How are the Caps prospects affected by the Orpik/Niskanen deals?

With Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signed, the Caps’ defense looks set for opening night. The Caps now have six NHL-caliber defensemen to defend their blueline, in addition to Orpik and Niskanen: Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green, and Dmitry Orlov. There are no gaping holes, and the only real question surrounding the defense is how the pairings will be constructed.

This obviously shakes up the depth chart and leaves little room for call-ups, so prospects will likely have to bide their time in Hershey. This isn’t a terrible fate. Spending extra time in the AHL is beneficial, unlike playing unwarranted minutes in the NHL. But injuries and other unforeseen circumstances are inevitable, so defensemen will inevitably be called up.

At present, the defense is perfectly balanced with an equal amount of right- and left-handed shots. Barry Trotz will hopefully base call-ups on overall fit instead of shooting sides, like Adam Oates did. This article will focus on the three prospects I believe are most likely to see NHL time this season, and what the Caps’ latest transactions mean for their development.

 

Connor Carrick

This time last year, Carrick was unsure if he’d be playing in the OHL or the AHL. Yet he unexpectedly cracked the opening-night roster and wound up playing 34 games in the NHL. Had the Caps been in a better place defensively, he probably wouldn’t have seen that much ice time.

As the season dragged on, Carrick looked increasingly out of place in his own zone. This concern was made worse as he got outmuscled–the opposition would take advantage of his size and use physicality to outplay him.

With the above in mind, it’s easy to forget that Carrick’s skating ability and vision are among the best of all Caps prospects. However, he doesn’t fit the mold of a bruising, shutdown defenseman–the type of player the Caps lack. The Caps have an abundance of offensive-minded defensemen in their system, so it’s hard not to wonder where Carrick fits into the equation.

Hockey’s Future is almost dismissive of Carrick’s defensive ability:

You won’t really be investing in Carrick for his defensive play. He’s competent in his own zone, but what you are looking for from him is a powerplay quarterback and an aggressive and explosive offensive defenseman.

Finding someone to play point isn’t a problem for the Caps, as they already have three viable options in Carlson, Green, and Niskanen. While Green’s role with the Caps is hazy, Carlson and Niskanen will be defensive cornerstones for years to come. Future projections shouldn’t stop Carrick from seeing some NHL minutes, though. Spending the majority of the upcoming season in Hershey will allow him to develop further, and his previous NHL experience makes him an appealing call-up possibility. Furthermore, the Caps have a plethora of quality partners available for him to skate with. Playing Carrick alongside a physical, defensive defenseman not named John Erskine would be ideal. Orpik is an obvious candidate, should Carrick be needed in D.C.

Carrick’s hockey sense might be more refined than that of his peers, but I wouldn’t pin him as a go-to call-up. Others are sounder defensively, and the Caps aren’t in desperate need of an offensive-minded blueliner. After all, if one of the core defensemen is out of action, they’re going to want someone who prioritizes defense, instead of stepping up in the offensive zone. Unless Carrick makes tremendous strides and the Caps lose an offensive-minded blueliner, he’ll likely be passed over.

 

Nate Schmidt

Schmidt recently signed a two-way, one-year contract with the Caps after seeing a decent chunk of action (29 games) in the NHL. His season was unfortunately cut short due to a knee injury, but his time with the Caps gave viewers plenty to think about. As an offensive defenseman, he scored 6 points (2G, 4A) and was a plus-four (if you’re into that sort of thing) while suiting up for the Caps.

Point totals aside, Schmidt posted impressive possession numbers. His Corsi-for came in at 50.6%, while his relative Corsi was 3.1%. Despite these numbers, he received little ice time and didn’t see NHL action after late January.

Like Carrick, Schmidt is known for his offense first and defense second. Sound familiar? While Schmidt is a promising defender, the Caps have unfortunately stockpiled too many blueliners in this mold: young and offensively-inclined, with no guarantee of making it to the NHL. (Granted, there’s never any certainty in that department.)

I’d love to see Schmidt get power-play minutes with the Caps, but think about it–with Green, Niskanen, and Carlson already established, what are the odds the Caps would take a chance on him? Were Schmidt a potent penalty-killer in Hershey, he’d be more valuable to the big club. After all, there’s nothing he can do that the Caps’ current blueliners can’t. However, Schmidt now has more partner options, should he be called up. Schmidt was frequently paired with Green last season, and the two saw tremendous success in terms of possession. Skating with Niskanen, a similar type of defender, might yield comparable results.

In regards to the future, the brevity of Schmidt’s new contract is concerning. The Caps’ overabundance of offensive defensemen doesn’t help Schmidt’s NHL chances, and I have to wonder if they intend to focus on other prospects and let Schmidt walk if he doesn’t have a breakthrough season of sorts. Of course, he’s only 22, and defensemen typically develop at a slower rate than forwards. The upcoming season will be pivotal for Schmidt, who’s the most likely candidate for a recall. Hopefully he’ll escape the Caps’ logjam of young defenders and earn some NHL minutes.

