Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Friday, July 20, 2007

What to Expect, When You're Expecting Rookies

There are a couple of rookies who have a legitimate shot at making the Thrashers roster this fall. In particular Brett Sterling, Jordan LaVallee, Nathan Oystrick, Tobias Enstrom and Mark Popovic could all see some time in Hotlanta this coming winter. How many points might these guys put up in a Thrasher uniform? I'll give a quick run down.

What I have done below is provide projections for each potential rookie based upon historical patterns. For example, If you look all players who have made the jump from the AHL to the NHL the historical pattern is when they reach the NHL they score at about 45% the rate they did in the AHL. So I have taken their AHL rate multiplied it by the 0.45 and then multiplied by 82 games to give us a quick projection number.

Below are the projected NHL stats if they were to play a full season in 2007-08.

Brett Sterling
AHL Scoring Rate: 1.26 points per game
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.57
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 47 (in a full 82 game season)
Now I think this might be a bit high unless Sterling gets a regular time on the power play unit. It also assumes he is a regular top six forward which is a dangerous assumption given Hartley's line scrambling proclivities. But I still like Sterling's chances of exceeding Scott Mellanby's 36 points as a rookie if he is given regular ice time.

Nathan Oystrick
AHL Scoring Rate: 0.59
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.28
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 22 (in a full 82 game season)
Oystrick was one of the top scoring defensemen in the AHL last year but I doubt he would see much power play time this coming season. I'd take the under on that number.

Jordan LaVallee
AHL Scoring Rate: 0.43
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.19
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 16 (in a full 82 game season)
LaVallee would be a checker in the NHL and that projected point total looks about right (very Slaters-esque) to me.

Mark Popovic
AHL Scoring Rate: 0.62
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.28
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 23 (in a full 82 game season)
Both Popovic and Oystrick finished high in AHL defensemen scoring race, but this is something of a career high for Popovic and I doubt that he would get 23 points in the NHL.

Tobias Enstrom
SEL Scoring Rate: 0.51
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.51
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 42 (in a full 82 game season)
If Enstrom makes the team it will be because of his offensive contributions. He took a giant leap forward last year in the Swedish Elite League and while I am optimistic about his NHL point scoring potential I think a 42 point projection is at least 10 points too high.

Chad Denny
QMJHL Scoring Rate: 1.10
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.31
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 25 (in a full 82 game season)
Junior scoring rates translate into lower NHL scoring rates than AHL numbers do. Even after making this adjustment, Denny still projects to a very respectable 25 points based on his performance last year. I doubt he is ready just yet, but I am eager to see what sort of numbers he puts up in Chicago this coming year.

Boris Valabik
College Scoring Rate: 0.18
NHL Scoring Rate: 0.08
Projected 2007-08 NHL points: 7 (in a full 82 game season)
Offense has never been a strength of Valabik and if he were a NHL regular expect something very Vishnevski-esque in terms of his output.

Summary: Enstrom and Sterling offer the most in terms of offensive potential as NHL rookies next year. I'm really looking forward to NHL Camp in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Prospect Wrap Up

The Atlanta Thrashers just completed a week-long camp for their prospects at the team practice facility in Duluth, Georgia. The camp consisted of off-ice physical training and on-ice drills, including two four-on-four scrimmages. The coaching staffs of the Chicago Wolves (AHL) and Gwinnett Gladiators (ECHL) led the drills as NHL coaches can not instruct college amateurs per NCAA rules.

The purpose of the camp was to enhance and develop player skills, they were not there to compete for NHL jobs--that happens in about seven weeks. Still, that didn't stop most of the Thrashers top brass from watching these young guys to get a look at what they can do. Both pro and amateur scouts were in the stands along with the GMs of the Wolves and Thrashers.

Your blogger was also there for four of the seven days and here are my observations. Of course, I'm not a scout but I've watched a lot of hockey over the years and I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express recently.

The Thrashers have a large number of promising young defensemen. These are guys you don't even have to squint hard to imagine them playing in the NHL someday. At the top of my list is Grant Lewis who has a rangy frame, great balance on his skates and makes good reads. Early on he was impossible to beat but he did give up a few goals and chances as the forwards got into a groove. His shot isn't amazing and I doubt he will score a lot of goals in the NHL but he did show a real flair for jumping up into the offensive zone to create odd man rushes. He controls the puck with ease and confidence and could rack up some nice assist totals.

Another defensive standout was Chad Denny who has a good frame for physical contact (though he may need to improve his conditioning) and a very hard shot. Denny lacks the skating flair of some other prospects but he is quick enough to stay with his man and his positioning and reads were very good. Another thing I liked about Denny is that he is hungry for the puck on offense. Sometimes defensemen are reluctant to shoot but with Denny there is no hesitation if there is a lane he just lets if fly without over-thinking.

This was my first chance to see Swede Tobias Enstrom who just signed with the team this summer. Thrashers management have mentioned him as a young player who could make the NHL team out of training camp this fall. The first day I was quite disappointed in his defensive positioning and ability to read the play. Enstrom is very small by NHL standards so his positioning will be essential in the NHL. Later in the week he looked much better. Enstrom's strongest attribute is his passing. Nearly every pass I saw him make was tape-to-tape. Perfect passes are crucial for split second scoring chances and he has the ability to make them. He also displayed the abilty to see where a player is about to be and pass to that spot.

Arturs Kulda was drafted out of Europe and then came over to play in the OHL last year. He was taken very late in the draft but really impressed me with his ability to read the play and use his body to take away the lane to the net. He is not flashy but very effective in his coverage. Kulda dares you to try and go through him to get to the net.

Scott Lehman struggled last year in the ECHL and was beaten on numerous occasions at camp by other forwards. He will need to make major improvements to reach the NHL.

Other quality defensive prospects who did not attend camp are AHL veterans Nathan Oystrick, Mark Popovic and Boris Valabik who will all be at NHL camp this fall. Another promising young defender Andrei Zubarev will play in the top league in Russia. He may sign with the Thrashers next summer.

2006 1st round pick Bryan Little was in camp. He displays good speed and very good passing. Little was one of the top scorers in the OHL last season and I was a bit surprised to see him struggle to beat defensemen one-on-one at times. Maybe he's just better in games than in practice but I anticipated a bit more flash from him.

Brett Sterling made one tape-to-tape pass after another in camp. He doesn't have blazing speed but he is very smooth in almost everything that he does on the ice. Despite being small of stature Sterling moves right into the high-traffic areas around the net. He ended up being knocked into several goalies during the camp--something I imagine he is quite used to.

Another favorite of mine is Riley Holzapfel who was taken in 2006 in the 2nd round. He has put up good offensive numbers in the NHL and could develop into either a second or third line forward depending upon how he develops. He does many things well and could be a great complimentary player in the NHL.

Jordan LaVallee is a strong candidate to make the Thrashers as a checking forward in my opinion, he brings good speed and size to the table and he plays a straightforward game. He is not flashy but hard working and effective. Certainly he is bigger and faster than recent checking liner J.P. Vigier.

Spencer Machacek was the Thrashers highest pick (3rd round) in the most recent draft. He brings a combination of physical play, decent speed and hands. He looks like he has the foundation to become a NHL player to me.

Over at Baseball Prospectus they use the term "wish-casting" which means roughly "projecting something that you can't reasonable forecast based on the available data." In the real world there is a certain amount of wishcasting that goes on with prospects who can not reasonable be forecast to make the NHL. Why bring this up? Because the next group of forwards requires a bit of wish casting in my opinion in order to see them as regular NHL players in the future. My wishcast group includes Andrew Kozek, Tomas Pospisil, Chad Painchaud, Guillaume Desbiens and Myles Stoesz. Kozek and Pospisil require the least amount of wish casting but both players have talent but need to become much more consistent to have a shot. I like Desbiens but his skating isn't up to the NHL. Stoesz has surprising skill for a tough guy but that role requires a lot more skill than it used to and I'm not sure he can reach that level.

Moving from the category of "wish casting" to "very unlikely" we come to final group of forwards. Mikka Tuomainen has great size but simply lacks NHL speed. Mike Hamilton did almost nothing to be noticed all week. Rylan Kaip is defensive minded player who lacks NHL puck handling ability and Joey Crabb can do a lot of things but his skills aren't NHL caliber.

Ondrej Pavelec is an elite goalie prospect and may be competing for a NHL job in another year. It is tough to evaluate goalies just from watching them in drills so I'll leave it at that.

Dan Turple covers a lot of net and put up some good numbers in the OHL but was roughed up pretty good by ECHL shooters. Will need to show improvement at that level before advancing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fastbreak or Halfcourt Offense?

Don Waddell has stated that the team is likely done acquiring players for the future which means we can think about line combinations and the team with a bit more certainty now. The big question is who will take the two center spots on the top lines.

Now my assumption is that Kozlov and Hossa will remain together and that Kovalchuk will be paired with winger Brett Sterling. If were up to me I'd put Holik with Hossa and Kozlov and T. White with Kovalchuk.

Why put Holik with Kozlov and Hossa? I think he fits their style better. Late last season a friend of ours Majik Man from the Chicken was back in town. He came and watched the Thrashers game up in our section and we were talking about the Thrashers. At one point, I noted that Hossa's game is bit like a half-court basketball player because his strengths are stick handling along the wall and down low in the zone. Hossa has great straightaway speed but in the offensive zone it is more his quickness that leads to scoring chances as he beats defenders one-on-one. He can take the puck from the corner and just power his way to the crease for a scoring chance. The Kozlov - Hossa combination is all about strength and spacing.

On the other hand Ilya Kovalchuk is much more like a fast break basketball guy. Ilya uses his open ice speed to create breakaways or odd man rushes. Ilya also needs a good pass to unleash his one-time just like a basketplayer needs a great pass going for an alley-opp dunk. Speed and timing are key elements for Kovalchuk.

So if we think about it in this way, Holik strikes me as a better fit for Hossa because he is big and can win battles along the way and cycle the puck well. I think Holik complements the strength and spacing that is a big part of that line. Kovalchuk on the other hand really needs a center who is fast and can fly up the ice with him on the fast break, he also needs perfect passes to get his one-time off and I think Todd White is your speedy center and Brett Sterling might just be the guy delivering perfect passes.

In the long run I think the Thrashers could really benefit from having two scoring lines that play very different styles. Some nights you're going to play a team that defends the cycle well but not the fast break, while other nights the opposite will be true. If you have two lines that play two different styles hopefully the team can have one line per night that consistently generates great scoring chances because they give the defenders fits.

Prospect Camp Ends Today

If you can make it, I would encourage fans to come out this evening for the final Prospect Scrimmage. Last Monday night they did this and it was a fun to watch. The young guys when at with enthusiasm. On Monday they came out at around 4:15 and did drills for a while then they cut the ice and started the 4-4 game. This is the last pro hockey until NHL Camp opens in September.

Edit: Scrimmage is to start at 5:00 today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Analysis: Lehtonen's Strengths and Weaknesses

I rarely write much about goaltenders. Unlike forward and defense I've never played the position and I lack knowledge about technique. As a defenseman I have a gut feeling about whether a particular shot is likely to result in a goal or a save so I will write about "bad" goals now and then. Well, today I'm going to write about Kari Lehtonen by using some super cool data that Java Geek has on his blog. He takes shot on goal data and breaks down each starting goaltender's save percentage depending on where shots were taken from and what part of the net the shots were directed at. He has some nice intuitive graphics that help the reader quickly and easily grasp what he is looking at.

His data from last season shows that Kari had a high save percentage (.949) on shots from the "outside" roughly the area above the face off dots in the offensive zone minus the high slot region (if you want to see the graphic click over and scroll down). In fact his SV% on "outside" shots is higher than Brodeur and basically equal to Luongo and Kiprusoff. Kari's second strongest SV% is on shots from low right or left side of the net minus the slot area (.895). His right and left doorstep numbers are close to the league average SV% on all shots. The highest scoring areas of the ice are the high slot (.865) and low slot (.807) parts of the ice. Kari actually has an above average SV% on low slot shots on goal. Kari's low slot numbers were .807 which is actually stronger than Kiprusoff's.763 and Luongo's .784 in the same region of the ice. The Thrashers could lower their goals against significantly if they simply lower the number of high quality shots they allow from the high and low slot parts of the ice. I am curious to see how the revamped defense does this coming sesaon.

If we move on to the second set of analysis done by Java Geek he displays SV% in the 5 areas of the net. Lehtonen's SV% looks like this:
Net Area Lehtonen Brodeur Luongo Kiprusoff Kolzig
High Stick .835 .836 .883 .843 .855
High Glove .872 .889 .856 .905 .778
Low Stick .920 .945 .933 .923 .927
Five Hole .896 .900 .894 .880 .863
Low Glove .918 .929 .918 .902 .910

If we compare Lehtonen's numbers to some other goalies it is pretty obvious that his weakest area is the high stick side. His five hole numbers are pretty good when you consider that he is a big guy and naturally has a big five hole--which he can close very quickly. While Kari puts up his highest SV% numbers on the low stick and glove side, other elite goalies have even higher numbers--especially on the low stick side. This suggests to me that despite being able to cover the bottom of the net when he is in the butterfly position pucks some saveable pucks are still eluding him down low. To get his numbers up into the elite level he probably needs to perform even better on both the low and high stick side. His glove numbers are solid, especially compared to Kolzig (note to Thrashers shooters aim for the glove versus the Caps!).

Thrashers Prospect Camp: Monday

Monday's Thrasher Prospect Camp featured a mix of drills and a four-on-four scrimmage--which was enjoyed by a decent number of fans and team officials. The red team had the advantage of strong defense (Kulda, Lewis, Kulda and Krug) while the Blue team had more offensive stars (Sterling, Little) and defense easily won the contest. There was one huge hit in the game but unfortunately it was two members of the same team who ran into each other (Fretter and Crabb) and Joey Crabb left the ice at the 1st intermission.

Forwards: Riley Holzapfel had the first goal for the red team as he went around Scott Lehman. It was another solid day for this young 2nd round pick from the 2006 Draft. Bryan Little looked better in terms of using his speed to generate chances but too often his passes were deflected or tipped away. Little had one terrific opportunity in the slot but the goalie made a nice high glove save. Jordan LaValle showed me a bit more today with his no nonsense straight ahead play. While he lacks offensive flair, he could become a NHL checker someday. Sterling was solid but not spectacular, he had a couple of nice passes to teammates and put himself in position to score. Colton Fretter looked great again today. I'm assuming he will take Sterling's place on the top line in Chicago this year. Spencer Machacek continued to display a nice all around game and felt he had scored at one point but the referee disagreed and waved it off. I was just commenting in the stands that Desbiens was invisible but then he drove through the slot for a good scoring chance. (I've always liked Desbiens especially after I purchased one of his sticks at the Gladiators sale last summer and discovered that the lie and curve suited me perfectly.) Miika Tuomainen looked better than on Saturday but he still lacks speed, however he has potential as a power forward if he can keep a handle on the puck and just bulldoze his way to the net. He is such a big guy that smaller defensemen would struggle to control him. For a tough guy Myles Stoesz shows some flashes of skill out there now and again. Mike Hamilton, Andrew Kozek, Rylan Kaip and Chad Painchaud didn't attract my attention all that often. Tomas Pospisil shows me something every now and then but he would need to become much more consistent to have a shot of making it.

