Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Haven't The Devils Had Playoff Success Post-Lockout? Part 1, 2005-06

Two things need to be noted before the discussion commences:

First - We tend to eschew topics on the Devils, in part because we are self-confessed fans of the Devils, and think it incalculably gauche to turn what is supposed to be a league-wide blog into a bitchfest about fan minutiae - there are certainly other places for that.

Second - We are proceeding in full knowledge that we are committing the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc - we are not saying these are the complete, unvarnished causes, nor are we laying bare any distinct truth about Devils strategy, or personnel, or any such thing as this. We are merely suggesting why the Devils have only two playoff series wins in the previous four seasons, not suggesting that it was expected or (god forbid) necessary that New Jersey has only these modest achievements. We are merely noting possible causes for why this *may* have been the expected outcome.

We whipped up a little chart here whose results were of great interest to us:


Some explanation is needed. The first column are the playoff teams from the Eastern Conference in 2005-06. The second column is the number of points they got. The third column is their goal differential as listed in the NHL standings. The fourth column is their goal differential, with all overtime goals and shootout 'goals' removed. The fifth column is the most interesting one - it is the goal differential with overtime removed, and if the best goalie on the team had started 73 games, and if the second best one had started 9 games, as Martin Brodeur and Scott Clemmensen did in 2005-06. We used their 2005-06 save percentage to determine which goaltender was better. As you can see, the Devils now rank last out of the Eastern Conference playoff teams in goal differential. Why would we do this? Backup goalies do not generally play in the playoffs barring injury. The correlation between backup goalie success and playoff success would seem to be minimal at best. Yes, wags, we have noted the irony of calling Cam Ward the 'backup' when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy during this season.

Now surely we can find many, many fallacies with the above statistic. Let us address four of those here - we still do not think it alters the major point, which is that the Devils are overrated.

Refutation The First: Since the statistic merely measures goals against, we are creating a hypothetical league in which more goals are scored than are given up.

Rebuttal
: True enough. However, the statistic is merely meant to be illustrative, not definitive. We are not saying that the Devils were the worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference, just that they were not likely one of the best.


Refutation The Second
: We are assuming that goaltenders play the same on short or no rest than they do on much rest. How can we assume this?

Rebuttal: Once again, we are not saying that teams should start their starting goalie at an 8 to 1 ratio. We are just looking at the league if that were the case, and if goaltender performance were not affected.


Refutation The Third
: The Devils had a vastly different roster at the beginning of the season than they did at the finish - they began the year mediocre and ended it on a 11 game winning streak. Shouldn't we count that for something?

Rebuttal: Sure, it should. The Devils excised Vladimir Malakhov, Alex Mogilny, Dan McGillis, Darren Langdon, Krys Oliwa, and Sean Brown in favor of Brad Lukowich, Patrik Elias, Ken Klee, Jason Wiemer, Cam Janssen, and Tommy Albelin. The addition of Elias was likely worth 5 points alone. However, even so, their goal differential was not remarkable.


Refutation The Fourth
: If we excise overtime results, shouldn't that change goal differentials and the way that teams play the third period?

Rebuttal: Once again, questioner, you are right, it likely would, but not in any significant way. Most of these concerns are minor, and we will continue to point them out when we go on to the 2006-07 season.


There are many more points that can be raised, all of them likely fair criticisms. The conclusion, however, is still clear - the Devils, while they do get the benefits of home ice and playing ostensibly weaker opponents, get little other benefit in the playoffs from playing Martin Brodeur as much as they do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Chicago Situation - What's an Eltdown?

Much has been written about the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks have to move salary next season. We are not sure that people recognize the magnitude of the salaries the Blackhawks have to move. Here is our view of the Chicago situation, with estimated salaries in green:


That's 66.5 million dollars to 20 players. Let's get rid of Brent Sopel, making it 64.2 million dollars to 19 players. If the salary cap stays the same at 56.8 million dollars, that's 7.6 million dollars' worth of salary the Hawks have to excise.

Important thing to remember: Just deleting salaries doesn't make any sense, since the Hawks have to fill them in with at least a league minimum player.

One scenario

Subtract Dustin Byfuglien (2,500,000)
Subtract Cam Barker (2,580,000)
Subtract Andrew Ladd (1,400,000)
Subtract Tomas Kopecky (700,000)
-----------------------------------
Total Subtracted $7.18 M

Yet we are still short here, even if we assume that all of these players are replaced by players making the league minimum. We think more drastic measures will have to be taken, these involving Brian Campbell or Cristobal Huet.

Who Might Want Either of These Players? For all of the talk about how poor Campbell has been, and his 7.1 million dollar salary is an albatross, he still provides a solid power play quarterback and is not particularly terrible at even strength. Regardless, there are few places that could just stick him on to their team with no repercussions. One such place is Anaheim, who may be losing their big minutes man Scott Niedermayer. Other places could emerge (e.g. Minnesota) depending on how this summer's free agency shakes out.

Cristobal Huet makes too much money, but there's one born every minute with goaltenders - teams like St. Louis, San Jose, and Washington may be interested in adding a goaltender like Huet.

Another Scenario

Repeat above
Add Patrick Sharp (3.9 M)
-------------------
Total (14.1M)

Let's see what that team looks like:

Versteeg-Toews-Kane
Brouwer-Bolland-Hossa
?-?-?
Eager-Fraser-?

Keith-Seabrook
Campbell-Hjalmarsson
?-?

Huet
Niemi

The Blackhawks would have 6.7 million dollars to fill 7 holes. Let us add these players:

LW Kyle Beach (875K)
D Jordan Hendry (600K)

This leaves us with 5.225 million to fill 5 holes. If we can add two players at league minimum salary, we're left with 4.225 million to fill 3 holes - plenty of money, and very likely the Hawks would have acquired these players in their trades to get rid of 4 bona fide NHL players. However, it's a team very light on depth - two injuries to top players and this team is a wasteland. We think the Hawks will have to move or bury Campbell or Huet in order to maintain competitive, with Brian Campbell tops on the list. We think it's possible that someone would acquire him on regular waivers, and we think it's possible that Chicago would intentionally expose him to re-entry waivers; doing so would allow them to keep one of Byfuglien, Versteeg, or Barker.

Summary

Chicago likely has to somehow dispose of Brian Campbell or Cristobal Huet in order to save enough money under the cap to retain some depth on their third line. Unless the salary cap goes up, it's going to be a skeleton crew all season long, and it's unclear when Chicago will get relief.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Second Contract

We were poking around our favorite website these days, capgeek.com, when we noticed an obscure contract - defenseman Oskars Bartulis of the Philadelphia Flyers and his 13 lifetime NHL games was signed to a three year, 1.8 million dollar deal. Why would Oskars Bartulis sign this contract, and why would the Flyers offer it to him?

Bartulis's side

The contract is one-way, so Bartulis is guaranteed that money. Paradoxically, the less a fringe sort of player like Bartulis makes, the better it is for him, because he can be in the NHL without harming anyone's salary cap. The third year is probably not best for him, but that was likely a condition of having a one-way deal despite barely playing in the NHL.

Philadelphia's side

From Philadelphia's end, it's low risk, moderate reward. When a team is up against the salary cap, it needs players like Oskars Bartulis who can be a 6th or 7th defenseman for a small amount of money. If Bartulis fails to develop in Philadelphia, someone will probably take the contract off their hands, as the standard price for back-pairing defensemen in UFA seems to be around 1.2 to 1.5 million.

So with this sort of thing in mind, we present great second contracts - not so much of the Zach Parise or Sidney Crosby variety, but of little moves that really just help a team out.

D Jonathan Ericsson, Red Wings, $2.7 million/3 years - People may have balked at the Wings signing a player with 8 NHL games' experience to a three-year deal in 2008, but that's why people aren't Ken Holland. While Ericsson has not had a great start to the year, he still has 10 points in 27 games. If Nicklas Lidstrom retires, expect Ericsson to get big minutes on next year's Wings team, all for the low, low price of $900,000 a year.

D Andy Greene, Devils, 1.45 million/2 years - Devils fans were perplexed when Lou Lamoriello non-tendered Andy Greene, but even more so when they signed him to a 2 year deal a day later. Greene had shown very little in his 129 NHL games before this season. However, he has rewarded New Jersey's faith by becoming the most improved player in the NHL, and that second year is looking mighty valuable.

D Alex Goligoski, Pittsburgh, 5.5 million/3 years - Goligoski played 2 games in last year's playoffs, and was barely put on the ice - so why did Ray Shero sign him for 3 years? Because he knows that anyone playing with Crosby and Malkin gets a huge lift in goals and assists. Goligoski has 16 points in 21 games - the Penguins could have saved some coin this season lowballing Goligoski, but would have had to pay much more later.

We think it is no accident that it is only defensemen on this list. Forwards seem to be more easily evaluated, and they peak earlier as well. There are lots of great second contracts out there, but we wanted to emphasize the overlooked ones. A few Oskars Bartulis types, and one's team can afford the superstar that sends them over the top.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Upcoming Posts

I've been ignoring this blog lately, but I assure you I have not abandoned it.

Things I hope to post on in the next few days:

- Great Second Contracts
- The Chicago Blackhawks' Situation
- How the Canadian Dollar affects Michal Rozsival

Further down the road:

- Playoff Windows

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Revisiting the Summer of 2007 (Part 4, Conclusion)

We had intended to deconstruct every major contract that was signed, but we decided that was pedantic and boring.

So, without further ado - The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, with Before and After stats; the Before represents their stats from 2005-06 to 2006-07, the After is 2007-08 and 2008-09.

The Good


Brian Rafalski, Detroit, 5 years, 30 million dollars

Before: 164 GP, 14 G, 90 A, 104 P, +31, 68 PIM
After: 151 GP, 23 G, 91 A, 114 P, +44, 54 PIM

Comments: We thought Rafalski's contract was absurd, but right now it stands out as clearly the best value. He is 36 years old, and Mike Babcock seems to be cutting back on his ice time, but Rafalski has been everything he was promised to be - a reliable two-way defenseman who can run a power play.

Todd White, Atlanta, 4 years, 9.5 million dollars

Before: 138 GP, 31 G, 52 A, 83 P, +7, 42 PIM
After: 156 GP, 36 G, 74 A, 110 P, -21, 60 PIM

Comments: White was bad in year 1, but in Year 2 he settled in as Kovalchuk's center. He's off to a slow start this season, but at 2.375 million per season, he can't be all bad.

The Bad

Scott Gomez, New York Rangers, 7 years, 51.5 million

BEFORE: 154 GP, 46 G, 98 A, 144 P, +15, 84 PIM
AFTER: 158 GP, 32 G, 96 A, 128 P, +1, 96 PIM

Comments: It's tempting to put this in the ugly column, considering the Rangers front-loaded his contract and ended up paying $18 million to Gomez, but Gomez has at least stayed healthy, and someone wanted his contract this past off-season.

Dainius Zubrus, New Jersey Devils, 6 years, 20.4 million

Before: 150 GP, 47 G, 70 A, 117 P, -16, 148 PIM
After: 164 GP, 28 G, 50 A, 78 P, +8, 107 PIM

Comments: Everyone knew that Zubrus's production was due to Alexander Ovechkin being his linemate in Washington, but New Jersey didn't know just how much of it was Alex's doing. The Devils are paying almost twice as much as the average salary for what is essentially an average player.

The Ugly

Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers, 5 years, 27 million

Before: 156 GP, 38 G, 65 A, 103 P, -39, 251 PIM
After: 107 GP, 26 G, 37 A, 63 P, -6, 134 PIM

Comments: Souray has lived up to his contract when healthy - the problem has been his health. The 2000s answer to Al Iafrate has already missed 16 games this season in addition to the 56 he missed in 2007-08. Neither Iafrate nor Kevin Hatcher nor Jeff Brown came to a good end - we hope that Souray can avoid that fate.

Jason Blake, Toronto Maple Leafs, 5 years, 20 million

Before: 158 GP, 68 G, 58 A, 126 P, +1, 94 PIM
After: 160 GP, 40 G, 75 A, 115 P, -6, 68 PIM

Comments: We may be remiss in putting Blake here, but we feel that Jason Blake's sort of player is particularly value-less, and the fact that Blake turned 36 before the beginning of the season will make for a bad end. The Leafs signed up for a goal scorer and have gotten 7 power play goals out of Blake in 2 seasons. Further compounding their error is the fact that they were nowhere close to a championship when they signed Blake.

Special mention goes to Michael Nylander, who was finally kicked out of North America this season.

This concludes our section on the 2006-07 Summer. We did not break down everything we would've liked to, but we are at least finished. Or maybe?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Revisiting the Summer of 2007, Part 2b and 3

We refer to a Part 2b in the title because we were remiss in not mentioning this little fact - namely that several teams had players undergoing Indian summers with regard to the end of their careers.

New York Rangers: Jaromir Jagr (35), Brendan Shanahan (38)
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur (35)
Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic (38)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mats Sundin (36)
Detroit Red Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom (37)
Anaheim Ducks: Scott Niedermayer (34), Teemu Selanne (37)

All of these players will go to the Hall of Fame, and most of them were still playing near a Hall of Fame level at the time. As franchise players age, teams get more and more panicky about winning while they are still in the fold. Baseball Prospectus did a study that teams who lose franchise players to retirement are usually slightly worse five years after that player leaves than the year after - the basic claim being that the cupboard has been made barren and a lot of bad contracts are left around. All of these teams made a significant commitment during that off-season.

Part 3: Youth

This claim is a little more esoteric, and we are not sure that we have the chops to go into it with as much detail as we'd like. What we'd like to claim is that there are significant talent gaps in the NHL due to the variability of the draft. We'd also like to claim that due to the nature of the historically great 2003 thread, many franchises thought their prospects/young players were better than normal, failing to compare them to the rest of the league.

Here is a list of players drafted in a particular year playing in the NHL in 2006-07. We compiled this list somewhat haphazardly, so there is a margin of error of +/- 3 or so. We still think it drives the point home.

1994: 32
1995: 29
1996: 34
1997: 34
1998: 46
1999: 31
2000: 42
2001: 54
2002: 43

This should be expected. There should be a bulge outward towards 24 and 25 year old players as projects get one last go in the NHL to see if they can hack it before going overseas or being labeled as AHL lifers. Here is the number of players playing in the NHL right now drafted in 2003 and 2004:

2003: 71
2004: 56

Our contention would therefore be that an influx of younger talent into the league actually raised the price of the free agent players because of A: the relative scarcity of players of their talent level around their draft year(s) and B: the increase in salary cap room that entry level and pre-arbitration contracts create.

A third thing that we have not the room to discuss is the buyouts of contracts - less of a % of the league's salary cap room was occupied by bad contracts because of the ability to buy-out bad ones in the summer of 2005. We think this had some effect, though what effect is negligible, as many of these contracts would have expired in 2007 had they been allowed to complete.

A fourth thing that we have not discussed is the falling free agency age, which would then press more players into being unrestricted free agents than a static free agency age. This seems self-evident, so we need not discuss it further.

These dual forces, the old and the young, both pressed on general managers to create the maelstrom of awful that was the 2006-07 off-season. Next, we will try to tackle the difficulty of adjusting for the 2005-06 year, and look at before and after snapshots of some contracts.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Revisiting The Summer of 2007 (Part 2)

This next part may feel a little bit like the ending to Clue: The Movie as we break down where all of these teams were at. We do want to explore the motivations of each team, however. One cannot simply castigate a team for a poor contract without exploring that contract's context - a middling team signing an average player for well above market is far more egregious than a team on the cusp of a championship trying to sign that missing piece. One of our main tenets here at Hockey on Paper is that barring a massive windfall, teams must pick the years where they wish to contend.

Philadelphia: In between trips to the Conference Finals in 2004 and 2008, people may forget that Philadelphia was an absolutely atrocious team in 2007. Strangely enough, Philadelphia was not in a particularly poor position - they had lots of assets on the team as well as promising young players. They also had a ton of salary cap room. Philadelphia figured they could rebuild the team in just one season, and they managed to pull it off.

New York Rangers: The Rangers were probably the most interesting team. Coming out of the lockout, they were thought to be dead in the water with a moribund and disinterested Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Weekes starting in net, and a cast of thousands at defense. Young goaltender Henrik Lundqvist proved to be outstanding, and instead the Rangers were a playoff team; only a late-season collapse kept the club from winning the division. The team brought aboard free agents Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, and Aaron Ward, and managed to make the 2nd round of the playoffs after a furious late-season climb into the playoff picture. Glen Sather was left in a bind - he had Jagr, but Jagr only had one more year on his contract and had declined sharply from 2006. He had Michal Nylander as Jagr's center - could Nylander continue to produce as a 1st line center after his 35th birthday?

Edmonton: Edmonton was in an odd position. A terminally mediocre club since the early 90s, they managed to make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, only to endure the Chris Pronger fiasco and finish out of the playoffs in 2007, scoring less than 200 goals. GM Kevin Lowe had traded captain Ryan Smyth to Long Island, and needed to come away with hope for the future.

Colorado: Colorado still had Burnaby Joe Sakic, who would turn 38 over the summer, but who led the team with 100 points. The club itself outscored its opposition by 21 but despite a late season push they failed to make the playoffs. With the superb play of youngsters Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny, Colorado saw themselves getting right back into the Western Conference hunt with a few key additions.

Los Angeles: The Kings were desperately terrible, had cap room, and hadn't made the playoffs since 2002.

This may be pedantic, but what we are trying to establish here is that there were motivations for these signings, and with $6.3 million in cap room coming available, most teams were gaining room to breathe.

The next post will be a speculation regarding the gaps in talent between certain draft years and the influence this may have had on free agency in 2007.

Revisiting The Summer of 2007 (Part 1)

We had intended to write some flowing preamble to this post, but writer's block intervened on word #1 - it was going to be a grandiose setting of the scene in 2007 with pop culture references and hip ironies. Let us focus on hockey alone and note that the summer of 2007 in the NHL was quite an interesting time. We are positing that the teams who did not participate in the orgy of 2007 FA signings are fundamentally more healthy teams than those who did - those whose cap outlook is especially murky were the largest participants.

2006-2007 were boom times once again for the NHL, as the salary cap rose by 6.3 million dollars. Any major market team with expiring contracts could load up on shiny new ones.

Let us revisit what was available - this link here shows us what was available, but let's comb from that the best players. Let us also remember that the free agency age and years of service for free agency was falling - any player who was 28 years old or had 7 NHL seasons became a unrestricted free agent in 2007.

Centers: Eric Belanger, Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Dainius Zubrus, Scott Gomez, Viktor Kozlov, Michael Nylander, Michal Handzus, Robert Lang, Todd White

Wings: Bill Guerin, Paul Kariya, Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake

Defensemen: Andy Sutton, Sheldon Souray, Brian Rafalski, Tom Poti, Tom Preissing, Cory Sarich, Roman Hamrlik, Brad Stuart, Darryl Sydor, Mathieu Schneider

Goalies: None of significance

Recall also that Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen had already inked contracts with the Philadelphia Flyers - Timonen signed for $38 million over 6 years, and Hartnell signed for $25.2
million over 6 years.

In Part 2, we will examine the situation of some of the teams who participated in the orgy. The key word is 'uncertainty'.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Two Early Season Trends

We have been absent these last few weeks - we have been more concerned with the conclusion of the baseball season. Now that that has ended (in glorious triumph), we are free to contemplate the nobler sport of hockey.

The beginning of the season is so difficult for the numbers-oriented person - he is quick to seize on trends, but then must chastise himself to remember the mantra of sample size.

We Still Think, In the Face of Seemingly All Evidence, that the Colorado Avalanche will struggle to Make the Playoffs

All the rabbit's feet, lucky pennies, or horseshoes lodged in one's own posterior cannot explain what the Colorado Avalanche are doing this season. The Avalanche are being outshot by 129, yet they have 17 more goals than their opposition.

Now one may say - but Triumph, are not the Avalanche so far ahead that they only need coast into the postseason? Perhaps. The average amount of points to get into the Western Conference playoffs since the lockout is 93.25, or 1.137 points per game. The Avalanche need only average 1.03 points per game the rest of the way. 1.03 points per game averaged out to a season is 85 points, a threshold which only nine teams failed to make last season. So - we cannot say that the Avalanche are an underdog to do this, especially in light of Craig Anderson's play. We're going to say that anyway.

The Carolina Hurricanes are the anti-Avalanche

The bags under Paul Maurice's eyes probably have their own bags at this point, as the Hurricanes have lost 11 straight. We still maintain they are not a poor team. They are outshooting their opposition by 20 - by itself, this number does not mean very much, but their 6.3% team shooting percentage is unsustainable. Expect the Hurricanes to return to mediocrity - although alack for them, this will likely not mean a playoff berth. The average Eastern Conference 8th seed has gotten 92.75 points. For Carolina to reach 92 points, they will have to play 105 point hockey from here on out - something which only five teams did last season.

With both of these examples, we have to be careful in the interpretation of 'regression to the mean'. The word to be emphasized in that common phrase is 'mean'. There is no reason why Colorado's fortunes should reverse - they should merely sag. Anderson's performance will get worse and the team's shooting percentage will decrease, but these numbers will not flip-flop. Likewise with Carolina. Both are probably around 90 to 95 point clubs - but because of the viccisitudes of Fate and October results, one will glory in April hockey while one cowers in April golf.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You Showed Hustle, That's Why It Was So Hard To Cut You

When Homer Simpson heckles Ned Flanders' Pee-Wee football coaching ability, Marge scolds him, saying "It's easy to criticize!". Homer adds, "Fun, too." When Homer actually does become the coach, he is terrible at it, and the team promptly loses every game.

It is with this in mind that we begin our criticism of Puck Prospectus, a site for which we had such high hopes when it began. The site is certainly doing some very good work, but it's also pointing out some dangerously stupid things.

Here's an example of an egregious error in a writeup on shootouts - the author writes, "Additionally, the Sharks should give Malhotra [lifetime 1 for 2 shooter] a chance to prove whether he’s got the skill or not." This is an absurd claim for two reasons. First, teams practice shootouts, so in this case, the coaches likely (not certainly) have a much larger sample from which to draw. Second, a simple application of the binomial theorem and some playing around with numbers will show that 1 for 2 in shootouts has absolutely no significance. If we assume Dany Heatley's shootout % to be true (which it likely is not), after 2 attempts, he will have a goal 26% of the time. There is no reason to think Manny Malhotra is at all skilled at the shootout, any more than Marek Malik is the greatest shootout artist of all time.

Or how about this article on age and winning which confuses cause and effect, and makes little mention of players' roles on the team when factoring in average age?

Or the obsession of one writer with hockey players' heights and weights, taking to task teams for drafting big defensemen high in the 1st round during the 90s, as though there were any doubt left that these were not good moves?

What supposedly sets apart 'sabermetrics' from traditional methods of observation is rigor, and far too often Puck Prospectus lacks it. We hold out hope that these are merely preliminary observations, and that the writers are also finding their way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Milan Lucic Deal - Three Wrong Ideas

We like to estimate contracts here at Hockey On Paper, it's part of why we started this in the first place. Sure, lots of places can give you cap numbers, but without estimating RFA contracts, the exercise is useless. Some teams are far more jammed up than others, but one wouldn't know it just looking at the raw numbers.

We estimated Milan Lucic would make 2.5 million next season. Our estimations are far from scientific, although we did nail some pretty well (and were grossly off on some, e.g. Lucic). The contract length obviously makes a difference here - the longer the contract, the higher the price. However, the Bruins ate up none of Lucic's UFA seasons with this deal, and only two arbitration-eligible years. This is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. However, we think we have finally established why the Bruins paid Milan Lucic 4.1 million a season over the next 3 years, which is more than Travis Zajac, David Krejci, Jordan Staal, Derick Brassard, and Dave Bolland, not to mention well over Brandon Dubinsky and Drew Stafford. It is based on one of three assumptions, all of which in our opinion are grossly incorrect.

Assumption #1: Milan Lucic will grow into a power forward in the Cam Neely/Rick Tocchet/Brendan Shanahan mold

Looking at his 19 goals last season - why not? Here's why not - Lucic had 97 shots on goal last season. Here's the other forwards who had around 97 shots on goal: Jeff Tambellini, Frederik Sjostrom, Steven Reinprecht, Tim Jackman. Lucic is obviously 20 and those people are not, but for Lucic to sustain his 17.5% shooting percentage from last season would be astounding. Lucic will have to shoot the puck a lot more to score 30 goals in a season, and so far Lucic only has 4 shots on goal in 5 games this season. We do not know when shots on goal converge - i.e. when a player's 'true' shots on goal/game rate can be established - but we certainly think it happens far quicker than goals or assists converge. The numbers indicate so far that Lucic is not getting better at shooting, and therefore not better at scoring.

Assumption #2: Milan Lucic does so many other things - hit, fight, dig pucks out of the corner, screen goalies - that he doesn't need to score goals.

We can believe that Lucic is valuable in this regard, but how many more hits and fights does he have to have to be more valuable than Travis Zajac or Jordan Staal? We understand that we are being slightly dishonest here, in that Staal and Zajac signed this past off-season and technically Lucic signed in the off-season of 2010, but RFA contract inflation does not figure to be that high. We just find it very hard to believe that the other things Lucic does add up to the 10 missing goals scored.

Assumption #3: Milan Lucic was signed early so that the GM could atone for trading away Phil Kessel

This is a meta-hockey consideration, obviously. We don't reject it, but we wonder why the panic to lock up Milan Lucic. He does not have great offensive stats in junior hockey. He does not have great offensive stats in the NHL. What really gets a general manager out of a PR bind is winning - Milan Lucic's contract will impede the Boston Bruins from winning in future seasons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Statistical Changes We'd Like To See

Maybe we just don't know the right places to look, but our main source of statistics beyond the norm is NHL.com. While it keeps track of important stuff, one has to go find the important stuff.

Faceoff Percentage should be listed with every player

Faceoff percentage is an important statistic - it's been kept track of for a long time - why is it not one of hockey's basic stats? Because defensemen don't take faceoffs?

Time on Ice should be listed with every player

Thankfully, hockey-reference has begun to do this. Not listing time on ice is like not listing at-bats in baseball. How can we know how good a player is if we don't know how much he plays?

