Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner Signs 8-year/ $72M Extension

There is no off-days in the NHL, and Friday night was no different, as the Buffalo Sabres announced that they have signed Jeff Skinner to an 8-year extension.

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What if means for Buffalo.

Buffalo now has their top 2 scorers locked up for the next 7 years, with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. The issue is that they have $19M committed to those two players. Only Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles and Toronto have more money committed to two players. So what does $19M buy you these days? For the Sabres, it got them 68 goals, 77 assists, and a combined -11. Not fantastic if you are a Buffalo fan, but respectable, nonetheless.

Why I hate the deal.

Jeff Skinner was definitely holding all the aces in this deck. He is an unrestricted free agent, with a unique skill that is quintessential to a team’s success. That being said, I don’t see him as a $9M AAV guy. It sets a market for Wingers that could skew the landscape of the NHL. With a lot of top tier UFA Wingers, such as Artemi Panarin, Jordan Eberle, and Mats Zuccarello, this will drive the market for what players can for their bargaining. Beyond the great class of UFA’s, there is a trio of RFA Wingers, who could look at this deal and put their teams in an awkward situation. That trio, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point and Mikko Rantanen, will argue, strongly, to use Skinner’s price point as the starting point for their talks.

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Why I love the deal.

There is a lot that has to be considered during a contract negotiation. The big thing for the team to consider is the finances and attraction for free agents and fans. For the player, they have to consider what is the best for his family and how he can maximize his value. With all those considerations outlined, let’s see how this deal transpired.

  1. Buffalo is not an attractive market for free agents. Many have stated that there is not a lot of activities for families and social life. It has a long winter and miserable snow storms.
  2. Jeff Skinner was a pending unrestricted free agent, and had the potential to drive the price up for the Buffalo Sabres.
  3. Buffalo had over $28M in available cap space.

With all those factors, the two sides were able to come together on a mutually beneficial deal.

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Conclusion

While many outside fans will look at this deal and scoff at the Sabres for overpaying and skewing the market, I believe this was a great deal for Buffalo. They have to spend money somewhere, and getting a quality goal scorer, who probably would have gotten $8.5M on the open market, makes this a fantastic deal for them.

Stats provided by hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Credit: Nikos Michals

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Player Evaluation Part 12: Ondrej Palat

Part 12 of my Tampa Bay Lightning player evaluations has arrived, and I’m sticking with forwards here.

 

This forward has been thrown around in trade discussions recently, in order to free up cap space to re-sign upcoming restricted free agent forward Brayden Point. This player has been with the Lightning organization since being drafted in the seventh round (208th overall) in the 2011 National Hockey League entry draft. That player is Ondrej Palat.

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The Basics

Palat played in 64 games last season, recording eight goals (0.13 goals per game) and 26 assists (0.41 assists per game) for a total of 34 points (0.53 points per game). Palat averaged just 14:53 time on ice, which is almost three minutes less than his career average of 17:17 TOI.

In that time, he started 59.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, recording a 51.1 Corsi-For%. His takeaway to giveaway ratio was 18 to 41, which is a putrid -23 differential, and when looking at years prior, is by far his worst season in this metric, as his career takeaway-giveaway differential is -3. Before this season, it was +20. Palat registered a 101.2 PDO, telling me he had above average luck this past season. With Palat on the ice, Tampa Bay had an expected goals for of 36.9 and an expected goals against of 36.4, which is a +0.5 differential.

Advanced Analytics

Palat had a major drop off in takeaways to giveaways, where in past seasons he showed reliability. Not just that, but he finished in the top 15 for the Selke Trophy twice in past seasons. This season, he looked like a shadow of that player.

While his possession stats are good, that can be attributed to his high offensive deployment. Despite the high offensive deployment however, Palat put up a career-low goal total and point total since the 2012-13 season where he played just 14 games. Rather than comparing him to other Lightning players on the spider graphs that you usually see in these evaluations, we are going to look at his advanced stats from the past three seasons, and see if his apparently rapid decline is even more noticable.

It seems as though Palat has improved in every area, though it is important that the data only tracked 11 games for Palat this season, compared to the 39 in 2017-18 and the 31 in 2016-17, so it may not be the most telling.

Despite putting up real low point totals, he had a high shot contribution count (ShotContr60, ShotAssists60). He also didn’t shoot very often, which could have been why he had such a low point total, but then again he shot fewer times in 2016-17 and still put up 52 points.

It seems as though his transitional game has improved when entering the zone (PossEntry60, PossEntry%) and breaking out of the defensive zone (PossExit60, PossExit%). Unfortunately, there is no data for Palat on CJ Turtoro’s Exit per 60 minute visual, therefore I will use Sean Tierney’s GAR (Goals Above Replacement) visual to determine how vital Palat is to the Lightning, comparable to that of his teammates.

Palat ranked 17th on the Lightning roster when it came to his GAR metric. He is most effective at even strength (displayed as the gray bar) and on the power play (displayed in blue).

But the tiny negative, that you can’t really see, is his ineffective penalty killing. Though it is not an awful negative, it’s still there, and it needs to be much better, especially since he has lost lots of ice time to younger, more skilled forwards. He needs to regain trust and go back to being that reliable middle-six forward for the Lightning or he will soon see himself wearing a different jersey. Despite not having his Exit per 60 minutes data, we do have his Entry per 60 minute data, from CJ Turtoro.  

Palat ranked sixth on the Lightning in this metric, as shown above. While he passed the puck to a teammate and into the offensive zone a little bit more than he skated it in himself, what he did more often than not, was dump it in deep.

While you’d probably expect Palat to do more than just dump it in, considering his past seasons, his role on the third line and the system put forth by head coach Jon Cooper, it seems as though the bottom-six forwards are expected to play it safe, and play defense first. He failed a bit, but not enough where it would be a problem or concern.

In Conclusion

Palat is making $5.3M per season, and his contract runs for the next three seasons. For him to lose nearly three minutes of ice time off his average over the last six seasons in just one year, is a major concern for me, and the value of his contract is superseding the value of his play on the ice.

While I’d like to hold on to Palat for one more season, it may be best to move him before he loses more value, if this pattern keeps up. Brayden Point is far more important to the team’s success than Palat is, and hockey is a ruthless business. Palat might just fall victim to the ruthlessness and be sent out of town.  

 

All Stats via hockey-reference

The Spider Charts used Data from CJ Turtoro, created by Kyle Pereira

Entry/Exit Charts via CJ Turtoro

GAR chart via Sean Tierney

Tampa Bay Lightning

Who Is The Most Underrated On The Tampa Bay Lightning?

It’s time to evaluate another Tampa Bay Lightning player. This time around, I take an in-depth look at J.T. Miller.

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Miller has played in multiple roles at even strength. He’s played with Steven Stamkos on the first line, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point on the second line, and with Anthony Cirelli on the third line.

In my opinion, Miller is the most underrated player on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cedric Paquette is a close second.

The Basics

Miller played in 75 games last season, recording 13 goals (0.17 goals per game) and 34 assists (0.45 assists per game) for a total of 47 points (0.63 points per game) last season. Miller averaged 14:40 time on ice and he started 48.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Despite the high defensive deployment, Miller put up a very good 53.8 corsi-for percentage. He also proved his reliability with a takeaway to giveaway ratio of 42 to 38, which is a +5 differential. He also played physical and recorded 115 hits. Miller recorded a 100.5 PDO, which means he was not lucky or unlucky last season. With Miller on the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning had an expected goals for of 40.1 and an expected goals against of 32.9, which is a +7.3 differential.

Advanced Analytics

Miller is smart with the puck (positive takeaway to giveaway ratio), and has great possession numbers despite being mainly a defensive forward. Yet, he’s not a top-of-the-line scorer and he plays limited minutes, but he’s still a crucial component of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In addition, Miller plays a physical, defense-first, safe and smart kind of hockey. But, will that reflect on the spider graphs?

visual created by Kyle Pereira, data from CJ Turtoro

Miller (red) was a major contributor with his shooting (ShotContr60, ShotAssists60), but takes a very low amount of shots (Shots60). I believe, upon seeing this, he could potentially be a 50+ point producer consistently if he shot the puck a little bit more. He is fantastic in transition, both entering the zone (PossEntry60, PossEntry%) and exiting the defensive zone (PossExits60, PossExit%).

But, is this graph truly accurate? Let’s lock down on what appears to be a fantastic transitional game, and look a bit deeper using CJ Turtoro’s Exit per 60 minute visual.

visual created by CJ Turtoro, data from Corey Sznajder

Miller is the second ranked player on the Lightning roster, behind only Kucherov, when it comes to exiting the defensive zone. He does a great job passing the puck up to a teammate and out, as well as carrying the puck out himself. He dumps and clears the puck just as much as he skates it out himself, seemingly wanting to make sure the puck does, in fact, get out, rather than try and clear and fail. Miller does ice the puck a bit, which needs to be adjusted a little bit, but isn’t a problem. He does fail getting the puck out quite a bit, but his straight forward mentality when exiting the zone is fine, and he has plenty of success with it.

