ESPN’s Summer Skate

Today’s September 15th – the drop dead date for NHL owners to…(using my Glenn Kulka voice) “drop the proverbial hammer” by locking out the players by 11:59 pm. 

From a blogging standpoint, this is going to be a new experience. I did not start writing until a few years after the NHL’s last work stoppage, so the most obvious challenge will be being able to maintain that consistent level of content that is expected by our audience.

Despite the obvious drawbacks to any lockout, it’s going to be a unique opportunity to challenge myself and the other contributors to provide original and worthwhile content during these dire times, but with the likelihood that Gary Bettman will remain as the commissioner for the foreseeable future, the timing of it will just prepare me for the inevitable fourth work stoppage of his tenure. 

So while I should be bracing myself for the rate of Senators news slowing to a crawl, I will still leap at any opportunity to comment on anything Sens-related that pops up on the Interwebs.

Take yesterday’s Summer Skate: Ottawa Senators projections feature that appeared on ESPN Insider for example (note: it’s behind a paywall). 

After attributing much of last season’s unexpected success to the emergence of Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza’s return to prominence, author Matthew Coller warns that the Sens ranked 24th in goals allowed. To that end, they made a deal to bring in a reliable defenseman in Marc Methot. Still, don’t be surprised if Ottawa still struggles defensively and slips back from its high scoring total and in the standings.

Fair enough, I’ve already expressed a number of concerns with the possibility that the Senators could regress this season. 

From there, the article used the goals-versus-threshold (GVT) metric and the VUKOTA Projection System to recognize Colin Greening as one Senators player who should be trending up – Last season: 3.7 GVT | VUKOTA projection: 6.6 GVT.

If you’re unfamiliar with either statistic, no worries. I’ll refer you to Die By the Blade‘s explanation:

Developed by the people at Hockey Prospectus, the VUKOTA Projection System uses statistical data to project what an NHL player would do in their next season by comparing them to similar, post-1967 NHL players (1967 being the year that the NHL first officially recorded statistics to calculate GVT data). This projection system, similar to the PECOTA and SCHOENE projection systems of Baseball and Basketball, was named after Mick Vukota, a fringe NHL player who amassed 17 goals, 29 assists, and 2071 penalty minutes over an 11 year NHL career. Overall, VUKOTA only projects individual statistics (G, A, Save %, GVT) and not statistics that are team oriented, such as +/- or goaltender wins.

[…]

GVT (Goals Versus Threshold) stat represents how much better a certain player is over a replacement-level NHL player.

In other words, GVT is the hockey equivalent to baseball’s VORP — value over replacement player.

I can understand some of the reasoning behind the expectation that Greening can continue to improve his production. Whenever the lockout ends, Greening will enter his sophomore season at 26 years of age.

It is this late-blooming characteristic that makes me question just how much higher his ceiling can actually be.

Coller is more optimistic however.

While the physical center had somewhat of a breakout season in 2011-12, scoring 17 goals and 20 assists and registering 189 hits in 82 games, there’s a good chance more is on the way for the 26-year-old. The former seventh-round pick posted solid possession numbers with a decent 1.57 even-strength points per 60 minutes.

If he continues to spend time on a line with Spezza and Milan Michalek as he did last season, Greening should see his scoring rates continue to rise, all the while acting as a physical presence who can create space for Spezza and Michalek.

Ignoring the fact that he’s a winger, the likelihood of Greening remaining on the team’s first line is diminished significantly with the arrival of Jakob Silfverberg. If the last two games of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals are any indication, Silfverberg has already leapt ahead of Greening on the depth chart. (Note: For what it’s worth, Silfverberg was listed as the article’s “name to know”.)

Of course it doesn’t help Greening that his “solid possession numbers” were driven by playing the bulk of his minutes with Jason Spezza. Should he be removed from Spezza’s wing, his production and possession numbers should drop. Fortunately, he’s already shown that he can play and be productive playing with some of the team’s better offensive talents, so at the very least, he gives the team some measure of depth in the event of an injury.

Speaking of numbers dropping, Daniel Alfredsson was listed as the Senators player who should expect less production – last season: 16.0 GVT | VUKOTA projection: 6.4 GVT

After a quality swan-song season in which Alfredsson scored 59 points in 75 games, many figured he would call it a Hall of Fame career. Instead, he’ll give it one more go this season. While he is still a quality setup man, the Sens legend can hold off Father Time for only so long as he turns 40 in December. His points-per-game numbers have been fading from 1.27 PPG in 2008-09 to 0.79 last season, and that includes his highest shooting percentage since 2007-08.

Despite a likely trail-off in production, he has the puck possession skills and veteran presence to still add quality depth to Ottawa’s roster, just not as much as he did last season.

Unfortunately, these numbers and comparisons don’t take his health or the quality of his team into consideration. After a few injury-marred and disappointing team performances, Alfredsson returned to full health and helped stabilize Ottawa’s scoring depth; combining with Kyle Turris to form a competent second line. Although Coller raises a very valid point that addresses the potential inflation created by Alfie’s shooting percentage, even if his goal totals regress to the low 20’s, he should still be able to produce numbers that approach last season’s 60-point threshold.

Senators Turn In Practice Jerseys

According to the Ottawa Sun‘s Bruce Garrioch, Senators players have been ordered to surrender their team practice jerseys.

The decision to take away equipment is a not a league-wide policy. Teams are making these decisions on an individual basis.

It’s just a small concession for the players, but it’ll help prepare them for the inevitable. The owners have all the leverage in this situation and they’re obviously not afraid to use it; even if it means pissing off the two entities who drive their business – the players and the fans.

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