Monday, May 28, 2007

Prospect Signing Deadline looms

With 5 pm ET, June 1st as the deadline to sign many of the prospects drafted in 2005 or earlier, the Oilers have some decisions to make on the following players:

2003:

Zhukov (I believe the Oilers have to decide on him, because I think he was drafted out of Sweden, not Russia)
Olsson
Umicevic
Hrabel

2004:

Bjurling (he may already be off the reserve list, I'm not certain)

2005:

Pettersson

McDonald and Rohlfs have to be signed this summer as well, but their deadline is August 15th. Paukovich, Chorney, Dee, VandeVelde, Glasser, Petry and Wild are all still in college, and are therefore retained on EDM's reserve list. Pitton, the only CHL player EDM has left (wow, is that low?), needs to be given a "bona-fide" offer for his rights to be retained, which I would guess EDM will make.

So, any thoughts on which player(s) the Oilers should sign from that list of six?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bless you Ales/Shawn, Damn you Marty/Raffi?

I've been looking at NHL payrolls a lot lately with the intent of finding a relationship between how a team spends its money and its level of success. It sounds simple enough and this gave me the impression that I would find out a lot of things that I already know and that would be the end of it.

I started out by taking a look at the payroll structures of the top 8 regular season teams in the NHL this year - that is: Buffalo, Detroit, Anaheim, Nashville, San Jose, Dallas, New Jersey, and Ottawa - and comparing them to those of the NHL's 8 worst: Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Edmonton, Columbus, and Boston. I included the 20 best skaters and two best goalies from each team, used actual as opposed to cap dollars, included active players regardless of health, and ignored inactive players (Alex Mogilny) who still get listed because of payroll/cap implications. I also added up the total contract value of each team's 3 most expensive forwards, two most expensive defensemen, and single most expensive goalie to form a separate, "top six players" dollar amount.

The basics:
Top 8 average payroll: $42,918,786.13
Bottom 8 average payroll: $34,152,804.38

Top 8 average "top six" payroll: $24,355,240.38
Bottom 8 average "top six" payroll: $19,271,989.00

Quite clearly the more successful teams spent more money, both at the top end and throughout their rosters. The actual distributions varied quite a bit in terms of which positions were getting the most money, from New Jersey going forward heavy with ~$16M tied up in Elias, Gomez, and Gionta to Anaheim's $13M Niedermayer/Pronger duo on defense to Dallas leading the way with $6,000,000 on Marty Turco in net. Payrolls ranged from very top heavy with cheap depth (Anaheim) to quite evenly spread out (Buffalo). Basically with my limited scope I was completely unable to identify a spending pattern that correlates with success other than the very, very obvious the more you spend, the more you get.

From there I decided to put the data into a chart to see if Excel could tell me something I missed. I made salary ranges of <$1M, $1-1.99M, $2-2.99M... all the way to $7+M, counted (by hand) how many players fit into each range and of course kept it divided into top 8 and bottom 8 categories. Here is the chart:














The differences may be slight but the top 8 teams clearly have more players making between the $2M (range) and the $5M ranges where the bottom 8 teams clearly have more players making in the $1M range or less. This is obviously to be expected - if a team spends more total money it should have more players in the higher ranges. The one (caution: small sample size) thing of note is that the best and worst teams in this case each had a very similar number of players who earned more than $6M this season. Could a reasonable conclusion be then that the best teams have star players backed up with very good depth where the bad teams may have stars but they're backed up by crap?

To further explore the idea I decided to see if I could attribute some measure of value to each player. This way I could see if perhaps the top 8 teams were getting more value for their dollars in addition to spending more of them in the first place. To do this, I used the very rudimentary tool of total points scored in each salary range (eliminating goaltenders of course) and dividing by the total number of players in that range to acquire a "points per player in X salary range figure". Here is that information in chart form:















Results here are mixed so I used Excel's "trendline" feature to get a rough line of best fit for each. With so few players in the top salary ranges and without separating forwards from defensemen there are huge sample size issues to be concerned with but to me the very interesting aspect of this comparison is that the difference in pts/player between successful/unsucessful teams appears to increase as you go higher in salary - that is to say both top and bottom teams received similar production from their cheapest players but the top teams generally received more production from their mid-range salaried players and much more from their very highest.

