Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Battle Game Day: Game Day Edition

Flames @ Oilers, 7PM MT, RSN West. The game itself looks to be a bit anti-climactic, what with the big news today that new Oiler GM T-Bone has claimed Steve MacIntyre off of waivers from Florida.

Nothing from either team's website yet about lineups. I love surprises! Go Flames.

INSTANT UPDATE! I slouch corrected: Kent has the lineups via Rob Kerr. What are the odds we see Andre Roy vs. Lefebvre? 99%? Higher?


Yet another thing riding on #34...

Along the way during the draft I’d delete the lines for players drafted, which allowed my ranking system to dynamically reflect the changing nature of the available talent remaining. At times it became apparent that only a few relatively elite performers remained in a given position, and that helped inform my choices during the middle rounds.

So yeah, there's the one paragraph explanation of why I won't be winning Mirtle's hockey pool this season. I had my usual draft: thrilled with the early parts, then lost the ability (or perhaps, will) to select the best player available about halfway through, and it ended up being a bit of a monkey show.

In an 18-man draft, I had the coveted/dreaded corner spot at the far end -- #18. The upside of this spot is that you just take the guys you have targeted, and don't concern yourself too much with whether it's 15 picks early, because Hey! -- there are 34 picks before it comes back to you. The downside -- apart from picking 18th in the first round -- is that it's a bit too tempting to reach for guys; "I have two picks, I can afford to gamble with one of them!". Here's how it went:

Last pick of 1st/First pick of 2nd: Kipper and Lidstrom. Kipper could return to his spot as the #1 fantasy goalie this season, Lidstrom will have points, ST points, +/-, everything except the PIM. One of the few elite D-men (PS Phaneuf was already gone).

L3/F4: Paul Stastny and Nicklas Backstrom. With an anchor goalie and d-man on board, it was time to try to load up on forwards. Here's two guys who could quite conceivably finish Top 10 in scoring this season. Backstrom's value is somewhat contingent on how much he plays with Ovechkin, but he was a 4th overall pick and is probably near the point where he'll produce regardless.

L5/F6: Alex Tanguay and Martin Havlat. Don't suppose I need to explain why I like Tanguay for the umpteenth time. As for Havlat, his health is a gamble, but he's a superstar when healthy.

L7/F8: Niklas Kronwall and Sam Gagner. When two of the scoring categories are Shots and +/-, Red Wings d-men seem like a good bet. I went too early with Gagner, somehow not realizing that Horcoff was still on the board.

L9/F10: Jason Blake and Kari Lehtonen. Blake is due to bounce back in the offensive categories, I think. He was, what, 3rd in the league in SOG last season? Lehtonen was the last undisputed starting G on the board, and had a surprisingly decent .916 SV% last season.

L11/F12: Mark Giordano and Jason Williams. I wanted Gio, so I took him. Williams seemed like the last decent bet for 25 goals on the board.

L13/F14: Matthew Lombardi and Mats Sundin. I always pick Lombo; wouldn't want to be left behind if this is finally the year he busts out some impressive counting stats. Sundin or Havlat figures to be my steal of the draft.

L15/F16: Jaroslav Halak and M-A Bergeron. There's a non-trivial chance that Halak will be the #1 G on one of the best teams in the league by mid-autumn. I'm guessing MAB's icetime will be massively torqued by Lemaire to the direct benefit of his stats (lots of O-zone faceoffs, PP time, shifts against 3rd/4th liners). Either that or he'll be a healthy scratch.

L17/F18: David Moss and Curtis Glencross. Moss I wanted, I remain convinced that he's going to play an important role this season. Glencross (god love him) was a panic pick, I just could not find anyone I wanted scrolling through the board. I just dropped him for Richard Zednik. No offense GlenX!

L19/F20: Denis Grebeshkov and Tomas Fleischmann. I needed a 5th d-man... perusing the FA wire, I see a couple of guys I probably want more. Last pick was between Fleischmann and a C who shall remain nameless for now; I needed the depth on the wing more.

Prognosis: same as usual. A regular season placing somewhere in the mid-to-high single digits, followed by a loss in the quarters or semis. Good times! More chitchat about this same league here and here.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Battle Game Day: Tale of the Tape

It's a day early, but what the heck: let's start fighting now.









I don't know if the Flames depth chart is exactly right, as they don't have a funky depth chart page like the Oilers do (suck it, Flames IT guys!), and I'm usually blinded by drunken rage when I watch them, but you get the idea. These aren't going to be the lineups when these two teams face each other Tuesday night (7 p.m. MST, no TV*), but the question is, which team would you prefer to start the season with? I know I feel comfortable matching any of the Oilers four offensive lines against the Flames four offensive lines. Even on defence I feel comfortable, as the Flames have two guys who can play and four guys who are just okay. In goal the Flames have the advantage, but by how much, and for how long? I have to say, I look at these lineups, and I feel pretty damn good. You?


* the game is actually on Sportsnet West at 7 p.m. MST. Thanks to the anonymous commenter for letting us know.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Wells's Second Rule

I swore off politics a few years ago, but I still read a limited selection of blogs about it, just to keep a very rough handle on what I'm "missing". One of those is Inkless Wells, Paul Wells' (mostly) political meanderings at macleans.ca.

Wells's Second Rule of Politics holds that if everyone in Ottawa knows something, it isn't true. His brevity oversimplifies his concept only slightly: it's not intended to apply to the way things exist today, based on plenty of evidence (e.g. the earth is round, the Red Wings are excellent), but rather the conventional wisdom about things that are going to happen, and why.

Anyway, I think this notion is applicable well beyond politics. You'll certainly notice that in NHL season previews, there is a rather astounding level of unanimity amongst the pundits (dead-tree, tee-vee, and interweb alike) on virtually all topics. Which teams are likely to be better, and worse; which teams are poised to breakout, and which are due to fall back; which were the best free-agent signings, and the worst; etc.

So: where do you think Wells's Second Rule applies in the realm of NHL hockey? Here's your chance to look really smart in three or six or eight months. My contribution:

Absolutely every take on the NW Division I have heard or read in the past two months has been a narrow variation on this: it'll be noticeably weaker as a whole, but just as competitive. I don't buy it. There are too many reasons why all five teams should still be really quite good. Beyond that, I think this is the year that one team separates from the pack early-ish, and then stretches out their lead all season and plays around in the Wings' neighbourhood.

Floor's open.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


There's a reason there are more no-hitters pitched in September

Here's all you really need to know about tonight's Coyotes-Flames preseason game in Calgary:
Head Coach Wayne Gretzky joked with reporters after Thursday’s morning skate that the team on this two-game trip is so young that the Coyotes had to spend hours gathering parental consent forms before the team could leave the U.S. Tonight’s lineup is extremely young and inexperienced. Of the 22 players on tonight's roster, 10 have never played in an NHL regular-season game.

Jeff Hoggan-Kevin Porter-Viktor Tikhonov
Alex Bourret-Mike Zigomanis-Steven Goertzen
Daniel Carcillo-Garth Murray-Enver Lisin
Chad Kolarik-Dave Spina-Brian McGrattan

Jonas Ahnelov-Michael Stone
Kurt Sauer-David Hale
Logan Stephenson-Drew Fata

G Mikael Tellqvist expected to play the full game

The Flames are giving quite a few young guys a crack too, but are at least dressing two NHL forward lines and two NHL defense pairings. Good for Backlund or Bertuzzi if they go off, but let's not get too excited.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Flames 3, Coyotes 2, Confirmation Bias 19

Calgary's win over Phoenix tonight was televised on RSN West, and I caught a goodly bit.

**Boyd really is on fire. In their first two games, the Flames have scored 5 goals; Boyd has been in on 4 of them (2 EV, 1 PP, 1 SH). But it's not just that, he's creating chances and driving possession. I liked the guy last year for his potential and his touch, but it's just a fact that he got creamed, and you can only put a bit of that on the Erics. He wasn't really a big-league forward last season; he sure as hell looks like one right now.

**Phaneuf got the first star, which is... .... not the same decision I would have made. Way to start the season with a nice high-event game, Dion!

**I liked what I saw from Giordano. Hasn't lost his ability or desire to take the puck past the top of the circle, but didn't make any mistakes that I noticed.

**I liked what I didn't see from The Warrener and Vandermeer (J.) -- no giveaways, no struggling in their own end, no mention of their names hardly.

**Old guy I love: Moss. He just makes smart plays all the time. New guy I loved, tonight: Bourque! Fast, active stick, happy to bump around. Like Shean Donovan went through a time machine.

**No surprise with Andre Roy. He probably shouldn't be an NHL player. He also fell down about 0.9 seconds into his first fight as a Flame. So noo... I didn't fall in love.

**Regrettably, no surprise with Brandon Prust either. Suffice it to say that there was no evidence on display tonight that would explain why Sutter elected to give him that unexpected one-way deal. Though in fairness, he was mostly playing with

**Wayne Primeau. Gahhh. Look, I don't have a personal grudge against this man, and I'm sure he's an A-1 character. But he stinks. His performance for most of the past year has been below replacement-level. And regardless of the standard (and essentially accurate, though incomplete) scouting report on the guy -- which is that he's big, skates well, and can hit -- he is a goddamn floater. I'm sure he's not any of the things that "floater" implies (lazy, cares more about his own stats than how the team does, etc.), but a floater he is. When the puck is in the Flames' end, he coasts around and his feet don't move.

The benefits of his veteran savvy, whatever exactly that is, are not evident on the ice. He's not good at getting the puck out of his own zone, or at keeping it in the other guy's. He can't score, can't pass well, doesn't kill penalties, and turns the puck over in the neutral zone too much (another couple of beauties on that count tonight).

We know that the Flames are lacking a bit of quality in the top 6 this season compared to last. It can be overstated a bit, because Nolan is eminently replaceable, Conroy is still around, and Huselius was replaced (twice!). But on the other hand, maybe not, because it's even money that Bertuzzi is kaput as a remotely effective player, let alone a dynamic one.

What this means is that the Flames cannot afford to ice a 4th line that doesn't get results and has no chance of doing so going forward. I'm happy to give Prust a few extra chances, but the Flames cannot ice a 4th line of [Anyone]-Primeau-Roy this season. Not on a regular basis, not at all. Roy will stick around for (at minimum) grudge matches, I suppose, but there are 10 guys in the organization who can provide at least what Primeau provides, and all of them have a chance of being better next month. He needs to get busted down to Moline, where at that point Ryan Mcgill can confirm that Primeau is nowhere near his best forward, and then this can be over.

I'm not the guy who wants all the rookies to play, and who doesn't believe that there are things learned best via NHL experience. (I'm no prospophile, check my hard drive archives.) But Primeau, in all his veteranness, isn't good enough to play on this team.

Go Flames.


Who Played Who

Preamble: this is Part III of what will hopefully be a comprehensive series; see Part I and Part II c/w more preamble. This installment attempts to follow directly from Part II. Questions, suggestions, and clarifications in the comments re: the content continue to be not just welcome, but desired.

The limitation of Timeonice is that because it's all about the details, you can't just click around for a couple of minutes and get a broad perspective on which NHL players are seeing the toughest and weakest competition.

That's from Lies and the Coaches Who Tell Them, and the logical question to follow is, Is anyone trying to quantify "quality of competition"? Or put another way, is there somewhere you can go to get this broad perspective on who coaches lean on to neutralize the opponent's badasses, and who they deploy in an effort to exploit the opponent's poorer players? Fortunately, Yes.

**First and foremost is behindthenet.ca, which makes what I think is a pretty solid attempt to numerically assess the quality of linemates and quality of competition for individual players (note: what quality is, exactly, is a discussion for a future post). The math is relatively simple to understand:
Now: there are clear limitations to this method, but it can still be useful without the need to toss common sense aside. Without getting into it in too much detail, the problem (such as it as) is that RATING is what is used to determine QC and QT, but obviously RATING is itself significantly influenced by QC and QT.

Taking a look at the list of NHL forwards (min. 50GP and 500mins EV TOI), ranked from best to worst by RATING, should drive that home. Parts of it, particularly near the top and bottom, look awfully... screwy. Is David Perron really the best forward in the NHL? No. Are Pahlsson, Moen, and Niedermayer 3 of the 25 worst forwards in the NHL? Uh, ever heard of Thornton or Kopitar jumping for joy that they get to go to Anaheim and exploit that bunch?

That said, there are a couple of good reasons why Desjardins' QC/QT are worth something.
  1. More often than not, RATING is a decent approximation of player quality. For every David Perron (or Sami Pahlsson) whose RATING is absurd (heavily influenced by the way they are used and/or luck), there are 2 or 3 or 5 players whose RATINGs are in the right ballpark. And since a player's QC/QT is dependent on the RATING of many, many players, then we should expect that his QC/QT is, on average, a better stat than RATING.
  2. There is a kernel of truth inside a lot of the RATING numbers that seem (or are) absurd. The EV offensive numbers for Briere and Marleau, for example, were appallingly bad this past season, and their teams really did have (much) worse results when they were on the ice. The Pahlsson trio rarely scores, so while it might easily be true to say that they are the toughest line in the league to score on, it is almost certainly false that they are the toughest line to outscore -- you dig?
The consensus about Desjardins' QC/QT around the hockey blogosphere, here in September 2008, seems to be this: it's pretty successful at ranking who, within a given team, is seeing the toughest competition and who is seeing the softest, but it is not (yet) useful as a raw number for comparing players between teams.

**The other major effort out there that looks to connect hard data to who is seeing the tough competition (and whether they are succeeding at it) has its own unique charms, and is again at Vic Ferrari's TimeonIce. It arises from some things both he and Tyler/mc79hockey worked on a couple of years ago.

Its premise is that there are certain players who we know are very good offensively and just generally "plus players". The idea, then, is to create a list of these players, and then check out how a particular roster or player is deployed against those players. See Vic's and Tyler's old posts for a better general explanation of the concept than I could provide.

So, let's say I'm mulling over the likelihood of the Oilers winning their first regular season division title since 1987, and one of the things I'm interested in is whether Horcoff & Hemsky will be able to outplay, or at least come out even against, the other top lines in the Western Conference. To see how they managed last season, I use this URL.

Now before you say "ah crap, that already looks too complicated just from the URL", click on the damn thing, because there is an excellent guide at the top of the page. The EDM refers to the team/players we want to look at. All the numbers (and commas) denote top players on other teams. The list of them is here, but it's even less complicated than it looks.

2607 denotes Keith Tkachuk: the 26 refers to the Blues, as St. Louis is 26th/30 in alphabetical order of NHL teams, and the 07 refers to Tkachuk, as in "#7 in your program, #1 in your hearts". So if you'd rather see Kariya there than KT, change the 07 to 09. (Or if you think they both suck, just delete the number altogether.) Important note: don't use more than one player per opposing team, because it will double-count events for which both players were on the ice (viz. the data for vs. both Sedins and vs. Daniel only).

The best thing about this method is that it's so much easier to understand. There will always be extreme exceptions, but seeing that Dustin Penner was on for a total of 300 shots for & against vs. "the stars" while Andrew Cogliano was on for 177 SF+SA vs. Thornton, Getzlaf, Iginla et al is awfully sound evidence that Penner was used a lot more often against tough competition than Cogliano was.

Also: while the "true meaning" and benefits of outshooting the opposition is a whole other long post, I think it's a lot easier to accept that SF/SA vs. star players is meaningful. It's one thing to argue that a player, or a team, creates relatively high quality shots (by design or otherwise), and as such, a straight shot count does them a disservice. But it's something else entirely -- i.e. wishful thinking -- to say the same thing about shifts vs. the best players in the conference.

Back at the first link, you'll see that Fernando Pisani was 76SF/106SA, but an even 9GF/9GA. I like Pisani's game as much as any non-Oiler fan, but that's lucky. If he is outshot vs. the stars by nearly 50% this season, then you can expect him to get outscored by that much, or more -- the best players tend to create higher quality chances and have above-average on-ice shooting percentages, which is of course a big reason why they're the best players.

Lines in the Sand: Even (or simply thereabouts) in SF minus SA is terrific, especially if the player is not really counted on to create offense. Careful not to overinterpret samples that are too small, though you'll see on the example that Stortini and Glencross come out well (as do Torres, and Pitkanen -- at least Zacman is still around!). Per the previous post, where the shifts start will have a definite effect on these numbers (presumably Stoll and Reasoner look worse than they would otherwise because they started a lot of these shifts with an own-zone faceoff).

Calgary's numbers are here: note that apart from changing EDM to CGY, the other change in the URL is to replace Iginla (712) with Hemsky (1283).

Monday, September 22, 2008


The TC

Bertuzzi - Langkow - Iginla
Bourque - Backlund - Cammallieri
Boyd - Lombardi - Moss
Nystrom - Primeau - Prust
(GlenX - Conroy - Roy?)

Apparently this is how the lads have been working out over the first couple days of camp. Nice that Backlund is getting his reps with a good class of player, I think: the scenario where he makes the team (however slim that is) involves him scoring/creating plenty of goals, because he's going to give plenty back because that's what 19-year-olds do for the most part.

The realistic chatter (i.e. scenarios where Backlund doesn't blow away the entire organization, and gets one more year in the SEL) is that Conroy is pegged as the #3C and Lombardi as the #2C. A lineup that we're more likely to see Opening Night (crossed with my own wishful thinking, that is):

Bertuzzi - Langkow - Iginla
Bourque - Lombardi - Cammallieri
Boyd - Conroy - Moss
Prust/Nystrom - GlenX - Vandermeer, J.
(Primeau, Roy, other of Prust/Nystrom = healthy scratches)

As noted previously, the Flames have 13 forwards on one-way deals + Dustin Boyd, AND 8 d-men on one-way deals, meaning there are four extra guys who have to be paid their full salaries whether they are in the pressbox, in the QC, or whatever. The downside to this, as a fan, is that it makes it extremely unlikely for a rookie to crack the roster no matter how much he deserves it (e.g. if Backlund were to make it, that'd add another $1.2M or so to the amount of salary Sutter needs to shed elsewhere).

The upside, again as a fan, is that it can result in a certain amount of clarity when it comes to active roster management by the coach and GM. They all gotta get paid, so we might as well sit down the four who are least likely to contribute to winning -- there's no need for (to ring my favourite cowbell) dressing Wayne Primeau every night if Prust is playing better. (Or the same, for that matter: presumably the tie goes to the guy who might conceivably improve.)

Looking at that lineup, it seems to me that the problem (such as it is) is not that the Flames lack depth or lack balance relative to last year. Lack of depth and balance was their problem. The drop-off from 1st to 2nd line is probably bigger than it was last season. But their 4th line is probably better (it couldn't be worse, could it?). The 1st line is basically the same. And the 2nd and 3rd lines are far more balanced in terms of scoring and defending than they were last season.

**What are they going to do about being over the cap, anyway? I'm still holding out hope that they can make a deal for Aucoin that he will sign-off on: some club that is in "win now" mode that has perhaps suffered some injuries on the blueline (cough). The most likely scenario is still lots of salary (Eriksson + ??) buried in the minors. And the longshot: Boyd and the new forwards show well in camp, while Lombardi shows poorly and is deemed expendable -- traded for a B+ prospect who figures to spend the year in the minors. Developing!

P.S. My favourite bit of news from Flames camp so far? That Giordano is getting a run as Phaneuf's partner. If he's good enough to grab that role, suddenly the Flames' D, depth included, looks awfully damn good.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The House That Ruth Built

Fun fact: the last ever #42 got the last ever out at Yankee Stadium tonight. It was a beautiful moment.

Okay, I'm over it. Go Sox!

Friday, September 19, 2008


Training Camp begins

Both the Oilers and Flames reported to work today, for a day of testing before on-ice practices begin tomorrow. Not surprisingly, there is a contrast in styles between the two clubs.

The Sutter club is decidedly more old school, with shuttle runs through the Saddledome concourse, calisthenics on the front lawn, standing broad jumps and the like. Chad Moreau's "fitness" program for the Oil, on the other hand, is more focused on bicep curls in front of a mirror, blasting through the burn, riding the zone, overshooting the extreme, maxing the envelope, and so on.

While it's still nearly 3 weeks until the regular season opens in North America, the time seems likely to fly by. The Oilers play their first preseason game on Monday the 22nd, and their first televised game on Thursday the 25th; for the Flames, those dates are Tuesday the 23rd and Wednesday the 24th (vs. the Coyotes in Winnipeg).

It would appear to be just about, as the Mandelbaums would say, Go Time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Before this slips too far into the past

Flames Dominate Oil Country
Kinda Like 2004

Yes, the Flames won the inaugral Oil Country Rookie Tournament, beating the Oiler utes 1-0 on Sunday evening and then the Canucks rooks 6-3. The thing wrapped up Tuesday with Van over Edm 5-3.

After the 2nd Flames game on Monday, the biggest buzz seems to be about Backlund (didn't knock anyone out with his flair, but managed to make a big impression nonetheless) and John Negrin. Negrin is a 19-year-old Kootenay Ice defenseman, who has in 15 months managed to go from 3rd round pick to presumptive 2009/10 big leaguer.

With those notes out of the way, we can go back to "reality", where the Oilers have an embarrassment of riches in the pipeline and Sutter has drafted the Flames into the toilet. As I understand it.

Tomorrow is fitness testing day, then Saturday is the first day of Flames training camp and Atco Presents Edmonton Oilers Training Camp. Go Flames.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Lies and the Coaches Who Tell Them

Preamble: this is Part II of what will hopefully be a comprehensive series; Part I with more preamble is here. I'd still like your questions, suggestions, and clarifications in the comments on the content; however, I hope it's clear enough that this is intended to be part of a progression. So Part I is devoted to the conclusion that straight offensive production is best identified by separating EV and PP, and expressing them as rates; factors that affect these rates, coach's usage of the player, etc. are to be addressed later. Today's edition is light on math/"interpretation", but appropriate (I think) as part of the series nonetheless, since the whole business is in large part devoted to distinguishing between myth and reality. Onward.


Part II.

If you've ever been in a hockey pool, you have probably considered drafting someone earlier than you might otherwise because you heard he was tabbed for Colorado's #1 PP unit, or that he's going to start the season as the centre on Jarome Iginla's line.

Likewise, all hockey fans know about the checking line, or perhaps, the shadow. The reputation of Steve Kasper was sterling during a stretch in the 80s for his success at shutting down Gretzky. More recently, we saw Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley stifled in the '07 Finals by Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen.

Maybe those aren't the greatest examples, and we don't want to overstate anything, but I mention them to lead into a simple concept that needs to be accepted by those of us who wish to understand NHL hockey better: when it comes to evaluating a player on a game-by-game, month-by-month basis, you need to know who else is on the ice, because it matters. And NO ONE pays more heed to this than coaches -- they just don't like to talk about it much in a broad or comprehensive sense.

This is a bit of a tangent, but... it's important to understand that NHL coaches aren't simply hockey brains, devoted to strategy and teaching and motivation -- they're people, and successful ones at that. And successful people have the (wise) tendency to focus on the things they can control. Furthermore, they are, outwardly, inclined to stress the positive (the good things that can happen) and disinclined to dwell on the negative (the bad things that can happen, or all the things that have to go right in order to achieve success, or the inherent limitations of what they are working with).

Given the second, you can't expect a coach to be too frank about the relative strengths of his players, because that same frankness will betray the relative weaknesses, at least as he sees them. And given the first, it's completely understandable why they talk a lot about their players' effort (controllable on a day-to-day basis), preparation (ditto), and decision-making (ditto, to a certain extent), and very little about their relative abilities.

Fortunately, this is 2008. We have an accessible, easy-to-use "information superhighway"TM, so if we are interested in how a coach thinks each player is best used, we don't have to ask him -- we can just look it up.

The average fan might have the impression that the strategies of various NHL coaches span the spectrum from "likes to roll his lines" to "likes to match his lines"; this isn't backwards exactly, but it's wrong. The spectrum is more like from "tries to get the matchups he wants as much as possible" to "is ultra-aggressive about getting the matchups he wants nearly every time", where "getting the matchups he wants" also includes "avoiding the matchups he doesn't want". There are NO coaches who manage their own bench without regard to how the other guy is managing his.

There is a simply awesome web effort that is devoted to illustrating how coaches run their benches and how they use individual players: timeonice.com. It reminds me of the old joke about the watch: no, it doesn't tell time, you have to look at it. Which is to say, it doesn't calculate or interpret anything for you, but it shows you everything.

What Vic Ferrari has done is simplicity itself -- a little script that reads NHL.com's play-by-play reports (example) and produces two things:
  1. Matrices of EV ice time that show who played (1)with who and (2)against who (3)how much, all sortable
  2. Shift charts that graph who was on the ice and when powerplays and goals occurred, complete with draggable vertical red line to take the stress off your eyes. And as an astounding bonus, you can move the rows (i.e. the shift chart for a particular player) up or down to easily check how any player was used with or against any other player
The disadvantage limitation of Timeonice is that because it's all about the details, you can't just click around for a couple of minutes and get a broad perspective on which NHL players are seeing the toughest and weakest competition. But if you're trying to get a bead on a particular coach or player, it's invaluable.

I was just playing around with Game 20770: a Flames home game against the Sharks. Home games vs. the Sharks are especially useful for spot-checking, I think, because they have a clearly identifiable #1 forward (as opposed to, say, the Avalanche, where different coaches may have different opinions about who their most dangerous player/line is).

Looking at the H2H TOI, it's clear that Keenan wanted Tanguay/Conroy/Nolan, as well as Regehr/Sarich, out against Jumbo Joe (click on Thornton's name in Table 2 to sort). And clicking around on Table 3 (which Flames played with each other), you can see that Tanguay, Iginla, and Lombardi were never on the ice together (even two of them), so you can use those 3 guys as representatives of the three main lines that Keenan was using.

So then you go to the shift chart, move some rows around, and put Iginla, Tanguay, Lombardi, and Thornton next to each other. What do you see?
Anyway, I'm not trying to bore anyone with specific examples they don't care about; that was intended simply as a walk-through example.

Broad Strokes: What can/do coaches do to manage matchups?

  1. Duuhh: for faceoffs, the home coach can wait to see who the road coach is sending on before making his own decision
  2. In terms of avoiding a particular matchup, both coaches have the same tactic available to them: if they don't want Line X out against Line Y, then they send out Line X when Line Y is finishing (or just finished) a shift
  3. On-the-fly: every hockey fan is familiar with the "we're-tired dump-in", where one D-man goes back to pick up the puck and everyone else on the ice changes up. Tactically (for the coaches), this might as well be a faceoff. Most of us are less aware that coaches routinely change lines, D pairings, or even individual players on-the-fly in an attempt to gain a perceived advantage, even if it's only a momentary one:
Just generally, as Vic is fond of pointing out, it's not just the opposition that coaches concern themselves with, it's where the puck is, or where it's going. Tom Renney might rather eat his tie than put Jagr out for a D-zone faceoff against Crosby, but if the faceoff is next to Fleury, it's a possibility.

And one more note before this post really gets too damn long: on average, an NHL coach (i.e. a guy at the absolute peak of his profession) will make better decisions and have better judgment about how a particular player on a particular roster should be deployed. But even (especially?) when he's right, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's what that player is.


Post-amble: yeah, I know this is probably not enough Stats and too much Primer for a Stats Primer, but I think at least some of this stuff needs to be put together. I wanted to append a bit of a Guide to NHL Coaches -- who matches the hardest, who cares more about D matches than FWD, who's the most active re: pulling their scoring stars on and off to torque their O-zone time -- but I just don't know enough about enough guys to make it useful. Vic doesn't take requests :) but if anyone at all wants to drop some knowledge in the comments, that would be awesome.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


A request

In the comments to MF's Rates 'n' States post about the value of even strength points per 60 minutes (EV/60), I mentioned that I actually like the PPG stat explicitly because it does take into account ice-time. My contention was that, while players may be capable of putting up equivalent rates of scoring per minute of ice time (EV/60), they may not be capable of maintaining those equivalent rates when given different icetime (i.e., there are good reasons the coach plays one player for only 5 minutes a game and while giving another guy 15 minutes of ice, despite the fact that they have equivalent EV/60).

MF's response, quite sensibly, was that he doesn't "want to take the coach's word for it as to who is 'capable' of what, [he's] interested in results."

Fair enough.

So, talking with the good folks on the #8 bus yesterday, we thought it might be a good idea if some clever individual could plot EV/60 against Actual Icetime and see what the correlation was. We would be especially interested in looking at those individuals who defy expectations at both ends of the curve -- that is, individuals who look like they are getting way more ice-time than is justified by their EV/60 (i.e., guys who, according to the coach, add value beyond their scoring), and those who look like they are getting way less ice-time than is justified by their EV/60 (i.e., guys whose ability to score doesn't offset their liabilities on the ice).

Once we see the magnitude of the difference, it would be interesting to track the different reasons for those discrepancies by using the various Outscoring stats, Quality of Opposition stats, etc.

My suspicion is that we will find out that coaches aren't such dummies afterall, and that there are pretty solid reasons for their decisions, but I might be wrong.

Friday, September 12, 2008



It was three years ago today that we started up this here weblog, with a take on Mark Messier's retirement announcement. I can't believe that I forgot to mention my favourite moment in his career, that being (of course) when he was left off of the '98 Olympic team to the horror of pundits across the country.

It's been a lot of fun, and still is. In late August, I could not have cared less about hockey, but I'm suddenly ultra-psyched about the upcoming season. I'm looking forward to having both Grabia and Sacamano piping in for the Oilers. I'm looking forward to scheduling my (evening) life around hockey telecasts, and seeing how the revamped and rebalanced Flames forward corps makes out. I'm looking forward to seeing at least a couple of the Oilers' promising young guns stall out, or better, run backwards and blow kisses. About the only thing I'm not looking forward to is Charles F. Simmer.

Thanks to all of our readers; extra thanks to those of you who get into the Comments. Hope you all stick around for another season.

Thursday, September 11, 2008



"New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common."
-- John Locke

"The final test of any statistic is whether or not it correlates with winning."
--Bill James

"Any statistic the meaning of which can be expressed in understandable terms in a common English sentence is always to be preferred, other things being equal, to one which cannot."
--Bill James

"Good sabermetrics respects the validity of all types of evidence, including that which is beyond the scope of statistical validation."
-Bill James

"Opinions are great—don't get me wrong. They're great for starting research projects. Then you go study and see if you can prove the opinion or not. But when placing multi—million dollar bets on future outcomes, opinions are wholly unsatisfactory. Opinions as conversation starters are fine. Opinions as conclusions are very bad. I started research projects to discern the objective “why.” I wanted to know why certain teams won and why other teams lost; why certain drafts produced big stars and others didn't. This was the naïve question at work."
--Paul Depodesta


That's a pretty good introduction to my thoughts on the hockey metrics issue, which is being talked about here, here, here, and here. I suppose I would be considered a "stats guy," but I don't create any of my own and I have my own concerns about how they are being introduced to hockey. About two years ago, I started working on a post on the issue, but put it aside because it was consuming me. It was huge, and I just couldn't narrow down or focus my thoughts. Thankfully, the posts by David, Lowetide, Dave, and Matt have covered a great deal of territory, and I can now toss in my own two cents, mostly centred around what I would call "first principles." So here goes.

Hockey Metrics

State of "traditional" hockey statistics: in dire need of a Cartesian exercise in methodological skepticism.

Goal of "advanced" hockey metrics: the elimination of orthodox, unsound opinions in favor of objective, measurable truths about the game of hockey.

Basic needs to that end:
1) Need to identify what the game is about (runs scored and runs prevented)

2) Need to identify its particular qualities.

3) Need to identify which strategies are the most conducive to success.

4) Need to identify what is common between the “best” players and "best" teams.

5) Need to identify which current statistics are useless, based on above criteria.

6) Need to identify which current statistics are useful, based on above criteria.

Needs to push advanced hockey metrics to next level:
1) Need a Glossary of Terms defining advanced statistics in understandable and accessible language.

2) Need to identify standardized benchmarks of quality (and non-quality) for advanced statistics (like .300/.400/.500 in baseball).

3) Need more carrot, less stick in explaining advanced statistics to doubters, non-believers or newbies.

4) Need to make advanced statistics more publicly available for all to access and play with.

Not the compromised second draft:
Matt Fenwick
Matt Fenwick
Tyler Dellow
Vic Ferrari
Gabe Desjardins
Gabe Desjardins
Alan Ryder
Chris Boersma
Chris Boersma
Dirk Hoag

There you go. Basic stuff, really, and much is already being done (Matt's post from earlier today being a fine example). But at least it's down and done. Plus, now I can post the final proof that I took too many philosophy classes in university: an image I made some time ago linking Plato and Descartes to Bill James. I'm a DOOORRR ORRRRKKK.


Rates and States

Preamble: David Staples has once again made the sensible suggestion that someone should collate the collected statistical knowledge & theories that have been hashed out over the past few years on the web. I have intended to do just that for a while, but it seems like work & life have intervened.

I'm going to give it a try. I'd like your questions, suggestions, and clarifications in the comments on the content; then, once I'm (we are) sufficiently satisfied that the explanations and examples are straightforward and illustrative, I'll delete the preamble (and possibly the comments), and leave the post on the sidebar as a "permanent" resource for newcomers who want to learn more, and for veterans who are frustrated with explaining something the nth time to refer to.

I'll try to be as clear and uncontroversial as possible, but of course some things will have my own spin or emphasis. Anyway, onward.


Part I.

Everyone agrees that Goals-Assists-Points is not the definitive measure of the quality of a hockey player, but it's much less understood that it's not the definitive measure of a player's offensive ability either. There are (to start) two things that have a major impact on a player's production that are, strictly speaking, out of his control:
  1. How much ice time he gets
  2. How that ice time is divided up between the PP, the PK, and even strength (EV)
You can have discussions about earning your ice time and making your own luck, but in the end it's the coach who taps the player on the shoulder, not the other way around, so I'll proceed on that basis.

The average team has about a 2.5 times better chance of scoring on the PP than they do at EV. If you are getting 4:00 of powerplay ice time (PP TOI) per game, then you're probably going to put up more points than a comparable player who gets 2:00 PP TOI/game, or 0:30, or none.

Further, the average team has only a 1/4 to 1/3 as good a chance of scoring on the PK as they do at EV; roughly speaking, every minute you spend killing a penalty is a minute when you're not going to be scoring.

Beyond that, I hope it's accepted that the nature of PP offense is different than EV offense. By eye, it should be obvious: among other things, you can have uncontested possession of the puck on the PP, because the defenders are more concerned about their position, and what you might do with the puck, than with taking it away from you right now. And by numbers, we know from many years of statistics that there are certain players who have made their living by being terrific on the PP without being any great shakes at EV.

As such, it makes all sorts of sense to express scoring as a rate, or rather, rates. The two you will see most often is EVPts/60 (or EVP/60) and PPPts/60 (PPP/60), which are both the # of points scored per 60 minutes of ice time in that segment of the game. Advantages:

1) Distinguishes between EV and PP offense, which is interesting to know, and I think, important. Alexei Kovalev may well have "come to play every night" last season, and backchecked harder, and shown more leadership, etc., but the biggest boost he gave to the conference champ Habs was producing at a Mario-esque 8.07 Pts/60 on the PP: no one else in the league was over 6.00! Meanwhile, he scored 1.88Pts/60 at EV: same as Chad Kilger and Derek Armstrong.

2) Accounts for variations in ice time. No one would object if I said that a player who played 80 games should score more than a similar player who played 60 games, so likewise, it should be uncontroversial to say that someone who gets 4:00 PPTOI per game should score more than a similar player who gets 3:00 PPTOI per game. Why not correct for that variation to get a clearer picture?

3) Rates are useful almost right away. How many PP points should a good offensive player have after 33 games? I have no earthly idea. But if you have a line in the sand expressed as a rate, you can compare, and evaluate, parts of seasons much more easily. Speaking of:

Lines in the Sand

Something that has become more clear to me over the past year or so is that one of the biggest reasons people are reluctant to embrace newer (and to my mind, better) statistics is that you lose some of the familiar reference points -- especially at the upper and lower limits.

If I tell you I'm thinking of a guy who scored 20 goals, it's hard for you to tell me how good an offensive player he is. He's probably a legitimate NHLer with decent hands, but he may have done it centering a couple of rookies on the 3rd line, which would be impressive, or he may have done it with Crosby on the Pens' PP, which would be somewhat less so.

But if I tell you I'm thinking of a guy who scored 7 goals in a full season, you know that he's lousy offensively, regardless of circumstances. On the flip side, the guy who scores 40 is a very good offensive player; we can say that with confidence even without knowing much else. So:

Even Strength:

>3.00EVPts/60 = excellent, elite, fantastic. There were only 5 players who scored at that rate this season (Crosby, Malkin, Stastny, Alfie, Ovechkin). Another 21 were >2.50EVPts/60; as you go down that list, you start to see more guys for whom "circumstances" were clearly a benefit (e.g. good linemates), but all good players nonetheless.

~2.00EVPts/60 = the mushy middle. No one in this range is embarrassing themselves, but there is a wide range in what we might call perceived player quality. A non-star player in this range who you know had mediocre linemates has done well to hit this mark; conversely, if you get much below 2.00 and you see a player who has the reputation of creating offense, it might be time to reconsider that reputation.

1.00EVPts/60 = Lowetide's Mendoza line for hockey players. If you are near, at, or below this level, you stink at creating offense. Unless you are outstanding defensively, or good at punching other guys in the head, your days of a regular NHL shift are numbered at this level.

A totally different story here; d-men are a relative non-factor when it comes to EV offense. Here's the list of guys who played at least 40GP and 10:00 EVTOI/game. Only 4 guys are above 1.20EVPts/60: Lidstrom, Kronvall, and 2 guys who actually played forward a lot of the year.

The top 30 scoring forwards in the league last season scored a bit under 37% of their points on the PP; the top 30 defensemen scored over 57% of theirs on the PP.

Also note: 10:00 EVTOI/game is a pretty good dividing line between players who are getting rolled out on a regular shift and those who aren't.

Power Play:

>6.00PPP/60 = WOW, >5.00PPP/60 = excellent, >4.00PPP/60 = capable
Here's where we need to make the obligatory note that common sense still needs to be applied. The PPTOI totals, and thus the sample size, are relatively small in a given season; small enough that a handful of lucky goals or heroic saves can produce a big swing in someone's rate. (Accordingly, rating a player's PP chops based on a single season's results is probably unwise.) Here's hoping that no one clicks on this and thinks because the section of the list around 4.50 goes Ovechkin, Nash, Lecavalier, Peca, M.Richards that Mike Peca is seriously as good on the PP as those other guys.

Knock 1.00 off of each of the fwd categories, and you have it about right. I'd suggest that someone who is nominally a shooter, but is below 3.00PPP/60, is probably not shooting enough, or at least not getting it through, where rebounds, deflections, etc. can happen.

TOI rule of thumb: over 5:00 PPTOI/gm means that player is leaned on heavily, probably to the point where they skip the shift change. Over 4:00 = regular 1st-unit type; over 3:30 (maybe 3:00 for d-men) equates to plenty of opportunity, but maybe not always on the #1 unit. Less than 3:00 means that player is a secondary option.

Post-amble: Once again, I would appreciate suggestions (and corrections) in the Comments.

Assuming I carry some momentum forward, future parts of this "series" will deal with things like context (quality of linemates and competition), Corsi # and shooting/save percentages, and skill vs. luck in general, but this (straightforward modification of counting stats) seemed like a logical place to start.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


"And the best part is, the CBC already owns the rights to the song."

Thanks to the OSHL blog for both the clip and the post header. Fan-tastic.


Me? I'm not the least bit interested in the opinions of someone who refuses to learn anything new

I'm actually surprised at how kind and measured the reaction to David Staples' post about stats has been. Maybe it's just me: this type of piece -- that purports to soberly assess competing viewpoints about hockey, while mischaracterizing one side near-totally -- bugs me more than a straight-out blast about guys in their PJ's in Mom's basement, calculating away. I'd characterize the "debate" a lot differently, and I don't think it's any less fair:

On the one hand, you have a bunch of guys who love hockey and watch every game. Beyond that, they are intellectually curious, and seek out or create ways to numerically assess what is happening in the game as well as possible. Some of these ways will affirm their perceptions, some will challenge them, and some will prove to be so discordant with apparent reality that they get tossed out.

They will find that certain metrics mesh best with what they see, so that when (say) UFA season comes up, and most of their team's potential additions are guys they haven't seen play near as much as they would like, they can look at how those potential additions fare based on said favoured metrics.

They look at something like traditional +/- and see a flawed statistic, so they seek out ways to mitigate the flaws: take out EN and SH goals, try to quantitatively assess whether they were playing against tough or soft competition, try to quantitatively assess whether they had decent linemates, and look at whether they were starting the majority of their shifts in their own end, or the other guy's.

On the other hand, you have a bunch of guys who love hockey and watch every game, but simply do not have the curiosity, humility, and/or stomach to have their perceptions challenged. They look at something like traditional +/- and see a flawed statistic, so they decide that being on the ice for goals for and against is meaningless in and of itself. And when UFA season comes up, their opinion of potential team additions is based on the handful of times they've seen the guy play, or on those same statistics they claim to hate/ignore, or on what Darren Pang and Nick Kypreos say about the guy.

This debate will rage on, surely! Dave had a good response, I think, particularly regarding this idea that the stats guys don't watch (or is it appreciate) hockey as much as the traditionalists on account of their statsyness. Garbage. Just as galling to me is the attribution of so much certainty on the part of the "stats guys". This despite the near-constant acknowledgement by the likes of Vic, Gabe, and Tyler that nothing they are doing is definitive, and they are not claiming to be the biggest hockey geniuses in the world.

I think this quote says a lot:
For me at least it’s very little of “these new stats made me look at things differently” and a whole helluva lot of “these nutters on this message board must’ve been watching a different game than me, that’s just crazy”, and then going and trying to find if there is information there to prove it.

People can piss on the numbers all they want, but when I was trying to make the point that Smyth was playing way more against the good players than Moreau, I was almost universally being called a fool (Smyth isn’t a checker, dummy!). Even though I can’t imagine how it could have been more obvious.

That's Vic Ferrari, in the comments (#35) at mc79hockey.

I also have a factual quibble with Staples:
As smart as a hockey statsmeister Gabriel Desjardins is, as innovative as his work at Behind the Net is, it is a long way from being used by NHL GMs. Maybe Mike Gillis in Vancouver will give it a look, but the rest of them will go with their guts and their scouting reports every time.

This is just false. While we don't have a comprehensive idea of what NHL teams are doing statistically (they're about as eager to share that stuff as they are injuries in the playoffs), there are anecdotes from all over the place that they are doing a lot more than what is reported. Marc Crawford says they tracked scoring chances for & against all year with the Kings; the Wild's director of hockey ops was hired away from the Red Sox; Tim Hunter had a frickin' laptop behind the Sharks bench!

Junior/amateur scouting will no doubt mostly remain a matter left to two-eyes-and-a-gut (and as Lowetide has pointed out many times, the success rate of NHL teams as a whole is quite commendable). But clubs are definitely doing a lot in terms of quantitative analysis of their own teams (efforts at in-season improvement), and as they continue to discover and settle on analysis that proves effective -- predictive -- they will further apply it to pro scouting.

(Also, since it's all speculation anyway, I'd guess that the biggest problem Gillis had this summer achieving what he wanted to achieve was not that the other GMs all want to screw over the new jerk. It was that a lot of this breakthrough he thought he could make -- unappreciated value he thought he could exploit, by looking at things a new way -- turned out to be ground that is already being covered by 10 or 20 other teams.)

Now, back to my spreadsheets and my fantasy baseball league.

Coda: Pensee du jour, per Vic -- what if the fact that hockey has more numerous and complex interactions than baseball makes it more statistically predictable, not less?
In hockey we know where it comes from though. The spread of the players away from their career averages will be nearly identical the the spread of a bunch of dice rollers (each throwing the same number of times as one player's shots, and having dice weighted to that player's average EV shooting% over the past three years).

It's just spooky how close the results are, in terms of the right number of guys overachieving and underachieving on the year, and by what amount. Plot it out and it's two bell shaped curves almost on top of one another.

Do that with most baseball stats and they are a mile apart.

Food for thought.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Role playing games

I'm sure many have you have seen the Sun Media piece on Tanguay that ran earlier this week. Not sure how much more I can say than How Frustrating:
Coach Mike Keenan used him on a defensive line with Craig Conroy and Owen Nolan which did not please him at all.

"I thought they traded for me from Colorado because I could generate offence," Tanguay said with a bitter smile.

"I was in that sort of a situation for the first time in my career and it was tough.

"I felt out of place in their system and that's why I wanted to leave Calgary and that I waived the no-trade clause (in my contract)".

Tanguay, however, refused to voice any negative comments about Flames head coach Mike Keenan, other than saying he could be "difficult."

Kent linked it, and Vic brought up something in the comments there that was very similar to my own thoughts.
...he never got a single Selke vote from the writers [...] Writers are writers, the thing that would have swayed them is some comments from the coach or Sutter. Some guys need a pat on the back. [...] A coach doesn't play a guy like that unless he rates him. But where was the love to the media? Odd.

I've written many times here that in terms of bench management, Keenan's decision to go Huselius w/ Iginla and Tanguay w/ Others was pretty much unimpeachable. You run your bench with the guys you have, to best use their relative talents. Putting Juice -- who needs a lot of help to produce offense at EV, and isn't good defensively -- with Iginla made impeccable sense. It also eliminated a lot of the Blender problems one runs into transitioning from special teams to even strength; Juice really was, and is, the better PP player, and Tanguay turned out to be a really solid penalty killer.

The question is, like Vic says, why didn't every Calgarian and their dogs understand this? If not the folks on the #8 bus on alternate weekday afternoons, at least you'd expect the guys that talk about the Flames all afternoon for a living would be crystal clear on this. But no; in fact you'd have to think, based on events, that not even the relevant parties were terribly clear on it.

Tanguay. For starters, grow up dude. He always seemed like a smart guy to me -- was he really that unable to understand why he was being used the way he was? And secondly, Huselius was on the last year of his contract and was never going to be re-signed. Wasn't it obvious to him that his role would be at least somewhat different (and from his perspective, better) in 2008/09?

Keenan. He had zero trouble extolling Jarome Iginla as a very special player. Would it have been so hard, even just once (so it was out there), talking about what that means for the other Flames' skaters? "Guys have slumps, and sometimes I think they go through stretches where they're not giving their maximum effort. But the fact is, when guys play with Jarome 5-on-5 and on 1st PP unit, they're going to score more points than when they aren't. By putting Tanguay on another line, we know his point totals are going to suffer, but we're OK with that because of everything else he brings."

Sutter. Same gist as Keenan, but maybe with a little less focus on the public statements and more focus on the direct communication with the player. "I'm sorry Alex -- you're saying you want to be traded because the role you want was being filled by a guy who will never play for the Flames after this spring?" In fairness, Sutter was the one guy who made a categorical statement to the media that Tanguay is an excellent player, but he did a lousy job of explaining why.

Iginla. Hey, you're the captain, buddy, and it never should have come to this. Maybe you and Tanguay weren't pals, but an elite player on your team got traded because he wasn't happy with his role. Not sure how that can be anything but an indictment of the captain; it sure isn't a point in his favour.

This whole thing was a giant clusterf**k as far as I'm concerned, but, time to turn the page. Which brings me to Dion Phaneuf. If you're the coach of the Calgary Flames, and you have Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, and Dion Phaneuf on your bench, how do you use them?

It would seem from a lot of the Oilfan chatter that since Phaneuf is touted at a Norris candidate, you ought to be focused on using him against the Thorntons and Datsyuks of the world for own-zone draws. Forget that Regehr can handle the toughest competition but gives you nothing at the north end of the rink; since Dion is the best player, you use him in the toughest situations, and go from there.

As you might gather, I think this is wrong. Up by one late and pinned in your own end? Sure, put 'em together. But as an ongoing strategy, using Regehr to neutralize the toughest opposing forwards and Phaneuf for everything else seems utterly sensible. The alternative is to underplay Regehr's greatest skill, for the sake of proving a point.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Some things never change

After jaunts in two Places that Suck*, Mrs. Sacamano, Little Miss Sacamano and I are back in the Town that the Ghermezian's Built -- permanently this time (we think). And it sure is nice to see that some things never change.

The Journal is still a little bit too close to the Onion for comfort. The front page of yesterday's At Home section featured a student who "wanted some elements of style -- a bare-bones-chic kinda thing" for his HUB-mall dorm room. So he "spent just under $500 outfitting his apartment" by buying some "neutral white wood" furniture at Ikea and putting "up travel and movie posters". A heartwarming story, indeed, and a welcome change from the usual HUB decor of brown Ikea furniture and Salvadore Dali posters.

It is also nice to see that the Eskimos are still kicking the Stamps' asses, just like they were when we left. I have heard rumours that there were some tough years in between, but I wasn't here, so they didn't happen. Don't forget, Part II goes tonight at 7:00.

It is a relief to see that the Oilers are still confident that glory is achievable through their unique mix of undersized speedy youth, antiquated grizzled vets, and fast ice (which will transform the games of all of the new players we acquired this year -- that means you, Mr. Cole). I couldn't agree more. Now I know that there are some around here who have come to the opposite conclusion -- usually based on some sort of mathemagical mumbo-jumbo -- but I urge Oilers fans to ignore this rot. My eyes and ears tell me that Oilers fans think that this is the year -- at least those Oilers fans who ride the the #8 bus between 4:30 and 5:00pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And what's good enough for the good people of the #8 is good enough for me.

Speaking of the ole proletariat chariot -- while riding home yesterday I'm pretty sure I didn't see the "And Now for the Other Hand" mural plastered between the classy Coliseum Inn and Fireside Restaurant Ltd. What gives? It looked like some sort of high speed internet ad, instead. Can anyone shed light on this? Has Molson given up on the Oilers ever getting another ring? Do we have to start boycotting Molson Canadian?!
Anyway, it looks like I'll be back around this place -- at least part-time. But never fear, Andy will be sticking around too -- at least part time.


* Actually, that isn't quite true. I really liked Sheffield. And Pat, MikeW, Tyler, et al. were all very nice to me in Toronto, but lipstick on a hogtown can't disguise the hog.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Starting Point

It's September, so I suppose I can start thinking about how the NHL season is going to go. As I wrote before last season, pretty much everyone uses the same basic method for team predictions:
  1. Take last year's results
  2. Make adjustments for things that happened last season that seem unlikely to repeat
  3. Make adjustments for roster additions, deletions, young guys getting better, and old guys getting worse
That said, (2) is typically glossed over relative to (3). You see a bit of accounting for it, but not too much: Washington was a lot better after they changed coaches/found Jesus/whatever; Chicago would have been better if Havlat had been healthy; not even in his dreams will Ty Conklin ever put up another .923SV%; etc.

However, there are certain things that, while they may prove to be repeatable/predictable to some extent, have not been shown so far as being repeatable or predictable. Including:
As I say, a few years down the road, the large sample of results may show some patterns; they just haven't yet. Very good and very bad teams should play OT less often, I'd think. Teams who play a tighter game with fewer goals scored and allowed should play OT more often. There are surely goalies who are better at the shootout than others; likewise skaters.

But even insofar as these patterns are detected, I feel safe in saying that the implications will be marginal, rather than massive. For example, Bobby Holik and Rod Brind'Amour have shown over many, many years that they are excellent faceoff men; two of the best in the league. Their success rate is about 58%. Once we have enough seasons in the books, it seems reasonable to me that the excellent shootout goalies win at about the same rate. Or to come at it from the other angle, I think it's nearly unimaginable that we'll ever be talking about a goalie who reliably wins 70%, 75%, 80% of their shootouts.

All this, of course, is by way of leading into a table. Here is the actual NW Division standings from last season, and below that, the adjusted standings had each team been in an average number of OT/SO games (18) and won them an average number of times (50%).

The point here is not to retroactively announce that the Oilers had a crappy 2007/2008 season; it's to crystallize how far they have to go if they can't rely on playing a league-leading 25 3-point games (which they probably can't) and winning a league-leading 76% of them (which they probably can't). That is a 20-point difference between Calgary and Edmonton.

Maybe the Oilers young guys will all continue to improve, rather than running in place or backsliding; maybe they'll stay relatively healthy all season; maybe Kipper will be as bad or worse this season; maybe Phaneuf and Boyd won't improve at all; maybe Todd Bertuzzi will be a cancer on the entire Flames squad and organization. These are all things to be discussed, at length no doubt, over the next 4-5 weeks. But 20 points is a big gap to make up, and yes, I'll say it: it ain't gonna happen.

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