Down the Stretch

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We’re unofficially half way through the NHL season although only the Blues have played 40 games.

Nonetheless, New Year’s Day is a good opportunity to look back on 2015 and make some predictions about what we will likely see in the remainder of the season.

Jamie Benn Superstar

Ice Hockey Gold Medal - Sweden v Canada
SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 23: Gold medalists John Tavares #20, Jamie Benn #22 and Corey Perry #24 of Canada celebrate during the medal ceremony after defeating Sweden 3-0 during the Men’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal match on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

To me, the most remarkable performance of 2015 is the utter dominance being displayed by Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn. Let’s have a look:

2015 CALENDAR YEAR LEADERS
A look at the top team and individual performances of 2015 (courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau):

GOALS
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 57
2. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 48
3. Steven Stamkos (81 GP): 39
4. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 38
5. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 38

ASSISTS
1. Erik Karlsson (84 GP): 59
2. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 59
3. Nicklas Backstrom (80 GP): 56
4. Henrik Sedin (83 GP): 55
5. P.K. Subban (84 GP): 55

POINTS
1. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 48-59—107
2. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 57-28—85
3. Tyler Seguin (74 GP): 35-48—83
4. John Tavares (80 GP): 37-45—82
5. Daniel Sedin (85 GP): 28-54—82
6. Erik Karlsson (84 GP): 23-59—82

POINTS PER GAME (Minimum: 60 GP)
1. Patrick Kane (80 PTS in 63 GP): 1.27
2. Jamie Benn (107 PTS in 85 GP): 1.26
3. Tyler Seguin (83 PTS in 74 GP): 1.12
4. Alex Ovechkin (85 PTS in 81 GP): 1.05
5. John Tavares (82 PTS in 80 GP): 1.03

POWER-PLAY GOALS
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 25
2. Justin Faulk (83 GP): 17
3. Steven Stamkos (81 GP): 16
4. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 16
5. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 15

SHORTHANDED GOALS
1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (82 GP): 6
2. Brad Marchand (76 GP): 5
3. Blake Wheeler (78 GP): 4
4. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 4
5. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 4

GAME-WINNING GOALS
1. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 12
2. Jonathan Toews (83 GP): 11
3. John Tavares (80 GP): 10
4. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 10
5. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 9

SHOTS ON GOAL
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 400
2. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 331
3. Brent Burns (80 GP): 296
4. Tyler Seguin (74 GP): 289
5. Rick Nash (80 GP): 288

PLUS/MINUS
1. Tyler Toffoli (75 GP): 31
2. Kevin Klein (58 GP): 26
3. Tobias Enstrom (75 GP): 27
4. Marc Methot (78 GP): 27
5. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 27

That’s right folks…Jamie Benn scored 107 points in 2015…22 more than second place finisher Alex Ovechkin.

That Benn is among the top 5 in both PP and SH goals while no other player made both lists, pretty much tells you just how good he is.

Puck Daddy has an excellent read on the ascent of Benn here.

Tallon Rewarded

The Florida Panthers wrapped up 2015 in 1st place in their division and by handing GM Dale Tallon a multi year contract extension.

The Panthers success on the ice is also starting to draw fans to the rink with more than 18,000 in attendance for Tuesday’s win over Montreal.

Now that the team has received a solid financial commitment from Broward County, I expect they will become one of the NHL’s elite teams under Tallon.

Rising and Falling

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The WC playoff participants have pretty much been decided with the exception two spots in the Pacific Division.

Let’s take a look on what is the most likely scenario to play out based on win% and remaining schedule.

SJS – .5277

ARZ – .527

ANA – .500

VCR – .487

CAL – .487

EDM – .423

San Jose and Anaheim are in the driver’s seat here with the fewest number of games played at 36 and, with Anaheim finally waking from an early season slumber they are making a move on the rest of the division with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10GP.

I expect they will catch Arizona within a couple of weeks and could even surpass San Jose unless the Sharks start to win at home where they’ve gone 5-10-0 so far.

By the middle of January it is highly likely that the 3 California teams have a stranglehold on the division leaving Arizona, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton fighting to avoid the basement.

Amongst that group, I believe only the Flames has a real chance to upset the apple cart with their ability to come back from adversity.

Vancouver, you could argue has been unlucky to be where they are since they have lost 9 games in overtime although there are more than a few Vancouver fans who argue that coach Wille Desjardins deployment in OT is  the real culprit.

The Canucks have also been without 3 of their top 4 D for a while while also being hit with injuries goaltenders and forwards as well.

The odd thing about the Canucks schedule is they have had just brutal, multi game road trips and have played 22 games on the road compared to 16 at home so perhaps they can hang in there if they start winning more at home.

However, if they play like they did in their 5-0 loss to Los Angeles a couple of nights ago, they have no chance.

Arizona continues to surprise but I’m not convinced they’ll hang around much longer. Worth noting that have a -14 goal differential and, while that’s better than Vancouver, Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton, it’s far worse than the Sharks and the Ducks has been improving game by game.

As for the Oilers, all they have to look forward to is the return of Connor McDavid which appears imminent. But let’s remember that the Oilers were 4W – 9L WITH McDavid in the lineup and their problems are with a shitty D corp and inconsistent goaltending. McDavid doesn’t play those positions.

Playoff Chances from Sports Club Stats:

LAK 99.9%

SJS 73.8%

ARZ 53.1%

VCR 31.6%

ANA 22.2%

CAL 20.7%

EDM 5.5%

And just how good are the Dallas Stars?

Their playoff chances now sit at 99.9% and if, as some folks think, the playoff cutoff in the WC this season will be around 86 points, the Stars could finish the season up with a record of 12-28-3 and still make the post season.

And, to allay the recent post from a commenter that the Stars will fail once they play more again the Central Division, the Stars are 7-2-1 in their own division and 13-3-1 against the WC.

THAT is how you win the west.

Next time, let’s take an early look at which players deserve to be all stars.

 

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Spitballin’

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Just a few random thoughts as the NHL takes a brief Christmas break….

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are pretty much out of the playoff race.They’re 9 points (remember they have to finish AHEAD of another team) back of the final wildcard berth in the WC and I can’t see them catching either Nashville or Minnesota.

Unless they have an unlikely win streak in the next couple of weeks, the Jets (whose playoff chances are currently at 12% according to Sports Club Stats) should start thinking about next season.

That means they should try and maximize the return they can get for Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd who are coming up on UFA status. And that also means they should make some moves as soon as possible since a team acquiring them could use the help down the stretch not just after the trade deadline at the end of February.

That raises the question of which teams might be in a position to take on their contracts.

In the case of Big Buff, I think we should keep and eye on the Los Angeles Kings who are in a position take take a strong run at another cup.

After shedding the Voynov and Richards contracts, the Kings are sitting with about $4 million in free cap space and could easily fit his contract under the cap.

That raises the question…do the Kings have the pieces necessary to acquire Buff from the Jets?

They don’t have a 1st round pick but they do have some intriguing prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

Hockey’s Future has a great rundown of what the Kings prospect pool looks like here and I think there are enough quality players in Ontario that could help the Kings piece together a deal.

As for Andrew Ladd, it might be harder for the Jets to part with him since he is their team leader and a consistent scorer but it makes sense for the Jets to move him and further bolster their prospect pool with a possible eye on re-signing him in the offseason.

A team I would keep a close eye on here is the Florida Panthers who have stated they are searching for a scoring winger and, of course, Ladd has a connection to Dale Tallon from their Chicago days.

The Panthers have more than $6 million in free cap space and just a ton of blue chip prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

The Jets already have the deepest prospect pool in the league and could perhaps add to it significantly if they get a lottery pick and a good return on Byfuglien and Ladd.

A bitter pill for Jets fans this season but also a huge opportunity for the team.

What About Those Canucks?

In my pre-season prognostications, I had the Canucks making the playoffs…not because they’re much good but because Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton are pretty bad. That Anaheim has been horrid has helped make me look pretty smart although I, and no one else, saw that coming.

Well, the Canucks, at the break, are clinging to the last Pacific Division spot despite going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. But we need to consider a few things here.

The Canucks have had just a brutal schedule up to now with multiple long road trips and have only played 14 home games compared to 22 on the road.

