The World Junior Hockey Championships are underway. They are being played in Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. The ten teams in the tournament are divided into two five team groups that are playing a round robin, with the top four finishers moving onto the playoffs. The preliminary round portion of the tournament completed today. Here are the results:
Group A: This group played its games in Montreal.
1. Sweden. The Swedish team dominated this group winning all four of its games and outscoring opponents 18-6. Alexande Nylander (Buffalo prospect) leads the tournament and the Swedish team in points with nine. Joel Eriksson Ek (Minnesota prospect) and Carl Grundstrom (Toronto prospect) are also chipping in offensively. David Bernhardt (Philadelphia prospect) is leading their defence. Felix Sandstrom (Philadelphia prospect) has performed strongly in goal.
I have been meaning to write a post about the crazy three goalie system the New York Islanders have been using. They have Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak and Jean Francois Berube. This uses up three roster spots for goaltending. That is a big cost for goalies. The Islanders appear to have found a solution. They have placed Jaroslav Halak on waivers.
The crazy thing about this three goalie system is the fact that Berube is involved. He appeared in seven games last season and has appeared in parts of four games so far this season. That is not much use for a played holding down a roster spot. It stops any development for Berube because he is not playing. Should Berube not appear in 28 games this season, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Thus Berube must appear in nearly half of the remaining games this season for that to not occur. Is there any evidence that it would make sense to play him enough for that to happen? He is clearly the number three goalie on the Islanders.
Over the past couple of seasons, Thomas Greiss has played very well and had taken over as their number one goalie. Jaroslav Halak has been the goalie who has played the most games for the Isles and been their number one man so far. Halak has been a very good goalie when he is healthy. Most recently he starred for Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey. However he hasn't been able to get on track in the three goalie system. He has complained about lack of practice time as teams typically have two nets on the ice for three goalies to use.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of a 13 game winning streak. They are currently in second place in the NHL. They are one point behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, a team in which they have four games in hand. This is a significant improvement from last year's finish which was second worst in the East Conference. When a team makes as big a step forward as this it is reasonable to believe that they are overachieving. They may be an improved team, but this improvement is not as big as the statistics show to date. One place where we see some significant improvement is on the power play.
Columbus has the best power play in the NHL with a 27.1% success rate. This is almost a ten point improvement from last year's 17.3% success rate, which was good for 21st in the league. This power play is the most successful that the NHL has seen since the 1990 Calgary Flames had a 27.7% success rate. This is the most successful power play in 27 years. The Calgary team had future Hall of Famers in Joe Nieuwendyk Joe Mullen, Sergei Makarov and Al MacInnis manning their power play. Does Columbus have any future Hall of Famers in their line-up? It is possible that young players such as Zach Werenski may get there some day, but they have a long way to go. I th ink it is clear that Columbus does not have the talent to be the best power play in 26 years. It is a stretch to say they have the most talent on their power play this year. However their success is clear.
The NHL's Christmas break is over. Games were played last night. However it is too early to find any meaningful trends in the post-Christmas break games. I am still lokking at the year in review (Christmas 2015 to Christmas 2016). One interesting number to look at is power play points. A player who scores a large percentage of his points on the power play is not a reliable offensive threat. They require the extra space and time that is created by a man advantage. They are not so good at scoring at even strength and if their power play time gets reduced, their offensive numbers may plummet.
The top scorers on the power play in the past year are a tie between Brayden Schenn of the Philadelphia Flyers and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. Schenn is the more troubling of the two. He scored fewer points than Thornton had assists in the year. Given Thornton's age, a decline is expected but with Schenn at age 25 it might not be.
The Christmas break in the NHL schedule gives a chance to take a look back at the last year. Since the period from Christmas to Christmas is not a season, we don't regularly look at the numbers that way. Sometimes we find some players who have had remarkable performances in the year but will not be remembered as such since they did not do it over the course of a single NHL season. Sometimes we find some other interesting results.
I was looking at saves percentages over the past year on the NHL website. Their website is not quite as intelligent as it should be in that it views a player who played on a different team last year as a different player from the same player on his current team. This mistake pointed me at an interesting result. The best saves percentage of the past year (among goalies with sufficient games played) belongs to Brian Elliott of the St Louis Blues and the worst one belongs to Brian Elliott of the Calgary Flames. He is the same player. Elliott had a .936 saves percentage in St Louis and a .890 in Calgary. How can the same player be so good and also so bad and what is a reasonable expectation for him going forward?
The Christmas break gives us a chance to look back over the past year and take a look at what has happened. One number that jumps out at me is the player with the worst +/- rating since last Christmas. It is Tyson Barrie of the Colotado Avalanche. He has a -34 +/- rating over the past year. This is six points worse than Ben Hutton of Vancouver (who is second worst) and ten points worse than Tyler Seguin of Dallas (who is third worst). Tyson Barrie sticks out because of his poor +/- rating. If instead we used Corsi as a puck possession tat, Barrie is still bad with a fifth worst -263 Corsi.
Despite his failures Tyson Barrie is the ice time leader on the Colorado Avalanche. This is a big part of the reason Colorado is last in the NHL. For this failure, Barrie signed a four year contract with a $5.5 million this summer. Barrie is the worst supposed number one defenceman in the game. He may have value further down on a team's depth charts but he is far too often beaten by opposition. As long as he remains the Colorado Avalanche top defenceman, the Avs will remain well out of the playoffs.
Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild is having an interesting season in terms of his puck possession numbers. He leads the NHL with a +24 +/- rating. At the same time he has the second worst Corsi at -144. How is it possible that he can be a top puck possession player by one metric and one of the worst by another?
Among players with more than 12 games played, Suter has the second highest PDO in the league at 107.06 behind teammate Jason Zucker. Minnesota is a top PDO team because they have had strong goaltending. Devan Dubnyk is posting a .948 saves percentage which would break records by a significant margin if it stands at the end of the season. Any player who plays significant minutes behind that goaltending will have a high PDO. This is especially true if the player has a good shooting percentage while he is on the ice. This high shooting percentage in Suter's case comes from teammates. He has little control over their shooting percentages.
Suter is not having his strongest season. He is scoring with 19 points so far but his defence has not been so strong. He has been bailed out by good goaltending. Devan Dubnyk is big reason Minnesota has succeeded this year and his success has made the players in front of him look better than they have been. Suter has had some poor puck possession. He is usually on the defensive and has been bailed out by good goaltending. His league leading +/- rating is more related to leading the Minnesota Wild is ice time as they have had outstanding goaltending performing at record breaking levels.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of a 12 game winning streak. They have a record of 23-9 with four regulation tie points for 50 points. This puts them in first place in the NHL right now. Since last year they finished second last in the East Conference, they are the most improved team in the NHL. Typically the Jack Adams Trophy is given to the coach of the most improved team. Thus Columbus coach John Tortorella is the leading candidate for coach of the year in many people's minds.
The main problem is there is no statistic that shows good coaching. In the hunt for one, people have used team improvement as a proxy. The problem with that measure is that there are some teams that have had the same coach for a few years and there is no reason to expect improvement year to year unless the team underachieved under the coach last year. The other problem is that teams improve for many reasons. The most common reason for improvement is probably better players and not coaching. Is this the case in Columbus?
John Tortorella has had a lengthy coaching career. He won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. He was relatively successful with the New York Rangers. His tenure with the Vancouver Canucks was an unsuccessful one. He coached the US World Cup team to failure. It was predicted that he could be the first coach fired this season. That prediction has turned out to be a very poor one.
The AHL played its final games before its Christmas break last night. They come into it with a new top scorer. A week and a half ago, I reported that Taylor Beck of the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oiler affiliate) was the leading scorer. It would be hard for him to maintain that lead since western teams such as Bakersfield play fewer games than the rest of the league. Predictably, he has been passed in the scoring race.
Kenny Agostino of the Chicago Wolves (St Louis Blues affiliate) is the new scoring leader. He has 34 points on the season and is four points ahead of the next highest scorer.
Agostino signed as a free agent in the St Louis organization. He had been drafted by Pittsburgh and traded to Calgary. In Calgary he played ten NHL games over the course of two seasons scoring two points. He is 24 years old and is in his third AHL season after spending four years at Yale University. Offensively he has been improving with AHL experience. He scored 43 points in 67 games in his rookie year. He improved to 57 points in 65 games last year. This year he is performing above point per game rate.
Agostino might be ready to take a significant lead as the top scorer in the AHL. He has been improving throughout his AHL career and may be entering his prime years. As long as remains in the AHL and avoids a significant call-up, he could be the top scorer in the league this season.
I think is interesting to try to find the worst regular player in the NHL and to see why he continues to get playing time despite his failures. In mid-November I picked Jimmy Hayes of the Boston Bruins as this player. While Hayes has not been having a stromg season, he has scored 3 points and improved his +/- rating to a -4. Those numbers may not impress, but they are enough to not be the worst regular in the league. His spot has been taken by Dmitry Kulikov of the Buffalo Sabres.
Kulikov has played 17 games so far this season without scoring any points and while posting a team worst -8 +/- rating. A healthy Kulikov has proven to be a competent depth defenceman while he was in Florida. He posted 17 to 22 points in each of his last three seasons. He had improving puck possession numbers in that time frame. He is no all star, but he looked competent. This season, he suffered a tailbone/leg injury in the first game of the pre-season when he was checked into the open bench door. It has been slow healing and he has missed two sets of games because of it. He doesn't look like he is playing at 100% and a hurt Kulikov has little value.
If Dmitry Kulikov gets healthy, he will stop being a liability to the Buffalo Sabres but so far this season he has been the worst regular player in the league. I expect he will regain his health and will show some improvement, but so far he has struggled. He is staying in the line-up because he has shown the ability in the past to be an NHl calibre defenceman and a struggling team like Buffalo is lacking n defensive options.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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