Friday, November 27, 2009


If I were a rich man

The best news for Lowe is that in lieu of results, Lowe loves excuses so she's got one right off the bat before camp even starts.

The bad news is that run of luck last year with the injuries and such doens't seem to have abated. Of course Lowe made a lot of his own luck by leaving the team so fucking thin with the Pronger and Smyth disasters.

I dunno, anytime you read LT and he's talking about how pivotal a player Sanderson is, well then it's not a good day. But Lowe's contract still hasn't been renewed so maybe if we suck for '08 and that leads to his dismissal, it will be best for all concerned.

That's the inimitable Dennis King, on the 5th day of September, 2007.

I have no idea if Darryl Katz has the management skills, or organizational know-how, or whatever to turn the Edmonton Oilers into a decent hockey organization. I would submit, however, that he misunderestimated what he was getting into when he bought the place. Evidence supports, though does not prove or disprove, the following:
  1. He had an "End Of History" mentality about fan support. As in, it would/will never be an issue again.
  2. He didn't think that this organization needed "managing", in the same way as the rest of his empire.
  3. His financial justification for purchasing was that a (mostly) publicly funded arena was a very sweet deal, and pretty close to a slam dunk.
Kevin Lowe was not one of my boyhood/yuppiehood idols. But if I bought the Oilers (and he didn't have a lengthy record of failure) I would certainly assume that he knew more about assembling a successful hockey team than I do. At the very least, I would know, for a fact, that he knows more about hockey than I do.

So I think what I'd do at that point is this: (1) assure him that he had complete freedom to run his hockey operations in accordance with his own philosophy, and (2) have him explain to me in a fair bit of detail what that philosophy is.

And then (3), which is the key: I'm going to have to sign off on any moves with financial significance. Look, per (1) I have no interest in interfering with your philosophy, Kevin. Just explain how various moves fit in with that philosophy, and I'll sign off. If they do not, I won't.

I'm seriously not trying to be snarky here either. I think I'd give the guy (say) $120k earmarked for two assistants. "I'm a businessman, so I like numbers. Here's salary for two people, to help you provide them. If you like, you can use them exclusively to support your own point of view and defend it to me."

Dunno. Things are changing. The appetite in Edmonton for a tax-subsidized downtown megaplex is waning, without question. While I've met a handful of people in Edmonton who think a downtown arena would be something they'd like, I haven't met one who sees it as a civic imperative. (And I actually know quite a few people who think in these terms.)

I'm probably underestimating Darryl Katz' intelligence, but it sure as hell looks to me like he bought a business that had permanent popularity and was about to win the lottery; now, he actually has to figure out a way to maintain revenue, possibly without the giant novelty cheque. For the Oilers' sake, he'd better show more in the next 2 years than he has in the last 2.


Points v. Scoring

I'm having some problems with my site at the moment - I've got my tech guy (or, if my mother is reading this, my "brother") on it but I had a quick post that I wanted to make, so I thought I'd avail myself of Matt and Andy's hospitality and post it here.

There's been some discussion at Lowetide's site about the EV PTS of the various centremen on the Oilers. Brule is doing quite well with 13 so far, followed by Horcoff and Gagner with 7 apiece and Cogliano with 6. Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of whether or not it's fair to call Brule and Cogliano NHL centres, there's a point about points that I thought was worth making.

One of the goals of a hockey team is to score as many goals as it can. The other goal is to allow as few goals as possible. Goals are the currency of the game. Once a goal is scored, we retrospectively allocate credit for it by assigning the players involved. As David Staples has pointed out when responding to the (vociferous) criticism of his errors system, we only allocate credit for the goals are scored and then draw our inferences about offensive ability or performance from that. It strikes me as fair to say, when looking at only a single season, a person could well be misled.

I figured I'd take a look at this in a couple of different ways. I scraped for the 5v5 information for forwards who played at least 40 games in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which gave me a list of 302 guys. I then took a look to see whether or not points/goal had any repeatability. It certainly doesn't seem too - see the chart at left, although there's a caveat to that, in that it seems to me that a lot of the players who are recognized as "star" players seem to have some repeatability in this department. I suspect a lot of the real goons fall into the same category.

For example, Crosby's been in on 92%, 86% and 84% of Penguins even strength goals during the past three seasons. This makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to me - guys like Crosby, who control the game and have the play flow through them, likely drive the offence to a greater degree than your average player. If you could somehow drop him into an even better league than the NHL, in which he was an average player, presumably his "share" of the offence would fall.

Extrapolating from this idea a bit, I thought I'd take a stab at classifying offensive performance into four groups from 2007-08 based on two values: on-ice shooting percentage and points/goal. The average shooting percentage for my group of players was 8.35% in 2007-08 and they averaged points on 69% of 5v5 goals scored while they were on the ice. I classified the players into four groups +S%/+pts/gl, +S%/-pts/gl, -S%/+pts/gl and -S%/-pts/gl. I'm using "+" to mean above average there and "-" to mean below average. There's a graph at left setting this out.

My theory, to the extent that I have one, is this: offensive numbers drive salaries in the NHL. Most players put up a significant portion of their offence at even strength, which makes sense, as that's where the game is (largely) played. If salary is driven, to an extent, by the events of the most recent season, a general manager trying to make the best use of his salary cap dollars should try and avoid signing players to contracts who are coming off of seasons in which they fell into the +S%/+pts/gl grouping, unless those players have a rather strong record of belonging there. For the record - twenty guys fell into that group in both 2007-08 and 2008-09 - the list is:

Sidney Crosby
Evgeni Malkin
Henrik Sedin
Jason Pominville
Mike Ribeiro
Mike Cammalleri
David Booth
Andy McDonald
Marc Savard
Ales Hemsky
Niklas Hagman
Alex Ovechkin
Pavol Demitra
Joe Thornton
Vincent Lecavalier
Ilya Kovalchuk
Daniel Paille
Jarome Iginla

If you were to screen that list for the guys who don't play very much, you'd end up with a pretty solid list of hockey players, guys about whom the general consensus would be that they drive offensive results.

Here's the key chart - it compares the offensive performance of my four groups between 2007-08 and 2008-09. There's something interesting at work here, I think. Note the difference in point production for the first two groups in 2007-08 and 2008-09 - almost half a point per 60. Most people I know would consider that to be significant. The difference in goal production though, is miniscule - an extra goal every 20 hours, an amount of time virtually no forward will play in the course of a season. In 2008-09, things turned around - the second group, which had the lower pts/gl ratio in 2007-08 outscored the group with the higher ratio that year and saw an extra 5v5 goal scored for every ten hours or so that they were on the ice.

If goals scored was what you cared about, you'd do as well picking guys who had above average on ice shooting percentages on the basis of their on-ice GF as you would their points. The difference in the lower two groups persisted - the -/- group actually fared worse in on-ice goals in 2008-09 than they did in 2007-08, although they closed the gap in terms of points a bit.

What can you take from this? Well, if I was a GM, I'd tread carefully when signing guys coming off seasons in the +/+ quadrant, particularly if they wanted +/+ dollars. Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of examples of these guys in Kevin Lowe's current crop of contracts, most notably in the form of Shawn Horcoff and Robert Nilsson. Patrick O'Sullivan got paid coming off of a +/+ quadrant season as well. I've argued extensively elsewhere that Horcoff is not that badly overpaid but it seems reasonable to expect that Lowe should have known that he was looking to sign Horcoff at the worst time possible from the perspective of maximizing the value from his contract.

