Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Red Wings Trade Datsyuk and Chychrun for Cholowski

Ever since Nick Lidstrom retired in 2012, the Detroit Red Wings have not drafted a defenseman in the first round of the NHL draft. They have failed to find a legitimate top pairing D-Man through free agency and all their prospects appear to be nothing more than depth players. Eventually this glaring void will come back to bite them. It should have been this year, it will probably happen next year, but that playoff streak ain't going to last much longer.

As a Red Wings fan watching the 2016 draft, I was getting excited as highly ranked defenseman Jakob Chychrun began to fall. Once rated as one of the top players available in this draft, it started to look like he might drop to 16th where the Wings were drafting. Each team that passed him by, I got a little more excited. When the Islanders passed on him at 15, I got up from my seat, raised my hands in the air, and rejoiced! Finally, a defenseman with the possible upside of being a top pair guy. I was expecting Ken Holland to waste no time, race up to the podium, and scoop him up with a loving embrace. Though soon it became clear that Holland wasn't running anywhere. He had a giant smirk on his face and simply appeared to be waiting for something. It turned out that he was waiting for a trade to be announced.

When Gary Bettman went to the podium to announce a trade, my heart sank. They traded the last year of Datsyuk's contract to swap picks with Phoenix. Then of course the Coyotes selected Chychrun, and my dream was crushed. Datsyuk really screwed the Wings by leaving the NHL before his contract expired, and the need to dump the dead money was great. I get it. The Coyotes likely don't make that trade unless Chychrun was available, in which case the Wings might still be stuck with Datsyuk's contract.

The news that the contract had been expunged certainly had to be well received by fans, but it did come at a cost. At the 20th spot, Detroit drafted tier 2 junior defenseman Dennis Cholowski, a long term project bound for the NCAA who could be 4 years away from turning pro. Chychrun could very well have 100 NHL games under his belt before Cholowski plays his first. More specifically, Chychrun has an 18% chance of playing 100 NHL games by age 21. Cholowski has a 0% chance. He might end up being good, but the time frame is way longer. Detroit needs a top pair defenseman NOW! The sooner the better. These players are hard to find on July 1st or by trade.

Ironically Cholowski is a local player in the Vancouver area where I live. I even worked at a hockey rink in Langley while this kid was playing minor hockey in Langley. I never heard anyone mention his name and I certainly never saw any players I thought were heading to the NHL. Last week I heard his coach on the Team 1040 radio and they asked him what advantages there were to drafting his player. His response was that the kid has a long window, that he won't play pro for a while. Right because that should be a huge selling point, that he's going to take a long time.

Ken Holland must have been listening, because they love big windows. There is no evidence however that leaving players in the minors too long produces better hockey players. People think that Detroit's consistent playoff status is proof this works. What it does is drive down the price of the 2nd contract, which frees up more space for free agency. Ken Holland has maybe started drinking too much of his own Koolaid if he's started targeting players BECAUSE they are going to take a long time to develop. Granted, I don't know that Holland wanted Cholowski over Chychrun. Maybe he would have drafted Chychrun had the Phoenix offer not materialized, and maybe it was his best trade to dump the Datsyuk contract.

Maybe I should wait to see what Holland does with that $7M, because the trade might be Datsyuk and Chychrun for Cholowski and Stamkos Frans Nielsen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Best Value NHL Draft Picks (2004-2010)

Who were the best value draft picks in the NHL from 2004 to 2010? These are all players who have only been under NHL contract in the salary cap system, and the "best value" is calculated by the % amount that the player exceeded expected NHL salary for that number pick (2015/16 salary not included). Maybe Sidney Crosby has the best production of a player drafted in that window, but you tend to expect high production from the first overall pick in a draft. None of the best value picks are 1st round selections.

Sorry, goalies aren't included.

1) Jamie Benn 5th rd, Dallas: Very rarely could you argue that a 5th round pick should have been the #2 overall pick, but this is one of those times. I'd still rather have Patrick Kane, but Benn is the next best from that draft class. Playing in the BCHL in his draft year hurt his draft position.

2) Patric Hornqvist 7th rd, Nashville: He has crushed expectations for a 7th round pick. I have no idea why he dropped this far.

3) Brendan Gallagher 5th rd, Montreal: No doubt he should have been a mid to late 1st round pick. Clearly his size was a factor in him falling to the 5th.

4) Ryan O'Reilly, 2nd rd, Colorado: Very rarely do you see a 2nd rd pick play in the NHL the year after being drafted. From 2003 to 2010, O'Reilly is the only one, and he was fantastic. Did no scouts identify that this kid was ready to play in the NHL immediately and be good? I'd like to know.

5) Kris Letang, 3rd rd, Pittsburgh: This draft pick helped produce 2 Stanley Cups and counting for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He's in the Norris conversation every year.

