Friday, September 30, 2005

Why The Habs May Not Want Latendresse to Make the Team

Today, Montreal traded Marcel Hossa to the New York Rangers for Garth Murray. This is assumed to mean that Hossa was not going to make the team this year and since he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors they would likely lose him. Garth Murray has a lot of potential but will not have to clear waivers to go to the minors, so they didn't lose a good young player. They still have one to show for Hossa - although its likely a downgrade. Murray has already been sent to the minors. In their article on this trade, TSN assumes that Guillaume Latendresse might make the team in his place - although that is not a given with Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins and Alexander Perezhogin around.

I think that Latendresse probably will not make the team this year - at least not for as long as ten NHL games. I don't think Montreal wants him to make their team. This is despite the fact that Latendresse has been a pre-season star and he is currently 4th in Montreal's pre-season scoring (he is behind newcomer Radek Bonk, the recently traded Marcel Hossa and Tomas Plekanec) and has been a fan favorite.

Latendresse is an 18 year old who was picked in the second round in the 2005 draft 45th overall. He was considered a top 2005 draft pick a year before the draft, but had an offseason shoulder surgery in 2004 and got off to a slow start in the QMJHL last year that slipped his position in the draft.

Under the new CBA free agency ages will drop. Players Latendresse's age will become unrestricted free agents at age 27 or after playing seven NHL seasons. If Latendresse plays 10 or more games this year, it will count as a season. He will then have seven seasons by age 25. Montreal would have Latendresse from age 18 to 25. If they send him back to junior, they can have him from age 19 to 26 (or possibly 20-27). Most likely, the extra season when he is closer to his prime, will be better than his season at age 18. Montreal benefits longterm if they send him to the minors.

Wasn't it nice when the best player available got the NHL job as opposed to the one that best fit the CBA? There are other players in this situation. Tom Benjamin writes about how Luc Bourdon of the Vancouver Canucks is in the same situation.

NOTE: Montreal just sent Latendresse back to junior. TSN's story is here.

St Louis to be Sold For $150 million

One of the best indicators of the incredible amounts of money made by owners in NHL hockey is the escalating value of hockey franchises. The Toronto Star reports that Bill and Nancy Laurie (WalMart heirs) are about to sell the St Louis Blues to former Madison Square Gardens president Dave Checketts. The selling price is $150 million. This is an increase of $50 million (50%) from the price the Laurie's paid in 1999 (6 years ago).

That is strong proof that owning an NHL team allows owners to make insane amounts of money. Afterall, St Louis is expected to be one of the weaker teams in the West Conference, they haven't even played a game since 2004 and yet their value has gone up by 50% in six years. The price of businesses that lose money do not escalate by 50% in 6 years. It doesn't happen.

Of course this won't stop the owners from claiming significant losses ... and many of the fans will believe them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why I Don't Think Pittsburgh Will Make Playoffs

When I posted my predictions for the Atlantic Division, Jes Golbez commented that he was suprised at how low I rated the Penguins. I pick them to finish 4th in the Atlantic Division and tenth in the East Conference, thus I pick them to miss the playoffs.

How can anyone pick a team with Mario Lemieux, John LeClair, Zigmund Palffy, Mark Recchi, Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Dick Tarnstrom and Jocelyn Thibault to miss the playoffs? For the most part, Pittsburgh's offence is old and injury prone. An offence built around Lemieux, LeClair, Recchi and Palffy would be great in 1995, but its not 1995 anymore (its 2005). I expect these guys will be slowed with a year off of hockey (for most of these players) and to futher decline and be more injury prone. You cannot build a good team through free agency - at least not when the age for unrestricted free agency is 31 (under this new CBA that will quickly change when the UFA age drops). Pittsburgh is trying to build through free agency. It is the same thing the New York Rangers tried for years and failed with.

Of course, Pittsburgh drafted Sidney Crosby. How good will Crosby be? He may be a great player someday, but we must remember he is a rookie. He has never even played an NHL game yet. If Crosby has a 60 point rookie season it will be a big success. He's not ready to lead a team yet. Someday it may happen. Pittsburgh has a very god crop of recent draft picks. People like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Johannes Salmonsson likely will someday lead a resurgent Penguins team that competes - if several of these players develop as projected. At that time, the free agent signings will have likely retired.

Pittsburgh has a potential problem keeping the puck out of their own net. Jocelyn Thibault is not a Vezina Trophy level goalie. He is a decent starter who has had injury problems recently. If he is healthy, he will likely be solid but unspectacular. The two stars on their defence are Sergei Gonchar (who by his age may start to decline) and Dick Tarnstrom. Neither are known for solid defensive play. Maybe their best stay at home defender will be Lyle Odelein (and that should raise alarm bells).

All told, Pittsburgh will live and die based on the strength of their offence. Their offence is old, injury prone and in decline. It consists of several players who were once good - who probably will look good at times - but cannot last the whole season. They will have problems keeping the puck out of their net. When the offence fails Pittsburgh will lose. I think Pittsburgh will likely be one of the most improved teams in the NHL, they have a lot of room for improvement. I don't think they did enough to make the playoffs. I don't know that you can accomplish that by signing 31 plus year olds. You need to build your team with younger players who are improving or at least not declining.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jeremy Roenick's Concussion

On Sunday, in a pre-season game, Los Angeles defeated Phoenix 7-4. The memorable point in the game occurred in the second period when LA forward Jeremy Roenick suffered a concussion (the eleventh of his career) as a result from a hit from Phoenix's Denis Gauthier. From the replay I have seen, the hit is within the rules of the NHL. TSN's story on the game is here.

I'm not normally one to blame the victim, but I think Jeremy Roenick's attitude as revealed by some of his quotes regarding the incident show that his attitude was a contributing factor to the injury.

Roenick is quoted as saying:

What bothers me is that it didn't have to happen . . . It's things like that that end people's careers, especially in the pre-season when people are trying to get in shape and avoid stuff like that.


I think it indicates the state of our game, the lack of respect - especially in pre-season. It is uncalled for. It is ridiculous - one of the reasons our game isn't as good as it once was. There is no respect for people in this league. It was not a cheap hit, it was a good solid hit. But you don't do that in pre-season.

If Roenick expects to play NHL games (even in pre-season) without any hard hits, he is not living in reality. The NHL is a competitive league. People are fighting one another for playing time and to establish themselves in high paying hockey careers and Roenick expects the game to be a leisurely pond hockey game where he can get into shape? If Roenick is still trying to get in shape and not expecting any hard hits, he is that much more likely to suffer an injury.

Gauthier responds to Roenick's remarks with:

I'm really sorry he feels that way, but I had no intention of hurting anyone. 'It's a physical game. . . . This is my first year with a new team, and I'm fighting for a spot in the rotation.

This is not only Gauthier's mindset, but that of most of the players on the ice. If Roenick is not ready for a hard fought game played by people fighting for playing time and NHL jobs, he is not ready for the game. He probably shouldn't be playing at all. In a worst case (such as what happened) Roenick is risking serious injury. Maybe this mindset shows Roenick isn't really ready for a hard gruelling NHL season and is closer to retirement then we may imagine.

NHL hockey is not a soft game. Even in pre-season its not a soft game. If Roenick is expecting a soft game, he will be disappointed. He already has a concussion to go with his disappointment.

NOTE: Sean Avery of the Kings is adding to the stupid remarks. Here is his quote:

I think it was typical of most French guys in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back anything up.

Monday, September 26, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: East Conference

I have posted predictions for the Northeast Division, Atlantic Division and Southeast Division with blurbs about why I think they will finish where I project them in their divisions. Similar to my West Conference predictions, I will rank the East Conference where I think teams will finish. These predictions are not likely to be accurate, they are my best guesses at this point in the pre-season.

1. Ottawa Senators
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. Boston Bruins
5. New Jersey Devils
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. Atlanta Thrashers
8. New York Islanders
9. Florida Panthers
10. Pittsburgh Penguins
11. Toronto Maple Leafs
12. Buffalo Sabres
13. Carolina Hurricanes
14. New York Rangers
15. Washington Capitals

2005/06 Predictions: Southeast Division

This is my final division of predictions. I have already posted predictions for the Atlantic Division, the Northeast Division and the entire West Conference. Predictions of where teams finish are impossible ot get 100% accurate. They are fun. Here is my best guess at where the teams will finish.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning - The salary cap is doing its job. Tampa Bay is not as strong as they would have been. Nikolai Khabibulin is gone. Also, Cory Stillman and Jassen Cullimore are gone. They still have an excellent core of players including Vincent LeCavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St Louis and Pavel Kubina. The question is how good will Sean Burke and Jon Grahame be in net? They are a step down from Khabibulin. Nevertheless, they should win the southeast.

