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January 4, 2012
Zamboni Tracks
The Hootenannies

by Ryan Wagman

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One of the statistical staples at Hockey Prospectus is Tom Awad's game-changing development of Goals Versus Threshold, otherwise known as GVT. Similar to how WARP is used in baseball, GVT is meant to measure a given player's contributions to his team's attempts to win hockey games and compare that contribution to what should have been expected from a freely available talent that might be found in the farm system. For the NHL's purposes, this is limited mostly to the AHL, at least until CHL and NCAA teams finish their seasons in the Spring.

Measured in goals (which, of course, are essential in winning games), GVT looks at a player's offensive, defensive, and shootout contributions, comparing each to what should be expected from our typical AHL call-up. For a deeper primer into how the GVT sausage is made, please check out Tom's introductory articles here, here and here. For the sake of this article, we should just remember that a typical replacement player, over a full season, will contribute approximately zero GVT. That number may fluctuate a little bit from player to player, but on the whole, they usually stick close to the breakeven point. A player who contributes a GVT below that point can be safely said to be eminently replaceable. Goalies can have an outsized effect on GVT, being as they are inherently their team's last line of defense, and so goalies typically have both the highest and lowest GVT scores. Last season, the top six and nine of the top 11 GVT scores were put forth by goaltenders, while all of the worst 18 GVT scores were from netminders. Removing the men in the colorful masks from the equation, five skaters put up GVTs above 20 last year, while not a single skater ranked below David Booth's -2.8 GVT.

While zero GVT over a full season is the hypothetical mark, actual flesh-and-blood midseason replacements may vary greatly. Those that fail to reach the breakeven point will usually find their way back to the bus leagues in short order, as the home team can swing a trade for a better replacement if another acceptable alternative cannot be found on the farm. A few lucky bounces here and there may also see a given replacement exceed expectations, particularly when that replacement is actually a highly touted prospect being given a midseason chance. An example of that type would be Nick Palmieri, who was recalled to New Jersey around this time last year after spending the opening third of the season in AHL Albany. The former third rounder, a big 6'3" and only 21 years old, proceeded to contribute 4.3 GVT over the remaining 43 games of the Devils' season, playing a key role in their second half renaissance. Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers was another. Recalled from AHL Connecticut just after New Year's, the former first round pick gave the Rangers 4.6 GVT across 40 games, which would have put him on pace for 9.3 GVT across the full 82 game slate. While Palmieri has regressed in his sophomore season, McDonagh looks set to break his established pace this year.

With those two in mind, for the purposes of this article, we will assume that any full season below 5.0 GVT as within range of replacement. In any season, there will be few players who began the year in the minor leagues but are able to contribute at least 5.0 GVT to an NHL team. To reach that mark over a full season, a given player would need to average 0.061 GVT per game across 82 games. A "hootenanny" is an old colloquial term which means, among other things, a thing that was forgotten, or unknown. Hootenanny was also the name of the second album of the seminal alt-punk band, the Replacements. In their honor, we will now look at all of this season's call-ups who started off in either the AHL or ECHL and who have since played at least ten NHL games at a level that would exceed 5.0 GVT if kept up across a full season. The games played cutoff is to ensure that that a single game debut full of highlights would not skew our results—as has already occurred with a couple of netminders. The 13 players who meet those criteria, as of the NHL's Christmas break, are this year's front running Hootenannies.

Please note that GVT figures are for games played through the Christmas pause, while player narratives may include stats of the first game or two after the break. [Editor: Sorry about the delay here, folks!]

1. Ian Cole D, St. Louis Blues (11 games, 2.3 GVT, 0.209 GVT/game, 17.138 GVT prorated to 82 games)

Long considered one of the top prospects in the St. Louis system, the American rearguard debuted last season with 1.9 GVT accumulated through 26 games. He played mostly at even strength and his below average possession numbers (-2.1 Corsi) indicated that he was not yet the finished product. His knack for picking up minor penalties was another strike against the former first rounder.

With Davis Payne still at the helm to start this season, Cole was back with Peoria failing to impress, with only three helpers and a -5 in 13 games. One month into the season and with the Blues stumbling along, Payne was ditched and Ken Hitchcock was brought into the fold. The first transaction made under the new boss was the recall of Cole, who Hitch should have been familiar with through scouting reports from his old post as bench boss of the division rival Columbus Blue Jackets. Having been paired mostly with Alex Pietrangelo at even strength (only at even strength, as he has scarcely seen the ice in special teams situations), Cole has significantly upped his game, cutting down on the infractions (only four minors in 11 games) and improving his possession with a relative Corsi of 5.4 while being protected to the tune of 55.2% offensive zone starts. Platitudes aside, Cole has seen too much of the Blues' press box of late, as he has been a healthy scratch for each of his team's past eight matches. Cole has been good, but he has not earned the trust of the men in charge and may see more time in the AHL before truly establishing himself in the NHL.

2. Carl Hagelin LW, New York Rangers (15 games, 2.7 GVT, 0.180 GVT/game, 14.76 GVT/82)

A true hootenanny, the undersized Swedish winger has emerged fully formed in his first professional season after four successful seasons with the Michigan Wolverines. The former sixth round pick took the AHL by storm, with 13 points and a team-high +12 in his first 17 games with the Connecticut Whale.

