Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Part I: The Aftermath of the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter Deals

On June 23rd, 2011, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren sent shockwaves through the hockey world when he dealt arguably the two most notable faces of the franchise – Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – to Los Angeles and Columbus respectively. Since then, much has been (and will continue to be) written about possible motives behind what he and team owner Ed Snider were pondering to make such bold moves. So far, speculation has included both off-ice issues as well as the need to create salary cap space for newly signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Starting with the former, Richards’ tumultuous relationship with members of the Philadelphia media is no secret. For the last few seasons, there have been accusations that he (and Carter) enjoyed a lifestyle where partying was the main focus, leaving hockey on the back burner. Richards’ leadership inside the locker room hasn’t been looked upon any more favorably. It has been rumored that a longstanding rift between the team’s young stars and seasoned veterans – most notably Chris Pronger – could also have played a factor in the stars’ departure from the team. Whether or not these accusations have merit, it is certain that the moves will accomplish one of the team’s likely intended goals: a culture change inside the dressing room.

In the aftershock of what happened almost four weeks ago, another highly-debated question has naturally emerged: are the Flyers still one of the premier Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference? In order to answer such a question, I am going to break my study into three parts. Part one will look into the deals for Richards and Carter themselves, evaluating what it was that the Flyers added to their lineup. Part two will evaluate Philadelphia’s signings on July 1 and speak to where Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, and Andreas Lilja fit into the equation. Finally, part three will decipher what the Flyers lost when they made the decision to deal their captain and his swift sidekick.

Of course, trying to answer our question is a bit of a double-edged sword – only time will tell if Holmgren’s return of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, a 2012 second round pick, Jakub Voracek, the 8th overall selection in this year’s draft (Sean Couturier), and a third round selection in this year’s draft (Nick Cousins) were an adequate return for both superstars. Fortunately, we can still attempt to decipher what the numbers tell us about these players (and even draft picks). In order to do this, I like to start by looking at players’ average ice time per game. This tells us 1) what situations the players are being used in, and 2) how often they are being used. Per, here are the numbers for Simmonds and Voracek, the two players coming to Philadelphia who saw significant ice time at the NHL level last season:

From these numbers, we can conclude that Simmonds played a bottom-six checking role in Los Angeles, the same role that he will most likely see in Philadelphia. Voracek, on the other hand, was one of the Jackets’ top forwards, ranking in the top 5 on his team at even strength and on the PP. This is good news for the Flyers – they will need him to replace any and all minutes in both situations without Richards and Carter in the fold.
With our ice-time analysis complete, we can now attempt to give this raw data its proper context.


What do these numbers tell us? Starting with Simmonds, he was asked to play a moderately defensive role against the toughest competition of any forward on the team (min. 20 games played). However, his zone start percentage should probably see an expected Corsi score of zero or slightly worse (see chart), and instead Simmonds sits at -4.02 . DobberHockey tells us that he most often played with Michal Handzus and Alex Ponikarovsky (21.25%), and Handzus and Kyle Clifford (15.33%). Of these forwards, Handzus and Ponikarovsky both have Corsi scores around what we would expect for someone given their roles, but no player seems to be “carrying the water” as we like to say. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Simmonds is no exception and his low scores in just about every category show that he cannot send the play in the right direction on his own against the opponent’s best players.

Voracek, on the other hand, is an interesting case in and of himself. Once again using the expected Corsi graph linked, Voracek actually slightly over-performs what we might expect from somebody given his zone start percentage. However, his impressive Corsi scores and Fenwick percentage are perhaps correlated with a few points of interest. First, his aforementioned high zone start percentage gave him an immediate advantage in generating shots towards the opponent’s net as he quite often started his shifts in prime scoring position. Second, his competition was anything but impressive, actually averaging a negative relative Corsi score. Finally, DobberHockey shows us that among his three most common line combinations, Rick Nash was on the ice a healthy 57.81% of the time. I hardly think explaining why playing with Nash would be beneficial to Voracek, but it is worth noting that Nash was among the league’s leaders in shots last season – his total of 305 ranked 6th in the entire NHL. Though Nash’s Corsi score of 4.49 may be lower than expected considering his own 57.1% zone start, taking into consideration how often he shoots it is easy to see how Voracek’s own score was undoubtedly affected for the better. It will be most interesting to see if Voracek can repeat such gaudy scores without a line-mate sporting the credentials of Mr. Nash.

We have already noted Voracek’s 2:57 of average PP time per game in ’10-11 which will be immensely valuable to Philadelphia in the absence of Richards and Carter. Though he ranked amongst the team’s leaders in said category, however, he only registered 8 total points for his efforts on the man advantage. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Columbus’ Power Play ranked 8th in the league in shots for/60 minutes with Nash in the fold (remember: shots are a better indicator than goals), but for a team that saw success in generating pressure on the opponent, Voracek’s totals still seem low. However, some of this effect can be explained when we realize that Columbus’ opponents saved 91.1% of all shots while on the PK according to Behind The Net. Thanks to mc79hockey, we know that the historic average is around 86.6%, a full 4.5% disparity. Had Columbus’ opponents not been so lucky, both the team and Voracek most likely would have sported slightly higher power play production.

Moving on to the relative unknowns of what the Flyers got back in the deal, on the surface Brayden Schenn and three draft picks may seem like an appetizing return. However, Derek Zona’s study on draft picks and their value tells us something slightly different. Putting Schenn aside for a moment, what can we realistically expect from the first, second, and third round picks that the Flyers gained? Zona’s study is particularly excellent because it shows the historical chance of drafting a “top” player with a certain selection. He notes to “...consider the 'Top Players' to be top five forwards and top three defenseman [on their team].” Knowing what we know about Richards and Carter, I don’t think anybody would argue that the Flyers subtracted two established “top 5” forwards from their lineup. However, the article also notes that the odds of drafting such a player with the number 8-13 selections (they selected Couturier 8th overall) is a mere 41.2%. Looking at the other two picks, the 68th overall selection this season which turned into Nick Cousins has a 7.4% chance of turning into a Richards or Carter-esque player. Considering the Kings figure to be among the top western conference contenders next season in the wake of their offseason, I would most likely expect the 2012 second round pick to fall within this same range. The fact that the Flyers didn’t receive higher than a 50% chance to replenish their lineup with two established stars puts a bit of a hindrance on their returns.

Adding this to the fact that both Richards and Carter were on long-term, cap-friendly deals, and I’m not sure that there is a net positive to be found here. Perhaps Sean Couturier or one of the other selections will make a difference, saving the Flyers money in the short-term should they produce while on an entry level contract. So far, all indications are that Brayden Schenn will be given every possible opportunity to make the final roster, but much like Couturier, there are still question marks surrounding his development. Unfortunately, prospects are called prospects for a reason – there is no guarantee that they will meet development expectations. Considering what the Flyers gave up in these deals, while the return could most certainly prove lucrative, the odds simply do not stack up in their favor.


  1. Great analysis. I love being able to somewhat quantify aspects of the game that were never possible before.

    I have said for the last couple of weeks that if Holmgren was at all unsure about the Carter trade, had he known Couturier would be there at 8, he definitely would have agreed. Ultimately, it's a little (or more--time will tell) lucky that Couturier was there, but I feel as though there's a good chance he becomes that top-5 forward, as evidenced in this piece from Arctic Ice Hockey:

  2. Couturier was the 8th pick, but he shouldn't have been. If it weren't for Mono he would've have been 2-5, so I think the 41.2% doesn't tell the whole story. Otherwise, really interesting.

  3. Yeah, it figures that I wouldn't check Arctic Ice Hockey before I posted the article or I would have made a mention of that story. He might be better than the historical 41.2%, but I was just trying to say that he's got a long road ahead of him before he can (hopefully) be mentioned in the same breath as Richards and Carter.