With Realignment and Expansion a Concern, Unexpected Hockey Markets in the West Should be Considered. As a Blue Jackets fan, my sleep cycle is pretty pleased about the NHLPA-approved realignment. I honestly don’t have concerns about the quality of competition in-division. You’ll note that Columbus has been abysmal against nearly every opponent in the past two years, so that can’t get much worse (and with managerial changes, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing. Yeah, Sid Crosby is around, but the CBJ just need to improve themselves).
What does bother me to a very minor degree is the spread of playoff possibility, 8/14 teams in the New West, and 8/16 in the New East. This imbalance clearly screams of eventual expansion. Accordingly, others have covered the topic: Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy discussed the chances of teams in Toronto (Markham) and Quebec City, and James Mirtle explored a Seattle move in the Globe and Mail.
But looking at that map above, the center and west of the United States is pretty empty, hockey-wise. Yes, the locations of population centers are a limiting factor, but what other places could a team expand or, in the case of Phoenix, relocate? Let’s go wild and assume that Seattle gets a team and we’re left with the prospect of expanding once more and relocating the Coyotes. Where do they go if we want to fill in the West? Kansas City has been mentioned from time-to-time, most recently when threats to move the Islanders existed.
Another market that gets little buzz is Salt Lake City. It seems like a stretch at first glance, but Utah’s capital is a place that doesn’t feel too far fetched a landing. The city already has a world-class arena in the form of EnergySolutions Arena for the Jazz, a location that has been used for hockey in the past. The location for the team wouldn’t be a problem.
The supporting population is also somewhat misleading. While the Salt Lake City metropolitan area (around 1.13 million people) only qualifies as the 48th most populous region in the US, the Ogden-Clearfield and Provo-Orem statistical areas are adjacent or nearby, adding another 1.1 million residents to the northern Utah region. The area is also one of the fastest growing in the nation, so bodies would be there to fill seats or to glue eyes to TV screens.
One drawback is the inconsistent hockey ratings in Salt Lake. Game 7 of the 2011 Cup Final saw the city rank fairly low among non-NHL markets but in the national top-25 (ahead of Washington DC) for the Vancouver Gold Medal game. (Of course, it’s worth noting that Seattle had a similar problem. It was lower than SLC for the 2011 Cup Final but higher in the Olympics)
Salt Lake City would make geographical sense, not only to fit the Western imbalance, but to fill the void or to relocate Phoenix. It’s unclear just how the market would respond to NHL-level hockey, but the population base and arena are in place for a move. (Of course, this is all thrown out the window and re-realignment could be a concern if two Eastern Canadian cities get picked. Ho hum.)
Matt Calvert and John Moore (When He Comes Back) are in for a Strong End to the Season. PDO has been growing in usage around the hockey blogosphere, and looking at it on a player-by-player basis gives us a rough idea of which guys are getting lucky and which are due for a break.
PDO (which isn’t actually an acronym, it just is “PDO”) is the sum of even strength on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage. It can be observed for either the individual player or for the team. PDO is useful because it tends toward the league average of 1000 for the season. You can check out a useful PDO primer from Cam Charron at Backhand Shelf, and a more rigorous examination of PDO trends and probabilities was written by Patrick D at NHL Numbers. You can check out recent team PDO info either at Hockey Analysis, or with a bit of context and a season-long look at NHL Numbers each week. Individual PDO can be found at Behind the Net (under Player Breakdown, just sort by PDO).
While PDO is extremely useful, PDO in the context of player performance and team limiting factors (such as low-talent goalies) helps us get a better understanding of the trajectory involved. Players on Vancouver and Boston last year saw season-long PDO above 1000 thanks in part to the naturally higher save percentage that Luongo/Schneider and Thomas/Rask provided theier teammates. Meanwhile, the reverse happened to Toronto and Columbus: low save percentage numbers dropped individual PDO numbers.
With that in mind, you should still keep your eyes open for Matt Calvert and John Moore as the season finishes. Calvert and Moore both help drive play and shot differentials for Columbus (Corsi On of +6.16 and +10.17, Corsi Rel of +12.1 and +22.4) so they’re already very valuable players. But their PDO numbers are hilariously low. Calvert has a PDO of 905 (!) composed of a 7.48 on-ice shooting % and a .831 save %. Moore a 954 PDO, with 6.94 shooting and .885 save %.
Now both cases see the players getting very unlucky with save percentage, so that much should trend up (even if only slightly). But Calvert and Moore also suffer from low team shooting percentages when they’re on the ice. Yes, Calvert’s individual shooting % is 11.4% this year so that probably won’t go up, but puck luck should hit him in the form of his teammates soon. Combine these two eventual regressions (from the goalie and on-ice shooting %), and Calvert should be on the winning side of puck luck soon.
Moore’s problems are similar. Goalies are not giving him much support and team shooting percentage with him on ice is below 7%. While Moore isn’t an offensive defenseman, even a shutdown player shouldn’t expect such low impacts from teammates and such a low individual shooting percentage (currently at 0%).
Calvert and Moore are both young players, driving shot differentials for the Blue Jackets. They’re already very valuable to the team both now and in the future just for that. Expect more luck to hit their sticks soon and make their point totals rise soon, making them look even better.