Thursday, April 9, 2015

Agree to Disagree: Analysis of Texas Media's AHL All-Star Ballot

Andy Miele (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the All-Star Team.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from yesterday: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.


Goaltenders
  1. Matt Murray, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
  2. Jacob Markstrom, Utica Comets
  3. Mike McKenna, Portland Pirates
Sean: People often joke about players posting video game numbers. That would almost be a disservice to Murray, whose stat line is better than anything you’d ever see in NHL 15.

Murray is averaging a shutout every 3.16 starts, and his save percentage and goals against average are easily tops in the league. Like the all-rookie team yesterday, he was one of the obvious choices.

Markstrom certainly deserved the second-team nod. Before Murray took over the reigns as the AHL’s shutout king, Markstom had a trio of clean sheets in October and allowed two goals or less in 21 of his 28 starts.

Mike McKenna was third on our ballot after posting a .927 and 2.23 goals against average in 48 games, making him one of the busiest goalies in the league. He also has Portland, a low-scoring team, in the playoff hunt.

We considered a couple other goalies for the third spot as well. But McKenna’s play, combined with his leadership role off the ice in Portland, made it an easy decision. He’s also one of the all-around good guys in the AHL (which I just felt like we should add in this commentary).

Defensemen
  1. Bobby Sanguenetti, Utica Comets
  2. TJ Brennan, Toronto Marlies
  3. Brad Hunt, Oklahoma City Barons
  4. Stefan Elliot, Lake Erie Monsters
  5. Nathan Paetsch, Grand Rapids Griffins
  6. Brent Regner, Chicago Wolves
Sean: When it comes to defensemen, let’s start with a player we intentionally left off our ballot: Binghamton’s Chris Wideman.

While Wideman had an eye-popping 54 points from the blue line, he’s not a very good defensive defenseman. Theoretically, we’re picking the best all-round player at each position, not the guy who scores the most points. That’s why Wideman didn’t make it onto our ballot.

Bobby Sanguinetti, however, was impressive on both ends of the ice -- both statistically (plus 22 and 38 points) and he passed our eye test with flying colors. Sanguinetti was also a defensive anchor on a team that allowed just 2.35 goals per game, and he’s a reason Utica is a favorite in the Western Conference.

T.J. Brennan was the AHL’s Defenseman of the Year last season, and he was one of the league’s top blueliners this season playing for two different teams (the Rockford IceHogs and Toronto Marlies). In Texas, we also have expanded knowledge on Brennan after watching him in Western Conference Finals last season.

Brad Hunt was a Second-Team All-Star last season, and like Brennan, built on that season and carried his play into 2014-15. Hunt is the perfect defenseman for a team like Oklahoma City (when they aren’t on a major losing skid). He pushes the play, knows when to jump into the offensive zone, tracks back well when needed, and could quarterback any power play in the AHL.

When we sat down to fill out our ballot I already had Stefan Elliot pencilled in. In games against Texas, I always felt like the right-handed defenseman was Lake Erie’s best player and he could take control of the game in both the offensive and defensive zones. He was also asked to do more this season on a Lake Erie team that doesn’t have many offensive stars (aside from Andrew Agozzino). Elliott also plays a physical, yet clean game, evidenced by his 20 penalty minutes.

On a very good team, Nathan Paetsch is the type of player you don’t notice until the second or third period -- and it’s for good reason. He’s not overly flashy, or exciting, but after 40 minutes of hockey you take a look and realize, “Hey, nobody has been able to skate past number four this evening.”

Brent Regner’s inclusion on our ballot comes from the same line of reasoning as Paetsch. In hockey, good defensive teams win, and Regner could help patch defensive holes on most AHL blue lines. Regner was the best defenseman on a very good Chicago team, and he contribute offensively with 28 points.

Left Wing
  1. Andrew Agozzino, Lake Erie Monsters
  2. Connor Brickley, San Antonio Rampage
  3. Joe Whitney, Albany Devils
Stephen: Left wing is the only position where we didn’t get any players off our ballot into the winners’ circle. It’s a pretty tough position to pick for, honestly. One thing to understand about the All-Star voting rules is that you must select players for their correct positions as listed on theahl.com. That means that players like Greg Rallo, who mostly play wing but are listed at center, aren’t eligible for the left wing award.

It’s a pretty shallow group of true ‘left wingers’ this season. For reference, there were just three LWs in the top 20 of league scoring this year. With that in mind, we selected Andrew Agozzino as our first pick. He was an undrafted kid out of major junior and has led his club, the Monsters, in scoring for the past three years by a wide margin. He’s an undersized forward, but we like what we saw from him in the few games Texas played against Lake Erie.

As we expanded on yesterday, Connor Brickley did all the little things right for San Antonio in his first year in the league and had points to back it up as well. Seeing him 12 times this year helps the eye test as well for us.

The final spot on the ballot went to mid-season All-Star Joe Whitney. It’s tough to pick a player out of the East since we haven’t seen him, but his numbers are solid. It could be argued that, if we were allowed, we would have voted for Brendan Ranford or Derek Hulak in this final space.

Center
  1. Andy Miele, Grand Rapids Griffins
  2. Jordan Weal, Manchester Monarchs
  3. Charles Hudon, Hamilton Bulldogs
Stephen: I certainly hope that everyone in the league (except Grand Rapids) had Andy Miele on their ballot for this award. When we sat down to do ours, we wrote down two names without even checking the stats: Murray and Miele. What he’s been able to do for Grand Rapids and the play that that team has had over the past few months is impressive. He’s a point-per-game player, and you might argue he’s the next Travis Morin of the Western Conference.

Jordan Weal’s numbers out East were too good to ignore. He was nearly a point-per-game and had 8 PPGs and 6 GWGs. Manchester is going to be a juggernaut out East in the postseason (as long as they don’t give up home ice advantage again and lose to a hot goalie…).

Charles Hudon made it onto our ballot as a rookie just because of what he’s been able to do in his first year. We talked more about him yesterday and all the same points are valid here as well.

We considered former Texas Star Dustin Jeffrey in the last spot as well, but it was tough to justify in spite of his numbers. The center was moved to Bridgeport at the deadline and continued his excellent play. However, Utica’s play since he left shows that it’s a game of interchangeable parts in upstate New York this season.

Right Wing
  1. Teemu Pulkkinen, Grand Rapids Griffins
  2. Brian O’Neill, Manchester Monarchs
  3. Andrew Miller, Oklahoma City Barons
Stephen: This is another one that was almost automatic. The only hesitation we had about Pulkkinen at #1 was his number of games played. Grand Rapids only saw him for 46 games this season, but he had 61 points in those games. He wasn’t just a point-per-game player; he was almost a goal-per-game player. When you look at that, it’s an obvious first choice.

Brian O’Neill’s numbers out East were much the same as Jordan Weal’s: too good to ignore. Weal and O’Neill play on the same line in Manchester, so they are each a product of each other’s success. However, a talented playmaker doesn’t collect many assists without a goal scorer to finish (and vice versa), so here he is on our ballot.

The last spot on the ballot was a toss-up between two clubs that Texas saw a lot. OKC’s Andrew Miller ended up squeaking out the victory over San Antonio’s Bobby Butler. In the end, we felt that Miller was a better all-around player than Butler, despite Butler’s slightly superior numbers. You’ll have to also remember that Butler and Miller were only separated by one point at the time of voting (57-56), and Miller had collected his 56 in seven fewer games.

Tomorrow's ballot will be the Fred T. Hunt Award...

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