Nov 112011
 

One of the silliest debates to be waged across the NHL some time is Philadelphia’s “outrage” and in-game protest of Tampa’s 1-3-1 system.

From Mike Milbury walking off the air to a quickie TSN poll of league GMs siding with the Flyers, the Lightning are taking a lot of heat for their passive forecheck.

Here’s the thing.

1) The passive forecheck is employed all over the league, and has been for decades. Roughly half of all NHL teams use a 1-3-1 forecheck in their gameplan. The 70s Canadiens, the 80s Oilers, the 90s Red Wings – they all used a version of this system when necessary to win Stanley Cups.

2) The Lightning, for all the hoopla for employing a defensive system that’s ruining the game, sat 23rd this morning in the league in goals against per game; 24th in the league in shots against per game. We’re not exactly talking about a New Jersey Devils-esque juggernault when it comes to squeezing scoring opportunities out of the game.

Let’s remember, the NHL culture doesn’t exactly embrace innovation comfortably.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher, with his approach to the 1-3-1 system, his degree in sports psychology and his willingness to think differently about practices, off-days etc, is seen as a bit of an outsider. He’s made himself and his team a target for being different.

But he’s also doing what it takes for the Lightning to win games.

There are ways to beat the trap – by exiting the defensive zone with speed, or by moving the puck horizontally across the ice rather than vertically. That the Flyers chose to do neither, and simply stand around, was certainly a statement.

It was also absolutely ineffective, as Philadelphia lost the game 2-1.

Any debate that leads to more goals and more excitement in the NHL game is a positive thing.

But the Lightning shouldn’t be vilainized for their approach to the game.

The Flyers are just as much at fault, by basically refusing to compete.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Loved this “how to beat the trap” diagram. Works great if, you know, everyone defending stands still.
  • So players on the Florida Panthers were tweeting about how cold it was in Winnipeg before their game against the Jets? It’s only November guys. There are still folks at the corner of Portage and Main in t-shirts. Can’t wait to read to read the tweets before their next visit to Manitoba January 21st.
  • One pro scout’s assessment of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin debate:  “For me, Seguin is more creative with the puck. I actually wrote in one of my reports that Seguin, if he doesn’t have a shot, he’s got enough poise to make a play to a teammate. I don’t know if Hall has that ability. Hall is going to beat you north-south with his speed and quickness down low. Seguin’s got a little more dimension to his game from a creativity standpoint.”
  • Magnus Paajarvi has become a healthy scratch in Edmonton. Other sophomores struggling: Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis (0 points), Anaheim’s Cam Fowler (-6 despite a greater focus on the defensive side of the game), New Jersey’s Mattias Tedenby (0 goals, 3 assists).
  • Weird seeing Senator John McCain in a Coyotes jersey talking hockey strategy, 9/11 and the World Series, among other things, between periods on the Coyotes-Habs broadcast. As nice as it is to see him vocally supportive of the hometown team, couldn’t he solve the Phoenix ownership mess with a couple of strategic phone calls to well-off friends?
  • Add HP Pavillion in San Jose to the list of NHL arenas where fans boo Dany Heatley. For what it’s worth, Devin Setoguchi was cheered when he and Heatley returned as members of the Wild on Thursday.
  • Nice piece on former teammates Brent Burns and Nick Schultz.
  • So tired of the “will he or won’t he play” coverage of Sidney Crosby.
  • Things that don’t make sense in the NHL #2589: Teams that keep rookie players past the 9-game mark (thus burning through the first year of their NHL contract) and then send the player to the press box. The Panthers have done this with Erik Gudbranson, and the Blue Jackets did this recently with Ryan Johansen.
  • Speaking of the Blue Jackets, their worst start in franchise history has led coach Scott Arniel to change the team’s approach mid-season from a puck-pursuit, up-tempo style to a conservative trap approach. The team’s loss to Chicago shows this is still very much a work in progress.
  • Two ways to fix the Toronto Maple Leafs penalty kill – improve communication between forwards and defensemen on the kill, and find some quicker players to perform it. Leafs penalty killers aren’t elite skaters,  so they don’t pressure the puck carrier like most teams. Instead, they end up in their box formation, which other teams continue to pick apart.
  • Colorado’s win against the Islanders may have saved Joe Sacco’s job. Interestingly, the team was down 3-0 until the Avs called a timeout and defenseman Shane O’Brien let his teammates have it. J.S. Giguere, who called the game a “must-win”, also made a huge save off of Michael Grabner with one second left in regulation.
  • Speaking of Colorado defenseman, their best right now might just be Ryan Wilson, who’s been very effective physically and is on a 45-point pace.
  • Final note on the Avalanche – in contrast to the Maple Leafs, Colorado’s too aggressive on the penalty kill. It’s why they’re 27th in the league in this category.
  • The Islanders and Blue Jackets are the only teams left in the NHL without a road victory. One reason for the Islanders struggles – they lack team toughness, particularly in the top-six. And this includes Kyle Okposo, who could play a Brendan Morrow-style game, but has instead struggled out-of-the-gate (0 goals in 13 games).
  • Katie Baker’s latest Grantland column includes a link to Paulina Gretzky’s best Twitter pics that most adult males will appreciate.
Dec 262010
 
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks Team Store had their annual Boxing Day Sale today. Here are a few (unneeded) items they had available for sale:

  • Jannik Hansen’s hands of stone – In the past 6 games since moving to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Jeff Tambellini, Hansen has 3 points (1 goal – 2 assists). I know it’s a modest 0.5 points per game average, but consider he had 7 points (2 goals – 5 assists) in the previous 28 games – a 0.25 points per game average.
  • Tanner Glass’ plane ticket to Manitoba – The fourth line has seen a revolving cast of characters; no less than 11 players have suited up on the fourth line this season. About the only constant has been Glass.
  • Ryan Walters’ motivational posters – Sure didn’t help Steve Bernier’s confidence.
  • Cases of Eggo Waffles – The Leafs don’t come to Rogers Arena again until next season.
  • Kyle Wellwood’s game-worn jersey – Comes in size XL (but some smaller sizes available).
  • Robero Luongo’s goalie mask – Some markings. Looks like a ‘C’ under the cage.
  • Ryan Walters’ powerplay playbooks – The Canucks’ powerplay improved steadily with Walters behind the bench, but it’s really taken off this season with Newell Brown.
  • 40-Year Old Virgin DVDs – Because it hurts too damn much to watch. (Located next to the Canucks at 40 books – you know the one that reminds us that we’ve had a couple of good runs but haven’t won the whole thing yet.)
  • VIP passes to the Roxy – Previously belonged to Shane O’Brien.
  • Jeff Tambellini’s plane ticket to Manitoba – Kid’s got 14 points (8 goals – 6 assists) in 20 games and the Canucks are 16-1-3 with him in the lineup.
  • Floorball equipment – Must keep away from Sami Salo.
  • Green spandex tights – Surely The Green Men’s 15 seconds of fame is up, right? Right?
Oct 052010
 

Cue Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”.

The Canucks have traded Shane O’Brien and Dan Gendur to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson. The Canucks have placed Parent on waivers.

I realize it’s odd to have traded for Parent and then immediately placing him on waivers so there may be more to this transaction than meets the eye. But for now, let’s assume that this is a pure hockey trade, plain and simple.

Assuming Parent doesn’t get claimed on waivers, this is some shrewd asset management by Mike Gillis. SOB cleared waivers yesterday and seemed destined to spend the season in Manitoba. Because he would’ve had to pass through re-entry waivers – and the Canucks would’ve been on the hook for half of his cap hit ($800K) if claimed – it was unlikely he would have seen NHL ice this season.

In Parent, the Canucks get a former 1st round draft pick and a player perhaps known more for his leadership qualities than anything else. (In other words, he’s the anti-O’Brien.) Nashville drafted him 18th overall in 2005, the same draft class as the late Luc Bourdon. In fact, Parent was on Team Canada with Bourdon in 2006 and 2007 when they won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

But the kicker in this trade is that Parent is only 23 years old. While he hasn’t been able to translate his success in junior into an NHL career yet, he’ll at least get a good opportunity to develop under Gillis’ program. IMHO, he vaults to the top of the Canucks’ defensive prospects depth chart. Unlike SOB, who’s scheduled to be a UFA at the end of this season, Parent is signed until the 2011/2012 season at a cap hit of $925K and is still an RFA after that. In a couple of years when Alex Edler’s contract comes up, we could very well see guys like Parent, Lee Sweatt, Kevin Connauton and Chris Tanev pushing for a roster spot as well.

Oct 022010
 

According to Dan Murphy from Sportsnet, Shane O’Brien and Darcy Hordichuk were placed on waivers this morning.

His love for establishments such as The Roxy aside, SOB is actually a decent bottom-six defenseman, and by most accounts, is well-liked by his teammates. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if another team – Anaheim, Edmonton and Columbus come to mind – took a chance at him.

Hordi’s a character guy himself, but unfortunately, he’s been noticeably slower and was outplayed this preseason by guys like Tanner Glass and Guillame Desbiens. Such is life on the fourth line, I guess.

Oct 012010
 

With just one preseason game left tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks still have several personnel decisions to make about their opening night lineup.

From Jason Botchford (Vancouver Province):

The preseason means nothing. But it’s a lot easier to take when it’s about something.

If not winning games, then winning jobs. If not answering questions, then narrowing them. At the least, you hope for unexpected moments or look for unheralded players. You want to see them force difficult decisions. But not because there’s an abundance of safe, mundane, low-rish play. You want gusto and accomplishment. Reach for the brass ring, and who knows, maybe you’ll grab a second-line winger’s spot. Goodness knows, no one else has.

And when the Canucks finally do make their decisions after tonight, expect the salary cap to have played a major role.

And where do the Canucks stack against the salary cap?

First, a primer:

  • The salary cap for the 2010/2011 season is $59.4 million.
  • A team’s salary cap hit is calculated on a daily basis. This season, there are 186 days in the regular season.
  • That means that each team has a daily cap allowance of $319,354.84 (or $59.4 million divided by 186).
  • Placing a player on LTIR does not give teams more cap space. The LTIR player’s cap hit still counts against the team’s cap; however, teams are given some relief (i.e. exemption) and are allowed to go over the cap by a similar amount when replacing him on the roster.
  • The LTIR exemption cannot be banked – the amount not used on any given day doesn’t carry over for use the next day.

Here are the Canucks’ current cap numbers, including the players who I think, for all intents and purposes, are guaranteed to make the team.

PlayerAnnual Average SalaryDaily Cap Hit
Henrik Sedin$6,100,000.00$32,795.70
Daniel Sedin$6,100,000.00$32,795.70
Mikael Samuelsson$2,500,000.00$13,440.86
Alex Burrows$2,000,000.00$10,752.69
Ryan Kesler$5,000,000.00$26,881.72
Mason Raymond$2,550,000.00$13,709.68
Manny Malhotra$2,500,000.00$13,440.86
Raffi Torres$1,000,000.00$5,376.34
Jannik Hansen$825,000.00$4,435.48
Rick Rypien$550,000.00$2,956.99
Sami Salo$3,500,000.00$18,817.20
Dan Hamhuis$4,500,000.00$24,193.55
Keith Ballard$4,200,000.00$22,580.65
Alex Edler$3,250,000.00$17,473.12
Christian Ehrhoff$3,100,000.00$16,666.67
Kevin Bieksa$3,750,000.00$20,161.29
Shane O'Brien$1,600,000.00$8,602.15
Andrew Alberts$1,050,000.00$5,645.16
Aaron Rome$750,000.00$4,032.26
Roberto Luongo$5,333,333.00$28,673.83
Cory Schneider$900,000.00$4,838.71
Carryover$90,000.00$483.87
$61,148,333.00$328,754.48

As you can see, the Canucks already have $61,148,333.00 ($328,754.48 per day) committed to 10 forwards (including Burrows), 9 defensemen (including Salo) and the goaltenders. Assuming that they want to start the season carrying 13 forwards, 8 defensemen, and Alex Burrows and Sami Salo on LTIR, that means they still have to add 4 forwards.

Here are the players fighting for those 4 forward spots.

PlayerAnnual Average SalaryDaily Cap Hit
Jeff Tambellini$500,000.00$2,688.17
Tanner Glass$625,000.00$3,360.22
Victor Oreskovich$575,000.00$3,091.40
Brendan Morrison*$750,000.00$4,032.26
Peter Schaeffer*$750,000.00$4,032.26
Joel Perrault$510,000.00$2,741.94
Guillame Desbiens$550,000.00$2,956.99
Alex Bolduc$500,000.00$2,688.17
Darcy Hordichuk$775,000.00$4,166.67

The Canucks will get some (temporary) cap relief by placing Burrows and Salo on LTIR. By doing so, they can exceed their daily cap amount by $29,569.89 (Burrows’ $10,752.69 + Salo’s $18,817.20) each day both are on LTIR. This means that, at least to start the season, the Canucks can spend $348,924.73 per day in player salaries.

The good news is, any combination of 4 bubble players won’t push the Canucks past their daily cap allowance. Even assuming Brendan Morrison and/or Peter Schaeffer are willing to sign for close to what Eric Belanger signed for in Phoenix ($750,000) – if either or both make the team – the Canucks can keep everyone on the roster and won’t spend more than $348,924.73 in daily salaries.

What does complicate things, however, is that, unless there are further changes to the roster (i.e. trades), the Canucks will most certainly exceed the daily cap allowance of $319,354.84 before the LTIR exemptions. This is important because if the Canucks want flexibility during the season – whether it’s to replace injured players or adding players at the trade deadline – they need to be under this amount and “save” cap space. The cumulative amount they save every day – i.e. the total amounts under $319,354.84 that they don’t use on any given day – is the amount in cap savings they can spend later in the season.

As an example, if the Canucks want to acquire a $2 million player at the trade deadline, they need to either get rid of a player making a similar amount from their roster, or have accumulated roughly $500,000 in cap savings. The latter requires them to have saved approximately $3,700 per day – i.e. they need to have only spent an average of $315,600 of their daily cap allowance – from the start of the regular season to the trade deadline. If you do the math, the Canucks need to shave about $28,000 in daily salaries from their current roster to get there. And if you look at the numbers, Kevin Bieksa’s and Shane O’Brien’s salaries add up pretty darn close to this amount.

Two points on this:

1) This is exactly why Salo’s injury sucks. While his LTIR status helps the Canucks get temporary cap relief, his salary still counts against the cap. If Salo was healthy, the Canucks could’ve iced a bottom-pairing with one of Salo or Keith Ballard on one side and one of Andrew Alberts or Aaron Rome on the other. What is more likely now – or certainly what may make more sense given their cap situation – is that the bottom pair will have one of O’Brien or Alberts on one side and Rome on the other.

2) Given point no. 1, the bigger decision for the Canucks will be on defense. There may be more roster spots up for grabs up front, but regardless of which forwards end up filling those spots, their cumulative impact on the salary cap is minimal. (In fact, I don’t see any salary cap impediment to signing Morrison to a contract.) If the Canucks want some cap flexibility during the season, the bigger moves to be made are on the back end where the big salaries are.

To put these points into context, it’s worth noting that the Canucks entered the last postseason with O’Brien, Alberts and Rome as their no. 5 to 7 defensemen; with Salo injured to start the season and Bieksa and O’Brien possibly on the trading block, the Canucks could enter this season with Alberts, Rome and Lee Sweatt in those depth positions. (Which then begs the question as to whether or not the Canucks actually have a deeper defense this year.)

Now, it’s possible that Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman feel comfortable operating over the salary cap and the Canucks don’t end up making any moves before the start of the season other than to send the bubble players to Winnipeg. Certainly, they can keep the depth they have now, though in the process they’ll have to sacrifice some flexibility during the season.

Jul 062010
 
Shane O'Brien beats up Derek Dorsett

Shane O’Brien has accepted his $1.6 million qualifying offer. Pending a trade, the Canucks now have 9 signed, NHL defensemen.

Going to arbitration was never an option for SOB:

“They probably have got a lot of material they can use against me and it probably wouldn’t work too well,” O’Brien joked with reporters. “If a one-year deal is all I’m going to get, I’ll come in and play hard.”

We’ll see.

When he has his head on straight, SOB has actually proven to be a solid bottom-pairing defenseman. When the Canucks defense corps got decimated by injuries last season, he played well enough despite logging more minutes than was expected of him. He gave the Canucks a physical presence they needed while cutting back on the stupid penalties from the season before. Off all regular Canucks defensemen, he finished tied with Christian Ehrhoff for the lowest GA/60 minutes.

Give or take a Rick Bowness run-in, he performed admirably good in the postseason, especially when he was forced to take on a top-4 role. He finished the playoffs with the second-best 5-on-5 Corsi rating among Canucks defensemen (only Alex Edler’s was better), and say what you will about the Canucks’ lousy PK in the playoffs, but SOB’s Corsi rating on the PK was best on the team.

Assuming a Bieksa trade, he’ll start the season at no. 6 on the Canucks’ depth chart; but with the inevitable injuries, he’ll likely get opportunities to he move further up the ladder. As Mike Gillis already stated after the season, it’ll be up to SOB to seize them.

“Shane is at that point in his career [when he must decide] whether he wants to do what’s necessary to become a top-five defenceman,” said Gillis.

For SOB, the challenge doesn’t get much clearer than that.

(Note: Stats as per Behind The Net.)

Apr 252010
 
Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson celebrate another goal.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks can close off their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series against the LA Kings tonight. Can they go for the jugular? Or do they allow the Kings a chance at Game 7 on Tuesday? Can the Kings stop the ‘S-Train’? And if they do, can they also stop the Canucks’ secondary scorers?

Here are today’s game day links:

Apr 232010
 
Henrik Sedin and Canucks celebrate game 4 game-winning goal.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

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