Senators News & Notes

Roger-Neilson-White-Flag

There’s a lot to celebrate in the Sens moving on to the third round of the playoffs.  It hasn’t happened in 10 years, it’s been hard fought (both series’ could have gone the other way), and it’s been great watching an elite player like Erik Karlsson drag his team to unexpected heights.  Last night as I was watching Cody Ceci fumble around and enjoying the sight of Chris Neil stapled to the bench, I couldn’t help but temper my enthusiasm with some thoughts about what this run might mean going forward.

Roger Neilson and the 1982 Vancouver Canucks are pictured above.  For those who don’t know, the Canucks went on a miracle run to the Cup in ’82.  What was refreshing then is that people understood it was miraculous–maybe not quite as miraculous as it truly was (the franchise wouldn’t win another round until 10 years later), but there was an understanding that the run did not guarantee the Canucks would see something remotely similar for quite some time.  This level of awareness seems lacking among fans, management, and owners.  Fans feelings aren’t what’s relevant here, my concern is with the latter.  There’s no reason to doubt that Pierre Dorion see’s this run as validation for his various moves and decisions; it also serves as additional fuel for Eugene Melnyk to resist spending more on his team (McKeen‘s-own Craig Smith understands this as he RT’d my sentiments).

There are, of course, differences to what happened 35 years ago and now.  The ’82 Canucks were enormously fortunate in who they faced (the Kings knocked off the Gretzky-era Oilers in the Miracle on Manchester; Chicago knocked out previous Cup finalists Minnesota in the first round, etc)–they didn’t play a team with an above .500 record until the finals.  While the newly installed playoff system is the same as what Vancouver benefited from, the caliber of teams Ottawa has faced is better and the Senators are have a truly elite player in their lineup (you can argue between Richard Brodeur or Thomas Gradin for the Canucks, but none of those players hold a candle to Karlsson).  The difference Karlsson makes cannot be overemphasized (eg), as neither Boston or New York had an answer for him.  In many ways there is no answer for Karlsson, but he can’t play 60 minutes a night and the other 30 or so minutes he’s off are terrifying.  Ottawa’s victories certainly feed into Alex Novet‘s theory about a strong link game (ie, the team with the best player wins), but as I said in my response to that piece I don’t think it’s enough to hang your hat on yet.

I’m not going to predict their next series until we know who they are playing and despite the preceding I’d love nothing better than a run to the Cup for Ottawa–you never know how much longer you’ll have to wait for another one.

[A bit of trivia, incidentally, in looking back at the Canucks run: Sens assistant coach Marc Crawford was on that team; Dallas GM Jim Nill was as well; director of hockey ops Colin Campbell played; Czech national coach (and Pittsburgh coach) Ivan Hlinka was an important player; disastrous Atlanta head coach Curt Fraser played; Gradin is now a long-time Vancouver scout (as is Lars Lindgren).]

freeagent

The expansion Vegas Knights have finally pried KHL star Vadim Shipachyov (50-26-50-76) out of that league and into the NHL (I identified him way back in 2012).  It’s probably two or three years late to get him at his peak (he’s 30 years old), but it’s a worthwhile risk for the franchise.

grit

Grit–what is it good for?  (You might also say toughness, good-in-the-corners, character–whatever you prefer–the same meaning is intended–intangibles related to physicality.)  My long contention is that it’s irrelevant in this era and in a recent piece Stories By Numbers throws up his/her hands:

You go in, collect the data, and you find certain players are more gritty than others but the team already knows that. Now what? You don’t have access to grit scores for players on other teams. You know from existing research that grit is relatively stable and cannot easily be taught. I collect data on psychosocial dynamics for a living and I write reports on my findings as a key part of that process, and I have no idea what value a report on grit scores on a hockey team could possible have beyond satisfying personal interest

There’s a lot more information in the piece and I think it runs into problems by providing a definition for grit that no one would agree (GM’s really do mean a Steve Ott irritant when they discuss it).  While creating a definition is the only way to squeeze something out of it, it’s going to create confusion when the definition created does not match what’s commonly associated with it (what the article really seems to be exploring is perseverance and dedication, which isn’t what anyone would argue against–it’s pretty hard to become a pro athlete without that in spades).  The other issue I have is that only players with superlative talent can get away with a lack of dedication, and those players are so rare as to be statistically meaningless–this isn’t the 1970s when players could afford to be lazy–essentially every NHL player is in great shape and works hard on their game (they literally have no choice if they want to stay in the league).

Despite my disagreement the article is a fantastic and I highly recommend it.

randomness

Our lord and saviour Corey Pronman (in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti) has learned:

from 1990 and 2010, NHL teams were neither consistently good nor bad at drafting. Mostly just luck

It’s an interesting timeframe to assess given that the NHL underwent massive changes in how teams approached the draft (and thereby scouting).  I’m not drawn in by his conclusions since there are demonstrable differences in draft success depending on who is picking (something impossible if it was all luck).  For example, this statement would need to be true comprehensively if approaches weren’t relevant:

Jessop and Weissbock found that 19 of the 30 NHL teams would have fared better using the simplistic algorithm [forwards from the CHL leagues based solely on points in their first draft-eligible season] than by their actual selections

If it’s purely random, then no methodology alters results.  Granting that the general analysis is correct, we might conclude that NHL teams do a poor job understanding who the best scouts and GM’s are.  We see evidence of that in redundant tendencies like the continued preference for size.

Stats Sports Consulting (cited above) posted an interesting piece on scouting back in February and reading it I feel like they could have used more data (although I wholeheartedly empathize with how difficult it is to get hold of).  It’s well worth a read, coming to the conclusion I did years ago that scouting does have added predictive value, but that’s mitigated by the bias of particular teams.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens

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