Thursday, September 29, 2011
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Brad Who?
Hey Brad: Don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we debated which Dallas Stars news nugget was about to slam into the planet like the fist of an angry god. This week, with the regular season drawing near —thanks, Ba'al!— it's time to take a second to glance at how the infallible experts are viewing the Stars' chances this season.
Leave aside that this publication actually claims in print that Brad Richards was the "heart and soul" of the offense — then completely omits any mention of Jamie Benn, the real title-holder of that statistically-easy-to-prove-honor — but it seems we've got yet another offseason where a bunch of lazy hockey writers, too jaded to actually stay up late and watch games with 9 pm EST start times, looked at a single stat sheet before pronouncing two short paragraphs of doom.
On the surface, yes, losing Richards and his 77 points in 72 games will hurt. That's a buttload of points, "buttload" being the most useful term for anything above a point per game. Even more damning, the Stars did not replace Richards with anyone who scored a buttload of points last season.
This is the essence of the Eating Where You S**t Syndrome: Every summer, one or two big name free agents dominate the sports sections of newspapers (those are the things your grandpa pretends to read before stacking them neatly in piles in the attic) and internets. Bored journalists start to believe their own manufactured hype, then, when said big name free agent moves on, as they invariably do, doom is predicted for the jilted former team, while lavish praise is heaped upon the free agent's new team for their ability to spend more than anybody else.
There's no doubt these huge player transactions have an impact on their two teams. But what, exactly, has been the immediate result? Let's hop in the time machine (i.e., Google search) and take a gander at every big name free agent signing (let's say, every signing north of $5 million) in the last half-decade, the teams involved, and how they performed that season.
Jilted Trash: Atlanta Thrashers - Dropped from 83 to 80 points
New Hotness: New Jersey Devils - Dropped from 103 to 81 points
Jilted Trash: New York Rangers - Rose from 87 to 93 points
New Hotness: Calgary Flames - Rose from 90 to 94 points
Jilted Trash: Pittsburgh Penguins - Rose from 101 to 106 points
New Hotness: Ottawa Senators - Dropped from 94 to 74 points
Jilted Trash: Detroit Red Wings - Dropped from 112 to 102 points
New Hotness: Chicago Blackhawks - Rose from 104 to 112 points
Jilted Trash: Minnesota Wild - Dropped from 89 to 84 points
New Hotness: New York Rangers - Dropped from 95 to 87 points
Jilted Trash: Calgary Flames - Dropped from 98 to 90 points
New Hotness: Montreal Canadiens - Dropped from 93 to 88 points
Jilted Trash: Chicago Blackhawks - see above
New Hotness: Minnesota Wild - see above
Jilted Trash: Ottawa Senators - Dropped from 94 to 83 points
New Hotness: New York Rangers - Dropped from 97 to 95 points
Jilted Trash: San Jose Sharks - Rose from 108 to 117 points
New Hotness: Chicago Blackhawks - Rose from 88 to 104 points
Jilted Trash: Pittsburgh Penguins - Dropped from 102 to 99 points
New Hotness: Detroit Red Wings - Dropped from 115 to 112 points
Jilted Trash: Buffalo Sabres - Dropped from 113 to 90 points
New Hotness: Philadelphia Flyers - Rose from 56 to 95 points
Jilted Trash: Buffalo Sabres - see above
New Hotness: New York Rangers - Rose from 94 to 97 points
Jilted Lover: New Jersey Devils - Dropped from 107 to 99 points
New Hotness: New York Rangers - see above
So from a sample of 13 huge free agent signings, we find the average points the player's former team lost came out to -4.92 (but only -1 point if you throw out the weird 2007 data). As for the Big Winners in Free Agency? A stunning improvement of 0.612 points-per-season — and if you throw out the 39-point improvement of the 2008 Flyers, it's a slightly less impressive drop of 2.38 PPS.
In other words, buyer beware.
So why is it that big name free agents, at best, have a minimal impact on their new/old teams?
Because hockey is a team sport. Offensive chances are a finite number, and when one player takes an overwhelming majority of them, then leaves, the void has to be filled, generally from within. In the case of the Stars, the void is being filled by two players primarily, neither of which was a sexy free agent signing: Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski.
Benn will likely center the second line alongside Richards' All-Star winger Loui Eriksson, while Goligoski will take Richards' prime minutes quarterbacking the powerplay. Can they pull it off?
Well, there's a sample for that. In the 10 games Richards missed last season with his concussion, Benn played 8 games and put up four goals and two assists, good for .750 PPG, slightly lower than his .811 PPG for the full season but he, too was coming off an injury.
As for Goligoski, he played in seven of those games (having just been acquired in the James Neal trade) and put up one goal and five assists with his new team, all but one of which was at even strength. That's an impressive .857 PPG, higher than his season average of .554 by a significant margin.
Richards came back and put up a whopping four points on the powerplay over the final 16 games, during which Goligoski's PP production was six points and Benn's was four.
So yes, the Dallas Stars "got nothing" when they failed to trade Richards at the deadline last season, unless, of course, you count $7.8 million in salary and cap space "nothing" (which, in all fairness, is a typical monthly mortgage payment for the majority of hockey writers). The Stars' penalty kill, which was atrocious until Gogo showed up, was bolstered by the extremely unsexy free agent acquisitions of Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak. Benn and Ribeiro (who's PPG since Richards arrived in Dallas is just a hair's breadth lower than Brad's, in fewer minutes and with worse linemates) will split Richard's offensive chances between themselves, while Goligoski (and, hopefully, Sheldon Souray, he of 23 goals two years ago) should do a comparable, if not better, job manning the power play.
They certainly couldn't be worse than Richards was on giving up shorthanded goals, of which Dallas was second-worst in the league. If you subtract the 15 shorties Richards allowed from his 29 PP points scored last season — and you absolutely, without question, should — then Dallas comes out ahead in a big way. Unless, of course, you think that shorthanded goals are somehow overrated. After watching Fiddler-type third line grinders blow past Richards in the third periods of close games over and over again, I can assure you that Stars fans do not find SHGs overrated.
So pump the brakes on the "13th in the West" talk, and remember that those who do not learn from histo—ah, screw it, we're talking about professional hockey writers here. WILL SHEA WEBER AND ZACH PARISE WILL SOLVE RANGERS' POWERPLAY WOES IN 2012?! TUNE IN AS WE DISCUSS GLEN SATHER'S BRILLIANT SCHEME TO GET BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS IN 2013!
See more stories in:
- Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Jamie in the Middle
- Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Better Know an Ex-Dallas Star: Brad Richards
- Thursday Morning Cupcheck - NHL Week One Massive Overreactions
- Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Taking a Whiz in the Free Agent Pool
- Thursday Morning Cupcheck - A Brief History of the New York Rangers