Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

The KHL As A Threat To The NHL

With Pavel Datsyuk announcing that he is retiring from the NHL today in order to play in the KHL it is a natural time to assess the KHL relative to the NHL.  Two of the 16 currently active Hall of Famers on my list in Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk play there.  That is one eighth of the group.  While it is nowhere near a majority it is a significant enough minority that it is worthy of notice.  The league is expanding from Russia into several European countries and China.  It cannot be ignored.

Are its players NHL quality?  For the most part they are not.  The majority of the KHL players could not play regularly in the NHL.  Many of the better players in the KHL have played in the NHL at one point.  If we look at last year's KHL All Star game, players such as Cam Barker, Milan Jurcina, Kaspars Daugavins, Nigel Dawes and Linus Omark are all examples of players with NHL experience.  Many of these players could be role players or depth players if they came back to the NHL.  They are largely interchangeable with the current players in those roles in the league. 

Many Russian players (and increasingly Europeans from other countries) grow up in the KHL.  They are well established key players on their teams.  It would be a risk for them to try to come to the NHL.  They would have less security in their position with their team.  If they were to require time in the AHL they would take a significant pay cut.  This is a barrier to players coming to the NHL.  The best ones still will make their way to the NHL as Artemi Panarin or Evgeni Kuznetsov show us.  However there are likely more NHL capable players who never come from the KHL.

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Tyler Toffoli Has The Best Adjusted +/-

A couple of days ago I listed the top 20 players in 2015/16 by adjusted +/-.  At the top of the list was Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings.  He has a +27.8 adjusted +/- which is one point above linemate Anze Kopitar.

Toffoli is a player who regularly does well in puck possession stats such as Corsi and +/-.  This is a reason why he was considered a candidate to make the Canadian World Cup team despite having a career best 58 points, which he scored last season.  Toffoli is a good two way player with the Kings.

The problem with using +/- is that it is a relatively rare event for a goal to be scored.  That only happens a few times in a game.  As a result statistical flukes can occur.  One way to determine when these flukes are occurring is to look at PDO (the sum of a team's saves and shooting percentage when a given player is on the ice).  By definition, the average PDO in the league must be 1000.  A given player has very little ability to control this number in any significant way.  When a player is well above 1000 he has been lucky and will thus have higher than expected +/- ratings (and points and other stats).  When a player is well below 1000 likely he has been unlucky and his +/- and points will likely improve over time.  Toffoli had a 1032 PDO last season.  This was the highest among LA King players who played more than 20 games played.  Thus Toffoli's top adjusted +/- rating is partly talent and partly luck.

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Las Vegas Expansion

The NHL hasn't made an official announcement yet but plenty of people are reporting that the NHL has decided to add one expansion team in 2017 in Las Vegas.  This move is typical of the NHL.  It is a high risk move that brings out a large immediate cash stream.  Potential problems in the future can be overlooked as long as they bring money now.

Las Vegas is another team in the desert.  Expansion to the American southwest hasn't done very well in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Coyotes are one of the NHL's basketcase franchises that is barely surviving financially.  They have been through one bankruptcy and haven't had a a playoff berth since 2012.  There is a significant risk that Las Vegas will become a second team stuck in the desert with little support.

Las Vegas is an entertainment mecca.  It is full of casinos and big name shows.  Is there room for NHL hockey or will it get lost on the strip?  The casinos will likely "comp" hockey tickets to their patrons.  If people do not bother to go to these games with their free tickets the Las Vegas hockey team could easily be playing to an empty house.

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Top 20 Players By Adjusted +/-

Every summer I write a series of posts on sabermetrics and hockey.  The term sabermetrics is borrowed from baseball.  It seems that in the last year or two hockey has adopted the term analytics as a more common name for statistical analysis of the game.  Perhaps I should change the name of my summer posts, but I find the word sabermetrics more meaningful.

I want to start by looking at adjusted +/- ratings.  +/- ratings are often seen as being not as useful as Corsi to determine puck possession because there are fewer events per game.  A +/- event is a goal whereas a Corsi event is a shot attempt.  Thus the sample size of events is much smaller for +/- and hence the probability of statistical flukes occurring is much higher.  However +/- events are clearly more valuable than Corsi events.  A goal changes the score a badly missed shot has little value.  Thus +/- remains a sanity check for Corsi.  It better give roughly the same results.  It top Corsi players have bad +/- ratings or vice versa then there is something wrong with this theory.

The problem with +/- or Corsi to compare players across different teams is that an average player on a good team will have a better rating than an average player on a bad team merely because of their team.  It says nothing about the quality of the player.  In order to rate players across teams a baseline must be determined for each team that is treated as zero and +?- ratings are all relative to that team baseline.  Here is a bit more detail about the process.

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Game Six

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup.  By winning this game 3-1, they won the series 4-2.  It is hard to describe Pittsburgh as a great team all time.  They were close to missing the playoffs before a mid-season coaching change.  Their top defensive defenceman was Brian Dumoulin. 

Dumoulin scored the first goal last night on the power play.  It was his second of the playoffs after a zero goal regular season.  He has one regular season goal in his entire NHL career.  The unlikelhood of that in a Stanley Cup final shows the unlikelihood of Pittsburgh winning the cup this year.  They did win it and congratulations to them, but they are well worse than your traditional champion.

The Conn Smythe Trophy went to Sidney Crosby.  He won despite being seventh in playoff scoring, just behind Nikita Kucherov who didn't even make the finals.  He won despite not scoring any goals in the final series.  He won because of reputation.  He won for being Sidney Crosby, the biggest name player in the NHL.  Phil Kessel was a better choice from Pittsburgh and Brent Burns and Logan Couture were better choices overall.

The Pittsburgh Penguins put up the fourth best record in the regular season, which made them a team that could be a contender in any given year, but it is a bit of a surprise that they won.  Nobody that I know clearly predicted it before the playoffs began.  Next year they can try to defend their title - I bet they will not succeed.

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AHL Finals

The Calder Cup finals ended last night in the AHL.  This will be my summary.  Look back at the results from the first, second and third rounds.  Here is the final result:

Lake Erie Monsters defeat Hershey Bears in four straight.  Lake Erie is the Columbus Blue Jacket farm affiliate and Hershey belongs to the Washington Capitals.  This series was largely dominated by Lake Erie.  The final two games both required overtime.  Lake Erie's offence was led by Oliver Bjorkstrand and Lukas Sedlak.  Zach Werenski led their defence and Anton Forsberg was their top goaltender.  He took over in their nets during their playoff run.  The Hershey offence was led by Carter Camper and Jakub Vrana.  Aaron Ness was their top defenceman and Justin Peters was their goaltender.

Oliver Bjorkstrand was named the MVP of the playoffs. He was a third round draft pick of Columbus in 2013 and is a top prospect for the NHL.  The Lake Erie success bodes well for the Columbus Blue Jackets future.

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Game Five

The Stanley Cup finals are not over.  San Jose stayed alive winning this game 4-2 to reduce the Pittsburgh lead to three games to two.  San Jose now must win the next two games to win the Stanley Cup.  It is becoming a more possible scenario.  Of course Pittsburgh needs to only win one game to win the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh carried the play through most of this game just as they have through most of the series.  This was the only game that San Jose actually held a lead and they held the lead throughout most of the game.  That was possible because Matt Murray did not have a particularly good game in the Pittsburgh goal.

For San Jose getting goals from Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns is what they needed.  They need to get their top players scoring.

I do not think it is a fluke that all of the goals came in the first period except for a late empty net goal.  The ice quality got worse as the game went on.  All of the goals were scored with the better early game ice - save for an empty net goal.

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(Final?) Look At The Conn Smythe Race

The Pittsburgh Penguins may win the Stanley Cup today.  If that happens, the Conn Smythe Trophy will be given out to the MVP of the playoffs.  Obviously the results of today's game and any further games could influence the choice, but I want to look at the Conn Smythe race today.

I have called Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks the Conn Smythe leader at this point.  In fact I have been picking him since early in the third round.  Burns has been an important part of the San Jose attack.  He has been a valuable puck moving defenceman who has 22 points, which is good for second in the playoff scoring race.  The problem is he and the rest of the better San Jose scorers have been shutdown in the Stanley Cup finals.  Nevertheless the top three scorers so far in the playoffs are all San Jose players.

The Conn Smythe is officially the MVP of the entire playoffs, but typically voters pay more attention to the Stanley Cup finals than the rest of the playoffs.  If Pittsburgh wins the Stanley Cup in five games then the Conn Smythe winner will almost certainly be a Penguin.  Phil Kessel has been the best member of the Penguins and hence is the Conn Smythe frontrunner in that case.

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Jim Rutherford As A GM

With Pittsburgh leading three games to one in the Stanley Cup final, it is a good bet that they will be the 2016 Stanley Cup champion.  Jim Rutherford their GM won the Stanley Cup as Carolina Hurricane GM in 2006.  This will make Rutherford the first person to win the Stanley Cup as general manager with two different franchises.  On the surface that should put him in the running for greatest general manager ever, however he is not mentioned in such discussions and I wish to discuss this case.

Jim Rutherford was hired as GM of the Hartford Whalers in 1994 and remained in that position after the team moved and became the Carolina Hurricanes until 2014.  In that entire run, his team only made playoffs five times.  One of those five years was a Stanley Cup victory.  Carolina won in 2006, the year after the lockout wiped out an entire season.  Perhaps he hit on the right strategy by acquiring Mark Recchi and Doug Weight at the trade deadline.  The low salary cap prevented any top teams from existing and a team with salary cap space had room to acquire some talent at trade deadline time and become a significantly better team than they were in the regular season.  That strategy has not been successful beyond 2006, perhaps because the best players were soon signed up longterm and rarely became available in trade deadline deals.  I think it is likely accurate that Rutherford was lucky to find a winning strategy in 2006.  He was unable to keep winning after that season ended.  All told, his Hartford/ Carolina run was not spectacular despite a Stanley Cup victory.

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Game Four

Pittsburgh won game four by a 3-1 score.  This gives them a 3 games to one lead in the series.  Pittsburgh has a very good chance of winning the series now.  It will be tough for San Jose to win three games in a row - but it isn't impossible.

The NHL has a problem which is a problem annually in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  While the games are supposed to be the biggest best most important games of the season, they are played in June.  These are almost certain to be the hottest weather for an NHL game all season.  The ice quality suffers.  Players are essentially skating on a slurpee and this keeps scoring down.

As for the hockey, San Jose is yet to be ahead in any of the games in the series.  Pittsburgh has carried the play at most times.  If that stands up, it is clear why Pittsburgh is winning this series.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com

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