Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Riley Holzapfel Turns Heads as well as Tongues

Recent Thrashers draft pick Riley Holzapfel who was one of my favorite prospects at camp received some praise from The Thrashers Director of Scouting Dan Marr in Ben Wright's Q & A on the team website. I thought he looked very good for an 18 year old player but his name was seldom mentioned by team management until recently, so I'm happy to see he has impressed them.

Prospects mavens should be in heaven with all the recent write ups. Craig Custance over at the AJC recently profiled Bryan Little, Nathan Oystrick, Brett Sterling, Boris Valabik and Mark Popovic.

Hockey's Future has an end of the year survey that looks at Thrasher prospects in junior hockey, the ECHL, and Europe. There is also a rookie review and outlook and an updated Top 20 Prospects. Here Holly Gunning's Top 20 from early March.

1. (3) Ondrej Pavelec, G, 19
2. (4) Bryan Little, C, 19
3. (14) Brett Sterling, LW, 22
4. (5) Mark Popovic, D, 24
5. (6) Grant Lewis, D, 22
6. (7) Boris Valabik, D, 21
7. (8) Riley Holzapfel, C, 18
8. (10) Andrei Zubarev, D, 20
9. (11) Nathan Oystrick, D, 24
10. (19) Tobias Enstrom, D, 22
11. (13) Chad Denny, D, 19
12. (18) Jordan LaVallee, LW, 20
13. (12) Tomas Pospisil, RW, 19
14. (nr) Mike Vannelli, D, 23
15. (17) Michael Forney, LW, 18
16. (nr) Mitch Carefoot, C, 22
17. (nr) Joey Crabb, RW, 23
18. (16) Guillaume Desbiens, RW, 21
19. (nr) Dave Caruso, G, 24
20. (15) Andrew Kozek, F, 20

I'd probably move Valabik lower and move Holzapfel, Zubarev and Enstrom up the list. It sort of depends on what you are ranking. If we were going on potential Zubarev might be higher than Popovic, but if you ranking based on who is ready for the NHL Popovic should be near the top of the list. I'd also move Grant Lewis down a couple mainly because he missed almost an entire year of development due to injury. I like the potential of Lewis long term though.

One thing about the current list is that in some ways it lacks star power at the top but there is probably more depth right now down around 10-11-12 spots than at any point in franchise history. Of course not all of these guys will make it, in fact a majority of the top 10 probably will not become NHL players. But I expect that several players on this list will be on a NHL roster in the next 2-4 years.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hold Your Horses Prospect Fans

I know that is some real panic on the official Thrashers boards and the AJC blog about the approaching June 1st deadline for signing some of our draft picks. I would point out that in previous years the team has signed multiple players but waited until they were finished before issuing a press release. So I wouldn't get too carried away with the fact there have not been any announcements just yet.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

2nd Best Movie of the Year

A rare non-hockey post. I just have to plug the movie "Waitress" which I watched last night after Pirates III (ugh). A black comedy/drama "Waitress" is just a great film to watch. Some great acting. The only thing I've seen that is better so far this year is "The Lives of Others" (which is still showing at the Landmark if you haven't seen it yet). So if you're looking for something other than summer blockbusters check out it out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How Much For That Free Agent in the Window?

I've been working on a simple model to try and forecast free agent salaries, using the summers of 2005 and 2006 as my guide. My first attempt has spit out the results below, but it is still a work in progress. I need to make more adjustments for age. Right now older players like Wesley, Forsberg, Sakic and Sundin are too high. I'll post more extensive estimates after I'm done tweaking the model, but you might use these salary projections as a rough guide as you play armchair GM at home this summer.

All figures are cap hit (i.e. average numbers). A few players who were eligible for free agency have signed contract extensions with their current clubs and for those players I have listed their actual per year salary so you can see how well it compares to the what the model predicted.

5.96 J. Sakic (resigned for $6.75)
5.16 T. Selanne
5.11 Datsyuk
4.76 M. Sundinm(resigned $5.5)
4.60 Shanahan
4.49 Forsberg
4.37 D. Briere
4.25 S. Gomez
3.90 R. Lang
3.83 S. Kozlov
3.76 C. Drury
3.66 R. Smyth
3.64 F. Modin (resigned for $3.25)
3.56 K. Tkachuk
3.53 J. Blake
3.45 L. Nagy
3.44 M. Nylander
3.25 M. Recchi
3.22 R. Whitney
2.81 M. Straka (resigned for $3.30)
2.67 P. Kariya
2.59 C. Conroy
2.59 R. Fedotenko
2.45 Smolinski
3.40 Guerin
3.05 S. Doan
2.63 T. Holmstrom
2.37 D. Armstrong (resigned for $1.50)
2.39 S. Hartnell
2.26 P. Sykora
2.25 D. Tucker (resigned for $3.00)
2.25 M. Gelinas
2.25 T. Amonte
2.22 P. Turgeon (retired)
2.21 M. Sturm (resigned for $3.50)
2.21 T. Arnason
2.05 Y. Perreault
2.19 T. Bertuzzi
2.18 J. Stumpel
2.18 R. Dvorak
2.14 M. Comrie
2.12 G. Roberts
2.11 M. Handzus
2.04 M. Peca
1.83 M. Johnson
1.63 E. Lindros
1.59 D. Zubrus
1.56 K. Calder
1.48 P. Stefan
1.45 M. York
1.44 R. Zednik
1.44 V. Vishnevski
1.38 D. McAmmond
1.33 J. O'Neill
1.30 A. Carter
1.27 R. Robitaille
1.20 R. Bonk
1.16 E. Belanger
1.10 Jon Sim
1.08 J. Bulis
1.01 S. Kapanen (resigned for $1.25)
0.99 G. Metropolit
0.93 J. Cowan
0.82 P. Dupuis
0.73 J. Friesen
A. Yashin

5.43 M. Schneider
4.20 B. Rafalski
3.83 T. Preissing
3.79 S. Salo (resigned for $3.50)
3.74 K. Timonen
3.62 A. Markov
3.34 S. Souray
2.84 B. Sopel
2.76 R. Hamrlik
2.69 J. Modry
2.62 P. Brisbois
2.55 T. Numminen
2.54 G. Wesley
2.52 C. Phillips (resigned for $3.50)
2.39 T. Poti
2.39 A. Sutton
2.32 C. Chelios
2.23 D. Markov
2.18 S. Hannan
2.18 M. Skoula
2.15 S. Hill
2.07 C. Sarich
2.07 G. de Vries
2.03 D. Tjarnqvist
1.95 B. Berard
1.91 D. Tanabe
1.74 C. Rivet
1.73 J. Klemm
1.66 D. Sydor
1.32 J. Niinimaa
1.20 E. Brewer (resigned for $4.25)
1.00 J. Melichar
Bryan Allen (resigned for $2.9 5 years)

From a Thrashers perspective Jon Sim, Dupuis and E. Belanger all look very affordable, but Kozlov and Thachuk not so much if they insist on getting fair market value.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Burnside Has It Right

I'm in 100% agreement with Scott Burnside's comments after the Pronger suspension.

"People talk about the respect or lack of respect players have for each other.

Respect comes from knowing what the boundaries are.

Players in general don't whack each other in the face with their sticks because the league has drawn a clear line in the sand on stick fouls. Do it and you're on the phone with Colin Campbell or worse in his office.

Hits from behind and blows to the head, sadly, remain in that grey area.

Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer, for one, seemed perplexed by the Pronger hearing.

"It's hard to know really what's going on," Niedermayer said.

"I mean, my brother got the penalty. They're talking to Chris now. Anybody else they want to bring in? Maybe they should talk to Holmstrom, as well. You know, I don't know. I don't know what they're doing," he said.

Well, at least in this moment, the NHL is trying to say that if you endanger another player by hitting him in the head or whacking him from behind then you're going to get the boot no matter who you are."

Projecting the 2007-08 Thrashers Roster

The off season is the time when every fan gets to play around at being GM. On the various message boards I see people throwing out hypothetical lineups and salaries so today I'll give it a shot.

Soon NHL and NHLPA will discuss what next year's salary cap number will be, but based upon the data that is floating around out there, it looks like next season's cap number will be somewhere around $48 million. Now the huge question is how much will the Thrashers spend? Regardless of what happens to the cap, the ownership group probably will not start out near the cap number and may ask DW to keep losses in check. So let's say for the moment they set $40 million as the starting budget for the team this year. So what sort of team could we expect to see for that much money?

Below I have a chart that shows what a $40 million team might look like. I have each player listed and how much money I think they would earn. Player names in bold are unrestricted free agents and salaries that are in bold are also my guess. (Note that the salaries listed are cap salary number, not the actual salary numbers.) Now my salary estimates for the UFA may be off but I think they are realistic guesses.

I've made a couple of working assumptions that the team will attempt to resign Belanger, Dupuis, Sim and Hnidy and that those players will return but with pay raises. The odds are that not all of these players will be back, but for now I'm going to assume that they return. Also I assume that several rookies make the team including Sterling, Stuart, Oystrick and Popovic. I don't think that this is crazy given the success of the Chicago Wolves, the quality of the players mentioned and the financial realities this team faces.

The key question is who will take the roster spots of Kozlov and Tkachuk. If the team only has $40 to work with I doubt we will see either one return because the money simply is not there. If the team stays under $40 million I would expect to see Sterling replace Kozlov and some cheap center (perhaps Haydar/Krog/Little) replace Tkachuk on that line.

