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Uniting Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza in Ottawa's Best Interest

July 27, 2012, 1:06 PM ET [17 Comments]
Travis Yost
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UPDATE: Bobby Butler has cleared waivers, and the Ottawa Senators are now finalizing the buyout process for the Massachusetts native. Serious fall from grace.

There's a generally accepted rule in hockey that depth -- specifically in the forward ranks -- in is one of the more important elements of team play. In a puck possession system, each trio of forwards must be capable of out-chancing the opposition on a game-to-game basis, even if some lines have varying roles and are employed with different strategies.

With talent pretty level across the board and parity at an all-time high, the spread of talent -- especially in the top-six -- is a maneuver we've seen coaching staffs go to regularly. The idea is to keep a productive balance

In Ottawa's case, though, there's a legitimate argument that a Hero Line -- or, a Hybrid Hero Line -- could be an effective weapon for Paul MacLean next season. Front-loading a team can leave your bottom-nine a bit more vulnerable, but if the organizational depth -- youngsters like Jakob Silfverberg, Mike Zibanejad, Mark Stone, et al. -- can come in and positively influence games, the option could be intriguing.

Looking at the numbers of the three most important players on this roster -- Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Erik Karlsson -- all evidence suggests that they're superior when playing with one another. There's no chemistry issues, puck possession problems, or anything of the like. As a trio, they pretty much terrorize the opposition, and it shows up in the numbers.

While Spezza and Alfredsson didn't play a ton together last season, Karlsson -- the man of infinite TOI -- routinely played with both, and when he was on the ice, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson were more effective players.

I've sorted the statistical output by Corsi For % as opposed to Goals For %, mostly because I'm more interested in the chances created and prevented rather than the actual markers. The numbers are remarkable.

Column One: Together
Column Two: Karlsson apart
Column Three: Teammate apart

Karlsson -- to the surprise of no one -- pushed every one of his big TOI teammates in the positive direction when he was on the ice. Karlsson always had the puck, and in turn, the team always created. You'll notice -- via the third column -- that players like Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Colin Greening were far less effective without the Norris Trophy blue liner at their disposal.

In fact, judging by the raw numbers, one would assume that Erik Karlsson was probably the most important piece to the team last year. It's a legitimate argument. One number I did find interesting, though, and what really prompted this blog in the first place, was that Daniel Alfredsson may have made Erik Karlsson a more productive player -- not the other way around.

Karlsson's production dropped off without Alfredsson on the ice -- something that we haven't really seen from any other player on the roster. Alfredsson's an incredible two-way player and a raw goal-scorer, and in some ways, it makes a lot of sense as to the how and why Karlsson was better with the captain than without him. Together, the numbers indicate that the pair were pretty lethal.

Aside from the Alfredsson // Karlsson connection, the above shouldn't really come as a surprise. There's more, though.

Consider Jason Spezza's numbers with and without some of the big names filtering in the top-six. One would imagine that his percentages alongside Milan Michalek -- his most common teammate last season -- would be incredibly high, thanks largely to Michalek's (somewhat) fluky thirty-five goal season. It's not the case.

Column One: Together
Column Two: Karlsson apart
Column Three: Teammate apart

Jason Spezza experienced nearly identical output with or without Milan Michalek, although Michalek appeared to be a bit more dependent on Spezza for his overall output.

Note near the bottom of that list the connection between Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. The two didn't play a ton last year together, but when they did, the two were electric. When Spezza was without Alfredsson at even strength, his numbers dipped quite considerably(-.116), and Alfredsson experienced similar regression(-0.74) without the Mississauga native.

The question then becomes whether or not the trade-off -- diminishing output from your 'others' -- is worth it to keep these three players together. Spezza, Alfredsson, and Karlsson were about as imposing as any trio in hockey when grouped together, but MacLean would ultimately have to swallow a poison pill of sorts to make it happen.

Of course, that poison pill wouldn't be nearly as deadly if the previously referenced names -- especially the youngsters -- could effectively feed off of Kyle Turris' wing. Creating an insufferably talented L1/P1 combination while not subtracting from alternative output would be the ideal scenario, but it'd really come down to how many effective weapons Paul MacLean believed he had at his disposal.

Here's another thought, though. Milan Michalek may have been slightly dependent on Jason Spezza last year, but why not bump him down to L2 on Kyle Turris wing? Both are pretty dynamic two-way players, and it would instill at least some semblance of balance. Spezza and Alfredsson could work with a player like Colin Greening or Jakob Silfverberg, and my guess is no matter who filled the role, they'd positively benefit from the quality of teammates around them.

Ottawa may shy away from a Hero Line of sorts, but unifying Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza with Erik Karlsson operating on the blue line may have a measurable effect on the W/L column next season.

Back with more tomorrow.


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