Arizona Coyotes

Quick Look Inside The Arizona Coyotes’ Farm System

I’ve maintained for some time that the Arizona Coyotes have one of, if not the deepest farm systems in the league.

With so much young talent being developed, which player within the organization is most likely to have a break-out season next year? Which minor leaguer will crack the NHL this season, becoming a regular? I’ve narrowed it down to a few players that are likely to do it.

Kyle Capobianco

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I’ll start off with the least likely, at least in terms of highly talented players in the organization. Reason being, Capobianco suffered a season ending lower body injury after 2 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season.

Before his call up, Capobianco was a top 4 defenseman for the Tucson Roadrunners. In 40 games last season, he recorded 7 goals, 25 assists and 32 points. Nearly a point per game. Definitely on track to translate into a 40 point player at the NHL level.

He’s not an offensive defenseman per say. He’s more of a two way defender. The top 4 defenseman recorded a +9 in 2017-2018 and a +10 in 2018-2019 for the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL. Showing true versatility as a player. He’s  able to quarterback a power play and shut down opposing offenses.

If he recovers properly from his injury, he should still be in a position to make a run for the NHL roster. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait and see how everything goes during training camp.

Michael Bunting

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Michael Bunting is another kid I think has a shot to crack the NHL roster this season. The 23 year-old winger had a brief 5 game stint last season, after all of the injuries. He scored 1 goal and played a good two-way game in that short stint.

While in Tucson, Bunting was part of the top 6. He spent a lot of his time playing alongside line-mate Hudson Fasching. Bunting played in 52 games and scored 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points. He was approaching a point per game production at the AHL level.

After his display last season in Tuscon, I think he’s ready to move up to the NHL this year.

Adin Hill

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This one has a lot to do with my speculation that Arizona moves away from the Antti Raanta contract this offseason. Regardless of what happens there, for a stretch last season, Hill stepped up big time and got key wins for Arizona. In 13 games, Hill posted a record of 7-5-0, a 2.76 GAA and a .901 save percentage.

I noticed a lot of flaws in his game, that I don’t necessarily feel he’s been correcting in Tucson. Those being primarily letting in too many easy goals, and flopping around in the net. Hill needs to have more polished butterfly positioning for him to be effective long-term. If he addressed those issues, he should be a decent back-up goalie next year.

Robbie Russo

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Russo is the best on this list, and is the most likely to break out. Being acquired from the Red Wings over the summer of 2018 in exchange for a 7th round pick, Russo was a huge steal. Russo played in 67 games for the Tucson Roadrunners, scoring 6 goals and 33 assists. He managed to tie his career high in points at the AHL level with 39 points. Needless to say, Russo has the scoring touch. He’s scored 30+ points in all 4 of his AHL seasons. With this consistency, I have full confidence to say that he is a talented offensive defense man.

He’s also a talented defender.  In 19 games for the Detroit Red Wings, Russo has maintained a +2, and tallied 13 blocks. At the AHL level, in 263 games, Russo has maintained a ridiculous +73.  Add in the fact, that he took on more of a leadership role as an alternate captain for the Roadrunners, and they remained in the playoff hunt until the final game of the season. There is just a lot of upside with this guy.

Russo is 26 years-old. If he’s going to break into the league, this is his chance.

stats from theAHL.com, eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Boston Bruins: Larger Than Life

Full disclosure: This series has little, if anything, to do with stats, facts, or analysis of the Boston Bruins. It will not include an in-depth monologue on whether or not so-and-so will re-sign with the Bruins.

Rather, this series aims to put a face on the fanbase by highlighting the fan stories that started and continue to grow the fanbase, to tell the stories in which hockey became larger than life and instilled something intangible in the hearts of fans all over the world.

Last time around, we were interviewing @jensrud95 on Twitter. This time, we are interviewing Brett (@HockeyBender11 on Twitter).

Brett is a 28-year-old Bruins fan who grew up in Massachusetts. To anyone remotely in tune with the big 4 sports world (MLB, NFL, NHL, and MLB), it’s a well-known fact that Boston is a sports city. Therefore, it should take few people, if any, by surprise that, like so many others living in Massachusetts (just under 50 miles south of Boston, in fact), Brett fell in love with hockey.

A humble beginning

When asked about how he became involved with the sport of hockey, Brett explained that while it was always important to him (having grown up in Massachusetts), there was a larger element at play: “I have two older brothers, and we had a pond in our backyard that we used to skate on every winter. …we probably were out there, with all the neighborhood kids, from, you know, you get out of school, and then you come in for dinner then you go out until . . . the lights had to cut off. So, it was really just something that we just flocked to. Just me, and a bunch of my neighborhood kids, my brothers.”

For Brett, it wasn’t just about the neighborhood kids, who were undoubtedly a huge influence. Rather, “My brothers were probably my biggest influence in getting into it. …I would get all of their equipment, all the hand-me-downs, unfortunately, because I’m the youngest.”

Like every diehard fan, there was a moment where the sport and the team became something more than just some guys on ice. Whether that “moment” is a collection of small things all combined together, or the first time hearing a skate scrape the ice, something gives. For Brett, it was more a collection of small things. When asked what the moment was, Brett explains, “I’d say when I was about 7 years old, that’s when I really was doing more of a learn to skate program and skating with my brothers. And I just fell in love with it. I love the feeling of being out there, you know, the wind going through your ears, and face, and it was just something really cool, really addicting, and just brought a lot of joy.

Later in the conversation he continued, “…like many sports, I think it’s the ultimate team game. . . only successful teams are the ones that genuinely care about each other. I experienced that through playing in middle school, playing in high school . . . So it’s things like that. It’s just, you know, it’s many things. It’s memories that last a lifetime.”

No Stranger to Success

Of course, growing up in the Boston area anywhere in the last 20 years has been a road paved with championships galore, but that doesn’t mean that a title can’t be a favorite moment. In fact, for a team like the Bruins, the championship was, maybe, just the beginning. On this, Brett shared, “The best memory is, you know, seeing them win the (Stanley) Cup in 2011 . . . , it was just such a great memory because . . . they’re the ones who I really wanted to see win a championship in my lifetime. . . You know, the Patriots had won three Super Bowls by then, the Celtics won a championship two years prior, the Red Sox had won two championships, and they were the ones that were kind of like the black sheep of the family, so to speak. They would get close, but they would never get it done, and to finally see them win it in 2011 . . .I basically said to my parents, ‘I can die happy now, I’ve seen all of my favorite sports teams win a championship.’ So that was the best one.”

It isn’t just the success that draws fans in, Brett would suggest. Instead, he makes it more tangible, more personal. For him, it’s about connecting with a team who works hard, about a city identifying with their team: “. . . The city kind of identifies with [the Bruins] I think more than the other teams. You know, Boston’s kind of . . . blue collar . . . you work really hard, you do the right thing . . . you punch in, you work hard, you do what you can. And a lot of the players . . . the 3rd and 4th liners, the ones who would . . . get the scraps, or hit a lot of people . . . really worked really hard. They’re the ones that, to this this day, still, I think are the most popular Bruins in history. Guys like Shawn Thornton or Milan Lucic . . . they don’t take a night off, they work their butt off, and those are the ones that really get taken in. Especially to a city like Boston.”

And still for Brett, and for many fans, there’s one player who stands out. For him, it’s Bergeron: “…he was kind of unexpected success because he was drafted, I believe, in the second round in 2003, and that was probably arguably the deepest draft in terms of skill. And he was a 17 year old kid, couldn’t speak a lick of English, but he had a great rookie year, and then he just picked it up in Providence during the lockdown in 2004. And . . . he showed . . . grit, he showed toughness, and he showed pure skill, and it’s a reason he’s probably one of the more popular players in the league today. And he goes up for the award for the (Frank J.) Selke Trophy every year.”

From One Fan to Another

Despite their success, Brett knows all too well the anguish that comes with being a hockey fan, most notably meeting that disappointment head on in June, when the Bruins lost in game 7 to the Saint Louis Blues.

So I asked him what it’s like to be a Bruins fan. He got candid: “Oh, boy. It’s stressful. . . .it might just be the whole Boston mystique over the last 20 years. You know, we’ve had a lot of success, but Bruins fans for a very long time were very upset with ownership in the late 90s, early 2000s, I would say. . . Mainly a lot of stress growing up, but, for some reason, we just always continue to go back, and just, hopefully there was one time where they could make a deep playoff run and change things up.”

While the hockey world will always be anything but predictable, there is a crew of crazed fans who keep coming back, and new fans joining the crew. For them, Brett had a bit of advice to give. For a new fan, he says, “Never stop gaining new knowledge about the game, be like a vacuum.” As someone who played, his encouragement to new players was, “Be patient, work hard, and enjoy the time you have on the ice.”

Hockey will never just be about some guys on ice. Thanks, Brett, for helping to remind us why.

A final, more personal note:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, our founder Josh has made the tough decision to close down Puck77, so this will be my last post. I just want to say that I fully support his decision, and want nothing but the best for he, his fiancée, and Izzy. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Boston earlier this year, and they are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.

The people I have worked alongside with, the editors, and especially Josh, have made my introduction to the world of sports journalism an adventure I won’t forget.

I cannot say enough positive things about Josh. He was there at the drop of a hat, and was so flexible with me despite my busy schedule.

He went above and beyond for this site, and I hope that it’s something nobody ever takes for granted. The thing about an undertaking like this is that the front product just shows a small portion of the work. Josh put in loads of work behind the scenes that most of us will never know the fullness of. That level of commitment is admirable.

Thank you, Josh, for giving us a voice in the sports world.

I’ll miss Puck77, but what an adventure it was so be a part of it. Forever thankful.

All the best to all of you,

Kate

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

Florida Panthers: Free Agent Frenzy

July 1st is one of the most stressful days of a hockey fan’s year.  So often it is a day in which a team’s dreams are either realized or crushed, and July 1st, 2019 was no different.  Just ask the Florida Panthers, who experienced both at once. 

The 2019 off-season saw two highly coveted unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.  Rumor had it that the Panthers were heavily courting both and that they wanted to stay together, having spent the last few years playing together both for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Russian national team, but the pair was separated when Artemi Panarin was swayed by the allure of Manhattan, while Bobrovsky chose the sunshine and beaches of south Florida.  Though landing both (in addition to a defenseman) would have been the best-case scenario for the Panthers, they had a backup plan in motion, just in case. They added Anton Stralman to shore up defense, Brett Connolly to increase depth scoring, and Noel Acciari to center the fourth line.  This may not have been the ideal ending for the Panthers’ 2019 edition of free agent frenzy, but one cannot dispute that the team filled in the holes that needed to be filled.

The Florida Panthers had the fourth-worst goals saved above expected and the second-worst save percentage in the entire league in the 2018-19 season.  With Roberto Luongo’s age and injury history and James Reimer’s record as a starter, it was abundantly clear to the Panthers that they needed to add a goalie on whom they could rely for at least 50 games per year until Spencer Knight is ready for the show.  Enter Sergei Bobrovsky.  The Panthers signed the two-time Vezina Trophy winner to a seven-year deal worth $70 million ($10 million average annual value).  Bobrovsky’s price tag presents a big risk to the Panthers, as he has had issues with consistency from year to year throughout his career, but they certainly bought the two Vezinas and the team hopes that he can recreate those efforts more often than not over the next seven years.  Over the last seven years, since winning his first Vezina, Bobrovsky ranks 12th in save percentage on unblocked shot attempts and differential between actual and expected save percentage on unblocked shot attempts, 3rd in goals saved above expected, and 2nd in wins above replacement.  In 2016-17, Bobrovsky not only lead all NHL goalies in those four metrics for that season, but his stats for that year are also the highest marks any goalie has reached since the 2013 lockout-shortened season, making it the best single season any goalie has had in the last seven years.  Bobrovsky has been far from perfect throughout his career, however.  In each of the three seasons following his first Vezina, he posted negative results in his actual performance relative to his expected performance and ranked outside of the top 30 in wins above replacement in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 (Table 1).  In signing Bobrovsky, the Panthers acquired an established goaltender who has posted positive results more often than negative, including some truly top-tier performances.  However, Bobrovsky will be 31 before his first season with the Panthers begins and the term and money from the Panthers represent an enormous gamble that he will age gracefully and that he can continue to post his elite results more frequently than those below replacement level.

Moving up the ice, the Panthers also added to their blue line by signing Anton Stralman to what is probably the worst contract that the team handed out on Monday.  The three-year term will not handcuff the team in the long run, but the $5.5 million AAV will make it tough to add pieces over the course of this contract.  Stralman is no longer the top-tier shutdown defenseman that he once was (Figures 1, 2), having seen a steady decline in his on-ice results each of the past five years.  He was especially bad in 2018-19, posting career worsts in almost every defensive metric, but it stands to reason that it could have just been a down year compounded by an injury that kept him off the ice for nearly half the season.  Panthers fans should not expect a major bounce back for the 32-year-old (33 by the time the season starts), but basic statistical regression would point towards Stralman having a slight improvement on his 2018-19 season.

 

screenshots of Evolving-Hockey

The Panthers also added two forwards to their roster on July 1st, both pieces who can contribute in the bottom-9, something the Panthers have been lacking for quite some time.  The first was Brett Connolly.  The 27-year-old former top-10 pick signed a four-year contract worth $13 million ($3.25 million AAV) which, contrary to Stralman, is likely going to be the best value contract that the Panthers signed.  Connolly has spent the last three years with the Washington Capitals, with whom he also got his name on the Stanley Cup.  Connolly is not much for driving play (Figure 3) but he is certainly one for finishing it.  Over the last three seasons, Connolly ranks 11th in the league in goals per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 despite averaging just under 11 minutes per game at even strength (Table 2), mostly with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky as his line-mates.  Secondary scoring has been a major issue for the Florida Panthers in the past.  During the 2018-19 season, of the Florida Panthers 162 goals scored at 5-on-5, Aleksander Barkov was on the ice for 70 of them.  The 92 goals for which Barkov was not on the ice rank among the fewest bottom-nine goals for in the league.  Connolly’s shooting talent and scoring rates should be a huge help to their depth scoring and, potentially, their second power play. 

screenshot of Evolving-Hockey

The final addition that the Panthers made on the first day of free agency was Noel Acciari, who had spent his career up until this point in the Boston Bruins’ system.  With a three-year, $5 million deal ($1.67 million AAV), Acciari’s contract does not really move the needle one way or the other, but neither does his play.  He will likely slot in as the Panthers’ fourth-line center, another position which the Panthers have struggled to reliably fill in seasons past.  A low-event forward, Acciari is responsible defensively and mostly a non-factor offensively (Figure 4).  One under-appreciated part of his profile, however, is his penchant for staying on the right side of the penalty ledger.  Relative to league averages, he draws 12% more and takes 63% fewer penalties.  He will not allow much in front of Bobrovsky and he will help the power play get on the ice more often than he will force a penalty kill.  For $1.67 million per year, that will make for one of the more solid fourth-line centers the Panthers have had in a long time.

screenshot of Evolving-Hockey

Overall, the Panthers had a fine day on July 1st, 2019.  It is disappointing that they lost out on adding a top forward, but they added an elite goaltender, two good value depth forwards, and a veteran defenseman.  The Panthers improved in all facets of the game and did so in a way that will neither handcuff them from continuing to improve nor prevent them from maintaining their core when it comes time to re-sign Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck.  Though it may not have been prudent to redistribute the money earmarked for Artemi Panarin so quickly, it is hard to harshly criticize where the money ended up.  That said, there is still plenty of room for this roster to improve and, while the Panthers may be done in the free agent market, fans should not expect the lineup as it is to be the one that enters the 2019-2020 season.

Stats from naturalstattrick.comevolving-hockey.com, and hockeyviz.com

RAPM charts from evolving-hockey.com

Shot location heatmaps from hockeyviz.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Is Varlamov A Solid Replacement For Lehner?

The New York Islanders and Robin Lehner didn’t agree to terms. Lehner ended up signing a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Islanders chose to replace him with Semyon Varlamov.

