Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Coaching News!

So according to James Mirtle the Edmonton Oilers have hired a new (old) coach and it's the first guy that I profiled in this space, Pat Quinn. I said at the time that I thought he was a likely candidate and that he wouldn't be a bad choice and I'll stand my that assessment. Some of Black Dog's comments in that post have me hoping that Rick Ley doesn't come with him. Mirtle is saying that Tom Renney is apparently going to be one of the assistants and Jim Matheson had said that it's likely at least one of MacT's old assistants would be staying. So let's hope it's good-bye Bucky and that Huddy is sticking around which would mean no Ley! I guess we'll know in about five minutes so speculating isn't really worthwhile. Assuming it is Quinn at the top and that Renney is coming with him this could be a very good combination. Quinn teams are usually a gritty and fun to watch. Renney teams tend to outshoot but have lower percentages. Quinn isn't afraid to raise his voice and Renney is generally seen as a player's guy. The only downside: we're the Canucks... hopefully that means Luongo is next.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gopher Todd

Today Jim Matheson wrote an article updating us fans on the coaching situation with the Edmonton Oilers. According to Matheson, the interivew process has begun and each of the candidates that have been interviewed have already been profiled with one notable exception. Today, that will be rectified, although Matheson does mention that this man may soon be unavailable. If that ends up being the case, Oiler fans will still be seeing a lot of him in Minnesota where he's rumoured to be the next head coach of the Wild (he played his college hockey in Minnesota and has a relationship with new Minnesoata GM Chuck Fletcher from their days together in the Penguins organization).

Richards doesn't have the advantages that some of the other coaching candidates have. Unlike Quinn, Crawford, Renney, Arniel and Habscheid, Richards doesn't have any past connections to Steve Tambellini. Unlike Quinn, Crawford, Renney and Constantine, Richards doesn't have any NHL head coaching experience. In fact, Richards only has seven years total of coaching experience, only two of which came as a head coach. To top it off, he doesn't even make me think of an old WWE character like Perry Pearn. So why is it that he was able to get an interview?

Todd Richards does have some things working for him. His only two seasons as a head coach in Wilkes-Barre were quite successful. In his two years as head coach of the Penguins Richards posted a record of 98-49-14. That looks darn good on its face. However, the year before and after Richards the Penguins posted a record of 100-43-17, so he was obviously working with very talented teams. The coaches before (Michel Therrien and Joe Mullen) and after (Dan Bylsma and Todd Reirden) Richards have enjoyed success at the NHL level, so it's not as though he was being (slightly) outperformed by nobodies, but the fact remains that his record doesn't necessarily point in the direction of an outstanding coach.

In this case, however, the record is not the most interesting thing about his time in the AHL. When Richards was coaching in the AHL he was actually the coach of several current Oilers. This means that he would be quite familiar with the likes of Marc Pouliot, Tom Gilbert, Kyle Brodziak, J.F. Jacques and Jeff Deslauriers.

Apparently Brodziak started out as a healthy scratch in Wilkes-Barre but managed to play a significant role by the end of the year. These are some of Richards' comments on Brodziak:

"He does a lot of the right things and that’s what earns ice time. You’re showing the coach he can trust you. So much of the game is played without the puck, and when you’re in the right position, doing the right thing without the puck, believe me, coaches see that."

Richards also talked about Brodziak in this interview on the Pipeline Show:

"I used him in all situations... He plays the point on the power play... Any critical situation he's the guy I would go to."

These comments lead me to suspect that Kyle Brodziak would benefit greatly from Todd Richards coming in as coach. Earlier in the interview this is what Richards had to say about Tom Gilbert:

"I'm a big fan of Tom Gilbert... He's a good pro, he takes care of himself off the ice, he shows up to the rink early on-time, gets his workout in. He's prepared for practice; I don't have to stop practice because he's screwing up a drill... You guys will see him up in Edmonton... definitely next year."

There's a ton of truth to that "early on-time" phrase in general. Either way, it sure looks like Richards held a high opinion of Gilbert and that, given the way Gilbert has risen through the organization over the next two seasons, he was right about him.

In an earlier post I spoke about the freedom of AHL coaches to implement their own systems and there's another statement in this interview that suggests Richards was able to make his own decisions with regard to personnel and tactics ("[The Oilers and Penguins organizations have] given me the freedom to do what I feel and what I think is the right way to run the team.") At this point I think it's fair to say that AHL coaches generally have quite a lot of freedom to make these kinds of decisions on their own. This is particularly helpful in looking at Todd Richards since his two years as an AHL head coach is awfully close to the end of his story so far. Several years as an assistant coach in the AHL, two years as a head coach in the AHL and then one year as an NHL assitant coach with the San Jose Sharks. On the one hand, I find it hard to believe someone with so little experience is the best choice for the Oilers at this time. On the other hand, Dan Bylsma is in his first year as a head coach at any level and his team is heading for the Stanley Cup Finals. Sometimes, a good coach is just a good coach. Perhaps someone who isn't far removed from their days as a player, like Bylsma, has an easier time relating to players. Still, Richards retired as a player in 2001-02 after only 8 games in the NHL and none since 1991-92. At this time, I don't see any particularly compelling reason to think that Todd Richards is the best option for head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Next Coach of the Oil... Kings?

In looking for the next coach of the Edmonton Oilers I've tried to look primarily at names that have some NHL experience, have a previous relaltionship with Steve Tambellini, had a team in the playoffs this year, and come from outside the Oilers organization. I've also tried to use names that have come up from reasonably well-connected sports writers. This fits that last criteria a whole lot more than the first four: Pierre Lebrun mentioned Marc Habscheid a few moons ago and although he doesn't fit many of the criteria, he is an interesting candidate. Lebrun also mentions several other possibilities in his article (Pat Quinn, Marc Crawford, Scott Arniel and Tom Renney), all of which have been mentioned here in the past (I've also discussed Kevin Constantine and Perry Pearn)

Habscheid does not have any NHL head coaching experience (and only one season as an assistant in Boston) so most fans will only have really seen his international teams. Habscheid was the coach of the World Junior team that won a silver medal in 2003 as well as the gold medal team at the (Senior) World Championships in 2004 and the silver medal team in 2005. He was also an assistant for the Olympic team in 2006. In these last three instances Habscheid would have worked with Tambellini, so there is some familiarity there. The World Championship experience also means that he would have coached a couple of the Oiler veterans in Shawn Horcoff and Steve Staios. Unfortunately, all of these international gigs are far enough in the rear-view mirror that most fans won't have (m)any memories of his coaching style (this is certainly true of me).

So what else does Habscheid have on his resume? His professional playing career began in Edmonton. He was drafted by the Oilers in the 6th round of the 1981 entry draft and was in the organization until 1984-85 playing several games with the Oilers over four seasons but never managing more than 32 games in a season and failing to sneak his name onto the Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, that's a nice Edmonton connection that could serve to help or hurt him in the hiring process. The fact that he wouldn't be the first head coach of the Oilers that they drafted as a player illustrates the hestiation Tambellini may have bringing in another (albeit more obscure) face from the 80s.

Habscheid's junior coaching career has been very successful. He spent seven seasons coaching in the WHL,, two with Kamloops and five with Kelowna. When Habscheid took over in Kamloops the team was coming off of a dreadful 63-point season. Habscheid then led the Blazers to seasons of 77 and 109 points. In the latter season (1998-99) Habscheid led the team to an appearance in the WHL finals. After that season, Habscheid was dismissed (though I'm not sure why). In the year after his departure the team fell back to 78 points. The Blazers still have not had a more successful season than that of 1998-99 either in terms of regular season points or playoff success. After leaving Kamloops, Habscheid coached the Kelowna Rockets for five seasons between 1999-2000 and 2003-04. Habschied took over in the middle of a dreadful season in 1999-2000 in which the Rockets would amass only 57 points (a two point improvement over the previous year's performance). The following year the team improved to 86 points. In 2002-03 they won the WHL championship and Habscheid won the 2003 coach of the year award. The team scored 311 goals that year and allowed 164 for a +157 goal differential in 72 games. 2003-04 was his final year as head coach. The team lost in the WHL final but won the Memorial Cup tournament which they hosted. That team scored 185 goals and allowed 115 (!) in 72 regular season games and posted a +70 goal differential. I think it's safe to say that Habscheid probably leans toward defence.

After leaving Kelowna Habscheid spent a few years as the coach of Hockey Canada until he took a post as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins for one season in 2006-07 (this was when Dave Lewis was head coach of the Bruins... not their best time). Although he's been out of coaching since this time, an interview he did with Regan Bartel in the winter of 2008 suggests that he's still interested in coaching, although he definitely downplays the possibility of coaching in the NHL and instead talks mostly about a return to the WHL. In a more recent interview with Jon Keen, Habscheid still emphasizes the fact that he's looking for the right situation but does sound like he's itching to get back into coaching but again, only WHL options are discussed.

Marc Habscheid looks to me like a very good coach that leans toward defence. He has some limited connection to Edmonton and given his "not quite there" status on the teams in the glory days he may respond with the appropriate surliness to their being mentioned. His track record is very good, though it's almost all with junior aged players. At this point, I think it's unlikely that he ends up in Edmonton since his heart seems to be in coaching in the WHL. If he does end up in Edmonton the lack of pro experience makes it a bit of a risky choice but one that I think would pay off.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's Happening Again... They're all going to know...

May 19th and hockey is just starting the third round. It's a bit silly but I love the sport and it's been a marvelous Spring so far. Only two sweeps, a ton of game sevens and a fun first game tonight. If Jonathan Willis was watching tonight he's laughing his ass off about Eric Staal's "ability in the clutch."

The lengthy series' and Chicago's big building also has me wondering about whether playoff revenues this year will be quite a bit higher than we saw last year. It's too early to say frankly, but if the third round goes at least six on both sides it may push the cap up for next season only to find a deeper crash (or maybe we all recover and it's been nothing but fear-mongering all along).

The third round of the playoffs and the first round of bankruptcy court. James Mirtle has been following this story very closely and has many fine articles on all of the recent developments. I hope for the fans in Phoenix that the team stays but more and more it sounds like the team will be moving somewhere although they may get one or two more years in the desert (good luck selling seasons tickets). If some other owners start admitting serious trouble this may be the best chance the NHL has in the near future for a significant relocation into Europe. Although it's probably not the direction the league will go, I do think that having eight European teams in a thirty-two team league would serve the overall business interests of the NHL well. Travel costs would be significantly higher but a new European TV contract and merchandise sales would seem to stand a good chance at offsetting those costs. The Players Union have spoken positively about this option in the past though I'm sure they'd want to renegotiate the CBA to get a share of the expansion pie before that happens.

Finally, here's a video of Bill Daly on his way to the courtroom.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Round Three is Here

The Eastern Conference has skewered me. My overall prediction record is a respectable 9-3 but both of my picks to make the Eastern Conference final have been eliminated. In order to make my decisions on picks at the start I looked at the Falconer's data on how teams had done against other playoff teams in the regular season. These are the numbers for Pittsburgh and Carolina before the playoffs started (record, goal differential, PDO number):

Carolina: 18-6-6
Pittsburgh: 20-18-7

Pittsburgh: +0.16
Carolina: -0.15

Pittsburgh: 101.5
Carolina: 99.5

So these numbers imply that the teams are pretty even. Carolina's goal differential is worse but Pittsburgh was probably a little bit lucky during the regular season. Javageek's numbers also show how close these teams are. As with his odds, I'm inclined to think that Pittsburgh is a slight favourite in this series. They have home ice, they have the best individual player in the series and they have the better goal differential, both in the regular season and in the playoffs so far. So, Pittsburgh it is!

