The NHL may be on hiatus for the Olympics, but hockey remains in North America. The AHL is still playing out their schedule, even though some of their players are in the Olympics on some European teams. I last looked at the AHL standings in late January. At that time, the Manchester Monarchs (LA Kings affiliate) were pulling away from the pack in terms of points, but there were some remaining questions because they have more games played than many teams. They have further increased their points lead to three points over the second place Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate). Abbotsford may have two games in hand, but Manchester has a better winning percentage. In fact, Manchester leads the league with their .670 winning percentage - which is tied with the Springfield Falcons (Phoenix Coyote affiliate). Manchester is starting to pull away from the pack. This might be the point in the season when the AHL regular season champion has emerged from the pack to never look back.
Canada has a recent history of a younger goalie taking over from a veteran starter in the Olympics. In 2002, Martin Brodeur took over for Curtis Joseph during Canada's gold medal run. In 2010, Roberto Luongo took over for Martin Brodeur in Canada's gold medal run. To complete the pattern, it was expected that Carey Price would take over for Roberto Luongo in the 2014 Olympics.
In Canada's first game of the Olympics, Price was chose to play against Norway. He didn't get challenged much but he did let in a bad goal when he got caught out of the net. Luongo was given game two against Austria. He played quite well and got a shutout. Based on those two games alone, Luongo deserves the chance to be Canada's number one goalie. Will he be given the start against Finland?
I think the most interesting development from the first day of the Men's Olympic Hockey tournament has been the goaltending for the Czech Republic. I assumed their number one goalie would be Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. He is the only NHL goaltender on their roster. Granted he isn't having the greatest season. He currently is posting a .901 saves percentage and a 2.97 GAA. Their other goalies are KHLers in Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak. They are both posting solid numbers in the lesser league. Kovar plays with Automobilist Yekaterinburg and has posted a .934 saves percentage and a 1.91 GAA. Salak plays for SKA St Petersburg and has posted a .933 saves percentage and a 1.86 GAA. As good as those numbers would be in the NHL, they are in the later part of the top ten in the KHL.
The big surprise came when it was announced that Pavelec would be the healthy scratch goaltender for their opening game against Sweden.
For several years the answer to that question had been Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin moved to right wing last season. Actually it's not quite that simple. He often lined upon the power play at left wing and at even strength on right wing. He made all star teams at both last year. However since he isn't a dedicated left winger anymore, he is a poor choice as best left winger in the NHL.
If we look at the top scorers in the NHL, we see Patrick Sharp leads left wingers with 59 points. Taylor Hall is next with 56 points. Last year's first team all star left winger, Chris Kunitz has 55 points. The other man worthy of mention is Henrik Zetterberg with 48 points, but in only 45 games played. Those are the candidates to be top left winger in the NHL. It isn't the same quality of players you would get if you ranked the top few players in any other position. This is a problem that has existed throughout history. The top left wingers of all time pale in comparison to the top players at any other position.
One interesting story this season is that the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers effectively traded coaches. Alain Vigneault went to New York and John Tortorella went to Vancouver. As we have hit the Olympic break we can start to draw conclusions. Neither coach has turned their new team into a top contender but both have slid shots at a playoff berth. Vancouver might be pushed a little harder to get their playoff berth due to a tougher conference and tougher travel.
I think the most meaningful change from this coaching "trade" is a change to the Canuck system. In the past, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have led the league in offensive zone starts. This was done in order to maximize their offensive performance. Why use your best offensive players in defensive situations? Tortorella has discontinued the level to which this is done. The Sedins may lead the Canucks in offensive zone stars, but they are far back from the league lead. Among players with 30 or more games played, Henrik Sedin is 55th by offensive zone start percentage and Daniel is 56th. Has this cost the Vancouver Canucks?
Last summer, Steve Simmons made an ill-advised comment about Corsi in his weekly column. He wrote:
Another reason why I have next to great difficulty for the CORSI analytic statistic in hockey. I saw a team adjusted CORSI ranking for this past season. Tyler Seguin of the Bruins was rated fifth best in the NHL. The same Seguin whom Bruins coach Claude Julien kept on the third line, moving rookie Carl Soderberg from press box to first-line centre when Patrice Bergeron got hurt. I’ll take Julien’s instincts over strange numbers anytime
This prompted me to write a response. As predicted in that response, time has made Simmons comment look even stupider. His comment suggests that something is wrong with Corsi ranking because a player he doesn't agree with does well. This would be equivalent to somebody arguing that goals cannot be a meaningful statistic because Joe Pavelski is currently fifth in the NHL in goals and there is no possible way that Pavelski is the fifth best player in the NHL. It is a strawman argument that comes from not understanding what goals or Corsi measures.
What makes Simmons look even sillier is that Tyler Seguin would be the line in the sand that he draws. Seguin is a young talented player who was clearly ready to break out. His puck possession numbers showed it. Watching him play would show it. Steve Simmons couldn't see it.
The Vancouver Canucks were supposed to be a contender this season, but over the short-term they have been the worst team in the league. They have lost their last six games. They have one more to go before the break as they play Toronto today. This would drop the Canucks out of the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West Conference. They are one point back of eighth place Phoenix. So what is going wrong?
The first answer to that question is that short-term streaks and slumps mean little. It is easy to put too much attention into short-term trends. However, there are meaningful reasons why they have struggled lately. Injuries are the biggest one. Henrik Sedin is out indefinitely and will miss the Olympics with bruised ribs. Their defensive depth has been tested with Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Tanev all missing time with injury. In Henrik's absence, Daniel Sedin has struggled. He hasn't scored a goal since December of 2013. He has gone 19 games without a goal. Another player the Canucks have relied on in the past is Alexandre Burrows. He hasn't scored a goal yet this season.
In December I posted my picks for the Canadian Olympic Team and the US Olympic Team. While everyone on the US Olympic Team appears ready to go, there are two people on my Canadian Olympic Team that would be unavailable. Steve Stamkos is out of the Olympics because he has not fully recovered from his broken leg. Kris Letang was also a member of my team (though not the actual team) and he would be unavailable because of a recent stroke. Thus I have to replace a Canadian forward and a Canadian defenceman. My picks for both of these spots would be players who are not going to the Olympics.
The forward would be James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Neal has the fourth highest points per game in the NHL so far this year. I really don't know why he didn't get more consideration for the Canadian Olympic Team. I would add him now.
My defenceman is Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There isn't a clear choice to replace Letang. I reject Dan Hamhuis and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as being Olympic level players even though they made the Canadian team. Their choices were due to handedness more than hockey skills and that is a mistake. I would have considered Mike Green, but he is out with a concussion, so now is not the time to take a chance on him. Phaneuf has solid international experience, but has never quite made an Olympic team. He plays a solid physical game. His offence has dropped off as of late, but is still solid. There are concerns about his high PDO, but I think he is the best choice available to me. With injury to Dan Hamhuis, some wonder if he will get a call as an injury replacement on the actual team as well.
I like to keep track of what point I think a player crosses the point where he becomes a Hall of Famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career and I think Pavel Datsyuk has crossed that point. He crosses it by being named captain of the Russian Olympic hockey team as they host the Olympics in Sochi. There was some question about whether or not he would be healthy enough to play in the Olympics but with his NHL game tonight it is clear that he will be there.
Datsyuk is a player who has won several of the lesser NHL awards in the Lady Byng (four times) and Selke (three times). That amount of hardware puts him near a Hall of Fame career. The problem had been that Datsyuk had never won any of the major awards (Hart, Ross, Smythe, Richard...). He had never made First Team All Star. In 2009, he made Second Team All Star and finished third in the Hart Trophy voting. That is his best single season showing and that alone is not enough. His career point totals are growing. He currently has 799 career points. His career totals are not yet on the surefire Hall of Famer level but he has the intangibles that show he is a better player than his point totals suggest. He is an award winning defensive forward (that alone would not make a Hall of Famer - it doesn't for Guy Carbonneau or Jere Lehtonen) and he is a good leader (chosen for the Olympic Team). The sum of these achievements makes him a Hall of Famer regardless of the rest of his career.
One of the things most hockey sabermetrics people agree upon is that PDO is an important number. This number is the sum of the saves percentage and shooting percentage for a player when he is on the ice. Since that number must average 1000 for any NHL player and runs of high or low saves and shooting percentages are largely unsustainable, the league leaders in PDO are influenced positively by luck and the people at the bottom of the league are influenced negatively by luck. This number is not exactly a measurement of luck, but it is often seen that way. The assumption that shooting percentage and saves percentage are not sustainable over the longterm is only partly true. However, since it is measured on the team level (i.e. all players on the ice when a player is on the ice are affected) it is very hard to sustain in any meaningful way.
The current league leader is Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is posting a 1064 PDO. Thus the interpretation is he must be lucky to be doing as well as he is this season. The problem is he isn't really doing that well. He has the lowest points per game of any season in his NHL career. Is he really lucky to have his lowest offensive numbers ever?
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???