Friday, September 28, 2007

Contest Time

It wouldn't be the preseason without some prognostication. A simple contest, using this table from a couple of posts below:

1.) Choose three teams that will beat the odds and finish with more points than listed.

2.) Pick three that will fall short of this mark.

3.) As a tie-breaker, guess the number of points that the Oilers will end up with at the end of the season.



Probably more than anything, we 're guessing who will stay healthy here. And you can pick the Oilers as one of the over/under teams as well.

No prizes, just for fun. Good luck!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

Dan Barnes has an excellent article in the journal today, a must read. There is a lot of good commentary in there, much of it from Horcoff, but this MacTavish quote is my favourite:
"We've got to help (Hemsky) along as a coaching staff and make sure he has the right guys to play with," said MacTavish. "Horc, I like him and Hemmer together and, hopefully, Penner is a fit for those guys. He looks to be. It would be nice to be able to have those three guys to match up against another team's top line, whether it's the Sedins or Thornton's line or any of the big lines in the game."
Stuff like this warms my heart. Not so much the content here, more the fact that the subject is being addressed and written about. I'm sure that this September is the first time that MacTavish has made any honest reference to matchups and the true roles of different players, both the forwards and the defence. Hopefully this is an indicator of things to come from the Edmonton media. Lord knows we all bitch enough about poor hockey reporting, it would be nice to be doing the opposite a bit more this season.

No Love From the Bookies

If you Google "NHL regular season points"+bet or similar, then amongst the results you should find some sites that post public odds for the point totals for the upcoming NHL season. And unless a star player has broken a leg while I was typing this, then they should be within a point of the list below.


Granted, it's just an opinion, but it's an opinion being backed up with cash, so it carries a bit of weight. Most fan reports out of Oilers training camp are optimistic, and even though that's always the case, this year it seems more credible. Hopefully the Oilers will surprise. They had better, it would kill me to see that arrogant fat bastard from Anaheim trudging up to the podium to select the second overall player.

In 03/04 the bookies pegged the Oilers for 94.5 points or thereabouts. Last year 88.5 was the preseason over/under. These lines are usually run with fairly low practical holds of 6.5%, so it's not like the "who will win the Stanley Cup?" futures, which are little more than indications of the market.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Time On Ice Update

For anyone who reads here that also uses the Time On Ice site, I've updated it so that it runs the 07/08 season now. There are links there for the 05/06 and 06/07 seasons as well, though only the playoffs and the back half of the season is available for the former.

If you want to go back and break your own heart all over again, then the playoff game numbering for the Oiler's series is 3015*, 3023*, 3032*, 3041*. Those represent the four rounds of the playoffs, the * is the game number. So, by way of example game number 30234 is the second round of the playoffs, third series (numbering starts in the eastern conferences in descending order of seeding) in the example that's the Oilers vs Sharks, and game number four of that series.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Semenov

Former Oiler Alexei Semenov has some magic going, either that or he is the luckiest bugger in the league.

There have been a few excellent posts at hockeynumbers lately, and this one is terrific, it shows the save percentage behind the league's players. Just for even strength of course. And Semenov kicks ass in this regard (.982). That means that when he was on the ice at even strength, the Panthers goalies had a save percentage of .982. That's only 2 goals against in limited action. To put that in perspective, when Semenov was on the ice at even strength, the Panther goalies were about three times more likely to make the save than Hasek in his prime would have. 3 x ... damn!.

Personally, I don't believe that skaters have much of an impact on shooting percentage (exception for cherry picking wingers, but even then ... ). But even if you do, I think you can agree that this is just plain luck for our man Alexei. I don't think we'd even get an argument out of his mother or agent on this one.

Personally, I think he's just not very good. I mean obviously he's better than me, he's playing in the NHL and I'm talking about him. But by NHL standards, he just isn't any hell in my opinion. Great in the skills competition, but terrifying in games if you're cheering for the team he's playing for.

I saw him in a NYI/FLA game late last year, and Panther Coach/GM Jacques Martin was terrified of playing him against Smyth/Robitaille/Blake. Whenever I noticed he was rolling Semi out there the one time when he was sure he wouldn't play them (just after they had left the ice). Of course I would never have paid attention if not for the fact he's an ex-Oiler and I was looking for him. But he is an ex-Oiler, I never fully let these guys go it seems. If you care to check, then play spot-the-pattern with the shift chart below. Smyth is the dark red bars and Semi is the green.


Now I'm probably guilty of putting too much stock in one game, but assuming that Semenov was healthy and that this was typical, well that says more than words ever could about Jacques' opinion of Alexei. If you're a defenceman and you're being rolled out there the "shift after Crosby" a whole bunch, and you're not bringing offense, and you're not 20 years old ... then rent a house, don't buy. It is no surprise that Jacques let him walk. And I have to wonder if the Wilsons in San Jose (numbers guys themselves) would have pursued Semenov if he had endured a St.Pierrian .865 save percentage behind him last season.

And a tangent: From an Oiler fan's point of view, it's encouraging to see that Penner had a crappy save percentage behind him last season. Which is tough to do playing in front of Giguere, but if you get enough guys rolling the dice some bugger is going to hit a streak of 2s. If he even had an average save percentage behind him it would have shaved about seven goals off of his EV- number. Every bit helps.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How a trade is announced

Chris Botta of the Islanders gives an excellent blow by blow summary of how a trade is announced, this on his new blog, complete with a shot at an unnamed Canadian GM for leaking information. He's the VP of media relations for the Islanders, and I'll go out on a limb here and guess that he has no formal training in diplomacy. There is some interesting stuff sprinkled on there so far, whether you are an Isles fan or not.

His subordinate Corey Witt also has a blog, which Botta doesn't even link to, oddly enough. Both are blogspot.com things, and they have different layouts. Very much an "I'm doing this in my spare time" vibe they are trying for, I suspect.

The beat writer from Newsday, Greg Logan, is following the team. He seems to be rolling his eyes at Logan's refusal to travel on the team charters even through the rigorous preseason schedule in Atlantic Canada, silly ethics. I can't find the verbage on this particular bit right now, but I read it there just a couple of days ago.

I'm assuming that these are the same guys who named Islanders Mania the official Islander message board this summer, and the influence seems obvious. This would be the equivalent of the OilFans.com message board being sponsored by the Oilers.

And I would think that these media relations guys are the people behind the new Isles suite for bloggers, the 'Blog Box'. By the by, the new sponsor of the 'Blog Box' ... none other than Eklund's Hockeybuzz.com.

Honestly, people. You can't make this shit up.

Anson Pimps Edmonton

This is a bit from a Boston Globe article several years ago, when Carter was playing his second season with the Oilers.


Kevin Paul Dupont
Boston Globe
November 6, 2001

Carter also is a noticeable presence among the Edmonton citizenry.
...
In Edmonton, he lives in a six-floor apartment building in the middle of the city, and people stop him in the street to talk hockey, or beep their horns in recognition when they see him at the gas station or convenience store.

"People think Edmonton's this little farm community with nothing there," he said. "But it's not true. I keep telling guys it's the sleeper city in the league. There's plenty to do there, and 41 times a year I get to play on the greatest ice surface in the league."


I print this because I think it's disgraceful that the Oilers and their local media turned on Carter after he was traded during the next hockey season. Implying that he was a flamboyant version of Flavor Flav who thought that he was too big for good old Ourtown.

UPDATE!: An alert IOF reader calling himself "Terry Jones" just sent me this shocking photo of gangsta hockey playa Anson Carter stealing a pen from a white guy! Rest assured, we'll be following this story as it breaks.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Depth

Few NHL fans give much head space to the issue of roster depth, but they should.

This photo was taken at the Pepsi Center last March. A game that the Avs won 3-2, making the playoffs seem possible for them again.

Joe Sakic would play 15.5 minutes of five a side hockey, a staggering 13.3 minutes of that against Jarome Iginla. Clearly this is really where the game was most likely to be won and lost, and on this night Joe scored against Iggy's line and was plus one on the evening.

Mark Giordano of the Flames is shown defending against Mark Rycroft of the Avalanche. Not a glamour matchup, but goals scored in this time in any game count just as much on the scoreboard. And over the course of the year there are hundreds of such goals.

There have been a several good posts regarding Giordano at Five Hole Fanatics and Battle of Alberta recently. The fans who cruise the internet searching for fantasy league tips were surely disgusted that so much virtual ink was being wasted on a depth player, but those linked articles are all terrific reads, and a pertinent issue for the Flames especially.

To provide some simple evidence, I wrote a script to scour the NHL.com event sheet for Game 1 of last season, to sort the players by their position and total ice time in this game, and then sum up their simple +/-'s by classification as top-six-forward, top-four-defender, depth-forward or depth-defender. So, by way of example, the four Buffalo defenders who played the most minutes in this game ... their cumulative +/- in this game was +2. So BUF's top-four-defender total was +2 after Game 1.

Then the same is repeated for the other three categories of player, then the same for the other team. Then the same for the other 1229 regular season games.

It should surprise nobody that depth players, by and large, get their asses kicked. They always have. I mean if you broke in with the Wings this fall, then generally you will play against a similar level of opposition, but sometimes you will get Datsyuk as a winger when he's double shifted, or you'll be getting some passes from Lidstrom because he plays half of the game. Plus you aren't likely to get minuses from short handed goals against, because you won't be playing on the powerplay. Maybe once in a while if you have a great game, show some hustle, get in a fight ... maybe Babcock bumps you up to play with Zetterberg for the third period to send a message to everyone else. Still, that won't be enough to save you, because those occasional shifts against Tkachuk's line through the season ... well they are a bitch. It's almost impossible to fall into the minuses with that gig, but chances are it still won't be good, because chances are you aren't very good by NHL standards.

The Avs peg in as a fairly typical example. Sakic didn't play much with Hejduk at evens, so they generally represent the top two lines there. During 5v5 hockey the Avs were +28 when one or both of these two were on the ice last season. And -16 when neither were on the ice. Plus they chewed up the vast majority of the ice time of the other team's best forwards and defensemen.

Or, alternatively, by the simple metric explained above:

That's typical for an NHL team, COL is near enough the median.

Now looking at the Flames (just ignore CBJ and NYI for now).

So, at even strength, the Flames have one of the strongest top six forward groups in the league, and on defense the top two pairings are kicking ass. To be fair, in the case of the defense, the really cherry EV minutes (offensive end draw, with Iginla, vs other team's 3rd line that just iced the puck) surely they fell to Phaneuf's pairing, presumably because they didn't have a Liles or Preissing for that gig.

In terms of results from the top of the roster; given the difficulty of their schedule you could rationalize bumping the Flames past OTT, BUF and DET into first place. The obvious area with room for improvement is PK, which for some reason was poor, but beyond that the 3rd and 4th lines, and especially the bottom defense pair, needs to be improved. Because if those players were on a weaker squad their +/- numbers would drop a bunch, and for guys playing in front of Kipper on a good team ... those are really shitty numbers to start with.

Was Giordano the problem? Is Eriksson the solution? I don't know, the rational Flames bloggers say otherwise. Eriksson has a standout +/- on that CBJ squad, Alan Ryder ranks him surprisingly high, but Hitchcock was terrified to play Eriksson against anybody who is good. I think the +/- numbers are what has grabbed Sutter's attention here, it certainly wasn't "saw him good". Akin to Sutter's signing of Zyuzin last summer, and really similar to San Jose's acquisition of Semenov a few weeks ago. I don't think this will go well for the Flames, nor for the Sharks, who (surely to no one's surprise) have top-heavy issues nearly identical to the Flames in magnitude.

I included the Islanders on the table above because they had the best bottom six forwards in the league, both by eye and by these numbers. Even better than Anaheim, New Jersey and Toronto. And they had a bottom D pair that was freaking terrible. Or at least that was the case in the fifteen or so Isles games that I watched after Smyth was traded there.

The Blue Jackets are the league's extreme exception here, with a bottom D pairing that put up terrific results considering the rest of the team. Granted poor Adam Foote played the toughest opposition every night, and he played nearly five hours of EV ice time with the Nasher. Let's face it, that was never going to go well.

So two teams with an obvious weakness in the bottom pairing picked up two of the three guys (A.Johnson, Tollefsen, Eriksson) who qualified as the same for Columbus. Curious is that.

I think the team that made the best decision in this case was Columbus, because they kept Tollefsen. He looks to be the best of the bunch, and he's young, big, and even fights. Aaron Johnson seems like a nothing pickup for the Islanders, but he has such an unreasonably good penalty differential (25 MORE of his shifts ended in CBJ PPs than opposition PPs, yowza!) that maybe he deserved better numbers, maybe he was driving the results more than it appears at first blush. It's enough of an oddity that you would think that Sutter, Snow, Wilson and a few others would have downloaded a bunch of CBJ game video and reviewed Johnson/Eriksson/Tollefsen. But somehow I doubt they did. Hearing so much of Doug MacLean over the summer has destroyed my faith in the competence of NHL GMs.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mr. Plow, that's my name. That name again, is Mr. Plow.

I'm back.

I've had a busy summer which included graduation, a move to Massachusetts and a brand new job.

It turns out these resourceful Yankees beat back the Redcoats while dragging their plows with them. At least that's what I've learned so far.

Anyway, the Oilers are obviously a mess, so I really couldn't have picked a better time to take a break. I'm pretty sure I saved a few extra years of lifespan doing it this way.

At the risk of becoming the Finkleman's 45s of this website, I'll be back shortly with a host of Oiler and NHL related complaints to go along with a bunch of pretentious bullshit. I'm sure you're waiting with baited breath.