As for the West, I picked Detroit from the outset to win the Cup and even predicted that they would beat Chicago in the Conference finals. That's not about to change now. And besides, what Oiler fan wouldn't want to see Ty Conklin lift the Stanley Cup. Go Pens.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brian Burke - King of Verbal Diarrhea

This is Brian Burke on April 14th:

"We'll immediately attempt to move up. We're going to talk to everyone between us and the first pick and see what the landscape is. We're going to see what it costs and we're going to try and move up... No player is untradeable, Wayne Gretzky got traded."

And this is Brian Burke on May 13th addressing rumours he might be in talks with Tampa Bay:

"I would ask our fans to say, 'okay, does it make sense for anyone to acquire $17 million in [Ryan Malone's] salary to move five places in the entry draft?' And the answer is no. That's a trade that has never been discussed... Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle - two top-two defencemen - to move five places...does that make any sense to anybody? The answer is no. It's a lot of noise, it's a lot of aggravation and when you actually analyze what's proposed or what's available or what the rumour is, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either one of them... It's only May, I can't imagine what this will be like once [the entry draft] gets closer."

Why are you guys talking about the draft in frakking May? Why would people be speculating about good players like Kaberle being traded? It's all just ridiculous!

"Ohhhh Yyeesss"

As a teenager I watched an absolutely ridiculous amount of professional wrestling. I still do, but it's down to four or five hours a month which is a far cry from my heyday where that would be a slow week. Anyway, I bring it up because every time I've heard Perry Pearn's name come up I've always just thought of Paul Pringle and chuckled a bit. If he becomes the next coach of the Edmonton Oilers, I'd like to hope that guys like Tom Gilbert and Sam Gagner make this same connection.

So what do we know about good old double P? He's been an assistant coach for a very. long. time. He spent 1995-96 as an assistant with the Jets, then eight seasons with Ottawa until the lockout and four seasons after the lockout with the New York Rangers until he was fired along with Tom Renney earlier this year. The last time Perry Pearn was a head coach was the 2003 Young Stars game where his team won 8-3 on the strength of Brian Sutherby's first and only three-point night in the NHL. Sutherby also won the MVP. Northern Alberta was proud that night.

Anyway... if you don't include the Young Stars game, his last head coaching gig was in 1994-95 with the Medecine Hat Tigers. Pearn also has a long history in Edmonton since he was the coach of the NAIT Ooks from 1978 to 1993. The Ooks won six CCHA national championships during this time which, if nothing else, was impressive enough to get him a gig as head coach of the world junior championship squad in 1993 which he led to a gold medal.

I've got to be honest about two things here. (1) I don't think Pearn will end up high on Tambellini's list. He's not coaching in the playoffs, he hasn't worked with Pearn in the past and he's never been a head coach in the NHL (or AHL!). (2) I don't want the Oilers to hire Perry Pearn for a number of reasons. The fact that the Rangers signed Wade Redden to a ludicrous contract is a bit worrisome since I'm sure they would've at least asked Pearn his opinion and judging by the Rangers actions... it
was the wrong one. Here's Pearn on Redden after he signed with the Rangers:

"When good players like Wade were struggling, it wasn't because they had all of a sudden become bad players. But what happens in those situations is the guys who take the brunt of the criticism were the best players. And it didn't help that Wade was heading into free agency. When things aren't going well, it's easy to pick targets."

I know you can't be throwing a guy under the bus immediately after signing him to a huge contract but that kind of player evaluation is at least a bit worrying. Some Ranger fans seem to think Pearn was in charge of the power play. If so, well, that's not good news. The Rangers managed to finish 29th overall. Then there's the concern that he hasn't been a head coach in 13 years. I just can't believe Pearn could be the best option available and hope that Matheson just threw his name out because he knows Pearn would be interested (even if the Oilers aren't). If Perry Pearn does end up as the next head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, I think we might all look a bit like this:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arny's Army Take II (No Mutiny This Time!)

In all of the other posts on potential replacements for MacT (Constantine, Quinn, Renney and Crawford)I've compared the coach to those coaches he preceded or followed at the NHL level (hat tip for the methodology to the Contrarian Goaltender). That doesn't work too well for Scott Arniel since he doesn't have any NHL head coaching experience. So what does he have on his resume? He played 730 career NHL games and many more in the minor leagues to end his career. He transitioned quickly from player to assistant coach. He started his coaching career as an assistant with the Manitoba Moose 2000-01 before joining the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant to Lindy Ruff in Buffalo for three seasons from 2002-03 to 2005-06. For the last three seasons Arniel has been the head coach of the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, and is currently waiting for an opponent in the Western Conference final of the AHL playoffs. This past season Arniel won AHL coach of the year. He's also the last winner of a head coaching job awarded by Steve Tambellini.

Could the Edmonton Oilers be interested in Scott Arniel? I would think so. The fact that Tambellini is familiar with him is a point in his favour. The fact that he's also been very successful is another help. In his first season as coach of the Moose the team went from a 44-24-7-5 record under Alain Vigneault to a 45-23-7-5 record under Arniel. He's had similar success each year making his regular season total a tidy 141-73-11-15. That's a very nice record, though I think it's also fair to say that Arniel inherited a very good team. His name has been mentioned in a couple of the usual places (you're in good company now Willis) as a possible replacement. He also fulfills a lot of the criteria that Tambellini has hinted at in the past: some NHL experience (as an assistant), he comes from outside (the Oilers) organization, he's taking his team deep into the (AHL) playoffs.

There are also some things in this interview Arniel did in December of 2008 that will help us to learn a little bit about him:

"I think it is very important that you align yourself with a G.M. that you have a history with and someone that has a lot of the same beliefs on the type of team and style of play that you want to play. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were a great example of that in Buffalo."

Edmonton is a good fit here for Arniel. It's one of the few destinations where Arniel does in fact have some positive history with the general manager. Given the fact that Tambellini said something very similar in his press conference at the end of the year Arniel seems like a very good fit.

"The first couple of months on the job with the Moose was a real eye opener as a coach. You come into the job thinking you have all the right tactics and strategy to instantly have success, but I soon realized certain things wouldn’t work with that team or I didn’t have the type of team needed to play the way I envisioned. I learned very quickly that I had to make adjustments and figure out what worked best with group of players that I had at that particular time."

I think this is a very positive sign. On the one hand, Arniel came to the job with a plan in place. He had a strategy and he had tactics that he wanted to implement. That's important. On the other hand, he wasn't dogmatic and was willing to adjust to his personnel. That's also important. Taken on its face these comments speak very well of Arniel. However, I find them a little bit puzzling for two reasons. First, the Moose were very good in Arniel's first season so it doesn't seem like they would have really struggled to implement his system. So I went to check it out and, sure enough, the Moose started Arniel's first season 5-8-2-2 and ended up at 9-8-3-2 by the end of November. So it would seem that Arniel isn't just blowing smoke and that he really did make changes (either that or he's tricked himself into thinking that way when they started winning more games). The other thing that seems odd is that I'd always thought that most AHL teams use the same system and tactics of their NHL parent club. At least in Manitoba, it seems that this is not exactly the case (although I'm sure there would still be some consistency between the two).

Another article mentions that Arniel was in charge of the Sabres power play in 2005-06. It would seem to follow that he would also have an impact on the way the PP is run for the Moose. For whatever reason, I haven't been able to find the team power play efficiency stats for AHL teams, so if anyone knows where to find said data, please pass it along. Anyway, Arniel did well with the PP in Buffalo in 2005-06 as they had an efficiency of 21.2% which was good for 3rd in the league. If Arniel ran the PP in Buffalo during the rest of his time there he managed to put up 14.4% for 20th in 2002-03 and 15.8% for 19th in 2003-04. Hopefully they turned to him after the lockout...

Overall, I'll be pretty pleased if Arniel is hired as head coach. He's competent, has learned the trade under some good people and is able to adjust to the hand that he's been dealt. Although he's only been a head coach for three years, he's been a professional coach for seven... wait... Three AND seven... the man is practically divine! I'm convinced.

Friday, May 8, 2009

First Game Back After a Long Road Trip III

At the end of January I concluded that there is no effect on the home team if they are playing the first game back after a long road trip. In order to do this I compared the home record of teams overall with their home records in the first game after road trips of three or more games and then with road trips of five or more games. As of November 26th the home team had a points percentage of 63.5% in the first game back after a three-game (or longer) road trip (37 game sample) and a points percentage of 59.4% in all other situations (283 game sample). The sample size was an issue at that time and the results were updated in January. As of January 28th the home team had a points percentage of 64.0% on the first game back after a three-game (or longer) road trip (93 game sample) and a point percentage of 61.4% in all other situations (622 game sample). The gap was narrowing but it was still rather large and the sample size had increased. The evidence seemed pretty conclusive at the time that there was no detrimental effect on the home team returning from a long road trip. If there was any effect at all, it seemed to be positive.

But the final results challenge these thoughts. With all of the regular season games in the books the home team had a points percentage of 61.3% (168 game sample) in games after a road trip of three games or more. The points percentage in all other home games was 61.9% (1016 game sample). The goal differential also dropped in this last part of the season from +0.452 per game on January 28th to +0.298 per game at the end of the season (shootout goals are excluded from all goal differential calculations). This means that in the period between January 29th and the end of the season the overall goal differential was +8 or +0.107 per game (75 game sample). The points percentage for this segment is only 0.580 and given the overall home winning percentage went up this suggests that in the final months of the season there may be some effect on a team when they return from a long trip. Given that road teams also do worse as the season wears on it would seem that the effects of "tiredness" increase as the season goes on. It would be interesting to see if this phenomenon holds true in other seasons as well.

There are very similar results for the longer road trips. When the team returns from a road trip of five games or longer the points percentage was only 59.8% by the end of the season as compared to 63.0% near the end of January. Over the whole season the sample size is only 46 games so it's still difficult to draw any conclusions from this data.

At this point I would like to look at some data from other seasons and perhaps do a month-to-month analysis of the data in order to come to some firmer conclusions. For now, I would hypothesize that the effects of a "tired" road team are felt more acutely toward the end of the season. If this is true, it would probably be smart to frontload your road schedule if possible (as the Oilers did at the start of this season) and avoid long trips at the end of the year. These conclusions are obviously very tentative and will require the examination of other seasons in order to confirm or refute them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

RFA Options at Forward

I brought this up yesterday but looked exclusively at some defencemen as examples. Today we're going to take a look at some of the marginal RFA forwards. I'm probably dreaming a bit with these picks and you might need to up the ante to at least a third round pick (up to about $850,000 is free, up to about 1.2M the compensation is 1.2M) in order to actually have any chance at getting the player. Either way, this low end of the RFA market is a place where one team might be able to take advantage of another team that has put themselves close to the cap (like the Oilers... good grief they need to move out some of those overpaid third line/third pairing veterans). The two teams that I've looked at are Washington and Chicago who might be leery of spending money over a two or three year period on their depth.

Troy Brouwer is fifth among Chicago forwards in Quality of Competition and had a faceoff differential of -78 (seventh among forwards). He would definitely help provide size as he's about 6'3, 220 lbs. and he definitely knows how to hit. He managed to be a +8 at EV so he's not a liability at all on a fourth line and he may be able to work his way into tougher minutes as time progresses. He just finished his 23 year old season so there is, once again, time to grow. He just finished his entry-level deal which payed him 0.675M so a 0.85M contract would represent a 25% raise. I could see the Blackhawks not wanting to pay that. If his agent lets him take less, well, Brouwer needs a new agent.

