Montreal Canadiens

Montréal Canadiens: Defensive Trade Targets

The Montréal Canadiens need to add a left handed defenseman this off-season.

If you look at the Canadiens lineup, they have a lot of depth on the right hand side, but lack depth on the left side. On the right side, the Canadiens have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury, Brett Lernout. The left side consists of Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly, Karl Alzner, David Sklenička, Otto Leskinen, Xavier Ouellet and Gustav Olofsson

While Kulak and Benn were effective for the Canadiens at points last season, the Canadiens need consistent and more reliable left handed defensemen. 

With that in mind, the Canadiens will likely be testing the trade market and some of the defensemen who they will likely be interested in are Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Darnell Nurse

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The second to last time that the Canadiens traded with the Edmonton Oilers for a defenseman, they struck gold. On March 2, 2015, they acquired Jeff Petry in a trade with the Oilers and Petry has been a dependable mainstay in the Canadiens lineup ever since. So, the question is can they do it again?

Last off-season, Darnell Nurse took quite a bit of time to come to terms with the Oilers on a new deal. On September 17th, he signed a two year deal with a 3.2 million USD AAV. 

While Nurse was the best defenseman for the Oilers, he did struggle quite a bit. In the visual below (created by Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder), you’ll see that while Nurse’s possession exit percentage and break-up percentage were pretty solid, he was only a smidge better than Oscar Klefbom and Jason Garrison

With a new regime in Edmonton, perhaps new general manager Ken Holland will look to acquire some extra draft picks in the upcoming draft and utilize Nurse as trade bait. And who knows, perhaps Nurse will fit in a bit better in Claude Julien‘s defensive scheme and have the opportunity to shine. 

Plus, Habs fans should keep in mind that Nurse’s performance last season was much better than Mete, Ouellet, Alzner and Juulsen. So, he would definetly be an upgrade on the left side. Also, Nurse is a physical defenseman (162 hits last season) and he could come in handy when the Canadiens take on speedy clubs like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just try to visualize Nurse on the blue-line shutting down speedy wingers like Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov.

Ryan Murray

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It’s no secret that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in for a crazy off-season. In order for the Blue Jackets to remain a contender for next season, they need to find a way to keep Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Zachary Werenski in Ohio. 

With those four big names that need to be locked up, they could potentially run out of cap room and might need to move on from Murray. Murray will be a RFA on July 1st and could get a 4-5 million USD AAV deal.

My concern with Murray is that he’s not a reliable defenseman when it comes to breakups. He’ll get the puck out of the zone, but when it comes to shutting down his opposition, that’s a different story. In the visual below from Sean Tierney (data from Corey Sznajder), you’ll see that Murray is a break-up magician at 5v5. But, if Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen doesn’t expect the Canadiens to overpay for Murray, then perhaps Murray could be an attractive option for Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

Bergevin’s Loafers

If I’m in Bergevin’s loafers, I’m making Nurse my priority. Adding Nurse would boost the Canadiens’ blue-line and would add another physical defenseman to the team. Plus, Nurse is pretty solid at offensive production. Last season, he had 10 goals and 31 assists in 82 games. Not bad considering he was on an Oilers club who had trouble scoring goals. 

Worst case, Bergevin can try to acquire Murray and if that falls through then he can try to find a cheap free agent defenseman to try out. 

stats from hockey-reference.com, Corey Sznajder

visuals from Sean Tierney

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Koskinen’s Deal Isn’t That Bad

Prior to former Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli being fired, he had re-signed Mikko Koskinen to a new contract.

On January 21st, Koskinen signed a three-year deal for 13.5 million USD. The average annual value (AAV) of the deal is 4.5 million USD. In addition to the 4.5 million AAV, Chiarelli attached a modified no trade clause (NTC). With the NTC, Koskinen submits a list of 15 teams that he doesn’t want to be traded to.

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At first glance, most Oiler fans and hockey fans were confused by the signing. The Oilers were re-signing a goaltender who wasn’t posting a great goals against average (2.92 GAA) nor a solid save percentage (.906 SV%). But, the contract isn’t half bad. Let me explain.

The Oilers Defense Is Slowing Koskinen Down

The Edmonton Oilers’ defensive core simply isn’t good. There are only three defensemen that own a corsi-for percentage (CF%) higher than 50%. Evan Bouchard, Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom are the three defensemen, but only two are truly having a good season. Bouchard’s CF% is inflated. It’s currently at 55.4 CF%, but his time on ice/60 is 12:21. Unfortunately, when you aren’t playing that much, it’s hard to use CF% as an indicator of effectiveness. Instead, Bouchard’s effectiveness is more of an unknown. But, he is a former first round pick and he likely will be solid at the NHL level at some point.

Aside from Bouchard, Klefbom and Sekera are having good seasons. But, Sekera has missed a ton of time this season. He had a torn achilles tendon and missed the bulk of the 2018-19 season. He only made his season debut on February 19th against the Arizona Coyotes. So in essence, Klefbom has been the only reliable defenseman for Edmonton throughout the course of the season. But, even he hasn’t been that great. If you look below at Sean Tierney’s Controlling the blue line visual, Klefbom has been the most effective and creating exits and preventing entries against, but it’s not by much. As you can see, he’s barely more effective than other defenseman like Darnell Nurse and Jason Garrison, who both are having a horrible season. 

visual from Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder

With the Oilers’ defensive core struggling to succeed, you’d have to expect that Koskinen’s GAA and SV% will be a bit inflated.

Other Goalie Contracts

In addition to the Oilers’ defensive struggles, other goaltenders in the NHL are making a ton of money. This used to not be the case, but ever since Carey Price of the Montréal Canadiens signed an eight year deal worth 10.5 million USD AAV, goaltenders are seeing an increase in wages.

For example, 10 months after Price signed his extension, on April 6, 2018, the Arizona Coyotes signed their goaltender Antti Raanta to a three-year deal worth 4.25 million USD AAV. That was quite an increase from his last contract, in which, he was earning an AAV of 1 million USD. But, with Price getting paid more, this had an impact on every single goaltender in the NHL. Even goalies like Raanta, who had limited success in the NHL, were taking home a fatter check.

Plus, with the salary cap getting higher, you have to factor in the percentage of the cap in which players would typically eat. Just because the cap is going up, doesn’t mean that players aren’t going to expect higher deals. So, given what we know about the Price deal, it’s impact on goalies like Raanta and the cap only going up, it was inevitable that Koskinen was going to get a raise. 

Recap

With what we know about goaltender contracts across the NHL and the lack of solid defense on the Oilers blue-line, it’s unfair to suggest that Koskinen’s deal is a bad one. Instead, there are a lot of unknowns. If the Oilers can add some talent onto their blue-line this off-season and if Bouchard is ready to take on a top four role next season, perhaps Koskinen’s numbers will improve. I don’t have a crystal ball, so it’s hard for me to predict what exactly will happen, but Koskinen could definitely improve. Let’s just sit back and see what happens. 

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com and Corey Sznajder

visual from Sean Tierney

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings: Nick Jensen Will Be A Trade Deadline Steal

With the trade deadline less than a month away, the Detroit Red Wings will be looking to the future.

With rebuilding seemingly becoming accepted by not just fans, but management as well, trading away pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) players seem inevitable.

Nick Jensen

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One such player that Detroit is looking to trade away is right handed defencemen, Nick Jensen. While not a point producer, Jensen is a darling in the analytics community. At 29 years old, he is at the tail end of the prime of his career which means the Red Wings will be more than willing to get the best return they can for a player that won’t be around at the end of their rebuild.

Detroit is a team that isn’t very good at getting the puck out of its own end and transitionally they don’t generate a ton from their back end. While Mike Green and Dennis Cholowski do a decent job at moving the puck, Nick Jensen is their best defensemen at positively affecting the transition game. Figure 1 (visuals/figures made by Corey Sznajder) below shows the Red Wings defensive zone exits as a team. They are among the worst when it comes to team wide production.

figure 1

Where Jensen Excels

What makes Jensen an analytics darling is his ability to not only prevent zone entries, but also get the puck out of his zone with efficiency. Jensen is elite at zone exits which means the team isn’t hemmed into their own zone and they can get back on the attack.

Not only is he elite among his team, but he is actually an outlier among blue liners in the league. When looking at figure 2, there are two extreme outliers. Erik Karlsson and Nick Jensen. This isn’t meant to say that Jensen and Karlsson are the same player, they aren’t. What this is meant to show is that Jensen is a player who aids his team in exiting the zone with efficiency that is only exceeded by maybe the best defencemen since Bobby Orr.

figure 2

While Jensen doesn’t exit the zone with possession of the puck as much as Karlsson, he does exceed the Swede in zone exits per 60 minutes. This means that he is either making passes to or through the neutral zone or he is making the safe, less efficient play in banking it off the glass and out. He is among the best puck movers from defensive to neutral zone in the NHL and the statistics back that up.

