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Numbers don’t lie: Integrating new faces could determine Blue Jackets’ season

By Tom

Training camp won’t open until this forthcoming weekend at the earliest, and the Columbus Blue Jackets players are gathering at the Ice Haus to work out.  The social media is abuzz with photos and text-communicated impressions of the players and how they are looking as the 2013 season looms.  And there are a lot of new players getting discussed.  A LOT.

Then the questions hit me:

With all of these new players, what type of team will we be looking at?  

And, perhaps just as importantly, will the team have time to gel if they get a seven-day training camp?  

And what about the rest of the league – are any other teams undergoing such roster turmoil?

So it was time to dig into the numbers.  I wanted to find out how many “new” players were being added to each NHL team, be it by trade or free agency.  And by “new”, I meant players who had not played in the team’s organization at any level last season.  An AHL call-up or a late-season acquisition didn’t count.

Thinking this issue through, I also realized it to be a classic case of “frequency v. severity.”  Adding a handful of scrubs to a team isn’t the same as adding a number of top six forwards.  So I also wanted to determine how much money was going to the new players.

To get this information, I had to go back to the September 17, 2012 edition of The Hockey News.  With not much happening, roster-wise, by that point due to the lockout, I guess that the folks at THN decided there were better uses of paper than to reprint the same rosters again and again when no games were being played.  This particular issue identified both the new players on a given roster as well as their projected salary cap hit.

What I learned was surprising.

The raw data is at the bottom of this post, but here’s my analysis:

 

NUMBER OF NEW PLAYERS 

First, most teams are adding three to five new players this season.  The average number of new players added was 3.4.

What I find even more interesting is the teams that are adding the fewest players.  The teams that won the two most recent Stanley Cups, Boston and Los Angeles, are headed into 2013′s shortened season with no new players.  Chicago, St. Louis and Vancouver are only adding one player each – and of those three, only Vancouver is adding a player (Jason Garrison) whose salary goes over the NHL average.  Thus, I’d be willing to guess that if every player on the teams mentioned in this paragraph shows up to camp in game shape, you’re looking at five rather cohesive teams from the outset.  They essentially know the coach, know the system and will be ready to play.

The Blue Jackets were projected to add seven new players.  That number includes first round draft pick Ryan Murray, who injured himself and is out for the season, so the number becomes six if another fresh face like Boone Jenner or Jonathan Audy-Marchessault doesn’t make the roster.  This is an imperfect science, but suffice to say that the Blue Jackets are at the high end of the “new player” spectrum.  That number – be it six or seven – is huge when considered against a 23-man roster, and it poses terrific challenges for coach Todd Richards and his assistants in a seven-day training camp that has no exhibition games to fine-tune the game chemistry.

Who’s at six new players?  Dallas and Washington.  More on that in the next section.

 

NEW PLAYER SALARIES

Next, the money question.  Again admitting that this is not a perfect science, I look at salary as a rough approximation of relative importance of a player or players to a team.  For example, Rick Nash and his $7.8 million cap hit will be relied upon much more for the Rangers than backup goaltender Al Montoya and his $601,000 hit for the Jets.  The teams want to get their money’s worth, you know.

There are average amount of “new player salary” as determined by their 2012-13 salary cap number is $7.8 million. As a point of comparison, the 2013 salary cap for an 82-game season is $70.2 million – so $7.8 million is roughly 11 percent of the salary cap.  The Blue Jackets (including Murray and his $3.5 million) are committing $18.6 million (26 percent) to brand-new players.  That is more than any other team, including the highest-profile spenders of the off-season, the Minnesota Wild.

The total cap hit is one way to judge severity in terms of impact on a roster, but the average cap hit is another.  Throwing in all the AHL/NHL tweeners with the Jordan Staals and Zach Parises, the average salary cap hit of a “new” player is $2.13 million.  The Blue Jackets are at $2.66 million.  

An interesting twist on this, however, is that no single CBJ player in the THN list will cost the team less than $1.8 million.  I take that as no extravagant single player investment but many, many mid-level players that will make up important parts of the team.  (This is something I’ve been advocating for a while now, so consider me pleased.)  The Blue Jackets weren’t out snapping up practice fodder, that’s for sure.

Looking at our near-comparable partners in Dallas and Washington, you see three different patterns.  Washington’s approach to adding new players (only $8.6 million in new salary) is perhaps the farthest from Columbus’ as only one player, Mike Ribiero, is scheduled to be paid over $1 million.  That means the Capitals picked up five other guys who likely will play as a bottom six forward, a bottom pairing defenseman or even for the Washington AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pennylvania.  Suffice to say, the team probably isn’t looking for much from most of their new guys.

The Dallas Stars, with their $15.838 million investment in new players, has taken a mixed approach.  Clearly, Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney – none making less than $4.0 million – will all be expected to contribute significantly to the team’s success.  The other three guys?  Not so much.

As I said, the Blue Jackets have no cannon fodder in the group.  By and large, you’re looking at players who will be expected to be role contributors at the minimum.  Some will be expected to compete for starting (especially top six forwards and number one goaltender) positions.

 

CONCLUSION

I thought that the Columbus Blue Jackets were in for a wild ride in 2013, but this data makes my head spin.  Six or seven new players making up over a quarter of the team’s salary cap, inserted into the team with a week of R.J. Umberger-organized practices and then a week with the coaches before playing games that count in the standings?  Wow.

Pressure will be coming from all sides this season as the CBJ work to right the ship and position themselves for a playoff appearance once again.  Considering that anything close to a slow start – like a four or five-game losing streak – could prematurely end a team’s postseason hopes in a 48-game season, the onus is on Todd Richards and his staff to build lines, foster team chemistry and design a scheme that takes advantage of this influx of new players…all in very short order.

And considering all of the above, there’s no way in the world that I would predict how the team will perform this season.

 


 

NHL ROSTER ADDITIONS FOR 2012-13

SEVEN NEW PLAYERS

- Columbus Blue Jackets ($18.6 million) – Bobrovsky ($1.8MM), Aucoin (2.3), Murray (3.5 – out for season), Erixson (1.8), Anisimov (1.9), Dubinsky (3.2), Foligno (4.1)

 

SIX NEW PLAYERS

- Dallas Stars ($15.838 million) – Rome ($1.5MM), Sloan (.6), Jagr (4.6), Whitney (4.5), Roy (4.0), Eakin (.638)

- Washington Capitals ($8.6 million) – Hillen ($.65MM), Ribiero (5.0), Wolski (.6), Stoa (.7), Hamill (.7), Crabb (.95)

 

FIVE NEW PLAYERS

- Anaheim Ducks ($10.638 million) – Fasth ($1.0MM), Allen (3.5), Souray (3.7), Winnik (1.8), Staublitz (.638)

- Minnesota Wild ($18.525 million) – Suter (7.5), Parise (7.5), Konopka (.925), Mitchell (1.9), Dowell (.7)

- New York Rangers ($11.98 million) – Nash ($7.8MM), Pyatt (1.8), Halpern (.78), Asham (1.0), Haley (.6)

- Phoenix Coyotes ($10.075 million) – Michalek ($4.0MM), Sullivan (2.6), Moss (2.1), Johnson (.725), Conner (.65)

- Pittsburgh Penguins ($6.5 million) – Vokoun ($2.0MM), Reese (.6), Sutter (2.1), Glass (1.1), Ferriero (.7)

- Tampa Bay Lightning ($13.9 million) – Lindback ($1.8MM), Carle (5.5), Salo (3.8), Pouliot (1.8), Crombeen (1.0)

FOUR NEW PLAYERS

- Buffalo Sabres ($6.15 million) – Pardy ($2.0MM), Ott (3.0), Scott (.6), Mancari (.55)

- Carolina Hurricanes ($13.8 million) – J. Staal ($4.0MM), Semin (7.0), Corvo (2.0), Gragnani (.8)

- Detroit Red Wings ($7.8 million) – Gustavsson ($1.5MM), Samuelsson (3.0), Tootoo (1.9), Brunner (1.4)

- New York Islanders ($8.64 million) – Visnovsky ($5.6MM), Carkner (1.5), Boyes (1.0), Boulton (.54)

 

THREE NEW PLAYERS

- Calgary Flames ($13.1 million) – Wideman ($5.3MM), Cervenka (3.8), Hudler (4.0)

- Colorado Avalanche ($7.5 million) – Zanon ($2.3MM), Parenteau (4.0), Mitchell (1.1)

- Florida Panthers ($6.638 million) – Kuba ($4.0MM), Mueller (1.7), Parros (.938)

- Montreal Canadiens ($5 million) – Boullion ($1.5MM), Armstrong (1.0), Prust (2.5)

- New Jersey Devils ($1.87 million) – Pesonen ($.595MM), Butler (.525), Barch (.75)

- Ottawa Senators ($6.2 million) – Methot ($3.0MM), Latendresse (2.0), Lundin (1.2)

- Philadelphia Flyers ($6.225 million) – L. Schenn ($3.6MM), Gervais (.825), Fedotenko (1.8)

- San Jose Sharks ($6.7 million) – Stuart ($3.6MM), Tennyson (1.2), Burish (1.9)

- Toronto Maple Leafs ($6.4 million) – van Riemsdyk ($4.3MM), Kostka (.6), McClement (1.5)

- Winnipeg Jets ($6.901 million) – Montoya ($601K), Jokinen (4.5), Ponikarovsky (1.8)

 

TWO NEW PLAYERS

- Edmonton Oilers ($7.6 million) – J. Schultz ($3.8MM), Yakupov (3.8)

- Nashville Predators ($2.5 million) – Mason ($1.5), Hannan (1.0)

 

ONE NEW PLAYER

- Chicago Blackhawks ($1.3 million) – Brookbank ($1.3MM)

- St. Louis Blues ($.7 million) – Woywitka ($.7MM)

- Vancouver Canucks ($4.6 million) – Garrison ($4.6MM)

 

NO NEW PLAYERS

- Boston Bruins

- Los Angeles Kings

 

 

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