It's no secret that the most consistently large albatross around the neck of the Blue Jackets over the past half decade has been the Power Play. In the past five seasons, the Jackets have had the following ranks in Power Play goals, and in conversion percentage:
10-11: 42 PPG (27th), 14.0% (29th)
09-10: 56 PPG (12th), 18.2% (14th)
08-09: 41 PPG (30th), 12.7% (30th)
07-08: 53 PPG (t24th), 14.8% (26th)
06-07: 65 PPG (t23rd), 14.8% (26th)
The one outlier in terms of rank was '09-'10, and even in that season their goal total was not that much higher than two previous years in which they were in the bottom seven or eight in the league. Overall over these past five seasons, the Jackets are 257-for-1726, or a conversion rate of 14.9%. That's just not good enough.
Obviously this off-season and its moves have huge implications for the team's overall success, but I wanted to take a look at this one specific area. Many of the moves made for the good of the team will also have a potentially huge impact on the maligned Power Play. Let's take a look at some moves, and some numbers. Yea, numbers!
The first big move to help the Power Play was bringing in Todd Richards as an assistant coach. He was obviously hired for more than just that reason (I mean, he has NHL head coaching experience, and all), but that's clearly an extra bonus to his hiring. In two years in Minnesota, the Wild went a combined 112-for-600, or a conversion rate of 18.7%, and let's be honest: the offensive lineups on those teams don't exactly conjure images of the Red Wings, Sharks, or Canucks.
Richards was also the assistant for the San Jose Sharks in 2008-2009 who was tasked with coordinating their Power Play. That was a team loaded with talent, and their Power Play reflected it by going 87-for-360, or a conversion rate of 24.2%.
While I think that, with the talent added this year to the Power Play's top unit in Columbus, that 18.7% number is still lower than where I would like to see the Jackets, it would obviously be an improvement. The Sharks' number is a bit high to expect given that the guys on the Jackets' new-look PP unit haven't played together, but let's say the goal could be realistically set in the middle: 199-for-960, or 20.7%.
So, from the "Todd Richards" angle, let's set a goal for the Jackets at 20% conversion. Now... how do the Jackets get there?
Losses to the Unit
The Jackets scored 42 Power Play goals in 2010-2011, and through the losses via trades and free agency, the team lost just six of those goals: Chris Clark (2), Jakub Voracek (2), Anton Stralman (1), and Tom Sestito (1). At first glance, that doesn't seem like too big a loss on the Power Play.
Additions to the Unit
Here's where the excitement comes from, at least in terms of the players added. So, the Jackets lost six goals from their anemic PP totals? How about adding 18, just through four players? Jeff Carter (8), James Wisniewski (7), Vinny Prospal (2), and Radek Martinek (1) all have experience on the Power Play. It's important to note, also, that Prospal's total is low because of the fact that he played in just 29 games for the Rangers last season. In his three previous seasons, he averaged 79 games and almost eight Power Play goals per season. So, if you want to take that leap, the Jackets are losing six Power Play goals, and gaining 24, or +18.
[update] In re-reading this, I left out another element I wanted to touch on. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ryan Johansen getting some run on the second Power Play unit, as well. Let's not forget that he scored 10 of his 40 regular season goals in Portland last season on the man advantage, as well as three of his 13 post-season goals. That doesn't translate one-to-one into the NHL, but it's a stat worth noting, at least.
Add 18 goals to their total last season. While we can't speculate on the conversion rate, an extra 18 goals would have given them 60, which would have moved them up from 27th to 8th in the league. JACKPOT!
So, we've managed to set some parameters for the Jackets' Power Play this coming season. Over the past five seasons, the Jackets have averaged just a hair over 345 Power Play chances per season. Let's use that as our number.
If we decide that 20% is our stated goal of conversion, that would give the Jackets 69 goals. That's quite a bump up, but when you look at the raw numbers of the players who will be joining the unit and combine that with Todd Richards' experience at running a Power Play unit, these numbers aren't unrealistic.
At the end of the day, this gives us some variables and parameters for predicting where the 2011-2012 Power Play might come out. I'm going to use all of those, and go with:
2011-2012 Power Play: 66-for-345, 19.1% - 9th in the NHL
That's a pretty big mahtzah ball to have hanging out there. But, if we can add that kind of Power Play production, what kind of an impact does that have on the Jackets' overall scoring? It's no secret that the defense and goals-allowed are still the biggest question mark on this team going into the season, so if there is improvement to be had in the standings it's most likely going to come primarily from scoring more goals. What better place to start than on the Power Play?
In 2010-2011, Columbus scored 210 goals, or 2.56 goals per game. This was good enough for 24th in the NHL. Conversely, they allowed 250 goals. Not good times.
Looking just at these Power Play projections, my "expectations" above provide an addition of 24 goals. This would have put Columbus at 234, or 2.85 goals per game. Those total goals AND gpg numbers would have been 12th in the NHL. And that doesn't even factor an increase in 5-on-5 offense.
So, when you break it down like this, you can really get a sense of just how important the Power Play can be. If we're making the assumption that the defense and goaltending are just as bad as last season, improvement in the Power Play unit alone can mitigate a small portion of that; in our simulation here we've cut the Jackets' goal-differential average from -.49 to -.20, just from a legitimate Power Play unit. And in addition to not including any 5-on-5 offensive improvement, this doesn't factor in any potential shoring up of the defense and goaltending--the latter of which has its own set of new faces and expectations for another discussion on another day.
Todd Richards has his work cut out for him to actually improve the PP unit when the skates finally hit the ice, for sure. But, when we look at the new additions to the roster and combine them with Richards' own experience scheming Power Play units, it's not outside the realm of possibility to have a impactful--dare I say, downright dangerous--Power Play unit in Columbus this coming season. And that would be a great tool for getting the overall ship turned in the right direction.