Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More sniping...

Here's a best case scenario...

Tomorrow is Toni Lydman's arbitration hearing. The man Buffalo acquired from Calgary for a paltry 3rd round draft pick payed great dividends for the Sabres this past year, especially in the playoffs. Averaging 24.05 minutes per game, Lydman led all Sabres in ATOI, ES TOI, and PK TOI while playing on Buffalo's top pairing throughout their 18 game run.

And get this: He finished at plus freaking 14. He and Tallinder were basically the Sabres' ES and PK version of Chris Pronger. What happens tomorrow in arbitration is anybody's guess but if I were Kevin Lowe, I'd get on the phone with Buffalo ASAFP.

Obviously, a lot of things would have to go right for Lydman to end up as an Oiler. Buffalo would really have to believe that they are heading far enough over budget to warrant action. Buffalo would have to decide trading Lydman for prospects or picks would be the best way out (as opposed to, say, a sign-and-trade of Maxim Afinogenov or somesuch other high-counting player who disappeared in the playoffs).

And last but not least, Lowe would have to be able to offer the best deal. What does Buffalo need? How deep is their prospect pool? Am I bat-shit crazy for even wanting this to happen?

And have I just written an entire post that is less than a page in length?

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Longest Post Of My Life


Of late, there has been much ado about cap limits, overpriced UFA’s, and players who play at a level either above or below the expectations of their salary. With this in mind, I recently decided to wade into the realm of identifying players on other teams whose value to the Oilers might exceed their cost of procurement. Specifically, I looked at players in terms of their power play versus even strength scoring. I decided that players who scored the highest percentages of their points on the power play may be overvalued to some degree while those who scored higher percentages of their points at even strength would be undervalued.

I have no intention of discrediting a goal that is scored with the man advantage (as Ryan Smyth is always so dutiful in pointing out, they all look the same on the score sheet). However, as the point of this little expose is to identify bargains and the elite power play point producers of the NHL tend to be those with the most star status, I have decided that the best deals are likely to be found in mid-tier forwards with good ES scoring rates.

Attached you will find a spreadsheet in which I’ve taken the top 120 point scorers of the NHL in 2005/2006 and have identified the percentage of each player’s points that were scored at even strength. I then re-ranked the players according to these percentages and identified the difference between each player’s total points rank and his ES% of total points rank. It was my expectation that players who made significant jumps in ranking were to be the most likely bargains and the players who took the most significant falls would be the offense-first type of star who would excel with the man advantage.

Here are the ten biggest winners and losers by this metric:

Biggest Winners (***who have at least .5 PPG***)
Shawn Bates
Eric Belanger
Chris Gratton
Jan Bulis
Chris Kunitz
Raffi Torres
Jochen Hecht
Jay Bouwmeester
Derek Roy
Zigmund Palffy

The four main potential reasons that I’ve identified:
1)Low PP/ES minutes (resulting from team depth)
2)Low PP/ES minutes powerplay minutes (resulting from coach's view of skillset)
3)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of player's skills/lack thereof)
4)Poor PP unit/Strong ES unit (result of teammates' skills/lack thereof)

It is my assertion that the reason for each player’s gain is an important factor in determining how much of a bargain they have the potential to be. If they are a one-dimensional grinder who has had some good luck and scoring at ES, they are probably not as useful as if they are solid all-around players who have not been given much PP time because they are buried in roster depth.

Biggest Losers (they all have > 0.5 PPG)
Alexander Ovechkin
Daniel Alfredsson
Sidney Crosby
Marc Savard
Dany Heatley
Marian Hossa
Ilya Kovalchuk
Jonathan Cheechoo
Eric Staal
Brad Richards

The four main potential reasons that I’ve identified:
1)High PP/ES minutes (resulting from team depth)
2)High PP/ES minutes powerplay minutes (resulting from coach's view of skillset)
3)Strong PP unit/Poor ES unit (result of player's skills/lack thereof)
4)Strong PP unit/Poor ES unit (result of teammates' skills/lack thereof)

Interpret these reasons for the ten players I’ve listed as you will. In Ovechkin’s case it may be as simple as he is a fantastically gifted offensive player without much of a supporting cast combined with the fact that having the man advantage is more likely to give him the puck and make up for his teammates’ deficiencies. Like I said, interpret as you will.

As I stated above, the biggest reason for this little expose is to attempt to find bargains worth trading for. Using the change in rankings (occasionally sorted for context – E.g. Jay Bouwmeester makes a huge leap but for some reason I doubt he’d come cheap), I have identified one potential bargain player per team. The listing is as follows:

Anaheim Ducks: Chris Kunitz – Coming off his first full NHL season at the age of 26, Chris Kunitz scored 41 points in 69 games last season. His 30 ES points was good for a gain of 91 places, making for the 6th biggest gain. He signed a brand new two-year deal today for an undisclosed dollar amount according to TSN.ca

Atlanta Thrashers: Vyacheslav Kozlov – while he is one of the only players on this list to have his ranking actually drop (by 16 places), his 71 points in 82 games (with 46 at ES) make him a reasonably attractive acquisition, though his point totals may have been inflated by playing with Ilya. Interestingly enough, Kovalchuk’s rank took the 4th biggest fall.

Boston Bruins: Marco Sturm – With 59 points in 74 games (and 40 at ES), his gain in rank was actually edged out by Glen Murray. However, Sturm has a low enough profile that he would make for a far less difficult acquisition.

Buffalo Sabres: Jochen Hecht – While I doubt the Oilers would ever have interest in Hecht, he finished just outside the top 10 in gain of rank as he scored 31 of his 42 points at ES. He also played just 64 games, making for a .67 PPG and is one of the Sabres’ many players heading to salary arbitration perhaps increasing a rival clubs’ ability to get him for cheap.

Carolina Hurricanes: Matt Cullen – With 49 points in 78 games, Cullen appears at first glance to be in a situation that would limit his PP minutes. I have no idea what his power play role was for the Hurricanes in the regular season but IIRC he was on their second unit in the playoffs. His creativity would be very useful in Edmonton IMO.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Nikolai Zherdev – Perhaps the player on the list with the most offensive potential, Zherdev signed a contract in Russia for next season. He can get out of it if he works a deal out with Columbus, but this kind of negotiation tactic may not sit well with the Oiler brass. Interestingly enough, both Zherdev and Rick Nash made sizeable leaps in their rankings.

Calgary Flames: No one made the criteria – Wow that makes me laugh. Iggy was the only one on the list and his ranking took a huge fall.

Chicago Blackhawks: Kyle Calder – He likely played a bigger role in Chicago than he would on other teams and he might be a player Blackhawk fans would loathe to let go. However, his lack of supporting cast, 59 points in 79 games and biggest ranking leap of players who finished in the top 30 in ES scoring make him a very attractive asset.

Colorado Avalanche: Brett McLean – 9 goals and 31 assists make for a PPG of ~0.5 while giving McLean the 4th biggest ranking leap of my list. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was riding the butter minute train for the Avalanche but depending on his role, he could be a good and cheap pickup.

Dallas Stars: Stu Barnes – The man is pretty old but could be an ideal 4th line center for a few years yet. He also got a very high 89% of his 36 points at even strength. Interestingly enough, Colorado’s trio of McLean, Laperriere, and Laaksonen were all in the top 10 for percentage of points garnered at even strength. Does anyone know if they were a line?

Detroit Red Wings: Mikael Samuelsson – Mikael’s 45 points in 71 games made for a pretty decent scoring clip on the Red Wing team and put him 20th on the overall list in terms of ranking gains.

Edmonton Oilers: Raffi Torres – Torres made the 10th biggest gain on my list and it’s not that hard to see why. With 27 G and 14 A, he didn’t receive top power play time nor did he get any of the Oilers’ most effective teammates to work with on the second unit. At less than $1M in salary, we got a pretty good haul from the guy in 05/06.

Florida Panthers: Chris Gratton – I originally subbed him out for Jozef Stumpel who was much further down the list out of pure bias but I have decided not to deny the 3rd biggest leap in ranking. Gratton hasn’t become the semi-star we thought he could be but he did score 39 points in 76 games for the Panthers last year.

Los Angeles Kings: - Sean Avery – wouldn’t you know it… Might not be a bad guy to have on your side of things but I’d stay away if I were making the decisions. Worth looking at is veteran center Eric Belanger who actually made the 2nd biggest gain on my list but has limited upside IMO

Minnesota Wild: Wes Walz – Walz’s gain was 9th best and his scoring clip was just under 0.5PPG – he wouldn’t be a bad pickup for the Oilers’ fourth line.

Montreal Canadiens: Jan Bulis – here’s a UFA whose name pops up all the time and it did so remarkably for me as well. With the 5th biggest leap, Bulis scored 40 points in 73 games for Montreal and would probably come cheap. Why hasn’t he been signed?

New Jersey Devils: John Madden – With 34 of his 36 points coming at ES, Madden had the single highest percentage of his points scored at even strength on my list. Could he be a guy Lou moves to make room for Gomez? The cap situation in NJ plus JM’s relatively low counting numbers might make him available at a fair price.

Nashville Predators: Martin Erat – Nashville’s best potential bargain scored 49 points in 80 games and had reasonable chemistry with Hemsky in international play. I don’t know where he would fit on our club but he might not be that expensive for a trading partner especially with what the Predators got for Hall and Walker.

New York Islanders: Shawn Bates – I bet you were wondering who made the single biggest leap in ranking and here he is. Shawn Bates leapt a whopping 108 places with 30 of his 34 points coming at even strength. Factor in that he only played 66 games and he is a hair over 0.5 PPG.

New York Rangers: Michael Nylander – The second player whose ranking actually fell, Nylander’s 79 points in 81 games is impressive. If Sather can be convinced that Jagr is to be thanked for those totals, it should be noted that Nylander scored a very solid 62 points while not on the power play, going against my own preconception.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Smolinski – Smolinski’s 48 points in 81 games is very respectable and almost remarkable when you consider the amount of talent he played behind in Ottawa this past season. While Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza all took huge falls, BS made a solid leap of 59 spots on my list.

Philadelphia Flyers: Mike Knuble – IMO Knuble was often the straw that stirred the drink in Philadelphia this year, especially when Forsberg was away. His value may be too high for him to be considered a bargain, but I think his checking and PK abilities would make him a great addition to the Oilers and a perfect compliment for Ryan Smyth.

Phoenix Coyotes: Steven Reinprecht – Funny to think that Calgary gave away their one player who could have made this list, Reinprecht got 52 points in 80 games largely thanks to that mid-season tear he went on immediately following his trade to the Coyotes.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Zigmund Palffy – why did this guy retire again? The guy was a point per game player on a not-so-hot Penguins line-up while scoring 31 of his 42 points at ES. Boggles the mind…

San Jose Sharks: Nils Ekman – I believe he was traded to Pittsburgh today (in what I consider an excellent move by the Penguins) but 38 of his 57 points came at even strength. I wonder how much of his output can be attributed to Thornton and Cheechoo, both of whom took huge falls under my sorting system.

St. Louis Blues: No one met the criteria, which isn’t that shocking considering their situation last year. But damn, it’s got to suck to be Calgary…

Tampa Bay Lightning: Fredrick Modin – I realize Modin was involved in the deal that brought Denis to Tampa but I had to use him here because too many of Tampa’s star players took big hits when sorting by ES scoring %. Modin scored a very respectable 31 goals last year and may be big enough on the radar to no longer be considered a bargain. If someone can offer the specifics as to the Modin trade, perhaps we can see what his real value is, at least according to the Lightning and Blue Jackets.

Toronto Maple Leafs: No one met the criteria. Hah!

Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Morrison – I wonder if a guy like Morrison could be stolen from the Canucks for a reasonably low price. His contract isn’t cheap, his line is no longer Vancouver’s best, and he lost part of his supporting cast in Bertuzzi this off-season. His counting numbers are also not high enough to scare anybody and he could be a good fit as an excellent team’s second line center.

Washington Capitals: Chris Clark – A quick winger with reasonably good hockey sense, he may be just more valuable than a dime-a-dozen type as he scored at a 0.5 PPG clip last season on a lowly Capitals team. Did he play with AO?

With this freakishly long essay out of the way, do you see anything you like? Any players you think would be a good fit? As I said, it takes a good sense of concept and the reasons for player's gains to truly identify which players could likely be had for less than they'd be worth. There was no way I could include enough context-specific information and keep things as general as I have but perhaps if there are players, ideas, or reasoning I've listed that pique someone's interest then they can do a little extra digging.

*Exhale* See the following post for the spreadsheets...

The Longest Post's Accompanying Pictures

(Four Pages: Click On Image To Enlarge)

The St. Louis Blues Fake Blog

A terrific article over at sidearm delivery, the St. Louis Blues apparently set up a fake blog, not surprisingly the anonymous blogger was wildly upbeat.

Damn. It doesn't get greasier than that.

Good Christ, BLUEREV1 has updated the Fanifesto over there. Right now I wish mudcrutch and Dennis were Blues fans, these BlueRevolution cats deserve abuse.

NHL Code blog

I've started a specialized little blog called NHL Code.

It's a dumping ground for simple macros for doing the heavy lifting in analyzing this game we all love. The idea is for it to be super simple, cut and paste type stuff so that non-programming types (like me) can do the same stuff as the computer-clever types.

Also to save everyone's time by avoiding duplication of effort.

Check it out if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bill James and the Pythagorean Expectation

This has always seemed madass to me. Too clean and not rooted in reality. But when smart buggers on the internet are lured in ... it gives reason for a closer look.

Interesting guy, this Bill James. I spent a couple of hours googling and reading on this fellow. I've also read a non-math interview with him in a dentist office waiting room magazine, presumably SI, and it was fascinating stuff. Clearly an insightful guy who knows and loves the game. And a while ago I heard an interview with him on the radio. He presented himself as very humble, but not regular humble, try-like-hell humble. I think I have a pretty good feel for the guy, I like him.

But for now, the Pythagorean thing. I'm pressed for time so this will be brief, but I'll get back to it for those interested (if site stats mean anything, then there are is a surprising number of people interested in this sort of thing, Whoda thunk it?) So back to point:

All Bill James is trying to tell us with the pythagorean theorem for baseball is that shit happens. That even though we humans are spiritual beasts by nature, that a lot of the magic associated with the game ... the 'clutchness' and 'finding ways to win' ... they don't matter as much as we think. No Hell below us, above us only sky.

So if you take a season for any team, say the Blue Jays from last year, the one team I give a half a shit about ... then maybe, just maybe, it was just pure coincidence that the reason they lost so many 1 run games in the first half of the season was because they were simply unlucky. Forget about the mystery and magic.

And if you believe that they were just unlucky, that runs are scored when they are scored and runs surrendered when they are surrendered ... then if you randomly shuffle the Runs-For in games against the Runs-Against in game, do it thousands of times, then you would expect that the Jays would have a second half winning percentage of .532 on average. They in fact had a winning percentage of .531 in the second half.

The reason that they are so close? Pure coincidence. Surely there are too many variables (injury, trades, luck within games themselves, changes in difficulty of schedule and so on) for it to really be that accurate.

The curious thing. Bill James, marketeer extraordinaire, found a best fit equation for this real random distribution. And for baseball, with the number of runs being scored in games ... his simple Pythagorean expectation equation: = 1/( 1 + (RA/RF)2 ) captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere. He could have done much better, but the simplicity of this grabs us. Something about it makes sense for no reason at all. There is an inexplicable soundness to it. It's the ratio baby!

I mean sure you could rewrite it as: =RF2/(RF2 + RA2) ... but "it's the sum of squares baby!" just doesn't have the same cachet. He could have used literally dozens of methods to approximate the "shit happens" curve a smidge more accurately. But he would have lost his audience in doing so. A shame, because the message was much more important than the best fit curve, and the former seems to have been lost on most.

In any case this simple curve that he created to try and match the real one ... it's near as dammit, it would have predicted a .530 winning% for the Jays in the second half using the example above. So there isn't much to quibble about.

Or you could use the same "shit happens" thinking and build it up rationally as a few have on the net. But then the math gets so heavy that you lose your readers. BTW: Hardcore baseball nuts should read the article from a kid at Brown's University (good school btw, and sorry but I didn'tt save the link) applying Weibull's theorem to James' original "shit happens" premise. It requires some abstract thinking, because nobody actually wins a baseball game 4.3 to 3.2, at least not without the official scorer being ridiculed ;) but it makes more basic sense. And he leaves himself open to take it further. Mad shit is that, but that alone made this worth digging into.

Interesting cat, this Mr James.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Owners: they're all business

Vue Weekly award winners are taking shots at ex-goalie Garth and the Islanders. I figured IOF needed to get in on that action. This story seems like a neverending fount of amusement. I'm only going to dredge up some irony, which is just pure clean fun, no?

Snow, you may recall, was recently — or still is? — a card-carrying NHLPA member. In fact, he was one of the ones stirring up the ruckus over how Saskin got hired.


He was quoted as saying:

"Our issue as a whole isn't that Bob got fired," Snow explained Tuesday. "That kind of thing happens. The main issue is what transpired after that. How did the [hiring] process unfold? Did it follow the right path? I know it didn't.

"How did Bob get hired 15 years ago?" continued Snow. "They got a search committee. I don't think it's asking too much to get the best person qualified for a job that pays $2.5 million. That's a lot of money to pay someone and I want to make sure he's the best person for it."

The irony? Bob is to Neil as Saskin is to Snow, basically. Snow can't exactly be making chump change as a GM, and he's got his hands on the steering wheel of a corporation worth hundreds of millions. Astute observers may appreciate that it would be prudent to search hard for the best qualified candidate. You wouldn't want them to hire a guy just because he's handy ("Hey Garth, come here a sec. You busy?") or just because he's a Good Islander Boy, right?

Wang surely wouldn't do that. He's an owner, and owners are all business. He's personally worth thousands or maybe even millions, I'm not sure. A poster boy for left wingers? If you have some preconceived notions of that separate breed of humans called "business people", I guess.

