Verifying The Vezina Victor

Vezina.png

Many believe four starters have separated themselves from the pack to vie for the Vezina – but are we forgetting anyone? 

The NHL awards are never without its controversy, and the 2018 version will be no different with some of the most prestigious awards being heavily contested. Although Connor McDavid seems to be locking in his second Art Ross trophy, there are at least 5 legitimate candidates vying for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player (to his team, if we are using the proper definition). A similar argument can be made for the Vezina trophy this season, awarded to the league’s most valuable goaltender.

At first glance, voting for the Vezina might seem straight-forward. Andrei Vasilevksiy, Pekka Rinne, and Connor Hellebuyck look like the clear front-runners. With a gun to their head, most fans, players, and analysts would give the 35-year-old Rinne his first Vezina trophy. As the ‘safe’ pick, this is the most likely scenario – but does Rinne actually deserve the accolades?

The position of goaltending has puzzled people in analytics for years. It is a position which statistically not only varies substantially from year to year but is also heavily influenced by the team and system in front of him. Outside of 5-10 goalies who are relatively consistent year-to-year, there are 20-30 athletes that constantly fluctuate in rankings, some of whom can take the crown in any given season. The main factor is that there are only 31 (soon to be 32) jobs available in the NHL, and until a goaltender gets a legitimate opportunity as a starter, you don’t really know what you have in a player. There are several examples to point to, from Brian Elliot to Sergei Bobrovsky to Devan Dubnyk to Ben Bishop. All four of these guys have put up Vezina-caliber numbers in the past, but none on the team to which they were originally drafted.

The most recent examples are Scott Darling and Antti Raanta, who have served as backups the last few seasons behind world-class starters Crawford and Lundqvist. Both had their first opportunity as starters this season and have earned very different results. Using almost every goalie metric from Rob Vollman’s 2017 Hockey Abstract, one would think that Raanta and Darling had equal chance to succeed with their new clubs. In fact, one might have even given the edge to Darling. Clearly, that hasn’t been the case, which is why the search for reliable future indicators continues.

Opportunity is everything in the NHL, but no position has it stats altered as much by team play as a goaltending.

The Honorable Mentions

fleury

Flower leads all goaltenders in save percentage, saving 93.1% of shots in 45 starts. (photo: reviewjournal.com)

Before we jump into the analysis of the contenders, I want to give a shout out to goalies who have had amazing seasons and could definitely be in the conversation if not for one key flaw: games played. M.A. Fleury, Antti Raanta, Corey Crawford and Roberto Luongo are goaltenders that are putting up numbers on par with all of our Vezina candidates, but none have started over 45 games this season. That’s 13 games fewer than Pekka Rinne, our contender with the least amount of starts (58), or 22% fewer starts. That is significant enough to keep them out of the race as it is difficult to sustain such gaudy numbers as a goaltender. Sooner or later, like with most statistics, all numbers will regress towards the mean.

However, that’s not to say that any of these players have not performed on a similar level as the contenders, just that they haven’t had the chance to prove they can sustain these numbers for longer periods due to injuries at some juncture. Still, I give them all a round of applause and pat on the back for their performance this season; and isn’t that just as good as a Vezina?

Re-thinking Traditional Metrics

When voting for the Vezina, four main criteria are often judged: Wins, Goals Against Average (GAA), Save Percentage (sv%) and Shutouts (SO). Below we will break down each category, and try to normalize those stats which are largely team dependent. The goal is to analyze each player in a vacuum, to see how each would perform given similar circumstances.

To do this, emerging goaltender statistics will be used, and an explanation of those that are not explained below can be found here: GOALTENDING ANALYTICS GLOSSARY. Shutouts were ignored because they are not great indicators of performance. An 18-save shutout is given the same credit as a 45-save shutout, when in fact they are vastly different performances. That’s why save percentage is the most important figure. Let’s start will the largest team dependent stat – wins.

Wins

Marty Brodeur has been quoted saying, “Wins are the most important goalie statistic because that’s what we are paid to do.” As the all-time leader in goalie wins, I think it’s easy to see why he feels this way.  I think most goaltenders would disagree, given the fact that they rarely get to decide which team they play for and most elite goaltenders like Hasek or Roy would have seen similar success on a dynasty New Jersey Devils roster that finished near the top of the standings year after year. In fact, there was once a blog dedicated to why Brodeur is a fraud.

The truth is, wins, or even winning percentage, are a poor indicator of a goaltender’s performance. A goalie, or team, win a game if they score more goals than they allow. Of course, a goaltender contributes to goal prevention, but they have no significant impact on goal production (puck-moving goalies be damned!). Here’s a comparison of the Vezina contenders, looking at their winning percentage as well as their goal support.

Table 1: Analyzing Win % using Goal Support 

Goalie

Games Started

Win %

G.F.A.

G.A.A.

G.F.A. – G.A.A

Gibson

60

52%

2.83

2.43

0.4

Rinne

58

71%

3.17

2.32

0.85

Vasilevsky

63

68%

3.39

2.58

0.81

Hellebuyck

62

68%

3.45

2.4

1.05

Bobrovsky

64

58%

2.83

2.38

0.45

Quick

61

52%

2.84

2.34

0.5

As you can see, Connor Hellebuyck has had far more goal support than most of our contenders. I have created another column to find the differential in goals-against average and goals for average in an attempt to put all of our goaltenders on an equal playing field. It’s not only important that goaltenders stop the puck, but it’s imperative that they at least out-duel their opponent. There are countless cases where a goaltender can have a great game and still give up three goals or more. The far right column gives you an idea of each goalie’s margin for error to outduel their opponent for the win. Given their win percentage under their current goal support differential, let’s look at what their records would be if they had equal goal support.

Table 2: Win % using Connor Hellebuyck’s G.F.A

Goalie

Games Started

Win %

G.F.A.

G.A.A.

G.F.A. – G.A.A.

Gibson

60

71.6%

3.45

2.43

1.02

Rinne

58

81%

3.45

2.32

1.13

Vasilevskiy

63

73%

3.45

2.58

0.87

Hellebuyck

62

68%

3.45

2.4

1.05

Bobrovsky

64

75%

3.45

2.38

1.07

Quick

61

66.1%

3.45

2.34

1.11

Winning percentage was calculated by taking the GFA & GAA differential, and multplying it by Games Started. By subtracting this Table 2 value from the same Table 1 value, it provides us with a number of added goals for each goaltender. Using their current OT/SO losses, and the established 3 goals = 1 point or 6 goals = 1 win law, a new winning percentage was calculated.

You can see that winning percentage becomes much closer if they are all given equal goal support. Rinne still has a lengthy lead given his fewer games played, but Gibson, Bobrovsky, and Quick show that they would be near the league lead in wins given the Winnipeg Jets’ goal support. Hellebuyck drops from a tie for second into fifth place on our chart, and given that wins are one of his strengths in the Vezina conversation, he seems to be slipping out of contention. On the other hand, Bobrovsky seems to have made a case to be amongst the finalists if you consider winning percentage as a crucial measure. Let’s look a little deeper.

Goals Against Average and Team Defense

The numbers above are not perfect, because a large factor involved is GAA. As mentioned, goalies cannot control the number of goals their team scores but they do contribute to their GAA. But how much does a team’s defensive system (or lack thereof) affect their numbers? Given that GAA is still very much a team-oriented stat, let’s have a look at each team’s defensive play.

Table 3: Team Defensive Metrics

Goalie

SA/60

Team Corsi For % (league rank)

Team GA/60 (league rank)

Gibson

32.8

48.46 (22nd)

2.09 (6th)

Rinne

31.7

51.52 (9th)

2.01 (t-2nd)

Vasilevskiy

32.6

51.71 (7th)

2.23 (11th)

Hellebuyck

31

51.47 (10th)

2.24 (12th)

Bobrovsky

30.4

51.76 (6th)

2.19 (8th)

Quick

30.7

49.89 (16th)

2 (1st)

All statistics from nhl.com & corsica.hockey

This sheds a little more light on the amount of work each goaltender is facing. Gibson just outranks Vasilevskiy for shots-against per 60 minutes of play, which is over two shots more per game than Jonathon Quick. The Ducks are also by far the worst possession team of the bunch, and all but Quick’s Kings are in the top-10. This means that Anaheim is consistently playing without the puck and allowing more shot attempts than any of the other teams in question. Even with their lower-than-average possession numbers, the Kings are still the best overall defensive team in the league allowing exactly two goals against per 60 minutes. Not surprisingly, Rinne’s Predators are a hair away from being a top defensive team with the Kings, while also ranking in the top 10 for possession. That, in part, explains his extremely high winning percentage.
Another important tool to use is Goals Saved Above Average. Although it is not perfect as a cumulative measure (like plus/minus) it does paint a picture of how far above the average each goalie is performing based on his quantity of shots. Here’s a look at GSAA in different situations. Some numbers vary from site-to-site, but for better or for worse here’s what Corsica’s numbers produced:
Table 4: A look at GSAA (50+ Games Played)

Goalie

GSAA All sit. (rank)

GSAA ES (rank)

GSAA 5v5 (rank)

GSAA PK (rank)

Gibson

32.51 (2nd)

14.25 (2nd)

14.09 (2nd)

15.07 (1st)

Rinne

24.5 (4th)

19.49 (2nd)

13.13 (3rd)

-0.42 (62nd)

Vasilevskiy

0.31 (13th)

2.27 (10th)

4.5 (8th)

12.6 (2nd)

Hellebuyck

16.38 (6th)

2.02 (11th)

0.66 (11th)

-5.97 (88th)

Bobrovsky

34.92 (1st)

36.36 (1st)

33.45 (1st)

-1.93 (70th)

Quick

26.5 (3rd)

11.49 (5th)

12.94 (4th)

9.34 (4th)

The first column is most important, as it’s a catch-all statistic, but the others provide some context. Bobrovsky, Gibson, Rinne, and Quick definitely show that they are providing a lot more value to their team than an average goaltender would. If we go by the same law of 3 goals = 1 point in the standings, both Bobrovsky and Gibson have provided their team with over 10 points more relative to an average goaltender.

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Sergei Bobrovsky has inserted himself into Vezina contention using advanced metrics (photo: sportsnet.ca)

On the flip side, it seems that Vasilevskiy’s numbers are heavily influenced by his team, with under a goal saved above average in all situations. In fact, Cam Talbot ranked ahead of him in this category. That means if the two swapped teams their numbers this season would look vastly different. However, we shouldn’t accept this as gospel just yet, as hockey-reference.com has very different results with Vasilevskiy’s GSAA at 16.9 ranking ninth overall in the league, well ahead of Cam Talbot’s -10.93 which has him ranked 60th overall (and aligns with common sense). Corsica’s numbers were used because of the ability to separate each GSAA situation. For what it’s worth, hockey-reference has Rinne ranked 1st, Gibson 3rd, Quick 5th, Hellebuyck 6th and Bobrovsky 8th, still all ahead of Vasilevskiy.

Save Percentage and Shot Quality

Now we come to the holy grail of traditional goaltending statistics, save percentage. It has long been regarded as the most accurate for describing goaltending performance but still has its imperfections. For example, if Goalie A stopped 36/38 shots (0.947), he has a superior save percentage than Goalie B who stopped 23/25 shots (0.920) and is thought to have had the better performance. But this isn’t fair as it does not account for shot quality or man-power situation. If both of the goals Goalie B let in were on the penalty kill and Goalie A was at even strength, the picture changes. Or if most of Goalie A’s shots were routine saves from the perimeter, and Goalie B faced far more high-danger scoring chances, then who really had the better game? The classic quality over quantity debate. That’s why Sv% has been tweaked to account for shot-location and manpower situations.

Table 5: Situational Sv%

Goalie

Sv% All sit. (rank)

Sv% ES (rank)

Sv.% 5v5 (rank)

Sv% PK (rank)

Gibson

0.926 (2nd)

0.927 (7th)

0.929 (8th)

0.920 (1st)

Rinne

0.927 (1st)

0.938 (1st)

0.937 (1st)

0.869 (17th)

Vasilevskiy

0.921(6th)

0.930 (3rd)

0.932 (4th)

0.889 (15th)

Hellebuyck

0.922 (4th)

0.928 (5th)

0.930 (7th)

0.901 (4th)

Bobrovsky

0.922 (5th)

0.935 (2nd)

0.936 (2nd)

0.845 (24th)

Quick

0.924 (3rd)

0.928 (6th)

0.931 (5th)

0.894 (6th)

Looking at the first column, it’s easy to see why these are the Vezina contenders, but it should also be easy to see why further analysis is necessary when discussing the trophy. Even though Rinne’s 0.927sv% is clearly above Vaslievskiy’s 0.921sv%, in reality, that accounts for only three more goals against for every 500 shots against – AKA it’s too frickin’ close! That’s why more context is needed. For example, John Gibson is a God on the penalty kill. Given that Rinne’s Predators are only one spot below the Ducks in the PK rankings, and that his teammate Saros out-performs him in odd-man situations, one can assume that Gibson has been much better at facing high-danger scoring chances and in fact, is the major reason why his team performs so well on the PK. With Rinne and the Predators, it’s more of an ‘in-spite-of’ situation. However, it’s hard to fault Rinne too much as his Sv% ranks first in all other categories. But how much of that is playing behind the best defense in the league and facing low-danger chances? I’m glad you asked.

Table 6: Accounting for Shot Quality

Goalie  xSv% dSv% LDsv% MDSv% HDSv%
Gibson 0.908 1.74 0.984 0.933 0.828
Rinne 0.913 1.35 0.977 0.929 0.828
Vasilevskiy 0.921 0.02 0.977 0.913 0.801
Hellebuyck 0.914 0.83 0.977 0.920 0.809
Bobrovsky 0.904 1.8 0.975 0.921 0.835
Quick 0.909 1.45 0.969 0.932 0.828

Here are images to illustrate the most dangerous scoring areas on the ice borrowed from blueshirtbanter.com

 

This might be the most telling table of the bunch, and further illustrates the findings that Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy’s impressive numbers are more a result of their team’s play than the rest of our contenders. Expected save percentage (xSv%) tells us what one would expect a goalie’s Sv% to be accounting for the quality of each shot faced. Bobrovsky and Gibson are the class of group, far surpassing the expectations as seen by dSv%, which is the difference between their actual sv% and what is expected. Quick and Rinne also perform very well, even though they play in much better defensive systems. The table also breaks down low, medium and high danger Sv% and again, Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy fall far below the pack.

Conclusion

After much deliberation and weighing the numbers, my Vezina Trophy nominees are:

  • John Gibson
  • Pekka Rinne
  • Sergei Bobrovsky

Just edging out Jonathon Quick. The evidence above is enough for me to dismiss Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy, given their team statistics and save percentage numbers. This analysis has provided a lot of great insight and has separated the pack in what seemed to be a very even race. Given the team circumstances, I would award the Vezina to Gibson, but any one of the finalists are extremely deserving candidates. As it is likely Rinne’s trophy to lose, it appears that justice will be served!

Trade Deadline 2018: Ten Deals that Make Sense

 

 

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs

Pacioretty will likely be the biggest name moved prior to the deadline (Photo: Yahoo Sports)

With the NHL Trade Deadline is less than a week away there is increasing urgency for General Managers (GMs) that need to make deals to improve their teams heading to the playoffs. It seems that the parity of the league has increased the number of buyers this deadline, making it a seller’s market. There are also a number of players on the block with term left on their contract from teams in tricky financial or re-building situations like Ottawa or Arizona which opens the door for more ‘hockey trades’. This deadline is poised to be one that not only sees Stanley Cup contenders acquiring rental players to put them over the top, but also bubble teams hoping to improve their team this season and beyond. The challenge for GMs searching for deals is to find a team that lacks what they have in excess while also possessing a position they need. Below I have done my best to match potential trade partners and propose trades that work for both sides. Without further adieu, here are the top ten trades that make sense for the 2018 trade deadline:

Thomas Vanek to Anaheim

Anaheim Receives:

Thomas Vanek

Vancouver Receives:

Jacob Larsson, Max Jones, 2018 3rd Round Pick

Where there’s smoke…

Anaheim is in the middle of the dogfight that is the Western Conference playoff race. Though they currently sit third in the Pacific Division, every team chasing them has games in hand, meaning they need to hope for their opponents to lose instead of controlling their own destiny. While the Ducks could use a depth defenseman, their biggest need is a scoring winger. They currently sit 23rd overall in goals for/game and 25th in powerplay percentage. Though injuries have definitely been a factor in these numbers, there’s no question that they could use another scoring threat in the top nine. I still believe Pacioretty would be a better target for them, but Vanek will definitely be a bargain buy to help improve these numbers. With their aging core, the Ducks are in win-now mode and have the prospect depth to pull off this kind of deal.

Kudos to Canucks GM Jim Benning for signing Vanek in the offseason for this very reason. Not only did the signing keep his team competitive and allow younger players to develop in insulated roles, but it will also provide him with assets moving forward. These are the types of underrated moves that really improve the depth of an organization and one of the reasons Benning earned himself a contract extension last week.

Max Pacioretty to St. Louis

St. Louis receives:

Max Pacioretty

Montreal receives:

Robby Fabbri, Klim Kostin, Jake Walman, 2019 Conditional 2nd*

*Becomes a 4th if Fabbri plays more than 25 games for Montreal in 2019

As Louis Jean of TVA in Quebec reported, the Blues have inquired about Max Pacioretty. Looking at the Blues roster, it would seem to make more sense to improve their centre depth instead of getting help on the wing, but it seems Doug Armstrong disagrees as he has also had chats with Ottawa about bringing in Mike Hoffman. One thing is clear, the Blues need to make a move. They have been stuck in mediocrity for a few years now and could lose Paul Stastny this offseason to free agency. Meanwhile, Dallas has overtaken their once seemingly comfortable position in third place in the Central Division and the Blues are in serious danger of slipping out of the playoffs. With their depth at defense and in goal, it’s clear that the Blues could use another player to spread the scoring out. You have to give to get, and in acquiring Pacioretty the Blues are able to not subtract anything (that’s not already) not on their current roster, or give up their top prospects in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.

This deal helps Montreal two-fold. They get three very effective young players in Fabbri, Walman and Kostin that could step in and help their team as soon as next season. Fabbri is the real wild card in this deal for Montreal, as he re-injured an already surgically repaired knee in training camp this season. The promising third year pro is someone who relies on his speed to be effective, so his career remains a huge question mark at this point. However, players have come back from worse and Fabbri is definitely worth the risk for the Canadiens, and the reason a conditional pick is involved. Walman adds depth to a thin blue-line and Kostin is a big-bodied Russian sniper that could look like a big steal at the end of the first round of the 2018 draft.

Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh receives:

Derrick Brassard

Ottawa receives:

Ian Cole, 2018 1st round pick, Connor Sheary, Filip Gustavsson

Though I believe Jarry would be the main target for the Senators out of Pittsburgh, the Penguins aren’t going to part with him before the playoffs unless they have already acquired some goaltending insurance. The Senators acquire another first round pick in a deep draft and a solid goaltending prospect in Gustavsson who led team Sweden to silver at the World Juniors last month. Ian Cole is someone they could re-sign to add depth to their blueline moving forward, and along with Connor Sheary, needs to be included for cap purposes. Sheary is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife who has shown he can play up and down the lineup but has been usurped in Pittsburgh despite an impressive playoff run last season.

Pittsburgh is in all-out win mode and even though they don’t have the deepest prospect pool they are willing to give up futures if it means a three-peat. They’ve been in the market for another center all year and Brassard as a proven playoff performer would give them tremendous depth behind the Crosby-Malkin two-headed monster down the middle for this year and next.

Rick Nash to Nashville

Photo: russianmachineneverbreaks.com

Nashville receives:

Rick Nash (salary retained)

New York receives:

2018 1st round pick, Frederic Allard, Pontus Aberg

With every other Western Conference team in the hunt loading up, the Predators cannot sit idle, and Nash to Nashville is too perfect to pass up. With the recent statement of Rangers ownership and management, it’s clear that the Rangers are going into complete re-build mode. Adding another first in the 2018 draft for someone they weren’t planning on re-signing goes a long way to right the ship. Allard, a defenseman is a former 3rd round pick of the Predators and if you trust anyone’s defenseman scouting department, it’s Nashville’s. Aberg is a sweetner that can help the Rangers in the immediate future, an potentially someone who can thrive in a larger role (ala every player in Vegas).

Nashville gets one of the premier two-way wingers on the market that can help them on a Stanley Cup run and potentially even re-signed in the offseason. Giving up their 2018 first rounder stings, as they are already without their second-round pick in the Turris deal, but with prospects like Tolvanen and Fabbro in the system they can afford the blow to the prospect pool.

Mike Green to Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay receives:

Mike Green

Detroit receives:

Anthony Cirelli, Libor Hajek, 2nd round pick

This is the first of two deals I forsee the for the Lightning to help bring the Cup back to Tampa Bay. Steve Yzerman has put himself in an ideal position as a Stanley Cup favoruite this deadline with the amount of quality prospects he has collected at every position. The Bolts have the assets to pull off big trades, and Stevey Y is going shopping. This deal is almost a no-brainer for the Lightning as they need more defensive depth on the right side to accompany Stralman and Dotchin. Green has also stated he would waive his No-Trade Clause if a deal to Tampa Bay was struck, so it seems like a match made in heaven.

Detroit improves their organizational depth significantly in the future with the acquisition of former World Junior Championship standouts Cirelli and Hajek. Cirelli is having a great rookie campaign in the AHL and could potentially step into the lineup next year, while Hajek is a couple of years away as he will be battling for the Memorial Cup this spring in its 100th anniversary as part of the host Regina Pats.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau to Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay receives:

J.G. Pageau

Ottawa receives:

Taylor Raddysh, Mitchell Stephens, 2019 4th round pick

Stevey Y goes fishing for a bargain buy as and has the assets to get it done. In Pageau the Lightning acquire another forward the fits the mold of skill and speed that is under cost control for two seasons beyond this. If Yzerman feels like he already has enough of this type of player in guys like Point, Gourde, and Johnson he might take a stab at someone like Maroon instead. Though Maroon provides size and physicality that can help in the postseason, Pageau seems like a much better fit for the system Jon Cooper employs and has solid playoff resume of his own:

Tampa fans might think this is a lot to give up for the struggling Pageau, but he has term left on his contract and even with trading Raddysh, Stephens, Hajek and Cirelli there is an embarrassment of riches in the system with Katchouk, Foote, Howden and Joseph on the way. With the impending expansion draft, it’s prudent for Stevey Y to sell some of these assets before losing one for nothing.

Eugene Melnyk has to approve any deal that GM Pierre Dorion is working out, and shedding 3.1M with new contracts to Stone, Duchene and Karlsson on the horizon is an opportunity too good to pass up for the Senators. Not to mention, they get two very solid cost-controlled assets that can join Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, and Colin White in Ottawa’s up-and-coming forward corps. Having the financial restrictions the Senators do with the Stone, Duchene and Karlsson contract negotiations impending puts the team in a tough position, but with a move or two it may not be all doom and gloom in Ottawa’s future.

Johnny Oduya to Toronto

Toronto receives:

Johnny Oduya

Ottawa receives:

Josh Leivo, Martin Marincin

I originally had Gudbranson heading to Toronto, based on the team fit and the rumors that had been circulating around him for the better part of a month. With him off the block, the market for a rental defenseman is thinning for teams like the Maple Leafs who could use a reliable defender to slot into one of their bottom pairs. There remains potential for the Leafs to now target Chris Tanev, but that deal would be something more likely to occur at the draft in the offseason, with many moving parts. Tanev has also just gone down with another injury for a few weeks, so it’s likely the Leafs stay away for now. In Oduya, the Leafs acquire one of the better rental defensemen on the market with a Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and someone that should, like Ron Hainsey, play a simple steady game and eat up minutes alongside some of their more ‘risky’ defenders (I’m looking at you Jake Gardiner). Although Oduya is left-handed, he has experience playing the right side which is something Toronto desperately needs. Sending Marincin along with Leivo provides the Leafs with some more contract flexibility to add a player like Glendening in a separate deal. If they trade Leivo it’s likely they will look to add more insurance up front.

As a 36-year-old unrestricted free agent, Ottawa will be happy to take a flier on a player like Leivo that can provide them with some scoring depth to let their high-end forward prospects more time to develop. He is a cost-controlled asset that will earn under $1 million next season and remain a restricted free-agent, something that will make owner Eugene Melnyk approve.

Patrick Maroon to Boston

Boston receives:

Patrick Maroon

Edmonton receives:

Zach Senyshyn, 2019 2nd round pick

It will be interesting to see where Maroon ends up, but given their relatively thin prospect pool, I think Boston miss out on some of the bigger names and focus on a guy like Maroon. In fact, there’s a good chance he ends up being more effective than some of the more recognizable names like Vanek or Nash. He is not a product of McDavid and a solid player in his own right, but what he does lack is foot speed. On a cycle-heavy, physical team like the Bruins he should be a good fit to help their top 9 heading into the postseason.

The Oilers do this to prevent losing Maroon for nothing in the offseason and pick up a winger prospect that isn’t quite living up to his draft status. If Senyshyn will succeed anywhere, it’s next to McDavid or Draisaitl and worth the gamble for some cheap scoring punch for Peter Chiarelli.

Jack Johnson to New Jersey

New Jersey receives:

Jack Johnson

Columbus receives:

John Moore, Michael McLeod, 2019 3rd round pick

The only team that will give up enough assets to convince the Blue Jackets to trade Jack Johnson down the stretch run is one confident in their ability to re-sign him. Not only does New Jersey have a big need for help on the blueline, they have plenty of cap space to retain Johnson beyond this season. He will be a welcome addition on a Devils team battling to make the playoffs this season and looking to compete for years to come.

Columbus gets back a former 1st round pick of theirs in John Moore, who is also an unrestricted free agent, to maintain their depth down the stretch. McLeod is a nice addition to their forward depth and while he perhaps hasn’t developed as quickly as the Devils would have hoped, he is someone that still has potential as long as he isn’t rushed into the league.

Evander Kane to Dallas

Sabres Must Decide On Evander Kane - The Runner Sports

Photo: therunnersports.com

Dallas receives:

Evander Kane

Buffalo receives:

2018 2nd round pick, Conditional 2019 1st round pick*, rights to Valeri Nichuskin, Denis Guryanov

*Included if Kane re-signs in Dallas

With all of the contenders into buyers mode, Dallas doesn’t get left behind. With plenty of picks in the next two drafts, they are the most attractive future assets the Stars have to offer. In Kane, the Stars acquire a legitimate top 6 winger for their second line who brings an eliment of physicality that is unique in the league. Kane can hit, fight, shoot and score and with the supporting cast up front that the Stars already boast, he has the potential to be a lethal secondary scoring option. There’s potential for the Stars to bring Miro Heiskanen over at the end of his Finnish league season, which would provide the Stars with enough depth at every position to be a legitimate threat in the playoffs.

The Sabres pick up two draft picks to use as currency to end their losing ways, as well as a pair of promising young Russian snipers. There is a good chance Nichuskin will make a return to the NHL next season and Guryanov is still making the transition to the pro game getting his feet wet in the AHL. While they may never live up to their draft ranking, they are two players that are a low-risk, high-reward acquisitions for the Sabres.

Make the All-Star Game Great Again

Okay, maybe the All-Star game was never great, maybe I was just young and naïve. But the event seems to lack the luster that existed in my pre-teen days. Remember North-America vs. the World? Remember when Owen Nolan pulled a Babe-Ruth and told the Dominator where he was shooting, before roofing it for the hattrick?

Yeah, that was the shit.

Now? Well, now the NHL has something that technically doesn’t even qualify as the same sport with a divisional 3-on-3 tournament. Don’t get me wrong, I love 3-on-3 hockey as much as the next guy or gal, but everyone should step back and appreciate how nauseatingly gimmicky the All-Star game has become. Once the current format becomes stale, one has to wonder how much more creative the league can get to keep fans engaged. The powers that be think Kid Rock is the answer to drawing more interest, which should underscore just how dire the situation has become. The irony is that the NHL has already created the solution to their problem. It’s a good thing the NHO Show is here to point them in the right direction.

The Solution

Let me start by saying that All-Star games are inherently gimmicky and it’s difficult in any sport to get the purists to buy-in. In the NBA, no one plays defense. In contact sports like the NFL and NHL, there is limited contact to prevent injury. Only the MLB provides actual motivation for one side to win the All-Star game, with the winning conference getting home ice advantage for the World Series. One can argue the merit of this strategy and whether it would work in the NHL, but it’s definitely one way to make the game more interesting.

In hockey, the only time fans get to see best-on-best in a meaningful situation is at international tournaments – which is exactly where the idea for our new All-Star format comes from.

Under 25 vs. 25 & Over

More than ever, the NHL is a young man’s game. The amount of young talent in the league is incredible and these players deliver a brand of fast, skilled and exciting hockey. Taking a page out of Team North America from the World Cup, I propose that we do the same thing for the NHL All-Star game but include all nationalities and have a league-wide under 25 roster take on a squad of players 25 and older. Here’s a snapshot of what each of those teams might look like, given each player’s performance this season:

U25 Roster 

Gaudreau

MacKinnon

Kucherov

Matthews

McDavid

Draisaitl

Laine

Schiefele

Eichel

Huberdeau

Barkov

Pastrnak

HMs: Barzal, Boeser, Trocheck, Ehlers, Monahan, Rantanen

Lindholm

Jones

Rielly

McAvoy

Provorov

Hamilton

HMs: Parayko, Slavin, Gostisbehere, Ekblad

Vasilevsky

Hellebuyck

Gibson

I included more senior players (Draisaitl, Laine) in favor of some rookies that are currently out-producing them (Barzal, Boeser) because of chemistry, position and the fact that they will have more chances to make the team in the future.

25+ Roster

Tavares

Stamkos

Giroux

Ovechkin

Crosby

Kessel

Marchand

Kopitar

Wheeler

Hall

Malkin

Voracek

HMs: Bergeron, Kane, Tarasenko, Radulov

Hedman

Pietrangelo

Suter

Doughty

Karlsson

Klingberg

HMs: Subban, Josi, Burns, Carlson

Rinne

Rask

Lundqvist

HMs: Fleury, Quick, Crawford

Wow, that was tough. To avoid controversy up front, I went with the highest point/game totals and learned this along the way:

I understand under normal circumstances that Bergeron would likely draw in over Malkin, but this is an All-Star game. On defense I took the opposite approach, trying to make balanced pairings, especially since most defenders having great years are right handed.

Any way you slice it, I would watch that game. The game’s best young stars going toe-to-toe against the established superstars in the league? Sign me up. But, I know the NHL and since I am a stickler for details, let’s re-work these rosters to include a player from every team to appease the masses and match the current format.

Your 2018 NHL All-Star Teams

Factoring in injuries and team representation, here is the best list available:

Under 25

Gaudreau

MacKinnon

Kucherov

Matthews

McDavid

Boeser

Laine

Barkov

Eichel

Larkin

Draisaitl

Keller

Lindholm

Jones

Rielly

McAvoy

Provorov

Slavin

Vasilevsky

Hellebuyck

Gibson

25 and Over

Tavares

Stamkos

Giroux

Ovechkin

Crosby

Kessel

Hall

Kopitar

Wheeler

Marchand

Malkin

Kane

Subban

Pietrangelo

Suter

Burns

Karlsson

Klingberg

Fleury

Rask

Lundqvist

The young stars take a hit with few good veteran choices on the perennial struggling teams like Carolina, Arizona, and Detroit, whereas recurrent contending teams having down seasons still have a crop of established stars to choose from like Chicago with Kane and San Jose with Burns.

Either way, it’s still a game I would watch, and actually, get excited about in anticipation. The caveat to this format would be to make it bi-annual. Alternating this format with the current 3-on-3 tournament would not only keep each year fresh and exciting but it would also ensure that the rosters would be drastically different every other season.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

WJC Preview: Breaking Down the ‘Bests’

 

Rasmus Dahlin - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship ...

All eyes will be on future #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin at the 2018 World Juniors (Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images)

 

Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship appears to be a wide-open contest. Each top country has an aspect of their team that’s better than the rest, but also at least one obvious weakness they will have to mitigate to win gold. Picture it like a kind of hockey experiment to see which strength will be most successful and bring home the championship for their country. Let’s break down the bests of the best, starting with the team with perhaps the two best players in the tournament, Sweden.

The Best Players:

Rasmus Dahlin

Hockey fans should recognize this name by now. There hasn’t been a Swedish defenseman with this much hype in his draft year since Victor Hedman, and there’s only been one Swede to go first overall in NHL draft history. Rasmus Dahlin will be the second on that list, and it’s easy to see why:

Dahlin started out as a centerman, but was inspired by Erik Karlsson’s style of play and made the transition to defense at age 13. Three years later, he began dominating one of the best hockey leagues in the world playing against men twice his age and seems to have a highlight reel play on a weekly basis. He alone is enough reason to watch Sweden at this year’s tournament, but he will be the leader of a strong blue line that features two other first-round picks Timothy Liljegren (TOR) and Erik Brannstrom (VGK).