While you can see that I am obviously generalizing, there is intuitive reasoning to support such a trend. If a team is currently awful, it was probably at least in the neighbourhood of bad last season and the one before that. If this were the case, it would have probably have had access to high-end draft picks at some point in its recent history and would therefore be likely to have high production in its low salary ranges. In this way the production of Alexander Ovechkin props up his whole salary range. It is also intuitive that a team experiencing a great deal of success would have lots of production from its higher paid players and that a team doing poorly may have experienced some disappointing seasons from its highest paid players. Compound these disappointments with lower total payrolls and it's quite apparent that a team's season could be tanked.

As a final note, here is the chart the points/player data came from with the Oilers' own information thrown in. It's interesting to see that Edmonton competes quite well with the top 8 teams' production levels in the $2-2.99 and $3-3.99 salary levels but is disgustingly worse than either top/bottom 8 levels when it comes to 0-$0.99M and $1-1.99M levels.




















There are a lot of flaws in the way that I have collected and analyzed the data here but hopefully it gives you something to think about. I look forward to reading people's impressions/responses/suggestions.

Friday, May 18, 2007

For Dennis: One More Reason to Hate the Pronger Trade

Before I get started, a tip of the hat to Erik and Todd who as Red Wing fans came by and gave their valued perspectives in the comments section of "By Way of Example". Thanks for stopping by! (but mostly, "Stay classy.")

When it comes to projecting an Oiler roster for 2007/2008 I consistently come up with the same problem. When all of the Oilers’ committed salaries are added up, I can’t find enough money left in the $45M budget to buy upgrades I honestly think would make Edmonton an above average team. I’m not going to lie – it shocks me more than a little bit to think the 6th worst team in the NHL this season has too much tied up in payroll to significantly improve itself via free agency.

Just to prove that I’m not BSing you, here’s Edmonton’s best lineup under contract for 2007/2008 (including RFAs), with numbers from NHLnumbers.com:

Assuming a roster of 23 players with 14F, 7D, and 2G Edmonton will be paying $31.144M in actual dollars (not cap value) with all of Torres, Winchester, Mikhnov, Greene, Grebeshkov, Roy, and Deslauriers to sign. If you assume a $1M average salary (with Torres and Greene probably being above but the others being below that mark) it bumps Edmonton’s payroll to $38.144M with a bare bones roster. Keep this $38M number in mind.

Even if all of the hoopla is true and Edmonton will spend $45M on their roster this season that leaves approximately $7M to ideally pick up a high-end forward and a high-end defenseman. Even when you consider the approximately $1.75M that you shave off the NHL budget by those players bumping depth back down into the AHL you are still looking at $9M maximum for these two players.
Can you find a top-flight UFA forward for less than $6M on this summer’s open market? The tradeoff is going to have to happen somewhere and a free agent haul of A. Markov/M. York or S. Gomez/D. Tjarnqvist is far more likely than getting the best of both worlds.

So where is all the money being wasted?

To answer this question I looked at the extreme example of bang-for-the-buck that is the Anaheim Ducks roster. For nearly an identical $38M in actual dollars paid Anaheim has built a team that looks an awful lot like a Stanley Cup contender for now and the foreseeable future.
Even with 2 Norris Trophy winners and a very high scoring Teemu Selanne Anaheim has a deep roster and money to burn. How?

I will ignore goaltending because they are paying very close to what Edmonton is for very similar results. However when you scan the chart and find that Anaheim pays just $3M for perhaps the best checking line in the NHL or that they’ve somehow got perhaps the best defenseman in the league signed for just $6.25M you can’t help but feel a little jealous.

Going further, having two defensemen of the Pronger/Niedermayer caliber allows Anaheim to pay a tiny sum for the rest of its defense corps. O’Donnell, Beauchemin, Huskins and DiPenta all have very clear roles that they play to expected levels and generally give the expected return (with bonus offense from Mr. Beauchemin) given their salary.

All this said, the Pronger contract savings (relative to market value) and intelligent use of money on the back end pale in comparison to the value the Ducks get up front.

First off, you’ve got Teemu Selanne signed for just under $4M. For the amount of offense he brings that is definitely below what he could get as a UFA. To fill out that line you’ve got McDonald who is priced fairly and then Kunitz whose $1M RFA contract is a steal for the 60 pts he put up. You’ve got the aforementioned elite checking line for just $3M, and you’ve got Marchant who can babysit or play just about anywhere on the roster for the non-bargain $2.47M. Then boom: there’s Getzlaf, Perry, and Penner - a combined $147 pts - for less than $2M.

To summarize, it’s clear that Anaheim has savings up and down their current roster and it comes in many forms. There’s “hometown” discount in the form of Selanne, the excellent contract of Pronger, a series of kids who are grossly outperforming their RFA contracts and there simply aren’t any players you can legitimately say are overpaid.

So which hurts Edmonton the most? Is it a lack of high-level youth on cheap RFA contracts? The waste of money on overpriced mid-level talent? The absence of one elite player whose contract is clearly below market value? One way or another it’s hard to imagine a significant fix coming this off-season without Kevin Lowe pulling one hell of a rabbit out of one hell of a hat.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Thin Blue Line

Heading into this off-season the Edmonton Oilers have expressed the desire to pick up one or two veteran “puck-moving” defensemen. Whether they hit a home run or not, the need has clearly existed since the departure of Chris Pronger and one can expect the Oilers to make at least one move to address their defense. Considering the fact that Edmonton enters the UFA season with the NHL’s worst offense is well as a roster void of defensemen who can contribute on the powerplay, you’d have to expect that the Oilers are going to be setting their sights on a veteran “puck moving” defenseman who can also put up some offense. With this in mind here’s a look at the top defensemen in the league in terms of powerplay points per 60 minutes as well as two notable free agents who missed the cut.


Sheldon Souray:


Sheldon Souray is a name that would probably appeal to the masses. The guy put up an insane amount of powerplay points this year and just crushed the next closest NHL D-Man in terms of his powerplay scoring rate. He would cost enough so that the EIG could claim they were investing significant dollars into the club and he would put up enough counting stats to excite the casual fan. He is also a free agent and would therefore be attainable without giving up assets by trade.

That said, I don’t want the guy. He careered in terms of PPP this season and despite having an obviously excellent offensive presence at the point he came up a disgusting -28 sharing very similar ES TOI with Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek who both posted + ratings. If you asked me which one of his 7.31 PPP/60 or his -28 was most likely to be repeated as an Oiler I would definitely not give you a good forecast. Also I think the Oilers are in a position with prospects and low level depth that they can probably better afford to make a trade for someone who would cost less in terms of payroll as well as ES goal differential. Could his PP production outweigh his defensive liabilities? Maybe, but I personally wouldn’t pay his UFA asking price to find out.


Philippe Boucher:



Philippe Boucher would be a perfect fit with Edmonton in virtually every way but attainability. He still has two full years left on the contract extension he signed with Dallas last March and is clearly relied upon to play on the top-4 ES minutes, top-4 SH minutes, and top unit PP minutes for a very good stars team. Not only that but he made just $2.5M this season and both articles I found on the guy included quotes containing high praise for the city of Dallas. As a compliment to Sergei Zubov, Boucher is probably in the Stars’ plans until he retires (he’s 34 now) and the Stars are probably in his.

For all of this, he is still a guy that I would want Edmonton to make a trade pitch for. I am not much for proposals so I won’t make one but the Oilers probably have the assets for the necessary overpay to get the deal done. Boucher brings everything I described to the table, is supposedly a locker room leader, and would bring a veteran presence to Edmonton’s d-corps that is sorely lacking IMO at an excellent dollar price.


Ric Jackman:


Ric (or Richard as he is known on many sites) Jackman’s powerplay stats should definitely be taken with a grain of salt compared to the other players on this list because he played the least 2006/2007 powerplay minutes of the players included. However, his contract is up, Anaheim clearly doesn’t need him, and he clearly does have a big shot and the offensive instincts needed to get the job done. Coming off an $800K contract and possessing defensive warts (TSN.ca lists him as a top-6 defenseman), Jackman can be considered to be a budget solution more in the form of a band-aid than a cure. I wouldn’t be opposed to his acquisition if there was cavalry on its way but I don’t necessarily see him as a good fit with Edmonton.


