against. Tampa on the other hand was actually better defensively against the other eastern playoff teams (2.63 GA, .900 SV%) then against non-playoff teams (3.55 GAA, .873 SV%). If this pattern holds in the playoffs Tampa could make this a series.

Tampa also demonstrated a strong ability to finish off chances regardless of the quality of the opposition. The Devils had the weakest Shoot % of any Eastern playoff team, a bad sign based upon recent playoff history. On the other hand, the Devils may not need that many goals if Brodeur plays outstanding in goal.

Category NJD VS NHL
Games Played 82 82
40 32
Goals For Avg. 2.51 2.96 TBL 2.35 2.84
Goal Against Avg. 2.35 3.16 NJD 2.30 2.63
PP % 17.7 18.4 TBL 15.7 19.0
PK % 85.2 88.4 TBL 87.0 81.0
Shoot % 8.8 10.0 TBL 8.0 9.5
Team SV% .917 .884 NJD .919 .900
Total Goal Differential +13 -16 NJD +2 +7
ST Goal Differential +40 +28 NJD

ES Goal Differential -27 -44 NJD

Starter SV% .922 .893 NJD

PP Opp Per Game 367 374 TBL

Times Shorthanded 271 305 NJD

Playoff Experience 1103 480 NJD

Ottawa versus Pittsburgh
On paper the Senators are the favorite and have home ice advantage, but I think there are many reasons to think this will be another year where the Senators go home early. Ottawa has the advantage in offense, defense, PP%, PK % and SV% and Goal Differential as well as fewer times shorthanded. But Pittsburgh has the edge in two of three most important playoff series predictors: more PP Opportunities and a better shooting percentage.

A Deeper Look: The Senators have an advantage in SV% (.913) largely because they stoned non-playoff teams (.917) and against the East qualifiers they were just .905 and Pittsburgh was nearly the same at .902 so don't read too much into that Ottawa SV% advantage.

Both teams greatly outscored the opposition on special teams, but Pittsburgh struggled at even strength, if Ottawa can stay out of the box they greatly increase their odds of winning the series. If you think that playoff experience mattes don't pick PIT, roughly half their roster has never played in a single NHL playoff game. Personally, I think experience is overrated.

The Senators were even stronger offensively against Eastern playoff teams (3.63 GFA) then they were against non-playoff teams (3.58), only western playoff teams managed to shut down Ottawa's offense. Pittsburgh on the other hand torched non-playoff teams (3.92 GFA) but were more ordinary (2.78 goals per game) when taking on fellow East playoff qualifiers.

Games Played 82 82
32 40
Goals For Avg. 3.49 3.26 OTT 3.63 2.78
Goal Against Avg. 2.63 2.93 OTT 2.69 3.00
PP % 17.9 20.3 PIT 23.0 19.3
PK % 84.5 82.1 OTT 84.7 81.5
Shoot % 10.8 11.3 PIT 11.3 9.7
Team SV% .913 .905 OTT .905 .902
Total Goal Differential +70 +27 OTT +30 -9
ST Goal Differential +40 +46 PIT

ES Goal Differential +30 -19 OTT

Starter SV% .918 .906 OTT

PP Opp 403 463 PIT

Times Shorthanded 394 419 OTT

Playoff Experience 526 376 OTT

Next up: Western Conference Previews

Monday, April 09, 2007

Predicting the Playoffs: What Matters Most in the Post Season

Last year I got my head handed to me when it came to predicting the playoffs. (It didn't help matters that in the West all the home ice teams were upset.) So I decided to do some number crunching to see what regular season numbers were most strongly associated with teams that won their playoff matchups.

Over the years I've heard a lot of broadcasters and coaches bandy about their personal beliefs: a good defense, a strong power play, great goaltending and so forth. So I decided to test a lot of different things and see which proved to be most useful.

I went through my handy NHL Guide and Record Book for the past 5 playoff seasons and recorded each playoff match. Each year there 8 1st round matchups, 4 2nd round, 2 3rd round and just 1 Finals matchup. Since I looked at 5 years worth of playoffs my dataset includes a total of 40 1st round, 20 2nd round, 10 3rd round and 5 finals pairings for a grand total of 75 playoff matchs. OK on to the findings.

Home Ice
This is one of the most important factors in determining who wins a series. The home ice team won 68% of the 75 series I looked at.