Their next 7 straight games are at home so, if they can get their act together on home ice (5-6-3), they have a chance to pull away from the pack.

We should have a pretty good idea how this will turn out by January 15.

Heere’s Johnny

Picking a team out of the bottom of the scrap heap to perhaps take a run at the last Pacific Division playoff spot is tough since the pretenders are so closely packed and the results could depend on injury and/or a great deal of luck.

But going into the break, the hottest team in hockey is the Calgary Flames (8-2-0).

Calgary is being led offensively by 22 year old phenom Johnny Gaudreau who has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 10 games.

Bu that’s not the whole story.

TJ Brodie has played 25 games since returning from injury…their record in that 25 games is 14W-9L-2OTL

That folks is a playoff calibre stretch of games and also worth noting is that the Flames play 7 of their next 8 games at home where they have a stellar 11-5-0 record.

Gloomy in Edmonton

Both the Canucks and Flames have the Oilers next on their dance cards and it’s likely the Oilers will have to win both to stay in the race as remote as their chances actually are.

Those 2 games are followed by LAK, ANA and ARZ so a week from today the Oilers could be hanging on or out of contention by New Year’s Day.

Based on schedule and momentum, I would wager Calgary will be in a playoff spot a week from now.

 

 

 

 

Snap Shots

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Ladies and Gentlemen…Jamie Benn

Anyone who watched the Dallas Stars dismantle the Montreal Canadiens last night should have taken note of how Jamie Benn can absolutely dominate a game.

I was hoping to post a video of the Stars goal that saw Benn crush Jeff Petry on the boards, take away the puck and within seconds it was in the back of the net but alas could not find a version to embed here. However you can see the play here:

(Click on the 4th Dallas goal scored by Tyler Seguin)

That’s a Hart Trophy worthy performance (among many) that Benn has produced this season.

With a 3 point performance last night, Benn leads the league in goals with 22 and is only 4 points back of Patrick Kane for the overall points lead with Benn holding a game in hand.

Amazingly, Benn is on pace for 55 goals and 109 points.

Sean Monahan

I have a bet with GMoney of Oilers Nerd Alert fame that Sean Monahan’s shooting percentage may be his established level of ability.

1. On the reversion of Sean Monahan’s shooting percentage, with dashingsilverfox:

DSF wins if Monahans sh% is > 12% next year (2015-2016 season), minimum 40 games played (DSF to verify this last point in case he remembers different).

I win if Monahans sh% is 12% or less.

Terms: One bottle of 10 y.o. Talisker vs two bottles of Osoyoos Larose, shipped or ready for pickup to the others locale.

I thought, since we’re getting close to the 40 game threshold, that now would be a good time to look at how the young Calgary centre is doing thus far.

SHOOTING PERCENTAGE BY SEASON:

2013/14 15.7

2014/15 16.2

2015/16 15.8

CAREER 16.0

That career percentage is after 188 games played so, like I said, I think we know 2 things here…Monahan is one of the rare players who can score at this level and, more importantly, I love me some Talisker 🙂

Gimme Shelter

Taylor Hall, as I pointed out a week ago, much to the chagrin of some, has trouble scoring on the road which was confirmed again this week.

Hall had just 2 points on the just concluded 4 game road trip and has 12 points in 19 (.631 PPG) road games this season.

Also of note is the performance of Leon Draisaitl whose shooting percentage has predictably fallen from 33% to 18% and will likely continue to do so affecting both his own totals and those of Hall.

The Pacific Triangle

LAK .656

SJS .515

ARZ .500

CAL .485

VCR .471

ANA .468

EDM .441

There’s not likely to be much, if any, movement in the standings before the new year although I would keep an eye on both Anaheim and Arizona both of which have multiple games in hand on the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Ducks II

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A couple of days ago, we looked at the deep, deep, Ducks D corp…so lets take a look at how they became on of the elite teams in the league.

It’s pretty easy to see that the foundation of the current team is built on the results of the 1st round of the phenomenal 2003 draft with Ryan Getzlaf (13th), Corey Perry(28th) and Ryan Kesler (23rd).

But the Ducks forward roster also includes several other 1st round picks taken in subsequent years:

Kyle Palmieri – 26th overall 2009

Emerson Etem – 29th overall 2010

Rickard Rakell – 30th overall – 2011

Andrew Cogliano – 25th overall 2005 (by Edmonton who later disposed of him  for a 2nd round pick)

That’s pretty much a drafting home run but we should also recall that, though very astute trades the Ducks had multiple 1st round picks in some of those drafts and not once since 2007 when they drafted Logan MacMIllan 19th overall, have the Ducks missed on ANY of their 1st round picks despite normally being at the bottom end of the round and have produced a raft of NHL players.

2008:

Jake Gardiner – 17th overall – 246 GP

Justin Schultz – 42rd overall – 203 GP

Brandon McMIllan – 85th overall – 171 GP

2009:

Peter Holland – 15th overall – 130GP

Kyle Palmieri – 26th overall – 198 GP

Sami Vatanen – 126th overall – 123 GP

2010:

Cam Fowler – 12th overall – 345 GP

Emerson Etem – 29th overall – 112 GP

Devante Smith-Pelley – 42nd overall – 149 GP

2011: 

Rickard Rakell – 30th overall – 93 GP

John Gibson – 39th overall – 36 GP

2012:

Hampus Lindholm – 6th overall – 156 GP

Fredrick Anderson – 87th overall – 82GP

That is just outstanding draft work and shows how important getting it right can set up a team for many years.

It’s also worth noting that the Ducks have another couple of players who I would think, despite it being early on, are almost slam dunk star NHL players.

2013: 

D – Shea Theodore – 26th overall. (34P in 48GP WHL) (11P in 9GP AHL)

2014:

Nick Ritchie – 10th overall – 6’3″ 230 LW ( 62P in 48GP OHL regular season) (13G 26P in 11 OHL playoff games.)

The scary thing about the Ducks’ forward group is that the oldest, Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are all only 30 years of age and the group coming up behind them is  skilled and very deep.

With their ongoing success in finding gems in the late 1st round and beyond, they should remain an elite team for years.

Deep Ducks

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The stars in Anaheim’s locker room were strangely absent after the Ducks’ 4-1 vanquishing of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

Guys like Kyle Palmieri, Andrew Cogliano and Nate Thompson had massive media scrums around them asking about beautiful looking scoring plays from their conquest.

This is not normal for Anaheim, a team with Hart Trophy winner (and playoff leading scorer) Corey Perry and star centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. All three have contributed in some form or fashion in Anaheim’s nine playoff wins this season.

Sunday afternoon against Chicago, the Ducks showed their depth with their lower lines leading the way against the stifled Blackhawks.

Right now, the Ducks are healthy, and they’re deep – which as Chicago of the two Stanley Cups since 2010 knows, is a powerful combination in the playoffs.

via Ducks’ depth halts Blackhawks stars in Game 1 victory | Puck Daddy – Yahoo Sports.

Yesterday, I got into a conversation over at Lowetide regarding the ridiculous depth on the Anaheim blue line.

The depth on the team is not just confined to the defense but let’s start there.

Beauchemin – Lindholm

Fowler – Despres

Stoner – Vatanen

Holzer – Wisniewski

Manson-Fistric

That’s 8 NHL defensemen, folks and the Ducks have WHL star Shea Theodore right around the corner.

So, how was this D built?

Beauchemin – acquired from Toronto for Joffry Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Lupul was a Ducks 1st round pick in 2002 and Gardiner was a 1st round pick in 2008. There’s a lesson here about not falling in love with your players if a #1D is the return.

Lindholm – 1st round pick 2012

Fowler – 1st round pick 2010

Despres – 1st round pick 2009 (by Pittsburgh). For Ben Lovejoy.

Stoner – UFA signing

Vatanen – 4th round pick 2009 (an absolute steal)

Holzer – From Toronto for Eric Brewer and a 4th round pick.

Wisniewski – From Columbus for Rene Bourque (salary dump), prospect William Karlsson and a 2nd.

Manson – 6th round pick 2011

Fistric – 1st round pick by Dallas in 2004, Acquired by the Ducks after a cup of coffee in Edmonton.

Still to come, of course, is Shea Theodore, the brilliant young D from The Seattle Thunderbirds who was picked in the 1st round in 2013 and scored 13G and 48P in only 43 games this season. (in a brief appearance with Norfolk of the AHL last month Theodore scored 4G and 11P in 9GP…jeebus)

That is just sick depth and I would expect the Ducks will be moving at least Wisniewski and Fistric in the offseason since both are sitting in the press box during the playoffs

I think the lesson here is that identifying and acquiring a #1D is crucial to developing depth since he can provide the shelter (Beauchemin played almost 24 minutes against Chicago) and experience that helps younger D develop.

That is born out by the last 10 cup winners where only the Cinderella Hurricanes didn’t have a stud on the blue line.

It also helps, of course, if you have a scouting department that can identify players like Lindholm, Vatanen, Manson and Theodore.

The Ducks horde of young, talented defensemen doesn’t end with the four in the playoff lineup. Josh Manson, 23, was a solid fill-in for 28 games this season. Shea Theodore, 19, was a first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2013 NHL Draft and is one of the top prospects at the position.

There has been a strong support system in place, with Trent Yawney joining Niedermayer as an assistant coach this season. Yawney coached Vatanen and Lindholm with Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Beauchemin is also able to help mentor them.

Fowler lived with Niedermayer when he joined the Ducks. Despres lived with Beauchemin after the trade. It’s all helped them settle in, and the team has benefitted from it.

More on the Ducks depth on D here.

Before the 3rd round of the playoffs began, I said I thought the Ducks’ depth would allow them to beat Chicago and, as we saw in game 1, Chicago has been forced to play their top 4 almost exclusively with David Rundblad and Kimmo Timmonen hardly leaving the bench.

All Anaheim has to do to win the series IMO is pound Keith, Seabrook, Oduya and Hjalmarsson into submission and that was exactly the strategy they deployed in game 1.

We’ll look at a Anaheim’s forward depth in our next post.

Predictive Value II

Just thought I would update this post to see how the best CF% teams are doing in the post season. As you can see below, only two of the best CF% teams remain in the final four and two teams (Anaheim and the Rangers) weren’t even in the running when the shit started hitting the fan.

I would suggest that elite goaltending by the new age elite goaltender has a better correlation to success than any shot metrics that the Stazis can produce.

Lundqvist .944

Bishop .931

Anderson .925

Crawford .916

The Lightning, Ducks and Blackhawks have the offensive chops to outscore the Lundqvist dominance.

I’m putting my money on Tampa Bay and Anaheim.

Here are the Top 16 CF% teams in the league from the 2014/15 season…let’s see how predictive of post season success that metric has been:

LAK 55.4

CHI 53.6

DET 53.5

TBL 53.0

PIT 52.8

NYI 52.7

NSH 52.7

WPG 52.5

CAR 52.5

DAL 52.1

STL 51.8

BOS 51.7

SJS 51.5

WSH 51.4

FLA 51.3

MIN 51.0

The Final Four

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There were no huge surprises in the second round of the playoffs with the possible exception of how quickly the Chicago Blackhawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild can match the Hawks in many aspects of the game except one…Patrick Kane.

Kane has been a force throughout the playoffs racking up 7 goals and 13 points in 10 games and the Wild had no answer. The player they acquired to provide high level scoring…Thomas Vanek…was once again a playoff no show managing only 4 assists and a -7 in 10 games.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has a problem on his hands with Vanek under contract for 2 more seasons at $6.5 million.

To get to the next level that will almost certainly included going through the Blackhawks, he’s going to have to add a high level scorer…we’ll se hot that plays out in the offseason.

But…on to the Final 4.

It’ll be fascinating to watch how the Anaheim/Hawks series plays out since the Ducks are skilled, big, mean and built in a manner to get past the LA Kings.

The Hawks, who don’t have the beef in the lineup that they did in their last two playoff runs are built on skill, speed and a quick transition game that depends to a large degree on stretch passes to generate offense.

I would bet that Anaheim will deploy a strategy that has their big forwards, Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Maroon, Belesky, Etem and Thompson, pound the Hawks defense relentlessly to try and wear them down as the series progresses….the LA Kings style.

The Hawks will have to respond with quick recovery and transition to counter attacking, if the series goes to or near the limit, I think Anaheim will prevail.

To me, the most interesting story is not so much the matchup but how quickly and completely that Steve Yzerman rebuilt a team that is in the final four.

The Tampa Tribune took a look at just that this morning:

In 2011, Yzerman’s first season with the franchise, a team led by holdover franchise icons Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis and stop-gap veterans such as Dwayne Roloson and Sean Bergenheim reached Game 7 of the conference finals at Boston.

This time, the Lightning are tailor-made by Yzerman.

“Back in the 2011 playoffs, we were all relatively new and didn’t know what to expect from our team,” Yzerman said.

“It wasn’t as expected as it is here, where the expectations are a little higher,” Yzerman said in comparing 2011 to this year’s team. “So there is more of an expectation to win.”

Four years later, only two players — Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman — remain with the team.

Now, the roster is filled with draft picks such as Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, undrafted free-agent acquisitions such as Tyler Johnson, J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr, along with trade or free-agent acquisitions such as Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Jason Garrison.

 Pretty clear evidence that Yzerman is among the elite of NHL GM’s.
One facet of Yzerman’s team building that doesn’t get mentioned much is how thoroughly he has mined an opportunity that many other teams ignore…Russians and to a lesser degree…other East Europeans.
Since his first draft, Yzerman has drafted:
Vladislav Namestnikov (2011)
Nikita Kucherov (2011)
Nikita Nesterov (2011)
Ondrej Palat (2011)
Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012)
Nikita Gusev (2012)
Kristers Gudlevskis (2013)
Fully 5 of those players have seen action in this seasons’ playoff action..around 20 percent of the TB roster.
Another interesting item in the TB draft strategy came in the 2014 draft when the Bolts had 3 picks in the first 2 rounds and selected 3 defensemen.
The first of those picks was Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting who, in this past NHL season, where he played for the Sting and, later, the SSM Greyhounds, scored 21 goals and 89 points before scoring another 16 points in 13 playoff games.
The second pick was towering Czech defenseman Dominik Masin who played for the Peterborough Petes, managing 26 points in 48 games.
The third pick was another big D, Jonathan MacLeod, who had a very nice freshman season with Boston University.

I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that Yzerman also signed 6’7″ 220 Czech defenseman Andrej Sustr.

With Victor Hedman leading the way, Nesterov and Sustr already playing significant minutes, 28 year old Anton Stralman under contract for another 4 seasons at a reasonable $4.5M cap hit and 2 thirty year old veterans, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, to provide support, the Lightning D should be formidable for the foreseeable future.

And a forward group that includes Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson,Nikita Kucherov, Andrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin ain’t no chopped liver either.

Once a phenom like DeAngelo joins the group I think the Lightning will join the elite and stay there for a long time.

They’ll be up against a Rangers team whose window is slowly closing but I like the Bolts in 6 although the bookies don’t appear to agree with me:

via Bovada,

Odds to win the 2015 Stanley Cup

New York Rangers                     2/1

Chicago Blackhawks                 11/5

Anaheim Ducks                         12/5

Tampa Bay Lightning                 19/4

Predictive Value

So, here we are moving into the second round of the playoffs with, in my opinion very few surprises.

The Calgary Flames have to be the David to Anaheim’s Goliath but I’ve been telling you all season that the Flames should NOT be discounted.

I suspect they will have a tough time advancing to the 3rd round just based on Anaheim’s size and skill but, then again, folks who have been trashing Calgary for their inability to show well in the “advanced” stats don’t understand what Calgary is doing, how and why.

I thought it would be interesting to go back and take a look at what the Statzis were predicting this season based on “puck possession” and hold their feet to the fire a bit.

The following graph is lifted from an article on SportingCharts.com and you’ll see pretty quickly how poorly the author performed in predicting how the teams in the WC finished in league standings based on their possession metrics.

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The first thing you’ll notice is that almost half of the teams predicted to finish in the playoffs didn’t even make the post season.

The other striking errors are the Kings finishing 1st in the west and Minnesota finishing 13th.

