Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Rule of 5

I have to thank PunjabiOil. My reply to his comments in the previous post required me to think long and hard about the nature of successful team building in the NHL. I have since come to the conclusion that there are only 5 ways to build a true, play-off contending team (a team that should make the play-offs every year) in the NHL and if a GM does not currently have one of these 5 models in place then it may be time to blow it all up and start over.

Those models would be:

1. Any team that has a true top-10 goalie
------ usually defined as a goalie consistently in the top-10 in sv% with 55+ games played (Luongo).

2. Any team with a true generational talent
------ usually defined as a player who can carry a team (Pronger, Crosby) but one can also substitute several superstar level players to achieve the same effect (Tampa Bay)

3. Any team deep enough to survive having, only, a top-25 goalie
------ usually defined as a team that plays a) exceptionally well 5v5 or b) has great special teams and decent EV play

4. Any team that has a true, talent of the team irrelevant to success, genius of a coach
------ usually defined as a coach who coaches whatever team he has to work with at the time to a +.500 record and a shot at the play-offs (Lemaire, Hitchcock)

5. Any team lucky enough to play in the sad sack SE division of the NHL
------ usually defined as any of Carolina, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida

Granted, my approach is not scientific, but I think it holds up. If a team does NOT fit one of these five models, and does not have a GM working towards transforming the team into following one of those five models, then it is a team destined for mediocrity and an extended run out of the play-offs.

Two important things to note:

1. Models can overlap, i.e. a team can have a top-10 goaltender AND a generational player (Anaheim), etc.

2. The models listed only cover builds for teams that should make the play-offs every year; not to be confused with a team that should be contending for the Stanley Cup every year*

* A Cup-contending team will tend to have at least two of the models working strongly in its favor

So there you go. Pure conjecture, unsupported on the face of it by anything remotely resembling facts, but still basically correct. Why was this worthy of a post? Because, if I can define what successful strategies for team building are I also, by default, define what unsuccessful strategies of team building are.

Here is a trick I am sure some have already noted: the model only works for team building. Ottawa, for example, is already 'built' and so must be held to a higher standard than just that of building a team that should make the play-offs every year.

All that said - be interesting to see what Lowe tries to accomplish this off-season won't it?


Have a great evening everyone.

Friday, 20 April 2007

One Other Mistake MacLean Made (but not really)

There are many things that boggle the mind in regards to MacLean's time as GM in Columbus. My two favorites involve:

a. Fielding a competitive team in 2000-2001: the year that Spezza would be available in the upcoming draft (though Kovalchuk went first) - he made the same mistake in 2003-2004 when Ovechkin and Malkin were up for grabs.

b. Signing Marchant then dumping him (via waivers of all things) to get Federov.

However this post isn't about the many failed maneuvers of Doug MacLean. It is about the one mistake he made over which he had no control:

His team wasn't placed in the South East Division.

That kind of ineptitude may have covered his own.

I wonder how many nights he lay awake thinking about how easy those teams had it while he was dealing with the likes of Detroit, Colorado, etc.


Have a great evening everyone.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

National Hockey Bush League

And the NHL wonders why it has a credibility problem in regards to violence? When I first heard about the May sucker punch on Johnsson I had to admit I thought the worst.

Really... is there any better way to take out the opposing teams best defenseman, who has a history of concussions, than with a sucker punch to the head?

When such an act is performed by a player who is relatively meaningless to the success of a team like May - even better.

Now, granted, his defense of his actions rings true of anyone who is paid for their ability to hit people with his fists more than his ability to actually play the game of hockey - to whit - a scrum started and he went flying in and he hit the first guy he saw.

Didn't identify the player first.

Didn't angle the player away from the scrum.

Didn't try to grab him and lock him up.

Didn't try to get between the other player and the scrum, protecting himself all the while, to see if it WAS a fighting situation first BEFORE lobbing bombs.


Sucker punched him.

Remember what I said earlier:

"Now, granted, his defense of his actions rings true of anyone who is paid for their ability to hit people with his fists more than his ability to actually play the game of hockey - to whit - a scrum started and he went flying in and he hit the first guy he saw."

His defense is consistent with his role. So, given that, the question then becomes - why is he even playing hockey?

He isn't there to play the game he is there to hit other people.

So when I see that the act only produces a 3 game suspension please forgive me if I question, in totality, the integrity of the NHL.
Now. If a Wild player just so happens to slash CFP's wrist, breaking it in the process, forgive me if I don't shed any tears. Just a game of hockey ain't it?

Bush League.
Have a good evening everyone.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Incompetence: Thy Name is Lowe

From this Edmonton Journal article I shall pull my quotes.

"It was always our intention to make some deals, at some point," said Lowe, whose team, without Pronger, Peca and deadline pickups Jaroslav Spacek, Dick Tarnstrom and Sergei Samsonov, was unmistakeably diminished on defence, but strengthened in goal with the addition of Dwayne Roloson.

In this post here I address the nature of risk management in decision making. More specifically I take a look at the defensive situation of the Oilers.

Problem is that they didn't even have to replace Pronger with another Pronger - they just needed a veteran guy who could safely play 16+ minutes a game babysitting the bottom pairing; thus breaking up any pairings of Smid/Greene or MAB/Smid or MAB/Greene et al. and allowing Smith to concentrate on stopping the top-lines. A lot of players fit into that category.

Anything more than that was bonus.

Risk management is NOT a new concept in management. For none of Lowe, Howson, Laforge, et al to understand the practice of it in their profession (namely that of building a successful hockey team) is borderline unforgivable. It is tantamount to letting the Keystone Cops police New York. Incompetence personified.

Lowe: "It happened that the year before that we were able to do something. This year, it became more apparent that the cap really tightens things up. Until you start eating away at some of the contracts over the course of the year, teams just can't make moves."

Really? According to that quote he couldn't make trades because teams were too close to the Cap... ummmm... didn't the Oilers START the year with roughly $ 4 million in Cap space? The facts support a direct contradiction of his quote. For him to say he couldn't make a trade because Cap space is too tight is a fallacy - he had LOTS of Cap Space to work with. Worse yet - he had the one thing he himself says a lot of other teams needed - Cap space.

Dec 16, 2006 Zhitnik is traded to the Flyers. The season started October 4. This means that the season was 74 days old. Per earlier posts of mine (here and here) we know that:

-- with $ 4.0 million Lowe could purchase $ 6.62 million in salary
-- Zhitnik's $ 3.5 million would have cost $ 2.12 million in Cap room
-- at Day 146 (~ deadline) Lowe would still have $ 8.57 million in Cap room

Ergo - Lowe is either a really poor liar or completely unable to comprehend Cap math. For a GM of a hockey club NOT to understand Cap math I would suggest to you the GM is incompetent.

"At the deadline, if I have $1 million in cap room, I can take on a $4-million player," Lowe said. Lowe, who strives to stay about 10 per cent below the cap, had ample cap room to deal.

Oh. So he DOES know Cap math. Just doesn't know how to work it apparently? Also, I address the 10% issue in that same post I mentioned earlier. Saving 10% is poor Cap management through and through.

So why no deadline airlift? Three issues, primarily: the team's failing fortunes on the ice; a slowly growing list of injuries to key players like centre Jarret Stoll (concussion) and defenceman Steve Staios (knee), and a depleted stockpile of what GMs call assets -- prospects and draft choices to use as trade bait.

"We traded three players for Pronger, three assets (two players and a draft pick) for Samsonov, a first-round draft choice for Roloson, (a prospect) for Spacek and (two players) for Tarnstrom," Lowe said, doing an inventory of the 2005-06 moves. "We weren't in a position, when we got to the deadline, where we could decide to, say, move out all these assets to take on a rental player and make a run for it.

"We weren't nearly in the same position as we were last year -- in our minds, anyway." More pointedly, as the Feb. 27 deadline neared...

The deadline? the DEADLINE??? As noted before - the time to deal with the issue was pre-season start. Even if not then at least one team was able to trade Cap space for a player less than HALFWAY through the season.

Let's recap - Zhitnik was traded 74 days in. The Oilers record at that point in time was 17 wins and 15 losses. Not exactly tearing it up but nowhere near being goners. The EXACT right time to make a trade to shore up any deficiences.

If your team has a known and quantifiable weakness (too inexperienced and not enough depth) do you really wait until it is in full-blown crisis mode to make a deal? Obvious answer is 'No'.

