Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Evaluating Jason Spezza

The Toronto Maple Leafs add veteran centre Jason Spezza to the mix. He may come at a minuscule cap hit but his numbers look anything but.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made a handful of small signings when the free agent window opened up on July 1st. The most notable of these moves was adding 36 year old centre, Jason Spezza. Spezza signed a 1 year, $700,000 deal for league minimum salary. That’s a very cheap price to pay for centre of Spezza’s ilk, even given his decline over the past couple years. Spezza is however a very rich man, with his career total earnings in the NHL considered to be over $85M, his current focus seems to be on silverware. The 5-time 30-goal scorer, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario (also home of John Tavares), credited his love of the game and desire to win a cup as his reasoning for coming home. Whilst the deal he signed comes with absolutely no risk there are concerns about how much Spezza can truly offer the Leafs.

There is no denying Spezza was a 1st line centre in his prime, however, given the Leafs depth down the middle there are questions surrounding where exactly Spezza fits. He spoke with media following the signing of his contract and stated Babcock sees him as a good complementary fit for the team. He stated Babcock will likely give him time on both special teams and as a bottom 6 forward at 5 on 5.

The Numbers

Although Spezza spoke on needing to acclimate to a different role as bottom 6 forward, his minutes have slowly diminished through the few past few seasons. Over the past two years Spezza has been down around 13 minutes of ice time a night. Even in this diminished role he still contributes as a positive possession player for his team when he is on the ice. Over his career Spezza is a 52.5% Corsi (+3.0%rel.) and a 51.7% Fenwick (+0.9%rel.). Most impressive is that his Corsi rel. last season matched his career average whilst his Fenwick rel. was more than double his career average +2.0%. This is a positive sign that whilst he may not be producing the points he once was, Spezza certainly isn’t being outplayed by opposition matchups.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Spezza has also never been a below 50% face-off man in his entire career. In fact, last season Spezza led his team (58.2% FO) second only to Martin Hanzal who only appeared in 7 games. Whilst the above stats show that Spezza was a positive possession player for Dallas and his line outshot and out-chanced the opposition at 5 on 5, they didn’t outscore them. Spezza was a -13 for 2018-19, however, there is pause for optimism with this stat. While on the ice his team shot as a measly 6.1% shooting percentage, well below the teams average of 8.3% and even further below his career average of 9.3%. The fact that Spezza experienced a heavy dip in both his personal SH% and his teams on ice SH% is a positive. Assuming this was just an off year and that Spezza’s shot hasn’t declined by such a large factor, this should move back closer to his career average. This is the cause for why his actual +/- doesn’t match his expected +/- in the table below.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Special teams

As previously mentioned, Spezza made reference to the fact that Babcock saw him fitting in on both special teams. The losses of Kadri and Ennis on the power play will free up a couple spots. Spezza mentioned in his press conference that he has played on the man advantage his entire career and feels very comfortable there. That was evident last season with him being the 4th highest PP producer on his team behind only Seguin, Radulov and Klingberg. Given Spezza’s ability from the face-off dot and his playmaking ability on Dallas’ PP from last season, he would be a welcome addition for his ability to win draws in the o-zone and move the puck.

Spezza also commented saying he would be used on all special teams. Whilst Spezza was a valuable part of Dallas’ PP, he hasn’t really ever been used on their PK. Spezza’s possession numbers however are pretty positive, he’s great on the draw, he’s 6’3 and takes up a lot of space. He is also a veteran of the game who plays a pretty sound 2-way game which should lend itself towards him being a successful penalty killer. These are all critical skills which certainly help if what he says is true and he does feature there for the Leafs.

Final Thoughts

Exactly where Spezza features in the lineup for the 2019-20 season at this point is unclear. The Leafs clearly have their top two centres sorted. Outside of this there is a possibility of Alexander Kerfoot or even William Nylander (unlikely) playing the third line centre role. Spezza will almost certainly play one of either the 3rd or 4th line centre slots. His ability to move up and down is a huge improvement over what the Leafs had last year in Freddy Gauthier if he fills the bottom centre spot. If he does player the 3rd line, hopefully this means the Leafs will run the Matthews and Tavares line out for 20 minutes each per night.

The leadership and role specific game that Jason Spezza can bring to the Toronto Maple Leafs is huge. The fact he brings all this at a league minimum cap hit is even bigger. The team Dubas looks to be assembling for this year may just be better than last years which almost all of us considered impossible a few weeks ago. This season should be a very exciting one and hopefully Spezza can contribute to help the Leafs get over the first round hump in the playoffs.

Sources: Hockey-Reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler

New York Islanders

The Affect That Semyon Varlamov Can Have On The New York Islanders

The signing of Semyon Varlamov can prove to be beneficial in many ways for the New York Islanders.

The New York Islanders inked Semyon Varlamov to a four year deal yesterday with an AAV of five million, reported by Arthur Staple of The Athletic. The move comes after the news of former Islander goalie, and fan favorite, Robin Lehner agreeing to a one year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Varlamov is coming off of a decent season with the Colorado Avalanche after going 20-19-9 with a SV% of .909 and a GAA of 2.87. Varlamov will now have the chance to elevate his game by working with goalie guru Mitch Korn.

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Why Varlamov over Lehner?

For just about every Islander fan, hearing the news of Robin Lehner leaving Long Island to join another team was heartbreaking. He was beloved by the whole community and was a strong role model for everyone battling with mental illness.

While it was very tough to watch him leave, it was harder to hear that Lehner was offered a contract to stay with the Islanders that he turned down. We would have to assume it was declined in hopes that he would get a contract he thought was more fitting for the production he put on the ice this past season. While it is odd to see the Islanders go after a 31 year old goalie coming off an ok season rather than lock the 27 year old Vezina finalist to a long term deal, it looks as if they had no other choice after he declined their first offer.

I know I speak for every Islander fan when I say this, good luck in Chicago Robin. All of the Isles family is rooting for you.

Varlamov and Sorokin

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The Islanders have a goalie by the name of Ilya Sorokin in their system, and here is a little secret, he’s very very good. The last three seasons in the KHL have been unbelievable for Sorokin. In the past three seasons, his GAA has been under 1.61 in each season. In fact, he was able to post a 1.16 GAA this past season with CSKA Moscow. Read those three numbers one more time and soak that in. The 23 year old kid is a bonafide stud and all the Islanders could ever hope for is for him to come over to the States after his final season in the KHL next year.

This is where we go back to the signing of Varlamov. Varlamov and Sorokin are noted to be very good friends, both being from Russia, and both having the same agent. This relationship is exactly what Sorokin might need to him make the transition from Russia to the States easier. For the Islanders, that is without a doubt what they hope it will do. Not only would Varlamov help Sorokin adjust to life in the States, he can also help his game on the ice. If he was to come over, he would hopefully become the franchise goalie that the New York Islanders have been waiting a long time for.

For the time being, Islanders fans will have to be patient with Sorokin and let him focus on his time in the KHL. While Isles fans are waiting, they’ll be rooting for Varlamov to have a bounce back season with Mitch Korn there to guide him.

Stats from www.eliteprospects.com and hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators: The Maple Leafs Are Coming!

Let’s take a look at what the Ottawa Senators have done so far in free agency. 

Ceci/Zaitsev Swap

The Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs finally completed the Zaitsev trade. I am a little confused at this one. Ottawa paid Toronto to take on a bad contract, shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t like Cody Ceci as a player whatsoever and the Sens management finally answered longtime prayers from the fanbase by trading the struggling defenseman.

I believe that if Ceci were used in the right capacity, he could be an effective top 4 defenseman in the NHL. However, he was never used in the right capacity in Ottawa. Ceci is a puck moving defenseman who was used as a shutdown defenseman and he simply does not have the skill set to be a shutdown defenseman. Let’s see what happens with Ceci next, does he re-sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs? Or does he move on?

