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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Possible free agent target: Brad Boyes

The Capitals top-6 forwards are in need of reinforcements. With Alex Semin set to become an UFA and depending on if the Caps have Brooks Laich penciled in as a 2W or 3C next season, the Caps currently have as few as 4-top 6 forwards on their roster right now (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brouwer, and newly acquired Mike Ribeiro).  These kind of players don’t come cheap, via trade or free agency.  With a particularly thin free-agent market this year, the price for top-6 forwards is likely to be even more inflated than usual.  The Caps have smartly not locked themselves into any crippling free agency deals with such players in recent memory, and it wouldn’t be smart to start now.  That being said, George McPhee would be smart to look for a player with top-6 potential but who has certain questions marks that will keep the money and term of the deal within reason.  On the free agent market this year, a player that fits that mold is Brad Boyes.

Over the course of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Boyes played in all 164 games and totaled 76 goals and 62 assists (a 0.84 PPG average).   However, in the 3 seasons since then, Boyes has totaled just 38 goals and 91 assists in 210 games (a 0.61 PPG average).  Boyes was particularly mediocre this season in Buffalo when he totaled 8 goals and 15 assists in 65 games.  So why should the Caps take a look at Boyes?

At 29, Boyes is unlikely to again reach the numbers of 4 years ago, but he is plenty young enough to still be a productive player when put in the right situation.  Last season, Boyes played just 13:10 per game and spent time on the Sabres 4th line.  While some may see a player whose production has fallen off a cliff, I see a player with a lot to prove who could be had on a cheap one year deal.  He likely will be signed to a low-risk/potential high value type deal.  Another positive is that Boyes, while primarily a winger, can play center when called upon.

There are reasons to hesitate signing Boyes and there are certainly valid concerns that his days as a top-6 forward are behind him.  However, in a day and age when many free agent contracts get bloated to regrettable levels, taking a flyer on Boyes, if he is under the radar, may be worth the risk for the Caps.

What should the Caps do with free agent Alex Semin?

Of the six players on the Caps roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents, none has garnered as much attention so far as Alex Semin.  Recently on Twitter, we asked what people thought the Caps should offer Semin or how they should replace him if he signs elsewhere.  Here are some of the responses:

Semin’s agent has already said that his client won’t accept a one year contract this time around.  He has also said a lot of other things that I chalk up to posturing, that his client didn’t exactly support when asked about the comments.

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a ...

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a faceoff against Slovakia during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Greenberg wrote a great piece on Semin’s value, in which he advocated bringing  Semin back on a 1 or 2 year deal for about $6 million per season.  There was also a great FanPost on Japers Rink that took a look at Semin’s value using some fancy charts.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself when talking about Semin’s value when so many Caps fans seem opposed to even bringing him back.  I don’t want to rehash what we’ve already spent plenty of time on in previous posts, but perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion of Semin if you think he’s lazy and should not be brought back under any circumstance.  I also think anyone who opposes bringing back Semin needs to propose how we replace him.  This team needs more top-6 forwards, not less, and if Semin walks then the holes in the top-6 become even more glaring.

If the Caps don’t re-sign Semin, the decision better be part of a larger overhaul set to take place this summer.  Letting Semin walk and taking a business-as-usual approach to the rest of the off-season will result in a team with even deeper flaws than the one we watched over the past season.

Given that I’m not George McPhee, I don’t have the benefit of knowing what options are available to the Caps if they decide to go with a larger overhaul this off-season.  That being said, I don’t see a better option out there than bringing Semin back if the contract makes sense.  I’d absolutely not go any longer than a four year term, and I’d be much more comfortable with a two or three year deal.  In terms of dollars, I wouldn’t go over $6 million per year under any circumstance, and would be much more comfortable with a cap hit in the $5-$5.5 million range.  Unless a major overhaul takes place, specifically to the Caps top-6 forwards, I don’t see how this team gets more competitive by letting Semin walk away.

Backstrom needs to redeem himself in Game 7

Plenty has been said or written about Nick Backstrom’s turnover in overtime of Game 6 that led to the Bruins winning goal. While the mistake was costly, and could look even costlier if the Bruins end up winning the series, these kind of mistakes are bound to happen. Learn from it, shake it off and move on. I’m not advocating mistakes but I am saying that even an elite player fails to execute sometimes. What I’m not willing to excuse is Backstrom’s complete lack of hustle and effort on the Bruins third goal.

Tyler Seguin made a nice defensive play to strip Alex Semin in the Caps offensive zone. Semin may be at fault for the turnover, but much like the Backstrom mistake in overtime, it’s not worth dwelling on because it’s a lack of execution, not a lack of effort. Semin did exactly what he should have done after Seguin stripped him of the puck; He hustled back to avoid giving the Bruins an odd man rush off of his turnover. If Backstrom had given an effort similar to Semin’s then Andrew Ference wouldn’t have been able to skate wide open into the slot to deposit the loose puck into the net. The replay of the goal from up high (at the 30 second mark of the video below) gives the best look at how Backstrom and Ference are the 4th player on each team to join the play, and Ference flat out beat Backstrom to the puck because he hustled.

I realize that the 4th and 5th players back on defense are often not skating full speed to get back. However, this is because, especially in a man-to-man defense, they are responsible for guarding the opponents’ defensemen, who, more often than not, don’t join the rush or come into the offensive zone at full speed as the trailer on the play. However, when a defensemen does join the rush or hustle up the ice as a trailer, the forward responsible for him needs to match that hustle to ensure that defenseman does not skate into the slot unmarked looking for a loose puck. What happens if the forward doesn’t? Exactly what happened on the Bruins third goal.

Nick Backstrom is as at fault as anyone for the Bruins 3rd and 4th goals on Sunday. The turnover on the Bruins 4th goal is frustrating but excusable because it happens to everyone at some point (although you’d like for it not to happen in overtime of a Game 6). However, the lack of hustle and effort on the Bruins 3rd goal is completely inexcusable. Backstrom owes us one. I’m looking for him to bounce back with a great effort in Game 7 because, if not for his lack of effort in Game 6, the Caps just may have clinched the series on Sunday.

BrooksLaichyear’s Pat Holden talks Alex Semin on The Mike Wise Show

Mike Wise invited me to call his show to discuss our disagreement over Alex Semin.  I appreciated the offer, Wise was fair and cordial on air, and while I’m not sure we’re any closer to agreeing about Semin, it was nice of Wise to invite me to call in.  I don’t think Wise gets a fair shake from many Caps fans and my beef with him is not as deep or vindictive as some of the things written or said about him by other Caps fans, but simply about Alex Semin.

Wise is in a bit of a catch-22 with Caps fans where some say he doesn’t know the sport well enough to talk about it while others will criticize him and his colleagues for not covering the Caps enough.  Personally, I think it’s great that the Caps are relevant enough to have people other than just their beat writers giving them media coverage.  Wise will be the first to say that he’s not a “puckhead” and I don’t think he needs to be in order to talk about the Caps on his show or write about them in the paper.  It’s a little silly to expect him to know the sport as in depth as, say, Alan May, and equally as silly to think he should shut up because of that.

So the short-winded summary is that this is not me taking issue with the fact that Mike Wise talks about hockey but instead the fact that he’s wrong when it comes to his analysis of Alex Semin.  Below is the audio of our conversation (not included in this audio clip is the other dude on the air with Wise calling me a “bozo” before I’m on the air).

I don’t think any score was settled and I know there are plenty of people out there who agree with Wise.  I’m not going to fire a shot after the whistle here by building my case without Wise around to offer a rebuttal, but I think it would behoove Wise and those that agree with him to do some further research on Semin. I think you’ll find that, regardless of battles with inconsistency or how he seems to be playing, Alex Semin does not simply have the potential to be an elite player, but in fact has been an elite player for years.  A good place to start is here where Neil Greenberg provides evidence that “Semin has not just been a very good player; he has been an outstanding one.”

“I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified”

“I think he’s playing great. He gets us going with a power-play goal last game, he scores again tonight, another power-play goal. Alex has game-breaking abilities. I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified. He’s playing great for us right now. He’s moving his feet and he’s getting chances, and when he does that and gets enough looks, he’s got a good enough shot he’s going to score.”

Brooks Laich talking about Alex Semin

Some highlights from Saturday’s Caps win over the Bruins

The Caps did a lot of little things well in yesterday’s 4-3 win over the Bruins in Boston. Here are a few of them that really jumped out at me:

  • The Caps stood up for their goalie beginning early on in the game, shoving away many Bruins that got near Tomas Vokoun
  • John Carlson was especially impressive during one segment of a first period penalty kill, tying up the puck along the boards to waste some of the Bruins’ power play time, then roughing up Lucic a bit in front of the net as he tried to settle in there, and stepping up to block a shot to close out the sequence
  • As Russian Machine pointed out on Twitter, Mike Knuble had some great puck possession time in the game.
  • Alex Semin’s pass to Jay Beagle for Washington’s 3rd goal was excellent, not to mention the work to get that puck before making the pass
  • Brooks Laich’s tip-in for the 4th goal was nice to see — he was set up by Alex Ovechkin for what appeared to be an even easier tip-in the previous game but missed
  • Troy Brouwer’s play with one second left to knock away a puck that was about to become a shot on goal showed the Caps fighting until the very end.

I did get nervous when the Bruins pulled within one, especially after the Caps’ third period collapse at home versus the Jets a few weeks ago. But the Caps held on. We’ll see if playing back to back days affects the team’s ability to stay focused on the important details during today’s game against Toronto, who’s coming off a Saturday afternoon game against the Flyers.

Check out yesterday’s Caps-Bruins highlights on NHL.com.

Other Notes: For some great analysis, check out this post by WNST’s Ed Frankovic and his theory on why the Caps have played better this week. >>> I was really impressed with Dmitry Orlov in overtime during the Caps win against Tampa on Thursday night. Mike Vogel has a nice look at the rookie defenseman on the Dump ‘n’ Chase blog. >>> Finally, what would it take for CSNWashington to give us a Caps pre-game show before every game? As I noted on Twitter yesterday, it seems there’s been enough interest in the Caps to justify it and these five minutes intros we get before the puck drops  for some games, like yesterday’s, feel very rushed.

Hendricks, Laich, Semin and a gritty Caps goal to like in Montreal

There was a lot to like about the Caps second goal in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Montreal.

First, there was the hard work by Alex Semin, who managed to keep the puck moving along the boards after falling to the ice in the corner. Brooks Laich then followed that up by not wasting time or looking to do anything fancy—he simply took the puck directly to the net. Finally, Matt Hendricks was headed toward the crease and picked up the Laich rebound, hammering it in decisively.

The play was gritty, simple and just what the Caps needed with only a one goal third period lead at the point.

Video: Matt Hendricks from Brooks Laich & Alex Semin vs Montreal, 2/4/12

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