The post-season has wound its way into the semi-finals and there are few interesting stories that have popped up that I’d like to discuss briefly. Starting with the "upstart" Tomas Vokoun who is, of course, nothing of the sort.
"Dodging the Vokoun Bullet"
It’s good to see a guy who has been a very good goalie for most of his career finally getting a chance to strut his stuff in the playoffs. Vokoun was a top-10 puckstopper in the NHL in terms of save percentage starting in Nashville, but was never considered truly elite because he never "carried a team" to significant success outside of the regular season. Of course, that had as much to do with the quality of the teams he spent playing behind (the Preds and Florida Panthers, mostly) than any failing of his own.
In between jobs with the Flames and Lightning, Jay Feaster wrote for the Hockrey News. One of his pieces was a self-congratulatory article on how he had "avoided" that loser Vokoun when he was available. Hilariously titled "Dodging the Vokoun bullet", Feaster lays out what was more or less the general sentiment surrounding the big goalie not too long ago:
While we had goaltending problems in Tampa at the time, we were not interested in Vokoun. Our pro scouts were not sold on Vokoun’s ability to win a championship and thrive under big-game pressure…
Vokoun was traded to the Panthers on June 22, 2007 and has been the top netminder there for the past three seasons, including the current campaign. He has yet to carry his team to the post-season and last year, when new coach Pete DeBoer really needed him to elevate his play, he faltered, stumbling badly enough that DeBoer handed the starting reins to backup Craig Anderson down the stretch.
Anderson signed with Colorado this past summer and is leading a resurgent Avalanche team. The Panthers countered by signing former Devils No. 3 goalie, Scott Clemmensen. Just as Anderson carried the Panthers last season, Clemmensen was the go-to goalie for the Devils when Martin Brodeur missed most of the season with an injury and the putative No. 2, Kevin Weekes, once again failed to live up to expectations. Clemmensen saved the day in Jersey and Florida did well to land him after losing Anderson.
Unfortunately, Clemmensen has been away from the team dealing with personal/family matters recently, which has resulted in Vokoun carrying the load. Not surprisingly, Vokoun has faltered and the Panthers find themselves desperately needing help from their backup goalie yet again. The only way for Florida to climb back into the hunt is for Clemmensen to do for his current squad what he did last year in Newark, and time is of the essence.
Vokoun’s SV% over his 4 seasons in Florida? .919, .926, .925 and .922. Clemmensen’s save rates for the same team over the same period? .912, .911, .913.
If you ever wonder how decision makers follow narratives too closely and end up missing the forest for the trees sometimes, here’s a nice, shining example for you. Feaster wrote this post on October 19, 2009, meaning the season was probably less than 10 games old. I guess Vokoun got off to a rough start, no doubt due more to vairance than anything, but he recovered to play 63 games that year and post 23 wins and a .925 SV% – .937 at ES (!) which are excellent-to-elite numbers. Clemmensen’s SV% that year was .912 at ES (below averagee, nearing replacement level) and the only reason his overall SV% was respectable was because of an outlandishly lucky .911 SV% on the PK.
So Feaster’s take on the situation – informed by his scout’s "feelings" about a guys psychological make-up as well as a few, isolated periods of Vokoun’s performance foregrounded above his general high level of play – was exactly 180 degrees wrong.
Anyways, it took MA Fleury falling on his face (a guy who ironically benefits from an undeserved reputation), but Vokoun’s finally gotten a chance to play behind a decent team in the post-season. He’s crushing things with a .940 SV% despite being 36 years old.
A lot of people are on focused on the Iginla angle for the Pens cup run and if they win it will be a great story for Jarome. In addition, though, it will be sweet vindication for a high quality goaltender who laboured behind lousy teams for a lot of years and was unfairly tarred as a loser because of it.
– Clearly the post-season can make or break reputations that stick to a player for years afterwards. They can also make pending UFA’s a lot richer (or poorer, I suppose). Robyn Regehr has already hit the jackpot with the Kings with a new two year deal, despite the fact he has been on the steep decline for a few awhile now. Reggie can’t really skate at an appropriate level to be competitive these days, and his offense/puck skills were never his strong points. He can still clear bodies from the front of the net and down low, but his utility is extremely limited by his weaknesses, which continue to overtake his game as he ages. My guess is the Kings regret that contract eventually.
Anyways, another guy riding the playoff gravy train is Bryan Bickell.
He’s basically been a plugger for the Hawks for years, but has recently started scoring "big goals" in the playoffs which is garnering him all sorts of attention and accolades.
Now, whenever a relative unknown (or career checker type) starts putting up nice numbers in short bursts, it usually means one of two things:
1.) Unusal opportunity/circumstances
2.) Unusual percentages
This time, it’s probably both – Bickell has 6 goals on just 24 shots on net so far, good for a 25 SH%. With pucks going in for him, Bickell is also getting a bit more time with the Hawks big guns than he would normally garner.
His underlying numbers don’t speak to a player who has suddenly raised his play and is worthy of a substantially larger contract tho. Bickell’s relative corsi is -12.5/60 despite a zone start ratio of 71.1% (!!), one of the highest on ratios on the team.
Bickell is a big dude at 6’4" and 230 pounds, so he’s the kind of guy who makes GM’s eyes light up whenever there’s a hint he might be able to do something besides crash and bang. If he continues to get the bounces, you can assume someone is going to pay him entirely too much for too long this summer.
– Of the four teams left in the playoffs, three of them were were top-5 teams in terms of possession stats this year. Pittsburgh is the other one and their possession was mediocre because their rates took a big hit down the stretch due to a combination of injuries (Neal, Crosby, Letand and Malkin) as well as Ray Shero’s deadline additions, which were a bunch of mediocre or worse possession players (Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow and Doug Murray).
The Pens are a really, really good team when guys like Crosby, Letang and Malkin are on the ice, but their depth is actually fairly underwhelming in light of losing Jordan Staal and then adding dudes who can’t drive play effectively. Pittsburgh is now much more dependent on the percentages for victory than they were previously, which makes advancing past a team like Boston a lot tougher. Crosby and Malkin might be the sort of rare talents who can actually maintain an above average on-ice SH% for their club, but as we all know percentages can be notoriously fickle. Having Vokoun in for Fleury improves the Pens chances, but I still consider them underdogs personally.
About the Draft…
For the first time in the last two years we may not have the budget to physically send someone from FN to the draft (I have attended the last two) thanks to a vagrant stealing Wanye’s credit card when he was passed out in the gutter one night and maxing it out on pedicures and Cristal.
So unless something changes – like a title sponsor stepping up with a cheque that will cover the costs and get their name on every draft related article from here till June 30 (hint, hint) – we will have to find a way to get the job done from Calgary.
Which isn’t terrible in itself of course. With the first round being perhaps the biggest one in franchise history it would have been good to have a man on the scene, but we will nevertheless find a way to provide in depth analysis even if I’m not in NJ to take in the proceedings this time around.