Friday, June 29, 2012

Justin Schultz: The Great White Hype

As NHL free agency fast approaches, my Twitter feed is being clogged up with minute by minute updates of what teams may or may not be on college defenseman Justin Schultz negotiating list. Of all the pending unrestricted free agents, it is absurd how much attention is being given to this one player who has never played a game at the professional level. Yes, his point production in the NCAA was near the high end of what you'll find in college historically. Of all the defensemen drafted to the NHL from 1990 - 2005 who played in the NCAA, only six players had a higher points per game average than Schultz. Those six players (in order) were Chris O'Sullivan, Mike Crowley, Brian Mueller, Matt Carle, Mike Mottau, and Nick Naumenko. Now how many of those guys have you heard of? (hint: only 2 have played more than 70 NHL games, 4 are currently inactive)

Schultz has maybe a 15% chance of being as good as Matt Carle, who also happens to be a free agent this summer. Yet Schultz is receiving 99% more media coverage than Carle, an established, proven, effective NHL player. If I were a GM in the NHL, I'd much rather have the real thing than an over-hyped prospect who could very well turn out to be ineffective at the NHL level (Q: how many goals did Fabian Brunnstrom and Christian Hanson score in the NHL last season? A: zero). Yes, Schultz will be on an entry level deal and cost less than Carle, but the latter has a higher probability of making a substantial quality contribution to his team in the next few years. There is an 83% chance that Schultz will be a significant point producer in the AHL, should he ever play in the minors (since it seems as though his agent is negotiating NHL roster guarantees).

I won't go as far as some pundits and speculate that all the hype is going to ruin this young player. I'm just getting sick and tired of the wall to wall media coverage. I unfollowed Pierre LeBrun on Twitter today for this exact reason. He could very well turn out to be everything that's been advertised, but it is far from a sure thing and not worthy of the attention he's been getting. Enough already.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mark Jankowski: The Worst Pick Of The 2012 NHL Draft

With the 21st overall selection in the 2012 NHL entry draft, the Calgary Flames went way off the board and selected high school hockey player Mark Jankowski. Drafting high school hockey players is generally a crap shoot with scattered high end talent, but the majority of those talented players are drafted out of Minnesota or Massachusetts. Jankowski played for a Canadian high school team, so he was measured while playing against garbage competition (trust me, I played Ontario high school hockey and by NHL standards I was a garbage player). From 1990 - 2005, the only player drafted from a Canadian high school to play a game in the NHL is Colin Greening (drafted 204th overall out of Upper Canada College).

The higher the level of competition you watch a player play, the more reliable the scouting forecast will be. A player who can be totally dominant against weak competition can be equally terrible when playing against higher quality competition. It's entirely plausible that Mark Jankowski could develop into a good professional hockey player, but there's a chance he could advance to Canadian junior or the NCAA and absolutely suck. Is that a risk that a team like the Calgary Flames can afford to take? This is a team that has missed the playoffs for the past few seasons yet refuses to engage in a true re-building process, dooming themselves to mediocrity (consistently making bad draft picks doesn't help either).

From a probability point of view; players drafted from a Minnesota high school hockey team have a 35% chance of playing a game in the NHL, a 14% chance at 160 NHL GP. Those drafted out of Massachusetts have a 26% chance at 1 NHL GP and a 10% chance at 160 NHL GP. Players drafted from high schools everywhere else in North America have a 17% chance at playing 1 NHL game. The sample size for Canadian high schools is tiny, and the reason for its miniscule proportion revolves around the best young Canadian prospects playing junior or AAA. Pierre McGuire on TSN could hardly contain his excitement when Jankowski was drafted, explained largely by his association with the Jankowski family. It was biased excitement. Pierre could end up looking silly for his enthusiastic outburst, sooner rather than later.

HONORABLE MENTION: In the possible bad draft pick category is Hampus Lindholm. How far can one bike test at the combine raise a player's draft status? Enough to go 6th overall. His endurance is "off the charts", which is a great trait for a prospective professional athlete; but that seemed to be all anyone talked about. If you watched the draft, you saw tons of video of him riding a stationary bike, not so much of him playing hockey. I'm far more concerned about a prospect's ability to play hockey than I am about bike riding ability. Teams can put players on offseason training programs to improve conditioning, but you can't teach talent. Lindholm could very well develop into a quality professional hockey player, but there is a risk in putting too much value or focus on "the combine" rather than on ice evaluation. Defensemen drafted out of the Swedish lower divisions have a 39% chance of playing in the NHL, those drafted out of the Swedish Elite League have a 57% chance.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pavel Bure Does NOT Belong In The Hockey Hall Of Fame

Make no mistake, as a hockey player Pavel Bure was a freak of nature, lightning fast, exciting to watch, and a five time 50 goal scorer (twice reaching 60). There is no question that he was an extraordinary talent, the second best player in Vancouver Canucks history after Henrik Sedin (Pavel never won the Hart Trophy). Yet when the 'Russian Rocket' was selected into the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday over Brendan Shanahan, something felt wrong. Bure never won a Stanley Cup, Brendan was a major contributor on 3 championship teams. Shanahan outscored Bure 1354 to 779 over their careers. Brendan scored nearly as many playoff goals as Pavel played playoff games.

The highlight of Bure's career (and arguably the greatest moment in Canucks history) came in the 1st round of the playoffs. Shanny had 2 goals in the Stanley Cup winning game of 2002, including the game winner. He scored a Stanley Cup winning goal!!! In the last 8 years of his career, Pavel played 4 playoff games. Shanahan even once rocked Patrick Roy at the blue line, making the world a better place. When you look at it, Pavel Bure lacked the accomplishment that many of us require of this supposedly sacred institution. Compared to the career of Brendan Shanahan, it is not even close.

I'm sorry Canuck fans, but Pavel Bure is not Hall of Fame worthy. If being "exciting" is a major selection criteria, where are Petr Klima and Al Iafrate? If Bure is in the Hall of Fame, Eric Lindros sure as shit belongs there, arguably more so. Why not Zigmund Palffy? He was fun to watch and had comparable personal accomplishments to Bure. I'm officially starting a campaign to put Petr Klima in the Hall.

The Big question is, did Shanahan's year as the unpopular police officer of NHL player safety actually affect Hall of Fame voters? It's a theory, but note that only a few days ago at the NHL awards, Shanny was made the object of ridicule...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dallas Trades Mike Ribeiro To Washington

One year ahead of becoming an unrestricted free agent, Mike Ribeiro has been traded by the Dallas Stars to the Washington Capitals for Cody Eakin and a 2nd round draft pick. This is not a move that will make Dallas a better team next season, as Ribeiro has an elite offensive skill set not easily replaced. The best case scenario for Eakin is a 3rd line type of player statistically comparable to Boyd Gordon, Dan Paille, or Peter Schaefer. The probability that he evolves into a player with the offensive productivity of Ribeiro is slim to none.

Dallas seems to be selling the rental early, before the season has even begun. Far be it from me to accuse them of deliberately trying to lose games next season in a strong draft year, but that might be what they have in mind. Trading Ribeiro, or even a Steve Ott, is a clear signal that the team is not trying to win next season. With the 54th pick in the draft acquired from the Caps, the Stars took Mike Winther, a forward out of the CHL. Forwards drafted out of the CHL between picks 20-90 with a comparable point output in their teenage draft year; have a 28% chance to play at least 160 games in the NHL (and even if he does, he's likely 4-5 years away).  The probability that he can be a 70 point player like Ribeiro is slim to none.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Leafs Trade Luke Schenn For James Van Riemsdyk

This weekend the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for James Van Riemsdyk, in a trade that has been rumoured for most of the season (derailed after a JVR concussion and ankle injury). This is a trade that works for both teams because it addresses their individual needs, the Flyers needing a defenseman and the Leafs needing a power forward. Schenn projects to be a Chris Phillips, Scott Hannan, Braydon Coburn type of defenseman with low offensive upside; where Van Riemsdyk fits in the Andrew Ladd, Ryan Kesler, Colby Armstrong mould. Frankly the two players traded have very comparable value, with the ideal player being dependent on team needs. With both teams addressing holes in their roster, this can be categorized as a win-win, at least for the time being. If JVR can reach the 70-80 point range, then Toronto would be the clear winner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Top Ten NHL Draft Years By Team (1990-2005)

What have been the best individual draft years for any given NHL team from 1990 to 2005? Does it get any better than Anaheim getting Perry and Getzlaf in 2003? There were four major variables used to rank all the drafts by all NHL teams in this time period: 1) % of players drafted who would play an NHL game, 2) GP per pick (modified of course to account for time), 3) NHL PTS scored within 7 season of the pick, 4) what was the team's highest pick (with more credit going to later picks).

Four teams on this list drafted in the #1 overall position, which is the pick with the greatest probability of producing a superstar player. In the last 20 drafts, the Detroit Red Wings have drafted in the top 20 once. From a probability point of view, that's a terrible disadvantage (their one pick inside the top 20 was Jakub Kindl at #19). Making a good selection gets more difficult the later in the draft that it's made. However, you don't need to have a top ten pick to have a great draft. Examples are provided below, on the list of the 10 best drafts from 1990-2005.

1) Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 2003: (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Drew Miller, Shane O'Brien) Getting Perry and Getzlaf brought Anaheim a Stanley Cup, getting Miller and O'Brien were just gravy. It was really the only good draft of Bryan Murray's tenure as GM of Anaheim, but it was a Cup winning draft none the less. What makes this this draft more impressive than the next 5 on this list is that the Ducks did not have a top 5 pick, waiting until 19th to make their first selection.

2) Pittsburgh Penguins, 2005: (key picks; Sid Crosby, Kris Letang, Joe Vitale) If your team can walk out of a draft with Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, you've hit a home run out of the ballpark. This draft produced a Stanley Cup for a Penguins team that was in need of salvation. GM Craig Patrick hit an easy home run with the first selection, but does deserve credit for Letang later on.

3) Washington Capitals, 2004: (key picks; Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green) It is much easier to have a great draft when you have 3 first round picks, so it's not like you can say that George McPhee defied all odds. 8 of 13 picks have played in the NHL and included players who made a substantial immediate impact.

4) Boston Bruins, 1997: (key picks; Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Ben Clymer, Antti Laaksonen) It's not often that a team gets 2 picks in the top 10, but when they do, good things tend to happen. Ironically Ben Clymer is the only one in this group with a cup ring, but still, a good draft. Harry Sinden had an advantage based on where he was picking, with Thornton being the unquestioned consensus number one.

5) Quebec Nordiques, 1991: (key picks; Eric Lindros, Rene Corbet, Dave Karpa, Bill Lindsay, Janne Laukkanen) Perhaps Eric Lindros never played for Quebec, and perhaps his ugly departure was a contributing factor to the Nordiques leaving for Colorado; however, since Lindros was traded for Peter Forsberg (who won 2 cups), this has to be considered a win for the franchise. Pierre Page had 14 picks, 8 of them played in the NHL.

6) Philadelphia Flyers, 1990: (key picks; Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Mikael Renberg, Chris Therien) Bobby Clarke was fired as GM not long after this draft, then re-hired a few years later. This turned out to be a very strong draft year for Philly. Ricci scored 17 playoff PTS on a Stanley Cup champion after being thrown into the Lindros trade. Renberg went to a Cup finals as a key member of the Legion of Doom line.

7) Boston Bruins, 2004: (key picks; David Krejci, Kris Versteeg, Matt Hunwick) For a team that did not make its first pick until 63 overall, Mike O"Connell grabbed some good players, two of them have Stanley Cup rings. 5 of 7 picks have played NHL games.

8) Colorado Avalanche, 1998: (key picks; Alex Tanguay, Martin Skoula, Robyn Regehr, Scott Parker) Well done Pierre Lacroix, a great draft by any standard of measure. Tanguay had 21 playoff PTS on a Stanley Cup champion. Parker and Skoula also won a Cup with Colorado.

9) Ottawa Senators, 1997: (key picks; Marian Hossa, Magnus Arvedson, Karel Rachunek) Pierre Gauthier hit a few European home runs in this draft with players who crossed the pond and made an immediate impact. 5 out of 8 picks played at least 50 NHL games, which is the highest "batting average" on this list.

10) Dallas Stars, 2005: (key picks; Matt Niskanen, James Neal, Tom Wandell)  Doug Armstrong (just selected Executive of the year 2012 for St.Louis) did not pick until 28th in 2005, but still snagged two good players and a budding superstar. 6 of their 7 picks have played in the NHL.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2013 NHL UFA List

Looking at the free agent list for 2013, there are a lot of big names.  This list does not include goaltenders, and is ranked by points in 2013 and this season's non-pro-rated salary (in millions of dollars, separated by forwards and defense). Who will get the biggest raise? We'll start with David Clarkson and work down from that. This list was more exciting a year ago, but since then several big names have been scratched (like Sidney Crosby). Updated in March 2013.

Name Team POS     GP Pts 2012
Mike Ribeiro WAS F 20 24 5.00
Ryan Getzlaf ANA F 20 22 5.33
Patrik Elias NJD F 21 22 6.00
Alexander Semin CAR F 21 20 7.00
Saku Koivu ANA F 20 20 3.80
Corey Perry ANA F 20 18 5.33
David Clarkson NJD F 21 17 2.67
Teemu Selanne ANA F 20 17 4.50
Jarome Iginla CGY F 20 16 7.00
Damien Brunner DET F 22 16 1.35
Brad Boyes NYI F 22 16 1.00
Michael Ryder MON F 22 15 3.50
Jaromir Jagr DAL F 21 15 4.55
Derek Roy DAL F 17 14 4.00
Troy Brouwer WAS F 20 13 2.35
Pascal Dupuis PIT F 22 12 1.50
Tyler Bozak TOR F 22 12 1.50
Vinny Prospal COB F 22 12 2.50
Mark Letestu COB F 20 12 0.63
Matt Cullen MIN F 21 12 3.50
Daniel Alfredsson OTT F 22 11 4.88
Viktor Stalberg CHI F 22 11 0.88
Nathan Horton BOS F 19 11 4.00
Andy McDonald STL F 18 11 4.70
Matt Cooke PIT F 22 11 1.80
Mason Raymond VAN F 21 11 2.28
Clarke MacArthur TOR F 19 10 3.25
Chris Higgins VAN F 21 10 1.90
Bryan Bickell CHI F 22 10 0.54
Brenden Morrow DAL F 22 10 4.10
Valtteri Filppula DET F 19 10 3.00
Steve Sullivan PHO F 18 9 2.60
Milan Hejduk COL F 20 9 2.00
Mike Fisher NAS F 22 8 4.20
Kyle Chipchura PHO F 21 8 0.68
Eric Fehr WAS F 17 8 0.60
Daniel Cleary DET F 22 7 2.80
Nik Antropov WPG F 21 7 4.06
Raffi Torres PHO F 13 7 1.75
Roman Cervenka CGY F 16 7 3.78
Ryane Clowe SAN F 18 6 3.63
Jochen Hecht BUF F 23 6 1.25
Colin McDonald NYI F 20 6 0.70
Lubomir Visnovsky NYI F 12 6 5.60
Alexei Ponikarovsky NJD F 20 6 1.80
Ruslan Fedotenko PHI F 23 6 1.75
Keith Aucoin NYI F 19 6 0.65
Nick Johnson PHO F 15 6 0.73
Mike Knuble PHI F 17 6 0.75
Simon Gagne PHI F 13 6 3.50
Matt Hendricks WAS F 20 5 0.83
Boyd Gordon PHO F 21 5 1.33
PM Bouchard MIN F 19 5 4.08
Alex Kovalev FLA F 14 5 1.45
Brandon Yip NAS F 19 5 0.75
Matthew Lombardi PHO F 9 5 3.50
Maxim Lapierre VAN F 21 4 1.00
Nate Thompson TAM F 21 4 0.90
Jerred Smithson FLA F 21 4 0.80
Wojtek Wolski WAS F 19 4 0.60
Stephen Weiss FLA F 17 4 3.10
Dainius Zubrus NJD F 9 4 3.40
Chuck Kobasew COL F 18 4 1.25
Lennart Petrell EDM F 17 4 0.83
Marty Reasoner NYI F 17 4 1.35
Colton Orr TOR F 19 3 1.00
Eric Nystrom DAL F 22 3 1.40
Adam Hall TAM F 17 3 0.65
B.J. Crombeen TAM F 20 3 1.00
Chad LaRose CAR F 19 3 1.70
Craig Adams PIT F 22 3 0.68
Dustin Penner LOS F 12 3 3.25
Colby Armstrong MON F 22 3 1.00
Michal Handzus SAN F 20 2 2.50
Tim Brent CAR F 14 2 0.75
Steve Begin CGY F 15 2 0.53
Scott Gomez SAN F 14 2 0.70
Peter Regin OTT F 16 2 0.80
Jamal Mayers CHI F 11 2 0.65
Tim Kennedy SAN F 8 2 0.68
Blake Comeau CGY F 19 2 1.25
Kyle Wellwood WPG F 15 2 1.60
Aaron Volpatti WAS F 17 1 0.60
Patrick Bordeleau COL F 20 1 0.53
Tim Wallace CAR F 14 1 0.70
Jeff Halpern NYR F 20 1 0.70
Joey Crabb WAS F 19 1 0.95
Dave Steckel TOR F 10 1 1.10
Jamie Langenbrunner STL F 4 1 1.50
Matt Anderson NJD F 2 1 0.53
Anton Babchuk CGY F 2 1 2.50
Brandon Bollig CHI F 10 0 0.58
Scott Nichol STL F 17 0 0.70
Eric Boulton NYI F 7 0 0.54
Brian McGrattan CGY F 3 0 0.60
Alexandre Bolduc PHO F 7 0 0.65
Andrew Ebbett VAN F 5 0 0.60
Pierre-Cedric Labrie TAM F 4 0 0.53
Manny Malhotra VAN F 9 0 2.50
Matt Ellis BUF F 6 0 0.53
David van der Gulik COL F 2 0 0.58
Jamie Tardif BOS F 2 0 0.60
Darcy Hordichuk EDM F 4 0 0.85
Brad Richardson LOS F 2 0 1.18
Cam Janssen NJD F 3 0 0.58
Mark Streit NYI D 22 12 4.10
Sergei Gonchar OTT D 20 8 5.50
Marek Zidlicky NJD D 21 8 4.00
Mike Kostka TOR D 22 7 0.60
Joe Corvo CAR D 17 7 2.00
Ron Hainsey WPG D 21 7 4.50
Michal Rozsival CHI D 11 7 2.00
Kevin Klein NAS D 22 6 1.35
Grant Clitsome WPG D 18 6 1.25
Francis Bouillon MON D 22 5 1.50
Ben Lovejoy ANA D 13 5 0.53
MA Bergeron TAM D 11 5 1.00
Kurtis Foster PHI D 12 5 0.95
John Erskine WAS D 14 4 1.50
Ryan O'Byrne COL D 20 4 1.80
Andrew Ference BOS D 19 4 2.25
Davis Drewiske LOS D 19 4 0.62
Andre Benoit OTT D 18 4 0.65
Alexander Sulzer BUF D 17 4 0.73
Jordan Leopold BUF D 16 4 3.00
Ryan Whitney EDM D 14 4 4.00
Toni Lydman ANA D 17 3 3.00
Ladislav Smid EDM D 21 2 2.25
Mark Fistric EDM D 13 2 1.48
Douglas Murray SAN D 19 2 2.50
Tyson Strachan FLA D 17 2 0.60
Ian White DET D 14 2 2.88
Wade Redden STL D 12 2 1.00
Tom Poti WAS D 11 2 2.88
Adrian Aucoin COB D 16 2 2.00
Scott Hannan NAS D 22 1 1.00
Robyn Regehr BUF D 16 1 4.02
Steve Eminger NYR D 7 1 0.75
Roman Hamrlik WAS D 4 1 3.50
John Scott BUF D 18 0 0.60
Kent Huskins DET D 11 0 0.75
Matt Gilroy NYR D 12 0 0.65
Aaron Johnson BOS D 4 0 0.65
Mike Lundin OTT D 7 0 1.15
Dylan Reese PIT D 3 0 0.60
Jordan Hendry ANA D 2 0 0.60

15 Worst Contracts In The NHL 2012

Here is my 2012 list of the worst contracts in hockey. This past season saw some players from the 2011 worst contracts list play their way off. Gone but not forgotten are Brian Campbell, Jason Spezza, Danny Briere, but they could return to the list by 2013. Pronger, Ohlund, and Hossa have been dropped off due to injury, as typically I don't like declaring a contract to be terrible because somebody got hurt, unless he was hurt before signing the deal like Markov. The challenge to making a list such as this is that the monster contracts are generally given to talented players who can make you look stupid any given season (like perhaps Ovechkin or Kovalchuk).

There are enough bad contracts out there to make a top 30 list. Some honourable mentions; James Wisniewski, Zybnek Michalek, David Jones (just signed), Mikael Grabovski, Ales Hemsky, Tom Plekanec, Tom Kaberle, Mike Cammalleri, etc. Here are the top 15.

1) Vincent Lecavalier, TB: 9 more years at $7.7M - #1 on this list last season, he did nothing to play his way out of the top spot, and his contract is still obscene. He's still an above average player with a Stanley Cup ring, but with $62M remaining over the age of 31 is too much no matter how you look at it. $7.7M will buy you about 65 GP and 50 PTS, expensive PTS to put it mildly.

2) Scott Gomez, MTL: 2 more years at $7.4M - Amnesty clause or not, he will be bought out before the start of the next NHL season. One of the worst contracts ever signed (next to Bobby Holik), the only reprieve being it's not 9 more years. Between Gomez, Holik, and Redden, Glen Sather has his signature on some of the worst contracts in NHL history. Who is next on the list?

3) Wade Redden, NYR: 2 more years at $6.5M - New York can't afford the cap hit of a standard buyout, but if there is a new CBA amnesty buyout, Wade could get paid $10M+ to become a free agent. He's an NHL caliber player at too heavy a price. Because the Rangers buried him in the AHL, we don't have a recent NHL sample for his salary to be compared to, except his 14 PTS in 75 GP in 2010. If my memory serves me correctly, he really sucked that season.

4) Mike Komisarek, TOR: 2 more years at $4.5M - Dead weight, and a likely candidate for an amnesty buyout. His no movement clause prevents Toronto from hiding him the minors like they did with Jeff Finger. In a world where Toronto is jammed up against the salary cap, this contract hurts. He provides virtually no offense while being big and slow. He's not the same player that he was in Montreal, he's been getting progressively worse and might be out of gas by age 30.

5) Ed Jovanovski, FLA: 3 more years at $4.13M - This contract could become a case study for how low income teams can circumvent the salary floor. Sign long contracts with players 35+, and when they retire the cap hit remains while the team no longer has to play the player. Florida would probably rather Jovo retire with a cap hit than have to play him and pay him. It was a great career, but Jovo Cop has nothing left.

6) Ilya Bryzgalov, PHI: 8 more years at $5.6M - Mr Universe had a bad year. The cap hit is reasonable if he can bounce back, but right now Mr Snyder can't be feeling very happy about this contract (especially considering they shipped Carter and Richards out of town to make room for it, two players who just won the Stanley Cup). Perhaps Philly should offer Sean Burke $20M to be their goalie coach? Losing his personal coach might be a contributing factor to the struggles Bryzgalov this season.

7) Shawn Horcoff, EDM: 3 more years at $5.5M - That's a lot of money to spend on 34 PTS and a -23. Edmonton signed him to a 6 year deal in 2009, and his production dropped by 17 PTS the following season. He regressed immediately after signing the contract and has not recovered. Now he's 33 years old with 3 years left at a price he's nowhere near worth. It was a front loaded contract, which just makes the first 3 years of the deal look all that more worse.

8) Ville Leino, BUF: 5 more years at $4.5M - Buffalo, this was too much, too late. He scored just 25 PTS in 2011/12 after 52 PTS the year previous. He had a career year in Philly and Buffalo overpaid for production unlikely to be repeated. In 2012 Leino was closer to his 2010 total of 11 PTS than he was to his 52 PTS in 2011. Buffalo had to pay him $6M this year, and $6M next year. He's 28 years old and has a shot at earning some of that money, but he sure didn't this season.

9) Roberto Luongo, VAN?: 10 more years at $5.3M - The term is the biggest killer with this contract, as the veteran emotionally unstable goaltender is being run out of Vancouver. He's got a few good years left in him, but if he decides to play an extended career, buyer beware. Thank you Roberto for winning that gold medal for Canada on Canadian soil; but as a Vancouver resident who watches many Canuck games, I've seen far too many meltdowns to invest $53M in this over 30 goaltender.

10) Paul Martin, PIT: 3 more years at $5M - Paul Martin had a bad year, proving especially easy to score on, a bad quality for a top 4 D man. The Penguins D were by far the weakest link on this team with Stanley Cup expectations, and this contract makes it difficult for a small budget team like Pittsburgh to re-tool its blueline (an honourable mention to Zybnek Michalek, 3 years at $4M, compounding blueline problem). Interestingly enough, Paul Martin has never missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in his 9 year career, though he's also never been past the 2nd round.

11) Andrei Markov, MTL: 2 more years at $5.75M - Normally I'm against ranking a contract as among the league's worse because of an injury; in this case Montreal knew exactly what they were getting when they offered him this deal. Markov has had so many surgeries now that it is impossible to trust that he'll ever play a complete season again. He's an elite D-man if he can ever get healthy, that's just not something I'd like to wager several million dollars on.

12) Keith Ballard, VAN: 3 more years at $4.2M - A change of scenery might be all it takes for Ballard to play his way back into respectability, but that won't happen while Alain Vigneault is his coach (and coach V has been extended). The biggest knock on him is that he's mistake prone, which can be costly. He had 28 PTS in 82 GP for the 2010 Florida Panthers, and has scored 15 PTS in 126 GP for the Vancouver Canucks. He's not the same player that he was in Florida, which makes you wonder what the Panthers knew when they decided to trade him to Vancouver. Bouwmeester also experienced a similar decline after leaving the hapless Panthers. Who's next on the list?

13) Jay Bouwmeester, CGY: 2 more years at $6.8M - J-Bo is a good player, but he's being overpaid by about $2M annually. He has two active streaks leading the NHL, the current ironman streak on the bright side, and the active leader of NHL GP without playing in the playoffs on the dark side. Neither are all-time records, but he is the active leader in both categories. He never played a playoff game in the WHL either. Is he just unlucky to find himself on bad teams, or is he one of the reasons the team is bad? My final ruling on Bouwmeester, good enough to play top 6 D on any team, but he's not worth what he's being paid.

14) Alex Ovechkin, WSH: 9 more years at $9.5M - He's still among the most dangerous scorers in the league, but considering his rate of decline the last 3 seasons, that term at that price is officially an albatross. He's a $6M player at best and if his body is already starting to wear down, it could be a product of the high velocity, high impact style that he plays. Ergo, 9 more years could have disastrous consequences. Perhaps he'll score 100 PTS next season and make me look foolhardy. Then again, you can score 100 PTS and still make a worst contracts list...

15) Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ: 13 more years at $6.6M - It may seem strange for a player who scored over 100 PTS in the regular season and playoffs to make a worst contracts list, but this is a contract that should be illegal in a salary cap world. The Devils have to pay him $11M for the next 5 years, which is a lot for a team having financial difficulties. Perhaps he won't play up to the age of 42, but the minutes this guy logs, he's going to start running out of gas sooner rather than later. He's owed $79M over the age of 30 (peak production tends to occur near age 27). Maybe the joke is on us an Ilya will retire at age 34, which just goes to show you that contracts like this one should be illegal. In the next CBA, all over 35 years "post retirement" should count against the cap even if the contract was signed at age 28 (but has to play to count against salary floor).

Furthermore, Kovalchuk's weak performance in the finals reminds us that when he loses his burst, he's largely ineffective. His back was sore, but every time he touched the puck, he stopped moving his feet and looked to pass. Good thing they played him so much. The sharp shooting Russian nearly played his way off the worst contracts list through the first three round of the playoffs, but it's the 13 year term that does the most damage. If the Kovalchuk contract prevents them from retaining the services of Zach Parise, that's all the more reason this is a bad contract (opportunity cost)...even if he scores a few goals. If Parise leaves town, expect Kovalchuk's production to drop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Best NHL Playoff Performances By 40 Year Old Goalies

The Los Angeles Kings survived a scare and won the 2012 Stanley Cup, as the New Jersey Devils came back from a 3-0 deficit to force a game 6 thanks to the outstanding play of 40 year old goaltender Martin Brodeur. Marty, arguably the greatest goalie of all time who broke Terry Sawchuk's career shutout record (once thought to be unbreakable), put together perhaps the greatest playoff run ever by a 40 year old goaltender, coming 2 wins short of the Stanley Cup. In 2012 Brodeur had 14 wins, 2.12 GAA, and a .917 SVPCT. Prior to the modern era, there were fewer teams, fewer rounds, and not all series were 7 games. It required less endurance to win the Stanley Cup because players did not have to play as many games. That being said, modern medicine and training techniques have extended playing careers farther than what used to be possible.

Over the last 40 years, there have been 3 memorable performances by 40 year goalies. In 2007 a 42 year old Dominik Hasek posted 10 wins, 1.79 GAA, and a .923 SVPCT playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Hasek had better personal numbers, but came up short in the win column as the Wings lost in the Conference finals that season. In 2011 Dwayne Roloson had 10 wins, 2.51 GAA, and a .924 SVPCT at age 41. Roloson and Hasek posted better save percentages, but failed to advance to the finals. Brodeur had a few bad games (including the one where LA won the Cup) offset by spectacular saves at several key moments in the first 3 rounds. Hasek was the oldest in this group, so his defiance of father time has been the most noteworthy thus far.

