Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview:

Top Pairing Defence

Back to reality. It's time to forget the Komisareks and Briseboises of the world and move on to the guys we'll actually be cheering for this season. Up first is the first defensive pairing, Markov's duo:

Markov – Spaeck

Andrei Markov

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (MTL)78125264-21.913.473.211.87-1.3436
07-08 (MTL)82164258+11.733.722.701.76-0.9463
06-07 (MTL)7764349+21.213.792.772.39-0.3856

Even-strength profile

  • Average offensive production at even strength

  • Above average chance creation at even strength

  • Average to below average defence even strength

  • Negative CORSI: -3.9


Stats notes
Forgive me for what I am about to say, I promise to wash my mouth out promptly. In looking through all the profiles, why is it that two that look more similar than any are those of Andrei Markov and Patrice Brisebois?

Colours alone are identical. the numbers in the pieces of pie don't wobble that much either. How can the player I call favourite, and most call the best player we've had in a decade, find an equal in the peerless Patrice Brisebois?

Well, there are a few things to put this in context. First, is the quality of competition that each player generally faced. Markov had the second highest QUALCOMP rating on the team, while Brisebois had the lowest. And, although the raw numbers are low, it merely shows that although Carbonneau was trying to get good matchups, he just wasn't all that great at it.

The other thing that should be noted is that Markov didn't actually have a very good season at ES. Though he played an average of more then 15 minutes a game at ES, he scored a mere 24 of his points there – 39 came on the PP. This speaks to a few things, really. The first, that the Canadiens weren't a very organized bunch at even strength. A lot of their goals came from haphazard occurrences rather than established zone penetration with a defender involved. It also shows that Markov had to take quite a bit off his usually outstanding offence to cover more at the back. We all saw Komi's profile. I'm not sure whether the blame was all his. However, one thing was clear, between them, Andrei and Mike made some one-man plays into 2-man ordeals last year.

Anyway, enough fretting, here's some other things to note from Andrei's stats:

1) Offensive explosion
The last 3 years show the continued progression of Andrei Markov into the ranks of elite offensive defencemen. In fact, his 171 points over that span are second best in the NHL – lagging behind only Nicklas Lidstrom.

2) Defensive steadiness
Not quite so elite in preventing goals, and perhaps the reason he never gets a Norris nod. Andrei's plus/minus is virtually neutral. As mentioned, most of his points do tend to come when he has been running the best PP in the league, so those ones don't appear in the black ledger. Even so, it might be nice to see Andrei escape the mediocrity of all those GA at ES and put up a big juicy +/- like that guy ahead of him in the points race.

3) Takeaways, not hits
Those takeaway numbers may not mean anything to you, but you should know that they are very high. Last season, Markov was third in the league for Dmen in takeaways, as he was the year before. Three seasons ago, he was the best defender in that regard. This is because Markov prefers the poke check to the body check – and when you consider his partner, he makes a good case for the more subtle form of defence.

Tobalev on Markov:

Markov was our best player, by far, last year and that was never more evident than during his absence towards the end of the year and throughout the playoffs. He rarely takes a night off from being one of the 5 best defenceman in the league. He has the ability to turn games around and that alone makes him invaluable. It will be interesting to see how he makes out without having guys like Kovalev, Koivu, Komisarek or Bouillon there as he is now really the only one left from what was our core for so many years. I don’t think that his play will regress because of all of the departures, but I think it will all have some effect on him. Andrei will now be our main leader even if he isn’t named captain as the Habs, in my eyes, are now his team.

I believe that Markov’s defensive play (or the perspective of it) will also improve this year as a partnership with Spacek, Gorges or even Mara is a huge upgrade on Komisarek. In fact I think that he is the biggest reason Mike is laughing all the way to the bank this summer, because without Marky, Mike’s mistakes would actually get noticed. Andrei's offensive numbers could go either way really. I can’t see him getting too much more than 65, maybe 70; but wouldn’t be surprised if his point total dropped to the 50-55 point range. If our PP clicks and he finds some new pass-buddies his numbers will be fine, but that may be an area of weakness for us this year. Regardless of points Andrei will still be our best player and look for him to be the difference on many a night.

Where Markov will start 2009-10: Best player on the team

Where Markov will end 2009-10: Only player nominated for an individual trophy/honour

Points: 14 G, 42 A, 56 Pts

Jaroslav Spacek

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (BUF)8083745+22.634.242.360.84-1.5138
07-08 (BUF)6092332+73.393.261.870.52-1.3542
06-07 (BUF)6551621+204.004.962.410.96-1.4562

Even-strength profile

  • Outstanding offense at even strength

  • Above average prevention of chances at even strength

  • Below average GA at even strength

  • Positiv CORSI: +7.8


Stats notes

I can honestly say that in the decade that Jaroslav Spacek has been in the NHL, I don't think I ever paid him a moment's notice. In fact, the first time I ever bothered to look at his career and his stats was back in July – as you can read, I was pleasantly surprised. ON a second look, there's still plenty to bring up:

1) Incredible ES offense when he's on
That number in the deep crimson in the top left of the pie chart is a very interesting one. As you'll know by now, 3.0 GF/60 is a pretty special threshold – in fact, if you score that high, you can pretty much call yourself elite (top 10% of the league). Jaroslav comes very close to that mark, which is interesting. It's interesting because his actual points at even strength aren't that high (only 23 – like Markov). So, what it shows is that his presence on the ice (and the pass to start the play that maybe isn't an assist in the end) is good, very good.

2) Impressive CORSI number
In addition to actually delivering the goods, last year Spacek was very effective with his teammates at tipping the ice the Sabres way. His +7.8 Corsi is very good. But consider that his Corsi relative to the team was even better – an astounding 14.6. To put it briefly, when Spacek was on the ice, the Sabres got 7.8 more chances every 60 minutes than they let up; when he was off, they allowed 6.8 more than they created. He definitely provided the base from which those speedy forwards could launch themselves from.

3) Low PIM
Yes there are giveaways there, like Markov, but Spacek doesn't seem to let a giveaway turn into a much worse scenario – a penalty – that often. 19 penalties in a season, considering the amount he played is laudable. Perhaps testament to a more mature approach to the game.

Like Markov, Spacek is best viewed through with an offensive skew. However, despite his shortcomings, it seems Spacek has learned how to consistently turn the ice in his own team's favour. If we are sitting here next season looking at a pie chart like this from Spacek, let me tell you, we'll be a very happy bunch.

Tobalev on Spacek

Pretty obvious that Gainey doesn’t think Markov can work the point on the PP on his own, isn’t it? First it was Souray, then Streit, then we tried no one (it didn’t work), then Schneider and now Spacek. I guess Markov has some weird clause in his contract that states that his partner’s name must begin with an S; how else could you explain this? It is a good thing then that we found Spacek as Gainey was really running out of options (no offence Staios). Spacek, for his part, had a great year in Buffalo last year and topped 40 points (he has produced that amount of points in his last two contract years) and was a leader on the blue-line for the almost-playoff team. Don’t forget, however, that at 35 he isn’t that much younger than Schneider and is likely on the decline.

Of the four PP ‘S’s Spacek has to be #2 defensively (Streit) which is something that I am quite excited about. It will be nice to have a big-shot and big PP-minute man who is also able to play in his own end. I fully expect another ‘+’ year from Jaro which will only help to improve his already solid +25 career rating. I am not sure if he’ll hit 40 points, but you have to think that 35 should not be a problem. With his shot, Markov’s passing and enough PP time that target is very much within reach. I am happy we got this player and think that you will all be too - he is better defensively than you think, has a surprisingly accurate and hard shot (good one-timer too) and, from what I’ve heard, is a stand-up team guy. He is definitely good enough to be a #2 in this league, but will slot in nicely at #3 behind his countryman, Hammer, and Andrei.

Where Spacek will start 2009-10: With the weight of the PP on his neck

Where Spacek will end 2009-10: New fan favourite

Points: 8 G, 33 A, 41 Pts

As a pairing

Pairing #1Effect O/D

D – Andrei Markov
  • Made most teammates better offensively
  • Had varied effects on defensive games (Komisarek was worse)
  • Seemed to prefer a small quick partner to a big partner
  • Played best overall with Josh Gorges last season
D – Jaroslav Spacek
  • Made most teammates better defensively
  • Made all his common linemates better offensively
  • Played best overall with Toni Lydman last season

As with the forward lines, I pencil in the starting point for the first pairing first. The starting point on defence for the Canadiens is Andrei Markov. From that point, I tried to guess at which player from the other 6 would help maximise the potential of Markov, while also thriving himself.

Last year's stats show that Markov no longer likes the big lout to do all the pushing while he skates here there and everywhere picking up the pieces. What lets him be at his best is actually playing with a player more like himself, who can dart around and make a good quick pass – covering more ice with movement as opposed to mass. That for me ruled out O'Byrne and Gill right away, and based on the stats from when they played together, Hamrlik too. Mara is big too, but he seems to play a different game – he was a possibility. Still, the really obvious choices were Gorges (who Markov has shown he likes) and Spacek.

In the end I opted for Spacek for a few reasons. For one thing, I think he may be able to potentiate Markov to an even greater degree than any other option. For another, Markov fit with the kind of player that Spacek liked best, while Gorges seems more adaptable.

It seems Jacques Martin has also discovered this combination as well. Though, I'll be clear, if it doesn't work out for Markov, both Jacques and I will be happy there are options this season.

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

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