Defense: Grant Lewis was strong again today. He did get beat a couple of times (Chad Denny powered by him on the boards) but he also jumped up into the offensive play frequently and helped generate some scoring chances. I thought Tobias Enstrom looked better today. His breakout passes were crisp and he showed some good vision on the ice. Another solid day by Arturs Kulda who kept his game simple with good defensive zone coverage. Chad Denny jumped up into the play more than I expected and had solid positioning. I generally only pay attention to Thrashers draft picks, but Matt Krug an invitee from Wayne State University continues to draw my eye and might be someone the Gladiators should target for the future.

According to Ben Wright there is to be another scrimmage on Thursday evening so you might want to check it out if you're free that evening.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I rarely just post links to other articles but here are a couple of interesting reads.

Steve Simmons on Scotty Bowman's near return to the NHL.

Larry Brooks on what Edmonton's GM really should have done to stick it to a big rich franchise instead of picking on the Sabres.

Bucky Gleason: It turns out that the Sabres rejected an offer to sign Briere for $5 million per season for five years in January. Ouch!

Sean Hill suspended for a positive steroid test explains himself and sounds surprisingly convincing. It don't understand why the NHL doesn't use a split sample like racing and other sports to guard against lab error.

Speaking of free agency a Hockey News poll of NHL players taken back in March shows that Atlanta is neither a hated destination nor a favored location as a place to live. I have a feeling that if this franchise ever reaches Cup contender status Atlanta could move up and become one of the attractive places for a player to come and live.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thrashers Prospect Camp: Day 2

I attended all of the sessions from Saturday's Thrashers Prospect Camp. Before I get to the observations I should note that on the first day I have a tendency to focus on a handful of players that I am most interested in watching. Just because I don't mention a particular player does not mean they had a bad day--it just means they were not at the top of my list. I expect to have more extensive comments about all of the players later in the week.

#58 Arturs Kulda - Age 18, Defenseman 200th pick 2006 Draft
Kulda was hands down the most pleasant surprise of Prospect Camp today. The guy competes very hard and displayed a physical edge to his game. He has a solid shot with perhaps subpar passing skills. The main thing that impressed me was his positioning in the 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills. I would not describe Kulda as fast but he put himself directly between the puck carrier and the net and dared them to go through him. If you came too close he knocked you down. He probably made few friends at camp today but that's the sort of guy who could turn into a late round success story. This guy is worth watching in the future.

#41 Bryan Little - Age 19, Forward 12th pick 2006 Draft
Once again Bryan Little was a bit of a disappointment to me. In the 1-on-1 drills he was matched up against Scott Lehman three or four times. Keep in mind that Lehman was scorched by ECHL players to the tune of -22 plus/minus at one point last year. The fact is that Little could not get around Lehman or even get a quality shot away against him in the 1-on-1 drills. I was unimpressed to say the least. However, during the 2-on-2 drills I did see some flashes as he spun away from defenders and made several hard and accurate passes to teammates, but I didn't see anything that made me think this guy will make the NHL this fall.

#50 red Grant Lewis - Age 22, Defenseman 40th pick 2004 Draft
The recently signed Grant Lewis simply dominated the opposition today. He has good size, great balance on his skates and good hockey sense. He uses a long stick which coupled with his lanky frame allows him to poke the puck off attackers or intercept passes in his vicinity. He makes his poke checks without leaning or committing himself too much. In the afternoon there was a long section of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills. Some drills started up high at the red or blue line while others were started out down low. In all of those drills I only saw him surrender a goal once and that was because the netminder lost sight of a rebound. Many times when Lewis was out there the opposition could not even get a shot away. Of all the defensemen in camp he looked the most ready to challenge for a NHL job to me. Lewis is rarely mentioned by Thrashers brass as a top prospect and I have no idea why he is omitted because everything about him says NHL player to me.

#46 Miikka Tuomainen - Age 21, Forward 204th pick 2004 Draft
Holy cow, I think I've seen battleships turn faster than this guy. He has a hard shot but he looked two steps behind everyone else. He also looked out of breath. Now perhaps he hasn't skated in a while or is suffering from jet lag. But at the moment this guy looks like the second coming of Pauli Levokari.

#53 Brett Sterling - Age 23, Forward 145th pick 2003 Draft
Sterling doesn't have dazzling speed but he is willing to bulldoze his way through the high traffic areas and has a very soft set of hands. The key thing about him is that everything is smooth. He makes great passes which are tape-to-tape. If he can make passes like that to Ilya Kovalchuk this season there should be a lot more one-time goals for Kovalchuk this coming year. I also noticed how good Sterling is with his backhand. He made a tape-to-tape backhand pass to a linemate at one point and then later scored a fantastic backhand top-shelf goal in the 2-on-2 session.

#57 Tobias Enstrom - Age 23, Defenseman 239th pick 2004 Draft
And now for the most disappointing player in camp today. I've been really excited about seeing him play for some time now and he simply didn't live up to the hype of being the "best defensemen in the Swedish Elite League." In fact, his coverage looked more like that of an AHL guy than a NHL guy. In the drills he was very non-physical and settled for playing the pass to often. He frequently started out strong but then took himself out of the lane allowing his opponent to get free shots on goal. Other prospects were able to move the puck around the zone against him with ease. He seemed to be much more focused on where the puck was than in covering his man, which led to his man getting open. It is just one day, but based on what I saw it looks to me that the competition for the rookie defenseman slot is WIDE open because there are several players who might rank ahead of Enstrom this fall at NHL camp.

#56 Spencer Machacek - Age 18,Forward 2007 Draft
Our highest pick in the most recent draft was as advertised. He worked extremely hard and never gave up on a play. He was not afraid of contact and has a decent looking shot and perhaps above average skating skills. Was able to consistently get hard shots upstairs on goalies and scored a fair number of goals today. This guy has a nice combination of skills and shows promise.

#50 blue Chad Denny - Age 20, Defenseman 49th 2005 Draft
I tried to make a point of watching Denny. His slap shot certainly gets mentioned a lot--and it is hard--but he didn't score all that often with it. What stood out to me was his defensive positioning and technique which were very solid. In the 1-on-1 drills he fended off most attackers with ease pushing them to the outside and seperating them from the puck. He doesn't have great speed but his poise and balance were good.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Crazy Money

I basically ceased having a life the last couple of days and spent all my free time reading various sites and message boards as the NHL's version of a fantasy auction took place from Sunday through Wednesday.

A recurrent theme throughout the message boards and media outlets is shock at the salaries given out to players. A frequent comment is that the entire season lost to a lockout was wasted and we are back to the old NHL where the league is divided into first class and second class franchises based on revenue.

First let's address the question of "what has happened?" The salary cap in 2005-06 was $39 million and rose to $44 million last year and next season will be at $50.5 million. That is an $11.5 million increase in just two seasons. Everyone wants to know "how in the world could this be happening?" Well there are three factors that have led to this rapid escalation of the cap.

1) The initial cap was set too low (perhaps on purpose).
Under the current CBA the players are guaranteed a certain percentage of defined revenues. However, in the first season nobody knew for certain how much money the league would make so the initial cap amount was simply agreed upon by the two sides ($39 million) and written into the agreement. There are some practical and political reasons for starting out with a low cap. A low cap dramatically levels the playing field in the first post-lockout season giving more teams a chance to compete and giving fans in many cities good reason to think they are better off under the new system. From a practical perspective setting the cap too low means giving the players a substantial pay raise the following year, if you start off with a cap that is too high you face the ugly prospect of lowering the cap and making the players take a pay cut. Thus a low cap was more likely to produce happy fans and happier players (at least in year two of the CBA).

2) The Players got a collective pay raise
Under the CBA the players share of NHL revenues started out at 54% and this season it went up to 55.5% so as a group the players are receiving more dollars and a higher % of revenues. The whole point of the lockout was to establish a stable relationship between league revenues and player salaries. As an incentive for the players their share of league revenues would increase as total revenues went up.

3) The Canadian Exchange Rate
The Canadian dollar is up roughly 22% against the US dollar since the CBA was signed this is the most important factor. Why? Because the six Canadian teams accounted for nearly half of the post-lockout attendance gains. The six Canadian teams provide roughly 1/3 of all league revenues according to some press accounts. Now Canadian revenue streams appear to be growing much faster than in the US and with the shift in the exchanges rates means that they get an additional 22% boost. In fact, many outside observers suspect that the revenues produced by the US side of the NHL have been essentially flat or least stagnant post-lockout.

That means that the average US team is not seeing the same growth in revenues that the league is experiencing because that growth is heavily concentrated in a few big cities and the Canadian markets. Because the league revenue is up the cap rises even if revenues in your city are not rising all that quickly.

Ironically, many small revenue US franchises are being getting swept up in an exchange rate squeeze that caused great difficulties for small Canadian markets in the 1990s. Now the shoe is on the other foot. In the past it was small revenue Canadian teams under pressure and now it is small revenue US teams. (The big revenue US teams will still make a profit while spending up to the new higher cap).

So there is your explanation as to what has happened. The first cap was unrealistically low, the players got a collective raise and the US is on the bad side of a major exchange rate swing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Kozlov Returns

In case you missed the annoucement today...Slava's back!
It seems rather clear that he turned down more money to stay in Atlanta.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Who Has Money Left? Part II

Irish Blues new website has updated salary cap totals for the off season. He does a great job and knows much more than I about the CBA details. You should visit his site because it is the most exhaustive out there.

One thing to keep in mind is that their are some important differences in how the salary cap numbers are calculated in the off season versus the regular season. His numbers use the off season approach. My estimates (see below) attempt to approximate the numbers for a 20 man roster for regular season rules which explains some of the difference between the two lists. What I've done below is show both his estimates (column 1) and my estimates (column 3).

Generally speaking there are some significant differences between the two sets of estimates but I'm too tired to puzzle them out right now. The ranking of both lists are pretty close in terms of which teams are at the top and bottom of each conference. The Thrashers rank right around 20th in the NHL.

IB Estimate/Team Name/My Estimate
54.4 PHI 49.1
50.1 BOS 46.4
49.5 TOR 47.4
44.8 CAR 42.1
44.1 NYR 43.9
43.8 OTT 44.6
41.5 TBL 40.3
40.5 MON 41.3
38.8 FLA 41.4
37.4 PIT 39.7
37.2 ATL 36.7
37.0 WAS 36.9
34.6 NJD 35.6
31.6 BUF 33.2
24.8 NYI 26.0

47.4 ANA 50.5
44.4 COL 43.5
43.5 STL 45.0
43.2 DAL 40.6
42.7 VAN 45.0
42.3 CGY 44.5
42.3 CHI 40.7
41.2 MIN 41.4
38.7 DET 41.0
37.4 CBJ 37.1
36.6 LAK 39.6
35.6 SJS 37.1
31.9 EDM 39.9
30.7 PHO 32.5
29.5 NAS 30.6

The Rangers, Flyers and Kings have been getting much of the headlines but there are quite a few teams who have shown a lot of restraint and ended up making few significant salary additions (PHO, SJS, CBJ, DAL, NYI, BUF, NJD, TBL, CAR, BOS) which by my count comes to 10 teams. So roughly 1/3 of the NHL has not added a free agent making any significant salary. The Thrashers have made a few moves but none involving big money free agents so far.

By the way, the Islanders are going to have to add $10 million in salary just to hit the league floor! I'm betting somebody gets overpaid.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Who has Money Left?

There are several good free agents left out there. I was curious to know which teams had money left under the cap so I ran the numbers. I'm sure this is not perfect, but using lots of web resources here are the MINIMUM salary commitments for each team as of 3:00 Monday. For RFA I used their qualifying offers, in some cases those RFA will probably see a major raise.

$$$ Team Name (Significant RFA to be signed)
49.1 Philadelphia
47.4 Toronto
46.4 Boston
44.6 Ottawa (Emery, Schubert, Kelly, Saparykin)
43.9 NY Rangers (Lundqvist, Prucha, Avery, Hossa)
42.1 Carolina
41.4 Florida (?Dvorak salary, Weiss)
41.3 Montreal (Ryder)
40.3 Tampa
39.7 Pittsburgh (Armstrong)
36.9 Washington (Eminger)
36.7 Atlanta (Exelby)
35.6 New Jersey (Parise, P.Martin)
33.2 Buffalo (Vanek, Roy, Paetsch, Paille)
26.0 NY Islanders (Campoli, Hunter)

50.5 Anaheim (Selanne? includes S.Niedermayer)
45.0 St. Louis (Stempniak, Woywitka)
45.0 Vancouver
44.5 Calgary
43.5 Colorado (Svatos)
41.4 Minnesota
41.0 Detroit (Hudler)
40.7 Chicago
40.6 Dallas (Ribeiro, Jokinen, Miettinen)
39.9 Edmonton (Pitkanen, Torres)
39.6 LA Kings (Cammalleri)
37.1 San Jose
37.1 Columbus
32.5 Phoenix (Ballard)
30.6 Nashville

Edit: removed Nylander from EDM and re-ranked.

Which Free Agents are Left?

A quick look at who is still available right now. There are still some quality players out there. Will we see prices fall for some of these guys now that the initial frenzy has passed? A lot of former Thrashers on that list.

Top Tier Forwards: Forsberg, Selanne, Shanahan, S. Kozlov, Guerin, Comrie
Second Tier Forwards: Zubrus, Amonte,
Third Tier Forwards: Belanger, Friesen, M. Johnson, Vasicek, Gelinas, Rasmussen, Peca, Metropolit, Fedotenko, Ekman, Bulis, A. Hall, Weinhandl, A. Hilbert
Checkers: Fedoruk, C. Simon, Petrovicky, Nieminen, Isbister, McCarty
Project Forwards: Lindros, Nedved, J. O'Neill, Jason Allison, Roenick, R. Robitaille, A. Carter

Top Tier Defense: Brisbois, Souray, D. Markov
Second Tier Defense: Berard, Numminen, Sopel, B. Stuart
Third Tier: Niinimaa, A. Miller, Klemm, Lukowich, Rachunek, S. Hill, Vishnevski, Tjarnqvist, Tanabe, Hnidy, Sutton

Here are some guys I wouldn't mind seeing in the home team jersey next season: Cormrie, Belanger, Vasicek, Metropolit.

The 2007-08 Thrashers as of Today

Adding in the three signing yesterday I thought I would make up a table showing the Thrashers roster if the season started right now. Brace yourself because it isn't pretty. The Thrashers would have to make extensive use of rookies to fill in a number of holes if the season started today (which it does not thankfully!)

Line Player Name
Salary in Millions
NHL Game Played
1st Hossa 6.000 629
1st Little 0.850 0
1st Sterling 0.585 0
2nd Kovalchuk 6.389 387
2nd T. White 2.237 414
2nd Perrin 0.750 86
3rd Holik 4.250 1170
3rd Dupuis 0.880 357
3rd Larsen 0.535 232
4th Slater 0.945 145
4th Thorburn 0.495 41
4th Krog 0.475 198
1st Zhitnik 3.503 1020
1st Enstrom 0.750 0
2nd Havelid 2.700 469
2nd Exelby 0.690 219
3rd McCarthy 0.725 247
3rd Popovic 0.517 11
G Lehtonen 1.850 110
G Hedberg 1.000 177
Bench Rucchin 2.125 735
Bench Haydar 0.462 6
Bench Oystrick 0.650 0

Rookies or players with less than a full NHL season worth of 82 games would fill 7 spots out of roster of 23 players. While I am in favor of giving promising rookies like Sterling and Enstrom a shot I'm fairly certain that this team could not make the playoffs.

The good news is that this roster I've put up only comes to $39.3 million. Now Exelby's listed salary is his qualifying offer and he will surely make double that amount so if we make that adjustment we are looking at a $40.0 million payroll. Too bad that the checking line of Holik-Slater-Dupuis line chews up over $6 million of the $40 million payroll.

The big question is what is the Thrashers budget? If it is $40 million don't expect much any substantial signing. If it is $44 million then the team can afford to upgrade from rookie Bryan Little to a veteran centerman or bump Perrin to down the depth chart by adding a scoring winger.

Coming Attractions: I'm working on a post on Todd White. It should be up soon.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Which Teams Get the Most For Their Money?

Today marks the beginning of the NHL free agency period and I though it would be interesting to take a look at the NHL version of marginal wins. The basic concept is easy enough to understand: what team receives the greatest return from the money they spend on player salaries? Now you might think that the simplest thing is to simply divide each team's NHL standing points by the total amount they spent on salary but unfortunately that is not appropriate because no NHL owner can spend $0 on player salary. There is a minimum amount that any NHL franchise must spend to field a team, so the best appraoch is to look at what sort of a return each team gets for the money they spend beyond the minimum.

Even a cheap owner like Bill Wirtz must field a roster of 20 players for each game and with injuries and call ups most teams end up paying for more than 20 player salaries each season (For the minimum team I assumed 23 rosters spots at the lowest available market price). In theory an owner could ice a team composed of nothing but players making the league minimum salary and offer the fans the Cheapest Team of All Time. This Cheapest Team will serve as our benchmark for comparison. (Note: under the new CBA their is a salary floor that prevents any owner from putting out something like the Cheapest Team of All Time so this cannot happen in the real world anymore.)

How would the Cheapest Team of All Time fare? What if we had a roster of nothing but young prospects, AHLers and washed up veterans playing out the string? Hmmm, that sounds a lot like some NHL expansion teams. If we take a look at expansion teams we see that the Thrashers and Sharks each collected just 39 points and the Ottawa Senators finished with 24 points. But the all time low was established by the expansion Washington Capitals who earned just 21 points in an 80 game season. Based on the Senators and Capitals examples I'm going to say that the Cheapest Team of All Time would only win about .25% of their games. Last year in the NHL the average team earned 91.4 standings points and so our Cheapest Team would have only earned approximately 23 points.

OK now that we have figured out what the minimum NHL roster would fare we can move on to the rankings. In order to rank the teams we need to calculate marginal points. The formula for marginal points is the following: (Team salary minus minimum salary) divided by (Team points minus minimum points). In plain English what I'm doing is looking how much each team spent beyond the minimum and how many points they earned above what the Cheapest Team would have earned. What this does is give us marginal points which tells us how many points that particular team gained for each additional dollar it spent beyond the absolute minimum required.

Pre-Lockout Rankings 1996-2004
Now I calculated marginal points rankings for a 10 season period between 1996-2007 but first I am going to present the results for the eight year period before the lockout and then show you the post-lock out rankings. In the table below each team is ranked based upon their combined standardized marginal win efficiency for the seasons between 1996-1997 and 2003-04. I have also listed the number of playoff appearances and years in the league and the percentage of years in the league. The last column lists the GM of that team for the 2003-04 season.

I would like to thank Andrews Stars Page and Irish Blues Salary Cap page for making the payroll data available that I used for this study.
Team Name Marginal Points Efficiency Playoff Appearances Years in NHL Playoff Percentage Team GM 2003-04 Season
NAS 12.8 1 6 17% D.Poile
OTT 12.5 8 8 100% J.Muckler
MIN 11.3 1 4 25% D.Risebrough
EDM 10.8 6 8 75% K.Lowe
CGY 3.7 0 8 00% C.Button
BUF 3.0 5 8 63% D.Regier
NJD 1.7 8 8 100% L.Lamorielllo
BOS 1.7 5 8 63% M.O'Connell
CBJ 1.1 0 4 00% D.MacLean
NYI 1.1 3 8 38% M.Milbury
ATL 1.0 0 5 00% D.Waddell
TBL 0.2 2 8 25% J.Feaster
PIT 0.0 5 8 63% C.Patrick
PHO -0.2 5 8 63% M.Barnett
VAN -0.9 4 8 50% B.Burke
CAR -1.6 3 8 38% J.Rutherford
ANA -2.0 3 8 38% B.Murray
FLA -2.8 2 8 25% R.Dudley
LAK -2.8 4 8 50% D.Taylor
STL -3.0 8 8 100% L.Pleau
MON -3.5 4 8 50% A.Savard
SJS -3.5 6 8 75% D.Lombardi
COL -3.7 8 8 100% P.Lacroix
CHI -3.9 2 8 25% M.Smith
DAL -3.9 7 8 88% D.Armstrong
TOR -3.9 6 8 75% P.Quinn
WAS -4.0 4 8 50% G.McPhee
DET -4.8 8 8 100% K.Holland
PHI -5.0 8 8 100% B.Clarke
NYR -11.7 1 8 13% G.Sather

Now if you look at this table that ranks the 30 NHL teams based on their marginal wins we see that some teams are much better than others in terms of getting points out of the money they spend on players salaries. The Rangers are at the bottom (hardly a shocker) while thrifty teams such as the Wild, Predators and Senators occupy the top spots.

But the other thing this table shows us is that getting the most for your money didn't necessarily matter in the old NHL. If we divide that list into thirds, the teams that are the most efficient in terms of getting the most out of their money only made the playoffs of 53% of the time. The teams in the middle third made the playoffs 47% of the time. The teams at the bottom third of the marginal points list made the playoffs 70% of the time. That is one reason the league was not healthy pre-lockout, teams that managed their money smartly were not rewarded. To put it bluntly the big spending teams were playing a different game than the poorer clubs. The Detroit Red Wings could make a Uwe Krupp sized mistake ($16 million over four years, 30 NHL games played over those four seasons) and still make the playoffs with ease. For other franchises an Uwe Krupp sized mistake would have killed their playoff chances for several seasons.

The new CBA ushered in an era when every team needs to become adept at getting the most for their money. All 30 teams are required to have a payroll between the floor and ceiling which puts a premium on getting the most out of every dollar. How would the formerly big spending teams adapt? Would the teams that were good at managing their money thrive and even dominate under the new system? Let's take a look at how each team did under the new CBA.

The following table is set up to allow for easy evaluation of how a team did pre-lockout (column 1) and post lockout with both season combined (column 3) or each post lockout season individually (columns 6 and 8). I also provide the names of the team GMs that assembled those rosters (columns 5 and 7) and list how many times the team made the playoffs the last two seasons (column 4).

Marginal Pionts Ranking 1996-2004 Team Name Marginal Poinst Post Lockout Ranking Post Lockout Playoffs 2005-06 GM Marginal Points 2005-06 Ranking 2006-07 GM Marginal POints 2006-07 Ranking
1 NAS 1 2 D.Poile 2 D.Poile 2
6 BUF 2 2 D.Regier 1 D.Regier 4
3 MIN 3 1 D.Risebrough 4 D.Risebrough 7
16 CAR 4 1 J.Rutherford 3 J.Rutherford 18
22 SJS 5 2 D.Wilson 5 D.Wilson 9
17 ANA 6 2 B.Burke 11 B.Burke 3
2 OTT 7 2 J.Muckler 7 J.Muckler 8
28 DET 8 2 K.Holland 8 K.Holland 5
25 DAL 9 2 D.Armstrong 9 D.Armstrong 6
18 FLA 10 0 M.Keenan 6 M.Keenan 17
27 WAS 11 0 G.McPhee 12 G.McPhee 11
13 PIT 12 1 C.Patrick 30 R.Shero 1
30 NYR 13 2 G.Sather 10 G.Sather 13
5 CGY 14 2 D.Sutter 13 D.Sutter 16
15 VAN 15 1 D.Nonis 23 D.Nonis 10
7 NJD 16 2 L.Lamorielllo 15 L.Lamorielllo 20
21 MON 17 1 B.Gainey 16 B.Gainey 22
23 COL 18 1 P.Lacroix 21 F.Giguere 19
12 TBL 19 2 J.Feaster 20 J.Feaster 21
10 NYI 20 1 M.Milbury 26 G.Snow 12
11 ATL 21 1 D.Waddell 24 D.Waddell 14
26 TOR 22 0 J.Ferguson 22 J.Ferguson 23
4 EDM 23 1 K.Lowe 14 K.Lowe 25
20 STL 24 0 L.Pleau 29 L.Pleau 15
14 PHO 25 0 M.Barnett 17 M.Barnett 29
19 LAK 26 0 D.Taylor 19 D.Lombardi 26
9 CBJ 27 0 D.MacLean 25 D.MacLean 24
29 PHI 28 1 B.Clarke 18 B.Clarke 30
8 BOS 29 0 M.O'Connell 27 Choarelli 28
24 CHI 30 0 D.Tallon 28 D.Tallon 27

What happened when the NHL entered the salary cap world? Well we see that some of the thrifty teams continued to excel in that area (NAS, BUF, MIN, OTT) while others did not (EDM, CBJ, BOS, NJD). We also see that a number of the big spenders made the necessary adjustments to the new rules and continued to thrive (SJS, DET, DAL, ANA) but others continued their pre-lockout pattern of receiving a poor return on their salary investment (CHI, PHI, LAK, STL, TOR). Other teams have combined strong season with poor ones (CAR, PIT, VAN, NYI). Some teams appear to have taken longer to adjust to the new NHL but made big improvements in their second try at it. The most improved teams are the Penguins, Canuks, Blues, Thrashers, Islanders and Anaheim. The list of backsliding teams who did worse their second year includes the Hurricanes, Panthers, Montreal, Edmonton, Coyotes, Kings, Flyers

Perhaps the most important thing for the health of the league is that intelligent use of money is now strongly connected to getting to the playoffs. A team that signs a player to a stupid contract is much more like to pay the penalty in on-ice performance. You cannot spend your way out of mistakes as was the case in the past. In fact, it is nearly impossible to make the playoffs without smart spending (the NJ Devils being the one exception the last two years--it is a good thing for them Brodeur is vastly underpaid). The top 10 post-lockout teams made the playoffs 80% of the time (The Florida Panthers spent wisely but just didn't spend enough to get into the post season). The middle third in the post-lockout marginal ranking made the playoffs 65% of the time, while the bottom third just 15% of the time. Intelligent allocation of payroll money is an absolute requirement for team success if the new NHL. The less on of the last two season is that if a team makes sound decisions with player salaries they have a strong chance of being in the playoff hunt and getting into the post-season.

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