Sunday, January 27, 2008

DS Errors Intriguing but Flawed Idea

I like to take in David Staples' Cult of Hockey blog 4-5 times a week; It's usually the closest I come to reading Edmonton MSM and he's pretty entertaining while being succinct. His Best of the Oilogosphere mentions are also a nice little summary for the average reader who doesn't quite have time to read all the great pieces by the Oilogosphere writers.

There's an idea he's been toying with for a while that I must say, has me intrigued. Staples claims he has watched (or rewatched) every Oilers game this season and assigned up to three 'errors' (such as those in baseball) for every even strength goal against. First of all, there's a lot I like about this idea.

+/- is definitely a flawed statistic in itself. It statistically punishes players for a goal against even if they did everything correctly, or it can reward a player even if they did nothing positive. A lot of times, it's not a true reflectance of how many mistakes or positives a player is making. On good teams players tend to have exaggerated pluses, and on bad teams players tend to have exaggerated minus'. Of course, my personal belief is that over the long term most statistical anomalies tend to even out, but certainly in the short term I think error counting could be a useful tool in determining the relative value of a player's on ice impact.

However, I can count a number of problems within the error system.

One of the first major issues I have with this system is it doesn't factor in errors that don't lead to goals. For example, let's say Sheldon Souray makes a bad pinch and it's a two on one the other way. Steve Staios then misplays the two on one leading to a very good chance that either; Garon makes a save or the shot goes wide.

In Staples' system, there is no error assigned there, even though it's just as legitimate a mistake as one that would have lead to a goal. Currently, the system over-penalizes players that have bad goalies or play against exceptional opponents. and over rewards players with good goalies who play poor opponents. (This assumes a better opponent is more likely to convert scoring chances). Why not assign errors to scoring chances period? This would help eliminate some of the bias.

Staples tries to simplify things by administering only even strength errors, which is I think a smart move, but he oversimplifies by only assigning errors that lead to goals. What about scoring chances or penalties? There are some penalties that are errors (such as an offensive zone trip) and there are some errors that cause penalties (a missed defensive cover by one player forces another player to take a penalty to negate the advantage). You may not have to count errors when on the penalty kill, but errors should at least be counted if it forces your team to take a penalty.

We should also be taking into account the magnitude of the error, or at least the quality of opponent. Let's say an attacking player loses the puck in the neutral zone to the defending team which leads to a 2-2 the other way. One of the defenders in the 2-2 loses his footing, falls, and then the attacking team scores. Which is the bigger error, the turnover in the neutral zone, or falling on a standard 2-2? In my opinion, one error is of a much larger magnitude and there should be some way of making a notification of such. We also should take into account the level of opponent against which the error is made. Obviously if Andrew Ference gets burned by Ilya Kovalchuk in the defending zone on a terrific deke or by pure physical strength, it should probably be weighted differently than if he gets burned by Donald Brashear. If I'm a player evaluator, I want to know the type of opponent situation in which the player is going to succeed or fail, but Staples' system completely ignores it.

I'd also like to make mention of anomalies within the error system, specifically, fluke plays. Sometimes a player can play a situation completely wrong and by pure fluke suceeds on the play. I have no idea how this can be accounted for in the system, maybe it will come out in the wash. Still, it's a concern.

Finally, I have a couple of nitpicks. Who is the person deciding if it's an error or not? That's going to be an extremely tricky wrinkle, as the correct play for any given situation is contendable depending on who is doing the evaluation. It's possible for a guy to do everything right and still get beat, and I'd be hard pressed in those situations to call it an 'error.'

Lastly, Staples explained that he assigns up to three errors, just as goals can be assigned three points (the goal and two assists). However, it's a bit arbitrary to assign only three purely due to the fact goals are awarded three points. Why not have the option of assigning up to 6 errors, one for every player on the ice. I know I've seen goals where 6 guys were at fault, so why would they not be assigned an error?

Staples' plan to assign errors to players is a good one, but I think some of the conclusions he's come to using his system are a bit suspect and I think if you applied some minor changes you'd get a lot clearer picture and a lot better evaluative tool.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Forsake the Oilers, or God Will Forsake You

Life in Oiltown has been pretty god damned sour since the 07 trade deadline (actually it started before that but let me get to my point before you shoot down my poorly constructed introduction). The Oilers traded away Ryan Smyth for Nilsson and O'Marra, then in the summer traded the promised one, Joffrey Lupul after an extremely subpar year (or average depending on how you crunch the numbers). Finally, not even Michael Nylander would sign with the club, even after saying he would, choosing the Washington Capitals (!) instead.

