"I didn't realize (the hate) was that bad to tell you the truth."
- Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel on the chants of "Leafs Suck!" and "Overrated!" that came up throughout the All-Star Game draft in Ottawa.
"I didn't realize (the hate) was that bad to tell you the truth."
- Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel on the chants of "Leafs Suck!" and "Overrated!" that came up throughout the All-Star Game draft in Ottawa.
Jonathan Toews. Image by: Getty Images
The Blackhawks captain may look like he’s merely shaken off a big slump. But the underlying numbers suggest he’s emerged as a different player – more offense, less defense.
The three-goal, five-point night wasn’t the match that ignited Jonathan Toews’ season. It was a squirt of gasoline on an already-raging fire. Toews got piping hot over the past two months, and Tuesday was the boiling point.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain started 2016-17 posting the worst offensive numbers of his career. Even as his regular right winger Marian Hossa enjoyed a resurgent offensive campaign, Toews just couldn’t find the net. He sat at four goals and 12 points after 22 games. Plenty of fans and pundits scoffed on social media at his All-Star Game invite over teammate Artemi Panarin.
Typically, we’ve accepted that Toews trades a bit of offense to be an elite two-way pivot. He’s shown the highlight-reel hands to be an 80-point player – just look at his immortalized shootout performance for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championship – but he’s let Patrick Kane be the scoring star and sacrificed some scoring to play a shutdown role. Still, even by Toews’ Selke Trophy-winning standard, his offense was pitiful through mid-December. He sat at 0.60 points per game and had never finished a season below 0.73.
Even more concerning: Toews wasn’t performing as well as advertised from a defensive standpoint, either. Per corsica.hockey, Toews rates as one of the NHL’s very best possession players since stats like Corsi and Fenwick were born. Among NHL forwards with 1,000 or more minutes played since his rookie campaign of 2007-08, Toews ranks 16th in 5-on-5 Corsi at 55.8 percent. That includes a Corsi For of 61.48 and a Corsi against of 48.68, representing a player equally adept at driving shot attempts for his team and preventing shot attempts against his team.
Toews, though, slipped to a 5-on-5 Corsi of 51.38 percent in that lackluster 22-game sample to start 2016-17, with a Corsi For per 60 of 58.51 and a Corsi Against of 55.37. Teams were having a much easier time than normal getting attempts on Chicago’s net with Toews on the ice.
But the possession stats did show a player still creating a lot of offensive action for his team, and he was scoring on just 7.3 percent of his attempts, so a positive regression was coming. Since that juncture at Game 22, Toews has ignited for 30 points in his past 29 games, including a whopping 20 in his past 12, sprinkled with four- and five-point performances. He’s doing it primarily playing with Richard Panik and rookie Nick Schmaltz, so it’s not like another star scorer is carrying Toews. He’s scoring on 12.6 percent of his shots during his hot streak, still below his career average of 14.7, so we could see this goal-scoring run continue for a while.
The most interesting change for Toews comes in his possession numbers since the 29-game binge started. Defensively, he’s actually been worse, coughing up a Corsi Against per 60 of 57.2, but he’s sizzling with a Corsi For per 60 of 64.54. Per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Toews faced the toughest quality of competition of any NHL forward with at least 500 minutes played last season, as Toews’ opponents averaged a 5-on-5 Corsi of 50.8. This season, his opponents average 50.2, ranking him 124th among forwards in quality of opponents. So he’s facing weaker competition yet still faring worse defensively.
What, then, are we witnessing? This isn’t The Old Jonathan Toews making a triumphant return. The possession numbers suggest he’s instead reversed his career trend and sacrificed some defense for a major spike in offense. He’s still not bad defensively, as his relative Corsi Against per 60 is still among the better figures on the Hawks, suggesting the team as a whole has regressed defensively this season, not just Toews. But he’s currently not the smothering defensive player he’s reputed to be. His offense, meanwhile, is right up there with Artemi Panarin for the team’s best on the year if we judge it by Corsi For per 60 relative to teammates.
Interestingly, with Toews filling the net, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 20 games and seven of their past eight. Unlocking Toews’ scoring seems to correlate directly with Chicago re-emerging as a dangerous Western Conference contender.
Meanwhile, the first-place Minnesota Wild have dropped their past two meetings with the Hawks, including Tuesday’s. The Wild still own a five-point lead in the Central Division with a game in hand, but would anyone put it past the Blackhawks to stay hot and steal the division crown and home ice advantage for the playoffs? If that happens, watch out. Toews has not returned as a powerhouse two-way forward yet, but he has emerged as a new beast altogether, albeit in a small sample size. It’s tough to say if the Hawks are a better or worse team with Toews no longer playing great shutdown hockey, but so far, so good.
Matthew Tkachuk. Image by: Getty Images
The Calder Trophy race will likely come down to Patrik Laine vs. Auston Matthews, which means in this Year of the Rookie, a lot of really good freshmen will not even be finalists.
