Shane O’Donnell writes for Hockey Prospectus and regularly appears on HP Radio. He writes about the Atlantic Division and contributed to Hockey Prospectus’ annual book.
An end to the Semin Experiment
It was announced earlier today that the Montreal Canadiens had placed Alexander Semin on waivers, and seeing as it would be extremely unlikely for Montreal to keep him in the AHL as a 31-year-old who is known for being lazy, and uncoachable, the Russian’s time in Montreal is most likely over.
His statisitcs in Montreal were actually good, however, with the veteran winger posting a 56.7% CF%, and a 3.8% relative CF%. Semin also had a 1.54 points per 60 minutes, which is 145th out of 391 forwards who have played 100 minutes this season.
So he’s been a solid middle six option for the Canadiens, but the fit just obviously isn’t there, and the Canadiens are still the fourth best possession team in the NHL right now. They’re playing solid hockey even without Semin, so this isn’t too big of a loss for Montreal.
I still think there’s value to be had if a team claims Semin, especially given his low cap hit and one-year contract. It’s a low risk move, and a team that focuses on driving possession might benefit from having the Russian sniper in their lineup. We’ll have to wait and see if he gets claimed.
The Detroit Red Wings are 7-0-3 over their past ten games, and have moved up to second place in the Atlantic Division. Ever since Pavel Datsyuk returned to the lineup, they’ve been a 56.3% CF% team, and don’t really show signs of slowing down. Even if they manage to play around the 52% mark for the rest of the year, they’ll be all but guaranteed a playoff spot.
I guess the reason why I’m so obsessed with the turnaround that Datsyuk has brought is because he’s not just elevating the team’s performance while he’s on the ice; the team has gotten better as a whole. Sure, he has a 58.8% CF%, but the team has an insane 55.1% rating with him off the ice.
His mere presence in the lineup appears to have made the rest of the team suddenly turn into an elite possession roster, after being one of the worst in the entire league during the first month of the season.
If it truly is just the presence of Datsyuk in the lineup that is causing the Red Wings to play so much better, and not a system change, or some other factor, then maybe there’s a lot to be said for the effect of quality of competition. That’s what makes this turnaround so intriguing; can QoC have that much of an effect on the play of lower line players over a decent sample of games?
Craig Anderson has been solid
Though the impressive play of Mike Hoffman is grabbing headlines right now, the solid play of Craig Anderson in goal has been just as integral to the Ottawa Senators success up to this point in the season. At 5 on 5, Ottawa’s save percentage is .933%, the 9th highest total in the entire league.
Though Anderson doesn’t immediately jump to mind as being a top ten NHL goaltender over the past couple of seasons, he’s been pretty damn close. From 2010-present, out of all goaltenders who have played in at least 200 games, Anderson ranks 10th with a save percentage of .918 in all situations.
Anderson has quietly been a good goaltender for a long period of time. He may be starting to creep up there in terms of age, but there’s no reason to expect he won’t at least continue to provide league average goaltending for the next couple of seasons.
Boston is a playoff team
The Boston Bruins have a +11 goal differential in all situations, good for 7th in the league. They won’t keep converting on 30% of their power play opportunities, but they also will be getting better than .906% goaltending from Tuukka Rask.
As they currently stand, the Bruins can win their next two games, and move into second place in the Atlantic (they currently are two points back of third, and three points back of second, but also have two games in hand). Their possession numbers are good, their goaltending is solid, and their special teams look good. There’s no reason to suspect that the Bruins won’t be making the postseason this year.
Willie Mitchell has not been good
Willie Mitchell has been a solid defender for a long stretch of time, with the ability to at least be a third pairing defenseman who can hold his own in terms of possession.
At the age of 38, however, Mitchell is showing signs of decline. He looks slow, and is often caught out of position, behind the play, or lost when defending in his own zone. His CF% of 39.5% is the 4th worst lowest rating in the entire league, and his relative CF% of -11.2% is the lowest rating in the league (out of defensemen who have played 100 minutes).
He may be the team’s captain, but his on-ice play is seriously hurting the team, and if he doesn’t improve, the Panthers may want to look into scratching the veteran blueliner. His likely replacement, Dylan Olsen, may not be the most appealing option, but Olsen was never as terrible as Mitchell has been this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
When I was on the most recent edition of Hockey Prospectus Radio, me and Matt talked about a possible rift between Steven Stamkos and Jon Cooper (rumor mongering can be fun!), and sort of did a “What If?” scenario where we considered what would happen if the two genuinely didn’t like each other.
Then comes this piece by TSN’s Frank Seravalli, where it’s hypothesized that Cooper and Stamkos aren’t exactly on the same page. There is, again, no way to tell if any of this is true, but there’s no denying that Stamkos hasn’t quite been the same player under Cooper that he was before, especially this season.
Pat Holden of Today’s Slapshot and the Russian Machine Never Breaks has a great article looking into some of Stamkos’ struggles in 2015-2016, and I’ll let him do most of the talking here.
“Stamkos’ 10.38 shot attempts/60 is by far the lowest of the five seasons shown above, and also of his career… The rate at which Stamkos is generating individual scoring chances (War on Ice definition) has also fallen sharply in 2015-16… Over his career, Stamkos’ average even strength shot has come from a distance of 26.5 feet. This season, that average has bumped up to 29.14 feet. “
Regardless of whether or not Stamkos will be staying with the Lightning for the future, Tampa Bay needs him to get going if they want to make a run for the Stanley Cup. They’ve been playing good hockey, but good hockey doesn’t win Cups; great hockey does.
Evander Kane starting to get bounces
Out of forwards who have played 100 minutes at 5 on 5 this season, Evander Kane ranks 1st in relative CF%, with a 13.2% rating. Kane is dominating the possession game for Buffalo, but hadn’t been getting the bounces.
Well, he’s starting to get them now, and has six points in his past four games, including four goals in his past three games. Watch out for the 24-year-old winger, as he could go off on a hot streak if he keeps dominating the opposition like this.
The future in Toronto looks bright
The Toronto Marlies are the best team in the AHL right now, leading in both points percentage and goal differential. They’ve scored an incredible 96 goals in 24 games, and star prospect William Nylander is averaging more than a point per game as a 19-year-old.
Then there’s the rest of the team’s prospects, such as Mitch Marner, Dymtro Timashov, who are tearing up the CHL. Marner and Timashov are each averaging over 1.8 points per game, with Marner averaging over two points per game.
Toronto is probably going to get another high draft pick, and have plenty of other players in the pipeline such as Kasperi Kapanen who might pan out. The potential to build a serious Cup contender in Toronto over the next couple of seasons is definitely there.