Sochi Olympics 2014: Slovakia Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Olympic Tournament in Sochi may be nearing it’s climactic finale, and the Slovaks may have fallen by the wayside, but we at Ice Nation UK are still dedicated to bringing you the analysis we promised.  Better late than never!

The World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams 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: a long-time hockey power going through a difficult period, Slovakia.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of lastwordonsports.com.

    Milan Bartovic

  • Michal Handzus
  • Marcel Hossa
  • Marian Hossa
  • Tomas Jurco
  • Tomas Kopecky
  • Tomas Marcinko
  • Michel Miklik
  • Peter Ölvecky
  • Richard Panik
  • Branko Radivojevic
  • Tomas Surovy
  • Tomas Tatar
  • Tomas Zaborsky

Defence (8):

  • Ivan Baranka
  • Zdeno Chara
  • Milan Jurcina
  • Martin Marincin
  • Andrej Meszaros
  • Andrej Sekera
  • Tomas Starosta
  • Rene Vydareny

Goal (3):

  • Peter Budaj
  • Jaroslav Halak
  • Jan Laco

Notable omissions?

Image courtesy of nhlsnipers.com.

Marian Gaborik is the big loss here, the scoring star still recovering from a broken collarbone suffered back in December.  The 32 year old has been one of Slovakia’s most potent offensive weapons since his junior days back in 1998, but even before his injury he has been out of form since the lockout ended last year, scoring just 17 goals and 39 points in his previous 65 NHL games (a 0.6 points per game rate).  This is a sharp drop from his pre-2012 PPG rate of 0.89.  Still, he remains an experienced and highly skilled player with the potential still to be lethal, and his loss leaves the Slovaks with very little in the way of elite offensive talent.

On defence, Lubomir Visnovsky leaves a big hole despite his age (37).  The NY Islanders prevented him from attending the Olympics – with Visnovsky’s full cooperation – due to ongoing injury concerns.  The veteran puck-mover has been a brilliant offensive player for club and country for a long time – dating back to before Slovakia’s glory days – and is also an underrated defensive player.

Also gone are Michal Sersen, a 28 year old defender playing for Bratislava of the KHL suffered a lower body injury before the tournament, and Dominik Granak of Dynamo Moscow who broke his ankle at the end of January.  Both are offensively minded players with plenty of experience, so the Slovaks are suffering major setbacks on their typically strong blueline.

FORWARDS

Slovakia 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 Slovakia, 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.

SVK FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • One of the oldest groups of forwards in the tournament, with only four current full-time NHLers in the lineup the Slovaks are at a clear disadvantage compared to the top tier of teams at Sochi.
  • Michal Handzus has lost a step as a player, the 6’5″ behemoth starting to slow down after a decent career, though he’s still an OK depth center for the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. His offense is certainly not what it used to be – and it was rarely better than average in the NHL – but should still offer experience and defensive capability to the team.
  • Marian Hossa, even at 35, remains one of the most brilliant players in the NHL, being a dominant two-way force still capable of racking up the numbers. A winner of two Stanley Cups, and with Gaborik out, he’ll be leading the way for the Slovaks.
  • Tomas Kopecky is like a younger Handzus: a defensive specialist with slowly disappearing offense. Also like Handzus and his other former Blackhawk team-mate, he is a recent Stanley Cup Champion, so offers that experience to the team.
  • On the younger end of the scale, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco have been very good in the Detroit Red Wings’ system, both in the minors and in the NHL. They likely represent Slovakia’s future up front and couldn’t be taught by a better team, but they are still young and somewhat raw.
  • They are joined by Richard Panik, another young forward shaping up to be a decent secondary scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning. This will be his first senior international tournament, but could be relied upon fairly heavily.
  • The rest of the team, not in the NHL, is mostly formed from forwards who are average offensive performers in various European leagues ranging from the KHL to the Slovak league. Not a promising outlook for this group.

Slovakia 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 — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how Slovakia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SVK FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Among the Slovak NHLers, only Marian Hossa gives the impression of being used as a top-6 forward – he’d likely see more time if not hidden behind the likes of Toews, Kane and Sharp, but nonetheless he sees plenty of ice time and makes the most of it.
  • Hossa, Handzus and Kopecky are all experienced PKers, and all but Handzus play significant PP minutes which is encouraging. At even strength though, there clearly isn’t much trust or desire to use them more by the coaches.
  • Marcel Hossa and Michel Miklik are evidently important contributors to their KHL teams, logging the second-most minutes overall of any of their other team-mates. Marcel’s previous NHL experience also serves him well in terms of trust by the coach.

Slovakia Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Finally, 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 Slovakia forwards.

SVK 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.
  • Tatar and Jurco are extremely sheltered by the Wings, being handed easy competition and even easier zone-starts in order to ease them into the league and maximise their skills. To be fair, the two are making the most of it, handily creating more shot attempts than they concede.
  • Marian Hossa also receives a big zone start push, and absolutely dominates as a result, even though he takes on tougher competition. A beauty of a player.
  • Panik seems to be struggling somewhat against above average competition, likely having too much responsibility chucked his way too early. Still, one thinks that for Slovakia he will end up as one of the team’s more effective players.

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.

SVK FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Overall this is a very, very good looking possession group. However, it is definitely worth noting that four of the six NHLers listed play on very good possession teams (Chicago and Detroit). When playing for a less defensively strong team such as Slovakia, it’ll be interesting to see if those guys are affected.

DEFENSE

Slovakia Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Slovakia, 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.

SVK DEF - STATS

 

  • What was considered the major strength of the Slovaks is now significantly weakened by the losses of Visnovsky, Sersen and Granak. Still, they possess one of the greatest and most intimidating defenders of the current generation of NHLers in Chara, a physical specimen of epic proportions with exceptional abilities at both ends of the ice.
  • He’s not quite the player he was a couple of years back, but he is still the heart and soul of both his club and his country and a brilliant player. His power-play quarterbacking abilities will prove vital to the success of this team, his booming shot sure to be a regular sight.
  • Martin Marincin was a surprise inclusion in the squad, but he’s earned the opportunity. Looking to follow in Chara’s footsteps as a big two-way standout on the blueline, Marincin has made fantastic progress through the AHL with Oklahoma and has played remarkably well since joining the Edmonton Oilers, regularly playing top pairing minutes. He isn’t posting offensive numbers yet, but his resume suggests that will come. One to watch for sure.
  • Andrejs’ Sekera and Meszaros are both very effective rearguards for Carolina and Philadelphia respectively, posting decent offense year to year. Sekera in particular is enjoying a breakout season from this standpoint, and along with his fearsome physical play could be a big factor in any Slovak success.
  • Milan Jurcina has fairly recent NHL experience totalling 430 games. He’s likely back in Europe for good. He doesn’t provide much offense, but has the big league experience to form part of a good bottom pairing.
  • The losses of Sersen, Granak and Visnovsky really will be felt, their replacements not bringing much offensively to the table at all. Getting the puck to the forwards could be an issue.

Slovakia 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 Slovakia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SVK DEF - TOI

  • The defenders in the NHL are highly trusted players, occupying key top-pairing slots in at least one discipline – Marincin’s numbers have been trending higher and higher as his NHL call-up continues.
  • Sekera and Chara in particular are very useful players, and could either form a brilliant top pairing or split to anchor two very effective pairings, which might be the wiser choice.

Slovakia 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 Slovak defense.

SVK DEF - PUC

 

  • All these guys are effective possession players, Chara obviously standing out as completely dominant even though he plays very tough competition and with sub-50% offensive zone-starts.
  • Marincin is one of the only players on the Oilers with anything even close to a positive Corsi, a remarkable feat on such a bad team, and his zone-starts are horrendous for a rookie. Coach Dallas Eakins clearly is putting a lot of faith in the rookie; it’ll be interesting to see if the Slovaks utilise him in a similar manner.

The following table displays each blue-liner, 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.

SVK DEF - ADV

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.

SVK GOAL - SV%

 

  • Jaroslav Halak has overall been a very good goalie for the Blues, when healthy. He splits time a lot with Brian Elliott, but this season has proven himself a capable starter, and is not too far removed from winning the William Jennings Trophy for least goals allowed in a season. He does play behind a very strong St Louis squad though, and he’ll have to be on his toes behind a weaker Slovak team.
  • Peter Budaj has been a decent NHL backup for several years, and should be a capable backup for Halak, though they won’t likely want to rely on him too much.
  • Laco is enjoying an exceptional season with Donbass of the KHL, and could very well see playing time if Halak stutters thanks to decent numbers in a number of leagues, plus past international experience.

CONCLUSION / REVIEW

Image courtesy of NBC.

This tournament did not go the way anyone saw it going for the Slovaks. Kicking off with a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the USA, they followed that up with a shock 3-1 loss to Olympic newcomers Slovenia. They put in a better overall showing against Russia in their final group game, but eventually fell 1-0. The lack of offense on the roster turned out to be their undoing.

In their last game of the tournament, in the qualification playoff they faced rivals Czech Republic. Falling behind 4-0, they finally managed to muster some offense as they fought back to make it a one-goal game, but it was too little too late as the Czechs put the game away 5-3.

Slovakian hockey has been on a downward spiral for years now, with fewer and fewer players reaching a high standard – reportedly thanks to a poor development system – and it’s really starting to hurt their international reputation as a hockey power. There is talent there, but the country’s hockey authorities must act now to recover from a frankly embarrassing tournament showing.

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