Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Haven't The Devils Had Playoff Success Post-Lockout? Part 1, 2005-06

Two things need to be noted before the discussion commences:

First - We tend to eschew topics on the Devils, in part because we are self-confessed fans of the Devils, and think it incalculably gauche to turn what is supposed to be a league-wide blog into a bitchfest about fan minutiae - there are certainly other places for that.

Second - We are proceeding in full knowledge that we are committing the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc - we are not saying these are the complete, unvarnished causes, nor are we laying bare any distinct truth about Devils strategy, or personnel, or any such thing as this. We are merely suggesting why the Devils have only two playoff series wins in the previous four seasons, not suggesting that it was expected or (god forbid) necessary that New Jersey has only these modest achievements. We are merely noting possible causes for why this *may* have been the expected outcome.

We whipped up a little chart here whose results were of great interest to us:

Some explanation is needed. The first column are the playoff teams from the Eastern Conference in 2005-06. The second column is the number of points they got. The third column is their goal differential as listed in the NHL standings. The fourth column is their goal differential, with all overtime goals and shootout 'goals' removed. The fifth column is the most interesting one - it is the goal differential with overtime removed, and if the best goalie on the team had started 73 games, and if the second best one had started 9 games, as Martin Brodeur and Scott Clemmensen did in 2005-06. We used their 2005-06 save percentage to determine which goaltender was better. As you can see, the Devils now rank last out of the Eastern Conference playoff teams in goal differential. Why would we do this? Backup goalies do not generally play in the playoffs barring injury. The correlation between backup goalie success and playoff success would seem to be minimal at best. Yes, wags, we have noted the irony of calling Cam Ward the 'backup' when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy during this season.

Now surely we can find many, many fallacies with the above statistic. Let us address four of those here - we still do not think it alters the major point, which is that the Devils are overrated.

Refutation The First: Since the statistic merely measures goals against, we are creating a hypothetical league in which more goals are scored than are given up.

: True enough. However, the statistic is merely meant to be illustrative, not definitive. We are not saying that the Devils were the worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference, just that they were not likely one of the best.

Refutation The Second
: We are assuming that goaltenders play the same on short or no rest than they do on much rest. How can we assume this?

Rebuttal: Once again, we are not saying that teams should start their starting goalie at an 8 to 1 ratio. We are just looking at the league if that were the case, and if goaltender performance were not affected.

Refutation The Third
: The Devils had a vastly different roster at the beginning of the season than they did at the finish - they began the year mediocre and ended it on a 11 game winning streak. Shouldn't we count that for something?

Rebuttal: Sure, it should. The Devils excised Vladimir Malakhov, Alex Mogilny, Dan McGillis, Darren Langdon, Krys Oliwa, and Sean Brown in favor of Brad Lukowich, Patrik Elias, Ken Klee, Jason Wiemer, Cam Janssen, and Tommy Albelin. The addition of Elias was likely worth 5 points alone. However, even so, their goal differential was not remarkable.

Refutation The Fourth
: If we excise overtime results, shouldn't that change goal differentials and the way that teams play the third period?

Rebuttal: Once again, questioner, you are right, it likely would, but not in any significant way. Most of these concerns are minor, and we will continue to point them out when we go on to the 2006-07 season.

There are many more points that can be raised, all of them likely fair criticisms. The conclusion, however, is still clear - the Devils, while they do get the benefits of home ice and playing ostensibly weaker opponents, get little other benefit in the playoffs from playing Martin Brodeur as much as they do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Chicago Situation - What's an Eltdown?

Much has been written about the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks have to move salary next season. We are not sure that people recognize the magnitude of the salaries the Blackhawks have to move. Here is our view of the Chicago situation, with estimated salaries in green:

That's 66.5 million dollars to 20 players. Let's get rid of Brent Sopel, making it 64.2 million dollars to 19 players. If the salary cap stays the same at 56.8 million dollars, that's 7.6 million dollars' worth of salary the Hawks have to excise.

Important thing to remember: Just deleting salaries doesn't make any sense, since the Hawks have to fill them in with at least a league minimum player.

One scenario

Subtract Dustin Byfuglien (2,500,000)
Subtract Cam Barker (2,580,000)
Subtract Andrew Ladd (1,400,000)
Subtract Tomas Kopecky (700,000)
Total Subtracted $7.18 M

Yet we are still short here, even if we assume that all of these players are replaced by players making the league minimum. We think more drastic measures will have to be taken, these involving Brian Campbell or Cristobal Huet.

Who Might Want Either of These Players? For all of the talk about how poor Campbell has been, and his 7.1 million dollar salary is an albatross, he still provides a solid power play quarterback and is not particularly terrible at even strength. Regardless, there are few places that could just stick him on to their team with no repercussions. One such place is Anaheim, who may be losing their big minutes man Scott Niedermayer. Other places could emerge (e.g. Minnesota) depending on how this summer's free agency shakes out.

Cristobal Huet makes too much money, but there's one born every minute with goaltenders - teams like St. Louis, San Jose, and Washington may be interested in adding a goaltender like Huet.

Another Scenario

Repeat above
Add Patrick Sharp (3.9 M)
Total (14.1M)

Let's see what that team looks like:




The Blackhawks would have 6.7 million dollars to fill 7 holes. Let us add these players:

LW Kyle Beach (875K)
D Jordan Hendry (600K)

This leaves us with 5.225 million to fill 5 holes. If we can add two players at league minimum salary, we're left with 4.225 million to fill 3 holes - plenty of money, and very likely the Hawks would have acquired these players in their trades to get rid of 4 bona fide NHL players. However, it's a team very light on depth - two injuries to top players and this team is a wasteland. We think the Hawks will have to move or bury Campbell or Huet in order to maintain competitive, with Brian Campbell tops on the list. We think it's possible that someone would acquire him on regular waivers, and we think it's possible that Chicago would intentionally expose him to re-entry waivers; doing so would allow them to keep one of Byfuglien, Versteeg, or Barker.


Chicago likely has to somehow dispose of Brian Campbell or Cristobal Huet in order to save enough money under the cap to retain some depth on their third line. Unless the salary cap goes up, it's going to be a skeleton crew all season long, and it's unclear when Chicago will get relief.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Second Contract

We were poking around our favorite website these days,, when we noticed an obscure contract - defenseman Oskars Bartulis of the Philadelphia Flyers and his 13 lifetime NHL games was signed to a three year, 1.8 million dollar deal. Why would Oskars Bartulis sign this contract, and why would the Flyers offer it to him?

Bartulis's side

The contract is one-way, so Bartulis is guaranteed that money. Paradoxically, the less a fringe sort of player like Bartulis makes, the better it is for him, because he can be in the NHL without harming anyone's salary cap. The third year is probably not best for him, but that was likely a condition of having a one-way deal despite barely playing in the NHL.

Philadelphia's side

From Philadelphia's end, it's low risk, moderate reward. When a team is up against the salary cap, it needs players like Oskars Bartulis who can be a 6th or 7th defenseman for a small amount of money. If Bartulis fails to develop in Philadelphia, someone will probably take the contract off their hands, as the standard price for back-pairing defensemen in UFA seems to be around 1.2 to 1.5 million.

So with this sort of thing in mind, we present great second contracts - not so much of the Zach Parise or Sidney Crosby variety, but of little moves that really just help a team out.

D Jonathan Ericsson, Red Wings, $2.7 million/3 years - People may have balked at the Wings signing a player with 8 NHL games' experience to a three-year deal in 2008, but that's why people aren't Ken Holland. While Ericsson has not had a great start to the year, he still has 10 points in 27 games. If Nicklas Lidstrom retires, expect Ericsson to get big minutes on next year's Wings team, all for the low, low price of $900,000 a year.

D Andy Greene, Devils, 1.45 million/2 years - Devils fans were perplexed when Lou Lamoriello non-tendered Andy Greene, but even more so when they signed him to a 2 year deal a day later. Greene had shown very little in his 129 NHL games before this season. However, he has rewarded New Jersey's faith by becoming the most improved player in the NHL, and that second year is looking mighty valuable.

D Alex Goligoski, Pittsburgh, 5.5 million/3 years - Goligoski played 2 games in last year's playoffs, and was barely put on the ice - so why did Ray Shero sign him for 3 years? Because he knows that anyone playing with Crosby and Malkin gets a huge lift in goals and assists. Goligoski has 16 points in 21 games - the Penguins could have saved some coin this season lowballing Goligoski, but would have had to pay much more later.

We think it is no accident that it is only defensemen on this list. Forwards seem to be more easily evaluated, and they peak earlier as well. There are lots of great second contracts out there, but we wanted to emphasize the overlooked ones. A few Oskars Bartulis types, and one's team can afford the superstar that sends them over the top.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Upcoming Posts

I've been ignoring this blog lately, but I assure you I have not abandoned it.

Things I hope to post on in the next few days:

- Great Second Contracts
- The Chicago Blackhawks' Situation
- How the Canadian Dollar affects Michal Rozsival

Further down the road:

- Playoff Windows