Senators News & Notes

The summer is typically slow for news–I assumed I’d spend my free time playing Factions (the multiplayer for The Last of Us–a great team game with terrible matchmaking) and watching StarCraft.  Instead, despite a dearth of bonafide signings, there’s a steady dribble of analysis to comment on.

Analysis

Analysis

Travis Yost posted a link to a 2014 article I missed from Kent Wilson where he outlines the NHL’s disinclination to change and accept analytics:

The league is also notoriously insular, with the vast majority of executives coming from the ranks of ex-players, family members of past decision makers and lawyers/player agents. In addition, the amount of open positions in a system with a given number of teams is also more or less fixed. The result is the NHL as a business is less likely to experience new, disruptive models that challenge established ways of thinking.

As a result, there is a distinct lack of intellectual diversity. In fact, there are disincentives to stepping too far outside of the box. Just about everyone who rises to power in the league has been steeped in the same “hockey culture” for decades. There is an implicit antipathy towards things that don’t conform to NHL norms, and therefore an inherent risk to being “too different” for those whose career aspirations lie within league walls. Although there is significant attrition and relatively low career security in NHL position from coaches all the way up to the GM chair, there is also significant churn and intra-team recycling done within the confines of the NHL. Meaning one can fail, but fail successfully (ie; retain legitimate employment options) by not colouring too far outside the lines. It’s one thing to lose by perfectly conventional means. It’s quite another to fail while being stigmatized as odd by the rest of the league.

This is all too true–and also one of the reasons the league has been so reluctant to improve the entertainment value of the game; it’s why you’ll see people in the NHL seek out confirmation bias information–eg, one player had good Corsi numbers, but they sucked, ergo Corsi is irrelevant.  The general point, by the way, afflicts more institutions than just the NHL.  Continuing:

There is also a distinct difference in information flow between NHL teams and the sort of de facto, crowd-sourced peer review that produced corsi stats. NHL clubs are separate and disconnected, particularly when it comes to chasing strategic insight that will confer competitive advantages. As such, any particular insights that are gleaned from work inside individual franchises are horded and protected as state secrets. In effect, NHL teams are the proverbial collection of blind men trying to describe the elephant by feeling a single portion of the animal: they each have bits of information that are only portions of the whole.

Amen.

travisyost

Speaking of articles of faith, Yost looks at the mythical big man–the Milan Lucic, the Tim Kerr, the Phil Esposito–a player who can dominate the front of the net and bang in rebounds.

There’s some mysticism surrounding this type of player, but they do exist. An effective guy in and around the crease area can make quite the difference for an offence at both 5-on-5 and with the man advantage. The guys who can win pucks back after a primary attack and generate secondary attempts from premium scoring areas will find the back of the net at relatively high rates. The trick is finding the player who has this skill and isn’t an anchor for the team in other facets of the game.

Well said.  Travis digs into the numbers to see who fits this coveted archetype in the here and now by looking at shot attempts via rebounds.  It’s an interesting list (no current Sens on it, although Jason Spezza is there).  Oddly enough, Lucic himself does not rank very high on the list.

chris-kelly

I was mentally kicking the tires on Chris Kelly in an effort to anticipate what he’ll bring to the Sens if he can stay healthy.  I’ll trust Nichols and others to look at his Corsi-trends, but I was curious about his production.  Historically his points-per-game sits at 0.37, although at the peak of his career (05-12) it was 0.45.  The last four seasons he’s dropped to 0.31 (over a 30% drop), so the usual decline due to age is well in progress.  Related to Kelly, the latest Point-Per-Cost podcast points out that his signing is a “win-now” approach, which makes little sense with the current roster.

