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.