Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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

In the middle of the purgatory also known as the NHL offseason, the beginning of unrestricted free agency on July 1st serves as a mad dash of excitement. As fans, we are oftentimes given our first glance into what our favorite teams will look like come October. For fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, however, the first preview into 2011-2012 came 8 days prior with the dealing of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. With the new found cap space following the trades, GM Paul Holmgren wasted little time signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive 9-year/$51 million contract in an attempt to shore up his goaltending situation. The Flyers had of course acquired Bryzgalov’s negotiating rights from Phoenix prior to the start of free agency, and were therefore able to lock up the goaltender should they come to terms before July 1. Once he was free to negotiate with the rest of the league’s UFAs, Holmgren decided to make a splash by signing Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, and Andreas Lilja to new contracts. Where exactly will these four acquisitions fit within the Flyer lineup? Let us turn to the numbers to try and find an answer.

Taking my familiar approach, I am going to start by looking at the per game ice time of the Flyers’ newly-acquired skaters. Setting Jagr aside, below are the totals for both Talbot and Lilja from last season per nhl.com:

PlayerGames PlayedES TOI/GameTeam RankPP TOI/GameTeam RankSH TOI/GameTeam RankTotal TOI/GTeam Rank
Talbot (PIT)8212:01100:06202:55215:049
Lilja (ANA)5213:5360:0173:30217:255

As we can see, Talbot’s ES TOI would most certainly portray him as a bottom-six checking forward – a role which he will be expected to reprise in Philadelphia. He is also certain to play an important role in the team’s penalty killing, and his hefty average time helped contribute to a Pittsburgh unit which ranked 3rd in the NHL in shots allowed per 60 minutes last season.

Moving to Lilja, it seems that he is a defensemans version of Talbot – a third pairing player who logs major minutes on the penalty kill. He should see a similar role in Philadelphia, replacing veteran Sean O’ Donnell whilst challenging youngsters Erik Gustafson and Kevin Marshall for playing time. Lilja should bolster the team’s back-end depth with another capable body, which could prove important should veteran Chris Pronger miss an extended amount of time to begin the season.

Getting back to the team’s wild card signing of the summer, where does Jaromir Jagr fit into all of this? Having not played in the NHL since 2007-08, it’s hard to project just how much ice time the future hall-of-famer will see this season as we cannot refer to any recent data. However, Jagr does figure to play a large role both at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and will most certainly see top-6 minutes in both categories. Setting Jagr aside once again, what kind of context can we give both Talbot and Lilja’s ice time? The tables below should help to clarify such a question:

PlayerES G (Team Rank)ES A (Team Rank)ES Pts (Team Rank)PP G (Team Rank)PP A (Team Rank)PP Pts (Team Rank)
Talbot (PIT)6 (T-13)12 (10)18 (11)0 (T-11)0 (T-13)0 (T-14)
Lilja (ANA)1 (T-5)6 (6)7 (6)0 (T-5)0 (T-6)0 (T-7)

PlayerCorsi ONCorsiRelFenwick %CorsiRelQoCZone Start %Zone Finish %
Talbot (PIT)3.91-2.955.30.45954.249.9
Lilja (ANA)-19.64-11.449.4-0.01050.444.6

Beginning with the man they call "Superstar", Talbot was asked to play against fairly good competition this past season and on the surface seems to have performed okay. Eric T.’s Balanced Corsi shows us that his Corsi ON score is close to what we would expect from someone given such a role, though it does fall short by about one shot. Talbot’s balanced zone shift is also a little below expected which suggests that the gritty forward’s 55.3% Fenwick score is most likely the result of his favorable zone start. Our resident stats guru JaredL took a deeper look at Talbot trying to figure out if the Flyers were getting value out of his new 5-year/$8.75 million contract:

Max Talbot

JaredL here. Like I did for Voracek, Chase wanted me to crunch the numbers on Talbot. Maxime Talbot made a name for himself by getting smoked by Dan Carcillo and scoring on Chris Osgood, two very impressive feats indeed. So he's like Jeff Carter but with four times as many goals in the Stanley Cup Finals. Wow has my material taken a beating this offseason.

The Penguins are probably the toughest team for WOWY analysis because the without-you numbers are mostly determined by who played more with Malkin, Staal and especially Crosby. The best way I can think of to evaluate a role player like Talbot is to look at how well those three did with him on the ice compared to without. The injuries last season make this tough because the sample sizes are really small. Even going back two or three seasons they aren't great but a pattern definitely emerges. Here are the numbers from the last three seasons for those centers, plus the times none of the three were on the ice, with and without Talbot. I excluded times where two of Crosby, Malkin and Staal were together.

None of 3On-651533.8-2.5430.097
None of 3Off472260.41.248-0.274

Looking only at score-tied spots it gets a bit better for Talbot, but the same unfortunate pattern is present:

None of 3On24610.62.3580.187
None of 3Off998766.781-0.483

As you can see from the tables, every group was worse off with him on the ice. Most troubling is that this includes the fourth line. It appears that he performed worse 5-on-5 than the average Pittsburgh fourth liner over the last three seasons. I should point out that Talbot was on the ice for about a third of the Penguins' penalty-kill time and appears to have been a positive. The Penguins were just slightly better off with him on the ice, and almost all of that time was with Staal off the ice:

Penalty KillCorsi RateGoal Rate
With Talbot-76.103-4.384
Without Talbot-77.455-5.008

I'm biased, but $1.75M of cap space seems like a lot for a guy who can adequately run the second PK unit but has been somewhere between bad and awful 5-on-5. I'll now pass it back to Chase.

Taking a gander at Lilja’s numbers will probably want to make most of you look away, and for good reason. His scores fall way short of what we would expect from somebody given his role, both in balanced Corsi and balanced zone shifts. His quality of competition certainly isn’t anything to write home about, and he still fails to break a 50% Fenwick score with a favorable zone start. All in all, Lilja’s metrics suggest that he should be used in nothing more than a depth role for the Flyers as he certainly isn’t sending the play in the right direction on his own. I do find Lilja as a rather curious signing, especially considering his 35+ contract which will count against the cap for the next two seasons barring he enters long-term injury reserve status.

Getting back to Jagr, we once again do not have any relevant data to project how he may perform in his expected role come October. We could look at how the Rangers last used him in 2007-08, but Jagr is now 39 years old and figures to have declined since his last season in North America. He has scored at close to a point-per-game rate in the KHL (a lower scoring league), but he figures to see a gross increase in his quality of competition playing for the new-look Flyers. The abundance of power play time and favorable zone start percentage that he figures to receive will help his chances of achieving the 50-point benchmark that I have seen thrown around so loosely. Though his contract is for only one season, Jagr’s age is most certainly a concern. For a player with so many question marks, a cap hit of $3.3 million seems to be a bit of an overpayment. Sure, Jagr could score 50+ points and could give the Flyers excellent top-6 production. Nevertheless, all expectations at this point cannot be justified until we finally see how the crafty Czech can perform against the best players in the world.

Having looked into where the new skaters fit into the lineup, will Ilya Bryzgalov help make up for an offense that is missing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? Adam Kimelman of NHL.com seems to think so, but as friends of Driving Play Geoff Detweiller and Kent Wilson have written, the numbers simply do not bear this out. Giving Bryzgalov such a lucrative contract is most puzzling to me, especially when Sergei Bobrovsky had an excellent rookie season – his first in North America. The Flyers could be using some of the money that they are lighting on fire handing over to Bryzgalov to help bolster the team’s lost offensive depth, but instead are tying it up in one player who cannot help in this regard.

Unfortunately, I am once again left to conclude that the additions of Jagr, Talbot, Lilja and Bryzgalov do not stack up as a net positive for Philadelphia in the wake of the departure of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Both Talbot and Lilja do not seem to be carrying the water at 5-on-5 whatsoever and we do not yet know what Jaromir Jagr will provide to the offense should he compete and stay healthy. Mr. Kimelman is not the first to argue that Bryzgalov will make up for some of the offense that is no longer with the club, but as Part III of this saga will point out, Richards and Carter were an integral part of Philadelphia’s success for more reasons than just points on the scoresheet.

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