2. Atlanta Thrashers - Marian Hossa is a very good addition. I am guessing that Ilya Kovalchuk will sign at the last minute giving them possibly the best one-two offensive punch in the NHL. They also have Bobby Holik and Marc Savard to provide more offence. There will be problems keeping goals out where rookie Kari Lehtonen is pencilled in as the starter - although I predict Mike Dunham winds up carrying the load most of the season. On defence they lack any elite defencemen, Greg de Vries and Jaroslav Modry are the best they have. This is likely a team on the rise.

3. Florida Panthers - Mike Keenan teams usually overachieve until he leads the team to total revolt and the bottom drops out. The signs of revolt may already be there as superstar goalie Roberto Luongo is already unhappy after his team took him to arbitration. Nevertheless, Luongo is the best goalie in hockey today. They have some talent elsewhere in Olli Jokinen, Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn. This team could make a big step forward as long as Mike Keenan doesn't create too many problems.

4. Carolina Hurricanes - This team has some solid forwards in Cory Stillman, Rod Brind'Amour, Erik Cole and Ray Whitney. None will be superstars, but all should likely be solid. Their defence is similar with Oleg Tverdovsky and Bret Hedican. There might be a weakness in goal as Martin Gerber has never proven he can be a number one and Cam Ward has never proven he can be an NHLer. A solid team with no serious weakness (but no strength) is a poor team and will finish below .500. Carolina lacks any strength to speak of.

5. Washington Capitals - The few good things I can say about this team are that Olaf Kolzig is still a decent goalie and Alexander Ovechkin has a lot of potential. There isn't much else there. Boyd Gordon is pencilled in one some lists as their number one right wing. Most AHL teams last year had better right wingers.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pre-Season Scoring

In general, the pre-season is a time to give plenty of playing time to players who are on the bubble and may or may not be in the NHL. Its a time to give some of the lesser players big playing time to see how they can handle it. Most proven stars do not get much pre-season playing time. Why play them? You know they will make your team. Its better to give the playing time to players who you are uncertain about. As a result, the top scorers in the pre-season are usually players who are not well known. This year is no exception to that rule.

Pre-season statistics can be found here at the CBS Sportzone website. They have a good searchable database of pre-season stats. The NHL has failed on their website. Until recently, they had nothing on their website. They now have this. It is a hard copy of the top scorers (possibly right from the CBS website) and is not nearly as fan friendly. The new fan friendly NHL is failing to be fan friendly (does that really suprise anyone?).

Who are the top scorers in the pre-season so far? They are Andrew Hutchinson and Mike Zigomanis of Carolina and Jon Sim of Philadelphia who are all tied with eight points. Jes Golbez has a post about Hutchinson. He is a 25 year old defenceman who was traded from Nashville to Carolina on draft day. He has 8 points in his 18 career NHL games and has been a solid AHL defenceman.

Mike Zigomanis is also in the Carolina system. He is a 24 year old centreman who was drafted by Buffalo, but re-entered the draft and was picked by Carolina. He has 6 points in 36 NHL games over the past two seasons and has also been a solid AHL player.

Jon Sim won the 1999 Stanley Cup in Dallas. He is a 28 year old left winger who has played 158 NHL games over 7 seasons scoring 36 points in that time. He is in the Philadelphia Flyer system and is a solid AHL player who was important in the Philadelphia Phantoms Calder Cup victory.

All of these players are what baseball fans would call AAAA players. Meaning they are too good for the AAA team, but not quite good enough for the NHL. With their solid pre-seasons, each may get a chance to play some NHL this year, but I doubt any of them make any significant impact. If these players fail to get an NHL job this year, expect that they look in Europe for a higher paying hockey job.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: Atlantic Division

So far, I have posted my predictions for the Northeast Division and the entire West Conference. Today I will look at the Atlantic Division. I make no guarantee that my predictions are 100% accurate. They are far more likely to be incorrect. It is not possible to predict the final standings with any certainty. Here is my best guess.

1. Philadelphia Flyers - This team was largely rebuilt over the summer. Gone are John LeClair, Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick. They added Peter Forsberg, Darian Hatcher and Mike Rathje. Still here are Simon Gagne, Kim Johnsson and Robert Esche. They are adding several talented rookies from the AHL Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms in Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Antero Niittymaki. I don't think this team is improved for all the changes they made, but they are good enough to win this division.

2. New Jersey Devils - This team still has the stellar goaltending of Martin Brodeur. They have had a very good defensive system and they still have Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, Jamie Langenbrunner and they added Alexander Mogilny. It is easy to dwell on the losses of Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and the fact Patrik Elias will miss the start of the season with hepatitis. Nevertheless, this team still has depth and several good players. They will have a strong defensive mindset and a top goalie. I think that will keep them well above water.

3. New York Islanders - This is Alexei Yashin's team. He is the captain and they hope ready to play at the top level he once demonstrated in Ottawa. Rick DiPietro will have every chance to be their top goaltender as well. They added some good players in Mike York, Miroslav Satan, Alexei Zhitnik and Brent Sopel. This offsets the loss of Adrien Aucoin, Kenny Jonsson, Roman Hamrlik and Mike Peca. Likely this team will remain a solid team without making a step forward or backward.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins - This team became a media darling when they drafted Sidney Crosby and added Zigmund Palffy, John LeClair, Jocelyn Thibault and Sergei Gonchar. If Mario Lemieux remains healthy, they have a cast off all star names, although many are past their primes. Pittsburgh will be better (because its hard for them to be much worse), but I see them several years away from being solid contenders. That time may come if Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury live up to expectations in the future.

5. New York Rangers - A few years ago, Pittsburgh decided to build their team around Jaromir Jagr and a bunch of his countrymen. It failed and Pittsburgh soon traded Jagr. Jagr is now several years older, so the Rangers are recycling that failed strategy. They have Martin Rucinsky and Martin Straka to be Jagr's linemates. They lack any other top offensive players beyond that. Their defence includes Tom Poti, Darius Kasparaitus and Marek Malik. They are sold guys, but none are capable to be number one men. In net they are looking at Kevin Weekes or possibly rookie Henrik Lundqvist. It doesn't look good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

How Good A Defender Was Didier Pitre?

When I compared the top 10 defencemen of all time according to Daryl Shilling's Hockey Project Rating Method and Pnep's Hall of Fame Monitor, one very suprising selection was Didier Pitre. He was ranked as the fourth best defender of all time by Daryl Shilling. This is a suprising result, not so much because Pitre wasn't a good player, it is suprising because throughout most of his career, Pitre wasn't a defenceman. For example, the Legend's of Hockey biography on Pitre calls him a forward and does not mention his having played defence.

Didier Pitre's first major hockey league was in an early IHL playing with the American Soo Indians, who played in Sault Ste Marie. He joined the Soo team in 1904. By 1905/06, he was the already the top scorer in league scoing 41 goals in 22 games played. Pitre swas on the IHL first team all star that year in 1906 and again in 1907.

The next season, he left as a free agent and played with the Montreal Shamrocks in the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association. He lasted there only one year before leaving to play with the Edmonton Eskimos . He stayed there only three years before jumping contract and coming back to eastern Canada where he played with the Renfrew Creamery Kings for the remainder of the year.

He joined the Montreal Canadiens the next year in 1909. He stayed for four years, before leaving for the west again. He spent a year playing with the Vancouver Millionaires. Pitre returned to Montreal the next year. In 1916, Pitre led the National Hockey Association in regular season assists and points. He scored 24 goals, 15 assists (assists in those days were one per goal and only if the official scorer thought it contributed to the goal being scored) for 39 points. He also helped lead the Canadiens to their first ever Stanley Cup. He led the playoffs in goals as well. He remained with Montreal through the formation of the NHL and into 1923. In the 1919 Stanley Cup playoffs, which were never completed due to the influenza epidemic, he led the playoffs in points. By 1921, the Canadiens had so much depth at forward, and an opening on defence due to the death of future Hall of Famer Joe Hall in the influenza epidemic, so they decided to try Pitre as a defenceman. At age 38, Pitre first regularly played as a defenceman. He played defence for his final two seasons before retiring.

Pitre played essentially his entire career as a forward. He played his final two seasons, probably his least effective seasons, as a defender. Shilling incorrectly rates his entire career as a defender. The seasons where he performed the best were seasons he played right wing. Pitre was a good scorer. If a defenceman twice led major hockey leagues in points, while playing a long career like Pitre did (~20 years) he would be one of the all time great defenders. If a player plays 18 years as a forward twice leading major leagues in points and then hangs on for two final years as a defender, he is a good player. Pitre was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962 to show this. However, rating him as a defender is wrong.

This is an example of the problem of calibration in hockey sabermetrics between different positions. This is a specific hockey sabermetrics problem. Exactly how does one compare players in different positions with one another? How does one deal with players who played multiple positions? I think Daryl Shilling does a better job of this then Pnep does, because Pnep has arbitrary differences between how he rates different positions. Shilling uses essentially the same formula, although it is not the same formula. For example, he credits defenders for being (for example) the top scoring defender in a season when there may be several forwards who outscore them. This is a big bonus for Pitre. As a forward, his scoring numbers get rated against defenceman. It is an unfair comparison.

Didier Pitre was a very good forward. His is a Hall of Fame forward. He held on at the end of his career as a defenceman. He is an example of the incorrect results one can get in hockey sabermetrics when rating players who do not play only one position (unless care is taken). Should Pitre get rated as a forward, he would be in the top 60 or 80 of all time probably. It is wrong to rate him as a defender. It is ever more incorrect to rate him as a defender for the time he played forward.

This shows a fundamental flaw in these sabermetric systems. A player's value should not increase if he is listed in a different position then he actually plays. If a forward plays like a defenceman, he should not gain or lose points because of the position at which he is listed. If a defender plays like a forward, he should not gain or lose points because of the position at which he is listed. He has the same value to his team despite his "official" position listing.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: Northeast Division

I have already posted my predictions for the West Conference. Today, I will begin with the East Division. Today, I will look at the Northeast Division. Again, it is impossible to have 100% accuracy in any hockey predictions of this fashion, but I am trying my best. This is my best guess at the way teams will finish.

1. Ottawa Senators - The wild card is Dominik Hasek. Will he remain healthy and how much does he have left? What happens to them if he is unable to handle their goaltending? They do have a very good core of players including Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza. This is probably the best core of players in the NHL right now. They are the team to beat in the NHL if their goaltending holds up.

2. Boston Bruins - They kept a very good group of players through the lockout including Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Glen Murray, Nik Boynton and Andrew Raycroft. Then they added free agents like Brian Leetch and Alexei Zhamnov. This team should be good. If Ottawa's goaltending totally fails, they could win the division.

3. Montreal Canadiens - They will have very good goaltending from Jose Theodore. This is coupled with some good talent in Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Sheldon Souray and Richard Zednik. It looks good, but it won't be as good as the two teams I rank ahead of them.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs - They are too dependent on players who are in the downsides of their careers including Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour. They went out and added more injury prone players in decline. Most notably they added Eric Lindros and Jason Allison. Both have already had injury problems in camp. They do have two good defencemen who are around their peaks in terms of age in Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. Likely, this team will run into injury problems.

5. Buffalo Sabres - This team has a group of young stars that might be able to lead them to a resurgence. Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller could be the core of a very good team, but they are not ready to compete yet. It could be a long year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: West Conference

I have posted predictions for the Northwest Division, Pacific Division and Central Division with little blurbs about what I expect from the various teams. This list won't have any blubs. It will be merely a ranking of where I think they will finish in the conference. Of course, it will likely not match up with reality and the end of the season. That's part of the fun of hockey. The unexpected happens. Predictions cannot ever be very accurate.

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Calgary Flames
5. Colorado Avalanche
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Mighty Ducks
8. Dallas Stars
9. Phoenix Coyotes
10. Minnesota Wild
11. Chicago Blackhawks
12. Edmonton Oilers
13. Los Angeles Kings
14. St Louis Blues
15. Columbus Blue Jackets

2005/06 Predictions: Central Division

I have been posting my predictions for the season division by division. So far I have posted the Northwest Division and the Pacific Division. Today I will look at the Central Division. Of course, it is impossible to be 100% accurate in these kinds of predictions. Let's see if I can even get close.

1. Detroit Red Wings - This team is starting to decline. However, they still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg who are growing into stars. They have Nicklas Lidstrom, Robert Lang, Brendan Shanahan, Mathieu Schneider, Steve Yzerman etc. Its still a very good team and will be the team to beat in the Central.

2. Nashville Predators - This is a team on the rise. They have a solid goalie in Tomas Vokoun. A good young defence anchored by Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky. A good group of forwards with Paul Kariya joining a group led by David Legwand and Steve Sullivan. This team could take a run at the division lead, but I don't think they are ready yet.

3. Chicago Blackhawks - I don't think this team will be much of a contender, but they will be improved. Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrien Aucoin are good free agent signings. Eric Daze should be healthy. Tuomo Ruuttu should emerge as a star. There are still a lot of wholes and not much depth, but they likely won't be a bottom feeder.

4. St Louis Blues - Ownership has given up on this team, so it could be a trainwreck. They still have significant talent in Doug Weight, Eric Brewer, former Calder Trophy winner Barrett Jackman. Keith Tkachuk is a very talented player, who will likely have a great second half of the season - even if he is out of shape now. The team is already off to a bad start having made such a mess of the Tkachuk situation by suspending him and airing their dirty laundry in public.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets - Rick Nash is a very good player, but they don't have much else the impresses at forward. They are too dependant upon aging players who never were able to star with the team in the past (people like todd Marchant and Geoff Sanderson) to produce offence. They wasted a lot of money on Adam Foote. Foote is an aging, but very good defensive defenceman who looked very good in Colorado partly because he had a role where he could concentrate defence and not worry about being the number one guy, like he will have to in Columbus. He's not a good fit at all. Columbus has been consistently signing guys who are not great fits and it isn't helping them make any quick strides.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Free Agent Signings for the Last Several Days

Since my last free agent post, training camp is now in full swing. Teams are signing holdouts, unsigned players who earned contracts with stellar play and last minute additions to their roster.

Detroit finally resigned Pavel Datsyuk, after he threatened to play in Russia. TSN's story is here. Also, Detroit signed Mikael Samuelsson from Florida. TSN's story is here. Samuelsson has some potential and may be a late bloomer who plays a suprisingly important role for them.

Atlanta signed Peter Bondra from Ottawa. TSN's story is here. He should play a significant role on the first couple of lines. He is no longer capable of playing a starring offensive role on any team.

Ottawa resigned Charlie Stephens and signed Joe Cullen from Edmonton. TSN's story is here. Both should be AHL players who provide depth.

There will likely be a few more unsigned draft picks getting deals as training camp starts to wind up.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Loss is Not A Loss

For the last few years in the NHL, there have been teams given a point for losing hockey games (as long as they lose them in overtime). For those teams, a loss is as good as a tie (its worth the same number of points). As a result, there are a few more points available in the season. Sometimes, teams can finish above ".500" and actually have more losses than wins. For example, in the 2003/04 season, the Buffalo Sabres had a record of 37-38-7 for 85 points (with 4 OT losses) and the Minnesota Wild had a record of 30-32-20 for 83 points (with 3 OT losses). These teams in the NHL propoganda claim to be better than .500 teams when they lost more times than they won. Ideally, statistics should show reality and not hide it to make you think your team is better than it actually is.

This season, it is going to be even worse. Now goalies are not going to be creditted with losses when they lose a game in overtime or in a shootout. Goalies too can be above .500 and lose more often then they win. We can be deceived into thinking our goalie is better than he actually is due to the misleading propoganda statistics. It no longer matters to the NHL that players will get more due than they deserve, with cost certainty, they cannot actually get paid more money. The NHL can deceive fans into thinking that their goalie is better than he actually is, and it will not cost them anything at contract time.

Trying to justify this move, in a TSN story they have a quote from Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres

When you look at some guys' win-loss statistics sometimes, it doesn't truly represent what he did for his team.

This statement is entirely true, win loss records do not reflect how good a goalie is. Goalies on good teams tend to win more than goalies on bad teams. It is quite possible that a goalie could have a season good enough for a Vezina nomination and lose more games than he wins. Roberto Luongo did this in 2003/04. This has nothing whatsoever to do with overtime and shootout losses. It merely shows that win-loss records are a poor statistic to rate goalies. One attempt to rate goalies is shown here. This method is not perfect and does have to use wins and losses to some degree, but that is more representative of the fact that rating goalies statistically is a hockey sabermetrics problem. Making goalies win-loss percentage slightly increase by including overtime losses (which are not actually losses in the new treatment) only serves to further obscure the problem and it does it in a way that makes goalies look better than they are with no cost to the NHL.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: Pacific Division

On Thursday I posted my predictions for the Northwest Division. Today, I will try my luck with the Pacific Division. Again, my predictions are likely to be incorrect, but that is the nature of predictions. Nevertheless, they are fun and I cannot resist trying.

1. San Jose Sharks- This team emerged in 2003/04. They have a good young core of Patrick Marleau, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Evgeni Nabokov and others who are coming into their prime years. This team could be one of the teams to beat in the season.

2. Anaheim Mighty Ducks- In general, I do not think that buying a bunch of 31 plus year old free agents, which to some degree this team did. They brought in Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. They have a very good young goalie in JS Giguere who was good enough for a run to the cup finals in 2003 and a very good unsung defence with Keith Carney, Vitaly Vishnevsky, Ruslan Salei and Sandis Ozolinsh. I think this team was due to take a step forward even before signing free agents.

3. Dallas Stars- This is the aging remnants of a Stanley Cup champion. Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Sergei Zubov were very good players who are in the decline phases of their careers. They still have some good younger talent in guys like Marty Turco, Brendan Morrow and Jere Lehtinen. They are good enough to be competitive, but I do not think they can win the division.

4. Phoenix Coyotes- This team has a good core of young players who could take a step forward in Shane Doan, Ladislav Nagy, Derek Morris, Paul Mara and Mike Comrie. They have some respected veterans in Brett Hull and Curtis Joseph. However, I am not sold on this team. They have an unproven coach in Wayne Gretzky (a man who has never coached at any level and yet has an NHL head coaching job). I don't think that will set up the conditions for a young team to make a big step forward.

5. Los Angeles Kings- This team lacks any proven goaltending (Garon is the worst potential starting goalie in the division) or standout defenceman. They have a few decent forwards in Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov, but I don't think its enough to succeed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Comedy of Errors: Pre-Season Shootouts

Today's NHL story is so crazy that if I did not know better, I would be convinced it was written by comedy writers to parody the league. The NHL has adopted shootouts as one of its rule changes for this season. As many readers have my have noticed, I do not like shootouts. This is a point I have made a few times, for example here. Shootouts are an individual skills competition that should not be used to decide a team game (why not have a fastest shot competition or a relay race where players skate around pylons - wouldn't it be the same?).

Nevertheless, the NHL decided to adopt shootouts to decide games that are still tied after regulation and overtime. The NHL wants to showcase their new shootouts during pre-season, so they have decided to have a shootout after every pre-season game EVEN THOSE THAT ARE NOT TIED. Nothing shows off shootouts more than a meaningless exhibition after some of the fans have already gone home right? Would it be a better idea to have the shootout at the beginning of the game and use its result to decide any ties that might occur? Probably not, but is it any less stupid?

So, after the game is over, the players have to stick around and have a shootout even though the game is over. Now in this meaningless shootout in Friday night's pre-season game where Phoenix defeated Minnesota 3-2 IN REGULATION, Phoenix goalie Brian Boucher got injured. That's right, while facing Peter Olvecky's (Minnesota clearly doesn't care much about the meaningless shootout if they let a rookie from the Slovak league who likely won't make their team shoot) shot, Boucher hurt his groin. He is expected to miss two weeks or so. All this for a shootout that occurred after some of the fans had already gone home. This story is so crazy that I am convinced that it is a joke, but it is reality. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction - at least under Gary Bettman's watch.

TSN's story on the Boucher injury is here.

Fantasy Hockey Draft Today

Today, my fantasy hockey league had its annual draft. The lockout last year screwed up the league - we lost a season to it. Normally our drafts are a combined entry draft and waiver draft (like we had last year, but since we never got a chance to play a game with the waiver type players we chose last year, we chose to make it a one round entry draft this year. Here is our draft:

1. NY Rangers - Sidney Crosby
2. St Louis - Jack Johnson
3. Columbus - Benoit Pouliot
4. St Louis - Gilbert Brule
5. Florida - Bobby Ryan
6. Vancouver - Anze Kopitar
7. Detroit - Jack Skille
8. Nashville - Marek Zagrapan
9. Colorado - Mark Staal
10. Calgary - Carey Price
11. Edmonton - No pick
12. New Jersey - Martin Hanzal
13. Toronto - No pick
14. Pittsburgh - Mark Streit
15. Anaheim - Luc Bourdon
16. Tampa Bay - Brian Lee
17. NY Rangers - Alex Bourret
18. Carolina - Peter Budaj
19. Montreal - Rene Bourque
20. Ottawa -Valterri Filppula
21. Anaheim - Tuukka Rask
22. Dallas - Ryan O'Marra
23. Anaheim - Paul Stastny
24. NY Islanders - Petteri Nokelainen
25. Boston - Guillaume Latendresse
26. Phoenix - No pick
27. Chicago - Sasha Pokulok
28. Philadelphia - Fedor Fedorov
29. Vancouver - Chris Campoli
30. Atlanta - Jussi Jokinen

If a keeper league that has drafts like this looks interesting to you, please send an email to y2kfhl at hotmail dot com .

Friday, September 16, 2005

Free Agent Signings for the Last Few Days

Since my last free agent post, training camp has begun. Signings are holdout players and guys who came to training camp without contracts who have since earned them and last minute additions to the roster.

Boston resigned Andrew Raycroft. TSN's story is here. A couple daysw earlier, Boston resigned Tim Thomas. TSN's story is here.

Ottawa signed Jeff Glass to an entry level contract. TSN's story is here.

Philadelphia signed Brian Savage from Phoenix. TSN's story is here. He should be a depth player in Philadelphia.

Colorado signed Wojtek Wolski to an entry level contract. TSN's story is here.

Edmonton resigned Ryan Smyth. TSN's story is here.

There will be more signings as training camp continues when still unsigned players earn new contracts and when holdouts sign.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

2005/06 Predictions: Northwest Division

Predictions are always a fun part of the pre-season. They are also almost always wrong. By their nature, hockey results are not something that can possibly be predicted with any high success rate. At any rate, here goes:

In the next few weeks I will predict the final standings for the six NHL divisions, starting with the Northwest Division.

1. Vancouver Canucks- They key parts of their core remain. Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi (who is unlikely to be suspended again and thus will be there for the stretch run htis time - which is a minor improvement), Brendan Morrison, Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski are all back. They did downgrade their team in terms of defensive depth and still lack a game breaking goalie, but they have enough frontline talent that they should be a good team.

2. Calgary Flames- They may have the best group of six defenders of any team in the NHL. Jarome Iginla returns. Miikka Kiprusoff returns. This is basically the same team that went to the finals in 2004. They lack game breaking scorers beyond Iginla. This was a bit of a suprise team to make the run all the way to the finals. Odds are, they are not good enough to repeat that. Arguably, they never would have even started their playoff run if they had to face a Vancouver team with Bertuzzi in the lineup.

3. Colorado Avalanche- This team still has Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk. Its still a very good team, which is amazing considering they lost Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. I am also not sold that David Aebischer is anything more than an average starter.

4. Minnesota Wild - Jacques Lemaire plays a great system with a bunch of fast aggresive forecheckers. This team has a bunch of fast aggresive forecheckers. They also have Marian Gaborik who looks ready to step forward as an NHL superstar. This team will be tough for anyone to play against. I doubt that any NHL rule changes will do anything significant to stop their system.

5. Edmonton Oilers- Kevin Lowe learned form Glen Sather. As soon as he got a chance to spend money he did and not neccessarily in any smart way. The team still lacks any great goaltending or any really big time scorers or much defensive depth beyond Chris Pronger. Their other big addition, Mike Peca is probably just an expensive downgrade from Mike York. The Oilers offseason looks too much like the Rangers many times unsuccessful strategy for me to buy into it.

The other divisions are coming in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Future Hall of Famer Ron Francis Retires

Today, future hall of famer Ron Francis announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the fourth retirement in the last few days of a played that I consider a hall of famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career. He joins Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Mark Messier.

Ron Francis was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on March 1st, 1963. He rose through the Sault Ste. Marie minor hockey system and eventually made the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds of the OHL in 1980. In 1981, the Hartford Whalers drafted Francis in the first round, fourth overall.

In 1981/82, he split the season between Sault Ste Marie and Hartford in the NHL. He put up 68 points in 59 games in his first partial NHL season, making him an immediate sensation. In 1982/83, he made the NHL All Star Game for the first of four times in his career. In the 1984/85 season, Francis became the Whalers captain. He was consistently the best player on the team for several years. In 1989/90, he put up his first of three 100 point seasons when he scored 101 points. In the 1990/91 season, Hartford wanted to shake up their largely unsuccessful franchise, so they traded Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh for John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapsky.

In Pittsburgh, Francis was the number two centerman behind Mario Lemieux. This allowed him the opportunity to concentrate on his defensive responsibilities and become one of the premier defensive forwards in the game (while keeping up his offensive success). Francis was an important part of Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup win that year in 1991. In 1992, Francis was again an important part of the Stanley Cup winning Penguins. He led the NHL in assists during the playoffs with 19. In 1994/95, Francis led the NHL in both assists and +/-. He won the Lady Byng trophy for the player who best combines sportmanship and hockey ability and the Frank J Selke trophy as best defensive forward. In 1995/96, he again led the NHL in assists and he put up his career best point total with 119. In 1997/98, Francis won his second Lady Byng trophy. At the end of the season, he left as a free agent to join the Carolina Hurricanes (which is his old Hartford franchise moved to a new market).

Francis quickly became captain of the Hurricanes. In 2002, he won his third Lady Byng trophy. He also won the King Clancy award for the player who best combines humanitarian achievement off the ice with success as a player. In 2003/04, Carolina decided to trade Francis to Toronto at the trade deadline for their fourth round pick in 2005 (it was widely known Francis was considering retirement, thus he had little trade value).

In Toronto, Francis played out the rest of the season (12 games played plus 12 more in the playoffs). Francis missed the next year for the lockout and then announced his retirement.

Ron Francis is third all time in games played with 1731 games. His 549 goals is 19th all time. His 1249 assists is second all time (behind Gretzky). That gives him a total of 1798 points, which is good enough for fourth al time. Francis was one of the quietest most dignified players of all time. He was very good as both an offensive and a defensive forward and a very good captain. However, he never got the chance to be the top player on a team in a major media market, as a result, Francis is an often overlooked star.

Francis will spend some time with his two children in his home of Raleigh, North Carolina. Someday, he may return to the NHL in a management or coaching role.

Ron Francis's retirement leaves only fourteen players on my list of players who should make the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what they do (or do not do) for the remainder of their careers. They are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

We have recently had several retirements to shorten this list. When the season opens up, the other currently active NHL players will have the chance to make it to this Hall of Fame list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Free Agent Signings for the Last Few Days

Since my last free agent post we have seen training camps open, as a result, some players have agreed to short term deals to return to their teams in time for camp.

Scott Young signed as a free agent with St Louis, leaving Dallas. TSN's story is here. At this point in his career, Young will only be a depth player.

Pittsburgh resigned Brooks Orpik. TSN's story is here.

The New York Islanders resigned Mark Parrish. TSN's story is here.

Florida resigned Mike Van Ryn, Jay Bouwmeester and Olli Jokinen. TSN's story is here.

Anaheim signed Aaron Gavey from Toronto. TSN's story is here. He will provide depth and possibly spend most of his time in the AHL.

Montreal signed Michael Ryder. TSN's story is here.

Since training camp has begun, any remaining signings will be holdouts and players who are attending camp without contracts. There are still some important players who are holding out.

Monday, September 12, 2005

NHL Radio Deal

Today it was announced that the NHL signed a national (in both USA and Canada) radio deal. TSN's story is here. They signed a ten year $100 million deal that begins in 2007 with XM Satellite Radio. This will be broadcast in Canada with Canadian Satellite Radio (which is XM's Canadian partner). This will be the only national radio broadcast for the NHL (I assume teams will still be allowed local deals - although the article does not address this point. This brings up one question. The NHL website offers local radio broadcasts of NHL games (or at least has in the past). Will this be gone? Will these radio broadcasts only be available to satellite radio subscribers? Doesn't that make NHL hockey less accessible to fans?

NOTE: XM Satellite's deal starts this year. It becomes "exclusive" in 2007. I think it is very reasonable to mistrust exactly what the word exculsive means. It would not be suprising if this is not merely a seemless extra method for fans to hear games, but instead limits their options a bit to push them into subscribing.

Future Hall of Famer Mark Messier Retires

Today, future hall of famer Mark Messier announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This is the third player that I consider a future hall of famer to announce his retirement in the last several days. He joins Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis.

Mark Messier was born in Edmonton, Alberta on January 18th, 1961. Messier grew up in the minor hockey system in the Edmonton area. He was a star in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playing in Spruce Grove and St. Albert (both Edmonton suburbs). Fresh off a big season with the St Albert Saints in 1977/78, Messier played in the WHL playoffs with the Portland Winter Hawks. He scored 5 points in 7 games but chose not to return to Portland. Messier, then only 17, got a tryout in the WHA (as they were signing underage players who were too young to be drafted in the NHL). He started his season with Indianapolis, but when they folded in mid-season, he signed as a free agent in Cincinnati. Messier was not an immediate star, he scored only one goal and 11 points in his 52 WHA games.

When the WHA folded in 1979, Messier was now eligible for the NHL draft. He slipped to the third round, where he was chosen 48th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. Messier spent most of his first season in the NHL (how often does a guy picked 48th overall do that?), he did play four games in the CHL with the Oilers minor team in Houston. Messier was immediately, one of the toughest players on the Oilers but it took a few years for his game to fully mature. In 1982, Messier played in his first of fifteen NHL All Star games. He made the First All Star team at the end of the year playing left wing. He repeated his First All Star team nomination the next season and topped 100 points for the first of seven times. In 1984, Messier was an important part of Edmonton's first Stanley Cup victory (it was Messier's first of six cups). Messier won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP and was named to the Second Team All Star. Messier was an important part of further Edmonton cup wins in 1985, 1987, 1988 and as captain in 1990. In 1990, Messier had his career best offensive season scorfing 129 points. He won the Hart Trophy and Pearson Award as NHL MVP as voted by the writers and the players. He lead the playoffs in assists and points. Messier made First Team All Star that season. He was now a centerman. In the mid-80's Messier made the transition from left wing to center. He is the only player ever to make First Team All Star in both of those positions. After the 1991 season, cash starved Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington traded Messier to the New York Rangers along with future considerations (which became a Jeff Beukeboom for David Shaw trade) for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk.

Messier was immediately named the New York Ranger captain. Messier won the Hart Trophy and Pearson Award for the second time in his first season with the Rangers. he also made the First Team All Star. In 1994, Messier helped to lead the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup (Messier's sixth). This cup run included Messier's famous guaranteed victory in the semi-finals when the Rangers came back against the New Jersey Devils. Messier remained in New York until 1997 when he left as a free agent to join Vancouver.

Messier's time in Vancouver can best be characterized as an abject failure. Messier was no longer able to score at point per game rate and the Canucks struggled through some awful years (under the coaching of Mike Keenan). Messier as the team captain and a player in the decline phase of his career was given a lot of the blame. When his contract expired in 2000, Messier returned to New York.

Messier spent four more years in New York with limited success. He continued to captain the Rangers and play a significant number of minutes per game, but his playing value dropped continuously. Messier had not played a playoff game since 1996. After the lockout, unable to get a contract with any NHL club, Messier announced retirement.

Internationally, Messier represented Canada in the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups and the 1996 World Cup. He was one of the best players for Canada in international play for many years.

Messier's 25 year NHL career leaves him with outstanding career numbers. He has the second most career games played at 1756 games (only nine NHL games less than Gordie Howe played). Messier was the seventh highest career goal scorer with 694 goals. He is third all time in assists with 1193. His 1887 points is good enough for second all time (behind only Gretzky).

On the topic of retirement, Messier says:

It's been a long career. I've achieved a lot. There was just really nothing left for me to achieve I guess. It was just time to move aside and go on to something else.

The New York Rangers will retire his number on January 12th in their game against Edmonton.

Mark Messier's retirement leaves fifteen active players on my list of currently active players who I think belong in the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the remainder of their careers. They are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Ron Francis
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

Ron Francis does not have a contract this year and may be the next retirement.

Training Camps Open

Hockey is back. It went through a year long lockout and the largest free agent group ever. There is a new CBA and tons of player movement. Its exciting that hockey is back. I just hope it will be at least as good as the hockey we saw in 2003/04 (I have doubts). All teams are trying to sell themselves as new and improved with their new free agents signings. Of course it is impossible that every team could have improved - some will have to drop in the standings. Which teams will be which? Its hard to predict with brand new rosters and with some players who have not been in serious action since spring of 2004. Likely, many older players will have lost a step. Likely, many new young players will emerge as NHL stars. It will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds. I will make some predictions that I will post in the coming days. I hope it is all for the best.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The $75,000 Waiver Problem

When we take an early look at the new CBA, one of the worst clauses in the CBA is set up to prevent teams from 'hiding" payroll in the minors. Any player in the minors who is paid more than $75,000 in the minors must clear waivers to be brought back to the NHL. If the player is claimed on waivers half his salary will be charged to the team that lost him's cap. This clause has far reaching effects that are bad for the NHL and hockey in general.

One effect of this clause is that any player in the minors who is not on a two-way contract will be very hard to bring back to the NHL. As a result, teams will be unlikely to send to the minors any such players. One example of this that has been discussed in the blogosphere is Alex Auld of the Vancouver Canucks. Auld is a goalie prospect with the Canucks who is signed for $513,000. He will make this money whether he plays in the NHL or in the minors. Auld had a dissapointing year in the AHL last year. In their playoff run, the Manitoba Moose chose to play Wade Flaherty instead of Alex Auld. Auld has played 14 NHL games under three seasons. He will likely have to be the Canucks backup goalie in the NHL this year. If he is sent to the minors, he will have to clear waivers to come back. It is quite possible that he will be claimed. A question this opens up is what happens if Vancouver does send Auld to the minors and a goalie injury occurs so they need an emergency goalie, can they use him as their emergency goalie even if he has not cleared waivers yet? Vancouver also has Brent Johnson signed. He is a decent goalie who might outplay Auld, but does he have a legitimate chance to win the backup job or has he lost it due to the CBA (his contract allows him to be paid $75,000 in the minors)? I'm sure there are other teams with a similar situation which has not yet been documented as well. As a result of the CBA, there are less jobs available then ever in training camp. Some players by their contracts cannot be realistically sent to the minors.

Another effect of this clause is that many veteran AHL players who would normally be signed to provide depth in the NHL systems have signed in Europe because they can make far more money there. This reduces the depth in the NHL. This significantly hurts the AHL. AHL fans should be outraged. Because of greedy NHL people agreeing to a questionable deal, the level of the AHL has been hurt significantly. The NHL hurt the AHL. The NHL hurt the AHL fans. The NHL does not care about the AHL. This is an outrage.

When the AHL is weakened, the development of players in the AHL is hurt. Players improve by playing against players that are better than they are. If many of the better players in the AHL are gone then young players in that league will not develop as well. This hurts the NHL in the future. Again the NHL does not care. The NHL is so shortsighted that they do not see that they are hurting themselves. This is an outrage.

It is quite likely, this $75,000 waiver rule will turn out to be one of the worst things this CBA brought in. Part of this problem could have been easily solved. Under the previous CBA, veteran players had to clear waivers to be sent to the minors and not to be recalled. That is a much more rational situation. Let everyone who makes more than $75,000 have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors. Hold a waiver draft for all these players at the beginning of the year. That solves the problem of recalling players. But that still leaves the problem that $75,000 is too low a cap. It really hurts the AHL. It hurts the development of players who are in the AHL. It hurts the depth of the NHL. It reduces the development of future NHL players. This clause is a serious mistake.

Note: Tom Benjamin has a similar post today.

NHLPA Divisions May Go To Court

As I wrote on Monday the NHLPA is divided (even at the leadership level) about the way Ted Saskin was brought in as NHLPA head. According to NHLPA rules, the NHLPA should be nominated by the NHLPA executive and elected by secret ballot, however in Saskin's appointment, they circumvented this by appointing him with a conference call. It is believed that this was done to make the process easier and not have to worry about the "bitterness" some players still hold over the lockout that washed out last season and the pro-owner CBA that was subsequently agreed upon.

The Toronto Star is reporting that this division is likely to get worse. A group of players, led by Trent Klatt of the Los Angeles Kings, have hired a lawyer Bob Lanza, who is a former chief counsel to the National Basketball Association Player's Association, to consider challenging Saskin's appointment in court. These players want the formation of a search committee where Saskin is one of several candidates, much as was done in Bob Goodenow's appointment.

This division will further weaken the NHLPA and eventually may lead to NHLPA decertification. In the end, decertification may not be such a bad thing, if there is no union to agree to pro-owners CBAs, then the players will be held to the same labor laws as those in other businesses and this would probably put the players in a better situation then they are now.

NOTE: On Monday, Trent Klatt announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. It is interesting that he is still fighting this battle when he is no longer an active player.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Free Agent Signings and Trades for the Last Few Days

Since my last free agent post teams have continued to sign players and make minor trades to prepare for the start of training camp on Monday.

Pittsburgh resigned Mario Lemieux (How do those negotiatiations work? Does Mario argue with himself about how much he can pay himself?) and signed Sidney Crosby to an entry level contract. TSN's story is here.

Vancouver acquired Craig Darby in a trade with Tampa Bay for future considerations. TSN's story is here. I think this trade is forced by waiver rules. If any player in the minors makes more than $75,000 US (in the minors - he may have a two-way contract paying him significantly more in the NHL) is recalled from the minors, he will have to clear waivers before he can play in the NHL. Any player who fails to clear waivers will have half their salary counted against the cap for the team that lost him on waivers. This is a ridiculous restriction that will handicap team's abilities to send such players to the minors (if they don't think they will be able to come back from them). Darby is one such player. I guess Tampa thinks they would be forced to keep him in the minors all year and thus he is expendable. Vancouver may have other plans. At best Darby is a depth forward.

Toronto signs Brad Brown from Buffalo. TSN's story is here. He will provide depth on defence. Toronto also signed Mariusz Czerkawski from the New York Islanders. TSN's story is here. He will likely be a second or third line forward with the leafs.

Nashville acquired Kris Beech for a conditional draft pick in a trade with Pittsburgh. TSN's story is here. I think a player like Beech might also be a move to get around waiver rules, although he is probably a better player than most in this situation. He still has some potential ands may be a useful NHL forward for several years.

Jay McKee resigned in Buffalo. TSN's story is here.

Ruslan Salei was resigned by Anaheim. TSN's story is here.

Teams are preparing for training camp which starts on Monday. Final minor roster juggling trades are starting to be made to prepare for the season.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Future Hall of Famer Al MacInnis Retires

Today, future Hockey Hall of Famer Al MacInnis announced announced his retirement. TSN's story is here. This makes him the second player that I think is a future Hall of Famer to retire this week after Scott Stevens.

Al MacInnis was born in Inverness, Nova Scotia on July 11th, 1963. He left Nova Scotia at a young age for hockey. By age sixteen, he was playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for the Regina Blues. At seventeen, he graduated to the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League. He was chosen by Calgary in the first round of the 1981 draft as the fifteenth overall selection.

He was returned to the OHL for the next season, where he was on the OHL first all star team, spending only two uneventful games in the NHL. He spent most of the following season in the OHL, in 82/83, playing fourteen regular season games in Calgary. MacInnis was again named to the OHL first all star team. The Flames were still not fully convinced. They had MacInnis split his time the next season with the CHL Colorado Flames and the NHL Calgary Flames. MacInnis developed into Calgary's power play point man that season. In the 1984 playoffs, he got his first chance to really shine with Calgary. He scored 14 points in 11 playoff games. That was good for second in scoring on the Flames in that playoff run. The following season MacInnis made his first NHL All Star game. It was the first of thirteen he played in during his career. He continued to become a star. In the 1986 Calgary playoff run, he lead the entire NHL in assists in the playoffs with 15. In 1987, he made the Second Team All Star for the first time. In 1989, he lead the Flames to their only Stanley Cup, leading the league in playoff assists and points and winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. He also made the Second Team All Star again. In 1990, he followed that up with his first time being named to the First Team All Star. This was something he repeated in 1991, which was his best offensive season of his career (MacInnis scored 103 points). The 1993/94 season was MacInnis's final year in Calgary and his third trip to the Second Team All Star.

That summer, he was about to sign as a free agent in St Louis. The Blues were uneasy about the compensation they might have to give up (afterall they had to give up Scott Stevens for signing Brendan Shanahan a couple years earlier), so they negotiated a trade with Calgary and then signed him. St Louis acquired MacInnis and a fourth round draft pick in 1997 for Phil Housley and their 2nd round picks in 1996 and 1997. In his first year in St Louis, MacInnis again made the First Team All Star. In 1999, MacInnis won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman in the NHL and again made the First Team All Star. His final full NHL season was 2002/03 where again MacInnis made the First Team All Star. The 2003/04 season was cut very short as an eye injury limited him to only 3 games played.