Per the below tweet from John Shannon of Rogers Sportsnet, Lehner had turned down a two year deal worth 5 million AAV to take a one year deal worth 5 million AAV with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Semyon Varlamov

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With Lehner deciding to move on from Long Island to Chicago, the Islanders gave out a fairly big deal for Semyon Varlamov, who hasn’t really proven to be a quality starter besides in his 2013-2014 season where he put up a 0.927SV% and was second in Vezina voting.

Per the below tweet from CapFriendly, Varlamov signed a four year deal worth 20 mil. In addition, the deal includes a full no-trade clause in his first two seasons and then it becomes a modified no-trade clause in the last two seasons.

A week ago, I wrote a brief overview regarding all of the goaltenders in this UFA-class and ranked the goalies in different tiers.

In terms of Varlamov, he was put in tier three, meaning that he would be a solid backup goaltender for any team. Let’s look back at what I wrote:

Semyon Varlamov-(2016-2019)

Age-31

Total WAR-5.0

Average HDSV%-77.32%

Average SV% Above Expected-(-0.776%)

Total GSAA–3.81      

Semyon Varlamov has been, when healthy, Colorado’s starter for the better of the past five or six seasons, putting up largely okay numbers, and in the past three seasons has been a below average goaltender which puts him within the solid backup category rather than the starter category where many would assume he would be placed. I would bet on Varlamov to continue to put up decent numbers and any team looking for a backup that is able to play thirty games or more should definitely inquire on Varlamov.”

Evaluating The Deal

Moving onto evaluating the deal given by the New York Islanders, I think the 4 years is definitely longer than ideal for the Russian net-minder.

You may say, “well they had to give him four years to get him”, but I don’t see Varlamov as some special goaltender that is hard to find. Fans are ignoring the fact that he is being paid starter money for a level of play that is not starter quality. Ideally you’d be happy to pay Varlamov around 3 million against the cap, but 5 million is a substantial overpayment.

I could see both Varlamov and Thomas Greiss succeeding with the defensive structure in front of them run by Barry Trotz, but that isn’t a gurrantee as Greiss is getting older and we’ve seen signs of inconsistency from the German goalie.

I don’t see the overall deal as a positive one for Lou Lamoriello, but goalies are voodoo and no one knows what they are getting with any goaltender. Varlamov could become the next Curtis McElhinney and be amazing into in mid-thirties.

stats from hockey-reference.com

cap research from CapFriendly.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver Canucks: Nils Hoglander Is A Stud In The Making

The Vancouver Canucks selected Nils Hoglander 40th overall on the second day of the NHL draft. While there are many draft prospects that can blossom into elite studs down the road, my money is on Hoglander being the best value pick of this year’s draft class.

Hoglander has been a player I’d been dreaming about the Vancouver Canucks selecting. It’s not just because we share very similar names, but I figured he would go mid to late in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Who Is Nils Hoglander?

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He possesses blistering speed, some of the best hands of his draft class, a remarkable fitness level and rigorous work ethic. Despite his size, the slippery Swedish forward plays a gritty, physical game and has a highlight reel of big hits. Hoglander is also capable defensively and does not have any real gap in his game other than his height. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many draft prospects get a lot of criticism for height reasons including Hoglander and Cole Caufield, but the Swedish forward is a remarkable talent. At 5’9 and 185 pounds, Hoglander might be considered undersized by current NHL standards, but his work ethic and competitiveness make his size seem like a non-issue.

Hoglander played in the SHL as a U18 player, which is a very rare feat. To top that, Hoglander posted a better points per game average last season than Toronto Maple Leafs star William Nylander (when he played in the SHL). I truly believe that Hoglander has the capacity to become a legitimate top line winger and he’ll have a ton of great talent alongside him in Vancouver to help accelerate his production.

Not only does Hoglander present top line upside, but his good defensive and physical attributes guarantee him being at least a solid top 9 forward. I could see Hoglander’s point production being anywhere between 30 and 70 points per year, but that is depending on his line-mates and ice time.

Potentially One Of The Biggest Steals Of The Draft

I think this is absolutely outstanding value for 40th overall, and potentially one of the steals of the draft. While we’ll have to wait a few years till Hoglander is ready to come to Vancouver, Canucks fans should be very excited as Hoglander is a special player and will be an asset.

stats from eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals