Monday, July 27, 2009

Why EV Shot Quality Matters

A couple of months ago the Contratian Goaltender did a study that looked at goalies who switched teams and compared them with goalies who remained on the same team. He concluded that the effect of shot quality in the NHL was, on average, very small. More recently, Vic Ferrari expanded on this work with a similar study of his own and presented a similar case: shot quality does not have a big impact on save percentage at even strength.

On the one hand, these studies make sense. As much as teams will try not to give up good scoring opportunities, it's ultimately the player with the puck that will choose whether or not to shoot. If the chance of a goal is not sufficient, the player simply won't shoot the puck. The result ends up being that good defence tends to manifest itself in fewer shots reaching the goalie instead of many shots of inferior quality.

On the other hand, I think about what would happen if indeed I were a player in the NHL. It's not at all hard for me to imagine the results. A lot of losing my man. A lot of missed checks. A lot of getting beat one on one. Basically, a lot of scoring chances relative to total shots with me on the ice. Now, no one in the NHL is as bad at playing defense as I am (unless Rob Schremp makes it to the NHL) but it does seem rather intuitive that some teams would be significantly better at limiting the chance to shot ratio than others.

Even if the above isn't really the case I would still expect certain goaltenders to get lucky while others got unlucky. Even if, on average, shot quality is consistent, there ought to be one or two goalies that get particularly lucky or unlucky in terms of the number of scoring chances per shot faced. This is something that Vic pointed out when he looked at individual skaters scoring chance to Corsi ratio during the season. While the majority of the players had very similar Corsi and scoring chance rates, a few didn't. At the time of the study Marc Pouliot was particularly lucky and Eric Cole was particularly unlucky. I would expect to see something similar with regard to goaltenders.

I think that the work done recently by CG and Vic has shown that there is a lot less "Scott Reynolds on the Ice = High Quality Chances" in the NHL. But I don't think that they've demonstrated that shot quality does not exist in the NHL today. Even if shot quality is primarily luck (as it seems to be), that does not mean it doesn't exist or that it doesn't need to be taken into consideration when evaluating the past performance or predicting the future performance of a particular goaltender.

This brings me to one of the methods currently available for measuring shot quality (at even strength). Gabriel Desjardins is currently using a system that predicts goaltender shot quality based primarily on shot distance. Now, I think he's primarily measuring a lot of luck along with some terrible or great defence by specific teams. As such, I think it's quite likely that a lot of his work won't pass the traditional "smell test." In other words, because he's mostly measuring luck, New Jersey might allow very high quality shots while Tampa Bay might allow very low quality shots. As such, I decided on a different kind of smell test. I looked at the numbers for goalies who faced at least 250 shots in both the AHL and NHL in the same season. Because Desjardins' numbers only go back two seasons, I was only able to use the last two seasons worth of data. There are some obvious limitations here. Firstly, the AHL only publishes overall save percentage, so I won't be able to look at strictly EV results which would be preferable. Secondly, there are only 15 different goalies that meet the criteria so the average may be a little bit off of what it should be going from one league to the other. Thirdly, any observed differnece from one league to another may be the result of luck at the AHL level or at the NHL level or both. Nonetheless, and with those limitations in mind, these are the results:




In order for Desjardins' method to pass this (rather crude) smell test, I would expect that goalies who outperformed expectations at the NHL level to be ranked as facing "low" shot quality while goalies who underperformed at the NHL level to be described as facing "high" shot quality. My categories for shot quality are low (expected EVSv% is .915 or better), average (.915-.905) and high (.905 or worse). This is how various players performed:


The results here are not particularly encouraging but, as I said at the outset, there were a ton of factors other than EV shot distance that may have caused the discrepancies between AHL and NHL save percentages (goalies getting hot or cold for a period of time, the number of PP shots faced at the NHL or AHL level, elements of shot quality other than shot distance). One of the biggest problems with the way shot quality is measured now is the use of shot distance to begin with. I think the real key to shot quality analysis will be having accurate scoring chance data kept. If that happens, shot quality could probably be effectively measure using a ratio of scoring chances to shots on goal or simply bypassing the middle man and using a scoring chance percentage to evaluate goaltenders.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Morris vs. Ward

Well... I was wrong. The Boston Bruins have signed defenceman Derek Morris to a one year contract worth 3.3M, which is 0.8M more than they were planning on paying Aaron Ward. Realistically, Morris isn't going to be getting big PP time with the Bruins since both of the incumbents on the first unit (Chara and Wideman) will still be there next season. Similarly, Morris will probably be expected to fill in for Ward on the second PK unit. As such, each of them would be contributing to the Bruins primarily at even strength. Here are what the two players have done over the last two seasons:


Now, Ward was playing in a superior team context and that's for sure. Ward's latest year looks particularly good but he played most of the year with the guy that won the Norris trophy so you'd kind of expect his "on-ice" stats to shine. Still, Ward put up two solid seasons in the top four in a row. In both years he led Boston defenders in defensive-offensive zone faceoffs and he wasn't ever getting the easiest competition so I think it's fair to say that Ward was taking on the tough minutes and doing well. The biggest downside is that he missed some time from injury in both seasons and as an older defenceman, his time for a serious decline is probably coming soon.

Morris, meanwhile, had one good season in Phoenix and one poor one. In 2007-08 Morris was taking on the tough minutes both in terms of quality of competition and in terms of defensive zone starts. Although he was mugged territorially (on a team with a ton of young forwards) he did get the puck moving in the right direction for the folks that hopped over the boards after him on many nights. The fact that his role changed so much the next year is a bit baffling. Morris played most of 2008-09 with Ed Jovanovski and, considering where they were starting, they got absolutely thrashed. In spite of starting way more often in the good end of the ice Morris posted terrible Corsi numbers in Phoenix (-164). The team itself was pretty poor (-458 Corsi before the deadline) but when you're on the ice taking the cherry ice time and getting bombed, you're a big part of what's going wrong. Given the offensive context of his ice time, the 0.61 pts/60 is very poor.

In all honesty, this seems like a pretty bad deal for the Bruins. They have moved out a guy that has played two solid seasons on a winning team for the privilege of taking a hit to the cap for three out of the next four years and gaining an extra $40,000 or so bucks for next year. And this was to make room for a guy that's (1) more expensive and (2) possibly not as good as Aaron Ward (also, Aaron Ward is an awesome guy). Now, I'm all for taking advantage of the fact that you can create cap space but if that was the main motivating factor here, it seems like overkill. This series of moves could end up working out for the Bruins, but the fact that they're paying an extra 1M to have Morris over Ward doesn't make sense to me from a cap management perspective. From a PR perspective, this could look pretty bad if Ward plays well in Carolina while Morris struggles in Boston.

Ward to Carolina, Eaves to the Gutter

Earlier today the Boston Bruins traded defender Aaron Ward to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Patrick Eaves and a 4th round pick. For the Hurricanes the value of the trade is in Aaron Ward's ability to play hockey, and in that respect, it's my opinion that the Hurricanes have made out like bandits. Fantastic trade for them and there's not really much more to say than that. For the Bruins the value of the trade is for cap management. By subtracting Ward the Bruins move 2.5M off of their cap for this coming season. James Mirtle points out that they will need this money in order to sign Phil Kessel to a contract before trading him or another forward for a defenceman in the 4M range. That seems like a pretty contrived way of going about things to me. Why not just keep Ward if the eventual goal is to trade for another defenceman? Especially since (1) Ward played well for the Bruins last year (He led the team in def-off zone faceoffs with 62 extra dzone draws, he was ranked 2nd among defenders in quality of competition, put up a mildly negative of Corsi of -30 but rode strong percentages to a +8 finsish at EV), (2) Ward's contract is very reasonable for a quality top four defender and (3) Ward's contract expires after this season, meaning he will not be a drain on the cap going forward.

I think the reason the Bruins moved Ward along is that Carolina wanted him. If the Bruins are planning on moving a forward from their current group out in favour of a defender, I have a hard time thinking that they'll be able to bring in better value than Ward was providing. As such, I think that the Bruins must actually want to keep the group of forwards they have in tact, including Kessel.

This brings us to Patrick Eaves who may actually be a decent little player (unfortunately for him, that's not why the Bruins got him). Why did they want Eaves? In fairness, they probably didn't (which makes this trade even more amazing from Carolina's perspective) but Eaves' contract does have one very nice feature. As I mentioned earlier this week with regard to the Oilers, some players, when bought out, can create cap space going forward. Patrick Eaves is one of these players and has already been put on waivers by the Bruins. Although he costs $258,333 against the cap in three out of the next four years, in 2010-11 he gives Boston an extra $41,667 to spend. This isn't a huge amount of money by any means as it represents under 0.1% of any projected cap for next year but every little bit is going to count if the cap declines. This doesn't change the fact that he was probably a salary dump, but he is one of the most attractive kind.

