One of my favourite phone conversations ever involved a stat called PDO.
Basically, it adds a team’s save percentage and its shooting percentage. Number one in the NHL right now is Columbus. The Blue Jackets’ save percentage is .932. Their shooting percentage is 11.5 (or .115). That’s a total of 1.046, slightly better than Minnesota.
Last in the NHL is Colorado. The Avalanche are at .896 and .073, for 0.969. None of those numbers should be a surprise to anyone. You stop the puck and score, you win. You don’t stop it and don’t score, you lose.
The idea is the farther you get away from 1.000 the more (or less) lucky you are. Eventually, you are supposed to come back to the middle. In theory.
I say “in theory” because we’re going to go back to the phone conversation mentioned above. A couple years ago, I was talking to a GM about this stat. His team couldn’t shoot. Well, they could shoot but not score. Their other stats were good, but their PDO was terrible.
He knew about PDO. But the more I mentioned it, the angrier he got. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until too late.
“What the $%@ am I supposed to do with that?” he finally yelled. “Am I supposed to tell my owner everything is going to be okay because our percentages are due to climb to the &%$@# median? I’m sure that status report will go over well.”
Then, we both started laughing. (I’d love to say who this was, but he swore me to secrecy.) I thought of that conversation Monday night while going through the rankings.
Do you know who is the worst shooting team in the NHL? Boston. The Bruins are just 6.9 per cent. Buffalo, Colorado and Florida are next worst at 7.3. Only one team this decade shot less than seven per cent for a full season — the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes, also 6.9.
That’s with David Pastrnak shooting 17 per cent.
As you can guess, some guys are really struggling. Brad Marchand (career 14), is at nine. Patrice Bergeron is down from 10 to 5.4. Injured Matt Beleskey from 9.4 to 4.5. Jimmy Hayes from 10.8 to 3.7. Torey Krug from 4.1 to 0.9.
You can feel the tension coming out of Massachusetts. Hockey is supposed to be fun, but when it’s going like it did Monday night (a 3-0 loss to New Jersey) it’s like being sat at the table next to your most hated relative at Christmas dinner.
What’s worse is that if you believe shots taken is a true indicator of possession, no one does it better. You name it — missed, blocked, unblocked, on goal — the Bruins have the highest percentages as compared to their opponents. The Bruins take 54.5 per cent of all shots in games they play, slightly better than number-two Los Angeles.
But they aren’t going in.
This is what fascinates me about the statistical debate. Can Boston ownership, management, the coaching staff, etc., be sold on “this is bound to change?”
As the above-mentioned GM said, “How do you manage bad luck?”
1. I think the Blackhawks have an itchy trigger finger. They are looking for someone to play with Jonathan Toews, especially as Marian Hossa battles injury.
2. Now that Artemi Panarin is signed and Chicago (eventually) has long-term decisions to make, keep an eye on an additional wrinkle — bonuses that will affect next year’s cap. Panarin himself could count for almost $2.6 million. One of the ways he can max out is finishing top 10 in points. Entering Tuesday’s games, he’s fifth. Brian Campbell already collected $750,000 for playing 10 games. The other one to watch is Gustav Forsling. He received an extra $31,500 for dressing in his 20th game. Every 10th appearance from there until number 60 gets him another $31,500. He’s been in the lineup 31 times, and if he gets 29 more, that adds almost $160,000 to the bonus overage. Between the three of them, the Blackhawks may be forced to subtract approximately $3.5 million. So, things could be even tighter for them.
3. Colorado has told teams not to bother asking about Nathan MacKinnon or 2015 first-rounder Mikko Rantanen. After that, it sounds like the organization is determined not to make a panic move just to mollify everyone. The Avalanche know $17 million comes off the books after the season and they will have flexibility. Right now, cap room is as valuable as diamond ore. The price on Matt Duchene in particular would be pretty high. He’s a centre, he scores and he’s signed to a very reasonable contract. If you’re willing to discuss legit young defencemen or defensive prospects, you’re in the conversation. But teams have been told the price is steep.
4. Will anything actually happen? This week’s frustrated quote from a GM: “I don’t know why we’re calling each other. No one is doing anything.” (As always, no one quoted here is used as an anonymous source.)
5. Vancouver has charged back into the Western Conference playoff race, now one point back of Los Angeles for the second wild card. We mentioned last weekend how someone like Alex Burrows could help a playoff team, but that playoff team could be the Canucks. He’s on-pace for his best points ratio in four years, so there’s a bit of a renaissance. If they fall out, there will be some feelers. Don’t forget, Burrows controls any trade options, so he has to want to go.
6. Now that we’ve passed Jan. 1, teams can re-sign players signed to one-year contracts. Montreal went first with backup Al Montoya, who got a two-year extension. The most intriguing will be the Canadiens’ decision with Alexander Radulov, who has been tremendous. Vancouver has Erik Gudbranson, RFA, out with injury. You can expect Edmonton to take a run at keeping Kris Russell. Same with Toronto and Nikita Zaitsev, although he’s a restricted free agent. Word is the KHL would love to get Zaitsev back, but he likes it in the Ontario capital.
7. Prior to the Centennial Classic last weekend, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it’s likely we’ll see three outdoor games next season. The Olympic dance looms large in this process, but it sounds like we’re going to find out Ottawa’s situation very soon. Locally, the wish is the Senators host Montreal on Dec. 19, 2017 at TD Place Stadium, marking the 100th anniversary of the NHL’s first game. But there’s a possibility that’s not the only outdoor game for the Canadiens. The league also wants to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the NHL’s actual formation, which would be Nov. 26, 2017. The thought was that would be some other kind of special event, but lately there have been whispers the tide was turning. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie reported last weekend an outdoor game is being discussed at Molson Stadium. So there could be two in Canada.
8. As for the Winter Classic, I’ve assumed West Point is the leader in the clubhouse until told otherwise. There was a report Monday that location was out because the rink would not meet specifications, but a couple of sources disputed it. “If it doesn’t happen,” one source said, “it will be because of all the red tape we have to go through.” There was also hope Florida owner Vinnie Viola’s ascension to Secretary of the Army might help the NHL’s bid to go there.
9. Great holiday week for Mason Raymond. The forward, a veteran of 546 NHL games, had seven points in five games for Canada’s Spengler Cup-winning team. This hadn’t been an easy few months for the Albertan, who was skating with the University of Calgary since his contract with Anaheim was terminated. His wife, Megan, is dealing with a recent diagnosis of Lyme Disease, although Raymond understandably did not wish to give any further information. What’s terrific is the entire family (two children and both sets of parents) made the trip to Switzerland. “In mid-November, I got a call (about playing). It was family first — I wouldn’t go without them — because these holidays were very important to me. I was thrilled that we could go. I had a blast, getting my love back for the game. On the flight home, I was looking at all the pictures. You’ll never forget how proud you are of what you accomplished.”
10. Told he might be the first-ever NHLer to be so complimentary of his in-laws, Raymond laughed. “We get along very well,” he replied.
11. Due to his family situation, Raymond declined AHL and overseas opportunities. But that doesn’t mean he’s closed the book for good. “I’m 31. Now, that’s getting older for the NHL, but in the European leagues, you’re still in your prime. We’ll see what the future holds. There were some interesting and intriguing offers. I learned I still love it.” His performance in Davos will increase interest. And, if NHLers are not at the Olympics, he’s exactly the kind of player who could end up wearing a Team Canada jersey if he’s competing overseas.
12. Raymond wasn’t the only one to get a positive jolt from winning the Spengler. “If you’ve lasted in this game, you get kicked around a bit. Everyone knows that feeling,” said Luke Richardson, who coached the team. “It was an opportunity for them to show their best.” He mentioned Gregory Campbell, who was recruited after leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets instead of going to the AHL. “A few weeks ago, we sent him some video of Minsk’s power play to get him some idea of what he’d be doing…taking faceoffs, killing penalties, facing the top lines. He blocked a shot in the semifinal, was losing feeling in one of his fingers. We wanted to send him for an X-Ray. He said, ‘No, I’m not going’…wanted to make sure he was still playing.” Not the first time we’ve heard that kind of story with him.
