Monday, November 12, 2007

Tomas Vanek Revisited: Near Miss Number One

Last season Tomas Vanek posted stellar counting numbers, and a plus-minus that was through the roof. Leading enough journalists to cast a Selke vote in his direction for him to finish 14th, just ahead of the rightful winner, Joe Sakic*. The fact that Tomas usually played sheltered ice time, and couldn't check his hat ... clearly not important for these voters.

Vanek, playing mostly with Derek Roy so far this season, is struggling mightily. Buffalo fans, which are an oddly knowledgeable bunch when it comes to context in a hockey game, are split cleanly on whether this is a function of playing against better opposition, or because, and I quote, "he's not giving 110%".

Lindy Ruff weighed in on the subject in the Buffalo News on Friday.
“He’s fighting a mental battle,” Ruff said. “He’s in a whole new situation. That line is in a whole new situation. They’ve got a tough challenge. They’re playing against good lines now, they’re pulling assignments against other teams’ top lines, and it isn’t as easy as last year.”
There were several Buffalo fans who predicted this, though most of those people didn't expect such a severe impact. Apparently it never occurred to Kevin Lowe at all.

I think that Vanek, like Roy, is a good player. But not as good as his LupulAsADuck-like season made him appear. And certainly he is not a great player.

And to be fair, his EV+9 EV-15 looks worse than it is. The EVsave% behind #26 has been a horrific .815 so far, and last year he was lucky in this regard with .940 behind him during his icetime.

The fact is that there is precious little considered evidence that suggests that Vanek is a real difference-maker. And I find it hard to believe that the Oilers would be in a different place in the standings if Lowe's RFA offer sheet had been successful. The only difference is that the team would not have a first round draft pick for five more Junes.

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, when the Minnesota Gophers coaching staff comment on the difference between current #26 Jay Barriball, and former #26 Tomas Vanek ... the alarm with "Yashin" dyno-taped on it rings loudly.

As dodged bullets go, this one was cannon-size.

* It would have been hard to complain if Pahlsson (2nd), Drury (4th) or one of the New Jersey tandem had won the thing last season. The Brind'Amour selection is indefensible.


Blogger PDO said...

What about his Corsi number? At 30, it's easily one of the best on the Sabres.

The other thing, and it's completely unrelated...

Is what impact does a player have on a goaltenders SV%? I mean, we constantly say such and such a player was unlucky because the SV% behind him sucked balls... but I mean, if the guy is Sheldon Souray and gets beat one on one like a rented mule leading to much higher quality chances behind him... it's only fair to believe he's part of the reason that the SV% is as bad as it is.. is it not?

I didn't mind the Vanek offer sheet... in fact, I outright liked it. Defense can be taught to an extent, he's still young, and he looks like a guy who (at least by Hockey Magik™), would have fit perfectly with Hemsky. Definitely not a this year player, but moving forward I think it would've worked.

I don't think it would've been impossible to hide him if he was with Horcoff and Hemsky either... hell, right now Horcoff is managing to hide both Penner AND Nilsson while playing some decent competition ;) They were kept the fuck away from Iginla, and rightfully so, but some shifts against Lombardi/Huselius isn't chickenscratch either.

11/12/2007 8:15 pm  
Blogger Oilman said...

The SV% is likely a result of better opposition just getting higher quality chances...but those must be some great chances because that is a horrible differential..although, I think Miller is a bit over rated anyway...I think his GAA and SV% were about identical to Roloson last season with the help of a far better team in front of him.

11/12/2007 8:45 pm  
Blogger PunjabiOil said...

I for one, was not exactly thrilled at this RFA offersheet. Not only money wise was it too much, but I've always been cautious of players who put up strong numbers on very good offensive teams.

Vanek will turn out as a great player. I think he would have helped out the Oilers in the long run - but 4 first rounders is a bitter pill to swallow

11/12/2007 8:49 pm  
Blogger uni said...

I often wondered if Biron or Miller was the better player. If Biron keeps up his counting numbers for this season we'll have an answer. Man's already seen more rubber than (insert busy highway/freeway of choice here) this season and he's not even 20 games in.

Also I got Vanek in my pool, and man do I wish I had benched him for Stillman earlier. But he's too young and too skilled to be in his funk much longer. That last game against the Leafs he had some real nice chances, just looks to be squeezing his stick to sawdust.

11/12/2007 8:53 pm  
Blogger MetroGnome said...

Man's already seen more rubber than (insert busy highway/freeway of choice here) this season and he's not even 20 games in.

(insert prostitute joke here) more like it.

11/13/2007 9:37 am  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Completely agree Vic.
If we'd signed Vanek:
a) Buffalo recieve 4! 1st round draft picks
b) 7 million per season for 7 years.

Even if the salary cap goes up, 7 million is a huge chunk of money to give to a guy who has yet to show he can be a franchise player, or for that matter, even a complete player. I'm not saying he won't get there, but the frustration I feel knowing that Brian Burke is getting our (likely lottery) pick this summer would have been magnified 4-fold if Buffalo hadn't matched Vanek's offer sheet.

To give you an idea of what 4 first round picks look like, here's what Edmonton's done with theirs the last 4 years:
Sam Gagner, Dwayne Roloson, Andrew Cogliano and Devan Dubnyk. Would you be willing to trade that for Vanek? That's two players who will be stars, a developing goaltender, and the 2005-06 Finals Run.
How about the previous four years? Pouliot, Niinimaki, Hemsky and Mikhnov? This is clearly a lesser group, but I wouldn't even trade Hemsky+Pouliot for Vanek at this point.

11/13/2007 10:33 am  
Blogger Jeff J said...

I've been trying to tell my hockey watching buddies this for weeks but they just won't listen. Vanek has seen a huge drop-off and he's really only been bumped up from ~3rd line opposition to 2nd.

Carbonneau made the same mistake as those leading journalists in a recent game vs. the Sabres, putting his top options (Koivu or Smolinski, with Komisarek/Markov on D) out vs. Roy/Vanek. He caught on halfway through the game and started watching Connolly's line instead.

11/13/2007 11:34 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

PDO: It's mostly just coincidence. These numbers will gravitate towards the average for the team for everybody.

Souray's EVsave% behind him last year was .909 by the way. How much of that was his fault? How much of it is that we look at the -28 and search for answers? In his best EV+/- year (03/04) he had an EVsave% of .933 behind him.

Rory Fitzpatrick's was .954, facing over 300 shots.

The only non-Philly player who saw 300+ shots against his own goalie and had an EVsave% behind him below .880 was Zherdev. He probably had something to do with that.

Guys like Nedved and Hull (.877 one year, on a good DET team) had enough "bad luck" at this that it probably isn't coincidence. And a guy like Peca seems to have just completely lost his confidence offensively. Nothing looks like a scoring chance to him any more, and retreat always seems like the best option. (Haven't seen him this year, but that goes for the last two).

So for a few guys, the "needs counseling" crew, there will be a pattern there. Not huge, but a few goals less or more.

For almost everybody else the spread is nearly identical to the spread of dice rollers, with the dice weighted to the team EVsave%. Eerily so.

11/13/2007 1:15 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


Also, ya, the Corsi numbers for that whole team are pretty good. And Ruff teams don't just throw a bunch of hopeful shots at the net. Buffalo will probably be fine if their special teams don't let them down.

Look at the last game PDO, 20235 vs BOS. Hecht plays way more icetime than the other forwards. he is on the ice for a shitload of own-zone draws. Plays the first shift after the BUF PP every time. Four of his shifts end in BUF PPs, one in a BOS PP.

The Sabres outshoot the Bs by a 16/5 margin in this one when he is on the ice.

I don't know what's going on in Boston, that is a very young roster though. Therrien looked to be running Savard/Murray/Axelsson at Vanek's line. Chara too, who is still terrific. That when the flow wasn't being disrupted by the penalties.

That's not brutal icetime or anything, still, if it's a night-in night-out thing. If you have the depth to get talent out against Lucic/Kessel/Thornton and that cast of unknown Dmen ... you'll score a lot more goals that you allow. And that's not Vanek's gig any more, because BUF ran out of guys to play ahead of him when they lost Drury and Briere.

And the Sabres dominated the game by all accounts. Just couldn't beat Thomas. The goals will start going in for them soon enough.

11/13/2007 1:25 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I know that most of the Oil bloggers like Biron. I've never really been overly impressed by the guy in the games I've seen him play. And his numbers have been decent, but nothing special.