Elias Petterson

Not to be lost in the shadow of Dahlin, Elias Petterson is another player worth the price of admission for the Swedes. He is a household name amongst Canucks fans, but Petterson is about to make the whole hockey world take notice. Drafted fifth overall last June, Petterson might soon as emerge as the best player from his draft class. He is doing unprecedented things in the Swedish Hockey League for a player his age and doesn’t seem to be slowing down:

Petterson

All-time ‘under 20’ points leaders in the SHL (Quant Hockey

He is threatening a record that is over 40 years old, and well ahead of other Swedish no-names like Forsberg, Naslund, Sedin, and Backstrom. Those are godly numbers, even if he slows his pace slightly at the end of the season. People who are tuning in to watch Rasmus Dahlin will take notice of Petterson, and he plans to stand out:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canucks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Canucks</a&gt; prospect Elias Pettersson: &quot;I want to dominate every game&quot; at the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WorldJuniors?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WorldJuniors</a&gt;. (<a href=”https://twitter.com/RoryBoylen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RoryBoylen</a&gt;)<a href=”https://t.co/1IDvFXtkKc”>https://t.co/1IDvFXtkKc</a&gt; <a href=”https://t.co/yb7CeUj81d”>pic.twitter.com/yb7CeUj81d</a></p>&mdash; Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Sportsnet/status/943688751313838080?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 21, 2017</a></blockquote>
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Eeli Tolvanen

Add another Scandinavian to the list, as Eeli Tolvanen deserves some recognition for his performance to date in the second-best hockey league in the world. Like Petterson, Tolvanen’s numbers to date are among elite company for a rookie at his age in the KHL.

Tolvanen.png

KHL all-time 18-year-old stats (Quant Hockey)

Due to an illness, Tolvanen fell in the draft last June but has been making up for lost time and looking to be a steal for the Nashville Predators at pick 31. Along with their elite defense, Tolvanen is a big reason why Finland should be considered one of the favourites this holiday season.

The Best Offense

USA – Mittelstadt – Brown – Yamamoto

While the Scandinavian countries boast some of the best individual talents in the tournament, the defending champs might have the most lethal combination of forwards. The Mittelstadt – Brown – Yamamoto line was put together in the summer showcase and combined for 13 points in three games, with Casey Mittelstadt leading the way.

 

Which Service Has the Most Outlandish 2017 NHL Draft ...

Casey Mittelstadt will be playing in front of his home fans in Buffalo at the 2018 WJC (Photo: Canucks Army)

 

All three are former first-round picks with Yamamoto and Brown already getting their feet wet in the NHL. They have the perfect combination of size, skill, speed, creativity and finishing ability that should give the opposing defense nightmares. Reports from camp are that U.S. coach Bob Motzko has split up the trio to spread out the offense, but I would put good money on these three being reunited before the tournament begins.

This line is just the tip of the iceberg for an extremely deep and potent American offense that features other top talents like Ryan Poehling (MTL), Kiefer Bellows (NYI) and eight other first round picks. Don’t sleep on Adam Fox (CGY), who is among the best offensive threats from the blueline in the tournament.

The Best Defense

Finland – Miro Heiskanen, Juuso Valimaki, Olli Juolevi, Henri Jokiharju, Urho Vaakanainen, Eemeli Rasanen, Robin Salo

These names might be foreign to most of us in North America, but this might be the best blueline ever iced by Finland in international play. The last few years have been a renaissance for Finnish hockey with elite talents like Laine, Barkov, Rantanen, and Granlund all taking the NHL by storm. However, their weakness has always been on the back-end, though this trend looks to be a thing of the past. Five of these defenders are former first-round picks, highlighted by Heiskanen and Juolevi at pick number three and five, respectively. In fact, six(!) of these defenders were chosen in the first two rounds of last year’s draft the 2017 draft, with Valimaki being taken ahead of the much talked about Timothy Liljegren and will wear the ‘C’ for the Finns this holiday.

When you consider their D corps, forward talents like Tolvanen, Vesalainen, and Kuokannen, and combine it with a country that is known as a goaltending factory, it’s hard not to see Finland as one of the favourites to win gold.

The Best Goaltending

Canada – Carter Hart, Colton Point

This tournament is the bizarro world for Team Canada. Lacking their usual top-end forward talent (Jordan Kyrou might have something to say about that), while also sporting a defense that isn’t the usual envy of the tournament, Canada does reign supreme in one category: goaltending. Returnee Carter Hart will take the lead as Canada’s number one goalie and will give the team a chance to win every night. In his 17 starts for the Everett Silvertips this season, Hart has allowed a measly 22 goals to go along with five shutouts. That accounts for a 1.32 GAA and a 0.961 save percentage. Are you kidding me? You would have more luck shooting against a brick wall.

 

carter hart

Carter Hart boasts a 1.32 GAA and 0.961 sv% in the WHL this season. (MINAS PANAGIOTAKIS/GETTY IMAGES)

If the worst happens and Hart struggles or gets injured, not all hope is lost with Colton Point waiting in the wings. The towering 19-year-old has put up some astounding numbers in his second year in the NCAA, posting a 1.90 GAA and 0.938 save percentage for Colgate. Knowing they can rest easy no matter who is in goal is a refreshing shift from the norm for Canadians, especially in such a short competition. When a goaltender gets hot, he can steal games by himself, and that just might be the golden remedy for team Canada.

NHL Coaching: By the Numbers

paul maurice

The Winnipeg Jets signed Paul Maurice to a contract extension prior to the start of the season. Was it the right decision? (image: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)

Coaching has been a recurring topic of conversation on The NHO Show, and for good reason. It’s often an ignored aspect when praising a successful team, but always the first position to receive criticism when a franchise is struggling. It remains one of the most paradoxical career choices an individual can make, with extremely low job security but never-ending opportunities. Joel Quenneville is the longest-tenured coach in the league, spending the last nine seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. In second is Alain Vigneault and Jon Cooper at four years, followed by Paul Maurice at just under three seasons. That may seem like a short time, but it’s not surprising when the average tenure of current NHL head coaches is 2.5 years. In fact, there are 11 NHL coaches that started with their team in 2017 meaning over 1/3 of the league have hired a new coach since this time last season. Talk about added stress in the workplace.

More oddities appear with further analysis. Consider that Bruce Boudreau, the winningest coach of all time with wins in 66% of 763 NHL games, finds himself on his third team in six years. Boudreau’s lack of success translating this winning percentage into the playoffs is what keeps him on the move, but one would think he would have been given a longer leash in most cases. Once a head coach is fired, it’s common that he will be replaced by one previous NHL experience, like Ken Hitchcock in Dallas this season. This trend is slowly changing with six rookie bench bosses this season, although it is still too early to evaluate coaches like Phil Housley, Rick Tocchet and Doug Weight. However, with current trends, it would not be surprising if half of these rookies are out of a job this time next season.

The constant recycling of NHL coaches indicates that in many circumstances, failure is not because of an incompetent coach, but rather the result of a stale relationship between coach and team. Each coach has a particular style which he has leaned on to get to the NHL level. Long-time coaches Hitchcock and Julien are well known for their defensive structure, whereas Ruff and Laviolette are known to push the pace offensively. There is no “right way” to coach, as each style has proven effective in winning the Stanley Cup. However, it is essential that the coaching style compliments the personnel on the team and vice versa. The single most important decision a general manager can make is to select a coach that creates this symbiotic relationship. This has proven to be easier said than done, with all but two teams hiring new head coaches since the beginning of the 2014 season.

Jack Adams Means Jack

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Washington Capitals

Joel Quenneville sits second on the all-time wins list and has three Stanley Cups in the last eight seasons

Another anomaly of NHL head coaching is that some of the best at their craft have never been formally recognized in the form of a Jack Adams trophy. Like the Norris, the Jack Adams has been awarded improperly several times because of face-value metrics. While this isn’t true in all cases, 10 of the past 12 winners have been fired since winning, and only half of them are still NHL head coaches. It has become a trophy awarded either to the coach that captured the President Trophy or defied expectations to sneak into the playoffs. Therein lies the problem. Any accomplishment that is rewarded based solely on the criteria of prior expectations is inherently flawed.  Meanwhile, widely-accepted elite coaches like Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock find their trophy cases missing this piece of hardware. So, how does one properly evaluate and select a head coach? I’m glad you asked.

Shot Attempt Percentage

While there are a number of metrics one can use to determine the effectiveness of a head coach’s system, we are going to focus on one in particular – shot attempt percentage or SAT%. SAT% is simply a ratio of 5-on-5 shot attempts for versus shot attempts against and is widely accepted as the best indicator of what leads to a successful team. This is based on the notion that puck possession wins games, and because a head coach’s primary role is to win games, he will want to implement a system that maximizes puck possession. While there’s no guarantee that the best possession team will finish first in the standings or win the cup, historically there is a strong correlation with the top SAT% teams and making the playoffs. Of course, there is a myriad of ways to measure the effectiveness of a head coach, but SAT% was chosen for its simplicity and direct relation to a coach’s systematic approach. Special teams were ignored because although a head coach has input on these systems, they are largely the responsibility of his assistants.

SAT%

SAT% for the last 3+ seasons. Legend: Numbers under the previous coach, indicates a playoff team & * is currently an NHL head coach

The table shows each coach’s SAT% over his current tenure, and his team’s previous SAT% under the old regime. Obviously, not every team is created equal which gives an inherent advantage to some bench bosses, so it’s more important to look at trends rather than the numbers alone. A quick analysis of this chart can be very revealing:

  • 71% of teams that finished in the top 16 have made the playoffs over the last three seasons.
  • Only two teams have made the playoffs each season of those that finish in the bottom 10 in SAT%.
  • Teams with recent coaching changes that are trending in the right direction include Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Columbus
  • Those trending in the wrong direction, and perhaps should consider a change include the New York Rangers, Colorado, and New Jersey
  • This chart seems to justify the firings of Jack Capuano, Willie Desjardins, and Dave Tippett, though the jury is still out on their replacements
  • Not surprisingly, experienced coaches like Darryl Sutter, Claude Julien, Lindy Ruff and Bruce Boudreau seemed to have been fired unjustly.
  • Though currently high in the standings, teams like Winnipeg and New Jersey will want to control the play more if they want continued success
  • Similarly, playoff hopefuls like Washington, Minnesota, and Ottawa are playing with fire if they want to advance to the second season

The most surprising part of this chart is that Bill Peters’ Carolina Hurricanes have finished in the top 10 (and currently lead the league) in SAT% for the last three seasons but have yet to make the playoffs. Similarly, Alain Vigneault’s Rangers have been in the bottom half three seasons in a row but have been a playoff team in each of those seasons. Los Angeles is another outlier as they have led the league in SAT% each of the last three seasons under Darryl Sutter but missed the playoffs twice in that span. If Sutter and Peters are elite at creating puck possession teams, why hasn’t that translated into more wins? There’s something important we aren’t considering that goes a long way to explain this phenomenon: PDO.

Factoring in PDO

PDO is simply a team’s save percentage plus their shooting percentage, and is the best way to quantify ‘puck luck’. Since the sum of all saves and goals scored league-wide equals the league’s shot totals, the PDO for the entire league is 100%. The more puck luck a team has, the higher the number will be. Though high-end goaltenders and elite snipers can skew this number in their team’s favor in a small sample size, it has been proven that over long periods team shot and save percentage are luck-based metrics. Let’s re-evaluate our coaches using this as an added metric.

SAT% &amp; PDO

This chart almost perfectly explains the inconsistencies in the SAT% chart. Here are a few things that stand out in this sample size:

  • 82% of teams that finished with a SAT% + PDO above 150 made the playoffs
  • Only two teams in three seasons have made the playoffs with a PDO under 100 and SAT% below 50
  • 83% of teams that finished in the top 10 in PDO have made the playoffs
  • This season there are five teams with a PDO currently over 102. Only three teams in the last three years have finished the season above that mark so we can expect regression towards the mean.
  • It appears that a poor SAT% can be overcome with a strong PDO, but rarely does that relationship work in the opposite direction.

Given these statistics, there are conclusions to be drawn from each team’s place and the standings and likely trajectory:

  1. These numbers do not bold well for the Rangers making the playoffs, and the Senators could find themselves in trouble if their PDO slips below 100
  2. Teams with high PDOs usually have good goaltending and elite shooters. Tampa Bay is benefiting from both of these this season despite being on the wrong side of SAT%
  3. Connor Hellebuyck and Winnipeg’s potent offense are keeping the Jets afloat, camouflaging their atrocious SAT%. When they regress towards the mean in PDO, Paul Maurice’s job could be in trouble.
  4. Hard to believe Edmonton’s struggles lasting much longer with a PDO of just over 98 but a strong SAT% over 55.
  5. Ben Bishop can provide the Stars can get some average goaltending they will start their ascent in the standings.
  6. Julien has Montreal playing a strong possession game but they need to start converting on their chances more consistently to see improvement
  7. It should come as a surprise to no one that the Devils current success might be short-lived, boasting an unsustainable PDO of over 103 with a SAT% just over 45.
  8. Watch out for Pittsburgh. League-worst PDO but still near the top of their division.

To a point, a coach can control his PDO by instituting a system that creates high danger scoring chances and limits the opposition in generating quality chances of their own. But ultimately this comes down to personnel. It’s no surprise that teams with elite goaltending like Washington and New York consistently find themselves in the top tier. This is evidence of how a goaltender can save or ruin a coaches career, as Henrik Lundqvist has been keeping the Rangers PDO above 100 despite a consistently poor SAT%. On the flip side, Bill Peters is hoping Scott Darling can change his luck before he finds himself out of a job. As mentioned in last weeks podcast, the Hurricanes could also use a more lethal offensive threat.

Conclusions

This is a fairly rudimentary analysis of coaching, and it’s important to remember several integral factors to being a successful head coach are being ignored, such as special teams (which has kept the Penguins afloat early on) player deployment and playoff performance. However, with strong linear relationships between 5-on-5 SAT% and PDO to winning, these are trends that should not be ignored. The data confirms that Paul Maurice and Alain Vigneault’s current positions should be on life support. Time will tell if Bill Peters will suffer the same fate as Darryl Sutter, who appear to be the two most undervalued head coaches currently in the business. It would be shrewd for a team like Colorado or New Jersey, both of whom are consistently in the basement for SAT%, to jump on the opportunity to hire either of these two before they are gone. Something tells me this isn’t the end of the NHO’s diagnosis of coaching.

 

NHL Coaching: By the Numbers

CHL No Longer Be-All, End-All, for NHL Hopefuls

Auston_Matthews

Auston Matthews played against men in the Switzerland before joining the NHL (photo credit – By Pumpido75)

Too often we focus on the destination and not the journey of what makes a successful hockey player. The path one chooses to the NHL has a tremendous impact on how he performs once he gets there, and can drastically affect his career trajectory. Would Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, or Tampa Bay’s Triplet Line (notice the Stevie Y connection?) have had the same success if they were thrust into roles as 19 and 20-year-olds?  Player development is one of the least talked about pillars of a successful franchise – and strategies are changing. With salary cap constrictions and increased speed of the game, it has now become common practice to have more than one rookie in the lineup. This is forcing junior players to be NHL earlier and changing the way they prepare for the big leagues.

Traditionally Speaking…

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL), comprised of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has long been accepted as a prospect’s “best route” to the NHL. This has been true for many reasons. The long, travel-heavy schedule (especially out West) mirrors the rigors of an 82 game NHL regular season and aids in developing a routine. Competing against peers and former first-round talent also allows players an opportunity to stand out among the crowd. Most importantly, the accessibility of the leagues for NHL scouts makes your visibility as a prospect higher than anywhere else.

However, the CHL is not perfect. The skill level between the best and worst players is much higher than most leagues, especially with the rule that prevents drafted players unable to play in any other league (other than the NHL). This has forced players like Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, Pierre-Luc Duboius and Sam Steel back to a league which they dominate. This does nothing to develop the athlete, as you only learn by playing against stronger, more skilled opponents. This one of the most glaring problems in current player development and a factor in the NHL considering changing its current draft age.  An additional issue is that the CHL has implemented rules to cater to Canadian hockey players only.

The Shift

While Canadians make up approximately 50% of the NHL, that number has been in a slow but steady decline. While the CHL has been an attractive option for some Americans and Europeans alike, it appears that in recent years some of the top hockey talents have opted for another route.

NHL draft by league, 2010-2017

“Europe” covers all European leagues of any level, including the KHL. “USA + Canada Junior” includes primarily the USHL, Canadian Junior “A” leagues (BCHL, AJHL, OJHL) and high school.

As you can see, there has been a decline in drafted players out of the CHL, and a rise from several European leagues. However, total numbers do not tell the whole story. Things become a little more interesting when you break the numbers down by each round of the draft.

NHL draft

If you squint you can see that not only are total numbers beginning to even out across league categories but also talent level between rounds. In the past, the early rounds of the draft were littered with CHL talent. As you move towards the present, you can see that each round is becoming more even with European leagues and minor leagues in North America grabbing a larger share.

Look no further than top rookies this season. Top Calder candidates Clayton Keller, Kyle Connor, Charlie McAvoy and Brock Boeser all went the college route. This does not only apply to American players. Colton Parayko, Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro and Cale Makar are examples of Canadians opting out of the CHL in hopes of a better development path through college. Meanwhile, superstars like Nikita Kucherov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemy Panarin and future stars like Alexander Nylander, Mikko Rantanen and Alexander Wenneberg honed their skills at home in Europe. One of the most unprecedented cases is the Leafs’ budding superstar Auston Matthews playing in the Swiss Elite League before his draft, and we all have seen the effect it has had on his transition to the NHL.

The Benefits

So what’s the difference? The benefits to playing in the NCAA are easy to understand – it forces top teenagers to match up against players up to four years older their senior. Teams are defensively sound, more disciplined and physically stronger. Tyson Jost cites this as the main reason he went the NCAA route. Although many players leave before finishing their degree, the NCAA also provides players with a post-secondary education that they can complete once their hockey career is over, as well as more contract negotiation rights when leaving school. This something agents cannot ignore. Money management and life after hockey are some of the most important things they instill in their clients. It provides their client with the power to choose where to begin their NHL career as we saw with Alex Kerfoot and Will Butcher this past offseason.

 

tyson jost

In an unorthodox move, Tyson Jost chose to play for the Pentiction Vees of the BCHL over the WHL so that he could play in the NCAA (Photo – Conor Knuteson / UND Athletics)

While European leagues provide similar benefits of playing against older (sometimes a decade or more) competition, they also have the added benefit of a larger ice surface. Confidence is huge in a young player’s game, and the ability to have an extra second to make a decision with the puck can allow a young player to try things he normally would not in North America. Europeans and Russians, in particular, have always preached skill development more than system development like we do in North America. An extra year or two honing their skills at home can have a huge impact on what quality of player a prospect will become. Look no further than players like Mikhail Grigorenko or Nail Yakupov. Let’s also not overlook the social stress on a non-English speaking teenager moving to a strange country all alone. With the NHL continuing to put a premium on speed and skill, this should continue to benefit players coming from across the pond.

Take Aways

There are several factors affecting this shift, the main one being an increased focus on scouting non-traditional leagues. A ripple effect occurs when scouts are drawn to smaller leagues to view players like Cale Makar and Colton Parayko and notice other players that impress. One has to believe the salary cap has increased the overseas scouting budget much like it has with analytics departments in the front office. It will be interesting to see how much momentum these trends keep up and if the NHL draftees continue to change the norm. It could mean big problems for the CHL franchises with diluted talent could hurting teams that currently struggle to fill the rink. Agents and parents should also pay attention to this shift so that they can direct the athlete towards his highest chance of success. We will continue dialogue the role of an agent in the future, but for now, it’s something to chew on.