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Trevor Shackles speculates on the Sens 2017-18 roster in an effort to be positive about where the Sens could be (his speculation relies a lot on prospect projection–both in terms of their ceiling and it happening quickly).  It’s delightful speculation, but it intentionally airs on the positive side.  Realistically, not all the prospects will reach their ceiling or reach them at the same rate. I can understand the desire from fans to get hyped about prospects –the organisation has encouraged it and as anyone knows from reading this blog I like the prospect cycle (who doesn’t like diamonds in the rough?).  It isn’t that long ago that I was singing the praises of Alexander Nikulin on the HFBoards (something not entirely unique to me–the now defunct Sens Army Blog saw him as a key prospect), but experiences like that provide necessary caution: 1) org-hype is meaningless, 2) one good season isn’t a trend.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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Senators News & Notes

It is hot and humid in Ottawa and the news is slow.  That said, there are always a few things to comment on, so here we go:

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Back in April I talked about the rumours that the Sens might move their AHL-affiliate from Binghamton to Belleville.  Nichols and Ross A both talk about an Ottawa Citizen story where Debbie Preston (Broome County Executive) confirms it–the comments don’t seem that radically different from what was said in May, but it’s added confirmation of the move.  All signs point to the affiliate playing in Belleville for the 2017-18 season, leaving this upcoming year as quite bittersweet for BSens fans.

prospects

Randy Lee talked about the Development Camp, but it’s hard to take him seriously when he praises dead weight like Vincent Dunn and Chris Leblanc–“works hard” doesn’t make up for a lack of skill (for those of you who think I’m engaging in hyperbole, I watched Dunn‘s entire season in the ECHL and it wasn’t pretty).  Nichols (whose transcript I’ve linked) talks about Lee trying to light a fire under Thomas Chabot without referencing how badly that gambit turned out with Nick Paul (I don’t think him being named Hardest Worker is a coincidence)–admittedly Nichols doesn’t pay much attention to Binghamton, but some players don’t respond well to the cliched “kick in the butt” the Sens reserve for their skilled players (whereas they bend over backwards to forgive the foibles of their “character” players–as illustrated above).

Speaking of prospects, Callum Fraser writes about Logan Brown–it’s more of a human interest piece than an analytical look at him, but it does bring up how talented his teammates in Windsor are and that’s always something to keep in mind about his numbers (how much is generated by him and how much is due to circumstances).

In the midst of fan questions Ary M compares Fredrik Claesson to Mark Borowiecki, which is the kind of thing that makes you ask: do we need either at the NHL-level?  Hopefully Freddy is better this year and I can get back on board with him, but if his peak performance is ala Borocop it’s not a good sign.

Via the same link NKB tries to explore the struggles of Curtis Lazar, but rather than look at the analytics and compare his to similar players, he looks at draft history based on where he was picked–I’m not sure there’s anything to glean from that route of inquiry (although as a matter of draft trivia it’s fun to do).  Lazar was never a prospect I was excited about and the projections for him (responsible third or fourth liner with no hands) seem on-target (not the sort of thing you need from a first-round pick).  Does he have time to show us more and develop?  Of course, but I wouldn’t hold up much hope for an offensive explosion.

Analysis

Analysis

So what do you do in mid-July when not much is happening?  Read whatever happens to be available and occasionally see something that raises an eyebrow:

There is no reason to think he [Chris Kelly] won’t fill the role … At 35, Chris Kelly is certainly not a spring chicken anymore. He only played 11 games last season

I’ve deliberately switched around Michaela Schreiter’s response to a reader question because to me she refutes herself–both facts she opens with are reasons to think he might not fulfill his role.  It doesn’t mean that he won’t, but there’s certainly reason for skepticism.

Speaking of free agent signings, Trevor Shackles bemoans the Sens not landing better bargain players without speculating on the relative appeal of signing in Ottawa.  The Sens are both a small market team and suffer from an internal budget, making winning all the more difficult–it’s the sort of situation that appeals most to older players with nothing left to achieve (ahem, Kelly, along with the laundry list of players Murray saddled the team with over the years).

I want to emphasize something Ross A said in passing:

possession metrics aren’t widely used

Sad but true.  When normally sensible people like Elliotte Friedman are still unsure of them you know the league (and its aging fanbase) are a long way away from embracing it.

Andrew writes a long piece about the dumb decision-making by GM’s in free agency.  There’s nothing new here, but he includes some funny lines.  I do think if NHL GM’s were more progressive and believed/embraced analytics most of the silly signings would stop, but we’re a long way from that ever happening.