And therein lies the major problem of using past performance to predict future success or failure using nothing more than a statistical approach without raising your eyes from your spreadsheet to rationally assess how the ever shifting lineups of teams are affected by new additions, injuries, progression by young players, coaching changes and a host of other things that are reflected in the “advanced” stats.

If you’ve been following along, you will know that I have been predicting big things for the Wild all the way back to last season and, despite an early season scare caused by dreadful, goaltending, the Wild have been the best team in the NHL for months.

My being bullish on the Wild has been based on roster makeup, systems execution and coaching.I could go on at great length about those things but I’m going to address them a little later in this post when we look at some predictions for the second round.

Before leaving the Corsi/Fenwick debate behind, I’d like to remind you that there are many devotees of “advanced” stats that will tell you that those metrics can accurately predict who will win in the playoffs and win a championship. Really?

Here are the Top 16 CF% teams in the league from the 2014/15 season…let’s see how predictive of post season success that metric has been:

LAK 55.4

CHI 53.6

DET 53.5

TBL 53.0

PIT 52.8

NYI 52.7

NSH 52.7

WPG 52.5

CAR 52.5

DAL 52.1

STL 51.8

BOS 51.7

SJS 51.5

WSH 51.4

FLA 51.3

MIN 51.0

I think you would have to agree that using “possession ” stats to predict playoff success is pretty much useless and while any fool would agree that having the puck is better than not having the puck, there are so many other moving parts in play, that ignoring them leads to embarrassing moments like the article linked to above.

I’m sure the author was all agog that he was on to something brilliantly insightful but Maggie the Monkey could not have done a poorer job.

So, what about the Flames?

Why have they been so successful despite being 28th this season in CF%?

If you watched the Flames/Canucks series with a critical eye, you will have seen exactly the factors that can overcome or ignore the current “possession” fad a lead a team to win more games that they lose.

Bob Hartley (who should win the Jack Adams trophy hands down) has designed his systems play around the personnel he has and has and has received total buy in from his team.

There are several facets to what he is preaching:

1) Relentless forechecking and puck retrieval.

2) Pounding the opposition D in their own end to wear them down.

3) Keeping opposition shots to the outside

4) Blocking shots

5) A mobile D that turns pucks the other way with accuracy and speed.

5) Speed through the neutral zone

6) Crash the net.

There’s nothing magical about his formula and it only works if executed relentlessly but it doesn’t lead to Corsi success…it overcomes that metric.

Interestingly enough, I think you’ll see that Anaheim plays a very similar style although their personnel are bigger and more experienced.

That likely gives the Ducks the advantage in the series between the 17th and the 28th ranked CF% teams but I expect the Flames won’t go quietly and could upset the Ducks if they outwork them and execute better.

I’ve likely watched about 50-55 Flames games this season and I can honestly say that I have never seen the team take even ONE shift off.

We’re about to find out if they want it more than the Ducks.

Trade Winds

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With the Christmas roster freeze now in the rearview mirror, we’re starting to see some activity as General Managers tweak their lineups for the playoff run.

****UPDATE***

The Edmonton Oilers made a baffling trade today…sending Mark Arcobello to the Nashville Predators for Derek Roy.

On the surface it seems like a slight upgrade at centre but, if you look a little deeper, it’s just squandering another asset.

Roy was PPG+ player with the Buffalo Sabres 7 seasons ago but his best season in the last 5 was in 2011/12 when he scored 17 goals and 44 points. It’s been all downhill since then.

Roy spent the following 3 seasons bouncing around from the Dallas Stars to the Vancouver Canucks (where he was invisible) to the St. Louis Blues and now to the Predators. In 26 games this season he has scored ONE goal and 10 points.

Arcobello has scored SEVEN goals and 12 points this season so there is very little reason to believe Roy will do much of anything to kick start the Oilers moribund offence.

Roy is UFA at the end of the season and I highly doubt he’ll re-sign with the Oilers so MacTavish is basically sending away an asset for 3 months of blah.

Now, some are arguing that the Oilers did the right thing to get a contract off their 50 man list but that’s only a factor if the team is expecting to add a few more bodies during this season.

This pretty is much the definition of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and is likely meant to indicate the Oilers are “doing something” to appease the fan base.

But it does nothing to improve the hockey team.

The Edmonton Oilers also picked Matt Fraser off the waiver wire this morning after the Boston Bruins waived him to make room for the callup of Jordan Caron.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues have given up trying to find an NHL player in Magnus Paajarvi after the former Oilers’ 10th overall pick was a healthy scratch in 25 games this season and managed to score only 1 point in the 10 games he did play.

The Anaheim Ducks also placed Dany Heatley on waivers which likely spells the end of his NHL career. Heatley only played 6 games for the Ducks and it’s apparent that the speed of the game has passed him by.

The big news of the days however is reports from multiple sources that Colorado Avalanche centre Ryan O’Reilly is being shopped.

The split between center Ryan O’Reilly and theColorado Avalanche is inevitable. Too much vitriol under the bridge in previous contract squabbles.He’s signed through 2016 at a pretty good clip; after that, it’s UFA status and Denver in the rearview mirror.

So with the Avs nine points out of a playoff spot and desperately needing a blueline upgrade (seriously, their firmware is like two years out of date), perhaps the Ryan O’Reilly trade window is opening for the rest of the NHL.

At least that’s what former Denver Post writer Adrian Dater is reporting:

O’Reilly being offered around the league for a good D-man. Florida and Winnipeg. Pondering, Toronto and Montreal too

— Adrian Dater (@adater) December 28, 2014

People might publicly deny it, but O’Reilly is definitely in play again on the market

— Adrian Dater (@adater) December 28, 2014

Thinking about possible destinations for O’Reilly, I believe that Toronto might be a good fit.

There are persistent rumours that the Leafs are thinking about trading Jake Gardiner or Cody Franson and that James Reimer could also be on the move.

O’Reilly is an Ontario native and is precisely what the Leafs need and, if acquired, the Leafs would be in a position to trade Nazem Kadri for additional help.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, add a defenseman, a reliable backup goaltender and free themselves from O’Reilly’s $6 million cap hit.

More later in the day…..

Snap Shots

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1) Tyler Seguin in beast mode in Edmonton with 2G 1A. Now on pace for 64 goals and 107 points. Oh, and he had NINE shots on goal.

2) Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner  Jakub Voracek is one point ahead of Seguin for the NHL scoring lead with 43 points in 33 GP. Don’t mention the war… or Logan Couture.

3) Jarome Iginla is a bust in Colorado…right? Did you know Iginla, with a $5.3 million dollar cap hit, has 21 points, one more than Jordan Eberle who has a $6 million cap hit.

4) I see the venerable Lowetide has come around to thinking the way a few of us have for years:

Lowetide:
Oilers have to do something about their goalie. Question: Do they make that move now? At this rate they can keep this team down in the standings and stay in the 29-30 slots. I mean, we’re basically halfway through the season.

I’d agree to that but they have to fire management.

What took you so long buddy?

5) The Edmonton Oilers are on pace for a -101 goal differential.

6) It looks like the race for the basement is now down to 3 teams. The Buffalo Sabres just picked up another point in OT and now have 29 while Carolina, Arizona and Edmonton are all within 5 points of one another. If Arizona conducts a fire sale in the new year, as expected, I’d wager they finish 30th and the NHL will “manage” the lottery so that the Oilers pick 3rd.

7)  The Calgary Flames have dropped (no surprise) to 3 points out out of  a wildcard spot. But don’t count them out just yet. Brian Burke is sitting on $22 million free cap space ($61 million! at the trade deadline) to make deals with. Would Antoine Vermette, Keith Yandle and another scorer propel the Flames into the playoffs? Maybe. Keep an eye on the Flames…they have the cap space and assets to make major moves.

8) The Minnesota Wild continue to out shoot opponents by a wide margin (an average of almost 6 shots/game) but are still muddling along (4-3-3 in their last 10GP). One wonders why they don’t win more often.

9) What’s up with the Winnipeg Jets? Despite losing FOUR of their top 6 D, they remain competitive and are currently in a playoff spot. Who says coaching doesn’t matter.

10)  The Chicago Blackhawks lead the NHL with a +35 goal differential.The Anaheim Ducks, conversely, lead the NHL with 49 points despite a goal differential of only +5. Can you spell clutch?