There will be one winner and three finalists for the Calder Trophy this season and based on how impressive the rookie crop has been, it all seems inadequate. But hey, these kids are elite athletes and they don’t want your participation ribbons anyway. But for the sake of putting into perspective just how good this year’s Calder race is, I’d like to present you with the top five players who will not win rookie of the year this season.
In order to set this field, let’s first deal with the actual contenders: Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are your favorites. Zach Werenski, Matt Murray and Mitch Marner are your dark horses, yet all have very nice cases to be made. When us writers fill out our awards ballots, we get five slots to fill out and I would presume this cohort would be on the majority of them (so as you will note, two of these players will be “snubbed” from the announced list of three finalists, even though they probably got a ton of lower-ranking votes).
But who will be the true snubs? My top five:
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames: He’s the heavy on Calgary’s most effective possession line and one of the Flames’ top scorers. Tkachuk’s chemistry with Mikael Backlund and Mikael Frolik has been a great boon for the team and the rookie’s combination of skill, aggression and ability to agitate is unparalleled among his rookie peers. Most other years, he’d be a finalist for sure. Ranks fifth in rookie scoring right now.
Ivan Provorov, Flyers: Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev is the only rookie to average more ice than Provorov and has slightly better stats, but I’m not a psycho: no voter outside of the 416 area code is going to put four Leafs on a ballot. Provorov plays against top lines and averages nearly a minute more of penalty-kill time than Zaitsev, so it’s not exactly tokenism to put him ahead of his Russian countryman. Offensively, he’s only slightly behind Shayne Gostisbehere among Flyers blueliners and offense is Ghost Bear’s thing.
William Nylander, Maple Leafs: As I just mentioned, you can only have so many Leafs on the ballot, but Nylander has compelling arguments for inclusion. He is now Toronto’s best possession forward and has more points than all rookies outside the Big Three forwards Laine, Matthews and Marner. Nylander leads the NHL in power play points among freshmen (which you can take as a positive or a negative – I call it the Dave Andreychuk Gauntlet) and is now playing alongside Matthews, which could increase his numbers. One weakness? He has been shuttled around the lineup by coach Mike Babcock – which is normal for a rookie, but doesn’t help his Calder efforts.
Brandon Carlo, Bruins: As the Bruins ponder life without Zdeno Chara, another tall drink of water with great reach and shutdown ability comes to town. Carlo is playing with ‘Z’ and more than holding his own, playing against top lines and logging lots of minutes. Only Zaitsev and Provorov skate more among rookies. Carlo is also chipping in offensively, with all of his 14 points coming 5-on-5 except for one shorthanded, and he ranks second on the Bruins in penalty-kill time. Boston has the best PK unit in the NHL, to top it off.
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes: A solid possession player and one of the top scorers on a bad team, Aho is definitely off the radar in terms of Calder buzz, but again; in a regular year he’d at least be in the conversation. Already has his first NHL hat trick and is playing on Carolina’s top line, while logging some penalty-kill time on the league’s second-best unit.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Stastnys, Peter and Anton, combined for 16 points on this date in 1981. No sibling duo has matched the mark, but the past 30 years has seen some great offensive nights from brothers.
Darryl Sittler’s 10-point night is the pinnacle of single-game statistics. Others have come close in the years since Sittler managed the feat, but it takes a special performance for any player to even flirt with matching or potentially surpassing Sittler’s mark.
The thing is, though, that it doesn’t really seem as though it’s an impossible feat to match or surpass. Others have, at the very least, come close to matching Sittler. Twice during his career, Mario Lemieux scored at least eight points in a single outing, and Bernie Nicholls registered eight points in a game back during that same 1988 campaign where Lemieux hit the mark twice. The closest in recent memory, as most will recall, was Sam Gagner’s magical eight-point night, but even that left him two points shy with less than four minutes left to play.
But while it’s hard to fathom Sittler’s record falling, it’s still within the realm of possibility. Not sure the same can be said for the feat the Stastny brothers, Peter and Anton, pulled off exactly 37 years ago today. On Feb. 22, 1981, the Stastnys came out flying against the Capitals and, in an 11-7 thrashing of Washington, the brothers racked up a ridiculous 16 points. The pair of eight-point nights gives the Stastny’s the distinction of having the highest scoring game by a pair of brothers on one team in a single game, and it’s unlikely that record ever falls. It’s hard enough for one player to score eight points in a single game, let alone two.
There have been some incredible nights by sibling duos over the past 30 years, however. Dating back to 1987-88, here are the five best single-game performances by a pair of brothers:
Daniel and Henrik Sedin — Nine points, Nov. 21, 2015
The Blackhawks had front row seats to Gagner’s incredible performance, and they were also witnesses to the biggest night by a pair of siblings in the past 30 years. During the November contest between the Blackhawks and Canucks early in 2015-16, the Sedins scored early and often. The first point came midway through the first period, a power play tally that saw both Sedins pick up a point, followed by another point for Henrik before the first period was through.
The Sedins made all the difference in the final 40 minutes in what was a tie game heading into the second frame. Daniel registered his first goal of the game midway through the second, then added two more in a span of two minutes late in the third period. Henrik had the primary assist on all three of Daniel’s goals, and the Canucks skated away with a 6-3 victory thanks to the remarkable night from the Sedins.
Peter and Anton Stastny — Eight points, Feb. 21, 1988
First all-time and second on this list, the Stastny’s were, in a sense, the early version of the Sedins. They made magic happen together. The only thing they were missing was the seemingly psychic twin abilities the Sedins have, but the Stastnys more than made up for it with their ability to fill the net and stuff the score sheet. Fitting that one of the biggest nights of their careers came almost seven years to the day after their famous 16-point night, too.
The Nordiques didn’t exactly buzzsaw their opponents like they had on the Stastny’s 16-point night, however. Rather, they only managed to eke out a 6-5 victory on the strength of a hat trick by Peter and an awesome four-assist night from Anton. All that was missing was a goal from Anton for the Stastnys stat line to match the Sedins exactly.
Jamie and Jordie Benn — Five points, Jan. 23, 2014; Dec. 13, 2016
When your brother is one of the top scorers in the league over the past few years, you’re bound to benefit from time to time. That’s exactly the case with Jordie Benn, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s ridden Jamie’s coattails onto this list.
The first time the brothers combined for a five-point night was back when Jamie was just starting his rise to becoming a perennial contender for the Art Ross Trophy, and his four-point night was one of his best of the campaign in a 7-1 defeat of the Maple Leafs. Jordie’s assist, which came while playing shorthanded with his brother, pushed them up to five total points. They then matched the feat earlier this season when Jamie chipped in a goal and three points to add to Jordie’s two helpers in a 6-2 defeat of the Ducks.
However, there is a six-point night among the brothers. Trouble is there’s no split. Jamie scored six points — a goal and five assists — in a 7-3 victory by the Stars over the Flames. Jordie didn’t hit the score sheet that night.
Scott and Rob Niedermayer — Five points, March 31, 2009
The Niedermayers played more than 2,400 combined games in the NHL, and nearly 25 percent of those came with the brothers suiting up together for the Ducks. The time together started during the 2005-06 season in the post-lockout NHL, and it continued on through to the 2008-09 campaign. And it was right around the time their tenure as teammates was coming to a close — less than a few months, to be exact — that they had their biggest night together.
On the final day of March, five games before the season was set to close, the Ducks squared off against the Oilers and the Niedermayers struck gold, especially in the second frame. Scott scored on a power play 33 seconds into the second, assisted on a Chris Pronger goal less than five minutes later and added a second helper on Rob’s goal with 1:25 left in the period. Rob capped the scoring with an empty-netter with 36 seconds left.
Eric and Jordan Staal — Four points, five times
The Staals were the center of the offense for the Hurricanes for a four-season stretch that spanned nearly 270 games, and the duo produced like a solid one-two punch for much of their time with the team. There are four different occasions in which four total points came off the sticks of the Staals. Incredibly, however, three of those big nights came in one spurt.
Eric and Jordan combined for three four-point games across a span of five weeks starting in November 2013. In a Nov. 24 game, Eric scored once and had three points with Jordan adding an assist on the first Hurricanes goal of the game to lead Carolina to victory, they again combined for four points in a win over the Coyotes less than three weeks later and had the four-point night a third time in an overtime win over the Canadiens on Dec. 31, 2013. As it turns out, another sibling duo was doing the same that night.
Eric and Jordan again pitched in a combined four-point night to close out March 2015. Eric scored early on an assist from Jordan then started piling up helpers of his own. First came an assist on an Alexander Semin goal, following by the primary helper on the final nail in the coffin, an Andrej Nestrasil power play tally late in the third.
Brayden and Luke Schenn — Four points, Dec. 31, 2013
The Schenn household sure had an exciting close to 2013. Brayden and Luke were in their second season playing together in Philadelphia. Brayden was just starting to become a fixture of the offense as the brothers combined to contributed 24 goals and 53 points during the 2013-14 season, but nothing seemed to click quite like it did on New Year’s Eve in 2013.
Early in the contest, Brayden picked up his first of two assists in the game and he added a goal in the dying minutes of the second period, while Luke had his lone contribution of the outing when the brothers both got in on a Scott Hartnell insurance marker midway through the third period. It was the most productive the Schenns ever were in a given game for the Flyers.
The brothers were split up in 2015-16 when the Flyers shipped Luke to the Kings, coincidentally the same team from which they received Brayden.
(All statistical information via Hockey-Reference.com)
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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.