Chris Pronger:



CFP. The devil incarnate. A man who can’t keep it in the pants that he apparently doesn’t even wear. His inclusion on this list is simply a nod to his ability as a hockey player and the stats he put up. He’s obviously not coming back to Edmonton but golly it would sure be nice to have him at $6.25M, a play-off spot, and 3 more bullets in Lowetide’s proverbial gun.


Andrei Markov:



Andrei Markov is the UFA Habs defenseman that I would most want Edmonton to sign. Entering his first big payday he has an impressive resume playing the 2nd most ES, SH, and PP minutes in Montreal this year (to Komisarek, Komisarek, and Souray respectively) and putting up strong results. His +2 was second on the Habs (again to Komisarek) and he was clearly an important player on both ends of the ice. I can’t imagine which of the two big MTL d-men get the biggest pay-out as one is famous and the other one is important but the rumours I have heard all point towards Markov being Montreal’s number one priority this summer so Edmonton may really have to offer some $ for him to sign as an Oiler.


Sergei Zubov:


Doesn’t it seem unfair that two teams would boast more than one defenseman on this top-10 list? Sergei Zubov is probably untouchable for every reason you’d think and then some. He’s a better ES player than he gets credit for, he puts up points at ES despite also carrying the mail in Dallas on the defensive side of things, and he has a very reasonable contract. Could he possibly make Boucher more expendable via trade? It’s a nice thought, but I still don’t think so.


Tom Poti:


Now having reached the age of 30, the player we booed out of Edmonton several years ago has apparently grown up in a lot of ways. In Long Island this season he played top-3 ES minutes, top-2 SH minutes, and the most PP minutes of any Islander defender. His -1 looks respectable but not impressive on that New York team and his offense, never an issue before, has become quite a strength for him.

Where I describe players such as Markov and Boucher to be ideal acquisitions and Jackman to be a potentially acceptable patch, Poti falls somewhere in between for me. He is a UFA this summer and is probably attainable for $3.5-$4 million (depending of course of this summer’s brand of GM idiocy). He brings a reasonable amount to the table, would require middling dollars, and is of an appropriate age to stick around if things work out. I am on the fence regarding whether or not I would want him as an Oiler but would not be upset to see a reunion if the dollars looked fair. Of course, this discussion is probably entirely moot based on the circumstances of his departure those years ago.


Mathieu Schneider:



Providing Mathieu Schneider’s wrist heals properly he would be an excellent pickup for any team looking to bolster its powerplay. He’s put up offensive numbers very consistently over the years and at age 37 does not appear to be slowing down immediately (“soon” felt like too optimistic of a word). I cannot imagine him wanting to leave Detroit but seeing as he is a UFA this summer his name is at least worth talking about.

Schneider played top-4 ES minutes and top-2 PP minutes but really didn’t kill a whole lot of penalties compared to the other Red Wing defensemen. To me, if you’re going to overpay (and Edmonton would have to) for a veteran in the twilight of his career, you’re probably going to want more than just powerplay production from him. For all of the reasons I’ve given I can’t see Schneider in an Oiler uniform but his name is still technically in play among the UFA crop this summer.


Brian Rafalski:


Brian Rafalski’s 4.64 PPP/hr didn’t put him in the top 10 but as a UFA with the skills Edmonton is probably looking for I should definitely talk about him (especially since I don’t feel like learning about Stephane Robidas and Nathan Paetsch, who ranked 9 and 10 by my standards). Rafalski was New Jersey’s main horse this past season, leading the defense in ES and PP minutes played, and put up very good offensive numbers in both contexts. As a UFA on a team that has had cap issue before he should be considered to be in play regardless of Lou’s apparent talent for cap management but strictly by my personal opinion, if NJ keeps one of Gomez and Rafalski it will definitely be the latter as his skills are less easily duplicated throughout the Devil roster.

