Whither Patrik Elias’s future?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Brendan Porto.)

There is no question at all that Patrik Elias is one of the Devils’ best players of all time. He is the only one to break 1,000 points in a Devils uniform (and in fact the only one to break 702). He won two Stanley Cups. He has the team’s single-season points record (97) as well as two more in the top 20 all-time. No Devil has scored more goals, no Devil has set up more goals.

I’ve argued this before: he’s a borderline Hockey Hall of Famer. He certainly deserves to have his number retired.

But he’s also 38, and the Devils are rebuilding (maybe?). His points per game this season came in at the lowest level since 1996-97, and his possession numbers were, umm, wanting. And so you have to wonder if this is it.

But what’s interesting is that the Devils use him in much the same way (and to much lesser effect) than the Bruins do Patrice Bergeron. Toughest assignments on the team in terms of quality of competition, and some rather unfavorable zone starts as well. So it seems that while he’s not producing in the 50-65 points range like he did for almost a decade and a half — seriously, his lowest non-lockout point total from 1998 to 2014 was 45, and that was because he only played 38 games that year — he’s still decent enough at beating back the opposition that he’s trusted in that role against the iron of the league. (This may, however, relate back to New Jersey just not having the horses to let anyone else do it for him.)

He has only one year left on his current deal, which pays him $5.5 million, and even if he wasn’t great this year — he wasn’t — that’s a lot of money to leave sitting on the table if he were to retire this summer, which he won’t.

So you get the feeling that, y’know, this coming 2015-16 season is going to be something of a victory lap for him, and it’s well-earned. It’s also well-timed. Because the Devils are about to fall on some very difficult circumstances — that is, if you don’t think they’ve done so already — in terms of roster turnover, management shifts, and basically getting the dead weight off the roster. Elias, weirdly, might be in that mix, because he’s probably seen as a veteran who can help another team, and he might be worth some picks or prospects or something. It’ll be weird to see him in another uniform (like Brodeur-on-the-Blues weird), but that’s probably what’s going to happen.

For two damn decades, only having to face the reality of a trade once in your career means you had a pretty damn good run.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

 

Why don’t passing statistics exist?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Joey.)

One of the big criticisms you often hear about “advanced” stats is that you can’t measure hockey like that because of “the flow of the game” and the speed of it and so on. One thing that those people don’t like to keep in mind about this is that we can certainly develop those statistics, and pretty easily. We just haven’t yet.

Passing stats should, in theory, be pretty easy to come up with. In much the same way that you record who’s on the ice for every hit, turnover, shot attempt, penalty, and so on, you also just track that data for passes. Along the way you also add in data like who was the passer and who was the receiver, approximate length of the pass, whether the pass was successful, and so on.

It probably takes a few extra people in the press box to do this, but it would start to tell you a lot pretty quickly: The league-wide or team or individual completion rates by pass distance, which players connect for the most passes, which passes lead directly to shot attempts, etc. This would add probably a few million data points per season to our understanding of the sport.

And look, people have tried it for individual teams. Does it necessarily tell us something to know how good any handful of Islanders are at passing? Probably not, but if things were collected at the league level, that’s a whole different story. Right now it’s hobbyists, just like the people who tracked zone entries for so long before a few got scooped up by NHL teams. But it’s all about to be moot.

That’s because all current player-tracking data we have is from observation, and when the league implements RFID chips that track players and puck alike instead, we’re not going to have to sit here and compile this data ourselves by watching the same games over and over again (assuming, that is, the league makes its tracking data public). Instead we’ll be able to more or less instantly see all the things being discussed above, for every second of every shift in every game all season long. This really is an insane new frontier and if nothing else it’s going to give us more data to evaluate the game. Maybe we’ll find out, for instance, that Tyler Bozak might not be good at driving possession or putting up points, but he’s comparably elite when distributing to Phil Kessel on passes of between 15-20 feet when transitioning through the neutral zone at 22 miles per hour. (We won’t find that out, of course, because he’s not, but in theory we could.)

That is the level of data we are about to receive (maybe). Hockey’s a fluid game? You bet it is. And maybe you can’t measure every aspect of it. But what if the NHL’s player tracking gives us something like this? Won’t the sport’s analytics movement have been worth it?

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

The Hamburglar will be apprehended soon

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Jo Innes.)

