(PHOTO BY MARK WILSON)
Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley come together to do a photo shoot for THN's cover story from the March 1, 2010 issue.
(PHOTO BY MARK WILSON)
Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley come together to do a photo shoot for THN's cover story from the March 1, 2010 issue.
Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production over the first two months of the season had some concerned, but he’s been a near point per game player since the start of December, which just so happens to coincide with the Capitals’ run up the standings.
The Washington Capitals are riding high right now. With 22 games left in the campaign, they’re seven points clear of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Metropolitan Division, the Caps hold a five-point edge in the Presidents’ Trophy race and there aren’t many, if any, teams that have fared much better over the past month.
For the Capitals, their run to the top of the league’s powerhouse division really kicked off in December. A few days into the month, Washington was fourth in the Metropolitan, trailing the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Penguins, neck-and-neck with the Philadelphia Flyers and only a single point up on the New Jersey Devils. But as the month progressed, the tide turned in Washington and the Capitals have gone on to post a 28-6-5 record since the start of December.
The reasons for Washington’s run to the top of the division have been plenty. Nicklas Backstrom has taken his game to another level this season, and he’s been as good as we’ve seen him in several years, contributing at more than a point per game clip. Then there’s Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ all-world goaltender, who has been every bit the brick wall the Capitals hoped he would be when they shelled out big money to keep the netminder. And, of course, Alex Ovechkin has been Alex Ovechkin, teeing up pucks and blasting them home one shot at a time. But one underrated aspect of the current run, especially with the way Backstrom has risen into contention for the Art Ross, has been the play of Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The 24-year-old entered the season coming off of a career year, scoring 20 goals and 77 points during the 2015-16 campaign. Believed to be finally hitting his stride, there were high hopes for Kuznetsov to start the year, but he had failed to live up to those early on. Through the first month of the season, a span of 14 games, Kuznetsov had only two goals and seven points, and by the time November was over, the painfully slow start had reached its worst point. At the 21-game mark of the season, Kuznetsov had registered only three goals and nine points. He was on pace to go from a 77-point player to hitting the mid-30s after his breakout year.
As the Capitals have started to pick up steam, though, so has Kuznetsov. In fact, since the start of December, the only Capital with more points than Kuznetsov is Backstrom and only six other players league-wide have been as prolific. In his past 39 games, Kuznetsov has scored 11 goals and 38 points, putting him into a tie with the league’s scoring leader, Connor McDavid, and ahead of the likes of Ovechkin, Mark Scheifele and John Tavares over that same span. His 11 goals aren’t exactly tops in the league since the start of December but Kuznetsov, who’d probably fancy himself more of a set-up specialist than triggerman, has 27 assists since December kicked off. The only players better? Backstrom and McDavid, with 31 and 29 assists, respectively.
Kuznetsov turning his season around should’ve been seen coming, though, because the rate at which he produced consistently across the past season appeared to be anything but a fluke. At 5-on-5 in 2015-16, Kuznetsov registered 2.54 points per 60 minutes of action, and it’s no shock that he’s back in that range again this season thanks to his scoring surge, contributing 2.34 points per 60 minutes this season. It’s not just five-a-side where Kuznetsov is contributing, though, as he’s also put up nine power play points in the past 39 games. And his overall scoring rate since the start of December, which is a hair from a point per game, would have him setting a career-best for points had he been able to get the scoring started right from the get-go.
The only real concern surrounding Kuznetsov now is that he could see his shooting percentage plummet. He’s shooting at a nearly 12 percent clip right now — and a ridiculous 12.2 percent at 5-on-5, up from 7.75 percent in 2015-16 — which is almost a full 1.5 percent above his career average. If anywhere, that’s where Kuznetsov’s scoring could start to fall off. The good news? His assist totals per 60 minutes are also down, and if there’s less lamp lighting but more perfect passes in Kuznetsov’s future, the Capitals will surely take it.
From goaltending to coaching to scoring to depth, there are dozens of reasons why the Capitals stand to be one of the favorites heading into the post-season. But one of the biggest unsung heroes with the way everyone on the club has contributed this season is Kuznetsov — last season’s standout has, in a way, been this season’s underrated stud. He stands to be an X-factor heading into the playoffs, and if Kuznetsov can keep it going into April, the Capitals stand to benefit in a big, big way.
(All advanced stats via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)
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Joe Sakic with the Quebec Nordiques. Image by: Getty Images
Back in 1995, the Quebec Nordiques unveiled a brand new logo and uniform designs, but, of course, they never got to wear them.
'Nordiques will have new look in 1996-97'
April 14, 1995 -- Vol. 48, No. 30
The Quebec Nordiques don’t have a new arena yet, but a new logo and colors are on the way.
When the Journal de Quebec published the Nordiques’ new colors March 30, the team had no choice but to confirm the makeover.
The team’s road jersey will be dark blue with a few lines of teal-like green color, black, white and silver. The crest has a large head of a husky dog with its teeth bared. They will sport their new colors in the 1996-97 and not next season because they failed to meet the NHL’s deadline for a logo change.
As for a new arena, there may be a solution to that problem and it has to do with gambling. The second-most powerful provincial politician in Quebec prefers a lottery to a casino as a way of raising public money to save the Nordiques.
That was one of the topics in a 90-minute discussion March 27 between Quebec’s deputy premier Bernard Landry and Marcel Aubut, the Nordiques’ president and part-owner.
Landry declined to meet with the media after the discussion. But Aubut told reporters of Landry’s leaning toward a lottery scheme.
Aubut has pressed all levels of government for help to keep the franchise in Quebec City. He has repeatedly stated the franchise needs a new venue with more seating and revenue-generating luxury boxes if it is to survive.
Photos via Sportslogos.net
Groups from Phoenix, Denver and Atlanta are reportedly interested in buying and relocating the club if it goes on the market. Aubut said Landry declared he is prepared to do anything to save the club.
“We’ve been received favorably but time is pressing and the agenda is tight.” Aubut said.
“The lottery is what Mr. Landry favors the most, but what he’s saying is he’s willing to do whatever must be done so the Nordiques remain”
Last January, Aubut set an April deadline for the Quebec government to decide whether it will build a new Colisee. The government said it might explore the possibility of a low-interest loan to the team, much as it did with baseball’s Montreal Expos.
When a consortium bought the Expos in 1991, the province lent $18 million toward the purchase.
The Nordiques responded to the loan possibility with a tersely worded statement in which they urged a new arena be built as soon as possible and the government absorb the team’s financial losses in the interim.
Aubut has said he expects the Nordiques to lose about $10 million this year and $12 million next season.
Claude Julien. Image by: Getty Images
Any late season surge in Boston won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces.
When a team fires a coach mid-season and the guy barely lasts a week on the unemployment block, they’ve probably just made a huge mistake.
Back in 2011, the Capitals made that mistake. They fired Bruce Boudreau after the team hit a rough patch, and he was subsequently hired just two days later by Anaheim. It took two other coaches and three seasons for the team to find themselves another coach of his calibre, a waste of the their best players’s prime years.
Last week, the Boston Bruins made that same mistake firing Claude Julien. He lasted exactly one week on the market before another team scooped him up. The fact it was the division leading Montreal Canadiens makes matters even worse as it points to how clear of an upgrade they thought Julien was over the guy who led them to the top.
Boston’s decision came down to results and expectations. From that standpoint, it’s clear why they did what they did. After making the Cup final in 2012-13 and winning the President’s Trophy in 2013-14, the Bruins missed the playoffs twice and were sure looking like they would make it three with a 26-23-6 record under Julien. Someone had to take the fall and with this being Julien’s 10th season as bench boss, maybe his voice was getting a bit stale.
I’m not sure I buy that though and it all comes down to what the Bruins are doing under the hood this year. The year after the President’s Trophy win, the team took a step back dropping from third in score-and-venue adjusted Corsi to 12th and then dropped to 17th the year after. This year, they’ve shot all the way back up to first, ahead of the perennial kings of this stat, the Kings. Their mark of 56 percent is the ninth best mark of any team since 2007-08. Ahead of them are two Detroit teams, three Chicago teams, and three Los Angeles teams – and also three Stanley Cups. No fired coaches either.
The team made a remarkable year-to-year jump, the results just weren’t there. The team has the lowest shooting and save percentage among those top teams, and that’s led to a dastardly low 46.3 percent goals ratio, a full 10 percent lower than their shot share and six percent lower than the worst of the eight juggernaut teams above them.
While goaltending is a concern, some of that is a result of how terrible their back-up goalies have been. You’d also figure that a world class goalie like Tuukka Rask will get his groove back. The real big issue is on offense where the team ranks 21st in goals per 60 at 5-on-5. While they may have the ninth best shot attempt rate since 2007-08, they’re also posting the sixth worst shooting percentage since 2007-08.
The obvious answer from most pundits is that the Bruins aren’t actually a good team due to their massive shot advantage because a majority of those shots are coming from the outside. It turns out they have a point. Take a look at this heat map from HockeyViz.com of all the shots the Bruins are taking this year to see for yourself. It might be a lot to take in, but basically, red means “hot spots” where the team shoots more than league average, while blue represents “cold spots” where the team is getting fewer chances.
Just as expected, a lot of red on the outside and a huge blue zone right in front of the –– wait, wrong picture. That’s actually the Bruins 2010-11 season where they won the Cup and had the second highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Yep, there we go. A little better than 2010-11, but still, they’re not really getting to the front of the –– wait, that’s not it. That’s actually the Bruins 2012-13 season where they made it to the Cup final and had the ninth highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Hmm, a lot fewer shots overall, but again, their biggest cold spot is right in front of the –– wait, I did it again. That’s actually the 2013-14 season where the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and had the third highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Okay, here’s 2016-17, for real this time.
Remember that this offense is the 21st rated offence at 5-on-5. If anyone could point out how it differs from any time the Bruins had a top five or 10 offense the past few years, I’m all ears. There is a bit of a deeper contour in front of the net than other seasons, but not by much, and the red zone in front of the slot is a deeper red and much closer to the front of the net. That should all cancel out, and it does. By expected goals for, here’s how every season under Julien ranks.
This year, the Bruins should be having one of the most prolific offenses they’ve had in years, instead, they’re struggling. The idea they’re “not getting to the front of the net” is a bad excuse because it’s clear they either never really have, it’s never really mattered, or there’s a systemic bias in Boston to record fewer shots there. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hold water.
The Bruins offense hasn’t changed much, but the results have and Julien lost his job because of it. Some might say the Bruins Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story here, but even by expected goals they’re the league’s top team, and those teams rarely struggle to convert like this team has. I normally hesitate to use “luck” as a crutch to describe a team with poor results, but it’s hard to point the finger anywhere else.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s another way to look at it. I plotted every player’s personal shooting percentage (at 5-on-5) this season compared to the the three seasons prior. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone is having a down year.
There’s a fair number of players here who were reliable scorers in the past that suddenly can’t put it in. These 19 players have 86 goals this year, but if they were as efficient as they were before this season, they’d be at 111 collectively. If you look at expected shooting percentage that number drops a little to 104, but their expected shooting percentage is actually higher than it was in the previous three seasons. It’s hard to imagine all these guys suddenly forgot how to score, but that’s the reality if you think these results have nothing to do with luck.
Eventually, things should revert back to normal and they’ll start scoring at their normal rates again. With the way the Bruins control play, that’ll likely mean more wins down the stretch and it may be enough for a playoff spot (we think they’ve got a 70 percent shot at the moment). If they make it, they’re a dark horse team in the East, especially in a weak Atlantic. That is, if they keep playing as well as they did under Julien.
Whatever happens though, any team success will come back to the coaching change as a turning point. Make no mistake though, they likely would’ve turned it around anyways. Any late season surge won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces. The Bruins won’t be a good team now because they fired Julien -- they already were one.
data via corsica.hockey
Patrick Eaves. Image by: Getty Images
Looking at the players available at the trade deadline, there are some who will be worth the asking price, and others who would actually make teams worse.
The craziest hockey day of the year is nearly upon us: deadline day. Rather than give into the wildness, let’s instead get logical and look at the numbers.
There are some eyes rolling in the back of the class, but with so many games and so many teams it’s hard to know every player in the league as intimately as the guys on your own squad. That’s where stats help a lot, especially advanced stats that dig a bit deeper than traditional box scores. When you watch the game, what you notice most is which team is creating chances and dominating the run of play, and over time the best players will generally have the best differentials. It’s not the be-all, end-all, they gotta score on those chances too, but they’re helpful in determining who’s helping and hurting. None of it replaces watching the game, but it sure helps illuminate strengths and weaknesses of players, especially those you haven’t seen much of.
With that in mind, we have you covered. We’ve already got our very own Matt Larkin’s top 30 trade candidates here, and now I’ve added some useful numbers to his list to help suss out the good from the bad.
Age and contract are obvious (and guys with term are in bold) and then I’ve added their per-game production right beside their relative shot rates (5-on-5, score/zone/adjusted) to put a focus on who’s scoring and who’s driving play. Then at the very right is their Game Score for the season (coloured by where they fit on a typical depth chart based on performance) as well as how many wins my model suspects they’re worth based on their last three seasons of Game Score. There are other metrics to be mindful of, but that should give a rough estimate of value.
Here’s the list (with goalies omitted because, well, voodoo) along with some additions from the TSN trade bait list to get to 30 after taking out already traded players and those pesky goalies.
That’s the list, now here’s the fun part. Based on these numbers, here’s which guys teams should target and avoid.
The Big Three: Yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are pretty good. If you’re a contending team that can afford the cost they might be enough to get the team over the edge. Shattenkirk is an incredible D-man and he would be a home run. Very few D-men provide more value than he does from the back-end, but he obviously comes with rental risk. The Colorado boys at least come with term, but that makes their asking price higher. My model has soured on them a bit this year and they appear as “second liners” on the chart above, but I think that’s the Colorado stench clouding things. They’re legit top line talents and can change the mix of any team’s top nine.
Patrick Eaves: I’ve had a soft spot for Eaves ever since I did projections for the 2015-16 season using war-on-ice’s WAR metric. Dallas was coming off a playoff miss and the projections had them winning the division that year, which they did. Part of that was really solid forward depth, and Eaves was a big catalyst. He was a guy on the fringe who had legitimate top six upside, and we’re seeing that play out this year. Put him with some stars and watch him go. He’s the second highest goal-scorer this season from the list above. A great complementary piece for a scoring line and you absolutely can’t go wrong at $1 million. He pushes play, too, which is a nice bonus to his scoring touch.
Martin Hanzal: Not many players get respect in the desert, but Hanzal deserves it. He could very well be the missing piece to a contender puzzle as he’s a legit second line center that thrives in a shutdown role and plays a complete 200 foot game. The Coyotes are nearly three shot attempts better at both ends of the ice when he’s on compared to when he’s off. Imagine adding that to a team’s third line? They’d be one of the best third lines in the playoffs and a matchup nightmare. He might cost a lot to acquire and a bidding war might put him on the other list quickly, but he’s a guy who is still worth targeting and should be on everyone’s wish list.
PA Parenteau: Are analytics folk the only people who actually like Parenteau? He gets bounced around the league, he can’t sign a deal longer than one season, he doesn’t get much money, and sometimes he gets waived right after signing. I don’t get it. And now he’s back on the trade block because of these one year commitments. Great secondary scoring, drives possession, very cheap, what’s not to like here?
Undervalued D-men: There’s a few here, and that’s because evaluating defense is very tough. The highest defenseman from Buffalo on this list costs more and is much worse. Cody Franson should be the guy to grab there and he’ll likely cost much less to acquire. He’s fallen off since his days in Toronto, but he’s still a dependable player who suppresses shots at a terrific rate. They may be in pillow soft minutes, but all that means is he’ll crush a sheltered role and a team wouldn’t have to worry about sending him over the boards at 5-on-5 like they do with other bottom-pairing D-men. He’s right handed, too. A very easy pick-up. I think Brendan Smith and Michael Del Zotto also fall in to this camp as they’ve been solid shot rate drivers in the past (though Del Zotto has taken a step back this year). All three are having a down season and it won’t take much to pry them out as a result. They’ll help teams win more than some of the other D-men on the market. Speaking of which…
Overvalued D-men: Let’s just list them all: Johnny Oduya, Roman Polak (who has since been taken off Matt’s list, but I’ll leave here), Kyle Quincey and one more who I referenced above who gets his own blurb below. These three are relics from a bygone era: the shutdown D-man. The only thing they really shut down is any semblance of offense as they fail to get the puck out of their own zone. The market is starting to reflect that as guys like Polak and Quincey come in at the bottom of the list, but then there’s Johnny Oduya at the top and I don’t understand it. Well, I do, he’s got Cup rings and a sparkling defensive reputation, but hockey isn’t a 100 foot game (to his credit his numbers have been a little better this season than usual). Offensive guys get slagged for being one dimensional, but you never see the same comments hurled toward these type of defensemen. There are legit shutdown D-men out there, like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Chris Tanev, but the guys available aren’t that. Not even close. They’re likely going to hurt whichever team acquires them. Mobility on the back-end is vital in today’s NHL and these guys don’t have that skillset.
Especially Dmitry Kulikov: If there’s one player to completely avoid at the deadline, it’s Kulikov. To say he’s been among the league’s worst defensemen this year may sound unfair, but it would probably be accurate, too. He’s been bad. It’s not just this year either, he hasn’t been all that good for the past couple seasons. He’s one of the league’s biggest drags on shots at both ends of the ice and this year his scoring has dried up, too. His Game Score this year is better than just one regular defenseman: Josh Gorges. That’s. It. Over the last three years he’s averaging a 16 point pace and is a net negative six shot attempts relative to his team. At $4 million, any team that acquires him is paying way too much for someone who really only makes them worse, not to mention the cost to acquire him. The Panthers knew that much when they moved him in exchange for the very underrated Mark Pysyk who’s been doing just fine this year. There aren’t too many landmines this year, but he’s the biggest one.
Over-performers: Two names stick out: Thomas Vanek and Brian Boyle. Fine players, sure, but not as good as they’ve been this season. Vanek was just bought out last summer and after years of decline, but he’s had a nice bounce back season with a 65 point pace. Here’s the thing, his personal shooting percentage of 15 percent is his highest since 2013-14 and the same goes for his on-ice shooting percentage. At 33, I have my doubts he’s back to scoring the way he was in his prime and I’d expect some regression. There’s also the red flag on defense where he’s declined from -5.1 relative shot attempts against in 2015 to -6.4 in 2016 and -7.4 this year. Those are brutal numbers, near the bottom of the league. In Brian Boyle’s case, he’s always been a fine third line guy who’s looked much better this year after a shooting percentage increase of his own. The price to acquire him is really high and while he’s obviously useful, don’t expect this year’s numbers to continue.
Expensive Veteran Wingers: Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Patrick Sharp – these would’ve topped the trade bait list in years past, but at ages 39, 40 and 35, respectively, that’s not the case anymore. Each of them are still mostly effective, okay players, but with their contracts in mind there’s simply no value paying much for what is now bottom six talent (though, there’s an argument to be made for Sharp as a second liner in the right situation). Is the veteran experience worth the lack of on-ice value? I personally have my doubts. Iginla and Doan are the elders here and while their shot rates may look nice, keep in mind those relative numbers are on basement dwellers; they likely won’t push play much on better teams. Sharp is a better option, but he’s also the most expensive one.
Young Reclamation Projects: There are three kids rumoured to be on the move on TSN’s trade bait list, and I’m happy Matt didn’t have them on his list because they’re just not very good. Anthony Duclair is 21 and was the prize of the Keith Yandle trade and after a big 2015-16, he’s fallen off quickly. Turns out you won’t score on 19 percent of your shots forever. The guy barely takes more than one shot per game and is a ghost on defense. He’s the best one of the three though and may actually be worth the risk for a bounce back. The other two though… not so much. Mikhail Grigorenko was the prize of the Ryan O’Reilly trade and he hasn’t worked out either. Imagine being 6.5 shot attempts worse on a team as bad as the Avs because that’s what Grigorenko is working with. But even he isn’t as bad as Curtis Lazar, who somehow has hype behind him. Somehow. He’s got one point in 32 games this season and is one of the league’s worst possession players at minus-24 net shots per 60. Blame his linemates if you want, because Chris Kelly and Chris Neil are terrible, but even they’re doing better than him. Young reclamation projects are nice gambles on most deadlines, but this time around it’s hard to see as much upside given how these three have played.