Offense (Regular Season Goals For Average)
The team with the better offense won just 57% of the time.

Defense (Regular Season Goals Against Average)
The team with the best defense won 60% of the matchups.

Goal Differential (Regular Season GFA-GAA)
The team with the better goal differential won 63% of the time. The team with the best goal differential usually has home advantage as well so they overlap significantly.

Power Play Percentage
This surprised me a bit, but the team with the better regular season power play won just 53% of the time. I would have expected it be higher than that.

Penalty Kill Percentage
The team with the better regular season penalty kill won just 55% of the time, I anticipated this being higher.

Drawing Penalties
Some teams receive more power play opportunites because of their players or style of play. My study showed that the team that drew more power play opportunties in the regular season won their playoff match 56% of the time.

Avoiding Penalties
Every coach preaches about the need to stay out of the box, some teams do it better than others. This seems to REALLY matter, more than a lot of other factors as the team that had to kill fewer penalties per game in the regular season also won their playoff series 64% of the time.

Special Teams Goal Differential
Some teams have a great PP but a bad PK or vice versa, what if a team excels at both aspects of special teams? I looked at specical teams goal differential (PP and SH Goals Scored - PP and SH Goals Allowed) and found this too is an important predictor of playoff success in 64% of the series.

Even Strength Goal Differential
Since I just looked at Special Teams Differential, I was curious to see how Even Strength Goal Differenial would compare. 61% of series winners had the better ES Goal Differential, which is lower than the 64% for Special Team Differential.

Great Goal Tending
Everyone says goal tending matters (and it does) so I was shocked by this one. When you look at playoff matchups the team with the better regular season Save Percentage won just 53% of the series. I really expected that to be a better predictor than it is. Perhaps if I replaced the team SV% with the SV% of the playoff starter it might perform better--if I get some time I'll have to check that one out.

Great Team Shooting
This was perhaps the single most surprising thing to come out of the entire study. I threw team shooting percentage into the mix and what do you know--IT IS THE BEST PREDICTOR. I have to say that this really surprised me at first, but the more I thought about it makes a certain amount of sense. If ST% measures a team's ability to finish off scoring chances--and scoring chances are harder to come by in the playoffs--then it makes sense that the most opportunistic team will triumph in the series.

OK to sum up all these factors I've ranked them in the table below based up how well they predicted the series winner in the past. Remember that these are all based upon regular season stats.

Factors That Predict Series Winners
72% Team Shooting Percentage
68% Home Ice Advantage
64% Special Teams Goal Differential
64% Short Handed Less Often
63% Total Goal Differential
61% Even Strength Goal Differential
60% Better Defense
57% Better Offense
56% More Power Play Opportunities
55% Better Penalty Kill Percentage
53% Better Power Play Percentage
53% Team Save Percentage
53% Shots on Goal Differential

How about Predicting Upset Winners?
One of the great things about playoffs is that your team might win even if they are not favored, that is what makes them interesting and exciting to watch. Everyone loves an underdog (unless your team is the overdog). So if you are going to pick some upset winners in your playoff pool are there any regular season numbers that might guide us?

In my study I looked at 75 playoff series and in 24 of them the non-home ice team won. That's a very significant number of upsets (1/3) so I looked at those 24 upset matchups to see which factors mattered most. Here it is-->focus on teams with strong special teams. Upset winners were teams that received more PP chances and avoided being on the PK and tended to execute when given man advantage opportunities. It makes sense that good special teams plus a hot goaltender could spell upset victory.

Series with Upset Winners (Regular Season Stats)
63% More PP Opportunities
54% Fewer SH Opportunities
54% Special Teams Differential
46% Better PK%
42% Better PP %
42% Better Team SV%
42% Better Team Shooting Percentage
38% Better Defense
29% Better Offense
29% Shots on Goal Differential
25% ES Goal Differential
17% Better Goal Differential
00% Home Ice Advantage

Coming up Next: Eastern and Western Conference Breakdowns

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The 2006-07 Season in Perspective

With the regular season now complete let's take a quick look at where this year's team improved over previous Atlanta Thrasher teams. I use rankings below, so #1 is best and #30 is the worst. I used the rankings instead of the raw numbers because it helps to control of changes in the rules like the SO and changes in league offense.

Overall NHL Points Standing Ranking
2000-2001 28th
2001-2002 30th
2002-2003 23rd
2003-2004 21st
2005-2006 20th
2006-2007 12th

Comment: The Thrashers finished above the middle of the league for the first time in franchise history.

Goal Differential Ranking (GFA-GAA)
2000-2001 28th
2001-2002 30th
2002-2003 27rd
2003-2004 21st
2005-2006 16th
2006-2007 16th
The ratio of offense to defense is a core measure of how good a team is. The current Thrashers club ended up ranked the same as the previous season. So far Atlanta has never finished in the top half of the NHL.

Offense Ranking (GFA)
2000-2001 27th
2001-2002 26th
2002-2003 10th
2003-2004 13th
2005-2006 6th
2006-2007 15.5th

The Thrashers took a big hit to their offense losing Savard, Bondra and Modry's points during the off season and replacing those players with Rucchin, Metropolit and Vishnevsky (who are all not playing for the playoff squad). The Thrashers went from an elite offensive team to a league average one. The playoff version is better than this with the addition of Tkachuk, Zhitnik and Belanger. This year's team scored 37 fewer goals than last years.

Defense Ranking (GAA)
2000-2001 29th
2001-2002 30th
2002-2003 30th
2003-2004 25th
2005-2006 24th
2006-2007 15th

The Thrashers made up for the decline in offense by taking a major step forward in the area of defense, finished above the bottom third for the first time in franchise history. Both their goaltenders where healthy and that played a huge role. The addition of Zhitnik down the stretch also helped the final season numbers a bit. The team reduced their goals allowed by 29 goals over last season.

PP Ranking (PP%)
2000-2001 25th
2001-2002 29th
2002-2003 13th
2003-2004 23rd
2005-2006 4th
2006-2007 23rd

Thrashers fell from the top 5 to the bottom third of the league. Part of that is the loss of Savard and Bondra and part of it is a lack of creativity with the man advantage.

PK Ranking (PK%)
2000-2001 30th
2001-2002 25th
2002-2003 24th
2003-2004 8th
2005-2006 27th
2006-2007 26th

The Thrashers have pretty much always sucked at killing penalties and this year was no different, despite better goaltending.

Save Percentage Ranking (SV%)
2000-2001 24th
2001-2002 20th (thank you Milan!)
2002-2003 30th
2003-2004 27th
2005-2006 28th
2006-2007 12th

Again, we see the effect of having a full season of Kari Lehtonen makes. The Thrashers previous best ranking was 24 out of 30 until this year when the team shot up to 12th out of 30. That is a big improvement and honestly I think the team could move into the top 10 next year with a healthy Zhitnik and Lehtonen.

Power Play Opportunities
2000-2001 7th
2001-2002 24th
2002-2003 13th
2003-2004 2nd
2005-2006 1st
2006-2007 11th

The Thrashers have always drawn a lot of penalties, even some of the really weak teams. Last season they were tops in the league in number of power play opportunities, this year they slid down a bit and finished in a three way tie for 10th, 11th and 12th.

Fewest Times Short-Handed
2000-2001 5th
2001-2002 10th
2002-2003 13th
2003-2004 3rd
2005-2006 3rd
2006-2007 10th

The Thrashers have always been one of the least penalized teams in their history, despite all the booing directed at the refs we are not shorthanded as often as other NHL clubs. The Thrashers have finished in the top 10 of fewest power plays faced all but one year since 2000 and this season was no different.

Hey look you're still reading this!

On the one hand our PP and PK percentages are not very good, but on the other hand we receive many PP opportunities and few PK situations (the best PK is avoiding dumb penalties) so what if we just look at PP goals for and goals against--which combines both the team's perecentages and the team's propensity to take penalties?

Power Play Goals For Rank
2000-2001 24th
2001-2002 30th
2002-2003 10th
2003-2004 10th
2005-2006 1st
2006-2007 20th

So the PP% is just 23rd but our actual PP Goals is a bit better at 20th.

Power Play Goals Against Rank
2000-2001 30th
2001-2002 27th
2002-2003 21th
2003-2004 19rd
2005-2006 29rd
2006-2007 21.5

Our PK% is just 26th but in terms of PP Goals Against we finished tied for 21st, which is also a touch better looking.

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