While watching the New York Rangers embarrass the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, I heard a member of the broadcast team mention Henrik Lundqvist’s age (32). That was all it took to get the gears spinning in my head. The initial question I formulated was as follows:
Is there an optimum age and/or experience level for Stanley Cup-winning goalies?
Breaking the question down further, I wondered: When goalies of different ages and experience levels meet in the Stanley Cup Finals, who wins – the older, more experienced goalie or the younger netminder with fewer NHL games under his belt? Logic dictates that, in such a high-pressure environment, age and experience trumps youthful energy. Does logic apply to the Stanley Cup Finals? I decided to look at the 25 seasons prior to the current campaign, going back through the 1987-88 season. For each year, I noted the age and NHL experience (total seasons played) of both the Cup-winning and -losing goalie. When a team used more than one goalie in the Cup Finals, I took the average of both age and experience (I’ll admit it’s not a perfect system, but I didn’t have weeks to ponder this, so I went with the easiest solution). The results were not what I expected:
Over the last 25 seasons, Cup-winning goalies were, on average, 1.28 years younger and had played 0.64 fewer NHL seasons than the masked man at the other end of the rink. Looking at it from another angle, when an older goalie met a younger one in the Finals, the older goalie won 10 and lost 12 series, for a win pct. of .455. In addition, when netminders of differing experience levels met, the more experienced of the two went 10-13 (.435).
Obviously, a Stanley Cup-winning team is much more than just the man in the crease. Many factors beyond goaltending influence the outcome of the Finals. Setting aside all other factors, however, stamina seems more important than experience for goalies in the playoffs, where multiple-overtime games are not uncommon. As the last 25 seasons indicate, younger netminders have an advantage in the fourth, and final, seven-game series following an 82-game regular season. Older goalies can – and do – win the Cup: 10 of the last 25 Cup-winners were 30 or older…but older goalies lose more often, as 14 of 25 Cup-losers were in their thirties.
With the above numbers in mind, I decided to attempt to predict the outcome of the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Finals. I only considered the top three teams in each division (no Wild Card teams). Based primarily on the age and experience of the starting goalies for each team, I see the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals playing out like so:
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston (Rask, 27 yrs old/6 NHL seasons) def. Pittsburgh (Fleury, 29/9)
Western Conference Finals: St. Louis (Miller, 33/10) def. Chicago (Crawford, 29/6)
Stanley Cup Finals: Boston (Rask, 27/6) def. St. Louis (Miller, 33/10)
Is goalie age and/or experience an accurate predictor of post-season success? It’s not what I’d call the “Holy Grail” of statistical analysis tools, but it’s certainly something to think about…and if you’re now thinking about your team’s goalie, my work here is done.
Some sectors of the internet have portrayed the New York Rangers’ trade deadline acquisition of scoring winger and all-star water bug Martin St. Louis as a “win now” move by GM Glen Sather, designed to put the 2013-14 Rangers over the top in their quest for The Cup. While it’s always better for general managers, coaches and players alike to win now, Slats might’ve made the trade with next season in mind. Let’s look at the facts:
First, players with a combination of skill and grit, such as Ryan Callahan, are of immense value. Callahan was the heart and soul, not to mention captain, of the Rangers. Many of his teammates are still in shock over his trade to Tampa. Though the deal brought more offensive firepower to Broadway, who will step into the leadership/grit void in Cally’s absence? Derek Dorsett? He was a fan favorite in Columbus, but has yet to find his footing in New York and struggles to crack the lineup. Dan Carcillo? His impact is limited by fourth-line minutes, and frankly, he hasn’t earned more ice time. Simply put, the Rangers do not have anyone who can take Ryan Callahan’s place.
More importantly, when was the last time a team traded away its captain at the deadline and went on to win the Stanley Cup in the same season? I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but my research failed to turn up a single example. It’s common sense, really: if things are going well for your team, you don’t trade the captain. Team chemistry is of particular importance in the playoffs, when both wins and losses increase astronomically in value. Trading your captain at the deadline, with just one-quarter of the season remaining, is a clear sign something is wrong with the team…no matter what you get in return.