13. Coaches hate being asked to single out specific players, although Richardson mentioned former NHLers Andrew Ebbett, who was Raymond’s linemate, and James Sheppard for their performance. But there were two others he wanted to recognize. The first was goalie Zach Fucale, a Canadiens’ prospect. “Zach embraced coming in as a backup, then took over in Game 2 (against the home team, Davos). Our power play won that game, but he kept us in it, gave the power play the opportunity to do it. In the final, he was calm and focused. He gave up a goal on the first shift, a rocket over his shoulder. But then he made two huge saves. This should help his career.” The other was 30-year-old defenceman Chay Genoway, who played one game for the Minnesota Wild in 2011-12. He plays for KHL Jokerit Helsinki. “(GM Sean Burke) took a chance, called (Jokerit GM) Jari Kurri, and asked if there was any way Genoway could be loaned for the Spengler. Kurri said, ‘Let me think about it.’ He decided, ‘We need him on the 26th, but he can fly in on the 27th.’ We didn’t have him for our first game (a 7-4 loss), but what a difference he made. I compare him to a little Marty St. Louis on defence.” Chay’s older brother, 33-year-old Colby, a forward, was on the team too. “Their parents came over for Christmas. It was their first time playing together on a team, and it’s Team Canada. Kurri showed a lot of class. With those big imports, it’s difficult to let them go.”
14. As for Richardson, “I did have a couple of calls from Europe. They came not long before the Spengler Cup. Honestly, I was committed to this, I didn’t think I could do both properly.” He called Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney last summer, saying he’d love the opportunity to coach on any Canadian teams. He assisted Dave King at the Deutschland Cup, with their roles reversing for this event. He has family commitments in Florida now, and will play in the alumni outdoor game for Philadelphia against Pittsburgh in two weeks. After that, he’ll see if interest remains. “But, if you are hired then, how much change can you make? I think most coaches need the summer and a fresh start to make an impact. Maybe if it’s personality conflicts on a good team like Pittsburgh you can do it. But if it’s a team struggling at the bottom part of the league, you need time.” So he watches what he can, including nephew Jakob Chychrun on the Arizona blue line. “I love watching hockey.”
15. There are rumblings Mario Lemieux will play. Will the Flyers be gentle? “Flyer alumni play hard,” Richardson laughed. “You never know.”
16. Speaking of the Flyers, had a good chat with GM Ron Hextall last week and one of the things we discussed was the identity. The late Ed Snider was such a massive presence atop the organization. Does it change without his force? Is there any worry about Comcast’s interest in keeping the team? “No, I don’t have any worry,” Hextall replied. A major reason is Comcast-Spectacor president Dave Scott has been around for two years. “He and Mr. Snider communicated a lot of passion with each other. He cares about our history. I don’t see any issues. I feel more like it’s up to myself and Paul Holmgren to uphold the standards of 50 years. The Flyers are the Flyers. We’re going to continue on the tradition.”
17. We spoke just after the end of their 10-game win streak. The way Philadelphia plays is pretty entertaining. They’re fun to watch. “We’re not a conservative team, but we’re not run-and-gun. We’re going to pressure all over the ice, not sit back.” They are 1-4-2 since the streak ended. Was it a legit 10-game run? “I’ll say it was a good streak,” Hextall replied. “Things are so tight. Maybe we should have lost one or two, and a couple could have gone either way, but we played most of it very well.” No more 35-game unbeaten streaks like they had in 1979-80? “You know what? (Holmgren) gave me the dates of that run. I looked at it and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ That would be nice…just once,” he laughed.
18. Is Brayden Schenn going to be a centre or left winger over the long term? “I’m excited about our middle with Claude Giroux, Schenn, Sean Couturier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Bellemare can play up if we need him to.” So you think he’s a centre? Hextall hesitated a bit. “Yeah, I do…but that does leave us short on the left side.” Schenn’s versatility will be put to use.
19. I can’t find the exact quote, but another reporter asked Hextall about finding high-level defence prospect Philippe Myers as a free agent. The GM said something along the lines of, “Instead of patting ourselves on the back, we wonder why we didn’t draft him in the first place.” You know who else uses that logic? Bill Belichick. When he gets credit for drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round, he says he wonders why they didn’t take him earlier. I like that.
20. Finally on Philadelphia, Doug MacLean told a great story about why Bob Clarke tripped up on Giroux’s name when the Flyers took him 22nd overall in 2006. According to MacLean, Philly was going to take Trevor Lewis. But the Kings took Lewis 17th, which annoyed Philadelphia, since Hextall had just left for California. Clarke was flustered.
21. You could see last weekend how the Red Wings’ playoff streak weighs on those who’ve been there a while. Niklas Kronwall is as friendly as anyone, but his face tightened as that topic came up. Same with Henrik Zetterberg. I’ve written before about how he spoke up a couple of years ago in Dallas on the last day of the season, demanding victory because the run wasn’t ending on his watch. They know what a challenge this is going to be. Those two have a lot of pride in both themselves and the Winged Wheel. It’s not an easy subject for them.
22. The captain, in particular, knew exactly where each question was going. Does he read everything? “No, I don’t,” he replied. “But I’ve been around long enough to understand what’s being said by the questions being asked. If you read everything, you’d go nuts.”
23. Detroit’s makeup date for the cancelled game in Carolina means three games in three nights from March 26-28. The other option was interrupting the NHL/NHLPA negotiated five-day break in late February. That was a no-go for the players.
24. This is William Nylander’s goal (above) against Florida last week during a four-on-three man advantage. On that score, Nylander (a righty shot) and Auston Matthews (a lefty) are on their off-wings in prime one-timer position. Normal and expected. However, we’ve seen plenty of times both stay on their strong sides when it’s a five-on-four, although that changed during the Centennial Classic. I asked Mike Babcock about it. He said he prefers them on the one-time side, but “five-on-four, it depends on certain things…how we enter the zone, what happens off a faceoff” and their own creativity. There are a few variables. “But, on a four-on-three, I want them on their off-wings.”
25. Despite the downward turn in the relationship between Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders, I was surprised by the number of people who said they wouldn’t be surprised by a return. The number one reason was injuries. There’s no guarantee everyone in front of him stays healthy. Second, either J-F Berube or Thomas Greiss may be easier to trade to a team needing a goalie since they have no term, unlike Halak. Third, Halak’s value is low right now, so it benefits New York to get him going. He’s a good goalie having a rough year. I do think the Islanders are willing to be creative to get something done, but that extra year is an impediment at this moment.
26. On the Olympics: last Friday, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was on The FAN 590’s Prime Time Sports roundtable. In case the NHL doesn’t go to South Korea, John Shannon brought up international soccer, and how club teams release players to their national teams when needed, even though the leagues keep going. Is it possible to allow certain people to go and still play the NHL season? Daly: “I don’t want to deal in hypotheticals. Let’s see what kind of movement we’re dealing with. If it’s a handful of players, I think clubs can handle it.” You wouldn’t have an objection if it’s (one) individual on a team missing for two weeks? “No.”
27. Asked earlier Friday about what happens if Olympic participation is not approved, Zetterberg responded, “You know we all want to go. If it doesn’t happen, it’s going to be ugly.”
28. One more wild card. Does the International Olympic Committee actually have the stones to ban Russia due to systematic doping, and the ensuing cover-ups? If yes, how does that affect any NHL (or NHLPA) decision?
29. Tampa Bay prospect Mitchell Stephens returned from injury to the Team Canada lineup at the World Juniors, sparking the quarterfinal victory over the Czech Republic. He plays for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, but word is Windsor is circling before the deadline.
30. Favourite New Year’s quote: “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”