Anze Kopitar

Kopitar’s dad resigns as Slovenian head coach after relegation at Worlds

3 Comments

Matjaz Kopitar has decided to step down at the head coach of the Slovenian national team, per the IIHF’s website.

Matjaz Kopitar, who is the father of Kings star Anze Kopitar, led Slovenia to a seventh place finish in the 2014 Winter Games. That’s the best Slovenia has ever done in men’s hockey at the Olympic level, including its time as part of Yugoslavia. However, Slovenia finished with the worst record in the 2015 World Championships and have been relegated to Division I as a result.

The elder Kopitar has coached the Slovenian national team for five seasons and during that time they were in something of a holding partner as far as the World Championships went. They would win Division I whenever they were relegated, but they would consistently follow that up with a 16th place finish at the Championships level.

Slovenia will once again have to fight to be promoted in 2016.

Flyers will be ‘extremely patient’ with youngsters, but ‘want a winner as soon as possible’

25 Comments

Depending who you ask, it’s either a smart and noble strategy, one that’s been successful for a team like the Detroit Red Wings, or it’s like wanting to have your cake and eat it too, and the reason a team like the Detroit Red Wings hasn’t made a deep playoff run in a number of years.

That strategy is, of course, doing everything you can to win now, while simultaneously and patiently developing youngsters for the future.

It’s what Flyers owner Ed Snider wants to do in Philadelphia, as opposed to tearing it down and rebuilding from scratch, a la Buffalo or Edmonton.

Snider told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the plan for the Flyers is to “be extremely patient with all of the young players we have coming.” But at the same time, GM Ron Hextall is “going to do everything in his power to produce a winner as soon as possible, which means it could be trades, it could be coaching, it could be all kinds of things.”

It’s a similar story in Vancouver, where the aging Canucks “want to draft and develop well, but we want our young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment, so they learn the right way to play.”

The obvious challenge for that type of plan is drafting, because teams that are neither great nor terrible don’t get top-5 draft picks, i.e. players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Drew Doughty.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to find elite players in the middle of the first round, or even beyond. Anze Kopitar was taken 11th overall; Patrice Bergeron and Duncan Keith were second-rounders.

But the win now/win later strategy does put added pressure on the scouting staff to unearth a few “big-time” diamonds in the rough, like the Wings once did to the extreme with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom.

The Flyers have the seventh overall selection in this summer’s draft. They also have Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, wherever that may be.

Related: Hextall insists he’s ‘on the same page’ with Snider

On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

25 Comments

Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.

“Big-time.”

Toews, Bergeron, Kopitar are the Selke Trophy finalists

28 Comments

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar have been selected as the three finalists for the Selke Trophy. The trophy rewards the league’s best forward from a defensive standpoint.

Bergeron is looking to claim the award for the third time in just four years. He led the league in 2014-15 with a 60.2 success rate on the draw, had 48 takeaways, and a plus-two rating over 81 games. From an analytics perspective, he had a great season with a Fenwick percentage of 57.36 in 5-on-5 situations compared to the Bruins’ Fenwick of 48.01% when he was off the ice. In other words, Boston was far better when it came to possessing the puck when he was on the ice.

That translates to a Fenwick Relative percentage of plus-9.35, which was the second highest in the league among players that logged at least 800 total minutes of ice time.

Toews won the Selke Trophy back in 2013. He finished with the fifth highest plus/minus rating at plus-30 and his 56.5% on the draw ranked sixth in the NHL. He also had 45 takeaways in 81 contests.

His Fenwick numbers weren’t as impressive as Bergeron, but were still strong. Toews had a 54.02 Fenwick percentage compared to Chicago’s 51.84% when he was off the ice.

For Kopitar, this is his second nomination in as many days as he was list among the Lady Byng finalists last night. He had a faceoff percentage in 2014-15 was 52.6, a minus-two rating, and 29 takeaways. While those numbers aren’t great compared to his competitors, he looks much better from a Fenwick perspective.

His 5-on-5 Fenwick percentage was 58.93 in 2014-15 compared to Los Angeles’ 53.16% when he wasn’t on the ice. He also had the highest 5-on-5 Fenwick plus/minus of the three candidates at plus-260, which measures the unblocked shots his team took while he was on the ice against the unblocked shots his opponents took.

2015 Lady Byng finalists: Datsyuk, Kopitar and Hudler

7 Comments

The NHL announced the three finalists for the 2015 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on Tuesday: Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames.

To refresh your memory, the award is handed out to the player who “exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Voting comes down to members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

If you gauage award chances by past victories, then Pavel Datsyuk stands as a heavy favorite. The Red Wings star won it four times in a row from the 2005-06 season through the 2008-09 campaign.

Hudler and Kopitar haven’t won a single Byng in their careers, on the other hand.

Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly took the 2014 award.

Here are some quick factoids about each finalist via the NHL: