While this may end up as an exercise in hearing myself talk, I've come across a number of interesting facts and figures. I have been able to form some thoughts about that data along with ideas about various players, prospects, as well as the team's direction. The upshot is that my normal optimism is even more bolstered by the ever-evolving events surrounding the team. There are a number of reasons why, not the least of which is there is room for improvement and I have no doubt that they will continue that trend.
Here are some things to think about.
This past season the Carolina Hurricanes were the 6th youngest team in the league with an average age of 27 (using average age weighted by time on ice). That in and of itself doesn't mean a whole lot. In truth, older teams, younger teams, and teams in the middle have all done well in the post season. This season, however, some of the more veteran teams are doing well with Pittsburgh being the 4th oldest team (average age of 29) and San Jose coming in as the 3rd oldest team (average age of 29.1). In 2015, the Blackhawks were the 5th oldest team. The year before that the Kings, however, were smack dab in the middle as the 15th oldest team. As one can expect, both Chicago and Los Angeles started out as somewhat younger teams and over the span where those two teams traded Stanley Cups, their core has, of course, aged. When LA won the Cup in 2011-12, they were the 8th youngest team with an average age of 26.7. Chicago's team had an average age of 26.8, coming in as the 9th youngest team in 2012-13.
The point of all of this is that winning teams often can and do start out with a younger core, continually adding pieces that are both exciting youngsters and aging veterans. Ron Francis and Bill Peters know you build winning teams through drafting, developing, and savvy acquisitions. However, experience continues to play a very important role. Expect the front office to continuously sprinkle in a veteran presence on both offense and defense.
Still, it is interesting to note that when Chicago started their run of Cup victories in 2009-10, they were the 4th youngest team in the league with an average age of 26.6. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
The over-simplified premise behind possession statistics is that the team that controls the puck more in the offensive zone will get more shots, or even more high quality shots (this piece is debatable). In many cases there is some validity to these arguments. If you control the puck more than your opponent, at the very least you give that opponent fewer opportunities to score AND your team should get more of those scoring opportunities. Again, seems logical. However, there are a number of factors tied to strong possession teams being winners. More on that later.
The two measurements of possession thrown around the most are Corsi and Fenwick. Corsi is measured as the number of Shots + Blocks + Misses. These statistics are further broken down into "for" and "against" measures, as in Corsi for (CF) or Corsi against (CA). Obviously the "against" statistics are how your opponents are doing in the context of the same statistical measure. This allows you to look at how you stack up possession-wise versus your opponents and is typically stated as a Corsi for % (CF%). Fenwick is essentially the same measure but doesn't take into account blocks. So when you hear pundits talk about Carolina being a very good possession team, they are referring to the fact that the Canes are the #2 CF% team in the league (this past season) at 52.5% (Corsi for/Corsi for + Corsi against). The Kings were the #1 possession team by this measure.
When you dig a little deeper we're not quite as good by the Fenwick for % (FF%) measure at #7 (but still pretty impressive). Also in terms of pure numbers we were the #8 CF (raw number of shots + blocks + misses) team but the #2 CA (the same raw number for our opponents) team. The Penguins were also a very good possession team this year (#5 in CF%) but the Sharks were closer to the middle of the pack (#13 in CF%). They both do quite well in Fenwick, however (Sharks are #3 and the Penguins are #5).
So why isn't Carolina more competitive with teams like the Penguins and the Sharks? Well there are a few other measures that you have to take into consideration. You can possess the puck all you want but if you don't get shots off it doesn't matter. If those shots don't go into the net, it doesn't matter. Further, the same can be said for keeping your opponents from shooting the puck. If you can't keep it out of the net consistently, you're not going to win games. Pittsburgh is the #1 team in terms of total shots on goal, San Jose was #11 and Carolina, who is getting better in this area, was #14. However, in terms of scoring goals, San Jose was #6 in shooting % and Pittsburgh was #16 but still above league average. Carolina was #28 in shooting % and only one of 6 teams below league average. Add to this our meager SV% of our goalie tandem (which led to a very poor PDO) and you can understand that we don't shoot accurately enough even though we get a fair amount of shots off and keep our opponents from handling the puck a lot. While a lot of factors go into shooting percentage including "puck luck", it is really all about getting dangerous scoring opportunities. That's what consistently good scorers do and we need more of those.
Through Percentage (Thru%)
As I was doing research on various statistics, the advanced stat guys also track a simple but quite useful measure called "through percentage". That is, as you would think, the percentage of shots taken that are actually "shots on goal". Shots attempts minus shots that get blocked or miss the net is how this is measured. In the fancy stats era (since 2007 or so) the average of all shot attempts that are shots on goal is about 54%. More than a dozen of the Penguins regulars have Thru% above 54%. The 5 highest volume shooters for Pittsburgh all have numbers in excess of league averages. The Sharks have similar numbers in this area.
The Hurricanes, however, only have 7 regulars currently on the team above that 54% league average. Too many shots are blocked and too many shots miss the net. Fortunately Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Victor Rask (just barely) are all above this mark. This is important because all of those players are currently in the top 5 in "shots on goal" for the Hurricanes. They are also among the team leaders in total shots attempted. A few percentage point increases in Thru% should lead to better overall shooting percentages. Interestingly enough, Riley Nash has a Thru% of 58.9%, but he only took 76 shots. He also had the 3rd best shooting % of all the regulars still remaining with the club. The reason for optimism here is that none of our stars, our higher volume shooters is above 60%. Pittsburgh had 4 players above this mark and San Jose had 3. What's the old saying? Good things happen when you throw pucks at the net. The statistics bear that out.
Other Random Stats of Note
The Hurricanes were the #2 faceoff team in the league by faceoff winning percentage. Jordan Staal, Jay McClement, and Victor Rask were all above the 50% mark. Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm snuck in just below that mark at 49.5% and 49.1% respectively. At 42.6% we probably need to minimize Jeff Skinner's time at the dot. Maybe Derek Ryan could teach Jeff a thing or two. His 59.3% faceoff win percentage even bested Jordan's (but with a much tinier sample size).
Eric Staal was the Relative Corsi % leader of all regulars on the team. Basically this meant that when he was on the ice the team had a 6.4% better Corsi rating. That's a pretty impressive stat. Of the team's top 5 Relative Corsi percentage leaders, two were Checkers called up for a few games (Ryan and Tochinsky), two were traded (Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg), and one had his back broken (Nestrasil). This might help to understand the swoon later in the season.
We only had 3 regulars with PDO over 100. PDO is shooting % plus save percentage. Obviously we were handicapped as a team given our abysmal goalie play. Yet, again, that bug-a-boo of poor shooting percentage continues to rear it's ugly head; the Hurricanes came in at number 28 with the unremarkable figure of 8%. As I've said before, shooting percentage is an amalgam of a number of factors and it isn't the "be all and end all" statistic for scoring. But teams that shoot a lot can get away with lower percentages. Teams that shoot less have to shoot the puck better. Even half of a percentage point pick up in shooting percentage would have lead to over 13 more goals for the Canes. That easily could have been the difference in winning 3 or 4 additional games. Could this team have made the playoffs with that minor improvement?
Jeff Skinner seems to defy statistical analysis except when considering his shooting %. His best years as a scorer have always been accompanied by higher than league average shooting %. Does number of shots matter....as in if he has more shots on goal does he score more? Not really. In 2010-11, his inaugural year as a Cane, he had only 215 shots on goal, but scored 63 points. Conversely in 2013-14, he posted 274 shots on goal and still scored his career high in goals, 33. The only thing that seems to consistently show up is a shooting % above 10%. In the 3 seasons that he's done that he's scored more than 50 points, twice potting at least 30 goals. What that usually speaks to is putting yourself in a better position to score and playing with linemates who do a better job getting you the puck in dangerous scoring situations.
Prospects, Players, and Draft Picks to Watch
Luke Stevens has pretty much exited most Hurricanes' fan's memories. He was one of the team's 5th round picks this past summer. Playing at Noble & Greenough School, he finished his final season with 55 points in 28 games. He's off to Yale University this Fall so he's got a lot of time to marinate. Big, strong, and a solid skater, Steven's father played with Ron Francis and was a 4-time 40 goal scorer. Unfortunately young Luke doesn't yet seem to have his father's skill. But give it some time. He's a serious "work in progress" and this might be one of those long shots that pay dividends over time. Keep an eye on his progress.
Phil Di Giuseppe was picked by Mike Smith of the Canes as a "break out" candidate this upcoming season. I tend to agree. If you extrapolate PDG's production to a full 82-game season, he's a 34 point player. However, if he is a consistent part of the top 9 (specifically either Rask's or Lindholm's line), he will see plenty of opportunity to exploit his crash and bang style that he mixes with surprising skill. It is not out of the realm of consideration that he becomes a consistent mid-40s point guy. He was the glue that held Rask and Skinner together. He could easily do the same this upcoming season. Or, one could picture him as the recipient of Aho's or Lindy's largesse. Either way, he's a prime candidate to take the next step.
Joey Anderson is a 2016 draft prospect to consider. Another product of the USDP, Anderson shows a lot of skill with the puck, plenty of speed, and a lethal shot. With 7 goals and 9 points in 7 games at the WJC this past year, he opened a lot of eyes. Slated for the top notch Minnesota-Duluth program next Fall, he's another kid that can hone his trade at an excellent NCAA program. We all know how Ronnie likes his college kids. Ranked #56 (NA Skaters) by Central Scouting, he may make it as late as the 3rd round, but given his notices, he might end up being a late 2nd rounder.
Small defenders are fairly prevalent in this year's draft. After the Sergachyov's, Chychrun's, and Juolevi's there's a whole 2nd tier of guys, all of whom have some level of question marks. But those guys, Bean, Fabbro, and McAvoy, are likely to be gone by the time the Canes think about defense. Nobody knows the challenges of a smaller, fast-skating, skilled defenseman than the Hurricanes. Would the brain trust take a chance on one of the boom or bust guys like Cam Dineen, Chad Krys, Sam Girard, Adam Fox, or David Quenneville? The last pair are both dynamic skating right-handed blueliners. Maybe this is something to consider later in the draft.
Goalie prospects are still something that Francis and company will continue to mine. With 10 draft picks, you've got to think that the scouts have identified an under the radar guy that can be snagged with one of the team's last 3 picks. For a while Tyler Parsons was a relative unknown. Then he had such a dominant year with 37 wins, followed up with an outstanding playoff performance leading London to their eventual Memorial Cup championship. He may end up being the 2nd North American goalie taken. Joseph Woll's performance at the WJC's probably took him out of the under the radar category, but he's one to watch as well. The 19 year old Connor Ingram played well for the WHL's Kamloops club this year and also had a very nice playoff performance. The University of Michigan bound Jack Lafontaine, although playing in the lowly NAHL, might garner a look. The Russian Mikhail Berdin, the German Wouter Peeters or the young Finn Leevi Laakso are also relative unknowns on this side of the pond. Don't be surprised to see one of these guys on the Canes board late in the draft.
Stuff to Think About
Is it more important for Victor Rask to continue his progression or is it more important for Elias Lindhom to take the next step we all hope for? It is easy to say both, but a steady improvement from Rask on both sides of the puck is critical for the team. At worst he's the #2 center (as things stand today). Lindholm, arguably doesn't need to live up to his high draft position. If he topped out as a 45-50 wing/center who played well on the PK and, overall, played well defensively, that wouldn't be a total disaster. Sure we'd hope for more, but having guys who are reliable points producers AND responsible is a very good thing. This likely puts him in a 2nd/3rd line tweener role. Don't get me wrong, I want him to live up to his billing, but if he doesn't he can still play a very important role on the team.
The rules around expansion are going to be very tricky for some teams, even the Canes. Specifically, how the league treats impending UFAs will be critical. It appears, still, as if all players with "no movement clauses" will have to be protected by the team. This is the case, even if 10 days or so after a proposed expansion draft, said player would be an unrestricted free agent. There are some T's to cross and some I's to dot (like final NHLPA approval - which isn't a certainty by any means). Greg Wyshynski has a very interesting take on this found here. The effect on the Hurricanes is that we'd have to protect James Wisniewski even though he'd be a free agent after the draft.
UPDATE: Bill Daly yesterday allegedly contradicted earlier statements that pending UFAs with NMCs would have to be protected by their respective teams. Keep an eye on the news wire for new information regarding this situation. It has been fluid throughout the year.
If a trade involving Jordan Staal was proposed, what would it take to pry him away from the Hurricanes? Would it take what he was acquired for...a very good young NHL player, a good draft pick, and a good prospect? There was some discussion board chatter about a hypothetical trade between Colorado and Carolina involving Matt Duchene and Jordan Staal. Sounds enticing. Just know this, you'd be trading one of the best possession players, one of the best defensive players, and a great penalty killer, who can chip in 45 to 50 points for a significant upgrade in offensive output. The Canes would basically be trading for 15 to 20 more points. Don't get me wrong, Duchene is no slouch on defense, he's pretty darn good. But he's not in Jordan's league. Plus his career possession numbers are abysmal. Still, Duchene is a true #1 center who can score and that's a huge need for the Hurricanes over the next couple of years. With Duchene being signed for this upcoming season plus two more, it is something interesting to ponder.
Finally, I'll leave you with these little nuggets. Lest you think that Peters, Brind' Amour, and Smith aren't impacting the way players on this team compete, know this: Jeff Skinner was the #2 player in the league in terms of total number of takeaways this past season, trailing only Ottawa's Mark Stone (who nearly laps the field). The Hurricanes had 4 players in the top 25 in total takeaways: Jeff Skinner (77), Eric Staal (62), Jordan Staal (55), and Jaccob Slavin (54). In fact Slavin had more takeaways than defensive luminaries such as Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Kris Letang, and Mark Giordano. But that's not all, when you consider guys who have played a minimum of 41 games (1/2 a season) and look at stats like takeaways per 60 minutes, Riley Nash (3.40) is 5th in the league. Finally, when you look at takeaways per game (again using a 41 game minimum), Skinner is 3rd and Slavin is 9th. There may be a lot of good reasons why a guy is good at stripping the puck from another guy, but I choose to believe our coaching is having a significant impact.
Here's to all this meaningless drivel and hoping it leads to a playoff year. Cheers!