But, how about entering the offensive zone? Using CJ Turtoro’s Entries per 60 minutes visual, we can find out just how good he is.

visual created by CJ Turtoro, data from Corey Sznajder

Miller was the 4th best player on the Tampa Bay Lightning when it came to entering the offensive zone successfully, and that top 4 separated itself from the rest of the team. He relied more on himself skating the puck into the zone, but ultimately preferred dumping the puck in deep, and chasing for it. As stated above, Miller is a no nonsense, keep-it-safe player, and the fact that he dumps it in more than anything else is unsurprising. He also failed a few times, but again, it isn’t that bad at all. You can’t expect perfection from a player. He plays it smart, and never forces plays, and it works at both ends of the ice.

In Conclusion

Miller is hands down the most underrated player on the Tampa Bay Lightning. He plays very smart hockey, with limited mistakes.

Miller plays physical when he needs to, and he can put up points. He is versatile as well. Miller can be featured at center. He’ll win face-offs and get the puck into the hands of his teammates. Miller has also proven to be really effective on the wing as well. He has the offensive skill set to play on the power play, and is a reliable penalty kill asset.

Miller is vital to the Lightning’s success, and I expect more of the same from him next season.

All Stats via hockey-reference

The Spider Charts used Data from CJ Turtoro, created by Kyle Pereira

Entry/Exit Charts via CJ Turtoro

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is There A Blockbuster Trade Ahead?

Could the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks pull off a blockbuster trade? 

Fellow Puck77 contributor Niels Nielsen (great name by the way) put out an article regarding moves that the Canucks can make to speed up their rebuild out in Vancouver. One of the trades included in his article was a deal involving the Tampa Bay Lightning, so I decided to break it down.

 

What Was The Deal?

Here’s who went where in that mock trade.

 

To Tampa: Alex Biega, Olli Juolevi, Jake Virtanen, and a 2020 2nd round pick

To Vancouver: Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan Callahan, and Tyler Johnson

 

From Vancouver’s perspective, they get an immediate top 4 defenseman with high upside in Sergachev, whose contract expires next season, a top 6 forward who can play either wings or in the middle in Johnson, and a veteran 4th liner and expert penalty killer, who’s overpaid, but expiring soon, in Callahan. In Tampa’s perspective, they add a cheap depth defenseman who I’ve been high on recently in Biega, a once highly touted prospect who still has plenty of upside and could step into a bottom 2 role immediately in Juolevi, a bottom 6 winger with potential to play in the top 6 if used right in Virtanen and a future early second round pick in a very talented draft next season. But we need to dive deeper into why these pieces would realistically make sense to be moved.

Why Move Sergachev, Johnson and Callahan?

I don’t want Sergachev to go anywhere, he has so much upside and so much talent right now, that I would rather keep him around. But, he expires next season, along with Anthony Cirelli, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Erik Cernak, just to name the more vital players. Sergachev played bottom pair minutes through most of last season, and on some occasions played on the first pair with Hedman. But he was ultimately jumped on the line-up by Cernak, a guy who was originally supposed to be a temporary helper for injuries. Sergachev’s defensive zone play is a concern and his consistency is not there yet. He could still cost a decent chunk, especially if he fixes his play on defense, which Tampa may not be able to afford. So, get something for him now if the Lightning doubt they can get him next off-season. Logically, that’s not an unrealistic idea, and with Julien BriseBois at the helm, and not the guy who traded for Sergachev (Steve Yzerman), there’s a chance it really could happen. As for Johnson, he is overpaid for a middle 6 role in Tampa, but if moved to Vancouver, can fulfill his payroll of $5M per season. Shedding that much cap alone would be a great move, in my eyes, and it makes sense, as Johnson’s name has been thrown around in trade suggestions due to his high cap hit. As for Callahan, he is egregiously overpaid, and sat in the pressbox for a large chunk of the Lightning season, barely cracking the roster due to injuries. If the Lightning can avoid a buyout and trade his rights, that alone would be a huge win for BriseBois. If he can package Johnson and Callahan in a trade, that’s an even bigger win. But like with everything, there’s always loss before gain. That loss is Sergachev. However, with all three contracts together, the Lightning are losing $11.694M, roughly. That puts their total cap space from $8.577M to $20.271M

Why Biega, Juolevi, Virtanen and the second rounder in 2020?

