With the NHL season set to begin Saturday, it's time for the obligatory previews; today we'll focus on the blueline.
The most difficult task for general manager Dale Tallon in the off-season was replacing Jason Garrison, who signed a six-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks during the summer. Garrison provided offense on the first pairing with 16 goals, handled top competition, and played in every situation. He was also Florida's best penalty killer. In hopes of filling that void, Filip Kuba was brought back to Florida with a two-year contract.
Brian Campbell will play on the first pairing, that's a given. The question is, who will line up with him? Kuba spent most of his time with Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, winner of the Norris Trophy last season. At age 36, the coaching staff has to wonder if the Czech Olympian can handle playing as many minutes as Campbell.
Mike Weaver is also a candidate, as he and Garrison were the top defensemen in 2010-11, and he handles just about all of the tough minutes. Moving Weaver up to the first paring gives Kuba a chance to work his magic with another young defenseman in Dmitry Kulikov (who has not yet arrived at for training camp). Kulikov saw an increase in ice time last season and, for the third season in a row, led Panthers defensemen in ESP/60 with 1.09. While he can score, his defense and injury history are big concerns.
The bottom paring will likely be a mix of Keaton Ellerby, Erik Gudbranson, and Ed Jovanovski. Gudbranson struggled in the NHL as a teenage defensemen, and is expected in some circles to begin the season in San Antonio with the Rampage. While he did lead all Panthers defensemen with 9.0 Hits/60, he had the lowest even-strength scoring rate. Of course, he's only 20, so he has time.
Ed Jovanovski, however, might be out of time. The 2002 Olympic gold medalist scored a career low 13 points last season and played fewer than 20 minutes for the first time. He also had trouble handling opponents while playing a limited role. At age 36, it's hard to imagine Jovocop improving, and with a cap hit of $4,125,000, he might be bought out by the Florida Panthers before the 2013-14 season.
Where does such a scenario lead? Keaton Ellerby might be the best player on the bottom pairing. Ellerby, a cousin of Shane Doan and a second cousin of Carey Price, ranked tenth among NHLers with 7.3 Blocks/60 and handled opponents better than Gudbranson and Jovanovski. He's also a better bargain at $700,000.
Tyson "Healthy Scratch" Strachan scored his first career NHL goal with Florida, and played just 15 games. He signed a one-way contract with the Panthers and is expected to live up to his nickname. In his short time in Florida, Strachan averaged 8.7 Hits/60 and 5.9 Blocks/60.
|Player||Team||GP||TOI/60||Corsi On||Rank||Corsi Rel QoC||Rank||OZS%||Rank||PDO||Rank|
Rank refers to their team. For example, Weaver's on-ice Corsi was ninth of ten Panther defensemen last season.
Glossary (from Hockey Prospectus 2012-13)
- Blocks/60: A rate statistic showing the number of blocked shots a player recorded per 60 minutes of ice time.
- Bottom pairing: Typically refers to the fifth- and sixth-best defensemen on a squad. Most teams play three sets of defensemen in a game, hence the "bottom pairing" label for the third set. The term can be used to describe a player’s role on the team, often noticeable in ice time, or their talent level.
- Corsi: A statistic originally invented by Jim Corsi, who was the goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres. Corsi is essentially a plus/minus statistic that measures shot attempts. A player receives a plus for any shot attempt (on net, missed, or blocked) that his team directs at the opponent’s net, and a minus for any shot attempt against his own net. A proxy for possession.
- Corsi QoC: A measure of competition quality using Corsi as its basis. While a slight improvement on goal-based measures, the scale can be hard to decipher based on the quality of teams faced throughout the year.
- Corsi Rel QoC: A measure of competition quality using Relative Corsi as its basis. It is less luck-driven than QualComp and more universal than Corsi QoC because it is based on a relative metric. The most statistically sound quality of competition metric currently used.
- ESP/60: Even strength points per 60 minutes. A commonly used statistic measuring the amount of points a player scores per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. For the 2010-11 season, anything over 1.62 ESP/60 was considered to be scoring at the rate of a top-six forward, though 1.80 ESP/60 is the common benchmark
- Heavy lifting: Refers to difficult roles that certain players are placed in, with significantly tougher quality of competition and zone starts that skew towards the defensive end of the rink.
- Hits/60: A rate statistic showing the number of hits a player delivers per 60 minutes of ice time. While interesting, it has very little predictive value on goals scored or goals prevented.
- Top four: Typically refers to a squad’s best four defensemen. On most teams, the top four defensemen shoulder the majority of the ice time among defensemen. The term can be used to describe a player’s role on the team, or their talent level
- Zone Start %: The percentage of a player’s non-neutral-zone shifts that were started in the offensive zone. Zone starts use faceoffs as a proxy for all shifts. Players with a ZS% higher than 54% could be considered sheltered or deployed offensively while players with ZS% south of 46% can be considered to be deployed defensively or doing the "heavy lifting".