Take five: Ducks, Kane, Nolan, Neal, player of the year

Sidney Crosby is the player of 2013, according to this week’s Hockey Prospectus panel. Other topics in this week’s edition of five questions posed to the analytic minds of the HP crew include Patrick Kane, the red-hot Ducks, the surprising Sabres, James Neal, and outdoor classics. This week’s answers come from Timo Seppa, Corey Pronman, John Fischer, Ryan Wagman, and Rob Vollman.

1. The red-hot Ducks just had their 10-game winning streak snapped. Where do they rank among Stanley Cup favorites?

Seppa: Still in the second tier. The underlying metrics aren’t as good as with many of the usual suspects. But, go Selanne!

Pronman: Not in the top five to seven. San Jose, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Boston, and Pittsburgh are better bets right now.

Fischer: I don’t think they do. Anaheim’s a good possession team but I don’t see them shooting about a percent better than everyone but two teams in the NHL into the late spring. They are a classic strong season team that will fall out in the first two rounds. Especially since they may have to go through Los Angeles, who can pull off another 2012 run if they can keep firing them in.

Wagman: Behind Chicago, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. They are part of the second tier with San Jose, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Vollman: I didn’t even see the Ducks as a playoff team when the season began. While I was obviously dead wrong about that controversial opinion, I still don’t see them as anything more than a dark horse that is likely to get eliminated in the first round.

2. Patrick Kane is currently third in goals and second in points. Will he win the Maurice Richard and/or the Art Ross?

Seppa: My knee-jerk reaction was to say “no way”, but he is right up there for both. Health is obviously a big factor in every individual award race. As usual, we have seen major contenders for both trophies, like Stamkos and Malkin, take big hits with extended absences. There is an aspect of “last contender standing” involved. An injury to Ovechkin could see Kane winning the Richard, and an injury to Crosby could see Kane winning the Art Ross. And it’s not just a flash in the pan, as Kane is sustaining the pace he started in 2012-13.

Pronman: Probably not.

Fischer: Kane is having a fantastic season. He is the only one who could catch Crosby in points at the moment. Of course, the one cold streak or injury that could lead to that happening could just as easily happen to Kane. He has a better-than-a-slim chance, but still is an underdog for the Art Ross. As for the Richard, I don’t think anyone’s touching Alexander Ovechkin this season. No one has figured out how to keep him from that right circle.

Wagman: No. Ovechkin is the easy front runner for the Richard and Crosby for the Art Ross.

Vollman: Patrick Kane is an excellent offensive player, and has as good a shot as anyone should something happen to the obvious front runners, Crosby and Ovechkin.

3. After an initial 1-5-0 start, Buffalo has since gone 6-5-3 under new coach Ted Nolan. How difficult are the Sabres going to be to beat in 2014?

Seppa: While you have to give Buffalo credit for wins over Boston and Washington during that stretch, it is not like it has been a killer schedule: only four of the 14 (Boston twice, Washington, Montreal) currently have a positive goal differential. Likewise, only four are over 50.0% in Fenwick close (Boston twice, New Jersey, New York Rangers). And by both measures, the Sabres have been the worst team in the league over the course of the season. “Don’t get your hopes up” would be an understatement.

Pronman: Not difficult. They couldn’t be historically bad forever. They will lose more games soon enough.

Fischer: They are going to be a lot tougher to deal with. I think they are going to be rather motivated. They have nothing to lose. Those near the end of their deals are essentially playing for new ones. Those looking to get out via trade are going to play hard to get noticed. They continue to get great goaltending. I don’t think they are going to shoot below 6% at evens forever. The Sabres will still battle with the Isles for worst in the league and probably “win” that battle given how terribly awful they are in possession. But I don’t think they are going to be total jobbers, either.

Wagman: Not too difficult. They will obviously be better than their showings under Ron Rolston this year, if only due to more maturity from their young players. A lot will depend on how the Ryan Miller situation plays out. If he is still there, they could be respectable. If he is either traded, or leaves as a UFA, the Sabres could still easily be a bottom-three NHL team.

Vollman: Buffalo wasn’t as bad as their record suggested. They are bad, and certainly the worst team in the league, but not by that great a distance.

