Tuukka Rask is awful this year. There’s no denying it. He has zero shutouts. He’s got no really good stretches of hockey to show for himself. He’s allowed three or more goals in 9 of his 12 starts. That’s not a winning formula. There are a couple questions that have to be asked, in context.

Since Rask arrived in a Boston uniform he has routinely thrown young players and particularly defensemen under the bus. He’s called out Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid, and others as well. These are only the cases we’ve noted. Given the 2/3rds of a goal disparity between his and Khudobin’s GAA, question number one has to be; Has he alienated enough other players in the lockerroom both by direct action and his reputation that they just don’t want to play in front of him? If the team were older and more mature, this wouldn’t be a question. But let’s look at the players in question, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, Heinen, Cehlárik, McAvoy, and Carlo are all 22 and under. Postma, O’Gara, Vatrano, Kuraly, Swarz, Vatrano, and Agastino have all seen very limited action in the NHL either with Boston or previous teams. That is a very high percentage of the locker room. That is a huge number of minutes a night. Hockey players talk to each other. Many of these guys have played in college against each other, or in Providence together and it’s not possible that any two have had or heard of similar negative experiences with Rask would not have talked about it. I’d bet good money that they talked about it in front of at least one other player who has yet to earn Tuukka Rask’s ire.

The other half of the question is how likely is Rask to recover from this utterly ignoble start? October is normally a mixed bag for him. That’s fine, he’s seen a lot of turnover in front of him in his career and communication is important. For his career he has a .914% in October, this year he was at .896%. For those who came out of time machine and looked at that save percentage no it isn’t 1986, hop back in your hot tub and accept the fact that the .896% that would have been reasonable to good in 1991 is shameful today. November is the month Rask has racked up the most wins in his career. In 68 games he’s a 41-20-7 with a .926%. Putting up those numbers over the course of whole season year in and year out would make someone a first ballot hall of famer. December is also a strong month. January and February, well, not so much. With all the historical data that says he start the year off well, and then dips noticeably what does the season hold for Rask and the Boston Bruins?

Also to be asked about Tuukka Rask is how much of his difficulty playing at a professional level this season is physical, and how much is mental? His win percentage and save percentage are both better after the All Star break each season, a time when the bulk of the games and long distance travel is done. Is he just unable to play eight of ten games in a three week period because he’s not durable? Is he failing to stay hydrated and rested when in the air? Does he over think plays when he’s got time off? If it’s mental did he perhaps come into the season knowing he had no challenger for the number one slot and under prepare? With the season Subban, McIntyre, and Khudobin had int he NHL that wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

If you’ve ruled out his contract going from full no-movement to an 8 team can be traded list, you may want to rethink that. We all saw the chaos of the final years of Schneider and Luongo in Vancouver, Rask even got to watch the whole playoff run (and several weeks before) from the bench. He has to know as bad as he’s played, as steadily as his numbers have declined year after year that any general manager would be a fool not part with him and his enormous salary at the earliest opportunity. Of the 53 goaltenders to play at least 5 games this season, Rask’s save percentage is 43rd playing on the same team, with the same players and the same coach Khudobin is 2nd in the NHL. With all the young players who will need a new contract and raise over the next two off season on the Bruins roster, and it being unlikely the cap will rise more than 2-3 million in that time, Sweeney has to be looking for cap space anywhere he can find it. The biggest reservoir of room to sign players wheres number 40.

 

In the last dozen years the hockey world has seen the advent of dozens of statistics used to measure everything in half a dozen ways. We have a dozen different forms of Corsi, there’s PDO, and goals against per 60, and points for by strength, by period, and per game. We have a proliferation of ways to count how much each player interacts with other players on the ice and make pointed observations as to how two or so players together enhance or detract from each other.

I love information more than most people. If I could drink it, I’d put down a couple gallons a day and still be looking for more. But some statistics are just plain worthless. Some are of very limited use. Corsi for example is a reasonable way to judge teams in the regular season, but recent history has shown it to be a counter indicator in the playoffs. Should it be discarded? Should it be evaluated further? No, it shouldn’t be eliminated, but weighing it as heavily as it has been the last few years is clearly not a winning strategy. PDO, is one of those statistics that is somewhere between vaporware and a clock with a short circuit and hasn’t stopped, but isn’t keeping time properly.

But neither of those is reason for today’s writing session. (It’s not even that my schedule has been eaten in the past week and I didn’t get to the other three posts I wanted to write.) Today is about two other purportedly linked stats: Giveaways and takeaways. Even more than hits, far more than blocked shots, and laughably more inconsistent than plus/minus this pair of stats is both inconsistently kept within a given arena, and across the league.

If you squint just right, you can see a loose connection between giveaways and ice time. Even players who normally have a firm leash on the puck like Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber will pile up giveaways as a result of having the puck a lot.  But takeaways? What are they using to count those? I’ve watched players like Weber, Vlasic, and Seidenberg snuff a rush, take the puck and pass it off for a counter attack twice in a shift and end the night without a single takeaway. This is a long term, endemic problem the NHL has in the way statistics are kept.

If we’re to believe the official NHL statistics then Jeff Skinner, Mitch Marner, and Filip Forsberg all had as many takeaways or more as the four time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron last year.

And that’s a statistic that just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

It’s August 24th, 2017 and Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned by any NHL team. In the past two and a half months guys who spent most of their season on the bench, on the injured reserve, or in the pressbox have been signed.

Does anyone honestly think Steven Gionta is going to make a bigger impact on an NHL team this year than Jaromir Jagr? Well, outside of the New York Islander’s front office. Yup, when faced with the choice between a 33 year old with a career total of 16 NHL goals, and a first ballot hall of famer with more goals than that last season, they chose wrong. Even the Nashville Predator’s who have one of the better GM’s in hockey chose wrong in going with Austin Watson over Jagr. Watson has never been productive above the AHL level, and Jagr has never played in the AHL.

So why should you teams sign the man who forever set the bar for mullets?

History

First is history. Jagr is currently fourth on the All Time NHL games played list. With a full season, he climbs to the top of that list, and whoever signs him gets to be a part of history. Even if the remarkably durable 45 year old plays a sliver more than half a season he’ll still jump to the number two spot ahead of Mark Messier, Ron Francis and everyone else. His career history says it’s a safe bet he climbs all the way to the top of the mountain this year, he needs just about 68 games to do it. He’s also twenty assists from passing Ray Bourque for number four on the all time list, a number he should wrap up before the all star break.

What he brings to the game

Last year, for the Florida Panthers Jaromir Jagr was 4th on the team in offensive points share at 3.0, and seventh on the team for defensive points share, eclipsing most of his team mates in both categories by a handy margin. We all know about his work ethic, and teams building up can use that. We all know the Panthers were not a good team last year, but no one who played more than 35 games had a better relative Corsi for than Jagr. This means even a team with ‘unlimited growth potential’, he is going to make the team better all by his lonely. One other interesting number is his even strength goals against per 60 minutes. With 2.5 goals against per 60 at even strength he was seventh on the Panthers, ahead of most of the team, and light years better than team mate and fellow old dude Tomas Vanek.

Attendance

As a sure thing to be in the hockey hall of fame whenever he retires, Jaromir Jagr has a certain ability to draw fans just by being himself. Some are nostalgia buffs from his early days in the NHL, some have joined the legions of thronging mulletites more recently. Few, if any, are more devoted than the Traveling Jagr’s. As the living legend has traversed the hockey map, so to has this legion grown. More importantly, they have traveled, drawn media attention, and bought tickets. For teams who struggled in this regard, he’s a viable investment in improving the gate.

The Ottawa Senator’s had a troublesome 87.4% home attendance last year despite amazing seasons by Karlsson and Anderson. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were also among those Canadian teams that failed to get to 100% attendance.

Who Should Sign Him?

For one or more reasons there are a dozen teams that should sign Jagr, including if this is indeed his swan song, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Who could use him the most? The Vancouver Canucks could use him for a variety of reasons, he’s not going to outpace the Sedin’s too badly, and unlike that pair he can hold onto the puck. The Carolina Hurricanes lack both depth and star power in their forward group, and Jagr combined with Williams, and Staal is a pretty compelling core to build from, and three guys who are different enough you should be able to reach any youngster worth damn who walks into the room. The Arizona Coyotes much like the Hurricanes are in need of a depth infusion, and something to generate ticket (and merchandise) sales, or any other form of revenue.

The New York Islander’s could sign him for no better reason than ticking off Rangers fans, but it would at least be a remedial step in potentially keeping Tavares. If the Colorado Avalanche were to sign him, not only would it give us a respite from the never ending Matt Duchene trade saga, it would put at least one forward on the ice who actually, provably, likes to win and is willing to work at it (and their attendance sucks too). If the Anahiem Ducks were to add him to the roster, it might just get them to play a full season, and it might also shame Perry and Getzlaf into trying hard enough to keep up with a guy who they were watching before they were old enough to shave.

Stick tap to Hockey-Reference.com and ESPN for the numbers.

The internet is almost certainly the most fascinating tool mankind has ever invented. On it I’ve learned more about genetics, hockey, medicine, politics, history and other topics than I could ever have imagined knowing. Today I learned something new. Seth Jones is depth defenseman. I’m pretty sure it’s been a long time since Seth Jones was dismissed as being the fourth or fifth most interesting player on a blueline. It wasn’t last year, it likely wasn’t the year before, and even when he played in that scary, scary Nashville Predator’s defensive unit he still got lots of talk.

