Saturday, September 30, 2006

Who Is My Favorite Player?

I receieved an email asking me the rather simple question

Hey who is your favorite player in the league now? just curious.

As simple a question as that is, I dont think I have given many hints to my allegiences in this blog. I have tried to look at hockey in as objective an manner as possible and not cheerlead for one team. That is often the way I look at the game, I am happy if I watched a good game no matter who wins.

So who is my favorite player? In some ways, that comes down to the question of how one defines favorite. The player I think is most exciting to watch is Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, but he is not the player I would call my favorite.

My favorite player is Joe Sakic. Why? Because I knew him before he was a star. I knew him when he was a kid playing in Burnaby Minor Hockey (I didn't know him well - but I did know him). I am happy to see this kid who grew up not too far from me, who attended the same high school as I did, who skated on the same rinks that I did go on to the NHL and win the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup. If he can do it anyone can right? Not anyone ... I cannot. But that makes him a real person and not just an athletic figure who is larger than life. And that is why I consider him my favorite player.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why Edmonton Is In For A Letdown

I posted my predictions for the season in thew past few days. Here is the east conference and here is the west conference. The prediction most disputed in the comments was that of Edmonton finishing last in the Northwest Division. Edmonton is a team coming off of a game seven loss in the Stanley Cup finals. That dropoff is a huge one - except that it isn't. Edmonton barely qualified for the playoffs last year. They were the last place qualifier in the west conference. They were only tenth in wins in the east conference. Were it not for the annoying point for an overtime loss Edmonton would have missed the playoffs entirely. Sure they had a good playoff run, but they did it with a team that barely made the playoffs.

Due to an active trade deadline where Edmonton made a bunch of moves designed to win now costing their future, Edmonton had a stronger team at playoff time then they had most of the season. Of course most of those players added for that run are now gone. Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek, Dick Tarnstrom and off season additions Chris Pronger and Mike Peca are gone. Sure Dwayne Roloson remains and had a good cup run but he has never proven himself to be an elite goalie over the longterm. He is 37 and on the downside of his career.

Most troubling in Edmonton is the defence. Three of the best defensive players in the cup run are gone. This leaves Edmonton with Jason Smith, Steve Staios and Marc-Andre Bergeron to attempt to carry the load - if they can. That is a huge step downward. Edmonton went through much of last season with a good defence and poor goaltending. They had a very good shots against and a poor goals against. This year they will not have a good defence. Roloson at age 37 may be better than Conklin and Markkanen in goal - but he wont likely be an all star. He will likely decline from his level last season. Edmonton won't be very good in their own zone and they will likely have goaltending that is approximately average to try to bail them out. That is a bad situation.

They are not a truly awful team. They have a relatively deep group of solid forwards in Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani, Jarrett Stoll etc. None are likely top be superstars, but all are better than average.

This team could have an adequate offence and a horrible defence. That isn't likely a very good team.

In the end, I am predicting the team that finished 10th in wins in the west and then lost some players to drop to 11th in the west. Its not a huge drop. I don't think its an off the wall prediction. Its not one Oiler fans want to hear. They want to believe that after a trip to game seven in the finals the Oilers are back and here to stay. I think they were beneficiaries of a mediocre playoff year.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Predictions: East Conference

To complete my predictions, I will post the predicted order of finish in the East Conference. I have already posted the West Conference. No blurbs about the teams, those can be found the the Northeast Division, Atlantic Division and Southeast Division writeups.

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

Predictions: Southeast Division

This is the final division in my pre-season predictions. I have already posted my predictions for the West Conference, Atlantic Division and the Northeast Division. Here is the Southeast Division.

1. Carolina Hurricanes They are the defending cup champs, but they could be beatable. Cory Stillman and Frantisek Kaberle will miss significant amounts of the season to injury. Rod Brind'Amour is coming off a great year, but at age 36 can he repeat it? Cam Ward caught fire in the playoffs, but he is unproven in any NHL regular season. Eric Staal should be one of the best forwards in hockey. They lack an imposing defence, but it didn't stop them from winning the cup last year. Its amazing the defending cup champs have a situation where Bret Hedican could be their most reliable dman.

2. Atlanta Thrashers With Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa this will be an offensively powerful team. In order to really compete, they need Kari Lehtinen to continue to develop in goal and they need people like Slava Kozlov and Bobby Holik to provide some depth. A defence built around people like Greg deVries, Andy Sutton, Steve McCarthy and Vitali Vishnevsky won't be spectacular but it could be acceptable.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning With the exception of their three stars, Brad Richards, Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St Louis, this team has been gutted since its Stanley Cup win in 2004. Those three are very good players and will provide Tampa with a good offence. Beyond them, the highlights are goalie Marc Denis, who has never had a chance to play regularly with a team that isn't bottom feeding but has some ability, a defence headed by Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba and Vaclav Prospal providing offensive depth. The lockout and new CBA killed any momentum in Tampa Bay.

4. Florida Panthers The front office is not in good shape with Mike Keenan fired late into the summer after setting the team up for the current season by running the draft, signing a couple free agents and trading goalie Roberto Luongo for Todd Bertuzzi. Jacques Martin remains on as coach and will take over the GM job as well. Bertuzzi and Olli Jokinen form a pretty good one two punch offensively. A lot of their depth in Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Martin Gelinas are on the downsides of their careers. In a defensively weak division, Florida has potentially the best defence with Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn, but they have allowed an awful lot of shots in the last few seasons. In goal they have aging Ed Belfour and relatively unproven Alex Auld and that should be a big step down from Luongo.

5. Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin is extremely talented and will be the superstar on this team. He needs a supporting cast. Dainius Zubrus, Richard Zednik and Alexander Semin may be the next best offensive players. Olaf Kolzig is a good goalie on the downside of his career. Their defence may be the weakest in the NHL. Brian Pothier was a third line guy in Ottawa who should play firstline minutes here. This team is rebuilding. Whether that is a logical move in a league with reducing free agency ages is an open question.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Predictions: Atlantic Division

I have already posted predictions for the Northeast Division and the West Conference, today I will look at the Atlantic Division.

1. Philadelphia Flyers This is a team with lots of good young talent in Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Joni Pitkanen and Antero Niittymaki. All of these players will continue to improve. They join Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg when he returns from ankle surgery. I think this is the team to beat in the Atlantic.

2. New Jersey Devils The only thing preventing me from ranking the Devils number one in the Atlantic is the salary cap. Key players Brian Gionta and Paul Martin remain unsigned because of the monies owed to Vladimir Malakhov and Alexander Mogilny (neither are expected to play this year). Somehow, Lou Lamoreillo will negotiate through this problem but it will likely hurt the club. They have a lot of good players in Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski and John Madden. This team will do well, but may be forced to jettison a talented player or two for salary cap reasons.

3. New York Rangers Success depends upon Jaromir Jagr returning successfully from shoulder surgery and Henrik Lundqvist not falling into a sophomore jinx. I bet both have very good years, but the Rangers don't have tremendous depth. There are too many oldsters who have seen better days in Brendan Shanahan, Darius Kasparaitis, Martin Straka etc and not enough young talent ready to step forward. Nevertheless they should be solid.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby will be another year more mature, Evgeni Malkin will be here when he gets healthy, Marc-Andre Fleury will have a chance to be a bonafide number one goalie all season, Ryan Whitney is developing into a very good defender. The kids will start to lead the way. Sergei Gonchar is too talented to not bounce back from a bad 2005/06 season. This team should be better than last season.

5. New York Islanders The Islanders are not without some talent in Alexei Yashin, Rick DiPietro, Miroslav Satan and Tom Poti, but they are a ship without a rudder. Charles Wang has brought in his reign of error. He hired and fired GM Neil Smith in forty days and made the backup goalie Garth Snow the new GM (but subservient to him). He signed Rick DiPietro to a ridiculous longterm deal. The players have to see how big a joke the front office is and it will be hard to not let that be a distraction. Ted Nolan is a good coach who will have every chance to try to keep his troops motivated, but without any proven leaders on the ice and without any superstar talent to fall back upon, I think it will be a hard road.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Predictions: Northeast Division

Last week, I posted my predictions for the West Conference, I will continue into the east conference with the Northeast Division.

1. Ottawa Senators They may have lost a lot of talent in Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat, but they still have Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Wade Redden and that is a good core. Martin Gerber is a solid starting goalie - though not an elite one. This is the team to beat in the northeast.

2. Montreal Canadiens The key to this team is Cristobal Huet, he played at Vezina level for the last half of last season. If he can do that for a full year, Montreal will do very well. Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Samsonov and Saku Koivu are all capable point producers. There are several youngsters ready to take a step forward like Chris Higgins and Alexander Perezhogin. I think Bob Gainey is doing a good job building this bunch.

3. Buffalo Sabres Buffalo had a great year last season almost making the Stanley Cup finals. And they did it without anybody emerging as a bonafide superstar. They did it with a deep team where everyone contributed. In a fast roster turnover salary capped league, it is hard to maintain that kind of momentum from year to year. Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Ryan Miller et al are young and exciting, but there are holes opening up and little to fill them. Tim Connolly is an unknown due to his concussion situation. Teppo Numminen may be back but he is likely to see reduced time and importance. JP Dumont and Jay McKee are gone. Mostly, I think they overachieved last year. I think that most likely they wont overachieve again.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto will have a good defence. Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are as good a 1-2-3 punch as anyone has. Andrew Raycroft is a good goalie coming off a bad season. I think he will bounce back - though there is a lot of negativity surrounding his acquisition in the media. Mats Sundin is still a very good player though he is aging. There are not a lot of other potential sources of big offensive numbers in the rest of the forwards with Darcy Tucker, Alexander Steen and Jeff O'Neill probably the best candidates.

