Projecting the 2011-2012 Flyers' lineup and production

Should I be worried that every picture of Voracek from the IIHF championships has him in this position?

The Flyers' roster is finally starting to take shape. We've had some great conversations in the comments across this site; I wanted to collect a lot of it in one post and add some analysis and opinion of my own. I'll start by estimating the available cap space, then take a guess at a roster, and finally try to project what production we'll see from those lineup changes.

What will Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds get as RFAs? Geoff already took a quick glance at this based on age and traditional stats; after the jump, I take a similar approach but factoring in advanced stats and role a little bit more.

I started with a list of last year's RFA signings and crossed off everyone who was at the end of their RFA period and signed a big-money long-term deal well into their prime, like Bobby Ryan and Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler. The remaining players mostly signed two year deals that expire with them still as an RFA, which is what Voracek and Simmonds are likely to do. Let's see who are the best comparables from that group. First, we'll look at Voracek:

Player Cap Hit OZ% Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Rel G/60 A1/60 P/60
Jakub Voracek TBD 57.8% (5/12) -0.184 (9/12) +9.3 0.56 0.95 1.95
David Perron 2.15M 54.6% (4/12) -0.165 (10/12) +4.7 0.82 0.94 1.82
Sam Gagner 2.28M 48.8% (4/14) -0.240 (12/14) +10.9 0.61 0.61 1.56

All three stat lines are for the player's contract year: 2009-10 for Perron and Gagner and this year for Voracek. Their usage was very similar -- around the third-weakest competition on the team (by Corsi Rel QoC) and slightly more offensive zone starts than their teammates (by OZ%).

Voracek helped his team control the play more than Perron did (as measured by Corsi Rel), but Perron had more individual contribution to the scoring (goals and primary assists). Voracek had more assists than Gagner, but benefitted from having a lot more offensive zone starts (the absolute number matters more than the rank when looking at points), plus Gagner was a year younger when he signed his deal.

Somewhere in the 2.25M per year range feels about right for Voracek, maybe 2.5M if the rising cap and floor cause significant inflation. Let's look at Simmonds:

Player Cap Hit OZ% Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Rel G/60 A1/60 P/60
Wayne Simmonds TBD 49.5% (11/13) 0.622 (1/13) -9.6 0.79 0.37 1.77
Mason Raymond 2.55M 49.1% (6/12) 0.800 (2/12) +13.8 0.93 0.66 1.87
Martin Hanzal 1.8M 46.6% (11/13) 1.006 (1/13) +1.9 0.50 0.50 1.49

Simmonds is a tougher one to peg, because there just aren't very many guys who are taking on those kinds of heavy lifter assignments at 22 years old. I'm not crazy about the Raymond comparison -- they both faced top competition, but Raymond saw more offensive zone starts and was older, so I lean towards Hanzal as the better comparison.

Simmonds has more goals and points than Hanzal, but much worse possession numbers. However, Simmonds actually had a better Corsi Rel than his most frequent linemate (Handzus, -13.1), while Hanzal was worse than his (Vrbata, +5.8), so the team-based Corsi stat may not be giving us a fair picture of individual skill here.

All in all, Hanzal seems like a reasonable comparison, so let's go with somewhere around 1.8M for Simmonds. Since points are often more of a driver of salary than Corsi, it could be a bit higher, but probably not as high as Raymond's deal.

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Here's what the roster looks like with those additions:

FORWARDS
Daniel Briere ($6.500m) / Scott Hartnell ($4.200m) / Jakub Voracek ($2.250m)
Kris Versteeg ($3.083m) / Claude Giroux ($3.750m) / James Van Riemsdyk ($1.654m)
Brayden Schenn ($3.110m) / Wayne Simmonds ($1.800m) / ___________
Jody Shelley ($1.100m) / Blair Betts ($0.700m) / Andreas Nodl ($0.845m)
Ian Laperriere ($1.166m) / _____________

DEFENSEMEN
Kimmo Timonen ($6.333m) / Chris Pronger ($4.921m)
Andrej Meszaros ($4.000m) / Matt Carle ($3.437m)
Braydon Coburn ($3.200m) / Oskars Bartulis ($0.600m)
Kevin Marshall ($0.845m)

GOALTENDERS
Ilya Bryzgalov ($5.666m) / Sergei Bobrovsky ($1.750m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $60,913,928; BONUSES: $3,952,500
CAP SPACE (20-man roster): $3,386,072

There's 3.4M left, maybe just under 4M if we put Lappy on LTIR and reserve 700k of his LTIR exemption for an injury call-up. With that money, the Flyers need to sign a top-9 forward and a 13th forward. Signing Brad Richards or Steven Stamkos is out of the question unless the Flyers clear another 4M of cap space somehow.

