How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers

Continuing with my theme of fixing broken teams, my next challenge I’ve decided to tackle is the Edmonton Oilers. The team that’s been broken for ages. The last time the Oilers made the playoffs was before Connor McDavid’s 10th birthday and now he’s the best player on the team.

Some rules of this series I’m operating under: All the trades and signings are purely speculation, but I try my best to make them as realistic as possible. When signing free agents who in real life have signed with other teams by this point, by default I take on whatever contract they ended up signing with their actual team. I don’t know these players personally so I can’t say which ones would or wouldn’t want to sign in Edmonton for real. For the purposes of this exercise I’m assuming all players would be willing to sign with the Oilers for market value.

 

Just like last time, I’m hopping in my time machine and going to the start of the off-season, where I take over for Peter Chiarelli who was fired for asking if he could trade Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. When I take over my roster looks like this:

 

Taylor Hall

Connor McDavid Jordan Eberle

Benoit Pouliot

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Nail Yakupov

Patrick Maroon

Leon Draisaitl

Zack Kassian

Matt Hendricks Mark Letestu

Liro Pakarinen

Anton Lander

 

Oscar Klefbom

Mark Fayne

Andrej Sekera

Andrew Ference
Brandon Davidson

Darnell Nurse

 

Cam Talbot

Laurent Brossoit

 

Without further ado let’s jump into step one.

 

Step One: Get Rid of Dead Weight

 

It seems as though Andrew Ference’s career might be over due to injury. Losing Ference as a player isn’t bad for Oilers, in fact it’s quite good. It does however present some cap complications. If he is in fact too injured to play this season, the Oilers could place him on long term injury reserve, and they will be allowed to go over the cap by the amount of his cap hit, which in this case is $3,250,000. However, if the Oilers go this route, that means any performance bonuses will count as overages. In other words, if Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Darnell Nurse light the lamp next year, all their bonuses will count against the cap next season which could cost them as much as $6,175,000. This is a very undesirable situation, and would be nice to avoid. Because of this it doesn’t make sense to place Ference on LTIR simply to clear $3.25M. This leaves the Oilers will the option of keeping him for the final year of his contract and having him count against the cap, or trading him, likely with some sort of pick or prospect for some team to take his contract, or burying him in the minors assuming he agrees to waive his no movement clause. I’m going to do all I can to stay $3.25M below the cap so I don’t have to give up any assets to get him off the books. This means I’ll essentially be working with a cap of $69,750,000.

 

There’s really isn’t any dead weight which can be easily cleared without sacrificing assets, or buying players out. I don’t want to do either, but I will likely end up burying Mark Letestu and or Matt Hendricks which gives me an extra $950,000- $1,900,000 to work with if necessary. Since teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap by 10% during the offseason, this is money I can use.

 

Heading into free agency I have $12,855,084 in cap space to spend, and the extra $950,000- $1,900,000 on top of that if I need to use it. That’s certainly enough to add some key players and plug some holes.

 

Step Two: Identify Areas of Need

 

My main priority this offseason is shoring up this defense. I’d like to add enough defensemen so that both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart can start the year in the AHL. Also, as it currently stands the only right handed defenseman on the roster is Mark Fayne. This isn’t necessarily a huge deal, but it would be preferable to get some more righties on the team.

 

Going into next season, I’d like to be able to roll three threatening lines. One centred around Connor McDavid, one featuring Hall and Leon Draisaitl, and a third with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Spreading out these talented players allows us to get more from all the players individually. Also it would allow me to limit the ice time of this fourth line which likely won’t be great. I’m fine keeping McDavid with Pouliot and Yakupov, where they found success last season, but adding a right winger to the second line would mean I don’t have to play Zack Kassian in the top six which is obviously preferable.

 

I’d like to redo the fourth line, but I want to keep the cost as low as possible. If I can find good players coming at or under the amount that I’ll save by burying current fourth liners ($950,000 each) then I could improve the depth of the forwards without racking up huge cap hits.

 

Last but not least I’d like to add a competent backup goalie who can ideally take some games from Cam Talbot who isn’t the strongest of netminders. As always, the cheaper the better.

 

In summary I want: 1 top six right winger, 3 cheap fourth liners, 2-3 defensemen and 1 backup goalie. I probably won’t be able to accomplish all this with my cap restraints. Some financial footwork might become necessary. Also I need to remember that McDavid, Draisaitl, Puljujarvi and others will need contracts in the next few years so I can’t rack up huge dollars for long-term. I need to spend responsibly.