I know I'll sleep better now, secure in the knowledge that if Wang didn't go through the right process of making completely abolutely sure that he hired the right guy then Snow, I'm sure, would call him out publically on that.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Waiting for the D

The networks have practically been clogged with discussion about the Oilers defense — or lack thereof — for this season. The last two posts at Lowetide's den were devoted to the D: just how bad are they, and how can they be fixed? This level of concern from a guy who likes the Oilers' chance of winning the cup soon. Obsessed, are we?

Fellow IOFer (I just love that term) Vic has already been soothing the savages with the calming voice of logic. I take a cue from this and add a simple recomendation for patience on the matter.

For one thing, it's a fair question right now as to whether Lowe is using the same modus operandi as last season. That is, to start out with some real question marks on paper, let the early season show what the real question marks are, and fill them in as the opportunities present themselves. Last season, the main question marks were in goal and the first line centre. Remember the message boards worldwide were having a hearty chuckle at the Oilers pair of goalies? And that even the Oilers fans routinely enjoyed loathing Horcoff? He was sometimes charitably given the 3rd line C status, right? Turns out that Horcoff did pretty well, and the 1C turned out not to be a problem. And it turns out that Lowe was able to fill the holes as time went on, and the team did reasonably well after all. It was costly, but one wonders whether fixing the problems at the start of the season would have been more costly, or even possible with the dollars the ownership would pry from their vaults.

Would last season's roll-and-remediate strategy work well again this year? As I see it, that depends on two things.

The first question is how bad the gambles really are. Last season, I thought both the Horcoff and Conkkanen gambles were pretty reasonable. Going for Conkkanen were SV%, platooning, and the two chances that a #1 would emerge. Horcoff had his excellent European working vacation in his favour.

The second question is how costly it is to fix the problems. On that front, it should be noted that only one of the two aforementioned supposed problems were ever fixed by Lowe. That would be Roloson. The cost was a couple of picks, a pretty small pile of cash (all things considered) and some premature white hair for Oilers fans. Some risk was added in that nobody was as sure as the Oilers were of Roloson's ability to perform, or whether the team would mesh in time. Perhaps, but I'm unsure as to whether the risk would have been greater at the start of the season. I'll leave it for others to guess as to whether it would have been cheaper to fill the G spot at the start of the season. It seems unlikely to me. You gotta know when to fix. It should be noted here also that the main things Lowe fixed were the depth D and some secondary scoring. While important, these were hardly the concerns most frequently voiced at the beginning of the season.

So assume for the moment that Lowe is willing to roll into the season with some glaring flaws on the paper roster. Is this still a sound strategy? I believe there are some reasons to think so. For one thing, accurate evaluation of defensemen seems to be a strength of the organization. If their thinking is that the current on-paper D is a reasonable gamble, then this is a good organization to trust with that gamble. I trusted them less with the goalie gamble last year; frankly, I'm not even sure they fully understood the risks. Another reason to like the strategy is that a non-flashy defender seems to be about the cheapest thing to acquire, as Vic routinely points out. Actually, last year amply demonstrated this fact for this very team, as Lowe got Spacek and Tarnstrom for dryer lint and some cash. Convenient that they had some expendable prospects and salary space, eh?

Few people on the planet know if Lowe is planning to deal some future for some right-now. At this point I don't have too much trouble waiting for the D. This is why I can't get troubled by Dennis' angst about the Pronger deal. In the ideal world, the GM who's willing to give the most also solves your problems at the same time. But that's not always the case. Its reasonable to suppose that Lowe thought the Ducks deal gave the best overall value.

And Burke sent Lowe some pretty nice coupons to go shopping with. Lowe has an extra 1st rounder, a 2nd rounder, a cheap young proven roster goal scorer, and a well-hyped prospect to work with from the Pronger deal. Pretty much all of these are easily converted currency. These are effectively the cash of the NHL. If Lowe was looking to cash Pronger in for easy-to-move assets, it might be hard to do worse. Heck, Lowe might even be able to inflate AHLer Smid's value by giving him a roster spot and some easy minutes.

Of course, Lowe might be planning not to fix the problems this year and is, instead, either biding time until the time is right or actively building for the future. If that's the case I'll be disappointed for sure, but at least I'll have the entertainment of watching Dennis spill venom onto the net. Anger seems to throw him into his best form. I'm already looking foward to the first half.

Friday, July 14, 2006

In Defense of the... Defense

If you're like most Oiler fans these days, you've probably spent a bit of time despairing over Pronger and Spacek's departures. Until Vic made his excellent post outlining MacT's probably strategy, you were probably wondering what the hell Edmonton could do about it's defensive situation next year. With this post, I hope to answer a little bit of the next big question: "how well will it work?"

The numbers you see are pretty straight forward with the caveat that some common sense is needed to interpret them. I chose three of the players I did because of departures/arrival and then Greene as something of a replacement level baseline who is the most likely to improve this season.

A couple notes:

1) Matt Greene spent a miniscule about of time (just 5 minutes) killing penalties during this year's playoffs. Edmonton allowed a goal against during this time and hence his PKGA/hr is an inflated 12. No doubt he's not in Pronger's league when it comes to killing penalties, but he probably gets screwed a bit with the small sample size.

2) Likewise, Shaggy looks like a PK monster by the numbers I've got and in his case the number is so good that you'd have to find at least a few flaws in the way I calculated it before he loses his shine.

Flaws aside, the real question is simply of how much worse we'll be this year than last.

As the most potentially surprising statement I will make about the Oilers' D, Edmonton is a better team if you take last year's defense and make a Spacek for Tjarnqvist trade straight up. Shaggy is much better on the PK, comparable on the powerplay though his career numbers are lower, and more reliable at even strength. It's possible that these numbers are just a projection of the frustration #6 imbued me with last year (with his play in both zones) but I just can't see how Edmonton would lose such a trade. Jaro is obviously the more offensive of the two but not by enough IMO to make up for his defensive shortcomings to Tjarnqvist.

I can only assume that at least one pessimist is raring to have at me for a post that's shaping up to bely a high koolaid intake. Rest assured, my conclusions regarding FCP are less rosy.

Chris Pronger went ES +6 with 9 ES points over 24 playoff games against the toughest possible opposition. He was excellent on the powerplay, made smart decisions all playoff long and was a minute eater in all situations. There is no way to suggest that his contribution will be replaced by the 2006/2007 squad and no one would claim otherwise.

