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

 

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver Canucks: Looking At Jay Beagle’s Performance

I’m back for a second time to review a Vancouver Canucks player. This time around, I’m taking an in-depth look at Jay Beagle.

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After many seasons with the Washington Capitals, Beagle joined the Canucks in free agency last year. He is a veteran center who is really good in the defensive zone. Beagle typically slots in as a bottom six center and is a solid penalty killer.

Offense

Beagle is not a great offensive player. I think it’s well known amongst fans, coaches and general managers. Beagle has scored 20+ points only 3 times in his NHL career. And that didn’t change this season, he scored 3 goals and 10 assists in 57 games for his new team this season. It’s decent for his standards, but not great. However, Canucks fans shouldn’t be too hard on Beagle’s offensive production as its clearly not his strong-suit. 

In the visual below from Sean Tierney, you’ll see just how in-effective Beagle was at creating offense. His carry-in percentage and primary shot contributions/60 were the lowest on the Canucks last season.

visual created by Sean Tierney, data from EvolvingWild and Corey Sznajder

Defense

It’s too hard to rate his defense this season. When you are playing on a team that isn’t in contention, it’s a challenge to grade a player’s defensive skill-set because the talent around him is usually of not great quality. But, Beagle did help the Vancouver Canucks have a better penalty kill percentage than quite a few NHL clubs. In fact, the Canucks’ penalty kill percentage was higher than the league’s average.

Again, it’s really hard to rate his defense. But, the big thing that we noticed was that Beagle became more physical last season. Even though he only played in 57 games, he managed to tally 102 hits, which is a career high for Beagle. Aside from last season’s hit totals, the highest amount of hits that Beagle had was 93 hits and that was back in 2013-14.

Injury issue 

Beagle like most Vancouver players had an injury-riddled season. He missed 25 games this season. It was kind of surprising as he only missed 4 games in his last 2 years with Washington. Hopefully, Beagle will stay relatively healthy over the course of the rest his time in Vancouver.

Rating

There weren’t many expectations for Beagle this season and almost everyone saw that as a bad contract for Vancouver. It would have been nice if he helped spark better defense this season. Plus, when you add the horrible contract that Canucks general manager Jim Benning gave him, Canucks fans are just left in bitter disappointment. But, it’s truly a shame since Beagle seems like a great leader and great guy in the locker room.

My rating for Beagle is 1.5 out of 5.

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

visual from Sean Tierney

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Metropolitan Division: Flyers and Capitals trade blueliners

The Philadelphia Flyers sent Radko Gudas and 70% of his salary to the Washington Capitals, in exchange for Matt Niskanen

What the Flyers Get. 

Matt Niskanen, RHD

2018-19 Stats: 8G, 17A, -3. 

2018-19 Advanced Stats: CF 47.0, CF Rel -3.2%, FF 46.6, FF Rel -4.0%

As evidenced by the statistics above, Niskanen had a bit of a down year. Niskanen set career lows in most categories, in a season that he played a relatively full schedule. He has 2 years remaining at a $5.75M cap hit. He also possesses a 10-team no movement clause. The veteran does provide the Flyers with a veteran presence in their defensive room. If the team decides to keep Shayne Gostisbehere, Niskanen will be a guiding light in his development. 

This is the second trade that Chuck Fletcher has made in the past couple of weeks. It should show the Flyers fan base that he is committed to changing the culture of this franchise. With rumors swirling that their first round selection may be available via trade, I don’t think we heard the last from Mr. Fletcher this week. 

What the Capitals Get

Radko Gudas, RHD

2018-19 Stats: 4G, 16A, +6

2018-19 Advanced Stats: CF 49.1, CF Rel 0.7%, FF 49.7, FF Rel 0.9% 

Gudas is as reliable as it gets, when it comes to getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Pair those possession metrics with the fact that he had a 58.7% Defensive Zone start, and you could see why the Capitals targeted him. The biggest knock on Radko Gudas is his discipline. He has been suspended numerous times, including a 10-game ban for slashing Mathieu Perreault. This is probably the biggest factor contributing to the retained salary portion of the transaction. 

With the trade today, Washington has roughly $13M in available cap space. Some of which will be used to re-sign deadline acquisition, Carl Hagelin, as well as a few of their key RFA’s. 