Andrew Hammond has rather quickly built up a nice little cult of personality behind a .954 save percentage over nine appearances this year, and in his NHL career he has allowed just 12 goals on 272 shots. Which is crazy.

But before we go about setting any “goalie of the future” type expectations, it’s important to keep in mind that at all other levels of the sport, Hammond hasn’t been much more than average. His best season in junior was when he went .912 as a 20-year-old for Vernon in the BCHL; the BCHL might not be a goaltending league, but .912 was only sixth, and again, he was 20.

When he played at Bowling green, his final year was his best one, as he went .917 in 29 games for what was admittedly not a great team. That was tied for 37th in the NCAA. No one outside the top 30 was less than .920.

And so far in his young pro career — two seasons, and keep in mind he’s already 27 — he’s played 73 games at the AHL level. Career save percentage: .905, which is likewise not very good at all.

So yes, Hammond’s stopping a lot of pucks at the NHL level these days, but the odds that a 27-year-old first-year player (the NHL doesn’t technically consider him a rookie because he’s older than 26) is anywhere near this good, after posting middling numbers in every other league, is extremely low. Let’s put it this way: Henrik Lundqvist is a career .921 goaltender, and he’s basically one of the greatest at his position of all time. Dominik Hasek is a career .926 — okay, sure, different era — and that nicely illustrates how little this kid is capable of keeping up anything remotely resembling those numbers. He’s faced more than 8,000 shots in his career, and the numbers in these few NHL games are such an outlier that it’s insane.

I mean, just look at this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.28.15 PM

And just in case you think I’m fudging it, I did indeed look up every shot he’s ever faced at a competitive level. He’s a .905 goalie.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.28.34 PM

So, Craig Anderson for a while longer then?

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

When will the Devils be good again?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by David.)

The New Jersey Devils are bad. And not, like, bad how they were the last two seasons where they were actually kind of good and just didn’t get a single bounce to go their way.

Bad like they are actually bad. They’re currently 24th in the NHL, which sounds just about right, and don’t even have the fundamentals in their game to back up people who say, “Well they really ought to be better.” They’re also 25th in score-adjusted corsi-for, which sounds about right.

Their roster is old and slow and not very good. This is a real and true thing I cannot believe, but here’s a stat for you: Scott Gomez is getting 16 minutes a night for them. How is this possible? Here’s another one: Of the 33 players that have put on a Devils jersey and got onto the ice this season, 17 (SEVENTEEN!!!!!) are over the age of 30. Only nine are 25 or younger.

Which is in part due to the philosophy clearly espoused on an organizational basis that old and gritty is better than young and skilled, which it isn’t in point of fact. And also due to the fact that the Devils have drafted horribly for years now. Look at any study of draft history over the past, say, decade, and you’re going to see the Devils down there near the bottom.

A lot of GMs in this league are unfairly maligned for drafting poorly — usually what this means is “not getting NHLers in the third-through-seventh rounds” which isn’t a skill so much as it is luck, but reflects poorly on GMs anyway — but Lou Lamoriello isn’t one of them. He drafts poorly. Going back a decade, you’ve got Travis Zajac, Niclas Bergfors, Matthew Corrente, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Adam Larsson, and Stefan Matteau as first-round picks who have made the NHL. Pretty good to get all those guys because they made the show and typically have at least 100 games played, but at the same time, like, Travis Zajac shouldn’t be your best first-round pick in the course of a decade. To be fair, the year before that it was Zach Parise, but I really shouldn’t have to go back 11 years to find an actual difference-maker in the first round.

Then there’s the NHL roster itself, which has lost a lot to attrition in the last few years. Ilya Kovalchuk wanted to take the Russian money and run (can’t blame him). Zach Parise wanted to head back home. David Clarkson wanted to get dramatically overpaid. Nothing to be done, there. But the ways Lamoriello attempted to replace these players defy logic. The replacement for Kovalchuk? “Nobody.” The replacement for Parise? “A baffling overpayment to Travis Zajac for some reason.” The replacement for Clarkson? “Ryane Clowe’s concussion problem.”

Getting Cory Schneider was just about the only good good move he’s made in a long time. And even that got fumbled in its execution (early on at least) because they couldn’t tell Marty Brodeur he wasn’t good enough to start any more. Now it’s being fumbled because they’re wasting a stellar age-28 season — and presumably age-29 through age-32 as well — with this garbage in front of him.

