Friday, July 27, 2007

Mirtle on the Canucks

James Mirtle, one of the most well-known NHL bloggers, recently had this to say about the Canucks' prospects for next season:

Still, if one of those top six blueliners isn't moved and Nonis decides to go with the same forward corps as last season, there's a real chance the Canucks miss the playoffs this year. I can't see Markus Naslund getting much better given his decline since the lockout, and Roberto Luongo can't play any better than he has already.

Is there any room for growth on this roster?

And you know what, he may have a point. Maybe missing the playoffs is a bit harsh but can you name a position on the team where we're significantly better than last season? Let's face it, 3d seed or not, last season the Canucks actually finished 6th in the conference in terms of points, and part of that may have been due to luck (see: our best-in-the-league 17-7 overtime record.). This may not be what many people want to hear, but there's a makeable case that the Canucks will actually be worse next season. I'm surprised it took a guy like Mirtle, who doesn't folow the Canucks on a daily basis, to make it. I don't even think he thought this was a particularly bold prediction. Nonetheless, considering everyone in this city seems to be assuming that the team will be either the same or better this year, maybe Canucks fans should at least consider the possibility that the team might worsen instead. Now, I'm not saying that it necessarily will. What I am saying, though, is that the possibility is definetly there, and that it deserves more discussion than it's getting right now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Staal brothers arrested for steroids, illegal dogfighting and tampering with the refereeing of NHL games

Just kidding, it was for getting rowdy at a bachelor party. Doesn't it make you love the NHL when this is the worst we can come up with? Seriously.

The full police report:

On 07/21/07 at approximately 12:30 a.m. the Cook County Sheriff's Office received several complaints in the area of Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas. All complaints were similar in nature, and reporting the same incident; a group of approximately 20 people screaming, yelling, and playing loud music.

At approximately 12:50 a.m. Cook County Sheriff's Office deputies arrived at the Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas. The suspects were warned multiple times to be quiet or they may be removed from the property, issued citations, arrested, and/or deported from the country.

At approximately 3:00 a.m. staff at Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas ordered the group to leave the property, as they were not obeying the warnings they had been given. Cook County Sheriff Deputies, a Minnesota State Patrol Trooper, and a United States Border Patrol agent assisted with the removal of the suspects.

After leaving the property, the group gathered on Highway 61 and began harassing passing motorists. At approximately 4:00 a.m. the suspects were placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. Some of the suspects fled in to the nearby woods.

I mean, really, we've all been there. Who hasn't put back a few with his buddies and decided "Hey, let's go harass some passing motorists". My favourite quote of this whole ordeal, though, comes from the Staals' agent. Apparently "this is what can happern when you get any group of 15-20 people together and there's loud noise." Oh no it's... loud noise. Loud noise make Staal want smash!

By the way here's the Staals' wildly dissapointing mug shots. Apparently these guys look clean cut even after a long night of drinking and harrassing motorists. Their faces aren't even red!!! God bless the NHL...

All in all, the older Staal spent a day in jail, his brother was released after a few hours, the Canes apparently decided to chalk this one up to "boys will be boys", and a good time was had by all. I would like to personally extend my thanks to the Staal brothers and suggest that all future NHL bachelor parties be held in July and August when there's not much else to write about.

(police report and mug shots shamelessly ripped off from Eric McErlan at AOL Fanhouse)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What's wrong with Markus Naslund (Part 2)

Welcome back to the ongoing series that tries to figure out just why Markus Naslund's production has been wavering the past two years. Today we're going to look at the issue of linemates and try to assess how important the loss of Bertuzzi was in downgrading Naslund's play. At first glance the effect seems pretty large. The fine folks at The Canucks Genome Project blog have helpfully put together a chart of Naslund's production with and without Bertuzzi which I'm now going to shamelessly rip off. The short version is this: Naslund's ppg with Bertuzzi:0.93 Naslund's ppg without Bertuzzi: 0.52. Of course this doesn't necessarily prove anything. Bertuzzi only played with Naslund when Nazzy was at the peak of his career. Naslund's stats during his peak years are gonna be higher than his stats before that with or without Bertuzzi. Nonetheless, I think there's something to this theory, and that Bertuzzi was a huge part of Naslund's sucess. This old article from The Sporting News explains why as well as anything else:

Naslund is not big and leaves the banging to power forward linemate Todd Bertuzzi. Naslund can win a battle for a puck but is best when playing with a linemate who can go into the corners and feed him the puck. Because he thrives most often in open ice, he is not as successful if his space is limited. Teams can contain him by crowding him.

As we all know, Naslund's greatest skill as a player is his shot. But in order to use this skill he needs some sort of room out there, and that's exactly what Bertuzzi, with his big frame and his ability to battle guys provided. Without someone like him making room Naslund found himself under more pressure from defensemen and less able to get a shot off effectively. Maybe that's why last season Naslund attempted the fewest shots he has since 1998-99(2.7 per game, down from an average of 3.58 per game his previous 4 years), and had his lowest shooting percentage since 1999-2000, scoring on only 10.8% of his shots. Another huge piece of evidence in support of his theory is the fact that Naslund's effectiveness has declined at even strength but remained the same on the powerplay. Room isn't as big an issue on the powerplay, so it's logical that his effectiveness would remain the same there.

So here's where we are so far: Naslund's drop in effectiveness can be blamed in large part on the lack of a big man like Todd Bertuzzi who can go out there and make room for him to get his shot off. More to come, including hopefully a more detailed analysis of Naslund's shots at ES and on the PP to see if this theory holds up.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Link of the day...

Mysterious hockey trade rumor monger Eklund almost breaks down and cries on his blog about the crowd gathered at a "Save the Predators" rally in Nashville. Maybe there's hope for hockey there after all.

More on the rally at one of the Nashville Hockey Blogs (feels funny just saying that). Hopefully this gets some sort of positive coverage in the press tommorow. It's a freaking hockey rally in Nashville! They sold something like 700+ season tickets in one day. Even people in the organisation like Barry Trotz were buying them to support the cause. Sure those 7500 people who showed up might include every single hockey fan in Tennesee, but it's still nice to see something like this in a place where they had to have a PA announcement at the end of their first NHL game telling people to go home because the game was three periods not four quarters long. Also the Preds unveiled their new uniforms. Not that bad:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let me tell you guys a story...

Not long ago, a very familiar hockey team was entering its season with many questions hanging over its shoulders. Many thought this team's best days were behind it and few believed the season to come would see the team improve. Nonetheless, bolstered by its recent addition of one of the league's best goaltenders, the team decided that a focus on strong defensive play was it's best chance at sucess. This approach paid off, and despite a lackluster offensive year from its captain and star player, and the fact that it was in the bottom third of league scoring, this team had a pretty damn good season, finishing with over 100 points and winning its division before being knocked out in the playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks.

The next season, however, the team began to take its offensive defficiencies to heart. Despite the fact that its defensive style was paying off the team decided they needed more scoring and traded one of its main defencemen for a fairly prominent forward as well as adding a few other minor offensive names through additional trades. The team's offence certainly improved, and they finished the season in the top-10 in league scoring. Regardless of this, however, the team's record worsened considerably. Instead of 3d they finished 8th in their conference, barely squeaking into the playoffs and making a quick exit once they got there.

As many of you may have realised by now(either through blazing inteligence or because there's a picture of Darryl Sutter at the bottom of this post), I'm not describing the 06/07 Canucks and making my prediction for what will happern with them next year. I'm describing the Calgary Flames' last two seasons. I'm doing this because, in my own long-winded and kind of douchebagy way, I'm trying to make two points:

1. Holy shit the 05/06 Flames and 06/07 Canucks' seasons were similar.

and, more importantly

2. When your team's able to win consistently through defense, having a bad offense may not be a flaw, but rather the price you pay for your solid defensive play. The object of hockey isn't to score goals, it's to win hockey games. If you can win every game 2-1 then who cares that you're averaging 2 goals per game as a team and you're last in the league in scoring. Whatever you have going it's working, and trying to tinker with a winning formula just because you're not scoring so much may end up doing more harm than good.

Look what happerned to the Flames. They excelled at the defensive side of the game and despite their mediocre offense they were one of the best teams in the league. Then they decided that they weren't scoring enough, so they'd better trade some of their defense for some scoring and instead of improving they ended up damn near missing the playoffs.

It's easy to look at the stat sheet and go "Hey we're third in the league in goals allowed, but our offence is 22nd. If only we could score some goals we'd be unstoppable", without keeping in mind that if you change things around to try and score more goals it's pretty damn likely that you'll be allowing more goals too, and the end result may not necessarily be more wins for your team. So, to get to the final point of my post, let's hope that Dave Nonis keeps the Calgary Flames in mind before he goes off trading Ohlund or someone else in search of more scoring.

And, since I couldn't think of any other picture to go with this post, here's a shot of Daryll Sutter. For extra effect you can pretend he's saying "Nooooooooo! I knew bringing in Tanguay and Husselius would do more harm than good!" or some such thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What's wrong with Markus Naslund (Part 1)

Welcome to the first of what may be many installments in a series looking into why exactly Markus Naslund's performance has slipped the past two seasons. For starters I wanted to check wether some of his decreased production could have been caused simply by shrinking ice time rather than poorer play. To take ice time out of the equation we can look at his production in terms of points per 60 minutes of ice time. Here's how those stats look for the past five years for both even strangth and on the powerplay.

First here's his even strengh stats:
Season Even Strength Points per 60 mins ES ice time
2006-07: 1.70
2005-06: 2.14
2003-04: 3.01
2002-03: 2.55
2001-02: 3.05

As you can see, there's a sizeable drop-off in the last 2 years to match his overall decrease in production. But now look at his powerplay stats:

Season Powerplay Points per 60 mins PP ice time
2005-06: 5.13
2004-05: 5.56
2003-04: 4.41
2002-03: 7.31
2001-02: 4.86

Surprisingly, these stats show that Naslund's powerplay effectiveness hasn't declined one bit. Hell, aside from his great performance in 2002-03 his last two years have actually seen his powerplay stats improve slightly. So, strangely enough, it seems that Markus Naslund's stats have dropped off exclusively because he's playing worse at even strength, while his powerplay effectiveness has remained exactly the same throughout the last 5 years, through both the good times and the bad. Weird. I can't really think of an obvious reason for this, but I have to say that this rules out many possible explainations about Markus's poor performance, or at least makes them less likely. More to come on this in the future.

Canucks forwards' stats adjusted for ice time

The title pretty much says it all. For those that may be curious, and since these stats are way harder to find than they should be, here's the points per 60 mins of even strength and powerplay ice time for most of the Canucks' forwards last season. (I apologise for the bad quality, click on the picture for an image of marginally better yet still crappy quality)

Biggest surprise here is how similar everyone's stats are except for the Sedins and Nazzy(on the pp anyway). According to this Smolinski and Linden are pretty much the same guy, for example, even though one ended up with 44 points the other with 25. Shows what increased ice time can do.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Souray to Edmonton

Well there you have it folks, the last of the big-name free agents finds himself a team, going to Edmonton for 5 years at 5.4 million per year. When I heard he was going to the Oilers I was prepared for the worst salary-wise, but 5.4 million seems downright reasonable. This says a bit about the interest Souray generated on the free agent market. First of all he signs with Edmonton of all teams. Yeah he's from Alberta, but seriously, If you were an NHL player, knowing what you do about the state of that organisation right now, would you want to play in Edmonton? In adition to that, he was the last big-name free agent on the market and he was dealing with Kevin "I'm trying to keep my job here" Lowe, who's got to be absoulutely desperate to bring in a big name at this point. You're telling me 5.4 million per year was the best offer he could get? I'm thinking that either Souray took a lower salary to play in his home province or there wasn't as much interest in him as it was thought there would be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Will the East be any better this year?

As we all know, the East has been getting its' ass kicked up and down by the Western conference this past season, to the point that Ottawa stood almost no chance against a Western team after playing it's creampuff Eastern schedule. Just to put this in prespective the Western teams' combined record against the East was 82-48-20 (63-48 in regulation) and only a single Western team(Columbus) had a losing record against the East. So will the East be any better this year? Well one way to find out is to see if the East has picked up more quality free agents than the East. So without further ado, here's all the players that have switched teams from West to the East and those that have switched from the East to the West, with the bigger names in bold.

West to East:
Radek Dvorak
Shawn Thorton
Brett Mclean
Todd White
Petr Sykora
Dany Sabourin
Daryl Sydor
Roman Hamrlik
Kevin Klee
Bryan Smolinski
Ted Kostopoulos
Bill Guerin
Vitali Vishnevski
Joe Motzko

East to West:
Brian Rafalski
Yanic Pereault
Cory Sarich
Jed Ortmeyer
Ryan Smyth
Tom Preising
Greg DeVries
Radek Bonk
Brad Isbister
Eric Belanger
Shane Hindy
Sean Hill
Trevor Bryne
Shane Willis
Mike York
Todd Fedoruk

So really there's been no change, two medium-name defencemen and two medium-name forwards are lost and gained by each conference. If anything the biggest surprise has been how few big names have switched conferences, with the biggest name being Ryan Smyth who only went to the East on a deadline deal.

