Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bouwmeester in Calgary

Congratulations to the Calgary Flames on signing Jay Bouwmeester. The cap hit (6.6M/year) is very reasonable and the five-year term leaves the team with options going forward. The fact that they're covered from spending too much if Bouwmeester were injured was probably a feature for ownership. The fact that they're not paying into Bouwmeester's post-prime years has got to be a feature for the team as well. No matter what they move out, the Flames will likely be getting back more than the third round pick they sent away. Given what New York was able to get in return for Scott Gomez, I have no trouble believing that the Flames could move any of Regehr, Iginla, Jokinen or Phaneuf for useful (and potentially very useful) parts. If they manage to move Kiprusoff and replace him with an average or better NHL netminder they could be a very good team this year and going forward. The Edmonton Oilers... traded Kyle Brodziak.

Every Contract is Moveable

Or at least that's the way it seems. In my last post I outlined which teams were in a good cap position heading into free agency. One of these teams was the Montreal Canadiens. One of the teams in a bit of a cap pickle was the New York Rangers. Today these two organizations made a trade:

To New York - Chris Higgins, Ryan McDonagh, Pavel Valentenko
To Montreal - Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, Mike Busto

Chris Higgins is a restricted free agent so New York has managed to deal Gomez and his 7.3M contract while taking back no money in return. Even if Higgings is given a contract of 3.5M per season (a high estimate) they are making significant savings. Considering their weak cap position before the trade, I would think that Montreal would be able to extact a hefty price for providing New York with these savings. I would be wrong. In fact, Montreal included one of their top prospects in the deal in Ryan McDonagh, a defenceman drafted 12th overall in 2007. The second prospect that Montreal included, Valentenko, is probably about equivalent to Tom Pyatt. Mike Busto is exactly what his name implies.

This is a confusing deal to me from Montreal's perspective. Montreal must think that they wouldn't be able to get a player as good as Scott Gomez for less than 7.3M per season on the unrestricted free agent market and that the difference between Gomez and the best UFA option is worth giving up on McDonagh and Higgins. That seems utterly foolish even if New York wasn't in a terrible negotiating position with respect to the cap. That they were, and still managed to make this trade, suggests to me that virtually any top-end contract is moveable for reasonable value. Congratulations to Glen Sather on a move I didn't think he'd be able to make. As for Gainey... he should perhaps consider changing his last name to Busto.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Who's On the Rail?

With the draft happening so late in June, there is now only a small amount of time until unrestricted free agency begins on July 1st. The salary cap has already been set for next season at 56.8M. On the one hand, this represents an increase from where the cap was last season but on the other, it's the smallest increase since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed. Compounding this potential difficulty, there's some chance that the salary cap will be going down for the 2010-11 season. That being the case, I think it would be good to look at the salary commitments for each team over the next two seasons.

I've created a chart that lists the amount of money spent by each team against the cap over the next two years. For all of these calculations, I've included rookie bonuses in the cap number. The main reasons for this are that it's easier for me to do it this way and that many teams probably won't be able to afford the money in 2010-11 any better than they can this season. I've also included how many players each team has signed and then calculated how much money they have left to spend per roster spot assuming a 23-man roster. For 2010-11 I've assumed a cap of 55M (a rosy estimate I'd say). I recognize that there are many other ways for teams that are pressed against the cap to create more space. They can buy players out, send them to the minors, loan them to Europe, trade away a player with a larger cap hit, play with a 21 or 22 man roster etc. This chart doesn't factor in any of those things. Instead, it represents where each team is starting going into free agency. Without further ado, here are the teams that may be able to take on some salary, both this year and next (all cap numbers are from nhlnumbers.com, MS = Money Spent while SF = Slots Filled on the Roster):

As you may have noticed, I organized this chart based on how much the team has to spend per player in 2010-11. To give that figure some context, if every roster spot was given equal pay, each player would receive 2.391M. A lot of the teams on this list won't spend to the cap on personnel. Among those teams that could be expected to spend to the cap are Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Those teams should have a tremendous advantage going into free agency, to the point that they could get almost any player they'd like if they're willing to spend the money.

On the other side of the coin we have the teams that have less space both this year and next:

Here we laregly find teams that have dominant players eating up a large portion of the salary structure. We also find the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers, the only teams on this list that aren't paying at least one player 6M or more. So far, that hasn't been a winning strategy for either group. Philadelphia, at the bottom of the list, desperately needs to move some salary out. In fairness to them, I did include Mike Rathje in their cap number. If they bury him on the injured reserve they can afford to average $850,000 on their last five players. While that means their situation is not as bleak as the chart suggests, they probably are looking to move some salary away, most likely in the form of Daniel Briere. Philadelphia aside, all of these teams would probably need to move some salary out if they hoped to bring any elite players in.

The Brodziak Trade

Yesterday I talked a little bit about the deal that sent Kyle Brodziak to the Minnesota Wild. At the time, I thought I would wait until Brodziak signed a new deal before coming to a conclusion about whether or not the deal was a success. Having thought about the deal since then, I've decided that there isn't really any reason to wait: this was a very bad trade by the Edmonton Oilers.

Kyle Brodziak wasn't exactly an outstanding player. He played on the penalty kill, but the penalty kill was terrible and he was not a light shining through that darkness. His scoring chance numbers are poor at even strength (+190-244 = 43.8% efficiency) and his Corsi of -187 doesn't scream success. He made up for the poor shooting numbers with a high PDO number of 101.6 (much like the Oilers as a team who had a -359 Corsi but 101.3 PDO number). None of this makes Brodziak sound all that good. In fact, he looks a bit like a part of the problem. However, Brodziak also started 149 more times in the defensive zone than he did in the offensive zone, second on the team to Shawn Horcoff (156). The percentage for Brodziak is even more difficult than for Horcoff. Brodziak started 44.9% of the time in the defensive zone (as opposed to the neutral or offensive zone), compared to only 38.5% for Horcoff (still very high). Kyle Brodziak may have been playing lesser opposition, but he was most definitely not getting the cherry time. The fact that he did in fact manage to put up a -2 playing 5v5 is, to me, pretty impressive. Further, the fact is, other players in a similar situation to Brodziak weren't doing any better. Kyle Brodziak was helping this team last year.