Signing Leino not only seems unlikely, but also puts the Flyers right back in cap jail -- even if they somehow make it work this year, remember that van Riemsdyk, Carle, and Coburn will all get raises as free agents next year. Even worse, it means that Schenn is being counted on to center the shutdown line in his first NHL action at 20 years old. He's project to be a solid two-way player, but as Derek Zona has shown, it's unlikely that he'll be taking on top competition before he's 21 years old. I'm ok with him playing center on a line that faces middling competition or wing on a line that faces tough competition, but I just don't think he's developed enough yet to be counted on as the shutdown center.

My bet (hope) is that the Flyers sign a veteran center for something like 3.5M over two years so they can ease Schenn along and not overwhelm the cap.

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OK, on to a question that we haven't dug into as much yet: what kind of production should we expect out of the new guys?

Let's start with Brayden Schenn. Points per game can be projected based on results in leagues below the NHL. Players tend to get to 90% of their peak production by about age 21, but Schenn is still on the rising slope of his development. Last year, he had 2 points per game in the WHL. It was a small sample (29 games), but the result is consistent with his previous growth (1.1 ppg in '08, 1.3 ppg in '09, and 1.7 ppg in '10). That performance suggests that this year we would expect him to have about 0.6 points per game in the NHL -- Schenn should have around 45-50 points if he plays a full season.

The other two guys are also still developing, but at 22-23 years old it's not expected to be nearly as much of an improvement. As we saw with Giroux this year, players can exceed (or fall below) those projections, but the odds are that at this point we know roughly what they will achieve.

Both Voracek and Simmonds disappointed their fans a little last year. In '09-10, Voracek had 50 points and Simmonds had 40, and fans of both were projecting bigger improvements to come. But Voracek seemingly plateaued to 46 points in '10-11, and Simmonds seemingly took a step back to 30 points. So what should we expect from them in '11-12?

By this age, the odds are good that we know what their true talent is. They're still improving a little, but the biggest question is how much random fluctuation and usage pulled their numbers up or down. Shooting percentage is one of the biggest sources of random fluctuation -- players have a consistent talent for getting shots off from dangerous locations, but vary widely from year to year on whether those shots happen to go in. With that in mind, let's look at Voracek's career numbers:

Year SOG Sh% Goals
'08-09 101 8.9% 9
'09-10 154 10.4% 16
'10-11 183 7.7% 14

It's sometimes a long debate that I don't want to get into here, but there's a lot of precedent suggesting that it's much more likely that he just got unlucky on his shots last year than that he started shooting from less dangerous locations. His average shot distance was almost unchanged (28.9 feet versus 28.5 feet), but his true talent -- getting to those dangerous spots -- improved and resulted in more shots on goal. The goals will come.

A similar effect supressed his assist total last year -- when he was on the ice at even strength, his teammates shot 9.7% in '09-10 but only 8.7% in '10-11. Had his teammates buried an extra 1% of his passes, he would have had four more assists. The Flyers as a team were pretty lucky on their shots last year, but if he ends up on a line with Briere (career 15.3% shooter) and Hartnell (at least 13.6% in four of his last five years), he'll likely be closer to the 9.7% figure from '09-10.

Factoring in just a little bit of growth and somewhat better teammates, I think Voracek's likely target this year is about 18 goals and 38 assists; if I was feeling optimistic, I'd round up to a nice clean 20 and 40. His numbers last year were well below that, but a lot of that was the result of simple bad luck.

Simmonds appeared to take a big step back last year, most notably going from 24 assists in '09-10 to 16 in '10-11. And like with Voracek, this appears to be somewhat luck-driven, as his linemates' shooting got a lot worse. However, unlike with Voracek, it is the high season of '09-10 that appears to be the outlier -- Simmonds is a lot more likely to see his third-line teammates shoot at 7.7% (as they did in '10-11) than at 11.0% (as they did in '09-10).

This probably depends a good bit on who his linemates end up being, but I think Simmonds' most likely outcome is something like 13 goals and 17 assists, for another 30-point season.

In the end, what changes have been made from last year?

  • Leino's 53 points from last year are replaced on the first line by ~55-60 from Voracek
  • Nodl's ~25 points (projected to a full season) are replaced on the third line by ~30 from Simmonds; Nodl probably doesn't exceed Powe's 17 points on the fourth line
  • Carter's 66 points are replaced by ~45-50 from Schenn
  • Richards' 66 points are replaced by an as-yet-unknown number from a free agent center; a defensive-minded $2M center might be at around 30.

In total then, the Flyers have lost about 45 points from their skaters -- perhaps 20-25 goals. Couple that with a weakening of the defense, as the top two defensemen turn 37 and the top two defensive forwards got traded away, and Bryzgalov is unlikely to make up the difference this year.

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