Friday, July 21, 2006

The Longest Post Of My Life


Of late, there has been much ado about cap limits, overpriced UFA’s, and players who play at a level either above or below the expectations of their salary. With this in mind, I recently decided to wade into the realm of identifying players on other teams whose value to the Oilers might exceed their cost of procurement. Specifically, I looked at players in terms of their power play versus even strength scoring. I decided that players who scored the highest percentages of their points on the power play may be overvalued to some degree while those who scored higher percentages of their points at even strength would be undervalued.

I have no intention of discrediting a goal that is scored with the man advantage (as Ryan Smyth is always so dutiful in pointing out, they all look the same on the score sheet). However, as the point of this little expose is to identify bargains and the elite power play point producers of the NHL tend to be those with the most star status, I have decided that the best deals are likely to be found in mid-tier forwards with good ES scoring rates.

Attached you will find a spreadsheet in which I’ve taken the top 120 point scorers of the NHL in 2005/2006 and have identified the percentage of each player’s points that were scored at even strength. I then re-ranked the players according to these percentages and identified the difference between each player’s total points rank and his ES% of total points rank. It was my expectation that players who made significant jumps in ranking were to be the most likely bargains and the players who took the most significant falls would be the offense-first type of star who would excel with the man advantage.

Here are the ten biggest winners and losers by this metric:

Biggest Winners (***who have at least .5 PPG***)
Shawn Bates
Eric Belanger
Chris Gratton
Jan Bulis
Chris Kunitz
Raffi Torres
Jochen Hecht
Jay Bouwmeester
Derek Roy
Zigmund Palffy

The four main potential reasons that I’ve identified:
1)Low PP/ES minutes (resulting from team depth)
2)Low PP/ES minutes powerplay minutes (resulting from coach's view of skillset)
3)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of player's skills/lack thereof)
4)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of teammates' skills/lack thereof)

It is my assertion that the reason for each player’s gain is an important factor in determining how much of a bargain they have the potential to be. If they are a one-dimensional grinder who has had some good luck and scoring at ES, they are probably not as useful as if they are solid all-around players who have not been given much PP time because they are buried in roster depth.

Biggest Losers (they all have > 0.5 PPG)
Alexander Ovechkin
Daniel Alfredsson
Sidney Crosby
Marc Savard
Dany Heatley
Marian Hossa
Ilya Kovalchuk
Jonathan Cheechoo
Eric Staal
Brad Richards

The four main potential reasons that I’ve identified:
1)High PP/ES minutes (resulting from team depth)
2)High PP/ES minutes powerplay minutes (resulting from coach's view of skillset)
3)Strong PP unit/Poor ES unit (result of player's skills/lack thereof)
4)Strong PP unit/Poor ES unit (result of teammates' skills/lack thereof)

Interpret these reasons for the ten players I’ve listed as you will. In Ovechkin’s case it may be as simple as he is a fantastically gifted offensive player without much of a supporting cast combined with the fact that having the man advantage is more likely to give him the puck and make up for his teammates’ deficiencies. Like I said, interpret as you will.

As I stated above, the biggest reason for this little expose is to attempt to find bargains worth trading for. Using the change in rankings (occasionally sorted for context – E.g. Jay Bouwmeester makes a huge leap but for some reason I doubt he’d come cheap), I have identified one potential bargain player per team. The listing is as follows:

Anaheim Ducks: Chris Kunitz – Coming off his first full NHL season at the age of 26, Chris Kunitz scored 41 points in 69 games last season. His 30 ES points was good for a gain of 91 places, making for the 6th biggest gain. He signed a brand new two-year deal today for an undisclosed dollar amount according to

Atlanta Thrashers: Vyacheslav Kozlov – while he is one of the only players on this list to have his ranking actually drop (by 16 places), his 71 points in 82 games (with 46 at ES) make him a reasonably attractive acquisition, though his point totals may have been inflated by playing with Ilya. Interestingly enough, Kovalchuk’s rank took the 4th biggest fall.

Boston Bruins: Marco Sturm – With 59 points in 74 games (and 40 at ES), his gain in rank was actually edged out by Glen Murray. However, Sturm has a low enough profile that he would make for a far less difficult acquisition.

Buffalo Sabres: Jochen Hecht – While I doubt the Oilers would ever have interest in Hecht, he finished just outside the top 10 in gain of rank as he scored 31 of his 42 points at ES. He also played just 64 games, making for a .67 PPG and is one of the Sabres’ many players heading to salary arbitration perhaps increasing a rival clubs’ ability to get him for cheap.

Carolina Hurricanes: Matt Cullen – With 49 points in 78 games, Cullen appears at first glance to be in a situation that would limit his PP minutes. I have no idea what his power play role was for the Hurricanes in the regular season but IIRC he was on their second unit in the playoffs. His creativity would be very useful in Edmonton IMO.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Nikolai Zherdev – Perhaps the player on the list with the most offensive potential, Zherdev signed a contract in Russia for next season. He can get out of it if he works a deal out with Columbus, but this kind of negotiation tactic may not sit well with the Oiler brass. Interestingly enough, both Zherdev and Rick Nash made sizeable leaps in their rankings.

Calgary Flames: No one made the criteria – Wow that makes me laugh. Iggy was the only one on the list and his ranking took a huge fall.

Chicago Blackhawks: Kyle Calder – He likely played a bigger role in Chicago than he would on other teams and he might be a player Blackhawk fans would loathe to let go. However, his lack of supporting cast, 59 points in 79 games and biggest ranking leap of players who finished in the top 30 in ES scoring make him a very attractive asset.

Colorado Avalanche: Brett McLean – 9 goals and 31 assists make for a PPG of ~0.5 while giving McLean the 4th biggest ranking leap of my list. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was riding the butter minute train for the Avalanche but depending on his role, he could be a good and cheap pickup.

Dallas Stars: Stu Barnes – The man is pretty old but could be an ideal 4th line center for a few years yet. He also got a very high 89% of his 36 points at even strength. Interestingly enough, Colorado’s trio of McLean, Laperriere, and Laaksonen were all in the top 10 for percentage of points garnered at even strength. Does anyone know if they were a line?

Detroit Red Wings: Mikael Samuelsson – Mikael’s 45 points in 71 games made for a pretty decent scoring clip on the Red Wing team and put him 20th on the overall list in terms of ranking gains.

Edmonton Oilers: Raffi Torres – Torres made the 10th biggest gain on my list and it’s not that hard to see why. With 27 G and 14 A, he didn’t receive top power play time nor did he get any of the Oilers’ most effective teammates to work with on the second unit. At less than $1M in salary, we got a pretty good haul from the guy in 05/06.

Florida Panthers: Chris Gratton – I originally subbed him out for Jozef Stumpel who was much further down the list out of pure bias but I have decided not to deny the 3rd biggest leap in ranking. Gratton hasn’t become the semi-star we thought he could be but he did score 39 points in 76 games for the Panthers last year.

Los Angeles Kings: - Sean Avery – wouldn’t you know it… Might not be a bad guy to have on your side of things but I’d stay away if I were making the decisions. Worth looking at is veteran center Eric Belanger who actually made the 2nd biggest gain on my list but has limited upside IMO

Minnesota Wild: Wes Walz – Walz’s gain was 9th best and his scoring clip was just under 0.5PPG – he wouldn’t be a bad pickup for the Oilers’ fourth line.

Montreal Canadiens: Jan Bulis – here’s a UFA whose name pops up all the time and it did so remarkably for me as well. With the 5th biggest leap, Bulis scored 40 points in 73 games for Montreal and would probably come cheap. Why hasn’t he been signed?

New Jersey Devils: John Madden – With 34 of his 36 points coming at ES, Madden had the single highest percentage of his points scored at even strength on my list. Could he be a guy Lou moves to make room for Gomez? The cap situation in NJ plus JM’s relatively low counting numbers might make him available at a fair price.

Nashville Predators: Martin Erat – Nashville’s best potential bargain scored 49 points in 80 games and had reasonable chemistry with Hemsky in international play. I don’t know where he would fit on our club but he might not be that expensive for a trading partner especially with what the Predators got for Hall and Walker.

New York Islanders: Shawn Bates – I bet you were wondering who made the single biggest leap in ranking and here he is. Shawn Bates leapt a whopping 108 places with 30 of his 34 points coming at even strength. Factor in that he only played 66 games and he is a hair over 0.5 PPG.

New York Rangers: Michael Nylander – The second player whose ranking actually fell, Nylander’s 79 points in 81 games is impressive. If Sather can be convinced that Jagr is to be thanked for those totals, it should be noted that Nylander scored a very solid 62 points while not on the power play, going against my own preconception.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Smolinski – Smolinski’s 48 points in 81 games is very respectable and almost remarkable when you consider the amount of talent he played behind in Ottawa this past season. While Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza all took huge falls, BS made a solid leap of 59 spots on my list.

Philadelphia Flyers: Mike Knuble – IMO Knuble was often the straw that stirred the drink in Philadelphia this year, especially when Forsberg was away. His value may be too high for him to be considered a bargain, but I think his checking and PK abilities would make him a great addition to the Oilers and a perfect compliment for Ryan Smyth.

Phoenix Coyotes: Steven Reinprecht – Funny to think that Calgary gave away their one player who could have made this list, Reinprecht got 52 points in 80 games largely thanks to that mid-season tear he went on immediately following his trade to the Coyotes.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Zigmund Palffy – why did this guy retire again? The guy was a point per game player on a not-so-hot Penguins line-up while scoring 31 of his 42 points at ES. Boggles the mind…

San Jose Sharks: Nils Ekman – I believe he was traded to Pittsburgh today (in what I consider an excellent move by the Penguins) but 38 of his 57 points came at even strength. I wonder how much of his output can be attributed to Thornton and Cheechoo, both of whom took huge falls under my sorting system.

St. Louis Blues: No one met the criteria, which isn’t that shocking considering their situation last year. But damn, it’s got to suck to be Calgary…

Tampa Bay Lightning: Fredrick Modin – I realize Modin was involved in the deal that brought Denis to Tampa but I had to use him here because too many of Tampa’s star players took big hits when sorting by ES scoring %. Modin scored a very respectable 31 goals last year and may be big enough on the radar to no longer be considered a bargain. If someone can offer the specifics as to the Modin trade, perhaps we can see what his real value is, at least according to the Lightning and Blue Jackets.

Toronto Maple Leafs: No one met the criteria. Hah!

Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Morrison – I wonder if a guy like Morrison could be stolen from the Canucks for a reasonably low price. His contract isn’t cheap, his line is no longer Vancouver’s best, and he lost part of his supporting cast in Bertuzzi this off-season. His counting numbers are also not high enough to scare anybody and he could be a good fit as an excellent team’s second line center.

Washington Capitals: Chris Clark – A quick winger with reasonably good hockey sense, he may be just more valuable than a dime-a-dozen type as he scored at a 0.5 PPG clip last season on a lowly Capitals team. Did he play with AO?

With this freakishly long essay out of the way, do you see anything you like? Any players you think would be a good fit? As I said, it takes a good sense of concept and the reasons for player's gains to truly identify which players could likely be had for less than they'd be worth. There was no way I could include enough context-specific information and keep things as general as I have but perhaps if there are players, ideas, or reasoning I've listed that pique someone's interest then they can do a little extra digging.

*Exhale* See the following post for the spreadsheets...


Blogger Earl Sleek said...

He (Kunitz) signed a brand new two-year deal today for an undisclosed dollar amount according to

I meant to post this at BoC but didn't have much time today.

Kunitz's deal is $962,500 for next year and $1,150,000 for the following season, an average cap hit of $1,056,250.

7/21/2006 4:54 pm  
Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Oh, and I don't know the contract, but Matt Cullen signed with the NY Rangers as a UFA.

7/21/2006 4:58 pm  
Anonymous PDO said...

Sturm, Bulis, Madden, Calder, Nylander would all be very interesting to me.

I'd throw Cullen and Ekman in there as well, but Cullen signed as a UFA in NY and Ekman was traded, so neither is available.

7/21/2006 7:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Clark played on a line with AO and Zubrus, which takes the shine off of his performance a bit.

7/21/2006 7:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't see how that would make them more valuble then a player who might score 30 or 40 more points on the PP.

7/21/2006 7:52 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

If you go by the reasons listed...

1)Low PP/ES minutes (resulting from team depth)
-This would be the classic situation of a player not getting the powerplay time or cherry minutes to boost his counting numbers due to depth on his current roster. There may be examples of players who would improve their point totals as an Oiler from their previous club.

2)Low PP/ES minutes powerplay minutes (resulting from coach's view of skillset)
-This would be a player not getting powerplay time on a not-so-deep club. You'd really have to scout the guy to believe he would score more PP points on your team but coaches aren't flawless and there may be players who get overlooked.

3)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of player's skills/lack thereof)
-Could this mean there is a power forward who can grind in a lot of points but despite getting lots of powerplay time doesn't put up the numbers there? What does that mean for his potential on your club?

4)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of teammates' skills/lack thereof)
-This could be your Ovechkin type - the guy is obviously driving the bus on the powerplay even though the team as a whole isn't very good. On the Oilers, presumably better, the point totals would rise.

It's not that 40 points are any more valuable at ES than on the PP. It's the effect of low PP points and high ES points on a player's contract and trade value. If a player is putting up significant amounts of ES points but few PP points, his counting numbers are likely too low for his contract to be that inflated or his perceived value to be very high. If you believe that this player could have more of an impact on the powerplay on your team than on his current team, you could potentially get him for a steal because his overall point totals aren't that high.

7/21/2006 8:27 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

These percentages are interesting Showerhead. I think the best way to refine this list is to then look at the player's recent PP rates. Some of these guys have high ES percentages and low PP minutes because they suck on the PP. I used to make this argument all the time, then I changed my mind and decided that %ES scoring was unfair to players that can actually get something done on the PP. I later argued with mc79 about that one. We definitely agree on the economics though and I agree the ES guy is usually a better bargain and a more useful player overall.

Chances are, more PP minutes thrown at Raffi Torres won't get you much at all. He was a deal last year though.

Did Knuble play with Forsberg? If he was his RW with Gagne on the LW, he probably didn't stir the drink.

Calder looks like a great bet to me. His career ES rates are excellent and he hasn't been totally awful on the PP. If he was remotely available, he'd be worth a spin. I think he plays all three forward positions too.

I've been pimping Bulis for awhile now. IIRC, he blew Hemsky out of the water on their CEL team during the lockout.

7/21/2006 9:50 pm  
Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Chances are, more PP minutes thrown at Raffi Torres won't get you much at all. He was a deal last year though.

I still don't know that I agree with this. He's a shooter and with the personnel that the Oilers have, he's not in a good position to work on the PP. Different team or a different setup, I could see him pumping home some goals on the PP.

7/22/2006 12:55 am  
Blogger RiversQ said...

mc79: Maybe so. I can see where you're coming from, but I still think you need five players that handle the puck well on the PP and I don't think he'll ever be exceptional in that regard.

7/22/2006 11:13 am  
Blogger Dennis said...

Vic can back this up but I had a Sean Avery post ready to go after the Kings cut him loose and something big broke on the Oilers before I had a chance to post it. I'd watched enough Kings games to know that Avery was playing the tough min and yet his numbers weren't terrible and he was putting up some points to boot. I didn't know how it would've went over with BG still in the fold but if we couldn't pick up Bulis then I'd suggest we take a run at Avery. If he pulls a super arsehole act and we have to can him it just means that one of JFJ, MAP or Winchester wind up playing a big role.

And can you imagine the kids of things Avery would say about the Flames;)

As for the rest of the list...I can't imagine why Bulis isn't getting more attention. And I'd put Kunitz with Knuble in that both guys fleshed out dangerous combos, Fors-Gagne and Andy-Teemu. The thing with Knuble though is some guys can't even be supplementry players but this guy has the knack to be able to keep up talented linemates.

7/23/2006 6:32 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Well I guess the hockey world was listening to you, Dennis. TSN says the Kings have locked up Avery and Spector's has the Canucks signing Bulis. It's possible the hockey gods are out to get you - you didn't guarantee the Cup at any point in the last little while did you?

7/24/2006 8:00 am  
Blogger JavaGeek said...

A lot of people see things like this. And well it's all nice, but when you look at hockey as being 1/3 powerplay and 2/3 even strength and only half the team plays on the powerplay... You better invest a lot of cash into those 10 players. If your powerplay flops (-30 GF), you're just as ruined as if your goaltending flops (+ 30 GA)... A similar investment should go into PK guys (9), but there's a larger supply of them...

In fact you'll notice that GM's pay a premium for players that have a great track record for PP production for good reason.

You should take more shots on the powerplay (largely because there is less chance of loss of possession via a shot), however, many of the "winners" listed take about 20% fewer shots on the powerplay and as such, are causing the problems on their respective powerplays. Taking more shots might help, but maybe they aren't getting the opportunities to shoot.

7/24/2006 7:36 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Interesting points, JG, but 20% fewer shots per the same amount of icetime? 20% fewer shots where all other conditions (the unit they're out with, say) are equal?

And again, I think a team needs good powerplay guys. Nowhere in my post did I shit on the PP point producers of the world. I just think that if you're looking for a good forward to help out your team and to get him without giving up very much, it's the type of guys on my list that could help you out for cheap and MIGHT also be capable of stronger PP production in the right context.

For all we know, Raffi Torres hit 15 posts on the powerplay this past year, you know what I mean? A deeper look at context might help a team identify a bargain and even one of those is an excellent thing.

7/25/2006 8:02 am  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Note: I was misinformed. Jochen Hecht is not going to arbitration.

7/25/2006 10:12 am  
Blogger JavaGeek said...

Interesting points, JG, but 20% fewer shots per the same amount of icetime? 20% fewer shots where all other conditions (the unit they're out with, say) are equal?

I measured the shots per minute. (I should've been more clear, but there wouldn't be much point talking in absolutes).

Technically, conditions should be same or better on the powerplay, but if you're the worst PP forward on the team, I don't care what your conditions are.

help you out for cheap and MIGHT also be capable of stronger PP production in the right context.

The problem with these players is that if you pick them up, you're getting a player than can only play 5 on 5 (or shorthanded) and needs top line even strength minutes (plus conditions - good passing forwards to play with...) to get the points. The problem is you still need 6 powerplay forwards ($) and this guy is just a third liner. They have in the past hurt the powerplay and they will likely continue to do so...

So, you can get them cheap, but that's because they're third line players who don't play on the powerplay.

I'll use Raffi Torres for an example...
Shots - include missed shots
224 min
10 shots per PP hour
3.5 PP goals per hour (goals on ice, not necessarily scored by Torres) This is the worst on Edmonton for players with > 100 min.
869 min (2nd - 1st line minutes)
12 shots per EV hour
2.9 EV goals per hour (+ statistic)

7/25/2006 5:34 pm  
Blogger Showerhead said...

Again, I really can't find fault with your reasoning. Thanks for the clarification and info.

The one thing I take issue with is the suggestion that a situation in which one of these players ends up improving their PP production is virtually impossible.

You don't even have to look that far - is it conceivable to you that there is even one team in the NHL with a deeper set of offensively talented forwards than Edmonton? That one team's #7 PP forward could make a solid #4 or #5 forward on a team without the roster?

Marty Havlat played 3.53 PP minutes per game last year, less than all of Bergeron, Hemsky, Horcoff, Pronger, Samsonov, Smyth, Spacek, and Stoll. Ottawa was obviously very happy with the Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza trio but Havlat scored at a 4.7 pts/hr clip. Havlat didn't cost much as far as trading went (though the contract he signed may be a dagger to my point :)) but one could only expect his overall PP point totals to increase with the icetime Chicago gives him.

I'm stretching a little for the Havlat example but I don't imagine you'd have to stretch that hard to find a less impacting one.

7/26/2006 10:16 am  
Blogger JavaGeek said...

Many of these players have a lot of petential, because they're young and it takes time for a young player to get the experience needed to well on the powerplay. GM's know this and contracts are made accordingly.

You don't even have to look that far - is it conceivable to you that there is even one team in the NHL with a
deeper set of offensively talented forwards than Edmonton? That one team's #7 PP forward could make a solid #4 or #5 forward on a team without the roster?

To figure that out should I look at a players even strength numbers or their powerplay numbers? Sure you can look at players who don't play on the PP at all, but there are few good even strength scorers who wont play on the powerplay.
For example your list include two very different players:
Torres [3.5 PPGA] (worst on team)
Belanger [6.3 PPGA] (best on team)
You're better off looking at the actual powerplay numbers than just the even strength numbers. If they're going to just play even strength then this is a good measure, but you're trying to measure potential you really want to know how they will fair with the man advantage. That being said you could be on to something, due to the fact that powerplay statistics are a lot less accurate statistically.

We of course will be able to see this year how Havlat does with the extra PP time. He'll get more goals, but probabaly wont get a higher scoring "rate", which is what really matters.

I've recently compiled most of the ice time statistics, here's Torres' percent of time spent with the given centerman:
PP (5 on 4):
STOLL: 53%
PECA: 20%
EV (5 on 5):
STOLL: 70%
PECA: 16%
[There could be significant errors in the above data]

He played with Stoll, as a result his even strength numbers are highly correlated with Stoll's. However, they played together less on the powerplay. So Torres may be simply showing how effective Stoll is 5 on 5 that he makes others do better. What I'm trying to say is that if a player does well 5 on 5, but can't perform on the powerplay it's a sign this player might be "lucky", getting "free" assists and getting a lot of chances because of good forwards.

This all said, 21 goals scored (Torres) even strength is impressive. Although in the playoffs he dropped to a more "normal" scoring rate (4 goals 22 games). So you could just be looking at player "error".

7/26/2006 9:01 pm  

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