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

 

San Jose Sharks Sign RFA Timo Meier: Four Years $6 Million AAV

The San Jose Sharks have signed one of their essential players, in right-wing Timo Meier.

After Joe Pavelski left for the Dallas Stars, it was paramount the Sharks signed Meier, and they got him in a great 4 year deal, at $6 million per year. This contract was another stellar signing by GM Doug Wilson, considering what he still has left to do and what Wilson has already done. After signing Erik Karlsson to an 8 year $11.5mil AAV, the Sharks had very little room to sign what many thought was one of their core players going forward, Timo Meier. The other one is 23 year old rightwing Kevin Labanc, look for him to sign for around $3mil AAV in the coming days. The Sharks 2019-20 team is rounding out as expected and they look more than capable for another feeding frenzy next season.

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Sharks Depth Going Forward

The Sharks blue line is in fully operational Death Star mode, so their focus will be on signing Joe Thornton, Dylan Gambrell and Kevin Labanc next. The Sharks will also look to add depth with signing their old captain and long time center Patrick Marleau, the Sharks second pick in the first round in 1997. Marleau played with the Sharks for 19 seasons and is another great playoff scoring threat along with a team leader for the up and coming youth in the Sharks locker room. I am considering the Sharks move of letting Pavelski go and signing Meier as addition by subtraction. The Sharks will lose the 38 goals that Pavelski provided, but it will also allow Meier to step up even more than he did last year. Last season he netted 30 goals along with 36 assists, not to mention the 5 goals and 10 assists during the 2018-19 playoff run to the Western Conference Finals. With him playing on the top line with Logan Couture, those number will inevitably rise. During the playoffs this past season we all witnessed what Meier is capable of, and the Swiss born first round pick is primed to be a force for the Sharks.

Logan Couture New Captain

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With Joe Pavelski signing a new 3 year deal with the Dallas Stars, the Sharks will be naming a new captain. The overwhelming fans choice from what I have seen on Twitter, would be a one Logan Couture. Couture has been amazing in all the cup runs the Sharks have had, amassing 101 points since the 2009-10 season and shocking the world with 30 playoff points in 2015-16. Mr. Playoffs has more than what it takes to be a captain in this league and I see the 30 year old center being handed the “C” for next season. The only other player besides Joe Thornton that could take the reigns of being captain is Erik Karlsson, having been team captain in Ottawa, but I think Logan Couture has earned that right. Stay tuned Sharks fans, there is more to come! Chomp Chomp!!!

Jon Margolis

@jmargolis_NHL

Player Profiles via hockey-reference.com

Featured Image: Dinur Blum

Tyler Myers

Vancouver Canucks Sign Tyler Myers

It’s beginning to seem like a theme in July. The Vancouver Canucks make a free agency signing (or signings) that have the hockey world scratching their heads. This year it’s Tyler Myers at five years for $6 million per year.

While this isn’t as atrocious as it initially could have been, the Vancouver Canucks make a signing on July 1st that isn’t popular in many circles outside of “Old School Hockey Men”. With rumours floating around in the week prior to free agency that the deal could have been seven years at $8 million average annual value (AAV) this could have been a much worse situation.


Tweet courtesy of @BlakePriceTSN

The Good

Tyler Myers is an NHL Blue liner without a doubt but he could be miscast and played up the lineup at times. What he does bring to the table however are great size and decent puck skills. The 6’8″ defender has a massive frame and outstanding reach. This profiles as an outstanding feature for a blue liner. His skating is good for his massive size and he can be a freight train once he gets up to speed. The Canucks showed that is a video they posted to their twitter.


Tweet courtesy of @Canucks

The Bad

This contract is too long and for too much money. Often playing on the third pairing last season on the Winnipeg Jets , Myers struggled at times. He was often paired with sub-par players and was unable to raise his game to cover for them despite being in favourable matchups against the oppositions lesser skilled offensive players.

Myers has been a steady 30-point defencemen that’s often touted as a two-way or offensive blue-liner. This isn’t the case however, as he is often a source of possession metrics that are less than favourable. His time in Winnipeg and his time with the Buffalo Sabres to begin his career do not show much variance in any either Corsi For (CF%) or Fenwick For (FF%) in the chart below, courtesy of Hockey Reference.

The Ugly

While some may try to blame the poor possession or play driving metrics on his teammates in Buffalo or his reduced role and poor quality of teammates in Winnipeg, the fact of the matter remains that Myers isn’t a positive factor on any pairing that he was on last season. The chart below from Sean Tierney’s Public Tableau show just that.

Canucks July 1st Misstep

Myer’s doesn’t drive possession and he isn’t a positive impact offensively at all. He isn’t particularly skilled defensively but does have the advantage of size. His last major award or accomplishment was his Calder trophy win in his rookie season over a decade ago. He’s been riding that accomplishment since then and in combination with his mammoth size, he often gets overvalued by the “eye-test” on both ends of the floor because there are tools that are evidently there. The problem is that he can’t be expected to put the whole package together and be a serviceable top-four defender this late into his career.

For more the draft, prospects and the NHL in general you can follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari

All statistics and information courtesy of Hockey Reference, the NHL, Elite Prospects and Prospect Stats. Visual provided by Sean Tierney’s Public Tableau

Feature image credit Dinur Blum

Arizona Coyotes Acquire Kessel

The Arizona Coyotes, on Saturday night, acquired Phil Kessel, Dane Birks, and a 4th round pick, in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Olivier Joseph. 

I’ll set a scene for you. Imagine you’re excited to watch an indoor football playoff game. You’re at a bar having a couple of drinks, and your friend won’t stop blowing your phone telling you the player you’ve wanted your team to trade for was acquired by them. You immediately don’t believe them, primarily because you know your small market team would never acquire elite talent that would put them at the cap ceiling. Then find out the cost was one of your favorite players in the team. One more drink was required to come to terms with everything.

It’s happened. The thing I wanted most this offseason actually happened. I actually feel foolish that my first reaction was “not Galchenyuk.” Like a spoiled Lakers fan over Lonzo Ball when we just acquired top tier talent for him. Galchenyuk and Pierre-Oliver Joseph have been sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Cheeseburger Phil, a 4th round pick, and Dane Birks.

Cheeseburger Phil Kessel is now an Arizona Coyote, and it’s a dream come true. Our leading scorer last season was Keller with 47 points. Kessel last year scored 82. (Per NHL.com)

What Arizona desperately needed was goal scoring, and this year they added a 30 goal scorer. I was on record last season saying that Galchenyuk wasn’t a 30 goal scorer considering how he hadn’t hit that mark in two seasons. With him only scoring 19 last season, it’s safe to admit what I said a year ago. That season was a career year and not the example of his consistent talent.

Kessel has had 5 seasons of 30+ production, and 11 consecutive seasons of 20+. Kessel is legit the answer to Arizona’s scoring woes.

Add in the fact that Kessel hasn’t missed a game in 9 seasons. (per ESPN) Arizona is sure adding guys who stay healthy after last seasons horrible misfortunes.

As of right now, the Coyotes top line is Keller-Schmaltz-Kessel. Not only did Keller play his best hockey with Schmaltz last season, but you add a multiple time Stanley cup champion, and elite goal scorer to that line, and Keller has just been handed the keys to not only a bounce back season. He’s been handed the keys to a career year two days before free agency.

Factoring in the acquisition of Soderberg (another 20 goal scorer) and the rumors of possibly more moves to come, Arizona is a legitimate playoff contender. I am fully comfortable saying that this team has gotten tremendously better over just the last couple of weeks.

I’m going to miss Galchenyuk. I loved his overall game and he paired very well with my favorite player, Conor Garland.

As for Joseph, I’ve been following him the last two Coyotes rookie camps, and moving on from his services was a great idea. Last year, he was easily the best at the camp, but this year he was far from it. I noticed that he was a lot slower than the season prior. It legitimately looked like he was nursing an injury. He wasn’t skating well in the corner, his transitions were sloppy, and his passing seemed to be weaker. The only upside he still had in my eyes was his shot. He has Keith Yandle‘s shot, easily. Unfortunately, like Yandle, he’s a defenseman and not a winger. I expect defensive ability with the potential upside of providing scoring depth.

The cherry on top of the deal was the 4th round pick as a “free asset” and Birks to replace Joseph on the depth chart. Chayka made an amazing trade and has made Arizona a playoff team. 

I should mention that Kessel is 31 with 3 years left on his contract with a cap hit of $6.8M (per capfriendly) , but he’s yet to show an signs of aging to date. If he does start to regress, he’s still likely to be a 60 point player, so this is still a huge net positive.

Chayka played pot of greed bois, and +1s are usually banned in Yu-Gi-Oh!

 

Player Profiles via hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Credit: Dinur Blum

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pavelski Wants The Sun

Joe Pavelski visited with the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday, as his time in San Jose has seemed to run its course.

July 1st is right around the corner, and there’s no better date than that for hockey fans. Free Agent frenzy begins and there are countless names to look out for, like Artemi Panarin, Mitch Marner and countless others. There are a lot of “Hope so”’s and “What if”’s. But no one can truly predict where each player goes on that date. But there’s one move that seems to be getting more and more clear. Joe Pavelski wants to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Is It Possible?

I could make this easy and just say yes, then move on, but there’s more to this story. The Lightning have about $10.626M in cap space, with Brayden Point still left to re-sign. That doesn’t even count the extra $5.8M from Ryan Callahan’s placement on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which then bumps the cap space up to $16.426M. Here’s to say that Point takes $9M per year, that bumps the space down to around $7.426M. Now Paquette is someone else I would like to re-sign, and he’s going to be fairly cheap, and take about $1.5M or so. That bumps it down to about $5.926M, but that’s not all. Without Pavelski, the Lightning line-up would look something like this:
Yanni GourdeSteven StamkosMathieu Joseph
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Ondrej PalatAnthony CirelliAlex Killorn
Alex Barre-Boulet-Cedric Paquette-Taylor Raddysh/ Boris Katchouk
Now, those lines aren’t bad at all, but there are moves that can be made here. First, an Alex Killorn trade (Keep in mind, Killorn has a full no trade clause and must waive it for a trade to happen). If the Lightning go back to the Canucks end, and acquire a bottom 6 forward for cheap, such as Jake Virtanen or Nikolay Goldobin for Killorn and a bit of a sweetener, then you can free up around $3.5M, to bring the cap space back up to $8.426M, not counting the contracts of Barre-Boulet, Raddysh or Katchouk, as they’re just temporary place holders. If you bring back Adam Erne for about $1M, then sign Pavelski to a 1 or a 2 year deal for $4M per year (he could easily take more, but if he does take a discount, that would be the most I’d give him), that combines to take the cap down to $3.426M, roughly. So yes, it is definitely possible for the Lightning to go out and re-sign Point, and sign Joe Pavelski. They’d even have the space to bring in another player for no more than $3M. If those things were to happen, then the entire Lightning lineup would look a little something like this:
Gourde-Stamkos-Pavelski
Joseph-Point-Kucherov
Palat-Cirelli-Johnson
Erne-Paquette-(Virtanen/Goldobin)

Victor HedmanMikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Jan RuttaBraydon Coburn

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Louis Domingue

Just to confirm the fact that Tampa can afford these moves, I built the team on capfriendly, using the armchair GM tool, and here’s the look of that, with cap space included.


As you can see, the Lightning actually have more space then I had worked out earlier in this article, but will ultimately have to have extra players called up for injuries. Those players likely include Barre-Boulet, Katchouk, Verhaege and Raddysh, all of which costing less than $1M each. They’re also waiver exempt, and can come up and go back down whenever the Lightning need it, and they won’t have to worry about waiver claiming from other teams.

Salary Cap info via Capfriendly

Feature image courtesy of Dinur Blum