Eric Fehr is a pipe dream but we're going to write a little bit about him anyway. I think the third round pick territory is the place we'll need to go in order to have a shot. He hasn't brought much offense to the NHL so it's at least possible that the Capitals don't want to pay him over 1M. I'd be fine with somewhere between 1M and 1.2M as I think he can step directly into a role that asks him to play pretty tough minutes. Fehr was third among Washington forwards in Quality of Competition and had a faceoff differential of -34 (seventh among forwards). That looks to me like he was used to take on the secondary toughs and he did end up a +9 at EV which is certainly commendable. Players that can do that at 23 years old and stand 6'4, 212 lbs. are worth at least putting a line in the water.

Both of these players do represent a move toward a grittier more physical team. They would also heighten the competition for spots at camp which I see as nothing but a good thing. Is it realistic to think Chicago and/or Washington would give one of these guys up for nothing or a third round pick? As I said last time, I don't really know but is there anything to lose by finding out?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cheers to the EIG

So the Phoenix Coyotes have filed for bankruptcy and Jim Balsillie (who was fined millions for backdating options by the Ontario Securities Commission... I wonder why other owners don't think he'll fit in). Some Canadians seem to take delight in the plight of the Phoenix Coyotes and hope for them to move on up to Southern Ontario where the team could make money since it's actually, you know, a hockey market. All of those Les Alexander fans can stick it as far as I'm concerned (I'm sure Mr. Alexander is a great guy but my memory of him, not so much). I remember the days (1995-96) when, even in "hockey-mad" Edmonton, the team was drawing under 13,000 fans per game. Still, they didn't have the worst attendance in the league that year. That honour belonged to the Winnipeg Jets. All I'm saying is we're not immune to hard times here in Canada, especially when faced with a team at the bottom of the standings (when was the last time the Coyotes made the playoffs? I wonder if that has much of an impact on attendance...). I hope things work out for the Coyote fans in Phoenix. I hope that you guys will find your own Cal Nichols, your own Bruce Saville, Jim Hole, Gary Gregg and others (in fact some of them may own winter homes in Phoenix... you may want to look into that). These guys all had strong personalities and they sure didn't always agree, but they all came together to keep hockey in Edmonton. For all the flack the EIG has taken around the Oilogosphere for various and sundry ills it's days like today that we need to raise a glass and remember. Thanks for believeing in Edmonton when the building was two-thirds full, for putting your own money on the line, for letting me go through high school with a hockey team to cheer, for building the Oilers back into something that unites Edmontonians, for standing up to Glen Sather, for spending the money in 2006 and for all the hours of work those things took. Thanks.

Ryan Carter May As Well Represent Himself

One thing that I've found very curious since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed is the utter lack of RFA offer sheets, especially for cheaper talent. One of the first posts on this blog addressed this issue. My opinion is that there is no way an NHL player should be playing for less than about $850,000. For that amount or less, no compensation needs to be given for an RFA offer sheet. Up to $850,000 these guys are essentially unrestricted free agents. This gives teams a great opportunity to steal young depth from opponents yet to this point none of these offer sheets have been publicized. Are they happening? I don't know for sure but deals like Ryan Carter's ($625,000 over three years with Anaheim last summer) and Marcel Goc's ($775,000 over one year with San Jose last summer) suggest to me that these offers are probably not being made. These kinds of offer sheets make a tremendous amount of sense for any team. Either you're able to add depth to your roster and take it away from an opponent or you force your opponent to spend more cap space than they would otherwise like. Especially for a cap team, this is a great way to get ahead and/or improve your minor league team (I feel kind of like an infomercial...). If there are more players on one-way deals than there are spots at camp, suddenly camp becomes a competitive environment. If the player clears waivers on the way down, then the minor league team is much improved. If the player gets claimed, then you save the money. It's actually baffling to me that this kind of offer sheet doesn't happen more often.

So who might the Oilers target with this kind of deal?

Brett Festerling was third among Anaheim dmen in Quality of Competition and had a faceoff differential of +4 (second among dmen). Festerling is about 6'1 and 200 lbs. but only took 18 PIMs in his 40 regular season games (although in the AHL his numbers are closer to 1 PIM per game) and so probably shouldn't be described as a "physical" defenceman. Nonetheless, the early returns are quite good considering he hasn't really been sheltered. He managed a +4 at EV this year, which was his 22 y/o season. If the Oilers are looking at saving some money replacing a 2.7M Steve Staios with 0.85M Brett Festerling would be a great start.

Marc Methot was fifth among Columbus dmen in Quality of Competition and had a faceoff differential of -15 (fourth among dmen). He's a big guy at 6'3 and 224 lbs. and managed a +6 at EV this season. He was definitely sheltered a bit more than Festerling but if Tambellini wants to add some size and toughness, Methot would bring some definite jam on the backend. He just finished his 23 y/o season and still has room to grow.

Are either of these two better than Theo Peckham? It's hard to say at this point to be honest but if all three came to camp battling for one spot and they were all making under 1M I know I'd be much happier with the depth on defence. Is it realistic to think Anaheim and/or Columbus would give one of these guys up for nothing? I don't really know but is there anything to lose by finding out?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wrongly Predicting Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane

At the start of the year I made some predictions for Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane in terms of scoring totals based on how they compared to other similar players. The guys I used as comparables based on a number of criteria were Sidney Crosby, Vincent Damphousse, Patrick Marleau and Tim Connolly. Each of them increased their point production (in terms of points per game) between 12.3 and 30.2 per cent. This meant that for Gagner I was targeting between 0.70 to 0.81 P/game and for Kane I was targeting 0.99 to 1.15 P/game. Gagner's actual production was 0.54 P/game down from 0.62 P/game last season. Kane's actual production was 0.88 P/game, identical to his production last season. In short, my predictions did not come to pass.

So what may have gone wrong? To start, Patrick Kane played 18:39 per game this season (3:55 on the PP) compared with 18:21 (3:39 on the PP) the year before while Sam Gagner played 16:45 per game (3:02 on the PP) compared to 15:40 (2:44 on the PP) the year before. I suspect the other four players may have averaged a bigger increase in ice time year over year though I only have actual data for two of them. Tim Connolly's minutes went from 16:18 as a rookie to 20:02 in his second year. Crosby went from 20:08 to 20:46 which is actually less than the increase Gagner saw. Both guys also saw a marginal increase in time on the PP so that shouldn't be used as an excuse for either one. If nothing else this may help to explain some of Kane's shortfall since his overall increase in ice time was very small.

Another impact may be the shooting percentages. If the on-ice shooting percentages were quite low for either player then that might help explain why they did not score as often as expected. Gagner's on-ice shooting percentage at EV was 8.9% almost bang on team average. Kane's, meanwhile, was 6.8%, over a full point under the team average and well below average in the NHL. Again, this seems to explain why Kane didn't score as much as expected but doesn't do nearly as well for Gagner who actually underperformed more.

Another reason for the laspse in performance may have been an increase in the quality of competition. Gagner went from -0.01 and 7th among forwards who played at least 40 games in his rookie year to -0.04 and 7th among forward who played at least 40 games this year. Kane went from 0.02 and 6th to 0.02 and 4th. This doesn't look like a plausible excuse for either player since I imagine that it's normal for most young players to take on a bit more responsibility in their second season. That said, only Kane looks to have actually done that this year, and even then the difference is quite marginal.

I think there is enough here to suggest Kane is on the right track offensively and fits well with this group of players. A combination of ice time and especially bad fortune caused him to fall short of his peers as a 19 year-old. Gagner's case is a bit different. First of all, he played through an ankle injury and that may have had some impact. He may also have focused more on becoming a more well-rounded player. Last season he was a -14 at EV compared to this year's +4. There has been some clear improvement in his game in terms of what he's giving back. This is a wonderful thing in terms of his ability to help the Oilers win games. Nonetheless, I think it's fair to say that this improvement may have come at the expense of some of Gagner's offensive creativity which led to fewer goals (at both ends of the ice). This quote from Gagner may well point in that direction:

"I do take risks from time to time, but earlier, I was taking unnecessary risks where I was making blind passes and different things like that. I've changed that. I'm just playing a more solid game."

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Acquisition of Joffrey Lupul

After checking out the recent transactions of the Edmonton Oilers I was struck by the relatively low number put up by Joffrey Lupul. He produced very similar numbers against the Oilers as compared to most other teams, although he did tend to score more goals and collect fewer assists. Kevin Lowe has taken a lot of deserved criticism for the return on the Pronger trade. This has been exacerbated by the fact that Getzlaf, Perry and now Ryan have all turned into very good players. But how were they all performing at the time of the trade? How did their general performance compare with their performance against the Oilers? I think these are relevant questions. I will only be using a one year sample instead of the regular two years for this exercise since most of the players in question were rookies in 2005-06. Here is the performance of the Anaheim young stars in that season:

I think that it's significant that Joffrey Lupul is at the very bottom of this list. It implies one of two things: (1) he may not have been Kevin Lowe's first choice of young forward given his other acquisitions over the last few seasons or (2) recent performance against the Oilers was not a significant factor in his acquisition.

The first thing worth noting is that Bobby Ryan isn't in the NHL at this point. Instead he's putting up 95 points in 59 regular season OHL games along with a -1 rating. He also scored 12 points in 11 OHL playoff games before his team was eliminated. After they were knocked out Ryan moved to the AHL playoffs where he scored 1-7-8 in 19 playoff games. Ryan would probably not have provided immediate help to the Oilers and I imagine the Ducks would have insisted he be one of the two main pieces (according to Guy Flaming this is what the Oilers were seeking) going back to Edmonton in any deal. The Oilers seem to have thought that Smid could play in the NHL immediately and decided they wanted him as part of the package. I can certainly understand not wanting Smid and Ryan to make up the bulk of the package coming back for Pronger and, as such, think it's pretty defensible that Lowe took Lupul over Ryan.

The elements at work here show some other interesting things. Firstly, Corey Perry doesn't look like a guy about to become an offensive star. He concluded his age 20 season with 28 points in 67 games which is a pretty paltry total. At the same age Lupul had 34 points in 75 games. I think Lowe can be forgiven for choosing Lupul over Perry.

If I had to bet, I'd say it's Getzlaf, Penner and Lupul that the Oilers were strongly considering. While Penner had played well against the Oilers and had registered a dominant AHL season, he was still a 23 year-old NHL rookie. I can see why the Oilers would have passed on Penner in favour of Lupul.

Last is Getzlaf. I think it's pretty likely that Getzlaf was the Oilers first choice for a forward. He had size on Lupul and his 20 year-old season is definitely more impressive. His play against the Oilers was also quite good. Much has been made about the "five assets" that Kevin Lowe was trying to get but as I noted earlier, it would seem the Oilers primary objective was securing two good young talents and extras. It seems quite plausible to me that the Oilers got the second round pick as a throw-in for taking Lupul instead of Getzlaf. The "five assets" mantra may not have started until after the second 1st rounder was sealed with the Ducks Cup run and after the disappointing performances of Smid and Lupul. In may have been a later narrative created to save face (P.S. It didn't work).

Including his playoffs Lupul had put up 64 points in 97 games in his 22 year-old season. Some of the underlying numbers may not have been good, but the boxcars were and I can see how Oilers management thought that Lupul would be ready to explode offensively.
Then there's the reaction of some astute fellows from around the Oilogosphere at the time of the trade. No one was glowingly positive and that's for sure, but there wasn't as much, "what about frakking Getzlaf!!!" as there is now. Here's Vic Ferrari's take:

"Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Pronger deal is a terrible trade, just that there is no right now! component."

Tyler Dellow on the same subject:

"Suffice it to say that I haven’t been a big fan of Joffrey Lupul in the past... I’m cautiously optimistic that, if fed PP minutes with Hemsky, Lupul can be a real producer on the PP. He just wasn’t a good EV player last year and I see no reason to expect that to change in the coming season; Lupul was EV+33 and EV-39. Given that he was playing in front of really good goaltending last season, this probably overstates his competence. He’s a good young offensive player but he’s going to need to be fed some soft TOI in order to keep him from sinking the ship. I’m somewhat concerned that the Oilers are starting to pile up guys like this: Hemsky, Torres, Stoll and Lupul are a lot of putative top 9 forwards to hide at ES."

And Pat McLean:

"I thought he was a good young player who would likely become a great player. I also thought he was a punk. Well, now he's our punk... But [Lowe] got a shooter, something the Oilers need, and he's a 22 year old who scored 28 goals playing with, who, Todd Marchant? That's a nice pickup."

This isn't a comprehensive look at the Oilogosphere's reaction, but I think it's pretty fair to say the general complaint was about getting someone that could help the team immediately, not about getting the wrong kid out of Anaheim. The trade was a poor one and that's the truth but I think it was poor because of the overall "young pieces that don't help now" strategy. I think talk of Getzlaf or especially Ryan/Perry/Penner needing to be included in the deal smacks a bit of revisionism when we know a lot better how each of these guys turns out.

See Them Good or Not At All

Immediately after the trade deadline Jonathan Willis pointed out the fact that the recently acquired Patrick O'Sullivan had performed much better against the Oilers than he had against the rest of the league over the past two seasons. Willis suggested that this might reflect one of the reasons O'Sullivan had been acquired, namely, management had "seen him good" as the phrase goes. Shortly thereafter I looked at all of the trades that happened at the deadline using the same methodology (goals, assists and points over a two-year period, including all playoff games). It looked to me like these trades showed a seemingly random assortment of results for individual players against the teams that had acquired them. Some had performed better against their newly acquired team than the rest of the league, some about the same and still others performed worse. This may show that the results are random or it may simply be the result of the fact that some teams rely on "saw him good" more than others. In order to get a better idea of how much the Oilers rely on this method I've used the same methodology to look at every Oilers acquisition since the lockout. This chart organizes them by the difference in points per game:

The first thing to note right off the top is that several of the Oilers acquisitions are not on the chart (Allan Rourke, Ryan Potulny, Denis Grebeshkov, Joni Pitkanen, Toby Petersen, Ladislav Smid, Robert Nilsson and Jan Hejda). That's because those players did not play any NHL games against the Oilers in the two seasons preceding their acquisition. If we include players who played three or fewer games against the Oilers along with these eight we already have 18 of the 27 player acquisitions. This is pretty good evidence that even if the Oilers organization is using a "saw him good" method of scouting, it's certainly not dependent on games against the Oilers.

It's important to noth at the outset that Even with the "larger" samples we're still only working with between five and thirteen games so there's room for quite a bit of luck to seep into the results. Having said that, of the remaining 9 players 6 do significantly better in terms of PPG and 3 are about the same. Since most of these players are offensive players (Lupul, Pronger, Spacek, Sykora, O'Sullivan, Visnovsky) I'm not sure how instructive it is to look at the +/- column, but in this case 5 outperform, one runs at about the same pace and three do worse against the Oilers.

The results, then, seem to offer a bit of a mixed bag. Two thirds of the players who were acquired since the lockout came without much of any recent track record against the Oilers, but those that do have a track record have a successful one. In the case of Dustin Penner in particular, it's hard not to think that his 7 points in 10 games along with a tidy +5 weren't influential. Furthermore, many of the Oilers main acquisitions have this somewhat positive track record (Pronger, Lupul, Penner, Visnovsky)

Conclusions? (1) This is not the main criteria for player evaluation as some major acquisitions do not have much of a track record at all (Cole, Pitkanen, Souray, Samsonov). (2) The Oilers interest does seem to be influenced by how a player plays against them to some degree. (3) Sanderson was a salary dump and Samsonov had a reputation which leaves Curtis Glencross as a bit of an outlier.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Emperor

The Oiler Empire is no longer united. They've been chasing after pagan gods. They have too many people who think they're in charge. This is a situation that needs rectifying. It demands that we need turn toward Yahweh and fight with him on our side. So who could be better than Constantine?

Kevin Constantine has had three different NHL jobs in the past so we'll use the same comparison that we've used for Quinn, Renney and Crawford (in order of desirability). That means we'll be comparing his record to those coaches he preceded or followed (hat tip for the methodology to the Contrarian Goaltender):

One thing you'll notice if you've looked at some of the other coaching posts is that this one has two extra columns. That's because the difference between George Kingston and Kevin Constantine is ridiculous. In fact, it's the biggest point difference season over season in history. On the one hand, that's a credit to Constantine. On the other hand, it might obscure the exercise a bit. It turns out he outperforms the other coaches by a pretty significant margin even without Kingston. The other coaches are Pat Burns (82 games), Herb Brooks (57 games), Jim Wiley (57 games), Larry Robinson (51 games) and Craig Patrick (20 games).

In addition to his good performance by this measure there are some other indications that Constantine is a quality coach. He was the coach of the Everett Silvertips in their expansion season and led the team to a division title as well as the best record ever for an expansion team in any of the CHL leagues. The team went all the way to the WHL finals and Constantine won the award for coach of the year. Later in his coaching tenure he was suspended by the league for four games for cruel and unusual punishment. Robert Nilsson may need to worry about his puckbunny privileges.

