Explaining much more than just Corsi, Rob Vollman dives even deeper into the world of analytics in the second edition of Hockey Abstract.
Inspired by Bill James’ Baseball Abstract of the 1980s, Rob Vollman, one of the founding writers for Hockey Prospectus and the creator of player-usage charts, set out to create something similar for hockey, a sport that’s still lagging behind in the advanced stats world. In the first version of Hockey Abstract, released last year, Vollman went over the basics. For his recently released second version, he went bigger and better, delivering entirely new content and enlisting two colleagues from Hockey Prospectus, Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe, to provide analysis. The best of their work has Awad showing what makes good players good by grouping them into tiers based on ice time and looking at the differences in shot attempts and goals across the tiers. For Fyffe, it’s his deduction of what it takes to make the Hall of Fame and his prediction for which current players have the best shot (‘Sid’ and ‘Ovie’ can pretty much retire today and punch their ticket into the Hall of Fame). Most of the book, though, is centered on everyday fan questions, but the answers aren’t as typical. Who’s the best goal-scorer? Well, that depends on who scores the most per 60 minutes, while accounting for manpower, usage, linemates and competition. Who’s the best penalty killer? Look at who suppresses shot attempts best relative to the rest of his team, while also accounting for who he’s up against. These types of questions are a staple of Hockey Abstract. The best of them was an examination of who the biggest rat in the league was, which introduces a hilarious stat called “dirty rat penalty minutes.” The player who led the league last season is who you might expect: Brad Marchand. How Vollman and company tackle these questions, though, is where the book really shines. Each answer promotes meaningful discussions on the topic at hand rather than rigid conclusions. Every angle is taken into account and arguments are presented in a clear, concise way that provides thorough and insightful observations about the sport. On top of that, the book is heavy on graphs and charts, making it much easier to visualize the concepts being outlined. The book also contains analytic essays for every team that look at how each team fares in various categories including possession, goaltending, special teams and depth, culminating with a big-picture outlook of how that team stands from an analytics perspective. With the second edition of Hockey Abstract, Vollman has created an essential resource for not just numbers junkies but also curious newbies ready to dive in to the growing world of hockey analytics.
The Capitals are tired of playoff disappointments. Already the best team in the league, they decided overkill was the smart strategy. That's why they went out and got the best player on the trade market.
The Washington Capitals haven’t just fooled us once, not even twice, into thinking they’re legitimate alpha-dog Stanley Cup contenders. Since the Alex Ovechkin era started in 2005-06, this team has tantalized us with multiple Presidents’ Trophies, one of the two best players of this generation, some of the most exciting offensive teams of all-time and Vezina Trophy-winning goaltending. And no matter how much buzz the Caps could generate, no matter how much THIS year was the year, it never was. They still haven’t advanced past the second round of the Stanley cup playoffs since 1998, when they reached the final with an underdog group coached by Ron Wilson.
Kudos to GM Brian MacLellan, then, for taking a stand Monday night. He took a team already looking like the NHL’s best on paper, already loaded with talent, already on track for another Presidents’ Trophy, and augmented it with arguably the best player available on the 2016-17 trade market. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is now a Capital, acquired from the St. Louis Blues for the very reasonable price of a first-round pick in 2017, a conditional 2018 second-rounder and Zach Sanford, per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. The Blues will also retain some salary in the deal, LeBrun reports. At a price that reasonable, renting Shattenkirk, a pending unrestricted free agent, is just fine. Re-signing him in the summer would be gravy (and likely not financially feasible for Washington).
The Caps have a top-three offense in the league. They allow easily the fewest goals per game. They rank second in save percentage. They boast the league’s No. 5 power play and No. 7 penalty kill. They still have Ovechkin playing high-end hockey even if his prime is over. They have arguably the best goaltender in the game right now in Braden Holtby. They call Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller their top three centers. Their top five defensemen are John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov
They are S-T-A-C-K-E-D. But MacLellan realized (a) they’ve never been stacked enough over the past decade and (b) that, despite such a talent-rich roster, they did lack mobility and true offensive creativity after Carlson on the back end. Shattenkirk is an absolute luxury, but that’s what the Caps evidently need to get over the playoff choke hump. Doing so, conquering the Pittsburgh Penguins, requires overkill.
Shattenkirk obviously enhances an already deadly power play, can play 20-plus minutes a game and increases the fleet-footedness on Washington’s blueline. But he’s also an underrated defensive player, a driver of possession with a career 5-on-5 Corsi mark of 53.3 percent and an average rating 2.2 percent higher than his teammates. He fits the modern definition of what it means to be effective in your own end. He is the anti Brooks Orpik, really. As a bonus, Shattenkirk blocks the New York Rangers, the Caps’ Metro Division competition, from landing him. The Blueshirts were one of the teams most commonly linked to him.
So will the Caps ultimately make every prognosticator look silly yet again and flop with an early playoff exit? Hey, it’s entirely possible. But they deserve credit for recognizing they’re in an elite contention window and for refusing to stand pat. They’re making the boldest mid-season move they’ve made during the Ovechkin era. The Capitals can also finally say they have good possession numbers, something that correlates directly with the past seven Stanley Cup champions. They rank third in the NHL in 5-on-5 score- zone- and venue-adjusted Corsi. The last five champions have ranked top-five in that category.
The Shattenkirk acquisition solidifies Washington as the NHL’s team to beat right now. No matter how skeptical we may feel about them, no matter how many times this team has fallen short of expectations, they’ve decided to do something different this time. We have to view them through a new lens.
The Sharks are still trying for that elusive Stanley Cup title, while the Canucks are building for the future in this win-win trade
Winning the Stanley Cup one year after losing the final series is very difficult. The Pittsburgh Penguins did it back in 2009 and now San Jose is in that position. With the acquisition of right winger Jannik Hansen, the Sharks have added one more weapon to an already potent lineup.
San Jose grabbed Hansen from Vancouver in exchange for prospect left winger Nikolay Goldobin and an interesting conditional pick: a fourth-rounder in 2017 that becomes a first-round selection, should the Sharks win the Cup. So we know who Vancouver will be cheering for this summer.
"Jannik is a versatile, gritty player who plays with speed and is talented on both sides of the puck," said Sharks GM Doug Wilson. "We think he is a perfect fit for the style of our team.”
Indeed, speed will likely be imperative in the playoffs, as it was last year when the Penguins skated circles around the competition (including the Sharks). San Jose already brought in another burner before this campaign began in Mikkel Boedker and although he hasn’t been a real difference-maker so far, every bit of depth counts in the post-season. Add in ascending rookie Kevin Labanc and you’ve got a decent amount of new blood on a squad led by the impressive veteran core of Brent Burns (a Hart trophy candidate), Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
With Thornton and suddenly-spry Sharks lifer Patrick Marleau in the twilights of their careers, San Jose is really making one last stand here before the mantle gets completely passed to Pavelski, Burns and Couture. And they could pull it off.
For Vancouver, GM Jim Benning continues to have a good deadline with this deal. The Canucks have already amassed a very nice pool of prospects and Goldobin could slide into the NHL lineup right now. He’s a skilled, creative playmaker whose weak spots are defense, but he has been working on rounding out his game in the AHL and the Sharks were pleased with his progress. Add him to a Canucks future centered around Bo Horvat, Troy Stecher, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Thatcher Demko among others and all of a sudden, Vancouver’s looking pretty good in a few years. Now, they have five picks in the first four rounds this summer and potentially two first-rounders, should the Sharks triumph.
San Jose and Vancouver definitely caught each other at the right time on this deal.
With 10 pending free agents and the salary cap not expected to increase the Capitals will have a hard time keeping the band together. So it's now or never for their Cup hopes.
When the Washington Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, the foundation for a championship team was set firmly in place. They progressively built a Murderers’ Row of talent that, at one time, looked as though it had the makings of a dynasty.
Which brings us to their acquisition of the crown jewel of the NHL trade deadline, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Monday night. It’s a game-changer for the already-stacked Capitals to be sure, one that gives them another talented right-handed defenseman who can move the puck, play the power play and is good in his own end. In making the deal, the Capitals have unequivocally stated that their time to win is now.
And they’re right because that’s exactly what it is. If you think previous Capital teams were under pressure to win a championship, that was nothing compared to the expectation the 2016-17 squad faces. This team was a Stanley Cup favorite before acquiring Shattenkirk, but after their bold move at the deadline, anything short of a Stanley Cup parade will be considered a complete failure.
But compounding this is a whole other layer of pressure that hasn’t been discussed much to this point. And that is, if this Capitals team manages to win the Stanley Cup this spring, it would not be a stretch to suggest the franchise that once held out hopes for a dynasty could very well become a one-and-done in the same vein the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks have been in the salary cap era.
And that’s a shame because it puts even more pressure on this group to win now. The failures of past teams in the playoffs are going to be carried by this group, a team that will face the challenge of erasing those bad memories in one playoff year. The Capitals’ inability not only to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup, but to even get out of the second round of the playoffs all those years, is going to be a demon this particular group of players must exorcise.
That window to win that was once so wide is closing quickly and dramatically, to the point that if the Capitals don’t win the Cup this spring, you have to wonder when they ever will again.