 

Step Three: July 1st

 

My first addition is signing Jason Demers ($4.5M x 5 years). Demers is capable of playing on our first pair, and he is right handed. Klefbom and Demers up front gives us a legitimate top pairing which can play in any situation. Demers is better than Adam Larsson by the way.

 

Next up is David Schlemko ($2.1M x 4 years). Schlemko brings a tremendous ability to drive possession, a skill the Oilers desperately need from the blueline, and does it for cheap. He is a lefty but can play on any one of our three pairings without looking out of place. He’s probably best suited to a second or third pair role though.

 

The final addition I’ll make to this blue line is adding righty David Rundblad for $750,000 on a one year deal. He is an analytics darling who has never been given a fair shot. This one year deal allows him to prove if he’s the real deal and very low cost to the team. It’s a win-win. If he doesn’t work out he can be buried or fill in as seventh defenseman.

 

Next for my forwards I’m bringing back Teddy Purcell for $1,600,000 to play on my second line with Hall and Draisaitl. He drives play nicely while chipping in a decent amount of offense. Playing with two dynamic offensive players will likely boost his point totals and increase his trade value. He’ll probably also be getting first line minutes on this line, similar to Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. I’m going to run two first lines.

 

Kris Versteeg, who was brought in on a PTO in real life, will make a great addition to our forward group. He’ll take Hendricks roster spot but will probably end up playing on the Nuge/Eberle line. He comes cheap off of a PTO, so I’ll give him $1,000,000 for one year. Almost all of that money will come from burying Hendricks and both contracts come off the books after this season.

 

Brad Boyes is a nice depth forward who will make our fourth line look instantly better. I’d rather have him than Zack Kassian, so Kassian will make his way to Bakersfield to make room for Boyes.

 

The last piece to my new and improved fourth line comes in the form of Jonathan Marchessault. This undersized forward is really underrated and is a cheap depth forward. Two years at $750,000 is a steal for a player this good. He pushes Anton Lander out of the lineup, but I’ll keep Lander with the big club because he’s cheap and versatile (can play all three forward positions) so he’ll be useful to replace injured players.

 

My last move is signing goalie Jhonas Enroth to a one year deal worth $750,000. He’s undersized but skilled and has played 40 games in a season before. I can see him playing 30-35 games in a relief role behind Cam Talbot.

 

As it turns out I filled all my needs with $7,806,750 left in cap space after burying unwanted players. That’s even with Ference remaining on the roster and Mark Fayne in the press box as our seventh defenseman.

 

Summer isn’t over yet though. I’m going to extend Leon Draisaitl for eight years at $4.75M. Because he only has one successful season he has very little bargaining power, but his underlying numbers were good, as were his point totals. I’m not concerned about Draisaitl long-term as he’s probably already better than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

 

End Result:

 

After all my moves, my roster will look something like this heading into next season.

 

Benoit Pouliot

Connor McDavid Nail Yakupov

Taylor Hall

Leon Draisaitl Teddy Purcell

Kris Versteeg

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Patrick Maroon Jonathan Marchessault

Brad Boyes

 

Oscar Klefbom

Jason Demers

Andrej Sekera

David Schlemko
Brandon Davidson

David Rundblad

Andrew Ference (Injured)

Mark Fayne (spare)

 

Cam Talbot

Jhonas Enroth

 

I like this lineup because it spreads out the talent of our high end players while still giving them useful linemates who won’t hold them down. Throughout the lineup we have players who drive possession, so even out fourth line won’t get flattened when thrown out. We have four lines we can trust to help us shoot more than the other team which gives us a solid chance in any game. We accomplished this with $7,806,750 in cap space which will cover any potential performance bonuses and still leaves us with some roster flexibilty for trade deadline moves or bringing up AHL players. We didn’t sign any players long-term to contracts we’ll regret, so there will be money to sign Connor McDavid and other when the time comes. Leon Draisaitl is locked up long term at a reasonable rate and can play with Taylor Hall for the better part of the next decade.

 

What do you think? Better than Chiarelli? In my opinion, the fact that I still have Taylor Hall on my team proves I’m a better GM than he.

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How To Fix The Canucks

 

It is a secret to nobody that the Vancouver Canucks are in a little bit of a pickle. They have a General Manager who thinks they are a playoff team and consistently trades away young players and picks for older players who, well aren’t very good. They’ve got years worth of contracts tied up in sub-NHL level players and a prospect group, which not that long ago looked as if it were one of the better groups in the league, now looks much less promising.

 

Not all of this is Jim Benning’s fault. The second he was hired he was put in an awkward position. The Sedin’s are still really good. They also still make a lot of money. This is not bad for the Canucks, but it certainly puts them in an uncomfortable position. They can’t trade Daniel and Henrik because no team in a position to make such a trade would be able to take on the combined $14,000,000 cap hits. Also the twins both have full no movement clauses, so even if a trade were possible, they would have final say in whether or not they’d want to go.

 

At the end of the day, the Sedin’s are Canucks and it will stay that way most likely until their current contracts expire (summer of 2018) at least. This left Canucks management with two options. Waste the last few productive years of the best players in the history of the team, and start a rebuild, or try and cobble together whatever pieces they could and make a run for the playoffs every year.

 

For that reason I don’t fault Benning for his efforts to make the playoffs (though I do fault him greatly for his methods of attempting to do so). Because of the Sedins and subsequent binding contracts Benning signed in order to achieve his goal, the only option the Canucks have is to at least be as good as possible. For the purposes of this exercise I am hopping in my time machine and going back to the start of the summer and filling in for the Jim Benning who was rightfully fired in this hypothetical timeline.

 

At this point in time the roster I am stuck with looks like this:

 

Daniel Sedin

Henrik Sedin Alexandre Burrows

Chris Higgins

Brandon Sutter Derek Dorsett

Sven Baertschi

Bo Horvat

Jannik Hansen

Emerson Etem Markus Granlund

Jake Virtanen

Jared McCann

 

Alexander Edler

Chris Tanev

Luca Sbisa

Nikita Tryamkin
Ben Hutton

Alex Biega

 

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

 

With this roster I have $11,906,249 in cap space to work with. That is a good amount of space, of which much will have to be wasted in clearing out some of the bad players and contracts.

 

Step One: Get Rid of Dead Weight

 

My first day on the job, I buy out Luca Sbisa straight away. Luca isn’t an NHL caliber player and makes the Canucks a far worse team. This buyout will cost the Canucks $1,517,667 the first two seasons, but opens up some cap space. We have Philip Larsen to replace his roster spot, and I think he deserves a shot in training camp to earn a spot on the starting squad.

 

I assume there would be a team who would take on Brandon Sutter. This is purely speculation, as with all the trades and signings to come in this piece, but I will try my best to make things as realistic is possible. The Bruins were a team this offseason who were aggressive in their pursuit of centre’s, including signing David Backes for $6,000,000. Sutter seems like the type of player the Bruins would appreciate, and they trade for him in exchange for Colin Miller and a second round pick.

 

In this reality I don’t buy out Chris Higgins, opting to keep him for the remaining year of his contract. He is still capable of playing a depth role and we can afford to absorb his $2,500,000 cap hit in order to get it off the books a year earlier.

 

Unfortunately this is all the trimming which I can somewhat realistically do. This exercise is being performed under the assumption the team is being pressure by ownership to make the playoffs, so I need to add some players through free agency or trade who can help us achieve that goal.

 

Step Two: Identify Areas Of Need

Presently this team is in need of a number two centre, as Brandon Sutter was traded and Bo Horvat probably isn’t ready yet. I don’t want a player I’ll need to commit to long-term because Horvat and McCann are both in the system and won’t be far away from taking on larger roles.

 

Left-wing is another weak point, as outside of Daniel Sedin, our left-wingers are Baertschi, Higgins and Etem, and that simply won’t cut it. I’m okay going longer term on this player because there’s no significant young players to step in and take this role anytime soon.

 

Last but not least I need to beef up this D-Core. Outside of our top pair of Edler and Tanev, there isn’t a lot to inspire confidence. Colin Miller looked good in Boston last year so I’ll start him on the second pair. This means ideally I’d like to add another top four defenseman and maybe someone to play on the third pair as well.

 

These are the most important areas to improve and I can do so using my $16,414,582 in cap space. Things are already looking up.

 

Step Three: Add Some Free Agents

 

It’s now July 1st and I have a pocket full of cash to spend. First thing’s first, I want to add my second line centre. My chosen player is Eric Staal. He’s not the same player offensively as he used be, but he’s very versatile, he’s a great two-way player and he signed a fairly cheap, short term contract with the Wild. I’ve signed him to an identical contract ($3.5M x 3 years), which has a low enough cap hit that I needn’t worry about having him on my third line should Horvat pass him in the next three years.

 

Next up I sign Jason Demers to the same five year contract he signed with the Panthers. He can play on our second or first pair depending on injuries and is a massive upgrade to any in-house replacements. At $4,500,000 he comes at a pretty reasonable price and I didn’t even need to give up Taylor Hall to get him!

 

A top six left winger will be hard to come by in this year’s free agency crop, so I decide to sign someone to a short term contract instead of tying my hands to a long-term deal that’ll end up looking bad down the road. David Perron suits our needs just fine for these purposes. He’ll fit in nicely on the second line with Eric Staal, and comes at a reasonable cap hit, $3,750,000 for two years. We can re-evaluate our need at left-wing two years down the road when Perron is off the books, and in the meantime we don’t need to worry about looking like idiots for signing a player way over market value well into their 30’s.

I now have $6,339,582 left in cap space and have filled all of my key weak points and sent some unneeded players to the AHL to get a more accurate reflection of what my cap will be. With my extra spending money, I’d like to shore up the D a bit and maybe add a depth forward if there’s any money left.

 

I sign David Rundblad to a two year contract at one million per year. Rundblad could just be a diamond in the rough and is well worth the risk. Worst case scenario we have a solid 3rd pair guy who contributes some offense.

 

In other moves, I brought in Kris Versteeg on a one year contract worth $1,500,000 to bring some much needed depth on the wing and signed Teddy Purcell to the same contract he signed with the Kings (one year, $1.6M). If we make the playoffs these guys will help tremendously and add some much needed offense. If not, they have very tradable contracts and can be swapped for picks/prospects at the deadline. Very low-risk contracts.

 

Step Four: Roster Moves

 

I don’t have too many trades to make in this world. I don’t have any need for Emerson Etem anymore, so I’ll trade him away for a 3rd round pick to the Devils who always could use forwards. I’ll also trade Markus Granlund for a third round pick to the Ducks who could use some cheap depth at centre until Nate Thompson returns.

 

Both Higgins and Dorsett will end up starting the year in the AHL which will not only free up roster spots for better players, but will give us some additional cap savings as well. Other notables who will be starting the year in Utica include Nikita Tryamkin who was clearly not ready for the NHL game, Alex Biega who is morbidly meh, and Jordan Subban who was not made the leap yet.

 

End Result:

 

After all these moves I can’t help but feel as though this version of the Canucks is much better. Here’s what my final roster looks like:

 

Daniel Sedin

Henrik Sedin Jannik Hansen

Kris Versteeg

Eric Staal David Perron
Teddy Purcell Bo Horvat

Jake Virtanen

Sven Baertschi Jared McCann

Alexandre Burrows

 

Alexander Edler

Chris Tanev

Colin Miller

Jason Demers

Ben Hutton

David Rundblad

Philip Larsen

 

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

 

Philip Larsen and Ben Hutton will likely rotate in and out of the lineup. So, is this a playoff team? I doubt it, but they are certainly a way better team than Jim Benning scrapped together. We also have $5,814,582 in cap space which we can use as a trade asset in order to do deals like the Bolland/Crouse trade between the Panthers and the Coyotes. Most importantly all of the additions I made were signed at or below $4.5M, there’s no contracts that stick out as potentially being burdens in the future. Whether or not you agree with the team I assembled, there’s one thing we can all agree on: pretty much anybody could have done better than Jim Benning.

Sean Couturier and His Secretly Elite Season

 

At first blush, Sean Couturier might not seem like anything special. He’s never hit 40 points in an NHL season and his career high for goals is 15. This seems underwhelming for a former 8th overall pick, ahead of players like Dougie Hamilton, Oscar Klefbom and J.T Miller. But what if I told you that Couturier was the best player on the Philadelphia Flyers already?

 

When you think of the Flyers best players, names like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds surely come to mind. These are all really good players of course, but last season, Sean Couturier was better than all of them. This is not a statement I make lightly. Let me explain.

 

When most fans think Couturier, surely they think of a player who is strong defensively, if a little weak offensively. It’s true that Couturier is strong defensively. Very strong. Only two players did a better job at reducing quality shots against last season, Vernon Fiddler and Nick Shore. The ‘catch’ for Vernon Fiddler is that he does so while suffocating offensive results. He hinders almost as many goals for his team as he does their opponent. Nick Shore is rather inconsequential offensively and is actually a pretty underrated analytics gem. What makes Couturier stand out among these fourth liners is that he does it playing first line minutes and driving offensive play as well.

 

To demonstrate just how great Couturier was last season, I’ve assembled this little exercise. Of the 4 players below, I want you to make a mental note of which you think is the best player.

 

Player:

Relative xGF%: Relative SCF%: Primary Points/60:

Player A

+1.91% +2.82% 1.23

Player B

+10.59% +11.61%

1.28

Player C

+12.47%

+17.52%

1.57

Player D +0.80% -1.47%

1.55

 

I’m sure from context you can guess that the player leading in all three of these categories is Sean Couturier (Player C). The other players? Player A is Jonathan Toews, Player B is Patrice Bergeron and Player D is Anze Kopitar. Those three players are pretty widely considered the best two-way players in the game. None of them do as good of a job generating scoring chances for, or preventing scoring chances against as Couturier. He does this while also providing more impact offense than any of them at even strength. I might also add that the only player on that list who makes less than double what Couturier does is Bergeron (the second best player on the list).

 

While Couturier isn’t a world beater in terms of individual offensive production, he isn’t exactly a slouch. His 2.07 points per hour are almost identical to Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand and Joe Pavelski.

 

In short, Couturier scores at a very high end level, while driving possession 1.88% better than Patrice Bergeron, the player almost unanimously considered the best two-way forward in the NHL. This was an injury shortened season, he played only 63 games, and it was somewhat of an outlier from his previous seasons. For these reasons, I’m not yet ready to declare him the best player in the NHL, but there is a very strong argument that he has one of the best seasons of any player in the league last season. This makes his current contract, six years at $4,333,333, which kicks in this season, look like one of the best bargains in the NHL.

 

Some of his strongest comparables last season include Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton. Assuming he builds off, sustains or even comes close to last seasons level of excellence, he should be one of the top players in the game for a long time. Because he hasn’t won a cup, plays behind the overrated Claude Giroux and doesn’t put up flashy offensive totals, he’ll likely never get the credit he deserves.  

Should Someone Trade for Ryan Strome?

 

If I told you there was a forward in the NHL who is only 23 years old, produces offense at the rate of a high end second liner, while also being one of the top players in the NHL at driving possession, and this player was being held out of his team because they refuse to pay him three million dollars? To me that seems like a recipe for a trade. Ryan Strome is clearly a talented player, and according to the hockey news, is at risk to miss the upcoming season due to a contract dispute with the Islanders.

 

It’s not as if Strome has been impatient with the Isles. After being drafted 5th overall in 2011, Strome waited until the 2014-2015 season to get his first full season in the NHL, despite proving on multiple occasions that he was ready for the big leagues. He put up 50 points that season, but this clearly wasn’t enough proof to the Isles that he was ready, because last season he was sent to the AHL again after having a slow start to the season.

 

Strome’s talent is undeniable though. He is an offensive threat, but his true value is his ability to drive the puck in his team’s favour. Contrary to what many believe, possession isn’t the same as defense. Strome isn’t good defensively. In fact he’s pretty bad at it. But he is so good at generating shots, that he is still a net positive for his team.

 

In terms of expected goals, you can expect the Isles to allow 0.31 more goals against for every hour Strome spends on the ice. However, you can also expect them to score 0.68 more goals in their favour in that same hour. So even though he is pretty bad at keeping the puck out of his own net, the Isles are 0.37 goals better off while Strome is on the ice. All those numbers come after adjusting for score, zone and venue, so Strome’s fairly easy deployment is factored in.

 

Strome could be a fixture on most teams first line, and would upgrade any team’s top-six if given the opportunity. Since the Islanders clearly don’t appreciate what they have in Strome, it begs the question: is a trade possible? If so, there are some obvious candidates as trade partners.

 

Arizona immediately stands out for me as being a good fit. They are an analytically savvy team first off, so they are likely to appreciate just how much Strome brings to the table. Also the Coyotes have plenty of picks and prospects to make a trade for a young player work. Last but not least, Ryan’s brother Dylan Strome plays in the Coyotes organization. If there was a chance to unite the two, it’s definitely something Arizona’s management needs to look into.

 

The Ottawa Senators were all in on the Drouin sweepstakes, and time and time again have made their desire to add a top six winger known. They also have a strict internal budget, so if they could add said winger for the price tag of around three million on a bridge deal, it’s surely something they’d look into. The Senators are one of the worst possession teams in the NHL, and Strome would be a big help in that aspect.

 

Montreal also seems like it could be a solid fit for the youngster, as they have very little up front outside of Pacioretty, Gallagher and Galchenyuk. Strome could fit in on any of their top lines, and could even end up being their second line centre, as Plekanec is not a viable option as the Habs 1C anymore (or ever…). Having Strome and Galchenyuk down the middle would be a solid tandem.

 

So Strome is clearly a talented player who isn’t appreciated by his team. That seems like the perfect opportunity for someone else to swoop in and grab a good, young player for below market value. Strome’s trade value has likely never been lower, despite being a high-end player.

Expectations for Shayne Gostisbehere’s Sophomore Season

After spending nearly the entire 2014-15 season on injured reserve, expectations were at an all-time low for the former Union College defender. He had played just five AHL games, which saw him notch five points, and a couple NHL games before going down with a torn ACL.

 

It was his first season of professional hockey, and perhaps the most important for developmental purposes. He started last season with the Flyers AHL affiliate, the LeHigh Valley Phantoms, but when he put up 10 points in his first 14 games there, he forced the Flyers to call him up when Mark Streit went down with an injury of his own. “GhostBear” as he’s affectionately known, took this opportunity and ran with it. He began with NHL season with an assist in his first game and scored his first goal three days later. From there he never looked back.

 

He became known for his clutch scoring, and finished the season with four overtime goals to go along with 46 points. He did all this in just 64 games. A few other notable accomplishments include his record breaking 15 game point streak, being voted onto the all-rookie team and placing second in the Calder voting as rookie of the year.

 

So after a mightily impressive rookie season, what should we expect from Gostisbehere in his first full NHL season? It seems only natural to view John Klingberg as a comparable, who has an almost identical story line in that he was called up due to injury and ended up being the team’s top offensive defender. In Klingbergs sophomore season he went on to produce 58 points in 76 games and established himself as one of the best two-way defenseman in the game.

 

The most notable change in Klingbergs game is that he shifted from a player whose xGF% was below his teammates, to one which was significantly above them. In other words, Klingberg now helps his team score more than their opponent, when before he was hindering them in this regard. Klingberg has become one of the best players in the game at driving shot attempts, and in a league where Corsi is essentially predicting cup winners, there is perhaps no more important stat.

This is relevant to Gostisbehere because he is Klingbergs equal in many ways. If we compare their rookie season, we can see their offensive production is nearly identical, and extremely high end. Klingberg was better than Gostisbehere at driving possession, which will lead us to expect Gostisbehere to perhaps not make the jump into the elite next season. Between Klingberg’ rookie and sophomore season he went from high end second pair at driving possession to high end first pair. If we project similar growth for Gostisbehere then we can estimate that next season he will be an extremely high scoring defender who drives shot attempts at a mid-tier second pair level.

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 5.50.04 PM.png

Based on the probability projectors which can be found at the bottom of the HERO chart, we can see that this prediction is the most likely outcome. Due to Gostisbehere’ limited sample size, we don’t have much certainty as to the player he really is. Was he simply a flash in the pan or will be endure and remain one of the top offensive blueliners in the NHL?

 

We won’t know for sure until next season, but Flyers fans have every right to expect big things from the defenseman. Coach Dave Hakstol might be best off keeping Gostisbehere off the top pair next season if possible, so he doesn’t become overwhelmed in top minutes, when he really needs to grow his defensive game in order to make the jump legit top pair defenseman. The Flyers uncovered a hidden gem, now they need to polish him to get the most value out of his exciting and dynamic playing style.

 

(all stats courtesy of corsica.hockey and HERO charts courtesy of ownthepuck.com)

Informal Rankings of 3rd Line Centers

This article is my response to another written by James Tanner over at HockeyBuzz (http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=78980). For the purposes of this list, I am only using the players which were included in his list, which he crowd sourced. Without further ado, my ranking of the top 30 “3rd line centres”.

 

My rankings are based mostly off of adjusted relative expected goals for percentage, because I believe this is the most important stat in determining which player is better at helping their team outscore the other. For players who were closely distributed, I used offensive production as a tie breaker of sorts. All stats are 5v5.

 

Category: Weird Exception

#1. Marcus Kruger – Kruger is one of the most underrated players in the game because he doesn’t put up flashy stats. He scored four points last season… That sounds really bad. But the appreciate the true beauty of Kruger’s game, you need to dive deeper than this, even deeper than most advanced stats show on the surface.

Kruger’ job isn’t to score or put up points. His job is exclusively to stop the other team from scoring. According to Kruger’s dCorsi, we should expect someone with Krugers deployment to have around a 44% Corsi For percentage, but outperformed that by almost 10%. That’s Patrice Bergeron level of defensive brilliance. It is this deployment which allows Patrick Kane to take such easy shifts and put up giant point totals. Think of Marcus Kruger as the inverse version of Patrick Kane, equally brilliant in an opposite direction. Without one the other cannot succeed.

