Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer thoughts

Dominic Moore. I think the optimal line combinations for this team have Laich on Ribeiro's wing. Ribeiro doesn't put up giant relative plus-minus ratings, which means that for all the offense he gets you, well, he gives a lot of it back at the other end. I think a huge reason why Laich looked so good in 10-11 was being able to do what he does best--play defense, get the puck, and then speed into the play--and leave the possession game over the rest of the ice to Semin and Carlzner.

I don't think Ribeiro is as good a 5v5 complement to Laich as Semin was in 10-11 (or good at fives, period, for that matter), but Ribeiro and a guy like Wolski and Chimera plus the D support could easily be better support than Semin, the possession zero 2C of the day, and young Carlzner. But without Laich, I think that line could be dangerously close to being a liability on the ice, scoring a lot but being outscored themselves. Ribeiro is not getting any younger, after all.

That's where Dominic Moore can help. He can play the same role Laich did last year (taking a little less ice time in all situations, though). He can push Laich up the depth chart, into a role where he's the only defensive specialist and not the only capable forward offensively (like he was with Ward and Chimera).

You could do worse than Brooks Laich at 3C. But I think overall, Moore at 3C and Laich at 2LW is better than, say, Chimera at 2LW and Laich at 3C.

I don't think McPhee is looking to add a forward, given that the team has 13 already and has largely been adding depth. But if you add Moore and trade a fourth-liner for something like "future considerations," well, I'd call that a net win.

Marcus Johansson's on-ice shooting percentage. Even though Marcus Johansson's possession numbers have been awful his first two seasons in the league, his raw offensive numbers have been pretty decent.

Among Caps forwards, minimum 40 GP with team:

Corsi Rel: -10.8 (11/11)
Corsi Rel QoC rank: 1/11
Zone start: 58.9% (1/11)
On-ice shooting: 9.21% (2/11)
G/60: 0.71 (6/11)
Pts/60: 1.50 (6/11)

Corsi Rel: -7.2 (12/13)
Corsi Rel QoC rank: 9/13
Zone start: 51.8% (4/13)
On-ice shooting: 10.02 (2/13)
G/60: 0.72 (7/13)
Pts/60: 1.90 (4/13)

Poor possession, slightly below and slightly above average scoring rates in the two seasons, but on-ice shooting% that's first-line caliber (top 90 in NHL, let's say). I'm not buying Johansson as an elite playmaker just yet, so let's assume that he has negligible ability to appreciably sway his linemates' shooting% while he's on the ice, meaning that if these numbers are for real, Johansson needs to be driving the percentages entirely by his own shots.

I'll look at this from two angles: what Johansson might have done to drive this on-ice shooting percentage up in terms of his own shots, and what his help has done.

At fives, his Fenwick shooting% was 9.2% his rookie season and 12.5% his second season. That seems like a big jump. His average shot distance decreased from 27.7ft to 25.0ft (let's cross our fingers those numbers are comparable, since shot location and distance data is swamped in scorer biases). I don't think that small drop is nearly enough to cause such a big increase long-term in his shot finishing efficiency. Both years he was third on the team in shot distance, though (Knuble/Fehr and Halpern/Beagle).

Moving on to the help...Repeating what I did a few weeks ago for Ovechkin, but now for Johansson:

In 2010-2011, Johansson took 85 5v5 shots and scored 10 goals. As a team with Johansson on the ice the Caps took 380 shots and scored 35 goals. So excluding Johansson's own shots the team scored 25 goals on  295 shots for 8.47% shooting.

In 2011-2012, Johansson took 75 shots and scored 13 goals (sidenote: more GP and fewer shots, not a good trend). The Caps with him shot ~488 times and scored 49 times. So Johansson's support went 36 for 413, 8.71%.

Those numbers don't seem outrageous. I do think Johansson got lucky in that the guys he generally plays with may not be able to put up that sort of finishing long-term. But if he's playing with real top-six forwards, he should be getting that kind of help. He may just be able to maintain his own shooting% (which isn't super high relative to his shot location) and get good conversion from his help. He'll need to take more shots as the team gets better at possession and still be able to maintain their "quality."

Looking at all of this, I'm optimistic he'll give the team at least as much, if not more, offense (on a rate basis at 5v5: with Ribeiro and a healthy Backstrom, less ice time may me a big factor).

Minnesota has a ways to go. I can understand why so many outlets thought Minnesota improved so much. The Wild did, adding a 1D and the best American forward on the planet as of two years ago. But the Wild still finished well out of the playoff picture. Going by GVT, what might Suter and Parise add? 30 GVT combined? That's 5-6 wins, which will put the Wild on the edge of the playoff picture. Though adding Granlund will help, those additions will take ice time (and hence GVT) away from other players on that roster.

With Los Angeles, San Jose, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Vancouver as lock-y for the playoffs as any other team, all it takes is one or two teams to knock Minnesota out of the playoff picture entirely (I see that the Wild had injuries, but I also think their record overestimated their true talent level last year, too). I understand that Minnesota's luck could work the other way, but we all need to remember that the margin is thin. Those six Western Conference teams, plus Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, Washington, and Boston are the same class of "lock" for the postseason, leaving only five open playoff spots for the other 19 teams.

With Minnesota now spending to the cap to be less than a solid playoff team, is it any surprise so many people are less-than-ecstatic about those two signings? The clock is now ticking, since every year it takes to let Granlund, Coyle, Brodin, and company mature, the worse Parise, Koivu, Suter, and Minnesota's goaltending will get.

Nashville will be alright. Although Nashville was getting worse even before Suter left and Weber signed an offer sheet that was subsequently matched, David Poile has handled losing great D in the past. He's lost Scott Stevens (a HOF D), Kimmo Timonen (a 1D to this day), and Dan Hamhuis (a top-pair D), among others. Although Nashville will experience hiccups because of those losses, Poile-led teams have generally been able to produce goalie after goalie and defensemen. With Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Jonathon Blum, and Mattias Elkholm all prospects who project into top fours, even if Nashville lost Weber, I trust Poile would've handled the situation well and the Predators would be competitive again relatively quickly.

The Southeast division could be like the NL East. No outstanding team, but plenty of above-average ones. Washington and Carolina I think will make the playoffs. Tampa Bay improved the most critical skater deficiency it had, and even if Lindback is just "meh," that team should make the playoffs, with a strong top-four and top-six up front. Winnipeg was above 50% in Fenwick and adding Olli Jokinen plus continued growth from Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, and Zach Bogosian, that team could make the playoffs as a low seed that's a hot goalie away from a huge upset or two. And Florida is the defending division champion, too.

Watch Stamkos. He's young enough (drafted in 2008, entering only his fifth full season) that he could have another giant leap forward in him. Remember, he scored 60 goals with 48 coming at even strength, while in his fourth year post-draft Ovechkin tallied 65 with 43 at ES. Ovechkin followed that up with the second-most shots in a single season in NHL history, and scored 56 goals despite shooting only 10.6%, now the second-lowest conversion efficiency of his career. He arguably "should have" scored 70. If there is a PP rebound next season, if Stamkos can also see a huge shot total improvement, perhaps he can score 70.

On that note, watch John Tavares, too. At 21 he already has an 80-point season under his belt. That's Crosby/Ovechkin/Stamkos level, but the

The Oilers have some nice young talent. The Copper and Blue is running their Top 25 under 25 series, and that top nine is extremely impressive. In no particular order, they are Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, and Oscar Klefbom. I think Gagner projects to a 2C, Petry to a second-pair D, and the rest onto the top pair or the top line.

I think the Oilers undervalue Paajarvi (who, by Corsi and scoring chances, has been solid-to-great, but hasn't gotten favorable ice time, linemates, or on-ice shooting%). If you want a Semin-level player for the future for relatively cheap, Paajarvi would be a good target. Not that it's a match for Washington now, but something to keep an eye on. Another season of bad puck luck and the Oilers should be willing to part, like the Panthers were with Michal Frolik (another solid possession player who hasn't gotten any puck luck).

Or, if you want a 2C for the future, Gagner could fit the bill there. Hemsky is getting pushed down the depth chart and might be acquire-able at the deadline this season or next. Smid is a nice defensive defenseman who's only 26 (they also have a pretty good defensive defenseman prospect in David Musil).

All that promise should put the Capitals to shame, right? And yet, over the next five years, is there a single person who'd bet on the Oilers posting a better record than the Capitals? More playoff wins than the Capitals?

I think that puts in perspective what a solid group George McPhee has assembled here.

On that note, which players would comprise the Caps' top 25 under 25?

Nicklas Backstrom is 24 until late November, and he's certainly #1. Then you have John Carlson and Karl Alzner at 2 and 3. I guess NHL experience slots Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, and Mathieu Perreault and 4, 5, and 6, and maybe Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby at 7 and 8 for the same reasons. On the other hand, you could look at their small body of work and instead slot them at 10 and 11 with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Stanislav Galiev, and Filip Forsberg at 7, 8, and 9.

Other names would include Tom Wilson, Philipp Grubauer, Mattias Sjogren, Tomas Kundratek, Cameron Schilling, Brett Flemming, Brandon Anderson, Patrick Wey, Danick Paquette, Kevin Marshall, and Sam Carrier (that's 22, and I'm out of names). That's actually better than I thought--all the way to the end of the list, we have some NHL prospects. Sure, more of them are goalies than one might like, and every skater outside of the top ten skaters have bottom-pair/fourth line upside, but at least the team looks like it will continue to graduate NHL players. At least then you're able to maintain a Jay Beagle on the cheap instead of signing Maxime Talbot to do the same thing for twice as much money.

I can't say, though, that the possibility of a Grigorenko-Teravainen-Slepyshev-Gusev-Ebert-Arzamatsev (plus five more players) draft didn't have me salivating. Oh well. Milan Lucic put up 9-10-19 in 62 GP in the WHL before getting drafted, then posted 30-38-68 in 70 GP the next year. Wilson just posted 9-18-27 in 49 GP in the OHL, which in 62 games rates to 12-25-37. He doesn't have to make the same huge step Lucic does, but he has a way to go offensively.

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