However, with the Oilers benefiting marginally from the Spacek for Shaggy trade, we're not as far away from respectable as many would think. Our penalty kill won't suffer as much as most believe. At even strength, it's more than likely that one of Smith and Staios will be on the ice in all key situations. While this does make for a team that will be be exposed by opposing stars often enough, much of the losses will be made up by having average to above average save percentace hold the fort and some of them will be tempered by more offense from the forwards.

Have a look at these and your own numbers and draw your own conclusions. It's obvious that 2006/07 is going to be a lessen in patience for Oiler fans. Bottles will be drank triumphantly one night and thrown violently the next. Are we screwed? My answer is a resounding hell no.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Relative Value of Forwards and Defensemen

I wouldn't post on the topic but Dennis is starting to concern me here a bit, dude is lost in negativity and hasn't posted a thread in yonks either. And the normally cool guys at CinO are feeding off of each other's darkness at this point. A shame. I don't know what's going on in the friendnasium, but I'm guessing much drinking of bourbon with the lights dimmed. Don't MAKE me send Pat 'round to smash your Air Supply CDs and turn up the lights boys, cuz I will! Snap out of it.

Anyhow, shit happens when it does, we all know it. Goalposts happen, deflections happen, soft goals happen, passes between skates sometimes work and make you look brilliant ... or the same pass misses by a hair and you end up looking like a tit. That's life. No surprises there.

And how do you separate the D from the F when they are always on the ice together?
You can't imo. What you can do is see the difference in results from the top 2/3rds of defensemen to the bottom 1/3rd. And the same for forwards.

And of course you could weight everyone's dice in a craps game, based on hockey skills, and still some of the bad dice are going to have winning stretches, and some of the good dice are going to see the opposite ... that's life, we all know it. But on the whole one would hope that it would wash out. So you filter out the overall randomness (not surprisingly a bell shaped curve like the ones, back in your youth, that have let you pass courses that you thought you had failed. :) )

In short, all we can do is look at the relative difference. How the spread of results for Dmen and forwards shakes out. A replacement value way of thinking. And look at the collective results so as to not get caught up in the oddities. And since you can only look at one aspect of the game at a time, I've chosen even strength.

As a dimensionless number, the bigger it is the stronger the value of good players at their position relative to the guy 1/3rd of the way up the ladder:

At goal prevention (EV-) ...
Defensemen: 27
Forwards: 23

These should be the same. Must be the new NHL, defensemen really do matter a bit more. Still, near enough the same.

At goal creation (EV+) ...
Defensemen: 35
Forwards: 48

This is where the wheat gets separated from the chaff. The ability to be on the ice when goals are scored at even strength varies widely, for both D and F relative to their peers. The difference between the good and the mediocre starts to pull apart. Especially for forwards, they are driving the bus here. And as a consequence the same goes for outscoring.

Bottom line ...

1. Creation of offense is harder to replace than prevention of it. When it comes to making decisions or plays that result in the puck going in the bad guy's net ... with offense there is a bigger difference between the guys who can get it done and the journeymen.

2. Forwards drive that result a lot more than defensemen do. Less so now, but it's still a helluva gap.


My point:

For whatever reason, right now offensive defensemen are clearly overpriced relative to offensive forwards. Even considering PP contributions. Probably not relative to their defensive minded peers, but relative to forwards. And maybe this whole thing will shift and in a couple of years defensemen who can create offense will be undervalued. Who knows? The market will determine that.

IMO the wise man bets on sevens if he is given the same odds on any number in a roll of the dice. Even if a madass stretch of sixes have been rolled. And forwards who can create more offense than they surrender ... they are the sevens in 2006. Just are.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Gameplan Without Pronger

It is still just early July, and the exciting part of the UFA season is already behind us. Howson suggested yesterday that the Oilers may well go into the season without adding defensive depth. And Showerhead and Lowetide have done the sums on the Oilers payroll, there isn't a whole bunch of space left there. Howson may just be telling us the truth here.

So, what will MacTavish do without Chris Pronger on his roster? How will the Oilers cope?

I can't answer the second question, and I'm optimistic by nature so I can't get too worried either.

I can, however, take a stab at the first question, basing my hypothesis on the game vs CGY last winter that saw Pronger get scratched for health reasons. MacTavish's blue line that night included Syvret, Ulanov, Cross, Bergeron, Staios and Smith. And that ain't pretty.

So, what did MacTavish's coaching staff do? They rolled Staios and Smith down the right side all night. That's what. Except for when the Oilers had a PP one of those two, but not both, seemed to be out there.

The shift chart strips below are the first and second halves of the came. I cut it in two to fit it on blogger. Jason Smith is dark green. Staios is rust colour. The green and red bits along the edges are Oiler PKs and PPs respectively.

Calgary may not have a lot of finish up front, but they are a physical team to play against. Not easy for Staios and Smith. Probably why the shifts got shorter as the game wore on.

By my non-Dennisian memory it was a fun game to watch in spite of the low score. A well played game by both sides. And an unfortunate bounce, past Staios I think, to allow the Flames to tie it up late. Mike Morrison got the win in the shootout in a peculiar way, remember Amonte's attempt? What the hell was that?. Pisani got the shootout winner with his patented backhand five-hole move.

If my memory is right this was also the game that saw whiny git Mike Peca delegated to the 4th line on the scorecard. Which caused much discussion with the TV guys, who failed to notice that MacTavish was going all 1983 on our asses and had delegated Peca to shadow Iginla on the night. Not a real hard match, but 7.4 minutes of head to head at even strength. Well ahead of the usual suspect for that gig, Horcoff, who clocked in at 5.5 minutes. A light night for Shawn by his own standards, and the old school Oiler fans and video game nutters surely delighted in the game plan.

Staios made an interesting comment when asked about Pronger's absence. Just a shrug and a "we were a good team before he got here". Said in a very matter-of-fact way. Good leader I think.

Pop Quiz: Which Oiler forward played the second most even strength IggyMinutes(TM) on this night?

Strangest contract thus far?

Here's a deal I still haven't really figured out - Chris Higgins.

Scores 23 goals as a 23 year old, and signs a one year contract for 673K.

Couple things I don't get here:

(1) How was his qualifying offer even that low as a mid 1st round pick coming off his first contract?

(2) Who's his agent, and what's wrong with him?

(3) Didn't he think he'd have better leverage by waiting it out a bit, and signing closer to the start of the year?

(4) No GM thought Higgins was worth an offer sheet at 1 mil, which would only have cost a 3rd rounder in compensation? Guess we won't be seeing any offer sheets, if that's the case. What about even a 2 mil offer on a one year deal, 2nd round cost in compensation?

(5) Does this at all bode well for Lupul's deal, or only if that deal is short term? I wonder about Stoll as well, though he's arb eligible and Lupul isn't.

Monday, July 10, 2006


I can’t be sure who to thank for the quote that elicited my current line of thought but Kevin Lowe’s history indeed suggests him to be the kind of man who bets on seven more often than not.

Recent reports have indicated that Radek Dvorak wants back in the fold. I will put my personal feelings on this matter on hold for a moment or two for the purposes of this post.

There are many people in the hockey world who think of Radek Dvorak as a scorer who simply will not score. Perhaps he has been snake-bitten for the better part of a few years, perhaps he believes in the “scorer’s code” and does not want to put up points unless the collective community of goals and assists somehow picks a fight with him first. Nonetheless, those folk who perceive Dvorak in this light miss a large chunk of his actual value to a hockey team.

I realize that the readership of this blog is not likely to need reminding of Radek’s abilities in his own end. He is a valuable penalty killer and outscores reasonably difficult opposition reasonably well. He is also capable of rushing the puck up the ice with terrific speed in an effort to create that kind of unlikely bonus offence that I would attribute to Laraque if the puck ever ended up in the net after one of his keep-away games. Apparently, #20’s ESP/hr is actually very respectable.

I hereby propose that, in keeping with the Oilers’ history of preferring veterans to youth and reliability to flair, Radek Dvorak is brought in as Edmonton’s one (and only) “McAmmond”-type signing. I would still like Pouliot and Jacques to make the team and I believe that this situation would force Schremp to earn his way. Finally, I think that the prospect-folk would still be satiated by two rookies on the big club whereas Dvorak + one more vet would break too many hearts.

PS - My apologies for the poetry-styled first post. I suppose the Manitoban in me insists on some sort of central bias.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Flexibility, Patience, and Antarctic Currency

Hello to everyone! First off, I'd like to thank everyone here at IOF for having me on board. I love reading what all of you have to say and am happy to be in a position to add my occasional insights to the fold!

My first post, however, is pretty cut and dry. I've seen a lot of rumblings around the internet about the Oilers being in a position to snipe an overpriced contract or two to bolster their blueline. While I agree that this is a sound strategy for a team with the cap (and budget) room to pull it off, I'm not sold as of yet that Edmonton is that team. Here's what the Oil are currently on the hook for:

At forward:
Smyth 3.5
Pisani 2.5
Moreau 1.026
Reasoner .95
Pouliot .942
Torres .925
Schremp .86
Jacques .6
Brodziak .526
Winchester .5

...along with Hemsky (3.5), Horcoff (3.5), Lupul (2.5), and Stoll (2.5) on the way.

These numbers are obviously estimates and are likely generous to a guy like Jarret Stoll but look fair for Hemsky and Horcoff. You also have to assume that Lowe is done tinkering with the front half of his roster - I just can't see Samsonov coming back, as nice as he would look, or any other significant additions being involved. It really looks like Edmonton has maxed out its bang-for-the-buck on forward, with the potential exception of a cheap defensively responsible veteran.

Here's what our glorious (read: porous... throw in an 'i' if you want it to rhyme) defense looks like:
Smith 1.976
Tjarnqvist 1.625
Staios 1.615
Bergeron .969
Greene .855
Syvret .542

...and Smid, who I am casually estimating will fall into the .9 milion area.

Toss in a couple goalies at 4 and .85 million dollars respectively and the Oilers' 2006/07 contracts, with estimates included, total $37.661 million. This is hardly an earth shattering number but most people have ignored Edmonton's 2005/06 non-roster contracts when (under)-estimating what we're on the hook for for 06/07. Throw in the fact that the Oilers' last confirmed prediction for their budget in the upcoming season was $39-40 million and there is only approximately $1.5 million in play left.

That's tons, you say... especially with a salary, even Bergeron's, going the other way in a trade. However it has long been espoused by those around these parts that the most sound financial strategy (and the one that K-Lowe employed this year) would be to play from October to March with the most affordable possible roster that still puts you in a play-off spot. The Oilers were excellent in this regard in the 05/06 season, adding Tarnstrom and Spacek midway through and Samsonov and Roloson at the deadline so that its playoff roster was much (affordably) more expensive than their season roster.

Do you really think Lowe is going to piss away this financial cushion so soon? For a guy who's been painfully slow in measuring his options when weakenesses have been exposed in the past, I hardly think that this summer, with the remaining UFA's and overpriced potential castaways, is when he addresses the hole in our back end. If he adds more than a Tarnstrom in salary, it's going to happen midway through the season after he's ensured that Smid is either Meszjaros' second coming or painfully makes us forget all about Cross flailing away at a breaking Iginla after yet another giveaway.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Next Stop? China?

I hate to bump speeds' post, but I have to post something here after the news that Georges Laraque is leaving town.

I pride myself on being one of the more even keeled posters on the Oilogosphere but I've just never seen anything like this run the Oilers are on right now. I'm adapting a Denis Leary quote from Rescue Me heavily here: They're on a team/fan morale freefall that just passed the centre of the Earth. Next stop? China.

Unreal. Shall we break it down?

A gut-wrenching Stanley Cup loss in Game 7 after a spirited comeback from a 3-1 deficit.

Pronger, the top player on the team with his name front and centre on the marquee asks out a week later.

Dvorak says he doesn't want to come back and starts a disturbing theme amongst departing Oilers.

We find out the Oilers declined to pick up MacT's option before the playoffs. Not bad until we have to listen to Laforge's ham-handed spin and later discover the options were picked up for the rest of the coaching staff.