4. With his recent hat trick, James Neal now has 14 goals and 30 points in just 21 games. Should he be on Team Canada in Sochi?

Seppa: Canada is so deep that many really good players are going to be left off of the roster, including Neal in all likelihood. If you put stock in player familiarity, though, there would be value in keeping a Kunitz-Crosby-Neal line together for Sochi.

Pronman: I see the argument, but don’t think he should be a lock. That is a really tough team to crack, and frankly, there are better scorers available than him even if he has a case.

Fischer: As an Andy Greene for USA partisan, the first question should be: was he ever considered?  Was he on the initial list? Assuming he was, he really should be considered. He has a fantastic shot and he is quite prolific with it. Now that he gets to play with Sidney Crosby on a line—which makes Kane’s hopes of the Art Ross dimmer—Neal will get a lot more attention. As an American supporter, I will be happy to not see him in February.

 

Wagman: Borderline. Of the roughly 30 good candidates at forward for Team Canada, only 13 are true wingers, although a good number of the centers (e.g. Stamkos, Couture, Duchene) should be able to fit in nicely on the wings. If we can accept that Crosby, Tavares, Toews, Stamkos, Perry, and Getzlaf are automatic, that leaves eight spots to be divided among a pool that should include Kunitz, Benn, Giroux, Duchene, Bergeron, Couture, Sharp, Neal, Marleau, Thornton, Hall, and Seguin. I could see an argument for including Kunitz with Crosby as well as Sharp with Toews. While Bergeron was considered a lock for a long time, he has struggled this year and may be bumped. The same goes for Giroux. If it were up to me, I would invite Kunitz, Benn, Duchene, Couture, Sharp, Thornton, Marleau, and Neal. So the answer is yes, but it is not an easy answer.

Vollman: No, he shouldn’t, but that is more praise for Team Canada than it is a criticism of Neal. There are only so many scoring positions available in a lineup, and they have it well covered with guys like Stamkos, Crosby, and Tavares. Unless Neal brought something else like shutdown defensive play to the table, his offensive talents aren’t enough to make the team, as impressive as they have been.

5. Who is the player of the year for the 2013 calendar year?

Seppa: You might have to give it to Ovechkin for all of the combined goals. Or Crosby, for being the best player in the sport, and only being out of the lineup for a little bit last season.

Pronman: Boring answer, but Crosby, especially given what he is doing with the injury-plagued Penguins.

Fischer: Easy – Sidney Crosby. Even with a massive concussion sidelining him in 2013, he had 56 points in 36 games. Assuming (and hoping) he is pointless in New Jersey on New Year’s Eve, he will end this part of 2013-14 with 58 points in 41 games. No one else has put up more points in the calendar year, much less in a total of 77 season games. No one else continues to make Kunitz and Dupuis look like the second coming of Kurri and Messier. And now Neal replaces Dupuis, which only makes that line crazier.  No one else continues to simply make an impact in nearly every game he plays in.

Wagman: Sidney Crosby, healthy at last.

Vollman: Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, and has been for years. His achievements were simply incredible.

Bonus: What was your favorite outdoor classic hockey game, and why?

Seppa: I watch the Winter Classics, and they are kind of cool, but I don’t get too wrapped up in them. I think we stand a good chance to be oversaturated by the outdoor games really soon. That’s kind of an answer.

Pronman: The Edmonton-Montreal Heritage Classic. Was in Montreal at the time and it was a great time watching it with people. Plus, love the image of Theodore from that game.

Fischer: Devils vs. Rangers on January 26, 2014. It hasn’t happened yet but it will be my first and the Devils’ first outdoor game. Already that means more than whatever overly cynical try-hard bloggers can ever write to dampen that experience.

Vollman: Montreal/Edmonton was awesome. The game itself, and the alumni game that went with it. I watched it with some good friends and had some good munchies and it was a surprisingly exciting contest.

Rob Vollman is one of the founding authors of Hockey Prospectus, long-time contributor at ESPN Insider, author of Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, an author of all four of our annuals, and the creator of all of the great charts you find in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14.

Vollman

Follow Rob on Twitter at @robvollmanNHL.

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