T-Birds news and notes: Suspensions, trades and fancy stats
The Thunderbirds ended the weekend on a mini two game-win streak after taking overtime victories against Spokane and Portland. They have a busy week ahead of them as they will play four games in the next five nights. There was controversy this week, the return of their captain and a new face in town.
Here’s the latest from the T-Birds:
Evan Wardley facing suspension?
Defenseman Evan Wardley is waiting word from the league to see if he will be facing a suspension for his check to the head against Portland’s Nic Petan Saturday night. He was assessed a 5-minute major and game misconduct at the time of the hit. Petan was injured and did not return to the game Saturday night, his status remains unknown.
Wardley has faced league discipline in the past for hits so it stands to reason that he will be suspended and it will most likely be for multiple games. How long? It’s hard to say since the league does not offer much explanation for the reasons behind the length of suspensions. Last year when Portland’s Brendan Leipsic was guilty of a similar hit against Seattle’s Keegan Kolesar, he was given a seven-game suspension. Leipsic was also a repeat offender so don’t be surprised if Wardley faces a similar suspension length.
The loss of Wardley will cause some shuffling for the T-Birds, who are thin on the blue line. Shea Theodore remains unavailable as he is nursing an elbow injury suffered in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. Seattle would end up making a move Monday afternoon to help shore up the defense.
New face in town
With the impending Warldey suspension and a full schedule over the next couple of weeks, the Thunderbirds acquired defenseman Scott Allen from the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for fifth-round pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft. Allen appeared in 34 games last year for the Tigers and three this season. He has not picked up any points and based on his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame, seems to be a stay-at-home type of defenseman. Allen is 18 years old and will give Seattle a little more depth on the blue line. When Theodore returns the club will have eight defensemen and will have to do some more juggling.
It’s unclear whether or not Allen will arrive in Seattle in time for Tuesday’s game with Spokane at the ShoWare Center. If he can’t go, look for rookie Turner Ottenbreit to get increased minutes to help fill the void. There also is a chance that right winger Luke Osterman ends up taking some shifts on defense. Prior to last season, Osterman had been a defenseman and switched to forward last year.
Barzal shoots, Barzal scores
In his rookie year Barzal potted 14 goals in his 59 games with Seattle. Being the top-end playmaker that he is there were times where it appeared that he would pass up shooting opportunities to make a pass. Near the end of the year he was looking to shoot more and when he did, the goals started coming.
It appears that his willingness to shoot is carrying over into this year.
“Steve (Konowalchuk) talks about one goal every 10 shots,” Barzal said after Saturday’s game in Portland. “I was shooting it last game and stuck with it and then finally got one late and tonight got a lucky bounce and was fortunate enough to get another one.”
Barzal’s goal Saturday night was a testament to the importance of getting shots on net. His shot on Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke hit the Portland netminder but rebounded over his shoulder and in the goal.
He has goals in his last three games while still making plays to set up his teammates and leads the club in assists with seven. With Justin Hickman back on his line Barzal and Ryan Gropp could start to pile up the points. Hickman creates space for the two NHL Draft prospects, wins battles and can bang home some dirty goals as well.
Advanced stats for the WHL?
If you’ve been following the NHL the past few years you have undoubtedly heard about the rise of advanced stats or analytics – money puck, if you will. The use of these stats to assess team and individual players performances has caught on so much that many NHL teams have hired a staff of advanced statistic experts to help judge their team’s performance and help make personnel decisions.
In the simplest terms these statistics revolve around puck possession. The theory is that the more a team possess the puck, the more shots towards the goal they will be able to generate and therefore the more chances they have of scoring. The most popular statistic is called Fenwick Close and it measures the total shots a team has (goals plus plus shots on goal plus plus missed shots) compared to how many they allow while the game is close. This measure can also be applied to individual players. These analysts also look at a number called PDO. PDO is the combination of a team’s shooting percentage plus its save percentage. Over time most teams will regress towards a PDO of 1.000.
These numbers are easy to assemble in the NHL. The league tracks players time on ice, who they are playing with, who they play against, what the score was when they are on the ice and how many shots they take. These stats are not available for the WHL, which makes if difficult to apply many of these same analytics to junior hockey.
That is beginning to change, however. A CHL Stats website has been started by a man named Joshua Weissbock. He is attempting to bring these stats to all three CHL teams. It should be noted that the Fenwick numbers on this web page are based on estimations since the league only tracks shots on goal and not shots that miss the net. So what you have is a general idea of how a specific team is doing in terms of possession. His site also tracks PDO, which is a more accurate number. However, like Fenwick, these numbers can be misleading this early in the season.
PDO and Fenwick are better indicators with a larger sample size. Right now Weissbock’s site has Seattle with a Fenwick Close estimation of 48.3 percent and a PDO of 98.55. It’s an interesting endeavor and worth checking into from time to time as the season progresses.
The week ahead
Seattle got its first look at the Spokane Chiefs this past Friday and will become very familiar with them before the week is over. Seattle will host the Chiefs on Tuesday evening before heading straight back to Eastern Washington for a rematch Wednesday night in Spokane. The Chiefs have only played five games – the fewest in the WHL – and only have two wins, both against Tri City. Spokane is solid defensively but lacks any real firepower up front. Both of these games should be winnable for the T-Birds but they are going to have to play with the same commitment they showed this past weekend.
Friday night Seattle will get its first look at the revamped Prince George Cougars. The Cougars have new ownership and are looking to make the long-time losers into a winning franchise. Prince George is off to a 6-4-0-0 start and a player to watch is Jansen Harkins. Harkins is a top NHL Draft prospect and like Barzal, a tremendous playmaker. The young center already has 13 assists on the season and will be a player Seattle has to contend with on Friday. It seems that every year Prince George manages to give Seattle fits so this game will be anything but a pushover.
The Kamloops Blazers make their first appearance in Kent on Saturday night and like Prince George, that’s a team that Seattle had trouble with last year. The Blazers are off to a good start, going 6-3-1-0 so far and are in second place in the B.C. Division. They are led in scoring by Cole Ully (six goals, eight assists), who is one of the most underrated players in the WHL.
All four of these games won’t be easy for Seattle, but they are winnable. If the T-Birds play strong they could end up with a nice winning streak on their hands.