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Chat: Timo Seppa (Hockey)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday September 03, 2010 1:00 PM ET chat session with Timo Seppa (Hockey).

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With hockey season getting geared up, you'll want to ask away about what the year to come has in store of Timo Seppa of Puck Prospectus.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Time to get back to talking hockey! The season's just around the corner, and so is the first Hockey Prospectus annual.

Bobby V. (West Orange, NJ): The chance of the NJ Devils winning the Stanley Cup with Kovalchuck? Without?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): About the same? Last season, Kovalchuk came in as the 31st-best player in the NHL, worth 17.3 GVT (Goals Versus Threshold). VUKOTA looks for some regression, to 13.6 GVT, in 2010-11. That's worth a couple of wins the regular season. In any case, it's not really a question of Kovalchuk vs. no-Kovalchuk, but a question of Kovalchuk versus whatever else you could get for $6-7 Million. It's possible that the Devils winger might give you slight positive value there this season, but that equation's likely to turn around down the road.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Hi Timo, Was Puck Prospectus overly optimistic about the Caps last year? Did you over-rate them, or maybe better put, what in the &$^%# happened against Montreal?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Overly optimistic? They were the President's Trophy winners, weren't they? In other words, the NHL's best team by far over the 82 game regular season marathon. If anything, you could say that we underestimated them. But once you get into the postseason, it becomes a bit of a crapshoot, even over a "long" seven game series.

Hey, I liked both Montreal and Philly going into the playoffs, as they'd posted the best records in the Eastern Conference (next to Washington) over the 40-60 games heading into the postseason. I had picked Montreal as my playoff dark horse in a Prospectus Roundtable.

On one hand, the Caps ran into a better-than-perceived Habs squad with Jaroslav Halak on fire. On the other hand, it's not like Washington couldn't have improved more at the trading deadline. Joe Corvo was a real head-scratcher, whereas the Capitals could have picked up a shutdown defenseman or a significant upgrade in goal as they had cap space to spare. But maybe the Caps brass was cocky looking at their gaudy point total.

Roger Doucet (Le Forum): Do you think that the Lights of Broadway will have positive impact on Alex Frolov, a negative impact, or no impact at all and he'll continue to flounder? And who should be the 3rd on a line with him and World Cup linemate Artem Anisimov?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The Lights of Broadway are not kind to most players foolish enough to come play in New York. Take Luc Robitaille, for example. As a Rangers supporter from my days as a fan, Iíll tell you that I donít think good thoughts about Lucky Luc, like most hockey fans apparently do. Robitaille put up sub-10 GVT seasons with the Blue Shirts in 1995-96 and 1996-97...and voila, 2-4 years later, heís back posting 15-17 GVT seasons for the Kings. No explanation other than New York!

Anyway, if Frolovís playing on the third line come December or January, itís a bad, bad sign. The Rangers are starved for legit top six forwards, so if the Russian winger isnít on the top two lines, itís because heís seriously underachiving and therefore residing in Tortsí spacious doghouse.

Anutter Sutter Brutter (prowling the training camps): Statisticians have been trying to use sabremetrics in hockey for years. What's so different and special about VUKOTA and the Puck Prospectus perspective?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): They have? Advanced hockey stats arenít in the mainstream, thatís for sure.

Goal Versus Threshold (GVT) is a way of measuring player contributions over positions and eras, neatly summarizing a player's contributions into Offensive, Defensive, Goaltending and Shootout GVT components. VUKOTA projections of GVT and conventional stats like goals, assists, points and save percentage are more sophisticated than what youíd see in your typical fantasy guide (You know, taking the average of each playerís last three seasons).

Tom Awad, the godfather of GVT, has a great primer in the upcoming Hockey Prospectus 2010-11, "Introduction to GVT and VUKOTA". I'm also really high on his primer on shot quality, that will open many eyes. You guys are going to love this book, by the way.

David (Winston Salem): So what kind of fate do the Carolina Hurricanes face? No real defensive-oriented defenders on the blueline (except for Gleason) and a whole host of rookies? Are we playing for 2011-2012?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The Hurricanes need to rebuild, and frankly they should have started the process much earlier than they did. The semifinal appearance in 2008-09 was Fool's Gold, given a roster that was even older than the Devils and the Red Wings. When the bottom fell out in early 2009-10, the 'Canes brass should have immediately been selling every veteran off that they could. As it was, they were slow pulling the trigger, didn't get the return they could have on some vets, and had a few old guys left on the shelves by the end of the trading deadline.

Yes, it's rebuilding, but the Carolina system is full of great talent, some of which has already cracked the NHL level. Enjoy a season or two of great new faces, and enjoy the climb. They'll be back in true contention within 2-3 seasons.

Joe Weatherall (Ottawa): You seemed to be down on Craig Adams in the Penguins chapter of Hockey Prospectus. I'd suggest that his main value to the team is as their only reliable right-handed face-off man, and the only bottom-six forward Bylsma trusts to take a shorthanded draw. How replaceable do you think that value is to the Penguins? How well do current hockey statistics like GVT measure the value of faceoffs?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Have you happened to glance at Craig Adams' faceoff percentage? As it's 43.8%, I don't care if he's ambidextrous!

Defensive GVT summarizes a player's defensive contributions - primarily reducing shots on goal. With the example of Adams or another player taking defensive draws, the biggest impact would be on the penalty kill, where something like 1 in 15 lost faceoffs result in a goal. Anyway, the answer to your question is "not directly", but I think the effect is baked in there.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Timo, thanks for the chat. What do you think of the Caps decision to start the season with a likely five of their starting six defensemen all 25 or under? Does that scare you at all?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): No, and in fact, the Caps should have been handing more minutes to John Carlson last regular season already (only 22 GP), as he has been widely considered as a true blue chip prospect, a top ten NHL prospect. So if you were going to have him up at the NHL level, on a team without six spectacular blueliners, why would you be limiting him to 15 minutes per night? There was absolutely no shock when he flourished at 20 minutes per night in the playoffs. Among whatever regressions they may have, look for Carlson to be the biggest bump in the positive direction for the Caps this season.

jmercan (Jersey): After last year's disappointing exit, have the Caps done enough to make a stronger run for the Cup this year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): No! Whereís the goaltender? Criminy, if thereís one place that the likes of Evgeni Nabokov or Chris Mason or Antero Niittymaki or Antti Niemi should have landed, it was in Washington. Overpaying or not, you've got an offensive juggernaut with one big question mark, and that's in goal. They've got $5 million-plus of cap space. Whether you're the favorites (as they clearly were, going into the 2009-10 playoffs) or not, it's cra-zee not to maximize your chances of bringing home the hardware when you're this close.

Richard (Pittsburgh): The Penguins signing Mike Comrie seems like a great fit with little risk for the team. What do you think his upside is as a winger for Crosby or Malkin?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): For a guy that once put up 12.3 GVT (in 2001-02, with Edmonton), Comrie's been hovering a couple of ticks above replacement level over the past three seasons. VUKOTA sees more of the same for 2010-11, with 24 points and 2.8 GVT. Despite the Hilary Duff factor, Comrie seems more like third line material to me. I'd give Eric Tangradi a chance in the top six, and it sounds like Jordan Staal might line up with Malkin.

Johnny C (Chicago): Marty Turco was hung out to dry in Dallas behind a pretty weak defensive unit. Chicago has arguably some of the best D pairs in the NHL. What will this change do for Turco and can we expect him to have a career year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): My best friend is a big Stars' fan and he wanted Dallas to cut bait on Turco years ago already, if that means anything to you. Listen, if the Blackhawks cut down shots anything like they did last season, they'll make pretty much anyone look adequate or better, especially if you're measuring by Wins and GAA. But like with Washington, Chicago is really rolling the dice here with an iffy netminder. And yeah, I realize the cap situation.

YankeesSuck0213 (Chicago): Who are the best bets for young 'Hawks prospects to surprise some people with their goal-scoring punch? Someone's gotta replace Buff, Ladd, Versteeg, etc...

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Joel Quenneville's looking for a big year out of Tomas Kopecky.

Seriously though, depth is going to be a question mark with those secondary scorers gone, with GM Stan Bowman trying to clean up the cap mess that former GM Dale Tallon (What can brown do for you?) left Chicago in the corner. The Blackhawks should be reaping the benefits of the draft picks Bowman picked up in the couple of seasons, but this season, it's going to be slim pickings on the bottom six. Viktor Stahlberg's not the answer.

J the Loon (The South South Bronx): Why the change from the alliterative "Puck Prospectus" to the more literal "Hockey Prospectus"?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): We've all grown accustomed to "Puck Prospectus" over the last year and a half, but "Hockey Prospectus" makes more sense to me.

FalcoT (Buffalo): What are you expecting from the Buffalo Sabres this year? I'm leery of regression from Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers after a significant workload last season. What can you tell me about Jordan Leopold as a player? I think the less said about Rob Neidermayer, the better.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): VUKOTA's got them amongst the top teams in the NHL, but VUKOTA's also looking for a bounceback from division rival Boston. So look for them to fight over the Adams Division title, or whatever it's called nowadays.

Sure, we're projecting a dropoff for Ryan Miller, as we would for the top goaltender in any season, of course. I'd look for Tyler Myers to improve in some facets of his game, but you'd have to expect the shooting percentage to come down a tad from 10.6%, which is quite high for a defenseman.

Jordan Leopold's solid, but at best he's filling in for either Henrik Tallinder or Toni Lydman, but not both. While I'm down with bringing in some toughness with Shaone Morrisonn (reminder to self: check spelling), with memories of the Sabres being bullied by Chara and company in the first round, the former Cap is not a top four defenseman, so Buffalo's going to take a hit on the blue line, unless Andrej Sekera or Steve Montador surprise us.

I'm intrigued to see if Tyler Ennis can turn into a top six forward for them over the next year or two.

Joe (Buffalo): Is VUKOTA based on previous statistics and comparisons like PECOTA is, or does it use another method? If it is similar to PECOTA, do you show the most comparable players in your spreadsheet? Do the online projections show anything that the book doesn't? Thanks.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): My understanding is that the VUKOTA spreadsheet will soon be available online, but it's only the conventional stat projections, with fantasy leagues, etc. in mind.

As Tom Awad explains in the essay that I previously referenced--and I'm only roughly approximating his explanation here--VUKOTA looks at a broad sample of similar players (e.g. defensemen of the same age), looks at how that group did in the near future, and projects the player in question from there. Therefore, no, we don't show comparable players.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Sorry clog your queue with Caps questions, but I have to ask: what are your thoughts about the Caps goalie situation going into the year? Will they have to trade for a netminder at the deadline? Thanks for the chat.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): To add to what I said earlier, Washington is clearly hopeful regarding the prospects of Semyon Varlamov (.909 projected save percentage) and Michal Neuwirth (.910 projected save percentage) between the pipes. The Caps certainly should look to bring in a Tomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas or Chris Mason before the trading deadline unless one or both of these youngsters are playing lights out. Seeing that they haven't done so in the past, I'm guessing that they either won't make a trade or at most, will bring in a journeyman if one of their netminders is injured.

Dee karl (Long Island): Do you think the Islanders will keep any of their 2010 Draftees around for a 9 game test before sending them back to Juniors? Or do you think any of them will pass the test and stay?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Dee, you probably know that answer better than I do! But what I'll say is that you should be very excited about the improving Islanders' farm system. In the "Top 50 NHL Prospects" essay in Hockey Prospectus 2010-11, contributor Corey Pronman has selected four Isles for the list, including forwards Nino Niederreiter and Kirill Kabanov and defensemen Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic.

Maybe some of them are more likely to get their nine games in at the end of the campaign?

Samantha (Phoenix): What star player do you expect to have a down year, and who is flying under the radar from a fantasy hockey perspective?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The biggest swings are always going to come in goal. In general, you want to look for last season's best netminders to drop off. As I'm personally high on Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak, I'll go with the Coyotes' Ilya Bryzgalov to disappoint in 2010-11 (His last four GVT's: 3.6, 22.6, -0.9, 26.8). He was 6th in GVT last season and could easily go way off the board in 2010-11.

You generally look for very young players to be flying under the radar, but as far as veterans, look for a bounceback season from Evgeni Malkin, and take a "flyer" on the trio of Briere, Leino, and Hartnell to keep their playoff magic going, if their line is kept intact.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Is there any chance Kovalchuck doesn't sign with New Jersey? Is there anyone else biding for his services?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I think the NHL's crazy if they nix another deal, because who knows if Ilya will take his puck and go home (to Russia) at some point. He doesn't seem to lean that way, but you never know, if he gets frustrated with the situation. If the current deal doesn't go through, maybe Kovalchuk and his advisors regroup and simply go for a big one-year deal, trying again next offseason for the multiyear deal. In that scenario, who knows where he could go. Big wild card.

Tom (London): Do you think the Ducks will get Ryan signed?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The two Restricted Free Agent situations to watch are Bobby Ryan with Anaheim (Projected to be the second most valuable Duck at 13.0 GVT, fractionally behind Corey Perry) and Marc Staal with New York (Projected to be the third-most valuable Ranger at 7.8 GVT, and their best defenseman again). The NHL's RFA situations always seem to get worked out, so I'd say yes, but probably late September on both.

rawagman (Toronto): Timo, I think it's fair to say that "intangibles" play more of a role in hockey than in other sports. How would you define intangibles in hockey, and what would you think its role is?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Probably more than baseball, but...aren't we really talking about factors that are tough to measure, especially in a fast-moving game? We have come a ways in measuring more about hockey.

But yes, I'd want intelligent, studious, hard-working, selfless, teetotaling players with great endurance, concentration and leadership skills over whatever is the opposite of that, all things considered.

kprince (Boston): Thanks for chat. Just ponied up for Bruins' season tickets. Chances of a parade this year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I'll let you pony up another few dollars for Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 to our exact read, but you should be happy to know that VUKOTA's looking for a big bounceback from the Bruins, to be one of the Eastern Conference's best couple of teams in 2010-11. As you know, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a crapshoot, but if you're in the top half of the seeds, you've got a decent chance.

Jay (Madison): Given your responses about the Caps above, why have they not sought to improve. Are they just cheap? cocky (as you suggested last year)? or do they just believe in Varlie?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Ideally, this would be the answer: a. they want to give 20-30 games to each of Varlamov and Neuwirth, to see what they're made of, since there's no real risk of Washington not being one of the top seeds in the East, and b. they're waiting until closer to the trading deadline, so they can trade for Tomas Vokoun, but only have to take on a fraction of his salary.

What's the real answer? You know as well as I do.

rawagman (Toronto): Timo - How competitive do you think the Leafs (sic) can be this year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Can you name Toronto's big improvements this offseason? Not many, were there?

Compared to one year ago, Brian Burke's crew has added Kris Versteeg (this offseason) and Dion Phaneuf, but has lost Ian White, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman. They've made a big addition-by-subtraction by finally jettisoning Vesa Toskala, though. Still, we're looking for a finish near the bottom for your team, unfortunately.

FalcoT (Buffalo, NY): Timo, thanks for the chat. What do you think is the most likely finish for the Buffalo Sabres this year? Will Jordan Leopold be able to fill in for the losses of Tallinder and Lydman? Will Niedermayer not embarass himself too badly?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): With VUKOTA looking for Buffalo and Boston to go neck and neck, I'll give the nod to the Sabres. Jim Schonfeld used to be my favorite player, though, so take that into account.

As I said before, Leopold can fill one set of skates, at most, so that's where Buffalo is going to get hurt the most. They'll get hurt even more if they give prime ice time to Craig Rivet and Chris Butler over Andrej Sekera and Steve Montador.

The lesser Niedermayer actually had his first productive season in a while in 2009-10, but he seemed like a very odd signing for Darcy Regier. I'd rather give the playing time to a younger player.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Is there any team that could challenge the Caps for the Southeast division this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Seriously? No.

dianagramr (NYC): To paraphrase Kevin Goldstein, "so Timo ... what are you drinking?"

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Will has much more colorful answers to these questions than I do.

JOESAV (N.Y.): Will that Halak deal come back to haunt the Habs..

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I'm more of a Halak-supporter and Price-doubter than most of my colleagues, so I personally wouldn't have done it, were I in the GM's chair, knowing full well that I'd have to pony up for the big playoff hero. At the very least, I would have tried to get a bit more for him, as the St. Louis system is stocked with talent.

But if VUKOTA is to be believed...it really wouldn't make any difference for this season in any case.

winenegress (Maryland): Does anyone besides Lou Lamoriello like the Kovalchuk signin? Seems like a dreadful waste of cap money to me.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): A long deal would definitely hurt down the road, when Kovalchuk starts losing his fastball in a few years. But what I've said, all along, is that I don't understand why New Jersey won't first use their money to acquire a legitimate number one defenseman, or at least a legitimate power play quarterback. Why not talk Scott Niedermayer out of retirement, or sign Gonchar, or trade for Kaberle?

Maybe Kovalchuk is part of the answer, whether you agree with it or not (I don't, if this is the thinking). Since the Russian winger is used to playing the majority of each power play, and since he's been used at the point in both Atlanta and in New Jersey, maybe the Devils feel like Kovalchuk fills that need for them (as well as what he does at forward at even strength, of course).

In any case, I'm not sure if it's Lamoriello, or Devils ownership, who's pushing the signing.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Do you like the current overtime format? If not what would you do to change it?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): No, I think all of us here would go with a system without the bonus point which makes some games worth 3 points and some games worth 2 points.

Either go with 2 points for any win and 0 points for any loss, or go to the Olympic system with 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for an OT/shootout win, 1 point for an OT/shootout loss, and 0 points for a regulation loss. Simple. As opposed to stupid.

John (DC): How many teams are in the NHL ten years from now?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): After they add Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin and Sochi, Russia? Seriously, no idea. 30 or 32?

russadams (St. Paul): What do you project from Latendresse this year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): VUKOTA's got him down for 37 points and 5.4 GVT. Rob Vollman's player comment on him in the book is priceless, by the way. Look for that one.

Jay (Madison): Does A. Simon finish the year in a Caps sweater? If yes, is he wearing one next year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Do you mean Alexander Semin? If so...

In the shadow of Alex Ovechkin, and even Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green to an extent, many people don't realize just how good Semin is. His injuries have cut into his counting stats and GVT's, but his per game production has been top-of-the-league for the last several seasons. The problem with Semin is that whatever deal you sign him to will be starting with his age-27 season. You're asking for his production to start tailing off on any multiyear deal. I get the feeling that the Capitals would have locked him up already if they were going to re-sign him.

john (ct): I see Hartford Whalers gear all over CT again. Any chance The NHL returns to CT?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I picked up a Whalers cap myself about half a year ago. Nice looking.

Anyway, I thought I'd read somewhere that they're going to rebrand the Hartford Wolfpack as the Connecticut Whalers, which could explain all of the merchandise. Don't think I'm down with that.

Pro sports in Connecticut? I go to my share of Wolfpack and Rock Cats games, and I don't see it. No chance.

Dan (Boulder): Would the Blues have been better off signing Niemi to a contract and keeping Eller, or is Halak that much of an upgrade?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): VUKOTA's got Niemi at 5.9 GVT and Halak at 12.2 GVT, although at only 48 games played. Yeah, Halak's an upgrade.

Okay, last one for today...

eitheror (pa): Anything good to say about the flyers at this point? I really hated this offseason.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): It was a jumble, wasn't it?

The worst part was the Meszaros trade. Sending a draft pick over to Stevie Yzerman to pick up a 2 GVT player signed for $16 million over 4 years is baffling. The ramifications were a. not using that $4 million on a Halak, Niemi or Mason and b. having to trade away Simon Gagne. Utterly baffling.

If you're looking for positives, the Braydon Coburn re-signing was decent and the low cost pickup of Nikolai Zherdev might pan out well.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Thank you all for the great questions. Keep a look out for Hockey Prospectus 2010-11!


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