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:
I've always been a huge fan of Stephen Weiss. The former first round pick always had a reputation of being a very underrated center in the league and someone who would thrive on a better team with a better supporting cast. Weiss is definitely a great player and you could say that he's underrated because of where he plays but he has never been a point-per-game player in his career and where he ranks among other centers since the lock-out is not that impressive.
Weiss has been in the league for about nine seasons now and since the lockout, he has been averaging about .66 points per game. That puts him around the same company as Tomas Plekanec, Nik Antropov, Ryan Kesler, Travis Zajac and David Legwand. All great players but I would hard pressed to call any of them top first line centers in the league. He also ranked 46th among all of the centers that I sampled. Weiss is also 29 this coming season and most players enter their prime in their late 20's, so if Weiss was in his "prime" two years ago then does that mean his 61-point campaign in 2008-09 will be his career high? If so, then I would have an even tougher time calling him a first line center. However, the bounces certainly were not going Weiss' way last season so there could be some hope for him.
|Year||Corsi Rel QoC||Shooting%||Sv%||PDO||Corsi Rel.||Corsi On||OZ%||OZ% Finish|
This is where Gabe Desjardins' Behind The Net stat site and player card tool comes in handy. 2008-10, Weiss had his best offensive seasons and he saw easier competition compared to 2007 and 2010. He was also better at driving possession in those yeas, too despite starting the majority of his shifts in his own zone. In 2010, he want back to seeing tougher competition and started the same amount of his shifts in his own zone so his assignments got a lot tougher and on top of that, his on-ice shooting percentage was the lowest it's been in years. His boxcar stats as well as his corsi suffered from this. If things weren't bad enough, one of his most frequent linemates, Michael Frolik, also had a down year (5.5% shooting percentage) so it wasn't just him who was getting bad luck.
Now, this information shows that Weiss suffered from bad luck but he still has not shown that he can put up over 61 points in a season which tells me that he is not a primer first-line center. He's just a really good two-way center who a lot of teams would love to have but not someone who they would base their franchise around. Weiss has a chance of putting up 70 points in at least one remaining season in his career but I do not think he will ever be a star.
Last summer, the Oilers signed Kurtis Foster to a two-year contract in an attempt to spark what was an awful powerplay. The year before, Foster had a career high 26 points on the powerplay as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which made up half of his 42 total points. Oilers fans were disappointed with his production this season as he only had 14 points with the man advantage and Edmonton's powerplay finished in the bottom-five with a success rate of 14.4% and dead last in terms of shots. Foster clearly did not live up to his reputation as a "power-play" specialist but when you look at his career stats, Foster has never been that deadly on the powerplay and he had such a good season in Tampa Bay because his most common PP linemates were Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Compare that to who he played with in Edmonton and their powerplay woes, and it's easy to see why he had such a drop-off in powerplay production. He was not the one driving the play in Tampa and Edmonton found that out the hard way.
Why is this relevant? Because the Hurricanes made a similar move by signing Tomas Kaberle to help give their powerplay (which was ranked 24th in terms of success and 26th in term of shots last year) some life. Kaberle has always had a reputation of being an "elite" offensive defenseman but that is mostly because he had a great season in 2005-06 and has been able to put up points from the blue-line for his entire career. The thing is that Kaberle has never been someone who can single-handedly rejuvenate a powerplay on his own and the Leafs powerplay numbers in recent years along with the Bruins miserable PP performance during most of the playoffs show that. Despite that, I don't think he will have a downturn like Foster did last season because Kaberle has at least been able to put up around 20 points on the powerplay even if the team's powerplay numbers aren't that good.
Carolina's powerplay has been pretty bad for the past two seasons and Toronto's was actually worse if we're going by shots for and Boston's wasn't exactly anything to write home about either so that's another reason why I don't think we have a situation similar to Foster's on our hands but those expecting Kaberle to single-handily fix our PP have another thing coming, especially since Joe Corvo and Erik Cole are both gone. However, something else to wonder is if Kaberle's production with the man advantage is superior to Corvo's. The answer is yes but not by a lot.
PPG PPA PPP Def. Rank PPTOI/60 PPSF/60
Kaberle 0 25 25 9 3.86 48.3
Corvo 5 18 23 15 3.86 43.0
It is a given that Kaberle is going to put up points, which is all well and fine but how much of an improvement on the powerplay is he over someone like Joe Corvo? Most of the stats say he's only a slight improvement at best. Of course, there are some other things to consider here. Maybe having a guy like Staal up front will help out a little bit? Maybe Joni Pitkanen will have a bounce-back season? Who knows? The point here is that the chances of Kaberle completely rejuvenating the team's powerplay are slim, and guys like Pitkanen, Jokinen, Ruutu and others will need to do their share as well if we don't want our powerplay to end up in the bottom of the league again. Kaberle will likely put up 20-25 points (was going to be optimistic and say 30 but that seems like a stretch), but all that really does is give the team similar production to Corvo's last year if not a little better. The keyword there is "little."
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to eventually become the Jets, I was a little sad and that's not just because Carolina will have to play "divisional" games in Winnipeg next year, but more that I was upset to see a team from a southern market leave. The Canes have had a lot of great games against the Thrashers over the years and I will miss playing them, but I look forward to future contests against the Jets. The NHL's attempt to expand hockey into different markets has seen moderate success but the experiment with Atlanta clearly wasn't working out as attendance at Thrasher games got considerably worse by the season. Couple that with ownership issues and that doesn't bode well for the future of a team in a non-traditional market. There's a lot of people who think that having a hockey a professional hockey team in the southern states will not work and point to the Thrashers moving and the Florida Panthers attendance issues as evidence but the truth is that hockey in non-traditional markets can be successful which is what teams like Nashville, Carolina and even Tampa Bay have proven. The front office putting a good team on the ice is the main key to success, though.
Ever since the Canes won the Cup, Carolina's attendance numbers have been solid in every season but there was a slight downturn in 2009-10 when the Canes were well out of the playoff picture before Christmas but even that year they still managed to fill over 80% of the arena. When the Nashville Predators finally got over the hump and won their playoff series against Anaheim, a lot of pundits talked about how good it was for a team in a Southern market to be succeeding. What about the team who had won the Stanley Cup in 2006? The team who is only two years removed from being in the Eastern Conference Finals? Hell, what about the team a few hundred miles south of us who were just in the Eastern Conference final and recently won a cup in the last decade? Yes, I'm talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning. Teams having success on-ice in non-traditional markets is nothing foreign but the issue is having a fan-base that sticks with the team through the good and bad times.
The Lightning managed to sell out the St. Pete Times Forum in 2006-07 but attendance took a huge dip in the next three seasons as the team began to struggle with ownership issues and iced a lousy team as a result. Things re-surged this season as they are back to 87% capacity, have a winning team and one of the smartest GM's in the game right now. Tampa has proven to be a good market if the team there is good unlike Phoenix who constantly have one of the worst attendance figures in the NHL despite the team making the playoffs the last two seasons. Carolina had an attendance percentage of over 92% the year after they won the cup and that number is teetering around 88% since then. Nashville has been about the same the last five seasons but they saw a huge increase last year. Nashville has grown a lot as a hockey market and the fact that their team has been in the playoffs six of the last seven years helps. Having the luxury of watching a team who manages to at least makes the playoffs on a small budget is part of the reason why Nashville has been celebrated as a success for southern hockey. Their fans have always had a good team to watch and they've been an attractive option for the locals there. The Canes have a Cup under their belt and have had similar attendance records to the Preds but have made the playoffs in only two of the last six years.
Most of you know how crazy the RBC Center can get when it's a sell out. Remember the playoffs? The All-Star Game? Even the game where the team retired Rod Brind'Amour's jersey drew a very big crowd. Give this fanbase something to be excited about and the seats will be filled. The Canes attendance records show that at least 80% of people will show up during a bad year but I'm sure many would like to see that number get better. The truth about hockey in these markets is that fairweather fans are the key to success because fans will be more likely to support a winning team who constantly makes the playoffs, which is what Nashville has done. Tampa and Carolina may have won the Cup before but they've been muddled by inconsistencies and mediocre seasons in between those years.
Atlanta suffered from poor attendance because their front office constantly put a sub-par team on the ice and they only made the playoffs once in their 11 year history, which resulted in them moving to Winnipeg. Florida has similar problems and it's probably even worse because they have only had one winning season in the last ten years. Nashville has developed a strong fan-base but they've had the luxury of watching a solid team for most of their franchise existence. Tampa Bay and Carolina have their die-hards, but most of their fans show up when the team is winning with Tampa's highs and lows being much more extreme than Carolina's. For the Canes and Bolts to develop a following like Nashville's, it may take a couple more consecutive playoff appearances and then we may see over 90% of the RBC Center packed again. There's no chance of these two teams failing like Atlanta did but there's still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to growing the fanbase.
When you have all of your team's scoring chances tracked, there's a lot of neat things you can do with them. One of them is looking at how a certain line performed in terms of generating and preventing chances. The idea was thrown around by Neil of Russian Machine Never Breaks and experimented with by Derek Zona of Copper and Blue. Since the Hurricanes had so many different line combinations last year, it would be a good idea to see which ones were the most effective at generating chances. If anything it should give us some clue on where to start for next season since the lines appear to be up in the air right now.
Acquiring all of this data was made possible by Vic Ferrari's Time On Ice scoring chance script.
click for full-size picture
Note: Data sorted by total scoring chances from greatest to least.
These were the Canes top lines last season in terms of total scoring chances. The green means they had a chance percentage of above .500 and the red means they were below .500.
Now that I have all of the team's scoring chances from last year tracked, I thought it would be a good idea to take how some individual players performed over the season starting with the captain himself, Eric Staal. If you remember my original scoring chance post, Staal was the only regular forward to have a chance ratio of over .500 and was the best player on the team not named Cam Ward. I am of the belief that great centers can make their linemates better and my opinion is only strengthened after seeing how well so many players performed when they were on Staal's line. He is the key piece of this team and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.