I find it hard to believe that Philly can keep getting outshot by such a wide margin. Have such brutal Corsi numbers as well. And they've seen about 125 MORE own-zone faceoffs than ones in the good zone.

I dunno, it's early, but those are really shitty underlying numbers to my mind, I'd bet anything that they won't be able to sustain this.

11/13/2007 1:45 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Jeff J:

Good to see an eastern opinion around. Agreed on all points obviously.

How is Carboneau running the Habs bench now? I had him pegged as a traditional checking line coach, but when they let Bonk and Johnson go I thought he must have a new plan.

And are they missing Souray? Liking Hamrlik?

11/13/2007 1:57 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Count me as one who thought Vanek might be worth a shot because I thought it stood to reason that if a guy that young could murder soft opp, as he grew older, he'd be a guy that could keep his head above water at EV.

Probably like a higher event Horcoff in that regard.

Early returns aren't exactly in my favour, though;)

Vic, regarding Rory, the guy played third pairing min and in front of Luongo so considering he was playing nobodies and that it's hard enough for somebodies to score on RL, let alone nobodies, then while the goaltender's PCT behind Rory was positively off the charts, it stands to reason that it would be good no matter how you shook it.

But as much as there's a trickledown from losing Drury and Briere, I still think Buf's a heckuva lot better than they look now, though.

11/13/2007 2:24 pm  
Blogger Black Dog said...

I thought Vanek was a decent gamble because I saw him and Hemsky and figured they would play soft opp while Horcoff took the tough stuff and Stoll, flsnked by Torres and Pisani would take the next.

I mean, its one thing to be evens or thereabouts against the soft stuff but Vanek murdered them. Playing with Hemsky I would figure 40 plus for seven years. That makes those picks a little less of a dramatic loss.

Count me also as one who thinks the Sabres will come around. Remember Ottawa's struggles last fall after losing Chara and Havlat - you get a bunch of guys bumped up and its going to take a while for things to come together.

I think Vanek will be alright. Two playoffs ago he was a healthy scratch. He had a good playoff last year. He's still a kid.

11/13/2007 4:17 pm  
Blogger voxel said...

Just couldn't beat Thomas. The goals will start going in for them soon enough.

Story of the year... Thomas has been playing well and goals are hard to come by with him in net.

I find it hard to believe that Philly can keep getting outshot by such a wide margin. Have such brutal Corsi numbers as well. And they've seen about 125 MORE own-zone faceoffs than ones in the good zone.

If you watch Flyer games you do see them being outshot, but their scoring chances are high-probability ones (PP or 2-on-1s)

I dunno, it's early, but those are really shitty underlying numbers to my mind, I'd bet anything that they won't be able to sustain this.

Philly will keep it up as long as their forwards keep on banking their scoring chances off the rush. They seem to have the top-end talent to do it. They remind me of the Canucks who turtle in their own zone and then break out for a goal at the opportune time.

11/14/2007 7:17 am  
Blogger Jeff J said...

I haven't seen as many games as I would like and those I've seen have often had opponents using 3 lines to Montreal's 4. That said, it looks to me like Carbo started out using Koivu/Higgins/Ryder against the top lines more than last year. And they're looking better at ES. Still in the red a little bit, but better. Last year the 'top line' was ridiculously bad at ES despite the shelter of the checking line. I don't have an explanation - maybe injury, maybe mistakes by a rookie coach? This bears watching, although recent history suggests last year was an off year for them.

According to your, lately Smolinski has been drifting into the checking duties. My hunch is that he'll be firmly in that role now that Carbo trusts him. There is a long tradition of checking lines in Montreal, the only blip being the Tremblay years. I was worried when the team let Bonk and Johnson drift away, but judging by their contracts this year they could have been signed at a pay cut. The staff must have figured it was coaches who made the checking line and that the parts were interchangable. The scary thing here is Dandenault is settling in as Smolinski's regular RW. As a forward, I doubt he's ever played anything other than 4th line minutes. To see him out there vs. Sundin is discomforting.

So, while Koivu is still plan B for the tough minutes, Plekanec/Kovalev are getting soft icetime. The 4th line (Chipchura/Begin/Kostopolous) is getting minutes and occasional tough ones. Looks like Chipchura is being groomed to be the next Gainey/Carbonneau.