After his stop in Everett Constantine moved on to coach the Houston Aeros who are currently in the second round of the AHL playoffs. I haven't heard a lot of buzz around Constantine since he was mentioned by Jonathan Willis shortly after MacTavish was let go. Still, he's a former NHL coach that's currently coaching a playoff team from outside of the organization. That fits well with the resume I imagine Tambellini has in mind. That said, I don't think Tambellini and Constantine have much history and Constantine certainly doesn't play an up tempo style. Further, given that the Aeros are the affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, I'd think that Constantine is probably a good candidate for the head job there (though if he gets it, I'd imagine we won't be worrying about Gaborik six times a year). If he doesn't get that job, I would definitely endorse his hiring in Edmonton. If his hockey victories are anything like his military victories of the 4th century the Oilers should be in good shape.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

PK Save Percentage Final Tally

Over the course of the season I looked at the PK save percentage of the NHL leaders. On December 8th I looked at the top eight goalies who all had a save percentage of .900 or better and predicted that these goalies were due for a regression. When I looked things over on February 17th there were actually a couple of goalies that improved but most of the leaders did indeed fall back. Instead of using the average for this season when calculating "goals saved above average" I used the historical number of .866 (my thanks to Tyler Dellow). Here are the results:

So by the end of the year each and every one of these eight guys regressed (some more than others). I had also noted that Pekka Rinne had moved into the .900 club (minimum 100 shots) in my last post on the subject. He finished the year at .867.

These results may be a good indication of which teams could take a hit on their goal differential next season. New York and Minnesota in particular look quite vulnerable. The only guy close is Anderson but in about half as many shots. Now these are both good goaltenders and I wouldn't expect them to come all the way back to the average but if the PK for those teams allows an extra seven or eight goals Minnesota is further off the pace and New York doesn't qualify for the post-season.

Many of these goalies were actually below average after their quick start. All of Thomas, Miller, Anderson, Auld and Salo saw their goals saved above average either stagnate or decline from February 18th until the end of the season.

Speaking of Miikka Salo, let's look at those EV results. Kipper ended up in a tie with Joey MacDonald and just behind such goaltending luminaries at Johan Hedberg and Martin Gerber. Kipper does beat a few guys though. Literally. The three guys worse than Kipper who played in thirty games are Raycroft, Toskala and Osgood... Five more years!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Scoring Chances - Home v. Road

These are the home and road splits for the entire season. Thanks again to Dennis for counting the chances game after game and giving us some really interesting things to work with. His individual game summaries can be found here. Vic Ferrari has also done some work on scoring chances showing how Dennis marked his team consistently with how he marked the other guys.

When I took a look at the home and road splits at the halfway point there wasn't nearly as much separation between the two sets of data as I would have expected. Let's see if things have changed with a full season's worth of data.

(For those unfamiliar with the metric a player is awarded a chance any time someone on the ice has a chance to score. He is awarded with a “chance for” if someone on his team has a chance and awarded with a “chance against” if someone on the opposing team has a chance to score. The results are broken down into three game states, EV (even strength), PP (Power Play) and SH (Short-Handed). The players are organized according to their jersey numbers.)

Home Games One Through Forty-One, October 12 to April 10
Missing Games 40 vs San Jose and 81 vs Calgary
21 = Potulny and 21* = Kotalik

Road Games One Through Forty-One, October 15 to April 11
Missing Games 22 at St. Louis, 33 at Vancouver and 82 at Calgary
21 = Potulny and 21* = Kotalik

These results start show the advantage of playing on home ice more than the mid-season results. No one does significantly better on the road than they do at home (Visnovsky's chance differential is 12 better on the road than it is at home which leads the team). This should put to bed any idea that the Oilers played better on the road than they did at home, an idea further buttressed by their goal differential even if it doesn't show up so much in the record (18-17-6 at home and 20-18-3 on the road). The reason for the discrepancy looks like one part shootout records and one part luck. On to some of the interesting totals:

Nilsson - -7 at home and -6 on the road. By no means are these great totals but they do speak to the fact that MacTavish was able to shelter the players he wanted to shelter both at home and on the road. Nilsson needs to be able to win the chance battle if he's being sheltered, so it's fair to say his lack of productivity is one reason the Oilers didn't play in May. The same can be said of:

Gagner - +7 at home and -5 on the road. Gagner improved a lot this season but he was mostly getting easy minutes against mid-level competition. For this team to be a winner Gagner is going to need to outchance big in these minutes. The lack of difference between home and road results again speak well of MacTavish I'd say. Well, either that or he's terrible at matching lines but you'd think other teams would be taking advantage of the young guys unless there's no reason to wait for them...

Moreau - -34 at home and -62 on the road. There's no reason to wait for them. Moreau plays a hard style so he's probably a little bit "tougher to play against" in that sense but his results are terrible. He does better at home than he did on the road which leaves me to wonder if MacTavish may have sheltered him a bit more at home. If only Behind the Net split data into home and road splits! I also have this question of:

Hemsky - +20 at home and -15 on the road. Almost all of this difference is felt in the second half since his home and road results were about the same at that time (and both were good). The difference is especially striking when compared to Horcoff whose results were much closer together (+5 at home and -3 on the road) in spite of receiving the more difficult minutes.

Grebeshkov - +38 at home and -13 on the road. Those are some pretty different numbers. I don't think it was much to do with the Visnovsky effect because (1) Visnovsky only played two more home games than road games and (2) Visnovsky actually had better results on the road than at home. A deeper analysis might pick up more influence but those preliminary points suggest that either Grebs was a much better player at home or MacTavish was able to get him more favourable match-ups more often. Another thing pointing in that direction is:

Gilbert - +13 at home and -37 on the road. Again, quite different stories but not as much to like as with Grebs. With a d-man likely on the way out this summer these guys won't be able to avoid the toughest home minutes if Souray or Visnovsky is on the way out. Hopefully they can rise to that challenge.

SBL left the site SOL

So last weekend I was at a conference done by the Society of Biblical Literature and a couple of other groups. I decided that I'd like to write a piece on a couple of the items there but I've managed to bury myself catching up on some of the work I missed while away. Perhaps next week I'll have the piece on the SBL conference ready. In the meantime I will cease delaying further discussion of hockey. My first round predictions went pretty well and there won't be any changes for the second round. I'm going with Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Washington. In related news, Mike Brown got five minutes for a clean (hard) hit. It's strange cheering for Detroit and getting the favour of the zebras. Shaming really. Makes me glad to be an Oiler fan.