Hosts Matthew Coller and Timo Seppa continue kicking off a new season of NHL hockey with the second half of our 2012-13 preview, covering the Western Conference. Hockey Prospectus author Jonathan Willis, also of Edmonton Journal, joins the guys to discuss the Northwest Division, and then the boys take it home by going through our projections of the Central and Pacific Divisions.
A few extra thoughts on the 48-game schedule, that we didn’t have space for in my ESPN Insider article:
-There is nothing magical about 82 games. Though less likely than over 48 games, a quality team that got enough bad bounces and untimely injuries could miss the playoffs even over the length of a “full” regular season. Maybe if a 100-game schedule was played, the team’s fortunes would even out enough to qualify and end up hoisting the Cup – in August, that is. I give the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils example in the article.
-It could work the other way around, too. A great team could avoid key injuries over the course of 48 games plus a twenty-odd game postseason run to end up 2013 champions, while they could be derailed by losing a star player over 34 additional contests. It’s possible that in an 82-game alternate reality of the 2012-13 season you could actually get a “lesser” team’s name engraved on the Cup for posterity. I’m thinking that the current Pittsburgh Penguins could benefit in some scenarios with this one.
Though I focused on the first 48 games as the best approximation of this shortened season, there was an noteworthy example in examining at the last 48 games of the past seven seasons awell. The Ducks started out on fire in 2006-07, with a league-leading 56 points in their first 34 games. Buffalo, with 52, was the only other team over 50. Yet in the remaining 48 games, Anaheim only tallied 54 points - over that half-season stretch, they would have been only 10th in the Western Conference, and “out of the playoffs”. But going cold in the second half did nothing to their playoff fortunes. The 2007 Ducks were only pushed to six games once in the postseason, by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, en route to winning the championship.
Hosts Matthew Coller and Timo Seppa kick off a new season of NHL hockey and a new season of podcasts. Hockey Prospectus author Tom Awad, the creator of GVT and VUKOTA, stops by to talk about his projections for 2012-13 as well as to help preview the Northeast Division, which includes his hometown Habs. Matt and Timo continue through the Atlantic and Southeast Divisions.
Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview later this week - Thursday.
Tune into NHL Network Radio’s The War Room with Mick Kern and Peter Berce on Thursday 1/17 from 11-12 am: Timo Seppa will be their guest for the entire hour, previewing the NHL season from a stats perspective. XM Radio, channel 92.
Barring any major move of which I may write a post for, I’ll post all my thoughts on any deals here:
The Flyers traded for defenseman Mark Alt, my thoughts on Alt: He’s what one NHL source describes as an athletic big man, who skates well and moves very well for his size. He’s got a high-end physical game due to his size and willingness to lay the body. Alt is still pretty raw though, trying to figure out the game in his own end and make better decisions overall. He also doesn’t bring much in terms of point production, although there’s a little offensive upside in him. For now I’d qualify him as a low end prospect.
Canucks signed Cam Barker: Barker tends to draw a lot of criticism his way, not without merit as has shown regularly to be an even strength liability and stood out in a bad way on a very bad Edmonton team last season. Still of all EDM defensemen last season he had the 2nd highest TOI/60 on the powerplay and was the only one with a positive Corsi Realtive of the top three defenders in 5v4 TOI/60. I saw Barker play a few times in the AHL this season while he was with the Dallas affiliate and he was good offensively. However this is a (debatable) NHL player in his mid 20s so that should be expected, but it is worth noting because that’s more or less where Barker’s value comes from-his puck moving. He’s at the most a #7 defenseman, but I speculate this signing comes because top D prospect for Vancouver Kevin Connauton still needs some time to iron out a few kinks and if he was brought up it wouldn’t be for such a limited role. I suspect if Vancouver is pleased with Connauton’s progression and there’s an injury on D, Connauton will jump Barker on the depth chart to take even-strength shifts.
Devils extend Zajac: The New Jersey Devils extended center Travis Zajac for 8 years on a 46 million dollar contract. The average annual value comes out to $5.75 million.