This leaves the Bruins with (thanks to capgeek.com here) $950,000 in cap space to start with and $2,091,667 assuming Eaves is bought out (instead of being claimed on waivers). Once the bonuses that are due Blake Wheeler are factored in (and I assume the Bruins will in fact try to make sure that he does not make his bonuses so that they will not have them count against the cap in 2010-11) the Bruins have a total of $4,141,667 left to spend on Phil Kessel and one more low cost defender (assuming they play the whole season with a full 23 man roster). Now, they know their financial situation better than I do with regard to Kessel's contract demands, but that just doesn't seem like quite enough as they'd need to get him signed to something in the range of 3.5M. If they can get Kessel done (and Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart are both ready for consistent top four minutes) then this deal works out pretty well for the Bruins. If they end up moving out more pieces to replace Ward on defense, then this is a bad trade for the Bruins.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Grebeshkov Contract

Denis Grebeshkov signed a one year deal earlier today for 3.15M (source: capgeek.com). I don't think the Oilers got a particularly good deal, but it's far from a disaster. Earlier this week the guys at Coppernblue did a mock arbitration that concluded with Grebeshkov getting a one year deal for 3.25M, so the Oilers did slightly better than that but I still think they would have been better off going to arbitration. If I was making the Oilers case I would need to begin by demonstrating that young players get more money for signing longer term contracts. If this can be done successfully - which I think it can - then I would try to confine my comparables to good players that got paid once they committed long term or players that haven't yet committed long term at all. That way, in the hearing, the Oilers could emphasize that Grebeshkov is a good young player, much like other good young players, who deserves a mid-money deal based on the term of the contract (1 or 2 years) and players that have had similar deals. These would be my comparables:

John-Michael Liles:
Platform Year: 14-35-49, +5, 18:31 per game
Career Totals: Age 25, 2 full seasons, 176 GP, 10-53-63, -2
Contract after Platform Year: 2 years, 1.325M per year

Joni Pitkanen:
Platform Year: 4-39-43, -25, 24:33 per game
Career Totals: Age 23, 3 full seasons, 206 GP, 25-91-116, +12
Contract after Platform Year: 1 year, 2.4M per year

Jay Bouwmeester:
Platform Year: 5-41-46, +1, 25:29 per game
Career Totals: Age 22, 3 full seasons, 225 GP, 11-71-82, -43
Contract after Platform Year: 2 years, 2.175M per year

Denis Grebeshkov:
Platform Year: 7-32-39, +12, 21:10 per game
Career Totals: Age 25, 2 full seasons, 176 GP, 10-53-63, -2
Contract after Platform Year: ?

Grebeshkov outshines some things here, but lags with other things. He wasn't playing as many minutes (or as tough of minutes, but you'd need to prove that statisitcally in an arbitration hearing and I'm not sure that Quality of Competition would work, but it might) as Bouwmeester or Pitkanen. His scoring totals are the worst of the three. His career +/- is only better than Bouwmeester's. He's older than the group so has less time to improve before his prime but doesn't have any more NHL experience than these other players. I don't think saying any of that is nasty. From there, the team can talk about how they believe in Grebeshkov and that they think he can become the kind of player that these others have become. In fact they're prepared to pay him at the top of this bracket, offering 2.5M per year.

I think it's a good case. Since it's player-elected arbitration, the team can even opt for a two year deal. Should the Oilers win the case (or something close to it, like an award of 2.8M or some such) they'd have Grebeshkov locked up for two years at a good rate and expecting a nice long term deal in the future. You've only compared Grebeshkov to good players and players he's seen got paid in the future on long term deals. You haven't said anything bad about him. If your options are a one-year deal at 3.15M or arbitration, I don't really see the downside of going to arbitration. Could the award have been much worse than 3.15M? The other odd thing is that the hearing isn't for another week or so. Why not continue negotiating a long term deal until the date gets closer? Did the Oilers think the 3.15M was too good of an offer to let it sit? This deal isn't horrible by any stretch. There's a very reasonable chance that Grebeshkov outperforms it. Still, they could have done a lot better.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Creating Cap Space for 2010-2011

When I looked at the Oilers salary situation earlier this month I came to the conclusion that the Oilers should probably move a player out that's making some significant salary among the team's middle 6 forwards. If the Oilers could move a player like O'Sullivan, Moreau or Nilsson they would be in much better (cap) shape going forward. Now, the easiest way to get rid of cap space is to bury a player in the minors. This is an attractive suggestion for fans since we're not the ones spending the money. Now, it may be that Darryl Katz is prepared to bury some players in the minor leagues. If so, then there really isn't any problem, but we have no real reason to believe that this is a strategy that Katz is comfortable with. Another solution is trading players. Sometimes a team can get away with trading away salary without taking much in return (like New York with Gomez, Colorado with Smyth and Calgary with Vandermeer) but most times, I'm lead to believe that this is difficult to do. This leads me to today's topic: buy-outs.

As we all know, the Collective Bargaining Agreement can sometimes be a bit of a strange beast. The way buy-outs are calculated is no exception which brings me to one Robert Nilsson. Because Nilsson is under 26 years of age he would be due to receive one third of the salary remaining on his contract. Nilsson's current cap hit is 2M per season, but because his deal was backloaded he still has 4.5M in salary left to be paid, one third of which is 1.5M. This amount (1.5M) is then paid out to Nilsson over twice the remaining years on his contract. With two years left on his contract, Nilsson would receive 1.5M divided equally into four years which comes to $375,000 per year (page 224 of the CBA). For cap purposes, the actual dollar savings are subtracted from the old cap hit to come up with a new cap number (page 205). In the years after the original contract expires, the amount paid to the player becomes the new cap hit. So if Nilsson were bought out today...

2009-10: 2M old cap hit - (2M salary - 0.375M paid to Nilsson = 1.625M in savings) = 0.375M new cap hit

2010-11: 2m old cap hit - (2.5M salary - 0.375M paid to Nilsson = 2.125 in savings) = 0.125M cap credit

2011-12: 0.375M paid to Nilsson = 0.375M cap hit

2012-13: 0.375M paid to Nilsson = 0.375M cap hit

For this coming season, Nilsson's contribution could probably be adequately replaced with the remaining 1.625M. The Oilers could even use that money to bring in one or two veteran hands that are currently unemployed on one-year deals to help shore up the forwards. In 2010-11 the Oilers have actually gotten a credit for buying out Nilsson. While the credit isn't much, it is $125,000 other teams won't be able to spend. After the 2010-11 season there a number of things to consider but the most important is the expiration of the CBA in September of 2011. By deferring problems to a new CBA the Oilers could well be putting themselves in a more advantageous position. Maybe there will be amnesty buy-outs available, maybe there won't be guaranteed contracts, maybe there won't even be a season (ugh). It's important not to completely throw away those years cap-wise but I don't think that a cap debit of $375,000 is much to fret over.

There are, however, some significant snags to this process. Firstly, before the buy-out is completed, the player must first be offered waivers (page 251). In other words, in order for the Oilers to receive the cap credit they would to hope that Nilsson clears waivers. This is really a win-win situation for Edmonton. If he does get claimed then the Oilers get out from under his contract. If Nilsson doesn't get claimed they can get the credit in 2010-11. This, of course, assumes that Nilsson is less valuable than the cap space he would create. Your mileage may vary on that.

Now, according to section 11.18 each team is only allowed 3 buy-outs outside of the regular buy-out period. This period is June 15th to June 30th as well as the 48 hours after the club receives its final arbitration award (page 251 of the CBA). In other words, this really shouldn't be a problem for the Oilers since they can buy Nilsson out after they come to a settlement with Denis Grebeshkov and not be penalized. Further, to my knowledge, they haven't used any of their 3 "extra" buy-outs so even if they don't come to a decision until later, they could decide to buy Nilsson out regardless. Should the Oilers keep Nilsson for this season but see the cap decline significantly next summer they could still buy him out and receive a cap credit of $83,333 for the 2010-11 season (and a debit of $416,667 for 2011-12).

The other intriguing option this scenario provides is the Oilers setting themselves up for extra cap space in 2010-11 by signing an awkwardly structured contract now to a completely undeserving player. Let's say that Edmonton decides that Ryan Potulny is going to take Nilsson's place as a scoring winger on this team for a year. The Oilers could give Potulny a two-year deal worth 1.95M per season. The maximum discrepancy the Oilers could create would be to offer 1.3M in the first year and 2.6M in the second year. If Potulny plays well, great, keep him. If he's just not very good, then, assuming he clears waivers, you can buy him out which would work as follows:

2010-11: 1.95M old cap hit - (2.6M salary - (2.6M*(1/3)/2 years = 0.433M paid to the player) = 2.167M in savings) = 0.217M cap credit

2011-12: 0.433M cap hit

Now, it doesn't need to Potulny necessarily, just someone that the Oilers have access to (their own RFA or a UFA) who won't be 26 years old until next summer. I think this is a good strategy to use, particularly for the Oilers. Moreau, O'Sullivan, Staios and Stortini are all scheduled to come off the books after the 2010-11 season. Gaining some extra room in 2010-11 at the expense of 2011-12 would probably serve them well. Further, it's a pretty low risk bet if you actually like the RFA that's getting the audition. If Potulny does well, you've found a useful NHL player that you'll keep the rights to. If Potulny does poorly he can be bought out as part of the cap solution for the following season. I think it's basically a win-win.

