Sunday, July 24, 2005

How Good Was Fred "Cyclone" Taylor?

This is the next post on sabermetrics and hockey. In a comparison of the top 10 forwards of all time according to Daryl Shilling and Pnep, Shilling rates Cyclone Taylor as the third best forward of all time. Pnep does not rank Taylor at all, because he only rates NHL players and Taylor never played in the NHL. Dayl Shilling's rating of Cyclone Taylor is higher than most lists of this type have him. So the obvious question is how good was Cyclone Taylor? Is that rating correct?

Fred "Cyclone" Taylor is a hockey hall of famer. His major league hockey career went from 1905 to 1923 in various different leagues, some of which are of questionable quality. Using the Total Hockey definitions of what is a major hockey league. His first major league hockey experience came in an early IHL (not affiliated with the minor pro league that lasted until the 1990's) playing for the Portage (Ontario) Lakes in 1905. he stayed there for two seasons before moving on to the Ottawa Senators in the East Coast Amateur Hockey Association. He was moderately successful at that time. He tried his luck in the United States playing for the Pittsburgh Pros in the Western Professional Hockey League. He lasted three games there with no points scored before returning to Ottawa in the East Coast Hockey Association (their league was no longer amateur). He won his first Stanley Cup that year in Ottawa. He moved onto the National Hockey Association (which is the direct precursor to the NHL) playing two seasons with the Renfrew Creamery Kings. He missed the next season due to a salary dispute and next played hockey in Western Canada. He played with the Vancouver Millionaires in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (which was a significant enough league to compete for the Stanley Cup). In his nine years there, Taylor was a bonafide star. He led his league in scoring 5 times and lead the Millionares to the Stanley Cup in 1915 as their leading scorer in the playoffs. Taylor retired for a year then had a failed comeback attempt with the next Vancouver PCHA team - the Vancouver Maroons. The comeback attempt only lasted one game.

On the whole, Taylor scored 314 points in 186 games in major hockey leagues. This includes 210 goals. His 104 assist total is suspect, because some of his early leagues did not record assists at all and others only awarded one assist per goal. 314 points in 186 games is very impressive. NHL players of today do not accomplish this. In Taylor's time, he regularly played only 16 to 20 games in a season. If we "adjust" the stats to 82 game seasons as Daryl Shilling did, those stats will be extremely impressive. Further, because of missing seasons in salary disputes and the fact that many of his season did not have assists, there is significant amount of time that is undocumented to be added to him to increase his totals. In Daryl's hockey project rating system, he attempts to give credit for undocumented seasons.

The obvious question with Taylor is how good was the opposition he played against? In the pre-NHL days there were several major hockey leagues that existed simultaneously. They competed with each other for talent, although there was no scouting or evaluation to find the best talent. Players sometimes made these teams merely by showing up at practise and auditioning for them. Undoubtedly, some of the better hockey players in the world were never discovered by these leagues and never had careers.

The general level of of talent of hockey players has risen over the years. There likely should be some kind of adjustment to statistics based on the era they played in. Early era players don't have the same level of opposition that today's players have. Bill James uses an era adjustment when he analyzes historical baseball stats. This should be done in hockey as well. Statistics need to be multiplied by some kind of quality of opposition factor. Taylor didn't have nearly as good a quality of opposition as today's NHLers do. Taylor's career numbers in major pro leagues were not that uncommon. The very next player listed in the Total Hockey notatable North American non-NHL players is William Taylor. He did not make the Hall of Fame. He played in an overlapping time with Cyclone (although he was a bit older) and scored 153 points in his 82 games for roughly the same scoring rate. There are many other examples of players like this.

Cyclone Taylor was a dominant player. A five time top scorer in the PCHA, who scored at a very high rate, won two Stanley Cups and made the Hall of Fame. Its hard to evaluate statistically exactly how high he should be relative to today's more recent players, but there is little evidence to suggest he should be considered the third best forward of all time. There is little evidence that he is among the top 10 forwards of all time. His high rating is mostly due to the normalization of a bunch of short seasons where he was a dominant player when seasons were very short - so normalization really increases his offensive totals. If I had to commit myself, I'd probably place Taylor closer to ther 30th best forward of all time then the 3rd best. It is hard to be certain exactly where to rate him because portions of his career are undocumented and because his quality of opposition was questionable, but third best forward of all time is absurdly high.

i consider cyclone the best of all time .take in to accont the called him cyclone when skates were not great .i think if his career started in 1966 he would be better than orr.
Re: your line about Taylor's first
professional team, "Portage (Ontario) Lakes in 1905".

There are several places in Ontario named Portage Lake, but I don't believe the Portage Lake he played for is in Ontario. It is in the Keeweenaw Peninsula.

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