The broader question I think, is to do with how we should weight and think about points. Much was made of the offensive talents of the Oilers defenders last year. It was sold as a strength of the team, while the forwards were perceived as disappointments. Tom Gilbert, Sheldon Souray and Denis Grebeshkov were all over 1.18 ESP/60, fantastic numbers for defenders and likely above the 90th percentile. Lubomir Visnovsky was at 0.93 ESP/60, also an excellent number and likely above the 80th percentile for defencemen. While Grebeshkov and Gilbert had impressive GF/60 numbers though (3.26 and 3.02, respectively), Souray and Visnovsky were nothing special (2.50 and 2.64, respectively). The question that comes to mind - and I don't claim to have an answer for this - is whether they really had fantastic seasons at ES or whether the peculiarities of how we credit players for offence somehow assigned too much to those guys, leading us to be impressed by numbers that don't tell us anything.

To bring this back to my initial point, the wonderful thing about baseball statistics is that the components of runs - walks, singles, doubles, triples and homers - are easily tracked. It's harder to do in hockey. We trust that individual statistics accurately reflect the offensive contributions made by a given player but I'm not entirely certain that they do, or, to be more precise, that they can be trusted without slicing the numbers and looking at them in different ways.

Monday, November 23, 2009


A reading from the Book of Kevin

In light of this post by Tyler, and Kevin Smith's visit to Rexall this evening, an excerpt from Champions: The Making of The Edmonton Oilers by Kevin Lowe with Stan and Shirley Fischler.

"The evidence of our youthfulness was everywhere but nowhere more than in the dressing room where the music blared as if it were coming from a disco.

The orchestrators, essentially, were Messier, Lowe and Coffee although many others--Ken Linseman in particular for a short but significant period--produced tapes. A song called 'Jeopardy' was a big hit for some time....

...Certain guys--Glennie, Mess, Wayne, myself, Paul and Semenk--would get outwardly excited about the music. We'd put on 'Jeopardy', which has a real nice beat to it, and all of a sudden everyone would be clapping to the music. It was spontaneous. Guys would be standing around, taping their sticks, adjusting their equipment, doing routine stuff when the music would get going and everyone would start to clap.

Even the guys who one wouldn't figure would get so involved because they were the older guard actually were moved by the music. Fogie, for one, liked rock n' roll although he doesn't look like rock n' roller. It really got him fired up and Randy, the doctor, who some thought was out of place on the team, was the same way."

I particularly like how Lowe refers to himself in both the third and first person on the same page. Andy likes it so much, he has a couple of accompanying videos for everyone.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Trade Phaneuf

I'm not actually down on Dion Phaneuf. He can do things that few other players can do, and by my eye he makes incremental progress in his all-around game and decision-making.

Occasionally I have this dream where he gets dumped by his girlfriend, and is so goddamned mad and frustrated that he goes on an absolute tear: the kind where he becomes the player Pierre McGuire always thought he'd be, and possibly becomes hated by other NW fans for real sins, rather than imagined or trivial ones. But whatever. He's frustrating sometimes, but it's not often that I slap my forehead and say I can't believe we're paying this guy six-point-five mil a year until 2014.

But the facts are facts, and here are the two important ones:

ONE. The Flames need another difference maker at forward. And not just this season, but going forward as well, so it needs to be someone in his prime or just about.

TWO. Phaneuf's role, his wage, and the team's needs no longer align. Here's something I wrote in July 2008 that gets at my point:
I have written before that, while there is no magic formula when it comes to signing free agents, there are pitfalls to be avoided. They include [...] paying for offense from more than one defenseman, which is why I'm pretty skeptical about the Brian Campbell signing by the Hawks. On the one hand, their PP was pretty lousy last year (24th), and they don't presently have a clear #1 point man who can shoot, distribute, etc., so maybe he was a smart acquisition, in the same manner as he was an excellent acquisition by the Sharks last season. On the other hand, Seabrook and/or Barker are supposed to be growing into that role, and they already have a "do-it-all" d-man in Keith. The Campbell contract only makes sense if he provides a huge marginal advantage over the alternatives, and I'm not at all sure that he does. (And this is setting aside the too-long term, and the fact that he looked very ordinary in the playoffs.)

By definition, you can only have one #1 defenseman. You can only have one featured shooting threat on the PP. Most importantly, you can't pay elite wages for depth.