On Dale Tallon

When I first heard that Dale Tallon had been reassigned (Martin Havlat's agent Allan Walsh seems to think Tallon was fired... incidentally, Walsh makes my list of folks that should consider cancelling their twitter accounts) by the Chicago Blackhawks, I wasn't surprised. In fact, given what had happened earlier in the summer (Chicago failed to send qualifying offers to theri restricted free agents on time, presumably something in Tallon's area of responsibility) it even seemed appropriate. Yet, the first report I read on the matter from TSN included this:

"The incident was an embarrassing one for the club and the NHLPA filed a grievance with the league, but it was not believed to be a major factor in the change."

I would be interested to know where that information came from. In a follow-up report by TSN they mention that team president John McDonough used the offer sheet fiasco as one of the reasons for Tallon being removed from the role of general manager. In fact, McDonough said that Tallon "probably [would] not" have been replaced if the offer sheets had been tendered on time. So what set of facts led to the first report?

When Denis Savard was fired there was some speculation that McDonough was looking for a reason to fire Tallon as well. At the time I didn't think that there was much to it. If they had wanted to fire Tallon, they could have done it the same day as Savard. Quennville had been brought in as a pro scout shortly after Scotty Bowman was brought in as "senior adviser of hockey operations" (now that Tallon has that title Bowman will probably change his title to "most senior adviser of hockey operations" just so that everyone is clear on who sits where on the totem pole). Sure it would have looked a bit bush league to fire both Savard and Tallon after four games (instead of, you know, before the season starts) but if you feel that the people running the organization aren't competent, you may as well get them out of the organization.

This is why I take issue with Tom Benjamin's description of John MacDonagh as courageous. Benjamin believes that MacDonagh had felt for a long time that Tallon was not right for the job. Given some of Martin Havlat's comments ("McDonough knew long ago he was going to fire Dale"), that situation seems quite likely. So why, then, did he wait. It seems positively stupid to let a man you think is incompetent run the organization for over a year, through another draft and another round of free agency before firing him. Why would anyone do this?

I think Martin Havlat provides a darn good answer. In an interview with Darren Dreger at TSN, Havlat says:

"My negotiation with Chicago was not between Dale and my agent, it was between Dale and McDonough. Why? Because McDonough couldn't stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Final in three short years. Remember, we were also the youngest team in the NHL last year. I was too closely identified with Dale. McDonough knew long ago he was going to fire Dale. He wanted someone he could claim as his own. He wanted to stand up at the convention and claim credit for signing this guy or that guy."

Now, a lot of what Havlat has to say here is pretty clearly BS. I doubt very much that McDonough was jealous of Tallon's success, since their success was shared. I also strongly doubt that Havlat was let go because of any connection with Dale Tallon. It probably had a lot more to do with his history of injuries, most recently the concussion he suffered in the Conference Finals. What I don't doubt is that Havlat came to an agreement with Tallon but that Tallon couldn't convince McDonough to sign off on the deal. That explains the degree to which Havlat was upset. He believed a deal was in place. It also explains why Tallon wasn't fired before free agency. The Hawks have set Tallon up as the fall guy. If the team does poorly this season or runs into cap trouble, that will be laid on Tallon. To some degree this is fair. The offer sheet fiasco, Huet's huge salary (although Huet has been a good goalie over the last several seasons), and especially Brian Campbell's ludicrous contract (third highest paid defender in the league!) all happened on Dale Tallon's watch. The thing is, the guy they hired, Stan Bowman, was the team's assistant general manager the entire time. The Hawks website describes his duties during this time as follows:

"Bowman attended to the day-to-day administration of the Blackhawks’ hockey operations department with his primary responsibilities including all CBA-related matters such as contract negotiations, free agency, salary arbitration, player movement and player assignment."

It seems to me, then, that the whole offer sheet fiasco should rest partially on Bowman as well as Tallon. The site also comments on his role in recent player acquisitions:

"Bowman played an integral part in the recent major free agent signings of Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden in 2009 and Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet in 2008."

I imagine this sentence will change drastically if Hossa doesn't perform well, if Campbell ends up being the main reason for some of Chicago's young talent changing addresses and if Huet ends up underperforming. If those things happen, I imagine the blame will rest with Dale Tallon. That's why he stayed on through free agency even though he wasn't the guy with the final say. If things go poorly, he's the guy that takes the blame. If things go well, Bowman and McDonough will be in front of the cameras to take the credit. In the end, replacing Dale Tallon probably isn't a bad choice. The offer sheet incident in particular isn't really defensible. But the way it was handled was not courageous. It was cowardly.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oilers Make Three Minor Signings

Over at capgeek.com, I've seen that the Oilers have signed three more players that could be spending time with the AHL Falcons in Toni Rajala, Colin McDonald and Devan Dubnyk. Rajala signed his entry level deal for 3 years at 0.625M per year. McDonald is now on his second professional contract which he signed for one year at 0.55M. Dubnyk is also on his second contract, one year at 0.7M. All the pay figures are if the player plays in the NHL and all three deals are two-way contracts. Both Dubnyk's and McDonald's count toward Edmonton's 50 contract limit (Rajala's would if he played in the NHL but that isn't going to happen).

Toni Rajala will not be playing at the NHL level this coming season. However, he is one of the rare 18 year old players that can play at the AHL level without burning any time off of his entry level deal. He has already committed to playing in North America (see the comments of this thread at Lowetide's blog) and will most likely be suiting up for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Still, if the kid lights it up at training camp there's no harm in letting him play in the AHL for at least a few games (I'm sure Rajala would like the money better). In either case, coming over to North America is a good move for Rajala as he is sure to get plenty of playing time in a solid league.

Incidentally, Rajala's status as a prospect amongst Oiler fans is quite interesting. Jonathan Willis and Derek Zona have him ranked 18th among Oiler prospects while Lowetide places him at 8th. Why the discrepancy? I think it largely has to do with the way Lowetide values draft "commentaries" like the Red Line Report (who had Rajala ranked in the top 40 in this year's draft) while Willis and Zona put more value on draft pedigree (Rajala was actually taken 101st overall in this year's draft). In most cases, I tend to side more with the "commentaries" and this case is no different. The fact that Rajala is an explosive offensive player onlly encourages me to hope against hope that he realizes his potential. Hopefully Rajala is motivated at camp and plays well enough to earn himself a spot as a scorer in Springfield.

Colin McDonald is very unlikely to play at the NHL level this year. According to Jonathan's quality of competition numbers he was taking on medium to difficult competition last year in Springfield (he ranked 6th among Falcon forwards) and produced very little in the way of offence posting only 22 points in 77 games. This is slightly worse than his previous season where he put up 23 points in 73 games. To be honest, I'm not too sure why the Oilers bothered with McDonald, especially since he'll cost the Oilers one of their 50 contracts. As far as I'm concerned, the AHL really ought to be reserved for legitimate prospects or true blue veterans. McDonald is neither.

Devan Dubnyk may be in the AHL this season, but it's not unreasonable to think that he could end up playing some games with the Oilers. If Jeff Deslauriers falters, there's a very good chance that Dubnyk could get some playing time and earn himself NHL money as a full-time NHL backup in 2010-2011 since both he and Deslauriers will need new contracts next season. Although his numbers at the AHL level (.906 save percentage) are not inspiring, Jonathan Willis has demonstrated that part of the reason for these poor numbers may well have been the team around him. Hopefully Willis is correct as Dubnyk's ability to deliver replacement level goaltending at the NHL level might be needed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reddox Off to Europe?

According to TSN, Liam Reddox will be playing in Europe instead of Edmonton (or Springfield) next season. Now, the report also indicates that the Oilers did give him a qualifying offer, which means the Oilers will retain his NHL rights until he turns twenty-seven. Jonathan Willis has indicated that he believes this is primarily a dispute over money and NHL playing time. At a guess, I think this is more about money. The main reason for this is the manner in which the story was reported. The report is that Reddox has rejected his qualifying offer, which is pretty normal. Almost all players reject their qualifying offers. The newsworthy part is that Reddox is going to play in Europe. The odd thing is that there is no indication of where exactly he's going to play. In theory, there is still plenty of time for Reddox to work out a deal with the Oilers. So why are they reporting that he's off to Europe?

Given the nature of the information, I assume that the source for the story is either Reddox or, more probably, his agent. Last year, Reddox saw both Marc Pouliot and J.F. Jacq
ues sign one-way contracts with the Oilers for less than their qualifying offers. This guaranteed them a hefty sum of money and made it very likely that they would stick with the NHL team. I would guess that Reddox is looking for the same kind of deal (one-way at the league minimum would be a decent compromise) and that Steve Tambellini is reluctant to give it to him. As such, the threat of Europe is thrown out to the media. I feel quite confident that if Tambellini comes back with a one-way deal for Reddox that Liam will be staying in North America. The question then becomes, is it worth it?

The following chart is organized according to AHL points per game and is the sum total of each player's numbers over the last two seasons:


As we can see, Reddox has pretty good numbers compared to other players of similar age within the organization. All of these players are very good at the AHL level. The only player with more NHL games over the last two seasons is Gilbert Brule and Reddox has him beat in terms of offense (and probably defence too) at both the AHL and NHL level. If the Oilers have chosen Brule for a one-way deal over Reddox, it's probably a case of draft pedigree winning out over performance. It may also be an indication of management's preference for more physical players, which Tambellini indicated as an off-season priority. Since no new players have been signed, I imagine that more physical players could be given a greater opportunity to win a job out of camp. Good news for Ryan Stone and Gilbert Brule. Bad news for Rob Schremp, Ryan Potulny and Liam Reddox. Without the financial guarantee of a one-way deal, I can see why Reddox was nervous about his job security.

