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Right Wing Conspiracy – 29 MAY 2013 (Updated)

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

New York Rangers Postmortem

After coming tantalizingly close to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Spring of 2012, the New York Rangers acquired game-changing forward Rick Nash over the summer.  The Blueshirts fully expected to take the next step in the 2012-13 season.  Instead, the lockout-truncated 2013 campaign was a slow-motion train wreck for the Rangers, culminating in a 4-1 Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Boston Bruins.  Where do the Rangers go from here?

Step One, as we’ve just learned, was to fire head coach John Tortorella.  All season long – playoffs included – the team struggled to execute his system consistently.  Several factors were in play here:

  • The trade for Nash, which added a sniper at the expense of second and third line depth;
  • The mid-season trade of Gaborik, to add second and third line depth;
  • The need to incorporate too many new faces (Nash, Pyatt, Asham, Haley, Powe, Clowe, Brassard, Dorsett, Moore and Hamrlik) and develop team chemistry on the fly;
  • Significant injuries to key players (Staal, Stralman, Powe and Clowe);
  • Stunning playoff underachievment/slumps from key players (Richards, Nash, Del Zotto and yes, even Callahan); and
  • The flaming disaster that was the Blueshirts’ power play.

Did the team also begin to tune Torts out?  Though no one has, as of yet, come right out and said it, it’s certainly a possibility.  (30 MAY UPDATE:  Per Larry Brooks, that’s exactly what happened.)  The fact is, every coach loses the room eventually, every coach gets fired eventually.  Whether or not the bell tolled too soon for John Tortorella is debatable, though completely moot at this point.  So let us move on and deal with the future of the New York Rangers, shall we?

Step Two, General Manager Glen Sather must deal with the following pending free agents this summer:

UFAs:  Clowe, Hamrlik, Eminger, Gilroy.

RFAs:  Stepan, Hagelin, Zuccarello, McDonagh, Sauer.

The Rangers’ Restricted Free Agents present Sather with an enormous challenge.  According to Capgeek, Slats has just under $13.6mil to play with this summer.  Sadly, Michael Sauer’s post-concussion syndrome issues mean his promising NHL career is likely over after just 98 games.  Thus, New York has four RFAs who are all due significant raises.  Ryan McDonagh has certainly earned Dan Girardi-type money ($3.325mil/year), which would more than double his salary.  As a Top Six center, Derek Stepan will see a good bump over his current $875k entry-level contract.  Carl Hagelin, also making $875k, could easily command twice that this summer.  Mats Zuccarello, with the KHL calling, should also see a raise over his $700k salary in order to stay in the Big Apple.  Expect these four core players to cost the Rangers around $9.4mil/year combined.

That leaves Glen Sather just under $4.2mil with which to sign UFAs.  Roman Hamrlik – the poster child for players who try to go a season too far – won’t be back.  Matt Gilroy is still suspect in his own end, but he could end up signing a two-way deal and spending next season in Hartford.  Steve Eminger is serviceable as a 6th/7th defenseman, and would probably re-sign with the Rangers for $800k.  Ryane Clowe made $3.625mil in 2012-13, and the Rangers are in no position to give him the raise he’ll command on the open market.  Barring a significant salary dump – either via trade or a buyout of Brad Richards – Clowe has played his last game as a Ranger.

Even before his career-worst playoff slump and subsequent benching, calls for a buyout of Richards were heard here and there.  Given New York’s investment in the former Conn Smythe winner, allowing him the opportunity to come back in the Fall and prove himself, then asking him to waive his NMC for a big trade deadline deal makes the most sense.  Failing that, MSG will have no choice but to buy out Richards, either this summer or next, as July of 2014 will see Brassard, Kreider, Del Zotto and Moore go RFA, while Callahan, Boyle, Pyatt, Powe, Asham, Girardi, Stralman and (gulp) Henrik Lundqvist become UFAs.  Glen Sather has already expressed his desire to sign King Henrik to a long-term deal, and both Callahan and Girardi merit the same consideration.  Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves, however.  One season at a time.

Step Three is to find a new head coach.  Though Torts hasn’t finished cleaning out his office yet, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault and Dave Tippett are three names being bandied about.  If they’re the front runners, Ted Nolan and Jim Schoenfeld are currently just out of the money.  GM Sather would like to have his new coach in place before the Draft, so “Step Three” is his top priority now.  Undoubtedly, the coach he selects (and more to the point, the new coach’s system) will impact any Draft Day trades.

Glen Sather has a busy summer ahead of him.  The window of opportunity for the current incarnation of the Broadway Blueshirts to win the Stanley Cup is quickly closing.  How Slats navigates the rapids he now finds himself in will be interesting, indeed.

Right Wing Conspiracy – 21 MAY 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

Blueshirts Battered, Beaten

“…Try not!  Do…or do not.  There is no try.”  –Yoda, to Luke Skywalker

Down two games to none in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Bruins, tonight was do-or-do-not time for the New York Rangers.  The Blueshirts did not, allowing two goals in the final frame to lose, 2-1, to the Bruins.  Boston now has a commanding 3-0 series lead.  What happened, and where do the Rangers go from here?

First, a look at what went right for the Rangers in Game Three:

  • Henrik Lundqvist was again outstanding between the pipes, making key saves on two breakaways in the first period to buy time for his team to get their collective head screwed on straight.  Lundqvist was the Blueshirts’ best player tonight.
  • New York gave up no power plays to Boston…though this was due more to referee error than actually playing a clean game.
  • Derek Stepan won 64% of his faceoffs.
  • Taylor Pyatt got a (small) piece of a Ryan McDonagh shot for his second goal of the playoffs.
  • That’s about it.

What went wrong:

  • Other than Stepan, no Ranger won more than 46% of his draws.  On home ice.  Overall, New York won an embarassing 38% of faceoffs.  On home ice (I know; I already said that.  It bears repeating).  Completely unacceptable, and it was a key element in the loss.
  • Puck possession was a major problem for the Rangers, due in part to their inability to win faceoffs.
  • The New York Rangers power play is now officially the worst I’ve ever seen in my 33 years of hockey fandom.  5.3% – that’s how often they’re scoring with the man advantage in these playoffs.  Tonight’s two adventures on the PP featured a complete lack of structure or puck support, as Ranger forwards seemingly took turns attempting 1-on-4 rushes into the Boston zone, with an infuriatingly predictable result.  At least the Charge of the Light Brigade inspired a memorable poem; the equally misguided New York power play will just get Assistant Coach Mike Sullivan fired.
  • The Rangers forecheck – or lack thereof.
  • The Rangers near-total inability to generate sustained pressure in the offensive zone.  New York only did this on a couple of shifts.  Those few shifts aside, it was very much a one-shot-at-the-net-and-done affair.
  • An undisclosed injury to defenseman Anton Stralman.  Stralman had his head mashed into the end boards in the second period and seemed somewhat disoriented immediately afterward.  He did not return for the third period.
  • An apparent injury to Chris Kreider, in the vicinity of his left eye.  Early in the third, B’s forward Tyler Seguin got the blade of his stick up under Kreider’s visor on the follow-through of a shot.  Kreider did not return to the game, and his status is unknown at the time of this writing.

Where do the Rangers go from here?

Putting a positive spin on things, the Blueshirts only have to win the next game.  And the next one.  And the next one.  And the next one.  If they fail to do exactly that, it’s tee time.  Can they do it?  Theoretically, yes.  Will they?  Not with that vomit-inducing power play, they won’t.  And not with Brad Richards, who played just 58 seconds in the third period of Game Three, mired in the worst funk of his career.  So barring a truly miraculous turnaround (or a truly inexplicable collapse by the Bruins), the Rangers are done.

Right Wing Conspiracy – 14 MAY 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

Rangers Roll; B’s Knees?

While the New York Rangers were busy blowing out the Washington Capitals 5-0 last night, the Boston Bruins completed an NHL-history-making comeback:  Trailing Toronto 4-1 with 14:31 remaining in the third period, Boston scored three goals – including two in the final 1:22, after pulling goalie Tuukka Rask – to send the game to overtime, then delivered the coup de grace just 6:05 into the extra frame.  Now, the Rangers and Bruins face off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  How will that play out?  Here’s my two cents:

Going into this series, the biggest question mark has to be the Bruins’ blueline.  With Andrew Ference on crutches and Dennis Seidenberg leaving last night’s game with a mysterious lower-body injury after just 37 seconds of ice time, Boston is now facing a serious problem.  In Games Six and Seven, New York coach John Tortorella utilized new line combinations:  Hagelin-Stepan-Callahan, Zuccarello-Brassard-Nash, Pyatt-Boyle-Dorsett and Kreider-Richards-Asham.  In the deciding game of the Rangers-Caps series, scoring came from all four lines.  The Bruins’ depleted d-corps will have their hands full…and if Rick Nash breaks out, only a superhuman effort from Tuukka Rask will keep Boston in this series.

Beyond the blueline, the Bruins got past Toronto with just one line (Lucic-Krejci-Horton) firing on all cylinders.  That line tallied 11 goals and 18 assists, while all other B’s forwards combined produced just 5 goals and 11 helpers.  It’s a given that New York will put their top blueline tandem of Girardi and McDonagh up against Boston’s KHL line, so the Bruins will need much more from the likes of Jagr, Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin.

In addition to the above, two key matchups will be the Rangers’ putrid power play (7.1%) against the Bruins’ sub-par penalty kill (76.2%) and, even more important than special teams, the Battle of the Faceoff Circle:  Boston leads all playoff teams, winning 60.0% of their draws against Toronto, while the Rangers are struggling a bit at 49.2%.  If Boston can shore up their blueline and the Rangers can shut down the Bruins’ top line, this series will be decided at the faceoff dot.

Boston has two wild cards:  Jagr’s Butt and Wade Redden’s Revenge.  When Jaromir Jagr is firing on all cylinders, he’s still one of the best puck possession forwards in the game, utilizing his gluteus to the maximus to shield the puck from defenders and keep an offensive zone cycle going, which leads to tired defensemen and scoring chances.  Will Wade Redden exact revenge on the club that buried him in the minors for two long seasons?  Undoubtedly, his motivation factor will be high for this series.  Expect Redden to do what he didn’t do nearly enough to keep him in New York:  shoot the puck.

New York’s wild cards are Rick Nash and the Fourth Line (great name for a band, no?).  Nash is not playing poorly, but he’s definitely been snakebit thus far in the playoffs.  If he can score early in this series and rediscover his mojo, look out.  The new fourth line of Kreider-Richards-Asham was particularly impressive in Game Seven, with Kreider’s drop pass to Asham setting up the Rangers’ first goal (the eventual game-winner).  Aaron Asham scored two goals in the series against Washington, and continued success for the Blueshirts’ fourth line would be very bad news for the B’s.

Prediction:  The Bruins feed off their history-making Game Seven win over Toronto to take Game One against New York, but the Rangers’ four lines will overwhelm Boston’s undermanned blueline.  New York in six.

NHL Predictive Playoff Analysis – 13 May

The 2013 Playoffs continue with two Eastern Conference Game 7’s Tonight!

So how is OGA looking at this? Saturday, we provided predictive analyses indicating what the odds said are the chances for outcomes on all weekend games. The odds were not as good to us as they were Friday night. They said incorrectly:

The New York Islanders would win Game 6, which fell short in the OT period.

And the Washington Capitals would win Game 6 (although we said they would likely not)

Correctly, the odds predicted Detroit would win Game 7 against Anaheim, although we said the series would go to the Ducks. Anaheim was two goals short of a win, 1.5% of the total they netted in the regular season, underscoring how close things always are in the NHL.

The odds as we passed them are 5 – 2 / 71.4% for the two blogs.

What do they tell us about our two G7’s tonight? As you will see below, we had to delve a bit deeper on at least one call…

What Is Ahead?

Toronto at Boston, 7pm Eastern on Monday, 13 May. Based on the Win/Loss pattern of both teams and whether teams with those records have won their next game since the 2006 Playoffs, the chances of winning Game 7 are 50/50 for both teams as shown below:

TORbos13May

Of interest here is there are only two other instances of this pattern as historically mentioned above. One was a win and one was a loss each way. For Toronto, one was a win on the road and the other a road loss, meaning the same applies to home ice for Boston. Boston retains the slight edge for winning Game 1 in the series. How do we call this, then?

We said prior to Round 1 the stats indicated Toronto would win in six games. Looking at our original stats advantages for total output in 15 categories just for the Playoffs, here is who has what statistical advantage:

Toronto: LW, RW, Team Average, Total Team Skaters, Goalie and Total Team Numbers

Boston: C, D, Goals Scored Per Game

So this game will come down to three things: Goaltending, defense and line matchups.

The nod goes to Toronto’s Reimer in goal who has faced more shots against and still come up with as many wins as Rask. Rask has him in terms of goals against, but this is likely going to be a game like yesterday’s first period was played. Up and down the ice, fire a shot on goal, then back the other way. Reimer is likely Toronto’s best player on the ice right now.

The big question on defense is who makes the first mistake in front of their goaltender. I believe Boston is less likely to do it, so the issue for Toronto will be whether or not the mistake simply allows one more shot to hit Reimer or for the puck to go into the net.

And in terms of line matchups, Randy Carlyle needs to out duel Claude Julien’s changes like he did so well in Game 2 of this series. Carlyle has shown he can order it, and the Leafs’ players have shown their flexibility to make it happen.

As a bottom line here there is no clear-cut set of things to point to for this call. You can flip a coin. We will stick with our original prediction of Toronto as the series victor.

The New York Rangers at Washington 8pm Eastern on Monday, 13 May. Based on historical Win/Loss pattern as mentioned above that we have here, the chances of winning Game 7 are in the New York Rangers’ favor as shown below:

NYRwsh13May

The significant note here is that there are only two, post-last-Lockout Playoff patterns that match the current Win/Loss of the Rangers going into G7. They happen to be from Boston in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2009, both Cup-winning years for the two teams. They also happen to come from both teams’ Round 4 Stanley Cup victory. These are good omens for the Rangers. So we are going to leave it at that and go with our original call of the Rangers take Round 1 in seven games.

Summary

Tonight, we close out Round 1 action with two, potentially great, G7 matchups. This is for all the marbles to extend deeper into the post-season. Expect lots of great saves, hits and defense, making every goal that much more important.

And if the odds are correct above, Round 2 will look like this:

Eastern Conference: Ottawa @ Pittsburgh and The New York Rangers @ Toronto (a second straight Original Six matchup)

Western Conference: Detroit @ Chicago and San Jose @ Los Angeles

Excitement, no? The potential for another Original Six matchup? A ratings coup of Chicago/Detroit? The chance for an all-Canadian Eastern Conference final? And a potential Chicago/Los Angeles Western Conference final as well? What’s not to love here?

NHL Predictive Playoff Analysis – 11 May

The 2013 Playoffs continue!

So how is OGA looking at this? Yesterday, we provided predictive analysis indicating what the odds said are the chances for outcomes on all four games played. The odds did not lie as they correctly led us to pick the winner of all four games. While we cannot guarantee that will continue to be the case, we are going to give you the odds for both Saturday and Sundays’ matchups below.

Note, too, our calls on series winners based on statistical comparison 30 April through 2 May are only batting .500 right now. Right or wrong, we follow up here. San Jose and Ottawa as Round 1 winners were not confirmed by stats comparison and were therefore wrong. We did, however, pick Chicago in five games and Los Angeles in six games which were on the money.

Still to go we have Anaheim in seven to close out the West, Pittsburgh over the Islanders and Toronto over Boston which will take more games than we thought, and the Rangers over Washington in seven.

As for this weekend’s games, let’s look at the odds based on whether or not past, post- 2004-5 Lockout Playoff series win their next game and who has the advantage for opening the series as the Game 1 winner…

What Is Ahead?

Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders 7pm Eastern on Saturday, 11 May. Based on the history mentioned above, the chances of winning Game 6 are in the New York Islanders’ favor as shown below:

pitNYI11May

These teams play on back-to-back evenings with a chance Pittsburgh can close out the series against the odds tonight. But they are going to face a tenacious Islanders team to do it. Our bet is, against our original call, a Game 7. The Penguins should pull that one out, however, as the odds above indicate the series win is in their favor based on the Game 1 winner percentage.

Washington at the New York Rangers 4:30pm Eastern on Sunday, 12 May. Based on history, above, the chances of winning Game 6 are in the Capitals’ favor as shown below:

WSHnyr12May

Washington also holds the series-winning advantage for a Game 1 victory. The Capitals closing out the series would not uphold our Rangers’ – win – in – seven prediction, however. We say if the odds are wrong, it is here where the Rangers should reasonably be expected to pull out a win and force a G7.

The New York Islanders at Pittsburgh 7pm Eastern on Sunday, 12 May. We will update this call on Sunday morning, 12 May based on Saturday’s outcome.

Boston at Toronto 7:30pm Eastern on Sunday, 12 May. Since the 2006 Playoffs, the odds gods indicate the chances of winning Game 6 are in the Bruins’ favor as shown below:

BOStor12May

As with Washington, the odds of winning in Round 1 go to Boston for the Game 1 win. This would also go against our prediction of a Toronto victory, likely stats-tainted by the Bruins’ performance down the stretch. We would argue that the best Maple Leaf on the ice throughout the series has been James Reimer – a trend which needs to continue for our original prediction to come true.

Detroit at Anaheim 10pm Eastern on Sunday, 12 May. Since the 2006 Playoffs, the odds gods indicate the chances of winning Game 7 are in the Red Wings’ favor as shown below:

DETana12May

This, as you would expect from a G7, holds a conflicted ending when compared to the odds. Anaheim is still the odds-on favorite based on the G1 series win. This game is being played in the Ducks’ barn and we can expect a good show from the home team.

Summary

So tonight, the game odds say the Islanders win on Saturday night and Washington, Boston and Detroit on Sunday with the Penguins/Islanders Sunday call still TBD. We will see if the historical odds come through or we are looking at something closer to what we claimed would happen before the Round 1 series began.

As we said yesterday, the best part is it’s the playoffs and every game has to be played out…

Twitter Updates

  • ...This suggests that the LAK will defeat CHI in Game 6 to play the NYR for the Stanley Cup 3 years ago
  • Since 2005/6, when a Round 3 team wins Game 5, they lose Game 6 66.7% of the time; also, Western series are determined by Game 5.889... 3 years ago
  • ...So those stats point to the NYR claiming victory tonight and playing the winner from the Western Conference in the Finals 3 years ago
  • Since 2005/6, when a Round 3 team wins Game 5, they lose Game 6 60% of the time; also, Eastern series are determined by Game 5.778... 3 years ago
  • 4. Top 4 in each DIV play 2 rounds seeded within the DIV, 1 round versus other DIV champ and then the Finals between the Conference champs. 3 years ago

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