I think the backup G position is important. You want that guy to be solid when your #1 needs a break, and if there's an injury, well, god help you if you're unprepared. But that doesn't mean you go out and sign the best available goalie next July to be your backup, because on balance, you can't afford to devote those resources to that position.

To a lesser extent, this is the situation in Calgary on D. When Darryl Sutter signed Jay Bouwmeester on June 30 to a five-year, $33.4M deal with a NTC, he made the decision that JB would be heading up the blueline for the next 5 years. He can't afford to pay Dion Phaneuf to play the "Jay Bouwmeester" role, because he now has Jay Bouwmeester filling that role.

(Yes, yes, Pronger and Niedermayer won a Cup together... I believe those Ducks also proved that being the toughest, fightingest, penalty-takingest team was the winning formula, which is why the Maple Leafs are leading the Eastern Conference and are prohibitive favourites to win the Stanley.)

I think Darryl Sutter needs to shop Phaneuf for an elite young forward. There might be a few good reasons, but the important one is, It's what's best for the team.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Looks great in jeans, though

Olli Jokinen went the final 13 games of the 08/09 regular season without scoring a goal. He scored twice in the 6-game playoff series against Chicago. And in the first 19 games of this season, he has scored two goals: one was shot from the corner that deflected off Kyle Cumiskey, and one was a dribbler that even Antti Niemi would agree was one of the five worst goals in the league this season. Count 'em up: that's 4 goals in the past 38 games.

He's recording 2.3 shots per game; he averaged 4.2 in his three post-lockout seasons. You notice different things in different games, but on Tuesday against Colorado, his unwillingness to shoot the puck was glaring; he didn't pass up prime scoring chances, but he certainly passed up some open lanes to the net.

Robert Cleave made a good point the other day that, like it or lump it, Jokinen is here for the duration. And I wasn't going to keep banging the Olli Sucks drum, but, this annoyed me:
"I think I have seven or eight times I hit the post so far this year, if half of those would’ve gone in, nobody would be questioning anything," he said following this morning’s skate.

While I appreciate that he's been a bit unlucky, that statement is not true, and I really hope he doesn't think it is. The gap between (A) the expected performance of a $5.5M/yr "#1 centre" (acquired for a steep price) playing next to Jarome Iginla and (B) Jokinen's performance to date this season is a lot wider than that.

Go Flames.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Sounds about right

"...we spent about five years lambasting the organization at almost every turn, and I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that there was some hostility on both sides towards the others. We were fans of the team, but not of the organization, and they weren’t big fans of us either. There were times when it became clear that rooting for the team to fail was our best option, because things weren’t getting better without hitting rock bottom.

They hit rock bottom in 2008. And things have gotten significantly better since then, and not just in the decision making that goes into putting the roster together..."

--USS Mariner

Still waiting on that whole "getting better" thing, but otherwise, this is pretty spot-on.

Glove tap to Avi for the link.

Friday, November 13, 2009


The Return of Friday

**The trapezoid was back in the news again, and the usual Devils/Stars fans were agitating for its removal. (As well as some new people who have decided that, as a means of reducing boarding, it makes more sense that penalizing boarding more harshly.) I was chatting with Cosh about this nearly 3 years ago, and he nailed it IMO:
me: I find the whole "why should one of Goalie X's skills be neutralized by some rule?" to be very uncompelling.
Colby: It's not a bad question to ask, but when the obvious answer is "Because X's skill really has nothing to do with the essence of the game and isn't any fun to watch", why bother asking.

**Also on the GMs: what's interesting to me is not so much the fact of the change (or "softening") of position on head hits, but rather the way the change was framed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if George McPhee really thinks the NHL rulebook can be employed with this kind of surgical precision...
“The only issue I have is when the player is vulnerable, there is a blindside hit and the only contact is made to the player’s head. [...] If there are three or four of those a year, maybe we can attack and eliminate a lot of them.”

...he's just dreaming. As I wrote a couple of autumns ago, in the course of getting rid of some unwanted physical play, you're going to end up eliminating some wanted physical play. If someone (besides Bob McKenzie) wanted to be grown up about it, they could just be frank: there will be a bit of a tradeoff, but it's the right decision. Which, it is.

**My favourite contribution to #unpublishedNHLbooks on Twitter yesterday (I'm @FenwickMatt btw) was, "Now I Can Die In Peace", by Tom Benjamin. Nothing personal Tom, I just went for the most well-known Canucks fan I could think of (and thought using Jim Hughson or Michael Buble would confuse the gag).

**There is no way no spin Olli Jokinen's awful performance this season in a positive way. I'm changing my assessment of him from "Bad player with a good shot" to "Bad player with a hard shot".

** This month's Post I Wish I Had Written: Kent's appreciation of Craig Conroy. I second every word.

**Pleasant surprise of the season: Kipper. If he's back as a Top 10-15 NHL goalie, that mitigates a lot of other worries.

**Flames @ Slugs tonight. They haven't won in Buffalo in 13 years, so I think I'll just cheer for no one to get injured. Go Flames.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Don't know, but if, then totally

"And while it's far too early to know whether Darryl Katz's dream-arena plan will go ahead, if it does come to pass, it will be vital to have an LRT line running straight from West Edmonton Mall to the new arena site."
--Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal

Um, okay, I have a question. Why? Why is a straight line from WEM to The Katz & LaForge World-Class Wonder Emporium™ "vital?" I mean, vital is a pretty serious word. Synonyms include "essential," "paramount," and "imperative." So when I see a journalist suggesting that level of importance to a public transit line running from a mall to a hockey rink-- a hockey rink that doesn't even exist, and if it does, with all its apparent city-healing powers, will likely cost taxpayers so much money that it will prevent some of those very same public transit lines from being built--I have to ask, really? It's that important? That crucial? So important that to think otherwise is unfathomable? Why? Because we'll need to get people from one big casino to another? Because people will be pissed if they can't get from Bootlegger to box seat in under twenty minutes? Oh! Oh! Is it because doing so will rejuvenate, rehab, renew, restore, refresh, refurbish, regenerate, reinvigorate, revitalize, and revivify the downtown core, transforming Edmonton into a shiny, shimmering, utopian metropolis ? Is this the case? It is, right? Okay, then. If you say so.

I'm agnostic about a line going to WEM. If it's the best place to end or anchor the line, so be it. But I'm pretty certain that building a straight line from there to a new arena isn't the best course of action. And it's definitely not vital. For one, the arena doesn't exist. Second, it never should, if it means taxpayers have to foot the bill. Third, as Patrick LaForge has noted, there will only be 90 hockey events there every year. Even if you scatter in another 75-100 events throughout the year (and I am being generous), the reality is that the "anchor tenant" (I'm assuming the full-blown Wonder Emporium™ will be the course of action, because it's the best way to trick people into supporting the public funding model) will be full less than half a year, every year, and even then only for a few hours at a time. Why would you build a straight line to a destination that, in the grand scheme of things, no one goes to? Because there'll also (supposedly) be a casino, some shops and some housing around it? There's lots of places like that (shockingly, they didn't need an adjacent arena and public funding to get built). Are we going to say it's vitally important to build straight lines to all those places, too?

Listen, I'm all for more public transit. And I'm all for public transit that takes people where they actually need to go. As with most cities, getting people in and out of our downtown core in an efficient, expedient and environmentally-friendly manner makes sense. Heck, it's important. What isn't important, however, especially not vitally important, is getting that public transit line to go straight from a mall to a proposed hockey arena, particularly when it's motivated by the unsubstantiated and therefore misguided belief that doing so will revitalize or save a section of our city. This simply will not happen. An LRT line will move people from place A to place B. You want each place to be an optimal destination. A new, publicly funded hockey arena will make Daryl Katz even more wealthy than he already is. You'll probably think it's cool. If those are your points, or your goals, then great. But let's just leave it at that, and save the vitally important words for the vitally important matters.


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