So I guess it's pretty much the same as last year, only with Smolinski/Dandenault replacing Bonk/Johnson and the 4th line playing more.

Hamrlik has been fantastic. He's not being asked to be a shut down guy, but he's getting 2nd pair minutes on the PP and PK, plus he's carrying Brisebois on the 2nd pair at ES and it hasn't been a complete circus. Sure, he's overpaid but Hamrlik at $5.5 >> Souray at $5.5. With Streit essentially replacing Souray, I think the Habs have lost something off their PP though the results haven't shown it yet. Their PP shooting% is unsustainable. Streit has a great shot, so maybe the PP will still be top notch. We'll see.

I have seen Souray play in Edmonton and his shot looked wild. There were times last year when he'd be drifting backward and receive a hard pass for a one-timer, and I'd think to myself "There is no way that will hit the net." Not only would he hit the net, but he'd beat the goalie. It happened a lot. Maybe he was lucky, maybe he just needs to settle down in Edmonton. To be honest I miss the big lug because he's one entertaining player.

11/14/2007 8:00 am  
Blogger Matt said...

Sorry you haven't been able to watch as much, Jeff. Miss your blog.

11/14/2007 1:42 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Black Dog:

I'll think that they will come around too. Judging by the fact that the number of shots directed at net (by either team) has fallen through the floor for the Sabres ... I'm guessing that Ruff has them taking fewer chances in all parts of the rink.

I don't think that they will be a top team any more though.

This isn't like Ottawa last season. They had underlying numbers that were terrific, you just knew that was going to turn around. I remember mc79hockey posting on the subject about this time last year, calling for calm when the media was speculating on deals for Alfredsson and calling for mass firings in management. At the time they were also getting abused by the goalpost gods.

OTOH, If Buffalo had kept Drury and Briere, and lost a couple of the young guys like Vanek ... it would have hurt them, but they still would have been one of the elite teams this season I think.

11/15/2007 10:26 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


I'm sure that PHI's special teams have been good, but the even strength stuff really is unsustainable.

Opposing goalies have a brutal EVsave%. I don't doubt that a lot of the Flyer's chances are coming off of the rush, still, they are finishing like the 91 Pens right now.

And Biron is pegging in with a .949 EVsave% right now. That's 10 points clear of Hasek's best year (the latter had several years in the .930's iirc, Roy a few as well. Kiprusoff had a .939 his first year with the Flames, same again in the playoff run.)

Hundreds of goalies have had stretches like Biron is on, including Markkanen and Conklin, but nobody, not even the greatest ever, have been able to hold those numbers up over 60 or 70 starts.

I'll be shocked if that bubble doesn't burst.

11/15/2007 10:43 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Jeff J

Good to see some teams running 4 lines. Will all the PPs in the NHL now that isn't easy to do on a lot of nights. I would imagine that "keep Kovalev away from offensive talent" is at the top of Carbo's game plan on most nights. That puts a dent in the rest of what he will able to accomplish. I mean I like Kovalev, but that's true I think.

Interesting to hear about Smolinski. And good for him. I glanced at one MTL shift chart a little while ago, against TOR I think. In any case Dandenault-Smolinski-LaTandresse were carrying a lot of responsibility in that one, which struck me as damn strange. I thought maybe it was a one-off.


On Souray: I think he'll come around on the PP. As you say, he doesn't need the puck to be right in his wheelhouse to get away a good shot. He's impressive that way.

Before he was injured though, the Oilers were relying on him to play something pretty damn close to top pairing minutes. And that was never going to go well. Hopefully that changes when he comes back. Right now the Staios-Smid tandem is really carrying the mail, which isn't great, but it beats the alternatives here.

And for no tangible reason, I despise Hamrlik. Since early in his Oiler days.

11/15/2007 10:59 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


On Rory, I'd imagine it's mostly just coincidence. The EV shooting percentage doesn't change a whole helluva lot from 1st to 4th line on a team. Almost more a function of the coach than the players I'd guess.

11/15/2007 11:01 am  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Vic - oh yeah, I'm not pegging them for the final or anything, that's for sure but I think they'll be alright. Its a difficult transition - too bad for Sabres fans.

11/15/2007 7:14 pm  

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