Friday, April 27, 2007

Lou and Big Bird: A Contrast in Styles

I don't know if anyone here has ever checked out the ASAP Sports website, it contains copies of interview transcripts, I highly recommend it. It's interesting to me how little of the insightful commentary makes it's way to the sports pages, especially north of the border. Unfortunately when it comes to hockey, they generally have only logged the pressers from the later rounds of the playoffs.

Some comments from Larry Robinson during the 2000 finals, the year that the Devils won the Stanley Cup in Dallas, this after Game 1 in N.J:

Q. Scotty's team seemed unusually low. Was that as a result you were trying to match him up against Modano shift for shift?

COACH ROBINSON: We were trying to do that. We were trying to get Scotty and Rafalski against Modano but it wasn't solely that. I mean if they didn't want to get that matchup I feel pretty comfortable matching any one of our pairings up because you are going to have to at some point, especially when we get back to Dallas, try to make some adjustments as well, so --


Q. Will you keep the Arnott-Sykora-Elias line against Modano or do you not prefer have no preference?

COACH ROBINSON: It's not that I don't have a preference if I am able to get that matchup I will, but a lot depends on how often they are playing and just how successful they are against them. No sense putting them out there if Modano is in our end all the time. So I have confidence in the number of my lines to play against a lot of their players. I think I try to balance out the lines with guys that are capable of doing that.


When I first read this I thought that "Scotty" referred to Niedermayer, looking at this again it appears that Stevens-Rafalski were the big pairing for Larry. And at a quick glance through the Game Sheets it looks like this carried on into the games in Dallas. When Arnott scored the OT winner in Game 6 he was playing with Elias, Rafalski, Stevens and Mogilny (Sykora had been hurt earlier in the game if my memory is right). And he was playing against Modano, Hull, Lehtinen, Hatcher and Cote.

By all the evidence available, this was pure power vs power right through the series. No surprise from Hitchcock, that was usually his tactic. Clearly Robinson is a coach from the same branch of the tree.


Now jumping forward in time to last night's N.J vs OTT game (which I missed, by the way), looks like Lou Lamouriello is completely old school. If you enter game number 30221 at www.timeonice.com ... it's just crazy how much Madden played against Alfredsson's line. As perfect a match as you could get considering that there were seven penalties in the game. And Matvichuk was clearly the defenceman that Lou wanted out there against them, with Colin White the most common partner. Rafalski barely saw them.

Got to feel for Madden. He had the hard match with Lecavalier's line in the last series as well. His line just doesn't have the firepower to keep their heads above water at 5on5 against this concentrated level of competition. So far, at even strength with goalies in both nets ... he is EV +1, EV -7 in the playoffs. All goals have happened with the Vinny line (T.B) or the Alfredsson line (OTT) on the ice.

That's all well and good if the other team's depth players are terrible. Then guys like Langenbrunner, Gionta, Parise, Zajac etc can kick the asses of opposition that most of us have never heard of before. But Ottawa has a lot of good players right down the lineup. I just can't imagine a Langenbrunner-Parise-Zajac line kicking Comrie-Fisher-Schaefer (or similar) all around the rink this series, can you?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dean Lombardi and the Secret Plan

Dean Lombardi, for those that do not know, is the current GM of the L.A Kings. He was hired this past summer. Prior to the lockout he was the GM of the Sharks for about a decade. He appeared on Edmonton radio many times over the years, and he is clearly a switched-on guy. He's a thinking man to be sure, and he's often outside the box.

Anyhow, here are some quotes from Dean Lombardi articles, culled from the L.A Daily News, NBC and CBC:

The trick for team executives is to sign, or trade for, players whose skills are undervalued on the market.

"It's an ongoing thing. We had another meeting about it (this week). It requires not only open minds but also manpower. I'd like to have that in place in 24 months."

"Some of that stuff I had in the back of my mind for a while,'' Lombardi said. "When 'Moneyball' became en vogue, it was when I was spending lots of time on the road for Philadelphia, and I thought a lot about it and parts of it really started to come together."

I'm a firm believer -- and it's always the thing that's underestimated -- in building an infrastructure. And I'm not saying my way is right, wrong or indifferent. I just know that it's different in what I believe an infrastructure has to be. ... It's your pro scouting, your amateur scouting, your minor league coaches, your development program, getting all these people in synch and how you use technology today.

The Kings open training camp today in El Segundo, and the new faces -- such as Rob Blake, Alyn McCauley, Scott Thornton and Brian Willsie -- don't necessarily reflect Lombardi's long-term strategy. In essence, they're transition players, a means to a new, and perhaps revolutionary, end.

"We've put a lot of time and thought into this, and now we're going to see if it works,'' Lombardi said. "This is one of those things where we're going to end up going down paths that don't work. But we're going to find the right one, and we're not going to get frustrated along the way.''

I mean we all would love to be general managers, be allowed to be in the tank for five years and pick first in the draft. That's a nice easy way to build a team, but it's not practical in L.A.

... the specifics of what Lombardi is looking for will remain a secret for now.
"I had enough of my ideas stolen in San Jose,'' Lombardi joked during a recent conversation.

And this is always underestimated, but I'm starting to sense they care about each other. They're good guys. And I know this sounds like one of those artificial terms, but even Crawford said it's a really good room and that's not always the case.

To be honest, there's some real good things in terms of the team coming together, but let's face it, we haven't been getting the goaltending we anticipated. You don't want to pin it all on the goalie, but it is the most critical position on the rink still. I've seen some good things, but it has to be better.

The one area we left ourselves maybe a little short was up front, but it was the part of the roster that held the most upside and that was the whole design.

"If you've read 'Moneyball', then you've got to read the answer to that, which was the Atlanta Braves' 'Scout's Honor'. They made a point in there about just how character still matters and how you find out."


And lastly, my personal favourite, a quote from abrasive player agent Art Breeze (Jason Smith's agent btw). This in the midst of contract negotiations between himself and Lombardi during Rathje's holdout several years ago:
Breeze said he had one brief conversation with the Sharks last week. "It was just more arrogant, kindergarten management rhetoric -- silly, veiled contract threats that are typical of management that's bankrupt of ideas," said Breeze. "It's like negotiating with a cloud."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Series Focus: Ducks vs. Wild - G4

Since I posted my thoughts on the match-ups that Anaheim and Minnesota were employing against each other Vic created a fantastic tool for finding head-to-head ice time. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do - it is a simply wonderful tool if you're into that sort of thing. Coming off the heels of Minnesota's first win in the series I think it's prudent to have another look and see how the Wild have adjusted on home ice.

The results are actually quite interesting for a guy like me (plus I get to toot my own horn a little bit). In my post below I stated that the best strategy I could think of for Demitra and Gaborik would be to admit the nearly impossible task of getting them away from Pronger and Scott Niedermayer but focus instead on getting them away from the Pahlsson-Moen-Rob.Niedermayer trio. If you compare the numbers alone, you get the following clear indication that this is what the Wild were out to accomplish:

(Click to enlarge)

The difference in minutes against Pahlsson's line amounts to about 2.5 minutes for Gaborik and about 1 minute for Demitra. Could this be directly related to their sudden burst in offensive production? I can't make that sort of claim absolutely but if you take all 4 goals Minnesota scored last night, the only one of Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen that was on the ice for even one of them was Moen who was trying to kill a penalty when Gaborik scored on the PP.

The next interesting part of this whole process (to me at least) is to be able to look at the juggling that took place to create such a difference in minutes. If you look at the following shift chart and focus just on Rob Niedermayer vs. Marian Gaborik to make it easier on the eyes it is clear that not only were the Wild aggressively trying to avoid the match-up but the Ducks were doing their best to re-engage it.

(Click to enlarge)


I am a firm believer in the idea that context means at least as much as results do (in life and especially in hockey) . I realize that I am in many ways preaching to the choir by making a post like this on this particular blog but I've been watching a lot of hockey lately with some very intelligent people who've been involved in almost every aspect of the game and it seems like most of them are blind to this kind of thing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Potential Cap Effects of Buying Out Joffrey Lupul

I want to preface this post by saying that I don't endorse buying Lupul's contract out, but if anyone is interested to see how that would play out, I think this is how it would go from consulting the CBA. I found what I think are three sections of significance, and have listed them at the end of this piece, with brief comments describing what is in each of the sections.

It was interesting to discover that, because of Lupul's age, a buyout of his contract would only require that Lupul be paid 1/3 of the amount he is owed. Any player under age 26 that sees their contract bought out only is due 1/3 of the contract, while those 26 and older are due 2/3 of the remainder of their contract.

Additionally, any buyout is spread out over double the number of years remaining on the contract. In the case of Lupul that means he would be owed 1/3 of the remainder of his contract, roughly 1.81 mil, or 453K for each of the next 4 seasons.

However the cap ramifications are not as simple. Since EDM has been charged ~800K more to their cap than they have actually spent EDM is entitled to receive this cap room back over what would have been the remaining 2 years left on the deal.

I worked thru the cap calculations as per the CBA, and here would be the cap hits, each year, as a result of a Lupul buy out:

2007/8: 230K
2008/9: -135K (the Oilers would actually receive a small cap credit in the 08/9 season)
2009/10: 453K (this number, for year's 3 and 4 of the buy out, is exactly equal to money spent on Lupul's buy out)
2010/11: 453K

To compare, here are the cash payments that a Lupul buyout would entail:

2007/8: 453K
2008/9: 453K
2009/10: 453K
2010/11: 453K

Sections of the CBA used to calculate a Lupul buy out:

Exhibit 1.13.(d).(i) - this exhibit is the Standard Player's Contract (known as SPC, throughout the CBA), that specific section mentions the 1/3, 2/3 rules.

Article 50.9.(1) - this section says that a player and team cannot come to any other buy out agreement, it must be as set out in the CBA. It also explains how the player would be paid his buy out money.

Article 50.5.(d).(iii) - explains, and gives examples, of how to calculate the buy out amounts and its cap effects.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Head-to-Head Minutes Website

I've been meaning to do this for a while, and Showerhead's post below inspired me to make the effort.

This site should enable anyone who is interested to check on the head to head icetime, at 5v5, for any completed game in the NHL this season, including playoffs. It's a first draft, and isn't flashy, but hopefully it serves the purpose. And hopefully it furthers the cause here: informed hockey discussion.

All this information is stripped from the NHL.com time-on-ice sheets. If those sheets show 5 or more skaters on the ice at any given time in the game, for both teams, then that is considered a 5v5 moment. Obviously a lot more can be done, and though I'm not sure when I'll get back to it, I would appreciate feedback/suggestions . Just leave a note in the comments section here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Series Focus: Ducks vs. Wild

There are a number of factors that have led me to take a greater interest in the Anaheim/Minnesota series than I originally expected to.

  • For Edmonton to receive Anaheim's 1st round pick next year, the Ducks have to go "very far" in the playoffs which most believe indicates a berth in the Conference Finals or further.
  • Many hockey fans are looking at Minnesota as a team with all the tools to pull off an upset. They've got hot goaltending, a couple of game-breaking players in Demitra and Gaborik, good special teams, and a smart coach.
  • Speaking of coaching, it occurs to me that the game plans in the best interest of each team lay roughly opposite to each other and thus home ice may be more crucial in this series than any other. To elaborate:
If I am coaching for a Ducks win, I would run Sami Pahlsson's excellent checking line against Gaborik and Demitra as often as possible and I would ensure that at least one of Pronger or Niedermayer was always on the ice. I don't know if the Ducks plan on using #25 and #44 together very often but one way or another you'd have to think even Gaborik/Demitra are in tough trying to score against a good checking line and at least one showstopping D.

If I am coaching for the Wild to win, I would perhaps admit that getting away from Pronger and/or Niedermayer is damn near impossible and focus instead of forward match-ups. A power vs. power match-up that ran Demitra and Gaborik against Selanne/McDonald might just allow for the Wild's system play and defensively capable forward depth to outplay the Ducks' high-event kids. A different approach, which would only really be employable with last change, would be to run Walz and co. (whoever the Wild's best checkers are) at the Selanne line while looking as hard as possible to send Demitra/Gaborik over the boards against Getzlaf/Perry.