Lamoriello is clearly past it. Definitively. The game has blown by him like an opposing forward on the ice against Bryce Salvador, but he remains bulletproof because he won three Cups before Damon Severson lost all his baby teeth. He’s going to go out on his own terms, and until that point, the Devils are going to continue to be bad. He doesn’t see the game properly, and no amount of Sonny Mehtas are going to be able to convince him to sign helpful players to reasonable contracts. That prickly, stubborn image he projects is fun and everything, but this team really ought to be a lot better than he’s making it.

The team has three goddamn coaches, because Lamoriello thinks it’s a good idea. And he’s one of them. I mean come on.

When will the Devils be good again? “Five years after Lamoriello retires” sounds about right.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

Yes I am writing about some guy’s beer league team

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by John.)

If you want to talk about the one guy who’s more valuable to his team than any other in the sport of hockey it’s probably Jack Eichel, who has Boston University in the national title conversation despite the fact that they’re decidedly not-great when he’s off the ice.

But beyond that, I think a pretty good case can be made for Cory Green, who plays for B-Dubs in the Chiller Adult Hockey League E-level. The team itself is 4-1-2 in seven games, and almost every player on the team is well below a point per game. Green, however, has 11 goals and 15 points. (One assumes he’d have more if the rest of his teammates could keep up with him.)

In fact, Green’s 11 goals equals the total scored by the rest of the team’s forwards combined.

Another strong contributor is defenseman Ashish Nagpal, who has 5-2-7 in three games. Think how much better this team would be if he showed up. You know he’s one of those guys bombing in point shots every chance he gets, despite the fact that this is a beginner’s league and no one besides these two guys is very good on most nights.

The club is backstopped by Jeffrey Svoboda, who has allowed 26 goals in his seven games, and I have no idea if that’s good for this league. The three teams in front of them in the standings have allowed 10, seven, and 10, all in seven games, so I’m gonna say: Not great.

But if you’ve only lost one of seven games in regulation, that’s not nothing, right? Probably reasonable to assume that this is a team with a lot of character, good in the room, that sort of thing. They work hard and get to the contested areas of the ice, which leads to their high shooting percentage and so on.

But the best thing of all the fun stuff in the Monday E Chiller league is that a guy named Bryan Fury, who plays for a team called “The Crue,” leads the league in penalty minutes with 16 in six games played. Of course he does.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

Why are the Red Wings still good?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Matt Schultz.)

 

Just about every year since Nicklas Lidstrom retired I’ve said that this would be the one in which the Red Wings finally failed to make the playoffs. A lot of that is playing the odds, especially because the roster seems to have gotten worse and older every year since as well. But that, obviously, hasn’t happened yet, and it’s getting to the point where you have to wonder if it ever will.

The big reason why seems to be that the passage of time has no effect on Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both are now well past the age at which they should be as effective as they were in their late 20s, and yet here we are. Datsyuk is having his best season since the Lidstrom retirement in terms of just about everything — health, goal production, possession, etc. — at age 36, which doesn’t happen often.

Zetterberg is right there with him in some respects. He’s not scoring as much, nor is he driving play with quite the same effectiveness, but he’s still producing at a near-elite level as a 33-year-old. Whatever secret cryochamber stem cell treatments worked for Nicklas Lidstrom has clearly been imparted to them as well.

But obviously this isn’t a two-player team, and so you have to look at the contributions of others as well. And while there are a few guys worth singling out — Tomas Tatar has been revelatory as has Tomas Jurco; Riley Sheahan is producing at roughly a Zetterbergian level; Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith are proving very good on the blue line, etc. — it’s really the contributions of the whole team that’s been so impressive. Detroit right now is having the fourth-best shot-suppression season of any team in the last three seasons (behind lockout-shortened New Jersey, last year’s New Jersey, and lockout-shortened Los Angeles) even as they’re a middling offensive team. They’ve cut three shot attempts per game from their opponents’ totals, and are only taking one more of their own.

I will say, though, that I think they’ve been pretty lucky on special teams, too. Best power play in the league (25 percent), ninth-best PK (82.9 percent). Last year they were 18th and 12th, and the year before they were 15th and 12th. That pops a lot of extra goals onto your goal differential, which is important because they’re only plus-7 at 5-on-5.

Let’s put it this way: With 21 games left to go, the Red Wings already have the seventh-largest power play goal total in the last three years, and it’s because they’re shooting 17.7 percent. No surprise that’s the second-highest number seen in the post-Lidstrom era. (It also helps that they draw the third-most penalties in the league, which is a repeatable skill, but the shooting is very much not).

So I dunno, how long can they keep it up? A few more years? When Datsyuk and Zetterberg retire (whenever that is)? It’s tough to say, but at some point, making the playoffs this many times in a row despite whatever issues you go through has to just be considered good. Continually betting on this much power play success to carry you, not so much.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

Jack Edwards is the best in the business

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Asmae.)

The fans want what they want, and what they want is reasonable coverage of their teams on local television.

“Reasonable” can of course mean all kinds of things, but the biggest thing it means is “very locally focused.” You know that thing where, like, fans of teams — particularly teams which are good — think that the guys in the national media have it out for them? “So-and-so hates theCaps/Pens/Wings/Flyers/Bruins/Rangers/Leafs/Habs/Canucks/Avs/etc.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” gets shouted a lot.

Likewise, so does, “Of course (so-and-so) would say that, he loves the Caps/Pens/Wings/Flyers/Bruins/Rangers/Leafs/Habs/Canucks/Avs/etc.!!!!!!!!”

Fans want to see guys who will root, root, root for the home team no matter what, which is why people who don’t watch a lot of Avalanche games, for example, think the guys on Altitude are so painful to listen to, while those in the greater Denver area generally love them.They’re jokes to outsiders, because of how baldfaced their homerism is, and beloved by the locals, for precisely the same reason. This is also true in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Montreal, and especially Boston.

Jack Edwards, the play-by-play man for the Bruins, is the shining example of a fanboy announcer who can’t believe that Boston would ever do anything but win handily and leave their opponents as simpering, bloody pulps to be scraped out of the corners by the hard-workin’ ice crew at TD Garden. No one does this schtick better, and I’d really doubt that anyone ever has.

I mean, just look at that reaction to the Game 7 win against Toronto a few years ago.

The fist pumps! The stabbing analogy! The stabbing motion! It literally doesn’t get any better than that. People eat that stuff up, and that’s why Edwards has remained gainfully employed despite embarrassing himself on air many times in the last few years. It’s the Bruins who pay his salary and make decisions on who to hire and fire, after all, so this is really just the ultimate in sucking up to the bosses, especially if you also happen to be a huge fan of seeing your company do well.

This is the level of homerism to which all other local broadcasters in the sport really ought to aspire, because you’re basically guaranteed job security for decades. And hey, let’s not act as though it’s not entertaining. Because it 100 percent is. Among people who aren’t Bruins fans, it’s maybe not for the reasons people might aim overall, but you can’t argue with the effectiveness. Nobody’s better at this than Jack Edwards. And probably no one’s even close.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

 

Milan Lucic is very worth it

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Scott McLaughlin.)

The Boston Bruins are at a crossroads. No mystery there. Do they push all-in with this eighth-place team that really hasn’t been very good this year? Do they stand pat? Do they start selling off some of the older and more expensive pieces on the roster?

It’s a tough time to be Peter Chiarelli. All those contracts are his contracts, all those guys are ones he acquired via trade, free agency, or the draft (well, not so much the draft). So basically any changes he makes are, in some ways, an indictment of the job he’s done. One supposes he should feel lucky, though, to have built a team that went to two Cup Finals in three years with this roster, but his clubs always seemed to be right on the line of “This could go sour in a hurry.”

So the question is who gets traded. Not “if,” but “when.” Some of Chiarelli’s guys will be shipped out either ahead of the deadline (not super-likely) or this summer (super-likely).

One person who should definitely not be included in the people being thrown overboard is Milan Lucic.

Sure, you look at Lucic’s contract and you say, “Six million dollars?” And you look at his production and you say, “Half a point a game?” And you look at his advanced stats and say, “He’s not driving play?” And you circle back to his contract and you can’t figure it out.