5. Boston Bruins Boston really hurt themselves last year when they traded Joe Thornton to San Jose. They tried hard to dig themselves out of the hole this summer, but I don't think they succeeded. They signed Zdeno Chara, who is one of the best defensemen in hockey. He will join Brad Stuart and Paul Mara in a pretty solid defence. The problems are scoring and goaltending. Last year Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes led in scoring. Both are young players, neither are ready to be supserstars (though Boston is paying Bergeron as though he is one). They added Marc Savard who is coming off a big scoring year in Atlanta with elite linemates he wont find in Boston. In goal things could be worse. There are no proven number one guys here. Sure Tim Thomas played well down the stretch and Hannu Toivonen and Tuukka Rask have potential, but there is nobody who has proven any longterm reliability. There are too many holes remaining on this team.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Predictions: West Conference

I have posted predictions for the Northwest Division, Pacific Division and Central Division. Now I will rank the teams in a predicted order of finish. No blurbs about each team here, since they are written on the division profiles.

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

Predictions: Central Division

After posting my predictions for the Northwest Division and Pacific Division, today I will take a look at the Central Division.

1. Detroit Red Wings Sure much of the old guard (Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov etc) is gone, but this is still a good team. Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenceman in hockey today. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Robert Lang et al give them a good group of forwards. Dominik Hasek may be injury prone, but until he got hurt last year, he was the best goaltender in the league. This is the team to beat in the central.

2. Nashville Predators This is a good team too. Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan, Jason Arnott and David Legwand lead a group of several scoring threats. Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky are two of the best defencemen that most people overlook. Tomas Vokoun is an excellent goaltender if he gets past his medical problems. This team has been steadily improving since their expansion and should continue down that road.

3. Chicago Blackhawks This team has been poorly run, but nevertheless have acquired some proven talent in Martin Havlat, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (who is a good bet for a comeback season) and Adrien Aucoin. To this they add young talent like Tuomo Ruuttu (if he can stay healthy), Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. I don't think they will be a great team, but they will show some progress if they are not awful and it looks like that could happen.

4. St Louis Blues This team was awful last year and had to spend money merely to reach the salary floor. They added Doug Weight, Jay McKee, Bill Guerin, Radek Dvorak, Manny Legace and Martin Rucinsky. That won't make them good, but it might make them respectable, although all are at the age where injury and productivity drops are likely. They still have Keith Tkachuk, who is reporting to camp in shape this year and Eric Brewer may still develop into a top defender. This team is a victim of the salary floor. They really should be rebuilding, but they must spend a good chunk of money on older players to meet the salary floor and those older players will take playing time from the kids.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets This team went from pathetic during the time Rick Nash was hurt to slightly below average when he was healthy. Likely Nash will be healthy this year, but they took steps backward in other places. Their goaltending situation is far from set. Marcd Denis is in Tampa Bay leaving Pascal LeClaire as the likely starter. Nikolai Zherdev, their most talented young forward not named Nash will most likely play in Europe. This team should have a tough year.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Predictions: Pacific Division

Yesterday, I posted my predicted finish for the Northwest Division. Now lets move on southward to the Pacific Division.

1. Anaheim Ducks This team has an impressive one two punch on defence with Scott Niedermayer and Chros Pronger, and some solid guys to provide depth like Francois Beauchemin and Sean O'Donnell. They have two solid goalies in Ilya Bryzgalov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (which likely means one will find himself traded for a solid forward sometime this year). Last year, they got some good scoriong from Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald and youngersters Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner are quickly improving to add to their depth. This is likely a pretty good team.

2. San Jose Sharks This team is also a very good team. They boast MVP Joe Thornton and Richard trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo (was that just a career year?). Patrick Marleau and Mark Bell should also score well. On defence they lack the amazing twosome Anaheim has, but Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren should lead a solid crew. They also have two top goalies in Evgeni Nabakov and Vesa Toskala (again expect one to move eventually). They could be a top team also, but I am not so certain Cheechoo can match last year (or that Thornton can an MVP year is great but most players regress a little bit afterwards). Anaheim looks like a slightly better choice to peak at the end of the year.

3. Dallas Stars This team is built around Norris candidate Sergei Zubov, a good goalie in Marty Turco, Brendan Morrow and possibly aging Mike Modano. Thats a good core. Daryl Sydor and Janne Niinimaa provide some impressive depth on defence. This team should not be easy to beat.

4. Phoenix Coyotes When I look at some of the young talent on this team, I see a team ready to breakthrough. Ladislav Nagy, Shane Doan, Mike Comrie, Derek Morris, Ed Jovanoski, Nik Boynton. Thats a core of a good young team. However, there are weaknesses, most glaring in goal. Can Curtis Joseph hold up another season? There are too many oldsters brought in as Gretzky's friends who might fall apart before the season ends in Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and the already mentioned CuJo. Gretzky can be a solid coach, but he faced several distractions last year. He is loyal to his old buddies to a fault and if they get playing time in front of his younger players, things probably will not work out. I think this team might be better served with a lower profile coach.

