Late in the offseason, analysts and columnists always like to come out with their “winners” and “losers” take on the summer that was, and determining which players and teams are the best set for the coming years based on the moves they made.
It’s pretty standard, but I notice we don’t spent too much time actually looking at the primary sources of data. What I plan on doing this morning to get you into the day, since we are a good third of the way into the season, is analyze a little what were purportedly the best moves of the season in August… and how they’ve panned out thus far.
I’ll look at the “best” moves of the 2011 offseason as analyzed by the excellent statistical blog Driving Play, and the August 30 post from Matt M. The post can be found here. The reason I picked Driving Play is because I tend to agree with their conclusions and analysis, and since I didn’t put together a “best” or “worst” list, this is the closest I can come to representing my mindset at the end of August.
The five best moves of the 2011 NHL Offseason
#5 – Ian White signing – 2 years, #5.75 million
“I don’t know which element of this deal is more impressive from Detroit’s perspective, the cap hit or the term” wrote Matt. “Signing a defenseman with White’s offensive prowess in UFA to a deal paying him less than $3M/year is a real coup.”
Indeed, Ian White has 12 points thus far on the season, equal to Chris Pronger, Fedor Tyutin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joni Pitkanen, Matt Carle, Dan Girardi and Jack Johnson. The average salary cap-hit of those seven players comes in at just under $4M, so Detroit made a good signing here from all accounts.
Now, White gets to play with Nik Lidstrom, so that has to be factored in, but it’s pretty clear that Detroit found a relatively cheap replacement for Brian Rafalski—the pairing have been playing against tough competition at the right end of the ice.
#4 – Jeff Carter trade (Columbus)
This one is closer to the “bust” category unfortunately, although it only has been a few games. Carter, brought in to provide a bit of scoring depth and take the nightly load off of Rick Nash, got hurt five games into the season after not scoring a goal.
“An under appreciated element of this deal is that a trade like this is the only way Columbus could’ve acquired a player of Carter’s caliber without drastically overpaying somebody as a free agent”
That’s still fair enough and applies. This year is a total write-off for Columbus. They ran into some very unfortunate luck in the early stage of the season, what with their goaltending situation, Carter’s injury, the suspension to James Wiesniewski, and it was just an all-around mess. I’m still confident this Carter pickup is a good one for Columbus, because, after all, he’s shooting the puck at a rate of higher than 3 shots per game, unfortunately for him, his shooting percentage is a career-low 6.9% right now. Look for that to change.
#3 – Brian Campbell trade (Chicago)
Well, well, well. Brian Campbell’s trade not only opened up a lot of cap space for the Chicago Blackhawks, but it also helped the Florida Panthers over the salary floor, and not only that, it gave the Florida Panthers a player who would garner one or two Norris Trophy votes if the season were to end today.
Campbell is not only second among defensemen in scoring, but he’s also a positive possession player, and we can quantify that statement by saying Campbell is a top-page rearguard in relative Corsi to start the season. Now, it’s not like this was highway robbery on the part of the Panthers, as Chicago was trading the $35M salary cap hit over five years more than anything, but the rejuvinated Campbell is playing very well on a pairing with Jason Garrison this season. It’s a trade that has worked out well for both sides so far. Campbell has been a big part of the Panthers’ shocking start to the season.
#2 – Semyon Varlamov trade (Washington)
This one won’t pay dividends for a while. Varlamov was moved for first and second-round picks from Colorado. The contract that Greg Sherman signed Varlamov to, a 3-year, $2.83M deal, could have netted the Capitals a single second-round pick if they decided not to match an Avalanche offer sheet.
But, beyond that, Varlamov just simply hasn’t been that good just yet. Washington General Manager George McPhee earned the two first-round picks for a goalie who has just a .909 even strength save percentage through the start to his tenure with the Avalanche. He’s been pretty inconsistent so far, with a couple of consecutive quality start streaks, but has so far just 11 quality starts in 21 games. A quality start is defined by Hockey Prospectus as a game in which the starting goalie earned a .913 save
percentage (or an .885 and allowing two or fewer goals). He will need to turn it around and rocket the Avalanche up the standings. because right now they are teetering on lottery-pick territory.
Was Washington missing out on anything here? Not two good draft picks worth, just yet.
#1 – Tomas Vokoun signing – 1 year, $1.5 million
Eep. Remember that scene in Happy Gilmore where Adam Sandler says to Christopher McDonald: “uh oh, Happy learned how to putt”? That was essentially my reaction when I read about the Tomas Vokoun signing in Washington. “Uh oh, Washington has a goalie!”
The overall “best move of the offseason” went to a goalie who has certainly yet to perform in Washington. Although, keep in mind, his even strength save percentage of .915 and his quality start % of 50% are very similar to his numbers a season ago in Florida where he recorded a .919 and a 54%. He can certainly play better, but he hasn’t played so far below a level that we should really question what Washington got themselves in to.
That said, the contract is short and risk-free and the Caps have a lot of time to right the ship. Vokoun’s price-tag is also extraordinarly cheap compared to what a lot of goalies make.
Overall, looking at the big board here, I’d say that they nailed Ian White, Brian Campbell and Semyon Varlamov, which still look like pretty good moves thus far. Tomas Vokoun has played slightly below par, and in a one-year deal, he has a lot less time than Carter to make up for it. As for Carter, I feel he is a victim of circumstance, but given the troubles in Columbus, it certainly hasn’t been a rosy beginning for the one-time Philadelphia superstar.
Chime in in the comments. What are the big surprises on this list, and, if you had to rank the top five moves of the offseason a third of the way through the season, who would you put up there?