I also like the 'depleted stockpile' pile. The Oilers, even before the trade of Smyth, have/had loads of B+ level prospects and any time a team is willing to take a guy like Freddy Meyer Jr. just to unload salary the Oilers are in that game.

To say that the team didn't have assets to trade is laughable - they have so many they were finally forced to get their own AHL team just to give them a place to play.

Finally, Stoll didn't go down until Jan 19 - past the halfway mark of the season. Most of their injury troubles happened in the latter half of the year. There was lots of time to strengthen the team prior to calamity.

"Honestly, what concerned me the most was the length of it," Nichols said. "Ryan is a 31-year-old guy that has got a history of injuries." "I think he's averaged a month a year in his career out with injuries. I remember one year he had a half-a-year. It's the way he plays the game. He exposes himself to injury. So the number ($5.4 million per season) wasn't as troubling to me as the length of it."

Interesting way to look at stats. Let's look at that. In the last 11 years Smyth has never played less than 61 games. Of those 10 years:

-- in 4 of those years he played a full 82 games
-- in 4 of those years he played 71, 75, 71 and 71 games
-- in 3 of those years he played 65, 61 and 66 games

That is an average of 73.5 games played a season. A month a year? Loosely... yes. Hardly a player who is on the verge of falling apart however. Important to note as well - none of his injuries were chronic - we aren't talking Lindros here. LOTS of elite level players miss 6 - 10 games a year. It comes with the ice time and effort level imo.

More importantly, Smyth's game isn't based on speed, ability to shoot or puckhandling skill, he plays a game based on simple puck possession hockey and so his game is actually LESS prone to impairment by serious injury than many players out there today.

The trade route may be more viable, the same option that delivered Pronger from St. Louis and Peca from the Islanders two summers ago.

Really. Pronger and Peca were both first year, new CBA, Cap pick-ups. Next year's Cap is going to hit $ 48+ million a team. Won't be a lot of offloading of players like Pronger and Peca taking place next year. Be a lot of Samsonov's out there however.

To be fair that quote is from the article and is not attributable to Lowe or team management. Anyone who thinks that trades like those are out there just waiting for Lowe to pluck them from his cookie jar is kidding themself.

"So, come July 1 (the onset of free agency), we'll be in a position where we'll be able to be out there trying to attract some free agents," Lowe said. "I'm going to be very guarded and careful to say the fix is going to be done that way."

Before or after your owner said that a player should get divorced in order to fulfill their contract? (I took some licence with that one... but not much)

Also, many a team is going to have a LOT more money for Free Agents than the Oilers. Colorado, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have oodles of Cap space and players WANT to play there. LA, Phoenix, Columbus and the New Yorks have the same room Edmonton does and, in some cases, better teams. Nashville is poised to make a big run and will have the dollars to ice an even better team.

The last off-season Lowe missed the mark completely. My confidence is not overflowing.


I don't know what else to say. The biggest indicator of Lowe's incompetence is simply this: his inability to just come out and say he screwed up. Instead he is shifting the blame, putting up flimsy arguements to justify his actions and making promises he probably can't keep.

He made some incredibly stupid mistakes this past year - the three Journal articles being yet one more - it is time he manned up.


Have a great evening everyone.

2006-07 Off-Season UFA's (Goalie Update)

The cream of the crop has been winnowed to:





From my last post (here) the changes are (in no particular order):

1. Backstrom finishing 23-8-6 with a .929 sv%
-- Those are 'wow' kind of numbers. With any brains at all his agent is telling him to go Unrestricted. With Kolzig's best years coming to an end Washington would be stupid not to pursue this guy.

2. Biron signs with Philly.
-- Signed a two-year deal with an average Cap hit of $ 3.5 m/yr. Good deal for both sides.

3. Garon finishes with 32 gp / 13-10-6 with a .907 sv%.
-- The key is the decent sv% on a bad team. With Cap and Salary inflation considered Garon represents a GREAT signing if he can be picked up for less than $ 2.0 m/yr. On a multi-year deal it would be a stellar signing imo.

4. Dunham is just plain awful
-- He had a chance to garner attention and totally blew it.

5. Smith finishes okay.
-- Not enough games to decide much and his team (Dallas) was pretty good overall but a .912 sv% over 23 games should garner attention. It won't but it should.