 

Patrick Wey

Wey’s first pro season was eventful, as he saw time in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL. His promotion to the AHL demonstrated the depth of his development, and he finished his season in Hershey with 6 points (1G, 5A) in 28 games played. Wey has always racked up penalty minutes, and this season was no exception–he took 26 penalties. The physical component of Wey’s game sets him apart from Carrick and Schmidt, as does his commitment to defense.

However, Wey’s style of play doesn’t set him up for much NHL action this season–if any. I believe he’s the least likely of the three to make the team, much less be called up. Hockey’s Future does a great job of summing up Wey and what he brings to the Caps:

Wey is another of several puck-moving defense prospects in the Capitals’ system. Long-term, he projects as a sound, two-way defenseman who can generate offense off the rush.

I don’t mean to discredit Wey, but his play doesn’t address any pressing needs the Caps might have on the blueline. While we haven’t seen Orpik and Niskanen in action, it’s hard to imagine a scenario at this point in time where Wey’s skills would be desperately needed. He’s a puck-mover like Carrick and Schmidt, so he will have to bring something unique to the table if he wants a good look from the Caps.

Way has been assessed as a two-way defender in the making, but logging serious penalty kill minutes will increase his chances of a call-up. It’s difficult to predict how he’ll mesh with the Caps’ current blueliners, but the preseason will allow for mixing and matching to take place. With the Caps’ current lineup and one year remaining on Wey’s deal, it’s unlikely that he’ll be rushed into playing in the NHL.

Jeremy Roenick is wrong about Mikhail Grabovski

I know that Jeremy Roenick’s tweet about the Islanders inking Mikhail Grabovski is old news at this point, but the stupidity of the tweet still hasn’t worn off for me, so I decided to look at it just a little closer. 

Jeremy Roenick was a very good hockey player. Jeremy Roenick is now paid to analyze hockey. Jeremy Roenick is proof that being a very good hockey player does not necessarily make you very good at analyzing the game. Given that Roenick is paid to analyze hockey, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to spend say, oh, the 10 minutes of time it took to put this post together, in order to research his opinion on things before he spouts them off on Twitter just prior to running to the gym.  In case you haven’t seen the tweet, here it is.

(Grabovski did respond to this tweet, you can check it out over on RMNB.)

I decided to look at this from only the angle Roenick looked at it, that being Grabovski’s point production the year prior to signing the deal. I’ll leave out prior years. Heck, I’ll even leave out Grabovski’s glowing possession numbers. Why? Because Roenick’s argument is so unfounded that it’s easily proven wrong, even on the turf that he defined. $5 million per year, at 4 years, is actually a perfectly reasonable contract for a second-line center (and any decent hockey analyst or hockey fan knows this fact without having to do any research).

Here’s how Grabovski compares to the two other Centers in the NHL who have a cap hit of $5 million per year on a deal that was signed as an unrestricted free agent. The chart is ordered by the far right column, points per 60 minutes.

Player Season prior to FA Contract Games Points P/60
Grabovski 2013-14 4 yr/$5 mil per 58 35 2.30
Cammalleri 2013-14 5 yr/$5 mil per 63 45 2.16
Filppula 2012-13 5yr/$5 mil per 41 17 1.40

Like I said above, there is a lot more nuance and context that could be added to the discussion about Grabovski’s contract. But my point is that Roenick’s analysis is wrong, even within his own narrowly defined parameters.

You would hope that someone who gets paid to “analyze” hockey, even when doing shallow analysis, could do so in a way that his point isn’t easily defeated by 10 minutes of work done by a random blogger on the internet. Do better, Jeremy. I’m going back to the gym. Good God.

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Buying Blackhawks-Caps 2015 Winter Classic tickets via the secondary market

Those looking to buy 2015 Winter Classic tickets through resellers like StubHub or NHL TicketExchange should focus on two things right now if they’re wondering how much they might have to pay for tickets:

  1. Where the game will be held: The venue for this game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the host Washington Capitals has not been determined but, when it comes to ticket prices, a football stadium would be preferable over a baseball stadium. As you’ll see below in data from SeatGeek, this often results in lower secondary market ticket prices since the football stadiums have a larger seating capacity. 

  2. When to buy tickets: Based on previous Winter Classics, the key to buying tickets through the secondary marketing will be to wait. History shows that if you can wait until just under a week before the Winter Classic to buy your tickets, you’ll likely pay less for them.

Here’s some data and insight from Jason Weingold at SeatGeek that dives deeper on this:

