What the Bruins Should Do This Summer

Every playoff loss is usually accompanied by fans and radio hosts demanding big money players to be traded, especially in a town like Boston. However, after some time to reflect on the loss to the Senators I’ve decided that the Bruins don’t need to blow it up or make any earth-shattering moves. I think it would have been a very different series with Krug, Carlo and a healthy Bergeron (who played the whole year with a sports hernia). On top of that, trades involving upwards of 6 million in salary are rare. With that in mind, I made this off-season game plan as realistic as possible. All the moves I made are plausible considering the front office’s past decisions. It’s more likely that the NHLPA will choose to use the escalator, but I worked off of the assumption that the cap will stay flat just to keep my decision making as conservative as possible.

 

Here is the projected roster:

bruinsgm2

 

Players that left via free agency/buyouts

John-Michael Liles:

Liles was a victim of the cap. I thought his play this year made it clear he is still a legitimate NHL defenseman.  Liles is an analytics darling. His GAR (goals over replacement) makes him an attractive defenseman for analytically minded teams, but the Bruins don’t have space for him. He isn’t taking Krug or Chara’s spot on the left, and Colin Miller still has plenty of room to grow as a defenseman because of his age. Liles will easily find a job this summer.

Drew Stafford:

Stafford was a good rental, but he’s a shot anchor and ideally Beleskey will take back his spot next to Krejci. Bruins also need the cap space.

Joe Morrow:

Morrow is probably tired of sitting in the press box, and I think his limited ice time this year shows that the Bruins don’t have too much confidence in him. He played quite a bit in the playoffs, but that was with a ridiculous number of injuries to the defensive core. Better for both parties if the Bruins and Morrow part ways.

Dominic Moore:

Moore is replaced by younger and cheaper players in this universe. He had a good year for a fourth liner, but the Bruins won’t have any problem filling in his role internally.

Jimmy Hayes:

If Hayes was hurt to end the year it may not be possible to buy him out. I’m going to assume he will pass his physical during the buyout window. He just isn’t that good. Bruins will need that extra cap space.

Players that left via trade/expansion draft
Kevan Miller:

I guessed that the Bruins will protect Chara (NMC), Krug, and Colin Miller. That leaves Miller as the odd man out, and I think a number 4 defenseman who is dependable in his own zone would be attractive to Vegas.

Ryan Spooner:

Spooner hasn’t shown that he can really hack it at 5v5, and his powerplay scoring was down this year as well. I think he has quite a bit of value as a trade asset. I traded his rights to Anaheim for Montour and a 2nd round pick in 2018. The hardest thing to do as an armchair GM is make a balanced trade, but I think this works for both teams.

Players signed re-signed/acquired from free agency

David Pastrnak:

Pastrnak’s agent is allegedly looking for a long-term deal similar to the Monahan contract. He had 70 points this year, so my best guess is 6 million AAV for 6 years. This takes Pastrnak to UFA and locks him up for his prime years. Works for both sides.

Tim Schaller:

Schaller is cheap, plays good defense, and can step into the top 6 for a game in case of an injury and not look too out of place. I signed him to a deal that was a tiny raise. 950k AAV for the New Hampshire boy.

Noel Acciari:

Acciari will be a fixture on the fourth line for the foreseeable future. He’s had a little bit of a scoring touch in Providence (and roughly 500 goals taken away by video review this year), so expect him to get a couple more next year. Acciari is also very cheap: 950k AAV.

Justin Williams:

The Bruins consider themselves cup contenders in this world. Williams gives them considerable depth on the right wing. I gave him a contract for 3 years totalling 12 million dollars. An AAV of 4 million is not difficult to get rid of. They could buy out the last year of his contract or retain salary in a trade if they were desperate to get rid of him.

Brandon Montour:

Montour came from the Ducks in the Spooner deal. Very promising AHLer. Shoots a ton for a defenseman. The league is trending towards guys like this. Probably would be the 7th guy before McQuaid gets hurt fifteen minutes into the season.

This is what the salary structure looks like going forward:

bruinsgm3

 

I should talk about Matt Beleskey. He had a terrible year. There were a few things that contributed to his down year: a knee injury, different expectations in a checking role, lack of puck luck, and just not playing good enough. His trade value has tanked. I doubt he’s worth as much on the market as he is to the Bruins if he rebounds. Worst case scenario, the Bruins can retain salary at the trade deadline. Best case, he’s back to being a 35-40 point guy. Moving him would expose the lack of depth at left wing as well. Beleskey is a great second liner if he plays like he did in 2015-16.

