The Atlanta Thrashers took a major step towards competing for a playoff berth in the last last two days with the addition of the Nik Antropov and the exchange of Pavel Kubina for Garnet Exelby. Like any player, Antropov brings with him a number of positives and negatives. I'll review both aspects--with some stats of course.
At the 2009 NHL Draft the Thrashers were pleased to add size to their prospect pool and that trend has carried over to the NHL roster. With the Kubina trade and the signing of Antropov (who essentially takes the roster spot vacated by 5'9" Eric Perrin) the team has increased the number of players over 6'2".
Size alone will not win many NHL games, but size coupled with skill can. Last season Kovalchuk finished the year playing with Todd White and Bryan Little. Both are skilled hockey players, but both are too small to knock a defenseman off the puck. At 6'6", Nik Antropov can certainly jar loose some pucks in the corner and along the wall. If Antropov can win those puck battles on the RW side of the ice and make a zip pass to Kovalchuk --Ilya might be able to give Ovechkin a run for the leading goal scorer title next season.
As I noted in the Chris Thorburn piece yesterday, Kovalchuk was on the ice for about 70 Even Strength Goals Against (too many). One source of Kovy's poor ES Plus/Minus is that his line tends to be one-and-done in the offensive zone. If the Kovalchuk line don't score off the rush then the opposition regroups and flies down to the Atlanta defensive zone. Kovalchuk's line seldom spends much time burning up the clock with continuous offensive zone pressure. The Kovy line could improve their Goal Differential by simply playing more in the good end of the ice--even if they don't increase their Goals For, it would reduce their Goals Against.
One way to measure pressure is to look at whether a line outshoots the opposition or at least attempts more shots than the opposition (aka Corsi Number). I'm happy to report that Antropov (and Kubina) had positive numbers in both the 2008 and 2009 seasons in terms of the Net Shots and Net Shots Attempted categories. That is a genuine plus in an area of need for the Thrashers.
Another plus with this signing is chemistry. Antropov and Kovalchuk have played a handful of games together in Russia. Sometimes UFA just don't work out. Jason Williams looked like a smart addition last summer but he had zero chemistry with Kovalchuk on the ice. Kovy is not always easy to play with because his "dynamic" aspect also makes him unpredictable. Kovy also really likes having the puck, but to his credit he really worked on passing during the first half of last season (to the extent that he was passing up open shooting chances).
Cost/Benefit Analysis: The Thrashers avoided paying some veteran likely to experience an age related crash. The four year deal covers Antropov's age 29, 30, 31, 32 seasons. Typically NHL players hit their peak between 25-30 and then slowly fade until a performance crash. That crash usually comes after age 33 and for Hall of Fame level player it might not come until their late 30s even early 40s.
The salary cap hit is a touch over $4 million per season. That's fair value on the UFA market these days. You're not going to win a Stanley Cup without some bargains on your roster, but it is very hard to find bargains in free agency unless you gamble on players who have a checkered past or players who might be undervalued because they played a smaller role on a quality team.
(More stats and analysis after the jump)
Antropov's Usage History
Toronto really didn't entrust Antropov with top six minutes until he turned 25. He is not a great PP guy and his PP TOI shows that the Toronto recognized that and didn't give him loads of minutes. His SH minutes have really bounced around. The last two seasons Antropov ranked 1st (2009) and 3rd (2008) among Toronto forwards in terms of SH GAA. That's a good sign, although the TOR PK was just as bad as the Thrashers last year.
|Season||Age||ES TOI per Game||PP TOI per Game||SH TOI per Game||Total TOI per Game||ES TOI Rank||PP TOI Rank||SH TOI Rank||Total TOI Rank||Games Played|
Antropov's Scoring Efficiency History
The table below shows that Antropov has been shrinkingly consistent in terms of his Even Strength Scoring Efficiency since he his age 22 season. On other hand his Power Play Scoring Efficiency has been all over the map--ranging from excellent (2001, 2003) to average (2008, 2009) to poor (2004, 2006, 2007, 2001).
One point about his bad -14 in the plus/minus last point. Antropov was the victim of some brutal goaltending last season. The goalies posted a very weak .870 SV% when he was on the ice at ES. Most analysts think that skaters have only a very small effect on the goalie SV%--a few bad luck goals can skew things. That's why Corsi is a better predictor of future Goal Differential than past Plus/Minus.
|Season||Age||ES Scoring Rate per Hour||PP Scoring Rate per Hour||Total Scoring Rate per Hour||ES Scoring Rate Rank||PP Scoring Rate Rank||Total Scoring Rate Rank||Games Played||Plus Minus||GVT (Value Over Replacement Player)|
Just as there is an upside there are some potential downsides as well. A few years ago Antropov dealt with serious injury problems that kept him out of the line up for extended stretches. The last few years the Thrashers have had remarkably few injuries to their skaters (goal is another story). Given Antropov's injury profile, having depth players on the bench or in Chicago could be important.
Antropov is clearly a top six talent but he's not an elite talent who can carry the scoring burden on his own. The good news is that Atlanta had the 9th best offense last season--they don't need him to carry the load--they just need him in complimentary role, something he is well suited for.
One complaint by Toronto fans is that he is inconsistent. He has a tendency to run hot and cold.
One draw back of getting bigger with Kubina and Antropov is that neither player is especially fast. Last year the one area where the Thrashers had an edge on the opposition was speed. They were small but fast. With these two additions the Thrashers gain in the size department but give back some of their edge in team speed. Of course, if Ilya has a breakaway it really doesn't matter how far behind him Nik Antropov is.
Another concern is that while both Antropov and Kubina have been regulars on the PK during their careers, neither has been on the lead PK group. On the other hand, Antropov in particular posted strong PK numbers on a weak PK unit the last two years. Kubina was middle of the pack among Toronto D in 2009, but he was #1 SH Defenseman in 2008. Both will almost certainly see more SH minutes in Atlanta, how they handle a larger PK role will be very important.
By all accounts Antropov is not good at faceoffs. I'm much less worried about this than most because faceoff win % is the most over-rated stat in hockey. It simply does not correlate well with team wins. Having said that, there are some key moments like the last two minutes of a game where faceoffs become more important. For that reason Antropov might be better suited to RW.
The Thrashers needed size in their top six. Antropov appears to be an excellant fit bringing size and skill to that top line. His contributions on special teams are less clear, but he has potential to help in these areas as well.