Ron Hainsey

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Next, the Ottawa Senators signed Ron Hainsey to a one year contract at a 3.5 million cap hit. I like this signing, he can help mold guys like Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom into high caliber defenseman. While Chabot and Brannstrom are remarkable talents, it doesn’t hurt having a guy like Hainsey in the locker room to help them mature.

Hainsey is a decent defenseman, but he brings a lot more to the table than his on ice play. Remember, this guy won the cup his first two times playing in the postseason. He knows what it takes to win, he is a voice in the locker room and he can mentor everyone. As much as I think Ottawa overpaid for him, we need to get to the cap floor, and I think the signing is actually a pretty good one.

Tyler Ennis

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The next move was signing Tyler Ennis. Ennis signed with the Sens at 800k for one year.

I don’t know how to feel about this signing. He has jumped around the league recently and I don’t really get the point in this signing. Tyler Ennis went from Buffalo to Minnesota and then he went to Toronto. Does this show that he isn’t the most coachable player? Or does it mean that new Sens coach, D.J. Smith likes him a lot and just wanted him to come along?

Former Sens coach Guy Boucher had a few players like this, Tom Pyatt and Nate Thompson to name a few. I think Tyler Ennis is the same type of signing that Pyatt and Thompson were a few years back. Let’s see what happens.

Sticking To Rebuilding

Instead of using the massive amount of cap space the team to sign superstars, Pierre Dorion sticked to his rebuilding plan and made a few depth signings. I do not believe that Dorion is done yet tho, he has a few more things up his sleeves. For example, he needs to sign Colin White and he should sign Thomas Chabot as quickly as possible to avoid a situation like in Toronto where it took half the season to sign Nylander.

stats from hockey-reference.com

research from CapFriendly.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Marc Bergevin

Carolina Hurricanes: Désolé Marc! Sorry Marc!

featured image photo credit – Lisa Gansky/Wikimedia Commons

The Carolina Hurricanes are set to match the Montréal Canadiens offer sheet on Sebastian Aho. 

To nobody’s surprise, General Manager Don Waddell has announced they will match. The 21-year old Finnish superstar will be remaining in Carolina for another 5 years. They currently have not signed the final contract, but have another six days to do so. So, as it appears, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has lost the battle to Waddell.

The deal is for $42.27M spanning 5 years (2019-2024), with an average annual value of $8.454M. It’s a great contract, both for Aho, and for the Carolina Hurricanes. Both in terms of value and in terms of length. It wasn’t exactly what the team would have liked. But Waddell doesn’t feel it will hinder the team’s development.

The Finnish superstar

Those new to the Carolina Hurricanes might not realize just how important he is to the franchise. The Rauma, Finland native, Sebastian was drafted by Carolina in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, 35th overall. In three seasons with the Hurricanes, he’s managed to secure himself as the premier skater of the franchise. Most recently he established himself as a point-per-game player, registering 30 goals and 53 assists (83 points) in the 82 game regular season. This marked him as the sixth player in franchise history to record a minimum of 30 goals and 50 assists in the same season. Aho’s also the fourth player in franchise history to tally 80 points prior to turning 22.

The Finnish center is also amid good company in league record books as well. Starting the 2018-19 season, Aho went on to have a 12-game point streak (4g-13a) from Oct 4th-Oct 30th. Both being franchise records for longest assist streak and points streak. This run also tied the league records for the longest season-opening assist streak streak. Previous players to mark this achievement include Wayne Gretzky and Kin Linesman. An effort that saw him awarded 3rd star of the week by the NHL on Oct 15th. Aho would go on to have five additional point streaks of 4 or more games, and only once suffered a three-game points drought.

Sebastian also registered a total of 20 multi-point games across the 2018-19 season. This includes his second career hat trick on Jan 13th against the Nashville Predators, and four four-point games. Finally, Aho is also tied for second in franchise records for most short-handed goals in a single-season with four. It is the most by a Carolina skater since the 2005-06 season when both Justin Williams and Eric Staal both registered four a piece.

Career Highlights

In 242 NHL games, Sebastian has a record of 83g-114a (197 points) and averages 18:07 minutes time on ice. Aho represented the Hurricanes in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose. He’s also won one Gold Medal (IIHF World Junior’s – 2016 [Finland]) and two Silver Medals (IIHF World Junior’s U18 – 2015 [Switzerland] & IIHF World Championships – 2016 [Russia]) with the Finnish national team.

We’ll Keep You Posted

The Puck77 crew will keep you posted as soon as the Carolina Hurricanes formally announce that they have signed Aho.

stats from eliteprospects.com and hockey-reference.com

Luke Schenn

Tampa Bay Lightning: Bringing In Schenn & McElhinney

featured image photo credit – Mark6Mauno/Flickr

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t make much of a splash on July 1st, ultimately signing just two true NHL calibre players.

Those two were Curtis McElhinney, former Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes goalie, and Luke Schenn, a depth defenseman, who has travelled through Toronto, Vancouver, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Arizona and Philadelphia through his 11 year career in the NHL.

Here’s what the two of them bring to the table.

Curtis McElhinney

The veteran, 36 year old goaltender has had a long tenured career, and over the last couple of seasons, has been very important for his teams. He helped Toronto clinch a playoff berth two seasons ago, by stepping in and winning a very important contest to officially clinch. He then was a part of the miracle run in Carolina, where they went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

McElhinney is coming off of a career high in starts with 33, posting a career-best 20 wins in the process. He is an outstanding NHL backup, but the Lightning already have fan favorite, Louis Domingue, backing up elite net-minder Andrei Vasilevskiy. What was the point?

They gave McElhinney $1.3M. He’s more expensive than Domingue’s cap hit of $1.15M. Domingue had more wins (31) in less games (26). McElhinney (.912 Save%, 2.58 Goals Against Average) were better than Domingue’s stat line (.908SV%, 2.88 GAA), but that’s not a huge difference.

However, there is one area in which McElhinney stands out more than Domingue however, and that is goals saved above average. While Domingue posted a -1.81 GSAA, McElhinney had a +2.25. But, keep in mind, McElhinney has only posted more wins than losses twice since the 2009-10 season in years with more than 10 starts, and those seasons were the last two. That could either mean improvement despite his aging, or he’s just benefitting from being on a good team at the right time. Maybe that could continue with Tampa, but Louis Domingue has already proven his success with the Bolts, and I don’t understand why they don’t keep sticking with him in net.

This signing ultimately tells me that Domingue is likely to get moved, and I really don’t like that. 

Luke Schenn

Schenn will likely be a 7th defenseman, as he was signed to a 1 year, $700k contract. With that said, these are some players who could’ve been brought in instead (Dan Girardi) and some players he will be competing for time with. 

visual created by Kyle Pereira, stats from CJ Turtoro

As shown above, every other option would have been better. Schenn is atrocious when it comes to entering the offensive zone, and defending against the rush. He couldn’t break up an opponent’s entry, even if his life depended on it. He also is really bad at entering the offensive zone, as shown by his PossEntry60/PossEntry% on the graph. Schenn is really all over the place, and seemingly just shoots the puck a lot. Based on the above visual, I’d genuinely just take a flier on Callan Foote making the jump next season. Just a pointless signing in my book. 

In Conclusion 

The Lightning have had a very slow off-season. This first day of free agency didn’t change a thing. On the one hand, I’m glad they didn’t pull teeth for a guy like Joe Pavelski, but the depth signings, both of them, were just useless. They haven’t signed their RFAs yet. Brayden Point and Cedric Paquette need to get signed quickly.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers have done almost everything right in building up their roster for next season. The Lightning need to get it together, or they will quickly fall behind an ever-so competitive Atlantic Division. 

Spider Graphs created by Kyle Pereira, gathered by CJ Turtoro

Stats from hockey-reference

Salary Cap Info from capfriendly