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Super 16: Plethora of picks could key Sabres' rebuild

Friday, 11.01.2013 / 3:00 AM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

There are 25 players who have scored 30 goals in a season at least three times since the start of the 2006-07 season.

Not counting 2012-13, when only Alex Ovechkin scored at least 30 goals, this group of players all scored at least 30 three times in a six-season span. Six of those players have been traded in the past 15 months, including two who moved in the same deal Tuesday when the New York Islanders sent Matt Moulson and two draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek.

Among deals where proven offensive commodities switched sides, it is the biggest trade since Marian Hossa went to the Atlanta Thrashers from the Ottawa Senators for Dany Heatley in 2005. Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik essentially were traded for each other (eventually), but that doesn't count.

There has been plenty of debate about the Moulson-Vanek transaction, and it's likely going to continue for years to come. Let's be clear though: The Islanders are better in 2013-14 because of this trade, but this deal was an undeniable long-term victory for the rebuilding project in Buffalo.

THE STUDY OF CHANGE

Matt Moulson CF%
Season w/Tavares w/o Tavares
2009-10 49.7 52.0
2010-11 49.8 42.8
2011-12 50.0 37.3
2012-13 53.4 36.8
2013-14 40.1 40.3
Thomas Vanek CF%
Season w/No. 1C w/o No. 1C
2009-10 51.9* 44.4
2010-11 49.9* 52.1
2011-12 46.8* 47.3
2012-13 48.8^ 33.7
2013-14 41.4^ 38.5
INDEX:
CF% = Corsi for percentage (team's shot attempts divided by total shot attempts while the player is on the ice)
*Derek Roy          ^Cody Hodgson

Moulson has been John Tavares' linemate/buddy/mentor since the Islanders drafted Tavares and signed Moulson about a week apart in 2009. They've had great chemistry together, and Moulson has played a significant part in helping Tavares become a wonderful player and mature into someone who handles the "face of the franchise" tag about as well as anyone.

The only way the Islanders aren't better with Vanek is if Tavares goes into a funk without Moulson around and that's not very likely. Vanek is a different type of player than Moulson. He's perceived to have more natural skill and to be streakier than the dependable Moulson.

The table to the right shows the Corsi-for percentage for Moulson with and without Tavares on the ice at even strength, and the Corsi-for percentage for Vanek with and without the team's No. 1 center (Cody Hodgson replaced Derek Roy in the role last season). Moulson relied on Tavares a little more than Vanek did on his center (and Moulson also saw a greater chunk of his ice time at even strength with Tavares).

Even if Vanek is an upgrade from Moulson, Sabres fans who mentally have prepared for a rebuild should be ecstatic. Just getting a first- and second-round pick for Vanek would have been a good haul (it's a better return than what Gaborik or Jarome Iginla fetched).

Adding Moulson, who also is a pending unrestricted free agent and could be worth another first- or second-round pick if the Sabres opt to move him, is a nice bonus. The Sabres played their way into the dire present situation, but they have a chance to build a Stanley Cup contender … and in short order.

General manager Darcy Regier has earned criticism for free-agent signings, but his work in building a war chest of top draft picks is stunning and unprecedented in recent NHL history. The Sabres have made or hold a total of 17 first- or second-round picks in a four-year span from 2012 to 2015.

No team has made more than 15 selections in the first two rounds in a four-year span in the past two decades. The Washington Capitals had 15 from 2004 to 2007 (and 19 in five years with 2008 added on). The Colorado Avalanche had 15 from 1997 to 2000, including an astounding seven of the top 53 picks in the 1998 NHL Draft.

Regier might not be done at 17. Moulson, Ryan Miller and Steve Ott all could bring at least a second-round pick in return, and all three are pending UFAs. The Sabres are trending toward a top-three pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, which will produce a player expected to be of the franchise variety.

It could get really interesting in Buffalo in the offseason. It is natural for a franchise to want to do all it can to improve after a season spent at the bottom of the NHL standings, but the 2014-15 season is going to be a different one.

Just as some NBA teams see Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle on the horizon in the 2014 draft, next season will be the countdown to Connor McDavid in the NHL. McDavid could be more than just a great player and already looks to be the best prospect since … Tavares? Sidney Crosby? And he's playing just down the road from Buffalo with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.

Teams like the Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks endured multiple seasons of heavy losses, but ask fans of those teams if they'd go through that again. The Sabres have Hodgson signed long-term and four teenagers gaining NHL experience now.

Add in someone like Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad in June, and taking a run at McDavid in 2015 could give the Sabres the players who headline the movie, and all of these other picks can fill in the gaps in supporting roles.

The Penguins made the playoffs in Crosby's second year. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in Year 3 with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. That type of timeline is attainable for the Sabres because of Regier's work hoarding high-level draft picks.

They aren't likely to be anywhere near the Super 16 this season, but it might not be as far away as it seems right now. Meanwhile, the Islanders are hoping Vanek gives them a boost from fringe playoff team to solid postseason contender in the mess that is the Metropolitan Division.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, statistics and team records are through the games Wednesday night.

1. San Jose Sharks (10-1-2) | Last week: 1

The Sharks have been a dominant possession team for most of the season, but the Kings had 44 of the 69 shot attempts at even-strength in their game Wednesday. They also welcomed Marty Havlat back in that game, and if he can be 70 percent of what he used to be, San Jose becomes really scary. Like, make a run at the most points in the salary cap era (Detroit had 124 in 2005-06) kind of scary.

MUST READ: Arpon Basu writes about defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic making a case for a spot on the Canadian entry at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

2. St. Louis Blues (7-1-2) | Last week: 3

The Blues did not have the goaltending two seasons ago in the postseason to make a run, and they didn't have enough offense last season. Jaroslav Halak is approaching his pre-2012 injury form, and St. Louis is second to San Jose in goals per game. As long as Jaden Schwartz doesn't get picked off at first base, the Blues look better prepared to play into late May or even June.

MUST READ: Alexander Steen is off to a remarkable start to the season, writes Louie Korac.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (8-2-3) | Last week: 2

Brandon Saad has eight points in 13 games, even if he's not riding shotgun with two all-stars as much as he did during his rookie season. Nick Leddy has six points in 16 games. Both have Corsi-for percentages of better than 56 percent. The Blackhawks might have an issue at backup goaltender, but they also might be better than they were last season.

MUST READ: Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times checks to see if there's reason to panic about the Blackhawks' clunky (at times) start.

4. Los Angeles Kings (8-5-0) | Last week: 6

The Kings yielded 1.6 goals per 60 minutes at even strength during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They allowed 2.2 per 60 minutes during the 2012-13 season, and then 1.7 in the postseason. They're at 2.2 per 60 this season.

The Kings led the League in even-strength Corsi-for percentage last season at 56.3 percent. This season they're at 57.3 percent, which also is the place above second.

The Kings still are the Kings.

MUST READ: The Kings are good at shooting the puck more than the other team when the game is close. Tyler Dellow writes about why that's a strong indicator of success at mc79hockey.

5. Colorado Avalanche (10-1-0) | Last week: 7

It didn't have the "save the NHL" narrative like Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, who were drafted in separate years but forever will be linked. It didn't have a catchy name like "Taylor vs. Tyler." There wasn't the ability to debate the importance of centers and defensemen like with Steven Stamkos vs. Drew Doughty or Nathan MacKinnon vs. Seth Jones.

John Tavares and Matt Duchene were the top two forwards available at the 2009 NHL Draft and they've had incredibly similar careers to this point. Tavares was the prodigy, the next Crosby who had been a superstar in draft circles for years. Duchene was the player who rocketed up draft boards and into the conversation for the No. 1 pick.

CENTERS OF ATTENTION

John Tavares
Season G/60 P/60 CF% PDO OZ% QoC
2009-10 .632 1.32 48.2 992 56.9 4th
2010-11 .829 1.97 48.3 990 55.6 3rd
2011-12 .858 2.17 50.4 984 58.7 2nd
2012-13 1.26 2.15 53.0 987 61.2 7th
2013-14 .930 1.86 48.2 987 65.5 1st
Matt Duchene
Season G/60 P/60 CF% PDO OZ% QoC
2009-10 .666 1.66 45.7 1019 50.3 7th
2010-11 1.01 2.27 47.1 1014 55.1 6th
2011-12 .640 1.36 52.8 985 57.8 7th
2012-13 1.15 2.48 48.7 987 53.4 4th
2013-14 1.60 2.80 54.2 1010 50.0 4th
INDEX:
G/60 = goals per 60 minutes of TOI
P/60 = points per 60 minutes of TOI
CF% = Corsi for percentage
PDO = team's shooting percentage + save
percentage with the player on the ice
OZ% = offensive zone start percentage
QoC = quality of competition (rank among forwards on the team)

The Islanders decided to stick with Tavares at No. 1 and the Avalanche selected Duchene at No. 3. Save for one season (2011-12) when Duchene was injured and the Avalanche were a mess, the statistics on the backs of their hockey cards have been very comparable.

Take out 2011-12 and Tavares has eight more goals and three more points. That's a big season to take out, obviously -- Tavares had 31 goals and 81 points. For the past two seasons he's certainly been the clear leader in any comparison between the two players.

Duchene is one of the biggest reasons for the surprising early-season success of the Avalanche. He's got nine goals and 13 points in 11 games, and he's a legitimate MVP candidate at this stage of the season. He's scoring highlight-reel goals and dominating games, much the same way Tavares controlled games for the Islanders last season en route to becoming a Hart Trophy finalist.

The two accompanying tables take a deeper look at the comparisons between Tavares and Duchene. All of the data is at even-strength only, and it is collected from Darryl Metcalf's site Extra Skater, Gabe Desjardins' site Behind the Net and David Johnson's site Hockey Analysis

There are some interesting takeaways from the data. Tavares consistently has started in the offensive zone more but also faced tougher competition. He's also played more, so Duchene's ability to keep up production-wise is reflected in higher per-60-minute rates.

Tavares also has had more stability with linemates. His chemistry with Moulson is well-documented, but coach Jack Capuano also has liked to find a third player for that line and stick with him, whether it's been PA Parenteau or Brad Boyes.

Duchene has had several different linemates, and his most consistent (Milan Hejduk earlier in his career) wasn't next to him as often as Moulson skated with Tavares. He has had consistent linemates this season (Ryan O'Reilly and Steve Downie), which might be part of the reason he's off to the best start of his career.

Could Duchene catch or even surpass Tavares as the best player from the Class of 2009? Duchene hasn't had quite the level of expectation/pressure placed on him that Tavares had (because of the Crosby comparisons and the Islanders' tenuous situation on Long Island when he arrived), but Duchene was a great player last season and looks like a really great one in 2013-14.

It could make for an interesting debate someday, at least.

MUST READ: Could the Avalanche actually be contenders, writes Andi Duroux of Mile High Hockey.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins (9-4-0) | Last week: 5

The Penguins lost three games in a row in regulation despite averaging nearly 16 more shots on goal than their foes. This led to concern in Pittsburgh. Not space debris flying past Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski levels of concern, but a little extra anxiety. Back-to-back wins, including an impressive performance Wednesday against Boston, should help, but the injuries continue to mount and the depth at forward and goaltender is not quite the same as the wealth of it on defense.

MUST READ: Olli Maatta's destiny involves skating next to Kris Letang, Rob Rossi of the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review writes.

7. Boston Bruins (7-4-0) | Last week: 4

A five-game point streak and promotion to the second line for Reilly Smith somewhat helped offset the loss of Loui Eriksson, but Brad Marchand finding his pre-2013 Stanley Cup Playoff form would help even more. The top line has been great and defenseman Torey Krug has not taken a step back after claiming a spot in the lineup late last season.

MUST READ: Bobby Orr is a reluctant icon, writes Dan Rosen in this week's Sunday Long Read.

8. Anaheim Ducks (10-3-0) | Last week: 10

The advanced statistics did not like Anaheim's white-hot start last season much, and concerns were validated when the Ducks lost 14 of the final 25 games they played (including the playoffs) as regression set in.

Anaheim, and surprisingly not Toronto, leads the League in shooting percentage at even strength (10.6 percent), but from one perspective the Ducks' possession numbers are improved from last season, while from the more traditional standpoint Anaheim's depth up front (and in goal with Frederik Andersen) could help the team avoid any sort of prolonged slump.

MUST READ: The news of Finnish team Jokerit joining the Kontinental Hockey League could be interesting for the post-retirement plans of Teemu Selanne, who grew up at the club and still has strong ties there. It's also an excuse to check out this story from the Sports Illustrated Vault on Selanne from Johnette Howard.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs (10-4-0) | Last week: 9

It would be a stretch to say Tyler Bozak is in the process of getting "Wally Pipp'd," because a lot of people already knew Nazem Kadri has been a more productive player in a limited role. Now that Kadri's had a few games playing with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, it could be the makings of the one the top trios in the League.

MUST READ: Steve Burtch of Pension Plan Puppets makes the case for Kadri as the team's No. 1 center.

10. Phoenix Coyotes (8-3-2) | Last week: 11

Offense has been something of a long-standing issue in Arizona. The Coyotes have finished every season but one since the advent of the salary cap in the bottom half of the League in goals per game. The one season they didn't (2010-11), they finished 14th.

General manager Don Maloney made a big commitment to more offense in the offseason when he signed Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract. But the Coyotes are finding another way to supplement the forward corps, and that's with offense from the defense.

Phoenix has a League-high 11 goals by defensemen, and the 35 points their defenders have scored is tied for the most with the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks (the Canucks have played two more games).

The Coyotes have been a strong offensive team on the blue line for a couple of seasons now. Keith Yandle had 59 points in 2010-11 and Oliver Ekman-Larsson had 13 goals two seasons ago. Those two are expected to produce and have combined for four goals and 19 points.

The surprise is Derek Morris, who has three goals and eight points. He hasn't had more than five goals in a season since 2007-08 and 25 points has been his max in that span.

Which teams depend on their defensemen for scoring the most? Here's a chart of all 30 teams, ranked by the percentage of the team's points that have been produced by defensemen.

The Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild and Blackhawks all have players capable of a lot of offense on defense, but seeing the Carolina Hurricanes that high is a bit of a surprise. At the other end the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals stick out as teams with a couple of top-level players performing below expectations. And the Ducks will be glad to have Sheldon Souray and his booming slap shot back at some point later in the season.

MUST READ: While the Coyotes are scoring like crazy, coach Dave Tippett wants them to not forget about the team's identity, writes John Marshall of the Associated Press.

11. Detroit Red Wings (7-4-2) | Last week: 8

The Red Wings have not quite stormed to the top of the Eastern Conference the way many pundits expected, but they have wins against the Avalanche, Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. They also have some key injuries. Coach Mike Babcock said, "We're not very good right now. We're going to be." He's a pretty smart coach and he's almost certainly correct.

MUST READ: Winging It In Motown does a unique, in-depth breakdown of every Red Wings game, like this one from the win Wednesday night against the Canucks.

12. Vancouver Canucks (9-5-1) | Last week: 13

If someone was going to make a list of hypothetical teams that could be interested in Moulson, the Canucks would have to be near the top of it, right? This team is playing well for coach John Tortorella, who might have found something by putting Ryan Kesler, in contention to be the No. 1 center for the United States for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, at right wing with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. An issue for the Canucks with Moulson could be the money (they're up against the salary cap), but a contract could go the other way.

As mentioned with the Coyotes, the Canucks' defense has been strong. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has been effective (and relatively quiet). An extra top-six forward would make this club very interesting in April.

MUST READ: Kevin Woodley writes about Kesler's move.

13. Montreal Canadiens (8-5-0) | Last week: 12

What's a good way to respond to back-to-back losses, including to that team one of your players said "played like a junior team" at times? Yield four goals in four games, and two in three contests that don't involve the best team in the League. For all the hand-wringing about the goaltenders for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Carey Price might be playing well enough to be worthy of starting for the United States, let alone his own country.

MUST READ: Christopher Boucher of Boucher Scouting looks at the passing tendencies of the Canadiens' defense corps

14. Tampa Bay Lightning (8-4-0) | Last week: NR

Who needs Vincent Lecavalier or Jonathan Drouin? The Lightning are scoring plenty with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis leading the way, and Ben Bishop has given them average goaltending, which is a step up from the past two seasons.

MUST READ: Kyle Alexander of Raw Charge breaks down the Lightning with the fancy stats through 10 games.

15. Minnesota Wild (6-4-3) | Last week: 14

No shame in splitting two games with Chicago on Saturday and Monday. The Wild have an Eastern Conference-heavy schedule coming up, with eight of their next 11 against teams from the other conference; their three games West opponents in that span are the Calgary Flames and two against the Winnipeg Jets. This might be a nice couple of weeks to translate all those shot attempts into goals.

MUST READ: Michael Russo of the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune writes about Zenon Konopka's off-ice passion.

16. Nashville Predators (6-5-1) | Last week: 15

The first game after goalie Pekka Rinne's injury was announced was a strong effort. Players likely earned a short-term boost from the focus and determination that comes from losing a top player. The second game after the injury (a 6-1 loss to St. Louis) looked more like the worst fears of what a long time away for Rinne could devolve into for the Predators.

MUST READ: John Manasso writes about the "late-bloomer" who will try to keep the Predators afloat until Pekka Rinne returns.

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