Given that it was one of management's priorities to improve the AHL club this year, losing Reddox hurts is a significant blow. If there are going to be two players moving up from last season's AHL club, the signing of Chris Minard will not be enough to make up for the loss in the forward ranks. Some people may suggest that losing Reddox will save the Oilers one of their 50 contracts (NHL teams can have a maximum of 50 players signed at any one time) but this probably isn't the case. With Reddox gone, the Oilers will need to go out and replace him with someone of similar quality. Presumably, that player will want a two-way contract. If that's the case, the Oilers do not save a contract but do save between $300,000 and $500,000. From an Oilers perspective, I imagine that's what this is about.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dean Arsene a Falcon

Looking around the net this evening I noticed that capgeek.com has the Oilers signing defender Dean Arsene. Arsene is a veteran of seven AHL seasons and is surely pencilled in to the Falcons blueline for this season. He provides very little offence (in his best AHL season he managed 15 points) but a whole lot of toughness (he's had more PIMs than games played in each of his seven seasons). He was a +8 last season and played in all 22 playoff games for the Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. In his best season Arsene accumulated 15 points, 187 PIMs and was a +23. Further, Guy Flaming seems to have known which way the wind was blowing when he mentioned Arsene in a column earlier this week, mentioning his leadership as a strength. All of these things lead me to believe that Arsene is more than a goon, that he takes a regular shift and should be able to provide some stability in Springfield along with Jake Taylor. If this is accurate, this is a good signing by the Oilers.

Interestingly, this means that the AHL club has now added yet another defender to the mix. In addition to Arsene and Taylor, the Falcons will have Peckham, Chorney, Wild, Motin, Plante, Young (and Nickerson) all trying to earn regular time. I suppose they might end up in some sort of rotation but until injuries hit at least two of these players are going to either be in the press box or in Stockton.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Edmonton Oilers

This is the last installment of my series on where each team in the Northwest stands after the first week of free agency. I've been looking at the budget for each team, both this coming season and the 2010-2011 season, as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. The final team has won more Stanley Cups than the other four combined but none since Freddie Mercury died (We Are The Champions!), the Edmonton Oilers:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner = 13.85 or 24.4%

Middle 6 Forwards - O'Sullivan, Pisani, Moreau, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson = 12.18 or 21.4%

Top 4 Defenders - Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, ??? = 15.00 or 26.4%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, Deslauriers = 4.38 or 7.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, Strudwick, ???, Pouliot, Stortini, MacIntyre, Jacques, ??? = 5.99 or 10.5%

Once the top 4 defenders are completed by Grebeshkov the Oilers will have overspent on their top four defenders but that extra expense is made up for with some savings on the first line, in goal and in the bottom 8 players. There has been quite some discussion about moving out one of those defenders (and I have participated) but, unless they're sincerely worried about a declining cap, I think that it's probably better to stick with the top four guys that they have. If they are worried about the cap, they should be moving one of the two older players along. In either case, where the money is really being spent inefficiently is in the middle 6 forwards. Pisani and Moreau have had a difficult time staying healthy over the last three years and the other four players are all both small and young which really isn't a recipe for success. For the Oilers to have success I think they'll need to do some shuffling of pieces in that part of the lineup. Moving out one of the smaller and younger forwards in favour of a player with experience taking on some tougher minutes and some size (Nilsson out and Malhotra in could work nicely) along with a smart PK signing in the bottom 8 (Blair Betts would fit well here) could do wonders for this forward group. If they get that (and some good health) they can reasonably think about playing some playoff games this year, which would be a welcome change from the last three years.

1. Edmonton trades Kyle Brodziak + 2009 6th round pick to Minnesota for 2009 4th round pick + 2009 5th round pick. I think this that this trade was pretty foolish for the Oilers. It comes down to moving out a useful NHL player for virtually nothing. This trade is one of the main reasons the Oilers now need to pick up a veteran 4th line center as well as the 2nd toughs center they already needed. Brodziak was taking an enormous amount of defensive zone draws for the Oilers this year and they really don't have anyone to take over for him right now. Trading away depth for negligible return just isn't a good idea as far as I'm concerned. For a further analysis of this trade, you can see my post from a couple of weeks ago.

2. Edmonton almost trades Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid and Dustin Penner to Ottawa for Dany Heatley. To begin with evaluating any kind of trade, I want to ask, what kind of player is Dany Heatley? Well, this year on the Senators, Heatley took 40 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive zone (the team as a whole took 13 more offensive than defensive zone faceoffs). His quality of competition was 5th among Ottawa forwards. The year before, Heatley took 100 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive zone (the team as a whole took 160 more offensive than defensive zone faceoffs). His quality of competition was 2nd among Ottawa forwards. Tyler Dellow has shown that in terms of scoring points at even strength, Dany Heatley is among the very best. Dany Heatley is an offensive player. He can take on good competition and win but in order for his talents to be maximized he needs to be put into offensive situations. In order to make good use of a player like this, the rest of your team needs to be able to move the puck in the right direction. Last year, outside of Shawn Horcoff's line, the Oilers didn't do a very good job of this.

If Heatley's coming to Edmonton there had better be a bunch of other movement too. The rest of the forward group needs to be able to move the puck the right way. In my view, the best way to do this is by having Sam Gagner take on some tougher competition with as many offensive zone faceoffs as possible alongside Heatley and Hemsky. That way, the offensive players are still taking on some toughs and yet they're still in a strong position to provide offense. Horcoff and Pisani would then form the basis of another line that would be forced to take a ton of defensive zone draws and tough matchups with the goal of sawing off with the opposition. A third line would then need to be constructed that could handle the fact that their primary job was to keep the puck moving the right way. The Oilers do not currently have the players or the budget for a line like this and would probably need to get them through trading one of their top 4 D options (along with what'sleft among the young and small forwards) and replacing that D with someone cheaper. The kind of trade I'm thinking of would be something like O'Sullivan + Visnovsky + Prospects (as needed) to Long Island for Trent Hunter and Radek Martinek. Then, they would need a couple of UFA signings to shore up the center position. This "Heatley" roster would look something like this:

Top 3 Forwards - Heatley, Gagner, Hemsky = 13.23 or 23.3%

Middle 6 Forwards - Moreau, Horcoff, Pisani, Moore (2M), Malhotra (2M), Hunter = 16.00 or 28.2%

Top 4 Defenders - Souray, Gilbert, Grebeshkov (3.5), Martinek = 14.60 or 25.7%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, Deslauriers = 4.38 or 7.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, Peckham, Strudwick, Jacques, Stortini, Betts (1M), Pouliot, MacIntyre = 7.59 or 13.4%

Well then, that was fun. They even have 1M left in cap space to play with for injuries and trades and I didn't trade any of the 90s boys (though I did send Nilsson away for unspecified picks, to the Islanders if they'd take him or to the minors). If this is the kind of team the Oilers want to ice for the next three years (the Heatley/Hemsky window) then I think the Heatley trade is a good idea. Dany Heatley is an elite offensive player. He's the kind of player that can make a big difference for a team that's ready to win. The price in trade really isn't that steep. Sure Smid might turn out and Penner is a pretty good player and Cogliano has some real potential but none of those guys are elite players. None of them are really worth building a game plan around. Dany Heatley is good enough at scoring goals that he probably is. Of the players on the Oilers the only two that have even a marginal claim to that status are that Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner and neither of them are going the other way in the trade. As such, this trade is probably a bigtime win for the Oilers, but it will only be so if they actually do the rest of the building.

As for the potential "character" issues... Tambellini has worked with Dany Heatley many times and doesn't seem worried about them. Shawn Horcoff has played and won with him many times and doesn't seem worried about them. The fact that other people are worried about them is what makes this such a good deal for Edmonton. Now, he certainly has made some poor decisions (speeding and killing a close friend... eep) but I know that I myself have done some stupid things as a young man (including driving a car faster than I should have). If Heatley comes to Edmonton, I'll have no problem cheering for him.

3. Edmonton signs Nikolai Khabibulin to a four year deal at 3.75M per year. This was a poor signing by the Oilers. The first reason for this is that, quite simply, Khabibulin hasn't been a very good goaltender over the last several years. To be sure, he had a good year last season, but in the three previous seasons his numbers were very poor. In both 2005-06 and 2006-07 Khabibulin posted below average save percentage numbers of .886 (.899 at EV) and .902 (.913 at EV). In 2007-08 he was about average with .909 (.916 at EV) and in 2008-09 he was well above average with .919 (.933 at EV). Given his age and recent history (one out of the last four seasons clearly above average) it seems very unlikely that Khabibulin will be able to provide above average goaltending over the duration of the contract.

From a salary cap perspective, Nikolai Khabibulin is a poor signing because of the term that he was given as an over-35 signing. Because of his age Khabibulin will count againt the Oilers cap no matter what. If he retires, he counts against the cap. If he's sent to the minors, he counts against the cap. The one possible saving grace is loaning Khabibulin to a KHL team. Since there were other options available who were under-35 and have performed as well as Khabibulin or better over the last several seasons (including Martin Biron who's still available) it seems odd that the Oilers chose to sign Khabibulin. It seems even odder that they decided to sign him for four years. Even Khabibulin himself seemed surprised by the offer.

And that's the rub in this whole situation. Tyler Dellow has been saying for months how the goaltending market this year had more goalies than jobs (incidentally, Tyler thought that the Oilers did a pretty inexcusable job of gauging the goalie market this summer). So why did the Oilers sign Khabibulin on the first day of free agency? Why did they offer him such a generous term? Why couldn't they understand that they were in a strong negotiating position, that they could get good goaltending without taking on much risk? Why!? The first reason is that I think that management incorrectly believes that Khabibulin was the best goalie available this year and they've made some kind of coup. I don't agree with this position, but clearly the Oilers feel that Khabibulin over four years is much better than Roloson over two years. Roloson signed for 1.25M cheaper and for a term that's half as long. That's a substantial amount of extra risk for the Oilers to assume. Now, I would've thought they failed in the goalie market if they'd picked up Roloson for two years at 2.5M but even that deal would have been preferable to what the Oilers actually did. The other reason for this signing is probably the organizational memory of the Conkannen experiment. To some bloggers a tandem of Craig Anderson and Ty Conklin for 3M combined seems pretty wonderful. In Edmonton, it's understandable that fans are a little more leery. The 2005-2006 goaltending was terrible and that's really too bad. If it hadn't been so bad the Oilers would probably be a lot more open to signing a non-name goalie and would therefore be able to better understand their advantageous negotiating position with respect to goalies. Still, I can see how Conkannen would be pretty hard to get over. Particularly after Game 1 of the SCF.

4. Edmonton signs Jason Strudwick to a one year deal at 0.70M per year. Strudwick took on the easiest competition the opposition had to offer, took 11 more offensive than defensive zone draws and had the percentages fall his way (PDO of 101.6). Yet his Corsi number was -210 on a team that was -359 and was a -5 at playing 5v5. The scoring chance numbers show the same terrible picture. Jason Strudwick is a bad defenceman. In his defence, Strudwick did need to move from forward to defense on a few occasions and was often saddled with poor teammates. But at some point that's just not a good enough excuse. I know that he's a good guy in the room and that he can fight some but I would have liked for the Oilers to have gone in a different direction for the seventh defender. To be perfectly frank, if I were in the Oilers position I'd try to hire three of the best physical guys at the AHL level to one-way deals and tell them that they'll all be battling with Theo Peckham for one job in the Show. I believe that they'd likely end up with a better player than Strudwick (and the minor league team would improve too).

5. Edmonton signs Chris Minard to a one year deal at 0.55M per year. Minard has some NHL experience and joins Ryan Potulny as a player that will probably be playing the vast majority of the year in the AHL. He's a guy that can put up points and demonstrate what being a professional is to all of the players in Springfield. I always like these signings because they help to provide a winning environment in the AHL and give the Oilers the depth they might need if injuries mount. A nice depth signing by the Oilers.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M Projection non-Heatley edition)

Top 3 Forwards - Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky = 13.85 or 27.7%

Middle 6 Forwards - O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, ???, ???, ??? = 6.93 or 13.9%

Top 4 Defenders - Souray, Gilbert, Visnovsky, ??? = 15.00 or 30.0%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, ??? = 3.75 or 7.5%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, ???, ???, Stortini, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 3.4 6.8%

This chart is a bit scary for the Oilers. They really aren't in good financial shape in any area except for goal and even there, they're not in a position to save money. Without moving any pieces, the Oilers would have about 3M for three middle 6 forwards, 1.25M for a top 4 defender, 1.2M for two bottom pairing defenders, 0.5M for a backup goalie and 2.25M for four bottom of the roster forwards. So it's not impossible. But that's pretty grim. And there's no room for either Gagner or Cogliano. If there's a deal on the table that offers value but no salary for any of the middle 6 forwards the Oilers should probably take it. If the Oilers can move Staios, it would be a good idea. Depending on how much the cap goes down, the Oilers may need to trim the amount they're spending on the defense. They aren't the only ones in this type of situation but the Oilers would do well to recognize the potenital peril and move a body or two out the door (for me, it's at least two of Penner, Nilsson, O'Sullivan and Moreau). Unless they get Heatley. Then we'll need to revisit how the Oilers trim around the edges effectively.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Vancouver Canucks

Over the last few days, I've been looking at the budget for each team in the Northwest division for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at
nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Today, I'll be looking at the Vancouver Canucks:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, Samuelsson = 14.70 or 25.9%

Middle 6 Forwards - Demitra, Bernier, Burrows, Kesler, ???, ??? = 9.75 or 17.2%

Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Mitchell, Edler = 14.00 or 24.6%

Goaltending - Luongo, Raycroft = 7.25 or 12.8%

Bottom 8 Players - O'Brien, Rome, Nycholat, Johnson, Raymond, Hordichuk, Rypien, ??? = 5.98 or 10.5%

The Canucks were marginally outshot last year with a Corsi of -89. Yet they rode a PDO number of 102.0 all the way to a +30 goal differential at even strength and the Northwest division title. That they're slightly overbudget in net is entirely forgiveable given that they probably have the best netminder in the league. But once you get past Luongo and Kesler, there are no steals on this team. They have a mix of gusy that are on the back-end of their careers and are injury
concerns (Demitra, Salo) or are being paid for potential that hasn't quite seen the light of day (Edler, Bieksa, Bernier). Samuelsson is a stretch on the first line, but that's where I expect him to play and with nearly 18M already tied up in their top three players it would be difficult to plug in another really big salary at forward while still maintaining the depth necessary to win. The middle 6 will almost surely include unsigned RFA Kyle Wellwood and one of Mason Raymond or Cody Hodgson. I didn't think the Canucks had a particularly good chance at winning last year and I don't think they've improved their roster from a year ago. Still, maybe this is the year Luongo gets hot at the right time. You never know.

1. Vancouver signs Daniel and Henrik Sedin to five year deals at 6.10M per year each. The Sedins are extremely talented players. They log the most even strength minutes on the team and they take on the best the other team has to offer although they usually do so in more offensive situations with Daniel taking 51 more offensive than defensive zone draws and Henrik taking 27 more. They more than deliver. On a team with a Corsi of -89, the Henrik managed to be +154 and Daniel was +160. When those numbers combine with the great percentages the Canucks put up this year the Sedins are outscoring the other team's big guns at a fantastic rate. At 3.5M per year each these guys were an absolute steal.

But what about 6.1M? Javageek put up a very interesting chart before the Sedins signed showing
how much cap space teams tie up in their top two forwards and how much each team spends on a per point basis. At the time, he suggested that - based on point production alone - something around 5.0M per year each would have been fair value. If that's the case, the Canucks are spending an extra 2.2M on their top two scorers relative to the rest of the league. Now, obviously there is a lot more to the game than simply point production but this is a nice place to start. With most of the big fish in free agency having come and gone, I decided to look at all of the teams that are spending at least 10M on their top two forwards:

1. Pittsburgh (Crosby and Malkin at 17.4M)

2. New York (Gaborik and Drury at 14.6M)
3. Ottawa (Heatley and Spezza at 14.5M)
4. Washington (Ovechkin and Nylander at 14.4M)
5. San Jose (Thornton and Marleau at 13.5M)
6. Montreal (Gomez and Cammalleri at 13.4M)
7. Los Angeles (Kopitar and Smyth at 13.1M)
8. Tampa Bay (Lecavalier and St. Louis at 13M)
9. Dallas (Richards and Ribeiro at 12.8M)
10. Detroit (Datsyuk and Zetterberg at 12.8M)
11. Buffalo (Vanek and Pominville at 12.4M)
12. Calgary (Iginla and Jokinen at 12.3M)
13. Philadephia (Briere and Richards at 12.3M)
14. Vancouver (Sedin and Sedin at 12.2M)
15. Carolina (Stall and Brind'Amour at 11.9M)
16. New Jersey (Elias and Rolston at 11.1M)
17. Anaheim (Getzlaf and Perry at 10.7M)
18. Saint Louis (Kariya and MacDonald at 10.7M)
19. Atlanta (Kovalchuk and Antropov at 10.5M)
20. Colorado (Stastny and Hejduk at 10.5M)

This shows that the Canucks are at about the mid-point of the league in terms of paying their offensive stars. In terms of value I think the Canucks have done pretty well. The only pair lower than them that I think is probably better is Anaheim's but of the pairs ahead of them I think the Sedins are superior to at least Buffalo, Dallas, Tampa and Montreal. There's a good argument that this is a good deal for the Canucks and for the Sedins. They're being paid in the same range as most other players of their quality and the contracts, at a glance, don't look out of place. Still, the Canucks have been outperforming their contracts by a wide margin for a couple of years. With the Canucks getting these new deals, they won't be able to provide the same kind of value and the Canucks are going to need to unearth some value deals in other positions just to maintain what they accomplished last season.

2. Tampa Bay signs Mattias Ohlund to a seven year deal at 3.75M per year. Ohlund is a good defenceman and a good teammate, the kind of person that organizations ought to strive to keep around. In the end, Ohlund got a fantastic deal and one that I don't blame the Canucks for not matching. Even if Ohlund sails into retirment once the money gets smaller, that doesn't happen until he turns 37 and by that time he could be well past his best before date. Still, the departure of Ohlund is a hit to the blueline and one that the Canucks didn't end up doing much to repair. Although the top 4 looks pretty good, one injury puts Shane O'Brien in the top 4 and that's a place no organization should want to be. With Ohlund's departure, defensive depth becomes a definite area of need.

3. Vancouver signs Aaron Rome to a one year deal at 0.53M per year, Nolan Baumgartner to a two year deal at 0.55M per year and Lawrence Nycholat to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. These guys aren't exactly what I'd had in mind. Only two of these players (at most) will be on the Canucks roster to start the year. They all have some experience at the NHL level but none of them have established themselves as full-time NHL players. At this point, one of them will be in the Canucks bottom pairing. If they don't sign anybody else (which would probably be foolish) at least the Canucks have given themselves some options. If they do sign one more established defender, these three make a very solid 7 through 9 on the defensive depth chart.

4. Vancouver signs Mikael Samuelsson to a three year deal at 2.50M per year. Samuelsson was a middle 6 forward on the Red Wings, finishing 7th among regular forwards in both quality of competition and ice time. Like almost all of the Red Wing forwards, Samuelsson handily outshot the opposition. In his case, a poor PDO number (98.2) kept him from being a terrific outscorer ending up only a +1 at 5v5. At even strength, Samuelsson really doesn't bring much offense: he scored at a rate of 1.20 pts/60 last season and 1.67 pts/60 the year before. What about special teams? Samuelsson played on Detroit's second unit and put up what looks like a pretty good 5.02 pts/60. The problem is that his total is the 9th out of Detroit's 10 regular power play options. The year before last Samuelsson put up similar numbers (4.98 pts/60) but the Detroit power play as a whole wasn't nearly as good and that placed him 3rd out of Detroit's 10 regulars. Samuelsson didn't get any time on the penalty kill either of the last two years.


To be perfectly honest, Samuelsson looks like a passenger to me. I doubt that he's driving the results on the PP or the Corsi advantage that Detroit has when he's on the ice. I have Samuelsson on the top line and it seems to me that he will get a shot there but I don't expect him to really succeed. Given the success of Alexandre Burrows in that slot for much of last season, it's quite possible that Samuelsson will be playing lower in the lineup. If that's the case, this is a could be a decent depth signing for the Canucks if Samuelsson is either able to perform well on the PP or drive some outshooting at EV. Given Samuelsson's age (he's signed for his age 33, 34 and 35 seasons) I think there's a better chance that this deal ends up being a disappointment.

5. Vancouver signs Shane O'Brien to a one year deal at 1.60M per year. This deal is a bit confusing. O'Brien had a couple of public outbursts about his playing time, so I was sort of expecting him to go along his merry way. That's what usually happens to bottom pairing defencemen that insult management. In this case, not so much. Clearly the Canucks think that O'Brien can still grow into a solid physical defender. I say "grow into" because to this point, he just hasn't been all that good. Last season O'Brien faced the easiest opposition of all Canuck defenders and played with middling teammates. To his credit, he did often start his shifts in the defensive zone (43 more defensive than offensive zone starts). He was outshot marginally at 5v5 with a Corsi of -34 but he made up for it with strong on-ice percentages to put up a +9 goal differential. The problem with paying him 1.6M is that he doesn't have a significant role on the power play or on the penalty kill and was last among regular Canuck defenders in EV ice time. He also takes an obscene amount of minor penalties with 48, good for the fourth highest total in the entire league (for Oiler fans that are reading, O'Brien took five more minors than Ethan Moreau last year). To me, that pretty well negates any of the small positive contributions he's making at even strength. So here we have, at best, a serviceable bottom pairing defender. He's 25 years old though which is still young enough to be someone with potential and he plays tough, so there is that element as well. I think that O'Brien is a good example of what I was talking about earlier: a young player getting paid too much for what he actually does to help teams win games.

6. Vancouver signs Andrew Raycroft to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. This is a truly silly contract. Tom Benjamin has suggested that Raycroft will only be seen in the Canuck net in the case of mop-up duty. In the case of Luongo taking a night off, the Canucks will send him to the farm and call up Cory Schneider. Once Schneider has made his start, he'll be sent back to the minors and Raycroft will be recalled to warm the bench. The theory goes that Raycroft is so terrible that no team will take him for $250,000. Thus, Schneider is not stuck warming the bench all year and the Canucks save a few thousand dollars in cap space over the course of the year. Now Benjamin might be right in this assessment of the plan. If he's not, this is just a terrible signing. If he is, I'm not convinced that Raycroft at $250,000 isn't an attractive commodity. If the Flames, for example, had been able to claim Raycroft after trading for Jokinen they would've probably done so. The sayings between Raycroft and McElhinney for the last month of the year would have (inexplicably) given them some extra flexibility under the cap. Since they really have no intention of ever playing the backup the (potential) drop in performance is really of no significance. All they care about is the cap savings. I can only hope that the Gillis plan backfires and that the Canucks end up paying Raycroft to sit on someone else's bench for at least a part of the year.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M Projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Sedin, Sedin, ??? = 12.20 or 24.4%

Middle 6 Forwards - Samuelsson, Bernier, Burrows, ???, ???, ??? = 6.50 or 13.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Bieksa, Salo, Edler, ??? = 10.50 or 21.0%

Goaltending - ???, ??? = 0.00 or 0.0%

Bottom 8 Players - ???, ???, ???, Hordichuk, Rypien, ???, ???, ??? = 1.33 or 2.7%

The Canucks are in a weird spot. It looks to me like they're suffering from paying full value and often a little more to players all over the roster. Many of their best value players have contracts that expire after this season and probably expect a raise for 2010-2011. How much are the Canucks going to pay Kesler? Luongo? Mitchell? If they pay Kesler 3.5M per season they'll have used up their entire middle 6 forward budget on four players. They can only afford 3.25M for Mitchell to stay on budget in the top 4 defenders. They have about 1.5M to spend for a top line player to play with the Sedins. These are all considerations because they need to stay on budget in these categories in order to keep Luongo who will probably be looking for his new contract to approach 7M a year which is 2M more than the budget for goaltending (and then they need to bring in a backup). The basic problem is that the Canucks have 8 guys signed for 2M or more and only 2 of them are really difference makers. The problem is difficult to fix because it isn't obvious in any one player. I think the Canucks will have a difficult time getting better over the next couple of seasons and since they're not really good enough to win a Cup now, that's going to be a problem. Still, as long as they have Luongo, you never know.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Calgary Flames

This is the third in a series of team evaluations for the Northwest division. I've been looking at the budget for each team for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Next up is the Calgary Flames:

Budget 2009-2010

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, ??? = 11.50 or 20.2%

Middle 6 Forwards - Jokinen, Bourque, Moss, Glencross, Conroy, ??? = 10.15 or 17.8%

Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr, Sarich = 20.8 or 36.6%

Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney = 6.37 or 11.2%

Bottom 8 Players - Giordano, Pardy, ???, Nystrom, Prust, Sjostrom, Primeau, ??? = 4.93 or 8.7%

The Flames are an interesting team. I haven't included all of the players that the Flames have signed recently here because many of them are more likely to be playing in the AHL than they are in the NHL. Still, with a team as top-heavy as this it's important to have a lot of low cost options in case one player isn't performing respectably. That way, if one player isn't performing at replacement level (say, Prust), they can farm him in favour of another (say, Lundmark or Jaffray). The Flames have about 3M left in cap space and could really use a LW for the first line and another solid forward option in the middle 6 forwards. In an ideal world that would come by moving Kiprusoff out for a(n overpriced, if need be) forward option. The goalie could then be replaced by someone a bit cheaper. Matt's now moot suggestion of Kiprusoff for Smyth is right along those lines. If they could convince Atlanta that Kiprusoff was a viable option Kozlov and Lehtonen for Kiprusoff and a 1st round pick could form the base of a similar type of deal. The other option is moving a piece on defence to make some cap room in order to balance out the roster. Kent has mentioned that Nik Zherdev might be available and he would indeed make a great acquisition. A deal that involved one of Regehr or - in the best case scenario - Sarich + some minor futures (2nd round pick or later or 2nd tier prospect) to the Rangers for the rights to Zherdev would certainly serve to balance the roster somewhat. At any rate this team needs to shuffle some money away from the defenders and goaltenders and into the forward ranks.

1. Calgary trades 2009 3rd round pick to Florida for the rights to Jay Bouwmeester. Living in Vancouver I heard a lot on the radio about how Darryl Sutter just wasted a third round pick. Admittedly, it would seem that if a player is only one day away from unrestricted free agency, that the logical thing to do is in fact test the market. On the other hand, all Sutter traded was a third round pick. In my view, there isn't much value to drafting a bottom 8 player since those players are always available on the UFA market. What's valuable is drafting good players. In an earlier post on drafting I noted that the chance of drafting a good player between picks 31 and 100 (the Flames third round pick) is just under 8%. Leaving aside the fact that Bouwmeeter is a much better player than most of those 8%, I think that it's very likely Sutter believed he had a better than 8% chance at signing Bouwmeester. If he is right in that assessment, this is a very good trade regardless of whether or not the Flames actually sign Bouwmeeter.

2. Calgary signs Jay Bouwmeester to a five year deal at 6.68M per year. Here is the list of defencemen who have a higher cap hit than Bouwmeeter next season: Zdeno Chara (7.5M), Nick Lidstrom (7.45), Brian Campbell (7.14M). That's it. A couple things come to mind here. Firstly, that Brian Campbell contract is more repulsive than a Flames Stanley Cup victory. Well, not quite, but it's darn close. Secondly, Bouweester probably didn't leave much money on the table. I suppose it's possible someone would bump him up into Chara/Lidstrom territory over the five year term but even then he's only missing out on 4.1M or 11% of what the (likely) maximum salary would have been. The term works well for both teams in that Calgary isn't saddled with a deal until Bouwmeester is 45 and Bouwmeester will be young enough at the expiry of this contract that he should be able to get (at least) one more really big payday.

The last question that comes to mind is, of course, how good is Bouwmeester? The answer is that he's very very good. In Florida, Bouweester was taking on the toughest quality of opposition and was starting in his own zone all too often. When I looked in March, his 451 defensive zone starts was leading the league (next closest was Zbynek Michalek at 407). He finished the year with a total of 576 defensive zone starts (47.6% of all of Florida's defensive zone draws) and 180 more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. Bouwmeester probably played the toughest minutes in the league on a poor team. He ended up with a big negative for Corsi (-10.8/60) and a slightly positive 5v5 goal differential (+3) with a PDO number of 102.0. His offense at even strength really isn't anything special. This past year he put up 0.71 pts/60 while the one before that is was 0.89 pts/60. Because of the extreme nature of his ice time, it's hard to say just how good these numbers are.

At this point I think it might be worthwhile to look at a couple of other players that were in a very similar situation (toughest competition, way more defensive zone starts, bad team) in Zbynek Michalek and Scott Hannan. Hannan did not do well. His Corsi was -14.7/60 and his even strength +/- was -24. On top of that, he brought virtually no offense with only 0.38 pts/60. A lot of his bad numbers, however, can probably be chalked up to percentages given the goaltending in Colorado. Hannan's PDO number was well down the list at 98.2. Michalek fares a bit better. His Corsi was -14.3/60 and his even strength 5v5 +/- was -18 but he was comparable to Bouwmeester offensively with 0.92 pts/60. His PDO number was also substantially lower than Bouwmeester's at 99.1. I think this shows that the difference between Bouwmeeter and some of the others playing with similar disadvantages is real but that much of it was coming in the form of percentages. Bouwmeeter was reducing the number of shots but the difference really isn't that drastic and the offense he provides from his starting position isn't all that great since he saw that one of his two comparables actually scored a bit more.

On special teams, Bouwmeester got a lot of time but didn't provide a ton of production. His power play numbers are less less than what I'd expect of a top end performer (3.53 pts/60) and on the penalty kill, although he played the most minutes of all of the Florida defenders, the team was actually much better when others were on the ice (7.73 GA/60 with Bouwmeester on the ice, 4.35 GA/60 with Bouwmeeter on the bench).

Now, Bouwmeeter is still very young, having just completed his 25 year old season. He's also going into a much more favourable environment with the Flames so his numbers will almost certainly improve. Bouwmeester could be a rock on the Flames for the next five years and put up a lot of production. Yet, there's also the possibility that his rates don't improve, that he's really nothing special on special teams, that he's just a really good shutdown defender. To me, there's a real chance that Bouwmeeter underperforms this contract and that the Flames, with other more glaring holes in their lineup, chose to put money into the backend. This isn't really a bad deal for the Flames, but it's not good either.

3. Calgary signs Adam Pardy to a two year deal at 0.75M per year. Pardy played his first NHL season last year on the bottom pairing and managed to both outshoot and outscore the opposition at even strength. That probably has a lot more to do with the forwards in front of him but there's something to be said for not screwing things up. For 0.75M, the price is right for someone that you already know fits in. This is a solid deal for the Flames.

4. Calgary signs Fredrik Sjostrom to a two year deal at 0.75M per year. This is the first of Darryl Sutter's many replacement level forward signings. Sjostrom has a long track record at the NHL level having appeared in 358 games. His best skill is penalty killing (3.71 GA/60 while on the ice compared to 4.30 GA/60 while off the ice), an area where the Flames performed very well this past year finishing fourth (Sjostrom's Rangers finished first). At even strength, Sjostrom isn't very good and he'll probably need to compete for a job in the starting line-up with some of the other guys the Flames have picked up in the off-season. Still, there's nothing wrong with bringing in cheap depth players.

5. Montreal signs Mike Cammalleri to a five year deal at 6.00M per year. Well, if the cost of the Bouwmeester deal was losing Cammalleri at this price point, it really isn't much of a loss at all. 6M per season is just too much to pay for a player that isn't taking on the toughs unless he's outscoring the opposition by an extreme number. Cammalleri doesn't. He did manage to post some decent numbers with the Flames but he got bombed by weak opposition the year before in Los Angeles. In my view this is one part of a very weak off-season by Bob Gainey in Montreal. Now the Flames will still need to replace Cammalleri but they should be able to do without paying such a high price.

6. Calgary signs Garth Murray to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. Murray has played some games at the NHL level each of the last five years so it's reasonably likely he'll end up playing some games for the Flames this year. This is another in the list of replacement level forwards that Sutter has brought in to make sure that his AHL team has some strong players and his NHL team will have players with NHL experience coming up from the farm in case of injury. If you can get a bunch of those guys for the league minimum it's really not a bad idea (unless they get plucked on re-entry waivers).

7. Calgary signs Staffan Kronwall to a two year deal at 0.50M per year. Another minimum salary player, this time a defenceman. Kronwall again has some previous NHL experience and may even slot in as Calgary's seventh defender if he puts in a good camp. Accumulating players in their mid-twenties with NHL experience for the bottom of the roster really isn't a bad plan. These aren't players with much upside but the players themselves know that. By this time they have realistic expectations about how they can help the team and will be probably be willing to do anything the coach says to stay in the NHL. It doesn't hurt to have these guys around.

8. Calgary signs Jason Jaffray to a two year deal at 0.50M per year. This is another forward with some experience at the NHL level but even more in the AHL. In the AHL he's a point per game forward which is pretty darn good. If the Flames don't pick up any more forwards, Jaffray might be able to win a job as a middle 6 forward if he can outperform Michael Backlund and the other minor league rabble. Since it would infuriate Canuck fans if he becomes a good NHL player I can only hope that Jaffray just needed a chance to succeed.

9. Calgary signs Jamie Lundmark to a one year deal at 0.60M per year. At the risk of getting redundant, the Flames have hired another NHL/AHL tweener. I hope for Lundmark's sake that it's a one-way deal but I don't think that it is. If I'm right, he may have been stupid for taking the extra $100,000. With the Flames looking to be tight to the cap, that extra money could be the difference between playing in the NHL and hanging out in Abbotsford watching Jason Jaffray from your hotel room on HNIC.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, ??? = 11.50 or 23.0%

Middle 6 Forwards - Moss, Glencross, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 2.50 or 5.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr, Sarich =20.80 or 41.6%

Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney = 6.37 or 12.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Giordano, Pardy, ???, Sjostrom, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 2.34 or 4.7%

The long term prospects don't look so good for the Flames if the cap drops. Because the defenders are locked up long term, the roster imbalance is exaggerated in this situation. Over half of the budget is being spent on the top four defenders and the goaltending. That's, frankly, just way too much. If the cap goes in this direction the Flames will need to be creative in order to get the forward depth in order to compete. Langkow and (especially) Iginla are great players but they'll be another year older as well and probably on the downward slope of their careers. If the Flames don't get the roster imbalance sorted out and the cap drops they could be looking at some very serious problems. Of course, they could also just send Kiprusoff to Finland and Sarich to the minors and the problem is largely solved. That said, it would probably be wiser to act now and move some of the money off of the backend.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Deal or No Deal

Deal! Kris Versteeg has decided that his making money is more important than my curiosity. According to capgeek.com Kris Versteeg has signed a contract identical to that signed by Cam Barker a couple of days ago (three years, 9.25M total). With that, the NHLPA's grievance against the Chicago Blackhawks for improperly tendering qualifying offers is now moot. Dale Tallon has done well to realize that he needed to get these deals done before an independent arbitrator made a decision. The risk of it going against the Blackhawks was far too great. Still, it's a bit disappointing (for me) that none of the Blackhawks decided to risk letting an arbitrator decide their fate. I'm not convinced that Barker and Versteeg got particularly good deals out of this (I'll be watching carefully to see if Denis Grebeshkov gets paid more than Barker) which I suppose is a credit to Tallon. This whole ordeal has helped NHL to (re)learn that it's important to follow the rules outlined in the CBA, but the players involved in this case really didn't make the Blackhawks pay.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Colorado Avalanche

This is the second of my team evaluations for the Northwest division. I'm going to be taking a look at the budget for each team for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as looking at each of their significant moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline using 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at nhlnumbers.com, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Minnesota Wild. Next up is the Colorado Avalanche:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, Hejduk, Wolski = 13.70 or 24.1%

Middle 6 Forwards - Svatos, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 4.30 or 7.6%

Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, Salei, Foote = 14.73 or 25.9%

Goaltending - Anderson, Budaj = 3.06 or 5.4%

Bottom 8 Players - Preissing, Quincey, Clark, Koci, Stewart, Hensick, Tucker, McLeod = 12.33 or 21.7%

This team is a bit of a mess and I'm going to assume that they're in full-on re-building mode. The Avalanche are spending way too much money on the bottom of the roster. Most of this is on defense with six different defenders making at least 2.75M. To make matters worse, not one of those six defenders look likely to outperform their contract. Ug. Ly. As far as the forwards go, there really isn't any depth at all. One guy signed and no RFA's to come. Yikes. Then you have the top three guys. They're not terrible by any means but neither do they match up well against the top guys on the other clubs. Now, the Avalanche have enough space that they could try to turn this around but I would instead expect them to tank and go for another high draft pick. At this point, they would be wise to consider playing closer to the floor than to the cap both to save money and to ensure that they stay bad. If they don't find some depth at forward, their task should be easily completed.