Playing mostly on the third line with Brian Boyle and John Mitchell (more on him below), Hagelin has been a revelation, particularly on the penalty kill. Although others are receiving more time a man down, Hagelin has somehow already notched a pair of shorthanded markers. His even possession numbers are unsustainable (22.9 Corsi—Selke territory) while only making a mind-boggling 37.7% of his starts in the offensive zone. His PDO has also been quite high at 1061, indicating that regression will surely come at some point soon, as Henrik Lundqvist will allow a few more goals with Hagelin on the ice, while the rookie and his linemates will miss the net a little more often. He has certainly earned the opportunity to stick, but will need to be protected more to sustain his current statistical edge.

3. Stefan Elliott D, Colorado Avalanche (14 games, 2.4 GVT, 0.171 GVT/game, 14.022 GVT/82)

Like Cole above, Elliott came into the season as a highly touted prospect, although much younger than the Blue. Unlike Cole, the former second round pick had yet to play a professional game before this season. After impressing in 18 games for AHL Lake Erie, Elliott got the call in late November as Erik Johnson was placed on the Injured Reserve.

Johnson has since returned, but Elliott has not relinquished his spot in the lineup. Even though he has played under 40% of his team's games, the rookie is fourth among Avalanche blueliners in GVT and second in possession rate (Relative Corsi 8.0). That last number is less impressive as he has been protected in terms of his competition (seventh on the team) and zone starts (58.3% in the offensive zone). The Avalanche should not be complaining to be receiving so much from the 20-year-old, but Joe Sacco's judicious roster juggling has played a bigger factor than can be seen in the core numbers. Nonetheless, Elliott has arrived and is here to stay.

4. Alexandre R. Picard D, Pittsburgh Penguins (15 games, 1.6 GVT, 0.107 GVT/game, 8.774 GVT/82)

A yo-yo player, Picard started the season in the AHL and is now in his fourth stint with the parent Penguins*. Originally a third round pick of the Flyers, the 'R' is to differentiate him from the winger in the Lightning organization. This Picard has been traded three times in his career, representing part of the package used to land Vaclav Prospal, Andrej Meszaros, and Matt Cullen respectively. Although he has generally managed to avoid trips to the bus leagues in recent years, Picard has never been more than a depth player, never having played over 54 games in any of his previous six seasons in the NHL. Like Cole and Elliott, Picard's success this year is largely due to protection granted him by coach Dan Bylsma, as he has started 68.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone, second among Penguins defenders.

*Since the original draft of this piece was written, Picard was demoted to the AHL once again. Yo-yo.

5. Joey Crabb RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (24 games, 2.5 GVT, 0.104 GVT/game, 8.528 GVT/82)

Crabb's play lives up to his name, as he has offered the Maple Leafs grit and some depth scoring from the fourth line since his recall in early November. In the absence of Mike Brown, the Leafs were growing increasingly reluctant to use either Colton Orr or Jay Rosehill in actual games, as their form of graceless truculence was not helping the team pick up points. Crabb, who has a nose for the net, whereas Brown has a nose for the fist, has clicked well with David Steckel and one of either Darryl Boyce or Philippe Dupuis. The Alaskan has also played an important role on the league's worst penalty killing unit, although, in spite of his recent shorthanded marker, he may be more a part of the problem than the solution. When Brown returns, Crabb should retain a spot on the fourth line, as Dupuis' play (30 games and counting without a point) has not merited a locker stall. His decent GVT has been helped by the relatively poor level of his competition, but to his credit, Crabb has started more than his share of defensive shifts (only 46.4% offensive zone starts).

6. Simon Despres D, Pittsburgh Penguins (10 games, 1 GVT, 0.100 GVT/game, 8.2 GVT/82)

Alexandre R. Picard, mentioned above, is second among Penguins D-men starting 68.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Through 11 games, Despres started an incredible 70.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone. He is middle of the road among his team's blueliners in Quality of Competition, but approaching the bottom of the barrel in Corsi Relative to the Quality of Competition faced, indicating poor possession ability even with sheltered play in the NHL. Unlike Picard, however, Despres is only now beginning what could be a long journey in the NHL. Picard is as good as he will ever be. Corey Pronman thought enough of the former first round pick to rank him 68th in the 2011-12 Top 100 Prospect list.

At 6'4", 225 lbs, Despres is a big man and looks to have a big future. That said, we probably will not get to truly see it until next year, as the former Sea Dog is likely to lose his job (for now) once Kris Letang and Paul Martin return from their injuries.

7. John Mitchell RW, New York Rangers (15 games, 1.4 GVT, 0.093 GVT/game, 7.626 GVT/82)

Mitchell was recalled from AHL Connecticut within 24 hours of the recall of teammate Hagelin. The former Maple Leaf is a known quality being tried in a different role. Whereas, while toiling in Toronto, Mitchell was protected with well above 50% offensive zone starts, since his recall he has barely eclipsed 40%. The graduate of the Plymouth Whalers program has long been able to provide decent depth scoring in a part-time role. If he can stick in his new defensive duties, he should be able to salvage a career that was all too close to slipping into yo-yo status.

