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.

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