A $40 Cap Thrasher Payroll
Hossa 6.0 Hossa 6.0
Belanger 1.3 Belanger 1.9
Kovlov 2.3 Sterling .6
Kovalchuk 6.4
Kovalchuk 6.4
Thachuk 5.7 Little/Haydar
Sim .6 Sim 1.2
Holik 4.3 Holik 4.3
Larsen .9 Larsen .6
Dupuis .8 Dupuis 1.1
Vigier .5 random checker .5
Slater .9 Slater 1.0
Mellanby 1.2 Boulton
McKenzie .5 McKenzie .5
Zhitnik 3.5 Zhitnik 3.5
Havelid 2.7 Havelid 2.7
De Vreis 2.2 Oystrick .6
Exebly .6 Exelby 1.1
Sutton 1.9 Popovic .5
Hnidy .6 Hnidy .8
McCarthy .8 McCarthy .8
Lehtonen 1.9 Lehtonen 1.9
Hedberg 1.0 Hedberg 1.0
Rucchin 2.1 Rucchin 2.1


Now if DW is allowed to spend more than $40 million on the payroll we could see the center spot ungraded from Krog to say a Mike Comrie who might make $2-3 million or even a Nylander or a return by Kozlov. If he is given $45 to work with DW could upgrade to say a Scott Gomez at the pivot sport or take a run a Mathieu Schneider or Scott Hannan at the D position.

As you can see from this exercise the starting budget will make a huge difference in terms of what sort of top forwards we see on next year's team. This is why I was saying before that getting swept out of the playoffs really hurt the organization. If the Thrashers had advanced to the 2nd round the increased playoff revenue (and future season ticket sales) might have led ownership to be willing to spend more out of the gate next year. Based upon what happened last year I'm going to guess that Waddell will probably have a number that starts at $40-42 with an option to add salary later depending upon the team's performance and perhaps ticket sales. I expect that the 2007-08 Thrashers will have to battle hard to get into the playoffs next year unless they get some surprise performances from their rookies.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Conference Finals

I'm back into watching playoff hockey after the Thrashers quick exit. In the second round I watched nearly every minute of the Red Wings-Sharks series and about half of the Buffalo-NY Rangers series. Very little of the Anaheim and Ottawa series.

I have to say that while I am happy to see Detroit advance, but I am surprised. In the first three games the Sharks jumped out to 2-0 leads and to my eyes at least San Jose simply looked like the better team and Detroit was trying to hang in there. By the end of the series San Jose looked like they had zero confidence and Hasek was a work beater instead bewildered. So much for my prediction of a San Jose-Buffalo Stanley Cup finals--the Sharks always seem to disappoint.

Looking ahead to the Conference Finals the Ottawa-Buffalo series would seem to be the one to watch. They had a wild playoff meeting last year. They are both fast and can score goals in bunches. They hate each other and had a big rumble this year. And both have goalies who can be either great or less-than-great. Miller and Emery are probably having nightmares because on paper this looks like it could be a high scoring season. If either starting goaltender gets hot their team will likely advance to the SC Finals.

just shut down the other team's offense and Anaheim relies on a good power play. It could be a very low scoring series. There certainly are some marquee Out West it could be a bit of a snoozer. I think Anaheim is the best team left in the playoffs, but I also find them boring to watch sometimes. Pronger and Niedermayer really shut down the opposition's offense and they just rely on their power play or Selanne + young kids up front to score to win games. There are some great matchups if you think about it: Hasek versus Giguere. Pronger versus Lidstrom. Zetterberg versus Selanne. Holmstrom versus Travis Moen (OK I jest).

Analyst: Buffalo and Anaheim advance
My Heart: Buffalo and Detroit please!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Playoff Trends

There was a discussion over at Hockey's Future Boards about whether the playoffs had reverted to the old NHL style. My opinion is generally no, although I agree that the pick/interference play has been allowed back in recently.

Everyone always says that scoring drops in the playoffs, which is an empirical fact. But how does scoring drop--and is that drop off consistent from year to year? In the Old NHL referees would regularly swallow their whistles in the 3rd period and overtime under the nostrum that "players should decided the game" which is complete baloney if you ask me. The rules are the rules regardless of the time of the game. If one team is allowed to break those rules they gain an advantage. Referees who choke on their whistle are remaining impartial, they are HELPING OUT the cheating team!

My personal belief is that the 2006 playoffs where called much more like the regular. We saw penalties late in 3rd periods, we saw them called in overtime. Has the NHL reverted back to the bad Old NHL or has the league remained true to the "a penalty is a penalty regardless of when it happens" philosophy? I'll let you decide for yourself.

Anyway on to the numbers. So I calculated the average number of goals scored per game during the regular season and the playoffs for the last couple of years, plus this current playoff season thru Tuesdays games (see list below).

Regular Season/Playoffs/% Difference
2001 5.51 4.88 -11%
2002 5.24 4.77 -09%
2003 5.31 4.71 -11%
2004 5.14 4.38 -15%
2006 6.05 5.64 -07%
2007 5.76 4.90 -15%

In 2002 and 2006 we saw the smallest disparity between the regular season and playoffs in terms of the average combined goals per game. In 2004 and so far in 2007 we see the largest gap between the regular and post season in that group of years. The gap between the regular season and the 2007 playoffs is nearly twice as large as it was in 2006.

Of course these numbers can't tell us if the game is being called differently or teams have learned to play great defense within the rules or is it just a function of a lot of quality goaltenders advancing to the 2nd round. But I thought they were interesting enough to throw out there for your consideration.

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