I don’t usually read comment sections, but I did dive into a thread on The Silver Seven where I learned that (for some) calling your opponents losers was how you win an argument (very Donald Trump, now that I think about it).  I remain amazed that, not just in sports, but in all contexts how so many people seem unwilling (or unable) to engage in discourse.  It’s okay to be wrong or to make mistakes–it happens–it’s part of learning.  You can respect people who disagree with you.  There’s an inclination to say this sort of behaviour comes from younger people, but I know plenty of adults who engage in it too–I find it all bizarre.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

chris-kelly

About a week ago Nichols floated the idea of the Sens signing 35-year old, broken down Chris Kelly.  I thought the idea was verging on the ridiculous, but pointed out it would be a typical Bryan Murray signing (a player past his prime with a local connection).  Sadly this idea has come to pass as today the Sens signed their former draft pick to a one-year deal.  Kelly played all of 11 games last year after fracturing his left femur, but when healthy with the Bruins the year before put up typical numbers.  NHL players who aren’t goalies only decline in their 30s so to expect a performance akin to that wouldn’t be reasonable (Nichols sounds delightfully naive in learning Kelly hasn’t been great in the faceoff circle in years).  For those of you who want to read a positive spin on the signing both Nichols and Ross A are here for you–neither bothers to include substance behind what makes it a good move (analytics etc; in fairness to Ross his is basically a news blurb), with the former mostly being about the struggles of Curtis Lazar (and yes I agree time in Binghamton would be good for him).  Can I be persuaded this is a good move?  Maybe (with the appropriate numbers).  Could the move work out?  It’s possible, but to me it comes across as cheap fan-service to placate an aging and nostalgic fanbase.

echl

The Sens announced a new ECHL affiliate agreement with the Wichita Thunder.  As Ross A points out they are not conveniently located for Binghamton (or Belleville for that matter).  The term wasn’t listed (their deal with Evansville was for two years), but Witchita was actually worse than the IceMen this past season (second last in the league), so it’s not even necessarily an upgrade.  From what I can tell there’s no fan website or blog devoted to the team (unlike Evansville), so it appears news about the Thunder will only be available from official organs.

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I decided to look back at my prognostication of the European free agent pool (posted back in March), so below includes all the NHL-signings (including players from previous lists) along with any other player-movement from the current crop:

Marcus Sorensen – signed by San Jose
Linus Hultstrom – signed by Florida
Lukas Bengtsson – signed by Pittsburgh
Anatoli Golyshev – drafted by the Islanders
Tim Heed – signed by San Jose (2015 list)
Jere Sallinen – signed by Edmonton (2013 list)

John Norman – KHL
Juuso Ikonen – signed by Djurgardens
Otso Rantakari – signed by Tappara
Sami Rajaniemi – signed by Jukurit
Konstantin Komarek – SHL

Understandably the question posed looking at lists like this is: how often do these signings work out?  The answer is sometimes (3-7): Panarin, Donskoi, and Brunner are or were solid signings (the jury is still out on Ronalds KeninsDennis Rasmussen and Borna Rendulic, although it’s likely they will land on the failure side).  What I will say is the odds of a European FA in this age category panning out is better than signings from the NCAA–whether that’s due to just how many college kids are signed (flooding the numbers) or something else I couldn’t say.  The above, incidentally, doesn’t include players like Melker Karlsson (SJ) who I never listed.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Binghamton_Senators_svg

While Ottawa added no players to its NHL roster on the first day of free agency, they did add a lot to the AHL lineup, so let’s take a look (I’m ignoring the RFA’s they signed, just the FA’s):
-re-signed Michael Kostka (50-5-24-29); the 30-year old defenseman was serviceable last season (keeping his partner, ECHL defenseman Guillaume Lepine, afloat); he’s not a true #1 or #2 blueliner at this level, but for a team this thin on the blueline he’s a needed asset
-re-signed Phil Varone (65-19-36-55); he’s averaged 0.84 points-per-game over the last three seasons in the AHL, which makes him a top-20/25 scorer in the league, so he fills a definite need
-signed Chad Nehring (76-22-26-48) via Hartford; the 29-year old enjoyed a career year, leading the moribund Wolf Pack in scoring; it’s very strange for a player this old to peak like this; I’m not sure what need is being filled here (the org could have just kept Pat Cannone and had the exact same thing), particularly as he isn’t a big, bruising player (5’11 with minimal PIMs)
-signed Mike Blunden (49-21-17-38) via Syracuse; this is much more the kind of signing I expect from the org; the 6’4 29-year old’s AHL stats are solid and he’s coming off a good year (0.77 vs his career 0.54; I think his three year average of 0.64 is more around what we can expect)

I was asked where Binghamton stands in terms of veteran contracts and for those unfamiliar with the AHL’s rules, let’s take a brief look:

Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season. (source and source)

It’s important to note that ECHL games do not count towards veteran status.  A team can ice at most 6 veteran players, not including goalies, with their status determined by games played (rather than age).  Here’s a look at signed players who fit this definition:
-Zach Stortini (700+ AHL/NHL games)
-Tom Pyatt (600+ AHL/NHL/NLA games)
-Michael Kostka (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Mike Blunden (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Phil Varone (370 AHL/NHL games)
This leaves the BSens with one veteran spot left, but it must fit the sub-320 mark (Chad Nehring has only 129 AHL games counting against him, so the rule doesn’t apply)

prospects

Development Camp is not a great place to assess players, particularly when it comes to scrimmages (posted up on the Sens website for those who missed it), but a couple of thoughts:
-watching Matt O’Connor give up a weak goal short side (c.16:50 into the period, or c.8:35 into the video) felt like deja vu for the season that was (the 6’5 ‘tender also was beat high by Nick Paul, but saved by the crossbar, he then gave up a soft 5-hole goal from the blueline); it’s such a sharp contrast to better prospects (I remember the year Brian Elliott didn’t give up a goal in the final day of 3-on-3 competition)
-looking at Marcus Hogberg it’s tough to think we’ll have to wait another season before we see him across the Atlantic (he looked great in the 5-on-5 and fantastic at 3-on-3, maintaining a shutout for himself)
-as you’d expect Francis Perron stood out offensively (Brown and Dahlen as well)
-funny (in a sad way) that Ben Harpur struggled to defend even this level of competition (granted he did make a nice pass to start a tic-tac-toe scoring play for the second white goal)

A bit of a tangential but related note, Chris Carlisle is in camp, but as far as I know has not been re-signed by the Sens.

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Roy MacGregor doesn’t pull any punches:

While there has been much to criticize in HNIC – the panelists playing ministicks far and away the most foolish – the plummeting viewership is not something to be blamed entirely on tight suits. Or, for that matter, adding in the unfortunate happenstance of no Canadian team in this year’s postseason. … The game, as it is played these days, is more often unwatchable than enjoyable. There may be no available statistic for those “hard-core” fans – including those who played the NHL game and covered the NHL – who have tuned out, but they are legion.  Why? Because it’s boring.

His conclusion is that the problem is coaching, but I think that’s far off the mark.  The idea that coaches in the 70s and 80s (when hockey was a growing sport) weren’t coaching to win or teaching systems is ridiculous.  What’s changed primarily is: 1) goalie equipment, 2) permissible interference.  The latter in particular is what gave us the Dead Puck Era, but while it’s been cut back we still suffer from absurd goaltending equipment (we’ve heard promises that it will change in the upcoming season, but I’ll believe it when I see it).

Hockey, like any other sport, is ultimately repetitive–99% of the games you watch unfold in very similar ways.  To draw in fans you need some other layer of excitement and what that used to be when I was growing up were players challenging records or milestones–it’s hard to imagine now, but there were legitimate threats to all the records people care about (goals and points) once upon a time.  Since then offensive numbers have regressed and outside the first few months of the 2005-06 season players haven’t come close to challenging anything.  In that absence, there’s nothing to bring fans in other than winning and very few teams win or win consistently.

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Chris Stewart quietly signed in Minnesota and I bring him up simply because I remember all the hype surrounding him in Sensland not long ago (ahem 2014, February (Ottawa Sun and TSN), May (Travis Yost, thankfully arguing against) July (Senshot), October (6th Sens, arguing against it), November (THW), and December (Hockey Insider)).  These are just some of the pieces that came out–a solid year of the organisation (and some of the fanbase) pinning after the former first-round pick in 2014.  So what happened?  The org certainly didn’t consult the analytics, but it became clear that Stewart‘s offensive production was never going to take another step, but the price for him remained high.  He was supposed to be the power forward the Sens needed to make the next step, but thankfully Murray never pulled the trigger on a deal.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)