Despite Rafalski’s skills, there are several reasons not to expect to see him in an Oiler uniform this fall. Beyond the sheer volume of ES minutes Rafalski played, New Jersey also has absolutely nothing beyond him in terms of offense from the blueline (Paul Martin’s ES rate is good but his PP rate is non-existent). His +4 also led the Devils’ defense. Finally, I’m not sure what Rafalski’s SH skills are like but he played the 5th most minutes among Devils’ D and he may not bring the total package that your average Oiler fan will surely expect based on the salary he is bound to be offered this summer.


Kimmo Timonen:



The last player I will talk about is very similar to Brian Rafalski in that his PP numbers are very good but not stellar, he provides very good ES offense, and his talents are so poorly replicated on his current roster that I can’t see him being available despite his UFA status. Kimmo Timonen is not the powerplay juggernaut he is made out to be but he and Shea Weber are two very good point men on an otherwise weak (from an offensive standpoint) defensive corps in Nashville. For all of Marek Zidlicky’s hype and ES production he still put up just a paltry 1.74 PPP/hr in 2006/2007 and cannot be considered a suitable replacement.

Among Predators d-men, Timonen ranked 5th in ES minutes, 4th in SH minutes, and 1st in PP minutes played. As a very good offensive player in a relatively sheltered defensive role, there should be no surprise that he carried a team-leading +20 and this number should be taken with a grain of salt. Considering the hype surrounding Timonen this off-season I was actually quite surprised to see so many options ahead of him at ES but his powerplay skills are unmatched outside of Weber so I cannot see Nashville letting him go unless someone offers him crazy $. As much as he could help the Oilers I don’t see them being that team.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

It's Summer 2006. Would you trade...

Jaroslav Spacek, signed at ~$3.0 M, for Daniel Tjarnqvist, signed at $1.5 M?

Shaggy would go on to be the only Oiler defenseman with a plus rating (his injury obviously helped him as he avoided the suckfest that was Edmonton's last 20 games). He would also post ESP/60 and PPP/60 rates of 0.83 and 2.97 respectively. His 2.97 PPP/hr made him the only Oiler D with a rate above 1 in this regard. Kind of pathetic, no?

Spacek would go on to play the 5th most ES minutes for Buffalo and finish with a very attractive +20 in that time. His ESP/60 and PPP/60 are just slightly behind Shaggy's at 0.78 and 2.81 respectively.

Keep in mind that you can't predict injuries. Especially to pubic regions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

By Way of Example

Sometime in my history as a hockey fan I latched on to the idea that among other things, you need two elite centers to win the Stanley Cup. Whether that's actually true or not has never really mattered to me - there are so many ready examples such as Sakic/Forsberg, Yzerman/Fedorov, and Horcoff/Peca (wtf, we didn't win last year? That Roloson guy was unbeatable!) that I have just taken it as a myth I don't care to challenge.

As such, I have watched with great fascination as the Detroit Red Wings have seamlessly gone from a contender on the backs of Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov (with help from Lidstrom, insane depth, and goaltending) to a contender on the backs of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (same help with a little less depth). Between their first 90's Cup and today Fedorov has signed elsewhere, Yzerman broke into several pieces, and both players obviously declined but at no time did Detroit ever fail to look like a team that could compete for a championship.

Somewhere along the line these two kids emerged, drafted in the 19th round, developed faster than *insert creepy joke here*, and became top flight NHL forwards. How did Detroit do it? The following gargantuan post includes a brief look at the career of each, a look at some of the timing elements involved, and the eventual obvious conclusion that the Oilers made a terrible mistake keeping Schremp in the AHL this season. For its length, however, it's not as thorough as I had hoped so wherever the blanks can be filled by those more knowledgeable than myself, I would greatly appreciate it. Here goes:

Pavel Datsyuk: (on left)
Drafted at age 19 years, 11 months in June 1998.

Henrik Zetterberg:
Drafted at age 18 years, 8 months in June of 1999.

2001/02:

Pavel Datsyuk’s first NHL season (age 23)



Datsyuk played in the Russian Elite League until then without putting up dominant numbers. One would have to assume he had a great camp.

I don’t have time on ice handy for this season but with all of Shanahan, Federov, Hull, Robitaille, Yzerman, and Larionov still at high levels on that Red Wing team one can safely assume Datsyuk was not playing a top 6 role. This would make his 0.5 pts/game very impressive and especially so considering his passing through two drafts and his previously unspectacular point production in Russia.

Edit: Datsyuk played on a line with Brett Hull and Boyd Deveraux that season, according to Wikipedia. I imagine this was a soft minutes line but am curious as to why Hull was kept outside the top 6.

2002/03:

Pavel Datsyuk’s second NHL season (age 24)



Henrik Zetterberg’s first NHL season (age 22)



Zetterberg played in the Swedish Elite League until then, with tremendous development grossly outpacing the expectations put upon a 7th round draft pick.

Red Wing Forwards in 2002-03, sorted by ATOI:
Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Kris Draper, Henrik Zetterberg, Kirk Maltby, Steve Yzerman*, Pavel Datsyuk, Igor Larionov, Darren McCarty, Luc Robitaille, Tomas Holmstrom, Boyd Deveraux.
*Yzerman missed most of the season with injuries.

http://espn.go.com/nhl/s/rookie2003/march.html is an article that states Datsyuk (C) and Zetterberg (LW) played together on a line with Brett Hull. Based on their offensive production, ATOI, and common sense, this is a line that had the offensive skills and savvy to soundly thrash lesser opposition. This was an excellent rookie season for Zetterberg and a solid sophomore effort for Datsyuk.

"I know that I'm in a great situation and I want to stay there," says Hull. "I look at Hank (Zetterberg), and I see a first-year guy that has the skill, the composure, the savvy of the game."

2003/04:

This is where things get interesting. Sergei Federov left Detroit for a big payday from the Ducks heading into the 03/04 season. This left a monstrous hole in the forward corps and allowed Datsyuk and Zetterberg the opportunity to establish themselves as top six forwards. Note Datsyuk’s significant drop in +/-.

Pavel Datsyuk’s third NHL season (age 25)



Datsyuk played the majority of this season and posted impressive offensive totals. His +/- suffered, likely to his increased role in terms of match-ups and it is odd that there is such a discrepancy between his rank in that stat and Zetterberg’s. Despite all accounts saying that they played together they may have spent some time apart but it would be especially interesting if Datsyuk’s +/- fell when Zetterberg went down with injury.

Henrik Zetterberg’s second NHL season (age 23)



Zetterberg missed playing time due to a broken right leg but saw his points per game and his plus rating rise. This is where the first quotes about him being a solid two-way player begin to emerge.

Red Wing Forwards in 2003-04, sorted by ATOI:
Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Brendan Shanahan, Kris Draper, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Ray Whitney, Robert Lang*, Kirk Maltby, Steve Thomas, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren McCarty, Mark Mowers
*Lang played just 6 games for Detroit

Federov’s departure was the single most significant roster change for 03-04. The presence of Draper/Maltby should mean that neither young star had to do too much defensively but I can’t say whether Zetterberg’s line with Datsyuk or Yzerman’s line, presumably with Shanahan, received the tougher checking. I would lean towards the vets carrying the heavier load but both kids’ offensive production is still quite impressive.

Interestingly enough, despite the emergence of Datsyuk and Zetterberg as top 6 players Detroit still felt the need to bolster their forward corps at the trade deadline by acquiring Robert Lang. One would think they were looking for a little bit more of a responsible veteran presence as well as the increase in offensive depth heading into the playoffs. This makes a lot of sense and is also worth noting. It seems like at every possible juncture the kids were allowed to excel in smaller roles before moving onto increased responsibility, right from their early 20’s entry into the league to their sheltered role with Hull as a veteran presence to their protection behind the veterans Yzerman and Lang even after establishing themselves as legitimate top-6 forwards.

2005/06:

Pavel Datsyuk’s fourth NHL season (age 27)



Datsyuk began his life in the new NHL by pushing past a point per game for the first time. His +/- also soared despite his increased role so one would have to believe his line was either half decent in their own end or simply that good offensively. By age 27 of course Pavel was no longer a kid and these results would be expected of an elite offensive center at that stage of his career.

Henrik Zetterberg’s third NHL season (age 25)



Zetterberg’s first dominant season in the NHL, averaging better than a point per game and maintaining a strong + rating. Despite the excellent seasons of both players, we all know what happened to them in the playoffs.

Red Wing Forwards in 2005-06, sorted by ATOI:
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Brendan Shanahan, Robert Lang, Jason Williams, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Mikael Samuelsson, Steve Yzerman, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary, Mark Mowers.

At this point you have to assume that Pavel and Henrik were getting the toughest possible defense to play against. With a banged up Steve Yzerman and the departure of Brett Hull, Zetterberg remained with Datsyuk and Shanahan as one of just three scary forwards to play against as opposed to the bevy Detroit was once able to boast.

At this point all of the anecdotes point to Babcock having more trust in Zetterberg’s two-way abilities and Datsyuk being more of a soft minute player. Can anyone speak to this? There are also a lot of anecdotes that say they were still playing together and as they have similar ATOI, points, and +/- I cannot be sure without more evidence.

2006/07:

Pavel Datsyuk’s fifth NHL season (age 28)



A repeat performance of the previous season. It is now safe to say that you can expect Pavel Datsyuk to give you better than a point per game and end up on the positive side of the ledger.

Henrik Zetterberg’s fourth NHL season (age 26)



Clearly emerging as an NHL star who can produce against top opposition, Zetterberg has become known as the more rounded player of Detroit’s two young stars.

I really could not think of a better development curve for either player. Entering the NHL at 23 and 22 respectively, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were both given the opportunity to mature in professional leagues before their rookie seasons in the NHL. One would think that Detroit’s outstanding forward depth made it easier for them to handle their prospects this way but then both of them swam instead of sank when Federov signed elsewhere and they were moved into the top six. Even after all of this, Detroit still brought in the veteran Lang to bolster their forward corps heading into the ’04 playoffs and take some of the weight off of their two emerging young stars. It is simply incredible to me as an Oiler fan to watch two excellent young players develop so well with so little in the way of stalling, to establish themselves as successful in baby steps on their way up instead of being pushed before they were ready, to be given all of the right opportunities at all of the right times. I think our fan base could learn a lot from this example when it comes to our treatment/expectations for Edmonton’s own young talent.

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How do you assess Wayne Gretzky as a coach?

That's the loaded question that writer John Sanful asked Barry Smith during an interview last week. Of course Smith was the odd man in the Phoenix Coyote hockey operations because he wasn't a friend of Gretzky (or FOG, as Mike Toth would say).

  • IHWC.NET: Can you talk about your time with the Coyotes and how do you assess Wayne Gretzky as a coach?
  • Smith: First of all, as a human being, he's a tremendous person who gives back to everybody. He has no agenda for himself. I found that side of his generosity amazing. As a coach, he is learning as he goes. He understood that he did not have all the answers, so he relied on Rick Tocchet and myself the first year. The second year he did a lot more coaching himself, which is good, because he has to get in situations to understand what it is all about, and he is willing to do that. That's so difficult because everyone demands time from him. I am hoping things go well for him this coming season and he gets the team where he wants them to go.

So for those of us that pondered the disconnect between the bench coach and and management in Phoenix, this makes sense. Gretzky does not have multiple personalities, he just wasn't running the bench.

I've always suspected that Wayne brought in Barry Smith at the recommendation of Scotty Bowman. He was an associate coach for Scotty for years in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Smith actually went to Pittsburgh before Bowman did, he worked with Bob Johnson when they won their first Stanley Cup. Anyhow, according to this fascinating information from an entry on Duhatschek's blog, it appears that St. Petersburg pursued Barry Smith at Igor Larionov's recommendation. In hockey and soccer, it always surprises me how much influence is wielded by retired stars. Though Larionov is probably one guy whose opinion carries a lot of value.

Back to point, the Phoenix franchise is seven kinds of screwed now. With their failure to grow revenues at a rate 1.05 times the league average, the equalization payments from the league will drop. They have spent a lot of coin on players that don't really help you win, and the one decision that can save everyone in hockey management (get a good goalie) looks to be a bad bet from where I'm sitting. It's a downward spiral, it really is. Now I have a gut feeling that Wayne will hire Ray Ferraro as an assistant coach. Portland Coyotes? Kansas City Coyotes? I hope not, because I hate it when teams don't change their nicknames after switching cities.