5. Los Angeles Kings Pavol Demitra departs. They seem ready to use Dan Clotuier as a number one goalie. Neither are good signs. Alexander Frolov could breakthrough, but otherwise this team lacks any star forward. On defence they added aging Rob Blake to go with Lubomir Visnovsky (who is coming off a career year) and defensively solid Mattias Norstrom. This team doesn't have the upside of the rest of their division.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Predictions: Northwest Division

Its almost time for the regular season to begin. Its that time for me to post predictions, which will prove I am unable to successfully predict anything. Last year my predictions for the West Conference and East Conference successfully predicted both eventual Stanley Cup finalists would miss the playoffs. Whether that was incompetence or or a lack of elite teams thus making the difference between good and bad smaller (and hence the impact of luck larger), is still an open question. At any rate, here are my northwest division predictions.

1. Calgary Flames They won this division last year despite Jarome Iginla havonmg a subpar year. They did it with the best defence in the NHL and Vezina winning Miikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff and most of the defence returns and Alex Tanguay has been acquired to try to increase scoring and likely jumpstart Iginla.

2. Vancouver Canucks Last year this was a good team hit by injuries tgo all their key players at the wrong times. Markus Naslund played hurt much of the year. He should be healthier. The defence lost Mattias Ohlund, Ed Jovanovski and Sami Salo at the same time. Though Jovanovski is gone, its unlikely they will lose the top three guys simultaneously. Their top goaltender Dan Clotuier got hurt for a large portion of the season, though Alex Auld was an acceptable fill-in, things should be much better with Roberto Luongo manning the nets. This team would likely have improved by doing nothing, and they went out and got the best goalie in hockey.

3. Minnesota Wild The best coach in hockey Jacques Lemaire, has his team playing a precise system. The addition of Pavol Demitra and Kim Johnsson to Marian Gaborik and Manny Fernandez should make this team a tough one to play against. It could also be one that scores more goals than the Minnesota teams of the past.

4. Colorado Avalanche In two years they have lost Peter Forsberg, Alex Tanguay, Rob Blake and Adam Foote. They still have Joe Sakic, who is an outstanding (although aging) forward and the talented Milan Hejduk. Jose Theodore is too talented to not bounce back from last season, which was a huge dissapointment. This team has some frontline talent, but lacks the depth of the past.

5. Edmonton Oilers This team went to the Stanley Cup finals last year - despite barely making the playoffs (they were 10th in wins in the west conference). In the off season, they lost Mike Peca, Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom to free agency. They were forced to trade Chris Pronger to Anaheim. The key pieces they held onto when free agency hit are the most questionable ones. Dwayne Roloson is a 37 year old goalie coming off of injuries. Fernando Pisani turns 30 this year and has only 80 career NHL regular season points. Their defence is significantly depleted. I think it could be a long year in Edmonton.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How Do We Value WHA Years Sabermetrically?

In writing a sabermetrics and hockey post on the top 10 adjusted goal scoring careers as calculated by a a normalization method proposed by the hockey outsider (Peter Albert), we come across an interesting situation. The top three adjusted goal scorers of all time Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Wayne Gretzky all spent time in the WHA. How best should that time be rated? The treatment of this question would change the top three order (namely it could rank Wayne Gretzky in 2nd ahead of Bobby Hull instead of vice versa).

There are three methods that I have seen to address this question in the work of others and I consider none of them satisfactory.

In his sabermetric work, Pnep (Roman Nepomnyaschev) merely ignores all seasons that are not in the NHL. That is tantamount to throwing out good data.

In his sabermetric work, Daryl Shilling improves slightly on Pnep by treating non-NHL years as years for which we do not have sufficient statistical information (undocumented seasons). He assumes that each year in the WHA would be equivalent to an average NHL year for the given player (which is sometimes blatantly wrong, a 39 year old Hull in the WHA was clearly playing below his average career level. These seasons are documented. The problem is how best to interpret that information.

The hockey outsider tries another approach. He treats the WHA as any other pro league and a season in the WHA is equal to a season in the NHL - after it is normalized for goal scoring rate and games played. This leads to interesting but clearly wrong results. Does anyone really believe that Real Cloutier's 75 goal season in the WHA in 1978/79 was the 18th best goal scoring year ever? I don't see how it can be considered better than Jarome Iginla's 52 goal season in 2001/02 (or many other years it rates higher than) in the NHL during an era when scoring was much lower, despite the fact it rates higher on the hockey outsider list.

The problem is the quality of opposition is different. The WHA, though it had some good players, was inferior to the NHL. In order to meaningfully compare seasons from different eras we need to take into account the quality of league play. There is no perfect method to do this. In fact, there is probably no adequate method to do this. Nevertheless, I will look at a few possible methods and their strengths and pitfalls in the future.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Owner's Propaganda

The owners like to tell half-truths in order to show how good the league is doing and show how good the players are doing in the new CBA. I pointed out some examples of this during the regular season. They are still playing this game into the offseason.

One of the biggest changes with the new CBA is escrow. The players have to pay a portion of their salaries into an escrow account. If it turns out that the player costs are more than 54% of the defined NHL revenues, this escrow money goes back to the owners. At the end of the season, when revenues and player costs are known, everything is tallied up and the owners will give back the extra money in the revenue account to the players every year (as long as some major mishap did not occur). The owners will owe the players money at the end of every season in this CBA.

Why is this? Effectively it is because the owners do not trust the players with their money. The escrow percentage calculation is set so that the players will always overpay in escrow and there will always be some money left over to return to the players. This is the way the owners feel things have to be. Imagine that the players underpaid into the escrow account and the season ended. How would the owners recoup the money they are owed? How would the owners get a player who just retired or left to play in Europe to pay them the extra escrow money they are owed? The owners would have no leverage in a situation like this. Thus, this situation must be avoided. The players will have too much escrow deducted from their paycheques annually and get a refund every year.

The fact the players are owed money by the owners is neither a surprise nor a sign this CBA works. It is by design. Effectively, the players paid a deposit into the escrow account that was known to be too large and are now getting part of their deposit back. It is analogous to when one moves out in a landlord - tenant relationship. The landlord always owes the tenant money in this situation. The landlord owes the damage deposit. This is a deposit that the tenant already paid to the landlord. This fact does not show that the landlord - tenant relationship was a good one for the tenant. It is merely the way things are designed.

This fact does not stop the NHL from presenting the fact that the owners owe the players money at the end of the season as a sign that the CBA is good for the players. In fact Bob McKenzie did just that. Bob McKenzie is a regular shill for the owners. That is how he is an NHL insider. If he writes some propaganda for the owners, they will give him the inside scoop sometimes. Bob McKenzie must know that there is no surprise that the owners owe the players money at the end of the first season in this CBA. He must know that this situation is by design. That doesn't stop him from writing an article about how surprising it is, how good a sign it is for the NHL and how good the players have things.

McKenzie's propaganda for the owners took in some good hockey blogs. Odd man rush fell for it. The owners have to pay the player's deposits back from the escrow account. So what? That's not even newsworthy. It is the way the situation is designed. It certainly does not show that the NHL is doing well or that the players have it good under this CBA.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bobby Clarke Working The CBA

Bobby Clarke is showing that he knows how to use this CBA not only to build a competitive team but also to hurt your opponent. Last year I asked why the GMs are not signing any restricted free agents. Bobby Clarke has begun this process.

In the old CBA there was little to no reason to sign a restricted free agent. Most of the time, the team that had his rights would just match the offer. It would drive up salaries around the league and you had nothing to show for you efforts. Even if you did sign the player you gave up a restrictive number of draft picks as compensation.

In this CBA, things have changed. Driving up salaries on another team accomplishes something. It puts them in salary cap trouble. Also, the draft pick penalties for signing RFAs have been substantially reduced. It can make good sense to sign an RFA.

Philadelphia finds themselves with a little extra money to spend now that Keith Primeau will be retiring. Why not attempt to steal a good young player from another team? Vancouver's Ryan Kesler is a restricted free agent. So Bobby Clarke signed him to an offer of $1.9 million. This would only cost the Flyers a second round pick in compensation. If Kesler is as good a prospect as they think he is this could be a good deal for the Flyers.

It is expected that Vancouver will match the offer and thus be pushed very close to the salary cap. The Canucks had hoped to sign Kesler for much less money than this. Philadelphia has put Vancouver in a worse position. And they can try it again with another team that has a good young unsigned RFA if they want to.

Here is TSN's story on the Ryan Kesler offer sheet.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wang Doesn't Have A Clue

Fresh off his last debacle when GM Neil Smith was dumped in a month and a half and replaced as GM by the backup goalie, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang is running full speed into his next big mistake.

He is signing goaltender Rick DiPietro to a 15 year contract worth $87.5 million in total. DiPietro turns 25 next week and will be almost 40 when the contract expires.

Signing up a superstar longterm is a good thing to do, but you better be certain the player in questio is a superstar. Rick DiPietro isn't. A superstar is on a hall of fame trach. Rick DiPietro isn't. A superstar is ranked as one of the top players in the game. Rick DiPietro isn't. Could anyone make a believable case that Rick DiPietro is the best goalie in hockey? No.

Maybe he was the most valuable Islander last year (that is debateable but it is not too farfetched) but there was a reason the Islanders finished in 12th place in the east. They lacked any truly great players. Instead of acquiring them, they are hampering themselves with longterm deals for players who may be the best they have, but are not truly superstars. Wouldn't you think Alexei Yashin's 10 year contract that was initially worth $87.5 million before salary rollbacks have taught them something?

Do you want a thirty-something Rick DiPietro on your payroll for a $4.5 million salary cap hit? Not unless he blossoms into an elite goalie. By that point, he will be on the downside of his career and may not be worthy of a roll as an NHL starter.

This contract does become a great bargain is DiPietro becomes a Hall of Fame goalie, but we do not see any signs that is likely to happen.

Charles Wang is running the Islanders into the ground. Did he run all his businesses like that? If so how did he ever gather enough money to purchase the Islanders in the first place? He is trying to play fantasy GM to the team he owns. He pushes his other hockey men aside ot negotiate this important contract. This is despite the fact he obviously has very little hockey sense. Maybe he sees DiPietro was the US Olympic team goalie and thinks that means he is a superstar - without realizing there are no truly elite American goalies in the NHL right now. So he goes all out to sign him to a big contract.

Charles Wang is the worst GM in the NHL. Garth Snow probably would be a better GM, but his qualifications are questionable. The Islanders are being run into the ground by a hands on owner who knows very little about hockey yet insists on making the decisions.

Here is TSN's story on DiPietro's signing.

Fantasy Hockey Draft

This weekend my fantasy hockey league held its draft. It is a reltively deep keeper league. It may be irrelevant to many NHL fans what happens in a fantasy league, but I am proud of it so I will give the results. The draft was three rounds long and is a combined entry/waiver draft - thus explaining why 18 year olds and 30 year old veterans were both among the selections.

Here are the results:

First Round

1. New Jersey - Jordan Staal
2. Vancouver - Phil Kessel
3. Los Angeles - Erik Johnson
4. NY Rangers - Nicklas Backstrom
5. Anaheim - Derrick Brassard
6. Anaheim - Jonathan Toews
7. NY Islanders - Peter Mueller
8. Dallas - Sean Burke
9. Buffalo - Matt Carle
10. Nashville - Kyle Okposo
11. Edmonton - James Sheppard
12. Minnesota - Jonathan Bernier
13. Toronto - Mike Grabner
14. Florida - Mikko Koivu
15. Boston - Loui Eriksson
16. Buffalo - Tony Salmalainen
17. Detroit - Michael Frolik
18. Ottawa - M A Pouliot
19. Colorado - Jiri Tlusty
20. Phoenix - Alexei Mikhnov
21. Carolina - Petr Kalus
22. Vancouver - Leland Irving
23. NY Islanders - Danny Fritsche
24. Detroit - Ivan Vishnevski
25. Montreal - Bryan Little
26. Chicago - Riku Helenius
27. Detroit - Chris Stewart
28. Washington - Martin Hanzal
29. Buffalo - Stanislav Lascek
30. NY Islanders - Alexandre Picard (CBJ)

Second Round

31. New Jersey - Bob Saguinetti
32. Toronto - Patrik Berglund
33. Montreal - David Fischer
34. Anaheim - Trevor Lewis
35. Anaheim - Semen Varlamov
36. Anaheim - Claude Giroux
37. Calgary - No pick
38. Dallas - Scott Thornton
39. Anaheim - Mikhail Grabovsky
40. Toronto - Mark Recchi
41. Edmonton - Kevin Klein
42. NY Islanders - Enver Lisen
43. Vancouver - Cory Schneider
44. Florida - Andrei Taratukhin
45. Montreal - Jesse Schultz
46. Toronto - Tom Poti
47. Atlanta - Andrej Sekera
48. Colorado - Andrew Hutchinson
49. Colorado - Lee Stempniak
50. Phoenix - John Grahame
51. Carolina - Johan Franzen
52. Carolina - Denis Arkhipov
53. Detroit - Eric Christensen
54. Vancouver - Brent Burns
55. New Jersey - Chris Summers
56. Chicago - Jordin Tootoo
57. Edmonton - Brian Boyle
58. Phoenix - Sergei Kostsitsyn
59. Carolina - Daniel Tjarnqvist
60. Washington - Dustin Byfuglien

Third Round

61. NY Islanders - Jiri Novotny
62. Tampa Bay - Brent Krahn
63. Montreal - Ty Wishart
64. NY Rangers - Dennis Persson
65. Anaheim - Cory Emmerton
66. Anaheim - Alex Goligoski
67. San Jose - Yanic Perreault
68. Dallas - Nick Foligno
69. Tampa Bay - Jiri Fischer
70. Nashville - Jeff Freisen
71. Edmonton - Marc Edourd Vlasic
72. San Jose - Brian Pothier
73. San Jose - Alexander Svitov
74. Florida - Shawn Belle
75. Boston - Jaroslav Modry
76. Buffalo - Alexander Vasyunov
77. Atlanta - Barry Tallackson
78. Buffalo - Jeff Halpern
79. Colorado - Jay McClement
80. San Jose - Andy Hilbert
81. Carolina - Jan Hejda
82. NY Rangers - Marc-Andre Cliche
83. Detroit - Kenndal McArdle
84. San Jose - Jean-Philippe Levasseur
85. Philadelphia - Mathieu Biron
86. Chicago - Tomas Surovy
87. San Jose - Thomas Greiss
88. Ottawa - Jeff Drouin Deslauriers
89. Toronto - Markus Nilsson
90. Washington - Brent Lebda

If you are interested, last year's draft is here for this league. There are no openings currently, but if you want to get on a wait list send me an email through my profile.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Adjust Goal Scoring: Career

A natural next step to the sabermetrics and hockey problem of adjusting scoring from different eras that springs up after we look at the top 10 goal scoring seasons, assist scoring seasons and point scoring seasons is to look at careers. Who scored the most adjusted goals in their career?

This analysis is done using the formalism from the hockey outsider (Peter Albert), which is a good method that runs into problems because of a lack of an adjustment for quality of opposition and a false normalization of assists from the 1920's when there were few assists in the NHL.

Here are the top 10 adjusted goal scorers of all time:

Top 10 Adjusted Goal Scoring Careers of All Time
Name Teams Seasons Adjusted Goals Actual Goals
Gordie HoweDet Hou(WHA) NE(WHA) Har311090975
Bobby HullChi Win(WHA) Win Har24927913
Wayne GretzkyInd(WHA) Edm(WHA) Edm LA StL NYR21844940
Brett HullCgy StL Dal Det Phx20783741
Phil EspositoChi Bos NYR18702717
Luc RobitailleLA Pit NYR Det19694668
Steve YzermanDet22685692
Jaromir JagrPit Was NYR15675591
Mark MessierCin(WHA) Edm NYR Van26672695
Mike GartnerCin(WHA) Was Min NYR Tor Phx20669735

I have updated this list from the one on the hockey outsider website for last season. In order to make this list, one must have played a long career. The shortest career in the top ten adjusted goal scoring careers is that of Jaromir Jagr who has completed 15 NHL seasons - and is still going strong. He moved from 15th place all the way to 8th last season.

At the top of our list we find Gordie Howe, the man who had the longest professional hockey career ever. He played 31 years in the NHL and WHA. Howe scored 944 of his adjusted goals in the NHL. So even without his WHA play he would have finished first on this list. However, the second place position is decided by WHA play. Bobby Hull moves into second with his 7 WHA seasons included. Wayne Gretzky (who played one WHA season himself) is third, but would be second if the WHA years were excluded. This leads to the question of how best to incorporate WHA years when comparing all time stats. That will be the issue I address in a future post.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Russians Are Signing

One of the big stories of the summer has been the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL. This has lead to an uncertain situation for players under contract in Russia who want to come to the NHL. Evgeni Malkin had to run away from his Russian team - similar to the defections from Communist Russia. On Tuesday he officially signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins (TSN's report is here). Other Russian players had less trouble getting to the NHL. Alexei Mikhnov submitted two weeks notice to leave his contract and join the Edmonton Oilers . He signed with Edmonton on Tuesday. Andrei Taratukhin did the same as Mikhnov and has now signed with Calgary. Here is the TSN story. Alexei Kaigorodov has not signed yet, but there appears to be an agreement in place that he can play with Ottawa should he make the team. If they wish to send him to the minors he must be returned to Russia. Here is this TSN story.

Does this mean that there is a truce between Russia and the NHL? Not even close. The same day Mikhnov and Taratukhin's signings were announced, an arbitrator in Russia ruled against them. The arbitrator ruled that they are in breach of their contracts with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and they are prohibited in playing for any other team for the duration of their current contracts. Of course this probably won't stop them from playing for their NHL teams, but it will open up further legal challenges. It is expected that Metallurg Magnitogorsk will follow with a similar legal challenge against Evgeni Malkin.

The legal battle is just beginning, as Kukla's Korner reports.

Eventually, some co-existence agreement will be forged between the NHL and Russia. Likely, there will be higher transfer agreements in the future. What is unclear is how long and bloody the battle will be to get to that point.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Women Starting To Retire

Last week's retirement of Cassie Campbell (here is TSN's story) leads me to think about a potential problem that the Hockey Hall of Fame will have. Eventually, some of the best women players of all time will have to be inducted. If they were men who played equally dominant careers, I imagine Cassie Campbell, Danielle Goyette, Cammi Granato, Hayley Wickenheiser and Manon Rheaume would all lead up this generation of women who deserve hall of fame induction (and there are a couple more players who are possibilities). Since the introduction of women's hockey into the Olympics in 1998, we have seen the first elite women's competition worldwide. We have seen the first class of women who have been able to have legitimate careers playing the game. Now they are starting to retire (with the exception of Rheaume who retired in 2000 and has been thus far ignored by the hall of fame committee) and they should find their ways to the Hall of Fame.

This creates problems for the Hall of Fame committee since it hasn't made the most inspired picks in the last couple years. Cam Neely and Dick Duff are questionable inductions of the last couple years. They have left deserving people like Doug Gilmour, Dino Ciccarelli, Phil Housley and Mark Howe out. The last couple years were a great opportunity to induct these players, since there were not too many retiring players who deserved induction. The class of 2007 hall of fame induction will have to sort through the first year of eligibility of Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Adam Oates, Igor Larionov and Ron Francis. That alone will leave a backlog of qualified inductees for a few years. The hall of fame can only induct four players a year. Lately, they seem to waste some of those inductions on less qualified players. They will also want to induct some builders (those fine folks who brought us the lockout - maybe not all builders are as guilty as Harley Hotchkiss but it leaves a bad taste) and it has been a while since a referee or linesman has been inducted. The last referee inducted was Andy Van Hellemond in 1999. Maybe they will decide its time to induct Bruce Hood or Swede Knox or Ray Scapinello (for example). I think that women will be another group of largely ignored potential inductees (see also Russians - though they did induct Valeri Kharlamov in 2005).

In the best case, these elite retiring women will further increase the backlog of qualified inductees to the hall of fame in the next few years. In the worst case, they will be largely ignored - as has happened so far. Manon Rheaume has been eligible for the hall since 2003. Have they seriously considered her yet? Why not? First woman in the NHL and an elite goalie among the women. What is lacking for her hall of fame induction?

Florida In Turmoil

The Florida Panthers have announced that Mike Keenan will not be with them as general manager this season. This announcement comes only days before the opening of training camps in the NHL.

It is never a good sign to be a team in turmoil this close to the start of the season. However, Florida probably isn't the team in the team in the worst shape from GM changes this summer. That distinction goes to the New York Islanders. At least the new Panther GM Jacques Martin (who is also their coach) is a proven hockey man and not a retiring backup goalie.

Mike Keenan is never easy to work with. He has a long history of leaving teams in turmoil both on and off the ice. On the short term, he is a good coach. He has won coach of the year. He has won the Stanley Cup. As a general manager he has made some good trades. He brought in Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe for Trevor Linden while in Vancouver and he brought in Chris Pronger for Brendan Shanahan while in St Louis. In the long term he always leaves things in worse shape than when he arrives. Mike Keenan is like a drug. One hit feels good, but in the longterm he can destroy your life and your career.

Florida is announcing that Keenan resigned. There is media speculation that he was forced out.

His biggest move is to have is to acquire Todd Bertuzzi from Vancouver for Roberto Luongo. I would be suprised if this move is a net gain for Florida, though I think Bertuzzi still has a lot to offer his team and it wont be an abject failure either.

Here is the TSN story.

How long until another hockey team becomes desperate enough to give Mike Keenan his eighth(!) NHL job?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Adjusted Point Scoring: Single Season

One issue I have looked at this summer in sabermetrics and hockey posts is the adjustment of scoring from different eras. I have listed the top 10 adjusted goal scoring seasons and the top 10 adjusted assist scoring seasons according to a normalization method devised by the hockey outsider (Peter Albert). This normalization method is the best method I have seen to date to solve this problem, but it has problems with false normalization of assists in the 1920's when there were significantly less assists than today and lacks an adjustment for the quality of opposition the player plays against.

Here are the top 10 adjusted point scoring seasons:

Top 10 Adjusted Point Scoring Seasons of All Time
Name Team Year Games Played Adjusted Points Actual Points
Cy DennenyOtt1924/252817945
Wayne GretzkyEdm1985/8680172215
Wayne GretzkyEdm1984/8580170208
Mario LemieuxPit1988/8976169199
Wayne GretzkyEdm1983/8474166205
Duke KeatsEdm - WCHL1921/222516555
Howie MorenzMon1927/284316351
Wayne GretzkyEdm1982/8380161196
Wayne GretzkyEdm1981/8280159212
Wayne GretzkyEdm1986/8779159183

This list shows the dominance of Wayne Gretzky. Six of the ten highest adjusted point scoring seasons are his. That shows his incredible dominance, but he may be somewhat helped that he played in the 21 team era and not the six team era. There are no original six team era players anywhere near the top 10. The highest ranking in the hockey outsider list is the 1952/53 95 point season Gordie Howe had that translates to 129 adjusted points and 33rd place. The original six (which is the era of the highest level of opposition calibre) is significantly underrepresented by this normalization system.

Also appearing in the top ten are Mario Lemieux's 199 point season in 1988/89. This year is deserving. There are also three years that are carryovers from the problems of false normalization that significantly increase 1920's adjusted assist totals. Three players make the list because of that problem. They are Duke Keats, Howie Morenz and Cy Denneny. Denneny is the most embarrassing of the three because he is ranked number one. There is no legitimate way to argue that Cy Denneny's 1924/25 season was the best point scoring season of all time. In fact, Denneny did not even win the NHL scoring title that season. He placed second to Babe Dye of Toronto. Dye scored 44 points and Denneny scored 42. It seems ridiculous to claim that the best scoring season of all time was not the best scoring season in the year where it occurred. The mistake occurs because Denneny scored 15 assists in an era when there were very few assists. This led the NHL. Babe Dye scored on 6 assists (which was good enough for 7th place in the entire league) but had more goals. Assists are overvalued by the normalization method in the early years of hockey because there were so few of them. If a player got a lot of assists (relative to the rest of the league) his point totals are normalized upwards well beyond the level they deserve. Denneny got 15 assists, but the normalization method considers this the equivlaent of 128 assists. It isn't. Fifteen assists can at most influence 15 goals. That isn't in the same ballpark as the number of goals and hence games that 128 assists would influence.

The adjustment of single season totals is interesting, but the false normalization of assists has led to some suspect results.

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