Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Marc-Andre Bergeron: Facts and Fiction

I read the Oiler blogs today, and had a skim through the boards, and I'm moved to comment on Bergeron. More specifically on the argument that he was a useless when he wasn't playing with Pronger. It strikes me that most people seem to have remembered him playing with big 44 a lot more than he actually did.

We all judge defencemen so differently. If you read the game reviews of the people who actually bothered to watch preseason games so far, you generally see a concensus in the opinions on the forwards and tremendous disparity in the evaluation of defencemen. That's the way it's always been and always will be methinks.

Anyhow, for last season, some Bergeron and Pronger results, in "just the facts, ma'am" fashion. And only as accurate as the data available from NHL.com.

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Bergeron's D partners by minutes of EV icetime:
Pronger 420 (41%)
Staios 309 (30%)
Smith 230 (22%)
Others 71

So, for example, Bergeron played 41% of his even strenght icetime last season with Pronger on the ice at the same time.

Number of Goals scored, both for and against, by D partner (i.e. Events) at evens:
Pronger 39 EV+20 EV-19 (43%)
Staios 29 EV+16 EV-13 (32%)
Smith 18 EV+8 EV-10 (20%)
Others 4 EV+6 EV-4 (4%)

Points scored while with D partner at evens:
Pronger 5
Staios 6
Smith 5
Others 2

Today's VicFact #1:
At even strength Bergeron lead this defense corps in point production with 18 points. He was more productive when he WASN'T playing with Pronger. Pronger, on the other hand, scored points at an impressive rate while playing with Bergeron (8 points in 420 minutes) and scored points at a severe sub-ScottFerguson level when he wasn't paired with Marc-Andre (a mere 6 points in 609 minutes without Bergeron).

Today's VicFact #2:
At evens Bergeron was a plus player without Pronger.
At evens Pronger was an minus player without Bergeron.

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Now we all know that Pronger played tougher minutes than Bergeron when they were apart. And we know that 44 logged a bunch of icetime and was a real boon to the PP and PK units, especially the former. Pronger would have gotten my vote for team MVP, but just by a hair over Horcoff or Smyth. But facts be facts, if you're convinced that Bergeron was useless without Pronger, you're not going to be able to build a rational argument unless you fabricate evidence. I know two things about Bergeron: He's small and he can play.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Manny's Uncle Jacques

Did everyone else know that Jacques Lemaire was Manny Fernandez's uncle? I didn't. Damn. Probably just as well, because knowing this would have taken the fun out of the "which goalie will Minnesota trade?" speculation last winter.

Some quotes from Manny in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today:

I never thought I'd be in Minnesota this long. There were a couple of seasons it didn't go the way I wanted it to, and Rolie (Dwayne Roloson) was the guy that kind of came through for us. I really thought I would be the guy to go, not him.

And in the same article:

My mom's side of the family had a lot of influence on me when it came to hockey. (Wild coach) Jacques (Lemaire) is my mother's brother.

Think Manny, think!

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Besides that it's the usual 'get to know the player' drivel. This bit starts out promising:

The best day of my life is a three-way

But then turns boring in a flash:

... tie. It's my wedding day and the births of my son and my daughter.

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So. Uncle Jacques. Just thought you'd want to know.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Paul Martin and the Budget

According to this NHL salary site, along with Irish Blues(a poster from HF)'s salary site and the Oilfans salary webpage, the Oilers can start the season with a 24 man roster consisting of:

Smyth-Horcoff-Pisani
Torres-Sykora-Hemsky
Moreau-Stoll-Lupul
Winchester-Reasoner-Mikhnov
Schremp, Pouliot

Staios-Smith
Tjarnquist-Greene
MAB-Hejda
Smid

Roloson
Markkanen

for a cap hit of 41.0 mil, with an actual cost of 40.1 mil.

Alternatively, the Oilers could ice this lineup:

Smyth-Horcoff-Pisani
Torres-Sykora-Hemsky
Moreau-Stoll-Lupul
Winchester-Reasoner-Thoresen
Peterson

Martin-Smith
Staios-Tjarnquist
Greene-Hejda
MAB

Roloson
Markkanen

for a cap hit of 41.8 mil, and an actual cost of 40.9 mil, assuming EDM can land Martin for an offer sheet of 9 mil over 3 years (1st and 3rd in comp, to do this EDM needs to get their 3rd back from MIN, I can't imagine that would be overly difficult).

Alternatively you could try trading for Martin. The offer sheet method allows EDM to dump some draft picks while retaining their prospects, but maybe you could include a guy like Winchester if you actually dealt for Martin, and maybe you can get him at a cheaper salary via trade as well?