Category: Probably Should be Top Six

These are all players who I’m skeptical to even call 3rd liners because of the minutes they play. But as this list is crowd sourced, I’m simply ranking the players who were on this list.

#2. Mike Fisher – Fisher is an extremely underrated player. He is likely the best centre on the Predators. Yes, even ahead of Ryan Johansen. There are few two way centres in the league mightier than Fisher.

#3. Leon Draisaitl – Draisaitl played on the Oilers first line for most of the season, next to Taylor Hall. He did so with remarkable offensive ability but was no slouch when it came to driving possession.

#4. Mikael Backlund – Backlund is part of a great defensine line with Michael Frolik, which is really the Flames second line. Nevertheless he is stellar defensively and chips in a decent amount offensively.

#5. Matthieu Perreault – One of the most underrated players in the game, Perreault could play on many teams first line. He’s good for 40-50 points a season while quietly being one of the top two-way players in the game.

#6.Mikko Koivu – So Mikko Koivu is actually his teams first line centre, and he’s darn good at it. He doesn’t produce much in the way of goals or assists on a per hour basis, but he’s a legit Selke candidate. I’m not sure which two Wild centre’s the public thinks is above him, but here we are.

#7. Tomas Hertl – Hertl rose to prominence in the Stanley Cup finals, but really was a dominant possession player all season and adds first line tier goal scoring. His playmaking is weak, but he plays next to Joe Thornton…. on the first line…. on the wing. Not sure how he was eligible for this list. But he is really good.

#8. Vincent Trocheck – He was tripped. We all saw it. It happened. It was hard ranking him as low as seventh, but I suspect someone as good as Trocheck will be higher a year from now.

 

Category: Top of the Line 3rd Liners

#9. Vladimir Namestnikov – Namestikov plays on a team that boasts Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Valterri Filpulla down the middle. This is probably why he doesn’t get much attention for being one of the top bottom six players in the league. He adds offence and gets the puck out of his net.

#10. Elias Lindholm – Lindholm, like seemingly every other forward on the Hurricanes, is very one dimensional. He’s really good at playing D, not so good at scoring on the other team. He still adds good value to his team.

#11. Radek Faksa – See number 10, replace “Lindholm” with “Faksa” and “Hurricanes” with “Starts”.

#12. Sam Reinhart – Sabres fans would probably kill me if I said Reinhart was better than Eichel, but here we are. I’m excited to see how he develops. Is he adds a better offensive game, he’ll be a high end threat. Still only 20.

Category: Average Third Liners

#13. Nick Bonino – Bonino was underrated with the Canucks and overrated with the Penguins. He’s really good at playmaking, pretty mediocre at driving play. Not a bad player to have this low on your depth chart.

#14. Patrick Berglund – Berglund is my idea of a perfectly average third liner. Does everything okay, but he’s not great at anything.

#15. David Desharnais – I have two things to say about Desharnais. One, he’s not a top six player by any means. Two, he doesn’t deserve the crap he gets. He is what he is, and he’s not a bad player.

#16. William Karlsson – Centre, Columbus Blue Jackets… I don’t really know what else to say.

#17. David Backes – Somewhat controversial perhaps? Backes used to be pretty good, now he’s okay. He’s not worth $6,000,000, and that is a bad contact for the Bruins. He’ll probably decline quickly.

#18. Carl Soderberg – He’s not Ryan O’Reilly that’s for sure. But Avalanche fans can’t complain, considering they have Duchene and MacKinnon as their top two guys.

#19. Trevor Lewis – Sort of a poor mans Kruger. Good defensively but he’s a much bigger drag on shot generation than Kruger is. Good role player.

#20. Lars Eller – I wouldn’t have paid two second round picks for this guy but he’s better than Shaw so¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#21. Tyler Bozak – I recently found out just how good Mikhail Grabovski used to be and I now understand why Leafs fans dislike Bozak to the extent that they do. But on a list of true third liners, he’d be an upper end guy. It’s not Bozak’ fault that Leafs management sucked. Don’t take it out on him. He’s not that bad.

#22. Bo Horvat – He struggled when Sutter was out and he became the teams 2C. Best keep him on the third line for now. He did well there.

 

Category: Tolerable, but Not Ideal

#23. Riley Sheahan – The Wings are in some serious trouble. Zetterberg, Neilson and Sheahan are their best options down the middle. Holland will sell his soul for a wildcard spot.