I think the biggest problem with this lineup is the lack of defensemen Cassidy will trust to kill penalties. One of Colin Miller or Krug will have to step up and take over that role. Miller would probably surprise. He’s better than people think at boxing out players in front of the net.

I have Nash centering the third line. I think he’s a good bottom 6 forward who can contribute by scoring the occasional goal. Khudobin has also been buried in Providence to allow Subban or McIntyre to take the backup role. Otherwise, the lines probably look familiar to anyone who watches the Bruins.

I believe the Bruins team I’ve built is a legitimate playoff team, and could possibly contend for the cup. It hinges on a few things: McAvoy continuing to play like he did during the playoffs, decent goaltending, and some puck luck from the bottom 6. It goes without saying that Bergeron, Marchand, Krug and Pastrnak need to be healthy for most of the year.

 

 

I used the armchair GM tool on cap friendly to put this together. My twitter (where i talk about the NHL, boston sports and Twin Peaks) is @jeffmac95

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On Claude Julien

It would be disingenuous to call Claude Julien losing his job polarizing. For all intents and purposes, Bruins fans, players [Marchand], coaches from around the league [Babcock], journalists and bloggers have condemned the move. There is a vocal minority that have been calling for his head for the better part of a decade, and not without some justification. A devastating upset at the hands of Carolina; blowing a lead 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia, which was capped off by blowing a 3-0 lead in game 7; being beaten by two inferior teams in 2012 and 2014, the latter after winning the presidents trophy; and finally, missing the playoffs in two straight seasons are some of the unforgivable sins of Claude Julien. Of course, he also brought the Bruins to relevancy again for the better part of a decade, delivering some of the best regular season and playoff hockey the city had seen since the 1970s. A free agent wasteland, a perennial mediocre team, a burgeoning joke of a franchise was turned around by a combination of two massive signings [Savard, Chara] and, a little less than a year later, by the arrival of Julien. Most can look past his failures and see how successful he was in Boston. So could the front office, for a time.

The NHL is cutthroat. Even a single season delivering less than expected of you is enough to lose your job. By these standards, its not surprising Julien was let go; only disappointing. Even when results are out of the control of coaches, they receive the credit and the blame. If one thinks that the cup win and the other trip to the Stanley Cup Final were a product of the personnel handed to him, rather than his coaching, its only intellectually honest to recognize that you must say the same of his failures. A coach can only do so much, night to night. Julien provided a system for the players to work in that produced great shot differentials and, most years, a strong goal differential. He gave them a chance to win. This year, his backup goaltenders did not return the favour. For the last two months, neither did his starting goalies. Julien was also victim of one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league. Maybe some of that was on the system, or shooting talent, but nobody could reasonably expect them to be this bad. That’s not to say the roster wasn’t talented enough, either. Some of the biggest weapons Julien had were shooting worse than their career percentages; Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Beleskey, and Backes are not a lack of talent, by any stretch of imagination.

We’re left with a question of who to blame. Julien, the players and the front office- because of their poor drafting and questionable at best personnel moves- all share some of that blame. But the main culprit in Julien’s fate was simply luck. That same luck was beginning to turn: the Bruins were scoring more goals at the very end of Julien’s tenure. Unfortunately, it perfectly coincided with a downturn in goaltending. It covered up the fact that their results were beginning to normalize. Even the goaltending results were semi-luck driven. Even if the backups were truly bad, they couldn’t possibly be as bad as their results suggested, much the same as the Bruins goal scoring. There is no room for luck in business. Owners demand answers that are more than the numbers will regress towards the mean, even if it is fundamentally true. In the business world, and even in the general sense, people are uncomfortable with attributing events to random variance. The news will attribute statistically insignificant swings in the stock market to unrelated events, people will convince themselves that the money they made was a result of anything other than the circumstances they were born into, and coaches will get fired because not enough pucks bounced their way.