8. Mark Flood D, Winnipeg Jets (20 games, 1.8 GVT, 0.090 GVT/game, 7.38 GVT/82)

Hit by a grievous injury stack that saw, at one point lasting 11 days, four presumed regular blueliners (Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones, and Derek Meech), sidelined to injury, the Jets were desperate for help. Among the reinforcements recruited from St. John's was Flood, a 27-year-old who had but six NHL games in his resume entering this season. Much of Flood's place on this list comes from his early success with the Jets, including a two-point night in his second game (including his first career goal). As Hainsey and Enstrom returned to health, Flood was reverted to the role of depth defenseman. Still on the NHL roster as of this writing, he has been a healthy scratch in four of the past five games. With the returns of both Jones and Meech nearing, Flood should not get too used to air travel.

9. Viatcheslav Voynov D, Los Angeles Kings (20 games, 1.5 GVT, 0.075 GVT/game, 6.15 GVT/82)

Turning 22 in less than three weeks, Voynov is definitely on the prospect side of this list. Another member of Pronman's Top 100 (#43), Voynov has spent three full seasons in the AHL, and nearly doubled his previous scoring high last year, with 51 points from the blueline in 76 games. Voynov got his first call when Drew Doughty was hurt less than two weeks into the season. He played significant minutes, and in his fifth game, scored two goals and added a helper for good measure. Two days later, with Doughty declared healthy, Voynov was sent back down to Manchester.

Two weeks later, this time with Alec Martinez bowing out to injury, Voynov was back. He added two more points in his second game in his return engagement, but has contributed only three points in his past 14 games. Although he was benched for three games in a row in December, Voynov seems to have staked a claim to a spot on the Kings' third even strength pairing with the stay-at-home Willie Mitchell as well as a role on the second power play unit.

10. Zach Kassian RW, Buffalo Sabres (13 games, 0.9 GVT, 0.069 GVT/game, 5.658 GVT/82)

Yet another top flight prospect, Kassian just missed the Pronman preseason list. Selected 13th overall in 2009, the former Windsor Spitfire was called up in late-November as Brad Boyes went down to injury. Enjoying a strong professional debut at Rochester, Kassian made a quick impact in Buffalo with five points in his first six games. As could be expected, his play has since regressed (one point in his last eight games), but his playing time has remained steady at around 14 minutes of ice time per game. The 20-year-old has earned his keep by playing heavy defensive minutes (46.3% offensive zone starts), although against below average competition. Nonetheless, he has held his own thus far and should be given the chance to fail before he goes back to the AHL.

11. Sean Avery LW, New York Rangers (15 games, 1 GVT, 0.067 GVT/game, 5.494 GVT/82)

Unlike his teammates Hagelin and Mitchell, Avery was a well-known commodity in Manhattan, a pest with third-line upside. Avery's presence on this list is largely a product of luck, as a very poor possession rates (low Corsi relative to Competition) is buoyed by a high PDO, measuring the Rangers' shooting percentage plus save percentage while he was on the ice; with 1000 being the average, Avery has a current PDO of 1054. It is true that Hagelin and Mitchell are matching that stat, but they have the edge over the 31-year-old in that their component numbers support their play. John Tortorella must agree, as Avery has been a healthy scratch for the Rangers' past eight games.*

*Since writing the first draft of this article, Avery was passed through waivers and sent back down to the AHL.

12. David Ullstrom LW, New York Islanders (14 games, 0.9 GVT, 0.064 GVT/game, 5.248 GVT/82)

While the previous 11 players are all on teams that are at least competitive, Ullstrom is the best replacement on a bad team. The former fourth round draft pick came over to North America from Sweden last year and was fourth in scoring for AHL Bridgeport Sound with 41 points in 67 games. Ullstrom did not make the Pronman's Islanders' Top 10 list, earning an honorable mention as someone who maxes out as a bottom-six forward. His minutes have accordingly been limited, only exceeding 11.5 minutes of ice time twice in 14 games. Ullstrom has not played particularly well, with poor component measures held up by the top PDO (1035) among Islander forwards. A concussion has kept him out of the lineup for the past three games, but more AHL time is probably in order once he returns from the Injured Reserve.

13. Dana Tyrell LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (14 games, 0.9 GVT, 0.064 GVT/game, 5.248 GVT/82)

Dana Tyrell played an important energy role as a rookie for Tampa last year, but with a semifinal appearance in their recent past, expectations were raised this year in Tampa. As such, the former second round pick out of Prince George in the WHL began this year in the AHL. Tyrell was recalled in late November as Tampa sought improved play from their depth lines and Tyrell has answered the call, playing steadily on the fourth line with some penalty killing duties thrown in for good measure. As should be expected from a mucker, Tyrell has started the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone (64.5%), but ended more than half in the offensive zone, indicating that he does a solid job of moving the puck out of danger. He is still young enough that his production can uptick, but we should not expect anything above a solid third line contribution.

Going forward, we will continue to track the NHL's hootenannies. Who have been the best call-ups on your team?

Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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