I used to say that Smytty was hockey Jesus and when he wanted to talk to his father he would look up high into the lights of the rafters and signal the man upstairs...Lowe. Well I don't know if it's Lowe or God or just karma but those that hath forsaken Edmonton have had some plagues blasted on their asses...or such.

A couple weeks ago, Joffrey Lupul (public enemy number 8 or so, behind Pronger, Comrie, etc) took a much publicized hammering from, off all people, his teammate, the apparently not so useless Derian Hatcher (public enemy number 4 in Edmonton...well that hit probably dropped his wanted status down to 15 or so). Firstly, what the hell was Hatcher thinking, he hasn't layed a hit in YEARS, probably because he's too slow to line anyone up. Then when he finally decides to thrown down he nails his teammate, giving him a bruise to the freaking spine. What a champ.

I'm sure other Oiler fans like me (sadistic ones) cracked just the smallest smile when that happened. I mean, I hope Lupul is eventually better, but he was having a great season and making all of us doubters look like morons. Nothing like a little freak injury to set that bastard back in his place! (I'm joking of course...).

Next up we can talk about Ryan Smyth. I think disappointment is probably an appropriate word in terms of describing his performance this year, which dipped from regular to poor thanks to injuries. I think it's far too early to say Lowe was at least correct in assessing Smytty's games/year potential, but certainly Smyth's year is not looking up. Out till mid February, his centerman Joe Sakic is out even longer. Ouch.

Now finally we come to Michael Nylander, the man who despised Edmonton so much he went to the (former) murder capital of North America. I mean, honestly, how bad can cold weather and perogies be? This was a really strange situation, and I'm not sure who's to blame - Kevin Lowe, Michael Nylander, Michael Nylander's agent, or the sweet alluring puppy dog eyes of Alexander Ovechkin, but this was simultaneously a slimey and welcome move. The slimy is obvious, (how can you make a deal with one team and then somehow reneg on that deal, it's like a mini-Pronger move), but the welcome is the fact Nylander is no replacement for Ryan Smyth and is a move in the wrong direction for this team.

Now of course if there was any real justice in life Pronger wouldn't have a Cup, Lowe might not be fired but he certainly wouldn't have a contract extension, Smyth would be playing for the Oilers and Ty Conklin would've been playing like a madman in June 06 rather than now.

But as LT has said many times, this year is about moral victories.

Coincidentally, the Oilers are playing the Caps tonight. Check out Japer's Rink and A View From the Cheap Seats, because besides the fact the Oilers get to see those snappy new Caps jerseys, many Capitals bloggers have been given press passes because Ted Leonsis believes in the power of blogging. I wonder if Katz feels the same way?

Fun Fact: The Washington Capitals refuse to pay overnight shipping to equipment manufacturers, preferring to save money by having products sent ground.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sweet Home Alberta - Joseph Signs With Calgary

Not 2 weeks ago I wrote about Curtis Joseph's triumph for Canada at the Spengler Cup. ST aptly pointed out in the comments section that his appearance at the Spengler was mostly about making a bid for a return to the NHL, and it seems that bid has ended in fruition.

Pretty much every sports news outlet is reporting Curtis Joseph has signed with the Calgary Flames (his second Alberta stint), and IF that is true I have a few brief thoughts.

This post could have been titled 'World's Most Obvious Signing.' Mike Keenan loves his veterans and there is no more veteran goalie available than Joseph. A friend of mine living in Belleville joined me in laughing about the Leafs this morning (about 9:30 Calgary time) - 'You hear Toronto might pick up Joseph?'

'Nah,' I countered, 'Keenan has that shit locked up.'

In actuality, it's not a bad move. I have felt for some time (multiple seasons) that Kiprusoff is overworked - if I had my way he'd play 65 or so games per year. But Calgary hasn't had a goaltender in the backup position that has been good enough to steal games for quite some time, and watching the Flames defence, I believe that's often what they need.

