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: Struck Out on Panarin, What’s Plan B?

The New York Islanders have lost out on the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes and quickly need to move to plan B. 

The New York Islanders went all out for coveted free agent Artemi Panarin this past week, but yet, it was not enough. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, The soon to be 28 year old Russian born star has agreed to terms on an $81.5 million dollar deal over the next 7 years with cross-town rivals the New York Rangers. The question now for the Islanders is “where do they go from here?”

Re-signings

The first thing that was expected and has seem to be finalized is a deal with the captain of the team, Anders Lee. Lee is coming off of a strong season, in which he tallied 28 goals and 23 assists in 82 games played. The Islanders needed to keep Lee on Long Island. If they failed to do so, the Islanders would have been in far worse shape.

According to The Athletic, the deal will be a seven year deal worth seven million per year. This is a good first step in trying to improve a team that desperately needs help in their top 6.

Aside from Lee, the Islanders have two free agents left. Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle are restricted free agents and need to be re-signed. You can expect Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello to look to get those contracts done in the next few days.

Trades

The next thing that eventually will go through the head of Lou Lamoriello is to use the trade market. The Islanders are not going to find much more offensive power through UFA’S so working a trade revolving around either Nick Leddy or Thomas Hickey to help the offense seems to be the best route to go. Players such as Jason Zucker and/or Mike Hoffman, seem to be skaters on the market that could instantly boost the top 6 of the team.

Offer Sheet

The final route Lou can take is the one that is more risky than any other route, the offer sheet. There are many RFAs that are out on the market.

With one offer sheet already being thrown out today by the Montréal Canadiens in an attempt to lure Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) to the Habs, we could see more coming in the next few days.

The one player everyone has linked the Islanders to is Mitch Marner, but after the signing of Lee that seems to be nothing but a thought. Patrik Laine is another one out there that has not made too much progress with the Jets, but, as with Marner, he will be asking for a price that the Islanders do not have the cap space for. The only way that the Islanders can potentially pull it off is by making some trades and free some cap space up.

Lamoriello has a lot of decisions to make in the next couple of days, and slander fans will be eagerly waiting the news.

Stats from hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

You can follow the author of the post, Abin Boris on Twitter @abin_boris

 

Artemi Panarin

The New York Rangers Ink Panarin, They Are A Contender Again

featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum

Per Elliotte Friedman of Rogers Sportsnet, the New York Rangers have signed Artemi Panarin to a seven year deal worth 81.5 million. 

The New York Rangers made a splash on Day 1 of Free Agency and are now no longer in a rebuild mode. Over the course of the last few weeks, the Rangers had drafted Kaapo Kakko, acquired Adam Fox in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, traded with the Winnipeg Jets for Jacob Trouba, dealt Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres to add cap space and have now signed the top unrestricted free agent, Artemi Panarin. The Rangers are determined to chase for the Stanley Cup and their front office has done a great job in assembling a contender.

Panarin is coming off of a great campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 27 year old Korkino, Russia native mustered up 28 goals and 59 assists in 79 games with the Blue Jackets last season. In addition, he posted a 54.8 corsi-for percentage and a 54.8 fenwick-for percentage. Plus, his expected goals for was considerably higher than his expected goals against. 

The Russian forward was also incredible during the Blue Jackets playoff run. He appeared in 10 games for the Blue Jackets and managed to tally 5 goals and 6 assists. Without Panarin, the Blue Jackets might not have swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one. 

With Panarin coming to the Rangers, he’ll more than likely play on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and fellow countryman, Pavel Buchnevich. Panarin will likely force new teammate, Chris Kreider to move to the second forward line to play alongside Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko. 

In terms of Panarin’s playing style, let’s take a look at Sean Tierney’s playing style visual. Panarin is play-maker and does whatever he can to create scoring chances. He’s primary assist machine, Panarin is highly effective in high danger situations, he can be trusted to get the puck safely into the offensive zone from the neutral zone on the regular and he’s proven to be one of the best shot contributors on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

visual from Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder

With Panarin’s skill-set, he’ll make Zibanejad and Buchnevich more effective. Zibanejad is coming off of a solid season, in which he posted 74 points, but Buchnevich needs a strong bounce back season. Last season, Buchnevich played in 64 games, while posting 21 goals and 17 assists. His offensive production hasn’t been great since his debut in the 2016-17 regular season, but last season wasn’t as productive as his 2017-18 campaign. With Panarin firing lasers cross-ice to Buchnevich, perhaps he can help Buchnevich post a career high in goals next season. 

In addition, adding Panarin will likely boost the Rangers’ power-play. The Rangers power-play had a success rate of 19.4 percent (17th in the NHL). New York really needed to add a threat to their power-play rotation if they planned on making the jump from rebuilder to contender and they did just that.

All-in-all, Panarin makes the Rangers a lot stronger and will be in New York for the long haul.

stats from hockey-reference.com and Corey Sznajder

Follow Josh Tessler, the author of this post on Twitter (@JoshTessler_)

Jimmy Vesey

The New York Rangers Trade Jimmy Vesey To The Buffalo Sabres

featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum

Per Darren Dreger of TSN, the New York Rangers trade forward Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 3rd round pick in 2021.

Vesey, 26, has been rumoured to be on the move for quite a while and is already an interesting story as it is. Some may remember back in 2016, Buffalo acquired Jimmy Vesey’s rights from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a 3rd round pick in 2016. However, due to the fact that a deal was not made, Vesey was ruled an unrestricted free agent and eventually signed in New York with the Rangers for a 2 year deal worth $2.275 million dollars per season.

New York’s focus for this deal was to shed another contract as the team looks to improve the roster by either means of the draft or via free agency. As of writing this post, the Rangers now have approximately $20 million dollars in cap space which could make them, big players in the free agent market to accelerate their rebuild. The Rangers are rumoured to be targeting Artemi Panarin, who is the best unrestricted free agent forward on the market. Panarin will command roughly 9-11 million and the Rangers needed to move some cap space, which meant that Vesey needed to go.

As for the Sabres, they get a solid forward to help bolster their scoring depth on a cheap one year deal. They completed a similar trade last off-season with the Pittsburgh Penguins when they acquired left-winger Connor Sheary. Again, general manager Jason Botterill is working the phones and adds another depth winger in Vesey.

Vesey will likely slot in on the Buffalo Sabres’ third line alongside Evan Rodrigues and Tage Thompson. If Vesey gets off to a hot start, Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger could decide to move him up to the second line to play with Casey Mittelstadt and Kyle Okposo. 

In the visual below (from Sean Tierney), you’ll see Vesey’s playing style mapped out. You’ll see that Vesey is great at primary assists and shot creation, but isn’t reliable in high danger situations. Plus, he’s not going to create many zone entries nor is he going to light up the score sheet. He’s just a plain depth top 9 forward, but in the right spot, he could be a top 6 forward.

visual from Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder

If Vesey pans out for Buffalo, he could be a huge part of their team going forward. If not, I am sure that Jason Botterill and company could look to trading him as a rental to another team for some future assets. 

stats from hockey-reference.com and Corey Sznajder

visual from Sean Tierney

 

Matt Duchene

Reaction Roundup: Matt Duchene Looks Like He’s Going To Nashville

featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum

Earlier this evening, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet tweeted out that the Nashville Predators are looking like the winners of the Matt Duchene sweepstakes. But, nothing will be confirmed till tomorrow.

Duchene is coming off a season, in which he split his time between the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He began the season with the Senators, but was dealt to the Blue Jackets prior to the trade deadline as the Blue Jackets were looking to stockpile talent before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Duchene ended up finishing the season with 31 goals and 39 assists in 73 games played. In addition, he managed to muster up 5 goals and 5 assists in 10 playoff games with the Blue Jackets.

While Columbus had a lot of success in the playoffs, they have quite a few of unrestricted free agents including Ryan Dzingel, Sergei Bobrovsky, Duchene and Artemi Panarin. With several free agents potentially leaving Columbus, Duchene might have wanted a bit more security in terms of long-term success and so he chose to go to a club (Nashville Predators) who has historically done well. But, the Predators still don’t have a Stanley Cup championship. With Duchene signing long-term in Nashville, the Predators forward group is ready to pounce on the competition and the Predators look like a contender.

Reaction Roundup

Let’s take a look at what analysts and fans had to say about Duchene heading down to Nashville.

Pierre LeBrun of TSN talks about what the contract might look like for Duchene. While it’s not confirmed quite yet, the projected AAV would be 8 million USD. 

My twitter buddy, @AbsCoverage isn’t too thrilled that the Montréal Canadiens couldn’t reel in Duchene. But, he might sleep easier, since he knows that Duchene going to Nashville is nearly a completed deal.

Friend of Puck77, Nathan Graviteh talks about the Matt Duchene rumoured signing in a new video. 

Looks like the folks at On The Forecheck, the Nashville Predators SB Nation blog site seem up beat about Duchene coming to Nashville (if it’s completed).

Cam Robinson of DobberProspects compares the Matt Duchene signing to the Philadelphia Flyers signing Kevin Hayes

Oh, Travis. Travis Yost laying on the jokes. 

Arpon Basu of The Athletic was almost ready to prep his post on Duchene signing with the Canadiens. Unfortunately for Habs fans, that doesn’t look like it’s happening.

In-Depth Analysis

For in-depth analysis of the Duchene signing, stay tuned. The Puck77 team will have an in-depth analysis of the signing, but we are waiting for the deal to be confirmed.

stats from hockey-reference.com

Follow Josh Tessler, the author of this post on Twitter (@JoshTessler_)