6) David Krejci, 2nd rd, Boston: Among the best second round picks in over a decade. Boston doesn't win that Stanley Cup or play in another final without this guy.

7) Adam Henrique, 3rd rd, New Jersey: He was a major factor in getting a mediocre New Jersey team to a Stanley Cup final as a 21 year old.

8) Niklas Hjalmarsson, 4th rd, Chicago: Helped win 2 Stanley Cups. Not a flashy player, and it made sense why he fell. He's deceptively effective.

9) Keith Yandle, 4th rd, Phoenix: He was a dominant high school player, but high school players tend to have higher risk because they play against the weakest competition of any talent source. It can be very difficult to predict how skill at this level will translate to the pro level. High school defensemen can be huge busts. This one was not.

10) Paul Stastny, 2nd rd, Colorado: He opted out of his first year of draft eligibility, which doesn't happen very often. I'm not sure if that hurt his eventual draft position, but it's rare for 18 year old NCAA freshmen to score 45 PTS. That combined with his pedigree should have boosted his draft position.

Honorable mentions: Justin Faulk, Alex Edler, Kris Versteeg, Jared Spurgeon, Carl Gunnarsson, Milan Lucic, Tyson Barrie, Brad Marchand, Marcus Foligno, Marcus Kruger, Sergei Kostitsyn

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Phil Kessel 2016 Stanley Cup Champion

Ladies and gentlemen your 2016 Stanley Cup champion is none other than Phil "the thrill" Kessel. Sure technically it is a team sport and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins deserve a little bit of credit for winning one of the World's toughest trophies, but none more than the man who led the team in playoff scoring. Sidney Crosby being awarded the Conn Smythe was a shame.  It's a shame when politics triumphs over reason. Blame Gary Bettman rigging the process to help market the league's biggest star, denying Thrill Kessel what rightfully belonged to him.

It's just too bad that the Toronto Maple Leafs had to give up on this guy. He could have done so much for that franchise if given the opportunity play more playoff games. So sad. Phil wasn't part of the problem, he should have been part of the solution. But now less than a year after being chased out of the center of the hockey Universe, Thrill Kessel has personally hand delivered a Stanley Cup to another more deserving city. When Phil gets his day with the Stanley Cup, instead of bringing it back to his home town, he should bring it to Toronto and have a one float parade down Yonge street, ending at the Hockey Hall of Fame where he does an autograph session in "The Great Hall". That would hands down be the most awesome thing any hockey player has ever done with the Stanley Cup, and it's not even close.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Kimbo Slice: Another Fallen Hero

First we lose Muhammad Ali, then we lose Kimbo Slice, in a week that has seen the death of two fighting heroes. There is nothing you can say about Ali that hasn't already been said a million times by a million different people (touching personal anecdotes notwithstanding). While we were all still in mourning for the fall of a legend, we get hit tonight with the devastating news about Mr Slice. Kimbo revolutionized the art of punching people in the face on YouTube for money. There may never be a greater hero in the backyards of America knocking out idiots for cash. His substantial impact upon American culture will never die, even if he has.

With Ali, we all knew this was coming. His health had been deteriorating before our eyes for decades. If anything we were fortunate that he lived as long as he did, but his time had come. Kimbo on the other hand was taken from us in his prime, while he still had so much left to give. His contribution to the world of Mixed Martial Arts goes without saying. It was what it was. He did what he did despite his advanced age. Had he become a professional fighter as a younger man, there is no doubt in my mind that he could have been the greatest champion in UFC history (GSP multiplied by a thousand), but we'll never know. All we can do is speculate, rejoice in remembering his accomplishments, and mourn what the world has lost this week.

Kimbo Slice, Rest In Peace

Oh yeah, and Muhammad Ali too...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali's Brain Should Be Donated To Science

Arguably the most famous athlete in the history of Planet Earth has passed away, and the world is in mourning. He became one of the most widely known stars in an age before social media, before the internet, before 24/hr sports networks. There has never been a more charismatic athlete who reached a greater audience without all the tools we have today. Imagine if they had Twitter in the 1970s?

Today you get athletes like Connor MacGregor who can rapidly rise to fame and fortune by feeding the media beast, but Ali was on another level. If we got into that time travelling phone booth and brought a young Muhammad back to 2016, he would be a bigger star than we could ever imagine. That man with that talent, confidence, and charisma in the modern era would regularly break the internet anytime he spoke

For my money the greatest boxing match of all-time is the Thrilla in Manilla. Sure the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman is probably his most famous fight, but if you only watch one boxing match in your life, it should be Ali-Frazier III. Those two men almost beat each other to death. Ali even said after the fight that it was the closest he'd ever been to dying. That was probably where he should have retired at age 33, but he went on to fight 10 more fights.

You have to wonder how much of his poor health later in life was from Parkinson's disease, and how much came from brain damage (lots of people have had Parkinsons without ever being punched in the head). I strongly recommend watching the ESPN documentary Muhammad and Larry. It used old footage from the lead up to the Ali-Holmes fight in 1981, and it is incredibly sad. There is no way any doctor should have medically cleared Ali to fight at age 38. His motor skills were clearly in severe decline. During the Holmes fight he was barely able to defend himself, much less throw quality punches.

In the documentary, one of Ali's former doctors said that everyone who was involved in the fight should have been sent to prison. Perhaps the biggest problem was Ali's belief that he was still in good enough health to fight Larry Holmes. He needed the money. As with what happens to many rich athletes, there are so many people draining money from them that shortly after they stop competing, they go broke. It happens more than you know.

Ali ultimately paid a big price for those last few pay cheques, as he has been severely physically handicapped for the last 30 years. That's not all Parkinsons. It would be great if his religion permitted his brain to be donated to science, because science has learned so much from the brains of dead football and hockey players. I'm going to guess that Ali also had advanced Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The brain damage likely magnified the Parkinsons effects.

So rest in peace Muhammad. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see. Rumble young man rumble! The greatest boxer in the history of boxing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Kaley Cuoco Shows Off Abs...

I have a news app on my phone that includes a section for entertainment news, and the headline "Kaley Cuoco shows off abs" seems to be a frequent re-occurring story. I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as news. Nothing against Kaley, I'm sure she spends countless hours in the gym sculpting that body and has earned the right to flaunt it. I just get annoyed that anytime she decides to go to the grocery story wearing an outfit that shows her stomach, it's showing up on my phone an hour later as a news story.

I'm not exactly sure how our culture evolved into this, where TMZ has invaded the main stream news. Those headlines must get clicks. There are so many paparazzi out there desperate to get page views that seeing a female star dressed sexy spills into the news stories. Instead of "Kaley Cuoco goes to supermarket" we get "Kaley Cuoco shows off killer body", and that's supposed to be news. Instead of "Britney Spears goes to beach" we get "Britney shows off amazing body in bikini", and that gets clicks.

I suppose if I wrote a superfluous adjective in the headline above, right before Abs, then maybe this blog post will become a news story? Probably not but I'll say this, Kaley you look better with longer hair. When she cut it really short, it looked like she aged 15 years in 1 hair cut. The half long half short look she's rocking in the photo above works.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Changing sweaters does change D man

Today at hockey analytics writer Travis Yost wrote an article titled "changing sweaters doesn't change the D man" were he attempts to prove exactly that in terms of relative Corsi,(change in team's shot differential when he's on or off the ice). He's trying to refute the claim that relative Corsi changes significantly when a player is moved from one team to another. Evidently he takes a lot of flak for criticizing trades based primarily on relative Corsi. I'm assuming this flak can get pretty nasty, otherwise TSN would allow comments below his piece.

If you want to read the entire article there is a link above. I would like to respond specifically to the analysis portion included below.

If you were to believe the “all the player needs is an environmental change” argument, you would think that driving play for a defender is not a repeatable skill, simply because it would collapse like a house of cards the moment a player changed teams.

So, let’s test that theory. Let’s look at the RelativeCorsi% of every single defender who logged two seasons with one team, then changed teams and logged another pair of seasons. We’ll do this for every two-season sample from 2007-08 through this season. And we’ll also adjust for zone starts to control for players at the ends of the spectrum who either logged lofty offensive zone minutes or tough defensive zone minutes.

First, did the player’s skill repeat across different teams?

If RelativeCorsi% was purely indicative of team effects, we would expect this to be pretty flat. Instead, we see repeatability even across different teams and different seasons. Those players who favourably drive play with one team continue to do so with another team; those players who get shelled on the shot clock with one team continue to do so with another team.

How he came to this final conclusion is flawed. He says that if individual contribution to relative Corsi were nothing and team effect were everything, the line would be flat. The problem is, just because it isn't flat does NOT mean there is a strong correlation. The R^2 for that data is only 0.27. With truly predictive statistics, the data will fit very tightly to the line (by comparison, player point per game production from one season to the next has an R^2 of roughly 0.68 (for players playing over 20 game in each season)).  The data set in the Yost rant has significant variability, enough to prevent any substantive conclusion. His argument seems to be "because it is not 0%, it must be 100%." All this data shows you is a weak positive relationship, nothing more, nothing less. He's making strong definitive conclusions based on weak correlation.

The bottom line is that any given player 5 on 5 is just one of 10 skaters on the ice. His impact, positive or negative, is somewhere around 10%. Some players directly affect the games more than others, but shot differential is heavily influenced by who you are playing with and who you are playing against. Relative Corsi Against might be a useful statistic for certain players in the right context, but would you agree that Josh Manson and Fedor Tyutin are the best defensemen in the NHL? Corsi is loaded with false positives and false negatives, and distinguishing between the two is far more complicated than you might think.

More on that here