Some will say that they're going to go out and replace him. To me, this isn't a good excuse. This doesn't mean that they don't need to replace him, just that, when people say that they're usually referring to a "third line" center. But they needed to "replace" that when #51 still wore Oiler silks. If there's one thing I learned from Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll it's that if Stortini is on your line you should not be considered a shut-down line. From what I recall Zorg was on Brodziak's line. So, even if they go out and get a veteran center, who is going to take Brodziak's spot on the fourth line? As a fourth line or press box option, Brodziak provides reasonable cover in case of injury to one of your top two defensive centers and he plays for under a million dollars. In other words, helpful.

So why wouldn't they want him? As far as I can tell the possible correct answers include (1) a personality or attitude problem or (2) he was asking for too much money. I grant that (1) is possible but I find it pretty unlikely. It's especially unlikely since part of the reason the Wild wanted Brodziak is because the manager and coach are familiar with him from their time together in Wilkes-Barre. That would seem to speak highly of his character. Then again, maybe Tom Gilbert had finally had enough of Brodziak's harsh language. As far as (2)is concerned they could have just let him know that they weren't going to be paying him more than $850,000 per season and that he should go and look for offer sheets and take the highest one he can find. If, by chance, someone gave him more than $850,000 (or so, this is an approximation) and the compensation in return would have been a third round pick which is better than what they received in the trade (Brodziak + 6th for 4th + 5th). I fail to see how letting him go via offer sheet isn't superior to this trade.

The other possibility is that they just really liked both Kyle Bigos and Toni Rajala. Possible. However, if this is the case then this all could have been remedied by not taking Gene Snitsky in the third round. If the reason we traded Kyle Brodziak is so that we could make sure that we took some goon in the third round. Well, that's unbelievably stupid. Thankfully, Steve Tambellini's comments don't really make that point. Here's what Tambellini had to say about the trade:

"I'm not sure that's exactly what's going to happen to that position... We do need to change our lineup a little bit, we have too many bodies at forward. It's going to have a little bit different look. We're willing to give some people a chance that maybe they haven't had before, but we also had a chance to pick up a goaltender in the fifth that our guys were very focused on and when we found a partner in Minnesota to get both picks it made sense."

Unfortunately, Tambellini's comments also don't make a lot of sense. They made the trade to pick up the extra fifth to get the goalie? You made the trade at #99 and didn't take the goalie until #133. Ridiculous. It sounds from this quote like Tambellini isn't too sure what the center position will eventually look like. Maybe he'll give Pouliot or Brule a shot. The problem is that neither of those guys are as qualified as Brodziak. Count me unimpressed that he sent away a useful piece for less than fair value before he was sure about what he wanted the position to look like. A small trade, no doubt, but these kinds of transactions are what suck your NHL depth dry. Good teams don't make them.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Edmonton Oilers Draft Review

So now that the big day is over, how did the Oilers do?

Pick #10 - Magnus Pajaarvi-Svensson

I expected Svensson to be gone by the time the Oilers made their selection as did most more authoritative observers. He was, at the very least, a consensus top ten pick and the Oilers took him at #10. It's hard not to be happy. His age, at 18 years and 2 months, is in the middle of the pack for players in their first year of eligibility, but on the right side of the halfway mark and I find that somewhat encouraging (along with size, age is probably one of the things that saw Jordan Schroeder fall all the way to #22, although I still think Schroeder was an excellent pick by Vancouver). In Robin Brownlee's pre-draft column he had Svensson on the Oilers "wish list," which is usually reserved for players they don't expect to have a chance at drafting. From Brownlee:

"The Oilers like his skill and compete-level. He’s also got some flair, having suggested Canadian players at the World Junior Championship would 'shit their pants' if Sweden scored a couple quick goals."

This is a player that the Oilers wanted. Plus, how can anyone not like that quote from Svensson. It's awesome. Better still, the quote was only one good thing about Svensson's tournament. The part where he actually played hockey was pretty good too (2-5-7 +6 in 6 games). His performance in the Swedish Elite League is a bit less inspiring (7-10-17 -6 (21-27) in 50 GP in 11:13 per night) but it is a very difficult league. I'll assume that he didn't get much time at all on the PP which makes his numbers a bit more respectable still. Svensson has a contract for another year in Sweden so he won't be playing in Edmonton next season and may not spend much time at Oilers camp. From a cap management perspective, this is great news as Svensson's contract saves the Oilers from themselves. Unlike with Gagner, the Oilers won't burn two years to unrestricted free agency on Svensson. Hopefully he's ready to start his NHL career after two years of education in the Swedish Elite League and he becomes a star.

Pick #40 - Anton Lander

The Oilers next took Svensson's teammate with Timra of the Swedish Elite League (the two players are also about the same age, 18 years and 2 months; Lander is twelve days older). TSN had Lander ranked at #50, ISS at #47 and Red Line Report at #64, so at first glance this pick does look like a bit of a reach. ISS described Lander as a "checking forward" but I think that description arises more from his role on Timra's club than his skill set (then again, the scouts actually seen the kid play). Lander's boxcar numbers (4-6-10 in 47 GP in 7:39 per night) are less impressive than Svensson's but if we take ice time into account Lander scored 1.67 pts/60 compared to Svensson's 1.82 pts/60 so the gap in offence really isn't all that large. At the U18 championships, Lander was the captain of the Swedish entry and scored well (2-7-9 in 6 GP). At the very least, Lander isn't a total slouch when it comes to putting up points. I think the description of "checking forward" was mostly a polite way of saying "doesn't play much." Still, in order for Lander to develop, the Oilers will need to make sure he's more than a "checking forward" with Timra where, like Svensson, he's under contract for one more year.

Lander's profile at HF describes him as being "as much of a jokester as Swedes can be." I'll assume the report was (a) written by a Finn, (b) written by someone that didn't hear Svensson talk about Canada shitting their pants or (c) written by Marty Reasoner. Although the pick looks like a bit of a reach, there's nothing about Lander that screams bust and I do like that they took a forward at this point in the draft. Overall, a good selection by the Oilers.

Pick #71 - Troy Hesketh

If Lander was a bit of a reach, Hesketh is a big one. Hesketh is a defenceman who just finished his junior year for Minnetonka high school and has verbally committed to playing college at the University of Wisconsin, which is a good hockey school. Unfortunately, he still has his senior year of high school left to play so he won't be seeing real competition for at least one more year. Frankly, the most important numbers on his stats sheet are his age, weight and height since those are probably the biggest reasons he was drafted - 17 years, 11 months, 6'2 and 180 lbs (it's clear that the Oilers think he has some room to fill out). It's relevant that the boxcar numbers are good of course, but it's hard to glean much from them since the league he's playing in isn't very comparable to any of the Canadian junior leagues, the USHL, the NCAA or anything in Europe as far as difficulty. Gabriel Desjardins puts the NHL equivalency at somewhere between 0.073 and 0.052 for Minnesota high school which would give Hesketh numbers along the lines of 2-3-5 in an 82 game NHL season using the higher figure. His actual numbers do include some extensive PP time which means he's being used in all situations, so at least he'll have that experience.

To be honest, I was underwhelmed by this pick, especially because he'll be in high school for another year. I was hoping that they would draft one of the forwards that was left that may still have been able to make a high level impact. The guys that immediately came to mind here are Toni Rajala (more to come on this one), Alex Hutchings, Benjamin Casavant or Ryan Howse. Still, I can see the argument for drafting a big, young defender that you feel has been overlooked because of the league he plays in.

Pick #82 - Cameron Abney

This pick is beyond terrible. Toni Rajala and Alex Hutchings were both available and good at hockey. Benjamin Casavant would still have been a Coke machine, but at least he knows how to play hockey. Cameron Abney knows how to fight. Cameron Abney scored 1-3-4 in the WHL. Cameron Abney played in 48 of Everett's 72 games this year and, to my knowledge, didn't miss any because of injury. Cameron Abney is 6'4 and fights. In the best case scenario the Edmonton Oilers just traded a third round pick for Steve MacIntyre. What a terrible, terrible pick. Terrible.

Pick #99 - Kyle Bigos

Kyle Bigos is one very big defenceman. He's 6'5 and 230 lbs. and he sailed through his first two NHL entry drafts unpicked. That means, he's pretty old (20 years, 1 month) but would have been young in his first year of eligibility. In my post on where successful picks come late in the draft I found that it's best to draft young defencemen or defencemen that have already passed through the draft in previous years. This second group was especially well-represented. Usually they only make it through one draft, but that's not really here nor there since far fewer players get drafted after getting passed over twice (though I should really look into that to make sure). The point is, I like the fact that he's an older player.

As far as scoring, Bigos put up 8-25-33 in 58 regular season games for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. His team won the RBC Cup and he was named the tournament MVP. He also led his team with 126 PIMs, so I'm going to assume that he doesn't mind fighting. I think this is a pretty good pick at #99 and I wouldn't be at all upset except for the fact that the Oilers

Traded Kyle Brodziak

in order to draft him. Brodziak was officially traded to Minnesota along with pick #161 for picks #99 and #133. Brodziak was essentially taking tough minutes all year and although he didn't exactly pass with flying colours, he was doing about as well as anyone else that was in a similar situation. The fact that we wasted a pick on Abney at #82 makes this look all the more foolish since they could have just taken Bigos at #82 or traded down from #82 for Bigos or whatever other plan they thought necessary. Regardless, they didn't do that, they traded Brodziak. I can only assume that Brodziak was asking for too much money (something over a million per) and that he needed to be moved because of it. If Brodziak managed to find a team willing to give him an offer sheet for 1.5 to 2M per season, the Oilers would be in a terrible position and would receive only a third round pick. In the trade they managed to get a fourth and a fifth but had to throw in a sixth, so that seems like a wash at best. I'll make a final decision on this trade once I see Brodziak's contract with the Wild. If it's anything less than a million, this was a really dumb thing to do.

Pick #101 - Toni Rajala

I think that this was an excellent pick. Rajala was ranked #50 by TSN, #31 by ISS and #34 by Red Line Report. This is a case of the Oilers taking, quite literally, the highest rated player left in the draft. Even though an old grandmother who's never seen a hockey game could make this pick (without screwing the pooch on the third round), the Oilers should get some credit for actually doing it.

While with his junior team in Finland Rajala put up 31 points in 31 games. Playing in the SM-LIIGA he had more trouble scoring (only 5 points in 21 games) but, like Svensson, he was playing against men at an early age. At the World Junior Championship, Rajala wasn't particularly impressive, scoring only 2-1-3 in 6 games for the Finns. Given the weight put on that tournament, it's probably one of the reasons that Rajala fell as far as he did. The other reason for Rajala's fall is undoubtedly his small stature. At 5'10 and 160 lbs. Rajala isn't going to be a power forward anywhere but an U14 tournament (non-contact). Despite this, he can still score. And that's a skill with some value. At the U18 tournament Rajala scored 19 points in 6 games. His age is right in the middle of the pack at 18 years and 3 months. This will be a player to follow for the next couple of years and it should be fun to watch him kick ass over Christmas (or bust... but that wouldn't be fun).

Pick #133 - Olivier Roy

Well, he's a goalie and they didn't take him early, so I'm happy. He was ranked second among North American goaltenders by Cental Scouting so I guess that's encouraging. At the end of his 17 year old season he was named QMJHL rookie of the year. Still encouraging. At 17 years and 11 months he's certainly young for his draft year. Okay, okay. His save percentage was only .906 but his backup with the Cape Breton Eagles was only at .892. Well, I think he can be pretty confident that Christopher Holden is not an NHL goalie (and even here I'm a little iffy). Beyond that, we'll see.

Pick #191 Traded to Ottawa for 2010 6th Rounder

I suppose if there's no one you like left, deferring your pick to next year isn't a bad plan at all. It should even be a slightly higher pick so there's that too.

