Following in the illustrious footsteps of inaugural winner Carl Hagelin, and Viktor Fasth, who took the title in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign, the Hootenanny Award, given to the year’s best replacement player, is making a few changes to reflect an inherent bias in the data. To recap, to qualify for consideration, a player had to have started the season somewhere other than the NHL. In the vast majority of cases that means the player opened the season in the AHL and was eventually recalled. In some cases, there are players who were free agents to start the year and signed on late. There are also occasional cases of amateurs who signed out of the collegiate ranks for a brief end-of-season cameo.
For the 2013-14 season, that gives us a sample of 255 players who began the year outside of the NHL but were called in and appeared in at least one game. That includes four players who were traded from one organization to another after begin recalled. For the purposes of this award, stats with all NHL clubs were included. Those 255 players accumulated a total of 141 GVT spread over 3,688 games. That works out to slightly more than 3 GVT for every 82 full games played – not insignificant, but closer to the theoretical replacement level than a team should expect from a full time player. Using the 3-1-1 formula of converting goals added to points in the standings, a replacement player in 2013-14 added approximately 1 standings point for every 82 games played.
As noted in the opening paragraph, the previous winner was Viktor Fasth, a Swedish league veteran who emerged from obscurity to play a key role in net for the Anaheim Ducks in 2013. When looking at the 2013-14 results, we can quickly see that goalies had an outsized impact on the results. Even factoring in that goalies frequently play partial games, we see that approximately 267 full games were played by replacement goalies last season, from the nearly 29 played by Reto Berra between Calgary and Colorado, down to the 12 minutes each that Magnus Hellberg and Nathan Lawson played for the Predators and Senators respectively. In those 267 games, the replacement netminders accumulated a total of 23.7 GVT, which works out to 7.3 GVT per 82 games – more than double the overall average – an average which includes their totals. Replacement skaters averaged 2.8 GVT per 82 games played. As such, Viktor Fasth will remain the only goalie to ever win the Hootenanny award, as the criteria, which look at GVT accrued per game above a threshold of 20 games, will now exclude goalies, who naturally have an outsized impact on a single game.
That said, before we dive into the finalists and recipient of this year’s award, a quick look at the three netminders who compiled over 10 GVT after being recalled as replacements.
3) Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks (26.2 games, 10.7 GVT)
Recalled in mid-October when Fasth went down to injury, Andersen was spectacular, keeping his GAA below 2.00 until his 12th appearance. He appeared in 28 games in total, stopping 92.3% of all shots, eventually giving his GM enough confidence that Fasth was dealt to Edmonton around the trade deadline.
2) Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings (18.3 games, 14.9 GVT)
Like Andersen, Jones got the call due to an injury among the regular rotation, as starter Jonathan Quick was hurt in mid-November and missed close to six weeks of the season. Jones collected three shutouts in his first six starts, and eventually forced the Kings hand in terms of nominal second stringer Ben Scrivens, as the latter was dealt to Edmonton (ironically, into a timeshare with the aforementioned Viktor Fasth). Jones finished the season with an incredible .934 save percentage.
1) Cam Talbot, New York Rangers (20.2 games, 15.4 GVT)
The Rangers opened the season with veteran Martin Biron backing up the King in net. In two games, Biron allowed nine goals on 38 shots against, including a noteworthy embarrassment against the San Jose Sharks that included a between the legs bit of wizardry by rookie Tomas Hertl. Biron was demoted (he soon after retired) and Talbot, an undrafted free agent signed out of Alabama Huntsville made his debut. Talbot had steadily improved over his four years in the AHL, with gradually ascending save percentages, but his work behind the Rangers’ blueline, stopping 94.1% of all shots against, was more than anyone could hope for on Broadway. Without the provision against goaltenders, Talbot would have won the title.
And now, without further ado, our 2013-14 Hootenanny Award Finalists, sorted in ascending order of GVT per game:
10) Erik Haula, LW, Minnesota Wild (46 games, 4.8 GVT)
Recalled in late November with Mikael Granlund sidelined, Haula steadily gained the confidence of head coach Mike Yeo over four separate stints with the Wild. As promising as his regular season performance was, Haula really took off in the playoffs, with the former seventh round pick scoring four times as the Wild took down the Colorado Avalanche and pushed the Blackhawks further than anyone expected. The former Golden Gopher has secured a third line role for 2014-15 with his steady two-way game and the Wild are expecting an offensive uptick for his sophomore campaign.
9) Riley Sheahan, C, Detroit Red Wings (42 games, 4.8 GVT)
Originally recalled in mid-December, when it became clear that free agent signee Stephen Weiss would miss considerable time, Sheahan showed enough in his first four game stint to be top of mind when the Wings would need reinforcements later in the season as more and more of their expected center rotation were hit by the injury bug. Although the former first round pick was not a factor in the first round loss to the Bruins, it is reasonable to wonder if the Wings would even have reached the postseason without his contributions. Expect Sheahan to open the 2014-15 season firmly in the Wings’ top nine.
8) Jeremy Morin, RW, Chicago Blackhawks (24 game, 2.8 GVT)
A second round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2009, Morin came to Chicago one year later in the Dustin Byfuglien trade. He had received short trials in each of the three previous seasons, but failed to impress sufficiently to avoid going back down to the AHL. Given the benefit of added shift protection – he was scarcely used for defensive zone faceoffs – Morin saw his possession numbers skyrocket and with that his scoring. A highlight was definitely scoring four times in the regular season’s final five games, although that did not secure him a regular playoff role, as he only appeared in two games as the Blackhawks went to the Conference Final. Morin is expected to claim a full time bottom six role this year.
7) Eric Gelinas, D, New Jersey Devils (60 games, 7.2 GVT)
This placement is all about Gelinas’ proficiency on the power play, as 17 of his 29 points came with the man advantage. A big man with a big point shot, Gelinas was not fully trusted by head coach Peter DeBoer due to struggles in his own zone that led to his being given a whopping 63.5% of his non-neutral zone even strength starts in the offensive zone, higher than all but two other NHL blueliners who played in even 40 games. In spite of his deficiencies, the former second round pick has clear enough assets that he should have no trouble maintaining a full time role in the NHL.
6) Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings (62 games, 7.5 GVT)
If this list included playoff accomplishments, Toffoli may well have risen to the top as his work skating with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson were vital to the Kings emerging as Stanley Cup Champions for the second time in three seasons. The former second round pick – and previous Hootenanny Award finalist(!) – was used judiciously by coach Darryl Sutter and the reward was handsome as Toffoli showed the skills sought after in a modern day sniper including a nose for the net and an opportunistic instinct. With room to pick up more time on the power play, Toffoli should see his numbers continue to rise as he establishes himself as an NHL presence.
5) Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers (66 games, 8.1 GVT)
Like Toffoli at #6, Kreider would threaten for the title if this award included playoff stats. Despite missing the entire first round as well as the first three games of the second round series against Pittsburgh, Kreider finished the postseason only four points away from the lead for the Stanley Cup finalists. Recalled from the AHL on the same day in October as Cam Talbot, the former first round pick was ostensibly going to replace Ryan Callahan, who had sustained a broken thumb. The Boston College alum proved to be far better than in previous callups to the team, both in offensive output, as measured by goals and assists, as well as in the possession game, with very strong Corsi figures in spite of not being protected in terms of competition. Krieder enters 2014-15 as the likely first line left winger.
4) Paul Byron, C, Calgary Flames (47 games, 5.9 GVT)
I bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Of all the players who made this list, Byron is the only one who was never considered a top flight prospect, although that has more to do with his stature (5-7”, 153lbs) than his skill. Recalled in late November when rookie phenom Sean Monahan fractured his foot, Byron quickly found his way into the good graces of head coach Bob Hartley, who appreciated his speed and hustle. By year’s end, the Ottawa native was receiving top six minutes with regularity. In spite of playing tough minutes and often against top six opponents, Byron was one of only three Flames’ forwards with over 40 games played to post a positive Corsi On. In spite of his clear ability to play at the NHL level, his size again places his roster spot in question. He will have to beat out one of Devin Setoguchi or Brian McGrattan for a spot this season. Common sense says the latter should not even be a consideration, but we are all aware of team president Brian Burke’s predilection for big ornery types.
3) Brandon Pirri, C, Chicago Blackhawks/Florida Panthers (49 games, 6.9 GVT)
A second round pick of the Blackhawks in 2009, Pirri was putting up good scoring numbers in the AHL at age 19. This is a league that only very rarely has any players at all under the age of 21. When Pirri was 21, he took the AHL scoring title. That the Toronto native can score in bunches has never been in question. The problem for Pirri had been a compound matter of his underwhelming size, his questionable defensive game and the general depth up front for Chicago. The latter issue was finally solved last March, when Pirri was dealt to the Florida Panthers (whose GM, Dale Tallon, was in charge of Chicago when Pirri was drafted) for a pair of mid-round picks. While he played 28 games in Chicago before the trade and 21 in Florida afterwards, his numbers from the southeast were more potent, with 14 points as a Panther compared to 11 in the Midwest. With Florida having added a ton of forward depth over the summer, Pirri will once again have to prove that he belongs, but it is safe to say that he has nothing more to gain by continuing to play in the AHL.
2) Anders Lee, LW, New York Islanders (22 games, 3.8 GVT)
After three strong seasons with Notre Dame, Anders Lee, a sixth round pick from the 2009 draft, turned pro towards the end of the 2012-13 season with a brief cameo on Long Island. 23 years old last season, the plan was for the Minnesota native to spend the season in the AHL. Despite appearing in only 54 games at the level, he finished second in team scoring, with 41 points, a very strong total on an otherwise poor AHL team. Lee was finally recalled after the Olympic break, with John Tavares ruled out for the remainder of the season. A wide body at 6-2”, 225, Lee immediately imposed himself on the league and scored twice against Toronto in his first game, and had six goals through eight games. In fairness, he contributed only a single assist in 11 games after his open run before adding three final goals in his last two games, so we cannot yet say for sure which player is the real Anders Lee. The Islanders management are believers, and some think that Lee could see significant time playing on the first line with Tavares and Kyle Okposo. At worst, Lee should be a strong choice for the third line.
1) Gustav Nyquist, LW, Detroit Red Wings (57 game, 13.1 GVT)
May I present to you, faithful reader, the winner of the 2013-14 Hootenanny Award, Red Wings’ sensation, Gustav Nyquist! Some may complain that the only reason he started the season in the AHL was due to contractual constraints as opposed to hockey decisions, but the Hootenanny cannot claim to know the minds of GMs. The Hootenanny can only judge their actions. Nyquist simply blew away the competition once it was limited to skaters, finishing with over 33% more GVT per game than the runner up. A product of the Malmo system in Sweden, Nyquist came to North America immediately after being selected in the fourth round in 2008, spending three seasons with the Maine Black Bears, where he was listed as an All American twice across his three seasons. In parts of four seasons in the AHL, Nyquist consistently scored over one point per game, demonstrating tremendous ability. Detroit being a franchise that prefers to let its prospects marinate longer than most, when they finally pulled the trigger on a full time role, Nyquist delivered more than they had ever expected. He single-handedly took an aged team that was in danger of ending a 22 year postseason streak due to long-term injuries to offensive pillars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and carried them back to the playoffs*. Although small by NHL standards, he could not be stopped, scoring 28 times in 57 games, finishing a mere four points away from the team lead. With the two aforementioned veterans expected to be back at full strength, Nyquist will not be relied upon as heavily for an encore, so the Red Wings will not be hurt so bad by the expected regression to his sky-high 18.3% shooting percentage, but his other underlying metrics suggest that the 25 year old is for real, even if they, too, regress somewhat due to less shift protection.
*The author is fully aware of the comment written previously about Nyquist’s teammate, Riley Sheahan. Sheahan’s production may have been the margin between in and out, but without Nyquist, the question would have been entirely redundant.
As we congratulate our 2013-14 Hootenanny award winner and look forward to a new season of speculation, we will end with a reminder that just because a talented player is forced to start the year in the AHL, the season is long and he can still have an outsized impact on the team.