Now it’s not unheard of for a team to face the prospect of having 10 pending unrestricted and restricted free agents on their roster. It happens quite a bit actually. But it is unique for a team to have as many impact players facing free agency and as little cap space to either re-sign or replace them as the Caps have. Not including Nate Schmidt, who has almost certainly been knocked out of Washington’s top six defensemen with the addition of Shattenkirk, the Capitals face the prospect of having half their top 12 forwards, top six defensemen and two goaltenders on expiring contracts.
Consider first that with Shattenkirk now on their roster, the Capitals now stand to have three of the most coveted unrestricted free agents of the summer in Shattenkirk, fellow defenseman Karl Alzner and winger T.J. Oshie. Whether Alzner and Oshie are underpaid or not is probably a matter of preference, but both will undoubtedly be looking for raises.
Alzner, who has made just $2.8 million per year the past four seasons, will almost be certainly looking to cash in on a long-term deal at the age of 28. Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik are the only other UFAs the Capitals have, but they also have Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to re-sign as RFAs.
And assuming the salary cap stays the same, they have only about $21 million to do it. If it goes down, as some have suggested it might, the Capitals are in even more trouble. When you look at it from that perspective, the band is breaking up. There is no doubt about that.
It would be different if the Capitals were flush with NHL-ready prospects who could come in and fill those roles, the way the young players in Chicago have made it possible for the Blackhawks to negotiate the salary cap like a tightrope, paying their veteran core players huge money and leaving the scraps to their young players who are not yet in a position to command big money. But the Capitals prospects are just good, not great. In THN’s annual Future Watch edition, the Capitals group of prospects ranked 20th overall, a group that was diminished by one when useful NHL prospect Zach Sanford was included in the Shattenkirk deal. Their best prospect is Ilya Samsonov and that would be great if Samsonov were not a goaltender. Jakub Vrana is a future NHLer to be sure, but it drops off after that. And the Capitals have clearly and deliberately mortgaged their future, dealing away their first three picks from this draft.
Any team with talent that includes the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby will contend, but how seriously depends upon the supporting cast around them and that supporting cast will be diminished after this season. Both Ovechkin and Backstrom will be on the other side of 30 very soon, as is Matt Niskanen, while 36-year-old Brooks Orpik is on a contract that is not at all team-friendly for two more years. That one is going to sting whether the Capitals stick with him through to the end of the deal or buy him out this summer.
If the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, that first-rounder to St. Louis will be the 31st pick overall, which until the summer of 2017, was considered a second-round pick. And that’s where the Capitals are banking that pick will be. And if that happens it will have all worthwhile been worthwhile because they’ll have finally skated off into the sunset with the Stanley Cup. That would be great, because it might be the only one they win for a long, long time.
Defenseman Brendan Smith is an upgrade for the Rangers, a team that is very much in win-now mode, but it again cost them a piece of their future.
The New York Rangers are fighting a war; a war they cannot win. But the Blueshirts must try anyway and in acquiring defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit for a 2017 third-rounder and 2018 second-rounder, New York at least has a chance of making another run at the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have been one of the best playoff teams in the East in the past five years, in a league with Tampa Bay and behind Pittsburgh. But the core is aging and there’s no reason to believe stalwarts such as Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Marc Staal will be better next season. So this is the window to win…but it’s only open a crack.
If the Rangers can finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll cross over to the Atlantic playoff bracket as a wild card, thus avoiding Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus, at least for two rounds. That’s a big advantage and one that must be taken.
New York still has to win those series however and with Smith, they get a puck-moving defender who was having a down year offensively on a bashed-in Red Wings squad. Smith is certainly an upgrade on the now-injured Dan Girardi and since only picks were traded away, New York comes out deeper here. Will it be enough to actually grasp that Cup for King Henrik and his court? The odds aren’t great, but with Kevin Shattenkirk already snapped up by Washington, Smith represents a needed consolation prize for New York.
The tough part to swallow here if you’re a Rangers fan is that once again New York mortgaged its future. Barring more deals, the Rangers will pick just once in the top-75 of the draft this summer. Last year, their first selection came at No. 81 when they landed controversial defenseman Sean Day.
With this year’s second-rounder already given up (last year’s ill-fated Eric Staal trade), the Rangers had to part with their 2018 pick. At the least, New York had an extra second-rounder thanks to the Derick Brassard trade with Ottawa, so the Rangers still have seven picks for 2018…for now.
The bigger problem is that New York already has one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL (Future Watch spoiler alert). Years of going for the Cup have seen the franchise shed picks and prospects at an alarming speed and there will be a gap very soon.
The team’s Manhattan address and recent run of solid play has helped entice young free agents (Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes being prime examples), but that’s a stop-gap at best. Eventually, this organization will have to go back to drafting and developing talent. If the Rangers win the Cup this season, that restocking won’t be painful. If they don’t, the Smith trade will be remembered as another get-Cup-quick scheme gone wrong.