But let me tell you, buddy, I live in Boston, and you have to understand that Lucic is more than just a third-line player with a first-line contract. He is The Boston Bruins. Everything that fans of this team like — hitting, fighting, saying mean stuff to the Canadiens, occasionally scoring goals, having Shawn Thornton’s phone number, and so on — is right in Milan Lucic’s job description. He’s basically Cam Neely without the goalscoring, or Bobby Orr without the being great, or Terry O’Reilly without the mythologizing yet.

Sorry, stats nerds, but you need guys like that on the team. You need guys that stand up in the room and say, “Hey, we’re playing like garbage,” but without saying, “And I’m obviously a big part of that because I have as many goals as Dennis Wideman this year.” It’s about accountability and identity. Lucic brings both to everyone around him, and unselfishly saves none for himself. You need guys like that around when you’re going through a tough stretch, which the Bruins have all year.

He’s a marquee player in this league who has often been described as “the fourth-best forward on the team,” and “the ninth-best player on the team” for a reason. You don’t just extend players like that for $18 million because they scored 30 goals and put Mike Komisarek through the glass the same number of times. You have to keep him around.

He’s definitely not a guy who has to walk around saying, “Do you know who I am?” to people. You know who he is: A guy who definitely shouldn’t have been traded years ago.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

Is Sidney Crosby really a vampire?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by TJ.)

A few years ago, as part of an attempt to blow up an idiotic and fallacious argument advanced by a moron (specifically, that Alex Ovechkin’s drop-off in goal production was the result of discontinued steroid use, and there was no way to disprove this so it must be true), I said that there’s likewise no way to disprove an assertion that Sidney Crosby is a vampire.

This, for some reason, caught on big-time with people. They really wanted to believe that it was possible. A weirdly large amount, really. Think about it: Crosby has a superhuman and preternatural talent for the game, played mostly indoors, mostly at night, and mostly in the cold (I’m assuming vampires don’t care if it’s cold. Is that part of the thing with vampires? It must be).

But if the burden of proof is on Crosby to provide evidence that he is in fact not a vampire, then those who believe him to be so would also do well to mount additional evidence to disprove. Here is some interesting information that I have come up with:

Consideration No. 1:
Crosby came into the league at a time when composite sticks were really starting to rule the day. No chance of getting a broken wood stick through the heart.

Consideration No. 2:
It is a widely held belief that the NHL draft lottery in 2005 was rigged so that Crosby would go to Pittsburgh. They had a lockout that canceled the whole season, and then a team that had the selection criteria crafted to favor them heavily not-surprisingly won it. The Penguins backed into the best talent of a generation for the second time in their history.

(Addendum: A draft lottery essentially invites Crosby into the league. He could not have entered without invitation, as stated by vampiric myth.)

Consideration No. 3:
The second-place team, who settled for Bobby Ryan (decidedly not a vampire as far as I know), was the Anaheim Ducks. Carolina was No. 3.

Consideration No. 4:
Pittsburgh was the closest of these three cities to Crosby’s hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. If he were a vampire, he would have to sleep in a coffin full of dirt from his homeland, and this geographical proximity saves on shipping costs.

Consideration No. 5:
Even for the most powerful vampires, I have to assume that it is sometimes difficult to avoid being outside in the daytime. And given that direct exposure to sunlight would mean his instant and horrible death. So is it any surprise at all that Pittsburgh is the fourth-cloudiest city in the U.S., with 203 days of heavy clouds per year? Among NHL cities, only Buffalo, which picked 13th, is cloudier (208 days).

In fact, Pittsburgh is also third in the number of days with cloudy skies of any kind, at 306. That’s 84 percent of the year.

Consideration No. 6:
Meanwhile, Anaheim has 280 sunny days per year. And it’s 217 in Raleigh. Crosby would, of course, not want to go there.

Consideration No. 7:
Crosby has played in two outdoor games. For one, it snowed heavily in Buffalo (again, that’s the third-cloudiest city in America, folks!). For the other, it was rather conveniently rained out, and then held at night.

We’re through the looking glass on this one, people.

Thank you for reading and supporting 826 Boston. Don’t forget to donate!

 

Another comic

Recently, there was a comic by my friend Matt Lubchansky (drawing) and I (words), posted over at Flames Nation. You can look at it here. I promise it’s good.

Well, we did another one. This one is about the hockey media’s view of Russians.

Okay have fun and please like and share and all that stuff. If you do it enough, we might be able to justify the effort of making more and getting them published somewhere.

DAS SLEEPY