Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Sabres Fired Tim Murray (Part 2)

Part 1 primarily focused on drafting (and, obviously, how poorly the Sabres did with little to no improvement) under Murray's tenure at GM. Now I want to look at the trades that he made over his three years and change.

Ryan Miller Trades

  • Sabes --> Blues: Ryan Miller, Steve Ott
  • Blues --> Sabres: Jaro Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, 1st round pick, 3rd round pick
And then, a week later:
  • Sabres --> Capitals: Jaro Halak, 3rd round pick
  • Capitals --> Sabres: Michal Neuvirth, Rostislav Klesla
Essentially, Murray turned a franchise goalie (who happens to be one of the best American goalies ever) into a shittier goalie who was gone after 29 games, a pair of forwards who will never contribute to anything meaningful in Buffalo, Carrier (who scored 8 points in 41 games this season), and draft picks that were flipped in other trades. 

Grade: Not Great!

And then we have two distinct types of trades that seem to be the product of a confused front office. The Murray-era Sabres participated in 20 trades after the Miller trade. Here's how I'd split them up:
  • Dumping players for picks/pros (6 trades)
  • Spending picks/prospects to acquire players (8 trades)
  • My Trash For Your Trash (5 trades)
The Trash trades are largely irrelevant, of course, but why is a franchise dumping players for picks while also, at the same time, using picks and prospects to add players to their current team? Tanking, at least when maximized, is stockpiling picks and young prospects and then being as bad as possibly to maximize the value of those picks. If you can keep guys in juniors or the minors - and maybe even let them serve in leadership roles and make deep playoff runs in those leagues - then everything should come together and you win a bunch of championships like the Blackhawks and Penguins. 

But adding guys like Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane seems to run counter to everything that the Tim Murray "Tanking" Sabres seemed to be doing. That's why they ended up with Alex Nylander last summer instead of Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine. It's why they're going to end up with Urho Vaakanainen or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen or Miro Heiskanen instead of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier this summer.

The Sabres, effectively, wasted three years while Tim Murray was in charge. They don't have any good defensemen, they might be able to roll three decent lines next season, and they have not even sniffed the playoffs since 2011. 

The Sabres Fired Tim Murray

Tim Murray had been relieved from his position of General Manager by the Buffalo Sabres. In the coming months, we will likely learn how much of that decision was made with Jack Eichel's thoughts in mind - but that is not our concern right now.

This morning, I want to take a look back at Murray's three years in charge of the Sabres to see how fucking awful he was. Let's start in the middle of the 2013-14 season, when he got hired:

2013-14 Season

We should begin on January 9th, 2014. The Sabres fired Darcy Regier, the longest-serving and winningest GM in franchise history, and turned the reigns over to Murray. They really bottomed out over the final months of the season, finishing in last place in the Northeast Division (RIP).

But, when you're a new GM, you almost would rather start with a last-place finish so you can take advantage of the better draft position. So Murray also traded franchise cornerstone goalie Ryan Miller to St. Louis for Jaro Halak, some shitty players, and some draft picks.

2014-15 Season

We'll kick off Murray's first full season with his offseason moves. The Sabres picked second in the 2014 Draft, missing out on Aaron Ekblad (he went first to the Panthers). Buffalo selected Sam Reinhart with the number two pick.

I think, in hindsight, Sabres fans would rather have taken Leon Draisaitl (who went 3rd), William Nylander (8th), Dylan Larkin (15th), or David Pastrnak (25th). But it's early in Reinhart's career and he'll probably turn out to be perfectly a decent player. I do not recognize the names of any of Buffalo's later-round picks, but, again, it's early.

The 14-15 season was a drag, and the Sabres finished with just two more points than they had in 13-14. They were in last place in the division again, and this time they were last place in the whole league. Draft picks!

Perhaps the most important piece of the 14-15 Sabres' season was the acquisition of Evander Kane. Kane is now just 25 years old, and he figures to be a key piece of the Sabres rebuild that may or may not be happening.

2015-16 Season

The Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery and were gifted Connor McDavid. The Sabres ended up with Jack Eichel. Eichel is great (certainly a better 2nd overall pick than Reinhart), but McDavid was the best first overall pick in a decade. Here's how Murray handled the lottery results:


Not great. I can't imagine that Eichel was excited to get the prom invitation only after the cheerleader with the cute dimples rejected our boy Timmy.

Buffalo traded the 21st pick in the draft for goalie Robin Lehner. Colin White, who was selected with that pick, may or may not haunt the Sabres - but Lehner appears to be their goalie of the future.

That summer, Murray also hired head coach Dan Bylsma, who had won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguinis after they successfully rebuilt after a tank. The team brought in Ryan O'Reilly (who eventually would drunk-drive his car into a Tim Horton's) and made a huge leap from the previous season.

Well, a huge leap in terms of points - from 54 to 81. However, that "huge" jump turned out to be just enough to push them from 8th place in the division to 7th.

2016-17 Season

Boy, this story of Murray's tenure is wrapping up quickly. The Sabres, obviously regretting their 2014 selection of Reinhart and wishing they'd have taken William Nylander, drafted the younger Nylander brother (Alex) seventh overall.

Murray also gave an enormous contract (seven years, $42 million) to Kyle Okposo in the summer. Okposo scored 19 goals and 45 points, which is suboptimal for a guy making $6 million per year.

The Sabres finished with fewer points than the previous season, and didn't have a single player break the 30-goal or 60-point marks. Again, they finished in last in the division.

RIP In Peace

Murray was at the helm for three and a half seasons. In their best season, Buffalo finished second-to-last in their division. In all the rest, they finished last. They used their three top-ten picks under Murray to draft the wrong guy by choice, the wrong guy because of the lottery, and a middle-of-the-road prospect because they overachieved despite not competing. That's why Tim Murray got canned, RIP.

Looking Forward

Here's who Buffalo has under contract moving into next season:


O'Reilly, Okposo, Kane, Moulson, Eichel, and Reinhart are six solid forwards. Zemgus Girgenssons was an All Star. There is a lot of youth in the pipeline, especially Nylander. The defense kind of loses it a bit, but the Sabres should be able to piece together a decent team.

We'll see who Terry Pegula hires to fill the shoes of Murray and Bylsma, but the right GM and coach could push the Sabres into the playoff picture in the weirdly-not-that-good Atlantic Division next year.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Where Should Steve Mason Look To Play Next Season?

Usually, I get inspired to write my blogs by a random tweet on Twitter. Today, that tweet happens to be (sort of) my own.

Well, it starts with this conversation between O&BP's Mikey D and the only Scottish hockey fan in the world, Berke. They were looking forward to next season's Flyers goaltending situation. It's admittedly pretty murky, and there are a ton of options on the table:
And then I jumped into the Corsica machine:
But now I want to jump in even further, because those rankings for Mason are quite telling.  He's quite solid against low- and mid-danger scoring chances. Among goalies who have played at least 4,000 minutes in the past four years (that's about two dozen games per year, at a minimum), here's where Mason ranks:

  • Low-danger save percentage: 0.9845% (3rd behind Lundqvist and John Gibson)
  • Mid-danger save percentage: 0.9342% (5th behind Talbot, Khudobin, Gibson, and Frederik Andersen)
  • High-danger save percentage: 0.7972% (37th out of 47 eligible goalies)
You expect save percentage to decline as shot quality improves, but Mason's curve is harsher than most goalies. 


It's a very minor difference, but over the 996 high-danger chances Mason has faced in these four seasons, his 79.72% against Price's 85.49% amounts to a difference of 57.5 goals. The Flyers' goal differentials the last four years (though Mason only played 61, 51, 54, and 58 games) were +1, -19, -4, and -17. You always hate to compare your guy to the best in the world, but Carey Price would have singlehandedly erased the Flyers net goal differential over those four years. 

We've always known that Mason is in a tier below the elite level of NHL goalies, and it's almost all because he struggles against high-danger chances. 

So, looking forward, from Mason's point of view and not a Flyers point of view, which destinations make sense? Here's our checklist, based on what Mason has said and what we can infer about his statistical history:
  • Team without a number one goalie
  • Defense that doesn't allow a lot of high-danger chances
That's it! That's the whole list. First, let's narrow our list down from 30 teams by eliminating the franchises who have cornerstones already. That knocks out:
  • Metro: WSH, PIT, CBJ. NYR, NJD
  • Atlantic: MTL, OTT, BOS, TOR, TBL, 
  • Central: CHI, MIN, NSH
  • Pacific: ANA, SJ, LA, ARI
We also have a bunch of Maybe guys. Is Jake Allen that guy for St. Louis? Is Brian Elliott that guy for Calgary? Is Cam Talbot that guy for Edmonton? Is Winnipeg going to pay Connor Hellebuyck this summer and make him the number one guy? Is Semyon Varlamov the guy in Colorado? Is Jimmy Howard that guy for Detroit? Is the Greiss/Halak tandem going to work in New York? I mean... maybe. 

But that list removed 17 teams from the list (and maybe 25, we'll see), leaving us with seven contenders for Mason: 
  • Hurricanes: have $6 million committed to two goalies next season
  • Panthers: have $5.3 million committed to Roberto Luongo until 2022
  • Sabres: will likely re-sign RFA Robin Lehner this summer
  • Stars: probably not going to commit more money to goalies because they're paying $10.4 million already
  • Canucks: Jacob Markstrom is signed at $3.6 million for three more years
Barring something wonky, I would expect the 'Canes, Panthers, and Stars to duck out of this race. So, between Buffalo and Vancouver, who would Mason prefer to play in front of? Let's compare the biggest thing that matters for Mase - high-danger chances against. 

Now, considering the Sabres, and Canucks finished 17 and 25 points out of the playoffs respectively, we shouldn't get our hopes up too high that any of them do anything good on ice. But we might surprise ourselves. For reference, league-average High Danger Chances Against Per Sixty was 6.41 last season, and that made up an average of 21.5% of total scoring chances.
Let's start with the three goalies that Buffalo used this year:
  • Robin Lehner (59 games played): 5.85 HDSA/60, 17.6%
  • Anders Nilsson (26 games): 7.13 HDSA/60, 21.6%
  • Linus Ullmark (1 game): 5.98 HDSA/60, 17.9%
Wait, Buffalo is a better-than-average team in terms of denying high-danger chances?

Now for Vancouver's carousel:
  • Ryan Miller (54 games played): 7.00 HDSA/60, 21.8%
  • Jacob Markstrom (25 games): 6.45 HDSA/60, 22.2%
  • Richard Bachman (5 games): 9.31 HDSA/60, 27.3%
That would make an easy decision for Future Sabre Steve Mason. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Applying Playing Styles/Clustering To The Flyers

If you are a hockey fan, you should read Ryan's post from today. Stop reading this, open that link in a new window, and read it from start to finish. It's probably going to end up being a huge piece for hockey's internet community, if for no other reason than it creates a SHIT TON of possibilities for expansion.

The nuts and bolts is simple: like EA Sports NHL, most players fall into four major categories:

  • Forwards: Playmaker, Shooter, Balanced, and Dependent
  • Defensemen: All-Around, Volume Shooter, Puck-Mover, Defensive
There are obviously some ways to nit-pick those groups (and perhaps dividing them even further is next up on Ryan's to-do list), but according to his notes there are pretty even cuts for those eight groups. 

Before we jump into applying this to a Flyers context, I want to note that there are only 54 Playmakers, 69 Shooters, 41 Volume Shooters, and 11 All-Arounds. I was curious who those All-Around guys were, so here's the list:
  • Obviously: Doughty, Karlsson, Keith, Pietrangelo, Letang, Hedman
  • Okay That Makes Sense:  Tyson Barrie, TJ Brodie, Hampus Lindholm,Keith Yandle
  • Wait What: Derrick Pouliot, Jakub Nakladal, Jamie McBain, Shea Theodore, Tyler Wotherspoon
We're going to let ourselves get sidetracked really early on in this piece because how the fuck are those five guys among the best statistical defensemen in the league?
  • Pouliot: Played 34, 22, and 10 games the last three years with Pittsburgh. Used very sparingly and sheltered heavily. 
  • Nakladal: Played 27 games with Calgary last year and 3 games with Carolina this year. He kind of stinks, I think. 
  • McBain: Played 348 games in 8 seasons. Scored 92 points in his first five seasons but just 18 since (including 0 in just 3 games this year). 
  • Theodore: Played 50 games for Anaheim between last year and this year, scored 8 points each season. He should almost certainly have more this year, though, because he's shooting just 1.9%. He's probably the best of this bunch.
  • Wotherspoon: This was just a fake name that I made up. 
That little subquest means we're going to allow ourselves the ability to tweak who the model says qualifies for each category. The most obvious, from the Flyers fan's perspective, is Ivan Provorov. He's technically a Defensive Defenseman (the worst of the four categories), but we're going to move him to Puck Mover because he's been (1) stapled to Andrew MacDonald and (2) faced with the toughest competition of the team's blueline. Fair? Good. 

Here's who the Flyers will be icing next season:

Playmaker: Giroux
Shooter: Voracek, Simmonds, Konecny
Balanced: Filppula, Couturier, Schenn, Raffl, Weise, Bellemare, Lindblom
Dependent: Read, Cousins, Laughton, Leier, Vecchione


All-Around: Nobody
Volume Shooter: Gudas, Gostisbehere, Del Zotto
Puck-Mover: Provorov, Sanheim, Myers
Defensive: Manning, MacDonald, Morin

A few notes:
  • Considering Schenn is near the top of the league leaderboard for power play goals and Lindblom is near the top of the league in Sweden, I wouldn't be surprised them to classify themselves more as Shooters than Balanced next season
  • I was tempted to move Provorov straight into the All-Around (read: Elite) category, but keeping him as a Puck Mover seems like the safe move
  • Sanheim and Myers, if they develop into anything like what they should be as professionals, should both fall in the Shooter or Puck Mover category. Based on the qualifications listed in Ryan's post, I think Puck Mover might make more sense for both of them. 
  • Morin could be a Gudas-type Shooter, but given that he's only just making his NHL debut tonight, it's tough to say for certain. We'll take the safe route there too. 
Really, the most valuable piece of Ryan's work published today is the way the different player archetypes interact when paired together: 

Fwd_LinesDef_Pairs

Playmakers are the most valuable thing you can have when constructing an NHL roster. All-Around defensemen are best when paired with Shooters - not when paired with other All-Around defensemen. 

The best the Flyers can do with their lineup is something like this on offense:

Playmaker - Shooter - Shooter (55.1% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Balanced (51.5% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Shooter (50.9% xG)
Balanced - Balanced - Dependent (45.4% xG)

I'm going to say something really crazy here. This is a point to Dave Hakstol for pairing Jake Voracek and Travis Konecny, at different times, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde. If he believed that PEB and CVV were Balanced and not Dependent (which would be stupid, but stay with me), then it's better to put them with a shooter than it is to put them with a Dependent (read, in this context, as "someone even worse than they are"). 

If and/or when Jake Voracek earns his contract and crosses the threshold from Shooter to Playmaker (less shots, more shot assists, more overall expected goals), then you can change the second player on the first line to green and change that line's xG to 55.4%. It's not a huge difference. What would be a huge difference would be replacing that Dependent on the fourth line with a Balanced player or a Shooter. That could be Cousins/Laughton/Leier making a leap, or it could be a rookie developing quicker than expected, or it could be another Dale Weise-type free agent signing. 

And on defense:

Volume Shooter - Volume Shooter (54.5% xG)
Puck Mover - Volume Shooter (51.1% xG)
Puck Mover - Volume Shooter (51.5% xG)

If and/or when Ivan Provorov establishes himself in the All-Around category, then change that first D-slot to green and change the first pair's xG to 56.5%. 

Here's my best case scenario Flyers lineup for next season. If players develop like they should and Hextall keeps (what we expect to be) the same roster, this could be your opening night lineup:

Konecny - Giroux - Simmonds (55.1% xG)
Lindblom - Filppula -Voracek (55.0% xG)
Raffl - Couturier - Schenn (51.5% xG)
Bellemare - Vecchione - Cousins (51.5% xG)

Provorov - Gudas (56.5% xG)
Sanheim - Morin (51.1% xG)
Gostisbehere - Myers (51.1% xG)

That's four lines and three pairs that can hold their own at even strength, plus the following buckets of special teams players:
  • PP forwards: Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula, Konecny, Raffl, Couturier, Lindblom
  • PP defensemen: Gostisbehere, Provorov, Sanheim, Myers, Gudas
  • PK fowards: Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier, Filppula, Raffl, Bellemare
  • PK defensemen: Gudas, Morin, Provorov, and then I guess throw one of the offensive guys to the wolves? Idk this isn't my job
Big night tonight - Sammy Morin making his NHL debut against those scumbag shits from New Jersey. I'll see you out there. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Gonzaga-UNC Preview


North Carolina - Team Profile
  • 84.3 points per game (8th in the country)
  • 43.3 rebounds per game (1st)
  • 18.1 assists per game (3rd)
Using basic per-game stats, UNC looks like a juggernaut. They score a ton, they outrebound literally everybody and they seem to have a balanced offense that can move the ball. But is that assists stat just a product of playing high-pace, high-event basketball?
  • 0.592 assists per field goal made (37th in the country)
  • 1.511 assists per turnover (7th)
Maybe not. They're in the top ten percent in assist rate and even better at maintaining possession. The other way UNC can maintain possession, in addition to not turning the ball over, is controlling the glass. And oh boy do they ever do that:
  • 40.6% offensive rebounding (1st in the country)
  • 76.7% defensive rebounding (32nd)
Generating tons of second-chance opportunities while limiting them for your opponent is almost always a recipe for success. 

But if we are to look for a "flaw" in UNC ("flaw" in quotations because they're one game away from winning the national championship), it's their shooting metrics:
  • 51.1% on two-point shots (99th in the country)
  • 36.2% on three-point shots (113th)
  • 70.6% on free throws (163rd)
  • 0.343 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (209th)
  • 52.0% effective field goal percentage (102nd)
That certainly paints a picture more along the lines of "they score so much because of their pace" - they don't really do anything particularly great, but they attempt (and make) more field goals than just about everybody else. 

Gonzaga - Team Profile
  • 83.1 points per game (11th in the country)
  • 40.5 rebounds per game (6th)
  • 15.4 assists per game (49th)
Gonzaga isn't far behind UNC in the "juggernaut" discussion based on basic stats. They score, they rebounds, and they assist (though all at less impressive rates that UNC). However, let's start with shot rates to see how their offense compares to Carolina's:
  • 58.4 field goals attempted per game (138th in the country)
  • 29.7 field goals made per game (8th)
  • 57.1% effective field goal percentage (6th)
  • 57.1% on two-point shots (5th)
  • 38.1% on three-point shots (44th)
  • 71.9% on free throws (117th)
  • 0.389 free throws attempted per field goal attempt (76th)
The enormous elephant in the room here is strength of schedule - Gonzaga played seven games against "tournament" and/or "power five" teams during their entire regular season. And during their tournament run they beat a 16 seed, an 8 seed, a 4 seed, an 11 seed, and a 7 seed. You can only play the teams in front of you, but the toughest team they've played during this stretch finished 12-6 in the Big 12. 

Four Questions

The way I interpret this matchup, four points of emphasis will determine who we should bet on. We need to look at four matchups (two on each side) to see how these teams have played against teams who exhibit similar traits to their opponent. Let's start with Carolina. 

UNC against teams whose defenses are strong against two-point shots
  • Relevant Gonzaga stats: 41.2% opponent effective FG% (1st), 39.8% opponent two-point FG% (1st)
  • Teams with similar opp eFG%: Louisville (45.7%/17th, Georgia Tech (46.0%/20th, Virginia (46.1%/24th). Duke (47.5%/41st), Maryland (47.5%/42nd), Kentucky (47.5%/44th), Wisconsin (47.6%/47th)
  • Teams with similar opp 2FG%: Wisconsin (43.1%/11th), Georgia Tech (43.9%/17th), Louisville (44.8%/23rd), Virginia (45.1%/27th), Maryland (45.6%/41st), Oregon (46.1%/55th), Tennessee (46.2%/56th)
So how did UNC fair in their games against Louisville, Ga Tech, UVA, Duke, Maryland, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Tennessee? They played 12 games total against those teams.


As expected, UNC did not fare quite against this group as they did against the rest of the college basketball world. They shot an average of 43.4% from the field - below their average of 46.6% - and they weren't quite as dominant on the offensive glass either - 35.8% compared to 40.6%, even with the decreased shooting percentage.

Point: Gonzaga

UNC against teams who shoot the ball efficiently
  • Relevant Gonzaga stat: 57.1% effective FG% (6th), 57.1% two-point FG% (5th)
  • Teams with similar eFG%: Oregon (55.5%/17th), Duke (54.8%/28th), Butler (54.6%/32nd), Wake Forest (54.1%/38th), Oklahoma State (54.0%/40th), Florida State (53.7%, 46th), Syracuse (53.5%/52nd)
  • Teams with similar 2FG%: Virginia Tech (54.6%/20th), Oregon (54.5%/21st), Butler (54.5%/22nd), Florida State (54.4%/23rd), Indiana (54.1%/26th), Duke (53.6%/32nd), Kentucky (52.9%/42nd), NC State (52.4%/51st)

The Tar Heels fared a bit better here than they did against the teams who are solid on defense, but this is still a bright spot for Gonzaga. UNC allowed these teams to average more than 80 points per game despite the fact that this list includes:

  • Oklahoma State, the 5-seed in the Big 12
  • Indiana, the 11-seed in the Big Ten
  • Syracuse, the 9-seed in the ACC
  • Virgina Tech, the 7-seed in the ACC
  • NC State, the 14-seed in the ACC
I'd say the Gonzaga team total of 76.5 might be an attractive option. Point: Gonzaga


Gonzaga against teams that attempt and allow a lot of field goal attempts
  • Relevant UNC stats: 65.7 FGA for per game (4th), 59.5 FGA against per game (250th), total 125.2 FGA per game
  • WCC teams that push the pace: BYU (60.5 FGA for/64.0 FGA against), Pepperdine (58.3/60.0)
  • Non-conference teams that push the pace: Iowa State (62.5/62.2), Washington (62.9/62.1), Tennessee (59.2/57.1)

UNC is going to grab like 30 offensive rebounds tonight. That 67.9% defensive rebounding rate would be 328th out of 351 teams in the country. And if you factor out Pepperdine it drops to 64.3%, and if you drop BYU to just look at the three power conference schools it drops all the way down to 59.2%. That would be far and away the worst mark in Divison 1, It's fucking atrocious and given how much talk there is about Gonzaga's big men, I almost can't even believe it.

Point: UNC

Gonzaga against teams that rebound well (especially offensively) 
  • Relevant UNC stats: 58.2% rebounding rate (1st), 40.6% offensive rebounding rate (1st)
  • Teams with similar reb rate: St. Mary's (57.2%/2nd), Arizona (55.1%/9th), Xavier (54.4%/18th), BYU (53.5%/31st),  
  • Teams with similar o-reb rate: West Virginia (37.1%/5th), Washington (33.6%/25th), Xavier (32.6%, 37th), St. Mary's (31.3%/51st)
This is the big one. Essentially, if we accept the fact that UNC is going to crush the offensive glass, how goes Gonzaga fare in situations where they give up a lot of second chance points?


All you can do is beat the teams in front of you. Sure, SMC and BYU aren't the ideal competition to gauge a game against UNC, but we know two things about Gonzaga: (1) they're going to get KILLED on the glass tonight and (2) they know that, and they've still got a good chance to win. 

Point: Inconclusive

That's two points for Gonzaga, one point for UNC, a point split between them. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Let's Look At Next Year's Flyers

Keeping in mind that the Flyers are not officially dead yet this season, I think we can all agree that running the table and getting the benefit of FIVE other teams all faltering down the stretch is extremely unlikely. So, we midas whale take a look toward the future and see what next year's squad might look like.

The Backbone

Let's start with the center position, because I think there's a pretty obvious lineup of pivots for next season. Giroux, Filppula, Couturier, and Bellemare are all basically locked in.

This was easy.

Wing Players

This is a bit trickier, and if you ask ten Flyers fans for their top eight wings you would probably get ten different answers. Let's start with the obvious ones: Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Raffl, and Konecny will be five of the eight. Matt Read and Dale Weise are in contention. Jordan Weal, should be elect to re-sign in Philly this summer, should have a spot reserved for him.

So what does that mean for Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier, Oskar Lindblom, German Rubtsov, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel? That's six young players that are almost unquestionably more talented than the guys Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol will actually choose for bottom-six roles. Cousins and Leier have showed they can even play top-six minutes, and Lindblom is sneaky going to finish top-three on the team in goals next year.

My personal preference is to balance four lines that can all drive play and score. I'd like to ice four lines of decent hockey players, and it feels outrageous that saying that goes against the grain of actual professional NHL executives. I'd do something like this:

Weal-Giroux-Simmonds
Konecny-Filppula-Voracek
Schenn-Couturier-Lindblom
Read-Bellemare-Cousins

Some notes:
  • Cut a deal with Vegas where they take Scott Laughton, Michal Neuvirth, and Andrew MacDonald. They get a former first-round pick who is just about to break out (wink), they get a backup goalie on a decent contract, and they get a veteran/locker room guy/nice person who also helps them reach the cap floor.
  • If the Flyers don't re-sign Jordan Weal I'll be like 4/5 on the Mad On Line scale. It won't be like when they committed $10 million to Dale Weise instead of signing Ryan White for $1 million, but I definitely won't be happy. 
  • The Filppula trade was a slam dunk win for Ron Hextall. 
  • Oskar Lindblom should be a perfect complement to Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. He's positionally sound and defensively responsible, he can score, and it's not like this would even constitute "throwing him into the fire" because he's playing in like the third-best league in the world right now already. 
  • I've accepted that the fourth line will be The Bellemare Line, and I'm working through how to maximize that. Including Read and Cousins (or maybe Leier?) puts some speed and skill on the ice. Maybe Weise's decent play-driving ability would help? Read-Bellemare-Weise? But then what the hell do we do with Nick Cousins? Let's just move on. 
Blueline

There isn't quite as much variety on the back end, though there will certainly be some disagreements about which six players are the best unit. For me, it's these six (in these pairs):

Provorov-Gudas
Sanheim-Myers
Gostisbehere-Morin
Manning

When Provorov was drafted, I had dreams of a Provorov-Sanheim pair. All this season, I've been falling in love with the Sanheim-Morin pair. But Provorov and Gudas deserve to be the first pair, and a Sanheim-Myers pair would be among the best in the league if they develop together. 

Pairing Gostisbehere with Morin gives us two primary benefits. First, it allows the coach to shelter the two defensemen he'd most want to protect. They'd want to shelter them for completely different reasons, but they would be able to play this pairing primarily against third and fourth lines. Second, it gives you a good balance of size between your pairs. I shouldn't have to give you any "size/toughness" related information for Gudas or Morin, but the Sanheim/Myers pair stand 6'4" and 6'5" and they should both be well over 200 pounds at the start of the season. 

And, of course, Brandon Manning is the perfect seventh defenseman. Please do not direct any feedback in my direction on that point. 

Netminder

It's Steve Mason. Shut the fuck up about it. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Fixed The NHL Again

Everyone seems to be doing a lot of whining in the hockey world. The playoff format is stupid, the divisions aren't even and that's not fair, the draft lottery is a mess and tanking is rampant, the officials are ruining the sport, the list goes on and on.

Nobody is ever going to fix the refs (in any sport), but I have a formula for the new NHL (after expansion) that erases some headaches and adds even more fun wrinkles to the league.

The Four Divisions

Northeast

  • Boston
  • Buffalo
  • Montreal
  • NY Islanders
  • NY Rangers
  • Ottawa
  • Quebec City
  • Toronto

Southeast

  • Carolina
  • Florida
  • Nashville
  • New Jersey
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Tampa Bay
  • Washington

Midwest

  • Chicago
  • Colorado
  • Columbus
  • Dallas
  • Detroit
  • Minnesota
  • St. Louis
  • Winnipeg

West

  • Anaheim
  • Arizona
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Los Angeles
  • Las Vegas
  • San Jose
  • Vancouver
That leaves us with a map that looks something like this (full disclosure, I do not know where Quebec City is):


The two issues I have are we're splitting up the natural Pittsburgh/Ohio rivalry and the blossoming Chicago/St. Louis/Nashville rivalry. Those are fairly minor issues, and for this geographical thing to work we're going to live with them. Nashville is certainly more Southeast than Midwest, and Columbus is certainly the reverse. Are Philadelphia and New Jersey "southeastern" cities? Ignore that thought and let's move on!

Let's Rename The Divisions

For reasons totally unrelated to that last question I asked, we should give the divisions names that aren't strictly location-based. Let's do something that has never been done and name the divisions strictly after 90's era goalies:

Northeast - The Hasek Division
Southeast - The Brodeur/Kolzig Division (please don't make me choose)
Midwest - The Belfour Division
West - The Sean Burke Division 

In the time it took me to find a goalie to represent the West, I decided to choose Kolzig. So there you have it - three of the best goalies from the best goalie era in hockey, and one goalie who played for a long time or whatever. 

Regular Season/Playoffs

We're dumping the loser point. If you win in regulation, you get two points. If you win in the 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime, you get two points. If the game is not decided by overtime, then it is a tie and both teams get one point. Please do not direct any tweets to my attention criticizing this, because this will completely change how the last four minutes of regulation and all of overtime are played. 

The top two teams in each division receive a bye for the first round of the playoffs. Teams 3 through 6 in each division play in the first round, and (like the NFL), the bracket will be re-seeded after each round. 

So, during the regular season, there are the following incentives for winning:
  • Finish 1st or 2nd in the division and get a week or two off during the first round
  • Finish in the top 6 to make the playoffs
  • Finish as high as possible to increase your chances of home-ice advantage
The higher-seeded teams, in theory, get rewarded with their strong regular seasons by getting dealt an easier road to the conference finals. The NHL is wonky and the teams are all generally evenly matched, but there is certainly incentive to win as many games as possible during the 82-game season. 

But wait, there's more! We're stealing The Gold Plan for draft lottery seeding, and mixing it with the Bill Simmons Entertaining-As-Hell tournament. As soon as a team is eliminated from playoff contention, they begin banking points (two for a win, one for a tie) toward their Gold number. At the end of the regular season, the eight teams that miss the playoffs are seeded (one through eight) in the Gold bracket. This is a single-elimination bracket, and the winner gets the first overall pick in the upcoming draft (runner-up gets the second pick, and so on down the line). 

This season, that tournament would look something like this (keep in mind that we're short two teams from the final plan so this is just the bottom eight teams in the league):

1. Winnipeg
8. Colorado

2. Buffalo
7. Arizona

3. Dallas
6. New Jersey

4. Detroit
5. Vancouver

The Jets and Stars could try to put miserable seasons behind them and reap the reward of an impact rookie! The Sabres could continue to add to their loaded pipeline! That Detroit-Vancouver game will be super boring! Think about the home-ice advantage in a single-game setting where the stakes are potentially a real improvement in the team's roster. 

The Gold tournament starts the night before the playoffs and continues on an every-other-day basis. The whole thing only takes seven days. Does anyone really have a problem with that?

Hypothetically, What Would The Actual Playoffs Look Like This Year?

As of the morning of March 24th...

Hasek Division 
  1. NY Rangers
  2. Montreal
  3. Ottawa
  4. Toronto
  5. Boston
  6. NY Islanders
  7. Buffalo
  8. Quebec City (last place because they are French)
Kolzig Division
  1. Washington
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Nashville
  4. Tampa Bay
  5. Carolina
  6. Philadelphia
  7. Florida
  8. New Jersey
Belfour Division
  1. Chicago
  2. Columbus
  3. Minnesota
  4. St. Louis
  5. Winnipeg
  6. Dallas
  7. Detroit
  8. Colorado
Sean Burke Division (make sure you use his full name at all times)
  1. San Jose
  2. Anaheim
  3. Edmonton
  4. Calgary
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Las Vegas (ahead of Vancouver and Arizona because those two teams stink)
  7. Vancouver
  8. Arizona

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tracing Dave Hakstol's Postseason Runs In North Dakota

Today's food for thought:
Let's go season-by-season and see if we can find any #HakstolTrends. Hak took the UND job in 2004, and his first NCAA Tournament was the following Spring.

2005

Notable UND players: Drew Stafford (sophomore), Travis Zajac (freshman)
Result: lost in National Championship

The Fighting [Redacted] made it all the way to the final, where they got creamed 4-1 by Denver. That Denver team was led by Paul Stastny and Matt Carle, so it was unequivocally a good season for Hakstol's rookie year.

2006

Notable UND players: Chris Porter (junior), Stafford (junior), Zajac (sophomore), Taylor Chorney (freshman), TJ Oshie (freshman), Jonathan Toews (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

The semifinal loss came to Boston College, who had a team featuring goalie Corey Schneider, forwards Nathan Gerbe, Brian Boyle, and Stephen Gionta. It was a 6-5 final score, and I bet it's an all-time if someone can find me a copy of the game film.

Going forward though, Hakstol's big name guys are only going to get better and they'll definitely improve enough to win a cup with Oshie/Toews right?

2007

Notable UND players: Porter (senior), Oshie (sophomore), Toews (sophomore), Chorney (sophomore), Chris Vandevelde (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

They lost to Boston College (again) in a high-scoring affair (again). This was effectively the same BC team as the previous season, and they simply overpowered UND again.

2008

Notable UND players: Chorney (junior), Oshie (junior), Vandevelde (sophomore), Brad Malone (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

It was Boston College again, and BC scored six goals again, but this time Hakstol's Fighting Racism could muster just one goal. Toews had left for the NHL before the season started, and somehow Vandevelde wasn't able to fill his shoes.

This beatdown was especially hard to swallow because it meant Hakstol had essentially wasted his two years of Toews and three years of Oshie.

2009

Notable UND players: Ryan Duncan (senior), Vandevelde (junior), Malone (sophomore),
Result: lost in first round

I included Duncan this season because even though I don't think he's anything close to a household name - and he currently plays in Austria - he won a Hobey Baker, his godparents are Dany Heatley's parents, and the only other names I could have included were Travis Zajac's Younger Brother, Jonathan Toews' Younger Brother, and Ron Hextall's Son. 

This team managed to qualify for the tournament and then lose in the first round to a New Hampshire team that was led by South Jersey Native James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel's Little Brother. 

2010

Notable UND players: Vandevelde (senior), Malone (junior), Brett Hextall (sophomore), Corban Knight (freshman)
Result: lost in first round

The "younger brothers and future Phantoms" squad lost to Yale, of all teams. The only name that I think I recognize from their roster is Mark Arcobello. But Boston College steamrolled everyone this tournament by a total score of 24-9. Maybe the trend here is that Jerry York is a significantly better hockey coach than Dave Hakstol.

2011

Notable UND players: Chay Genoway (senior captain), Malone (senior), Hextall (junior), Aaron Dell (sophomore), Knight (sophomore), Derek Forbort (freshman), Brock Nelson (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

Hey, some new names that you might have heard of if you're an NHL fan!

Aaaand they ran into Carl Hagelin's Michigan team and then they died. Luke Glendening and Greg Pateryn were also on that team, and they eventually lost the championship game in overtime, but it was another year of accomplishing nothing for Hakstol's Fighting Hawks (were they the Hawks yet?).

2012

Notable UND players: Dell (junior), Knight (junior), Forbort (sophomore), Nelson (sophomore), Rocco Grimaldi (freshman)
Result: lost in regional final

Erik Haula-Nick Bjudstad-Nate Schmidt-Mark Alt. That's the core that beat Hakstol before the Frozen Four even began.

Boston College won the whole tournament again.

2013

Notable UND players: Andrew MacWilliam (senior captain), Knight (senior), Forbort (junior), Drake Caggiula (freshman)
Result: lost in regional final

They lost to Yale. Kenny Agostino? Is he a name I recognize? That Yale team went on to win the whole thing, so I guess that's somehow a bright spot for Hakstol. 

2014

Notable UND players: Caggiula (sophomore), Troy Stecher (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

Credit where credit is due - Hakstol led a team with only one guy who will eventually contribute in the NHL to two tournament wins before eventually losing to the team that lost to Shayne Gostisbehere's Union team. 

2015

Notable UND players: Caggiula (junior), Stecher (sophomore), Nick Schmalz (freshman)
Result: lost in Frozen Four

Credit where credit is due - Hakstol led a team with only two guys who will eventually contribute in the NHL to two tournament wins before eventually losing to the team that lost to (Googles who was on the 2014-15 Providence hockey team) Mark Jankowski's team.

And that's it. That resume of postseason excellence got Dave Hakstol a five-year contract and a fuck-ton of money to come to Philadelphia.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Deep Dive: Michigan vs. Oklahoma State

It's going to be a slow morning at work. I'm reeling from a rough day yesterday: Notre Dame, Virginia, Minnesota, Maryland, and Villanova all didn't cover their spreads. We need a rebound day today or we're going to be homeless by the time the first game tips on Sunday.

So, I guess, let's start at the beginning and see if we can get a read on what should be one of the most interesting games of the day: Midwest Region, (7) Michigan against (10) Oklahoma State in Indiana.

Oklahoma State

  • Let's start with something good: at 85.0 points per game, they are the third-highest scoring team among power conferences
  • But, also, something bad: at 77.8 points against per game, they are the second-worst team that qualified for the tournament (maybe even the worst, because the only team that gave up more points per game was play-in loser Wake Forest)
  • Their offensive prowess comes primarily from the fact that they are fifth in the entire country (third in the tournament) in free throw percentage and tenth in the country (eighth in the tournament) in three point percentage
  • You might worry about a team like this relying too much on threes and fouls to score, but OSU is surprisingly balanced; 31.8% of their points come from three pointers (138th out of 351 schools) and 21.7% of their points from from free throws (76th)
  • Overall, their offensive efficiency (sabermetrics) is eighth in the country and sixth among teams that qualified for the tournament
  • BUT, however, their defensive efficiency is 243rd in the country, which is worse than every tournament team except Virginia Tech and Wake Forest
  • Quick rebounding breakdown: they out-rebound opponents 36.7 to 33.2, grabbing 35.5% of available offensive rebounds (13th in the country, which is good) and 70.5% of defensive rebounds (266th, which is bad)
So that leaves us with a few questions that should really tell the whole story of today's first game. Can Michigan slow Oklahoma State's offense down at all? Can Michigan take advantage of Oklahoma State's poor defensive efficiency? Is either team going to dominate the boards? And, most importantly, where does Michigan's plane crash factor in to the game's intangibles?

Can Michigan slow Oklahoma State's offense down at all?

Short answer: maybe.
  • UM does a good job of limiting free throw attempts, limiting opponents to 10.1 free throws made (6th in the country) and 14.7 free throws attempted (12th)
  • Even when you adjust for the slower pace of play in the Big Ten, Michigan allows just 0.275 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (27th in the country, 12th among tournament teams)
  • Michigan allows the fourth-fewest three point attempts per game in the country (and the 23rd-fewest makes), which is a great sign for their hopes of slowing down OSU
  • Bad news though, that a Big Ten skew, because opponents shoot 37.8% from three against the Wolverines (305th in the country, only Wisconsin and Kansas State are worse among tournament teams)
So it seems like Michigan should be able to hold the free throw portion of Oklahoma State's offense in check. But what about from beyond the arc? What if we look at Big Ten teams that have a similar profile to Oklahoma State (score a lot, shoot three pointers well) to see how Michigan did against them?
  • Ok State: 85.0 points per game, 40.3% on threes, 9.0/22.4 3FG/game
  • Indiana: 79.7 points per game, 54.1% on threes, 8.7/22.8 3FG/game
  • Iowa: 80.2 points per game, 37.3% on threes, 8.6/23.1 3FG/game
  • Purdue: 80.1 points per game, 40.7% on threes, 9.0/22.1 3FG/game
I am absolutely floored at how well that idea played out. That's three teams (and five games) worth of data to dissect. Let's jump in:
  • 1/1: Michigan 83 @ Iowa 86 - Iowa shot 11/19 from three and 47.8% overall
  • 1/27: Indiana 60 @ Michigan 90 - Indiana shot 7/13 from three and 54.5% overall
  • 2/12: Michigan 75 @ Indiana 63 - Indiana shot 4/19 from three and 49.0% overall
  • 2/25: Purdue 70 @ Michigan 82 - Purdue shot 5/16 from three and 49.2% overall
  • 3/10: Michigan 74 @ Purdue 70 - Purdue shot 8/19 from three and 45.9% overall
That's three games that were inarguably bad for Michigan's three point defense, one that was okay, and one that was pretty good. I think those odds favor Oklahoma State, especially considering their offense is overall more efficient than any of those three teams. 

Can Michigan take advantage of Oklahoma State's poor defensive efficiency?

I mean, probably. Right? I just told you that OSU is the second-worst defense in the whole tournament. And Michigan, though they score 10 points per game less than Oklahoma State, is still a very efficient offense:

  • True shooting percentage - 120.0% (7th in the country)
  • 2FG percentage - 56.7% (8th)
  • 3FG percentage - 38.1% (44th, 19th among tournament teams)
  • Free throw percentage - 77.5% (11th)
  • Overall offensive efficiency - 1.143 (7th)
One thing that might hurt Michigan and help Oklahoma State is Michigan's general lack of getting to the foul line. They shoot just 16.6 free throws per game and 0.305 free throws per field goal attempt, which is good for third-fewest and eighth-fewest among tournament teams. Oklahoma State's defense generally gives up a TON of foul shots, but Michigan's record this season means that shouldn't really be able to take full advantage of that. 

Is either team going to dominate the boards?

First, let's look at the rosters.

Oklahoma State:
  • Jeffrey Carroll, 6'6", 28.9 minutes, 6.6 rebounds
  • Mitchell Solomon, 6'9", 19.7 minutes, 5.2 rebounds
  • Leyton Hammonds, 6'8", 22.4 minutes, 4.8 rebounds
  • Jawun Evans, 6'1", 29.0 minutes, 3.3 rebounds
  • Cameron McGriff, 6'7", 16.0 minutes, 3.1 rebounds
Michigan:
  • DJ Wilson, 6'10", 30.1 minutes, 5.4 rebounds
  • Derrick Walton, 6'1", 34.6 minutes, 4.7 rebounds
  • Zak Irvin, 6'6", 35.2 minutes, 4.5 rebounds
  • Moritz Wagner, 6'11", 24.0 minutes, 4.2 rebounds
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 6'4", 30.0 minutes, 2.8 rebounds
From a pure size standpoint, you'd rather have the 6'11 and 6'10 guys who play 24 and 30 minutes per game than the 6'9 and 6'8 guys who play 20 and 22. But, as Jawun Evans and Derrick Walton will show you, rebounding isn't all about height. 
  • I mentioned before that Oklahoma State recovers 35.5% of available offensive rebounds (13th in the country) and 70.5% of defensive rebounds (266th)
  • Michigan recovers 23.2% of offensive rebounds (290th) and 72.2% of defensive rebounds (207th)
That's advantage Cowboys, who should have the advantage on their own defensive glass in addition to a sizable advantage on their offensive glass. 

Where does Michigan's plane crash factor in to the game's intangibles?

I have no doubt that they will cram this angle down our throats, but it's undeniable that Michigan has been a different team since their March 8th runway incident. They ran through the Big Ten tournament, blowing out Illinois before defeating tournament teams Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. 

In those four games (which were all 500 miles away from home in Washington DC), Michigan either shot 50% from the field or hit at least 18 free throws. In the Minnesota game, they did both. They also chucked 96 threes in those four games, and made 33 of them for a 34.3% number that actually fell below their season average of 38.1%. So, really, they should have dominated the post-plane-crash run even more than they did. 

The one thing I would worry about if I were a Michigan backer is the rebounding battle in the Minnesota and Wisconsin games. Michigan allowed 15 and then 14 offensive rebounds in those games. It's  honestly a miracle that they won either of those games, and it's a testament both to Michigan's defense and to how fucking awful the Big Ten was this year. 

Let me just repeat: Minnesota is an average rebounding team on both ends of the court (184th and 139th in the country). Wisconsin is a good rebounding team on both ends (20th and 14th). But still, 15 and then 14 offensive rebounds in back-to-back games? The worst teams in the tournament (Arkansas) and the whole country (Savannah State) allow 10.6 and 13.2 offensive rebounds against, respectively. 

Considering Oklahoma State is better on the offensive glass than anyone Michigan has played since Thanksgiving, that moves the needle a whole hell of a lot toward the black and orange. And oh by the way, that November game was against SMU, who tallied 18 offensive rebounds and still lost. 18!

Conclusion

Oklahoma State is getting three points. I love it. I also love their +130 moneyline. Bingo mango, fire in the hole. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Let's Go See A College Football Game

Some quick research. Distances/times are via Google Maps, flight estimates are from Philadelphia because that's what Google Flights gives me.

Michigan 

Home games: 9/16 (Air Force), 10/7 (Michigan State), 10/28 (Rutgers), 11/4 (Minnesota)

Airport: Detroit
Distance to stadium: 27.5 miles (30 minutes)
Flight price: less than $100 on Spirit

LSU

Home games: 9/23 (Syracuse), 9/30 (Troy), 10/14 (Auburn), 11/11 (Arkansas)

Airport: Baton Rouge
Distance to stadium: 10 miles (20 minutes)
Flight price: mid-$200's on American/Delta

Airport: New Orleans
Distance to stadium: 73 miles (70 minutes)
Flight price: low-$200's on Frontier/American/Delta

Ohio State

Home games: 9/16 (Army), 9/23 (UNLV), 10/7 (Maryland), 10/28 (Penn State), 11/11 (Michigan State), 11/18 (Illinois)

Airport: Columbus
Distance to stadium: 10 miles (20 minutes)
Flight price: high-$200's on American

Clemson

Home games: 9/23 (Boston College), 10/7 (Wake Forest), 10/28 (Georgia Tech), 11/11 (Florida State), 11/18 (Citadel)

Airport: Greenville
Distance to stadium: 35 miles (55 minutes)
Flight price: high-$200's on American

UCLA

Home games: 9/30 (Colorado), 10/21 (Oregon), 11/11 (Arizona State)

Airport: LAX
Distance to stadium: 29 miles (60 minutes)
Flight price: low-$300's on Spirit, mid-$300's on Delta/American

Alabama

Home games: 9/16 (Colorado State), 9/30 (Ole Miss), 10/14 (Arkansas), 10/21 (Tennessee), 11/4 (LSU), 11/18 (Mercer)

Airport: Birmingham
Distance to stadium: 63 miles (60 minutes)
Flight price: mid-$300's on American

Tennessee

Home games: 9/23 (UMass), 9/30 (Georgia), 10/14 (South Carolina), 11/4 (Southern Miss), 11/19 (LSU)

Airport: McGhee Tyson Airport (Knoxville)
Distance to stadium: 13 miles (25 minutes)
Flight price: mid-$300's on United, high-$400's on American

Wisconsin

Home games: 9/30 (Northwestern), 10/14 (Purdue), 10/21 (Maryland), 11/11 (Iowa), 11/18 (Michigan)

Airport: Madison
Distance to stadium: 8 miles (25 minutes)
Flight price: high-$300's on American/Delta

Texas

Home games: 10/7 (Kansas State), 10/14 (Oklahoma**), 10/21 (Oklahoma State), 11/11 (Kansas)

Airport: Austin
Distance to stadium: 10 miles (30 minutes)
Flight price: low-$400's on American/United

**Game is being played in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl, which is 24 miles/35 minutes from DFW Airport. Flights are currently in the mid-$300's for that weekend.

I didn't look at schedules for the rest of my list because the flights are all either super expensive or there isn't a convenient airport close to the stadium. Here are some other options though...

Florida

Airport: Gainesville
Distance to stadium: 6 miles (20 minutes)
Flight price: mid-$400's on American/Delta

Auburn

Airport: Columbus, GA
Distance to stadium: 41 miles (60 minutes)
Flight price: mid-$400's on Delta

Baylor

Airport: Waco
Distance to stadium: 8 miles (15 minutes)
Flight price: high-$400's on American

Florida State

Airport: Tallahassee
Distance to stadium: 6 miles (15 minutes)
Flight price: low-$500's on American/Delta

Texas A&M

Airport: Easterwood (College Station)
Distance to stadium: 3 miles (10 minutes)
Flight price: high-$500's on American, low-$600's on United

Airport: Houston (George Bush)
Distance to stadium: 90 miles (100 minutes)
Flight price: high-$200's on United

Oregon

Airport: Eugene
Distance to stadium: 12 miles (25 minutes)
Flight price: low-$600's on United/American

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Flyers Are Not Dead

Trade deadline day in Philadelphia is going to be a stressful day for Flyers Twitter. It seems like the majority of the people in this hypothetical locker room are ready to sell everything that isn't nailed down, limp to the finish line of the season, and try to retool (or rebuild the whole thing from scratch).

Flyers Twitter can snowball sometimes, and it can be an enormous echo chamber. "This season is lost" seems to be universally understood.

But then Bill Melzter posted him daily Meltzer's Musings column. And, uh, guys...


The Rangers have clearly locked up the first Wild Card spot in the East. But that second spot is very much up for grabs. If we ignore current Atlantic Division representatives Ottawa (72 points, 59.0 points percentage) and Boston (72 points, 57.1%), here are the points percentages of the teams in contention for the wild card:
  • NY Islanders - 55.7%
  • Toronto - 55.6%
  • Florida - 54.8%
  • Philadelphia - 52.4%
  • Tampa Bay - 52.4%
  • Buffalo - 50.0%
  • New Jersey - 50.0%
There are seven teams in the hunt for that second spot, and literally none of them have more wins than losses this season. Nobody is going to run away with that second spot, and it might come down to the final day of the season. That would be Sunday, April 9th:
  • Buffalo @ Tampa, which might matter if Tampa rights the ship over the next month
  • Ottawa @ NY Islanders, which will be enormous because NY is right in the mix, and Ottawa sneaky could find themselves in the mix pretty quickly
  • Columbus @ Toronto, which will matter for the home team but not for the visitors
  • Florida @ Washington, which will matter for the visitors but not for the home team
  • New Jersey @ Detroit, which will not matter at all to anybody on the planet
  • Carolina @ Philadelphia, which hopefully matters for the Flyers
The Flyers have 19 games to make that last game worth something. Those 20 include games against the Devils (three times), Hurricanes (once, and then again on the final day), Panthers, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Senators, and Islanders. Why couldn't they string together a couple 5- or 6-game streaks and pass the three Atlantic teams they currently trail?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Which I Argue That Sean Couturier Is Better Than Anze Kopitar

A year ago, as the Flyers were gearing up for their playoff push (remember that? Fun times) we had some discussions on the Flyers' internet community about Sean Couturier's status as a candidate for the Selke Trophy. Couts has always - from the day he entered the league - been an underrated defensive forward.

Last year seemed to be a breakout season in terms of national-level recognition. I sort of wrote about it, the way I always sort of write about things. Broad Street Hockey's Charlie O'Connor broke it down significantly better.

As the year progressed and Couturier lost time due to injury, he slipped out of the conversation. He ultimately finished eighth. Here's how the final vote went:

  1. Anze Kopitar (1145 votes)
  2. Patrice Bergeron (996)
  3. Ryan Kesler (424)
  4. Jonathan Toews (409)
  5. Joe Thornton (166)
  6. Aleksandr Barkov (115)
  7. Sidney Crosby (73)
  8. Sean Couturier (62)
  9. Pavel Datsyuk (55)
  10. Filip Forsberg (51)
  11. Joe Pavelski (46)
  12. Nicklas Backstrom (42)
  13. Jordan Staal (32)
  14. David Backes (32)
  15. Alex Steen (27)
Obviously, missing almost 20 games did not help Couturier. But it's not crazy to think that a full season of his usual level of play would have vaulted him up just below the Kopitar/Bergeron/Kesler/Toews quadrumvirate that always seems to win the Selke. Maybe next year. 

But this post isn't really a Couturier-centric post. During last night's Kings-Wild game, I was SHOCKED to see that Kings center Anze Kopitar - he of the $10 million cap hit - has scored just 6 goals and 35 points this season. Could you imagine if one of the Flyers' big names scored at a one-goal-per-ten-games pace? I mean this is, by all accounts, an awful year for everyone on the team except Wayne Simmonds. Here are their goal paces:
  • Simmonds: 0.41 goals per game
  • Brayden Schenn: 0.33
  • Jake Voracek: 0.26
  • Claude Giroux: 0.20
  • Sean Couturier: 0.20
  • Shayne Gostisbehere: 0.12
Even Ghost, who plays defense and has been the subject of no less than forty "sophomore slump" articles, has scored at a higher clip than Kopitar this season. And it's not just because of the Flyers' high-octane power play, either. Kopitar's individual 5v5 goals per 60 minutes is less than half of the numbers put up by Simmonds and Couturier. 

And then when you factor in that Kopitar has nearly doubled Couturier's power play time on ice (with the Drew Doughty/Jeff Carter unit, instead of the Mark Streit/Nick Cousins one), and I'm almost at a loss as to why Kopitar should make more than twice Couts' salary. 

You want to compare them head-to-head? Let's do it. This is all going to be via Hockeyviz, which is the best site on the internet. 

First, their average teammates and competition: 


Kopitar gets Doughty, and he's almost exclusively on the top line for the Kings in terms of ice time. As such, he gets a minuscule-ly more difficult matchup on the opposing blueline. But the forwards he plays against aren't as good as the ones Couturier's line has to face, and Couturier does it with primarily middle-six forwards and second-pair defensemen by his side. 

So here is my message for everyone who ever wants to talk shit about Sean Couturier: shut the fuck up and don't ever talk to me again. There might not be a player in the NHL who gets stuck with a worse combination of tough minutes and shitty linemates. Dave Hakstol - or whoever - needs to staple Jake Voracek to Couts' hip for the rest of their contracts. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Can The Flyers Ever Be Good?

It is BLEAK in Flyerland. We stink, we don't have a lot to ship out before Wednesday's trade deadline, and we have lost another season of the Giroux-Voracek-Simmonds core's prime years.

Oh, and we just had to sit in the cold and watch the boys get their dicks kicked in by the fucking goddamn Penguins.

So let's throw this season in the trash and take a look toward the future. We have a Ryan White playoff run to root for. The draft is four months away. Training camp starts in September. The sun is going to engulf the earth in a fiery death soon enough.

Let's put on our GM hats and try to envision a Flyers team that can compete with the Penguins, Capitals, and Wilds of the league. Here is what you need:

  • Three centers
  • Five Good Wingers
  • Four Good Defensemen
  • A Goalie
  • A Forward And A Defenseman Who Can Fight
Three Centers

Claude Giroux is one of them, and if you disagree then you should remove yourself from the Flyers fan base. He has taken the torch as best captain in Philadelphia (Chase Utley and Brian Dawkins were the two most recent holders). He is exactly what you want out of a Flyers captain - skill, attitude, everything. 

Sean Couturier is also one of the three centers on this hypothetical team, and disagreeing here is almost more egregious than wanting to trade Giroux. The old adage is that Stanley Cup contenders have a Hart contender and a Selke contender. Regardless of who you think could be the Hart guy, Couts is inarguably the Selke guy. He consistently shuts down the opposition's best players, and he doesn't even need good linemates to do it. A trio of Couturier with Jake Voracek and quite literally any NHL player will be successful. 

The third center position is a bit of a question mark, especially considering we're going at least a year (maybe as many as three years) into the future. It could be Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton, or Jordan Weal - though they all seem to be better suited on the wing. It could be recent draftees German Rubtsov or Pascal Laberge, though it's tough to accurately project their development. And, of course, if the Flyers continue their downward trend this season, they could land a high-end prospect in June, like Casey Middlestadt or Nico Hischier. 

Five Good Wingers

Let's bang out the easy ones first. Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are among the league's best. Michael Raffl is among the league's most underrated. Brayden Schenn is among the league's top powerplay scorers. 

Travis Konecny or Oskar Lindblom will likely round out the group, though it's not out of the realm of possibility that Taylor Leier or one of the Cousins/Laughton/Weal trio could end up taking on a larger role. 

And from a player development standpoint, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Wade Allison, or Mikhail Vorobyov could end up being NHL contributors. 

The Flyers' system has a well-known batch of high-end talent on defense, but their depth at wing is impressive - and they should be able to add to it this summer. 

Four Good Defensemen

Take your pick: Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Phil Myers, Radko Gudas, Robert Hagg. 

That was easy. 

A Goalie

This has to be Anthony Stolarz, right? I mean I joke on Twitter about how he has the best 5v5 save percentage in NHL history at this point in his career (he hasn't allowed an even-strength goal in two games), but he's showed signs of being able to take over as soon as next season. Any contract extension or free agent signing in front of him is merely a stopgap until he takes the reigns, or at least that's how I believe it should play out. 

A Forward And A Defenseman Who Can Fight

I want to include the caveat that this can't double-dip from the first three categories. You don't want your players who are Actually Good to be sitting in the penalty box for five minutes at a time. You want a guy like Ryan White, who certainly would have reacted differently than the Minnesota Wild did when Jared Spurgeon was speared in the face. 

You need a guy like Brandon Manning in the lineup on defense, and the Flyers will have to re-sign Ryan White to a two-year deal this summer after he wins the Cup with Minnesota. 

2018-19 Flyers

Raffl - Giroux - Lindblom
Konecny - Couturier - Voracek
Weal - Rubtsov - Simmonds
Schenn - Laberge - White
Vandevelde

Provorov - Gudas
Sanheim - Morin
Gostisbehere - Myers
Manning

Stolarz

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Which NHL Team Had The Best 2013 Draft?

As usual, I got my inspiration for this exercise from a random tweet. Today's entry comes via Mikey D:

 I sort of disagree with MD, primarily because Sam Morin and Robert Hagg both figure to be key contributors on the blueline next year and for the foreseeable future. Two guys from a seven-round draft looks a hell of a lot better than zero.

I will call it a seven-round draft because there were, in fact, that many rounds. But the Flyers only made six selections, because they used their fourth-round pick in the Pavel Kubina trade. Those six selections were Morin, Hagg, forward Tyrell Goulbourne, defenseman Terrance Amorosa, goalie Merrick Madsen, and defenseman David Drake.

If you follow the Flyers in any capacity, you should already be pretty familiar with the first three. Morin was just voted the 9th best Flyer under 25 by Broad Street Hockey, Hagg tied for 15th, Madsen finished just outside the top 25 in the honorable mentions, and he still has his senior season at Harvard next year to prove himself. Goulbourne has fallen out of the running for the BSH Top 25 Under 25 honor but he totally could still beat you up.


But, to Mikey's point, it's been three and a half years and the big club has nothing to show from the 2013 NHL Draft. No games, no goals, no big moments. Nothing. But are they that far behind other teams' draft classes from that year? Let's explore.

Teams That Drafted Elite Talent At The Top Of The Draft

I want to separate these teams, from the pack, because of course drafting a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it, ready-to-contribute-right-away player is going to make the whole draft look good. The top four teams on the board selected the top three North American skaters and the top European skater. I think it'd be good for us to keep that in mind as we dive in.

Colorado Avalanche
  • Notable picks: forward Nathan MacKinnon, defenseman Chris Bigras, goalie Spencer Martin, four defenseman who will never play in the NHL
Even with MacKinnon, this draft had minimal impact on the Avs. They still stink, they're going to blow it up again, and they'll probably end up getting a bunch of draft picks so they can completely whiff on every single one of them. Except the franchise-caliber talent, they'll fall into that, and then they can surround him with NOTHING and repeat the whole process. 


Florida Panthers
  • Notable picks: forward Aleksandr Barkov, defenseman Ian McCoshen, goalie Evan Cowley, defenseman Michael Downing, center Matt Buckles, forward Christopher Clapperton, defenseman Joshua Brown, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar
It's never good when six of your selections in one draft are so irrelevant three seasons later that they don't even have Wikipedia pages. But, of course, Barkov being the perennial Selke winner of the future erases everything and the Panthers get billed as a skilled young team. 

Also it's insane that Christopher Clapperton couldn't make it to the big leagues. Possibly the best hockey name of all time. He's still playing college hockey, so maybe you'll see his name slapped on the back of a Panthers jersey in the future. 


Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Notable picks: forward Jonathan Drouin, winger Adam Erne, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, winger Henri Ikonen, forward Saku Salminen, winger Joel Vermin
Granted, the Lightning traded their third- and fourth-round picks in the blockbuster Anders Lindback and BJ Crombeen trades. But still, this draft counts as a "win" for them even though they only hit on one pick, all because Drouin is a stud.


Nashville Predators
  • Notable picks: defenseman Seth Jones, defenseman Jonathan Diaby, forward Felix Girard, goalie Juuse Saros, forward Saku Maenalanen, defenseman Teemu Kivihalme, forward Emil Petterson, forward Tommy Veilleux, forward Wade Murphy, goalie Janne Juvonen
This exercise is starting to make me mad on line. Everyone's draft stinks. The vast majority of the 200 players drafted each summer stink and won't ever make the NHL. Everyone whiffs on most of their picks. So what if Morin and Hagg took some time to get their feet wet in professional hockey? Shooting 2-for-6 is far from terrible. 

Now, keeping in mind that almost every team probably had a draft that graded somewhere between "okay" and "awful", let's try to find some teams that really plundered this draft. 

Teams That Stole A Star Way Later Than He Should Have Been Drafted

This section is tricky because a grand total of zero players drafted outside of the top ten have ever been voted or selected to an All-Star or All-NHL team. If we dumb our definition of "star" down to the 14 guys who have played 100+ NHL games and/or scored 40+ NHL points, then we at least have something to work with.

But if we do that, does a middle-of-the-road guy really count as a star? I think it's better if we name the category something like...

Teams That Wound Up With Multiple Guys Who Are Currently NHL Contributors

Calgary Flames

  • Notable picks: forward Sean Monahan, forward Emile Poirer, forward Morgan Klimchuk, defenseman Keegan Kanzig, defenseman Eric Roy, firward Tim Harrison, defenseman Rushan Rashikov, defenseman John Gilmour

We'll start with the Flames, whose 6th overall selection (Monahan) currently leads all players from this draft with 296 games, 99 goals and 194 points. But their other first-round picks (Poirer and Klimchuk) are tearing up the AHL and figure to make the jump next season. Going 3/3 on first-round picks in one day would be impressive, and the additional high-end talent should be good for a long-term Flames-Oilers rivalry in  Alberta.

We're going to go a little more rapid fire from here out, because including nameless fifth-round picks isn't really accomplishing a lot and it's a waste of my time. The "notable" picks are only going to be guys who are actually, you know, notable.

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Notable picks: forward Elias Lindholm, defenseman Brett Pesce
Nobody really cares about the Canes but Lindholm is 4th in the draft class in games played, 5th in goals, 6th in assists, and 4th in points. Among defensemen, Pesce is arguably even more impressive at 4th in games and 3rd in points, 


Buffalo Sabres

  • Notable picks: defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forward JT Compher, forward Connor Hurley, forward Justin Bailey, forward Nicholas Baptiste, goalie Cal Peterson
Ristolainen should need no introduction. He ranks second in this draft class among defenseman (and fifth overall) in games played, and he signed a 6 year, $32.4 million contract before this season. That might be too much money for him, but he is going to get paid that much for a long time so let's just move on. 

Zadorov and Compher were included in the Sabres' trade with the Avalanche that netted them Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn. I guess you can count that as a decent use of picks, but also maybe not considering they were the 16th and 35th picks. 

That leaves Buffalo with four players remaining who are worth mentioning. Hurley and Peterson are in their junior seasons at Notre Dame (Peterson is the captain and also the goalie, which is cool). The Irish are currently ranked #13 in the nation, and they're looking to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. 

Bailey and Baptiste have both split time between Buffalo and AHL Rochester this season, but they've been limited to primarily bottom-six roles. Still, Buffalo's youth is going to grow up eventually, so it's never bad to give some of the young guys a cup of coffee or two in the big league. 

Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Notable picks:forward Alex Wennberg, forward Kerby Rychel, forward Marko Dano, defenseman Dillon Heatherington, forward Oliver Bjorkstrand
Wennberg is sixth in the draft class in points despite playing between 40 and 100 fewer games than everyone above him. Bjorkstrand led AHL Lake Erie to the Calder Cup last season and won the playoff MVP award in the process. Heatherington was also a member of that Lake Erie team, though he's certainly lower on the totem pole than Bjorkstrand. 

Rykel has been tearing it up this season, but he's been doing it for Toronto because he was traded to the Maple Leafs last summer for "meh" defenseman Scott Harrington. Dano has bounced from Columbus to Chicago (in the Brandon Saad trade), and then from Chicago to Winnipeg (in the Andrew Ladd trade). 

New York Rangers
  • Notable picks: forward Anthony Duclair
(Evil laugh) let's end on the Rangers, because this must have been the best 80th overall pick in the history of the NHL draft, and they traded him away (with two additional picks) for a year and two months of Keith Yandle. 

Flyers/Summary

In conclusion, the Flyers will end up falling somewhere in the middle of the pack in this 2013 draft when everyone's career has finished. Morin and Hagg will contribute, Madsen might turn into a player, and we'll always have Goulbourne. 

Would a top-five pick have been an impact player? Obviously. Would it have been nice for them to scoop Pesce, Duclair, Bjorkstrand or Pavel Buchnevich in the third round? Sure. Would the roster be better if we had added Miles Wood or Tyler Motte in the fourth round instead of nobody? Probably. But those are six guys in the final five rounds of the draft (that's like 150 picks). 

The cheeky adage is draft picks are lottery tickets, and three full seasons often isn't enough to scratch all of the ticket off. We might get to scratch Hagg's this Spring if Ron Hextall trades away some of the Flyers' expiring contracts on the blueline. We'll almost certainly scratch Morin's next season. And even if we don't win anything with those tickets, it's perfectly average for a draft to yield one (or zero) productive players. 

Plus we have six tickets from the 2014 draft, nine tickets from the 2015 draft, ten tickets from the 2016 draft, and nine more upcoming next summer. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Midseason Flyers Top 25 Under 25

Back in the summer, the good folks at Broad Street Hockey released their annual Top 25 Under 25 ranking. I posted my ballot, and as it turns out I was really fucking wrong.

This ranking of prospects is a semiannual process for BSH, and since we are at the halfway point in the season we're going to see what's changed since August. Here's the link to the page where you can submit your ballot for the mid-season ranking.

As a quick refresher, here was my top eleven in August:

  1. Sean Couturier
  2. Shayne Gostisbehere
  3. Scott Laughton
  4. Nick Cousins
  5. Ivan Provorov
  6. Taylor Leier
  7. Travis Sanheim
  8. Sam Morin
  9. Travis Konecny
  10. Anthony Stolarz
  11. Robert Hagg
What a goddamn idiot! In my defense, I split it into groups and ranked the guys who already had NHL experience above the guys who didn't. But that turned out to be a horrible way to rank our prospects. I'm going to try to avoid being so horrible at this in the midseason rankings, but I know where I'm starting my list and it's probably going to be bad again. 

1. Sean Couturier
2. Ivan Provorov

Ivan Provorov is going to be number one when the list comes out. I accept that. I don't even necessarily have an issue with that. But a rookie who has held his own for half a season, to me, is not as important as a veteran center who constantly shuts down the opposition's best players. If Provorov turns into the defenseman that we are all hoping he becomes, then yes he will be more valuable than Couturier. But for now, Sean Couturier is the third most important player on the team overall and the most important under the age of 25. 

3. Travis Konecny
4. Shayne Gostisbehere
5. Travis Sanheim

The headline for the Courier Post today is something along the lines of "Flyers hope patience will lead to goals." Well, I have an alternative theory: maybe putting three of the most talented offensive players in the goddamn lineup would lead to goals. 

This Konecny-Gostisbehere in the press box thing is getting fucking ridiculous. And for a team that can never seem to generate any goals, maybe their AHL affiliate's top offensive blueliner would serve as an upgrade over the five defenseman who have combined to score 48 points in 177 games. 

I'm tired of the lip service about "putting the best team on the ice" because the actual gameplan seems to be "let's play low-event hockey so our shitty players aren't exposed quite as much." Going forward, I hope that the aggressive instincts of these three youngsters are embraced by Dave Hakstol instead of being squashed. 

6. Nick Cousins
7. Oskar Lindblom

Beyond Konecny, there isn't a ton of high-end talent on the wings. Cousins seems to be a serviceable player with a good mix of offensive ability and defensive responsibility. The latter is almost certainly aided by his recent play with Couturier, and the two of them on a line with Matt Read is probably the best way to create a "shutdown" line to ease the burden on the Flyers' top six. 

Lindblom is dominating the SHL and I can't wait for him to join one of the teams in the states in the Spring. This could end up being the pick that makes me look foolish, because I can certainly envision a scenario next season where Lindblom is a top-six (or even top-line) winger. Flyers Twitter jokes about "X-Giroux-Voracek" a lot, but Lindblom-Giroux-Voracek makes my jeans tight in the crotch area. 

8. Sam Morin
9. Phil Myers

Just get the fucking dead weight off the blueline, please. 

10. Scott Laughton
11. Taylor Leier
12. Jordan Weal

I like these three. I really do. I just don't see where they fit into the lineup. 

The Flyers' top six forwards for the forseeable future are some combination of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Raffl, Read, and Konecny. That's already too many players, and if you extended it to the top nine forwards, the list is going to include the leftovers from that list plus Cousins and Dale Weise. 

Laughton, Leier, and Weal, then, are going to have to prove worth of playing in an offense-minded role with Jake Voracek or a defense-minded role with Sean Couturier. The offense hasn't been an issue at the AHL level - the three have combined for 91 points in 107 games this year - but it hasn't translated quite so well to the NHL level. They are young and they all have time to develop before they'd really be considered busts, but they certainly have a lot of guys standing in the way of regular NHL ice time. 

13. Anthony Stolarz

Maybe 13th is too low for the goalie of the future and the best goalie in the history of the NHL (at 5v5). 
But I could see a situation where he gets usurped during the 2-3 years where the Flyers have another goalie in front of him on the depth chart. That could be any one of a handful of guys - stay tuned for those names in a minute - but for now, all signs point to Stolarz being the guy in another two or three years.

 14. Robert Hagg

It feels like we've been asking the same question since the day he was drafted - is Robert Hagg good? Last year, it seemed like he might not have been good. But based on everything I've read from Allentown, he seems to be good again this year. I imagine next summer will be the big push from him to try to make the team.

Sort of related: how fun is next year's training camp going to be on the blueline? If we assume that Gudas, Manning, Provorov, and Gostisbehere are sticking around, we will have two spots up for grabs between Sanheim, Myers, Morin, and Hagg.

(Ha ha I made a funny joke about Andrew MacDonald not being on the team until the Sun consumes the Earth.)

This is the point in the exercise where I stop knowing a lot about the prospects. So I'm going to group them together and just kind of take stabs.

We Need Forward Prospects

15. German Rubtsov
16. Nicolas Aube-Kubel
17. Davis Kase
18. Mikhail Vorobyov19. Pascal Laberge
20. Wade Allison
21. Radel Fazleev

Some combination of these guys have to turn into useful NHL players, right?

We Also Have More Goalies

22. Carter Hart
23. Alex Lyon
24. Felix Sandstrom

Ranked in order of how likely I think they are to ultimately steal the job from Stolarz.

I Really Like Tyrell Goulbourne

25. Tyrell Goulbourne

He is just the best,