Of course there's also trades. From this we have a bit more movement:

West to East:
Jason Smith
Jeoffery Lupul
Thomas Vokun
Mark Bell
Vesa Toskala
Manny Fernandez
Kimmo Timmonen
Scott Hartnell
Jassen Cullimore
Tony Salmelaien

East to West:
Joni Pitkanen
Geoff Sanderson
Sergei Samsonov
Darryl Sydor
Petr Klaus

Here the East has finally made some gains, aquiring three of the preds best players and three starting goaltenders while the only good player the West gets back is Joni Pitkanen. So looks like the East is primed to make up at least a little ground, in part because of The Great Nashville Sell Off(tm).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Canucks extend Bieksa, sign Miller

The Canucks extended Kevin Bieksa today (press release) for three more years at 3.75 million per, and also added defenseman Aaron Miller (press release) . Some random thoughts about the Bieksa signing:

  • The scary thing here is that the Canucks probably got him for less than he was going to get when he became an UFA a year from now. How scary is it when a player can have one good year and already command a 3.75 million salary on potential alone. Call it the Vanek effect.

  • I found it kind of funny that the deal is 3.75 per year instead of 3.50 like our three other top guys. Now whenever Mitchell/Salo/Ohlund screws up and Bieksa bails him out he can say "see that's why I make that extra 250 grand". Couldn't have they just thrown in a no-trade clause and bumped him down to 3.50 just so all four of them would make the same ammount?

  • All in all a hell of a deal though. I don't think a lot of people really realised that Bieksa would have been an UFA already next year since he's barely been in the league for one full season. With this our top-5D is officially set for the next 3-4 years. It will be interesting to see if these guys develop some sort of crazy synergy in the next few years after playing with each other so long.

  • Bieksa likely knows very well that he could have commanded more on the free market next year, but chose to extend right now and stay. Always good to see a guy do that, says a lot about the current state of the organisation.
  • The only bad news of the day in my opinion is that according to the team 1040 Nonis hinted that he was pretty much done with signings and any further moves would come through trades. We've still got some cap room and there's still some good depth wingers out there. An extra would seem like a better move at this point. Why give something up when you don't have to?
  • As for Miller, good signing, no complaints here. It will be sad to see Rory go and not only for the comedy implications. He wasn't that bad, but Miller's definetly an improvement.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

About this Kevin Lowe business

Not that I'm trying to defend Kevin Lowe here or anything but I'm tired of reading everyone's complaints about how he's the most evil bastard in the world for giving Vanek an offer sheet. The man didn't do anything illegal. He took advantage of an existing clause in the CBA, a clause that I presume was put in there in order to be used. If you're going to have all this stigma attatched to it then why even bother having Restricted Freee Agency in the first place?

Isn't this whole process dangerously close to collusion? If a bunch of NHL(or say baseball....) owners got together and verbally agreed to limit the offers made to each other's players in order to keep salaries down they'd be in a lot of legal trouble. How different is that from the current situation where the league's GM's are essentially agreeing not to take advantage of a clause in the CBA that would probably drive up player salaries?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

$2.5 Million and How to Spend it

As of right now the Canucks total salaries payable for next season are $43.4 million dollars, with the only notable players yet to be signed being Ryan Shannon, Trevor Linden and Rory or someone similar to fill our 6th D slot. Assuming these three sign for a total of about 2 million, that leaves us with a cap figure of $45.5 million dollars. The canucks have said they won't commit the full cap to sign the season, with $48 million seeming like a reasonable figure to stop at. So basically there's $2.5 million dollars left to improve the team. Seeing as how our depth chart currently looks something like this:

A whole bunch of 4th liners

It seems reasonable to assume that the money should be spent on a good second/third line winger(or two). With that in mind here's some of the remaining UFA's who could fill that role at a price we could afford.

Martin Gelinas. Thirty-seven years old and still full of piss and vinegar. Already spent 5 years with the Canucks, might be interested in finishing up his career with a contender.
Pros:Cheap( last contract was $950 000 per year for two years). Playoff experience (147 career playoff games)
Cons: Thirty-seven years old. Little offensive upside (best NHL season was only 68 points and that was 10 years ago. He had 41 and 44 points in his last 2 years with Florida and it's hard to see him putting up more than that in the Canucks defensive system)

Jeff O'Neil. His career has hit a rough patch the last few years with both personal and on-ice problems, to the point that he apparently considered retirement this season. Maybe a change of scenery will bring him back to his old form.
Pros: Good offensive upside(had four consecutive 60+ point seasons with Carolina a few years ago). Grit (he'll fit right in next to Isbister and Ritchie)
Cons: Defense. (i don't necessarily consider +/- a very useful stat but this guy's been a minus player for 9 of his 11 seasons, and the other two he was only +1 and +3. That's got to mean something).

Anson Carter. Poor guy went from playing with the Sedins and scoring 33 goals (by the way, the Sedin's jersey numbers: 33 and 22. Carter's number: 55. Carter's stats in his season with Van: 33-22-55. Coincidence? Destiny? You decide.) to Columbus and a 28 point season. We need to show him a bit of love.
Pros: Probably the best offensive player of all the 2nd/3d liners still available. His career numbers don't as good as they should because he keeps bouncing from place to place (9 teams in 10 seasons) but give him some stability and he'll put up numbers. Also, nice guy, smart, everyone loves his interviews.
Cons: If we actually do get him everyone will start asking why he's not playing with the Sedins, leading to the inevitable Carter or Pyatt controversy. Maybe this is a good thing and a little competition wouldn't be a big deal, especially with Vigneault's sytem, but I'm putting it down as a negative. It just seems that it would throw the whole balance of the team out of whack.

Jan Bulis. The Canucks don't seem to want to resign him but damnit I do. He built up a lot of animosity among the fans last year with his lackluster play and his trade demand, but picked things up in the second half, working his way up from "he's an ass" to "benign neglect " status.
Pros. Honestly I think this guy 's one of the more underrated defensive players on the Canucks. He always seems to have his stick in on the play and make those little deflections that screw up the flow of an opposing team's rush. He's also my vote for "player most likely to intercept an opposing team's pass and take it back up the other way for a scoring chance".
Cons.Of course for Bulis "scoring chance" means "aborted spin move and weak shot that poses no danger of going in". If he could just finish he'd be good for 20+ goals a year.

Tony Amonte. He'll be 37 to start the year, and many have said he's been one of the players most negatively affected by the new NHL, with the drop-off in his point production agreeing.
Pros. Used to be the best offensive forward out of anyone on this list. Only guy we could afford who had at least one point-per-game season. Solid playoff experience. Crappy season last year(30 pts) means that he might take a pay cut(from $1.85 million) making him fairly affordable.
Cons. Will be 37 to start the year...Best days are behind's pretty easy to compare him with Martin Gelinas except at this point in their careers I think Martin might have more offensive upside. If that's not a con i don't know what is.

This isn't a complete list of course, nor is it necesarily a list of the top 5 guys who would make the best signings(except for Bulis. He's at the top of the list damnit), more like a sampling of the possibilities that are out there. There's other guys out there(although they may be better players at this point their names aren't as big so I kind of naturally erred towards the older guys) and I may add to this list in the future. If there's any point to this though, it's to show that the Canucks still have plenty of options hope that we pick up at least one of these guys so we dont go into the season with Brad Isbister as our second line right winger.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Were Ritchie and Isbister really necesary?

With the recent signings of Byron Ritchie and Brad Isbister the Canucks now have the dubious honour of having one of the NHL's deepest 4th lines. Assuming Linden is re-signed here are all the players that could concievably play on the Canucks' 4th line:

Ryan Shannon, Trevor Linden, Brad Isbister, Byron Ritchie, Alex Burrows, Jeff Cowan.

Now I'm not really confortable with any of these guys playing anywhere except the fourth line for long periods, but even if we get desperate and end up with someone like Ritche or Cowan filling out the third line with Cooke and Kesler that still means two of these six guys won't be on the team to start the year. Which brings me to the question: Why bother with Ritche and Isbister? Why not spend the $1 million or so you spent on them combined on an established third-line grinder (Re-Sign Bulis maybe?) and take your chances with Linden Shannon and Cowan as your fourth line with Burrows and Rypien as injury replacements. I'm not against depth at any part of your team but it seems that the 4th line isn't really the spot you'd most like to have it, especially when you're still missing a second and third liner.

Just trying to figure out how this "create post" thingie works...

Hey folks and welcome to the first instalment of my wailing ramblings on the Canucks the NHL in general and God knows what else.