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Missing Marc Savard

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I’ve been working on a model to predict individual player performance for the 2006-07 NHL season. I’m still working on the defense side of the model but the offensive side is nearly finished. I plan on posting divisional previews in the near future.

For the Thrashers one of the big problems is replacing the offense contributed by Savard, Bondra and Modry. Last year the Thrashers power play scored a nice round 100 goals, which was 5th best in the NHL. How will that power play fare in the absence of Savard and the other recently departed players?

Well I was thinking about the question of which player or players should receive the power play minutes. which went to Savard last year. The candidates in my mind include the two new centers Niko Kapanen and Steve Rucchin as well as 2nd year center Jim Slater. Other candidates might include veterans Holik and Scott Mellanby.

How big is the hole that needs to be filled? Here are the Thrashers that had at least 200 minutes of power play ice time over the course of the season last year and the average number of power play minutes per game listed below. As you can see Savard and Modry consumed a combined 11 and half minutes of power play ice time so Coach Hartley has a lot of minutes to distribute to other players in the coming season.

Average Power Play Time On Ice 2005-06
8:15 Kovalchuk
6:06 Hossa
6:22 Savard
5:10 Modry
4:12 Kozlov
4:06 Holik
4:01 Bondra
3:32 Mellanby
3:21 de Vries

But who should get those minutes? Ideally whoever is most effective in making the power play operate at a high level. So let’s take a look at how the new Thrashers and returning players did in scoring points on the power play given their ice time. I computed each player’s power play scoring rate per 60 minutes of ice time (think of it as something like a pitcher’s ERA in baseball, which is the number of earned runs by 9 innings). I have to say that some of the numbers surprised me.

Power Play Points per 60 minutes Played 2005-06
Departed players have () around them.
(5.74 Savard)
5.42 Rucchin (new player)
5.23 Kovalchuk
4.88 Kapanen (new player)
4.80 Hossa
(4.23 Bondra)
4.19 Kozlov
4.05 Havelid
(3.97 Modry)
3.88 Holik
3.27 de Vries
2.61 Slater
2.39 Mellanby
1.74 McCarthy (new player)
1.71 Sutton

Some interesting things pop out to me when I look at the list. The bad news is that Marc Savard was the most efficient player in terms of producing points on the power play. Also Modry and Bondra were more productive than I seem to remember them being so all three of them were important parts of the PP unit last year.

The good news is that our two new centers Niko Kapanen and Steve Rucchin were both surprisingly effective on the power play with their previous teams. In fact, the statistics suggest that Rucchin might be able to step in and fill Savard’s role to a surprising degree. Like wise Kapanen might be able to fill Bondra’s skates more readily than I would have expected. Both Kapanen and Rucchin are players who had modest scoring rates at even strength but they both seemed to thrive in extra man situations. Holik wouldn’t be a terrible choice to receive more minutes, but Mellanby and Slater don’t seem too promising as candidates for increased power play ice time.

What about the blueline? Who should line up opposite of Kovalchuk on the point? Before looking at the numbers, I would automatically said Steve McCarthy, who was torrid in his brief stint with the Thrashers. But his season-long power play numbers are actually quite bad—as in Andy Sutton bad. The numbers above suggest that Havelid was actually slightly more effective than Modry was on the PP and thus he would be a good choice. But I’m not sure Coach Hartley can give him much more ice time and he is badly needed to match up against the other team’s top lines at even strength. The next best choice going by last year’s numbers is Greg de Vries. I’m not sure what to say other than he has made some nice plays but is hardly a guy you picture as a PP point man. Then again Kovalchuk is the shooter form the point, all he need is a guy who can make a smart accurate pass.

OK, to sum up Savard, Modry and Bondra were important pieces of a great power play unit last year and their departure is a concern. On the other hand, the new Thrashers appear to have strong potential as important elements in the 2000-07 power play, while out on the blue line we may have to make due with Greg de Vries or hope McCarthy comes out red hot like he finished last season.