All 3 of these best performances Roloson, Hasek, and Brodeur have happened in the last 5 years, not the previous 35 years. The NHL went over 3 decades without a memorable post season by a 40 year old goalie (possibly longer, I capped my own research at 1972). Does this mean that we've only just scratched the surface of great 40 year old seasons? There have been many great performances by goalies in their mid to late to 30s, but the 21st century might turn out to be the millennium of the 40 year old.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Boston Bruins Re-sign Chris Kelly And Greg Campbell

The Boston Bruins have re-signed Chris Kelly to a 4 year contract at $3M per season, and Greg Campbell for 3 years at $1.6M. Kelly returns at a fair price, cheaper than Antoine Vermette or Brooks Laich, more expensive than Max Talbot or Jason Chimera. This contract takes him to age 36, so there will likely be diminishing returns as his production begins to decline with age. Kelly has a similar deal to Tom Kopecky, which seems just about right, neither being a bargain, but quality depth players who can chip in with offense. Boston's prime window is the remaining tenure of Zdeno Chara, because when the big man retires, this team will suffer a major step backwards (more so than the loss of Thomas). Year 4 of the Kelly deal will hurt, but he's somebody they need back next year. Good move by Boston.

Gregory Campbell also inked a new deal, though his return is not quite as significant. When you look at his production and tenure comparables around the league, his new salary is at the high end of what the other guys are making (he's tied with Vernon Fiddler at $1.8M). He's still only 29 and theoretically has more in the tank than Kelly, but has a far lower offensive upside. By resigning both of these players today, the Bruins have retained 2 modestly contributing components of their Stanley Cup winning team, which is clearly the objective of management. Win while you're good. Makes sense.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Which 2012 NHL RFAs Will Get The Biggest Pay Raise?

Which NHL restricted free agents are going to get the biggest pay raises in the summer of 2012? Here's my top 5; taking into consideration that a player like Shea Weber will probably get the most money of any RFA, but he also made $7.5M last season. The players below all made $1.3M or less in 2011/12, and will be making considerably more than that next season.

1) Erik Karlsson, Ott: If he wins the Norris, which he probably will, he'll probably be looking for Drew Doughty money, and Doughty has never won a Norris trophy. He will cost Ottawa at least $6.5M, but could go as high as $7.5M annual cap hit. Ottawa will be trying to get more of a Keith Yandle type deal. He rejuvenated the career of Jason Spezza.

2) Jamie Benn, Dal: It will be interesting to see what this settlement turns out to be. He's proven to be one of the most valuable players on the Stars, but the team might play hardball given their financial hardships. They'll want to give him a similar contract to Loui Eriksson, but consider that $4.2M is a bargain price, Benn could ask for more.

3) PK Subban, Mtl: He should at least triple his salary on his next contract, but we'll see what kind of number he's got in mind and what kind of number Bergevin has in mind. If he thinks that he's worth north of $4M, it might be tough to get a deal done.

4) Michael Del Zotto, NYR: The most valuable offensive defenseman on the Rangers, after a strong performance in the playoffs he should be getting at least $4M-$5M. The Rangers would ideally like to keep him in the Girardi range of $3.3M, which is a bargain.

5) Ryan O'Reilly, Col: If the Avalanche just gave David Jones $4M for 4 years after a 37 point season, how much will they give O'Reilly after scoring 55 PTS? He could get Stastny money.

Monday, June 4, 2012

15 Best Contracts In NHL 2012

Who are the best contracts in hockey in 2012? The two main qualifiers are at least 2 years remaining on the contract, and the player must make less than $5M per season. There are some bargains out there with 1 year remaining on their deals, but those players will be evaluated in the pool of pending free agents rather than long term investments. Last year's best contracts list had Letang #1 and Giroux #2, but the step forward that Claude Giroux took this season has leapfrogged him to the top of the list.

To answer the question which commodity is most difficult to find, a forward as good as Giroux or a defenseman as good as Letang (from a strictly PTS perspective), I did a quick check of my database of NHL draft picks. The probably of drafting a forward who can score 0.85 PTS per game in at least 200 GP before age 25 is a paltry 1.07%. The probability of drafting a defenseman who can score at least 0.48 PTS per GP under the same conditions is also exactly 1.07%. They are equally difficult to find.

So, without further adieu, here are the 15 best contracts in the NHL in 2012. If the list were 16 contracts long, Marc Staal would have squeezed in.

1) Claude Giroux, PHI: 2 more years at $3.75M - If you ask his coach, this is the best player in the league. Last year this contract ranked #2 to Kris Letang, but by virtue of Philly upsetting the favoured Penguins (thanks in large part to Giroux), he's now the best player at the best price. It's astonishing to me that Philly had the season they had after trading Richards, Carter, and losing Pronger. Bryzgalov was terrible for most of the season, so how did Philly only fall 3 PTS from their 2011 standing? Claude Giroux, that's how.

2 ) Kris Letang, PIT: 2 more years at $3.5M - After a season with multiple head injuries, he is still among the best defensemen in the NHL when healthy and an absolute bargain at that price. His first four seasons were nothing special offensively, it wasn't last year that his production increased substantially (ironically after the team lost both Crosby and Malkin). When the superstars had gone away, Letang showed up to play. He hasn't looked back.

3) Dan Girardi, NYR: 2 more years at $3.3M - He proved his value in the playoffs this season, with the Rangers leaning heavily on Girardi in their run to the Eastern finals. He had more PTS in the playoffs than Gaborik or Callahan. His next contract should demand in the $5M range, depending on how his development progresses. He'd be a top 4 D on any team in the NHL.

