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 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 has most of these statistics readily available - it just takes some digging.