MacInnis always had a positive +/- rating every season of his NHL career (except for the abbreviated 3 game 2003/04 year where he was -1). In international play, MacInnis represented Canada in the 1990 World Championships, the 1991 Canada Cup, where he made the tournament all star team and the 1998 and 2002 Olympics. MacInnis is remembered for possibly the hardest slapshot in NHL history. This made him the prototypical power play point man. He was also a very good defensive presence who was always learning new tricks to shut down the opposition.

MacInnis is retiring to join the St Louis Blues front office in a scouting or player development capacity. He wants to spend more time with his four young children. One day, he may want to try his hand in a coaching capacity.

With MacInnis's retirement, there are sixteen currently active NHL players who I believe should make the Hockey Hall of Fame reardless of what they do (or do not do) for the remainder of their careers. They are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Ron Francis
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mark Messier
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

This list may continue to shrink, as Ron Francis and Mark Messier remain unsigned and may retire.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

NHL's Latest Attempted Power Play with the Russians

The NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) have a deal that outlines their arrangement to co-exist. It outlines how much money the NHL will play to international leagues if it signs their players. It is an agreement that international leagues will honour NHL contracts and not sign players who are already under NHL contract. It formally outlines the agreement between countries to participate in IIHF sponsored international tournaments such as the World Championships and the Olympics.

However, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation chose to not sign the current deal. At first, the NHL threatened that they might not be able to play in the Olympics. This was quickly seen as an empty threat since the NHL was already selling season tickets for a season that had an Olympic break. The Czech Hockey Federation was also threatening to not sign the deal, but the Czechs eventually signed. The next NHL plan was to suggest that unless the Russians sign the deal they should not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. This also seems like a ridiculous claim because countries had participated in the Olympics long before there was any NHL/IIHF deal. Often smaller countries such as Belarus or Kazakhstan have participated in the Olympics even though they have not signed the deal - since they are not seen as important enough international hockey countries to have bothered to sign. Finally, its an empty threat because the IIHF would have the final say on such a move and not the NHL.

The IIHF has now spoken. Rene Fassel their president says

We have to bring the best athletes to the Games. Why punish good Russian NHL players by not allowing them to play in the Olympics? That would be a stupid decision.

That kills that attempt by the NHL to strongarm the Russians. They managed to strongarm the NHLPA with similar tactics, but the NHLPA is bitterly divided. Those strongarm tactics will not work with the more united Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

Without an NHL/IIHF deal, player transfers between the Russian league and the NHL will be more complicated. Russian teams want to negotiate individually with NHL teams for every player that leaves them. The IIHF deal leaves compensation as a formula based on the draft position of the player in question. The NHL has claimed that they might be able to sign Russian players and pay no transfer fee. Likely, this would be a question that would have to be answered by lawyers, but there would most likely be some compensation (and it might be much higher than the IIHF amounts). The Russians may also be able to sign players under NHL contract, but again it would open up a complicated legal process where the exact fallout is unclear. This is a story that may have major effects in the future of the NHL and international hockey.

TSN's story on this is here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Free Agent Signings for the Last Few Days

My last free agent post was at the beginning of the Labour Day weekend. Signings completely stopped over the long weekend. These signings have occurred over the last couple days.

Henrik Zetterberg resigned with Detroit. TSN's story is here. His importance to the Wings has gone up since it looks like Pavel Datsyuk may play in Russia.

The New York Islanders resigned Rick DiPietro. TSN's story is here. It's only a one year contract, much shorter than the reported fifteen year contract that was discussed earlier in his negotiation. They also signed Travis Brigley from Colorado. TSN's story is here. They hope he can provide some depth.

Toronto resigned Alexei Ponikarovsky. TSN's story is here.

Tampa Bay signed Todd Rohloff from Washington. TSN's story is here. They hope he can provide some defensive depth.

The New York Rangers signed Michal Rozsival from Pittsburgh. TSN's story is here. They hope he can provide some depth on defence. They also resigned Jed Ortmeyer and Craig Weller.

Los Angeles signed Anze Kopitar to an entry level contract. TSN's story is here.

These moves are signing the final restricted free agents and adding a few lower profile unrestricted free agents to fill out rosters. There probably are some gems still out there in the unrestricted free agent pile, but most won't make much of an impact this year.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Future Hall of Famer Scott Stevens Retires

Today, future Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Stevens announced his retirement. TSN's story is here.

Stevens was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on April 1st, 1964. He came up through the Kitchener junior hockey system and eventually played for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. He was drafted in the first round, fourth overall by the Washington Capitals in 1982. Stevens immediately made the Capitals as an eighteen year old. He was a tough stay at home defenceman from day one. Stevens made the all rookie team in his first NHL season. In 1985, he played in his first of thirteen all star games. In 1988, he made the NHL first all star team for the first time.

In 1990, he left Washington signing as a free agent with St Louis. As one of the earliest NHL restricted free agents (in the CBA prior to the 1995 lockout), Washington received as compensation 5 first round draft picks. The compensation picks turned out to be Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Eric Fichaud (this pick was later traded to Toronto) and Miikka Elomo. It is still debated to this day whether or not Washington benefitted from this move, although they clearly lost out in the short term as it took years for these first round picks to make it to their lineup.

Stevens only remained in St Louis for one season until St Louis signed Brendan Shanahan as a free agent. As compensation for the signing, Stevens was sent to New Jersey. It was in New Jersey that Stevens reached his highest success. He made the First All Star team again in 1994, a year when he lead the NHL in +/- rating. He made second all star teams in 1992, 1997 and 2001. In 1995, 2000 and 2003, he captained the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup. In 2000, he won the won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.

Internationally, Stevens represented Canada in four World Championships. He played in the 1991 Canada Cup and was a reserve who did not play in the 1984 Canada Cup. He played for Canada in the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Olympics.

Stevens is known as one of the hardest open ice hitters in NHL history. His hits have caused several concussions in opposing players. He was a very good defensive player who never had a negative +/- rating any season in his career. He was a good power play point man in the early portion of his career. His career best was 72 points in 1987/88. He has the thirteenth highest career penalty minute total of 2785 PIMs.

Stevens says that a year off of hockey last year helped him realize that he can live without hockey. The mental and physical parts of the game took a real toll in 22 seasons. He will be happy to relax from it for a while before moving on to other challenges.

Stevens was one of the eighteen currently active NHL players I feel belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame regardless of what they do (or do not do) for the rest of their careers. The remaining seventeen players on my list are:

Dave Andreychuk
Ed Belfour
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Ron Francis
Dominik Hasek
Brett Hull
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Mario Lemieux
Nicklas Lidstrom
Al MacInnis
Mark Messier
Luc Robitaille
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan
Steve Yzerman

There may be a few more retirements on this list before the NHL season begins as Ron Francis, Al MacInnis and Mark Messier remain unsigned.

Monday, September 05, 2005

NHLPA Problems

Most NHL players are interested in playing hockey and not the business of playing hockey. As a result, most players don't worry much about the NHLPA now that the lockout is over and they don't worry much about NHLPA politics.

Many players still harbor some hostilities over the lockout. They lost a season of their career only to accept a CBA that many are not entirely happy with. In fact there have been some calls that maybe the NHLPA should decertify. Since most of the players tend to be conservative, in that they are afraid to do anything that might jeopardize their NHL spot, this idea has been mostly a non-starter.

However, the NHLPA leadership is starting to fight with itself and that may change things. As Al Strachan reports there is a divide at the NHLPA leadership level over Ted Saskin replacing Bob Goodenow as NHLPA head, after Goodenow resigned.

Last Wednesday, the NHLPA executive had a conference call to confirm the appointment of Saskin as NHLPA head. This is a violation of the NHLPA's own rules that state the executive board should nominate the NHLPA head and he should be confirmed with a secret ballot. It appears that the conference call was used because it was easier and would cut some of the problems that may be created by the more bitter NHLPA members.

Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the NHLPA. Further, maybe that is a good thing for the NHL players because the NHLPA will no longer exist to agree to collective bargaining agreements that benefit the owners and not the players. The players would become governed by the same labor laws that govern workers in other industries.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How Good Was Eddie Shore?

Another sabermetrics and hockey challenge is rating Eddie Shore among the top 10 defencemen of all time. Daryl Shilling's hockey project rating method ranks Shore the sixth best defender of all time. Pnep's Hall of Fame Monitor does not show Shore as a top ten defender (he ranks him 12th). I believe that a perfect sabermetric system (should it be possible for one to be constructed) would rank Shore third all time behind Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey.

Eddie Shore first started playing professional hockey in the NHL's western competitor, the Western Canada Hockey League. He played for the Regina Caps in 1924/25. This team relocated to Portland at the end of the season (some records claim the league changed its name to the WHL - Western Hockey League as it now had an American team - others continue with WCHL). Shore did not move to Portand. He was traded to the Edmonton Eskimos along with Art Gagne for Joe McCormick and Bob Trapp. That year he emerged as a hockey star making the WHL first team all star - quite likely he would have won the award for the league's top defender had one existed. The financially troubled WHL folded at the conclusion of the 1926 season. They sold their players (for the most part) to the American teams that were about to expand to the NHL. Shore was sold to the Boston Bruins. He was arguably the best player in hockey history to date with Boston, a team he stayed with from 1926 until 1940. He helped Boston win two Stanley Cups in 1929 and 1939. The NHL did not start voting for post season first and second team all stars until the 1930-31 season. Shore made the first all star team every year they existed in the 1930's, except for 1934 when he made the second team and 1937 when a back injury had him miss more than half the season. Shore won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1938 (this is the most Hart wins of any defenceman ever). Shore was a punishing hard hitting defenceman. He was big for his era (5'11" 190lbs - thats not considered big anymore). He led the NHL in penalty minutes in the regular season once in 1928 and three times in the playoffs (1927, 1929 and 1930). In 1940, Boston traded a 38 year old Shore to the New York Americans for Ed Wiseman and cash (New York teams tried to use their financial muscle to buy big name over the hill guys even back then!). Boston knew that Shore was looking at life beyond hockey. In fact, Shore soon bought the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League - he simultaneously played with the New York Americans and the Springfield Indians (which he owned, managed and coached) for the remainder of the 1939-40 season.

The next year, Shore left the NHL to play (he was a playing coach) with his Springfield team for a couple more years before retiring from hockey. Shore had a reputation as an extremely harsh coach and manager in the AHL. He worked his players extremely hard in practise. When they got hurt, he considered himself a medical expert, and often prescribed some "wacky" home remedies. He would use "bandages" that he had cut from inner tubes, for example, as he thought they worked better. He was extremely cheap when running his team. He forced players who were healthy scratches (or injured but not incapacitated) to sell concessions or park cars before and during games. Shore was known as a great teacher and a great student of the game, many of the players who played under Shore went on to be successful coaches and many levels including the NHL. Shore's full story as an AHL coach, manager and owner is told in great detail in the book Net Worth. It is a fascinating read.

Shore was an outstanding defender in the NHL's early days. He was arguably the best player the league had ever seen at that point. It is hard to evaluate him in a sabermetric method because, he played in seasons that were much shorter than the current seasons (during his career the NHL went from 36 game seasons to 48 game seasons). In you adjust his seasons for the number of games played (like Daryl Shilling does, you can show some of his value. They did not have Norris Trophies in Shore's time. They did not have annual all star games in his time (they had a few games but not annually). They did not even vote for post season all star teams in Shore's entire NHL career. If you use these to rank players as Pnep does, Shore will be greatly undervalued. Although Shore was one of the highest scoring defenders seen in his time, he was not nearly as dominant offensively as people like Ray Bourque or Paul Coffey.

Them problem of rating Shore is similar to that of rating Doug Harvey. Their defensive prowess is hard to show statistically. Because Shore comes from an early era, one must be careful to normalize his scoring stats to not lose his offensive value. I am not sure why Daryl Shilling does not consider Shore's WHL time to be undocumented seasons (they are partially documented - assists were not kept the same way as they are today - there was only one assist maximum per goal and the scorer had to rule that it directly contributed to the goal - Shore only was creditted 2 assists in his 54 games in two seasons in the league). If he did, it is possible he might get Shore's ranking correct. Pnep fails altogether in his ranking of Shore. He gives too many points for things like Norris trophies, all star games, +/- ratings etc which did not exist in Shore's time. Also, he heavily values playoff success and although Shore won two Stanley Cups, his Boston team was not a regular cup contender. Shore only played 55 playoff games in his 14 NHL seasons. Today, an NHL player on a top team can play 55 playoff games in 4 or 5 years. Pnep does not attempt to correct for this. Playoffs have increased in length significantly since Shore's time, he does not correct for this. Some players get a chance to play far more playoff games by playing on good teams and others do not. It is unfair to heavily value playoff success when it is not available to all players equally (is it fair to rate a player highly merely because he was a member of a dynasty - is Clarke Gillies better than Gilbert Perreault - for example - he played almost twice as many playoff games).

Eddie Shore was a great player. He was probably the best player the NHL had ever seen in his time. He was a solid offensive defenceman, although his real strength was in his own zone. He won the Hart Trophy more times then any other defenceman ever, although most of the other modern awards for defencemen did not exist in his time. Shore is a sabermetrics challenge for these reasons. It is very hard to set up a statistical system that shows his dominance versus the more modern players who have a wider range of awards and statistics to analyze to show their values.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Free Agent Signings for the Last Few Days

There have been a few more signings since my last free agent post.

Jose Theodore has resigned with Montreal. TSN's story is here.

Mike Dunham leaves the New York Rangers to sign with Atlanta. TSN's story is here. He is a solid goalie who is expected to be their backup, taking the spot of the recently retired Pasi Nurminen who recently retired due to a knee injury. Atlanta is relying on a rookie Kari Lehtonen to be their starter, should he not be capable of carrying a franchise yet, Dunham may be thrust into the starter's role.

Pittsburgh signs Lyle Odelein from Florida. He should provide some depth on defence. TSN's story is here. Also, Pittsburgh resigned Ryan Malone. TSN's story is here.

Vancouver signs Brent Johnson from Phoenix. He should be their backup goalie. TSN's story is here. Tom Benjamin disagrees and think Alex Auld will be the Canucks backup. I think that he overestimates the likelihood of Auld being claimed on waivers, although I am a bit uncertain of the new waiver situation in the new CBA, a player like Auld will have to clear waivers to be called up from the minors. Presumably, there is some time period that will have to pass for Auld to clear waivers. Also, presumably, he will not be called up unless there is an emergency like a goalie injury. How is this handled? Will he be allowed to fill in as an injury replacement before clearing waivers? If he isn't allowed what do they expect the Canucks to do for goaltending? This CBA is a mess. Why hasn't the NHL released the CBA to the public yet? Vancouver also resigned Jarrko Ruutu. TSN's story is here.

These signings include more players who are likely going to be higher impact guys this year. Signings have slowed down significantly as most teams have most of their rosters in place. I expect then to further slow over the Labour Day weekend.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Aging Goalies

In the long history of the NHL very few goalies have managed to stay active into their forties. Since the league formed in 1917, there have only been ten goalies so far who played in the NHL at that age. They are Johnny Bower, Tony Esposito, George Hainsworth, Eddie Johnston, Hugh Lehman, Lester Patrick, Jacques Plante, Moe Roberts, Terry Sawchuk and Gump Worsley. With the exception of Patrick and Roberts (who were emergency injury replacements and only appeared in one game), all are great goalies. Except for the injury replacements, Eddie Johnston is the only goalie not in the Hockey Hall of Fame who lasted into his forties (in fact Lester Patrick is in the hall, but not for his goaltending). Most of these goalies were well past their primes when they hit their forties. There hasn't been a forty year old goalie in the NHL since Tony Esposito played 18 games in 1983/84. Johnny Bower won the Stanley Cup at age 42 in Toronto in 1967, although he was the backup goalie (backup to future 40 year old goalie Terry Sawchuk). In 1969, Jacques Plante played in 10 playoff games with St. Louis. This is the most playoff games ever played by a forty year old goalie. In 1935/36 George Hainsworth played the entire season (48 games) for the Montreal Canadiens. This is the record for most regular season games played ever by a forty year old goalie. The most games since then is Johnny Bower's 43 in 1967/68.

This year, two different NHL teams plan to try their luck with forty year old goalies in net. They are Ottawa with Dominik Hasek and Toronto with Ed Belfour. Both plan to use these goalies as their number one guys and both hope that they will be able to far exceed some of the games played records for goalies their age.

Looking at the track record for aging goalies, there is a good chance that injury and age will prevent either of them from putting up all star years. Nevertheless, I expect that there is a good chance that at least one of them does exceed Hainsworth's games played record. If they don't, their respective teams will be in trouble. Ray Emery and J.S. Aubin do not strike me as competent starting goalies.

We could very easily see something historic this year. It could be the best year ever for a 40 year old (or older) goalie. This post was inspired by this hfboards thread.

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