You can add your own scenarios if you like but if there's one thing I'm certain of it's that the home team has some serious advantages. With that in mind, lets see what the Ducks did in their game one win. (Click to enlarge)






The strategy is so obvious I almost wonder if the Wild weren't even trying to avoid the match-up. Demitra/Gaborik hardly see a second of ice-time without facing either Pahlsson/Moen/Niedermayer-the-lesser or one of Pronger/Niedermayer-the-greater. Is this what limited Minnesota to one goal?

I would expect more of the same matching to go on in game 2 but I am curious to see what happens when Minnesota hits home ice. Hopefully I'll have the time to put up similar shift charts as the series goes on.

Draft Preview: Educated Guessing

My first and foremost disclaimer is that I am no prospect expert and am simply going by ISS reports, Mr. Bugg at HfBoards, and my estimation of team need. My second is that I posted this at HF and I apologize if you're reading it twice - I was wondering if it might reach different readers at this venue.

What I have done is taken the top 6 teams heading into the 2007 draft (Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, and Edmonton) and done my best to get an inventory of what they currently have in their system prospect-wise. I then used this information to do a mock draft of the top 6 teams to see what I felt Edmonton would be looking at.

My criteria for prospects was that Hockey's Future ranked them at 7.0D or better while my criteria for a current NHL player with top potential was that one of TSN.ca or myself thought the player would someday be capable of filling the role of a top-six forward or top-four defenseman.

I coupled this information with the most recent version of the ISS top prospects list as best as I could. From here I combined team need, prospect availability, and my best guesswork to choose a player for that team. I have no personal knowledge of the players involved other than what is provided on these boards, nor am I sure that I made the perfect choice with my 7.0D Hockey's Future system. And finally, I ignored the latest rumours (such as Philly being bent on choosing JVR) and went only with ISS and my estimation of team need.

Here goes!



Chicago



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Jonathan Toews
Dave Bolland
Martin St. Pierre
Jakub Sindel
Jan-Mikael Juutilainen
Jack Skille
Dan Bertram
Igor Makarov
Troy Brouwer

D:
Danny Richmond
Dimon Danis-Pepin

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:
Tuomo Ruutu
Michael Blunden

D:
Duncan Keith
Brent Seabrook
Cam Barker

-I think we can safely rule out Karl Alzner.
-Few forward prospects that are truly high end,
both at and below the NHL level.
-Excellent established NHL youth on D.
-If I had to guess? Jakub Voracek

Philadelphia



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Steve Downie
Claude Giroux
Stefan Ruzicka
Andreas Nodl
Matt Ellison

D:
Braydon Coburn
Ryan Parent

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:

Jeff Carter
Mike Richards
Ryan Potulny
RJ Umberger

D:
Joni Pitkanen

-Good top-end D prospects despite lack of depth
-Good young NHL forwards, despite lack of prospect depth
-If I had to guess? Patrick Kane

Phoenix



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Peter Mueller
Martin Hanzal
Alexei Kaigorodov
Blake Wheeler
Enver Lisin

D:
Keith Yandle

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:
Fredrik Sjostrom

D:
Keith Ballard
Zbynek Michalek

-Not a deep group of youth
-Two potentially excellent NHL d-men in Ballard and Michalek
-Impressive top-end talent, despite lack of depth, may allow for a gamble
-If I had to guess? Alex Cherepanov

Los Angeles



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Patrick O'Sullivan
Brian Boyle
Lauri Tukonen
Matt Moulson
Dany Roussin
Trevor Lewis

D:
Jack Johnson
Richard Petiot
Joe Ryan
Peter Harrold
Johan Fransson

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:

Dustin Brown
Michael Cammalleri
Alex Frolov
Anze Kopitar

D:
none

-Stunning number of high-end forward youth
-Outside of Jack Johnson, defensive prospects lack severely
-If I had to guess? Karl Alzner

Washington



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Nicklas Backstrom
Tomas Fleischmann
Chris Bourque
Eric Fehr
Francois Bouchard

D:
none

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:

Alexander Ovechkin
Alexander Semin
Jakub Klepis

D:

Steve Eminger
Milan Jurcina
Shaone Morrisonn

-Set for years with elite forwards
-Not as bad off on D as I had thought, though still sorely lacking for depth
-If I had to guess? James Van Riemsdyk

Edmonton



Prospects rated 7.0 or better:

F:

Robert Nilsson
Andrew Cogliano
Slava Trukhno
Ryan O'Marra
Rob Schremp
Alexei Mikhnov
Dragan Umicevic
Frederik Pettersson
Chris Vande Velde
Colin McDonald

D:
Denis Grebeshkov
Taylor Chorney
Jeff Petry
Tom Gilbert

NHL Players under 25 with high-end potential:

F:

Ales Hemsky
Joffrey Lupul
Marc Pouliot

D:
Ladislav Smid
Matt Greene

-Lots of prospect forward depth with some players at a reasonably high level
-Impressive array of potential top 4 defensemen
-Lack of sure-fire high-end talent outside of Ales Hemsky
-If I had to guess? Kyle Turris

ISS Top Remaining Players Until #15

Sam Gagner
Maxim Mayorov
Keaton Ellerby
Logan Couture
Angelo Esposito
Colton Gillies
Nick Petrecki
Joakim Andersson
Alex Plante

Monday, April 09, 2007

If You Were a UFA NHLer This Summer, Where Would You Like to Play?

... and which teams would you rather avoid? And Why?

Just curious.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A True Underdog Story

Today I got my first opportunity in quite a while to catch an Oiler game.

I'm going to leave that as a separate paragraph just so I can personally feel the sting of its phrasing. Anyhow, I tuned in about midway through the second period and stayed until the final buzzer with the hopes of seeing something in one of the kids that inspired me. Instead, here are some observations on Coach MacTavish's use of personnel.

Horcoff/Hemsky/Pisani was Edmonton's top line tonight and actually did a reasonably good job of creating chances and maintaining puck possession in Chicago's end for most of what I saw. The interesting part to note is that Hemsky was demoted to the fourth line for a stretch of the third period following a lazy giveaway that sent a Black Hawk penalty killer in on a breakaway for the game winner. Sportsnet's response to the demotion? "Hemsky right back out there in a new combination..." as if it were part of some brilliant tactic to right the ship, defeat mathematics, at get back into the playoffs.

Torres/Pouliot hooked up for Edmonton's lone goal and created a handful of other chances together. I've already forgotten who the other player on this line was but there play was an occasional bright spot. MacTavish seems to be a fan of Marc's as well in that he appeared to double shift him for a brief stretch in the third (likely corresponding with Hemsky's demotion) after Pouliot had been (mildly) effective.

Jason Smith still cares about the fortunes of this team. Lupul, on the other hand, played like he somehow magically has a roster spot guaranteed to him in the fall. Oh wait...

Smid impressed with a handful of rushes up the ice - it's kind of strange to see the Oilers gain possession in the offensive zone just by skating it in and #5 was able to accomplish that a few times this afternoon. It should be noted that Chicago is not the kind of team that would really expose our rookie d-corps (even Syvret wasn't losing battles in the corner) but there are some good things to be said of Gilbert as well. He seemed to be in the jack-of-all-trades category of player today in that he has no obvious strength but can get the job done by any means necessary. Maybe in 5-10 years he plays as a very reliable #4-6 guy on a good team somewhere.

The interesting thing about defensive ice-time today is that by my eye Mac-T was making no effort whatsoever to ride his top pairing (Smith). I'll get actual numbers up in a comment to this post but based on reading about a bag skate the other day and what I saw in today's 30 minutes, Craig MacTavish is coaching far more towards sending messages than he is towards winning hockey games. With an eye on the draft/the future, this suits me just fine.

"I'm fine. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit."