Category Archives: NHL

Getting to know Justin Peters

The Caps off-season signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen rightfully drew a lot more attention than the signing of Justin Peters as the teams’ backup goalie. Peters comes to the Caps from the Carolina Hurricanes, who drafted him in the 2nd round (38th overall) of the 2004 entry draft. In Carolina last year, Peters went 7-9-4 with a 2.50 GAA and of 91.9 save%.

The chart below, tweeted by Rob Vollman just before free agency opened, gives some context to Peters’ box score stats. Peters faced the toughest competition (the Y-axis in the chart below, determined by the average shooting % of opponents faced vs. the league) of any goalie who hit the open market on July 1st while also receiving relatively little goal supports (x-axis) Embedded image permalink

While the ability to measure the true quality of a goalie without factors such as team-effects skewing the numbers is difficult, 5-on-5 save %, while not perfect, is generally agreed upon as the best measure. The numbers below are combined totals from the past two seasons, showing how Peters compares to, for the sake of familiarity, Braden Hotlby and Michal Neuvirth.

Name 5 on 5 shots faced 5 on 5 save%
Braden Hotlby 1976 93.0%
Michal Neuvirth 617 91.9%
Justin Peters 895 91.1%

Small sample size warnings obviously apply here. Both the lockout and the fact that none of these guys held a job as a #1 goalie for the entirety of the two seasons limited the quantity of shots they each faced. However, the quick takeaway is that Holby is the superior goalie of the 3, while Peters is a backup-quality goalie.

Peters annual cap hit of $950,000 for the two years is currently 50th among NHL goalies, certainly a very reasonable contact. I consulted capgeek.com for a list of cap hit comparables for Peters. The chart below shows how Peters compares to 4 of those goalies since the start of the 2012-13 season.

Player Cap Hit Shots Faced 5-on-5 Save %
Thomas Greiss $1,000,000 619 93.4%
Ray Emery $1,000,000 893 92.2%
Justin Peters $950,000 895 91.1%
Anders Lindback $925,000 935 91.0%
Dan Ellis $900,000 1,070 90.2%

Again, sample size warnings apply. Peters 5-on-5 save% falls right in the middle of the 5 goalies, just as his cap hit does.

Justin Peters is a perfectly capable backup goalie, signed to a fair and reasonable contract.  Signing him sends the right message to Braden Holtby (that the #1 job is his) while also allowing Philipp Grubauer to get plenty of playing time as the starter in Hershey.

Q&A with Nate Schmidt

Nate Schmidt

 

Photo by Amanda Bowen of RRBG Photography

Nate Schmidt was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions. This interview was conducted via email in mid-August.

Pat Holden: In an article on Collegehockey.com from 2012, you credited the workout program between your Freshman and Sophomore year at Minnestoa for helping take your game to the next level. Is that still a part of your off-season training?

Nate Schmidt: I am still working out and training here in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. I have a great strength coach in Cal Dietz, who tailors all of our programs for each of the individual athletes. It also helps when we have ice available all the time and a lot of pro alumni that skate and use it all summer. It makes for a great combination.

PH: Have you had any contact with the new coaching staffs in Washington or Hershey? What’s your reaction to the changes?

NS: I have spoken to both Coach Trotz and Coach Reirden since they were both hired this offseason. I am very excited for the opportunity that will allow me to be working with such established coaches that focus on development and creating winning cultures. As for Hershey, I have not but I did play for Coach Mann at the end of last year and there is familiarity there.

PH: Do the Orpik and Niskanen signings have any impact on your mindset heading into camp?

NS: As for the free-agent signs the summer, it just means that I have to work that much harder and that nothing is going to come easy for me this year. Both are tremendous players and are proven NHL guys, and anytime a team adds those types of players it shakes up the depth chart a little bit. But I am excited for the challenge and all I can do is work hard, and continue to develop into a more well-rounded defenseman.

PH: You’re a strong supporter of Defending the Blue Line and have donated your time to the cause. What specifically draws you to the cause? Is there anything Caps and Bears fans can do if they want to get involved?

NS: Defending the Blue Line is a first class organization ran by a first class gentleman by the name of Shane Hudella. I am a huge supporter of our troops and everything they do in order to keep us safe and allowing all of us to live safely and in pursuit of our dreams. I believe that it is the least I can do to help those who put so much on the line for us. It also is just a boatload of fun being a part of the events or just spending time with the military families as well. If any of the Caps or Bears fans want to check it out they can go online to defendingtheblueline.org to take a look!

Defending the Blue Line commercial starring Nate Schmidt!

PH: There were many of us in the Caps community calling for you to get more playing time in Washington last year, in part because your “advanced” stats, like Corsi and Fenwick, are stellar. A few teams have made hires this off-season that show “advanced” stats are being used more and more in NHL front offices. Are advanced stats something that, as a player, are on your radar?

NS: First, I appreciate the support! And as for the advanced stats from a players standpoint, it is something that is not talked about very often to be honest. Guys talk more about playmaking and puck moving ability as well as poise. Those are the ways we measure stats such as Corsi and Fenwick.

PH: Which Caps or Bears teammate would be the worst to live with?

NS: I can’t think of anyone that I really wouldn’t like to live with in the organization, I really can’t think of anyone. haha

PH: A little know fact: I beat John Carlson a few years ago in a game of NHL 12 on XBOX 360 after he tweeted his gamer profile. He played as the Caps and I won two fights against John Carlson the video character being controlled by the real John Carlson. Consider this my official announcement to anyone in the Caps organization, including you, that play the NHL games on 360 that I am undefeated vs. all Caps players and taking all comers!

NS: As for Carly’s gaming prowess, I don’t know how good of a player he is but I do feel that I would consider myself an NHL 14 contender!

(Editor’s note: Stay tuned to BrooksLaichyear for an EA Sports NHL battle between Nate and Pat later this season)

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I’d like to thank Nate for taking the time to do this interview. It was really generous of him. However, I will still show no mercy when I crush him in EA Sports hockey later this season.

Did Alex Ovechkin deserve the Calder in 2005-06?

Alex Ovechkin won the Calder trophy for NHL rookie of the year following the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin totaled 52 goals and 54 assist in 81 games. His 106 points is the 3rd highest total ever for a rookie. 2005-06 was also Sidney Crosby’s rookie season. Crosby had 39 goals and 63 assists. According to Wikipedia, the only other time two rookies have had over 100 points in the same season was in 1992-93 (Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau).

The voting for the Calder was not specially close, as Ovechkin received 125 of the 129 possible first place votes. He also received 4 second place votes. Crosby received 4 first place votes, 95 second place votes, as well as a number of third and fourth place votes. Scoring 52 goals as a rookie is going to grab the attention of voters. Ovechkin’s highlight reel goals and physical style of play was also credited for helping him win the award nearly unanimously.

Advanced stats are more prevalent than ever before in the NHL, and are certainly more of a thought than they were in 2005-06. While there’s no doubt many voters still pay them no mind, I want to take a look at how the Ovechkin’s and Crosby’s rookie seasons match-up from an advanced stats perspective.

First, here’s a look at a player usage chart.

crosbyovechkin

 

This is for all 5-on-5 situation. So, Crosby (57.256) faced easier zone starts than Ovechkin (52.68%), but also faced (slightly) tougher competition (28.78% to 28.56%). The wide gap on the Y-axis is actually quite small if you look at the scale. Both players had somewhat sheltered zone starts, as would be expected as rookies. The bubble color is set to FenRel% which resulted in no noticeable color for either player because, as you’ll see shortly, these two had similar FenClose numbers in their rookie season. Not pictured here is that both players also had very similar strength of teammates, as measured by TOI teammate %. Ovechkin’s was 30.45%, Crosby 30.48%.

Back to looking at possession through FenRel %. This is another stat where there’s not a very meaningful difference between the two. Ovechkin’s FenRel % was 7.88 and Crosby’s was 7.44. Looking at close game situations also doesn’t give either guy much of an edge. Ovechkin’s close game Fenwick was 53.16%, Crosby 50.95%. When looking relative to their teammates, the numbers are 9.19% and 9.93%, respectively.

Advanced stats don’t do much to distinguish either player during their rookie campaigns. They both had good possession numbers, especially relative to their teammates. Both guys received zone starts that were a bit sheltered, Crosby a bit more than Ovechkin. And lastly, they played with and against very similar levels of competition. Sorry Sidney, I won’t be calling for a re-vote based off of advanced stats.

All data pulled from War on Ice

War on Ice is awesome: Advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season

As we’ve already highlighted here on the blog, advanced stats have gotten a lot of publicity this summer. A large part of this was due to NHL front offices making hires that were aimed at forming analytic departments. One of those hires, by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was Darryl Metcalf, the founder of ExtraSkater.com. Extra Skater was the go-to advanced stats resource for many people, myself included, but was shut down when Metcalf was hired by the Leafs. One site that has popped up in Extra Skater’s place is War on Ice. I’ve tweeted some of the stuff that makes War on Ice such a cool site, even eclipsing Extra Skater in terms of depth and quality. While Extra Skater had stats from the present day dating back to the 2010-11 season, War on Ice has stats starting with the 2002-03 season. Much like I did when Extra Skater added stats from the ’10-11 season, I wanted to highlight some interesting stats on War on Ice from seasons that were not available on Extra Skater. This post will take a look at advanced stats highlights from the Caps 2009-10 season. This post will far from exhaust all there is to say about the information available on War on Ice from the 2009-10 Caps. Instead, this post is both an effort to point out some interesting highlights, as well as show off some of the stuff that makes War on Ice so great.

For those who don’t remember, 2009-10 was the season that the Caps dominated the league and were then Halak’d out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were dynamic. 6 players had over 20 goals. Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games. As a lifelong sports fan, this team was the most exciting team I’ve rooted for, regardless of the sport.

To start, here’s a look at 2009-10 via just one of the seemingly endlessly customized chart options on War on Ice. This is a chart looking at all 30 NHL teams. The X-Axis is Fenwick %. The Y-Axis is team goal +/- and the color bubble variance is PDO. The bubble size variance is time on ice, fairly trivial for this chart. This is at 5-on-5 in close game situations.

200910team

The further right, the better the team was, as measured by puck possession. A blue bubble would indicate good fortunate, with red representing poor fortunate.

-The Caps were good, according to Fenwick, but not elite. They finished 12th in FenClose as a team. The Caps FenClose % of 51.19 is their 3rd best since 2002.

-The Caps have the darkest blue circle, meaning they led the league in PDO at an absurd 103.60.

-My quick takeaway from this chart is that the Caps, at 5-on-5, were a good team that was also very fortunate, which resulted in the huge goal differential.

-War on Ice tracks PDO back to 2002, and the 103.60 is by far the highest season PDO the Caps have had in the time frame. The next highest is 101.78 (2002-03)

The next chart is a look at the Caps defenders. The X-axis is FenRel % and the Y-axis is TOI Competition %. The bubble size and color are set to TOI/G. I’m not sure what variable to use as the 4th that will contribute to the substance of this chart, so I TOI is left as a repeat. I’m open to suggestions!

200910CapsD

A few takeaways from this chart:

-Tom Poti and Joe Corvo played a lot of minutes. They were tough minutes and they handled them really well.

-Karl Alzner played against weak competition and he struggled.

-Why was Brian Pothier getting more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina?

Here are some other interesting details. First, the Caps top 5 FenClose Rel from 2009-10

Player Games FenClose Rel
Ovechkin 71 5.59
Backstrom 81 4.64
Poti 69 4.31
Gordon 35 3.83
Steckel 78 3.45

 

And the 5 worst

Player Games FenClose Rel
Alzner 21 -7.04%
Chimera 77 -4.89%
Perreault 21 -4.86%
Sloan 39 -4.78%
Fleischmann 68 -4.02%

 

These charts are pretty self-explanatory. Ovechkin and Backstrom, those two guys are pretty good, eh?

Let us not forget that 2009-10 was the year that Jeff Schultz led the league in +/-.  Now, when arguing with someone about how flawed of a stat +/- is, you can give them Schultz’s exact PDO in the ’09-10 season. Schultz’s PDO was 105.75, which was somehow only good enough for 4th on the Caps that season, behind Carlson (105.89), Fehr (105.87), and Ovechkin (105.81). If only considering players who played in 41+ games, Henrik Sedin finished first in the NHL in PDO at 106.71. The next 3 players league-wide were Caps! Carlson only appeared in 22 games, so the top 4 in the NHL is rounded out by Fehr, Ovechkin, and Schultz.

This look at the 2009-10 season is just scratching the surface of the data available on War on Ice. Go ahead and head over there yourself but be prepared to get lost for days!

 

Advanced stats are not scary

Advanced stats have gotten a lot of attention in the hockey world this summer, in part thanks to numerous hires by organizations around the league that indicate the debate is over as to whether NHL teams are using advanced stats as part of their evaluation process. While dubbing it the ‘summer of advanced stats’ (or ‘analytics,’ if you prefer) may discredit the wave that has been building in the hockey world for years, advanced stats are certainly part of hockey conversations more than ever.

A word on the term “advanced stats”: Does calling these stats “advanced” increase the divide, perceived or real, between the “watch the game” crowd and the “advanced stats” crowd? The current state of advanced stats within hockey uses a lot of the same basic math required to understand the more well-known stats we’ve all been familiar with for quite some time. While the stats may be different and, at times more in-depth, the math is largely the same. Using the word “advanced” may dissuade those unfamiliar with what “advanced” stats are.

Truth be told, both watching the games (scouting) and using numbers are essential, and you should be skeptical of anyone who tells you otherwise. Why are (advanced) stats important? Well, for a lot of reasons. First off, no one watches every game. On top of that, every fan I’ve ever spoken to uses numbers and stats as part of a conversation about sports. Advanced stats aim to provide the most accurate, telling, and/or predictive (depending on the stat and sport) statistics possible. Advanced stats do not aim to replace the sports that we all love with spreadsheets and data.  If we’re already using stats to quantify things about sports, shouldn’t we seek to quantify these things in the most meaningful way possible? Advanced stats are not the start of a new conversation. Rather, they are a continuation of and an attempt to better inform conversations we have been having about the games we love for as long as they’ve been around.

Today, Puck Daddy broke the news that the Maple Leafs have hired, among others, Darryl Metcalf, the founder of Extraskater.com. Extraskater.com has been the site I’ve used the most when combing through advanced stats. I’ve seen some people on Twitter wonder where to turn for their advanced stats needs now that Extra Skater is offline. The good news is, there are other similar sites out there. The two I have used the most (other than Extra Skater) are HockeyAnalysis.com and Behind the Net. With so many smart people out there that have an interest in advanced stats, I fully expect similar sites to pop up sooner rather than later (as I was writing this, I saw this tweet from Peter of RMNB). Editor’s Note:  More details are now available about Peter’s plan. Check them out and contribute to the conversation here.

The bulk of this post was initially intended for something else but it felt relevant today with the news about Extra Skater. To those of you opposed to or skeptical of advanced stats: Dig around online, ask questions, and don’t be scared of them. To those of you mourning the loss of Extra Skater: I’m with you, but there’s still useful resources out there and more help is likely on the way.

 

 

Caps reportedly interested in Paul Bissonnette

As reported by Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post, the Caps are reportedly interested in signing free agent winger Paul Bissonnette. Considering the Caps already have a crowded situation at wing, and the fact that Bissonnette is more known for his Twitter account than his production as an NHL player, I immediately questioned the reason for the Caps potential interest. Bissonnette has played in 202 NHL games and has totaled 7 goals, 15 assists, and 340 PIM during that time. He has averaged 5:18 TOI in those 202 games.

However, Bissonnette, as pointed out in The Post article linked to above, has tried to change his style of play as the enforcer role in the NHL has begun to fade. This past year Bissonnette fought 3 times, a career low. But does it make sense for the Caps, a team with just over $1 million in cap space and depth at wing, to pursue a player with such marginal production? Well, it depends. Given the Caps crowd at wing, it would seem signing another winger would have to come with a corresponding move. Aaron Volpatti would be the obvious candidate to be moved out, as I discussed on Twitter with Katie Brown of District Sports Page when she brought up the scenario.

While switching out Volpatti for Bissonnette is far from an impact move, it would be a beneficial one, as the chart below shows (2013-14 stats).

Player TOI FF% FF REL
Bissonnette 184.8 55.1 +4.4%
Volpatti 299.4 39.7 -9.2%

 

So, the Coyotes were actually a better possession team, by 4.4%, with Bissonnette on the ice than without him. The Caps fared 9.9% worse when Volpatti was on the ice. In fact, since posting a -2.3% FF Rel in 2010-11, Bissonnette has been a positive relative possession player in each of the past 3 seasons.

So, if the Caps want to bring in Bissonnette and move out Volpatti, without having much impact on the cap situation, I can get behind the idea. While their reported interest in him surprises me, I was also surprised to find Bissonnette’s possession numbers to be so favorable, which could benefit the Caps 4th line.

 

Line combinations for the new coaches in the Eastern Conference to consider

There were 6 coaching changes in the NHL this off-season, with 4 of them coming in the Eastern Conference. While a change in a team’s system can often be the biggest difference a new coach can make, deployment of the roster is also something that can affect the quality of impact a new coach can have. Here is a look at combinations that each new coach in the East should consider, based off of the success players on their new team’s roster have had together in the past. I’ve excluded the Caps from this post because I will have a more detailed look at Barry Trotz’s options closer to the start of the season.

Carolina Hurricanes-Bill Peters

It will probably be pretty easy for Peters to put together a top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, and Alex Semin, given the success that trio had has together. After all, while Semin is generally a positive possession player regardless of his linemates, Staal and Tlusty both see a considerable drop when not playing with Semin. In fact, they both become negative possession players. When playing with Semin, Staal (53.2% CF) and Tlusty (51.5%) both find their team on the right side of the possession game. However, in the time the 3 have all played for the Canes, taken away from Semin, Stall and Tlusty both see their CF % plummt to 48.5% and 48.7%, respectively.

However, I still think another combination could prove very successful, depending on how Peters decides to deploy his forwards this year. In over 413 minutes of ice-time (general sample size warnings apply to this, as well as the article in general) together over the past two seasons, Jordan Staal and Alex Semin have been very successful. JStaal’s CF is 55.8% with Semin vs. 53.4% without him. On top of this, the duo has seen a 70% GF ratio when playing together. An argument could easily be made that JStaal seems to hold his own, possession-wise, with or without Semin, whereas his brother Eric doesn’t, so Eric should play with Semin. That’s a fair point, but JStaal and Semin are a duo worth considering.

Nathan Gerbe could be a good fit as the 3rd forward on that line. Gerbe has only played 207:21 with Semin, but the two have been downright dominant in that limited time posting a 58.6% CF. Gerbe’s CF without Semin is a medicore, if not bad, 47.3%.

Florida Panthers-Gerard Gallant-

Tomas Fleischmann had a down year offensively, netting only 8 goals after scoring 27 in his first season with the Panthers and then 12 in the lockout shortened season. However, expect a bounce back this season. Fleischmann shot just 4.3% last season, a far cry from the 11.0% career shooter he is. Many of the players Fleischmann has shared the ice with the most since joining the Panthers have since moved on. However, a couple remain that Gallant should consider playing him with, in what I think will be a bounce back year for him.

Both Scott Upshall and Tomas Kopecky are intriguing options to play with “Flash.”  In 357 minutes with Fleischmann, since the start of the 2011 season, Upshall has a 55.8%, as opposed to 49.7% in the 1177 apart from him. Fleischmann sees his CF% go up from 49.4 to 55.8 when playing with Upshall. The duos GF% of 36.4 is sure to rise if they can continue those possession numbers over a larger sample.

Kopecky and Fleischmann have also had strong possession numbers when playing together. In the 576 minutes they played played together, Fleischmann sees his CF% improve from 49.8 to 50.1. But the real story of this duo is the improvement in Kopecky, from 48.5 to 51.4 CF, when he plays with Fleischmann.

Pittsburgh Penguins-Mike Johnston

With the departures of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, the Pens D will have a different look this year. Johnston should play Paul Martin with Kris Letang. Since the 2010 season, the two have played 610 minutes together. A somewhat significant amount of time, sure, but both have spent far more time other partners than with each other.  However, when united, Martin and Letang have a CF% of 58.0. When apart, they seem their CF drop to 52.% (Martin) and 53.5% (Letang). I could see the argument that they are both solid possession players, so perhaps they should be split up, but they certainly offer Johnston a formidable top pair in his first season as the Pens coach.

It will be interesting to see how these coaches deploy the new personnel at their disposal. In the near future I’ll take a look at line combinations for the new coaches in the West to consider and then, as I said above, I’ll take a more detailed look at line combinations for Barry Trotz to consider.

 

 

 

 

Mikhail Grabovski: Caps loss is Isles gain (Jeremy Roenick is still wrong)

Yup, this is my second post about ex-Caps player Mikhail Grabovski in the past week. While it’s not my intention in writing this, this is further proof of how wrong Jeremy Roenick is about Grabovski.  But this post is more about the fact that the loss of Grabovski hurts the Caps, while the Isles will benefit from signing him.

On a personal level, Grabovski was the Caps player I most enjoyed watching last season. From a team level, he was a possession monster and a nice solution to the Caps problems at 2C that could have been had long-term for a reasonable salary. But I shouldn’t be the only one missing Grabovski. In fact, most everyone of his teammates should be missing him because almost every Caps player saw an improvement in their possession numbers in the minutes they played with Grabovski vs. when they played without him.

Here is a look at how every Caps forward fared while playing with Grabovski vs. while playing without him. I cut off the minimum minutes at 19:48, so as not to exclude possession anchor Aaron Volpatti. Sample-size warnings obviously apply, but you can see a trend. SA% is the % of shot attempts the Caps saw go in their favor while that player was on the ice.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Brouwer 273:16 51.6 756:55 46.4 +5.2
Fehr 271:10 55.1 641:53 46.4 +8.7
Ovechkin 235:19 50.8 888:27 48.8 +2.0
Chimera 223:53 49.8 804:11 45.6 +4.2
Ward 207:13 51.2 787:24 46.2 +5.0
Laich 123:59 48.1 508:47 47.9 +0.2
Backstrom 82:42 47.3 1070:13 49.5 -2.2
Wilson 40:53 48.8 598:32 44.8 +4.0
Erat 38:20 58.5 799:17 49.7 +8.8
Johansson 27:26 54.8 1039:55 48.2 +6.6
Beagle 19:49 46.2 609:13 44.6 +1.6
Volpatti 19:48 38.1 279:42 39.7 -1.6

-10 of the 12 Caps forwards who played 19:48+ with Grabovski this past season saw an increase in SF% with Grabovski vs without him, the only two exceptions being Backstrom and Volpatti.

-Remember when Adam Oates started the season with his obvious 2C (Grabovski) on the 3rd line and obvious 2W (Erat) on the 4th line? One wonders what the two could have done if ever given extended minutes together (something I, and many others, called for all season) given their dominating 58.5% SF in the very small sample.

-One interesting tidbit not shows here is that Backstrom, the player with the worst “Grabovski Effect,” saw his highest Goals For % with Grabovski out of all Caps forwards. Certainly just a sample size thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Here’s how are the Caps top 7 D, in terms of minutes played with Grabovski, fared with and without him last season at 5-on-5. Again, sample size warnings apply, but a clear patterns emerges.

Player TOI w/Grabovski SA% w/Grabovski TOI w/out Grabovski SA% w/out Grabovski Grabovski effect
Carlson 291:57 49.1 1029:15 46.3 +2.8
Alzner 287:30 49.9 1005:32 46.4 +3.5
Green 275:10 55.3 1003:39 50.4 +4.9
Orlov 166:52 59.9 795:41 49.0 +10.9
Schmidt 130:48 49.0 358:10 51.3 -2.3
Oleksy 119:42 50.4 316:32 44.9 +5.5
Erskine 92:14 53.3 405:21 43.9 +9.4

-Other than Nate Schmidt, every defender listed saw an improvement in their possession numbers, many of them pretty drastic improvements, when on the ice with Grabovski.

 -It’s especially interesting that the two worst puck possession players on the list, Oleksy and Erskine, both became positive possession players in their minutes with Grabovski, which were admittedly limited.

-I know it’s only 166 minutes, but the Caps were dominant when Grabovski was on the ice with Orlov.

Like I said above, sample-size warnings obviously apply here.  It should also be noted that none of these numbers include any caveats such as zone starts or quality of competition. But make no mistake about it, regardless of that, the Capitals were a better team with Grabovski on the ice, and his new Islanders teammates will start reaping the benefits in October.

All stats pulled from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/

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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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