4) Dustin Brown, LA: 2 more at $3.15M - From the moment he was rumoured to be on the trading block, Dustin caught fire and hasn't looked back. Next to Jon Quick, he's been the Kings best player in the playoffs and his name is being thrown around by many as a formidable Conn Smythe candidate. He might be the lowest paid captain in the NHL. LA took a gamble signing him to a 6 year deal in 2008, and it has paid off.

5) Loui Eriksson, DAL: 4 more years at $4.3M - Loui doesn't get enough credit for what he brings to the line-up, scoring 71 PTS and a +18 on a team that barely missed the playoffs after barely missing the playoffs with Brad Richards the year before. This contract carries him through his peak years of production.

6) Matt Moulson, NYI - 2 more years at $3.1M - This player has quietly emerged as a legitimate scoring threat with at least 30 goals in each of his first 3 full seasons. If you can get 70 PTS for $3.1M, that's a great contract. With John Tavares emerging as a star player, Moulson could put up some big numbers on the last two years of this deal. If they could ever stabilize their goaltending and defense, the Islanders could become a scary team rather quickly. That's a big "if".

7) Logan Couture, SJ: 2 more years at $2.9M - He's a poor man's Steven Stamkos. A similar mould of player with a lower ceiling. He's a good shooter who shoots often, but must be paired with a playmaker who can get him the puck (which fortunately they have in San Jose). The 23 year old has only played 184 regular season NHL games, but has already accumulated 38 GP of playoff experience. Even if San Jose decides to do a partial rebuild and move some big pieces, Logan Couture won't be among those traded.

8) Jaroslav Halak, STL: 2 more years at $3.75M - He is among the best goaltenders in the NHL. After the Blues quick departure from the 2nd round, Halak will go in to camp as the clear #1. St. Louis might even go so far as to shop Elliot, but considering his bargain basement price, he's a solid option for your #2 goalie. Most of us still remember Halak from that ridiculous playoff run a few years ago with Montreal, and from what I've seen this season, he's still that guy. Too bad for the Blues he was injured in the playoffs.

9) Ryan Callahan, NYR: 2 more years at $4.25M - He worked his way onto this list with a gutsy performance in the playoffs and has established himself as a premier two way player. His 55 PTS this season were the most in his 6 year career, so in terms of offensive production, he'll never be in the elite tier. He blocks a lot of shots, provides strong leadership, character, great penalty killing, power play goals; basically a more expensive version of Dustin Brown.

10) Andrew Shaw, CHI: 2 more years at $565K - The sample size is still very small on Shaw, but he had a substantial impact in Chicago's line-up, providing physical play with some offensive upside. He's a legitimate sleeper in deeper fantasy hockey formats, and a player that any team in the NHL would love to have for close to the league minimum.

11) Matt Read, PHI: 2 more years at $900K - Probably the Flyers best rookie this season with 47 PTS, his arrival helped offset the loss of offense they shipped out of town last summer. As a young player it's uncertain where his development will lead, but at the moment this Bemidji State University alumni is looking like a very effective player for under a million dollars.

12) Jannik Hansen, VAN: 2 more at $1.4M - His "offensive explosion" up to 16 goals might not be sustainable (without extended periods playing with the twins), but he's a tenacious defensive player, fast skater, and an elite penalty killer. At that price, any team would love to have him.

13) Colin Greening, OTT: 2 more years at $816K - This rookie of the year candidate proved to be a very important component of the 2011/12 Ottawa Senators playoff appearance. Granted he did all but disappear in the playoffs, notching only a single assist, no goals. Anytime I've watched Ottawa, this kid has impressed me (playoffs notwithstanding). He's a fast skater.

14) Brian Elliot, STL: 2 more years at $1.8M - The ease with which LA dispatched ST. Louis from the playoffs did have an adverse effect on Elliot's value after a shocking Vezina caliber season that nobody saw coming. He seemed to get progressively worse as the Kings won more games, and is always in danger of reverting back to the old Brian Elliot. There's no question that he benefited from the Hitchcock defensive system, the question next year is which Brian Elliot will show up at training camp?

15) Jake Gardiner, TOR: 2 more years at $1.1M - If he's even half as good as Leaf fans seem to think he is, then he has to make this list. Granted, Leaf fan has been so starved for success that even a glimmer of hope  can be confused for a bright sunny day. If he's not one of the 15 best contracts in the NHL, he's at least the best contract on the Maple Leafs, for what that's worth...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tim Thomas Wants To Take A Year Off?

When Tim Thomas announced today that he might decide to "take a year off", many pundits were left scratching their heads wondering why he wouldn't just retire. At the age of 38, his playing window is very small. Taking a year off and coming back to play at 40 doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Even if he were to retire, because his contract was signed after age 35, his $5M would still count against the cap.  Were he to file his retirement papers, the Bruins would not be able to trade him. Staying "active" still allows Boston to trade his rights, which might be the entire purpose of this facade. This might be Timmy's way of saying "trade me right f**king now", though he's not necessarily helping his trade value. If I had to read between the lines, he's saying that he doesn't want to play in Boston anymore. If he's traded this summer, my guess is he'll be on the ice in October. It's likely that he has played his last game as a Boston Bruin.