Jensen’s Shot Contributions

The graph in figure 3 also shows that Jensen is about as even as you can get in terms of shots vs shot assists. This means that not only is Jensen putting up a good number of shots but his shots are creating rebounds that are being put in the net. This is an underrated part of Jensen’s game as he isn’t known as an offensive defensemen, but he provides value in that he is getting looks from the point and putting the shot where the goalie has to kick out a rebound. While he isn’t as elite at this as he is at transitioning the puck from the defensive zone, he is a top end contributor and the best defensemen on the Wings when it comes to this skill.

figure 3

Jensen’s Entry Defense

While Jensen isn’t an absolute physical presence, he skates well enough and is good with his stick to the point that he prevents the opposing team from entering his own defensive zone as shown in figure 4. While he’s not elite in this category, he is well above average and when he does allow a zone entry, often times it is when the opposing team is playing dump and chase hockey which isn’t as effective as when the opposing team can have a controlled entry. He steps up and closes his gaps good enough that the opposing player has to choose to either attempt to get around Jensen or dump the puck in and hope for help.

figure 4

Where Jensen Struggles

With the ability to move the puck out of the zone at such a high level, one would assume that Jensen would be a high point producer. However, this isn’t the case. While Jensen can get the puck out of the defensive zone with efficiency he is often left out of the play in the offensive end. With a career high of 15 points, he isn’t going to blow you away or contribute to your power play.

Jensen’s good defence doesn’t come from being a physical force. A team won’t be acquiring Jensen in order to inject some toughness into the lineup. He is 6th on his team in hits with 55 in 50 games for about 1.1 hits per game.

Jensen also doesn’t generate offensive zone entries all that well. He is slightly below league average in zone entries. This could be from a tendency to pass off in the neutral zone to a more skilled forward rushing up the wing. The chart (Figure 5) below shows that while Jensen isn’t a risk or wasting opportunities, he also isn’t driving the play through the neutral zone.

figure 5

The Cost of a Hidden Gem

Nick Jensen doesn’t generate a ton of counting stats in the goals and points department and he isn’t throwing big hits like his teammate Niklas Kronwall. This means he doesn’t play a game that catches your eye. Players like this generally don’t cost a lot. A draft pick ranging from a 3rd to 5th round pick is to be expected. If multiple teams come calling there could be some combo of mid round picks.

Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche are all teams that could be interested in a player like Jensen. Teams that are looking to make an upgrade on that back end and are either fighting for positioning in Toronto’s case, or fighting to get into and stay in the playoffs in Edmonton and Colorado’s case.

The fact that Jensen is cheap in terms of what a team will have to pay in a trade and what Jensen is making in the final year of his deal ($812,500), he may end up being the steal of the trade deadline. He could be an under the radar add that could truly push a team to a deep playoff run if used correctly. Pairing him with someone like Jake Gardiner in Toronto or Oscar Klefbom in Edmonton could be the perfect fit to help propel a team to contender status.

stats from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com and Corey Sznajder

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Promoting Mediocrity and Failing Upwards, Part Two Redux

When reading part two of my series, I realized some things I had left out.

This was brought to my attention by some nice people on the oilers.nhl.com forums. While some of my omissions were on purpose, such as the Kruger firing or the Fayne/Pouliot contracts. I didn’t properly explain what my criteria was for inclusion in my article, and for that I apologize.

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Why I Omitted Anything

Well in all honesty it was mainly due to length. These things take a lot of research and Craig MacTavish has a very big black book. After two weeks of on and off research I compiled a list and starting writing. Draft one of my article was over 2200 words, which is far far too long for a comprehensible article. It had turned into a novella instead of an article so I needed to cut some things out.

To do this I decided to take what was reported as his role by this video by TSN and focus my criticisms around that role. His roles, as stated in the article, circulate around the Bakersfield Condors, and on pro scouting, so I put my focus around that. I decided that focusing on his ability to see talent and analyze players properly would more properly illustrate his lack of skill in management.

Things Omitted and Justification

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1. The Ralph Krueger Dallas Eakins fiasco.

This, while egregiously and utterly ridiculous, had nothing to do with his ability to see talent in players. Furthermore it isn’t unnatural to see a new GM bring in their own guy as coach. We saw it with Todd McLellan when Chiarelli was brought in, even though Todd Nelson was doing a fine job in an interim role. While I believe firing Krueger was a mistake, especially over Skype, Eakins was highly regarded at the time. Although he ended up being a disaster and set the team back years I don’t blame the change squarely on MacTavish, but that’s a topic for part three.

2.  Fayne contract.

This one I didn’t include because I touched on it in part 1. Also talking about free agency is a little tricky as as bad as Fayne turned out to be, I doubt that contract was 100% due to choice. I know Edmonton was close on Stralman, but eventually lost out to Tampa Bay.

Edmonton was extremely bare on defense and at forward in the summer of  2014. Edmonton lost Nick Schultz, Anton Belov, Ladislav Smid, and Phil Larsen and needed some replacements. MacTavish and Co. ended up filling those voids with Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, and Keith Aulie. The free agent market that year was headlined by Anton Stralman, Matt Niskanen, Christian Erhoff, Kyle Quincey, and Dan Boyle.

  • Stralman signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Niskanen signed a contract with the Washington Capitals
  • Erhoff signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Kyle Quincey signed a contract with by the Detroit Red Wings
  • Dan Boyle signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You know what all these teams had in common? well they were all in or close to being in the playoffs. Good players go where they know they can make an impact on a good team. Edmonton was 28th that year. While it’s not clear what other players they looked at I don’t blame MacT for Fayne. I blame Howson and the rest of the pro-scouting department for overvaluing the player.

Ultimately it was their job to present MacTavish with targets and it was MacTavish’s job to try to sign the players the scouting dept. brought to him. Fayne had a total of 48 points in 242 career games as a Devil and was given a 4 year 3.65 AAV contract by the Oilers. I could almost guarantee after his last 2 year 1.3 AAV contract most teams weren’t offering more than 3, maybe even 2.5 but Edmonton ponied up 3.6 million…

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3.  Pouliot Contract.

Well for the same reason I didn’t include Fayne I didn’t include Pouliot. Edmonton was not a destination for free agents and still has trouble with them today. The top 5 forwards available in free agency that year were Paul Statsny, Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, and Daniel Alfredsson. Isn’t it wild that that used to be a list of quality NHL players 4 years ago? Three of those guys are out of the league and Vanek and Statsny are no longer the stars they once were, anyway:

  • Statsny signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues
  • Vanek signed a contract with the Minnesota Wild
  • Iginla signed a contract with the Colorado Avalanche
  • Cammalleri signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils
  • Alfredsson signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings

Again, all of these teams were contenders at the time and I doubt any of the above players had Edmonton on their lists. Pouliot brought short term value to Edmonton and unfortunately was damaging to the long term success of the Oilers. His sudden drop out and subsequent buyout ended up hurting the team, which while unfortunate can’t be blamed on management. I would consider this to be a fair signing, given the circumstance. At the very least an argument can be made to justify the addition. 5 years is a lot of term on a third line player, but the 4 million AAV wasn’t horrible.

4.  Craig MacTavish’s draft trades

Honestly the only reason I didn’t talk about this is because I forgot to mention it. I pinned it in my research and I just forgot to add it in. It does however demonstrate some interesting logic from Oilers brass. This is an excerpt from an Edmonton Journal article from 2013.

“Craig MacTavish twice traded one draft pick for three lower ones. The net effect was the exchange of the #37 selection for FIVE picks in the #83-113 range. Theoretically, each spot yielded a player with about a ~20% chance of playing 100 games in the NHL, according to Cullen’s research. If one of the five achieves that minor milestone, that will be about average for players taken in this range. If two or more do — or better, if one really turns out — Stu MacGregor and staff will have beaten the odds.” – Bruce McCurdy

This was actually a really interesting bit of information. The logic here isn’t completely off base. If you have an excellent scouting department that can make good picks consistently, such as Edmonton’s current regiment under Bob Green and Keith Gretzky, I can see the value in this Idea.

However,

Head scout Stu MacGregor was a not a good head scout, his record speaks for itself. He was responsible for the three 1st round picks in 2007 that turned into Sam Gagner, Alex Plante, and Riley Nash. Yikes. Here’s a list of second round picks he drafted: Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick, David Musil, Mitchell Moroz, and Marc-Olivier Roy. Woof. None of those players are in the Oilers organization and only 1 still has any NHL/AHL contract. That’s right, save Pitlick, this list of players is not even AHL quality.

So while the logic was there the ability to actually put the principle into practice was not and it cost both MacGregor and MacTavish their jobs. To put this even more into perspective here’s a list of Oilers draft picks under MacGregor that are still with the Oilers organization:

  1. Leon Draisaitl
  2. William Lagesson
  3. Tyler Vesel
  4. Darnell Nurse
  5. Jujhar Khaira
  6. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  7. Oscar Klefbom
  8. Tobias Reider

In his draft career as head of scouting from 2007-2014 Stu MacGregor drafted 61 different players. After all of that drafting, 8 are still with the organization. Not. Good. Enough.

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Wrap-up

Hopefully that clears up some if not all of the issues that came up with my original part two. I am so happy with how well this series has resonated with readers. It has given me the opportunity to engage and interact with fans in a way that I personally haven’t had in my short writing career. I appreciate the comments and how far this has spread and 100% welcome more comments/criticisms that get sent my way. Furthermore, this has been the most fun I’ve had researching and writing and am so glad it’s resonating with all of you out there.

Get ready for part three when I talk about the worst offender of the bunch!