Archive for April, 2012

Eastern Conference Round Two picks

Posted in Canucks-related, Flyers-related on April 28, 2012 by wechslerh66

New York Rangers/Washington
Rookie Braden Holtby went 4-3, .940, 2.00 against the defending champ Bruins. Odds are the .940 part is unsustainable even in a similarly small sample size; over a best of seven series against the Rangers the 2.00 may not be, although it may not be enough depending on what’s happening on the other end of the ice, where Lundqvist went 4-3, .945, 1.70 against Ottawa. The Caps were the 10th best possession team (Fenwick tied); the Rangers were 14th. More than even Blues/Kings out West, I think this series is a coin toss as long as Holtby stays hot, but I don’t think he will be quite as hot as Lundqvist. The Rangers were +39 in the regular season; the Caps were -8. Rangers in seven.

Philadelphia/New Jersey
Odds are here that the Flyers’ power play (12/23, 52.2% against the Penguins) won’t break even again against what was the top ranked regular season penalty kill (an NHL record 89.6%). The Devils were actually a much better possession team than the Flyers (9th vs. 16th in Fenwick tied) as well. The 2010 Flyers took the Devils out in five with offensive weapons like Dan Carcillo on the top line; even with a deeper team, I would expect somewhat more difficulty here, though the depth will win out. The Flyers were +32 in the regular season; the Devils were +19. Flyers in six.

Western Conference Round Two picks

Posted in Canucks-related, Flyers-related on April 27, 2012 by wechslerh66

St. Louis/Los Angeles
The Blues were the league’s top possession team based on Fenwick tied; the Kings were 3rd. The Blues scored 14 goals in five games against the Sharks, the Kings 12 goals in five games against the Canucks. Obviously the two teams are close, though the top of the Kings’ roster is arguably better than that of St. Louis– Kopitar, Quick, and Doughty may be the best three players on the ice, and one could argue Richards over Pietrangelo or Backes for number four. Despite this, the Kings’ offense still scares me, not in a good way, and the Blues are far deeper as a team. St. Louis was +45 in the regular season, LA +15. Pick ’em, but I’ll go with the Blues in six.

Phoenix/Nashville
Phoenix is the better of two bad possession teams here (18th vs. 29th); both teams also beat opponents with better offenses in Round One thanks to lights-out goaltending (Detroit outshot Nashville 160-116; Chicago outshot Phoenix by an awful 241-159; Mike Smith’s saves by game: 43, 46, 35, 30, 36, 39). Phoenix is also somehow the 4th oldest team in the NHL, Nashville the 3rd youngest. Depth is the relevant factor here, and scoring-wise that would be Nashville. Phoenix was +12 in the regular season, Nashville +27. Predators in six.

Vancomium

Posted in Canucks-related on April 24, 2012 by wechslerh66

Sam Lowry: Give my best to Alison and the twins.
Jack Lint: Triplets.
Sam Lowry: Triplets? My, how time flies!
–from BRAZIL

So the Canucks’ season is over, and the wrath of Oilers fans is meaningful for once, which despite Vancouver being down 0-3 to the Kings never seemed quite as fatally obvious as 0-3 would normally seem.

When the playoff began, I picked the Canucks in six. I doubted LA would score enough to win a seven game series, even with Jeff Carter. Arguably, they didn’t: 12 goals in five games normally wouldn’t be enough to win. At one extreme (Pittsburgh-Philadelphia), 12 goals in two games wouldn’t be enough to win. But out west, 14 goals in five games was enough for the Blues. 13 goals in five games was enough for the Predators (against the Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Franzen Red Wings, no less). 12 goals is more than enough when your opponent—Vancouver—scores only eight.

Why only eight? Some of it was missing Daniel Sedin for three games, if not a Daniel Sedin at 100% for all five games. Some of it was Jonathan Quick, who was stellar (4-1, .953, 1.59). But last year’s Penguins were missing Crosby and Malkin and still took Tampa to seven games (and actually blew a 3-1 series lead to not make it even further). And if Quick was stellar, so was Vancouver’s man of the hour, Cory Schneider (1-2, .960, 1.31). Vancouver even outshot the Kings, 172-166 (not taking score effects into account, though– the Canucks did outshoot the Kings the most in Games Two and Three, eventual 4-2 and 1-0 losses).

No, the only rational explanation is puck luck—what the Canucks had in 2011 (until the Curse of Cam Neely, at least) and what I never expected them to have much of in 2012, despite hoping otherwise (I thought Detroit would beat them in six in the next round—wrong again). Only one losing team has returned to the Stanley Cup finals since the 1983 Oilers—the 2009 Penguins who, like the 1983 Oilers, won the Cup. The only back-to-back Cup winners have been the Oilers and Red Wings. Puck luck is difficult enough the first time. But twice?

The 2011 Canucks weren’t the 1982 Canucks or even my beloved 1994 Canucks, though. Winning the President’s Trophy last year wasn’t the same as winning a Stanley Cup, but also wasn’t a fluke (hello, 2012 President’s Trophy winners), and no one expects the 2013 Canucks to fall off a cliff (not Ronning) either.

The only key UFAs for next season are Pahlsson and Salo; the only key RFAs are Mason Raymond and of course Schneider. According to CapGeek, without making any further roster moves, the Canucks will have approximately $9 million to spend on 10 players, including replacing and/or resigning the UFAs and RFAs.

In a worst case scenario, the Canucks are forced to either trade Schneider for decent picks and/or other under 25s (basically, Hodgson for Kassian and Gragnani, but with a goalie), run with Luongo and Eddie Lack or some career backup (call him Tychael Conkleighton) in goal, and get worse goaltending next year when Luongo isn’t Schneider or his backup isn’t Luongo, OR, trade Luongo for probably less than he’s worth, run with Schneider and Lack/Conkleighton in goal, and get worse goaltending next year when Schneider regresses or his backup is bad Luongo without good Luongo.

(In a vacuum, I would keep them both, with Schneider as #1 and Luongo as #1A, but given that that’s impossible, everything depends on the return. I may be optimistic, but I agree with Tom Benjamin that “the difference between what Luongo will bring in a trade and what the Canucks can get for Schneider is vast;” even if I am being optimistic, I trust Mike Gillis to make the call.)

Team age is somewhat more worrisome– the Canucks are in the bottom half at 27.907— but not as bad as I thought. Dallas is older? Florida? Tampa? Ouch. Talk about no future.

Regardless, the Canucks at the moment will be back with both Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Booth, a full season of Zack Kassian, Hamhuis, Bieksa, Edler, an improving Tanev, Higgins, Hansen, and some better than average goaltender to be determined. As far as 2012, although it ended poorly, it wasn’t a bad year by any means. The Canucks had the 4th-ranked power play, the 6th-ranked penalty kill, scored the 4th most goals, allowed the 4th fewest goals, and scored the 2nd most power play goals– in an off season by both Sedins and Kesler, a season where no Canuck really exceeded expectations other than Schneider (.937, 1.96 would pretty much exceed Tim Thomas’s expectations). In the words of Tom Benjamin:

It’s amazing really. The Canucks have failed to meet the fan and media expectations for most of the year, yet with two games to go the team has a better than decent chance of being the first repeat winner of the President’s Trophy in more than 20 years.

Vancouver has sucked all the way to the top of the league. Amazing.

Why would, or should, five games make a difference? Scoring eight goals in a five game series is bad, but it was only five goals away from outscoring the Kings. Five goals is two Sedins on an “on” night. Five goals in five games is nothing.

Sometimes, even five reasons aren’t enough to explain something everyone seems to have at least one opinion on. Other times, they’re five too many. Vancouver started the wrong goaltender? The Hodgson trade hurt the offense? Vigneault had the wrong line combos? My, how time flies!

photo (c) 1995 by H. Wechsler

Worth 1000 words

Posted in Flyers-related on April 22, 2012 by wechslerh66

Scouting Moyer II

Posted in the de Jesus Era on April 22, 2012 by wechslerh66

Will he land a job?
In his five-year major league career Moyer’s winning percentage has gone constantly downward: .636, .444, .375, .308 and .250. He’s a free agent and the Rangers have announced that they won’t re-sign him, probably figuring that they don’t know exactly what will come after .250 but they also don’t know exactly what might be living in the bottom of the Arlington sewer system, and sure as hell don’t want to find out.
Unless he impresses somebody tremendously in spring training, Moyer will have to go back to the minor leagues and work his way back. I think he still has a major league arm, and with regular work and no help from Tom House has a good chance to get the gears to mesh.

–Bill James, The Baseball Book 1991

Moyer love songs

Posted in non-de Jesus related on April 22, 2012 by wechslerh66

I recently wrote to Jamie Moyer fanatic Rob in Iowa:

From: dejesus54@comcast.net
Sent: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 7:31 AM
Subject: Moyer history
Doubt you missed it, but just in case: check out the new oldest pitcher to win an MLB game.

Moyer has been luckily unlucky this year– 5 of the 10 runs he’s allowed are unearned; if they weren’t unearned, his ERA would be 5.09 rather than 2.55. Also, his WHIP (walks & hits per inning pitched) is 1.30, close to his career WHIP of 1.32, but his K/9 has dropped to a career low 4.2 (even in 2010, when he was hardly a power pitcher, he was striking out 5.1 per 9). And his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a somewhat lucky .266; BABIP typically tends to even out around .300, so more of what were outs should be hits eventually, regardless of where he’s pitching or to whom.

On the other hand, the man is 49 and now has 267 career wins– only 34 of which came before he turned 30, 104 of which have come since he turned 40. His two 20 win seasons came at 38 and 40. I was 13 when he made his ML debut. He was once traded for Mitch Williams. Wild Thing retired 15 years ago. Hell, by now even Tim Wakefield has retired (I think).

I suspect Moyer will retire at 50 if he can hang on for two more seasons– I mean, the guy wears #50; no idea why (do you know?) but one can extrapolate. Will there be another Jamie Moyer? Roy Halladay could easily last until 40. Even if Doc hangs on until 42 or 43, though, he’ll still be over half a decade behind Moyer.

The 5-6 Rockies have many problems to deal with this season. A 49-year old lefty isn’t one of them.

Rob’s response:

From: Rob in Iowa
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:50 PM
Subject: Re: Moyer history
Thanks for the Moyer E-mail. Meant a lot to me. I knew he was on the mound the night before and had to force myself to open the Des Moines Register sports page the next morn. I was thrilled. Actually hadn’t felt that “baseball-way” since Seaver recorded # 300. As Roger Angell once wrote, “It’s the caring that counts.”

I recall 2 years ago when he got off to that great April/May start (thanks to tons of run support) in Philly. I’m thinking, he’s a lock for an All-Star pick. JM was like 8-3 when he lost a 2-1 heartbreaker– then got shelled for the next 2 outings– then went on the DL for a full year and a half– then all was lost. And NOW– an unfathomable return.

The Rocks will battle to stay .500 all season. So will JM if he stays healthy. How does he DO this?

2012 NHL Playoff Picks, Round One

Posted in Canucks-related, Flyers-related on April 8, 2012 by wechslerh66

I’m focusing not only on the goaltending rollercoaster this playoffs (with the annual obligatory nod to Dave Hannah), but goal differential (hello, Florida Panthers).

East

NY Rangers/Ottawa
Lundqvist career playoffs: .909, 2.60, 3 SO. Anderson career playoffs (small sample size alert): .933, 2.62, one memorable (to Avalanche & Shark fans) 51- save shutout. I wasn’t expecting Ottawa to make the playoffs this season, but I do expect this series to be closer than one would think if the Sens can score enough. The Rangers were +39, the Senators were +9. Rangers in six.

Boston/Washington
With Tuukka Rask injured and Tim Thomas suffering the Curse of Obama, I would expect this one to be closer than one might expect too, depending on the Caps’ own goaltending woes (Holtby? a less than 100% Vokoun?). The Bruins were an NHL-best +67, the Caps a horrendous -9. I doubt they will repeat as Cup winners, but as far as Round One goes, Bruins in six.

Florida/New Jersey
I’m not a fan of what Dale Tallon did last offseason, and as much as the 2012 Brodeur and Hedberg tandem don’t scare me, Theodore and Clemmensen don’t offer much, if any, more. The Devils have the better D (Adam Larsson looks pretty good) and the better O (Kovalchuk, Parise, Henrique, a healthy Zajac, and a decent second line of Elias-Zubrus-Sykora). Florida has Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, and a roster full of supporting players with ugly contracts. The Panthers were a terrible -24, the Devils were +19. New Jersey in five.

Pittsburgh/Philadelphia
Pittsburgh was my Stanley Cup pick last fall, and the Flyers’ success at Consol Energy Center hasn’t changed my mind. Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang are simply too much for a best of seven series, and although I would actually take Bryzgalov over Vezina candidate Marc-Andre Fleury when healthy, Ilya may not be or it may simply not matter. The Penguins were +61, the Flyers +32. Pittsburgh in seven.

West

Vancouver/Los Angeles
Excellent matchup for the Canucks, I think. The Kings went 25-13-11 (and arguably still underachieved) under Darryl Sutter but scored the fewest goals of any playoff team (194), or 55 goals fewer than the West-leading Canucks. Quick has been outstanding for LA this season (.929, 1.95, 6 SO); Schneider may have been even better for Vancouver (.937, 1.96, 3 SO). If I were Vigneault, though, I would go with Luongo, but on a short hook. I expect that Vigneault will go with Luongo, on a short hook. So there. The Canucks were +51, the Kings +15. Canucks in five.

St. Louis/San Jose
The Sharks were my other Stanley Cup finals pick last fall, and were more unlucky than bad this season, not exactly proving me wrong (yet). St. Louis went 43-15-11 under Ken Hitchcock but is hardly the West favorite. The Blues will probably have more luck with a playoff goaltending tandem than any team since the 2003 Minnesota Wild, and it may just be enough for one round. St. Louis was +45, the Sharks +18. Blues in seven.

Phoenix/Chicago
When will the Coyotes actually win a playoff series? Probably now. I think Mike Smith is vastly underrated (who outside of Phoenix knows that he went .930, 2.21, 8 SO?), and I don’t think Corey Crawford or Ray Emery is especially good, and since neither team is lights-out scoringwise, goaltending will probably be the difference here. I will also enjoy ex-Canuck Raffi Torres leveling some opposing punk (#88 perhaps?). The Coyotes were +12, the Blackhawks +10. Phoenix in six.

Nashville/Detroit
This matchup was remarkably close in 2004, thanks mostly to Tomas Vokoun (2-4, .939, 2.02, SO). Even with the Predators having home ice advantage this time, though, I would expect about the same result. Unlike the overrated Pekka Rinne, Jimmy Howard may be the most underrated goalie outside of Mike Smith this postseason (assuming enough non-West Coasters have seen much of Jonathan Quick), and Detroit is Detroit, meaning Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Franzen and Lidstrom and enough of the usual names to still scare you. Detroit was +45, Nashville +27, and of course the Red Wings were also 31-7-3 at home. Detroit in six in what will not be an upset.