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Behind The Numbers

Statistics don't take summer off

Rangers penalty kill, Canadiens power play highlight offseason upgrades

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Every summer, each NHL front office has specific priorities to address. Some general managers are looking for help on special teams, others want to improve their goaltending, and a few are hunting for another option in the shootout.

Modern hockey analytics can help identify a team's needs and how successfully they have been met. From a statistical perspective, here are the teams that have improved the most in each of six categories: coaching, power play, penalty killing, shootout, hitting and goaltending.


Biggest Improvement: Minnesota Wild

On May 7, the Wild hired Bruce Boudreau, one of the most experienced and accomplished coaches in the NHL and the American Hockey League.

Since coaching Mississippi to the ECHL championship in 1999, Boudreau has gone 340-215-100 in the AHL and 409-192-80 in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. He has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in nine seasons as an NHL coach, in 2011-12, when he took over on the Ducks bench after Randy Carlyle was fired following a 7-13-4 start.

On June 8, the Wild hired John Anderson as an assistant coach. In 14 seasons as coach of the Chicago Wolves in the International Hockey League and AHL, Anderson went 624-368-124, made the playoffs 12 times, and won four championships. 


Biggest Improvement: Montreal Canadiens

Last season, the Canadiens power play was 25th in the League (16.2 percent). This summer, general manager Marc Bergevin made headlines by trading defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber, in part to address that issue.

As far as the power play is concerned, the trade appears to be a wash, but appearances can be deceiving. Over the past three seasons, Subban averaged 4.09 points per 60 minutes on the power play, and Weber averaged 5.54.

In addition, the Canadiens signed free agent forward Alexander Radulov, whose 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 53 games with CSKA Moscow were second in the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Though Radulov's potential contribution to Montreal's power play is hard to measure, it should be a positive one.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Weber launches a power-play goal


Biggest Improvement: New York Rangers

Because most teams use their secondary players to kill penalties, it can be difficult to judge which ones have improved the most in this area.

By signing free agent forwards Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has not only replaced Viktor Stalberg, now with the Carolina Hurricanes, and free agent Dominic Moore, but acquired the depth to improve New York's penalty kill, which ranked 26th last season (78.2 percent). 

On defense, the departure of Keith Yandle, now with the Florida Panthers, and Dan Boyle should not affect the penalty kill because neither was used in shorthanded situations. Defenseman Nick Holden, acquired in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on June 25, helps shore up the Rangers behind veterans Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal.  


Biggest Improvement: Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings have a shootout record of 13-29 over the past four seasons, better than only the New Jersey Devils (9-33) and Philadelphia Flyers (10-29).

Having lost the services of center Pavel Datsyuk, who scored 40 goals in 98 career NHL shootout attempts, it initially seemed as if Detroit would continue to struggle in this area.

On July 1, GM Ken Holland addressed this potential concern by signing free agent forwards Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek. Nielsen leads the League with 42 career shootout goals in 82 attempts, and Vanek ranks 27th with 23 shootout goals in 62 attempts.


Biggest Improvement: Toronto Maple Leafs

For the fifth consecutive season, Matt Martin led the NHL in hits with 365 in 80 games for the New York Islanders. Over the past five seasons, Martin leads the League with 1,714 hits, 370 more than former Islanders teammate Cal Clutterbuck, whose 1,344 are second.

Given that the Maple Leafs finished ninth in the League with 2,119 hits last season, they could become one of the most physically difficult teams to play this season with the addition of Martin, signed as a free agent on July 1, and the return of Roman Polak, who was signed on July 2 and ranks fourth among defensemen with 962 hits over the past five seasons.

Video: LAK@NYI: Martin stands tall for the hit on McNabb


Biggest Improvement: Calgary Flames

After GM Brad Treliving acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues at the 2016 NHL Draft for a second-round pick (No. 35) and a conditional third-round pick in 2018 and signed free agent Chad Johnson on July 1, it's safe to say the Flames' mission to upgrade their goaltending was accomplished.

Last season, Elliott led the League with a .930 save percentage, and Johnson's .920 save percentage ranked 17th among the 58 goalies who played at least 20 games. Of Calgary's goalies last season, Karri Ramo was 43rd with a .909 save percentage, Joni Ortio was 55th (.902), and Jonas Hiller was last (.879).

Calgary's improved goaltending comes at a reduced salary cap charge, from a combined $8.3 million last season for Ramo and Hiller, to $4.2 million for Elliott and Johnson.

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