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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday's Playoff Picture in the East, Lundqvist vs Vezina Candidates & April Round-Up

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost in regulation to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, keeping the #5 seed within remote reach of our New York Rangers. Let's look at Thursday's matchups:

New York Rangers @ Carolina Hurricanes 7:00
New York Islanders @ Philadelphia Flyers 7:00
 Ottawa Senators @ Washington Capitals   7:00
Toronto Maple Leafs @  Florida Panthers  7:30
 Montreal Canadiens @  Winnipeg Jets    8:00

NY Rangers can clinch 8th-or-better seeding with the following on Thursday night:
   - A NY Rangers win at Carolina
   - A Winnipeg loss vs Montreal (in regulation)
   - If Winnipeg loses in overtime/shootout & NY Rangers do not lose in regulation

   *A Winnipeg win, or loss in overtime/shootout, would force NY Rangers to collect at least one standings point to counter
   *If Winnipeg collects 1 or 2 points (they have the tiebreaker so NY Rangers can't tie with Winnipeg), and NY Rangers lose in Carolina, the good guys would have to earn at least a point in their season finale vs NJ Devils on Saturday
What about 5th place?
   - Again, NY Rangers must earn 4 of a possible 4 standings points, while Toronto earn 0 of a possible 4. NY Rangers would also need Ottawa and NY Islanders to earn 55 or less standings points by season's end. 

In other words, it's a safe bet NY will finish 6th-8th, unless they get real lucky and take 5th, or real unlucky and get squeezed out to 9th. Thursday morning, HockeyRodent updated his mathematical projection for Broadway:

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   Switching gears, the conclusion of the regular season is also the annual chalkup of trophy candidates, or in Henrik Lundqvist's case, the Vezina (best goalie voted on by GM's) and the Hart (league all-around MVP). Lundqvist is the defending Vezina-winner, and top-tier candidate for either this season.

   Before we digress, the stat 'goalie point share' (or GPS) is a stat in which there is an equation attempting to mathematically express how many standings points the goalie earned his team in a given game(s). Example: If a goalie has a GPS of 5.5, he is theoretically responsible for earning 5.5 standings points for his team that season.

   I've consequently created a 'relative goalie point share' (or Rel GPS) to display what percent of an NHL team's standings points a goalie has earned (GPS divided by standings points). Example: If Mike Richter had a GPS of 11.7 in 1993-94, where the team ended with 112 standings points, his Relative GPS would be 11.7 divided by 112 = 10.446%. Mike Richter earned 10.446% of his team's 112 standings points in 1993-94.

   Additionally, my 'point share rating' (or PSR) stat displays how the goalie's GPS compares to the next biggest point-share total on his team (skater or goalie). Example: If Mike Richter had a GPS of 11.7, and the biggest/next biggest skater/player point-share on the team was Brian Leetch with 13.3, Richter's PSR would be his 11.7 divided by Leetch's 13.3 = 87.97%. Mike Richter earned 87.97% of the team's top point-share leader whom wasn't Mike Richter (Brian Leetch).

   There is also measurement for skaters and their theoretical 'point share' on a team as well. You can read more about it on the wonderful site Hockey-Reference

   Let's look at this chart of Vezina candidates (minimum 1,701+ minutes played this season):

   Unfortunately, Henrik Lundqvist only leads the candidates is one stat: Relative Point-Share. Henrik Lundqvist earning 17.31% of his team's standings points is the most proportionately for any goaltender in the NHL to earn that much of his club's standings points. So while the Vezina may very well be headed to Rask, Niemi or Bobrovsky... could King Henrik win the Hart MVP but lose the Vezina? Probably not, but any goalie sporting his numbers on a fringe-playoff team deserves certain credit. Lundqvist is 4th in wins on an 8th place team. Lundqvist has razor sharp GAA and SV% numbers, but only once did he record a shutout. Consistent battling is Lundqvist's game, and relative to the team he has around him, he deserves an honest look for the Hart.

   By the way, there has never been a goaltender to win Vezina while having a Point-Share Rating of less than 125.00% in the salary-cap era. The last goalie to win the Hart, Jose Theodore in 2001-02, had an incredible 255.88% PSR. Despite yet another season of elite goaltending, Lundqvist will probably not win the Vezina nor the Hart this season. But, alas, one never knows in these things.

*   *   *

   And finally, before the month of May comes in and Rangers Country goes Lincoln Tunnel-vision into the playoffs... One last look at Glen Sather's roster, with notes and concerns for the franchise in as many respects as possible. Once the postseason begins there won't be talk of free agency, salary cap or trades until June. Where do we stand at the end of the 2013 season?

   Approximately 3 weeks after the NHL trade deadline, which featured the Marian Gaborik exodus and the Ryan Clowe/Derek Brassard/John Moore acquistions, New York is among league leaders in goals-scored. However, look no further than the relative strength of the schedule and subsequent weakness of opponents to remember this team is still offensively challenged; especially when the Panthers, Sabres, Hurricanes, Devils & Lightning are nowhere to be seen come playoffs.

   Let's check out our depth chart heading into the playoffs:

[7.8000] Rick Nash (29) - [0.8750] Derek Stepan** (23) - [4.2750] Ryan Callahan (28)
 [0.7000]Mats Zuccarello**(27) - [6.6667]Brad Richards(33) - [3.6250]Ryan Clowe*(31)
[0.8750] Carl Hagelin**(25) - [3.2000] Derick Brassard (26) - [1.7000] Brian Boyle (29)
[1.3250] Chris Kreider (22) - [1.0667] Darroll Powe (28) -- [1.0000] Aaron Asham (35)  
[1.6333] Derek Dorsett (27) --- [1.2442] J.T. Miller (20) ------ [1.5500] Taylor Pyatt (32)
 The single * signifies player will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this July 1st
   The double ** signifies player will be a restricted free agent (RFA) this July 1st

   1) Brian Boyle is currently day-to-day with a leg injury, and Dorsett a shoulder injury. Miller would be a favorite to step-in if a 1st or 2nd line player went down, while Dorsett or Pyatt could prove more prudent if it's a 3rd or 4th line injury. Kreider playing 4th line minutes, probably not best for his development to play under 10 minutes a game, and do so with Powe and Asham, clearly indicates a lack of forward depth and/or development. Despite no metrics for this claim, I suspect New York to be one of the shallowest forward depths in the Eastern playoff picture. 
   2) This group of 15 forwards totals $37.5358 million. If we stingily count just the top 12, the total is $33.1085. That's respectively 58.37% and/or 51.49% of the 2013-14 salary cap. These 4 or 5 lines will cost more than half the team's payroll next season, without considering payraises for RFAs or UFA additions.
   3) Even with King Lundqvist giving the team a fighting chance to win beyond its deserving, is this a lineup that could snag 4 wins in 7 games against a truly better team? How does this lineup compare to the top 12, top 15 forwards we had in last postseason's 20-game run? I don't think it's a better team, I don't think this is a Cinderella roster that can overtake long battles on away ice.
   4) Derek Stepan has silently become the #2 forward, behind Captain Callahan, in terms of icetime per game, and the premier center at that. He is coming off his entry-level contract, with no arbitration rights, 3 years into his career with a wonderful start. How will his play hold up in the playoffs? Remember, he had 1 goal in 20 games (382 minutes) last postseason. If we're debating contract offers from 1 year - $2.75 mil/year to 5 years - $4.00 mil/year, we should be watching his role performance especially close this campaign.
   5) Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello are restricted free agents as well. Do you open up one of their positions to Chris Kreider next season, or do you bring them back on minimal one-year deals next season? I'd surmise Carl Hagelin worth about $1.75 mil/yr to 1 year, or 1.875 mil/yr to 2 years; Zuccarello harder to guess. I do not know how much his 1-year KHL deal was, since he'd be forgoing the payroll in Russia to play a full season in New York with one-way salary.
   6) Despite his 1st career hat trick last Friday, Brad Richards' struggling season has been a worrisome blunder for Rangers fans to swallow. Fortunately Glen Sather remains armed with one remaining amnesty buyout, and can wait to burn it Summer 2014 if he so chooses. If Richards were in line for the amnesty buyout, one could only imagine Sather having an alternative center on the market to lust after with such a pivotal position being jettisoned from the franchise. I could really see buying out Richards and swooning in for Evgeny Malkin if his contract indeed expires July 1st, 2014. But this offseason, both politically and looking over the center market, I tend to think Richards will remain even with a dreadful postseason next month. 

And here's the back end of our franchise:

[1.3000] Ryan McDonagh** (24) ------------- [3.3250]  Dan Girardi (29)
[3.9750] Marc Staal (26) ------------------------ [1.7000] Anton Stralman (27)
[2.5500] Michael Del Zotto (23) -------------- [0.7500] Steve Eminger* (30)
[0.9650] John Moore (23) ---------------------- [0.6500] Matt Gilroy* (29)
[3.5000] Roman Hamrlik* (39) ---------------- [0.7500]   Stu Bickel   (27)  

[6.8750] Henrik Lundqvist (31)  
[1.3000]  Martin Biron  (36)  

 The single * signifies player will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this July 1st
   The double ** signifies player will be a restricted free agent (RFA) this July 1st

   1) Marc Staal remains out day-to-day with his eye injury, but sounds of progress continue each day. The depth here seems pretty decent, though the left-handed defensemen are notably deeper than the right-handed ones. Perhaps replace Eminger/Gilroy's outgoing contracts for a higher-quality righty-defenseman?
   2) Ryan McDonagh, one of the best Rangers blueline rookie/sophomores in recent memory, is coming of his entry-level contract. One must conclude a long-term deal is coming before McDonagh walks as an unrestricted free agent down the road, but its not a certainty. In any event, would it be best to hold McDonagh to a 1-year, $2.9 mil/year extension, and negotiate a 5-7 year deal in 2014, potentially when an amnesty buyout has been exercised and there's more cap room for $4+ million/year to Ryan? Tough questions.
   3) Could Sather be looking to shop Del Zotto this off-season? When NY traded draft picks for Tim Erixon a few summers ago, everyone thought it was the demise of Del Zotto. Once he was shipped to Columbus last summer after Del Zotto's impressive season/postseason, the McD/Staal/MDZ lefty lineup seemed cement. Now, with the acquisition of 23-year-old John Moore from the Gaborik deal (whom his nearly a third Del Zotto's price and more focused defensively), one might make this guess: Del Zotto traded this summer, and a righty-defenseman signed this offseason whom could delegate Stralman to 3rd pair. McD-Girardi, Staal-X, Moore-Stralman. Between the departures of MDZ, Eminger and Gilroy, it's nearly $4 million.
   4) The lineup is young, but it's pretty much the defensive lineup used in last postseason's Conference Final run. Except they are one year older, which is a good thing when none of the top 6 are above 30 years old.
   5) The top 4 defensive pairing (top 8 defensemen) + the 2 goalies total $23.39 million. That is 36.38% of next season's salary cap.
   6) For payraises and/or replacing outgoing contracts, NY will have 5-12% of the salary cap to work around.

* * *

   Final Thoughts
   Henrik Lundqvist gives this team a chance to result in wins they would not otherwise achieve. This team, especially after the 2-1 defeat in Florida in lieu of clinching a playoff berth, does not have champion caliber. It has been remodeled a la the Gaborik trade, and it has some nice players penny-for-penny; it is a downgrade from last year's club. It is going into a tighter salary cap next year, its 2nd year of the much-discussed '3-Year Window'. If anyone on the planet knows the 201-15 Salary Cap figure, whether it be in the fifties, sixties, or seventies, would control prime information an NHL General Manager would kill to know.
   I will say this: if this organization is destined to concert one last prospect/draft pick auction for current, playoff-specialized talent, I can respect it. Lundqvist is 31, and sadly the time is coming where he will not get any better, and only decline with age. I can respect and sympathize with selling Kreider, Miller, McIlrath or any other top prospect, for a Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr or Jay Bouwmeester at next year's deadline.
   A NY Rangers Conference Final would be an amazing repeat to feat this spring, but we'll be rooting for the guys in blue because that's what we do. 

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