NHL's best forwards in tough situations: Datsyuk, Zetterberg … Gomez?

goalmez.jpgEvery now and then, we’ll try to go deeper than the every day stats talk you normally see. After all, hockey is a sport where a lot happens that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. One of the increasingly useful ways to gauge a player’s usefulness (and transcendence) comes in looking at who they play against and in which situations they come onto the ice. 

Oilers blog the Copper & Blue is one of the leading sites for hockey stats nerds like myself and they didn’t disappoint today with a post regarding which players thrive amid the toughest competition.

It’s not too surprising to see Detroit’s brilliant forward duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top of the list since they’re often considered elite two-way players. Other names like Eric Staal, Mike Richards and Daniel Alfredsson make plenty of sense too. That doesn’t mean that the list lacks surprises though, including ones that could change your viewpoints of a few oft-critiqued (or completely ignored) players. Here’s a few of Derek Zona’s observations.

I said last year that I was stunned that Stephen Weiss was the 4th-best player on the list. This year, he’s up to 3rd. I took a deeper look at Weiss and noted that he was outscoring the biggest names in the game each year and I still find it hard to believe just how good Weiss is and how under-recognized he is.

Scott Gomez takes a beating from NHL fans for his lack of goal-scoring and Bob Gainey took a beating for the trade that he made to acquire Gomez, but Gomez is the goods. He may not score goals, but his defensive prowess and playmaking ability are top notch. His performance in New York was supposed to be a by-product of Henrik Lundqvist, but the numbers in Montreal show differently. Gomez is an even strength demon.

Jochen Hecht is one of those bargains on this list. Though he’s thought of as a role player in a very specifically defined and extremely narrow scope, in reality, Hecht is an excellent even strength player.

Seeing Weiss at No. 3 on that list is possibly the most surprising development, as he seems (on paper at least) to be something of a bust in a parade of drafting blunders by the Florida Panthers. While I have noticed that Scott Gomez was playing well in the playoffs, I’m also among the hordes of bloggers who lampooned his huge contract. (And let’s not be too hasty to say it still isn’t a bit rich.)

Stats aren’t everything, but they can often provide a crucial dollop of cold, hard reality while raw perception can often be plagued by personal prejudices. I, for one, will have to hesitate the next time I make fun of Gomez or Weiss. Not to say that I won’t make fun of them again altogether but … baby steps, right?

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    After two years in Switzerland, Tom Pyatt signs with Sens

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 22:  Tom Pyatt #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Simon Despres #47 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battle for a loose puck during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    Tom Pyatt is back in the NHL.

    Or, at least, back with an NHL organization.

    After spending the last two seasons with Swiss club Geneve Servette, the 29-year-old forward has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

    “We’re very pleased that Tom has committed to our organization for next season,” said GM Pierre Dorion in a release. “He has already accumulated a significant amount of experience at both the American and National Hockey League levels and provides us with solid depth at forward. Having spent his last two seasons playing professionally in Switzerland, members of our coaching staff are familiar with his versatility. We’re looking forward to seeing him in training camp.”

    The Sens, of course, just hired a head coach in Guy Boucher who’s spent the last few years in Switzerland. (Also, an assistant coach.)

    Pyatt’s deal is worth $800,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.

    Before leaving for Switzerland in August of 2014, Pyatt played 245 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 27 goals and 27 assists.

    Report: Star Swedish goalie Lassinantti garnering NHL interest

    LULEA, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 03: Max Gortz of Frolunda Gothenburg looks to score past Joel Lassinantti of Lulea Hockey during the Champions Hockey League Final match between Lulea Hockey and Frolunda Gothenburg at Coop Norrbotten Arena on February 3, 2015 in Lulea, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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    Joel Lassinantti, the 23-year-old that captured the 2014-15 SHL Goalie of the Year, is reportedly on the radar of some NHL teams.

    Per Swedish nets outlet NSD, Lassinantti’s agent confirmed there is interest in his client, who’s coming off a solid ’15-16 campaign with Lulea. He went 22-11-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .921 save percentage.

    If he signs in North America, Lassinantti will definitely be one to watch.

    Why? Well, he’d be majorly bucking the current trend of skyscraper goalies. He’s listed at just 5-foot-9, but hat diminutive frame hasn’t kept him from excelling at nearly every stage.

    Prior to his success with Lulea, Lassinantti captured silver with Sweden’s entry at the 2013 World Juniors. At that tourney, he split time with Oilers prospect Niklas Lundstrom, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

    And as mentioned above, he captured last season’s Honken Trophy as Sweden’s top goalie — which is a real feather in his cap.

    The winner prior to Lassinantti, Linus Ullmark, is coming off a pretty solid campaign in Buffalo and this year’s winner, Lars Johansson, just signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

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    The St. Louis Blues are going back to the guy who got them this far.

    Brian Elliott will start in goal tomorrow in San Jose.

    Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock made the announcement Tuesday, the day after Jake Allen allowed four goals on just 25 shots in a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination.

    Allen also started Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues won that contest, 6-3, with Allen stopping 31 of 34 shots.

    But those were the only two games that Allen has started this postseason. That’s because Elliott had been mostly excellent before getting yanked in Game 3. His save percentage in these playoffs is .925, compared to Allen’s .897.

    Hitchcock said he hopes the break has allowed Elliott to “reset” after the “mental drain” of starting the first 17 games of the playoff.

    “We needed the jolt from Jake, we got it to get back into the series,” Hitchcock told reporters, per the Post-Dispatch. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win yesterday but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”

    Related: A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

    B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

    Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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    Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

    And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

    Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

    That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

    Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

    Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

    Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

    “I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

    “There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

    In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

    Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

    But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

    As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

    But others might not be all that shocked.

    Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

    Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

    Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem