Every hockey pundit talks about how teams need to have consistency at the goaltender position in order to be successful but what exactly does that mean? You could be like the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers or Buffalo Sabres who have had one main guy and a few back-ups since the lock-out and have received solid goaltending with that. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins who have used over 10 goalies since the lock-out and have gotten average to great goaltending out of all of them. It's true that there are teams who cycle goalies really well but the team's who get the best goaltending are those who do not have to go through a lot of them over the years.
As I continue to preview the upcoming season, I'm going to take a look at how the Hurricanes size up against their Southeast Division adversaries starting with each team's respective defense corps. Why am I starting with the defense, you ask? Because it seems that every team in the division has a lot of great, young talent on the blue-line....except for the Hurricanes. Aside from Jamie McBain, most of the Hurricanes defensemen are in their mid-late 20's and in their primes or in their 30's and declining. Yes, we have Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk in the system who are very promising but it will be another year or two before they are members of the Hurricanes. Florida and to a lesser extent, Winnipeg also have this problem. Carolina also lacks an elite blue-liner but I would be hard-pressed to call any defenseman on the Caps, Jets, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers "elite." Mike Green is an elite powerplay quarterback but would you consider him an elite all-around defenseman? Guys like Victor Hedman, Zach Bogosian, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are all fantastic players but how many people would consider them elite now? I'm not sure if I would. This is why I'm curious to see where exactly Carolina stands among this group.
Prospectively, Carolina has seven NHL-level defensemen on the roster heading into training camp (could be more if some of the younger players impress in camp) and only six spots available to play on opening night. With spots guaranteed to guys like Joni Pitkanen, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and possibly Jamie McBain, that leaves only one space for one of Derek Joslin and Jay Harrison. Who should play there? If you have looked at some analysis I've done on the defense, I've said quite a few things about both defensemen. In my post on scoring chances, I said that Joslin deserved a spot to start the season because of his impressive scoring chance ratio. However, you could make a case for Harrison starting, as well because he has done just about everything you can ask for as a third-pairing defenseman. If he wants to find himself not in the press box on opening night, he may have to go above and beyond.
With training camp being just around the corner and players are already beginning practice, I think it's just about time to get excited for the start of another NHL season. This is a pretty big camp coming up for the Hurricanes because there are a lot of roster spots up for grabs and there's a few prospects who could really impress the coaching staff and make the team straight out of camp like Jeff Skinner did last year. There are no prospects in camp of Skinner's magnitude, but there's a lot of promising names within Carolina's organization who will have a chance to make the roster to start this season. There are also a lot of things I'm curious about regarding some veterans and how the team will look come October.
My Biggest Questions:
Who plays the wings on Staal's line?
My assumption here is that Maurice will keep the Jokinen-Ruutu-Skinner line together after how successful they were last season and let the others have a chance to play on the first line. What troubles me is that I'm not sure if we have that many first-line quality wingers on the roster. We have a potential first liner in Zach Boychuk, who I would personally like to see get a look and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was a first line winger on the Leafs two years ago so I'd have to believe that these two would be considered.
Give the younger players a chance?
There are a few spots in the bottom-six up for grabs and players like Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson played well in those roles at the end of last season but the Canes also signed Anthony Stewart to a two-year deal, so he is equally as likely to get a roster spot, as well. I've already examined Stewart's game and it doesn't look like he is good enough defensively to play in this role but the team would not sign a player to a two-year deal only to have him sit in the press-box so I think he will get a look before Bowman or Samson, even though I would prefer to have Bowman play over him.
What will we do with Zac Dalpe?
Next to Ryan Murphy, Dalpe is the team's best prospect and is almost 22 so his leap to the NHL will come soon and he's got a good chance of making the roster right out of camp this year based on our forward depth. He did that last year but struggled at the NHL level because he was stuck playing fourth-line minutes and that isn't the best for his development. Thus, sending him back to Charlotte where he will get top-six minutes was the better call. He's a natural center but can also play wing so let's say that he's the most impressive player in camp but Boychuk is also impressive. Do we give him a shot on the first line with Staal? Use him to fill the third line winger spot? Or stick him on the fourth line where he can play center? I'm hoping the latter does not happen.
