Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Putting The "Six" In Top Six

Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov and either Michael Nylander or Sergei Fedorov. Those, presumably, are five of your top six Caps forwards on Opening Night. The question is "Who gets that sixth spot?" Let's try to figure out who deserves to be there.

The contenders: Chris Clark, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich

The stats (all stats are 2007-08 numbers and courtesy BehindTheNet):
  • Games Played: Laich (82), Fleischmann (75), Fehr (23), Clark (18)
  • 5-on-5 TOI/60: Clark (13.21), Fleischmann (10.68), Laich (9.93), Fehr (9.09)
  • 5-on-5 Points/60: Laich (1.55), Clark (1.51), Fleischmann (1.42), Fehr (0.57)
  • 5-on-5 Goals/60: Clark (1.01), Laich (0.74), Fleischmann (0.60), Fehr (0.29)
  • Caps 5-on-5 Goals For/60 with Player X on Ice: Fehr (2.58), Clark (2.52), Fleischmann (2.47), Laich (1.77)
So far so good? Even though Clark had a miserable season, he was better 5-on-5 than any of the other three, with Laich right behind him, Flash a little ways back and Fehr (individually, but quite the opposite as part of a trio) bringing up the rear. "But wait," you say. "With whom were these guys playing and against whom?" Good question (and I've trained you well to ask it). Let's see:
  • Quality of Teammates 5-on-5: Clark (0.53), Fleischmann (-0.15), Laich (-0.15), Fehr (-0.21)
  • Quality of Competition 5-on-5: Clark (0.04), Fleischmann (-0.01), Laich (-0.04), Fehr (-0.06)
  • Most Frequent Even Strength Linemates: Clark (Ovechkin, Kozlov), Fehr (Laich, Fleischmann), Fleischmann (Nylander, Semin), Laich (Fehr, Fleischmann, edging out Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley)
The Captain skated with the best linemates (the best on the entire team, in fact), while the other three skated with the squad's worst (plus/minus-wise, at least). As for the quality of opponents, it was a wash. So Clark produced more thanks in part, no doubt, to his linemates, while the others produced what they did in spite of theirs (that Flash skated most often with Nylander and Semin makes his relative lack of production all the more inexcusable).

But the game is played at two ends of the ice, so let's take a look at that other end:
  • Caps 5-on-5 Goals Against/60 with Player X on Ice: Fehr (1.44), Clark (1.77), Laich (2.51), Fleischmann (3.07)
Psst... Tomas... not so good.

Finally, a quick look at 5-on-5 penalties:
  • 5-on-5 Penalties Taken/60: Fehr (0.0), Fleischmann (0.6), Laich (1.0), Clark (2.8)
  • 5-on-5 Penalties Drawn/60: Fehr (1.7), Laich (1.6), Fleischmann (0.4), Clark (0.3)
Obviously, Clark and Flash are on the wrong side of that differential, while Laich and Fehr drew more penalties at 5-on-5 than they took.

It's almost bottom line time, but before we get there, a couple of points. First of all, it should be abundantly clear by now that Tomas Fleischmann - unless he had a tremendous transformation this summer - does not belong in an NHL lineup.

Second, Brooks Laich may currently be suing a Led Zeppelin biographer, claiming that Hammer of the Gods is the trademarked name of his hockey stick, but he has not been a great 5-on-5 hockey player to this point in his career, as his -0.74 goal differential demonstrates (though I did thoroughly enjoy his work with Semin and Backstrom in the Philly series).

Which leaves us with Clark and Fehr. Clark is a more known commodity, as he has put up points when skating with playmakers and snipers, and certainly lends some defensive responsibility to any line on which he skates, but his penalty ratio last year was bad and the year before was nearly even.

Fehr, on the other hand, has yet to show he can produce at 5-on-5, but some of the signs are there - his penalty ratio was very solid, and he proved to not be a liability, as his 1.14 goal differential showed (even better than Clark's 0.75, though both samples were somewhat limited, of course), all despite playing with some of the Caps' weaker forwards. In fact, he had the second-best 5-on-5 goal differential on the team two years ago as well. And, of course, he's scored at every level before getting to the NHL.

Alright, as promised, bottom line time: give the kid a playmaker and a dangler/sniper and see what he can do.

Oh, and pitch Flash in the Atlantic.

H/t to Gorilla Crouch on the inspiration for this post


lavendar said...

My take: If Clark is healthy the spot goes to him no question, if not it's Laich's

Marky Narc said...

The Atlantic Ocean or the Atlantic Division?

NS said...

the only time i've seen Flash look decent was on the kid line of Flash-Laich-Fehr.

granted, Laich & Fehr carried the lin e and created the most, but douchebag Flash fit it well. that line played together for only a few games but was solid and aggressive throughout. wouldn't mind seeing them together as a fourth line.

with that being said, you could probably substitute anyone for Flash from the Bears (Bourque/A.Gordon/Giroux)and they would do as good...

~Mark said...

I presume "the kid" refers to Fehr?
Sorry, I just want to be sure I am clear on your choice. I think it makes a lot of sense, but then you have what Clark - Fedorov - Laich??? Is that too "one-dimensional"???

Brunella said...

Good call! Good call!! Big Boo can always change his mind later and switch 'em. But in the meantime, give the kid a chance! Bravo! Hope the brass is thinking similarly.

Oh, and yeah that's the Atlantic OCEAN in my book. I agree with JP. [insert one weak-assed splashing sound here]

cCarl said...

Yes, indeed! What are the reverberations? What are the other lines looking like?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't see a team'c captain on the third line, and as much as I like Laich, it has to be given to Clark. Laich is still coming into his own, and it's Clark's to lose.

That being said, and this is something I've wanted to get off my chest for a while - I don't think Fehr is quite ready for the NHL, regardless of how many games he's actually played for the Caps. Fleischmann is another story, but if you actually watch Fehr, he's pretty much a miniature Ovechkin, without the goals, assists, or excitement.

The guy never passes, he tries to take all the shots, and guess what, they don't go in very often. He will go out of his way to, instead of pass to the teammate with the available one-timer or the clear net, (try to) skate past the defense and take the shot at a terrible angle.

Please, don't even give this guy 4th line consideration.

breed16 said...

I completely agree! Fehr is ready to get a shot as a top 6 forward. Certain people expected too much too soon last year, and with a full offseason and some NHL experience under his belt, this is Fehr's year to prove he belongs (and win a multi-year contract). To debut as a rookie after being sidelined completely for a year is no small feat; even with all that rust his numbers show he is productive.

The shots will start to go in and he'll find his niche scoring for this team. I'm telling you.

bradley said...

Start Fehr or Fleischmann on the second line (whichever wins the spot in camp), Clark on the 3rd. Clark is the one with health questions, so it's probably best to manage his minutes initially. Not to mention Laich - Fedorov - Clark would be an amazing shutdown line and would probably score quite a bit.

If Flash and Fehr both show that they're going to step up and make progress this year (imagine that, a young player making progress...), and Clark shows he's healthy enough for spot duty in a top 6 role, then you can trade Kozlov and immediately get rid of any cap questions.

That's not even considering the possible training camp heroics of Osala, Bouchard (again), and Andrew Gordon.

nightfly said...

I've always like Brooks Laich and Chris Clark. Either of those guys could skate second line for the Caps.

hotdog88gt said...

A healthy Chris Clark - there's really no other choice.

Capital Fanatic said...

Let's stop all the Fleischmann bashing already. The guy is still very young and had 10 goals and 20 assists last season. Those are not bad numbers for someone in their rookie season. Cut him some slack.

Anonymous said...

Capital Fanatic is right, JP. Stop with the stats and analysis and start with the slack.

Keith said...

@9:15am Anon

How is Fehr "hogging" the puck? Look at the stats again, when he's on the ice, the team scores more than when the other players were on.

I'm not a fan of his...yet but stats don't lie.

And capital fanatic, Flash is the suck.

tg said...

I'd put Clark with Fedorov and Fehr with Nylander. I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but with the way this team is set up I can't think of it as a regular "second line," "third line," "fourth line" team. They'll have three scoring lines, one of which (Fedorov) is a bit more defensively oriented, and they'll have a checking line.

I'd put Fehr with Nylander because I think Fehr would greatly benefit from Nylander's passes, and because I think he'll adjust better to Nylander's tempo. I think Clark can keep up with Fedorov and will open up added space for Fedorov (something Nylander doesn't need).

Anonymous said...

There's a definite bias against Fleischmann present. Prime example being the Laich commentary - why note that Laich's ice time with Fehr and Fleischmann "edges" his time with Bradley and Brashear without noting that Fleischmann's ice time with Semin and Nylander more narrowly edged his time with Laich and Fehr?

It's really selective application of the stats to produce a desired result. Case in point, if you look at the stats, the top even strength production lines this past season produce interesting numbers. By far the top was Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov, that is to be expected. Second was Laing-Steckel-Bradley. The next four all involve Fleischmann in some capacity.

A quick dig at Fleischmann when looking at the 5-on-5 goals against is, again, selective application of criteria - you hold him accountable for a lack of even strength production for spending time with Nylander and Semin (who combined for 41 even strength points all season), yet completely disregard that he played with them when tabulating Fleischmann's goals against stats (Semin and Nylander were far and away the Caps worst +/- reps on the team, at -18 and -19 respectively).

Frankly, it's a disappointing analysis in that it definitely comes across as searching for stats that support a predetermined conclusion.

JP said...

Fair criticism, Anon, and thanks for it, but just look at the 5-on-5 goal differentials of the four players. That's a bottom line number that speaks for itself, as far as I'm concerned, and leads to one of the inevitable conclusions (and it's the same reason I'd rather not see Laich there).

One doesn't have to search too far to find numbers that justify the assertion that Tomas Fleischmann isn't yet a good hockey player. Neither, of course, is Fehr, but with his pedigree, I'd say give him this chance and if he stumbles, be ready to go to Clark.

Anonymous said...

The goal differential is the exact reason I bring up Nylander and Semin's +/-. How would any player's goal differential be spending measurable time with two guys who were, statistically speaking, the team's biggest liabilities at even strength?

Again, to look at even strength numbers, Fleischmann was one point behind Semin (and had a differential of +11 over the Russian). Granted, Fleischmann played more games, but he also isn't an automatic on the scoring lines like Semin is either.

Of the four, given all things (stats, potential, age, and the ability to play other roles), my order of priority for scoring line minutes among the four goes Fehr, Fleischmann, Clark, Laich.

bigonetimer said...

Anon--forget about the stats. Flash was exposed as a soft player in the Philly series. Unless he chewed a whole bunch of nails this summer he is not, currently, top six material for the Caps.

My guess is it's Clark's position to lose right now, but don't be surprised to see Oskar Osala--as Bradley alluded to earlier--pushing up against the top six by the end of the year. Dude's a beast...yep, lookin' at you Kozlov.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Clark...but I'll throw one out there...maybe no Kozlov, and maybe both Federov and Nylander and one of them is wing? See Boudreau's comments about moving centers around...

Mike in SF said...

Sez the coach:

“People say you have a top six [group of forwards] and then you have a bottom six,” says Boudreau. “We think the game should be [played with] a top nine with the nine being a transition line almost where they can all score and defend, where you can play any line against any other line.

So it seems we're really talking about a top nine, not a top 6. And it's pretty clear that 8 slots in the top 9 are set: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kozlov (which is probably your first line), Nylander, Fedorov, Semin, Clark and Laich. The main competition is Flash vs. Fehr.

Fehr's numbers clearly benefited from the fact that he played only a few games, and they were all at the end of the season when the team was lights-out. Of course he looks like a great defensive forward -- the Caps weren't giving up any goals at the end of the season. With that said, I still think Fehr is better than Flash.

And the stakes for these guys are big. I think Bradley, Steckel, Gordon and Brashear will all make the team -- one of those guys will be your only forward scratch each night. Which means between Flash and Fehr, the guy who isn't in the top nine probably won't make the team at all.