Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche: What Should The Expectations Be?

As of February 9th 2019, the Colorado Avalanche are 22-22-9 and are two points out of the second wildcard position.

The Western Conference is a mess this year, and as a result the Avalanche are just three points ahead of being the worst team in the west (a coveted position currently held by the 50 point Los Angeles Kings). Following a red-hot start to the season, there was a period of free fall in the standings that the team is still trying to shake off.

The question I’m looking to answer is simple. Two years ago the Avalanche ended the season with a historically bad 48 points. The following year, they made the playoffs. This is a team on unstable footing. A team many struggle to evaluate the threat level of. How legitimate is their current point pace, and what can their numbers tell us about the construction of the team itself? Simply, which version of the Avalanche was the real deal, the season starting spitfire team, or the midseason slumpers?

The Roster: Forwards

The Avalanche’s current top line of Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen is one of the best in hockey.

Embed from Getty Images

No matter how much you want to argue in the favour of older or more well established trios, such as the Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak line, you have to admit the adorably dubbed ‘Rocky Mountain Line’ have their shoes wedged firmly in the door. Before Nikita Kucherov‘s resurgence to claim scoring lead, Rantanen had a nice cushion on the title, but the Avalanche recent slide has pushed him back to fourth in the league for scoring.

After the top line, things get a little bit questionable for the Avalanche. Tyson Jost was recently reassigned to the Colorado Eagles, which will be a kick to Avalanche fans who were hoping to see him take big steps forward this season.

With Jost out of the lineup, the Avalanche still have J.T. Compher. Compher has 20 points in 37 games, three points away from matching last seasons total in 32 fewer games. The issue is that Compher simply isn’t enough depth.

The lack of support behind the top line means the scoring depth of Colorado’s forwards is fairly dire. Things could be worse for the Avalanche, but there still continues to be a lot to be desired. It’s all well and good to have an explosive top line featuring three NHL All Stars, but should they falter, or get burned out from shouldering so much of the scoring burden, it would be reassuring to know that the cavalry is there to lend a helping hand.

Landeskog, the lowest scoring on the Avalanche’s top line has 25 more points than the next highest scoring forward, Carl Soderberg, in case you were wondering what the drop off in scoring actually looks like.

Defense

Delving into the defence, they too can be graded with a solid ‘it could be worse’. Tyson Barrie is on pace to beat last year’s point total and set a new career high. It’d be nice to see Erik Johnson with a few more points, but coming off the fractured patella he suffered at the end of the 17-18 regular season, it’s understandable that things are taking a little while to get back up to speed.

Tyson Barrie errs on the side of the offensive defenseman, and is fourth on the team in scoring. His defensive capabilities are… questionable, but ideally there would be a strong defensive player on his other side. Sam Girard is not the player he was after the Avalanche acquired him last season, but he’s young, so there’s no need to hit panic stations over him yet.

Ian Cole was a solid pickup the Colorado that I’ve personally been impressed by, and his possession metrics have been solid over the last two seasons despite the team-shuffling. He’ll never be a big offensive guy, but he’s a solid choice for a defenseman who is steady and reliable in his own end, something the Avalanche will be grateful for given the topic of the next section: the goalies.

Goaltending

Goaltending is what is currently sinking the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov is currently the best performing ‘regular’ goalie (meaning he’s played more than 10 games), but his save percentage is a painful .905%. The Phillip Grubauer experiment is failing to pay off too, is he’s seen 22 games with just a .890% between the pipes.

Embed from Getty Images

Pavel Francouz exists as an option, should the team get frustrated with the poor quality of current goaltending. His AHL numbers are just okay, but in the 2 NHL games he’s faced, he’s put up an impressive .943 save percentage. If the Avalanche choose to be buyers at the deadline, looking into the goaltending market would be of great benefit.

The Underlying Numbers

This team’s PDO has been through the floor since early December. Tanked largely by an abysmal on ice save percentage, it looks as though the savior of the Avalanche will have to come through an extreme uptick in the standard of their goaltending. The top line could carry the team into a wildcard spot, but if the goaltending at the other end isn’t at least possible? That’s a surefire way to fall out of playoff contention.

As far as goal scoring, the Avalanche have fallen below their expected goals for rate but are slowly climbing back up to scoring as many goals as a team with their ability should. If the bottom 6 could spark some offense, that would go a long way towards helping.

To link back to the question at the beginning, the Avalanche are a mix of the team we saw out of the gate and the current slumping team we see now. They aren’t as good as they were in October, but they’re not as bad as their current stumbles suggest. A legitimate playoff run may be too much to expect this season, but the team has a lot to look forward to for the future.

Stats from Hockey-Reference and Sean Tierney

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

San Jose Sharks

San Jose Sharks: Pursuing a Goaltender at the Trade Deadline?

To outline exactly why I believe the San Jose Sharks should consider looking for a goaltender at the trade deadline, you have to delve into Martin Jones‘ record so far this season.

The season started with a sputter, rather than the bang that fans were expecting from the team that acquired Erik Karlsson in the off-season. While questionable coaching decisions from Peter DeBoer certainly haven’t helped San Jose by any stretch of the imagination. It’s arguable that the biggest letdown so far this season has been starting net-minder Martin Jones.

Embed from Getty Images

The Numbers

When Martin Jones shut out the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, San Jose Sharks fans let out a sigh of relief.

To say Jones’ relationship with ‘good goal-tending’ was a little tenuous to begin the season would be putting it generously. In his first 18 games, he put up a .892 Sv%, which is a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the goalie that took the 2015-16 Sharks team to the Stanley Cup final. Now, Martin Jones has never been more than a ‘decent’ regular season goaltender. He has been able to rise to new levels in the playoffs, showing up when it counts. The start to the 18-19 season; however, was a new level of disappointment.

After what had been a solid first half of December for Jones, putting up a .923 save percentage in six games, it looked like San Jose’s goal-tending woes were finally over. From December 1st to December 16th, Jones had only one sub .900 game, staying steady between the pipes for a 4-2-0 record. 18 starts into the season, and he’d finally found his groove.

Then came the game against the Chicago Blackhawks. For Jones, it was an unmitigated disaster, allowing 3 goals on just 4 shots against and getting chased from the game following just 13:53 on the ice. Aaron Dell prevailed for the win, but the damage, for Jones, was done. He left the game with a save percentage of just .250 and, probably, a hurt sense of pride.

The expectations were low going into the game against Minnesota, but Jones pulled a fast one on us all, putting on a 26 save show to shutout the Wild for a final score of 4-0. ‘There’, we all thought, ‘it’s just one bad game, he’s back now!’. Turns out, we were wrong. Jones echoed his inconsistent and generally poor start to the season by following this victory with a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, allowing 4 even strength goals against.

Jones, according to Hockey-reference‘s goals saved above average model, has allowed 6.81 more goals this season than a league average goaltender. No matter how you spin it, that’s bad.

So, to wrap up this section: if the Sharks want to stay afloat in an unexpectedly strong Pacific division, a patchy, unreliable starting goaltender is not the way forward. Not to mention, staying alive in the playoffs.

Embed from Getty Images

The Options

Something I’ve been kicking around for a little while now is the idea of the San Jose Sharks going all in to ensnare a goaltender at the trade deadline. Top of my list of targets? Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.

Hear me out before you laugh me out of town. Howard is a .922% goalie at the time of writing. Compare that with Jones’ .898, and Howard is an alluring option for a team that just can’t get a save. When you factor in the fact that Howard is playing behind a weak Detroit team, that allure only gets stronger.

With a $5,291,666 cap hit, there would have to be some shuffling to accommodate this under the Sharks’ current cap hell. Detroit will likely be unwilling to take on too many contracts in return, wanting to shed salary and get younger. This rules out sending one, or both, of Brenden Dillon or (primarily) Justin Braun back as part of the return package.

San Jose currently have about $1.5 million available in cap space. If GM Doug Wilson can persuade Ken Holland into taking back some rough contracts like those of Melker Karlsson, Braun, Dillon, or perhaps Barclay Goodrow, then Howard’s expiring contract could squeak in under the cap. Naturally, this might mean giving up a small handful of current prospects, and/or decimating San Jose’s sparse selection of draft picks in the current years.

But, the San Jose Sharks have to be all in this season. If they hope to have any chance at resigning Erik Karlsson in July, a second round playoff exit isn’t acceptable. But, if there’s any GM I have hopes of being able to pull off some mind-boggling move to help the team, it’s Doug Wilson. (which is not something I would have expected to be saying this time last year).

Stats courtesy of Hockey-reference.

Evaluating The Nick Schmaltz/Dylan Strome Trade

Late yesterday, in a move that seemed to baffle more people than it satiated, the Arizona Coyotes traded Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Chicago Blackhawks, and in return they got Nick Schmaltz.

For those still clinging to the hope that Dylan Strome will be a top 6 NHL player one day, this trade is an atrocious move on behalf of the Coyotes. For those who have moved on from Strome, Schmaltz could be a short term helping hand to help the Coyotes get a leg up in the historically poor Pacific Division.

Frustrations had long been voiced within the Coyotes fanbase about the development of Dylan Strome. From a prized first round pick to teetering on the edge of ‘bust’ status, concerns were quickly raised debating whether his skating was at the level of an NHL forward. It took Strome three years to accrue just 48 NHL games. You have to search all the way down to the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft to find a player from the same draft who has appeared in less NHL games than Dylan Strome.

Embed from Getty Images

Old Friends Meet Again

Now on the Blackhawks, it looks like the intent of bringing Strome over in the trade will be to try and rekindle the chemistry that he and Alex DeBrincat had on the Erie Otters during Strome’s draft year. If it works, that’s a slam dunk win for Chicago.

In the below tweet from Craig Morgan of The Athletic, he mentioned that John Chayka, General Manger of the Arizona Coyotes brought up in a press conference that hoping that a prospect like Strome develops isn’t the best mind-set when building your organization.

The Coyotes got tired of hoping that Dylan Strome could be anything other than what all signs are pointing towards: a career fourth line centre who can win you some faceoffs and not provide much else.

The other player sent to the Hawks is Brendan Perlini, who has 57 points in 153 NHL games, and his contract is up at the end of the season. He’s the least interesting piece of this whole trade, and will likely shake out as little more than a bottom 6 role player for the duration of his NHL career.

Schmaltz

In return, the Blackhawks said goodbye to Nick Schmaltz. Schmaltz was a 2014 first round pick by Chicago and is currently on an expiring entry-level deal. Schmaltz is a defensively sound forward with a positive career Corsi for percentage. He put up 52 points in 78 games on the struggling 17-18 Blackhawks team. He has 11 points in 23 games to start the season, not ideal for a player you’d hope would only be getting better with each year.

Embed from Getty Images

But, the Blackhawks and the Coyotes are both second last in their respective divisions— this might just be a move to give three players a breath of fresh air in a hope to rekindle the careers of three mediocre players.

The expectations are once again on Dylan Strome. He hasn’t proved able to live up to them in the past, and DeBrincat might be the last chance to breathe some life into Strome’s career before he fizzles out completely. Until we see what they can do together, we might have to hold off judgement on who won this trade.

Stats from hockey-reference.com