Possible dark horses?
What prospects which we have not talked about could make the team? Guys like Riley Nash, Mattias Lindstrom, Justin Faulk, Justin Shugg, Cedric McNicoll and many others will also be at camp and will have their shot to crack the roster. There's always a few players who most would not expect to make an impact do so in training camp and I'm curious to see if there are any on the Canes this year.
How will Bryan Allen look?
His play last season tells me he is on the decline, which is what is expected from a player coming off a knee injury. What kind of shape will he be in camp and is he still a top-four defenseman? That could be something that drastically effects the Canes roster next season.
What will the third defense pair be?
Pitkanen, Kaberle, Gleason, McBain and Alllen will probably be locks to make the roster so that leaves Jay Harrison and Derek Joslin fighting for one roster spot. Harrison played well against weak competition while Joslin appears to be more versatile but is not as defensively sound as Harrison. Which one of these two gets the spot on the third pair to start the season? Who will play more games this season?
What questions do you have?
Whenever there's a way to judge and analyze defensemen, I'm always eager to test it and see how valid it is or how a certain team's defense corps looks through it. So, when I saw Japers Rink post an article on "defensemen save percentages," I naturally had to check it out and test it for Carolina's players. For this project, we're going to take a look at each defenseman's on-ice save percentage. Why are we looking at save percentages? Because if a defenseman is constantly put up against an opponent's first line and imanages to prevent goals, it speaks high of his abilities...that or he's getting very lucky. Or possibly a little of both. I'll explain things further after the jump
The Canes special teams struggled a lot last season and I've already dissected the powerplay a bit the past few weeks but improving the penalty kill may be a more serious issue. The Canes penalty kill might have been 20th in the NHL last season in terms of efficency (which still isn't that good) but they were next to last in terms of shots surrendered. Only the Phoenix Coyotes had a worse penalty kill than Carolina and their's was horrendous. That shows a real cause for concern so I'm going to look deeper into the Canes penalty kill similar to how I dissected the team's powerplay by looking at the team's top penalty killers and which ones gave up more chances than others. Seeing how many chances were surrendered on the penalty kill should tell us if the Canes were really as bad a man down as the numbers indicate.
When I wrote my review of Cam Ward's season about a month ago, I said this:
"I wouldn't put Ward in an elite class like his contract indicates but I do think he will provide the Canes with stable and reliable goaltending for the remainder of his contract."
Why would I not consider a goalie like Ward "elite?" He played in 74 games last season and posted a .927 save percentage. He played a huge role in the Canes Stanley Cup victory in his rookie season. He's started 75% of Carolina's games for the past four seasons. What makes him not one of the absolute best goalies in the league right now? Here's why: The difference between the 6th and 18th best goalie in the league is often very little (something like .005 %) and the word "elite" should only be given to those who really excel above the league average (last year it was .920, since the lockout it's .918) and do it on a consistent basis. A couple months ago, I created a few definitions of what makes an elite goaltender, but I discovered some problems with this, mostly with how goalies who were top-level years ago ended up being close to "elite" through this definition (think Giguere and Kiprusoff). With how much a goalie's performance can change over a short period of time, I'm not sure looking at stats since the lockout is the best way to define elite goalies, but there areother things we can do and they will help show where Ward stands among other top-level goalies in the league and if he belongs in an elite class.
Ward may have helped the Canes win the Cup his rookie season, but he was not that good of a goalie his first three seasons. In fact, he had a sub-.900 save percentage at even strength his first two and was below-average in this third. This is why we can't call him an elite goalie since the lockout. However, in his last three seasons, it's been a much more positive story for Ward as he's had even strength save percentages of .926, .924 and .927, respectively and an overall save percentage of .926. The league average save percentage for goalies at even strength during this time is .920 and Ward's overall ES save percentage from 2009-11 puts him very high in the rankings. Goalies who have posted similar save percentages during this period are Carey Price, Ryan Miller, Kari Lehtonen and Ilya Bryzgalov. That's pretty good company to be in, as far as I'm concerned. Goalies who had higher save percentages than him were Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas, Jonas Hiller and Roberto Luongo. Three of which were the Veznia finalists in this most recent season and the other one would have been if it weren't for injuries. By this, it does not seem too out of the question to put Ward in an elite class but this seems like we're just cherry-picking because we're only judging Ward by the last three years, which conveniently happen to be his three best seasons.
"Elite" is a tough definition to figure out for goalies because everyone has their own viewpoints on it. Would you consider Ward a top-level goalie because he's had three very good seasons? Would you be comfortable putting him in the same class as Roberto Luongo or even Henrik Lundqvist? I am not 100% sure if I would but it's the same case I have with not calling Pekka Rinne an "elite" goalie because he's only played in three full seasons. Is he a top goalie in the game right now? Absolutely. Elite? If he can keep putting up these kind of numbers for another season or two, then yes.
There's a lot of things about Ward that make me confident, though. First of all he's only 27 and in the prime of his career right now so it should not be a surprise to anyone that he has been improving with every season. Ward was one of the main reasons that this team was able to be in the position that they were last year and it's possible that he could be what keeps the Hurricanes in almost every game they play even if the team is struggling. When looking at the best single season goalie performances, a lot of these goalies had the best seasons when they were in their late 20's/early 30's so Ward's best seasons could be very soon. I don't know if I would consider Ward an elite goalie like Thomas or Luongo now but if his trend of improving with every season continues, then maybe I will be in that mindset. Either way, Ward is on track to give the Canes great and stable goaltending for at least the rest of his contract even if he isn't elite.
One of the lower key signings the Canes made on July 1st was signing right winger Anthony Stewart to a two-year deal worth $1.8 mil (worth about $900k a year). Some may know him as the brother of St. Louis Blues winger Chris Stewart but what's more relevant to us is that he netted 14 goals and had 39 points in 80 games with the Atlanta Thrashers last season. That makes him sound like a pretty good player, doesn't it? I know that Paul Maurice has a way of making the most out of his roster and Eric Staal is a player who can make his linemates better, but my expectations for Stewart aren't nearly as high as some people's and I don't think that he should be used on the first line when there's other options available.
When there's a few open or questionable spots on the roster, I'm usually someone who likes to give the younger prospects a chance at the beginning of the year and the Canes have quite a few of those types of players who could make their leap into the NHL this year. I've already discussed Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, both who will likely have a chance to crack the roster out of camp but another guy I would not look past is former third round pick Drayson Bowman. If you remember correctly, he finished last season with the Canes, played 23 games with them...but failed to net a goal in any of them. So why is this guy worth a look? You'll see why....
It's getting close to the beginning of the season which means it's about time to start predicting what will happen next season. In case you didn't know, season projections is kind of like Christmas to bloggers so this time of year is really special to people like us. There's something about going through your team's roster thoroughly and trying to predict the future that gets bloggers like me excited. The in-depth projections will be coming over the next few weeks but first, we're going to look at who on the Hurricanes roster this coming season were relatively lucky or unlucky and if they can expect it to change at all.
To do this, we're going to look at a few specific stats. First, we'll take a look at their on-ice shooting percentage to see if the team was getting lucky in terms of scoring goals. Next is on-ice save percentage, which is the team's save percentage when a certain player was on the ice. Lastly, there's PDO which is the sum of the player's on-ice shooting and save percentage and it represents the overall luck a player had in a certain year. 1000 is generally considered the mean for this stat. In other words, if a player's PDO is way above 1000, then it means that he got lucky at least one end of the ice and there's a good chance that it will eventually regress to 1000 sooner or later while a PDo of less than 100 means that a player has been receiving some poor luck and that brighter days are ahead. At least that's what applies to most players. The elite ones will likely have their PDO's remain high for a long time while truly awful players will see their PDO stay below 1000 for awhile. Let's take a look at who got the best and worst fortune for the players on the upcoming Canes roster: