Steve Bernier has actually been Pretty Good for the Isles

The Isles came into this season with two new additions to the team: Steve Bernier and Marek Zidlicky (more on Zid in another post this week).  Both players have found themselves healthy scratched this week and with Ryan Strome coming back to the team, it seems likely Bernier will be scratched in the future.

Is this right?  Should he be the player scratched?  After all, his point total of 2 – 1 goal and 1 assist – isn’t impressive.  He doesn’t play any special teams at all – a feat only matched by Matt Martin.  If Bernier’s value then is only on 5-on-5, how valuable can he be if he’s not a scorer?

The answer of course isn’t THAT valuable, but he’s still pretty good.  Bernier is 4th on the team in corsi, at 50.4%, and is only one of four Isles in the green (the others being Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Anders Lee).  He has been excellent in the neutral zone through 19 games (so not including the last 3 games), with a 52.3% Neutral Zone Score, mostly caused by suppressing opposing carry-ins.  In short, while he isn’t scoring, the team is basically matching and slightly beating the opponents in possession while he’s on the ice.  That may not sound like much, but the rest of the team hasn’t been doing that, except for the Frans Nielsen line.

There’s a place on NHL teams for players who don’t score but do prevent the team from being outmatched while their best players aren’t on the ice.  That would be the fourth line.  Bernier isn’t a hitter, but a logical team, not bound by the conventions of hockey-tradition, would replace Matt Martin with Bernier in a heartbeat.  After all wouldn’t you rather have this guy:

Dashboard 1 (4)

than this guy (Remember, neither plays special teams):

Dashboard 1 (5)

But yeah, HITZ!


Islander Free Agent Targets – Part 3: David Schlemko and Raphael Diaz

Sticking with the Defensemen theme, tonight we turn to the Flames, who have a pair of unrestricted free agent D men coming off of cheap contracts: David Schlemko and Raphael Diaz. Both guys have bounced around a bunch: The undrafted Raphael Diaz has been in the league 4 years since coming over from Switzerland and had four different uniforms (MTL, VAN, NYR, and CGY), while the undrafted Schlemko has played for 3 (ARZ, DAL, and CGY). Both again would be available for cheap: Schlemko cost 1.25 Million last year and won’t cost more than that this year (having been waived twice), while Raphael Diaz played for basically the league minimum last year (700K).

And more importantly, both would be useful additions to the D.

David Schlemko

David Schlemko has seemingly never found a home for long in the NHL, never playing over 50 games in a season. He was waived three times last year – claimed by Dallas and then barely played and then by Calgary where he got 20 games. He won’t provide any offense directly – unlike Mark Barberio from yesterday, Schlemko has never put up good point numbers even at the AHL level (where Barberio did).

That said, what he does bring are sterling possession #s from everywhere he’s been (except for the 5 games in Dallas, but well, 5 games). This is without being sheltered at all – he’s played 3rd pair minutes, but never been treated as if he’s a liability when he’s on the ice. And the team has done better possession wise whenever he’s on the ice! Most of that is from promoting more offense but he’s solid defensively as well.

Raphael Diaz

It’s less of a mystery why Raphael Diaz has bounced around than Schlemko – Diaz is listed as 5’11 (compared to Schlemko’s 6’1) and probably is actually shorter. A big D, he is not.

What he is is defensively sound – see the below chart, which suggests he suppresses opponent offenses at a first pair level – he’s still okay on offense, even if he won’t directly lead to goals himself (again, not gonna put up points). He’s a worse option than Schlemko, but will definitely come cheap. In addition, he’s the first right-handed D we’ve talked about, which is a BIG deal – the Isles’ current 7D is Brian Strait (most like), who plays the left side; adding Diaz would allow you to sub in someone if Hamonic, Boychuk, or Pulock/Mayfield goes down.

Raph Diaz

(I would sign Diaz and Barberio and cut Strait if I had my druthers, but well, I don’t run the team)

Islander Free Agent Targets – Part 2: Mark Barberio and Matt Hunwick

The Isles may not sign a forward in free agency, even a depth one like Condra.  They’re almost guaranteed to sign a defenseman however – the Isles had 8 on the roster at all times last year (although some of that was not wanting to waive Matt Donovan) and with the loss of Donovan and Lubo, they’re down to 6, not counting Pulock or Mayfield.  Given that the Isles would probably rather start less than 2 rookie defensemen, it’s pretty clear the Isles are planning on signing a depth D Man.  Right now, the presumed D look as follows:

An extra depth D Man so the team doesn’t have to play Strait would be a godsend, but this team probably is only going for one on the cheap.  So who’s available?  Let’s look at 2 guys to start:

Mark Barberio

Mark Barberio was not extended a qualifying offer by Tampa Bay today, cutting him loose from the organization.  He’s only 25 and actually would have a year of restricted free agency left if signed, which would be a bonus for signing him.  He’s also 6’1, so he’s not a super small guy (although he’s not big either).

More importantly, he’s a pretty damn solid D Man, Despite playing for a strong possession team alongside a bunch of other super strong D men, Barberio had a positive relative corsi the last two years.  In other words, the team did better with him on the ice than off in terms of possession.  He also didn’t have that favorable minutes – this isn’t a guy who was sheltered.

So in short, we have a guy who drives possession despite not getting sheltered.  That’s a pretty great depth D Man and what you want from a guy who’d have to fill in for injury.

(The above HERO chart for Barberio is presented courtesy of Domenic Galamini, and you can see his twitter account and website in the chart – it’s a great great site with great tools)

Matt Hunwick

Matt Hunwick was on the Rangers last year, so Isles fans may be familiar with him.  Like Barberio, Hunwick was a plus relative corsi guy, so the Rangers (and the Avs before them) were better with him on the ice than without.  Hunwick was however a little more sheltered than Barberio, but not significantly.

In short, the two players are very similar. The difference is Hunwick is 30, you’re getting only 1 year of him, will probably want a bigger contract, and is also only 5’11”.  The performance has been very similar, but Barberio is at peak age, while Hunwick is past it and likely to decline.  A fine signing if possible, but not as good as Barberio.due to the age difference.



Islander Free Agent Targets – Part 1: Justin Williams and Erik Condra

The Isles aren’t expected to be very active on the unrestricted free agent market this offseason (they will resign their RFAs, so I won’t talk about it). The salary is the highest its been in ages and is well above the floor, and the team isn’t likely to spend to the cap. Plus it doesn’t consider itself to have major holes. That said, I do want to talk about players who may fit in the Isles’ budget and would be worth targeting. So once per week till July 1 I’ll be making a post on potential players to target. Today we’re starting with Justin Williams and Erik Condra.

Justin Williams

Williams Last 3

Justin Williams will be 34 in October. In general, teams should AVOID guys in their mid 30s looking for multi year deals. And Williams isn’t a big scorer as is – he puts forth points at an about average rate, but his shooting #s declined this last year. And hes’ likely to get worse.

Here’s the thing though – to the analytics community, Justin Williams is often jokingly referred to as “Corsi God.” And that’s for a reason. Williams has put up corsi #s above 57% each of the last three years, and was above 60% in 2012-13 and 2013-14. If 57% was a decline, it’s a decline from top three in the league to 10th – some of this decline as well was due to less time with Anze Kopitar. As those #s suggest, Williams drives play with basically everyone, causing the puck to spend more time in the offensive zone, leading to shots and goals. In short, put him with a center who can score and suddenly that center will get more opportunities to do so. Gee I wonder if the Isles have one of those.

Williams may not be as expensive as a conn smythe winner would normally be. His age and lack of point production will drop his price – a Kings insider recently referenced it as being around 4M per for 4-5 years. That’s still probably pushing it for the Isles, but if he can be obtained at 16M/4 years, he should be a serious consideration. At least for the first two years of such a deal, he’d be a bargain and would increase the Isles potent offense and reduce the strain on their young defense.

Erik Condra

Condra Last 3
Erik Condra is a more realistic option for the Islanders’ budget – as the #s above show, he’s was making under 2 Million the last 3 years and a deal for under 2M, or even 2M per, should be very doable. He’s also amazingly underrated. Buried in the defensive zone this year, Condra still managed an above 50% corsi, meaning the Sens outshot their opponents despite him having much worse zone starts than his teammates. In fact despite his tough minutes, the Sens were barely worse with Condra on the ice than when the other lines, playing much easier minutes, were on the ice.

In short Condra is a plus possession player who’s cheap. That’s a pretty nice package. He also puts up more points than any of the Isles current 4th liners, so he’s an upgrade there as well. Condra is underrated due to him not being very big (he’s listed at 6 feet 190 pounds), but his play is very solid. And he’ll be 29 next season, so aging shouldn’t affect him too much. The Isles have no excuse for not going after Erik Condra at the very least as forward depth.

Neutral Zone Defense may be the death of the injured Islanders.

Quick little post here and before I begin, let me say that the game was a lot closer than the SOG total looked through 2 periods, with the key difference being the Isles missing the net constantly while the Caps got their unblocked shots on net.  So the following is not suggesting the Isles were dominated (they actually were in Game 2, by contrast).

Game 5 showcased a major problem with the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky (and then later Calvin de Haan), one which is talked about little when talking about Lubo’s skillset.  That problem is this:  without Visnovsky, the Isles’ ability to prevent opponents from entering the zone with speed, via carry-in instead of dump-in, was greatly diminished.

Why was this?  Well, part of this is a failure of coaching – players are often taught to be conservative – when facing a rushing opponent with even numbers, they are taught to back off and try to prevent them from getting a shot off in the Defensive Zone, or to block any shots they take.  The issue is that this is a flawed strategy – it allows the opponent into your own zone in the first place!  A more effective strategy is to actually try to challenge at or before the line and prevent the carry-in.  Alex Ovechkin’s release is so fast that backing up likely gives him the very room he needs to get a shot off, even if it’s not the best shot he can get.  But if you prevent Ovechkin from getting INTO the zone, he can’t shoot at all.

Better players are more willing to challenge – they know their skill can cover for them if they fail and trust themselves to accomplish their goal.  Lesser players are less willing – hence Brian Strait or Andrew MacDonald’s tendency to back up.  (Travis Hamonic does this as well, take of that what you will).  Visnovsky, Leddy and to a lesser extent Boychuk all are strong at this skill, as has been Calvin de Haan at times (although less so in these playoffs).

Without Visnovsky and without de Haan, you suddenly have two pairs who are scared to challenge and let the Caps come in on the rush.  As you saw, that is incredibly dangerous.

Can this be fixed?  Well, back in the WHL Final last year, Griffin Reinhart was the best on his team at breaking up opposing carry-ins.  He hasn’t been good at it in the limited sample so far, but maybe he can regain that skill at the NHL level.  Ryan Pulock’s style would seem to possibly be like that of Visnovsky (at least from descriptions) so maybe he can do it.  Regardless, if the team doesn’t do that, they’re going to need some good shooting and poor goaltending from Holtby to carry through.  Not what I want to bet on at this point.

The Isles don’t need vengeance. They need More Speed.

We now pray for the health of Lubomir Visnovsky.  In all honesty, it seemed likely he may have been concussed in game 3 but played through it due to a combination of a warrior mentality and the fact that this may be his last shot at the cup.  After game 4 and Tom Wilson (not to mention a boarding by Ovechkin), we fear the worst.  It’s possible he’s done for the playoffs, and maybe for his career.

If Visnovsky is out, this leaves the Isles at a crossroads.  The team is already short one right defenseman – Travis Hamonic – and is playing its worst D man on his off side as a result.  The team now has lost two, which gives them very few options.  It’s remaining healthy D practicing with the team are now:

Matt Donovan (a left handed stick who plays RD like Visnovsky)
Matt Carkner (Natural Right D)
Griffin Reinhart (Left D)
Ryan Pulock (Natural Right D)
Scott Mayfield (Natural Right D)

The temptation is probably high for the team to play Reinhart, Mayfield, or Carkner (probably Reinhart or Carkner), to add size to the lineup.  Carkner even plays Right-D.  After all, the Caps won that game while being incredibly physical – and the itch to enact vengeance for Lubo is only natural.

But that temptation is the path to further disaster.  The Isles have basically outplayed the Caps for 3/4 games this series.  How?  By outskating the Caps.  By using their speed and skill to skate around the Caps and pelt Holtby and Grubauer with shots.  This has worked.  And if not for some insane goaltending by Holtby, this series would be at 3-1.

Switching to a slower, bigger approach could possibly work – but it would be going away from what we know HAS worked.  That is by definition not smart – going for the two birds in the bush instead of the bird in the hand.  The Isles should attempt to keep with the speed lineup as much as possible.

To start: Lubo should be replaced by either Pulock or Donovan.  Donovan hasn’t played that well when in this year, and Pulock has no NHL experience, but both are experienced puck handlers who could play Right D in at least a facsimile of Lubo.  Pulock would even add to the power play that is hurt without Lubo and has so far proven toothless.

In addition, if Grabovski is concussion-symptom free, the team should insert him immediately (for Kennedy).  This will increase the time the Isles have in the offensive zone and add a better shooter than Kennedy to the lineup to capitalize on this, and suddenly will make the third line lethal.

The Isles can get vengeance still:  By winning.  Turning away from what has actually won to get vengeance in Game 5 might only give the Caps the last laugh.

Postseason Thoughts: Isles 2, Caps 1 – Score and Playoff Effects in this series.

Sorry for the long absence from this blog.  I’ll be adding short posts hopefully throughout the playoffs.

A pretty basic hockey analytics concept is that of “Score Effects.”  Basically, when teams go up, they start playing more defensively and pull back, resulting in less offensive presence as the team focuses on holding a lead.  Incidentally, this results in more shots against than playing normally (although the idea is that in theory, you allow worse off shots*).  And teams that are losing naturally take more shots as a result (and as a result of them being more desperate).

*Some work I’ve done suggests this doesn’t actually work.

None of score effects is particularly surprising to any hockey fan – especially Islanders fans, who have seen the team sit back on third period leads constantly this season (and past seasons).

The Capitals exhibit this score effect pattern as well, although their pattern is pretty….well extreme:

The above graph shows the Capitals’ shots for and against in different score situations, courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath on twitter).  The Caps are better than average by a little bit when the score is tied or within 1 goal (or up 2 goals), but during these situations, their numbers are pretty normal.

But when the Caps are down 2, they go INSANE.  The average team takes around 5 more shots per 60 minutes when down 2 than when tied – the Caps instead take nearly 15! more shots per 60.

So why does this matter?  Well Arik Parnass (@arikparnass on twitter) suggested in a Hockey Prospectus article recently (and his presentation at the DC Hockey Analytics Convention) that these effects also are felt in the playoffs based upon a team’s standing in a series – if a team is down in games, they act closer to if they’re down a goal in a hockey game and take more shots and if they’re up, they do the reverse.

I wonder if the Caps-Isles series has been a prime example of that – the Isles have dominated both games where the series was tied (games 1 and game 3), but were dominated themselves the game in which they had a 1-0 series lead (don’t let the score confuse you, that game was dominated by Washington).  And Washington is normally extremely affected by being down – is that why they were such a better team in game 2?

Well game 4 puts the Caps back in that situation.  If this is the case, the Isles better be ready, as a much better Caps team is about to come out of the gate.