The NHL Entry Draft is underway. It is a media spectacle that I tend to avoid. Most of the players who will be drafted are players I have never seen play a game. Even the few that I have seen, I probably haven’t seen very much. Scouting reports can be found for just about anyone online, but I think it is quite reasonable to be skeptical of them most of the time.
Of the players selected in the draft, few will make an impact in the NHL in the immediate future. Often people selected may be five or more years away from impact and when those players become ready they will have done something that will make the avid hockey fan notice them, even though they are nearly anonymous today. It is nearly impossible for anybody, including an NHL scout, to indentify those players reliably. In general, the draft is a crapshoot.
There are a few things we can say about the draft which are probably true.
I am going to interrupt the Hall of Fame profiles to discuss a trend that is not a good one for the NHL. Increasingly, some of the marquis names in the NHL are choosing to play in Europe at the tail end of their careers. A big reason for this is the salary cap. They find that they can get paid more to play in Europe than in the NHL as teams would rather fill their roster with young players who might out-perform their contracts instead of playing some of the future Hall of Fame players in the league.
The most recent example is Sergei Fedorov signing in Russia with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He joins Jaromir Jagr in the KHL - although many rumors have Jagr returning to the NHL this summer. Reportedly, Fedorov will make around $3.8 million US for two seasons. He will be a teammate of his brother Fedor.
With the recent Hall of Fame inductions, I want to lay out what I think is the case for each of the four players inducted. I will start with Steve Yzerman as he is the most worthy of the bunch for his induction. Here is a write up about what I think the standards for the Hall of Fame are/should be. I think one of the best methods to look at a potential Hall of Famer is by looking at the questions Bill James asks of Baseball Hall of Famers.
The annual Hockey Hall of Fame inductions occurred today. They went as I predicted. In are Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman. Also inducted was New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello who enters as a builder. He built a New Jersey team that has won the Stanley Cup three times. All are well deserved choices.
Next year, the class may not be as strong. There are two first time eligible players who I think deserve induction in Eric Lindros and Joe Nieuwendyk. They will also look to past candidates who have been eligible for a few years and likely induct from that group due to a smaller class of first time candidates. Doug Gilmour heads that group. It is quite likely that four players will not be inducted next year.
One of the more controversial comments I made is when I claimed during the semifinals of the playoffs that there were no elite goalies left in the playoffs. At that time, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nikolai Khabibulin of the Chicago Blackhawks, Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes remained as the playoff goaltenders. Were there elite goalies in the bunch, it stands to reason that they would have been among the leaders in the voting for the Vezina Trophy and post season all star teams. Assuming they are injury-free, it certainly stands to reason that any elite goalies in the league should get strong support for these awards and possibly even win them.
They asked 131 sports writers to name the five best defensive forwards in the NHL in the 2008/09 season and found they received 70 different answers. Even the most popular answers were missing from 10% or more of the ballots. The winner Pavel Datsyuk was named on 120 of 131 ballots. The runner up Mike Richards appeared on 113 ballots. Clearly there isn’t any uniformity in the way hockey writes judge defensive forwards. The voting can be found here.
Some of the choices which were relatively popular look like pretty poor choices. David Krejci of the Boston Bruins faced a near average quality of opposition and posted a league leading +37 +/- rating. He wasn’t used as a shutdown guy in Boston. He finished in sixth place in the voting. Travis Zajac was another high +/- guy. He led the New Jersey Devils with a +33 rating. He wasn’t their main shutdown player. He finished seventh in the voting. Among many voters, there was a tendency to vote for high +/- ratings who are not exactly defensive forwards.
The Montreal Canadiens have an agreement in principle to sell the team. Current owner George Gillett bought the Habs and the Bell Centre (then called the Molson Centre) for $185 million US. Over the past year he has looked at his world wide holdings in an effort to adapt to the current economic downturn and decided to sell some assets including the Montreal Canadiens. An agreement in principle exists for Geoff, Andrew and Justin Molson to buy the team. Exact details have not been released, but it is expected that the Molsons could pay as much as $550 million. NHL approval for the sale may not come until August.
This sale and its price clearly show that there are “two NHLs”. There are high valued franchises in good markets with rapidly escalating values. These teams have no problem with payroll and could easily afford to pay well above the salary cap were it allowed.
There is also an NHL of teams like the Phoenix Coyotes. These teams are struggling financially. In Phoenix’s case, it isn’t clear that anyone wants to keep them in their current market.
The NHL awards were announced on Thursday. One award winner, which I think was chosen poorly, was Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins who won the Norris Trophy. He was nominated alongside Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit red Wings. Either of them would have made a better selection. In the First All Star Team voting, Green did defeat Chara, which shows that the race was close in the voter’s minds. Slightly changing the parameters in which they vote, changed the result (for the Norris they get one first place vote and for the all star team they get two).
Zdeno Chara was considered a Norris favorite before the 2008/09 season began. He had been a nominee in 2008, where he finished third behind Lidstrom and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames.
The voting results can be found here for the awards and here for the all star teams. Usually, the award results are well enough established that the addition of one further ballot changes little. This year, if I had voted I would have caused two changes. Mike Richards would have won the Selke Trophy instead of Pavel Datsyuk and Pekka Rinne would have been the third Calder nominee in place of Kris Versteeg.
Let’s run down the awards.
One relatively simple sabermetrics and hockey statistic I like to keep track of is adjusted +/- ratings. There are a few ways to adjust them. Today, I am looking at the counting stat method outlined in The Hockey Compendium by Jeff Klein and Carl-Eric Reif. The basic idea is that a team adjustment is subtracted from all players’ +/- ratings in order to give a more team independent value. The statistic is good for identifying players who succeeded in their role with their team last year.
Here are the top 20 adjusted +/- ratings (limited to players with 50 NHL games played in 2008/09 that played with only one team):
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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