Lundqvist, Steen, the Islanders, and the Habs are all among the topics for a new feature where five topical questions are posed to the analytic minds of the Hockey Prospectus crew. This week’s panel includes Timo Seppa, Tom Awad, Corey Pronman, John Fischer, Leslie Treff, and Rob Vollman.
1. Henrik Lundqvist’s deal: Good, bad, or ugly?
Seppa: Good. Lundqvist is by far the best goalie by GVT and pretty much any other measure since 2005-06, and a perennial Vezina favorite. You probably get three or four more years of elite play, and above average after that. You have to pay a premium to get the best, and with the cap going up, the hit won’t be so bad.
Awad: Average, but with large downside. The total of $60 million is similar to Roberto Luongo’s contract, but over fewer years, although Lundqvist has been a more reliable goaltender.
Pronman: Bad, but could be worse. There is clearly an adjustment for a cap that will escalate quickly and then you have to compare it relative to other free agent goalie deals. The term is the part that hurts the most and what makes me lean to bad.
Treff: The deal is good for Lundqvist, but bad for the Rangers. I know that this will be an unpopular opinion, but the Rangers will have four guys taking up $38 million next season, including only one defenseman. This does not take into consideration Callahan, either. I know they want to win a Stanley Cup, as does Lundqvist, but the better option was to trade him (blasphemy), getting a great young goaltender, one young outstanding forward, and high picks in return. Instead, what is likely is the Rangers finish in the middle or toward the top for years, don’t get great picks, sign players for high dollars, and don’t achieve their goal. Sorry, but if you want to build a perennial contender, you can’t spend this high a percentage of the cap on a netminder without a great pipeline.
Fischer: I think Henrik Lundqvist’s deal will be bad in the long run. In his favor, he is one of the few goalies in the league that can justify a big contract as he has been stellar in net and the salary cap will rise such that his deal will not take up that much room. However, goaltending talent remains somewhat fungible. The question will always be whether some other goalie could do similarly well for their teams for less money. As we have learned from Detroit and Philadelphia for years, throwing big money at a goalie doesn’t necessarily guarantee success as much as ensuring a high-quality team in front of a goalie. Given the pieces the Rangers have on defense and at forward, there is no reason they couldn’t follow those blueprints. As Lundqvist gets older, he may not be as stellar and that is when the deal will really stink. So while he is the best goalie the Rangers have ever had, I am not confident the Rangers made the smart move by giving him a mint.
Vollman: I wouldn’t call it bad; I would call it risky, but you do have to take risks if you want to win it all. You should secure as many elite players as you can, and then only play Moneypuck with the rest of the roster. Of the star players they chose, Lundqvist is probably the least objectionable (Rick Nash and Brad Richards being the others). If you want the league’s best goalie (which he is), that is what it will cost.
2. The New York Islanders brought in Thomas Vanek, but are 2-11-2 in their last 15, and dead last in the Metropolitan. Are they done?
Seppa: Weird deal for the Islanders for essentially a minor upgrade, at the price of a first rounder, for an expiring UFA. And odd that Moulson was in Capuano’s doghouse before then. Even if they re-sign the popular (to fans, media, teammates) Moulson back over the summer they have lost the high pick. Other than their obviously below-average netminding (obvious to the rest of us) the Islanders’ talent is equal to most of the Met, but they have dug themselves a decent hole. Tough to climb out, but vaguely doable. However, look for more changes.
Awad: If by “done” you mean will they miss the playoffs, yes, they are done.
Pronman: For the season, yes. Hard to put it on their skaters when their goaltending has been horrendous. If they have .910 goaltending it is a whole different story even if still not great.
Treff: The Islanders are done. Part of it was Nabokov going down when he did, but on a young team like the Islanders, you don’t mess with the chemistry among your top players, especially your young superstar (Tavares). You would have thought they would have learned from losing Parenteau (who was even less important) that you build around these players, and you don’t let their complements leave; it can really stop all progression. Tavares, Moulson, Okposo, Niederreiter, with Strome and Reinhart coming, wow. That would have been exciting. What was needed was obvious: netminding for the present and future. Give up a few future picks instead of making the two trades that lost New York two future top-notch forwards.
Fischer: They are just about done. I don’t want to say “never” by mid-December, but it is bleak. Their one saving grace is that the Metropolitan Division has been a big mess behind Pittsburgh. As of this writing, five points separate second and seventh place. However, those six teams continue to get points from week to week. The Isles can only get ahead by outearning them, which is a big challenge. As of right now, they just can’t beat anyone. They could easily drop the four games they have this week (at Anaheim, at San Jose, at Phoenix, vs. Montreal). In retrospect, when the Isles talked trade with Buffalo, they should have pushed for Ryan Miller and addressed their glaring need at goaltending instead of getting Thomas Vanek, who doesn’t really surpass Matt Moulson’s contributions with John Tavares when healthy.
