Sochi Olympics 2014: Czech Republic Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of thescore.com.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

Next up: one of Europe’s most enduring hockey powers, the Czech Republic.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of IIHF.

    Cervenka, Roman

  • Elias, Patrik
  • Erat, Martin
  • Frolik, Michael
  • Hanzal, Martin
  • Hemsky, Ales
  • Jagr, Jaromir
  • Krejci, David
  • Michalek, Milan
  • Nedved, Petr
  • Novotny, Jiri
  • Palat, Ondrej
  • Plekanec, Tomas
  • Voracek, Jakub

Defence (8):

  • Barinka, Michal
  • Gudas, Radko
  • Kaberle, Tomas
  • Krajicek, Lukas
  • Michalek, Zbynek
  • Rozsival, Michal
  • Smid, Ladislav
  • Zidlicky, Marek

Goal (3):

  • Kovar, Jakub
  • Pavelec, Ondrej
  • Salak, Alexander

Notable omissions?

Image courtesy of bigstory.ap.org.

The two names on everybody’s lips, particularly after the injury to Vladimir Sobotka, were Jiri Hudler and Radim Vrbata. Hudler has been one of the lone bright spots on a dismal Calgary team, leading the team in points by a wide margin with 43 in 58 games (Mikael Backlund is second with 29). The 30 year old center has had an up and down career, but is certainly one of the more effective Czech forwards in the league, sitting behind only Krejci and Jagr in total points so far this season.

Vrbata meanwhile sits 5th in NHL scoring by Czechs. He is the 4th highest goal scoring Czech forward since 2007 with 135 in 422 games, and 5th in points in the same span.  Even more impressive, his goals-per-game rate is the highest of all Czech players in that time. To put it simply, the guy is one of the best goal scorers the Czechs have at their disposable, and they’re not bringing him, but rather selecting Martin Erat who has 1 goal in 51 games this season. Erat is a good player and brings some nice things to the table, but scoring goals is the most valuable skill in hockey. Perhaps it proves the right decision, but it looks suspect from here.

FORWARDS

Czech Republic Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers. Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to the Czech Republic, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

CZE FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The Czechs bring a highly experienced group, and one of the oldest, to Sochi, most of whom have experienced prolonged periods of success in the NHL.
  • Roman Cervenka wasn’t quite what Calgary hoped he’d be in his short audition last season, but he continues to be a productive player in the KHL and a strong option up the middle.
  • Even in the twilight of his career, Patrik Elias remains a very productive forward for New Jersey, and will provide one of the most experienced and respected voices in the dressing room of this team, with a resume that includes three World Championship Bronze medals, an Olympic Bronze medal and two Stanley Cup wins.
  • Image courtesy of hockeyinsideout.com.

    Joining him is all-time-great Jaromir Jagr, who at 41 has an Olympic Gold medal, an Olympic Bronze medal, a World Cup Bronze medal, two World Championship Bronze medals and two World Championship Gold medals, not to mention two Stanley Cups and is closing in on an incredible 1700 NHL points scored as one of the greatest forwards the world has ever seen.

  • Ales Hemsky was selected despite not being the scorer that he used to be, but he has a long history of quality two-way play against tough opposition, particularly this year as he has more openly accepted a defensive role. He’ll be a versatile option for the coaching staff.
  • David Krejci is one of the Czech Republic’s best offensive options, with 50 points in 57 games so far this season following a dominant playoff performance last year. He’s their gamebreaker, and along with other goal scoring talents such as Milan Michalek and Jakub Voracek should be a force to be reckoned with.
  • The team also boasts some exceptional two-way players; behemoth Martin Hanzal has come into his own this season, Michael Frolik has been a strong defensive player ever since joining the league, and Tomas Plekanec has long been highly regarded for some stellar defensive play.
  • Finally, long-time NHL star Petr Nedved returns to the Olympics after an incredible 20 year absence – he won Silver with the team in Lillehammer ’94.  At 42, he is still a capable scorer in the Czech Extraliga, but one has to wonder whether his footspeed is up to the task of Olympic hockey.
  • This squad has one of the more potent offenses of NHL teams not named Russia, though they still lack a superstar in his prime.  Their two-way talent and experience should serve them well.

Czech Republic Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — some players are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how the Czechs might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

CZE FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Krejci and Jagr are the clear front-line options here, and that makes sense given their offensive capabilities far outstrip the rest of the group.
  • Tomas Plekanec comes away from this looking every bit the trusted and versatile forward Habs’ fans love.
  • Despite the two-way talent, there is a surprising lack of trusted penalty killers in the group, though all but 4 play over a minute per game for their respective NHL clubs, so they are certainly not without the ability.

Czech Republic Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on. The following chart displays this information for the Czech forwards.

CZE FWD - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • Tomas Plekanec is on a planet of his own here. His shot-attempt differential may look bad, but trust me, he’s being run ragged in Montreal taking on the best the NHL can throw at him, and with a sub-40% offensive zone-start.
  • This table provides proof of Hemsky’s two-way usage this season, Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins regularly praising the veteran’s hard work and ability at both ends of the ice. The man is a wizard with the puck and a great skater, so it’s not surprising that he can excel defensively if he puts his mind to it.
  • Jagr and Elias’s zone-start percentage is likely indicative of their NHL teams helping to keep them productive late into their careers.
  • David Krejci may have a red bubble, but remember these stats are relative to their NHL team-mates; Krejci is playing on the same team as Corsi monsters like Eriksson and Bergeron, so will of course look worse when compared to them. He is an offensive player first and foremost, but thanks to his time with the Bruins is likely more well-rounded than he gets credit for.

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

CZE FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The team overall is made up of decent possession players skating mostly for mediocre NHL teams. Put them on a good team such as this and they could likely excel.
  • Ondrej Palat, who has less than a season’s worth of NHL games to his name, looks very good here, a good sign for the future on a team that doesn’t have a great number of future stars coming down the pipeline.

DEFENSE

Czech Republic Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to the Czech Republic team, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL. Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

CZE DEF - STATS

  • Defense is clearly not a major strength for the Czechs. Three of their eight defenders have not seen NHL time this season, and only one plays in the KHL. Of course, two of those three – Kaberle and Krajicek – both have extensive NHL experience.  Kaberle was a perennial All-Star calibre offensive blue-liner for years for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His NHL effectiveness seems to have come to an end, but he’s playing well in the Extraliga this season so far.
  • Michalek and Rozsival both provide veteran defensive consciences, but neither of them are as defensively orientated as Ladi Smid, who at 28 has 514 NHL games to his name but just 67 points. Smid is having a bad season by his standards at both ends of the ice, but is still relatively young, big and is a very good skater. These three combine to form a trio of successful shut-down defenders.
  • Marek Zidlicky continues to chug away even at 37, providing his consistent offensive talents to the tune of 29 points in 58 games so far. He has represented the Czech Republic in six World Championships, winning Gold and Bronze once apiece, and in two Olympic Games, winning a Bronze medal in 2006.
  • This unit, much like the forwards, lacks a dominant offensive contributor.  Zidlicky and Kaberle are the lone true puck-movers and they are approaching the end of their careers. Whether they’ll be able to keep up in this tournament is a big question.

Czech Republic Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice. Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams or the way in which their coach manages their ice time — but it does give some indication as to how the Czechs  might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

CZE DEF - TOI

  • Lukas Krajicek looks great here, being the most trusted and used defender on his KHL team; it’s not the NHL, but it’s still a very good league.
  • Michalek and Smid will be the primary penalty killers, a role that Gudas can also fill and likely Krajicek too. Aside from Zidlicky and Kaberle, there isn’t a whole lot of anything on offense from the blue-line.

Czech Republic Defense Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s use Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts to track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on. The following chart displays this information for the Czech defense.

CZE DEF - PUC

  • Smid, Gudas and Michalek are playing the toughs, and Michalek is looking very good doing so. Place Smid on a good team and it’s likely his number improves significantly.
  • Zidlicky evidently relies upon heavy offensive zone-starts to achieve his point totals, and Rozsival is clearly a depth option with Chicago, receiving extremely sheltered minutes.

The following table displays each blueliner, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

CZE DEF - ADV

  • This is an OK possession team, but it’s tough to really tell as so many of them play on truly mediocre teams.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage. By removing their numbers on the power-play or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.

CZE GOAL - SV%

  • A real area of weakness is in net for the Czechs, who have been looking for a Dom Hasek replacement forever.
  • Pavelec has been well below average during his NHL career, the occasional flash of brilliance or hot streak keeping him employed. Unfortunately for the Czechs, he is still really the best option to start in net.
  • That said, Kovar and Salak have both been brilliant in the KHL the last couple of years, and could well end up taking over the starter’s role pretty quickly should Pavelec falter. I wouldn’t imagine the rope is particularly long with him.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of metronewsca.wordpress.com.

The Czechs are icing a highly experienced group up front with a great range of skills, but are a notch below Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden.  Still, they’ll be able to give them a run for their money, so long as their shakey looking defense and goaltending holds up.  Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Petr Nedved will likely all want to go out on a high, so look for the team to push as hard as they can for a medal position. They should certainly make it out of their group, likely in 2nd behind Sweden, and stand a decent chance of making it to the quarter-finals, with an outside shot at the semis.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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