Trade Grades

Flyers: C

Capitals: A

Any time you can free up salary cap space and upgrade your team, you are definitely the victor. 

stats provided by hockey-reference

cap figures via capfriendly.com

Clearing the Puck! Your Weekly Look at the World of Hockey

Welcome back to Clearing the Puck for the week of May 24th to 31st! This week we take a look at the Stanley Cup Finals, a Washington Captials legend hangs up the skates and how the Hurricanes season will impact the community for years to come!

Incase this is your first time, here is the rundown. What we’re going to be doing at Puck77 is putting out a weekly recap. There are going to be observations, summaries and some cool things that we noticed around the web from the NHL and the world of hockey from the last week. There will be 10 points every Saturday morning. Included will be links to articles from our website as well as many others to help fill you in on some of the best hockey and NHL content from around the web. Without further ado, let’s dive into the week!

“The Jerks” Make a Lasting Impact

There is no doubt that the Carolina Hurricanes had a season that will be remembered by hockey fans for years. Whether its the Eastern Conference Finals run or the “Storm Surge”, the Hurricanes were a blast to watch this season. How long will the impact last? Will the ‘Canes fever persist? How much has the organization benefited from the outstanding run? How much has the community grown into becoming a “hockey market”? Sara Civian of the Athletic did an excellent job taking a look both behind the curtain and into the community for the tangible benefits of the Hurricanes season. Will the Storm Warning continue into next season? Check it out below.  

Tweet courtesy of @SaraCivian

Capitals Legend Erat Calls it Quits

Martin Erat is finally hanging up the skates. He’s been playing his last three years in Czech Extraliga for HC Kometa Brno. While Erat was a really good NHL player, what he’s most known for is the most one-sided trade in NHL history. Then Washington Capitals GM George McPhee traded blue-chip prospect Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. This was the day where Erat became a Washington Capitals legend. All jokes aside, his time with the Capitals was a bit of a disaster. So much so that Forsberg has six goals against the Capitals in his career whereas Erat and Latta scored six total in their 175 games with Washington. Forsberg is a legitimate top-six winger and has two 30-goal seasons and five with at least 25. For a better look at the entire Caps career of Erat, check out our friends over at Russian Machine Never Breaks below!  


Tweet courtesy of @RussianMachine

Quebec goes Back-to-Back!

The QMJHL has back-to-back Memorial Cup Champions. After last season when Acadie-Bathurst Titan captured the CHL’s title, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies took the title back to the beautiful province of Quebec. The Huskies were the best team in the entire CHL during the regular season and they did what the Tampa Bay Lightning couldn’t, they won the whole damn thing. Led by Noah Dobson and Joel Teasdale, the Huskies fought through adversity in the tournament losing to the Guelph Storm and then having to go through them again in the semi-finals before facing the host Halifax Mooseheads again. Tyler Kuehl at Puck77 did an outstanding job covering the Memorial Cup and you can read his piece on the Huskies first championship here.

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NWHL Sends NHL a Message

The landscape of women’s hockey is at a tipping point. This season, or lack there of, could be the reason that women are paid fairly for their all-world skill, at least earning enough to make a living. The NWHL is the only currently active professional league in North America and they released a statement this week that seems to have put the ball in the NHL’s court (or rink?)

Tweet courtesy of @NWHL

The full statement from the NWHL can be found in the tweet above. The interesting part of the statement came in the quote below where the NWHL seems to insinuate that they are hoping the NHL decides to step up, 

If any individuals or groups come forward and declare they are ready to start and invest in a new league where women can receive a substantial full-time salary and medical insurance, we would be ecstatic to have a conversation about a partnership or passing the torch. 

 

Zaitsev asks out of Toronto

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev has requested a trade for personal reasons. We don’t know exactly what those are but its probably safe to assume that the criticism of his play and the pressure that comes with playing in Toronto may have understandably gotten to Nikita or his family. There have been some absolutely vicious comments made on twitter and social media in general that could have contributed to the request. While this could help Toronto out in the long-run with their salary cap situation, its unfortunate that its come to a head because of the anger of people who claim to be fans. While no one is suggesting that fans can’t be critical, attacking a player on their personal social media or their families social media is disgusting and unacceptable. Even if this has nothing to do with Zaitsev asking out of Toronto, its a good time to remind everyone that the players are people. You wouldn’t say an athletes face, so don’t hide behind your monitor or phone. Be kinder to people, we all need more kindness in the world. 