Now Bruins fans are left wondering what happens next. If you believe some of the more dramatic personalities, firing Julien is the equivalent of Hector putting on the armor of Achilles: ultimately dooming himself and the city of Troy. Maybe there is no escaping fate now. Maybe the Bruins are destined to begin their slide into mediocrity, if they’re not already there, starting this very minute. Maybe, but probably not. The farm system is looking to be the strongest it has been in decades. And in the short term, maybe the luck turns for the new coach, Cassidy. A coach can’t do much more than provide his players with a chance to win every night, which Julien did. Firing him might not signal the end of the Bruins, but it does represent another misstep by the Bruins front office. That front office will soon realise the meaning of death by a thousand cuts. One thing Bruins fans can be sure of is that wherever Julien ends up, success is soon to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

Enroth Mega Hot Take

In a way, Enroth’s career is stuck in a positive feedback loop. For the most part, he’s only been able to sign with teams that, for one reason or another, desperately needed goalie help. And those same teams haven’t typically been home to an amazing defensive core. Despite posting a positive adjGSAA/60 in the majority of his seasons (only his rookie year and 2014-15 were negative results), Enroth only has a career save percentage of .911, which is below league average for the same time period. There’s no doubt about it: Enroth represents a market inefficiency in regard to goalies, because of the way past his past teams have affected his unadjusted save percentage. Admittedly, the most games he ever played in a season occurred in the year where he had his worst adjGSAA/60. However, even in that season he had a positive adjFenwick save percentage, suggesting that his results were probably within the margin of error when it comes to evaluating goaltenders. I think it’s fair to say that methods for evaluating goalies are still relatively primitive; although they are rapidly improving, especially as a result of Corsica now generating results for danger tiers for shots against.

Here are some results for recent backup signings. Just take note that they are sorted by age, and not season. I like this method because it’s a little easier to visualize the career arc of a given goalie. Green is Enroth, purple is Khudobin, and the other two goalies had enough room on the chart to fit their labels:
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.44.36 AM.png

And so, despite some performances that should have made him, at the very least, a desirable backup goaltender on July 1st, the diminutive Enroth managed to remain unsigned until late august. Interestingly enough, I don’t think the Leafs Andersen can be said to be without a doubt, definitively better than Enroth. In fact, I think Toronto could be the source of yet another goalie controversy, despite moving on from both Reimer and Bernier. Enroth excels at stopping high danger shots, but has struggled with low and medium danger shots. This is the opposite of the results that Andersen has had from 2013-2016: medium danger shots are where he excels, while struggling with high danger and low danger shots. I think, then, Babcock’s system might dictate how the starts are delegated. If the Leafs are able to effectively limit high danger shots, Andersen is probably going to be the guy, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Enroth have some success with the Leafs as well. Relatively speaking, it would benefit Enroth if the Leafs had a more porous defense in 2016-2017.  

Data courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and @imfleming16

Should The Bruins Move Krejci?

With the acquisition of David Backes, there is now a log-jam of potential centers for the Bruins. In particular, Backes, Spooner and Krejci are competing for the two middle six spots: during an interview with TSN on July 1st, Backes said he was told he would primarily be playing center.  While it is certainly possible for either Spooner or Backes to play a top 6 winger position, it’s questionable whether that would be the best use of assets for the Bruins.

Backes is slightly older, and might be expected to drop off sooner than Krejci, according to pretty much every aging curve ever calculated. Backes (1.27 P1/60) also scores at a lower rate than both Krejci (1.39 P1/60) and Spooner (1.44 P1/60) at 5v5.

Backes (+1.14% rel. corsi) holds a significant advantage in both relative CF%, (Krejci: -1.31%  Spooner: -3.31%) as well as xGF%. This means, relative to his teammates (relative to Krejci and Spooner), Backes either takes more quality shots than the opposition or is able to limit them better. The last three years of data show that statistically, Backes and Krejci are fairly similar to each other, although Krejci did have a much better year than Backes in 2015-16. Over the same period their 5v5 scoring rates are very similar, but Backes has the edge in possession

play. Backes (3.95 P1/60) is considerably more productive on the powerplay than both Spooner (3.3 P1/60) and Krejci (2.26 P1/60), which may come to the surprise of many.

The Bruins certainly scored enough last season (good for 5th in the league), to be satisfied with their offense, even with the loss of Loui Eriksson. However, Boston had a difficult time when it came to shot differential. The Bruins also got scored on, a lot. Clearly, the defense is the primary area of need for Boston. Presumably, most teams will want an NHL ready player in exchange for their NHL calibre defenseman. The Bruins would be dealing from a position of strength and depth if they decided to move one of the three centers I have mentioned.

I think it would be a mistake to give up a cost-controlled, young Ryan Spooner. He has room to grow and improve his puck management skills at 5v5. So, the Bruins best trade-chips (in terms of perceived value around the league and redundancy for Boston) are probably Krejci and Backes. Backes signed a contract a month ago, so trading him is simply out of the question. That leaves David Krejci. If the Bruins were to trade him for help on defense, the time would probably be right now. Even with the concerns about his health (Krejci had his second hip surgery this offseason), Krejci’s value around the league is probably the highest it will ever be. He has a reputation of being a playoff performer as well as a powerplay quarterback. A player waiving his NMC is certainly not an outrageous proposition, although it does limit the possible destinations quite substantially. For me, the question is not whether the Bruins should move Krejci for defense help, but if they can find the right deal.

 

All data is score, zone, and venue adjusted from corsica.hockey

Potential Replacements for Pekka Rinne

The recent acquisition of P.K. Subban has probably, in many people’s minds, transformed the Predators from an upper-middle tier team to a legitimate cup contender if they weren’t there already. However, there is an elephant in the room: the performance of Pekka Rinne. In the last three years (excluding goalies that have played less than 3400 minutes, which roughly equals 82 games. It leaves 42 goalies, a reasonable approximation of how many above replacement level goalies there are in the NHL at any given time), Rinne ranks 41st out of 42 goalies in adjusted Fenwick save percentage. This stat uses the shot location and type to estimate the result of a replacement level goaltender, and is then compared to the goaltenders actual results. Rinne is one of three goaltenders in this sample that has a negative value, along with Lehner and Scrivens. On the other hand, Martin Jones, whom many people use an example of only needing an average goalie and good defence to be a successful team, ranks 13th in this metric. To that end, it seems like there is some truth to only needing an “average” (in this case, average for an NHL starting goaltender- not to be confused with a replacement level one) goalie. Nashville has two options; try their hand at the trade market, or pick up a low cost, low risk asset from free agency.

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Trade Targets

Trading for a goalie is a legitimate option this summer. There are a number of teams either trying to shed cap or prepare for an expansion draft next June, which has led to the goalie market being tilted heavily in favour of buyers.

Ben Bishop

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.46.19 PM.pngThe Predators have roughly 8 million in cap space for 2016-17, and the only significant RFA left for them to sign is Calle Jarnkrok. On the other hand, the Lightning need to clear cap room to sign free agents next summer as well as protect themselves from losing valuable assets in the expansion draft. Vasilevskiy is more than likely the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay, and his performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins probably makes Bishop expendable for the Bolts. Bishop ranks 26th in adjusted Fenwick save percentage over the past 3 years, and has been a Vezina finalist twice. The downside when it comes to acquiring Bishop is that it will cost assets, unlike a free agent, even though he may not be significantly better than some goalies on the free agency market.  

Kari Lehtonen

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.46.31 PM.pngLehtonen is an interesting case. Dallas will definitely be looking to shed salary so they can pick up another goalie as the Finnish tandem of Niemi and Lehtonen was disappointing to say the least in 2015-16. However, Lehtonen’s results the last few years could also be a result of the hyper-aggressive Dallas style, as his adjusted Fenwick save percentage ranks 21st out of 42. Lehtonen could be a good buy low candidate for Nashville.

 

Free Agent Pickups

There are a number of interesting names still available through free agency, even if they lack the name recognition of those that could be on the trading block.  

Kari Ramo

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.46.47 PM.pngCalgary picked up two new goalies this summer; Elliott via a trade with St. Louis, and Chad Johnson from free agency. As a result, Ramo is looking for a new home. Ramo isn’t significantly better than Rinne when it comes to stopping shots, as he only ranks 38th in this category, but he would make a serviceable backup and is a low-risk pickup who can show flashes of strong play.

Jhonas Enroth

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.47.01 PM.pngEnroth is a very appealing free agency target, and for my money is the best guy still on the market. The small frame of Enroth has not stopped him from putting up the 20th best adjusted Fenwick save percentage over the past three years.  Enroth played exceptionally well for a Sabres team that wasn’t exactly competitive, as well as playing well with the Los Angeles Kings this past season. He won’t command much term or money, and is perhaps the best option for the Predators this off-season.

 

In terms of conserving assets and looking for the most bang-for your-buck, Enroth seems to be the most desirable goalie available for Nashville this summer. However, even a replacement level goalie will pay dividends for a team that looks to be even better after a massive roster shakeup when they traded Weber for Subban.  

 

Justification for using Adjusted Fenwick Sv% (sourced from Corsica Hockey): http://www.coppernblue.com/2016/1/8/10726308/redefining-average-goaltending-investigating-corsi-and-fenwick-save