Thursday, September 29, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: 15-11, The Contendahhhs

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Brendan Shanahan suspension video to continue the Driving Play season previews for teams 15 through 11 in our countdown. I was assigned the ‘playoff’ tier of our rankings, consisting of teams who should have legitimate claims to playoff positioning come April.

Just as a quick refresher – I’ve listed a few basic stats that I like to use when evaluating teams as a whole. Each team’s Corsi and Fenwick percentages with the score tied at even strength will come first, followed by their shots for and shots against per 60 minutes at even strength. Finally, their special teams will play be accounted for with SF/60 numbers on the power play and SA/60 numbers on the penalty kill. All numbers are courtesy of Behind The Net, except the Corsi and Fenwick percentages which are courtesy of Time on Ice.

15. New York Rangers

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 48.9/47.8
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 29.2 (20)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 29.2 (11)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 48.6 (16)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 49.0 (11)

The Rangers slipped into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference last year, due in most part to stellar goaltending, above-average defense and a fairly average offense. Their possession numbers weren’t anything special, and when push came to shove they just couldn’t manage to control the play against #1 seeded Washington, losing in five games.

Offseason Changes:

The Rangers landed C Brad Richards via free agency in the offseason with the hope that he can take their offense to the next level. The only problem with that is, Brad Richards doesn’t really seem to be a player who is carrying the play forward on his own at even strength. He was given fairly easy ice time in Dallas last season, yet he failed to put up a positive Corsi ON score despite a favorable zone start. On the power play, Richards should help the Rangers generate more scoring chances and improve what was a mediocre unit a season ago.

Season Outlook:

In order for the Rangers to take that next step, they needed a forward who could carry the play forward in some capacity at 5-on-5. Unfortunately, Brad Richards can’t. Will he be able to improve the power play scoring enough to have the same effect? Probably not, considering there’s so much luck that comes in to play with PP data. The Richards effect will most likely be negligible as the Rangers figure to be fighting for one of the final three playoff spots in the East.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 50.8/50.1
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 29.5 (18)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 28.9 (10)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 53.7 (8)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 53.4 (24)

The Blue Jackets finished 13th in the West last season, despite having fairly average possession numbers and an above-average defense. Their main problems were found in their below average offense and terrible goaltending. The Jackets also suffered from a bit of bad luck, shooting just 7.9% at even strength.

Offseason Changes:

Columbus GM Scott Howson wasn’t afraid to shake things up this offseason, trading for Jeff Carter in exchange for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks. Howson also signed defenseman James Wisnewski to a 6-year/$33 million contract in an attempt to shore up both his blue-line and power play. He imported Vinny Prospal from New York to help the team's secondary scoring, a move that has a bit of upside considering Carter’s added tough-minutes production. Columbus' lineup up front should definitely be able to improve their shooting totals from a year ago.

Season Outlook:

There seems to be at least one surprise team to make it to the playoffs every April, and we’re casting this role to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jeff Carter gives the Jackets an elite forward to complement both Rick Nash and the rest of their secondary scoring. If Steve Mason can somehow figure out how to stop a puck or two, Columbus will be a legitimate playoff team.

13. Buffalo Sabres

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 51.7/50.9
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 32.3 (3)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 29.6 (14)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 55.3 (6)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 50.9 (16)

Buffalo finished 7th in the East last season and boasted one of the league’s most prolific attacks at generating shots. Unfortunately, a 7.8% shooting percentage at even strength is going to hinder that a bit. Still, Buffalo’s offensive numbers were above average, while their defensive totals fell more toward the middle of the pack. Ryan Miller & Co. gave the Sabres fairly solid play between the pipes, providing Buffalo what it needed to be a playoff team.

Offseason Changes:

Let’s get one thing clear – these aren’t the same Sabres we saw at the end of last season. In a move that proved new Sabres ownership was serious about burning spending money, they signed Ville Leino to a 6 year, $27 million contract. They also imported Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 million*) and Robyn Regehr (peanuts to Calgary) from Western Canada in an effort to shore up their blue-line. While the Regehr move probably figures to be the best of these three major changes, backing up the truck for two soft-minute players might not give this team the boost that the front office is hoping for.

*Not a typo.

Season Outlook:

While they may not be allocating their money in the most optimal fashion, Buffalo certainly didn’t make itself any worse with their offseason moves. If Tyler Myers continues to get better, a Regehr type shutdown player should improve their defense from a season ago. As long as they can stay relatively healthy, this team certainly lays claim to legitimate playoff aspirations.

12. Philadelphia Flyers

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 52.0/51.6
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 31.6 (6)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 30.3 (18)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 46.1 (26)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 42.9 (1)

Last season saw the Philadelphia Flyers burst out of the gate to the best record in the NHL on the heels of a surprising Stanley Cup Finals run a season before. Problem was, Chris Pronger went down with a hand injury soon thereafter and the Flyers weren’t the same team without him. They would struggle mightily in his absence, nearly losing the Atlantic Division lead to Pittsburgh by the end of the season. In the end, the Flyers would prevail as the #2 seed and go on to face Buffalo in the first round. After erasing a 3-2 series deficit to the Sabres, they moved on to the second round where I seem to have lost all memory of what happened. How strange.

Offseason Changes:

Who would have thought a hand injury could have triggered so much disaster? In a reactionary move to whatever it was that happened against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus. In addition to the infusion of youth that he received back in the trades (Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Coutirier), GM Paul Holmgren also awarded new contracts to former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot, and steady D-man Andreas Lilja. He was also quick to make good on his opportunity to sign Ilya Bryzgalov for a small fee, perhaps the Flyers’ cornerstone move of the 2011 offseason.

Season Outlook:

Losing Richards and Carter is a big deal for this team. Some of the Flyers’ new talent is promising, but there are a lot of question marks going into the season. It is still unclear how some of the rookies (and veterans) on the roster will be able to hold up during such a long season. Richards and Carter played an important role on both offense and defense, and it may be a few years until Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier & Co. are able to fully replace what the Flyers lost. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov also figures to only be a slight improvement over Sergei Bobrovsky from last season. For now, they’ll most likely make the playoffs in the bottom half of the East.

11. Boston Bruins

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 50.4/50.7
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 32.4 (2)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 32.1 (29)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 50.7 (11)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 52.9 (23)

Boston made the playoffs as the Northeast Division Champions sporting a very good offense, terrible defense and stellar goaltending. As they progressed through the playoffs, their ability to put the puck in the net held true as Tim Thomas cemented one of the greatest seasons by a goaltender in recent memory. The Bruins would capture the Stanley Cup in 7 games over the Vancouver Canucks.

Offseason Changes:

Not too much to report on here. Fake-shot master Tomas Kaberle jumped ship to Carolina, and in to replace him is Joe Corvo, acquired from the Hurricanes for a 4th round draft pick. The team also signed Benoit Pouliot to a 1-year contract to help replace the departed Michael Ryder and retired Mark Recchi. Corvo should provide a slight improvement over Kaberle, but this team looks fairly identical to the one that lifted the Cup in June.

Season Outlook:

The only problem with the team that lifted the Cup in June is that it wasn’t very good defensively. That doesn’t figure to change, so Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask will be asked to stop quite a few pucks this season. If Thomas can keep playing like Dominik Hasek, this team has a good chance to repeat. Problem is, while Thomas may be a very good goalie I’m skeptical he has another all-time great season in him. Boston should be a solid middle-of-the-pack playoff team in the East.

I’ll be back with teams 10 through 7 on Saturday Sunday! Our list so far:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. NY Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22. Phoenix
21. Winnipeg
20. Anaheim
19. Carolina
18. Calgary
17. St. Louis
16. Nashville
15. New York Rangers
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
13. Buffalo Sabres
12. Philadelphia Flyers
11. Boston Bruins


  1. Here's my guess at your top 10:

    Vancouver Canucks
    Tampa Bay Lightning
    Los Angeles Kings
    Detroit Red Wings
    Washington Capitals
    San Jose Sharks
    Pittsburgh Penguins
    Chicago Blackhawks
    Montreal Canadiens
    New Jersey Devils

    Even though I don't think the latter two should be in the top 10, and even though I don't think Pitt can sustain how they were at the end of last season again this season w/o Crosby and if Malkin isn't 100%

  2. Nj devils will finish last in Atlantic

  3. Anonymous 1,

    Without giving anything away, I'm curious why you think we'll be so high on Tampa Bay?

    Anonymous 2,

    Did Bettman move the Islanders to the Northeast?

  4. Anonymous 2,

    I like the cut of your jib.

  5. 9th for TB? I don't/didn't have stats to lend to my assumption, just my eyes and hockey feeling that this year they'll only improve upon last season. Not too much change, more experience for Guy, and assuming Rolly keeps up his level of play I felt like they're gonna be another big team in the East again. That said, surprising how low in the top 10 you have them now.

    They lost in 7 games to the SC champs, and knocked how the #1 team in the East, along with a still good Pens team. Without much turnover, it seems they're still a great pick in the East.

    I'm Anonymous 1 in case that fact somehow eluded you.

  6. I personally had the Bolts 7th. If Rollie can keep it up and provide even average goaltending that'll be big. Goaltending is by far the biggest potential weakness.

    I agree that they will be a a big team in the East. For me the top tier in some order is Washington, who improved a lot for a very good team, Pittsburgh if Crosby can play, San Jose, Vancouver and Chicago. I think the Lightning are in that next tier with Detroit and LA. Only two of those are in the East and Pittsburgh has the obvious question mark.