Thursday, October 01, 2009


Opening Night

A handful of thoughts and predictions on the cusp of the 2009/10 season:

**The Canucks might well win the NW Division again, but I'm not at all clear on why they're supposed to be better than last year (apart from Luongo starting 70+ games instead of 54). They traded in Ohlund for Ehrhoff on D, which certainly doesn't constitute a clear upgrade; they still don't have any "value contracts" on the back end.

Up front, they still have the Sedins and Kesler kicking ass, but they don't appear to be better. Demitra's hurt. Samuelsson is not that good. It's the same bunch of bleh in terms of depth.

**In fact, I think the Flames probably will win the NW. Losing Cammalleri's 39 goals (19 PP) isn't "good", but replacing those goals on the #21 PP seems a lot more doable than had it been the #1 PP.

I'm with the crowd that saw Jarome Iginla have a worse year in 08/09 than his stats would indicate, but I'm not (quite) yet worried about a steep decline from #12. I'm also with the crowd that thinks there's nowhere to go but up for Phaneuf this season. Also, you may have heard, they added the #1 UFA on the market.

I don't have much faith that Kipper will bounce back, or even stop getting worse, but the good news is that further decline can only cost the team so much. There's a certain point past which his contract and past accomplishments won't matter, and the org will try something different. Maybe McE plays well in relief and takes more and more of the workload; maybe they trade for Martin Biron or the like; who knows. At any rate, my current stance is that -- whatever the mechanism -- the Flames goaltending is quite unlikely to be worse than last year, and it could easily be better.

**The thing with the Oilers is, there's just very little basis on which to predict improvement. For every youngish guy pegged to improve, there's an oldish guy who might well get worse. While it's one thing to think Khabibulin is a better goalie than Roloson (maybe he is), it's quite another to think that Khabibulin 09/10 can outperform Roloson 08/09.

And while Quinn/Renney are clearly sound NHL coaches, there's just little or no evidence that they're going to do things much differently than Mac-T, certainly in the area of "encouraging offense and creativity". I heard Ryan Rishaug on TEAM 1260 on Monday, trying to explain how he thought Quinn's handling of the youngsters/skill players was an improvement. It made absolutely no sense, and with Jason Gregor's prodding, he ended up taking back the whole thing item by item.

**I think Chicago will be clearly better than Detroit, the rest of the Central, and the rest of the conference save for maybe San Jose (I'm not quite sure what to think about the Sharks yet). The goaltending concerns there are way overblown -- Huet's pretty good -- and among skaters, almost every one should be expected to improve to some degree. And they were a bloody good team last year. My pick for the President's Trophy.

**My breakout pick is the Kings. They added a great player in Smytty, and I think Kopitar will bust out -- the percentages weren't kind to him last year. Also, both my fantasy teams are way too dependent on this pick.

**I can't think of a single thing, off the top of my head, that interests me about the Eastern Conference. See you in June, fellas.

**Did you know:
A loss tonight for the Flames would mark their seventh consecutive loss in season openers – tying the mark for the longest losing streak in season openers with the 1972-78 Minnesota NorthStars and the 1993-1999 Anaheim Ducks.

Last season, the Flames opened their season with a 6-0 loss to the Canucks at GM Place.

I hate to go out on a limb, but I'm pretty positive that tonight the Flames will improve upon last season's Opening Night performance (vs Canucks, 8PM MT, CBC). Let's say Calgary 3 (Moss, Iginla, Giordano) Vancouver 2 (DSedin x2). Go Flames.


re: Canucks

I agree completely. I have no idea why people are so high on them. I expect Calgary to be a better team.

re: Oilers coaching

I don't know exactly how much coaches can affect what happens on the ice, and I don't know what you mean by "encouraging offense and creativity", but the Rags had dominant territorial numbers under Renney.

re: Hawks

I think they'll be very, very good. I'm not sure I'm ready to say they'll be CLEARLY better than Detroit. (i.e. - in a different class)

re: Kings


re: East

what? you don't find it interesting that everyone is predicting the Bruins to be world beaters this season despite the fact that they ran hotter than the sun in the first half of last season, had a mediocre second half, and traded their best player?

I'll step out on a limb and say that I expect the Bruins to not even win their division, further, I would not be shocked if the Leafs are way better than people are predicting. They had strong territorial numbers last season, particularly down the stretch, suffered from a retarded low SV%, plus added Kessel. IMO they were a great bet at 60-to-1 to win the cup (which is what I bought them at), and a ridiculously good bet at 12-to-1 to win their division.

I also can't say I understand the Flyers bandwagon. I like both the Pens and Devils better than them in their own division. Perhaps the Rags too, though I can't really make any predictions on them seeing as I HAVE NO IDEA WTF THEY"LL BE LIKE THIS SEASON because they basically replaced their entire team (including coach).

They traded in Ohlund for Ehrhoff on D, which certainly doesn't constitute a clear upgrade; they still don't have any "value contracts" on the back end.

Looking at last year's behindthenet figures only, it's true that Ohlund and Ehrhoff are about the same scoring at 5v5. On 5v4, Ehrhoff was a whopping 6.87/60, while Ohlund a mid-range 2.51/60. "Rel Corsi", Ehrhoff was -0.6 (third on regular SJ d-men), while Ohlund -9.4 (worse among regular Canucks d-men, even worse by quite a bit than the mistake-prone Shane O'Brien). I know that I'd have to look up several years to show a trend, but it does seem that Canucks fans' sense that Ohlund had really lost a step is born out (lots of injuries over last few years). I'd say Ehrhoff is probably an upgrade in scoring, probably won't hit as much. He's also 27, while Ohlund is 33. Should help the 18th ranked PP.

No value contracts at the back? Maybe Edler or Schneider will surprise. In any case, it's a solid back end with no contract more than about 3.5.

It's the same bunch of bleh in terms of depth.

I agree that Van's offence hasn't changed much, and that Samuelsson is nothing to get excited about, looking at last year's behindthenet numbers. But did you know that the lowly Burrows ended up scoring 28 last year, and plays tough minutes & PK, and will start the season with the Sedins? And did you know they added the highest scorer from CSKA, 23 year old Shirokov? A couple of the other younger players (Bernier, Raymond, Hansen) might still take steps. Not saying it will happen, but there's room for improvement.

Sunny, re: coaching... my general take is that most good (or even non-incompetent) NHL coaches have very similar ideas about the best way to play hockey, run a bench, etc. (the reason being is -- again, for the most part -- they're correct, and that's how they got to where they are). I think Quinney and MacT are both quality, so you're just not likely to see night & day changes.

On the East, I just meant that I don't care, not that there's nothing objectively interesting going on over there...

Re: the Canucks, I don't think there's any way in hell that Burrows is *better* this season. How much better can the Sedins get? And I mean that in the nicest possible way; they're fantastic.

Every team in the league can tell the same story, past that... "If a few of our younger 3rd/4th liners take a leap... we have an intriguing rookie..." -- Yawn. May well be true, but at this point it really doesn't set you apart.

but at this point it really doesn't set you apart.

No argument there. But isn't what Detroit/SJ is (or was) at some level simply that several 2/3/4th liners took another small step together, or organizational strength? I really like the new sets of stats that various bloggers have rolled out and explained to us unwashed masses. But, say, evaluating Calgary's blueline per dollar vs that of the Canucks, or parallels with other teams, is still a challenge. The stats show individual strengths well, but how to evaluate organizational strength is less convincing. My own sense is that this is due to the bias of the bloggers rather than of the stats.

Actually, the concern for the Canucks should be how well Luongo will be after his first serious injury last season. (If I knew how to do it, I'd look at his sv % before and after.) Wasn't that how Kipper started to decline in save percentage?


Ohlund was firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of quality of competition. (min 45 gp)

Mitchell - 0.058
Salo - 0.055
Bieksa - 0.032
Ohlund - 0.010
Vaananen - -0.013
Edler - -0.014
O'Brien - -0.018

Ehrhoff on the other hand was completely sheltered.

Vlasic - 0.024
Blake - 0.004
Semenov - -0.004
Boyle - -0.022
Ehrhoff - -0.040
Murray - -0.045

This certainly had an impact on their respective corsi and even strength scoring rates. The fact that they had similar ES production favours Ohlund.

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