We are past the quarter pole in the season and it is interesting to look at the best and worst players at this point by some measures. One interesting measure of players is Corsi or attempted shots while a given player is on the ice in 5 on 5 situations. The worst Corsi so far this season is a -128 that belongs to Alex Goligoski of the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona is the worst team by team Corsi at -201. Since Corsi is a tam dependent statistic it isn't surprising that the worst player is on the worst team.
Goligoski is second in ice time on the Coyotes. The only player with more ice time is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While Ekman-Larsson has the ability to drive puck possession in the other direction despite weak teammates, Goligoski doesn't.
Goligoski is not the weakest puck possession player in the league. On a strong team he would post okay puck possession numbers. In this case his worst Corsi shows the tough situation that he plays in. Goligoski isn't a good enough player to succeed with a lot of ice time on a team as weak as Arizona. Few players are. If Arizona had a few such players they wouldn't be as weak a team. His Corsi numbers show that Arizona is failing and Alex Goligoski is not a good enough player to turn the tide.
Erik Karlsson is the best offensive defenceman of the current generation. Nobody would make a serious argument that he is the best defensive defenceman of the current generation. Therefore his defence is a weakness. That is the simple-minded way some people judge him.
Erik Karlsson is a good defensive defenceman and that aspect of his game is continuously improving. He will never be the best defensive defenceman in the league. However I would argue that he is the best defensive defenceman on his team. Because his talents are better served playing an offensive role but when the chips are down he is the defenceman the Senators turn to in an important defensive situation. Ottawa isn't the only team in the league where Karlsson would be the best defensive defenceman.
People are noticing that Karlsson leads the NHL in blocked shots so far this season. That is evidence of defensive play. It is also evidence that Ottawa often plays without the puck as it is impossible to block a shot when your team has the puck. Karlsson is seen by many as a newfound success in shot blocking.
One player who is clearly rising as an offensive player is Brandon Saad of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season he had a career best 31 goals and 53 points and this season he is on pace to beat that easily. He has 17 points in his 21 games to date. What makes this number more impressive is the fact that he has scored all of those points at even strength. When he gets power play time, he plays on the second unit in Columbus.
Saad is the even strength scoring leader in Columbus. Only four players in the league have more even strength points so far this season. They are Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Mark Schiefele and Schiefele's linemate Nikolaj Ehlers. That is a lofty group for Saad to be behind.
It is only a matter of time before Columbus begins to give Saad more power play time and when that happens look for his point total to take off. Brandon Saad is clearly a scorer on the rise.
The Arizona Coyotes are supposed to be a team that is run by analytics guru John Chayka. He is their 27 year old GM who was hired last summer despite having no experience running a hockey team at any level. Despite that they have made a mistake that analytics would have easily predicted with analytics.
When you have a junior aged player in most cases it is best to leave him in junior. Putting him in the NHLonly tolls his contract. His entry year contract starts at an earlier age than necessary and he progresses toward unrestricted free agency at a younger age. A team that wins the Stanley Cup must have player who overachieve their contract value in a salary capped world. The most predictable class of players who overachieve their contract value is players on entry level contracts. This is more likely to occur if a player is older than younger.
There are two groups of players who should be treated as counter-examples to that statement. One is players who are clearly NHL ready such as Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine this year. Keeping them in the minors would hold them back and be counter-productive. The other is players on a Stanley Cup contending team that would benefit from that player in a Stanley Cup run. The 16th overall pick in the draft on the last place team in the West Conference is in neither of those groups. Jakob Chychrun is that player.
Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks has an interesting usage. He is the player with the largest number of excess offensive zone starts. These are times he is on the ice for an offensive face off minus the times he is on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff. As a result of this preferable offensive usage, he is the ninth highest scorer in the NHL with 21 points.
This is an admission that Panarin has significant offensive value but limited defensive value. This ability can be maximized by playing him in offensive situations and not when it is a defensive situation. This usage has probably been worth a few points this season on Panarin's totals. This shows that while Panarin may be a top ten scorer in the NHL he has a ways to go to be a top ten player.
Yesterday the Florida Panthers fired their head coach Gerard Gallant. He was in his third year as Florida's coach. Last year he was a nominee for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year and only 22 games later he finds himself fired. It's not as if the Panthers had done poorly this year. Despite injuries they had a record of 12-12 with one regulation tie point. There is a reasonable expectation that had they stayed the course they might be a playoff team. After all, they are currently only 2 points behind the last playoff spot in the East Conference.
Florida is quickly becoming a poorly run franchise. Vinny Viola the Florida Panthers owner has interfered in the running of the franchise. Florida had a strong season last year winning the Atlantic Division. Nevertheless the GM who built the team - Dale Tallon was pushed upstairs so that Viola's favored GM Tom Rowe could be brought in as GM. Rowe has a questionable record for a GM, he is a longtime coach and assistant coach at levels below the NHL. I assumed he would be Dale Tallon's puppet as Tallon phased into retirement. It is clear now that he is management's puppet. Tallon is a fall guy as Viola brings in people he can control.
Rowe is going to serve as coach and general manager for the rest of the season. He has been given enough rope that he can hang himself in the rest of the season. Whether or not that matters to ownership is the question.
Last weekend the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes farm team) had moved into first place in the AHL. They appear to have benefitted from playing fewer games than the Eastern teams and were probably overachieving. Their game last Saturday was postponed when captain and top scorer at the time Craig Cunningham collapsed before their game due to an apparent heart attack. This puts the Roadrunners in a tough situation. It is hard to return to hockey and succeed given the emotional toll and the lack of a top player. They lost their first game back to the Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate) 3-2 and dropped from first place.
Taking over as the league leader is the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predator affiliate). Milwaukee has a 12-5 record with three regulation tie points. This gives them a .794 winning percentage and first place. They have points in their last eleven games with nine wins and two regulation ties. Milwaukee is a relatively low scoring team. Their 49 goals puts them behind most teams with similar games played. Their success has been from preventing goals. 41 goals against is a low total for a team with 17 games played. Juuse Saros has been a top goaltender with a league leading 1.59 GAA and .945 saves percentage. Much of their success comes from his play. This is a precarious position for an AHL team. What happens if he gets called up to the NHL?
Milwaukee may not be a high enough scoring team to hold onto the first overall spot in the AHL for too long. They have played very well lately and are on a good streak with points in their last 11 games. In the meantime, Tucson will probably fall in the standings with their problems with the loss of their captain.
NOTE: Milwaukee's lead in the AHL is made more precarious by the fact that goalie Juuse Saros is in the NHL and played today versus Winnipeg.
There is a solid crop of rookies this season. They are doing a good job of creating a competitive race for the Calder Trophy. About two and a half weeks ago I reported that Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets had taken the lead as at that time he was the NHL goal scoring leader. He had taken the lead from Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Laine has cooled recently. He has one goal in the last two and a half weeks and is dropping in the overall scoring race. Thus Zach Werenski has taken the rookie lead this season. Werenski has 16 points which makes him the fourth highest scoring defenceman in the NHL. He is only two points behind Laine despite being a defenceman. Werenski leads his Blue Jacket team in total ice time and is a big part of the reason that Columbus would make the playoffs if the season ended right now. In a year where top draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are getting much of the rookie press, I think a relatively unheralded Columbus defenceman has been the best rookie so far.
Yesterday I looked at the team that has paid it players the most this season in the Detroit Red Wings. Today I will look at the team that is paying its players the least (according to capfriendly.com). They are the Carolina Hurricanes. They have a salary cap hit of slightly over $57 million which is more than $6 million less than any other team in the NHL. There is a salary floor of $54 million. Carolina only exceeds it because of buyouts to former players James Wisniewski and Alexander Semin. There are almost $6 million tied up in both of those former Hurricanes this year.
Carolina is a team that is rumored to be a candidate to move - with the latest rumors suggesting Quebec City. They have struggled at the gate most of the time since they have moved to Carolina. Owner Peter Karmanos is 73 years old and his sons are suing him because he failed to put over $100 million in a trust for them- this money was largely spent running the Carolina Hurricanes. It sees clear that the Hurricanes have no future in the Karmanos family. Karmanos is smart enough to know that new ownership needs to be found while he is still young and healthy enough to pass the team off to the new owners. It may be necessary to move the team to do this. As a result Karmanos is not putting the money into running the team that any other NHL squad is.
Carolina is struggling as a result. They have the second worst record in the Metropolitan Division and seem unlikely to make the playoffs. Going into today's games they have one more point than the highest paid Detroit team. This shows that while spending money on your team is no guarantee of success, not spending money on your team leads to almost certain failure.
The highest paid team in the NHL so far this season according to its salary cap hit (from capfriendly.com) is the Detroit Red Wings. They have a projected salary cap hit of $79.68 million this season. This is despite the fact that the NHL salary cap this season is $73.0 million. They are using longterm injured reserve to go $6.68 million over the cap.
Johan Franzen, Darren Helm and Joe Vitale are all on the longterm injured reserve. This allows the Red Wings to go nearly $9 million above the salary cap.
Franzen is the most disturbing of these players. He played two games last season and will probably never play another NHL game. He is out with "concussion like symptoms" and will remain that way until 2020. It has been an inequity in the salary cap that teams can hide bad contracts by leaving a player on the long-term injured reserve for years while they no longer try to play in the NHL. Johan Franzen is a clear case of this.
Salary-wise it gets worse for the Red Wings. They also signed Pavel Datsyuk who has a $7.5 million salary cap hit. They have been fortunate to trade his salary to Arizona.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???