Thursday, September 15, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview - Teams 30-27 - A Journey Through The NHL Underworld

If you read hockey blogs, you'll no doubt come upon a deluge of season previews. We bloggers can't wait for the season to begin, so we write endless articles about line combinations and roster battles and people who have to prove themselves, etc. Me, I'm not a fan; most of those articles won't be worth the paper they're not printed on by the time the season actually rolls around. Still, we here at Driving Play exist to serve you, the reader, and your insatiable demand for season previews. So we decided to informally rank the teams 1-30, based on where we think they will end up at the conclusion of the coming season. If our rankings turn out poorly, we will be outed as frauds, the blog reviled as a sham built on number juggling and self-congratulatory nonsense. I, however, think we will be lauded as visionaries, our predictions making economists blush in shame and weathermen agape with fear and envy. So without further pomp, I give you the Driving Play Season Preview.

I got assigned to write about the worst teams, since I am far more giving of my contempt than of my praise. If you're a fan of these teams, I am sorry for what follows. But I will be frank, and by frank, I mean, you know, devastating.

30. Edmonton Oilers

Overall Game Plan: GM Steve Tambellini and company's overall team-building plan seems to be much like Andy Dufresne's - crawl through a river of excrement to reach freedom, or in this case, a Stanley Cup. While it may or may not work, you've got to admire his willingness to stick to the plan. The Oilers should be picking in the top 5 (again) in next year's entry draft.

Reason They Stink: A 45.6% Fenwick with the score tied isn't very good. Neither is the league's worst penalty kill. They also continue to employ Nikolai Khabibulin as a starting goaltender despite his .890 save percentage and league-leading loss total the previous year.

Was it Ren and Stimpy that had the 'Good Idea, Bad Idea' gag? I think so. Whatever the case, I will do this for each team I look at - I will look at a good idea they've had this off-season, and a bad idea.

Good Idea(s): Signing veteran Eric Belanger as a third-line center to take faceoffs and kill penalties. Belanger's exactly the sort of player they've failed to retain in Edmonton.

Bad Idea(s): Signing defenseman Cam Barker to do anything. Barker's been a terrible player for years, and it can only be his status as a 3rd overall pick in 2004 and his 40 point season in 2009 that keeps a team like Edmonton thinking he's worth a roster spot.

Closing Remarks: Incidentally, I ranked Edmonton 24th best, whereas all my colleagues ranked them 30th. I don't know if that's because I've absorbed dangerous levels of optimism from the Oilogosphere, or I just think that Taylor Hall is a really good player. Whatever the case, this team will be bad.

29. Colorado Avalanche

Overall Game Plan: GM Greg Sherman traded his first round pick this season, so he must think that this team is playoff-bound. Common sense seems to disagree, as this team is dangerously young and largely without star players. Sherman may think that the Avs' 2009-10 playoff berth was earned and that 2010-11's poor result was a fluke, but he'd be wrong about both things.

Why They Stink: 47.4% Fenwick with the score tied isn't very good. Their defense is no-name and bad. While they're set at center with Duchene, Stastny, and McClement, there isn't very much around them to make the club better.

Good Idea(s): Trading for a young franchise goalie. Goalies can boost a mediocre team into the playoffs. Varlamov may be an elite goaltender.

Bad Idea(s): Dealing a 1st and 2nd round pick to acquire said goalie. Other bad ideas include not doing anything of note this off-season, besides signing tough-minute D Jan Hejda to a 4 year contract.

Closing Remarks: Yet again, my colleagues disagree with me - I have Colorado as the 22nd best team, merely based on Varlamov and the strength at center. I also think they'll make some in-season moves to bolster the team. Still, the most likely outcome for this season is a playoff miss and the end of Greg Sherman as Colorado GM.

28. Dallas Stars

Overall Game Plan: Who knows? They retained Brad Richards and even added Jamie Langenbrunner in a futile attempt to make the playoffs last season. Brad Richards then skipped town, as expected. Also, they're apparently declaring bankruptcy. Dallas doesn't have many prospects and they're not a good team - they might be entering a tailspin like the ones Edmonton and Colorado are beginning to pull themselves out of.

Why They Stink: 46.6% Fenwick with the score tied isn't going to win many games, unless you get obscenely lucky, as the Stars did for the first half of last season.

Good Idea(s): Signing Michael Ryder isn't a bad move; he can still put the puck in the net.

Bad Idea(s): Signing Adam Pardy for 2 years and 2 mil per? Signing Sheldon Souray to a one-way contract after he wasn't doing well in the AHL? These contracts don't have much risk, but they sure don't seem to have much upside, either.

Closing Remarks: Kari Lehtonen is a good goaltender, and if the team can stay healthy, they might be able to ward off total collapse. Still, without Brad Richards and with nothing at all to replace him, I suspect it's going to be a long winter for the Dallas Stars.

#27: New York Islanders

Overall Game Plan: Build from within. The team boasts an impressive young forward corps, and some of their younger defensemen are underrated. GM Garth Snow has tried desperately to attract a marquee free agent, but has had no luck. The future is looking bright for the Islanders, and I just stole that line from the last 15 years' worth of season preview writing on the Islanders.

Why They Stink: 46.1% Fenwick with the score tied, plus Rick Dipietro's horrendous .886 save percentage adds up to being one of the worst teams in the league. Again.

Good Idea(s): Signing Matt Moulson, John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Michael Grabner to long-term contract extensions. I don't think the Islanders will regret any of these deals.

Bad Idea(s): Maintaining the three headed awfulness at netminder - Evgeni Nabokov, who is hopefully average, Al Montoya, who has to prove last year's solid performance wasn't a fluke (it probably was), and Rick DiPietro, who is well below average and signed for 10 more seasons.

Closing Remarks: The Islanders have the pieces in place for a prosperous future. They just have to not undermine that future by panicking when one of their prospects doesn't quite develop the way they want him to. The team may not be on Long Island when it finally gets good, but I do think that this version of the Islanders will actually become a playoff team in 2 or 3 years.

Coming soon: Teams 26-23


  1. would like to get your 30 team order listed if possible...respect your opinion...i guess after all 30 teams are out

  2. I think the goaltending is the big issue for both Edmonton and NYI and even Colorado (durability) to an extent.

    I too feel like I've read a little too much of the Oilogosphere and am absorbing lots of optimism, especially around Paajarvi and Hall.

    NYI to me looks like they have an above-average group of forwards and an ~average group of defensemen, assuming Streit/Hamonic/A-Mac are healthy, so I have them a little higher.

    Ottawa, Florida, Dallas, and Minnesota are my bottom four.

  3. to James: yeah, that ruins the suspense to release them all right away.

    to Anonymous: Ottawa is underrated, their problem was largely goaltending and they shored that up with Anderson. They were an average Corsi team last year.

    NYI's defense cannot be considered average. I like Hamonic, but Streit is coming off a hip injury, and A-Mac isn't that good. Then there's dross behind those three - Mottau is coming off a serious injury, Eaton's a third pairing defenseman, etc. If this team is so good, why was their score tied corsi 45%? I mean, yeah, Gillies was horrendous, but he wasn't on the ice that much. There's a lot of problems on Long Island still.

  4. NYI had a slew of injuries. That's why their possession stats are horrid. Streit, last time he was healthy, was Norris-nomination-worthy. I think Eaton is more of a 2nd pair who can't stay healthy, but I think reasonable minds can differ. I'm putting a ton of weight on Streit coming back in and being effective logging a lot of minutes, sure, but I haven't seen any huge red flags yet (it's not recurring, for example).

    With Ottawa, yes, they were around the middle, but I don't see anything that makes me think they'll be able to maintain that caliber of play. I think it'll be a couple of years of getting worse before recent top-end draft picks can step and and really make a big impact.

  5. Triumph: A-Mac isn't that good? He played the toughest CorsiRelQoC the team of anyone with 20 GP and had the third lowest ZS on the team. He battled that to a positive Relative Corsi score, and even if his Corsi ON/Fenwick % aren't great I think you have to consider that he is being put in tough spots for a bad team. It also seems as if he improved from '09-10, so if he can continue to get a little better I think he's got the markings of being a pretty decent player.

  6. Anonymous: Eaton has played over 70 games once in his career. He's been an injury magnet. Do you honestly think Eaton at 34 is a 2nd pairing defenseman on a playoff team that has as many deficiencies as the Islanders do?

    Chase: The Islanders' defense is nearly impossible to evaluate because no one played even close to a full season. I see two guys who played 64 games as the most GP by an Isles' D. I agree that MacDonald is 'pretty decent', but your evaluation doesn't seem to have looked at the rest of the Islanders' D (he's middle of the road in ZS% and middle of the road in Corsi QoC). Also I am beginning to mistrust Corsi Rel for reasons that I will set out in a future post.

  7. Not sure exactly what you're asking me, but 50 games of a 4D and 30 games of a 7D is better than 80 games of a 7D. I noted the goaltending is likely deficient, but I didn't say they were going to get to the playoffs on the back of defense like a Montreal or Boston. It'll be because Tavares, Grabner, and Moulson could all hit 30 goals, because Nielsen will contribute plenty as well, because Niederreiter and Rolston can provide depth scoring. The East is so weak that the Islanders don't need to improve much beyond health to be a borderline playoff team. Improving 15 points isn't a whole lot for a young team that has had its best players out for extended periods of time.

    I can't find where I kept my WOWYs, but if memory serves A-Mac and Hamonic were ~45% Corsi without their top checking line (Nielsen) on ice. Not much worse than Carlson-Alzner (~48%).

  8. In fairness, I ranked the Islanders 21st, so I'm not entirely disagreeing. My issue is that the Islanders, like most teams in this range, have a playoff team if you squint. If you say, oh, okay, yeah Grabner, Moulson, and Tavares could score 30, and Nielsen and Okposo are really good, and Streit coming back is huge, and the goaltending might hold up...etc. etc. But like most teams in this range, a few injuries are going to kill them, because they don't have any depth at all.

    I also resist the idea that the East is weak - yeah, teams like Winnipeg, Florida, Ottawa, and Toronto are pretty weak. But the rest of the conference is rather strong. Of the 8 playoff teams, only Philadelphia got appreciably weaker. You've got New Jersey who Fenwicked like a playoff team, without their best player. Montreal Fenwicked like a top team. The Islanders could slip in there, but I don't see them as better than Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, New Jersey, Tampa, Philadelphia, or the Rangers. I think this is the year where the East demonstrates that it's equal to the West.

  9. I agree New York Islanders are bad but certainly not that bad. Nielsen will eat all the hard minutes and do so at a Malholtra type pace. Tavares and company will only get better and against similar competition should post even or plus CORSI numbers. Having Okposo for a full season helps as well. As long as they don't start playing 3 goons a night, they should be able to finish 11th or 12th in the East.