Author Archives: Pat Holden

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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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. 

 

 

 

Caps Q&A with Sick, Unbelievable

Kevin Klein from Sick, Unbelievable was nice enough to take the time to answer some questions via email about the new Caps season.  You can follow Sick, Unbelievable on Twitter.

1) During the NHL Network coverage of the Caps preseason game vs. the Jets, it was twice mentioned that the Caps will miss Mike Ribeiro. Agree or disagree?

Before George McPhee went out and got Mikhail Grabovski, I would have agreed. Regardless of how “lucky” Ribeiro was (a not-exactly-accurate term used on account of his high on-ice shooting percentage and powerplay success), that kind of production was going to be missed. There wasn’t a soul on the roster in June who better fit the mold of 2C than Mike Ribeiro.

Grabovski changed that. He probably won’t be quite as high-octane on the man-to-the-good as Ribeiro was a year ago, but Grabovski has made a career of keeping the puck in the offensive zone at even strength. With the vast majority of the hockey game pie going to the even-strength slice, Grabovski is more likely than not an upgrade at the position. And that’s a conjecture made purely based on his on-ice merit and the Caps’ weaknesses from a year, with nothing to say for his friendlier age, contract, and possible future in the Nation’s Capital.

2) What forwards end up getting the most top 6 minutes?

I’d be a fool to veer away from the obvious answer: the top two lines, whoever they shake out to be. There’s a lot of modularity there with guys like Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Eric Fehr. After Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, and Grabovski, it’s anyone’s guess.

3) One much discussed topic this preseason is who will see minutes on the 2nd defensive pair. Assuming Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the top 3 blueliners in terms of ice time, what defenseman will see the 4th most amount of minutes this season?

By all accounts it will be John Erskine, and if you ask me, that particular lineup choice is the team’s greatest roster flaw. Erskine’s underlying numbers for a year ago don’t represent how poorly he played— a fact that can singularly be attributed to the fact that he received a .944 sv % from the padstacker behind him over the course of the season. That goaltending didn’t add up in the playoffs, and as a result Erskine was exposed as something of a goat.

I’d expect the Capitals to make a move to obtain another, defensively stronger, left-handed D-man at the deadline to play on the second pairing.

4) Who/What will be the biggest surprise this year, good or bad?

I don’t know if you can call him a surprise at this point, but in many people’s eyes Braden Holtby is still unproven. It’s not a terribly unfounded notion, as Holtby has only played 57 career regular season games— in the ballpark of 1 full season’s work for a non-Lundqvistian NHL goaltender.

By no fault of his own, this will be Holtby’s first chance to put together a strong campaign over the course of a full schedule. Of all goalies that have played a minimum of 2500 minutes at even strength during the past three years, Holtby has the seventh best save percentage. If he can improve upon that, while continuing to rack up the wins (the guy’s got a .649 career winning percentage), it’ll be hard to argue that the Canadian Olympic-hopeful isn’t the real deal— and yeah, I think that will surprise some people.

5) How does this season end for the team?

In my 3-Dieselpunk’s deep mind’s eye, the season ends with Ovi drinking Vodka from the Stanley Cup (and me sharing an under the pressbox seat fistbump with Vlad Putin). In reality I think they absolutely make the playoffs— despite now competing in a substantially more stacked division, this team boasts an opening day lineup that looks as good as any they’ve had in the last ten years. In any event, anything less than a birth in the Conference Finals will be a disappointment, and that doesn’t have as much to do with the paper lineup as it does with our expectations, as they’ve been bred by the organization.

Caps Q&A with sportswriter Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey was nice enough to answer some questions I sent to him over email about the upcoming Caps season.  If you’re not familiar with Ted, you should check out his two books about the Caps and  follow him on Twitter.

Pat Holden: During the NHL Network coverage of the Caps preseason game vs. the Jets, it was twice mentioned that the Caps will miss Mike Ribeiro. Agree or disagree?

Ted Starkey: If the Capitals wouldn’t have signed Michail Grabovski, the second-line center position would be a huge problem for Washington. While Grabovski might not be quite the scorer Ribeiro is, his playmaking skills certainly will keep from being a big dropoff after Nicklas Backstrom in the middle. They will miss Ribeiro a bit, but certainly not to the degree where it will be a tremendous liability.

PH: What forwards end up getting the most top 6 minutes?

TS: Most likely, you will see beyond the clear-cut of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Grabovski getting the most time, you should see Marcus Johansson on the wing on the top lines (although he will need more consistent production), and Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer on the second line. There’s a pretty clean dividing line – with Brooks Laich’s injury – between the Top and Bottom 6 in the lineup.

PH: Tom Wilson makes the cut, yes or no? (ed. note: This Q&A was done 2 days before rosters were finalized)

TS: Yes, the team certainly feels the rugged forward has outgrown his usefulness in juniors. If anything, the Capitals keep Wilson in Washington off the bat, allowing them to punt their decision for 9 games. But barring a major regression there, he’s in Washington for good.

PH: One much discussed topic this preseason is who will see minutes on the 2nd defensive pair. Assuming Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the top 3 blueliners in terms of ice time, what defenseman will see the 4th most amount of minutes this season?

TS: Capitals certainly will try to use John Erskine in a Top 4 role as a balance for either the rushing partner of Green or Carlson, but the question is how he does at the age of 33, as he has shown some signs of slowing down. Part of the reasoning for putting him with an offensive counterpart is to allow the other to take some chances, if Green or Carlson have to be aware of a potential liability, it certainly opens the door for someone else to step in.

PH: Who/What will be the biggest surprise this year, good or bad?

TS: Grabovski should be a good boost to the Capitals this year, as he has excelled in preseason and seems to be a good fit for the lineup. His presence fills a major gap left by Ribeiro’s departure, and he should have a nice rebound season after being used in a limited role in Toronto.

PH: How does this season end for the team?

TS: Capitals will have a decent season, finishing 2nd in the Metropolitan Division. It remains to be seen, however, how the new playoff format that likely earns them dates with one of their recent playoff foes – the Penguins, Flyers or Rangers – will be for the team’s postseason hopes. Most likely, the Capitals can perhaps win a round, but realignment makes that road to the Stanley Cup a bit tougher for Washington.
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I’d like to extend a sincere thanks to Ted for taking the time to do this.

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