Obviously Keenan did not have enough confidence in Curtis Mcelhinney or Matt Keetley to play them the 15 or so games and take some heat off of Kipper. Obviously, in Joseph he does have the confidence, or at the very least, the cost ($650,000 over the rest of the year) is worth the potential reward. I would have to agree.

Potentially the best part of this deal is the fact Joseph is clearly willing to take a lesser role to rejoin the bigs. Reports pegged Cujo as choosing between the Rangers and the Flames, which to me says something; I'm willing to play behind a workhorse goalie in exchange for a chance to win something. The attitude of the backup goaltender undeniably plays a part in the attitude of the starter (is Kipper missing his buddie Jamie?) and having a cheerleader in Joseph could be a good thing. Plus it may give Kipper some confidence knowing that there's another man behind him.

Of course, maybe he'll just perceive the coaches as not having enough confidence in him. I predict that's not the case though.


Flaming CuJo... - Five Hole Fanatics

Cujo joins Flames - Mirtle

a few things: the nutshell version - hit the post

Cujo lives! -

Sunday, January 13, 2008

One Year Ago - The Battle of Alberta

Almost a year ago to the day I wrote a preview on the battle of Alberta focusing on the strange intertwining careers of Jarret Stoll and Matthew Lombardi. At the time I noted Jarret Stoll was playing an excellent all around game while Matthew Lombardi had provided the Flames with a legitimate 2nd line center option.

Oh time, you are a cruel mistress.

Jarret Stoll has become a fourth line grinder, whether due to post injury blue or some other cause. His play doesn't seem to have gotten worse, but he's levelled off at a purely checking role which really hurts. His shooting percentage has dropped to an ungodly 6% which partly accounts for his low scoring totals, although whether he's shooting worse or has just become unlucky is yet to be determined. Amazingly, he's actually 4th in Oiler point scoring totals, which I think probably says all you need to know about the team.

Matthew Lombardi was running along nicely until Craig Conroy inecsplicably stole his spot. He didn't really have a great ending to his season but excelled on a line with Rick Nash at the World Championship proving that when he's put with good players and given ample playing time he can excel. Apparently Mike Keenan however was not convinced and once again put Lombardi behind Craig Conroy. He's been playing on the 'Kid Line' a lot recently with Boyd and Nystrom and hasn't really looked that good, at least in the defensive zone.

This has been about an up and down season as I can remember for both the Oilers and the Flames. The Flames had a terrible stretch in November then an unbelievable stretch in December and now they've fallen back to earth, losing to Phoenix and the Islanders in consecutive contests. They imploded in the 2nd against Phoenix and fell asleep a few times against the Islanders and that was all it took.

The Oilers have looked bad, worse, great, bad and then pretty good again. Injuries have almost certainly played a role in the Oilers losing record, but the real problem is a lack of qualified NHLers. I mean, this is a team that for a while was actually relying on Geoff Sanderson. Despite this the Oilers are having a pretty good homestand and are a win away from evening their win-loss record which is pretty near all you can expect from them.

For tonight's game strap in and hold on. This rollercoaster is only half over.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Team Canada 2008 IIHF World Junior Champions

This was easily the least convincing, least spectacular edition of Team Canada gold medal winners over the past 4 years.

But it was also easily the most spectacular finish.

After 60 minutes and some change, Team Canada defeated Team Sweden in one of the most exciting World Junior Championship gold medal games in recent memory, winning 3-2 on the strength of an OT goal by Matt Halischuk.

Team Canada beat Team USA in a convincing fashion, having several key players step up (what about Brandon Sutter nailing James van Reimsdyk, what about Brad Marchand playing a terrific two way game, what about Chris Mason being named player of the game?), and Team Sweden beat Team Russia in OT, paving the way for a rematch between Team Canada and the only remaining undefeated team in the tournament, the Tre Kroner.

After being legitimately questioned as a useful number 1 scoring unit, Brad Marchand, Kyle Turris and Claude Giroux stepped up and had by far their best game, scoring twice in the first, both of them great examples of determination rather than skill.

Goal number one had Marchand pick the puck out of the air after a Kyle Turris shot and bank it off the Swedish goalie Jhonas Enroth. The second goal had Marchand poking the puck out from Enroth as he attempted the smother it, he then spun around behind the net and centered it perfectly to a wide open Claude Giroux on the opposite side of the net who banged it home.

The Swedes though, should be given their due as well, especially as the comeback kids of the tournament. Beginning with their 4-3 comeback victory against Canada last Saturday, then a 2-1 OT comeback victory against the Russians yesterday, and then they managed to tie the game after being behind by a couple goals in the third.

After Kyle Turris dinged one off the post early in the third, Sweden put the pressure on, dominating the game for over 15 minutes straight. From terrific individual plays by Patrik Berglund (an absolute beauty behind the net pass for Sweden's first goal, then an almost a coast to coast), to a constant flow of great passing and individual plays from Robin Figren, Team Sweden did everything possible to tie and nearly win the game. At one point Marchand looked like he was about to go after a Swedish player for a perceived slight, the camera momentarily moved to Craig Hartsburg who clearly mouthed "Marchand! Focus Marchand!!" The last minute goal by Team Sweden looked to be the last nail in the coffin for Canada who were outshot 14-3 in the third period and were completely dizzied by the Swedish attack. I'm not sure there was one Canadian player in position, including goaltender Steve Mason who really overplayed a shot at the side of the net, mimicking Jonathan Bernier's earlier mistake.

Team Canada though would not be denied. When OT started Sweden still held the play but were not nearly as dominant. After a few hesitant shifts in which Canada played a simply dump (with no chase), Canada changed strategy to dump AND chase. Matthias' forecheck caused a turnover in the corner and he drove to the net hard, making contact with Enroth as he came from behind the net. From then on the story was Matt Halischuk driving to the net hard and banging in the rebound. After that it was sheer bedlam.

The celebrations lasted longer than usual with the team charging into the stands and celebrating with the 4000 or so Canadian fans. As the choir of boys sang out the Canadian national anthem, Stefan Legein, who played only one shift in the game due to injury, yelled to the camera 'I told you Canada!!' following up with his statement during the national anthem of the quarterfinal game ("Two more baby!") and after the semifinal game ("One more baby!").

One thing I'll say about this team that is different from the rest of the 4 in a row Team Canada teams is that I never felt any one player stood out for any length of time. Early in the tournament it was the youngsters Jonathan Tavares and Steve Stamkos who played well, Drew Doughty eventually found his stride, and at the end of the tournament I though Marchand, Giroux, Turris, Sutter, and Mason who stepped it up. To give you an idea of individual efforts, not one forward from team Canada was named to the all star team, although Drew Doughty was named along with his underage Swedish counterpart Victor Hedman. Chris Mason was named the top goalie of the tournament.

10 players from this Team Canada edition are eligible to return next year to compete for the gold in Ottawa. The drive for five is only a year away.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Team Canada vs. Team USA Pregame - Rock and A Hard Place

Going into this year's edition of the IIHF World Junior Championships, I think it was hard to point out where Canada's strengths lay. In the summer Super Series, Canada could score, hit, shut down, and it had great goaltending.

Right now it's hard to identify Canada's strengths, but for different reasons. Canada doesn't score that often, they only have two guys playing physically (Stefan Legein, Colton Gillies, Brandon Sutter is clearly injured), they haven't really contained anybody, and the goaltending, well...

I thought Jonathan Bernier played great against the Czech Republic in game one of this tournament; he looked really sharp, swallowed rebounds and looked really confident. I thought he looked sharp against the Swedes too, that is until he allowed that first goal past him (not his fault in any way in my eyes), then he just fell apart. I'm not going to say the next two goals were his fault, because they weren't. But he certainly looked like a different goalie. The fourth, well, that was just plain bad - and he certainly looked shell shocked after it happened.

Steve Mason got his first start against Slovakia, but I was at work and didn't see that game, so I can't legitimately comment besides saying that a shut out is a shut out. Still, from what I saw of Bernier, I felt it would be difficult to outplay him, and so Bernier was given the number 1 position. After that disaster, Steve Mason got his chance - IMO he did not impress. The first goal by the Finns was absolutely brutal, and apparently he's known for giving away a goal like this per game. The second goal was more forgivable, but it wasn't impressive either. And to think Canada actually played better against the Finns than they did against the Swedes makes me very nervous.

Hartsburg and co had the unenviable position of again choosing which of these goalies would start against Team USA, the rematch from last year in which another goalie, Carey Price, solidified his position as a top goaltending prospect. This is the highest pressure game either of them has likely faced, and their predecessor's shadow is about as big as it gets. And neither of them, nor the rest of the team, has played well up to this point. That Mason stands first in SV%, (.951) GAA (1.00), is a bit of an illusion, as he's only faced 58 shots, not many of them high quality - witness the two that went in as at least some evidence.

Canada has already decided to start Mason, and he will be tested tomorrow - Team USA has a very good team including James Van Reimsdyk. He's got 4g, 4a and is (+)4 in 4 games. The next highest scorer is Marek Slovak who has 9pts in 6 games. Team USA also has the 5th (Colin Wilson) and 7th (Jordan Schroeder) scorers on the tournament. Every top scorer in between 7th and 1st is no longer competing in the tournament. Mason's rival from Team USA, Jeremy Smith, has a marginally lower SV% (93.83) and GAA (1.36) and has played a half game more than Mason, also facing 20 more shots. Certainly a statistically comparable performance to Mason thus far.

The fact that Mason let in one questionable goal isn't the end of the world. Hell, great goalies let in bad goals all the time - it's simply that in short tournaments like this, every GA is greatly magnified. Whether it be tournaments like this or playoff series, most of the team that wins is the team whose goalie is playing best and is on a visually obvious hot streak. Witness Justin Pogge or Carey Price in their World Junior performances. Mason is not on a hot streak.

If Team Canada is going to succeed, somebody other than Kyle Turris, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, or Drew Doughty has to make a big impact. Hopefully for Team Canada fans, that man will be Steve Mason.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Curtis Joseph Finally Grabs the Gold

Early morning December 31st, Curtis Joseph, 40, accomplished something he had failed at twice earlier in his long and generally successful career. He won a gold medal as Canada's number 1 goaltender, albeit in the lesser known Spengler Cup.

His first opportunity came waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1996, as Canada assembled what was the twilight period of Edmonton Oiler greats for the very first World Cup of Hockey. That year Curtis Joseph was the number 1, with backups Bill Ranford and Martin Brodeur(!). He was considered a good goalie I think, but he hadn't yet reached the height of his own legend, that would come a few years later, closer to when he left Edmonton and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs. There is nothing really to say about that edition of Team Canada except to say that they lost in a spectacular fashion when it mattered most. Certainly that team's 3rd period collapse to Team USA, (with both teams tied for one win apiece in the best of 3 series) is comparable in terms of level of disaster to Canada's World Jr. 3rd period collapse to Team USA in 2004, or the semi-final loss to the Czech Republic in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Many questions were asked about the age of the team leaders such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (and in fact Messier was left out of the 1998 Nagano team, but would go on to play hockey for another 300 years or so). The real story of the tournament was Brett Hull's performance, and bitter Canadians (myself) still like to point out that for all intents and purposes he is Canadian, certainly in terms of who he owes his career to. He only played for Team USA because he was rejected by Team Canada due to lack of conditioning on one occasion early on in his career, but Team USA's shallow talent pool was ready to accept him with open arms. From then on he was loyal to Team USA. But I digress.

In 1998 Patrick Roy made a rare appearance for Team Canada so Joseph never got the opportunity. But it would come to him again in 2002.

It seems insane to think that only 6 years ago Curtis Joseph was considered a better goalie than Martin Brodeur, as Brodeur has been so consistently good for so long, but that's the way it was. However, Joseph simply did not play well in his first start; after storming out to a 1-0 lead, Mats Sundin put one past Joseph (admittedly on a breakaway), then was unable to make a key save later on in the period. The third goal against, halfway through the second, Joseph let in a suspect shot from the point. Another breakaway in the 3rd led to another goal against.

It wasn't so much that Joseph was at particular fault - it was more that he simply wasn't able to bail his teammates out of bad situations. He was replaced by Martin Broduer in the second game against Germany and never played another minute.

That was not the case against Salavat Yulaev Ufa on Monday, where Joseph made many key stops, including a shorthanded breakaway and a dangerous shot from the slot by Oleg Tverdovsky in the third.It took a long time, but he finally won one for Canada.

No doubt Joseph used this tournament to showcase his ability to perform at a high level, even at his advanced age. But regardless of his reasons, Joseph showed the world, and his home country, that he's still got something left in the tank. Now are there any takers?