  • “The Washington Capitals will be participating in the Winter Classic for the second time, and will be hosting the game for the first time. While the location is yet to be announced, prevailing speculation says that the game will take place at Nationals Park over FedEx Field, which does not bode well for fans hoping to score cheap tickets. Nationals Park can hold 41,418 fans — less than half of FedEx Field’s capacity of 85,000 – which means there would be less supply and higher prices on the resale market. For the last Winter Classic held at a baseball stadium (Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in 2012), the average price paid for a seat on the secondary market was $471, nearly double the combined average ticket price of the 2011 and 2014 games held at football stadiums ($245). [Author's note: See the next bullet point from SeatGeek for how last year's game in Michigan had a big effect on this].”
  • “An average ticket for the 2011 Winter Classic featuring the Penguins and Capitals at Heinz Field (capacity of 68,111) cost fans an average of $409 on the secondary market, and there were a total of about 11,000 tickets resold. The 2012 game pit the Rangers against the Flyers at Citizens Bank Park (seats 46,967) in Philadelphia, and the average price of a ticket rose 15% to $471; there were also more tickets resold — an estimated total of 13,000. The next Winter Classic in 2014 featured a long-anticipated matchup between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at the Big House, Michigan Stadium, which welcomed a record 105,491 fans, and that increased supply of tickets (an estimated 24,000 were resold on secondary markets) brought the average resale price down to $172 per seat.”
  • “The NHL has also experimented with other outdoor games in the past. The 2013-2014 season featured five other outdoor games: the Heritage Classic in Canada and four games in the United States collectively called the “Stadium Series.” The first Stadium Series game took place at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, where the average ticket cost $190. The Rangers then played twice at Yankee Stadium — first against the Devils (average ticket price of $231) and second against the Islanders ($141). The fourth game was between the Penguins and Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago (average ticket price of $248). The 2011 Heritage Classic featured the Flames and Canadiens at McMahon Stadium in Calgary (average ticket price of $253), and the 2014 game set the Canucks against the Senators at BC Place in Vancouver (average ticket price of $153).”
  • “The 2015 Winter Classic should end up being a record-breaking home game for the Capitals in terms of demand. Since 2010, the most in-demand regular season home game for the Caps was on Feb. 6, 2011 against Pittsburgh, when fans spent an average of $166 per ticket on the secondary market. Even in the playoffs, the highest average ticket price we’ve recorded for a Caps game at the Verizon Center is $221 for Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers.”
  • “The Capitals have only hosted the Blackhawks once since we began collecting pricing data, and that came on April 11 earlier this year. The average ticket to that game at the Verizon Center cost $122 on the resale market.”
  • “By taking a look at pricing trends for the past three Winter Classic games, we’ve found that the best time to buy a ticket has been a little less than a week before the game. In 2011, the average ticket price bottomed out at $343 five days before the game, having fallen 24% in 17 days from a peak of $450. Prices for the 2012 game followed a similar pattern, dipping to a low of $391 six days before the drop of the puck (down 22% from $500 with two weeks to go before the game). Last season, the average price fell continuously throughout December, dropping 57% from $239 with 30 days to go before the game to just $103 per ticket the night before.”

Thanks to Jason and SeatGeek for pulling that all together. They also provided the chart below, which illustrates how waiting until just under a week before the game is often the best approach for finding the lowest secondary ticket market prices for a Winter Classic.

 
Winter Classic resale ticket prices
 

Who should play the point on the Caps power play?

When the Caps signed Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million contract, new coach Barry Trotz was given another intriguing option to play the point on the power play. Niskaenen is an offensively-gifted defenseman, finishing 12th among all defesemen in scoring last season with 46 points (10 goals 36 assists). While it remains to be seen if Trotz will use 2 defenders on the PP or skate one defender with Alex Ovechkin playing the other point, the Caps coach has 3 formidable PP options from his defensive corps in Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green.

One consideration when deciding how to divvy up ice-time, as pointed out by Peter from RMNB, is that Carlson plays a significant amount of time on the penalty kill. We don’t yet know how the coaching and personnel changes in Washington will impact PK deployment, but last season Carlson saw the ice for 65.2% of the time the Caps were on the PK, while Green played 8.6% and Niskanen saw 13.8% in Pittsburgh.

Glossary for chart

FF% rel-The % of unblocked shot attempts the player’s team saw with him on the ice, relative to with him off the ice

SA per 2:00-The number of total shot attempts (SA) for a team with the player on the ice, per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00-Estimated number of passes by a player that led directly to a shot attempt, per 2:00

All of the numbers are PP only. Per 2:00 was obviously chosen to represent the time of a standard PP.

Player FF% rel SA per 2:00

Setup Passes per 2:00

Carlson

+6.3% 3.91

0.83

Green -8.3% 3.35

1.08

Niskanen +0.8% 3.54

0.31

-The Caps perform significantly better, FF%-wise, with Carlson on the ice during the PP while the Caps saw a significant drop in FF% with Green on the ice during the PP.  This is interesting, considering Green was the Caps best possession player in 5-on-5 close game situations. The Pens PP generated slightly more unblocked shot attempts with Niskanen on the ice.

-The differentials in SA per 2:00 may look insignificant but they add up quite a bit when given proper context. The Caps averaged 3.54 PP per game, so the difference between Carlson (13.8) vs Green (11.9) amounts to just about 2 additional SA per game in a hypothetical world where they each separately play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-Green has a significant advantage in setup passes per 2:00.  Discussing his numbers relative to Niskanen’s here is probably apples to oranges, since they played on different PP. There are all kinds of factors, such as set plays and who they are funneled through, that could impact this rather than passing ability and vision. For example, one possible reason Green’s numbers are so high is that he was often funneling the puck to shooting machine Alex Ovechkin for his patented PP one-timer. However, when comparing teammates, Green (3.82) would produce nearly one more setup pass per game than Carlson (2.93) were each to play 100% of the team’s PP minutes.

-One interesting tidbit not shown in the chart is that opponents’ average shorthanded shot distance with Carlson on the ice was 52.7 feet compared to 34.6 feet with Green on the ice. That’s the difference between 7.3 feet inside the blueline vs. 5.4 feet inside the top of the faceoff circle.  While not proof in and of itself, those numbers could serve as a launching point for someone who wants to show that Green is prone to take risks that can backfire (I’m skeptical of that theory).

Player

Individual SA per 2:00

Carlson

0.99

Green

0.91

Niskanen

0.91

-Carlson generates .08 more SA per 2 minutes of PP time than Green and Niskanen (Like above, reading too much into Niskanen’s numbers at face value vs. Green and/or Carlson is probably a bit faulty since they played on different PP). Last season, the Caps average 3.54 PP per game. Over the course of a season, at 3.54 PP attempts per game,  Carlson would generate 23.2 more PP SA than Green or Niskanen, were they each to play 100% of their team’s PP minutes (this also assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that each PP attempt is 2 minutes) . The Caps scored on 8.3% of their PP SA this past season. This would mean that, through his SA alone, Carlson would generate 1.93 more PP goals per season, in a hypothetical world where all 3 players assume the Caps average PP goals per shot attempt % from last season (8.3%) and the Caps average 3.54 PP per game for a season.

From all of this data, it appears that John Carlson should be first choice to play the point on the PP in 2014-15 for the Caps. The team generates more unblocked and overall shot attempts with him on the ice, and he personally takes  more shot attempts than Green or Niskanen. However, should Trotz choose to manage Carlson’s PP time in order to keep him fresher for PK and 5-on-5 play, and depending on what position Ovechkin plays on the PP, both Green and Niskanen offer Trotz viable options.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below or send a tweet. Follow us on Twitter here.

S/T to ExtraSkater.com for being such a great resource for this article (and in general). 

Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2010-11 season

Advanced stats for the 2010-11 season are now available on ExtraSkater.com. I highly recommend visiting Extra Skater to see the stats for yourself, but below, after a quick refresher on the season, are some Caps highlights I pulled from a glance at the new stats on Extra Skater.

With a record of 48-23-11, the Caps were not only Southeast Division champs, but finished first in the Eastern Conference, with 107 points. The Caps discarded the Rangers 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightening in the second round. This was also the season during which the Caps, under Bruce Boudreau, shifted to a more defensive-oriented system. The Caps defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic and were featured on the HBO series 24/7.

 

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-The Caps finished 15th in Fenclose%, tied with the Kings at 50.4. The two teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Caps (47.5%) finishing 25th in 2013-14 and the Kings (56.7%) finishing first.

-Nicklas Backstorm led all qualifying (41+ games played) Caps in FenClose rel at +5.0%, followed by Alex Ovechkin at +3.9% and Alex Semin at +3.5%. The top Caps defender was John Carlson at  +1.9%.

-Alex Semin’s PDO of 107.7 ranked highest on the team, aided by his teammates’ on-ice shooting % of 10.5%, 1.8% higher than any other Caps player.

-Marcus Johansson had the highest ZS% at 58.1%, while Boyd Gordon faced the toughest zone starts, with a ZS% of 41.8%

-As would be expected, the Caps top forward line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble faced tougher competition than any of their teammates. Carlson and Karl Alzner faced the toughest competition of any Caps defenders.

-To the surprise of absolutely no one, Mike Knuble had the shortest average shot distance (24.7 feet).

-Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 82.4% of the Caps PP minutes during the season (this past season Ovechkin saw the ice during 93.2% of the Caps PP minutes).

This was after a quick look at the stats. If you look through Extra Skater and find any interesting tidbits, leave them in the comments below or give us a shout on Twitter.

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at how Brooks Orpik’s possession stats compared to defensemen around the NHL who faced similar minutes in terms of quality of competition and zone starts during the 2013-14 season. The contract Orpik signed with the Caps on July 1st has been met with a lot of criticism, and I am certainly among those who don’t like the deal for the Caps.

However, some context can help us better evaluate the Orpik contract. Below I’ll take a look at how Orpik fared compared to the top 5 Caps defenders in terms of games played in the 2013-14 season.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shots. Instead of 0 being even, like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

As noted in my last post, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone during close-game situations and also faced tougher competition than any other Penguin defender. Here is how he stacks up against the Caps defenders last year.  The players are in order of FF%, best to worst, but I’ve also noted their ranks in QOC TOI% and ZS% (ranked toughest to easiest).

Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
Orlov 50.1% (3rd) 28.0% (5th) 52.5% (1st)
Green 53.2% (6th) 28.5% (4th) 52.0% (2nd)
Orpik 48.2% (1st) 29.3% (3rd) 47.6% (3rd)
Alzner 49.1% (2nd) 29.4% (2nd) 47.3% (4th)
Carlson 51.3% (4th) 29.6% (1st) 46.3% (5th)
Erskine 52.8% (5th) 27.7% (6th) 45.1% (6th)

-Orpik was a better possession player last season than Alzner and Carlson, who are generally considered to be the Caps top-pair defenders that play the toughest minutes among Caps defenders. Orpik did this while having a tougher ZS% than either of the Caps defenders. Carlson faced the toughest competition of the three with Orpik finishing 3rd barely behind Alzner. One important thing to remember in terms of FF% is that the Penguins were a better FF% team than the Caps, so Orpik has an advantage there. FenClose rel % is a stat that can be better to compare possession stats of players on different teams, but I chose not to include it in this post, for the sake of simplicity.

-Orpik ranks 3rd in FF%, but it’s a distant 3rd. Green and Orlov are significantly better possession players than the other 4 defenders listed.  Green and Orlov did face far easier ZS’s than Orpik, which isn’t particularly surprising since they are thought of as more offensively-minded defenseman. Green and Orlov also faced weaker opponents than Orpik.

So, while I still don’t like the Orpik contract, there is no debating the Caps have improved their defense this off-season. Hopefully the last two posts have provided some insight into what exactly to expect from him moving forward with the Caps.

 

 

 

Taking a closer look at Brooks Orpik, Part 1

In my recent post about the Caps signings in free agency, I was critical of the deal to which the Caps signed Brooks Orpik. However, in that post I also mentioned that Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone, as well as faced the toughest competition among all Penguins defenseman last season. So, while Orpik’s puck possession numbers are troubling, the zone starts and quality of competition are important to keep in mind. Make no mistake, I still think this is a terrible contract for the Caps. However, I thought it might be helpful to look at other defenseman around the league who faced zone starts and/or competition similar to Orpik’s this past season. The one difference to the ZS% from my last post is that I am going to look at it only in close-game situations, which is explained more below.

Key

FF%-FF% (Fenwick For %) is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice. Think of it like +/-, but for shots. Instead of 0 being even like with +/-, the 50% mark is even. It is a metric used to measure puck possession. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.

ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes, as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.

QOC TOI%-The quality of competition a player faces, as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced

“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5

The first chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players with a similar close-game ZS%. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player ZS% QOC TOI% FF%
52 Vlasic 48.0% 29.1% 58.2%
53 Goligoski 48.2% 29.3% 52.8%
54 Orpik 48.2% 29.3% 47.6%
55 Edler 48.4% 28.9% 52.6%
56 Gudbranson 48.6% 28.2% 52.0%

Notes about the chart:

-Every player on this chart performed significantly better than Orpik in terms of puck possession. In fact, Orpik is the only defender on the chart to be a negative puck possession player. In other words, he’s the only defender from the chart that saw his team get out shot when he was on the ice in close-game situations.

-Only Goligoski faced competition as tough as Orpik. Goligoski also has the same ZS% as Orpik, but had a FF% 5.2% better than Orpik’s.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), a 5.2% difference in puck possession is the difference, in the 2013-14 season, between Chicago (55.2%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

-Relative to their teams, the Stars performed 1.3% better in terms of FF% when Goligoski was on the ice. The Pens FF% was 3.8% worse with Orpik on the ice compared to when he was on the bench.

The second chart looks at how Orpik fared compared to players who faced a similar level of competition. The ranking is among all defenseman who played 62 or more games during the 2013-14 season.

Rank Player QOC TOI% ZS% FF%
23 Lovejoy 29.4 48.6% 49.5%
24 Timonen 29.4 57.4% 52.5%
25 Orpik 29.3 48.2% 47.6%
26 Goligoski 29.3 48.2% 52.8%
27 Sekera 29.3 49.4% 50.1%

Notes from the chart:

-The ZS% is fairly similar for 4 of the 5 players, Timonen being the exception.

-Once again, Orpik has the worst possession numbers of the 5 players. He does have some company on the wrong side of 50% this time, in the form of Ben Lovejoy. But even relative to Lovejoy, Orpik finds himself a worse possession player by 1.9%.  To put that in perspective at a team level (admittedly, not a totally relevant comparison), 1.9% was the difference, in the 2013-14 season, in possession between the Stars (51.9%) and the Coyotes (50.0%).

It is certainly important to keep in mind that Orpik faced very stiff competition and ZS%, especially relative to the rest of the Penguins’ defenders.  However, when compared to players given similar assignments around the league, Orpik’s possession numbers are still pretty weak.  My next post will look at how Orpik stacks up compared to others Caps D from last season.

Thanks to ExtraSkater.com for most of the data used in this post. 

 

Caps aggressive in first day of free agency

Brian MacLellan’s first day of free agency as GM of the Caps was anything but quiet. MacLellan handed out over $69 million on July 1st, more than any other GM in the league. MacLellan said his priorities were to bring in a veteran goaltender and to bolster the Capitals defense. While the effectiveness of the moves is up for debate, MacLellan certainly made moves that he feels addressed his priorities.

Justin Peters

Justin Peters comes to the Caps from the Carolina Hurricanes to serve as the backup to Braden Holtby. MacLellan was very clear in stating that he wanted to bring in a goalie that sent the message to Holtby that he is the Caps number one guy and that the organization believes in him.  This is refreshing to hear after the disastrous way Adam Oates handled Holtby and the effect it had on him. While it remains to be seen how new coach Barry Trotz handles his goalies in Washington, the fact that the organization is doubling down on Holtby as their guy is a step in the right direction.

Last season, Peters played in 21 games for the Hurricanes and posted a 7-9-4 record. Peters’ 5 on 5 save % of 92.3 ranked 33rd among goalies with 21 or more games played.  According to Rob Vollman, Peters faced the second toughest competition last season of all the goalies that were available as unrestricted free agents. The money on this deal makes sense as well, as Peters annual salary for the 2 year deal is $950,000, which currently ranks 48th among all NHL goalies.

Brooks Orpik

So that’s where we’re starting from. Not only did the Caps sign the one guy I singled out to avoid, they signed him to an absolutely insane 5 year, $27.5 million dollar deal. Brooks Orpik will be 34 before the season starts. While this deal may not kill the Caps immediately, the thought that in a couple years the Caps will have a defender on the wrong side of 35 taking up $5.5 million in cap space is troubling, to put it mildly. Yes, Brooks Orpik fits the bill of a “tough” and “hard-nosed” defenseman that many Caps fans have long called for. However, Brooks Orpik has never been a positive possession player in his career, meaning his team has always been out shot over the course of a season while he’s been on the ice. However, to be fair to Orpik, some context on these numbers is helpful. For example, this past season, Orpik started more shifts in the defensive zone than any other Penguins defender who played in at least half of the team’s games. Orpik also faced the toughest competition among this same group of Penguins D, and finished 26th overall among all NHL defenseman in terms of quality of competition faced. So, while Orpik’s team struggles with puck possession while he’s on the ice, some of this, at least from this past season, can be attributed to the fact that Orpik is given tough assignments.

There were a couple things MacLellan said about the Orpik signing that were troubling.

“The total dollars were centered around Brooks” (Alex Prewitt, Washington Post)

The fact that the Caps’ entire off-season plan revolved around a 34 year old defender, and giving said defender a 5 year deal with an expensive cap hit, is very troubling in terms of what it says about the vision of the Caps new management. In addition, the fact that Mikhail Grabovski (or any adequate second line center) was not in any way the focus of the “total dollars,” (thus far), is cause for even more alarm about MacLellan’s vision as GM.

I’ll skip over the fact that he used the phrase “the corsi.” Could coming to Washington and playing with an offensive, puck-carrying defender help Orpik’s possession numbers? Hmm, if only the Penguins had such a player like, I don’t know, Kris Letang. Over the past 3 seasons, Orpik has played with the offensive-minded Letang for 496:46 (less than 40 minutes of this time comes from this past season, due mostly to Letang missing significant time because of injury). When on the ice together, Orpik and Letang saw 49.5% of shots go in the Penguins favor. Perhaps MacLellan has a point, because Orpik’s shot for % when separated from Letang drops to 48%. But a stronger case could be made that Orpik will weigh down an offensive defender because Letang saw his shots for % jump to 53.4% when separated from Orpik.  I could go on and on. Bottom line, I think this is a terrible contract for the wrong player, a double-whammy. Orpik could provide decent (but overpriced) play for the Caps for a couple of years, but there will be many people, myself included, in line to say “I told you so” when he is bought out in the Summer of 2017.

Matt Niskanen

Not long after landing Orpik the Caps landed another ex-Penguin by signing Matt Niskanen to a 7 year, $40.25 million deal. The inherent risk in any 7 year deal is cause for concern, but apparently Niskanen is the player the Caps identified as worth this type of deal, so while the deal is risky, it’s not outright ridiculous like the Orpik contact. Niskanen posted impressive offensive numbers this past year with 10 goals and 31 assists in 81 games, after never topping 6 goals or 29 assists in a season since entering the league in 2007. Some of this rise in production can be attributed to the increased opportunity Niskanen received due to Letang missing so much of the year. Niskanen was on the ice for 55.4% of the Penguins power play time this past year after never topping 39.8% during his time in Pittsburgh. It will be interesting to see how the Caps divvy up their PP time among their defense this season, but it’s likely that Niskanen’s PP time will decrease in Washington. This is one factor that will likely lead to a decrease in Niskanen’s offensive numbers this season. Another factor in this is that the Penguins shot 10.3% with Niskanen on the ice this past year, while stopping 93%, for a PDO (combined on-ice shooting and save %) of 103.1, that is almost certain to regress closer to 100.0, no matter how well Niskanen plays. In short, don’t evaluate this deal solely based off of the offensive numbers Niskanen puts up next season. For reasons not within his control, they are almost certain to drop, even if he is playing well. 

Niskanen, as opposed to Orpik, has very strong possession numbers. He has consistently, over the course of his career, seen his team have more shots for than against when he’s on the ice.  This past season, Niskanen saw 53.3% of unblocked shot attempts in all 5-on-5 situations go in his team’s favor when he was on the ice. This would not only lead the Caps’ defense, it would lead the Caps’ team. The Pens saw 6.3% more of these shot attempts go in their favor with Niskanen on the ice than without him, which is also better than any Caps’ defender performed, relative to their team.

Brian MacLellan was anything but dull or quiet on his first day of free agency as an NHL GM. He got nice value in a backup goalie with Peters, signed Orpik to an absolute monstrosity of a contract, and signed Niskanen to a risky deal, but one that improved the Caps’ defense corps. He also made what could prove to be a major blunder in letting Grabovski walk, but I’ll withhold judgement on that to see if the 2C situation improves. The aggressive approach proved for an interesting day, but the shrewdness of said aggression is questionable, especially as it pertains to Orpik.

A look at potential free agent defensemen for the Caps to target

New Caps GM Brian MacLellan is on record saying that he will be more likely to upgrade the Caps through trade than free-agency this off-season. While the class of pending free agents certainly isn’t spectacular, there are still some players who the Caps should take a look at, especially if the trade market doesn’t pan out in the manner MacLellan seemed to indicate he hopes it will.

I had a long paragraph here about why the Caps need to acquire a top-4 defender, but I figured I’d save you the time of reading it since we all know it’s true.

(If you are unfamiliar with the stats below, there are a few places where you can read up on them. One is Extra Skater, which is where the stats for this article were pulled from. Fenwick Close % (FenClose) is the one used the most heavily. Before dismissing Fenclose as too nerdy, consider that the league leader in FenClose for the 2013-14 regular season season was the LA Kings. Here is a chart of how well the best regular season FenClose teams since 2007-08 have fared in the playoffs. For the more curious reader, go here or here to see how FenClose has been shown to be an excellent predictor of a team’s future success.)

Anton Stralman

There are conflicting reports as to whether Anton Stralman(1 goal, 12 assists, 19:25 TOI/G in 2013-14) turned down a 3 year-$9 million deal, but nonetheless, he is a pending free agent at the end of the year. Stralman is not a guy who will satisfy the crowd that want the Caps to bring in a hard-nosed defender, but he will satisfy the crowd that wants the Caps to possess the puck more than their opponents.  Stralman’s FenClose has risen steadily over the past 3 seasons, from 48.4 to a monstrous 55.7, and continuing to rise to 58.3 this past season.  The 58.3 was good for 3rd among all NHL defensemen. Stralman was also 3rd in the NHL in FenClose rel, which measures a player’s FenClose relative to his teammates. According to QoC TOI, Stralman faced the 4th toughest competition among the 7 defenders who appeared in more than half of the Rangers games this past season. Stralman also ranked 4th in defensive zone starts (the amount of Stralman’s shifts that started in the defensive zone) among those 7 D.

Of the Caps D who played 54 games or more this past season, Stralman would easily rank 1st in FenClose.  Stralman’s QoC TOI would fall 3rd, behind only Alzner and Carlson and his zone starts would be 4th among qualifying D, behind Alzner, Carlson, and Orlov. (This article was drafted at the end of the regular season. With the Rangers deep playoff run, Stralman’s price, while hopefully still in a range that makes sense for the Caps, will be higher than it would have been.)

Matt Greene

Unlike Stralman above, Matt Greene (2g, 4a, 15:52 TOI/G) would satisfy those who want to see the Caps add more “toughness” on the blue line. Greene played in 82 games 3 years ago, posting a FenClose of 55.4. Greene’s 2012-13 numbers aren’t really worth discussing because, due to injury, he only appeared in 5 games during the lockout shortened season. Staying on the ice was again a concern for Greene in 2013-14, but he posted a glowing FenClose of 60.7% in 38 games. In the limited time Greene saw this year, his QoC TOI ranked 6th out of the 7 Kings defenders who played in at least as many games as him. He finished 5th among the same 7 Kings defenders the percentage of shifts he started in the defensive zone. Greene has been a bit injury-prone and has, at times, fallen out of the top-6 on the Kings depth chart. However, a healthy Matt Greene would certainly help a much shallower blue line here in Washington.

Greene’s FenClose would rank 1st among Caps defenders who played at least as many games as him (38) this past season.  If you compare Greene to John Erskine (since they 1) played a similar amount of games and 2) are both thought of as “tough”), who played one less game than Greene this year (37), Erskine had a FenClose of 45.1, compared to Greene’s already mentioned 60.7. However, the Kings are a much better possession team than the Caps, so looking at how each fared in relation to their teammates would be a better comparison. Erskine’s 45.1 is 6.7% lower than the Caps FenClose when he was not on the ice. The Kings FenClose was improved by 4.3% when Greene was on the ice. They faced the same level of competition (27.7) in terms of QoC TOI. Greene’s zone starts also weren’t particularly tough, with only 27.7% of them starting in the defensive zone. This is not to say that simply because a player compares favorably to Erskine that he should be targeted by the Caps, but Greene was not just a little better than Erskine (and the majority of the Caps blue line), he was significantly better. He comes with injury risk but that, combined with being a bit buried on the Kings depth chart, could help get him at a cheaper price.

Kyle Quincey

Kyle Quincey (4g, 9A, 20:48 TOI/G) is 28 years old, and is headed for free agency after playing for Detroit since being traded there during the 2011-12 season. Quincey, like Stralman, is not the tough-nosed, hard-hitting, no-nonsense type defender that many Caps fans have long-called for, but the Caps could do (and have done) much worse than to give a player like Quincey 20 minutes per game. Quincey is a quick, puck-moving defender who boasts solid possession numbers over the past few seasons. His FenClose over the last 3 seasons has been 51.7, 57.2, and 50.2, respectively. This past season, Quincey faced the 4th toughest Qoc TOI of the 7 Red Wings defenders who played 48 games or more.  Of these 7 defenders, Quincey started the highest percentage of shifts in the defensive zone.

Of the Caps D who played 54 games or more this past season, Quincey’s FenClose woulds rank third, behind only Green and Orlov.  In terms of QoC TOI, Quincey played tougher minutes than any Caps defender not named Alzner or Carlson while his zone starts would fall 4th behind Alzner, Carlson, and Orlov amongst Caps D who played 54 games or more.

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All three of these players likely benefit from playing on teams with more defensive depth than the Caps, and therefore would almost certainly draw tougher assignments if they came to Washington. However, I still think the numbers above suggest that any one of these three players could strengthen the Caps defense and, obviously depending on the cost, should be considered when free agency opens.

 

 

 

Caps off-season: What would you do?

This weekend on Twitter we asked what roster moves you make would this off-season if you were the GM of the Caps. None of the answers were too shocking, and there were a few answers that were pretty popular. Below are a few quick thoughts on some of those answers that popped up more than once.

Re-sign Mikhail Grabovski

Yes, yes, and more yes. There seems to be a lot of agreement here amongst Caps fans. It’s easy to understand why, as during Grabovski’s absence from injury Jay Beagle was centering Alex Ovechkin. The Caps revolving door at the 2C position has been one of the perennial shortcomings of the latter half of the McPhee administration. In Grabovski, we’ve got a guy who can lock that position down for a few years and, thanks especially to the deadline deals, we’ve got the cap room to pay him a deserving salary (not sure what he will bring in, but I’d guess 4 or 5 years at around $5 million per). Evgeny Kuznetsov could mature into a player capable of filling this position, but as a team with a finite number of prime years left of Backstrom and Ovechkin, the time to reload this roster as a true contender is now and the best way to do this at 2c is to re-sign number 84. Oh, and apparently this could happen sooner rather than later.

Trade Mike Green

No, no and more no. To be clear, no player should be untouchable, and if there is a trade involving Green that will help this club, I’m all for it. But I’m not part of the crowd that thinks this team is better off without Mike Green than with him as a fact in and of itself. Yes, he makes egregious mistakes in his own zone, but I still believe this team is better off with Mike Green than without him and there are numbers to support this claim. Yes, during close games during 5-on-5 play, only one player sees more shots go for the Caps than against the Caps when he is on the ice than Mike Green, and that player is Dmitry Orlov. I just don’t see how getting rid of a player like this is beneficial to a team that generally gets out-shot so handily. I don’t like the Green-Orlov combo because I think they play the similar high-risk/high-reward style. Give me Mike Green and a partner that isn’t just breaking into the league and isn’t named John Erskine, and I think you’ve got a very good NHL defensive pair. (side note: How have John Carlson and Karl Alzner largely escaped blame during this debacle of a season? I’m not so sure their development as a top D pair is trending in the right direction this year)

Re-sign Jaroslav Halak

This is another one I’m not on board with. In fact, I don’t think the trade for Halak was as much about getting him than it was about trading our disgruntled, oft-injured backup Michael Neuvirth, as well as gaining cap space this summer. I am 100% comfortable with Braden Holtby being this team’s number 1 goalie. I’ll say the same thing that I told Ravens fans who complained about Joe Flacco before the Ravens won the Super Bowl: Holtby may not win you a Cup all on his own, but he certainly won’t be the weak link on a Cup contender. Braden Holtby is fully capable of being the Number 1 goalie on a Stanley Cup team.  The money it would take to bring back Halak would be better spent elsewhere. After all, Holtby ranks 12th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage, while Halak comes in at 21st.

Use the team’s last compliance buyout on Brooks Laich

The water is a little murky here on whether this will be allowed since buyouts of injured players are not allowed. However, there are a lot of technicalities not readily available to us that may or may not make this an option. If it is allowed, as painful as this is to say because Brooks Laich is one of the more likable guys in the league, I think the Caps have to pull the trigger on this (though I would bet against them doing it). That $4.5 million per year for the next 3 years can be much better spent than on a guy who has played 60 games and totaled 19 points over the past two seasons. On top of that, we have plenty of players (Brouwer, Chimera, Ward, Fehr) who can fill the roles Laich would be asked to fill on this team.  Like I said above, this may not even be an option, but I haven’t done the necessary digging to sort out the injury/buyout technicalities.

 

Thanks to extraskater.com for always being a great resource, to RMNB for their Weekly Snapshot (my favorite weekly Caps read), and to all of you who interacted with us over the weekend on this topic. 

 

 

 

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