Sure it’s possible to undervalue Jones, I mean the Avalanche, Panthers, and Lightning all passed him over in 2013. The Avalanche are searching for defense still, the Panthers over spent two years ago on free agents, and the Lightning had hold out issues with, and finally traded Jonathan Drouin who they took over Jones, for a defenseman.

Among his draft year only Sean Monahan has played more games to date, and that’s just by four.

But Jones is a depth defenseman if one writers it to be believed, I mean I heard it on the internet so it must be true. You’re not allowed to lie online.

So let’s look at the proof Seth Jones is a depth defensemen.

In the most recent season 200 defensemen skated in thirty five or more games.

Jones ranked:

  • 36th for total minutes (75 games played) that’s top 18%
  • 26th for time on ice per game, that’s top 13%
  • 77th for shorthanded time on ice, that’s 38th percentile with 2:07 per game
  • 65th for powerplay TOI for top 32%

Fancy Stats:

  • of the 68 defensemen to skate in 35 games and cross 1301 minutes he was .01 behind Victor Hedman and .04 behind Erik Karlsson in goals against per 60
  • in goals for per 60 he was about a third of a goal better than Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, or Keith Yandle in that same high minute 68 defensemen
  • Jones was 5th among defensemen to play 35 games or more in even strength points, with every player above him having played more games
  • in points per game among those same defensemen, he was 19th, good for top 10%

So with the help of NHL.com and Puckalytics.com I now completely understand how someone could believe Seth Jones is a depth defenseman. 

And as much as I like the Blue Jackets defense, I’m not sure they’re even in the top 5 in the NHL right now. The Ducks, Predators, and Minnesota would easily be above them, and one can make strong cases for other teams including the Carolina Hurricanes.

Today on the Two Man ForeCheck we talked a whole bunch about goalies. We didn’t get to the two in tonight’s game very much, but I’m going to continue a look at two stats the folks at Hockey-Reference.com use: Quality Starts, and RBS (Really Bad Starts), and what they look like in terms of goalies performance as a whole. Tonight’s most likely matchup is Martin Jones versus Tukka Rask. For a very brief period the two were teammates before Jones was passed on to the Bay area for the pick that became U.  of Wisconsin’s 2nd leading scorer Trent Frederic and Sean Kuraly.

Rask has a career low sv% at .912 in 46 starts coming into tonight.

 

 

Jones has 49 games played, a sv% of .913

 

What do the numbers mean? Other than the two being fairly similar goalies this year? If you take a look at the quality start number, which Hockey-Reference.com defines as starts with a save percentage above league average as indicative of the goalie that is giving their team the best changes to win, Jones is the clear leader in that category. The inverse of that is the RBS or Really Bad Start, that being games with a sv% under .850, then you have a strong indication as to who is a more consistent goaltender this year as well. About the only argument you can make for Rask being the better goaltender of the two is that he is playing in a tougher conference this year. But even that is a very, very fuzzy bit of conjecture when you consider that he is playing on a team that allows many fewer shot per game than the Sharks.

 

For Bruins fans, don’t give up hope they have been better on the road this year than at home, and are still within the honeymoon period with their new coach.

 This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Players;

  • Among all defensemen with more than five games played there are still six with a perfect on ice save percentage; Ian Cole, Kevan Miller, and Erik Gudbranson, and three teammates Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon.
  • That Jay Harrison of the Carolina Hurricanes would lead the entire NHL in PIMS with 27, higher than the top three PIMs pilers from last season put together, all from a guy who’s never topped 72 PIMS, in just 6 games this year.
  • That six games into the season Carl Alzner would be finishing up in the offensive zone at a rate 24.4% less than his starts there, while still maintaining a positive plus minus.
  • That Daniel Carcillo, would lead all forwards in penalties drawn per sixty minutes and only have two himself.
  • Two plus weeks into the season there would be two defensemen playing over 28 minutes a night, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
  • That Chris Stewart would have the most shots on net without a goal standing at 26 shots and eight games with no goals.
  • At nearly the end of the first month of the season Evgani Malkin, Sami Vatanen, Trevor Daley, Claude Giroux, Johnny Boychuk, David Backes, Linden Vey, Brad Boyes, Scott Hartnell, Mark Giordano, Tyler Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, Teddy Purcell, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larson (among others) would all have something important in common, they have all only scored a goal(s) on the powerplay.

Teams

  • Seven games into the season the Detroit Red Wings would be the final team not to have allowed a powerplay goal.
  • The Chicago BlackHawks would lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with two in just six games played.
  • the last two teams not to have scored a powerplay goal would be the Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres.
  • the Carolina Hurricanes would be winless, a minus 29, and still have scored more goals per game than the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres.
  • The Boston Bruins would be 13th in the NHL in goals against.
  • Three teams, the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes would all be winless when scoring first.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets would have the best differential between powerplay and penalty kill time after finishing 17th in the NHL last season.

So there’s a fascinating article up over at CBC.CA. Tony Care has taken it upon himself to blame Dion Phaneuf and his contract for all that is wrong with the Leafs, or at least that’s how it reads.

According to the article Phaneuf isn’t a number one defenseman. Let’s take a look at that. Let’s ask three questions about that one. First; Can you name 30 or more better defensemen in the NHL? Second; Does Phaneuf contribute to the the Toronto Maple Leafs like a number one defenseman? And third, is he playing in all situations?

The first question is an obvious: NO. Can you name five better defensemen, sure easy as pie. Can you name ten better defensemen, probably. What that means is that Dion Phanuef isn’t an elite defenseman. But then again there are probably only about five or six of those in the NHL at most at any given time.

How much does Phaneuf contribute? Last year on a team that was middling for total offense, Phaneuf , who isn’t an offensive defensemen was still comfortably in the top 50 defensemen in scoring. He played a solid 23:33 of TOI a night with over six minutes a night on special teams. Roughly half of the players who averaged more TOI than Phaneuf last year did not make the playoffs. The highest sv% on the season or a Toronto goalie was .923 for Bernier over 55 games James Reimer in 32 games was at .911, the on ice sv% for Phaneuf last year was .928. That’s only slightly above what Bernier’s was, but significantly over where Reimer who played roughly 40% of the season managed.

When you climb deeper into the advanced stats, and look at zone starts and zone finishes, his raw offensive numbers get even more impressive, as does his on ice save percentage. Phaneuf started 61.2% of his shifts in the defensive or neutral zones. He finished just 53.7% of shifts outside the offensive zone. Ask your financial planner if they can consistently get you 7.5% increases on your investments, just be prepared to be laughed at. Then there’s the quality of competition he’s facing. He was 17th in the NHL last year for QoC Corsi, that’s ahead of the last three players to be awarded the Norris Trophy, and pretty much everyone else.

On the third count we have much of our answer earlier on. Phaneuf played more than 200 minutes more than the next Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman last year. His 17:27 of even strength time was second on the team. His 2:49 of shorthanded time was likewise second on the team. The 3:17 of powerplay time was first overall. No one on the team combined for more hit and blocked shots than Phaneuf either.

Would Phaneuf get less grief if he were an offensive minded player like Ottawa’s Karlsson or Pittsburg’s Letang, maybe, maybe not. Would the Toronto Maple Leafs have finished as high or higher in the standings with either Letang or Karlsson last year; unlikely.  Phaneuf is doing the heavy lifting defensively almost unaided, it doesn’t matter how many more goals either of those two scores, with as mushy as the rest of the lineup is defensively, it would be a not less for the Leafs to exchange him for that type of player.

In most sports relative skill levels are the magic smoke in the ox that determines the outcome of games, specifically playoff games. In the NHL more than other major league sports there are other factors that obliterate the relevance of the skill level of the two or three best players. Health is often a big factor, and coaching is perhaps more important than in any sport but football.

But for the most part, what determines early playoff series is the matchup. The interplay between the tendencies and abilities of the 36 skaters and two (or more) goales on the ice each game are what decides a game. Factors like home ice and the officiating are influential, but not (usually) paramount. If we look at each of four series briefly who does what better becomes apparent.

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning:

This is the one series that is already over. That Tampa Bay didn’t get good goaltending from Lindback is evident, but a more interesting stat tells the story. In three of the four game, including both of the games in Tampa Bay where Lightning coach Jon Cooper had last change, the Montreal Canadiens were able to get more players free of coverage for two or more shots on goal in the game. Essentially, the goaltending wasn’t the only issue for Tampa Bay, their defense wasn’t as good as Montreal’s at addressing the other teams depth.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets

This series is so even on the ice it would be impossible for any casual sports fan to look at the four games and tell which of the two finished the season on top of a division and which was a wild card. If you were going to pin this series being even on one thing, it would have to be complacency. Both teams have given up two goal leads twice. In three of the four games the team that won had more shots and more than forty shots on goal.

San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings

Multiple shot diversity is again playing a a factor. San Jose has been even in one game (game 1) and ahead of Los Angeles in what I’ve decided to call the “Shooting Depth Quotient” in the other three games. Simply put they’ve again had more players get loose to get multiple shots. In other terms the almost no name defense of the Sharks has been superior to the Doughty led defense of the Kings. The Sharks lead their series 3-1.

Boston Bruins vs Detroit Red Wings

Yup, the SDQ is in play again. The Bruins had a greater SDQ in all four games, and while it was fairly close in three, the game with arguably the most lopsided outcome, game three, the Detroit Red Wings got half as many players loose for multiple shots as did the game winner. In game three where the Bruins out scored the Wings 3-0 the visitors had 12 players get loose for multiple shots. The Bruins lead this series 3-1.