The Milkman Returns

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Jeremy Milks, one of the original Sens bloggers, came out of the woodwork after three years of dormancy. What brought the milkman back to the blogosphere? Was it ownership? The Karlsson trade? Excitement over the youth movement? Nope, it was Cody Ceci.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jeremy, he’s an old school fan–likes ’em gritty–good in the corners–and he’s not comfortable with all those fancy stats (math and sports don’t mix). I haven’t blogged as far back as Jeremy has, but we were both blogging at the same time for years. Despite that I rarely had reason to comment about him because his opinions were echoed by the Ottawa media. However, given today’s post by him, I did want to reference the last time (in 2014) I discussed him because it’s relevant to what he posted today:

For some reason I’ve gotten that reputation [of liking tough guys over skilled guys] in the Sens small but fiercely opinionated online community and maybe that’s my own fault. … Even if I’m wrong sometimes, I take satisfaction in defending a player that gets almost unanimous scorn. … I don’t want to turn this into another stats argument and point to a bunch of numbers. We all know they’re good.

So how has Jeremy evolved in the four years since he wrote the above? What’s changed–what brought the inestimable Sens blogger back to the keyboard to share his views? Well, as we’ll see, nothing. The milkman has returned to fight the same battles.

I want to boil Jeremy’s piece down to his main points (you can read the entirety of his article via the link above)–I want to look at his argument, which he sets out as a comparison between Ceci and Thomas Chabot:

Ceci had one of those mediocre games that would go largely unnoticed in most NHL cities

Jeremy likes using strawmen in his discussions and this is a classic–if he’s being honest with us, is there a Canadian market that doesn’t pay attention to this sort of thing? There were more angry articles written about Kenny Jonsson in his rookie season with Toronto more than 20 years ago than we saw angry blog pieces about Ceci over the same time period, so let’s not pretend he’s playing in an especially hostile environment, particularly given the incredibly tame media here.

Not many teams can stop the Bruins first line … but the sight of Bergeron’s hat-trick goal bouncing in off of Ceci’s skate launched a thousand and one “I told you so” tweets. Never mind that Ceci was (awkwardly) doing the right thing…. All of that doesn’t matter. At least not to Ottawa fans and Mr. Ceci. For many, Ceci will never measure up, even though nobody really knows what that measure is supposed to be.

This is a pretty bizarre statement–the org has told us incessantly what he is and what the expectations for him are. That aside, Jeremy says Ceci was bad against the line because everyone is bad against them (no need to back this up–we need to trust that Jeremy knows that’s true–all defensemen are equally bad against this so criticism of his performance isn’t fair). What’s interesting is the “I told you so”–so fans knew better than the coach how this would turn out? And Ceci can’t live up to fan expectations? I wonder, Jeremy, who set those expectations? And how do fans know better than a professional organization and coach? But we’ll come back to that.

Analytics-minded fans say they know the measure, and it’s possession time among other stats. And they may very well be right

Let’s note they may be right–not that they are right. Jeremy is gracious by not offering an explanation of what that means.

Ceci, miscast as a shutdown defender on a thin Senators blueline, has to face Bergeron

How does Jeremy know he’s miscast, exactly (eyeball test? tarot cards? how?)? It fits the “poor me” defence, but let’s see what reasons he has for this.

he’s skating backwards more often than handling the puck, and when he does get it on his tape, it’s probably going high off the glass and through the neutral zone so his team can make a line change. Doesn’t make for a very compelling set of numbers. For many, he also fails the eyeball test

The description makes it sound like he fails the Jeremy eyeball test–the generalization about what Ceci does has to come from somewhere, after all.

We watch with our eyes but we also watch with our prejudices. We want to see what we already know, which is why analytics has cut through some of the traditional views and made everybody mad on both sides of the divide. It challenges everything we think we know and therefore it’s a threat. On the other hand analytics dismisses intangibles too easily and the eyeball test probably takes too much of it into account.

This is fascinating to me–what two sides? Analytics only makes people upset who reject it and the number who do shrinks annually. He’s absolutely correct that those who focus purely on the eyeballs make too much of it (something demonstrably proven over and over again in sport–you can start with Moneyball and work your way forward).

We see a minor miscue [by Ceci] and it brings to mind hundreds from the past and suddenly that bad bounce turns into the blooper that should see him traded for a draft pick

Jeremy remembers hundreds of miscues from Ceci–that seems problematic.

We don’t see the routine plays that a veteran makes to be in position to halt a breakout or that vital routine pass to break out of the zone. Not the home run pass to create a breakaway, but the simple chalkboard play to get out of your zone. Ceci, and most vets, make these unremarkable plays more often than not

We’re safely back in strawman territory as Jeremy knows anyone criticizing Ceci is incapable of recognizing what he does well. Thank god Jeremy is here to inform us!

It’s a bit reminiscent of Jason Spezza, who was well-liked by more fans than Ceci, but still took so much heat that he wanted out of town shortly after being named captain

Last I checked fans don’t make trades. Jeremy leaves it unsaid that the Sens were eager to get out from under Spezza‘s contract (particularly given Melnyk’s financial woes)–the fact that Bryan Murray made a terrible deal isn’t the fans fault (something people in analytics knew was a disaster from the start). If fan pressure truly resulted in trades, Ceci would have been jettisoned years ago.

That [more offensive] role has been offloaded to even younger players

We’re stumbling into Jeremy’s logic a bit here–the coaches that understand how important those simple plays are (that fans are too dumb to recognize) apparently don’t think Ceci can take that next step and fill-in for Erik Karlsson. So who understands his value? Not the coaches, from what’s said here, but not the fans either? Is it just Jeremy?

Meanwhile, Chabot is the fan’s new golden kid.

Wow, that sounds undeserved right? Probably anointed by his GM as an amazing player–one of the best he’s seen in 20 years–and despite all his numerous mistakes and cries from the analytics community, he still plays a ton. Or wait, my mistake, I just described Ceci. Moving on!

There’s long been a sentiment that Ottawa management favoured local prospects for marketing reasons over more skilled options, but in the case of Ceci, he was one of the most highly rated defensemen in his 2012 draft class.

We can forgive Jeremy for not following the draft very closely (none of them have veteran savvy so how good could they be?), but I can fill in some details for him. The 2012 draft was a weak one, but he’s correct that Ceci was ranked highly. Not many people read those draft reports, however, they just look at the ranking, but if you do read them you’ll see all the warning signs scouts had for him at that stage–you’ll note most had him topping out as a top-four blueliner–not a guy for the top-pairing. Those are opinions from days of yore, but let’s be careful with this narrative that he was anointed at the draft which somehow leaves the org no choice about what to do with him.

Ceci’s only crime is having a “standard” hockey personality

How his personality is reflected in his play is a mystery only Jeremy can resolve.

He’s well liked in the locker room

This is Sens org PR 101–he’s good in the room goddamn it!

In a fair world, Ceci would probably be seen as a “fair” player

I don’t think even Jeremy knows what ‘fair’ means removed from the abstract. What’s fair? Does it mean average? Above average? Which other players are ‘fair’? I don’t know and I don’t think Jeremy does either–I’m assuming he means he’s not bad, but that’s simply an assumption.

For Cody Ceci, the intense scrutiny will continue until something breaks, either for management or the player. He probably deserves better

This makes me curious–why does he deserve better? Why does he deserve anything? This isn’t a league with participation trophies–it’s competitive where you need to be better than other players or you lose your job. I assume he wants the player treated better, but other than the fanbase he couldn’t get better treatment and for Ceci what’s more important? Love from your bosses, or from random fans online? The answer is pretty clear.

These attacks have real ramifications. Just ask Jared Cowen, or other high draft picks before him who didn’t measure up to expectations

Sport is entertainment and entertainers have to put up with a lot of shit–that comes from being a public figure and for athletes this usually begins as teenagers. Despite that, how is it relevant to Ceci in a way that impacts his play? Does he bauble the puck due to comments in The Silver Seven (if he does, where’s that mental toughness the ‘good-in-the-room’ guys are supposed to have?). And is Cowen the hill Jeremy wants to die on in relation to Ceci? The problem with this idea is that players run out of organizations are almost always skilled guys–ones who weren’t good in the room, or weren’t tough enough, or didn’t work hard enough. Those are the players who receive unfair criticism (typically from management) and then blossom elsewhere. The guys like Ceci, the ‘good in the corners’ guys, they are afforded every opportunity and given every excuse (as, indeed, Ceci demonstrates).

Let’s try to sum up Jeremy’s argument. As it turns out, despite his opening, it’s not a comparison between players, but rather a defense of Ceci from public criticism. Jeremy doesn’t reflect at all on the walls put around the guy by the organization, the coach, most of the media, and his teammates. Cody Ceci needs even more protection apparently–fans need to stop being so mean–stop pointing out his flaws and trying to make their favourite team better. There’s no real structure to this argument, but you can sum it up in just two points:

1. Ceci’s performance isn’t very good, but he’s being utilized poorly

No one would argue this point.

2. Fans are being overly negative because they’ve already made up their minds that he’s not very good.

The problem here is that Jeremy doesn’t think he’s very good either–he’s a ‘fair player’–a term that I think means average. How does Jeremy know this? I have no idea–he doesn’t tell us–but because he’s a fair player we shouldn’t criticize him because he’s being used inappropriately.

This is convoluted and nonsensical. Jeremy is not a bad guy, but he clutters up what is an emotional statement with an attempt at an argument. Do fans have a right to criticize Cody Ceci? Absolutely. As long as they aren’t crossing the line of actual harassment, it’s justified–especially given the org’s refusal to accept any of the foibles even Jeremy himself admits. If Ceci was a rookie or sophomore you could argue that fans need to be patient (although demotion to the AHL or returned to junior is a legitimate discussion), but that’s simply not the case here. I think the reason why Jeremy put up this post is because he’s frustrated with arguments he’s having with other fans. If Jeremy can’t argue facts, he can try to shut down criticism entirely by saying people are being too mean (something we aren’t hearing from Ceci, certainly). Jeremy isn’t intentionally being disingenuous–I’m sure he believes everything above (even the contradictory parts), but as an argument it’s simply ridiculous.

Welcome back Jeremy. You’ve generally been a Don Brennan clone over your blogging career, but you are entertaining and I hope you keep posting.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


Belleville 1, Utica 3

I’m a little late with my impressions of the game, but better late than never. I prefer seeing games live and cramming this one in late at night definitely took away from the experience–with that said, it was not an entertaining game. Just a note about AHL Live: the quality of the stream was good, so we can hope that’s a trend for this season. Let’s start with the basics.

Utica 3, Belleville 1
Shots: 29/32
PP: 1-1/0-3
Goaltender: Mike McKenna (26-28)
Goal: LaBate (Leier, Percy)

The Comets were playing their second of back-to-back nights after getting thrashed by Toronto 7-3 the night before. The team features former Sen pick Jonathan Dahlen (discarded in the Alex Burrows trade). The only change made to the lineup was swapping 19-year old Lind for 21-year old Palmu–goaltender Richard Bachman played both games.

I’ve mentioned previously that Mann’s decisions when it comes to TOI are going to dictate what kind of success he’s going to have and I was curious what lines he would utilize–keeping in mind that both Jim O’Brien and Ben Sexton are hurt (with Paul Carey and Max Lajoie in Ottawa), circumstances that threw off my line-predictions:

How off were my predictions? Removing the roster situation, not that far (I had Chlapik centering the first line, Brown and Batherson on the second, Tambellini and Gagne on the third, and LaBate and Sturtz on the fourth). On defence I had all the pairings correctly predicted, but I had the first and second swapped. It’s very clear Mann wanted ‘veteran savvy’ on each defense pairing, although in practice with the exception of Percy it was the prospects who had to make up for their veteran partners.

What about special teams? Who did Mann use? Well the team enjoyed a long powerplay due to Brendan Woods losing his mind and punching Chlapik repeatedly for no reason (the AHL, in its wisdom, thought that was just fine).

Because of the length of the one of the PP’s we did see a little variation, but these were the set combinations and they make my head explode. Why the hell is Tambellini on the first unit? Why is Balisy? The second unit looks like it should be the first, but it wasn’t. Neither unit generated many opportunities as they both looked disjointed.

As for the penalty kill, we only saw it for a few seconds as Utica scored off the opening faceoff. The unit was: Paul-Balisy/Percy-Jaros. It’s worth noting that last season Jaros was not very good on the PK–doesn’t mean that won’t change, but it’s something to keep in mind.

There were a few eye-catching coaching decisions which elicit groans of disappointment:
Rodewald on the first line: This is a horrendously inconsistent player who drags down whoever he plays with (as, indeed, he demonstrated on the night). Any of the other RW’s would have been a better choice and Mann made no adjustment to this unit throughout
Burgdoerfer on the first pairing: something I guessed we’d see after his selection as captain, but illustrative of Mann’s inability to recognise his flaws (all related to his instincts); Wolanin helped him out, but he’s a drag on whoever he plays with
-No Jaros or Bergman on the powerplay: the latter has historically been good with the extra man and the former has the biggest shot on the team–they only appeared once (as a duo of all things) during seven minutes of wasted powerplay time

On Twitter a fan is tracking Corsi along with zone starts, entries, and exits (part of my delay in posting this was a desire to see that info). Analysts have been moving away from Corsi, but it does have its uses (as a reminder: that’s measuring shot attempt differential while at even strength). What we can take away from that information:
-the Paul-Brown-Batherson line dominated (in relative terms), although they were never given a defensive zone start (most of which were split between the 1st and 4th line)
-the fourth line did well, the third line was roughly even, and Rodewald dragged down his partners on the first line (this isn’t obvious from the Corsi data by itself, incidentally)
Wolanin and Jaros (unsurprisingly) had the strongest games; Sieloff was awful, although that doesn’t jump out at you as much via Corsi
-You get a sense of just how magical Burgdoerfer is by looking at his zone exit numbers (12 attempted, just 7 completed)

The numbers are very kind to Sieloff, who was guilty of some horrendous giveaways in his own zone–three in particular stood out, including passing to the wrong team in front of his own net late in the first. This is not typical of his play (which isn’t to say he’s a great player, just that these kinds of unforced errors were not typical of him last season), so I’m not sure what the issue was.

Chlapik‘s numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he continues to do things not many other players can do at this level (there was a fantastic pass in the second period that stands out to me); he and Balcers are clearly still figuring each other out, but having a useless player (Rodewald) on the other wing dragged both down.

We’ll hope for better things in game two, which will also give us insight into Mann. Is the coach someone who adjusts or is he, like Kleinendorst, very slow to figure things out? Time will tell.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)