The vast majority of UFAs bypass Edmonton.

Pronger gets dealt for a package that is less than inspiring and reminiscent of the bad old days.

Spacek gets signed to a contract that really isn't too bad to play in a small market with an almost equally crummy climate to that of Edmonton.

Horcoff, Hemsky and Stoll all file for arbitration. Not really a big concern, but the agony is prolonged.

Georges Laraque, easily the most enthusiastic supporter of all things NHL hockey related in Edmonton, takes off for the Phoenix Coyotes as the coup de grace for the past few weeks. I hope.

I still think this team has a solid group of players and there are certainly plenty of opportunities for Lowe to improve this club between now and training camp. So the talk of finishing in the bottom third of the league is way off the mark in my opinion. But even the bright spots in the offseason have been bittersweet. Reasoner's return came after a disappointing departure and the welcome signings of Pisani and Roloson to rather large contracts weren't entirely rosy occasions mostly because of the feeling of impending doom surrounding the Pronger deal at that time.

The stomach punches just keep coming every day and it's getting a little hard to maintain much positivity with this club right now. We all circled the wagons quite nicely after the Stanley Cup loss, but this is starting to try my patience. They need some positive news this week.

RFA offer sheets, CBA notes, and Mikhnov

Some random thoughts:

(1) RFA offer sheets

Ahh, one of my favorite topics. A couple of posts down RiversQ suggested EDM take a run at Spezza. The more things change, the more they stay the same

This year I'm a bit more leery about EDM throwing out an offer sheet. I think the risk is higher this year, because I think the odds of EDM being as good this year as I thought they would be last year (division winners or a close 2nd to the Canucks) probably aren't as good. How bad could this team be if they can't find any D help, and maybe Horcoff, Smyth and Roloson get hurt for chunks of the year? Could this club finish in the bottom 5 of the league? Bottom 10? All of a sudden that's a pretty good pick you'd be giving up (though you'd obviously have the player you bid on, which would help you out) as RFA compensation - assuming you bid on a guy that cost more than 2 mil.

The teams for which RFA bidding should be most advantageous are the teams that expect to be picking 20-30 OV in the first round of next season's draft. Reason being that the value of said picks is obviously much lower. As an example, If EDM gives up the 11th overall pick as part of the compensation package for a 4 mil RFA, CAL giving up a 1st, 2nd and 3rd isn't of equivalent value if CAL's picks are 25, 55, and 85 OV. The draft pick compensation of of much less value if the team doing the RFA signing is going to pick 20-30 in the first round.

Having said all that, I think there are some interesting RFA targets this summer, though IMO a team like CAL may get better value this way than EDM (in particular, on a bid for Bergeron from BOS to play on their top 2 lines, giving CAL a respectable top 6 of:


I'm not sure if there's as obvious a target as Spezza was last summer, and still no one bid on him. Anyways, here as some potential RFA targets, leaguewide:

Roy, Bergeron (as I said though, this is a guy for CAL, would be a pretty good fit for them IMO. Even though they'd probably need to dump Hamrlik's salary to make room for him, they could probably get a couple picks back to make up for the compensation costs they'd have to pay to acquire Bergeron - though it's probably all moot as BOS would likely match), Svatos, Zherdev, Horton, Brown, Hamhuis, Vermette, Pitkanen, Stajan

(2) You may have noticed that I skipped some notable RFA's in the last section with regards to guys who may be worth signing to an offer sheet. Players who have filed for arbitration are NOT eligible to sign RFA offer sheets any more this summer. What might this mean for the Oilers?

(a) If Lowe feels like getting into the RFA raiding game but is concerned about retaliation this summer, only Lupul is left among RFA's.

(b) forget about RFA offer sheets for the likes of Tallinder(BUF), Liles(COL), Bouwmeester(FLA), and Van Ryn(FLA). They are now ineligible.

At least, that how I read section 10.2(a)(i)(B) of the new CBA. I'm not a lawyer though, so MC (or anyone), please correct me if I'm mistaken.

(3) I have seen it mentioned that EDM should keep Schremp up this year if he's borderline, because it will cost them a year of service. This line of thinking is incorrect, as Schremp will be a UFA in the summer of 2013 whether he plays in the NHL all year, AHL all year, or some combination thereof (barring a CBA change next negotiation, or Schremp being non-qualified at some point before summer 2013).

(4) With regards to arbitration, Ireland mentioned in today's EDM Journal that Horcoff had filed, and the Oilers were waiting for word on whether there other 3 RFA's (Hemsky, Stoll, Lupul) would file as well. As we've found out Hemsky and Stoll did but Lupul is NOT arbitration eligible having signed at ages 18-20 and only having completed 3 pro seasons.

(5) I believe I've read somewhere that the signing deadline for Mikhnov is July 15th. Has anyone else heard this, and if so, do you have a corroborating link?

I had been concerned, having flipped briefly through the CBA, that Mikhnov would be a UFA come next summer, not bound to his rookie cap, due to section 9.1(b) of the CBA. Section 9.1(b) says that any player sho signs at age 25 for the first time is a UFA (not bound to his rookie cap). For Mikhnov, that would be next summer (he would probably only be 24 at the time he signs, but the CBA mentions in section 9.2 that "age" in this context refers to a player's age on Sept 15th of the year he signs, regardless of his age on the day he signs. Having read more carefully though, section 9.1(c) says that Mikhnov will have to sign a one year entry level deal in any of the next 4 summers, even if he doesn't sign with EDM this summer and goes UFA( though in this case he would be a UFA bound to his rookie cap).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hemsky, Lupul and Schremp On The Same Roster

If that doesn't scare you shitless then you are officially a prospect junkie. And Stoll and Torres aren't exactly the kind of guys you want out there against Demitra ... though the latter has taken big strides in this area imo.

In a few years people will look back at this roster and wonder aloud how come they didn't win more games. In the same way that people look back at those New York Islander teams of six or seven years ago (the $16M-ish NYI budget days) ... and see Chara, Luongo, Jokinen, Connolly, Brewer, etc. and wonder why they routinely got their asses kicked back then. The popular answer will be "the coach must have been a drooling moron!", the likely correct answer is "the players with talent were too young to help the team win". Put that same group together now and they would be the foundation for a terrific team, one with serious cap troubles btw. :-).

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Pronger deal is a terrible trade, just that there is no right now! component. Like there would have been if someone like Gaborik (1 year to UFA), Havlat (1 year to UFA) or Hossa (2 years to UFA?) had been included in another deal that returned less future and more immediate help. On the flip side; Burke obviously thinks that his Anaheim team can win now, and I think that's really unlikely, but whatever.

I think that if the Oilers can stay in a playoff spot up until the trade deadline they should be okay. Hopefully solidly in a playoff position, because new players, especially forwards, usually take a while to adjust to a new team. And I expect that Lowe will leave budget space to make deals at the deadline, and he does have the chips to deal. And the goaltending should be improved, that will help. The Northwest division looks to be even tougher next season though, it won't be easy.

So, my open question:

How the hell does MacTavish coax wins when you have that many forwards who are almost certainly going to be outscored at 5on5, unless they play with veteran linemates that can drag them up a level?

There are only so many soft minutes to go around. And those are the primo scoring minutes, they should be spent wisely, not just gifted to kids to learn the game. Not on a team that seriously plans to contend, anyways.

My own best guess, just the forwards for now:

Smyth-Horcoff-Pisani: Head to head against the other team's best players. Always. Like in the last few months of the 03/04 season. Priority one on every game plan. No farting around by bringing Hemsky or Lupul up their in an effort to mature them faster.

Torres-Stoll-Hemsky: These guys have to step up. I think they all can and will eventually, but odds are that only one of them really will this season. MacTavish will be short on cherry minutes and superior linemates. Time for these young players to start carrying some of the load. It's not enough to just look good, it's time for results, it really is.

Moreau-Schremp-Lupul: The liability line. Moreau babysits. Lots of PP time for the two younger players, 4on4 too, less so for the 5on5. The shifts immediately after Sakic has left the ice, the shifts immediately after a successful PK. If MacTavish does this right, these guys should look good, the measuring stick should be if casual fans like your spouse or the guys around the water cooler think this is the Oilers best line. And it should be surprising to you when somebody like Gregor points out how few 5on5 minutes they played in the last game.

These are the kinds of minutes that allowed guys like Jagr, Selanne, and surprisingly Thornton et al to run up gaudy 5on5 scoring and EV+/- numbers last season. But with this trio we should be happy if they just don't lose the Oilers too many games.

And just to keep life simple, we should all agree in advance to blame their results failures on Ethan. :D

Jacques-Pouliot-Laraque/Mikhnov: MacTavish has to find a way to keep their legs in the game. Sacrificing The Schremp line's 5on5 minutes is a good start. If they have it in them, then training Jacques and Pouliot as PKers would be another good step. You don't need to be good defensively at 5on5 to be a good PKer imo. Just need the basic raw skills and training.

And sign Georges for Chrissakes.


So, what's your cunning plan?

EDIT: I've just read that Reasoner has been signed by the Oilers. A good move imo, they badly needed to be stronger up the middle, especially against stronger and deeper opponents. I assume this bumps Schremp down a notch.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Spezza should be the target

This is speeds' territory, but it needs to be said.

A hard run at Spezza would put the Sens over a barrel. A $5-6MM/yr cap number would push them to the limit and Spezza would be worth it.

They've got 12 players under contract for just over $31MM this year. Signing replacement players to fill the roster would cost $5MM, so Muckler really only has $7MM (plus $1MM leeway) to work with to fill spots above and beyond the replacement level.

RFA offer sheet to Spezza - 5yrs, $32.5MM.

Muckler can't even really retaliate this year to punish us either - he just doesn't have the room.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Petr Sykora

Well the UFA feeding frenzy has started. For anyone who isn't already following the action at Battle of Alberta, I would recommend it. Andy Grabia is doing a terrific job with this from an Oiler fan's point of view.

I just thought I'd throw Petr Sykora's name up for discussion. Interesting player, and at the time I write this he is an unsigned UFA.

His stock has certainly fallen since he left New Jersey, and I have watched very few games that he has played in since. Pretty much just the games in which he played against the Oilers. Hopefully somebody saw more of him in Anaheim or NYR games this year and can add some opinion to this. By the results that the NHL publishes, there are a couple of curious things about the guy.

* He hit a stupid number of goalposts and crossbars last season, and carried that on into the playoffs where he hit three more. A grand total of 15 by memory. That's just nuts, surely the hockey gods will be kinder to him next season.

I was doing that "tough minutes" metric as per the post below, and it's piss easy to fart around and look at things from different angles just by tweaking the code. So I looked at
the opposition quality for a player's +'s and for their -'s separately. Not surprisingly every bugger got their +'s against an overall weaker group of opposition.

A rare exception was Sykora in 03/04. Who actually got better results against better opposition, which is upside down of course. I guess if you get enough guys rolling the dice somebody is going to roll a crazy stretch of sevens and a few other cats are going to get nasty stretches of snake eyes. Or maybe there was some crazy sort of line shuffling combined with injury, I dunno.

The point here is that while salary is based largely on recent performance ... Sykora just may be a good bet to exceed expectations in the 06/07 season, no matter where he is playing.

Now I don't know the guy. He may not want to play here. He may be a wife beater with a raging cocaine habit, he may be a prince, I dunno. And that matters too. I think that the Oilers have enough character on this roster that they could handle a couple of characters being added anyways.

So. Petr Sykora! Are ya with me?


Funny number.

Both Chris Kontos and Fernando Pisani had 29% shooting percentages in their best playoff years.

Mario Lemieux, the best finisher that the game has ever known in my lifetime ... his best ever regular season shooting% was 27%.

Joe Hulbig career shooting% ... 13%.

Jarret Stoll playoff shooting% ... 8%.

Mike Bossy told us; just shoot it at the net, quick release, some of them will go in.
Which is good advice I think, but he never told anybody what to do if they just all started going in for a stretch ... or if none of them did. I guess we'll just have to improvise.

And good for Fernando with the new contract, a good guy and a good player who cashed in when he could.

That is all.