Vollman: The Islanders did a great job upgrading their forward depth, but neglected their blue line and their goaltending. That decision has unfortunately bit them somewhere soft recently. To a bubble team like the Isles, this cold streak might be fatal to their postseason chances.
3. On the flip side, Montreal have only one regulation loss since November 7th, and now top the Atlantic. How long can they keep this up?
Pronman: They have been bad possession-wise for a few weeks and leaning on Price. I think a crash may be on the way, or at least a mild crash.
Awad: They will lose in regulation within the next two weeks for sure. They will be second in the Atlantic (behind Boston) by season’s end.
Treff: In my opinion, the major piece of Montreal’s streak is Carey Price, who at least here in the States, is very underrated. He has made some changes to his game this season, which has really helped him. In addition, I really believe that Brandon Prust is a big part of Montreal’s winning streak: he brings a certain grit that was severely missing without him. I do worry that if either Subban or Markov goes down, it is all over, as they are the engines behind spreading around the scoring.
Fischer: Montreal fans thought they stole two wins from the Devils in this past week, one in a game where Les Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge pulled a Toronto and one via a shootout. So I think their hot run may hit a bump or two soon. They have been riding great goaltending and great shooting to go with an around-league-median possession game. The Kings will likely have the best chance to knock them out on Tuesday, though if Montreal gets through there and avoids being ensnared by Philly or the Isles, then it will likely end in the following week which includes games against Phoenix and St. Louis.
Vollman: Despite being the team in their division with the most points last year, their current first place position is actually surprising. They were projected to finish third in their division in both Hockey Prospectus 2013-14 (using the VUKOTA system) and in Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. No publication or analyst had them ranked any higher than that, and almost a third had them fifth or sixth. I have seen nothing in the underlying analytics that would prompt me to reverse our original projection. They have simply been hot, and will slide back down to third once they inevitably cool off.
4. Alex Steen is currently second in goals, and fourth in points. Where will he rank at season’s end?
Seppa: Last I looked a few weeks ago, Steen was at more than double his career-best shooting percentage. The Blues are obviously a top contender, so that will help, but spot him 10-15 points on the VUKOTA projection for his hot start and expect the rest of the season to be down from the stratosphere. He may still finish in the top 10, but don’t expect much more than that. Still a good player, though; he was previously underrated.
Awad: Goals: between #2 and #5. Points: between #5 and #10.
Pronman: Points pretty high, but his goals will dip out of the top 5-8.
Treff: Sorry, I can’t predict where Steen will be, but I don’t think that he will finish as high as he is now. St. Louis has an embarrassment of offensive riches, and Steen has the benefit of the rest of his team. It should spread out more as the season goes on. In my opinion, he is not a superstar, or even a semi-star, but a first line forward who generally should post 60-75 points per year.
Fischer: Steen will likely finish around 20th in the league in scoring. He has been averaging over three shots per game and he plays plenty of offensive situations, so he will definitely get points. But he will cool off as it is incredibly unlikely to shoot a lot and maintain a 21.1% shooting percentage.
Vollman: I figure Steen has a 50/50 shot at finishing in the top 10 in goals, but he will fall way off the leader board on points.
5. What is your hockey book recommendation for the holidays?
Seppa: Hockey Prospectus 2013-14, of course, and Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract.
Awad: Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract!
Treff: I would suggest The Code, The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, By Ross Bernstein, available on Amazon. Written in 2006, it is even more timely now. It will help fans understand the history or fighting, the place of it in our sport, and why really bad things happen in the sport when the Code is broken (like what happened to Orpik Saturday night).
Fischer: My personal recommendation is Gross Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey by Russ Conway. It is a bit old but it is a definite must read if you are interested as to how league-union relations got to be so toxic and how one man can defraud so many from a position of power. With the upcoming class action lawsuit on concussions, the entire chapter devoted to how Eagleson robbed players of disability insurance really deserves review in that light.
Vollman: I have heard great things about Bobby Orr’s book, but my recommendation would be The Best of Down Goes Brown. He is both hilarious and incredibly insightful at the same time.
Bonus: Which outdoor rink will be more impressive, Timo Seppa’s or Darren Dreger’s?
Seppa: I’m just hoping mine doesn’t have a catastrophic failure. Fingers crossed.
Treff: Who is Timo Seppa?
Fischer: Timo Seppa’s will be better because he’s no tool of Toronto.
Vollman: Timo’s kids will have so much fun on their outdoor rink that Adam Oates will call them disrespectful.
Seppa: First, I’ve got to remember how to skate, and then teach them.
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.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @robvollmanNHL.