At first glance this seems like a somewhat rich deal, both in terms of average annual value and contract length. Zajac is 27 right now, so this deal will range for his age 28-35 years which is past a usual player’s prime. If this deal was signed after Zajac had two straight seasons of the kind of performance he had in 2008-09 and 2009-10 then I could understand the move somewhat. Zajac was a 2+ win player in that timeframe who logged tough minutes, and pushed possession forward at a high rate. I could see a more reasonable argument for this contract under those circumstances. We don’t live in that reality currently though, as while he can still potentially play at a high level, Zajac is two years older and missed most of the previous season with an injury. His 2010-11 season saw a downtick in production, but there was some bad luck to be associated with that dip, and Zajac still had the usual high competition/positive Corsi type of outputs at 5 on 5, albeit his possession rate was lower than the previous two seasons.
I could see a somewhat reasonable argument for the average value of the deal, although I’d have pinned him more towards the 4.5 million range and could potentially stretch it to 5.0. The contract term I see a less of an argument for, and for the two combined makes me pessimistic about this deal. Zajac could potentially be the player we saw the three seasons before the injury, but there is a risk associated with that, and I figured an appropriate discount would come with that in terms of dollars. There’s also a risk with the 8 year term that should have ideally led to some form of discount as well. I could see Zajac potentially play at a 5.75 million value (keeping in mind the cap will likely go up in the future) for 2-4 years of this 8 year contract.
In fact given how well Adam Henrique looked and played last year, and considering he will be stepping into his prime soon, I wouldn’t be surprised if he passed Zajac on New Jersey’s depth chart as their #1 center a few years into this contract. You usually have to overpay for UFA’s, and while this isn’t the worst deal to give an impending free agent, it certainly isn’t a pretty one either.
Here’s what VUKOTA has to say about the 2013 season, with its original 82-game projections and the 48-game equivalents.
Rank Team 82 gm 48 gm
1 Pittsburgh 104 61
2 Boston 103 60
t-3 Chicago 99 58
t-3 Vancouver 99 58
t-5 Los Angeles 97 57
t-5 NY Rangers 97 57
t-5 Philadelphia 97 57
t-5 San Jose 97 57
9 St Louis 96 56
t-10 Carolina 93 54
t-10 Toronto 93 54
t-12 Detroit 92 54
t-12 Nashville 92 54
t-14 Buffalo 91 53
t-14 Colorado 91 53
t-14 Dallas 91 53
t-14 Winnipeg 91 53
t-18 Calgary 90 53
t-18 Ottawa 90 53
t-18 Tampa Bay 90 53
t-18 Washington 90 53
22 Montreal 89 52
t-23 Edmonton 88 52
t-23 Minnesota 88 52
t-23 NY Islanders 88 52
t-26 Anaheim 86 50
t-26 New Jersey 86 50
t-26 Phoenix 86 50
29 Florida 84 49
30 Columbus 81 47
Note: I’m hearing interest in getting updated team projections before the season starts. Let’s see how the next 10 days goes - if there is significant movement influencing the projections, we can provide an update.
If you’re just looking to do your own, back-of-the-envelope calculations-let’s say in the case of Roberto Luongo getting traded-just remember that 3 GVT equals one point in the standings (6 GVT equals a win). Of course, with goalies, you’ll need to factor in who’s gaining and losing starts.
As far as restricted free agent signings (Del Zotto, etc.), VUKOTA operates under the assumption that RFAs will resign with last year’s teams. So that’s already taken into account.
This was a complete game for the States, with seemingly every player contributing and most playing at a high level. The USA’s keys have come outside their forwards with Jacob Trouba (WPG) playing very well the whole tournament with Seth Jones (2013) and Jake McCabe (BUF) playing key roles as well. McCabe is a gritty defensive defender who has shown at Wisconsin he can move the puck and has offensive ability although I’d consider his skating average.
Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) has really picked it up lately and scored a gorgeous goal today undressing Ryan Murphy (CAR) in the process. Gaudreau is in the discussion for a tournament all-star. The checking line for the USA did well, whose names I’ve mentioned frequently, the Grimaldi (FLA), Trocheck (FLA) and Biggs (TOR) line did well again and JT Miller (NYR) and Jimmy Vesey (NSH) contributed too on the USA’s top line.
The Canadian blue line was a bit of a train wreck, and asides from Scott Harrington (PIT) and Xavier Oueller (DET) the other defensemen have been average or worse. Overall though this game is the shining example of the variance a small tournament can bring, as it was just a week ago that Canada beat the United States 2-1, but showed a decent amount of control in that game. It doesn’t make logical sense Canada got dramatically worse or the USA got dramatically better in that period of time, it was just one game. If the same teams play 100 times, Canada likely wins 60 times or more, but this was one of the 40.
It’s also why I disagree with piling on a player like goaltender Malcolm Subban (BOS) who despite all the criticism and all the goals against today is currently 5 th in the World Juniors in SV% with a .908. One, it’s not fair to point a finger at just a goalie, just like it isn’t fair to just point fingers at the skaters. The skaters’ job is to prevent scoring chances and the goalie’s job is to within reason and case by case, stop a certain amount of scoring chances in a competitive game. Subban has made some quality stops during the course of this tournament, and today he had goals against he probably couldn’t have stopped and some that could have plausibly been stopped. The goaltender needs to make tough stops, but it’s also why you can’t judge a goalie on one or five games, because that’s nowhere close to enough time. Heck, 100 games wouldn’t even be enough. The randomness of a short tournament needs to be evaluated in that proper context. Malcolm Subban is a very quality goaltender and I wouldn’t have blinked at him starting a hypothetical final match if Canada would have somehow win.
Canada won five straight gold medal from 2005-09, and has not since. That smells to me like regression to the mean, as it’s unrealistic to make a run like that and expect to keep winning in a short tournament. Things like one bad goaltending performance, an off night from your players, or a great night from your opponent can ruin yours quickly. Hey that sounds familiar. Canadian hockey is fine to whoever may worry; they’re a perennial heavy contender, the best amateur program currently in the world who just had an off night. That’s hockey.
I have no new thoughts to add from the Sweden-Russia match that I have not already said in this blog.
If I had a ballot right now for the tournament all-stars it would be Gaudreau, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM), Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF), Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones and John Gibson (ANA). There are other forwards in the discussion too like Filip Forsberg (WSH), Elias Lindholm (2013), Nikita Kucherov (TBL), Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) and a few others. There’s no for sure call other than Hopkins.
This is going to be brief just because the deeper we get into the tournament the fewer games take place and there are less new observations to make.
Thoughts from Czech Republic-USA (USA 7-0):
The vaunted top line for the Czechs I’ve discussed here frequently of Hyka (LAK, )Hertl (SJS), Jaskin (STL) didn’t show up as much as previous game, but one has to give credit to the USA for that. Housley, the USA coach went from a rolling lines type of style to matching his checkers of Pietila (NJD), Bardreau (undrafted) and Hartman (2013) against them and they effectively shut the line down. Hartman has shown quality effectiveness at both ends this tournament. Hertl did stand out though as he generated a lot of chances, but there was no finish.
[The real] Seth Jones (2013) showed up today; a player with elite hockey sense, and a player who can seemingly do everything well. He was great as a shutdown player against the Czech’s best forwards and showed good offensive puck skill and puck moving ability.
This was a forgettable tournament for Radek Faksa (DAL) and David Musil (EDM). Hopefully they can both have quality second halves in the CHL and put this behind them.
Thoughts from Switzerland-Russia (Russia 4-3 SO):
Despite only getting one win all tournament, this was an impressive showing from the Swiss club. The drafted prospects Richard (TBL) and Bertschy (MIN) did well with Bertschy really coming alive at the end of the tournament. The team has several undrafted players like Alessio Bertaggia, Sven Andrighetto, Dean Kukan, Mike Kunzle and a top 60 2013 prospect in Mirco Mueller among others in their ranks. Their program has taken quality strides.
I’m going to devote my thoughts on the Russian club to discussing the tournament thus far of their top two players: Nail Yakupov (EDM) and Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF).
Yakupov: It isn’t really a stretch to say Yakupov has underperformed in the five games Russia has played even though he has been decent. Most are used to seeing a lot more from Yakupov, and while I’ve said multiple times I expected him to turn it around, he hasn’t yet every time I’ve proclaimed so. That being said, I still am not concerned about Yakupov. I’m not pleased, I wouldn’t point someone to this five game stretch for evidence of why Yakupov is a for sure elite prospect, but that’s why I have hundreds of other games he has played the last few years to reference. Yakupov’s speed has been evident but he has not been showing as much offensive creativity, puck skills and distribution skill as he usually does. It could be because of “home court” pressure, or he’s gripping his stick, or some other reason but it’s likely because it’s a five game sample. That kind of random variance happens in short samples, it’s just a shame it happened now. Despite the subpar tournament, my projection of Yakupov has not changed. He’s an amazing prospect.
Grigorenko: Speaking of sample size, there was an 11 game stretch Grigorenko played last spring in the QMJHL playoffs where he underperformed and maybe even a little before that, drawing harsh criticism of his play and pessimism on his prospect stock, despite showing he was an elite prospect for years. Yet in a stressful quarterfinals game he assisted on the late game tying goal (albeit it coming off his blocked shot), scored in the sudden death portion of the shootout, and was named player of the game. Did he just find his clutch switch and say, “O that’s where it was?!” Or there’s another potential scenario, in that one can’t comprehensively evaluate Grigorenko’s play in this one good game he had, nor the five good games he’s had at the World Juniors, just like one can’t evaluate him in the 11 playoff games he had (where he may have potentially been ill too). Players stocks that have been high for a long time shouldn’t just randomly fall for a cherry picked reason in the spring, just like they shouldn’t spark insanely high in the winter after a short tournament. That’s why players are consistently evaluated over a long period of time and if that is done correctly, any movements on a player should be very, very gradual. That being said on Grigorenko’s performance he’s been very good at the World Juniors which shouldn’t be surprising because he’s been very good for years.
The moral of the story with World Junior performances or any other form of short sample performance evaluation even if it is “high pressure” is it usually never matters. The big picture matters and those games are a small piece of that big picture.
The round robin portion ended in great fashion, with three entertaining games. The quarterfinals start on Wednesday.
Thoughts from Switzerland-Czech Republic (4-3 Czech Republic OT):
Today was yet another great display from the Czech’s top line of Dmitrij Jaskin (STL), Tomas Hertl (SJS) and Tomas Hyka (LAK), specifically the former two who have thus far been among the best players at this World Juniors. Jaskin stole the show with highlight reel offensive plays on two of the Czech’s goals and displayed a good physical game as well. Hertl notched the OT winner and his puck skills were evident all game long.
The Czechs did get some decent performances from their secondary options as Radek Faksa (DAL) had his first solid game offensively, and David Musil (EDM) was quality at both ends after a subpar round robin portion. Musil was physical, smart in his own end, and showed some offensive instincts too.
Some of Switzerland’s undrafted prospects, who are their top players, stood out again specifically Alessio Bertaggia but also Sven Andrighetto. Both play in the CHL and with their level of skating ability and offensive skill they look like candidates for a draft pick.
I was a little disappointed with Christoph Bertschy (MIN) this tournament; in fact I think I liked him more at the previous WJC. The 6th round pick did score today on a long shot, but I haven’t seen the offensive possession ability I saw last time.
Thoughts from USA-Slovakia (9-3 USA):
Vincent Trocheck (FLA), Tyler Biggs (TOR), Cole Bardreau (undrafted), John Gaudreau (CGY), Jimmy Vesey (NSH) and J.T. Miller (NYR) were among the standout from today’s game for the USA.
I was surprised initially the USA’s coach Housley gave Trocheck a limited offensive role. While he does have a good work ethic and defensive value, he’s really gifted with the puck as well. Gaudreau also had the big game many were waiting for out of him. He has the ability to dazzle observes with his talent level and he did so today such as on the goal where he turned a defender and made him look silly. Jimmy Vesey took Rocco Grimaldi’s (FLA) place on the top line as Grimaldi was benched and Vesey made Housley look very wise. He was good with the puck, made a high-end pass to set up Jake McCabe’s goal and overall looked like he belonged on a scoring line. Tyler Biggs set up or was involved in a few scoring chances, while playing physical and exhibiting solid defensive value.
Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) had his worst game so far of the tournament, and even then he still got two points. For long stretches he didn’t generate much and made a costly turnover that led to a Slovakia goal. It’s nothing to worry about, as he will bounce back in all likelihood.
Thoughts from Sweden-Finland (7-4 Sweden):
The two undrafted players for Sweden shone again as little guys Filip Sandberg and Viktor Arvidsson have been just dynamite. They are both are my draft boards and climbing as they are both highly skilled players with defensive value. Sandberg can stickhandle in a phone booth, while Arvidsson has a quality shot.
The tale of Joel Armia (BUF) was in full display today. He scored twice, on beauty snipe goals and was named the team’s player of the game. However at the same time with his team down a goal, needing to get to overtime to advance to the medal round, and a minute left, while on the powerplay, he takes an offensive zone penalty and sapped any energy Finland had for their comeback. He’s a fantastic talent, who when he’s on shows great hockey sense, but when he’s not he makes simply horrible decisions. I’m not sure if today he was on or off.
Victor Rask (CAR) had his best game of the tournament showing a great amount of puck skill and was in on a few chances. His skating is still a significant issue though.
Emil Molin (DAL) may be the breakout prospect of this tournament as he’s simply impressed in every game and has been one of Sweden’s best players. He’s skilled, smart, plays with pace and has a good shot. On a line with Elias Lindholm, who is a top scorer in the SEL now, Molin has not been a passenger.
For William Karlsson and Rickard Rakell, fellow Ducks prospects, this may have been a somewhat forgettable round robin. Even though Rakell is tied for Sweden’s scoring lead he can play better.
Aleksander Barkov (2013) is an elite draft prospect who was one of Finland’s top defensive and offensive players this tournament and he turned 17 months ago. 17 year olds don’t generally play well at the World Juniors, even really good ones. It will be interesting to see Barkov if he goes to the Under-18’s this spring because he’s seemingly forever played beyond his age group. I will want to see how much he can dominate versus his peers.
Thoughts on Canada-Russia (4-1 Canada):
Asides from saying Dougie Hamilton (BOS) and Ryan Murphy (CAR) I thought played better, there aren’t many great new thoughts I can add here, so I’ll devote this section to discussing Jonathan Drouin (2013).
Drouin was on CAN’s top line and was named player of the game. He is a 17 year old who turns 18 in March. For a player his age to get that kind of responsibility at the World Juniors, on a stacked team up front is highly unusual and very lofty praise from his coach Steve Spott. At the same time his linemate in the QMJHL Nathan MacKinnon (2013) has been on the fourth line. Drouin has been quality all tournament and was very good today. He has a higher points per game than MacKinnon in Halifax as well so today the theme was on twitter: Is Drouin better than MacKinnon?
Well there’s a few points that need to be made:
1. This is not a debate that has been created the last few days, for a month or two this has been a topic of discussion for scouts. There are nights where Halifax plays and either of MacKinnon or Drouin looks like the better NHL prospect. This is a tough call to make. I had Drouin 5th when I did my preseason rankings (MacKinnon 1st) and when I update my draft rankings shortly Drouin’s placement will be the toughest because he has a legitimate argument talent wise to be up there with the best of the 2013 draft class. In fact I believe one can make a reasonable argument for him to be at the top spot. I’m not saying I would put him there, but there’s a case, and you wouldn’t get laughed out of a room full with NHL front office types if you proclaimed such a case, as long as you made it well (not using the WJC and stats as the main arguments).
2. Steve Spott’s usage of Drouin and MacKinnon is one man’s opinion or that of one coaching staff. Drouin or MacKinnon is a debate, and thus some people will view the player’s value-present and future- differently. Spott sees it one way, but it’s very possible a different coach would use both of the players in a different way.
3. The large ice surface is a major factor to consider as well too. One only needs to look at European leagues individual scoring with all the locked out NHLers and see how replacement level players compare to NHL players on the big ice to see there’s a major difference between the American and European game when it comes to kinds of players who can produce.
This World Juniors is turning out to be one of the more dramatic in recent years with great games in both groups although unfortunately many have been unable to see a lot of the games. Here are my thoughts from today’s games outside of Germany-Slovakia. The round robin portion wraps up tomorrow. Group A has two great games tomorrow with SWE-FIN and CZE-SUI as asides from Sweden advancing, very little has been decided in that group with the other three teams I named having a good chance to advance. CAN-RUS will also determine who gets a bye, and USA-SVK play a win and you’re onto the medal round game.
Thoughts from Finland-Switzerland (5-4 Finland SO):
Teuvo Teravainen (CHI) was arguably Finland’s best player. He scored several key goals, including one where they were making a late third period comeback but also looked very good with the puck. His hands and hockey sense are high-end.
Markus Granlund (CGY) was just decent for a good portion of the game, but he delivered when Finland needed him as he scored a deflection goal, and with Finland down a goal he knocked in a loose puck with roughly a minute left in the game. He also scored the shootout winner, although it was his second attempt as it went to extra shooters where the IIHF allows for repeat shots.
I’ve blogged over the last few days about good Joel Armia (BUF) has been but recently he’s been bad, very bad. He’s been a giveaway machine who tries all the fancy moves but unlike previous game he doesn’t generate offense when he does so. Armia’s performance swings are about as high as any current NHL prospect I can think of.
Aleksander Barkov (2013) has yet to really put up points, but he made a lot of quality plays today. His hands and vision are apparent and one has to keep in mind he’s a double underaged player in this tournament and you usually don’t expect anything from those players.
Tanner Richard (TBL) is a quality prospect whose skill was on full display today. A top OHL assist leader this season today displayed good puck possession skill as one of Switzerland’s best offensive weapons. He needs to put on a lot of muscle though. Undrafted forwards Alessio Bertaggia, Sven Andrighetto who both play in the CHL and defenseman Dean Kukan all showed good offensive ability as well.
Thoughts from Canada-USA (2-1 Canada):
I thought Dougie Hamilton (BOS) was better today. He’s not playing at his best, but he was defending better than in previous games and once he gets rolling, hopefully for Canada soon, he’ll make a good blueline great. I asked one scout about Hamilton and he said he feels he’s pressing and needs to simplify his game. The scout and myself do agree Hamilton can do a lot more than he’s done so far. Scott Harrington (PIT) continues to impress with his steady defensive play and ability to make little helpful plays everywhere.
This was a game of goaltenders as two top goalie prospects in John Gibson (ANA) and Malcolm Subban (BOS) were at the top of their games. They are slightly different in skill sets, Subban a little better with his athletic tools and Gibson a little better with his positional game, but both of them have the qualities to be starting NHL netminders.
Jacob Trouba (WPG) has been great really dating back to early last year and he continues to get better. He was a force at both ends today and while his strength is his defense, as he’s high-end in that department thanks in part to his great physical game, he showed good ability with the puck as well. He’s quickly climbing my board in terms of his rank among NHL prospects.
Seth Jones (2013) has not had his best tournament and has not been reminiscent of the Seth Jones I’ve seen for the last few years. His hockey sense is elite and his best quality, yet his decision making has been average as of late.
USA’s top scorers haven’t well… scored or better yet produced enough chances to give them opportunities to score. John Gaudreau (CGY), J.T. Miller (NYR) and Rocco Grimaldi (FLA) can, have and should be better than they’ve been so far.
I liked Jake McCabe’s (BUF) performance today. He’s been a physical, quality defensive player. That’s the kind of game USA Hockey has had him perform as a U18 player too but as he’s shown regularly at Wisconsin he have offensive upside too. He did take a dumb penalty at the end of the game though.
Thoughts from Czech Republic-Latvia (4-2 Czech Republic):
Dmitrij Jaskin (STL) and Tomas Hertl (SJS) were very good again. I have heard scouts the last year refer to Jaskin’s upside as a third line winger, but it’s hard to see that. He’s a large man who has been exhibiting above-average hands and offensive sense to go along with improved skating. Jaskin also has a plus power game. Hertl is clearly the most skilled player on the ice whenever he touches a puck. His hands are great and he has unique stickhandling ability for his size.
Radek Faksa (DAL) still hasn’t arrived at Ufa but hopefully for the Czech Republic he does soon because they need a win tomorrow to advance. Martin Frk (DET) did finally show up though with two classic Frk goals, one time slap shots from the point that the goalie never saw even though he was completely unscreened both times.
David Musil (EDM) continues to be average. As a defensive defenseman who excels in tight spaces due to his below-average skating, I’m not sure a big ice surface and a role as an offensive player has been the best situation for him.
Lukas Sedlak (CBJ) was promoted to the Czech’s top PP unit to play in front of the net. He played well again today, showing great work ethic and some decent offensive ability too.