1. Colorado drafts Matt Duchene 3rd overall in the 2009 entry draft. Now, before I start, this was a good smart pick by the Avalanche. However, the Avalanche are rebuilding right now. The team this year is destined to suck. In fact, as much as I hate that teams do this, they probably even want to suck. As such, it would make no sense for the Avalanche to let Duchene make the team this year. If he does make the team, he's granted UFA status at 25 instead of 27, he's not going to be as good of a player during his entry level deal and his entry level deal will be wasted on years that the Avalanche want to lose. They haven't decided to put him in the NHL yet but given their lack of forward depth, it would seem to be a very real possibility. It would be the wrong decision.

2. Colorado does not give a qualifying offer to Cody McCormick. This is pretty harsh. A bad team with no forward depth won't give a qualifying offer of less than $600,000. Now, McCormick is pretty bad. He gets outshot and outscored at even strength and doesn't provide much offense while being ranked third last in quality of competition among Avalanche forwards and first in quality of teammates. This guy sucks. Normally I don't like giving away free depth, but really, McCormick probably isn't a replacement level player.

3. Colorado signs Peter Budaj to a one year deal at 1.25M per year. This contract may be Budaj's last with the Avalanche since he'll become an unrestricted free agent next season. They've invested a lot in him to this point so it doesn't surprise me that they wanted to take another look next season. In this list (credit to Derek Zona) of goalies with at least one season since the lockout Budaj ranks 36th in save percentage out of 52 goaltenders with a save percentage .902 since the lockout. The majority of goalies ranked below him are no longer in the NHL. If I were the Avalanche I'd probably have given up on Budaj by now and tried some of the other available goalies, but given the amount of time the Avalanche have put into Budaj, it's understandable they'd try him out for one more year... especially since they aren't really interested in winning games.

4. Colorado signs Craig Anderson to a two year deal at 1.81M per year. According to the same list I referenced above, Anderson ranks 24th among goalies since the lockout in save percentage (.908). The highest ranking UFA goalie was Ty Conklin who ranks 8th with a save percentage of .916. Now save percentage isn't the be-all end-all of goaltending statistics, but it is a good indicator of performance. While I may have preferred Conklin, giving Anderson a shot in split duty on a short term deal is basically the same idea. If Anderson pans out, there's a good chance that he can be signed to a second contract at a pretty affordable rate which gives the Avalanche more money to spend in other areas. For more information on Anderson, you can check out this article by the Contrarian Goaltender.

5. Philadelphia signs Ian Laperriere to a three year deal at 1.17M per year. My understanding is that Laperriere was a very popular player in Colorado. That, along with Colorado's desperate need of middle 6 forwards makes his departure seem a little strange from a Colorado perspective. He's the kind of character guy that can really help a rebuilding team and I would have expected the Avalanche to retain him. Unless Laperriere expressly wanted out of Colorado for a better chance at winning, letting him walk really doesn't make sense.

6. Colorado signs David Koci to a one year deal at 0.58M per year. I really don't think that enforcers have much value. Both Mirtle and Kent have discussed how useless enforcers are at actually playing hockey and I certainly fall in with them. As such, I think this signing is a waste especially since it's one less roster spot available for taking a chance on a real player. Plus, it implies that the management sees a need to have an enforcer on the roster, something that will not serve them well when the team is actually good.

7. Colorado trades Ryan Smyth to Los Angeles for Tom Preissing + Kyle Quincey + 5th round pick. Unfortunately for Avalanche fans, this is actually a decent trade for the Avalanche. The main benefits are clearing out some cap space and moving the rebuilding process forward with the acquisition of Kyle Quincey. The biggest thing here is the money which makes the acquisition of Tom Preissing particularly unpalatable - he has another two years left on his contract and the Avalanche really had no need of another well-paid veteran defenceman.

Quincey is an interesting acquisition. Earlier this year the Kings took him off of waivers from the Red Wings (who in hindsight probably wished they would've waived Brad Stuart's 3.5M deal). Quincey played as a #4 or 5 defenceman for the most part with the Kings. He had the most favourable split of offensive to defensive zone faceoffs on the team and yet was still outscored 5 on 5 (although his Corsi was very good). His power play numbers, on the other hand, were outstanding. He played 3:19 per game and put up 6.28 pts/60 which is an elite number for a defenceman (it beats Pronger, Niedermayer, Lidstrom, Boyle and Green). The Avalanche may really have something good for their power play. If they don't realize it, Quincey could quickly get buried in the rotation.

I always wonder how a fifth round pick gets negotiated into these deals but it's always nice to get another lottery ticket. Overall, I was somewhat underwhelmed with the return given what the Rangers were able to get for Scott Gomez only a few days earlier in another clear salary dump. Still, the important thing is that the Avalanche moved Smyth's contract when they had the chance.

8. Colorado signs David Jones to a two year deal at 0.84M per year, Brian Willsie to a one year deal at 0.6M and Darren Haydar to a one year deal at 0.53M. These are all relatively minor moves that I decided to group together. Although I haven't included any of these players on the above chart, there is a very good chance that all of them spend the year with the Avalanche if more forward help isn't brought it.

David Jones is coming off of his entry level deal with the Avalanche. He split time between the AHL and NHL for the last two years. This past season Jones faced middling opposition with poor teammates and started in the offensive zone 18 more times than the defensive zone. He was both outshot and outscored at even strength and didn't play much of a role on special teams. He really can't be slotted any higher than a fourth lline role at this point.

Brian Willsie is a veteran of close to 400 NHL games. Last season Willsie split time with Colorado and Lake Erie. He played in 42 games with the Avalanche, registering 4 points (0.58 pts/60). He faced the second easiest competition among Avalanche forwards with at least 40 games and was handily outshot and outscored. At best, Willsie is roster filler at the NHL level. In the AHL, he is able to score close to a point per game, so if he spends most of the year in Lake Erie, he might get to help a team win games.

Darren Haydar is the most interesting of the three and in some ways reminds me of Rich Peverley, another relatively small player who scores very well in the AHL. Peverley was claimed by Atlanta off waivers, put with Kovalchuk and had quite a lot of success. Haydar is both smaller than Peverley and a better scorer in the AHL (he led the league last year). Unfortunately for him, there probably isn't a plan to play him with Paul Stastny. That said, this is exactly the kind of player that rebuilding teams need to be giving chances. It's quite possible that Haydar can play in an offensive role in the NHL, and that has value. It's a much better plan than signing then the David Koci's of the world.

If the Avalanche don't make many more acquisitions look for Willsie and Jones to move into the bottom 8 players and for Haydar, Hensick and Tucker to move into the middle 6 forwards. If "lack of forward depth" is part of the game plan, that should cover it.

9. Joe Sakic retires. As an Oiler fan I can't properly understand what this would be like. Sure, Sakic had a great career but he's also been the Avalanche captain since they moved to Colorado. He never asked to be traded, got booed out of town, left as a free agent or cost too much for the owner. All I can really say is that I'm jealous that Colorado got to enjoy Sakic for all these years, both as a player and as a person. For a proper Colorado fan's perspective, you can go to Mile High Hockey. From the team's perspective, Sakic's retirement officially ends an era. For the first time since they moved to Colorado, they suck.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, ???, ??? = 6.60 or 13.2%

Middle 6 Forwards - ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 0.00 or 0.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, ???, ??? = 8.70 or 17.4%

Goaltending - Anderson, ??? = 1.81 or 3.6%

Bottom 8 Players - Preissing, ???, ???, Jones, McLeod, ???, ???, ??? = 4.38 or 8.8%

The rebuilding process is now well under way. At this point, the Avalanche need to focus on moving some of the remaining players out. They should hold onto Stastny and possibly Liles but one of the main goals of the rest of the summer will be moving Hannan and Preissing out for some future value. This year's trade deadline should will be another opportunity for the Avalanche to turn the players they have now into future value. They're in a good position to begin the turn-around for 2011-2012. Until then, keep moving things for futures and experimenting with guys like Anderson and Haydar and hope to find a gem.