Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grabovski and Kulemin: A Search for Optimism during a Lockout that’s Providing Little

The NHL Lockout negotiations haven’t provided much reason for optimism over the past week. Gary Bettman and the League have announced the cancellation of all scheduled November games, forcing me to continue filling my painfully empty weeknights with Friends re-runs and 2 episodes of Dancing with the Stars (ABC, why can’t they perform and have eliminations in a single hour?)

It’s unlikely the Lockout deep freeze will be lifted any time soon, with early December now representing the de facto deadline, when the entire season will be on the line. Through all the darkness, we at BCP are trying to find some reasons to be optimistic, and we’re starting with the Leafs' secondary scoring.  

There was a time, not that long ago, when Toronto boasted one of the best second lines in hockey. The trio of Mikhail Grabovksi, Nikolai Kulemin, and Clarke MacArthur was considered a formidable grouping, capable of facing the other team’s top scorers while also providing consistent offensive support themselves. Then last season came. All 3 seemed to enter into concurrent slumps that lasted for much of the year.

A comparison of their collective numbers in 2010-11 versus 2011-12 shows the stark difference in production:


G: 80 
A: 97 
Points: 177 
+/-: 18 
SOG: 566


G: 50 
A: 72 
Points: 122 
+/-: 5 
SOG: 418

The drop-off between the two seasons is quite pronounced; a 39% decline in goals, 25% in assists, and 26% decrease in the number of shots on goal. That level of year-over-year offensive depletion from core players happening almost in unison is difficult for any team to replace, even with the career years put forth by Kessel and Lupul. It leaves us to wonder if the 7th or 8th spot in the conference would have been attainable had the second line's production only dipped say 5-10%.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Projecting Van Riemsdyk: On Injury, Opportunity, and Pedigree

As both a Leafs fan searching for hope and an involved fantasy hockey armchair GM, I read a lot of projections.  Projections about a player's point totals, a team's place in the standings,  guys who have a shot at the NHL's major awards -- I've read them all.

In pouring over this year's projections for the Leafs, I feel like James Van Riemsdyk has been consistently predicted to have lower point totals than what I would intuitively expect from him.  Now granted, it isn't as though I've followed Philadelphia with the fervor that I follow the Leafs, but I do see them a handful of times a year during the regular season, a fair bit in the playoffs, and my memory isn't so bad that I can't remember JVR being taken 2nd overall in 2007.

Now, I know that my intuition tends to have a pro-Leafs bias so I try to keep that in check by looking at statistics and overlaying these numbers with my expectations to see if things line up.  When I pull open JVR's player profile, I keep fixating on 2010-11 where he scored 28 goals in 86 regular season and playoff games as a 21-year old..  If you're a serious hockey fan, you probably remember how dominating he was in those playoffs, looking like he was sure to take the next step and become another (seemingly) untradable asset from the Flyers roster.  One summer later and he'll be plying his trade with the Leafs if this whole CBA mess ever gets sorted out.

At 23-years old, JVR should be about to enter his prime years of production.  Last year, we looked at when elite players reach a few key milestones.  In terms of his ascent to the NHL, Van Riemsdyk was right on schedule, becoming a full time NHLer by the age of 20, however, with regard to point production, JVR should have had his first season of 60 points or better last year.  At 21, it looked like he'd get to 60 with relative ease by 22 but even if we disregard his injuries, JVR managed only a 46 point pace last year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dion Phaneuf: Seeing The Leafs' Captain For What He Is

When it comes to balancing fandom and player valuations, there are 3 basic categories: underrated, overrated, appropriately-rated. A lot of factors are at play when applying one of these labels, including; past performance, age, pedigree, salary, team situation...etc. You can spend countless hours at a local pub or over BBM (as I’m wont to do [Ed. Note: I can confirm this]) arguing over where a certain player should fall. 

What’s interesting is that there are some rare players who skew so far to one side or another that they eventually find themselves on the other end of the spectrum. This brings me to our quasi-beloved Captain, Dion Phaneuf; so consistently labelled overrated in the media (and even by his peers) that he may be in the process of becoming underrated.

He broke into the league on fire (quite literally, there was a flame on his chest) amassing 49 points, 242 shots, and an array of jaw-dropping open ice hits that conjured up wistful memories of a young Scott Stevens. Add to that being a Calder finalist alongside a couple guys named Sid and Ovie and the expectations for Dion were set astronomically high. Yes, from the very beginning, Phaneuf was likely destined to be overrated, failing to deliver on the meteoric expectations heaped upon him. What’s lost beneath the stories of an unceremonious departure from Calgary and mere mortal point totals of late is that the 27-year old Edmonton native might actually be a pretty good hockey player.

We wanted to highlight a few of Dion's basic stats and a few of the more advanced ones to see if the poster boy for over-valuation may in fact be considered so overrated that we’re not fully appreciating what he does bring to the team.

Time On Ice

Last year Dion had an average ice time of 25:17 per game. This placed him 10th in the league, ahead of some major minute eating stalwarts such as; Zdeno Chara, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, and Brent Seabrook. While ice time isn’t necessarily an indicator of talent, it can be used directionally to show a players value to his team.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What's Luongo Worth To The Toronto Maple Leafs?

Roberto Luongo is back to being the topic-du-jour among Leafs fans.  Sportsnet's John Shannon suggested that the foundations of a deal that would see Luongo become a Maple Leaf are already in place and that it's likely that once a CBA is agreed to by the League and the PA, the final details would be hammered out.

The Leafs Nation ran a piece suggesting that the Leafs should probably be comfortable giving up Bozak, Frattin, Gardiner, and a 1st for the star netminder.  Excuse me, what?

Pension Plan Puppets responded with a piece that suggested a more reasonable price would be Bozak, Franson, and a 2nd.

What I've spent the past little while wondering is whether the Leafs will need to give up anything at all.

Bob McKenzie tweeted the other day that the latest League proposal in the CBA negotiations included a provision under which a player with a contract greater than 5-years in length who retires prior to the end of his contract would see his cap hit continue to count against the cap of the team who signed him to that deal.  Now that's a game-changer.

Consensus seems to be that of the 10-years remaining on Luongo's deal, he's likely to play out 6 of them.  For Vancouver, this would mean that after having dealt Luongo for what's expected to be a reasonably modest return (and certainly nothing approaching Gardiner, a 1st, Bozak, and Frattin) they would face a cap hit of $5.33M for four years on a player who's half a decade removed from being a part of their roster.  Yikes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Morgan Rielly: One More Year In Junior

There's a lot of optimism in the air today as news that the NHL has made a significant move toward the players hit Twitter, the radio, and the televisions of hockey fans this afternoon.  While there is undoubtedly still some distance between the players and the owners, the prospect of losing an NHL season seems unlikely unless the players choose to really fixate on the 57% of revenues that they were set to earn had this lockout not taken place.

Should the league and the players come to terms, Leafs management will be faced with several tough personnel decisions, not the least of which is what to do with their shiny new toy; defenseman Morgan Rielly.

Rielly has shown very well this year.  He was a stand-out in the Canada-Russia Challenge this August and has registered 12 points in 9 games with an otherwise pretty crummy Moose Jaw team.  I don't doubt that he will make management's decision a tough one once play resumes but for this year, it's better to err on the side of caution with Rielly and to have him play the season in the WHL.

There are a number of reasons why I don't want to see Rielly spend significant time in the NHL this year.  Maybe I'm excessively cautious after watching Schenn deteriorate from a useful defensemen with lots of promise to a possession-nightmare and defensive liability -- it's possible.  I'd like to think though that I've checked my recency bias at the door and am basing this on some sound logic.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Update

With no NHL hockey for the foreseeable future, the focus for Leafs fans has been on the team's developmental pipeline.  The CHL is a few weeks into their season and the AHL's opening weekend is just winding down, which has given us a little bit of information on how things are progressing with the future Leafs.

Morgan Rielly is 8 games into his WHL season with the Moose Jaw Warriors.  Rielly has been great this season on a pretty pitiful Warriors team.  Rielly's 12 points (2G, 10A) put him second in WHL scoring by defensemen trailing only Myles Bell (who is a year older and has played two more games).  He's also registered a point on 40% of Moose Jaw's goals which is absolutely ridiculous.  All of these flashy offensive totals may distract fans from Rielly's defensive game which has also been very strong so far this year.  His skating is so far ahead of most players at this level that he dominates on defense in transition and he's also been solid with his in-zone positioning so far this year.  Suffice to say, everything is A-OK with the Leafs' 2012 first rounder.

Tyler Biggs is a player I've seen a lot of in the early days of this OHL season.  His point totals look strong on the surface (5G, 4A in 10 games) but he's been skating with one of the OHL's leading scorers in Boone Jenner and two of his five goals have been empty-netters.  The book on Biggs is more or less accurate.  He's doesn't look to be a major point producer and his skating looks to be strained a lot of the time (whether he's quick to fatigue or just a bad skater is tough to say).  Biggs is, however, exceptional along the boards, a physically dominating player, and has a powerful shot.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What I'd Do With Brian Burke

If you're a Leafs blogger and you've written a piece on Burke recently, you probably included that oft-used quote about his not being interested in a 5-year rebuild.  I'm not going to do that but I am going to passive aggressively allude to it.  Oh, look; I already did!

We're entering our 5th year of Burke and we've yet to make the playoffs.  I don't need to re-hash all the team's failures on the ice and I'm not going to gloss over those failures by going into an extensive diatribe on the depth in the farm system -- mostly because I've already done it but partly because I'm sick of hearing it myself.

I understand the frustration with management, I really do.  Sports is a results driven business and the results since Burke took over have been horrid.  Having said this, there haven't been a lot of moves or signings made by other teams that I feel Burke both could have and ought to have made that would have improved the team.  Basically, he inherited a steaming turd of a team and hasn't polished it into a gold nugget.

So given that the team has been abysmal for the entirety of his tenure while still granting that there isn't really a lot that he could have realistically done about it, what should be done with Brian Burke?