Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning Steals The Show At The NHL Awards

The Tampa Bay Lightning were well represented at the NHL Awards.

Tampa came home with four trophies, as well as Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy being named to the first team all-stars, Victor Hedman named a second team all-star and Anthony Cirelli being placed on the all-rookie team.

Nikita Kucherov

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To no one’s surprise, Kucherov almost cleaned the house, as he won the Hart, the Lindsay and the Art Ross trophies. Listen, when you put up 128 points in 82 games, something that hasn’t been done since Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux in the 90s, you deserve the trophies you got nominated for. He’s also the first player in Lightning history since Martin St Louis to win the Hart trophy (2003-04, which was 15 years ago). Well deserved, and he will look to do it again next season.

Andrei Vasilevskiy

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After coming up shy last season in Vezina voting, Vasilevskiy was back with a vengeance. However, I have to say it, he was more deserving last year than this year. Both Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner had better statistics, despite playing in fewer games. The only thing Vasilevskiy had on them was wins, and that’s because he had the best team, on paper, playing in front of him night-in and night-out. But, he won it, and nothing can take that from him. He is a world-class net-minder, and he was able to take what he was robbed of last year. Like Kucherov with the Hart, he is looking to have another Vezina worthy season next year.

Victor Hedman

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Despite coming up short in the Norris voting, Hedman was still given one accolade. He was named to the second team all-star roster, meaning the league thought of him as a top 4 defenseman league wide last year. Another very deserving award/accolade given to a great defenseman. Without Hedman, the Lightning would be lost on the backend, and that will continue as long as he is at 100% with the Lightning.

Anthony Cirelli

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Cirelli being named to the all-rookie team really doesn’t sound like much, but it is. To me, Cirelli always came off as under-appreciated league wide, but him named to this all-rookie team changes that.

He doesn’t produce at a high level offensively, with 19 goals and 20 assists last season (39 points), but he is a very reliable forward for the Lightning. He had an impressive 53.7 Corsi-For% despite his very high defensive deployment (started 58.7% of shifts in the defensive zone). Cirelli also had an incredible 46 takeaways to just 15 giveaways, a fantastic showing of puck control and smarts. Cirelli doesn’t force plays and is very smart with the puck. He is more than deserving of a spot on the all-rookie team. Cirelli will look to keep his rookie season success going into next year.

All stats via hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

Puck77

National Hockey League: Who Will Take Home The Hart Trophy?

The NHL Awards Show is coming up, and the finalists have already been announced. There are favorites and there are snubs, and fans have been vocal about who should win, and who deserves a nomination.

 

The Hart trophy is no different, and there have been varying cases for all three finalists. The Hart Trophy, for those who don’t know, is awarded to the player who is judged to be the most valuable to his team. Here are the finalists, and why they should, or could, win.

 

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Why He Should Win: Kucherov finished the season with 128 points, which, for this era, is unbelievable. He showed dominance in the league that had not been seen since the Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux era in Pittsburgh. He has already claimed the Art Ross trophy for most points in the entire league. A guy so dominant deserves this trophy certainly, but are point totals really enough?

Why He Should Not Win: Kucherov has every reason to win, but let’s look at what awards the players this trophy. “The player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” His own team. This is not league MVP, which Kucherov would claim, hands down.

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Was Kucherov really that vital to his teams performance? Well, yes, but if you take him out, the Lightning will still be a playoff team. They have Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s also not a captain, nor an assistant captain, so you can’t turn to leadership qualities for help. Yes, he led his team in points by a wide margin, and yes, he had a historical season in every sense. But no, Tampa would not blow up if he were not there.

 

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Why He Should Win: Sidney Crosby is the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Phil Kessel was swirling in trade rumors and Evgeni Malkin struggled, Sidney Crosby remained Sidney Crosby. He led the Penguins in points with 100, 18 more than second place Kessel. He led the team in assists with 65, 10 more than second place Kessel. He finished second on the team in goals with 35, behind linemate Jake Guentzel (40) and ahead of third place Kessel (27). He was tied with Kessel for power play goals (12) and had the most time on ice among forwards, averaging 20:59. He is the heart and soul of the Penguins, and their captain.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win: The Penguins had a down year in terms of where they finished as a team, as well as some individually underwhelming production. Crosby did not, as he held strong to his name. However, he’s just like Kucherov in a sense that the Penguins may not be awful if he were to leave them. Crosby is a huge figure in the locker room, but the Penguins still have so much star power with Malkin, Guentzel, Kris Letang, Kessel, Justin Schultz, and Matt Murray. They would still be a far different team, but I still believe they’re good enough to make the playoffs.

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Why He Should Win: As the captain of the Oilers, he went on to do McDavid things. He finished second in the league in points with 116, just 12 points behind the otherworldly production of Kucherov. He finished with 41 goals, which is tied with Kucherov for sixth in the league. He also notched 75 assists, second to only Kucherov (87) around the entire league. Edmonton is not a good team, and if you take McDavid off the roster, they’d be worse than the Ottawa Senators. What McDavid does for this team, no one can top it.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win It: While Kucherov was able to lead the Lightning towards a President’s Trophy, and Crosby was able to snag a playoff spot with the Penguins, McDavid was left golfing. He wasn’t good enough to get his team to the playoffs, despite being one of the best players in the league.

 

Deeper Dive

One way to decide whether or not a player was more lucky than successful is by looking at a stat that ultimately quantifies a players luck.

Higher than a 100 PDO means that person was lucky, and likely won’t repeat their season at that clip. Under 100 PDO is unlucky, and likely means that player could have done better. 100 PDO is average, not lucky or unlucky.

Kucherov finished the season with a 102.7, Crosby finished with a 101.9, and McDavid finished with a 100.7. That being said, Kucherov’s historic season was spectacular, but required a lot of luck, and he likely will never reach that total again in his career.

Crosby did not have as spectacular of a year, posting the lowest goal, assist, and point totals among the finalists, but still required some luck to reach triple digits, and if the Penguins struggles continue into next season, Crosby may not reach the 100-point plateau.

Meanwhile, McDavid was just a little over average, not requiring much luck to reach an incredible 116 points, and has a good chance of consistently hitting those marks despite being on a relatively weak roster.

 

In Conclusion

McDavid deserves this trophy through and through, because he produced at a very high rate, and didn’t need a lot of bounces to go his way to reach his mark, showing that he can consistently reach that same production season by season. He’s also the only guy you can look at and say “Without him, his team would really struggle.” He’s also the captain, and the captain of any team is extremely important as is. So while he didn’t produce like Kucherov did, he has the “C” on his sweater, and not as much luck on the ice.

 

Stats via NHL.com

PDO via Hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: What’s Nikita Zaitsev’s Value?

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is on the trading block.

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It’s been a quiet past month in Toronto Maple Leafs Media. There has been no news and speculation has been slow. Following another first round exit there has been absolutely nothing interesting in Leaf land outside the Mitch Marner contract. That is however, until Nikita Zaitsev set Maple Leaf media into a frenzy with an interview he did back in Russia. Many Europeans rarely speak with media during the season. This is likely due to the fact they aren’t extremely confident with the language and want to avoid any miscommunication through translation. This does however lead to instances such as Nikita Kucherov’s comments a couple years back about his team’s lack of effort and now Zaitsev’s comments.

There seems to be a real divide amongst fans regarding Zaitsev’s comments and whether they want him back. Some fans seem to blindly support Don Cherry and believe his word is Gospel. Some fans hate Cherry and his somewhat bigoted opinion and attitude towards hockey players. Regardless of your opinion on that matter, one thing is clear. Zaitsev clearly wants out of Toronto and this likely trade is one we cannot continue to devalue. The Toronto Maple Leafs need to move Nikita Zaitsev. But, Leaf fans desire to trade him for as little as possible isn’t helping anything. One, it devalues the player and secondly it makes future European free agents look less favourably at Toronto.

He’s No Good….

Nikita Zaitsev has clearly shown over the past few seasons that playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs has truly killed his confidence. Over his past three seasons Zaitsev’s point totals, giveaways and possession metrics have all decreased each year. His takeaways, hits and shots have also dropped consistently through each season. This all stems from his increasingly defensive usage and the Leafs clear desire to get him off the ice when the play enters the opposing zone.

When Zaitsev arrived in North America, he was touted as one of Russia’s best defenceman. He was the quarterback for CSKA and showed a near full arsenal of physical weapons. In his first season, he saw minutes that more closely resembled his role in Russia, scoring 36 points as a rookie. Despite the false accusation this was purely due to his power-play time, 23 of his points came at even strength. Following his rookie season. a decision was made to mould him into a more defensive player. Whilst I think rounding out his game is a good move, his usage slowly turned from honing his defensive game to removing his offensive one. Zaitsev was a square peg being rammed into a circular hole and we as fans blamed him.

Zaitsev’s Stats

Below is a breakdown of Zaitsev’s stats.

2016-2017 – 82 Games Played, 4 Goals, 32 Assists, 38 Penalty In Minutes, 3 Even Strength Goals, 1 Power-Play Goal, 20 Even Strength Assists, 11 Power-Play Assists, 3.8 Shooting Percentage, 22:01 Average Time On Ice

2017-2018 – 60 Games Played, 5 Goals, 8 Assists, 31 Penalty In Minutes, 5 Even Strength Goals, 0 Power-Play Goal, 8 Even Strength Assists, 0 Power-Play Assists, 9.3 Shooting Percentage, 22:13 Average Time On Ice

2018-2019 – 81 Games Played, 3 Goals, 11 Assists, 18 Penalty In Minutes, 3 Even Strength Goals, 0 Power-Play Goal, 11 Even Strength Assists, 0 Power-Play Assists, 4.2 Shooting Percentage, 20:28 Average Time On Ice

The Mental Game…

We all recognize the importance of mental and psychological health in professional sport. Whilst what Zaitsev is dealing with currently may not be on the scale of many players, confidence is king in any sport. Zaitsev’s comments regarding being called off as soon as the puck enters the zone is a huge red flag. If the coaching staff is fostering an environment where Zaitsev is constantly in doubt of his ability, how is this conducive to helping grow his confidence level. Zaitsev’s underlying numbers show he clearly lacks confidence, his diminishing shot totals and increasing giveaways show he consistently doubts his decision making.

What would they be getting?

screenshot of naturalstattrick.com

It is almost a foregone conclusion that Zaitsev gets moved. The key for the Leafs is that they get a fair price for him. If he is marketed as more of a 2-way defenceman it is easy to point at his scoring totals and usage in his first year. However, regardless of Zaitsev’s inability to make consistent breakout passes, his defensive game outside of that is relatively sound. He led all Leafs in penalty kill time this season and was 13thoverall in the NHL. Zaitsev also is extremely effective at limiting high danger scoring chances on the penalty kill. Of the top 20 PKers, only 3 defenceman surrendered less high danger opportunities, those being Ben Lovejoy, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. Zaitsev, while his breakout passes can be horrible at times, is currently amongst the best penalty killing defenceman in the NHL.

screenshot of naturalstattrick.com

What’s he worth?

This is the million-dollar question. According to some fans he’s not worth a used hanky and according to others he’s worth the world. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. Zaitsev is a competent top 4 defenceman. He’s 6’2, led the Leafs in hits and is a very good penalty killer. There is also an opportunity to salvage a quality secondary power-play quarterback in him. Whilst many Leaf fans may hate it, his contract isn’t as bad as many other contracts around the league.

My message to Leaf fans

We must be patient and show more support for the players on our team. Zaitsev has done everything asked of him by his coach and up until now has said nothing and dealt with the constant criticism. If we want this team to be successful, we must stop trying to railroad our teams’ assets and devalue everything in a blue sweater. If/when Zaitsev is traded, realize we are losing a top 4 RHD, who leads our team in hits, blocks and on the penalty kill. This is not someone that can just be replaced by a Marlie.

Finally, the Leafs have identified a market insufficiency in European free agents. If the ones who join the Leafs and become successful NHLers are going home and speaking like Zaitsev to the local media, this insufficiency will no longer be available to Toronto. Another opportunity arrives next season with Ilya Mikheyev. Let’s give him time to adapt and if he isn’t put in a position to succeed, look at those who should be doing that instead of the player themselves. As in my previous article, another thing to be taken from soccer. Managers should protect their players, individual performances are on the player, usage isn’t.

Sources: EliteProespects.com, Naturalstattrick.com, Hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler

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: Player Evaluation Part 10: Mikhail Sergachev

Tampa Bay Lightning player evaluation part 10! We made it, finally! But who will it be this time around? Staying on the back end for this one, we will look at another youngster, defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

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Sergachev was traded from Montreal to Tampa Bay two off-seasons ago,  and has been a big part of the team since. How valuable was he to the record-setting totals from last season?

The Basics

Sergachev played in 75 games for the Lightning last season, recording six goals (0.08 goals per game), and 26 assists (0.35 assists per game) for 32 points (0.43 points per game). He averaged 17:55 time on-ice last season with 53.8% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone. That deployment in the offensive zone led to a Corsi For% of 53.7%. He had a takeaway to giveaway ratio of 18 to 50, which is a differential of -32, which is not necessarily good. He also recorded a very average PDO of 100.7, and when Sergachev was on the ice, the Lightning had an expected goals for of 56.2 and an expected goals against of 47.8 which is a differential of +8.4.

Advanced Analytics

Sergachev constantly tries driving the offense, but a lack of consistency is what caused him to lose ice time to rookie Erik Cernak, as well as losing a couple games as a healthy scratch in a defensive rotation involving Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, and at one point, Cernak. His consistency must be solved, but did his offensive numbers, and constant pushing of offense in the transitional game, make up for his struggle with turning over the puck? Let’s look at the spider graphs.

Sergachev was right up at the top of the rankings when it came to his shooting, whether he was contributing goals or chances (ShotContr60), gathering assists (ShotAssists60), or just taking a high volume of shots (Shots60). He also stood out, almost hand in hand with Victor Hedman, when it came to entering the offensive zone (PossEntry60, PossEntry%).

He also sparkled exiting the defensive zone, compared to his teammates (PossExit60, PossExit%). While he doesn’t break up passes and generate takeaways while the opposition is entering the zone (Breakups60), he doesn’t allow a lot of entries (PossEntryAllw60).

But when the opposition is breaking into the Lightning d-zone, chances are they’ll get past Sergachev (PossEntry%). Based solely on what I have seen from this graph (and basic statistics), his high deployment in the offensive zone leads to him not dealing with much in the defensive zone, thus why he doesn’t give up a lot of entries, but does give up more entries than he stops. That being said, I also predict that he has a small workload breaking out of the defensive end, but to determine that, we must look at CJ Turtoro’s Exit Per 60 minute visual.

Despite my best guesses, I was wrong, wholly and completely.

Sergachev has a similar workload breaking out of the defensive zone as Hedman, which is why he ranks third on the roster in this metric (1st among defense). He relies heavily on a breakout pass, as he doesn’t skate it out himself too much. He mainly decides to clear or dump the puck out of the zone more than anything, and does get the occasional icing called against him.

But what really concerns me is the high level of fails (Fail/60). That tells me he either forces way too much up ice (since he does push heavily to drive the offense), or he doesn’t successfully clear or dump the puck out of the zone.

I don’t know which is worse quite honestly, but what I can say is he needs to stop whatever it is. He’s still young, and as he grows as a player and gains more confidence in himself (as well as more hockey maturity), he’ll be able to read the play more effectively, and turn the puck over less. Hopefully, at least.  On the contrary, his entry metrics were solid, so let’s see what he did right entering the offensive zone, using CJ Turtoro’s Entries per 60 minutes visual.

Sergachev is the best defenseman that played for the Lightning this season, in this metric, and it wasn’t even close.

He passed it to a teammate for an entry or individually skated the puck out himself with equal results, and if neither option was available, he simply dumped it in deep. He didn’t fail nearly as often when entering the offensive zone, but he is a defenseman, and defensemen should not always be the ones entering the offensive zone.

But his success driving the offense makes up for other struggles. Based on prior evaluations, Sergachev should be constantly deployed alongside Hedman, as Hedman can make up for Sergachev’s mistakes. They can both help Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point put the puck in the back of the net.

But we are not done here, we have one last thing to look at. Defensemen need to be good at defending, that’s kind of the point, and to see how well Sergachev played in the defensive zone, let’s hop on over to Sean Tierney’s controlling the blue line visual.

Sergachev is highlighted on the graph, and boy, it does not like good for Sergy.

He generates an egregiously low amount of breakups, and a below average breakout % (Previously referred to as PossExit60 or PossExit%), which puts him in the “Bad” section of the visual. This is why he has his setbacks in ice time, and this is why he was placed in that rotation with Girardi and Coburn. This must improve, regardless of how well he pushes the pace offensively. If he doesn’t get his defensive game figured out next season, he could be looking at another season on the bottom d-pair with second line power play time.

In Conclusion

Sergachev is an exceptional pace-pusher, and does a great job generating offense, and excelling in getting the puck into the offensive zone to begin with. But he turns the puck over far too often when breaking the puck out of the defensive zone, the zone that he can’t afford turnovers in.

Then to top it all off, he struggles “controlling the blueline”, which is his job. He has a lot of improving to do, and he must act fast. But he is still young, and super valuable in terms of offensive production, which is the main reason among many that the Lightning fared so well this past season.

All Stats via hockey-reference

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

Entry/Exit Charts via CJ Turtoro

Defensive zone chart via Sean Tierney

Featured Image Credit: Justin Miner