Tag Archives: hockey

Ballard as “WINGER/DEFENSEMAN” hybrid: solution to persistent problem?

imagesThe Canucks often melt down defensively when they lose a d-man to injury or ejection; think of the 6-3 loss in game 2 of the 2009 second-round series vs. the Hawks when Sammi Salo injured himself taking a slap shot. . .or the 8-1 loss in game 3 of the 2011 Cup finals vs. Boston when Aaron Rome was ejected for his hit on Nathan Horton. The solution? Have a forward who can drop back to the blueline whenever a d-man is lost to injury or ejection. And Keith Ballard could be exactly that guy! For details, see my post over at ‘NUCKS MISCONDUCT.


“Mortgage the Future for a Cup Win Now?” I can’t believe I’m even contemplating this!

images“YES! . . . NO! . . . . . . . . . . . . yes.” That was my reaction upon coming across a trade suggestion: Roberto Luongo and Nicklas Jensen for Marty St. Louis. I immediately started salivating at the prospect of a truly elite right winger going crazy with the Sedins! He is durable (having missed only 7 games in the last 10 years) and even though he’s 37, his points per game is higher this year than ever before. And, of course, it would mean the Canucks getting a significant asset back when trading away Luongo (which I was beginning to think wasn’t going to happen).

But after the initial flush of euphoria passed, some cold, hard facts came into focus. First, the Sedins need a linemate who can muck it up in the corners, and be a presence in front of the net, and that’s not St. Louis’ game. Also, St. Louis is a pass-first guy (32 assists over against only 7 goals this season), and the Sedins would be best served with a sniper on the right side. And there’s no getting around the fact he’s 37! He may be having a career year, and his current contract does run through the 2014-15 season, but how long can we realistically expect him to keep up this stellar play?

On the other side of the ledger, there is the giving up of Jensen, a sparkling gem in an otherwise underwhelming crop of prospects. Even for the immense help that a St. Louis would bring, should the Canucks further weaken an already weak prospects pool by trading away Jensen?

Then, a thought hit me. “Would it be so bad to mortgage the future in exchange for the sight of Hendrik Sedin hoisting the Stanley Cup this summer?” I couldn’t believe I was even contemplating this! But as I thought about it more, I came to a sobering realization: I MAY NEVER SEE A CANUCK CAPTAIN HOISTING THE STANLEY CUP MY WHOLE LIFE.

Let’s put this into perspective. Each of the Original Six have won the Cup multiple times, and with the Kings winning it last spring, there is now only one team from the 1967 expansion that has yet to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup: the St. Louis Blues. But after the Blues, the Canucks (and their expansion cousins, the Sabres) are next in line for years as a franchise without a Cup win, a drought of 42 years. I’ve been following the Canucks right from day 1 back in 1970, and I’ve always thought, “Just be patient. . .it’s only a matter of time before it’s the Canucks’ turn.” But recently, it occurred to me I have absolutely nothing on which to base this belief. Absolutely nothing! For all I know, it may take another 42 years for them to win it (by which time, I’m not going to be around).

This has got me thinking, “Sure, trading Jensen away would clearly be mortgaging the future. But by the time he is ready to be a prime-time contributor, the Canucks’ current window of opportunity to win the Cup will have already closed. So, maybe mortgaging the future is a reasonable price to pay for a Cup win now.

It all boils down to this basic question: “Would you prefer: 1) a team that is in the hunt for the Stanley Cup every year, but run the risk of never attending a Cup parade down Robson, or 2) a team that does give you the parade, but then slips into mediocrity?” For years, I had not wanted the experience of Carolina fans who got their Cup, but then, were left wondering every year whether their team would even make the playoffs. But now I’m thinking that maybe being able to have the experience of seeing Hendrik skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup over his head, and of joining with hundreds of thousands of other Canucks fans for the parade, and of reveling in the fact that the Canucks have finally DONE IT . . . maybe having all that is worth going back to the days of mediocre hockey.

Hawks/Wings with 12 “back-to-backs” but Rangers with only 6. . .Preferential Treatment?

images-1I happened to be looking at the Rangers’ February schedule in a calendar-grid format, and was shocked to see no back-to-back games. How could that be possible? With all the talk of the schedule this season having to be so compressed resulting in the necessity of more back-to-backs, how could the Rangers get away with none for a whole month?

I suspected some “preferential treatment” might be going on here, prompting me to work through the schedules of all the teams to see if the Rangers did indeed have fewer back-to-backs than the other teams. And, sure enough, I found they have a league low six, while Chicago and Detroit have a face a whooping twelve each!

It was also interesting to note that among the teams with only seven back-to-backs is Boston, also noteworthy for the fact that their last one is on April 10-11 while 28 of the other 29 teams have back-to-backs closer to the beginning of the playoffs than that. . .and 13 of them have two or more.

It could be argued it is the less complicated travel arrangements for Atlantic and Northeast Division teams that results in the schedule-makers needing to resort to back-to-back games less often with them than with teams such as Chicago and Detroit that have a lot more traveling to do. However, if this were indeed the case, then a team like the Vancouver Canucks–who arguably have the most traveling to do of all 30 teams–would be up at the high end of list with Chicago and Detroit. But that is not the case. Rather, the Canucks are right near the bottom end of the list, with only seven back-to-backs all season.

It should not be a surprise that “schedule manipulation” might be going on, given what has happened in the past. For example, back decades ago, the schedule would be arranged every year such that the Montreal Canadiens would, from early in the season, be a little ahead of the other teams in terms of “games played.” Why? To increase their chances of being in first place at the quarter-pole, and then at the halfway point. Of course, this scheduling was not giving them an unfair advantage over the other teams; if anything, having to play more games than the other teams in the early going would have been a disadvantage. But who’s to say schedule manipulation is not happening today for the very purpose of giving some teams an advantage, especially given the vast disparity in the number of back-to-back games among the 30 teams in this truncated NHL season?

Sorry, Jeff, but Jake Allen is NOT providing “terrific goaltending every time out”

This afternoon, I was listening to Jeff Paterson on the Team 1040 as he was pontificating on tonight’s Canucks-Blues game, and I was struck by one particular comment he made. He was talking about how on a Blues team that started the season with great expectations of what Halak and Elliot could provide in goal, it has been Jake Allen who has given them “terrific goaltending every time out.” And this comment immediately brought to mind a suggestion for sports-talk hosts I came up with awhile back, and that is, “Team up with poolster!”

Given Allen is sporting a 8-1-0 record, it would appear that he has indeed been providing the Blues with “terrific goaltending every time out” as Paterson said. However, any diligent poolster would tell you that Paterson is guilty here of an overstatement. Diligent poolster pour over stats every day, looking for overlooked players who might be worth picking up, and back in early February, when Halak was hurt and Elliot was melting down, Allen appeared to be one of them. He went 3-1-0 in a week of work before Halak returned, but his goaltending in two of the three wins could hardly be characterized as “terrific”; in one, he sported a pedestrian .903 SV%, and in another, a downright terrible .833. In early March, he got another chance to play, and started five of the next six games, winning them all. But a poolster would have noticed that his SV% in the first two was only .885 and .880. He did, however, improve to .951, 1.000 and .964 in the last three games, and so, can be credited with “terrific goaltending” for this short period at least. If Paterson had been teamed up with a poolster, he would have been equipped with these stats, and therefore, could have been more nuanced in his comments.

The incident that first got me thinking of such partnerships occurred in the last week of February. Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko had incurred a concussion the week before, and a sports-talk guy (whose identity now escapes me) was lamenting the fact that Tarasenko’s “sensational” rookie season was being interrupted by the concussion. Tarasenko did indeed make a sensational entry into the NHL, collecting five points in his first two games. And a point in each of games 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 might be bordering on sensational for a raw rookie. But he then went on to get only one point in next five games (going -8 over that stretch), and only one more in his last four games before the concussion. . .totally destroying any chance his season to date could be classified as “sensational.”

There are, of course, some hockey pundits who seem to know everything about everyone (Bob McKenzie and Pierre Lebrun come to mind), but I think that mere mortal sports-talk guys would be well served by teaming up with diligent poolsters (working in tandem, they might even start approaching the status of a McKenzie or a Lebrun!)

NHL teams “not suffering a shutout” down to SIX (one of them you won’t believe!)

“. . .and then there were SIX.” With the blanking of Tampa Bay last night, there are now only six NHL teams left that have managed to spare themselves the indignity of being shut out. And there are some surprises among the “surviving six.”

But before getting to the surprises, let’s take a quick look at the “no surprise” category. First, there are the Penguins. With Sidney Crosby tearing up the league, and dragging Chris Kunitz to a breakout year, the Pens lead the league in scoring by a wide margin (14 goals more than the next highest team). Among the 30 teams, they are the most likely not to have been shut out, and they indeed have not been. In fact, they have scored two or more goals in all but 4 of their 28 games.

Also in “no surprise” territory, are the Blackhawks. After all, each of those 24 straight games of gaining at least one point had to involve their scoring at least one goal. Further, they’ve only had three games since the streak ended, and though they’ve lost two of them, they didn’t come close to getting shut out in either.

Then there’s the Bruins, right near the top of the eastern conference all season. Certainly not the offensive juggernaut the Pens are, but with a conference low in losses (only four), they are the next least likely candidate to have been shut out.

Now to the other side of the ledger: the “surprises”. First, there are the Canucks. It seems a day doesn’t go by without some member of Canuck Nation cryin’ the blues about their inability to score, especially on the power play. So it must come as a surprise to find that the Canucks have survive to the final six in refusing to succumb to a blanking. And with their 7-4 shellacking of Nashville, they have actually climbed into the top half of the league in goals for, and they have been limited to a single goal only three times (and one of those games, they even won).

The other two teams in this category are bigger surprises, for both have for years had the reputation of being among the most offensively challenged teams in the league. One is New Jersey. To give you an idea of their troubles, their fourth highest scorer, Adam Henrique, has only 13 points. However, the trio of Elias, Kovalchuk and Clarkson have been prolific enough to keep the Devils on the score sheet every game this season.

The other offensively challenged team is the Minnesota Wild. It was thought that the acquisition of a sniper like Zach Parise might help them shed their “no finish” reputation, but he has managed to get points in only a little over half of their 26 games so far, and the Wild have accumulated only 64 goals, just two more than the league low of 62. But still, they have been able to escape the dreaded goose-egg, though they have come close. . .scoring just a single goal eight times (nearly a third of all their games!). In terms of “staying alive” in the game of avoiding being shut out, Minnesota is truly the big surprise.

Crosby NOT “Most Efficient Scorer” in NHL . . .but who is?

5304You can consult any number of websites to see that Sidney Crosby is the leading scorer in the NHL with 39 points here at the halfway point of this truncated season. But. . .has he been the most efficient scorer through the first half? Going beyond just raw “points” to “points per game” reveals he also tops the league in that category as well, as shown in this chart (columns: games / points / points per game):

1  Crosby         24     39      1.625            6  Ribeiro    22     28      1.273
2  Stamkos     24     35       1.458            7  Getzlaf     22     27      1.227
3  Vanek          22     29       1.318            8  E. Staal    23     28      1.217
4  Kunitz         24     31       1.292            9  Voracek   25     29      1.160
5  St. Louis     24     31       1.292          10  Malkin     20     23      1.150

Here, Thomas Vanek is 3rd in scoring efficiency while only 5th in the scoring race. Even more dramatic is Evgeni Malkin’s being 10th in scoring efficiency despite only being 19th in scoring. However, even this consideration of points per game does not provide the whole picture of scoring efficiency, because it does not take into consideration the key factor of “ice time”, for surely, a player who gets two points in 20 minutes of ice time is not being as efficient as a player to gets two points in only 10 minutes.

A more accurate gauge of scoring efficiency would be “points per 20 minutes of ice time” to even the playing field from player to player. The following chart sets out the league leaders in “points per 20min,” with a 10-game minimum, to eliminate anomalies like the Stars’ Colton Sceviour whose one assist in only 4:51 of ice time yields him a whopping 4.124 points per 20min (20min units / points / points per 20min unit):

1  Frattin        6.44    10      1.553         6  Vanek            21.47     29       1.351
2  Crosby     25.98    39      1.501         7  Stamkos       26.44    35       1.324
3  Kunitz      21.60    31      1.435         8  Kadri             19.13     25       1.307
4  Ribeiro    19.62    28      1.427         9  Pacioretty   15.80    20       1.266
5  Voracek   20.98   29      1.382       10 St. Louis       26.24   31        1.181

Seven of the players in the “points per game” chart also appear here, though Stamkos and St. Louis are each five spots lower. . .not surprising, given they rank second and third, respectively, in ice time among the top fifty forwards in the scoring race.

More noteworthy are the new names that draw in here. Max Pacioretty has just 20 points, but also, he only gets an average of 15:48 of ice time per game. Nazem Kadri has done even better, getting 25 points on only 15:18 per game. But the biggest surprise is Matt Frattin. Not making the Leafs’ roster out of training camp and then being  knocked out of the lineup with a knee injury once he was given a chance to play has kept his profile low. But he does have the distinction of being an even more efficient scorer than Crosby, amassing 10 points in 10 games on a mere 12:53 of ice time per game.

“Canucks will beat Hawks tonight, but not in regulation time”. . .the stats don’t lie

I have noticed some patterns in the Canucks’ play this season, and a pattern in their wins and losses leads me to conclude they will beat the Hawks tonight, and the pattern even suggests the win will be either in a shoot-out or in overtime. For the details, see my post over at Nucks Misconduct.