Point being, if Peterson and Thoresen make the team over Schremp and Pouliot, it saves ~ 0.9 mil in budget room. If there's 1.5 - 2 mil left in the budget at the moment (big if?), that would give EDM 2.4-2.9 mil to acquire another D now. Flexibility at the deadline is nice, but is it better than having a stronger team to go the first 50 games? Maybe if you know you are going make it anyways. Can the Oilers be sure? Should Lowe be sure?

Would the REAL Hockey Jesus Please Stand Up

Who is The Hockey Jesus?

Is it Rob Schremp? Scott Niedermayer? Or someone else? This has to be sorted, pronto.

Preseason Battle of Alberta Icetimes

Just for the helluvit. I didn't see or hear the game, but I see that Sutter had Langkow and Yelle on the roster at centre, so I'm assuming that those two played with NHL regulars for the most part and they didn't play at the same time.

A bit of a whacky game with all the penalties, there couldn't have been much flow to the benches in this one. Still, here you go, the icetime of the Oilers vs Langkow+Yelle in the game last night.

Bisaillon must've played with Hejda. And Hemsky and Torres at the bottom of the list ... I guess coaches need practice in the preseason too. :) If this policy is run in the regular season, as common sense dictates it should, then Torres is the frontrunner to lead this team in EV+/- this season. And Reasoner (who will doubtlessly step in for Sykora on D zone draws when Horcoff doesn't, bumping Petr to the port side and Torres to the bench until the puck starts heading the right direction) could be in for a rough numbers year.

Also, the icetime thing is on the sidebar and set for the game last night. It should churn out a little graphic at the top of this blog page, basically like two side-by-side strips from the shiftchart, with the location of home PPs and PKs shown on the edges. I don't think that works on the IE6 browser though. Here is a list of jersey numbers for last night's game:

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ball Four

Ball Four is a terrific book by Jim Bouton, a MLB pitcher clinging on near the end of his career. I read it about 20 years ago, and Black Dog quoted from this book yesterday in a very good post on Thoresen. And since I have no shame, here is the Bouton quote on the preseason from Pat's blog, brought to you through the magic of 'cut & paste'.

Reminds me of Jim Bouton's classic Ball Four and when he talks about training camp and trying to make the major league roster of the Seattle Pilots. If you're not playing much is that a good thing? Does it mean that the team has decided you are in? Or does it mean they have decided that you are out? If you are playing a lot what does that mean? It must mean you are in the mix, right? Or are they waiting for you to fail so they can point out to the media/organization/you that this is why you were cut?

I'm with Bouton, I really have no idea either. And I'm not much of a prospects or preseason guy, but in games I've seen the teams clearly tended towards playing veterans vs veterans and kids vs kids. And I believe that everybody does everything for a reason, be it wise or foolish, straightforward or convoluted. And that includes coaches.

So, by the looks of it last night the Flames had two NHL calibre forward lines out there. Iginla /Tanguay and Amonte/Friesen. So, just summing the icetime vs Iginla and Amonte, who never played together at all at even strength, here are the head to head icetimes vs the veterans, just for even strength here.

I'm not sure what that means (SEE Bouton quote above), but if I were a fringe player I am pretty sure that I would rather be near the top of this list than near the bottom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lines

A big topic this time of year, even though we all know that for one reason or another (usually injuries) the lines will get shuffled about a bunch throughout the year.

For the 05/06 season this is how the even strength icetime together shook out for the Oiler forwards. I've lumped in a bunch of temporary depth players (Kolanos, Stastny, Rita, etc) into the group called Plebs. This is only as accurate as the shiftcharts, and with a couple of those missing. Still, should give a pretty damn good idea of the spread methinks.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Buffalo and the Sundin Minutes

A lot of talk comparing the Oiler D corps to Buffalo's from 05/06. I'm not sure if that is an apt comparison or not, but I do know that Buffalo did NOT have a balanced d-corps. They might have been equally unheralded, but Lindy Ruff's coaching staff had some pretty clear ideas about who would play vs whom.

The Sabres played the Leafs eight times, so hopefully there is a smoothing out in the effect of home and road games, guys injured or playing injured, coach's experiments, etc.

The Leafs have a pretty obvious guy to target in Mats Sundin. At even strength these are how the Sundin minutes broke down for Ruff's defencemen:



If that's a coincidence, it's a freaking belter.

I guess we'll see something simlar to this Buffalo tactic with Smith and Staios at times this season. And at other times they'll roll these two down the right side all night at even strength, which is more along the lines of what San Jose seems to have done with Hannan and McLaren.

More importantly, we'll see what they do with the forwards against these types of guys. Oct 5th vs Calgary, if we see Smyth-Horcoff-Pisani getting a hard match against Iggy, then we know that MacTavish will be leaving his player development hat in the closet, at least until he sees what this team can do. And if that happens ... you can bet that Matt Greene won't see Iggy all night either. We'll see.

Friday, September 15, 2006

GMs and the Players That They Covet

I've gone on about this in the past on a few occasions, but I just thought I'd throw some more thoughts up on the same subject, taking a bit of a different angle.

NHL general managers are people too, with biases just like the rest of us. And it often seems to me that GMs go after players who have played well in the games that they have watched, which are usually the games that their team is playing. And most GMs listen to their coaches, who have an intimate knowledge of who played vs whom, and who played well, in the games that they coached.

In the case of Lowe, I know that those stints over in Europe for the WHCs weigh in. Isbister had a terrific tourney over there a year or so before he traded for him. He followed the Oilers AHL team around one year that the Oilers missed the playoffs (or maybe just an early exit) in any case I remember him commenting on a player named Torres who played for an opponent, a dominant player in the series. Surely that's Raffi.

When Atlanta traded Heatley for Hossa et al, I looked back at the shift charts for the year previous and Hossa had the Kovalchuk assignment in the OTT-ATL games. Rare, because that sort of thing is usually Alfredsson's gig. So if Waddell asks Hartley what he thinks of Hossa, well Bob and his staff have scrutinized every inch of Thrashers game tape. He's going to think that Hossa is even better than he is, because he's going to assume that he put up those great scoring numbers playing a big chunk against the Modano, Kovalchuk and Thornton types all season.

Kim Johnsson, he of the concussion problem. Minnesota took a gamble with his health when they signed him this summer. Kim also played the second most minutes against Gaborik in their one head to head game last season in Philly, 6.3 minutes. Just a bit behind Hatcher (7.1 minutes) and well clear of 3rd place Forsberg (4.9 minutes), there must have been a lot of penalties in that one. The year previous that sort of responsibility was commonplace for Johnsson, but this was a bit of a rare night for that in 05/06.

Philly played Chicago once. The game was in the windy city. Guess who Yawney played the most against Forsberg at 5on5 on the night? That's right, new Flyer Kyle Calder, a whopping 12.2 minutes H2H. Edging out Duncan Keith and Marty LaPointe. (btw: Mark Bell, who played some tough opp usually, only 2.7 on this night. Spacek, who didn't, with a typical 5.0)

San Jose played Chicago twice after Thornton arrived. That poor Duncan Keith bastard ate up most of those minutes again with 22 (does anyone even know what this guy looks like?). Then Mark Bell and LaPointe cleanly leading the march for the forwards with 16 minutes of H2H apiece.

Tjarnqvist is usually third in the march of D tough minutes against the other teams top talent. Against the Oilers he managed to edge out both Kuba and Mitchell. He played more against the Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky trio than any other Dman for Lemaire. Now he's an Oiler.

Which L.A King played the most minutes against Markus Naslund last season? Sean Avery of all people, and it looks like he fared well. Crawford is in L.A now. And Avery, the guy that everyone loves to hate, he was brought back to the Kings.

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For the most part there is consistency in this sort of thing. The guys that teams are most willing to move are usually the guys that weren't getting a lot of trust from their coach. And the guys that they covet are often the guys who were getting a lot of responsibility from their own coaches in the games that they went head to head.

There are a couple of inconsistencies. Notably PHX and CHI. There seems to be some peculiarity there, a disconnect between the coaching staff and management. In CHI you almost have to expect this sort of thing, but PHX? Damn. Is Gretzky really making the game plans and running the bench for the Coyotes or has he delegated that? Has he just stepped completely away from the hockey opps side, does he even talk to Barnet? Is he schizophrenic?

Only Michalek and Doan saw more responisbility than Johnson and Mara ... and the latter two are gone. And Derek F. Morris signed to a whopping contract? Just doesn't mesh with the actions of the coaching staff last season.

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I actually do have a point to all this, for those still reading:

I hope that Lowe targets young defencemen Duncan Keith and Zbynek Michalek. On the surface they look untouchable ... but with the Yotes and Hawks you just never know. I mean I'm sure that any GM would perform due diligence; download the PHX and CHI gametapes from NHL.com and make sure they weren't just flukes, review with coaches and pro scouts, etc.

But damn, I don't know if anyone is that lucky. Keith's EV+/- -7 is a lot more impressive than Spacek's +11 given the context. And Duncan Keith is just a boy by NHL defencemen standards, turned 23 this summer. Z.Michalek I blathered on about in a couple of other posts ('tough minutes' and 'big 8 minutes'), but to add to it, dude also played a staggering amount when the other team had pulled their goalie to try and tie it up. The Coyotes really leaned on the guy in Ohlundian fashion. And he's just 6 months or so older than Keith.

Just a thought.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Big Bruising Defensemen

They have taken a hard knock from the media in the "new" NHL. Unfairly I think. I know I had bought into the whole line of thinking.

I was just scrolling through the head-to-head icetimes vs Staal and Brind'Amour, to see if anyone else targeted Rod with their favourite 'hard minutes' D or forwards. And in the vast majority of cases they did not by the way, a couple of squads were 50/50, but the Oilers were alone in the strategy they ran in the Cup Finals. But I digress.

I notice that the guys who logged the tough minutes for most teams seem to be the same cast of characters as in past years. As always some old guys decline and some young guys step up, a bit moreso in 05/06 of course, because we skipped a season. But there doesn't really seem to be much in it.

The most famous guys that get slagged are Hatcher and Rathje. The general concensus of the hockey media is that Clarke made a huge mistake there. Ken Hitchcock, however, strongly disagrees. If we listen to his actions anyways.

You can name any of the obvious top guns on the other teams in the east ... and it's these two guys who carried the mail for the Flyers on the back end. Especially Hatcher, who outdid Forsberg by this metric even when you account for the fact that he played a lot more icetime than Foppa. I know that Peter was held together hockey tape again this season and missed a bunch of games and also gets used to play against the other team's schleps on occasion when Philly could manage it ... but still, that's an impressive feat by Hatcher.

The the rate that goals happened are higher too, a pretty solid indicator that these minutes were earned at tough times. The last ten minutes of the game with DAL behind by a goal, when Modano is playing every second shift, shit often happens then ... and the guys who are being matched up at those times are going to show up in the results. This is just one example of course.

Icetime seems to be the thing that convinces people though, so here goes vs Jagr, head2head at 5on5, and only as accurate as the shiftcharts themselves:

Hatcher - 70 minutes
Desjardins - 51
Gagne - 50
Knuble - 50
Handzus - 44
Rathje - 43
Forsberg - 38

Then you're dropping into the pack at that point. Some other notables:

Pitkanen - 20
Carter - 15
Richards - 19
Umberger - 17

Now of course it matters if a player was injured for 6 of the 8 games against the Rangers, and I haven't bothered to check that and I don't plan to. Feel free to check for yourself though. :-)

Pick yourself 8 or 10 or 12 of the teams in the east with one clear top gun and you end up with more or less the same picture though. Forsberg is up there in most games that he played, and Desjardins falls a bit and Rathje and Pitkanen move up a bit, but the same general idea as the Jagr numbers shown here.

My point, and I do have one: The next time that HHOFer Al Strachan and his cohorts tell us something ... maybe we should check it against the facts before we accept it as gospel.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

About damn time !!!

here we go:

Sportsnet reports PHI has signed VAN F Ryan Kesler to a one year offer sheet.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Ripple Effect

The ripple effect. Doug Wilson talked about it when he acquired Joe Thornton. How that when you add a player of his stature it changes the whole forward lineup, because every other player has a shift in their responsibility into a role where they can have more success. I mean Wilson could have just said "Marleau's line can play against Turgeon instead of Sakic now, woohoo!", but it wouldn't have sounded as professional.

On Sakic; does Turgeon put up those impressive points and +/- numbers if he isn't playing in Joe's shadow? Does he get all those powerplay points if Sakic isn't on the ice with him? Sensible people everywhere are surely thinking "probably not" right now. I mean Quenneville is a crafty bugger, and he isn't trying to change Pierre's game either. And when Turgeon only sees 62 minutes of EV icetime against the "Big 8" from the post below ... that's not coincidence. As a point of reference, the regular Oiler forward with the fewest minutes against the same group is Stoll at 83 minutes, and we all saw him being sheltered a lot. (Apologies for belabouring the 'big 8 players' thing, I'll stop now.)

Point being, if Sakic goes down for any length of time then one of Turgeon or Arnason is going to get outscored at an alarming rate, and even the other is going to be coming onto the ice in worse situations a lot more and COL is almost certainly going to get fewer powerplay opportunities and be able to convert fewer as well. Just my guess, but I can't see it shaking out any other way. It's the ripple effect again, just the ripples going the other way.

If Fedorov comes back this season and is able to skate the way he could in the past (a big IF I know) ... then Gallant is going to be able to play him with a couple of no-name wingers and he'll still draw the matchup with BOTH the top F and top D of the other team. So when the Jackets roll into Dallas Tippet will probably try to run both Modano/Lehtinen and Zubov at him. That won't do much for the way Sergei looks out there, but Nash, Vyborny, Zherdev or whoever is on the second line are going to start looking like world beaters.

The prolific Lowetide has another excellent post today, and it slaps us with some obvious facts that a lot of Oiler fans would rather not think about. For starters, Lowetide thinks Smid probably will play 40 or so games with the big club, mostly with a veteran, and eat up soft minutes. Which pushes up Greene and Bergeron into facing better talent. I wish that the thought of that didn't scare me shitless, but it does. Same sort of thing up front, probably even moreso. They have so many talented young forwards that are going to have trouble creating more than they surrender, and unless the opposing coach agrees to play his 4th line 20 minutes a night ... there is the potential for some ugly evenings. If this isn't a rebuild, it's something pretty damn similar. Not a Seven Year Plan or anything, but still. The Oilers have some terrific young talent up front no doubt, probably the best in the league, but they are not terrific players just yet methinks.

But meh, what can ya do. Lowe and MacTavish are catering this shindig, we're just attending it. And this year they're serving us Wow!TM potato chips. Remember those? Apparently they taste great, and half the calories ... but before you picked them off the shelf at Safeway you probably remembered the CNN story that you saw about the FDA initially wanting "may cause anal leakage" to be written on the label. I mean they better be really fucking tasty if there is that sort of risk attached to them, no? So what can we Oiler fans do? ... my advice would be to eat the chips you're served, savour the flavour and hope for the best. And for crissakes where dark pants!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Getting Results Against Modano

I think Scotty Bowman is right. More often than not you win or lose with your best players.

Anyhow, this just for the helluvit, a completely nonscientific thing, the even strength results of players against Modano and his peers in the Western Conference. I arbitrarily added Thornton, Naslund, Selanne, Zetterburg, Iginla, Sakic and Demitra to the list as well.

Almost everybody in the West is in the red at this for obvious reasons. (Exception being Calgary who were a whopping +7 against this crew. Granted they have Kipper behind them and two of the best guys in the league at outscoring quality players on the roster (Langkow and Iginla) at least one of them seemed to be on the ice for the events against the big 8. Hell, even the CGY backups managed to be + guys at this. Strange that Andrew Ference would peg in a shade ahead of Regehr and Leopold, 2nd year in a row that he's lead at this as well. Anamoly? (Personally I'd rather chew tinfoil than watch Flames games, so I dunno)

Some cool stuff in here I think. The Oiler list is pretty obvious I think. And of course a goalpost or good/bad bounce here and there are going to matter too, a lot of room for coincidence. By total number of events and +/- against the Big 8.


About right, I haven't checked the head2head icetimes, but I imagine it shakes down similar to that, though there is obviously a lot of noise in that. I would guess that Horcoff probably had about twice as manydefensive zone faceoffs against these guys than Peca too.

The Torres thing is hard to explain. The huge drop from Horcoff to Hemsky makes perfect sense. And I can see Ulanov's tragic results, in ove his head when he had tough minutes with Smith early in the year and Bergy/Pronger were taking the rollover minutes ... but how the hell did Cross end up with so much stuff against the big kids when he barely even saw them? Damn! Almost seems intentional.



Now, since I KNOW that you all love quizzes, a few bits and pieces from around the league in the "Who Am !?" format:



Q1. Although I'm a multiple Green Jacket winner and have always gotten reamed vs quality, this season I outdid myself. Without all that much icetime head to head I managed to be EV+3 / EV-18 against the Big 8. And I did it all without actually taking shots on my own goalie! Who am I?

Q2. I played a ridiculous amount against good players this season. 33 events and a pretty impressive EV+/- -3 against the Big 8. Who am I? (Hint: Don't spend too much time trying to guess, even I don't know who the hell I am).

Q3. I was on the ice for more events vs the Big 8 than anyone else on my L.A. Kings team. Who am I?

Q4. I was more likely to be on the ice for my Minnesota team for a Big 8 goal (for or against) than anyone else on my team. And got the best results doing it. Who am I. (hint: It sure as hell isn't Brian Rolston)

Q5. I'm Jason Arnott, and I was on the ice for a whopping 56 Dallas goals at even strength in 05/06. How may of those came against the Big 8? (Hint: When it came to playing against star players ... I wasn't really into it last year).

Q6. I'm a Shark, and I was on the ice for more Big 8 goals than anyone else. Who am I?

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Good luck and thanks for playing!