Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking a closer look at Blackhawks D & goals against

When players begin building up their time on ice (TOI), it's not surprising to see other stats rise as well, such as goals against or PIM. It's a given, really.

CORSI can give some good indications about performance, but when a team like Chicago has as poor a year defensively as they have this year, it brings up questions like: which D-man gives up the most goals? Who gives up the least? Are there certain players who are doing very well on defense who aren't seeing more ice time? How come your "best" defenseman gives up 7 goals in a single game and doesn't miss a single shift, never mind not getting benched for the next game - but a 5th/6th d-man gives up one bad play and gets benched for a period or becomes a healthy scratch? How come that second-year defenseman is being leaned on for so much TOI when he has the worst TOI-to-goals given up ratio on the team's blue line?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article for The Checking Line, asking why Sami Lepistö wasn't seeing more ice time when his historical CORSI and performance indicated he was more than capable of handling greater responsibility. With both Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson sidelined by injuries, Lepistö has finally gotten to play, yet his TOI remains low, despite a solid performance.

After a few very good wins, the Blackhawks have now strung together more losses, and it became time to revisit the team's defensive stats and to look at them from another angle: this time, to see which players get scored on the most, how frequently, and if their TOI is ever impacted by their defensive play (or lack thereof). The results look pretty interesting.

Here's the summary of goals against, by player. The graphic also illustrates average TOI between goals, compared to average TOI per game, and breaks down goals further to average goals scored against them per number of games played. (click on picture to open graphic in larger size if needed.)

Some interesting statistics that jump out when you look at the "goals against" in graphic (Excel spreadsheet) form:

- Nick Leddy has the most 4+ goals against game with four (three 4's and one 5). However, despite this, he's played all 64 games and has yet to be benched or scratched as a direct result of poor play.

- Nick Leddy has only had a 2+ "streak" of not being scored against twice: January 12-20 (5 games) and February 3 & 7 (2 games).

- Duncan Keith was on the ice for 7 of 9 goals against in the November 19th rout vs Edmonton. He, too, was not benched for poor play, and he played the next game as well.

- The longest stretch Keith has gone without a goal scored against him is 4 games. His best stretch of the year was December 14-30, when just 1 goal was scored against him in 8 games.

- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are averaging shorter TOI between goals than they average TOI per game, which means all of them average 1+ goal against them per game. Leddy's ratio is the worst of the four at 18.9 TOI between goals against. Should these figures be worrisome? Of course they should be; these guys are considered the top 4 defensemen on the team.

- Despite people complaining about Steve Montador's play, he has the second-best defenseman "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" ratio, of 28.3 TOI vs goal scored against. He averages 14:57/game, so statistically, that equals 1 goal every second game, although you can see from the chart that he has just 5 games where 2 or more goals have been scored against him.

- Sean O'Donnell is the only defenseman who has posted at least 45 games played this season who has max 3 goals scored against him in a single game. O'Donnell and Montador have each had only one 3+ goals against them, both in the same game (the 11/19 blowout).

- John Scott is the ONLY defenseman who has not had more than one goal scored against him while on the ice. Granted, part of that is due to his very low TOI (just 6:56 avg).

-  Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepistö each have only one game that 2 goals have been scored against them. Neither has had a game where more than 2 goals were scored against them.

- Sami Lepistö has only been scored against in 6 of the 21 games he's played (for a total of 7 goals). Why is he not seeing more ice time?

To look at the game-by-game goals against in more detail:

Click on the graphic to see it in larger, more easily readable format if needed.

- Although Brendan Morrison is considered a "bust", he has had just 2 goals scored against him in 7 games playing for the Blackhawks, for an average 41.5 minutes played between goals.

- Likewise, Rostislav Olesz saw just 1 scored against him in 6 games with the Blackhawks before he was sent down to Rockford.

- Daniel Carcillo had a surprising 39.9 minutes between goals while he was on the ice in 28 games. He might have spent his share of time in the penalty box, but he wasn't letting goals in.

- Jimmy Hayes has one of the best ratios between  "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" - 32.1 TOI at an average 11:51/game.

- While there was some buzz around "Bolland for Selke" that his CORSI numbers would certainly support, his "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" average gives fuel against that argument.

As the Blackhawks continue to struggle, there must be more in-depth evaluation about the team's defensive flaws, and players' TOI must be adjusted to compensate. Early in the season, Tyler Seguin was a healthy scratch for Boston when his defensive play went South. He rebounded off the benching by becoming one of the best defensive forwards for the team throughout the middle of the season, sitting atop the league's +/- stat chart for most of the year. Would being a healthy scratch help motivate or change Nick Leddy or Duncan Keith? Will Niklas Hjalmarsson come back from his recent injury with a better perspective about his play? Can Lepistö finally be granted more ice time when he is consistently proving that he's making it very difficult for other teams to score on him?

Today is the trade deadline for the league. Big decisions need to be made, but the Blackhawks need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and find change within themselves. There is no "miracle player" out there who will magically transform this entire team by appearing on its roster after a trade; the team needs to fix that problem from within.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jeremy Roenick inducted into the Coyotes Ring of Honor

Jeremy Roenick is one of the all-time great American-born NHL players. Roenick was a nine-time All-Star and two-time Olympian (including winning silver at the 2002 Olympics), and was the third American-born player to reach 500 career goals. He totalled 1,216 career points and 1,463 penalty minutes; as well as 122 playoff points and 115 playoff PIM. He had two 50+ goal and three 100+ point seasons - all of those record seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks - and played 1,363 games. Over the course of his career, played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.

Roenick has always been known for two things in addition to his skill on the ice: his at-times blunt personality and speaking his mind; and his love of the fans. When he was a child, he used to go to Hartford Whaler games, and he will recount the story of how hockey legend Gordie Howe picked up some of the snow off the ice and dumped it on his head - and then later gave Roenick a wink and a smile. Roenick was forever impacted by that feeling of connection between him and Howe, and always kept it in his mind throughout his career. Roenick has said in reference to that moment and the impact athletes can have on fans, "Without the fans, without their support, the NHL would be nothing, the NFL would be nothing, basketball, baseball, you name it right down the line ... The two or three seconds you give each day to make sure you appreciate the people who appreciate you, goes a long way."

On Saturday night, Roenick was inducted into the Phoenix Coyotes' Ring of Honor, meaning that his number was retired by the Coyotes, and his name and number now adorn a banner in the team's arena.

Below is the video of the pre-game ceremony and Roenick's speech. Coyotes television & radio host Todd Walsh was the master of ceremonies; also below is the transcription of Walsh's speech from the video. Roenick's acceptance speech starts at approx 12:45 of the video.

"I dare say this is the place to be in the Valley tonight. The Original Six is represented with the Chicago Blackhawks. The red-hot Phoenix Coyotes, standing room only, and Jeremy Roenick. It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

"First, a quick nod to Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks for their patience in being out here for the ceremony tonight. It's a class act by a classy team. And it's kind of ironic if you think about it, because tonight, if you look to the Coyotes' Ring of Honor, you will see the name of the great Bobby Hull, the 'Golden Jet', who you might recall left Chicago to put help Winnipeg on the global hockey map. Many years later, Jeremy Roenick would leave Chicago to help put Phoenix on the same map. Both figures were and still, were larger than life.

"But for Jeremy Roenick, we cannot lose sight that he was the first real face of the new Phoenix franchise, and he wore it well. If there was a baby to kiss, he kissed it. A ribbon to cut, he cut it. An autograph to sign, he signed it. If there was a Sunday night local sports TV show, he was on it, always promoting this sport, this franchise, and this city. He was and remains as recognizable as any athlete, ever, in Phoenix sports history. And he loved every minute of it. And the Coyotes were better for it.

"That was the Jeremy Roenick off the ice. On the ice, that was a different story. Check this out." <video of Roenick highlights>

"Unforgettable. You know behind every good man is an even better and stronger woman and family." <introduces the Roenick family>

"And I wasn't sure how I was going to introduce our next guest. I could talk about 20 years of service. 500+ goals. 1,200+ points. 1,400+ penalty minutes. I don't know how many concussions or injuries. But with a guy like this, I think you have to just narrow it down to one or two syllables. Like 'styles'. Or 'Hollywood'. Or the one and only, JR." <enter Jeremy Roenick to "Werewolf of London">

"Jeremy, trust me, you made an impression on more than a few people along the way, and you're only as good as the company you keep. We all know you can only really ever judge a man by what his friends, and therefore his teammates, say about you, especially when the lights are on and the camera is rolling, and especially when we say to them, just your name, Jeremy Roenick."

<Highlight reel players: Teppo Numminen; Shane Doan; Rick Tocchet; Greg Adams; Keith Tkachuk; Dallas Drake>

"Jeremy, now that you're the face of the new network that you're on, I talked to some of the guys that run the joint: Dave Strader, Mike Milbury, Eddie Olczyk. And they said the one thing you need to do, like I need to here, is to be on time." <The Coyotes present him with a watch>

<they then present to him a framed pair of jerseys from Roenick's time with Phoenix>

"But before we bring Jeremy to the podium, before we pull back that curtain, there's something missing up here, Jeremy. There's something that should be up in that Ring of Honor alongside your name, although it might be a little awkward. And folks, it all stems from a night in March of '99, when Jeremy Roenick physically erased Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars from a game.

"And then of course the payback that came your way in mid-April, the reverberation of that hit from Derian Hatcher nearly crippled one of the best Phoenix Coyotes teams ever assembled. You were hurt severely, and the playoffs were mere days away.

the Hatcher-Roenick hit
(warning: not for the easily-queasy; Roenick plucks his own teeth out)

"Inevitably, it seemed, though, your team arrived at game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, when a 3-games-to-1 lead evaporated. Injuries had depleted the roster. The rumors started a day before, and began to build to and after the morning skate of game 7. It was the talk of the town. Would you, could you, should you? And you did. With the song 'Jeremy' by Pearl Jam rocking the house, you hit the ice.

"Those who were there will never forget warmups, in front of the white-out in America West Arena, you were on the ice that night for three periods plus, with a jaw broken in four places, titanium plates and bands and screws at every fracture. Eight broken teeth. And a goofy-looking piece of hardware protecting it all. Forgotten in all of this, the fact that you broke your thumb on that same hit. Every shift, Jeremy, was your personal minefield. You put your personal health and well-being on the back burner, in defense of your team that night.

"I would argue that it was the greatest hockey game, the most tension-filled game, the most dramatic game ever played in that building. How do you top 1-0 in overtime in game 7?

"Jeremy, it was an iconic moment in Phoenix sports history, and you and that piece of hardware will forever be linked to it. So I thought it was only fitting that tonight, with the help of Stan Wilson, who helped make this mask for you, and who found it just the other night, I kid you not, in storage, to reunite you.

"Because Jeremy, it represents your will and desire to flat-out compete, at any and all cost. It is the essence of you and this game. You cannot hide from it; you have the scars to prove it.

"Your time here will be remembered for a variety of reasons. But first and foremost, it will be remembered for what you did on that night, Tuesday, May 4th, 1999. This won't fit up on the Ring of Honor, Jeremy, but there is plenty of room in all of our collective memory banks for it. This mask, and what it represents, belongs to you. Of all of us who remember that night, remember you, and honor you here tonight, Jeremy Roenick."

<presents Roenick with the jaw piece from his 1999 mask>