6. Giguere and Bryzgalov finish well.
-- Giguere is one good play-off run away from $ 6.0+ m/yr - if Burke lets him go I surmise that Anaheim's NEXT season will not be as good as this last one simply because Bryz. isn't as good as Giguere.

I have to think that Giguere and Backstrom are the class of this UFA goalie crop.

I still expect Burke to sign Giguere but who knows with Burke. I have a lot of respect for him as a GM however and it wouldn't surprise me if he let Giguere go and signed Backstrom.

Backstrom, as noted, should be a hot commodity but one never knows with player preferences, he may re-up with Minny even though the smart money says to test free agency - there are a lot of teams out there with poor (Tampa), mediocre (Columbus), aging (Detroit, Florida, Edmonton and Washington) or combo of the same (Phoenix) goaltenders out there and there is only one young goalie with exceptional numbers available.
Have a great evening everyone.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Inflation Calculator for the NHL

The following is an inflation charting series for the NHL. A visual calculator of sorts.

According to the CBA the players are guaranteed a % of leaguewide Hockey Related Revenues (HRR). That % changes as HRR shrinks or grows but can never fall below 54% (at $ 2.2 billion in HRR) and never go above 57% (at $ 2.7 billion in HRR).

Chart One

The first chart gives the Salary Cap # per team based on the estimated leaguewide HRR.

$b ........ Player % / $m ..... Cap $m

2.200 ..... 54.0 / 1.188 ..... 39.60
2.300 ..... 55.5 / 1.277 ..... 42.55
2.400 ..... 56.0 / 1.344 ..... 44.80
2.500 ..... 56.3 / 1.408 ..... 46.92
2.550 ..... 56.5 / 1.441 ..... 48.03
2.600 ..... 56.7 / 1.474 ..... 49.14
2.700 ..... 57.0 / 1.539 ..... 51.30
2.800 ..... 57.0 / 1.596 ..... 53.20
2.900 ..... 57.0 / 1.653 ..... 55.10
3.000 ..... 57.0 / 1.710 ..... 57.00

Chart Two

The next chart shows the effect of actual, and projected, inflation during the course of the CBA.

Given the factual inflation numbers generated 2005-06 and 2006-07, the remaining estimates of 2% a year are conservative in nature. Max Salary, the 2nd last column, represents the most any one player can be paid by any one team in each respective team. Bonus points (not worth anything) to anyone who figures out what the last column represents.

Year ..... Inflatn ... $b ... Player % / $m ..... Max Sal ... ??

2005-06 .. _._% .. 2.20 .. 54.0_% .. 39.600 .. _7.92 .. 13.9%
2006-07 .. 9.1% .. 2.40 .. 56.0_% .. 44.800 .. _8.96 .. 12.3%
2007-08 .. 6.3% .. 2.55 .. 56.5_% .. 48.025 .. _9.60 .. 11.5%
2008-09 .. 2.0% .. 2.60 .. 56.7_% .. 49.159 .. _9.83 .. 11.2%
2009-10 .. 2.0% .. 2.65 .. 56.85% .. 50.275 .. 10.05 .. 10.9%
2010-11 .. 2.0% .. 2.71 .. 57.0_% .. 51.416 .. 10.28 .. 10.7%
2011-12 .. 2.0% .. 2.76 .. 57.0_% .. 52.444 .. 10.49 .. 10.5%

Interesting to note that the Cap number will be near, or exceed, the $ 52 mill/yr mark by the end of the deal. At that point in time I would have to figure that we are right back to where we started before the lock-out - low revenue teams simply won't be able to compete with their larger budget brethren.

It will be very interesting to see what happen with actual salary inflation in the future. For a player to break the $ 7 mill/yr mark it may be a major accomplishment.

BTW: I tried to do the Cap floor calculations given in the CBA copy I printed out - the results didn't quite match up to what made sense to me so if anyone wants to comment on that feel free. i.e. the CBA language indicates that the 2005-06 number should be ~ $ 23.6 million but the math they gave returns a number of $ 31.6 million. The 23.6 is closer to 'right' but I didn't want to muddy the chart with numbers that could easily be wrong.


Have a great evening everyone.