Final Thoughts

Well, that's how the Oilers did. Some good early and some good late but I think Umlauts (origin) and I would agree that the Oilers "shit their pants" in the middle.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lost in the Shuffle

Ethan Moreau. Ethan Moreau won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (the Vancouver Canucks are going to start winning this award all of the time now that they can quantify and project leadership talent better than everybody else...) at the NHL Awards last week (I'm like the Christmas you have with your grandparents in Edson the week after Christmas Day) and it's time that I congratulate him. Judging by the number of stories about potential trades at the draft, this may be one of his final days as an Oiler. This season, many Oiler fans were busy lambasting the man for stealing faceoffs from Marc Pouliot after Cogliano was kicked out of the circle, or not giving Pouliot credit for that amazing third period passing play early in the season, or for not passing to Pouliot because he didn't trust him, or for kneeing Pouliot's uncle in the stomach and yelling "MandelBAM!" "MandelBAM!" "BAM! BAM! BAM!" The last one was actually Todd Bentley (and probably not actually Pouliot's uncle)... but at times this season it seemed like Oiler fans thought that Moreau's leadership this year was on par with Bentley's (so, terrible). Thankfully, it's not.

Moreau's leadership in the community of Edmonton is evidenced most clearly by his work with the Stollery Children's hospital but he also helps with several other charities in and around Edmonton. This includes the Gags Cogs And Gilby Bachelor Pad Foundation (I noticed Pouliot was left out here too... man, Moreau HATES that guy). So what I'm trying to say is that even when Moreau is injured or struggling on the ice he has never wavered as a wonderful contributor to Edmonton as a city. From a salary cap perspective it's probably best that Moreau be sent to play hockey in another city but from the perspective of wanting to have Oilers that live in Edmonton and care about the community, Ethan Moreau is a star. Thanks Ethan, for all you've done to help make Edmonton a better place.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good Late Picks - Looking for Trends

Yesterday I looked at where impact players are found in the draft. Unsurprisingly, most of them are found early on. In fact, from 1994-2003 only 75 impact players were taken with a pick later than #100. That's 75 players out of 1476 picks or 5.1%. We already saw that you were more likely to have success by drafting a defenceman or a goalie than you were if you drafted in these later rounds. Today, I'm going to look at a few other variables to see if any patterns can be traced.

The first thing that immediately came to mind was size. Were a large proportion of the late round success stories smaller players? I suspect this is true but as I don't know of a reliable resource for the size of players in their draft year I decided to let this one go for now. The second thing i looked at was the leagues that the players were drafted from. Unfortunately I'm only looking at a small sample of players and so unless I saw a big tip-off, I didn't think the results would be too significant. There was no big tip-off. Europeans did slightly better than I expected, but it didn't seem like enough to run with though I might come back to this issue later.
The last one was age and the results here are pretty significant. How old were the success stories when they were drafted? The following table looks at the draft age for each of the 75 impact players taken after pick #100 from 1994 to 2003. The ages are measured in terms of the age of a given player at the time of the draft. The first age bracket is 17 years and 10 months to 18 years and 3 months. This identifies the "young" players in a given draft class. The second age bracket is 18 years and 4 months to 18 years and 9 months. This identifies the "old" players in a given draft class. The third age bracket is 18 years and 10 monts to 19 years and 9 months. These are players who were eligible for an earlier draft but passed through. The fourth age bracket is 19 years and 10 months to 20 years and 6 months. These are players who have either passed through two drafts or are reentering the draft because they didn't sign a contract with the first club that picked them. 20 years and 6 months is the oldest any North American player who has not yet been drafted is allowed to be according to the CBA (article 8). An older player would automatically become an unrestricted free agent. The fifth age bracket is 20 years and 7 months to 21 years and 6 months. This age bracket applies only to Europeans since all North Americans in this age bracket would be undrafted unrestricted free agents. For whatever reason, Europeans are eligible to be drafted for one more year before they become unrestricted free agents (they need more European representation in the NHLPA). The sixth and last age bracket is players who were 21 years and 7 months or older when they were drafted. These players are eligible to be drafted in the current CBA. so here's the chart:

The trends are obvious. Most of the best picks were either young players, players who had already passed through one draft or older players who, in the current CBA, would now just be signed as free agents (players like Jonas Hiller, Fabian Brunnstrom and Ville Leino). Incidentally, none of the success stories are re-drafts. All of the players taken late were also taken in their third year of eligibility (like Pavel Datsyuk) were also taken there for the first time. Here is the same information broken down by position:

So, generally, young forwards and defenders or goalies that everyone passed on in their first year of eligibility are the most successful picks. I think that a smart team should recognize these trends and roll with them if they have two players ranked closely. Also, I know that on draft day, I'll be checking the ages of players the Oilers have taken with their late round picks. Incidentally, both Philippe Cornet (18y3m) and Teemu Hartikainen (18y1m) qualified a year ago while Jordan Bendfeld (20y4m, re-draft) was probaly a waste of a 7th round pick. The year before that, Milan Kytnar (18y1m) and William Quist (17y11m) were both young forwards. On the one hand, this is heartening, on the other, I now feel like I may need to check whether or not the birthdates of these (or any) players is actually signficant. If far more young players get drafted, it wouldn't be surprising to see more succeed... but that will need to be a question for another day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't Draft What You Can Buy at the Dollar Store

Earlier this week I was reading an excellent piece by the Falconer about where star players are drafted. I think that his work offers pretty compelling evidence that the "Best Player Available" approach may not be the best way to go. Neither is drafting for need. In his analysis, teams tended to select almost all of the best forwards in the first round. High-end defenders, on the other hand, tended to be available more often in rounds two through seven. In my view that's really the entire point of drafting. You need to pick up pieces in the draft that you won't be able to find cheaply on the free agent market.

The Falconer's study, however, was limited to only one season's worth of data and (by design) looked only at teams that made the playoffs. As such, I thought that I would do a similar study that takes more years into account and uses slightly different criteria. In my view, the NHL version of the Dollar Store is anything you can pick up for 2% of the cap or less on the UFA market (with a 55M cap that works out to 1.1M). We're basically talking about bottom six forwards, bottom pairing defenders and back-up goaltenders or marginal starters. Drafting a player that fills one of these roles is better than drafting a player that completely busts but not nearly as good as drafting a top end player. As such, I thought I'd take a look at the drafts from 1994 to 2003 and determine where the top end talent was drafted. Since the data we have is rather limited I decided to call a successful pick any forward that puts up at least o.50 points per game in at least 200 NHL games. For defenders, it becomes a bit more complicated to measure since defensive defenders often play in the top four and don't put up as many points as the Marc-Andre Bergeron's of the world. Still, defensive defenders tend not to be as expensive and I would like to use criteria other than just games played. As such, I decided that defenders should play at least 200 NHL games and put up at least 0.20 points per game. For goaltenders, I considered them worth drafting if they played at least 200 NHL games and had a career save percentage of .910 or better. Of course, the story for many of these players is still being written (especially the 2001-2003 draft classes) but I thought it worthwhile to use data close to the present draft in order to gauge more current trends. Further, the time that these players present a bargain price is often on their first and second contracts and all of the players from 2003 should now be on their second contract. This analysis was helped along by the use of the database created by Daoust which you can find a link to and download yourself in this post. Without further ado, here is a chart that represents where the top players were taken in the draft:

From what I can tell there are a few acceptable draft strategies given this assessment. First, the goalies, and this isn't negotiable. Of the four goalies taken in the first round that have worked out so far, two were taken in the first four picks. Some might argue that goalies are hurt most by including the drafts from 2000-2003. That's true. There are some goaltenders who could still qualify and bring the total number of good drafts up. Goaltenders like Mike Smith, Josh Harding and Marc-Andre Fleury (qualified in games played but not save percentage). But that's part of the problem with taking a goalie. Fleury was another top four pick and so he may indeed work out. Smith? Traded. Harding? Probably traded. Sure they might bring back something of value but they haven't contributed much value to their clubs in the mean time. Furthermore, the fact that goalies were hurt by the recent drafts the most doesn't explain why only 25% of the best goalies drafted from 1994-2003 were drafted in the top 100 picks. Fully 75% of the best goalies were still available after that! That's crazy! It also makes it look like a very good bet to take a goalie late in the draft. The chance of success is actually higher between 101 and 220 then it is for forwards and defencemen. Did you have a pick between 5 and 100? Did you take a goalie? If so, that was really (really) stupid. Moving on.

From here there are two possible draft strategies that make sense to me. The first is having a bias toward forwards in the first 100 picks. The reason for this is that, of the best forwards in the draft, 78% were taken in the first 100 picks compared to only 63% of the top defenders. Plus, you have a much better chance of getting a top defender later in the draft than you do a top forward (it's almost twice as likely). The problem? You have a better chance of getting a top defender than a top forward almost any time in the draft. As such, you have a better chance of drafting more top notch players by taking more defencemen than forwards. What to do?
Obviously a team needs to procure both forwards and defencemen. As such, I think that I would take whichever player I thought was the best available in the first round of the draft without regard for position (unless it's a goalie, I would never never never draft a goalie in the first round). The fact that I have a better chance at being right on a defenceman is balanced out by the fact that there will be more good defencemen later on than there will forwards. With my other picks in the top 100 I would have a strong bias towards drafting forwards. This is the only point in the draft where I have as strong a liklihood of drafting a good forward as I do of drafting a good defenceman. If I have two players ranked closely, one forward and one defender, I'm taking the forward. In the remaining rounds I would have a strong bias toward defenders and goaltenders since I'm almost twice as likely to get a good player by taking defenders and goalies. I would need to have a forward well clear in my rankings in order to be convinced to take him. The typical seven-pick draft would look something like this:

1st round - forward/defenceman (34.5% chance at one strong forward or 45.2% chance at one strong defenceman)
2nd and 3rd round - two forwards (13.4% chance at one strong forward)
4th through 7th round - three defencemen and a goalie (17.2% chance at one strong defenceman and 6.9% chance at one strong goalie)

This isn't drafting for need and isn't exactly drafting the "best player available" in the traditional sense either. It's using statistics to help me discover who the best player is. Teams are, apparently, not good at identifying who the best players are. They tend to overrate forwards and undderrate defencemen. By inserting these biases into the draft strategy I have a much better chance of drafting the *actual* best player available.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2009 Draft Preview - Fishing Holes

Another day, another occasion to give thanks to Kent over at Five Hole Fanatics. This is from Kent's recent article on draft strategy:

"This may be why clubs develop what I call "fishing holes", by which I mean they concentrate their scouting in certain amateur/developmental leagues (for the Flames, it's the WHL/CHL) - they can become familiar with the relative degree and value of the competition and therefore can more capably gauge a prospects level of performance."
I found this idea intriguing and so I decided to look at the NHL draft for all thirty teams over the last five years (2004-2008). What teams have "fishing holes" and where are they located? If there is an overemphasis on one area, then another is getting neglected. Which areas are teams neglecting relative to their peers? In order to answer this question I calculated the percentage of players taken from various leagues over the last five years and then compared that to the draft record of each individual team. Here are the percentages for the league as a whole (I only included areas that had at least 0.5% of all players drafted. The others will be mentioned later on):

The next several charts are for the individual teams. I've included the raw numbers instead of percentages to give people a sense of just how many players are being drafted from any given area (i.e. I find "3" easier to understand than "8.36%"). I also decided to colour code the chart to make it easier to see whether a team is varying from the norm. I used red for "cold spots" and red for "hot spots." If the individual team is less than 2% of what the league as a whole is doing the space is left unshaded. So, for example, if 14.49% to 18.47% of a team's draft picks came from the OHL the space would be unshaded. If the individual team varies from the league percentage by between 2% and 5% then the square is shaded blue if that league is underrepresented and red if that league is overrepresented. So, for example, if 11.49% to 14.48% of a team's picks came from the OHL the space would be shaded blue and if 18.48% to 21.47% of a team's picks came from the OHL the space would be shaded red. If the individual team varies from the league percentage by between 5% and 10% the shading is darker. It the individual team varies from the league percentage by 10% or more then the shading is darker still. Here are the results:


There were a few teams who took players from other leagues. Chicago and Vancouver each took one player from the SJHL while Washington took two. Columbus took one player from the MJHL. Colorado drafted one player out of Norway. Dallas, Detroit and Montreal drafted one player each out of Belarus. Los Angeles took one player from Japan and another from a Quebec junior B league. Phoenix took one player from the MJAHL. And then there's Ottawa... they took one player from the BCJL, one from a Canadian High School, one from Denmark and one from Latvia.
I suppose this is turning into more of a data dump than anything... so let's keep the party going! Here is a quick synopsis of each team's favourite and least favourite "fishing holes":

A few notes:
1. The most divisive leagues are the OHL (17 teams vary 5% or more) and the QMJHL (16 teams). The next closest are the WHL (10 teams) and Russia (10 teams).

2. Don Cherry would have a pretty awesome rant about the Maple Leafs drafting fewer players from the OHL than every team in the league except Vancouver over the last five years. They've drafted as many Germans as they have Ontarians. The Flames have the opposite tactic drafting over 42% of their players from the WHL. That's the largest amount for any team.

3. In the department of things that were already obvious, Detroit loves Sweden. Over 31% of their picks come from Sweden... 0% from Finland.

4. The Dallas Stars must feel like Junior B is an untapped resource because they draft a lot of players out of many different Junior B leagues. The San Jose Sharks seem to look at various US junior leagues and high schools as an underdrafted market.

5. The Ottawa Senators are the only team that are underrepresented in all three Canadian Major Junior Leagues and instead favour Russia, the USHL, and markets where, literally, no one else is looking. Their drafting strategy really does look wacky.

6. The Oilers don't stray far from any of the league norms. They've taken a couple more Swedes than average but nothing to get too excited about.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goalies in the First Round

For those that haven't read Kent's old article on drafting goaltenders, it really is a must read. It certainly convinced me that drafting goaltenders is a waste of time in the early rounds. A lot of this post will be piggybacking off of those conclusions as well as the point system that I created for my own posts about drafting goaltenders (here, here and here). Goaltenders were awarded points as follows:

The goalie plays an AHL game - 2
The goalie plays 40+ AHL or NHL games in a single season - 2
The goalie plays an NHL game - 1
For the team that drafted him - 1
The goalie plays in 50 NHL games over his career - 1
For the team that drafted him - 1
The goalie plays 40+ NHL games in a single season - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3
The goalie plays 40+ NHL games in at least five different seasons - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3
The goalie is nominated for the Vezina trophy - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3

In the following table I decided to include all goaltenders that were drafted between 1990 and 1999 so that the majority of them will have already established their level of ability. The table should be pretty self-explanatory:

The results here are somewhat expected. Goaltenders chosen in the earlier rounds tend to do better than goaltenders chosen in the later rounds although things really drop off after the third round. Still, the average goalie taken in the second round does a bit worse than 50 career NHL games for the team that drafted him. In other words, JDD. There isn't a big enough sample for goalies taken in the top ten to really come up with an average but it is significant to me that 15 points would mean the goalie played at least 40 NHL games for the team that drafted him for no less than one and no more than four seasons. It may be easier just to take a look at all 20 goalies taken in the first round from 1990 to 1999:

Half of the goalies taken in the first round end up not contributing at a level higher than a backup goaltender. Furthermore, many of the goalies that do go on to have success do so on other teams (Luongo, Giguere). Even the goalies that "work out" are often not the best goalies drafted. Of the goalies that received more than 15 points only 5 out of 14 were drafted in the first round (the others not already mentioned are Turco, Nabokov, Theodore, Potvin, Carey, Osgood, Salo, Khabibulin and Turek) and that doesn't include goalies who came into the league without being drafted (like Curtis Joseph).

As Kent so eloquently stated in his article on this subject, the goaltending position is unique. Either you're one of the most important contributors on the ice or you're not playing at all. Far too often, goaltenders taken early in the draft aren't playing at all and teams are using a valuable asset (a first round pick) on what looks to be a coin flip where the most common payoff (a short term starting goaltender) is something that's readily available on the cheap during the summer. And it's not as though the situation is getting better. Marek Schwarz (17th overall) has yet to have an impressive AHL season. Devan Dubnyk (14th overall) hasn't been much better. Neither has Al Montoya (6th overall) and he's already on his second organization. Hannu Toivonen (29th overall) has burnt through two organizations and is now playing in Finland. In short, don't use your first round pick on a goaltender.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who Drafts Goalies Well (1990-1994)

After another long break between posts in a series about team success in drafting and developing goaltenders. Over the next few days I will try to churn out a few more posts along these lines before the entry draft on June 26th (Jonathan Willis has done some great work leading up to the draft for those interested). The first two installments looked at who did a good job of drafting goaltenders in the five year periods from 2000 to 2004 and then 1995 to 1999. This post will look at team success from 1990 to 1994 using the following criteria to determine the number of points that a team received for any particular goaltender:

The goalie plays an AHL game - 2
The goalie plays 40+ AHL or NHL games in a single season - 2
The goalie plays an NHL game - 1
For the team that drafted him - 1
The goalie plays in 50 NHL games over his career - 1
For the team that drafted him - 1
The goalie plays 40+ NHL games in a single season - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3
The goalie plays 40+ NHL games in at least five different seasons - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3
The goalie is nominated for the Vezina trophy - 4
For the team that drafted him - 3

Of course, not all picks are equal. A goalie taken first overall is expected to do better than one who was taken in the third round who is himself expected to do better than a goalie chosen in the seventh round. As such, each pick was given an expectation as well:

1st to 10th overall - 22 (starting goalie on your team for at least five seasons)
Rest of 1st round - 15 (starting goalie on your team for at least one season)
2nd round - 6 (should at least play in one NHL game for your team)
3rd round - 5 (should at least play in one NHL game for somebody)
4th round - 4 (should manage to be an AHL starter)
5th round - 3 (should have a 50/50 chance at being an AHL starter)
6th round - 2 (should play in at least one AHL game)
7th round + - 1 (should have a 50/50 chance at playing an AHL game)

When I decided on this criteria I thought that the expectations were pretty reasonable. From 2000-2004 most teams had a negative score because the higher picks did not yet have time to accumulate points. In the period from 1995-1999 all but 4 teams had a score between 10 and -10 with two outliers on each side of the ledger. That's pretty much what I was expecting. In the comments section of my last post in this series Bruce had said that a perfect system would hopefully be a zero-sum game... he may end up somewhat skeptical of the method after seeing the results in the following chart. The first column is the team, the second, any significant goalies (at least 50 NHL games). The next set of columns represent points that the team has accumulated based on their goalie picks: their net points (actual - expected), actual points and expected points based on the criteria outlined above. The final set of columns will isolate what strategy each team uses in the draft (whether they draft a lot of goalies, or only a few, in the first round, or only in the later rounds). These are the number of goalies drafted, number drafted in round one, in rounds two to four and in rounds five and over.

A few notes:

1. It seems like it might be a bit too easy for teams to achieve points but I think that's partly a function of expansion. From 1990-1994 there are only 26 teams drafting and the goalies that were drafted at this time ended up playing in a 30 team league. Still, even the 1995-1999 group is in a net positive position and they aren't close to done accumulating points. Still, the 1995-1999 group continued to benefit from expansion as well as a lower number of goaltenders drafted in that time period. There were a total of 118 from 1995-1999 compared to 139 from 1990-1994 and 160 from 2000-2004.
2. The 1990-1994 group had only 7 goaltenders taken in the first round compared to 13 from 1995-1999 and 14 from 2000-2004. Notes one and two taken together make it likely that the 2000-2004 group will not perform as well as the other two even with time. There is no more expansion, there are more goalies available and more that can miss expectations by a large margin.

3. Tampa Bay and Colorado/Quebec are the only two teams to have a positive result in all three segments. However, the Lightning actually do quite poorly on a relative basis in this segment. Further, games played is really the only evaluative criteria being used which benefits a team with poor goaltending like Tampa Bay. Quebec on the other hand drafted three significant goaltenders in this period which is impressive... except that one of them was Tim Thomas. How much credit should they get for drafting him? The only organization where Thomas found success was Boston many (many) years after he was drafted. Currently Colorado/Quebec receives a +13 score for this pick and Boston receives nothing. That may need tweaking.

4. The Oilers were one of only five teams not to develop an NHL goalie over this time period. The highest pick the Oilers used on a goalie was 34th overall for Andrew Verner. Their most successful pick was Joaquin Gage who did in fact play a few NHL games with the Oilers. Both players have videos on YouTube and Gage was
the MVP of the British Ice Hockey Super League (Tony Hand!) in 2001-02.

5. The value of first-round picks will be the subject of my next post and I expect to take a pretty negative stance on picking galies in the first round. Here's a spoiler as to the reason why: Jocelyn Thibault, Eric Fichaud, Martin Brodeur, Dan Cloutier, Jamie Storr, Evgeny Ryabchikov and Trevor Kidd.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Flames Since The Lockout

Shortly after the trade deadline Jonathan Willis pointed out that 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 one reason that the Oilers decided to trade for O'Sullivan was that they had seen him at his best. I found this suggestion interesting and decided to look at all of the acquisitions the Oilers have made since the lockout in an effort to determine whether or not the players generally performed better against the Oilers than against the rest of the league. After looking at how players did during the two years prior to their coming to Edmonton (including playoff games) I concluded that the Oilers tended toward players that performed well against them. Still, the results were not concrete enough to rule out a simple coincidence, especially in light of the analysis I had done of the trade deadline deals as a whole. I was hoping to add some data to this pile and so in this post will take a look at all of the post-lockout acquisitions made by Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames:

As I noted with the Oilers, there are several acquisitions who hadn't played in a single game against the Flames in the two years prior to coming to Calgary. These players were David Hale, Mike LeClerc, Cale Hulse, Peter Vandermeer, Kyle Greentree and Lawrence Nycholat. In other words, filler. Still, in addition to these six, another twelve players had three or fewer games against the Flames leading up to their acquisition and these twelve had a much bigger role on the Flames. This means that 18 out of 33 players did not have a significant track record against the Flames before being acquired. This number is consistent with that put up by Kevin Lowe and (to a much smaller degree) Steve Tambellini in Edmonton. I think this is good evidence that this isn't a main factor in the player evaluation of most players.

The rest of the results look more random in this case than they did for the Oilers. In terms of point totals three players did significantly better against the Flames, eleven players were about the same and one player was significantly worse. In the case of the Flames how players performed against them looks like it may not have played much of a factor at all. In the case of some players it seems like other factors probably played a bigger role. Some players had played for the Flames before (Conroy, Hulse, Leopold and Lundmark), while others were familiar to Darryl Sutter from his time in San Jose (Friesen, Smith, Stuart, Zyuzin). In other instances the player may have been a favourite of Mike Keenan (Bertuzzi, Jokinen) or had played a significant role on the Tampa Bay team that beat the Flames in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final (Sarich).

Still, there are cases like Curtis Glencross (and the Flames sure payed for taking a chance on him! Wait...) where his performance against the Flames looks to be significant. Perhaps it was also something that drew Sutter to players like Bertuzzi and McCarty who, for whatever reason, were statistically more successful against the Flames than the rest of the league. Furthermore, neither team signed many players who vastly underperformed against their new team (congratulations to Wayne Primeau!), although just looking at point totals might be misleading here. I can't imagine the Flames were wowed by Roman Hamrlik's -4 over two games. My conclusions after looking at the Flames haven't really changed. Recent performance against the new team is most likely a subconscious factor in signings and trades. The effect looks to be small in general but probably plays a big role in some isolated cases.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins

(Notable exception: Matt Cooke)

I'm one of those guys that hoped Detorit would win the Cup. I predicted them to win (and I like being right) so that was certainly part of it. I also like the fact that for Marian Hossa his main goal was to win the Stanley Cup. More than money, more than living in a nice city, more than being "the guy" he wanted a chance to win the Cup. Now he's not the only that isn't getting what he wants in this life, but I still feel badly for him. If Max Talbot actually looked him in the eye and said "You chose the wrong team" then he is one heartless Quebecor. If not, maybe Hossa goes back to Pittsburgh next year?

Anyway, some fond Oiler memories of the Cup winners:

Bill Guerin - May 4, 1998 - The Oilers come back from a 3-1 series deficit to take the series. Bill Guerin scores one of four goals in a 4-0 walk for the Oilers in Colorado. Guerin ended up with seven goals in two rounds that year, his first with the Oilers. I was in grade nine this year and it was this era (1997-2006) that shaped me as an Oiler fan. Thanks for the memories Bill. It was great to see you lift the Cup.

Miroslav Satan - March 18, 1997 - On this day the Oilers traded Satan to Buffalo for Craig Millar and Drew Bannister. The two defencemen (if you didn't know they were both defencemen you have a great idea about the value the Oilers got in this trade) played a combined 71 games for the Oilers over the next three seasons. As someone that was constantly bombarded with the image of Glen Sather as a hockey genius Miroslav Satan always stood out as the counter-example of all counter-examples. Miroslav, for taking your lumps and going to the minors without complaint, for blocking shots last night, and for helping me to learn critical thinking skills as a young man, I salute you. Keep on partying Miro.

Petr Sykora - October 5, 2006 - Two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win over Calgary on the first day of the 2006-07 season. Oiler fans had no idea the disaster that was to come and on this night we gathered to celebrate. Thanks for the good memories Petr, that season didn't have many. Apparently Sykora even considered staying in Edmonton after the gong show stretch run. Eventually he decided on a much better option. A bit player on the Pens this year but he felt the joy of lifting the Cup again.

Mathieu Garon - March 2, 2008 - This was the last of his shoot-out wins in the hilarious 2007-08 season. Garon stopped all three Columbus shots, which was pretty much par for the course. I know the idea of a "closer" hasn't really taken a foothold but I'd be tempted to try it with Garon. This year must have been awful. At the end of last year he looked like he was in line for a starting job with the Edmonton Oilers over the long term. That's gone now and that kind of sucks. But hey, at least he won himself a Stanley. Sorry the coaches here didn't trust you Mathieu. Maybe you're 100% save percentage in the playoffs will reestablish your value! Seriously though, I'm happy for him. A great end to a tough season.

Oh, and the reason the Red Wings lost this year was bad karma, or, conkma, as the case may be. Ohmygoodness. Oh. My. Goodness.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flow of Play

So I've been thinking about a way to contribute to the knowledge base here next year (and perhaps a bit during the summer depending on the availability of video) and decided that it would be a good thing to track the flow of play for at least some (and perhaps all) of the Oiler games next season, depending on how interested folks are in that kind of data. I haven't tracked zone time here because I thought that I might be able to do something a little bit easier that would still be helpful. It looks reasonable to me, but I think actual zone time is probably better. Nonetheless, here are the criteria that I used in tracking the first period of Game 5 between the Wings and Pens:

1. At the start of the game the puck is considered in the defensive zone of the road team.
2. The puck is considered as entering the other team's zone when it has been there for five seconds or if a faceoff causes the puck to changes zones (icing call, penalty call) or if a goal is scored.
3. The puck is always considered in the zone of one team or another.

This was supposed to offer a mix of puck position and puck possession and give an indication of which team was carrying the play. I do think it does that, but I also think we lose something but not having any "neutral zone" time and not giving the opposing team credit for clearing it out of their zone. Anyway, I'll put up the results so that we can at least have a preliminary look:

Even Strength:
Puck in "Detroit D Zone" - 9:01
Puck in "Pittsburgh D Zone" - 8:38
Time in zone before Detroit Goal - 0:03

Pittsburgh on Power Play
Puck in "Detroit D Zone" - 0:50
Puck in "Pittsburgh D Zone" - 1:10

Detroit on Power Play
Puck in "Detroit D Zone" - 0:16
Puck in "Pittsburgh D Zone" - 0:05

I think there's real potential for the data. We could potentially answer questions like, "Is Corsi a good proxy for zone time?" or "How many goals scored off the rush?" The main reason for this post is to ask the community (and mostly Vic... the link to time on ice is to make sure he reads it... heh...) some questions. Is this something people would like tracked (either in this simpler version or actual zone time)? In that I actually have all of the precise times noted would it be possible for me to submit those into a shift chart so we could see how individual players are doing (Vic?)? Anyway, feedback is most welcome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

UFA Bargain Hunting - Michel Ouellet

Remember this guy? My bet is that most people won't. He put up 40 points in 46 regular season games this year as a 26 year-old which would be pretty good if it was in the NHL instead of the AHL. Yet, I'm intrigued by the possibility of bringing this player to Edmonton for a three main reasons: his NHL track record on the PP, his NHL track record at EV and his likely cost.

Firstly, he can bring something to the power play. Surely this list will have had some changes to it after this year and Ouellet might not even make the ice time requirement, but Tyler has shown in the past that Ouellet can perform at a very high level on the PP, i.e. better than any Oiler not named Hemsky.

Secondly, his even strength performance at the NHL level has been very good. Again, Tyler mentioned this at the start of the season when Ouellet was traded from Tampa Bay to Vancouver. The up-shot? In 2007-08 Ouellet played for the Lightning and managed to post 2.88 GFON/60 and 1.92 GAON/60 at 5v5. He scored 2.00 P/60 and was a +12 5v5 which led the team by 9. He was 6th in 5v5 ice time and 7th in QC among Lightning forwards so he did all this in a somewhat sheltered role. In 2006-07 Ouellet played a very similar role on the Penguins but with middling results, namely 2.77 GFON/60 and 2.77 GAON/60.

I am convinced that this is a pretty good NHL player. He's certainly shown more than a guy like Marc Pouliot and, given his likely price, will be a better bet to outperform a contract than Robert Nilsson. I don't know what his price point is going to be but I imagine he's probably expecting a pay cut since he cleared waivers twice and even cleared re-entry waivers once. If I were managing the Oilers I would try to get this guy to sign on for a long term deal at small money. Normally, that's a pipe dream but how bad does 5 or 6 years at $900,000 on a one-way deal sound if you've been riding the buses, unwanted by anyone in The Show for the last year?