Assists should be broken down into primary, secondary, power play, even strength

We don't pretend to know the value of a primary assist versus a secondary, or a power play assist versus an even strength one. We do suspect that many secondary assists on the power play are not of paramount importance.

Penalties in Minutes should be broken down into major and minor

To make another terrible baseball analogy, having PIMs done the way it is done is like just having hits without singles, doubles, triples, etc. A game misconduct to a fringe player is probably not as detrimental as a single minor penalty, yet one is listed as far more penalty minutes than the other.

We don't expect to see these changes soon, and at least NHL.com has most of these statistics readily available - it just takes some digging.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On The Fallacy of Probablistic Thinking

Let us imagine that we are brilliant, and came up with a way besides the classic Hockey League Simulator 2 to simulate 10,000 2009-10 seasons, from start to finish (in all of them, Marian Gaborik gets injured). Let us imagine these simulations are pretty darned accurate - the Gaborik injuries are a dead giveaway that they are.

Now we have a list of teams who've won the Stanley Cup in these 10,000 simulations - let us look at their average playoff wins. Someone like Detroit might have 9 or so, someone like the Islanders might have 0.1 or less. These numbers, however, are inherently meaningless when imagining who's going to win the Stanley Cup simply because some team has to win 16 games in the playoffs.

There's a lot of luck in the playoffs - it's rather improbable that despite the fact that Detroit and Pittsburgh were likely the two most talented teams in each of the last two seasons that both teams made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. When wondering about whether they'll repeat that feat, citing the above is not particularly important - it is certainly improbable, but still more probable than most Stanley Cup Finals pairings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Kessel Deal, Part 2 - The Boston Side and Why Toronto Loses

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli says Phil Kessel wanted to be traded in July - he came away with an excellent trade for a number of reasons.

He Got More Than An Offer Sheet

2 1sts and a 2nd is significantly more than a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

According to TSN, 2010 is a 'strong draft'

We don't pay much attention to TSN grading a future NHL draft - after all, they air the draft. However, the Bruins now have 5 picks in the top 2 rounds - 2 of their own, 2 from Toronto, and 1 from the Lightning.

Boston doesn't 'need' a player back

Boston's got some solid prospects all the way around the organization - that is why they felt confident enough to deal someone like Martins Karsums to the Lightning. Mikko Lehtonen could be on the Bruins in October, and he's got 20 goal potential. The Bruins have lots of right wing depth - while Kessel is an outstanding player, and he will be missed, they can do without him.

Marc Savard can now be retained

This is far from a guarantee, but Savard is deserving of a large pay raise commensurate with players like Daniel Briere. The Bruins owe 38 million to 10 players next season, so it may be a stretch to fit him in, but with Kessel on board, there was literally no chance of them retaining both players.

Boston has assets with which to rid themselves of bad contracts

Maybe Boston gets rid of Michael Ryder to make room for Marc Savard - but who wants Michael Ryder at that salary? Why of course no one - but with a 1st round pick bundled along with it, maybe Boston gets back a decent prospect.

Boston sells Kessel at the peak of his value

While Kessel is exceptionally talented, and the Boston Bruins as well, we are skeptical they could maintain their prodigious even-strength scoring ability. If Kessel scored 30 goals in 82 games next season, his trade value would certainly diminish.

Boston has the ability to deal for Ilya Kovalchuk

Outlandish idea, but if both sides saw fit to do this, Boston could certainly make it happen. It would happen at the trade deadline, but it would give Boston the most dynamic scorer outside of Alexander Ovechkin.

Why Toronto Loses

Brian Burke may be overplaying his hand - by loading up on salaries now, he may be losing out on opportunities to raid the Chicago Blackhawks next off-season, as well as all the teams that are going to be dumping legitimate NHL talent to get under the salary cap. By not offer-sheeting Kessel, Burke drops a 2011 1st round pick, something which is no doubt valuable. While Burke may think he can sign undrafted free agents to make up for that, there are only so many of those players around. If Kessel is only a 30 goal scorer in Toronto, it seems this gambit is a massive failure.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Phil Kessel - The Toronto Side And Why Boston Loses

"That plane to Toronto's leaving, and if you're not on it, you'll regret it. Maybe not now, but soon, and for the rest of your life." Brian Burke, to Wade Arnott, Phil Kessel's agent.

Okay, we made that exchange up. What is true is that Phil Kessel was traded for three draft picks - a 1st in 2010, a 2nd in 2010, and a 1st in 2011. This seems insane, and is insanely complicated, so we're going to examine it in two posts - this one looks at why Toronto 'won' the deal and Boston lost it. So, without further ado:

The 2010 Draft Is Weak

We fully admit we don't keep up on draft classes - in fact, the reason we don't is because when we were young, we were taught that the 1999 draft class was exceptionally strong, only to have it turn out to be one of the weakest in NHL history. However, if the 2010 draft is weak in the way that the 1996, 1999, 2001, and 2007 drafts were weak, a 1st round pick that will likely be in the range between 10th overall and 20th overall does not have a great deal of value. 1st round picks are exceedingly valuable when they might render players that provide excessive cap savings in Year 3 of their entry-level contract - weaker players obviously provide less value, but they also take longer to reach the NHL.

Brian Burke Has a Boatload Of Assets

Toronto has NINE UFA Players. NINE. (Imagine this as Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). None are particularly valuable besides Alexei Ponikarovsky, but we theorize their value may be like this at the deadline:

Alexei Ponikarovsky - 2nd and 5th
Lee Stempniak - 3rd
Mike Van Ryn - 3rd (perhaps 2nd)
Matt Stajan - 3rd
Garnet Exelby - 3rd (or 4th)

Now, Toronto may have no interest in trading these players at the deadline, especially if it is in the playoff race. However, it shows that Burke is capable of recouping some of the assets he lost.

UFAs Are Expensive And Don't Exist

Phil Kessel is a 'pure scorer', possibly in the elite. Let us look at the list of elite UFA 'pure scorers' coming available in the next 3 seasons:

Ilya Kovalchuk

Gambling that Ilya Kovalchuk comes available and wants to sign for a penny less than what Marian Gaborik received is a fool's wish. Kovalchuk would likely command $8+ million - if the salary cap falls, there are not many teams that can afford that. Plus there is always the worry that Ilya Kovalchuk returns to Russia.

You Have To Choose What Year You Will Contend

Besides out-of-nowhere success of the sort the Bruins had this past season, under the salary cap one has to judge which years they think they can be a Stanley Cup contender and plan accordingly for that season. The Leafs must be circling 2012-13 - all of their onerous contracts (Blake, Finger) will have ended. Nazem Kadri's contract may slide to begin in 2010-11 - this puts that all-important 3rd year of his entry-level contract right there. 2011-12 may also be important - Luke Schenn is not arbitration-eligible that year, and Burke may be able to bury the Finger and Blake contracts in the minors if he so chooses.

Toronto Has Shown They Can Attract Undrafted Talent

The NHL draft isn't the only place to acquire cheap contracts - undrafted free agents are important as well. With the Leafs signing 3 of these this past season, they clearly think they are running the kind of organization that makes players want to sign up. New Jersey has certainly made up for draft mistakes by sprinkling their lineup with undrafted free agents - Toronto will look to do so as well.

Why Didn't Burke Sign Kessel To An Offer Sheet?

Simple - Boston might've matched. And if the number was made high enough that Boston wouldn't match, the cap savings that Kessel provides are gone. Furthermore, Kessel may have refused to report to Boston if they matched, causing all sorts of problems.

Why Boston Lost

These draft picks are not quite lead balloons, but they are certainly far less valuable than prospects at this juncture. Two of the picks are in a weak draft. Plus, Boston was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender if they could've shoehorned Kessel on to their squad - they may be missing their window of Stanley Cup contention. They gain cap relief, but they also squandered money on the Derek Morris contract and buying out Peter Schaefer - these moves should not have been made before securing Kessel's contract.

Coming Soon: The Boston Side and Why Toronto Lost

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Derick Brassard Deal - Anticipation

We often belabor the point here at Hockey On Paper - in fact, we think that should be our slogan: Hockey on Paper, We Love to Belabor. One of the points we've been trying to hammer home is just how important it is in a salary cap environment to have underpriced contracts somewhere on one's roster. We like to think of contract value not in terms of goals and assists but in terms goals and assists converted back to dollars. The best team in the league (however one chooses to define this) has salaries worth some X above their total salary costs, that is why they are the best.

Derick Brassard only has 48 NHL games played, but Columbus is gambling and giving him a 4 year, 12.8 million dollar deal. This contract is similar to the one given to Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, a move that puzzled MLB experts but excited sabermetricians. It was a risk - sure, Longoria may not turn out to be a great player, but almost all indications were that he would. Likewise, while Brassard has not played that many NHL games, all signs point to him being an excellent contributor. So why now instead of after next season?

Columbus gets a discount

Brassard's lack of experience increases the risk, but if he has an excellent season, his contract demands will go way up. Unless he gets injured again, it's not likely that a contract offer of that length would plummet - Brassard is almost certainly going to be worth more than 3.2 million per season in 2013-14.

Columbus avoids an impasse

Phil Kessel and Brandon Dubinsky are still unsigned with training camp's beginning a few short days away. Columbus must have noticed this - furthermore, Brassard isn't arbitration-eligible until 2011-12. With neither side having recourse to arbitration, contract negotiations could have gotten contentious, which benefits no one.

Columbus pays out the largest amount when it can afford it

Steve Mason and Nikita Filatov will still be on entry-level contracts in the first year of Brassard's new contract. This means that while Brassard will be overpaid relative to what an arbitration-ineligible RFA should get for the 2010-11 season, Columbus has enough low-priced contracts to weather that storm. However, down the road, it will need all the cap room it can get, and if Brassard can emerge into the 20-50-70 (or better) sort of player it looks like he might be, Columbus gets a steep discount during the final two years of that deal, enabling a possible Stanley Cup run to come to Central Ohio.

Okay, yeah, there's downside

This contract is not without its risks, of course. Everyone loves to make fun of the Rick Dipietro contract, not realizing that said contract has been copied around the NHL as a model of excellent management. So, Negative Nellies, have at it:

Brassard is injury-prone

He has missed significant time in 2 of the last 3 years. We can't be totally sure if that indicates a lack of durability or simply bad luck. He may well be injury prone, but the Jackets likely got a discount as a result of that.

Brassard might never develop past this point

Brassard not developing further would be rather shocking - even if he doesn't, he is still likely a 15-45-60 type of player. Overpaying for that isn't really a crime, although it would be a large setback for Columbus.

Brassard might get complacent

Being signed for the next 5 years may cause a 22 year old to get a swelled head and bloated body if he doesn't watch himself. However, this is unknowable to anyone who isn't in the Columbus organization - it's the type of risk that Stanley Cup contention is built on.

Conclusion

The Derick Brassard deal is perfect for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While they have made contract mistakes in the past, this one makes up for some of them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Kessel Situation, Part 2

We were rather lazy in creating our last post, so another whirl:

Let us say that the Boston Bruins' chances of winning the Stanley Cup this season are some number a, with Phil Kessel on the roster, along with all the other Bruins' players, below the salary cap.

If Kessel gets offered a sheet, the Bruins' probabilities become b and c - b is with Kessel, at his elevated price, and some other players waived/released/whatever, c is without Kessel altogether.

Let us then posit letter d - the probability of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 with Kessel, and e without him, having been signed by another team.

(this can also be done with projected revenues based on playoff success).

Now a is our ideal, but seems somewhat unlikely. We only include a here because it's also a comparison if the Bruins decide to make a trade with Kessel - they will have a very difficult time getting back fair value for him.

For an offer sheet, however, it's very simple - if (b+d)x < (c+e)y, where x is some number above 1 that represents the time value of money, and y represents the possible trade value of the draft picks the Bruins receive, the Bruins should pass on signing Kessel.

Obviously, none of these variables are knowable; there's a lot of uncertainty involved. What would make this more clear is the salary cap situation for the Bruins - however, this equation is only based on the fact that if Kessel is signed to a large deal, it will be very difficult to retain Marc Savard.

The Phil Kessel Situation

Holding out was a classic maneuver under the old CBA - several players even held out for an entire season (Petr Nedved, Michael Peca, Alexei Yashin, to name a few). We have yet to see that under the new CBA, in part because a player can only hold out to December 1, according to 11.4 of the CBA. If he holds out longer, he will be ineligible to sign a contract. We suspect this clause has something to do with the salary cap, but that is a discussion for another day.

Phil Kessel is still unsigned as the Bruins head to camp this week. It is theorized that the Leafs made a trade for their 2nd round draft pick so that they can submit an offer sheet to Kessel - teams must have their draft picks in order to submit offer sheets. Here is the compensation teams receive based on the size of the offer sheet submitted.

Could the Leafs submit an offer for something like 5 years, 30.1 million? This would entitle the Bruins to a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick in compensation. The Leafs' biggest lack is a top-end scoring threat, and Kessel certainly showed himself to be that last season. The real question is - would the Bruins let Phil Kessel go if this offer were made?

Digression On The Bruins' Salary Cap Problems

Everyone is talking about the salary cap hell the Blackhawks are putting themselves in, but the Bruins are also in an uncomfortable spot. They owe 36.8 million to 10 players, plus $1 million in buyouts. That's 37.8 million already committed to next year's cap, plus Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler are going to be RFAs, the latter arbitration-eligible. Marc Savard is a UFA next off-season, and unless the Bruins can get rid of a salary or two, he may not be able to re-sign with Boston.

Back to Kessel

Kessel being paid $6 million would throw the Bruins' cap commitment to 43.8 million for 11 players. It is totally untenable even if the salary cap stays at its present 56.8M level - the Bruins would have to make a trade. While Marco Sturm is probably disposable, bringing that level down to 40 million to 10 players, it still leaves 16.8 million for 10 players. That sounds like a lot, but Lucic and Wheeler are RFA, and with the latter being arb eligible, he is going to get at least 2.5 million if he sustains last season's performance. Lucic is also a candidate to draw an offer sheet - like Dustin Penner, he is big and supremely overrated. The Bruins have a tough road ahead - letting Kessel go may solve some problems while replenishing their prospect base for future Stanley Cup runs.

Conclusion

It may be in Boston's best interest to let Kessel go if Toronto signs him to an offer sheet. They may work out some other compensation instead of draft picks, but Boston just doesn't have much room to operate under the salary cap at the moment.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thought Experiment With Contracts

Let's posit two players: Evgeni Peaklate and Wendel NHLReady, about to be drafted by an NHL team. Wendel NHLReady is a good old Canadian boy who's got all around solid skills, but his upside is limited. Evgeni Peaklate is a flashy Russian who needs some work on defense and positioning but has tremendously high upside. With the NHL UFA age now at 27, and 25 for players like Jay Bouwmeester who had 7 years of service time, should NHL GMs be thinking about players in terms of Peaklate and NHLReady - i.e. should they consider something other than 'best player available?'

Let's say NHLReady needs 2 years in junior, and Peaklate needs 2 years in junior/Russian league/wherever, as well as 2 years in the minor leagues. Let's also assume that both players are paid exactly what they are worth, except for their entry level contract. It therefore follows that unless NHLReady is providing minimal value during the three years he spends in the NHL under his entry level deal, or Peaklate incredible value for that one season, that NHLReady will provide more value for his team over the course of his contracts.

Obviously things don't work this way. The point we're trying to illustrate with this silly example is that with our earlier assertion that UFA players get paid 50% more than what they get paid as RFAs on average, teams should think harder about players with limited upside but more certain NHL futures who will be ready for the NHL quicker than counterparts with serious flaws in their game that need correcting. Luckily, junior hockey teams around the world are getting better at developing players who are ready for the NHL - 2008-09 saw 12 players picked in the 2008 draft make their NHL debut.

Next post: The change between the first entry-level contract and first RFA contract a player enters into. We estimate the average change will be between 125% and 175%.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trades That Should Happen

Things have been slow around the NHL - we've wanted to do a best signings list/worst signings, but there's still too many players available to do anything like that. Training camp opens in fifteen days, so we imagine those players will ink sometime, but days continue going by without much action.

We do, however, sense there are some teams with some excess players at one position and deficiencies at another.

Here's a little list:

Vancouver: How Many Forwards Do You Need?

Vancouver currently has 16 forwards that could make the big squad. We suspect that if Michal Grabner or Sergei Shirokov impress in camp that some of them could be headed elsewhere. Vancouver is also in need of a defenseman, although it's been reported that they are interested in Mathieu Schneider - Schneider arrived in the NHL before Rob Schneider arrived on SNL. Hint: That means he's old.

New Jersey's Defense Surplus

The Devils currently have 9 players on their roster who played in 20 or more NHL games next season. While dispatching one is far from necessary - at least two should make it through waivers - it certainly couldn't hurt for a team that looks devoid of depth at center.

Duck Pate

The Anaheim Ducks currently have 13 forwards on one-way contracts, and one on a two-way deal (Bobby Ryan) who won't be going to the minors any time soon - certainly just the right amount with which to run an NHL team. However, if anyone from their minor league system impresses, that's one player that can be shuffled off. The Ducks still have some backline depth issues, although most of their young players are defensemen.

Logjam On The St. Lawrence

Montreal only has 7 D under contract for this season, but the promising Yanick Weber is in Hamilton awaiting his NHL opportunity. If any one of the 7 falters, Montreal may look to dispose of him to bring up Weber. Ryan O'Byrne and Josh Gorges should probably rent, not buy.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Salary Increases For First-Time UFAs

As promised, here is the chart for first time Unrestricted Free Agents. It includes only players who were 27 or younger who are Group III Free Agents. Bouwmeester is not 27 but earned his free agency with 7 years of service time. These are players who have never had a contract year where they would have been UFA the previous July - that would've have muddled the picture.