Finally, even before trading Callahan the Rangers were clearly not one of the NHL’s elite, as their combined record of 5-9-1 against the likes of Boston, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, St. Louis and Chicago shows. Rick Nash has had a disappointing season thus far, and while Brad Richards has rebounded from a nightmarish 2012-13 campaign, his 7.8% shooting percentage is the lowest it’s been since the 2002-03 season. Derek Stepan’s shooting percentage has dropped a full ten points from last season. Off-season pick-up Benoit Pouliot struggled for the first half of the season to fit in, and October will likely find the pending UFA on his fifth team in five seasons. The New York blueliners’ struggles to transition to new coach Alain Vigneault’s system are both well documented and a contributing factor in (but not the sole reason for) Henrik Lundqvist’s frustrating season, in which his save percentage is down .012 and Goals Against is up .51 over 2012-13. If you haven’t figured it out after the previous 459 words, what I’m saying is…Wait ’til next year, Rangers fans.
And what will next year look like? Here’s one scenario:
FORWARDS: New York has to exercise their compliance buyout on Brad Richards. They simply can’t dedicate $6.7M in cap space for each of the next five seasons to a player who is obviously on the decline. What will they do with the saved cap space? How about signing unrestricted free agent winger Ryan Callahan? Can’t happen, you say? Fourteen games into the 2003-04 season, the Dallas Stars traded Stephane Robidas to Chicago. Dallas then signed Robidas as a UFA coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, and held onto him until just a few days ago. Never say never.
The Rangers will have to re-sign either Brian Boyle or Dominic Moore to fill the 4th line center role. My money’s on Moore, as Boyle will easily find another club willing to overpay him. Speaking of choices, Glen Sather will have to decide whether he wants to keep pending UFA Dan Carcillo; if Carcillo is re-signed, Derek Dorsett becomes expendable and Slats’ll have to move him. RFAs Derek Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider all get raises. Speedy winger Carl Hagelin could be used as trade bait, if Sather sees an opportunity to upgrade the Rangers blueline.
With Richards gone, J.T. Miller will finally get the regular roster spot he deserves. A couple of kids could make it to Broadway, with the front-runners being RW Danny Kristo (45 GP, 17-14-31 in Hartford) and 18-year-old sensation LW Anthony Duclair, the Rangers’ 3rd round draft pick last summer who’s currently tearing up the QMJHL (59 GP, 50-49-99). New York’s forward lines could very well look like this next season:
DEFENSEMEN: McDonagh, Staal, Girardi and Klein are all under contract through next season and beyond (except Staal, for whom 2014-15 is a contract year). Stralman and the newly-acquired Diaz are UFAs this summer, and John Moore and Justin Falk are RFAs. Anton Stralman’s stock has soared since he came to New York, so he probably won’t return. Diaz is anybody’s guess, though it would seem head coach Alain Vigneault is high on him, so pencil him in as Stralman’s replacement. Whether or not the Rangers pursue more than a depth defenseman over the summer largely depends on the development of prospects Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath; if at least one of the two (with Allen being the front-runner at this point) has a good training camp, expect next season’s d-pairs to look something like this:
GOALTENDERS: Lundqvist, of course. And Talbot.
What does it all mean? Though no one in the New York Rangers organization will admit it, this is not their year. If they finish the season either 2nd or 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, the Blueshirts should make it into the Conference Semi-Finals, but the Conference Finals are a longshot. The acquisition of Marty St. Louis signals the rebirth of Sather’s “two sniper” scheme…provided Rick Nash has a bounce-back season in 2014-15. If Nash can find his groove and St. Louis can keep doing what he’s been doing his entire career, opposing teams will be hard-pressed to stop the Rangers, who will essentially have two top lines - 1A and 1B – for the first time in years. If Glen Sather can address the franchise’s grit/leadership deficiencies and add a solid No.3-4 defenseman over the summer, look out – next year could be HUGE.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
The 2014 NHL Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and what kind of a hockey blogger would I be if I didn’t take a moment to opine? After returning from a quick trip to the ER for a rotator cuff injury (suffered whilst patting myself on the back for using “opine”…wait – I also used “whilst!” There goes the other rotator cuff. It’s okay; I’m a hockey blogger, so I’ll type through the pain), here are a few quick thoughts on pre-deadline what ifs and why nots:
The Lesser of Two Evils?
I read recently that the Phoenix Coyotes, in a bid to improve their offensive output, have “kicked the tires” on both Ray Whitney and Matt Moulson. Dallas and Phoenix both have 64 points and 24 games remaining, with the Stars holding a razor-thin 24-23 lead in the first tie-breaker, non-Shootout wins. If you’re Stars GM Jim Nill, do you trade Whitney to Phoenix to stop them from trading for the younger Matt Moulson, who has much greater offensive upside at this point in time? In other words, do you help a rival with whom you’re battling for a playoff spot a little, to keep said rival from helping themselves a lot? Also, what do you ask for in return? Were I GM Jim, I’d offer Whitney and defenseman Trevor Daley for Keith Yandle, and wait for a counter-offer.
Selling the Rangers’ Soul?
Of course, I’m talking about the trade rumors swirling around Blueshirts team captain Ryan Callahan and stalwart d-man Dan Girardi. Both are pending UFAs, and Conventional Wisdom says both will be moved at the deadline if Glen Sather can’t re-sign them by that time. Much as it pains me to say this, I think Cally has to give some on his contract demands, or he’s gone. A seven- or eight-year deal is a significant risk for a player with Callahan’s rambunctious, injury-prone game. Any team signing him to a long-term deal will pay a premium for intangibles – leadership and a gutsy, leave-it-all-on-the-ice style of play - and those intangibles are meaningless when the player who possesses them is on Injured Reserve.
While the loss of Callahan would create a huge leadership/grit void in New York, losing Dan Girardi could be downright disastrous. The defensive yin to Ryan McDonagh’s offensive yang, Girardi is a critical half of the Blueshirts’ top d-pair, logging almost 24 tough minutes a game. If he goes, who’s going to fill his skates? Does Kevin Klein suddenly start playing an extra 8:30 each night? Does Anton Stralman pick up the slack? The truth is, while the Rangers’ top six defensemen are solid, the organization currently lacks depth. The loss of Dan Girardi would open a hole on the blueline which could not be filled this season, thus ensuring an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
What If Sellers Didn’t Sell…Or Even Became Buyers?
Back in September, I proposed scrapping the NHL Draft Lottery in favor of a Draft Tournament. While I still think it’s a great idea, I now see the Law of Unintended Consequences kicking in: If the bottom four teams played an end-of-season tournament to decide who ends up with picks 1-4 in the upcoming draft, would those cellar-dwellers be motivated to hang on to pending UFAs, or even try to improve their rosters, in the hope of winning the first pick in the draft? Put in 2013-14 season terms, would Buffalo keep Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and/or Ryan Miller, in effect trading those players (losing them to free agency this summer) for a shot at the top pick? Would Calgary decide not to deal Mike Cammalleri, or would the asking price just go up? My “expert” understanding of economics (I spent two semesters in college as an ECON major) tells me that a Draft Tournament could create both a decrease in the supply of players available at the deadline AND an increase in demand, while also putting even more pressure on the in-between clubs (those well above the bottom four, but for whom a playoff seed is a long shot) to move their assets. In short, a Draft Tourney could cause a significant shift in the Trade Deadline dynamic, taking General Managers and fans alike to an all-new stress level each spring. I love it. Make it so, Mr. Bettman!
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
“Don’t you know this league is insolvent?”
That’s what NHL Chief Financial Officer Jim Ford said to John Ziegler shortly after Ziegler became league president in 1977. It’s one of many eye-opening events in D’Arcy Jenish’s new book, The NHL: A Centennial History: 100 Years of On-Ice Action & Boardroom Battles (Doubleday Canada, 2013).
Hockey fans who know their history are well aware of the 1970s battle between the National Hockey League and the World Hockey Association, which resulted in the demise of the WHA. What many fans don’t know, however, is that the fight almost killed the NHL, too. In his thoroughly-researched and well-written book, Jenish ably fills in the blanks in the NHL’s storied past, presenting a more detailed portrait of league history than ever before.
If you’ve ever wondered how the NHL grew from the Original Four – yes, in the beginning, there were just four teams in the league – to thirty clubs today, The NHL: A Centennial History provides the answer in fascinating detail. From the American expansion of the Roaring Twenties to Depression-era contraction to six clubs to the dramatic 1967 expansion and beyond, it’s all in the book. As someone who is currently writing a biography of New York Rangers’ founder Tex Rickard, I was particularly pleased to see him beginning to receive long-overdue credit regarding his role in bringing the NHL to America. Drawing on meeting minutes archived at the Hockey Hall of Fame, Jenish offers a fly-on-the-wall view of NHL Board of Governors meetings throughout the 1940s and ’50s. Did you know the league first considered expanding to California shortly after World War II? Neither did I, until I read the book.
The NHL: A Centennial History also addresses the league’s more recent past, including franchise instability, the spectacular rise and fall of Alan Eagleson and battles between the Players Association and the NHL. Jenish’s portrayal of the causes for the NHL’s two lockout-shortened seasons (1994-95 and 2012-13) and one cancelled season (2004-05) is even-handed, though it’s difficult to look at the cold, hard facts and remain sympathetic to the players. In particular, former NHLPA head Bob Goodenow comes out smelling less like a rose than its fertilizer. On the other hand, league commissioner Gary Bettman was interviewed for the book, the final chapter of which is titled, “The Knock Against Gary.” Preconceived notions aside, you’ll at least come away with a better understanding of, and respect for, the “Most Hated Man in Hockey.”
Frankly, coming up with any serious criticism of this book was a struggle. My biggest complaint falls into the “nit-picking” category: Though the author touches on the subject at a couple of points in the book, I would’ve liked to read in more detail about the tension between the league’s pro-expansionists and Canadians who fear their national sport is being taken over by outside (American) interests. Alas, that’s probably a book unto itself.
Long-time readers of this blog know I don’t normally do book reviews. I felt compelled to make an exception because, well, it’s an excellent read. At first glance, you might think a book focused on the business side of the NHL would be dry, even boring, compared to the league’s legendary on-ice past. You would be wrong. If you have any interest whatsoever in the off-ice history of the NHL and you only read one book this year, make it The NHL: A Centennial History by D’Arcy Jenish.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926
In addition to huge profits, the NHL Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games have succeeded in generating much discussion among both die-hard and casual hockey fans. While it’s safe to say we’ve reached consensus on one question - Are SIX outdoor games in one season too many? Of course! – another question remains open for debate: Where will next season’s outdoor games be held?
Washington has already been confirmed as host of the 2015 Winter Classic, though the venue is still up in the air. The number of outdoor contests beyond the Winter Classic remains a mystery, but this writer is putting his money on one Heritage Classic and two Stadium Series match-ups in the 2014-15 season.
The Heritage Classic features two Canadian teams, so I’d really like to see Edmonton at Winnipeg in a WHA-throwback game. Alternatively, the Flames could play the Jets at Atlanta’s Turner Field, sporting the uniforms those teams wore when they were based in that city (file this one under NOT GONNA HAPPEN, NOT EVER).
With twenty-three U.S.-based teams, the Stadium Series presents the league with many more options. Since Coors Light promotes the NHL Stadium Series as part of a seven-year, $375M sponsorship deal with the league, an outdoor game hosted by Coors’ hometown Colorado Avalanche will happen sooner, rather than later. Given Minnesota’s status as the “State of Hockey,” the Wild would seem a logical choice to host an outdoor game, and the Dallas Stars, known as the Minnesota North Stars from 1967-1993, would seem a logical choice as an opponent.
What about the Stars hosting an outdoor game? Following the success of the Kings-Ducks game at Dodger Stadium, the NHL is confident they can put on an outdoor game almost anywhere in the U.S. (though Gary Bettman voiced his concern about the high humidity in Florida). Word quickly spread that the Dallas Stars were interested in hosting a game at AT&T Stadium (aka “JerryWorld,” after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones). Stars team president Jim Lites reportedly said such a game wouldn’t take place before the 2015-16 season, with 2016-17 being a more realistic target. The truth is, even 2017 may be too soon, for two main reasons:
Though it’s not a major concern, I have to wonder how the NHL’s outdoor ice would hold up to a North Texas winter. For those of you who don’t live in the Lone Star State, here’s what I mean: as I type this, snow is falling outside my window and today’s high will be 32. 48 hours from now, the high will be 60 degrees. Three days after that, the forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain and a high of 38. Yes, JerryWorld has a retractable roof, but it’s not an outdoor game if the roof is closed, right?
Based on the previous 850 words, you might think I’m opposed to the NHL bringing an outdoor game to Dallas. You would be wrong. It’s going to happen, and when it does, I’ll happily be there, but…not just yet.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926