As for the hockey side of things, this could be a complicated deal and its been expressed that Toronto is unlikely to retain much, if at all. Zaitsev has term and a decent sized dollar  figure attached to him so any team acquiring him will likely need to be looking for exactly the type of defensive, penalty killing game that Zaitsev brings. Toronto isn’t in position to take back a contract of significance so where we go from here will be interesting. I encourage you to read the thread of tweets below from the king of hockey insiders, TSN’s Bob McKenzie, where he goes through the entire situation. 

Tweet courtesy of @TSNBobMcKenszie

Oilers tab Tippett to be their Bench Boss

The Edmonton Oilers finally hired their new head coach to hopefully lead them back into championship contention. Dave Tippet, former coach of the Arizona Coyotes, takes the mantle of man on the bench for the Connor McDavid led team. The hiring seems like another step in the right direction for the Oilers. Since Ken Holland became the GM, they have started to clear out the “old boys” group of the ’80’s Oilers and they’ve begun to bring in off-ice talent, not the least of which was Tippett. Firing most of their coaching staff, only retaining Glen Gulutzan, the Oilers are beginning to take the necessary steps back to respectability after years of being the laughing stock of the NHL for years despite having the best player in the world.  

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Puck77 Final Draft Rankings!

Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko! Who’s the top ranked player on the board? Who is on the rise? Who dropped? The team here collaborated and put together NHL Draft rankings together. Submitting our lists, we combined all the rankings, averaged the numbers out and figured out exactly how the draft is going to go! No? We didn’t do that? Okay, well we at least did our homework and worked our way from 1-31 for you to consume! You can check that out here!

https://twitter.com/ThePuck77/status/1134795135982682112

Tweet courtesy of @thePuck77

Finland wins Gold!

0 NHL goals. The Finnish national team featured 0 NHL goals. The Fins were led by draft eligible Kaapo Kakko and a scrappy group of Liiga players all the way to the gold medal. Defeating Canada in the finals, the Finnish team was a great story in the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Timely goals from their captain Marko Anttila, outstanding performances in net by Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kevin Lankinen and capping of the tournament the same way that they started, beating Canada when most people expected them to win. 

Video courtesy of the IIHF Youtube account

The tournament did an excellent job putting the Finnish program among the top programs in the world. To be able to take players from Liiga and win a tournament filled with NHL players was outstanding fro the Fins. The job done by the management team, the coaching staff and the players can’t be talked about enough. Team Finland are the World Champions!

NHL Players cheering on the Raptors

The Toronto Raptors are in the NBA Finals! I know, not hockey. There were NHL players at the games though, including the former Oilers duo of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and a group of current Toronto Maple Leafs. So congratulations to the Toronto Raptors on winning game one of the NBA finals over the heavily favored Golden State Warriors and here is some NHL players at the game to justify talking about the Raptors in a hockey blog!

Tweet courtesy of @TSN_sports

Tweet courtesy of @MapleLeafs

A trip to the john predicts the OT Game Winner

When the third period of game two of the Stanley Cup finals came to an end, a couple of the St. Louis Blues decided to hit the washroom which is likely not a rare situation. At this point, one of the biggest bathroom rules were broken. Carl Gunnarsson decided to talk to his head coach Craig Berube at the urinal. Gross… What he said to him though was the interesting part. He told his bench boss that he just needed “one more chance”. He rang the puck off the post in the third and he felt like he missed his chance. Could he have known what was to come next? Could he have known that he would score his first playoff goal since he was a 13-year-old playing minor hockey? The veteran Swede put the game away, tying the series at a game a piece. Carl Gunnarsson could be a Stanley Cup hero if the Blues pull off the series win. 

Tweet courtesy of @StLouisBlues

Thank you as always for joining me this week to clear the puck and find the news for the week! Tune in next week when we finally have some more Stanley Cup games and we could even have a champion! Until next week, have fun with the draft coverage coming up, enjoy the hockey in the Cup final and GO RAPTORS!

Stats and information courtesy of Hockey Reference, Elite Prospects, the IIHF, the NHL and the CHL

Has the Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin rivalry finally come to an end?

Since Crosby and Ovechkin came into the league, there has been no better rivalry in the NHL. But now that both have hoisted the Stanley Cup, is it still a rivalry?

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Humble Beginnings

Alexander Ovechkin took the league by storm after being selected 1st overall in the 2004 draft. Delayed by a year due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, his rookie season came in 2005-06 when he recorded 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists) in 81 games. However he wasn’t the only rookie standing in the spotlight that year. Sidney Crosby, drafted 1st overall in 2005, recorded 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) in 81 games. Even though Ovechkin took home the Calder trophy that year, all eyes were still on Sidney Crosby. This was only the spark of a feud that would last for over 14 years.

The 2008-09 Playoffs

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The Pittsburgh Penguins & Washington Capitals didn’t meet in the playoffs until the 2008-09 season in the 2nd round. The Penguins were coming off a 4-2 series win against the Philadelphia Flyers while the Capitals won a hard fought 4-2 series over the New York Rangers. The Pens & Caps battled back and fourth until it was time for game 7, where the Penguins came out on top. While the Capitals licked their wounds, the Penguins would ultimately go on to hoist their 1st Stanley Cup since 1992. Sidney Crosby recorded 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 24 games & Ovechkin recorded 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 14 games.

The 2015-16 Playoffs

The two teams would not meet again until the 2015-16 season. It was 7 years of playoff failures (and misses) by both teams. Much like the 1st time, they met in the 2nd round. Since it had been so long since the two superstars have crossed paths, there was clearly a ton of hype surrounding the series. It did not disappoint. It would go 6 games in favor the Penguins but would end with some fireworks.

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Nick Bonino would send Pittsburgh into a madhouse after scoring in OT to close out the series. You can view the goal here. Much like 2009, the Penguins would go on to win the Cup that year. Sidney Crosby also was rewarded his 1st Conn Smythe trophy as well with 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in 24 games. Ovechkin would end the playoffs with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 12 games.

The 2016-17 Playoffs

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The wait for the next time these two meet wouldn’t be too far down the road. The following season, they met in the 2nd round once again. The Penguins looked like a team poised for another strong Cup run while the Capitals were the favorites to win it all. But this time, there were some very different fireworks from the series.

Matt Niskanen would deliver a cross-check to the head of Sidney Crosby in game 3 of the series, which you can see here. That would keep the superstar sidelined for part of the series, the Penguins didn’t let up. They’d have a healthy Sidney Crosby back in the lineup for game 7 of the series back in Washington. Capitals were coming off a dominating win in game 6 as well. But the Capitals would again come up short & would be sent packing in the 2nd round.

Again, much like the 1st two times, the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby would be rewarded his 2nd Conn Smythe as well. He recorded 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists) in 24 games. Ovechkin would record 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 13 games.

The 2017-18 Playoffs

It would be another short wait for to see the two players meet for another best-of-seven series. And like all the other times, it would come in the 2nd round. The Penguins were coming off back-to-back Cups and looked like a team utterly deflated after their 1st round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Then it really showed in their 6 game defeat to the Washington Capitals who finally exorcised the demons by beating the Penguins.

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Once you start knocking down barriers that have held you back for years, you know things are about the get special. The Capitals would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in 5 games. You can see the celebration here. Ovechkin would capture his 1st Conn Smythe trophy as well. Crosby finished the playoffs with 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) in 12 games. Ovechkin would finish with 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 24 games.

Has the rivalry finally ended?

Sidney Crosby & Alexander Ovechkin have now been on top of the hockey mountain. They have both done everything there is to do in the game. Will they ride off into the sunset now? Highly unlikely. These two have been compared by analysts & fans for over a decade. I think that will continue until the day they both hang up the skates for good.

Where We Are Now.

Sidney Crosby:

3x Cup winner, 7x all-star, 3x Pearson,2x Hart, 2x Conn Smythe, 2x Richard, 2x Ross winner.

1,216 career points (446 goals, 770 assists) in 943 games.

Alexander Ovechkin:

1x Cup winner, 11x all-star, 8x Richard 3x Hart, 3x Pearson, 1x Ross, 1x Conn Smythe, 1x Calder winner.

1,211 career points (658 goals, 553 assists) in 1,084 games.

Stats from HockeyReference & NHL.com

Feature Image Courtesy of Nikos Michals