As we can see, even with Kurtis Foster's aberration included - his injury troubles have made it unclear whether he can be an effective NHL player - the average increase was still above 50%. This is coming in a year of almost no salary cap increase. We did not even include Johnny Oduya's contract which was signed on June 30 - his pay increased nearly sixfold.

Essentially, RFAs on 2nd contracts are 50% cheaper than UFAs, and players on entry-level contracts are far cheaper than that. It's a young man's game now; clubs need solid entry-level players in order to compete.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arbitration Awards

We were thinking about how much money is saved by having an arbitration-eligible player versus an unrestricted free agent. The best way to measure this would be to look at players who went to arbitration, then became unrestricted free agents, and compare the arbitration award to the current salary. Unfortunately, we are not succeeding at finding lists for 2005 or 2006 arbitration awards, but we did find one on TSN for 2007.

So we whipped up this handy-dandy chart. The first two columns are pretty self-explanatory - that's what the player got paid per season in arbitration, the second is what he made the year after that - 4 of them were UFA, Hunter was not but signed a deal well into his UFA years. Column 3 is the % increase between the two. Column 4 is a bit trickier - we cannot just compare salaries across the board between years. We have to remember that the salary cap increased over this time - it was $50.1 million in 2007-08. Further compounding this issue is the fact that the salary cap cannot be mentioned in arbitration hearings. We decided to use the % increase between 2007-08 and 2008-09 plus half the % increase between 2006-07 and 2007-08, figuring there to be some lag between arbitration awards and salary cap increases.


As you can see, of these 5, their salaries increased by 55% on average when they became UFA eligible. We don't think this is a strong enough sample - we intend to search out all players who had their first UFA contract this year or last year to see what the average increase is there.

Coming Next: 2008-09 First Time UFA Salary Increases.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Last Year's Top Twenty Scorers - How Will They Fare?

We have spoken here about Expected Goals before - a quick and dirty way of predicting how much a player will score next season. Mostly for fun, we conjured up this list, to see how far right or wrong Expected Goals will be.

This chart is fairly self-explanatory - the Exp Shooting % is the player's averaged shooting percentage over the last 4 seasons. Expected Shots/Game are his Shots/Game averaged over the last four seasons. Coefficient is an unscientific way of indicating that most of these players should expect to increase their shots/game next year versus the average of their last four seasons. We should have done this by averaging their previous two seasons, then adding half the difference + some arbitrary coefficient by age, but we did not do that. Anyway, it shall be interesting to see how the season shakes out for these twenty players:


Alex Ovechkin is 7 goals ahead of everyone else, and we didn't even think that his SOG increase from last season is sustainable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The One Year Deal - Good Idea?

The last 8 UFA contracts signed by definite NHL players have been 1 year deals. The implication is that it's 1 year deals all the way down - anyone who wants to play in the NHL next year and isn't already signed, be prepared to rent an apartment instead of buying a house.

The reasons for teams wanting to sign one-year deals are simple:

1. If the contract goes bad, there's no extra years to worry about.
2. The team may have cheaper alternatives coming up in the minor league system.

From the player's perspective, the logic is probably more like this:

1. It may be the only kind of deal being offered to him.
2. If his performance increases, it may be advantageous to him to have only signed for 1 year.

This is all very simplistic. Obviously Reason #1 for teams and Reason #2 for players are two sides of the same coin. At this point in free agency, there are still players in their legitimate NHL prime waiting for contracts. These players include:

Steve Eminger, Taylor Pyatt, Mike Comrie, Dennis Seidenberg, Alex Tanguay, Manny Malhotra, Dominic Moore

There is almost no danger of these players' play declining in the second year of a contract (Comrie excepted). With the market for these players having collapsed, a smart team would go after these players with multi-year deals - next year's UFA class is shaping up to be even more competitive than this one.

Let's say one of these players signs a one-year contract. Let's say that 20% of the time, he is $500,000 or more valuable than the contract he signs, 70% of the time he is within +/- $500,000 of the contract he signs, and 10% of the time he is below $500,000 in value of the contract he signs. We realize that here we are begging the question - of course one would want to sign this player to a multi-year contract. That is precisely our point.

In free agency, the phenomenon known as the Winner's Curse frequently comes into play. If a free agent merely wishes to go to the place that will pay him the most money for the most years, teams continue bidding until they reach an agreement. The problem is that the team who values him most highly is almost always making a mistake with that valuation. With these free agents, there is likely no 'Winner's Curse' because it is clear that bidding on them has fallen apart. Teams should want to buy as many years of these players as possible - it is probably the players who want 1 year deals, figuring that if they perform well, they'll be heavily in demand next year, and could get contract offers that nearly double the ones they are getting this season.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Talent

We here at Hockey On Paper tend to get excited by minor deals - we thought, for example, that the Devils' trade of the rights of non-prospect Tony Romano for non-NHL player Ben Walter in June was a tremendous steal. Little deals are rarely the difference between making the playoffs and missing them, but every year there is some waiver transaction that seems to make a large difference - this past year's would be Rich Peverley to Atlanta and the 'trade' of Jussi Jokinen to Carolina. Furthermore, free talent that performs well can be upgraded - Los Angeles parlayed Kyle Quincey into the centerpiece of the Ryan Smyth deal. There's some intriguing items that may come available for the team willing to dig - players who've been trapped in their team's minor league system and who don't appear to have any roster spot opening up for them this coming season.

1. C/RW Rob Schremp

Putting 'Rob Schremp' into YouTube brings up videos that show off his tremendous stick-handling skills. Yet Schremp has been unable to crack the Oilers' roster, despite decent numbers in the AHL. With the coaching changes in Edmonton this off-season, perhaps Schremp will get a fairer shake, and he may make his way on to Edmonton's roster. If he does not, he is waiver-eligible, and someone short on talent but long on patience could get themselves a 20-30-50 type of player sometime in the future.

2. LW Chris Bourque

The diminutive son of Ray had a point a game last year in the AHL. While the Capitals only have 12 forwards signed for next season, leaving room for Bourque, he may not get the nod over a more versitaile player.

3. C Cal O'Reilly

O'Reilly has some very impressive assist numbers, and from those it's hard to see what's keeping him back from the NHL. Nashville does have a spot for him, and we think it very unlikely that O'Reilly stays off the roster this year, but training camp tends to influence teams more than it should.

4. C Kyle Chipchura


We can't pretend to know what Habs GM Bob Gainey is thinking. We think that Chipchura will certainly make the team and that it's likely that Glen Metropolit will be either a 13th forward or waiver bait, but aliens seem to have taken over his brain.

Unfortunately, all four players will be eligible for arbitration next year, so the savings is short-lived. Regardless, these sorts of players can definitely be an asset for someone next season, and with the salary cap going the way it is, unused, cheap talent becomes more and more valuable.

Monday, August 3, 2009

When The Rich Get Richer

We cannot pretend to know the finances of the KHL. According to this site, the KHL salary cap for the 2009-10 site is 620 million rubles, with one 'franchise player' exception. 620 million rubles is approximately 20 million dollars. We do not know how the KHL makes a profit, or if it does.

Jiri Hudler received a 2 year, 10 million dollar (tax-free) contract in Russia. This is probably equivalent to receiving around $20 million playing hockey here, considering taxes and cost-of-living. However, many players who played in Russia during the lockout of 2004-05 did not like the rigorous practices and more strict discipline that Russian teams tend to have. It remains to be seen whether Hudler will stay in the KHL when his contract is up.

However, the Red Wings got a serious boost when an arbitrator ruled that Jiri Hudler would receive a 2 year, 5.75 million dollar deal if he returns to the NHL. According to BehindTheNet, Hudler was third on the Wings in Goals/60 minutes. In fact, Hudler receives well below average ice time given his skill level - Hudler was 333rd in the NHL in Even Strength Time On Ice for forwards. His even strength shooting percentage was not out of line with the rest of the Red Wings either, shooting a 7.9%. This is a tremendously skilled player.

The Red Wings are lauded for their remarkable ability to find skill players, but that time may be at an end. We are not convinced that of the trio of Leino, Abdelkader, and Helm who so wowed the NHL establishment in the post-season, that the Wings have tremendously skilled players on their hands. Abdelkader may develop into a 2nd line LW, Leino may as well, but their numbers for the AHL squadron were not overly impressive, and according to Hockey's Future, 'Detroit should look to address its top-six depth if at all possible'. We are not casting aspersions on these young players, depth is certianly important, but we do not think these are the next Franzen, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk. The Wings are going to need a skill injection, and now they have a player who just might return to the NHL in two seasons, right when Pavel Datsyuk could be starting his decline, and who might be an NHL star for a very reasonable price.

Friday, July 31, 2009

At The Margins

We remember from whatever rudimentary economics training we had a little bit about efficient markets. According to wikipedia, "[F]inancial markets are "informationally efficient", or that prices on traded assets (e.g., stocks, bonds, or property) already reflect all known information, and instantly change to reflect new information." The NHL would be as close to efficient as possible if there were no entry draft, and every player was only given a one-year contract each season. Obviously this is not the case - multi-year contracts queer the deal. The NHL is therefore far from an efficient market - players who should be in the NHL sometimes are not, and vice versa.

There are approximately 60 players who are still unrestricted free agents who were NHL regulars for the past few seasons. Of these, 10 or 15 are likely to retire - their age is advanced and there probably won't be a contract out there for them. Others were somewhat capable players seemingly being squeezed by the fact that teams only have $100,000 more in cap room than they did last season.

We will be very interested to see what happens to these five players:

RW Mike Grier
RW Rob Niedermayer
D Martin Skoula
D Christian Backman
C Mike Comrie

There was no hypothesis or test run to determine these five players - merely intuition. All five are at an interesting point in their career.

The Right Wings

RWs Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer are quite similar - both played in the Pacific Division last season, and both are regarded as top penalty killers - Niedermayer was 16th among forwards, Grier 53rd in PK TOI per game. Both are 34 years old, born within a month of one another. Grier has received around 16 minutes of ice per game, Niedermayer 17, in the last three seasons. Both are on the cusp of being liabilities at that much usage - and both will likely have to settle for contracts in the $900,000 to $1,200,000 range.

The Defensemen

Ds Martin Skoula and Christian Backman were drafted around the middle of the first round; Skoula played 20:41/G for the 2000-01 Cup-winning Avalanche at age 21, although his usage was scaled heavily back in the playoffs. Billed as an offensive D when he entered the league, Skoula has a decent number of goals and assists, but last year received almost no power play time for the Wild. He is a defenseman that does a lot of things okay, but nothing particularly well, and has not fulfilled the promise he once showed.

Christian Backman's ice time has dropped from 24:49/game with the horrid 2005-06 Blues to 15:39 with last season's Blue Jackets. He was used on the power play, but not much. He has skills, but a penchant for giveaways, and he managed only 7 points.

Both of these players are not old - they are each 29, to turn 30 during the season. There's enough time for them to presumably turn their careers around a bit. Normally, these guys would get contracts from a team who knows they're 1st round guys and see the talent they have, but again, they will likely have to settle for contracts at $1,000,000 or less and it's hard to imagine those deals will be multi-year.

The Malcontent

Mike Comrie has been on 5 different teams, he's scored 30 goals twice, and he's represented Canada 3 times at the World Championships, and he'll be 29 when the season opens. He's still looking for work - his problems are his defensive commitment and toughness. Will he be willing to sign a $1 million contract with someone who hopes to harness his potential?

Conclusion

The old saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots, but NHL free agency has always involved a lot of spot-changing and wishcasting. This year, there's an excess of players available - teams are warier of making long-term commitments and aren't just going to sign a guy because he's played 500 NHL games before. They're going to test out their younger players to see if they've got the mettle to survive in the NHL. It might take until October for the phone to ring with a contract offer for these players - are they willing to fend off offers from foreign leagues until then?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

addenda to the previous post

Forgot Todd Marchant and Donald Brashear on that list, for the Ducks and Rangers, respectively.

Really been digging the work that Vic Ferrari and company are doing. We don't claim to understand all of it and much of contradicts what we might think, but it's very interesting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A List Of The Aged

That pesky over 35 clause in the CBA hasn't really nabbed anyone since Vladimir Malakhov's untimely departure from the NHL (which departure is shrouded in mystery). Let's revisit what that clause essentially states: Any player who signs a multi-year contract over the age of 35 (as of June 30th of the year that contract goes into effect), his contract is considered to count against the salary cap in the 2nd and any subsequent years, regardless of whether or not he is retired or active, unless he is put on Long-Term Injured Reserve.


Blogger seems to have shrunk the image, but you can click on it to enlarge.

Philadelphia, Ottawa, New Jersey, and Detroit seem the worst off here. Detroit has two players who had awful seasons on the cap for 2 more seasons. Philadelphia has Ian Laperriere likely dragging down their team or their cap, not to mention the horrible possibility of Chris Pronger getting injured and playing at a sub-par level. New Jersey has the Brian Rolston contract which began horribly and may never recover. Ottawa's contracts are to skill players who have showed few signs of declining, but could at any moment.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Martin Biron Might Actually Be A Genius (Of Sorts)

Martin Biron thought he was going to be one of the most sought-after goalies in free agency. Word got around that he was demanding $5 million per season on a multi-year contract. Biron looked at goalies like Evgeni Nabokov, Cristobal Huet, Ilya Bryzgalov, and the other host of overpaid goalies in the NHL and said, "Why can't this be me?"

But on July 21st, Biron looked like a complete idiot. His hubris had probably cost him a deal with Edmonton, and besides that, few people were looking for a big-time, big-money goalie. Biron was a man without a home, and beyond that, nowhere to possibly make his home. Everyone had at least one goalie who they could call a starter, some had two. Regardless, we are skeptical that this was the only offer on the table for Martin Biron - we even think that Biron might have turned down higher offers that were made recently. Why would he do that?

Goaltending is much different bird than other positions because there's much less room at the margins. A team that 'doesn't need' a particular forward or defenseman can still sign him and push out the worst guy on their team. But there's only 60 goalie jobs in the NHL, and most teams already have most of those positions filled by players they're unwilling to boot out. Furthermore, the starting goalie usually gets between 2/3rds and 4/5ths of the ice time, rendering a backup largely ceremonial. It leads to an oversupply of goalies wherein the market for them in trade totally shrinks - a team might want Martin Biron and might want to trade their current starter, but where can he be traded and for what? This all is obvious, but it's a preamble to the next statement.

The goaltending market is so oversatured that it is now determined by the UFA goalies around the league. Edmonton had Roloson, they acquired Khabibulin. The Avalanche had Andrew Raycroft, now they have Craig Anderson. The Panthers replaced Craig Anderson with Scott Clemmensen. The Devils, Clemmensen's old team, replaced him (and Kevin Weekes) with Yann Danis, who came from the Islanders. The Islanders replaced Danis and Joey McDonald with Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron.

So who's on the goaltending carousel next year that might make it prudent for Biron to re-join the fray once again next July?

Anaheim: Hiller
Dallas: Turco
Nashville: Rinne
Philadelphia: Emery
St. Louis: Mason
San Jose: Nabokov
Toronto: Toskala
Vancouver: Luongo
Washington: Theodore

Not all these teams will be destitute if their starter leaves, but some of them will no doubt be looking for high-priced assistance. But how can Martin Biron put his name back into the hat, playing on the Islanders, where he's sure to split time with Dwayne Roloson? Easy answer: That's not where he'll be all season.

Lemma/Digression On One-Year Contracts And Their Value

In July of 2007, Brad Stuart mysteriously signed a one-year deal with the LA Kings. The deal didn't make much sense - the Kings weren't going anywhere, why bother? Stuart claimed LA was his off-season home, which was true, but why only one year? That question would be answered when the Kings shipped him off at the trade deadline to the Red Wings for a 2nd round pick. The Kings had obviously intended to do this if things went poorly for them that season - Stuart helped the Wings to a Stanley Cup, then managed himself a 4 year/3.75M per deal that now looks terrible, a rare mis-step for Detroit.

Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Ramblings

Martin Biron signed on Long Island for 1 year because he will, wihout a doubt, get traded before the trading deadline. It is just a question of where. Philadelphia might need goaltending. Detroit might need a starter if Osgood is once again faltering. San Jose may want to usurp Nabokov if his play slips. Washington could still be interested. All four of these teams are almost locks to make the playoffs, all of them have decent goalies signed, but all of them may need a goalie come playoff time. Rather than sign with one team, possibly get squeezed out into a backup role, and therefore have no leverage when it comes to free agency next season, Biron essentially signed with all four by taking the Islanders. He's hoping that he gets a chance with a Cup contender - if he does, and he can take them all the way, his value will go through the roof. It's perhaps not the play he would've wanted, but it works for all sides - Biron will get a big contract next off-season, and the Islanders probably get a 2nd round pick for a player they will only end up paying around $1 million to.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On How The Rich Get Richer

We can't find a source for this, but we read once that John D. Rockefeller actually became wealthier during the Great Depression. Essentially, his competitors went broke and he bought up their distressed assets; since everyone else was broke, he could buy them for incredibly cheap.

Similar things are true about a falling salary cap environment. The wealthier teams can afford to stash contracts in the minor leagues, thereby enabling them to have freedom to make riskier movements - their mistakes are simply not as costly. In times of rising salary cap environments, wealthy teams can sign big-ticket contracts because those contracts increase in worth as the salary cap increases - i.e. they cost less of a percentage of the cap. As the cap increases, ostensibly the number of teams who can spend up to it decreases, and the wealthier teams are once again in the running for the top free agents. The rich win both ways. Shocking, really.

We have spoken at length here about how we think the salary cap is going to fall to between 50 and 53 million dollars next season. There are a number of teams who've already committed that much money or more. With estimated RFA contracts, here's those teams:


What unites these teams? They're either big-market teams or Canadian teams. Clearly they are not as worried about the falling salary cap as others. Let's look at some ways rich teams can use this crisis to their advantage - We'll use the Rangers as an example, because they have been the most brazenly defiant team this 0ff-season:

1. Hiding Contracts In the Minors

The CBA realizes that wealthy teams might do this - teams are only allowed to go 10% over the salary cap between July 1 and the end of training camp. The Rangers cannot therefore grab up every bad contract they want to. If the salary cap is between 50 and 53 million, the Rangers could have between 55 and 58.3 million dollars on their cap before the season starts.

2. Using Injured Reserve

Let's say Marian Gaborik gets hurt. Shocking, really. The Rangers are now permitted to replace his cap number until he returns from injury. The Rangers could then trade for or call up salary equal to Gaborik's. With basically every team having a bad salary on their books, the Rangers can wheel and deal with the assets they've got, using the minor leagues to hide their worst contracts while hopefully acquiring better ones.

3. Using Emergency Recall

We tried to make sense of this in the CBA - emergency recall is a procedure a team can use when they have less than the 18 skaters necessary to play, they can call up a player without subjective him to waivers - once the emergency is over, the player has to be immediately returned to the minors (or be subject to waivers). The Devils had Scott Clemmensen on 'emergency recall' for several months while Martin Brodeur was injured this season. The Rangers could use this to avoid subjecting high-priced contracts to re-entry waivers, where the Rangers and the player's new team each pay half of the salary.

4. Playoffs?! You kiddin' me?

When the playoffs begin, the salary cap no longer applies. We'll repeat this, you might've had something crazy in your ears: When the playoffs begin, the salary cap no longer applies. A gambling team can therefore hide bad contracts in the minors, then resuscitate them for the playoffs. The Rangers are almost certainly going to waive Wade Redden next season unless he picks up his performance - but were they to suffer injury, or were they to think that Redden is their man in the post-season - in he goes.

Conclusion

If these teams are willing to kick one big-ticket contract to the curb, they have the possibility of scooping up UFA assets that the poorer teams, most of whom are not far away from the $50 million threshold themselves, will not be able to afford. The 2010-11 off-season is shaping up to be a very interesting one indeed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Problems With Time On Ice

We have stated numerous times that we are not statisticians. Perhaps we should have been, but that's a lament best left aside. On this blog, we do not necessarily seek answers, but merely pose questions - questions that are still, we think, nevertheless instructive. We recall the joke at many higher-end colleges - 'I know how it works in practice, but how does it work in theory?' - this is more the attitude that this entry will take.

One of the largest problems we think that hockey statistics face is the problem of ice time. Regular hockey statistics are in terms of counting numbers, e.g. goals, assists, what have you. This misses the mark somewhat - a player who scores a certain amount of points in 12 minutes of ice time per game is almost certainly more valuable than one who scores the same amount in 20 minutes of ice time. So then, perhaps, we go to rates, as Behind The Net has done - Goals For (While On Ice)/60 minutes and Goals Against (While On Ice)/60 minutes. Almost all advanced statistics across sports are rate statistics, and these are no different. While they are certainly an improvement over nothing, there's still problems with treating all minutes the same, and they are as follows:


1. Level Of Competition

Whereas in baseball a batter (generally) faces the same defense each at-bat in a particular game, a hockey player may face a completely different set of players against him on any given shift. This problem explodes further when one considers that each player on a team may face different players on any given shift. This does not happen in football or baseball, generally - essentially, a player on a 4th line may rarely or never face a good line against him.

2. Quality of Linemates

A hockey player may have a different set of linemates throughout the season - ergo his stats may rise and fall depending on who he's playing with. Since this can change so often throughout a season, we cannot just throw this away as meaningless. Warren Young is the classic hockey example of being raised up by playing with great players - a career minor leaguer, Young got a chance to play with Mario Lemieux and led the league in shooting percentage on his way to a 40 goal season. He earned a lucrative deal with Detroit, where he flamed out - Young would only play 2 more full seasons in the NHL. Behind The Net has developed statistics for these two concepts, but they merely sort players in terms of how strong their competition is and how strong their teammates are - it has no meaning outside of that context, no coefficient to adjust other statistics by.

3. Denigrating the Strongest?

Some players are given much more ice time than others - how do we adjust for that? For example, Alex Ovechkin averaged 22:03 in even strength plus power play ice time, the highest in the league. Therefore, relative to every other forward in the league, his rate stats would be downgraded. But is there not some benefit to being able to play 22 minutes a game at forward? With a rate statistic, we are unfairly penalizing Ovechkin for being such a tremendous athlete that is he is capable of that much ice time - sure, there may be players capable of putting up similar rates to Ovechkin, but they're unlikely to be able to receive the amount of ice time he does.

4. Leverage

The last problem is a problem of leverage, a concept that sabermetricians in baseball created to deal with relief pitchers and their usage. Some pitchers are routinely brought in with runners on base and are expected to put out the fire - others are only used when the team has a large lead or a large deficit. So we ask: How valuable were the player's minutes? A 4th line player might receive 13 minutes a game in a complete blowout, skewing his time on ice upwards, but would they be any more valuable than his normal 6 or 7? Furthermore, a tremendous scoring player might be left off the ice in the last 3 minutes when his team is ahead because he is a poor defensive player. We would have to come up with a way to quantify how valuable minutes are, likely looking at offensive and defensive zone faceoffs in the third period or overtime of close games.

Once again, we have no solutions for these problems, we are merely a gadfly. We have not even discussed just how much variance there is in a given season, which can also inject whatever statistics could come out of such an exploration with a great deal of uncertainty. It should still be instructive for general managers to observe these four items when considering a player for a team, however - buying a low-leverage player who got an inordinate number of shifts with excellent linemates is a good way to lose one's job.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Marian Gaborik - Arglebargle or Fooferah?

The Rangers are doing something quite astounding. This is their team at the end of the 2008 season, when they defeated the Devils in five games, only to lose to the Penguins in 5:

Straka-Dubinsky-Jagr
Avery-Gomez-Callahan
Dawes-Drury-Sjostrom
Shanahan-Betts-Orr

Staal-Girardi
Roszival-Tyutin
Backman-Mara

Not only have they undergone serious changes this off-season, but players that have come and gone since then include: Derek Morris, Nikolai Antropov, Markus Naslund, Dmitri Kalinin, Nikolai Zherdev (probably), Aaron Voros (probably), Dan Fritsche and Lauri Korpikoski.

Here is what the Rangers look like now, with Rangers who've been there for more than 14 months highlighted in Blue:

Gaborik-Drury-Callahan
Higgins-Dubinsky-Kotalik
Avery-Anisimov-Lisin
Brashear-Boyle-?

Staal-Girardi
Redden-Roszival
?-?

Lundqvist
Valiquette

(Note: Avery doesn't count, as he left the team then returned)

It's an astounding trick, that Glen Sather has managed to turn over his roster significantly in all 4 years since the lockout, and yet in this cobbling together and breaking apart, we see no significant improvement. Let's at least look at Marian Gaborik - we really do have no idea what to expect from this new Rangers team. Let's see what Expected Goals has to say about the Slovakian wonder.

LW Marian Gaborik

Age: 27 (28 in Feb. 2010)
Contract Status: Signed through 2013-14
Cap Hit: $7.5M
Discipline: Medium-Low? (T-9th in NHL among RW in minor penalties in 2007-08)
Durability: Low (Lost 121 games to injury in last 4 seasons)
Time On Ice: Very High (5th among RW in 2008-09)

Expected Goals: 44

The question is - can we expect 44 goals out of Marian Gaborik, even assuming he plays an 82 game spread, given the offensive talent that surrounds him? Of course, Minnesota was not exactly brimming with talent either, but they did have some decent passers in Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Given that so many of the current Rangers are of a shoot-first mindset, Gaborik prominent among them, will Gaborik's style be hampered by the current Rangers makeup? We don't think so - we are willing to stand by what Expected Goals tells us. Expected Goals thinks that Gaborik's shots per game will increase to 4.23, but that his shooting percentage will decrease to 12.3%. We shall see if the shoot-first mentality among the other Rangers will decrease both his S/G and shooting percentage - this may occur if Gaborik's linemates insist on shooting the puck themselves instead of trying to set him up, and because Gaborik is no longer receiving juicy setups, his shooting percentage will decrease as well. That said, it's difficult to bet that his Expected Goals is anything less than 35 even in that scenario - Gaborik will be expected to lead the way for the 2009-10 Rangers.