Analytics Mailbag: Should the Canadiens pursue Dustin Byfuglien?

Why did the Sabres fire GM Jason Botterill now? Plus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is "comfortable" with Canadian NHL hub cities. David Amber, Elliotte Friedman & Chris Johnston break it down.

After a bit of a hiatus, the Analytics Mailbag — where I do my best to answer your stat-related hockey questions every week — has returned.

Sometimes a question can require a little more detail than a standard mailbag can supply, and in those cases, they could turn into a whole article on their own. You know the drill, so let’s get to it.

This isn’t really an analytics question per se, but I’ll give it my best shot. I would assume that even if Vegas has the real estate to house all 24 competing teams, the vacancy rate for hotel rooms may not be as low as many expect. The U.S. seems very focused on re-opening despite the dangers involved, even in areas where cases are still going up.

Even if Vegas could accommodate everyone, the stress that would put on local vendors might be a bit much compared to housing half that amount after many restaurants and other service-focused companies have laid off employees during the lockdown.

Two hub cities allow the NHL to split things up in case there is a breakout of COVID-19 among their players and other employees, as they could keep playing games in the other city and retain some sort of product on the ice.

Multiple sites also give the NHL the ability to say they helped boost the economy in more than one location. So more security, more resources and more good PR. I’m sure there are a bunch more reasons but that’s what I’ve got.

This isn’t the first time this one has been asked, and it’s tough to say who was the better player because they played in such different eras. While we have a wealth of metrics to examine Andrei Markov’s career, we don’t have much for Borje Salming. What we can do though is see who was the better point producer using era-adjusted numbers from Hockey Reference.

Era adjusting is done by tweaking each season of a player’s career accordingly as if the average goals per game was six. So if in a given season the average goals per game was seven, adjusting their point production down would be done by multiplying it by 0.857.

During Markov’s career, the average game he had a chance to appear in had 5.538 goals, whereas Salming played in an era where the average game had 7.255 goals. As you might imagine, that creates a pretty big swing in the total point production for both players. What I like to do when comparing players in era adjusted terms is go through each season individually, then add it all up, then divide their games played to give an era-adjusted average season for each player over 82 games.

For Salming, his average season was nine goals and 38 assists for a total of 47 points. For Markov, an average season was 10.7 goals and 40.5 assists for 51.2 points.

The edge in point production goes to Markov ever so slightly and comes despite him losing nearly two seasons worth of games in his early 30s when he was putting up his highest levels of production. Still, how close these two are overall shows this was a great comparison to put together.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of red flags in Braden Holtby’s game in recent years. As I stated back in mid-April, I’d be very gunshy about giving Holtby a long-term contract. He’s definitely in a situation heading into next season at 31-years-old by October where he needs to prove himself as a legit starter in the NHL again.

He has a ton of clout from his prime years with a Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup in his trophy case, so the salary might be pretty high despite his past three seasons of being mediocre to bad. But I would be shocked if he wants more than a one year contract or if anyone is willing to give more.

The best situation for Holtby is likely with a team that is somewhat established but doesn’t have a top end goalie, and perhaps has a highly touted prospect who could claim the net by the 2021-22 season.

The team that keeps jumping out to me is the Calgary Flames. Instead of rushing Dustin Wolf, they can bring in Holtby to provide support for David Rittich similar to what Cam Talbot did this season, and if he regains his form the Flames are in a better position to compete than they have been in years.

It would also be close to a return home for Holtby, who was born in Lloydminster on the Saskatchewan side of the border. It seems like a fit, so long as the Flames feel the need.

Of course, that’s not necessary for the Flames if Talbot wants to return on a similarly short-term deal.

We could go through the statistics and identify the Canadiens’ biggest weakness on their roster, which is actually pretty clear from the outset: They need goal-scoring talent. They control play well enough, but they don’t score nearly enough on the solid opportunities that they create.

However, what the Canadiens need more than anything isn’t roster related — they need direction. The Habs are stuck between wanting to compete now to satisfy their veterans at the ends of their primes, and truly building through the draft like GM Marc Bergevin has insisted he was committed to his entire tenure.

The reality is the Canadiens haven’t done much building through the draft since Bergevin was hired back in 2012, until recently with Jesperi Kotkaniemi becoming a key piece and Nick Suzuki joining the young core via trade.

The question for the Canadiens is whether their young players are going to be impact players soon enough to take advantage of the last good years from their older core. The results the last few seasons suggest that it’s not a good bet and if the Canadiens want to compete sooner, they’re going to have to make moves to get much better right away. They have the cap space.

You’re either rebuilding or competing. Being stuck in the middle is the worst place to be.

Speaking of moves to make to help the Canadiens compete now, this is an interesting one. The Canadiens need more offence, but would a 35-year-old defenceman, no matter how big and dynamic, fit that need?

Over the last four years before taking 2019-20 off, Dustin Byfuglien ranked in the 92nd, 97th, 98th and 98th percentile in even-strength offence among defencemen, so this isn’t a guy who fell off offensively in his 30s, though there was a decline in other areas.

Byfuglien, even while nursing injuries in recent years, remained a high impact player at both ends of the ice. The injuries, the age and the rumours of not being fully committed to playing again are big risk factors though. I don’t think there’s any question that if Byfuglien wants to play that he’ll have a place in the NHL, but with the Canadiens already deep on the right side with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, I don’t see a fit there.

With all the question marks surrounding Byfuglien, I would assume there’s no way he gets more than a two-year contract offer, at least from the teams that aren’t super desperate.


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