Monday, August 23, 2010

Applying the 2006 Hurricanes Model to the Capitals

I think this looks promising, since the 2006 Canes and 2011 Caps will both have had an inexperienced 22-year-old goalie starting the playoffs, a defense corps that isn't much to speak of, and a young star to lead the team. One thing to note though is that Edmonton, after winning three series as underdogs, looked to be better than Carolina in terms of Corsi and Fenwick, yet Carolina pulled the upset. Carolina relative to the other teams in the league probably is one of the luckiest champions in the expansion era, but hey, they got it done. It's also worth noting that in the years immediately following the lockout teams got LOTS of power plays, and on top of that Carolina since the lockout has been one of the best penalty-drawing teams, so that's a big part of their success.

Here is the Canes' TOI distribution during the 2005-2006 regular season from the stats engine: even strength, power play, penalty kill, overall, and also points.

While Eric Staal led the team in points, Rod Brind'Amour led it in time on ice. He was the top-line center, playing with (I think) Justin Williams and Cory Stillman. Brind'Amour was the shutdown center as well as a secondary scorer. Staal carried a lot of the scoring load as the second center in terms of TOI. I think he played with Erik Cole and Ray Whitney or Matt Cullen. Looking at the "Pos" column, it's clear that the Hurricanes had plenty of options down the middle. To this day Brind'Amour, Cullen, and Staal could be 50 or 60 point centers in the league, and Staal 80 points.

On the power play, the Hurricanes looked to four players first and foremost--Ray Whitney, Staal, Brind'Amour, and Stillman, and after that really spread it around, as eighteen Canes were receiving more than a minute of PPTOI/gm (again note though that that season saw many, many power plays).

On the PK, the Hurricanes trusted all their defensemen, essentially. Seven different defensemen averaged over a minute on the penalty kill per game, the most of which belonged to Aaron Ward at just over four minutes per game. Considering how many power plays there were per game that season, Tom Poti playing 5:30 a game shorthanded as he did this season is clearly not the answer, especially for a guy who's much worse not that much better than his colleagues on the PK (Norris winner Duncan Keith of course is an exception, since he actually plays well on the PK). Brind'Amour, Williams, Kevyn Adams, Craig Adams, Cole, and Staal basically took all the shorthanded minutes up front. Peter Laviolette, the Canes' coach, I guess knew that none of his defensemen were particularly outstanding on the PK, but he had some good forwards, so he made sure to take care of business there by letting those forwards take most of the SH minutes and spreading it around his D-corps.

In terms of overall TOI, Bret Hedican was the only defenseman to break 20 minutes a game, and Brind'Amour and Williams were the only forwards to break 20 minutes a game as well. In the playoffs, only Aaron Ward joined them, as A. Ward-Hedican looks like it became Carolina's shutdown pairing. Mike Commodore really ran up the ESTOI/gm ladder, getting into the "Hedican/Ward" group at 16 minutes or more. Glen Wesley started taking over four minutes of SHTOI/gm as the Canes reduced themselves to essentially trusting 5 forwards and 5 defensemen on the PK. On the power play, they basically played eight forwards and three defensemen (though Erik Cole missed almost the entire playoffs, so make that seven forwards). That doesn't look too dissimilar from what the Caps run: 4F/1D and 3F/2D.

This is how we could set it up:

Backstrom ~ Brind'Amour
Poti-Schultz? ~ Hedican-Ward
? ~ Staal

And that's the main part. The rest is depth. But again, we see no good second line center comparable. The Caps may have better wingers and the best defenseman of the two teams, but they're missing that minute-munching scoring-line center that Carolina had.

And the luck.

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