I will start with the 2020 second rounder. Next year’s draft features an abundance of prospects to choose from, and when I asked Frans, among others, which class was stronger between this years and next, a majority of them said that yes, next season will be far deeper. While not many people know exactly who ranks where yet, many expected it to be better than this year, and this year is pretty packed with talent. When I asked Will Scouch, who’s forte is looking at future prospects, he said, “It is almost a certainty.” So the second rounder is a nice touch. As for Alex Biega, I really like the guy on the Lightning as a bottom pair guy with Jan Rutta or Braydon Coburn in a sort of rotation type gig. I wrote a piece on Biega not too long ago, so check that out here if you want an in-depth look on him. Virtanen has played 210 career NHL games, with 32 goals and 27 assists (59 points), while averaging 12:44 time on ice. He has a career Corsi-For% of 49.0%, which isn’t great, but Vancouver hasn’t exactly been a great team either. He has yet to play a full 82 game season, either, but that’s the last negative for now. He’s coming off a career high in points (25), and goals (15), as well as a career high for time on ice (14:49). He also has a career takeaway to giveaway ratio of 123 to 69, which is a +54 differential, which is incredible. He plays physical, as he recorded 154 hits last season, and blocked a career high amount of shots (37). He would fit in nicely with the third or fourth line, as well as killing penalties, with more efficiency and a cheaper cost ($1.25M for one more season) than Ryan Callahan. He is also younger, with upside. Olli Juolevi was at one point one of the most hyped up defensive prospects in the NHL. But he has been ravaged by injuries, only playing 18 AHL games last season. However, he did impress, posting 1 goal and 12 assists (13 points) in that span. Yet again, I bugged Will Scouch for his own report on Juolevi, and he had this to say: “I’ve always been a fan through everything, and his offensive game was well on it’s way in the AHL. He’s probably going to need a full AHL season to get back up to speed unless he really explodes at camp.”

In-Depth Analysis

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an advanced analytic which is making a push towards relevancy, as it calculates a players contributions per minute compared with their overall contribution. With that being said, WAR is gaining traction, and is very important to look at. First, here’s Alex Biega among Lightning and Canuck defenseman on Sean Tierney’s WAR per minute visual.

This is the same picture shown in my Biega breakdown article, and I will show it again here. Biega ranks 6th in this metric, showing his importance through and through. But question is, how will Virtanen fair among forwards on the ‘Nucks and Bolts?

Virtanen ranks second to last in this metric, ultimately showing that he is a complete liability. I can’t be that harsh, but this shows exactly why he plays very low minutes on a not-so-good team. I’d imagine every Lightning fan, reporter, and general reader will want to keep Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan over him. So Virtanen may not be the best piece of this trade, but he is still a piece, and might fill that Callahan role but at a much cheaper cost. Finally, Juolevi. Because he didn’t play at the NHL, he does not have any data on these more advanced visuals, but there is one, and it’s a metric that calculates an AHL players chances of making it to the big leagues next season, via Sean Tierney.

As shown above, Juolevi has a good chance of being in the NHL next season, in a depth role, but most likely would not be against staying down in the AHL for a season, which is what will likely happen  thanks to the Lightning’s ridiculous defensive depth. With Juolevi down in the minors, only Biega and Virtanen will count against the cap, and they combine for a $2.075M cap hit.

 

Salary Cap Space For Tampa After This Move

After this move, Tampa would have $18.196M freed up. Now let’s say that they re-sign Brayden Point for $8M per season, their cap hit is bumped down to $10.196M. Then they re-sign Paquette for $1M per season, and now their space is down to $9.196M. Their defense consists of Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Alex Biega and Jan Rutta. Erik Karlsson has been talked about taking a paycut to go to Tampa, and that being said, could take a $9M per season deal, with the first two years with a low cap hit of $8M and the remainder with over $9M per. What this does is it alleviates pressure from re-signing Vasilevskiy, Cirelli, and Cernak next off-season. Then, after a couple years and the Lightning solve next off-seasons obstacles, Karlsson’s heavy backend of a contract sets in and they have a star-studded core locked in for a few seasons. Meanwhile, the Canucks speed up their rebuild with veterans and a fantastic top 4, young defenseman.

In Conclusion

As Niels touched on with his mock trades, this deal may not be the most realistic, but the individual pieces being moved are, logistically, realistic. The idea of bringing in Erik Karlsson is tantalizing, and this deal gives them an ideal opportunity to do just that. Here’s a look at what the line up would look like if those moves were made.

Quite the unit there, and remember, only Karlsson’s first 2 seasons will be at $8M per year, while his last 2/3 will be $10M per (for a 4 year deal), or $9.666M per(for a 5 year deal).

 

All salary and line combinations via capfriendly.com

All stats via hockey reference

WAR graphs and NHL potential via Sean Tierney on Public.Tableau

Featured Image Credit: Justin Miner

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning: Projected Free Agent Contracts

How much could the Tampa Bay Lightning Free Agents fetch this summer? 

Guys, calm down, this is (maybe, but probably not) the last Lightning off-season deep dive. But this one is probably better, to be perfectly honest, because it isn’t just an opinionated blurb from me, an 18 year old kid with no degree in anything. That’s right, I’m contacting real experts!

What Is It This Time?

Evolving Wild has put together contract projections, and Sean Tierney gathered their data to make a visual, in which I gathered to inform you readers. What you guys do with this information is completely up to you, but let’s keep the chain going. Anyways, back to the meat of the article. The Lightning have $8,576,669 in cap space. Here’s the projections.

I personally highlighted Brayden Point, who is projected to take a 5 year deal worth an average of $8,244,551, which is a $42,212,755 contract over 5 years. With that deal, the Lightning are left with precisely $332,118. That takes everyone out of the equation, but we can go into the negatives. Anton Stralman is all but officially gone at this point, that’s just the universal truth, so I will go with the next player, and that’s Braydon Coburn. I love Coburn’s game, and would love to see him back, but at what cost?

According to the visual, Coburn will receive a 2 year deal worth an average of $2,122,458, which is a grand total of $4,244,916 over the 2 years. I believe it is well worth it to keep him around, and with that contract on the books, the Lightning will have a cap space of -$1,790,340. That looks a lot like for my bank account. But on to the next paycheck! Cedric Paquette is the picture you see in the dictionary when you look for the words “fourth line center”. He is the picture perfect player in that role, and I want the Lightning to bring him back before a Coburn deal is made (if ever).

Paquette is looking at a 2 year deal worth an average of $1,463,096, which is a total of $2,926,192 when the contract is all set and done. With that deal, it knocks down the Lightning cap hit to a grand total of… drum roll please…. -$3,253,436. Beyond that, Adam Erne, Dan Girardi, Cameron Gaunce and Danick Martel can walk. If they buy out Ryan Callahan, they save $3,133,333, which gives them -$120,103. That is much better looking, but still not enough. Consider call-ups, like Alex Barre-Boulet, who has a cap hit of $759,258 on his entry level contract. That, ultimately, gives the Lightning a much more daunting debt of -$879,361. Trade Tyler Johnson, who has a cap hit of $5,000,000, or trade Alex Killorn , who has a cap hit of $4,450,000, or trade Ondrej Palat, who has a cap hit of $5,300,000. That’s a lot of numbers, but what they ultimately mean is one of them must go, or even two of them. Lots of people lean more towards trading Killorn, but in reality, he may not be enough being traded by himself. Reason being, you are going to get another player in return for that Killorn deal, and what cap hit will that player have? If he’s not playing at the NHL level, then do you re-sign Martel or Erne? Do you go outside the organization and sign someone there, and at what cost? With all those moves, you still only have 5 defenseman on the main roster. Calling u Callan Foote is affordable, but are you even sure he’s ready for a full-time spot on the roster? So maybe Foote isn’t that option, so do you trade for a defenseman, and at what cost?

In Conclusion

Julien BriseBois has quite the doozy of an off-season ahead of him, and while he does get the most important player of the bunch back, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions and open spots that need to be filled. The best plan would be to qualify Point’s Restricted Free Agency, allowing him to hit restricted free agency, temporarily. Stay tight in contract talks to ensure he sticks around. Re-sign Paquette and Coburn comfortably and re-evaluate a contract for Point. Move the necessary player’s to free space for not only Point, but for Barre-Boulet and any other depth forwards or defensemen they want to acquire. It won’t be easy, but if the cards are played right, this could be a masterful job by BriseBois at the end of the day.

Salary Info via Capfriendly

Projected salary visual via Sean Tierney, gathered from Evolving Wild

Featured Image Credit: Justin  Miner