By Benjamin Wendorf – special to THN
As the fervor dies down from the fever pitch of opening games, NHL teams and their fanbases shift into the time-honored ritual of agonizing over early-season results. A few coaches begin to feel the walls close in, and regardless of testaments of faith by upper management, at least one will be fired in the first few months. Do teams carry out these decisions wisely? What kind of measures can help us determine if it’s a good move?
Reaching back to the THN Analytics stats primer, the best team measures we can use relate to regression and possession. For regression we can use “PDO,” or a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage (for historical comparisons, I only use the first two periods to avoid the effects of “protecting” leads). It’s often expressed as a whole number like 980 or 1000, rather than their actual values of .980 or 1.000. Teams that are far above or below a range of about 990 – 1100 pull heavily (or regress) towards that range the remainder of the season. PDO is a great metric for this kind of study because its measure speaks directly to a team’s success in scoring or preventing goals.
Possession is currently best measured by Fenwick Close, but we can go further back in NHL history by using a team’s shots-for in the first two periods divided by both teams’ shots-for in those periods, called two-period shot percentage or 2pS%. It runs side-by-side with Fenwick Close, has a strong relationship with outscoring, and provides about 50 more years of data.
Using these two measures, we can look at a large body of coaching changes in NHL history. Through 140 coaching changes (minimum 20+ games for each coach), the before-and-after of PDO and possession is telling:
Historically, the changes have barely registered an uptick in possession (that 0.4% is worth a little less than one more goal-for), but that PDO shift would be good for about 14 more goals-for. In other words, NHL teams tend to cut bait when bad luck, not necessarily bad leadership, seemed to be the bigger problem. For comparison’s sake, I also put together a complete list of 97 coaching performances where the coaches had significantly low PDOs through the first 20 games but didn’t get canned: Read more
We should know that, when the end of their playing career arrives for most NHLers, it does not arrive in the fairy tale format. For every Raymond Bourque, there are hundreds of guys who experience a less-than ideal exit from a league most never want to leave.
If that’s how it has to be for Daniel Alfredsson – and this Detroit Free Press report suggests that could very well be the case – the 42-year-old has nothing to be ashamed of. If his ailing back can’t take any more punishment, it says nothing about his competitive desire or legacy. It only speaks to Father Time’s eventual dickishness to us all. And if Alfredsson has played his final NHL game, there’s little doubt he’ll be regarded as a terrific talent on the ice and one of the sport’s best ambassadors away from it.
Yeah, he didn’t get to celebrate a Cup win the way fellow good guy Teemu Selanne did. But that’s no reason to be sad about his retirement. There are too many teams and too few Stanley Cups awarded every season to adequately reward all the talents that ache to win at the game’s highest levels.
No, now’s the time for Alfredsson’s fans in Ottawa and Detroit to celebrate the contributions of one of hockey’s most fundamentally decent human beings.
The Boston Bruins resolved their cap issues and blueline logjam with their recent trade of defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders, but there’s another roster problem to be addressed.
CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty believes Loui Eriksson is a third-line winger with the Bruins, doubting he’ll ever become the offensive force they believed he would become when they acquired him in last year’s Tyler Seguin trade with the Dallas Stars.
Two concussions and a heel injury sidelined Eriksson for 21 games last season, limiting him to 10 goals and 37 points in 61 games. The 29-year-old went scoreless in the Bruins’ opening three games this season before tallying his first goal in the their 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Monday.
Haggerty believes the Bruins need another top-six forward at right wing to replace the offense of Jarome Iginla, who departed this summer via free agency. Finding such a forward this early in the season, however, won’t be easy.
Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers remains a fixture in the NHL’s early-season rumor mill. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports Myers’ name is “out there,” though the Sabres are downplaying it. Dreger suggests moving the 6-foot-8, 227-pounder blueliner could improve the Sabres’ chances in the 2015 NHL draft. He claims the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks expressed interest in the big defenceman.
Teams hoping to land Myers, however, should be prepared to pay a steep price. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman claims the Detroit Red Wings made inquiries this summer, but the talks ended when the Sabres asked for prospect forward Anthony Mantha.
Myers has struggled since his Calder Trophy-winning debut in 2009-10, but he’s only 24 and still has sufficient time to blossom into a blueline star, especially with a talent-laden club. While Sabres management is willing to listen to offers for Myers, it doesn’t mean they’re keen to move him.
Anyone can be dealt for the right price, but by demanding Mantha as part of the return from the Red Wings, it’s clear the Sabres won’t just give him away, even to improve their opportunities to land the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. If Myers shows improvement this season, don’t be surprised if the Sabres retain him.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner were subjects of trade speculation throughout last season. In a recent interview with the Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger, Leafs GM Dave Nonis claims he never actively shopped the pair.
Nonis did say if the right deal came along for a player like Kadri he would trade him. “But there’s a big difference between being willing to trade a player and trying to trade a player. We were never trying to trade Jake or Naz,” he said. Nonis said the Leafs re-signed Gardiner to a long-term deal this summer because they believe in him, and Nonis expects Kadri will also be a special player.
Given the rumors flying around last season about Kadri and Gardiner, Nonis was probably getting calls from rival clubs expressing interest in the pair. If the Leafs struggle again this season, or if Kadri and/or Gardiner fail to improve as projected, the speculation could resurface, but Nonis made it very clear last season he expected to get a comparable young player in return for either guy.
Add the Philadelphia Flyers to the list of teams (the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks being the others) rumored to be shopping defensemen before the season opens next week. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports the Flyers could trade a blueliner to shed salary. McKenzie claims Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann as possible trade candidates.
That prompted a swift, angry denial from Flyers GM Ron Hextall, telling CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio not to believe everything we read. A report in the Philadelphia Daily News, however, suggests the rumors are credible, claiming the Flyers hope to move out a veteran or two to make room for younger defensemen. Read more
On the day he was honored with his own stamp, the man many hockey fans feel was the greatest player of all-time gave his stamp of approval for that designation to Gordie Howe. Bobby Orr threw his support behind Mr. Hockey in the never-ending debate concerning the greatest player ever to play the greatest game. “Gordie is, in my mind, the greatest ever,” said Orr, who recently penned the foreword for Howe’s memoir, Mr. Hockey. “His numbers are outrageous and most of that was with the six teams, when it was a lot tougher. I don’t think there’s any question. Play any way you want to play…he was special.” Read more
In just about any other NHL market, a coach entering the final year of his contract with no extension would be given lame duck status. It’s the reason that, for instance, the most recent bench bosses of the Toronto Maple Leafs (current head coach Randy Carlyle and his predecessor, Ron Wilson) received extensions by the final year of their initial contracts despite delivering less-than-ideal results. If they were allowed to play out their deals without any guarantee they’d be back the following season, fans and media would speculate until their heads exploded – and, more importantly, the players they were responsible for might not buy into their on-ice vision.
However, for every rule, there’s a exception – and in this case, the exception is found in the person of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who doesn’t have a new deal in place beyond the 2014-15 campaign. Call him a lame duck if you want, but understand virtually every other coach in hockey would kill you where you stand to be so lame.
Babcock said he wouldn’t negotiate an extension once the season begins, and barring a last-minute agreement, it looks like he’s going to wait until next spring to get something done – or move on to another challenge. And that’s fine. His boss, GM Ken Holland, signed a four-year extension in August and their working relationship is strong and successful enough to withstand the pressures and questions of him working without a safety net.
If anyone is singularly focused on his job and immune to the chirping of fans and media, it’s Babcock. Read more