#24. Kevin Hayes – Had a tough year. I think he’ll rebound. Needs to gain AV’s trust.

#25. Rikard Rakell – He kinda became overrated this year. He’s fine. Whatever he gets paid will probably be more than he’s worth.

Category: Really Bad

#26. Jean-Gabriel Pageau – He can reduce shots against. But he plays in Ottawa so nobody will notice. He’s not good at anything else.

#27. Brock Nelson – I was shocked just how bad Nelson is. Always kinda thought he was better before I looked into it. I’d trade him as he seemingly has value in a trade.

#28. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – If there’s one thing me and Tanner agree on, it’s that Bellemare is the worst 3rd line centre in the NHL. He’s worse than most if not all fourth liners and doesn’t deserve to be in the NHL.

 

Where Does Oliver Ekman-Larsson Rank Among the League’s Best Defensemen?

It’s been a long time since fans have seen an elite player in the desert. When Oliver Ekman-Larsson was drafted 6th overall, it was somewhat of a controversial draft pick. Ekman-Larsson was ranked the 4th best European skater heading into the draft, but ended up becoming the second European selected, after Victor Hedman. He was drafted ahead of highly touted prospects such as Magnus Paajarvi, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Schroeder (none of whom really worked out as planned). However, now 7 years removed from the draft, Ekman-Larsson is an established elite defensemen with an Olympic silver medal. So just how good is Ekman-Larsson?

Despite being recognized by many as an offensive defenseman, Ekman-Larsson is an elite possession player. In terms of possession compared to their team as a whole (or Relative Corsi for percentage), Ekman-Larsson is one of the best in the game.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 11.01.08 AM.pngWhen Ekman-Larsson is on the ice, his team controls 5.61% more of the shot attempts than when he is off the ice. To put this into perspective, the Kings only control 4.42% more of the shot attempts when reigning Norris trophy winner Drew Doughty is on the ice. The Coyotes’ goal differential improves by 7.86% when he is on the ice, and their expected goal differential improves by 9.16%. From this we can determine that not only do the Coyotes control a larger share of the shots, but the shots they are getting come from higher danger areas on the ice. Now this becomes even more impressive when you consider that his primary defensive partners included Connor Murphy and Nicklas Grossman, both of whom are below replacement level in almost every major statistic. Ekman-Larsson is tied to two anchors, and still manages to thrive.

The Coyotes are not a very good team. To be frank, they currently stink. A very strong asset in OEL’s game is his ability to raise up the players around him. He creates chemistry on the ice, and makes every single one of his teammates better.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 11.01.18 AM.pngFrom the chart we can see that there is not a single one of his teammates who performs better without OEL, which is nearly unprecedented. Once again, if we look at Drew Doughty as a reference point, we can see a much smaller difference, and some players who are hindered by sharing the ice with Doughty.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 11.01.28 AM.png

In fact, there is little about Drew Doughty which is better than OEL. Drew Doughty is considered the best defensemen in the NHL widely enough that he is given an award, but when compared to our Swedish sensation it’s clear OEL is one of the best in the NHL.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 11.01.37 AM.pngDoughty plays more minutes than OEL, and has the slight edge in shot suppression, but aside from that Ekman-Larsson plays better despite facing harder competition and playing on a weaker team. Players with 90% or higher similarity to Ekman-Larsson include Zdeno Chara (2010-2011), Brent Burns (2010-2011), Shea Weber (2008-2009) and other big names including Kris Letang, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marc Giordano and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Even though Ekman-Larsson is considered by many to be an offensive specialist who is limited defensively, OEL’s strongest attribute is his shot and goal suppressing abilities. Oliver is one of the best in the NHL at preventing the other team from getting the puck to his net, which is the primary goal for a defensemen. The 55 points and 21 goals he adds is just gravy.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is undeniably one of the greatest defensemen in the game. He is only 24 years old, but is a legitimate Norris candidate. He is also locked up for three more seasons at a very team friendly cap hit of $5,500,000. Likely the only reason he isn’t already considered a favourite for the Norris is because he plays in Arizona, a team with little media coverage which doesn’t make the playoffs very often. OEL plays a style which allows him to be effective and efficient and he should be able to maintain a high level of play for years to come, and the fans in Arizona couldn’t be happier to have him.

(WOWY and distribution charts courtesy of Corsica.hockey, Radar charts courtesy of Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp), all salary data courtesy of General Fanager)